Back to IndieWire

The 25 Best TV Shows Of 2015

The 25 Best TV Shows Of 2015

10. “Hannibal

We’re all still licking our wounds over “Hannibal”‘s abrupt cancellation (in all fairness, it was probably never meant to be on NBC) but that doesn’t change the fact that its third season was its bravest, bloodiest, and most audacious outing yet. The relocation of the show’s main action to the ghostly catacombs and opulent cathedrals of modern-day Italy do nothing to extinguish the menacing spell of this masterfully-executed horror soap opera, which has only grown in artistic stature since its excellent first two seasons. The warped symbiotic relationship between Will Graham and Dr. Lecter is still the corroded heart of the series, but in Season 3 we also see Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford kick some unholy ass, Alana Bloom morph into a cane-wielding, sharply dressed villain, and the continuing unholy misadventures of Mason Verger, who no longer garnishes his martinis with the tears of children but is otherwise just as nasty as ever. The show continued to push the boundaries of visual language for network TV and culminated in a glorious, insane denouement that was like “Wuthering Heights” by way of the Marquis de Sade. It’s a shame we won’t see a Season 4 but hey, there’s always that movie rumor, right?

9. “Show Me A Hero

2015 was the year of Freddie Gray, Sandy Hook, the rise of Donald Trump, and innumerable other atrocities that signified the gradually wilting death of the American character. In other words, it was the perfect time for a righteously angry David Simon show, and we got a pretty damn good one in the form of “Show Me A Hero.” You’d think it would be hard to turn something as dry as the relocation of a local housing project into edge-of-your-seat, can’t-miss TV, but, lest we forget, no one makes procedure itself quite as riveting as Simon. The increasingly ubiquitous Oscar Isaac gave a quietly heartbreaking turn as Nick Wasicsko, the real-life Yonkers mayoral candidate who, in his struggle to do the right thing in an increasingly shifty political landscape, almost lost his mind and definitely lost a bit of his soul. As always, Simon has a sharp, Dickensian focus that looks at every aspect of the social strata: the families struggling to raise their kids in the increasingly drug-plagued projects, the blue collar workers who like their neighborhoods just fine the way they are, the ruthless politicos striving for control of the increasingly unwieldy situation…no one was left off the hook. Apart from the on-the-nose use of Bruce Springsteen songs, “Show Me A Hero” was surprisingly, an emotional tour-de-force, and also eerily timely. Not to mention, we could watch Alfred Molina channel Justice Antonin Scalia by slapping a microphone away from his face on a loop like, all day.

8. “The Americans

From the very beginning, FX’s “The Americans” has had perhaps the most inherently dramatic premise on television: in the early 1980s, two KGB sleepers in Washington D.C. discover their new neighbor is an FBI counterintelligence agent, just as their posed marriage of over a decade threatens to become a real one. It would have taken real ineptness not to be able to wring some kind of drama out of an idea like that, but fortunately, “The Americans” has been absolutely terrific from the start, and has only gotten better and better, its third season cementing its position as one of the best dramas on television. Picking up from the doozy of a cliffhanger, with Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) instructed that the KGB want them to train their daughter as a potential asset, the third season got darker and more painful than ever. It’s as well-directed as anything on TV (small-screen veteran Thomas Schlamme’s been excelling himself recently between this and “Manhattan”), and as well-acted, too, with Frank Langella and Julia Garner making enormously valuable additions to the new season, while the plotting proves breathless without ever going over the top. The show’s never gathered the following, or the column inches, of something like “Homeland,” but it proved again that it’s superior in every possible way this year.

7. “Rick & Morty”/“Bojack Horseman”/“Gravity Falls”

We’re cheating here by rolling together three shows, but 1) we have to cope with Peak TV somehow, and 2) these three share a certain sensibility and could each claim to be the smartest, funniest, and most inventive animated shows since the golden age of “The Simpsons.” Each are in their second seasons (and in the case of Alex Hirsch’s stellar Disney XD show, “Gravity Falls,” the final one), and each grew more confident and more accomplished. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s “Rick & Morty” had even headier sci-fi concepts, but always in service of character — the episode where Rick hooks up with his ex-girlfriend, a planet-eating collective consciousness, or the one examining the relationship between Morty’s parents through alien surrogates, were dizzyingly clever, and often very sad. “Bojack Horseman” continued to bring the funny — was any line in 2015 funnier than, “If you die in improv, you die in real life!” But its satiric targets were hit harder (the Cosby episode was astonishing), and the character stuff more devastating (“You didn’t know me. Then you fell in love with me. And now you know me,” was utterly heartbreaking). And “Gravity Falls” is just a ton of fun; beautiful, weird, hilarious, and exciting. Watch them all.

6. “UnReal

TV is filled with plenty of complicated male characters who do terrible things to people, and yet we continue to watch. Female antiheroes are surprisingly still hard to find, but “UnReal”’s Rachel deserves to be in the pantheon with our favorite on-screen assholes. Shiri Appleby stars as Rachel, the producer of the (fictional) unscripted show “Everlasting,” who hates how good she is at manipulating people and ruining lives for the sake of entertainment. She’s alternately exhausted, ashamed, and on point, with pressure coming internally as well as externally from her boss Quinn (a hard-edged Constance Zimmer, who pairs well with Appleby in one of TV’s most interesting female friendships). Lifetime’s first real foray into quality drama works on several levels in its freshman season: it’s a savvy satire of reality TV like “The Bachelor,” as well as its own engaging, soapy drama that has power to draw the audience into its characters’ emotions and lives. That perfect cocktail is likely thanks to the combined forces of its co-creators behind the camera: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “West Wing” vet Marti Noxon and “The Bachelor” alum Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. “UnReal” doesn’t hesitate to go dark, with mental breakdowns, domestic abuse, and suicide permeating its storylines, but it can also be surprisingly nasty fun.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox