The Best TV of 2015

by PopMatters Staff

8 January 2016

Female leads, streaming TV, robots and zombies? 2015 may go down as the year when the much-anticipated but rarely actualized changes in TV actually started to happen, as the best TV of 2015 offers an embarrassment of riches.
 


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AGENT CARTER

Cast: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray

(ABC)

Agent Carter
Agent Carter


Marvel’s Agent Carter ignites the post-World War II origin story of S.H.I.E.L.D. While Agent Carter offers viewers a nice bit of Captain America-style nostalgia, it, most importantly, gives them a regular dose of brassy, brash, beautiful, and British Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell), along with her dapper confident and companion, Mr. Jarvis (James D’Arcy). Unlike other recent Marvel properties, Carter is neither dark nor broken. The focus on Carter’s life, and her often off-book exploits, kindle intrigue that is more intimate than the team dynamic flowing through Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The series also makes a statement about 1940s sexism, as male colleagues refuse to recognize her as the smartest person in the room—unless Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is around: to his credit, he sees her as the second smartest person in the room. Traditional spy exploits with a hint of the extraterrestrial make Agent Carter a unique viewing experience, and Atwell makes it a pleasure.—Daniel Rasmus

 

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BETTER CALL SAUL

Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn

(AMC)

Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul


Splicing a character from a hit TV show and using them as a foundation for a new series seems like an obvious strategy. It rarely works out. For every Rhoda or Frasier, there’s a Beverly Hills Buntz and a Gloria. Vince Gilligan bucked the odds creating a series based on Breaking Bad‘s shyster lawyer, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk): Better Call Saul. The show has many of the parts that made Breaking Bad great; perhaps most importantly, the show features two anti-hero leads: Jimmy McGill, a.k.a. Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). The essence of each story is a man who’s much more talented at being bad than good. It seemed impossible that Gilligan could improve upon Breaking Bad, but in the first season, Jimmy and Mike are equal to Walter and Jessie. Better Call Saul is one of TV’s best new shows.—Anthony Merino

 

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BROADCHURCH

Cast: Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Jodie Whittaker

(ITV)

Broadchurch
Broadchurch


To put it bluntly, the first season of British crime drama Broadchurch (which aired in 2013 and was remade into the lesser American adaption Gracepoint in 2014) was a masterpiece. Led by incredible performances from David Tennant and Olivia Colman, the traumatic investigation into the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) was as poetic as it was brutal, with exquisite examinations into the hearts and minds of its characters, stunningly somber direction, and some of the best writing television has ever had. From its first moments to its last, this initial sequence was utterly riveting and touching. Naturally, expectations were insurmountable for this year’s continuation; at least that’s what many fans thought. Miraculously, the second series managed to equal, if not surpass, its predecessor. Focusing on two main plots—SPOILER the distressing trial of Joseph Miller (Matthew Gravelle) and the circumstances surrounding the Sandbrook murder case hinted at in series one—this entry proved to be even more unpredictable, emotional, and gripping because we knew who these characters were and what they’d been through, allowing us to be even more enveloped in their fates, be they happy or harrowing. That distinction, coupled with the continued excellence in terms of writing, acting, and direction, ensured that this season, like its precursor, was nothing less than beautifully tragic art.—Jordan Blum

 

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BROAD CITY

Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Hannibal Buress

(Comedy Central)

Broad City
Broad City


Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s crass, absurdist ode to female friendship emerged as one of 2015’s most consistently surprising and heartfelt comedies. Broad City made waves when it debuted last year for the infectious chemistry between its leading ladies, and its frank depiction of their stoner antics. But Broad City is more than just a gender-swapped Judd Apatow comedy—the beating heart of this sitcom has always been the joyful celebration of these two imperfect women. The show widened its scope and increasingly spotlighted its side characters in its confident second season, with hilarious results. Hannibal Burress is a particular highlight as Ilana’s long-suffering, deadpan dentist friend with benefits. Whether it’s meeting the elusive, diamond-loving Val in “Hashtag FOMO” or dealing with the fallout of loss and the perils of pegging in “Knockoffs”, the women of Broad City faced every challenge in their surreal version of New York with the power of sisterhood, and a shit-ton of marijuana. Talk about #friendship goals.—Natasha Gatian

 

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THE CARMICHAEL SHOW

Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Amber Stevens West, LilRel Howery

(NBC)

The Carmichael Show
The Carmichael Show


NBC’s The Carmichael Show is from the millennial mind of comedian Jerrod Carmichael. With just six episodes in Season 1, the half-hour show has already covered a huge amount of controversial ground without devolving into classic black stereotypes or traditional sitcom tropes. Jerrod and his girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West), face modern issues with Generation Y attitude: should they have a gun in the house, should they celebrate a birthday or skip it for a Black Lives Matters protest, should they teach their parents to eat healthier food, should they go to church, and so on. Jerrod’s parents, played by David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine (two absolute institutions in the black acting community) steal the show, as they always do. Not only worth watching, but worthy of water cooler conversation at work the day after.—Megan Volpert

 

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CHEF’S TABLE

Cast: Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura, Bill Buford

(Netflix)

Chef’s Table
Chef’s Table


Chef’s Table is the anti-cooking show. Rather than focus on recipes, the Netflix original series treats the chefs like auteurs, and persuasively argues that their personal lives influence their craft. Their meals aren’t to be devoured; they’re to be deified. The first season of the series features six accomplished chefs from around the world, including Italy’s controversial postmodernist Massimo Bottura and the US’s farm-to-table pioneer Dan Barber. My favorite is Argentinian master Francis Mallmann, whose use of Patagonian fire is presented as a spiritual experience. Like the great transcendentalists before him, Mallmann finds purpose in nature, and has no patience for the conventions of society. Another stand-out is kaiseki chef Niki Nakayama, a Japanese-American who candidly reflects on the difficulties of being a woman in a male dominated industry. Chef’s Table is an essential series about the importance of individual expression. With luck, it will pressure the Food Network to spice up its programming schedule.—Jon Lisi

 

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DOCTOR WHO

Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman

(BBC)

Review [12.Apr.2006]

Doctor Who
Doctor Who


In Steven Moffat, the BBC found a show runner who understands that Doctor Who is really the story of the companion’s journey, and her influence on the Doctor, not the other way around. Series nine found the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and doe-eyed companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) squaring off with the Doctor’s arch-frenemy, The Master, played with manic relish by Michelle Gomez. We also find the Doctor effectively engaged with his other existential nemesis, Davros (Julian Bleach), the creator of the dreaded Daleks. The action is swift and off-kilter, with plots that often twist the mind as much as they play with emotions. Clara Oswald recovers from the loss of love-interest Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), and ultimately, helps the Doctor recover from her. Viewers will find Oswald the counterweight to Capaldi’s impetuous incarnation. Regular guest star Maisie Williams, the Doctor-made immortal Ashildr/Me, a sometime companion, challenges the Doctor with a historical perspective nearly as profound as his own.—Daniel Rasmus

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