Under the Radar’s Top 75 TV Shows of 2015
Jan 29, 2016
Okay, we know we're late on this one. It's the end of January 2016 and we're only now just posting our best TV shows of 2015 list. But in our defense, there is a lot of TV to get through these days, on a lot of different platforms. The golden age of TV just keeps glowing and growing. Every week it seems as though there's another new show we're supposed to check out or another 13 episodes we're suddenly expected to binge watch on Netflix. So it took us awhile to work our way through 2015's best shows and compile this list and there were so many good shows we settled on a Top 75.
These days, any snobby faux intellectual that tells you at a party, "I don't watch TV, I read books," doesn't know what they're talking about (although reading books is good too). 2015 saw the continued dominance of streaming services (especially Netflix) and cable TV, although there's room on our list for network TV shows too, but only one network show made our Top 10 (FOX's The Last Man on Earth). This year there were two radically different new female superhero shows, the more traditional but still fun Supergirl and the much darker but still fun Jessica Jones. Fargo's second season gamely traveled back to the '70s. The dead still walked in Alexandria (while another zombie solved crimes in Seattle). A comedy tackled depression in a very real way. And it turns out we lost World War II. Meanwhile Mr. Robot blew our mind with all its twists and turns. But it was a new show from a standup comic and former network sitcom supporting player that took our top spot. Aziz Ansari boldly stepped out on his own to create, write, and star in Master of None, a new Netflix comedy that expertly and hilariously tackles the ins and outs of modern life from the perspective of a struggling Indian American actor fighting against racial stereotypes.
Without further ado, finally here's our best TV shows of 2015 list to help you plan your next binge watching marathon. Happy viewing! By Mark Redfern
Master of None
It had been suggested that Aziz Ansari's stunning Netflix original, Master of None, had been named after the Beach House song of the same name. Although he's since denied this, his use of underground music is a huge part of what makes Master of None so great. Ansari casts himself as Dev, a young aspiring Indian actor based in New York, effectively playing himself in a parallel universe where his role as Tom Haverford in sitcom Parks and Recreation hadn't sent him spiraling into fame. As a semi-confrontational and politically-aware person of color, Dev struggles to find steady work without compromising his anti-stereotyping stance, feeling uncomfortable about imitating his ancestor's accents for the amusement of others. He and music supervisor Zach Cowie make use of tracks from Beach House, Aphex Twin, Lou Reed, and Under the Radar favorite Father John Misty (Dev attends one of his concerts in one episode), linking up Dev's constant marginalization with some of the best outsider music there is. A comedy about an aspiring actor struggling to find his feet in the entertainment industry could have been the least noteworthy show of 2015, but Ansari's charm steers it towards being the best. By Marty Hill
The Walking Dead
The most popular show on cable television didn't miss a beat in 2015, following Rick Grimes and his post-apocalyptic family as they suffered through some of the bleakest storylines in the show's history. Still reeling from the loss of Beth (Emily Kinney), the group barely had time to grieve before they were burying another member, Tyreese (Chad Coleman). But where previous seasons had largely pitted the group against zombie and human antagonists, the survivors now had to struggle with starvation, homelessness, and the fact that they had no real hope but to joylessly trudge through the woods until they found something better. When that something came in the form of an invitation to join a presumably safe and well-supplied walled city, they were too traumatized from recent events to know whether to accept the offer or kill the messenger.
But accept the offer they did, and the group's arrival in Alexandria moved the plot in previously unexplored directions, opening up a whole new set of questions. How would battle-hardened warriors with PTSD adjust to a life of clean towels and regular meals? Could they convince people who have never lived among the dead that they needed to be prepared for the dangers that lurk outside their gates? Should they just overthrow the town's existing power structure and claim it for themselves? Along the way the show provided a long-awaited return (Morgan!), a mysterious enemy (The Wolves), duplicitous Alexandrians (Nicholas, Pete), and the ever-present struggle between hope and despair. We got a head-fake almost-death (Glenn), and a great standalone episode (Morgan, again). But those questions remained.
Now, after a relatively restrained first half of season six, we know the answer. The world is as dangerous as the Grimes clan said it was, and Alexandria is now on the verge of collapse. Getting to this point required a more deliberative and reflective pace, and those eight episodes often seemed to be serving the purpose of setting the scene for the arrival of the next major villain in the storyline. But the writing was sharp and compelling throughout, relying less on character deaths to advance the plot and diving even deeper into the original questions that inspired series creator Robert Kirkman in the first place. The fact that he's still teasing the answers after six years is a testament to his vision as a writer and the extent to which The Walking Dead is so much more than a zombie drama. By Matt Fink
Noah Hawley had an unlikely hit when he created a television series that takes place in the same universe as the Coen Brothers' masterpiece Midwest crime thriller Fargo, but the show's first season surpassed expectations by flawlessly capturing the vibe and momentum of the 1994 film. The second season takes bigger, bolder steps to carve out a place all on its own, while still retaining its loose ambient ties to the Coens' style. Season two steps back into the 1970s, focusing on a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) facing the clash of two warring crime syndicates. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons also deliver career defining performances as the chaotic Blumquists, and Bruce Campbell's cameo as Ronald Reagan is delightful, as well as Nick Offerman's scene stealing comic relief. By Cody Ray Shafer
The Leftovers, an HBO drama about a world in the aftermath of bewildering mass disappearance, picks up considerably in its second season, taking all the best elements of Lost, but with more competence and consistency. The central mystery is a living thread throughout the show, but rarely takes central focus, instead working through the pathos and fragility of its central characters. This season was also a major improvement over its debut season, which though uneven, was still pretty excellent. By Cody Ray Shafer
Nothing on television in 2015 looked or felt like Sam Esmail's brilliant Mr. Robot. The world Esmail created was so fully formed from the opening sequence that the show managed to feel both comfortably old and refreshingly new. As the increasingly frayed hacker Elliot Anderson, Rami Malek turns in a first season star performance every bit as commanding as those by Bryan Cranston or Jon Hamm, giving the show a depth and weight that grew heavier with the reveal of each new piece of information. Like any of the great shows during this Golden Age, each actor takes their opportunity and runs with it, from a veteran like Christian Slater to a relative newcomer like Carly Chaikin. With Malek's performance and Esmail's guiding hand, there's no telling what heights Mr. Robot can achieve. By Jim Scott
Louie C.K. continues to wipe the floor with most television comedy, even during an era of television comedy that is shamelessly following Louie's lead. Blending intimate realism with absurdity and surrealism, Louie has inspired a whole new slew of comedy shows like Maron and even Master of None. But even among all of its imitators, Louie manages a vulnerability and poignancy that occasionally forgets itself as a simple cable comedy and drifts effortlessly into the best of indie filmmaking. By Cody Ray Shafer
Marvel's Jessica Jones
Debuting in November on Netflix and based on the popular comic book character (hence Marvel's designation), Jessica Jones is the superhero show for viewers who don't necessarily like superhero shows or movies. What you won't find are superhero clichés like tights, CGI, ham-fisted acting, and reliance on action over plot. What you will find is the titular heroine (a perfectly cast Krysten Ritter, a Gilmore Girls alumnus who more recently had been in Breaking Bad and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 as well) joined by co-stars Mike Colter (playing love interest and fellow superhero Luke Cage, who will justifiably get his own spin-off show this year as well) and Rachael Taylor as her beloved stepsister Trish "Patsy" Walker, who happens to also be a beloved talk show host and former child star. The villain, Kilgrave (played by David Tennant), is one of the most terrifying to ever grace the small or big screen. Set in a noir-ish Hell's Kitchen that evokes the less gentrified midtown Manhattan of years gone by as opposed to today's version, the feel is perfect for the gritty, heart-pacing, unflinchingly dark psychodrama that all 13 episodes of this series' initial season provides. I can't wait for season 2. By Matthew Berlyant
You're the Worst
Somehow Stephen Falk manages to keep the laughs coming while delving into more serious topics, namely the severe depression Gretchen (Aya Cash) falls into in season two. This dramatic turn threatens to upend the show for a moment, like a car taking a corner too fast, but it regains its balance as the episodes roll out. You're the Worst doesn't shy away from the disease, nor does Falk exploit it for cheap emotions. Instead, Gretchen's frustration with the expectation that she can be "fixed" and Jimmy's (Chris Geere) attempts to do just that (and his subsequent struggle to be faithful) was some of the most affecting TV of the year. By Jim Scott
The Last Man on Earth
A season and a half of The Last Man on Earth aired in 2015, establishing the show as the most creative network comedy going. At the outset, Phil Tandy Miller (Will Forte) thinks he has been left alone on the planet after a virus has wiped out humanity, but he is soon joined by a small group of survivors who first establish a community in Tuscon but then in season two move to the more inviting environs of Malibu. Tandy's slow progression from selfish jerk to somewhat less selfish jerk is the show's engine, and Forte's all-in performance provides the fuel. But it's his interplay with the hilarious Kristen Schaal that gives it heart. By Jim Scott
The Man in the High Castle
What if we had lost World War II? Based on Philip K. Dick's novel, The Man in the High Castle explores the possibilities in fascinating, chillingly minute detail. In an America where much of the country is split between German and Japanese takeover, an earlier way of life and liberty has become a distant memory by 1962. And as we follow the maneuverings of an underground resistance, High Castle's soupy air of paranoia is enough to make one pull back and shudder at thoughts of unsettling directions spearing from a current context. By Hays Davis
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Fear the Walking Dead
Game of Thrones
Better Call Saul
Rick and Morty
Adult Swim/Cartoon Network
Ash vs Evil Dead
Life in Pieces
Parks and Recreation
Show Me a Hero
Orange is the New Black
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
The Big Bang Theory
Key & Peele
Masters of Sex
Real Time with Bill Maher
Making of a Murder
The Good Wife
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel's Agent Carter
Halt and Catch Fire
American Crime, Black-ish, The Blacklist, Bloodline, BoJack Horseman, Casual, Comedy Bang! Bang!, Conan, Constantine, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, F is for Family, Grey's Anatomy, Heroes Reborn, Inside Amy Schumer, The Jim Gaffigan Show, The Jinx, The Knick, The Last Kingdom, The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Peaky Blinders, Person of Interest, Project Runway Junior, and Vikings.