Best TV Shows of 2015

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Categories:  Consumerism, TV Series
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It’s time for my annual best of ____ post where I talk about all my favorite entertainment products I watched over the last year. There were a ton of great things to come out in 2015, so I’m going to split them into separate posts:

I won’t be ranking them with numbers, but I will point out a Top Pick for each category that can be considered #1. I’ll also do my best to describe everything in a way that I can narrow down who would likely enjoy each one. Enjoy!


Returning Greats

Game of Thrones (HBO) is always amazing. This season somehow managed to top last season yet again for fantastic, unexpected (by those that don’t read the books) turns. The special effects this season were probably the best I’ve ever seen on any television show.

House of Cards season 3 promo

House of Cards (Netflix) keeps raising the stakes, and the finale of this season leaves more on the line than ever. The show continues to live up to its hype, and I anxiously await the next season starting soon!

Last Week Tonight (HBO) is the best fake news show on television, and has stolen me away from The Daily Show nearly entirely. I like Trevor Noah, but John Oliver just hits subjects that really matter perfectly sometimes, and no show that needs to work 4 days a week can seem to compete with that concentrated funny.

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim) was already amazing. Season 2 has made it easily the best animated show on television. The absurdity and wonderful cosmic horror of it all is groundbreaking in so many ways.

Orange is the New Black (Netflix) had a huge finale last season, and I was very curious about where it could go from there. Season 3 picked up where they left off and completed Piper’s transition from an audience conduit — observing all the other unique characters in the show — to a full-fledged unique character all her own.

Silicon Valley (HBO) went from being a show that I related to, into a show that confirmed for me why I never want to try to run a tech startup. The huge personalities and high stakes aren’t for me. But god damn are they entertaining to watch.

Psycho-Pass (Hulu) is today’s quintessential cyberpunk anime. It borrows from other greats in its genre, but adds its own style as well. Season 2 of Psycho-Pass follows their stellar first season decently, doesn’t disappoint, but also doesn’t top it. If you love Ghost In The Shell like I do, Psycho-Pass is a logical next step.

Louie Season 5 Screenshot

Louie (FX) has lost himself a bit this season, and it’s easy to see why. The show has much more of a story arc this time, and it’s not an unwelcome change.

Archer (FX) is back to his old tricks after his brief stint in Vice last season. I enjoyed last season, but it’s definitely refreshing to get back to Archer Classic.

Hannibal‘s (NBC) final season starts off a little slow. Fans that know and love the entire Hannibal Lecter catalogue will be familiar with his forays in Europe, but to a fan of this series in particular it is definitely a down beat from the extremely exciting beginning of season 2. That being said, the show picks up again mid-season and ends in a glorious crescendo that should please anyone that stuck with it.


The Mighty That Have Fallen

A few shows that were previously great had a less than stellar year.

True Detective (HBO) was fucking awful this season. It went from a show I would anticipate every week to a chore to watch. Sure, it was interesting and well directed. But it really didn’t hold a candle to season one. Perhaps putting both Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn in super serious roles was a bit too much for me.

Don Draper in the Mad Men series finale
I think I had the same look on my face while watching this.

Mad Men (AMC) completed its run this year, and it was ok. I enjoyed watching it for the most part, but the previous season had a much better finale. The entire season felt like it was trying to tie up all the plot lines into a nice bow at the same time, and it made them feel unnatural to me.

Noragami (CrunchyRoll) season 2 was decent. It expanded upon the role of the regalia characters and their effects on their masters, which was kind of neat for a few episodes. For me, it got old and boring fairly quickly though. I bet the manga is much better because it probably went into much more detail about the regalia that aren’t used very often. If they fired through each one at a quicker clip and we got to see more of them, it would have been much more interesting to me. Instead we only see 3 or 4 new ones get fleshed out decently. It felt like filler to me.


And now for the new blood…

Master of None

Netflix

I like Aziz Ansari, but I don’t love him. I’ve never been able to get into Parks & Rec, though I agree that it’s decently funny. His stand-up is great for mass-market, sort of like Kevin Hart tier. But he’s never truly hit my funny bone until Master of None.

Master of None characters

The first episode had me from the beginning. It riffs on how modern couples bounce back and forth when deciding if they want to have kids or not, and does so with ease and levity. Even in the depths of a heartfelt conversation about one of the couples’ family, the show manages to be darkly hilarious and Ansari comes out being very lovable.

They tackle quite a few topics with this sort of “seriousness, but with mirth” too. They talk about #yesAllWomen topics without belittling, over-inflating, or being too preachy. They talk about what it’s like for Indians and other non-white people in show business, and it’s hilarious.

I’m seriously considering reading his book because of this show. It obviously picks up a lot of humor from it, and the quotes I’ve heard from it have been great. Master of None is a down-to-earth comedy that has a heart, and even a jaded bastard like me could relate to it. That’s what makes it one of the best TV shows of 2015.

Better Call Saul

AMC (links to Amazon)

Better Call Saul promo

I’m generally wary of spin-offs. They usually suck, and manage to subtract from their parent media with their mediocrity. Better Call Saul is not that kind of spin-off. In my eyes, it is a prequel series that fits Breaking Bad exceptionally well. If you love Breaking Bad, check out Better Call Saul. It will provide some answers and character development that may change the way you look at several aspects of the show.

At the very least, it shows you that you don’t really know anyone. We make judgments about people based on our limited experiences with them, and sometimes those brief windows of time we spend with them are nothing close to who they truly are. You will walk away from this show with a changed opinion about Saul Goodman.

Daredevil

Netflix

The cast of Daredevil

This show was the first time I’ve ever found the Daredevil character interesting. It brought down the scale of Marvel movies into a more localized storyline, and I really enjoyed that. The casting was also fantastic.

The show was able to be darker than most other Marvel products, but wasn’t nearly as unrelentingly “heavy” as Jessica Jones was. Speaking of which…

Jessica Jones

Netflix

Jessica Jones and Killgrave
David Tennant is better in this show than he’s been in anything since Dr. Who.

Right on the heels of Netflix’s great success with Daredevil, Jessica Jones is a fantastic new face in the Marvel cinematic/television universe.

While I find that the show is a bit emotionally exhausting to watch more than one run-through, its depth and darkness is a fantastic contrast to the bright primary colors of the Avengers movies.

Here are some indications that you’d love Jessica Jones:

  • You love super hero movies, but you’re getting a little sick of the cloying simplistic hero and villain characters of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.
  • You enjoyed the more small-scale feel of Daredevil.
  • You’d enjoy seeing a refreshing cast dominated by strong female roles.
  • You like psychological thrillers that dig deeply into the darkest parts of human desires.

There are no true good guys in Jessica Jones. Each character has their own flaws and commits their own crimes. Human beings are complex, and I find it refreshing to see them portrayed as such for once.

Shokugeki No Soma (Food Wars)

CrunchyRoll, Hulu

Shokugeki No Soma

This anime has brought us some of the most notoriously strange GIF images on the internet today, and for good reason. It takes the love of food and expresses it with other emotions like sexual desire, rage, existential horror, and disgust. It does all this with over-the-top expressions that could only be pulled off in anime.

Detailed and tantalizing food animation from Shokugeki No Soma
Makes me want an omelette right now…

But don’t be fooled into thinking this show is merely “food porn”. The characters are each talented in their own unique ways, and they develop and learn visibly over the course of the series. Think of it as Naruto for chefs. Anyone that enjoys food and over the top anime should check it out.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Netflix

Carol Kane in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

This show looks obnoxious as hell on its cover. It has the cover of all the other cloying “girl on her own in the big city” shows that scrape the bottom of the barrel for interesting content. It is absolutely nothing like that.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a non-stop funny show, full of biting snark and sarcasm that somehow doesn’t darken it one bit. Titus Andromedon completely steals the show, and is now one of my favorite comedic characters of all time.

Seriously. If you’re looking for a bright, funny-as-hell series that doesn’t pull punches to brighten up your winter slump, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the one.

Black Mirror : White Christmas

Channel4, Netflix

Jon Hamm in Black Mirror White Christmas

This was just a single episode, but it definitely whet my appetite for the new season coming out this year. Black Mirror hasn’t lost a step in its ability to humanize science fiction, and dig into the things that can truly captivate and horrify us on an existential level.

Doctor Who : Season 9

BBC, Amazon

Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who
Programme Name: Doctor Who – TX: 28/11/2015 – Episode: HEAVEN SENT (By Steven Moffat) (No. 11) – Picture Shows: Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Simon Ridgway

I’ve been watching Doctor Who with my wife ever since they started the new shows in 2005. I’ve never really considered it one of my favorite shows, even occasionally saying things like “Some guys have wives that make them watch Sex In The City. I’m very glad that mine just makes me watch Doctor Who.”

Seasons 1-3 were a bit of a chore for me, but then things started to pick up. I stopped dreading watching them, but I still wasn’t ready to call it one of my favorite shows until this year. Season 9 has had me looking forward to the next episode every week.

When they introduced River Song in Silence in the Library (Season 4, Episode 8), I fell in love with her immediately. River is the female Han Solo, combined with a bit of James Bond. She’s incredibly witty, capable, smart, and sexy. She’s a bad girl in all the best ways.

River Song holding a banana like a pistol

Enough of me gushing about my sci-fi crush. Season 9 of Doctor Who is the best the show has ever been. Peter Capaldi has really become comfortable in his TARDIS this season, and we finally have a good feel for who his Doctor is. And that Doctor can be goofy sometimes like he was in season 8, but comes out being a badass. The show has also introduced multiple great new characters in this season that I won’t mention by name because “spoilers”.

Steven MoffatYes, the writing still sometimes uses deus ex machina. By that, I mean sometimes Steven Moffat still likes to give the fans a giant middle finger and troll face once in a while. But this season has been very rewarding and entertaining, with only one miss (Skip episode 9 Sleep No More — It’s one of the worst episodes in the entire show and doesn’t add anything to the major plot arc). If you’ve enjoyed Doctor Who in the past but dropped it during Matt Smith’s run or soon after, pick it up again. It’s getting really good.

This year’s Christmas special The Husbands of River Song is the best ever, too.

TOP PICK: Mr. Robot

USA, Amazon

USA has really surprised me with Mr. Robot. After over a decade of inane “junk food” television (WWE, Law & Order reruns) and milk toast productions (Monk, Psych, Burn Notice), they finally created something great.

Mr. Robot F**K Wall Street promoMr. Robot is a dreary ride in the shoes of a misanthropic hacker that’s fed up with the corrupt world he lives in. It never takes itself overly seriously, often mocking itself in Elliott’s head and showing you his vivid imagination through his eyes.

One of the supporting roles is an up-and-coming executive named Tyrell Wellick. He gives some of the most impressive performances in the show, and has some truly excellent monologues. Christian Slater also does an excellent job, but it’s hard to compete with the rest of this cast.

In one of my favorite scenes in the show, he talks about how much different people would act if we could see their innermost secrets with the same ease that we can right-click on a webpage and select View Source.

Mr. Robot's View Source Scene

This show won’t appeal to everyone. Like I mentioned, it’s pretty bleak most of the time. It also portrays technology and hacking in its normal unpolished way, rather than giving it Hollywood touches (like CSI‘s infinite image zooming or the animated characters in Hackers). If you enjoy dark psychological thrillers set in the present or near future, you’ll love Mr. Robot.

If you want something to compare it to, imagine Fight Club with a disillusioned IT guy. If you like anime, it has a little bit of Serial Experiments Lain and Perfect Blue vibe to it, too.

Mr. Robot also has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard on a TV show. I guarantee you google at least one track after watching and add it to your rotation. Let me know if you need help finding one. (example 1) (example 2)

Mr. Robot is the best TV show of 2015, but it was by no means a landslide.


What a great year for couch potatoes! I hope 2016 has as much to offer as the best shows of 2015 did. With that being said, I wanted to explain how we managed to watch so many things over the year. Feel free to skip this section if you don’t care. 🙂

Video Streaming Services
Think of these sort of how we used to think of TV networks, and it makes it easier to transition.

Kati and I haven’t had cable in more than 2 years now, and we aren’t going back. Here are the services we subscribe to, in order of their value:

  • YouTube $0.
    We get more entertainment out of it every year, and the content keeps getting better. It even works with AdBlock, but the ads are usually short or skippable, unlike Hulu’s.
  • Netflix $8/mo.
    Super worth it.
  • Amazon Prime $99/yr. ($67 when on sale)
    For much more than just video, super worth it.
  • CrunchyRoll (Free or Premium for $7/mo.)
    Premium is good during active anime seasons. Meh during breaks. The ads aren’t too obtrusive if you just use the free service, and AdBlock works too.
  • Hulu Plus (Commercial Free) $12/mo.
    Decent, but we’re not sold on it long-term yet. Hulu is definitely much more bearable without the commercials though. I can’t stand watching anything on Hulu with how long their commercial breaks are now (sometimes 5 ads each break), so I don’t recommend paying at all if you don’t go for commercial free.
  • HBO Now $15/mo.
    It’s pretty expensive to pay non-discount prices for HBO, but the quality of their content is top-notch. Netflix is quickly catching up to them in that of course, and is a far better value for your buck. We’re not sure if we’ll be using it, but it will be hard to resist when Game of Thrones begins again.

Total monthly cost: $50.25
(assuming we keep them all active all year, which we don’t)

And whenever we can’t find something we want to watch, we generally purchase them with Amazon Instant Video. It works on every device we own (phones, tablets, laptops, video game consoles, smart TVs) and comes with our normal Amazon Prime subscription. The prices are also very reasonable (comparable or cheaper than DVD prices). It’s also nice to never need to rifle through binders or cases of DVDs and BluRays to find the discs, and never have to lug them around when we move or travel.

One of the best things about purchasing our content individually is that we never loaf around the house watching “whatever’s on” anymore. When we consider watching something new, we weigh whether or not it’s worth the cost. This has made it easy for us to cut down our overall viewing time, and we rarely see commercials anymore. Plus, the average quality of what we watch has gone way up.

Cable Guy

If you’re paying $80+ per month for cable television. If you’re spending 1/3 of your viewing time watching commercials (or more if you watch a lot of sports). If you added bundled services, like phone lines you barely use and subpar internet service, just to lower the cost. If you’re finding yourself sitting there and watching whatever’s on… Consider joining us cord-cutters.


Best YouTube Channels of 2015

Not everyone thinks of YouTube as a place to find TV shows, but I do. Here is a small sampling of the best TV shows of 2015 found on high quality YouTube channels.

NerdWriter

YouTube

Weekly well-produced videos about art, pop culture, current events, and more. They’re always thoughtful and interesting, and he really knows how to make me appreciate art I enjoy even more than I did beforehand.

Similar channels: The Film Theorists, Every Frame a Painting

Games Done Quick

YouTube, Twitch.tv

GDQ holds events every few months where the best gamers in North America (and sometimes globally) attempt to speed run beloved classic and modern games for charity donations. They raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at each event for causes like Doctors Without Borders and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Their YouTube channel hosts replays of these speed runs for onDemand viewing.

Not everyone likes watching other people play games, I know. But if you do, or if you at least love it when people support charitable causes in unique ways, check them out.


What do you think were the best TV shows of 2015?

Let me know on social media, and feel free to make suggestions for me to check out as well. For the record, I’m not interested in the following popular shows that I’ve already tried:

  • The Walking Dead
  • Parks & Recreation
  • One Punch Man

Sorry, I know a lot of people like them. They just haven’t done it for me.

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