When Ben and I gathered to discuss our favorite TV shows this year, we had a LOT to say, partly because, well, this was a banner year for TV. We saw the end of beloved series like Mad Men and Parks & Recreation, we saw new, excellent series enter the fray like Master of None, and current shows like The Leftovers go through a top-to-bottom transformation. Here, we list our favorite things that happened on TV this year.
What is there to say about Mad Men‘s final season that hasn’t been said? Creator Matthew Weiner’s carefully considered, masterful show came to a conclusion that was at once incredibly satisfying, devastatingly tragic, and, above all, perfectly cynical. Anchored by Jon Hamm (who was FINALLY honored with a too-late Emmy this year), whose performance will surely go down alongside the likes of Bryan Cranston and James Gandolfini when it comes to epic antiheroes, Mad Men ended with the main man himself dissolving into a sad, pathetic, sweaty puddle of a man, who rose from his own cigarette ashes to write the greatest ad campaign in history. That final shot of Draper sitting on a cliffside — with the sun shining down on him and a satisfied smirk playing on his mouth — will go down in history as one of the most important TV moments ever.
Outstanding Episode: “Person to Person”
Parks & Recreation
As far as covering Parks & Rec goes, I wrote about the finale back in February, but I need to say now that only covering the finale does a disservice to what turned out to be a truly wonderful, fan-service filled final season. Parks & Rec was, above all, a perpetually happy show — characters were allowed to win big, love loudly, and care deeply about the people most important to them, and with a clever time-jump that saved us from yet another sitcom pregnancy storyline and other banal plot points, creator Mike Schur stuck to his script and produced a beautifully joyful final season that celebrated each and every one of its characters, from a drama-filled wedding for Donna to a truly touching show-within-a-show farewell to Andy Dwyer’s alter ego, Johnny Karate. Sure, we got a clear path to a happy ending, but for this show, anything else would have been as wrong as eating salad instead of waffles.
Outstanding Episode: “Pie-Mary”
Netflix had an especially great year of TV, and they also had the great fortune of premiering the best Marvel TV addition yet, Jessica Jones, which is also the darkest, scariest, and most affecting new show on TV this year. Krysten Ritter is absolutely outstanding as Jessica, a super-esque hero who works as a P.I. and would prefer to enjoy her whiskey in peace if it weren’t for David Tennant’s nuanced, twisted Kilgrave, who, with his deeply sinister mind-control powers, is absolutely the scariest Marvel villain to date. Add in supporting characters like Jess’ best friend Trish and fellow superhuman Luke Cage and give them their own affecting backstories, and you’ve got one marvel of a new show. (Heh. HEH.)
Outstanding Episode: “AKA It’s Called Whiskey”
You’re The Worst
I always feel like nobody watches You’re The Worst, which is a crying fucking shame. Only in its second season, Stephen Falk’s weird, brilliant little show took great pains to set up its lead characters, Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) as basically irredeemable assholes who can really only stand each other during its first season, but let its second season explore what can happen when two people in a relationship still have some things they need to discuss. Letting Gretchen’s issues with depression take front and center was a ballsy choice on Falk’s part, and even when the show stopped being LOL-funny, it remained riveting and entered itself into a national discussion about how we should show mental illness on TV. You’re The Worst is a gorgeous and nearly-perfect show so far, and though waiting for season 3 will be agonizing, I’m thrilled to see what comes next.
Outstanding Episode: “LCD Soundsystem”
This time last year, I was really not into The Leftovers. While I love the Tom Perrotta novel the show is no longer really based on, I quickly grew bored with the Guilty Remnant’s note writing and the oppressive gloom that settled over Mapleton throughout season 1 — but season 2, once creators Damon Lindelof and Perrotta retooled it, was downright revelatory. Moving to an entirely new town (Jarden, which came with its own weird religious backstory) and presenting us with a brand new family (led by the always excellent Regina King) would have been good enough, but a series of strong scripts and gorgeous direction let season 1 stars like Christopher Eccleston and Justin Theroux shine. Theroux is especially excellent at the show’s big climax, letting any inhibitions he ever had as an actor completely fall away, and though the show’s upcoming third season will be its last, it could easily have ended here, on a high, yet terribly sad note.
Outstanding Episode: “International Assassin”
Who the fuck would have thought that Lifetime, of all channels, would end up producing not just one of the best shows of 2015, but one of the strongest new shoes in recent memory?! Not me, certainly, and I was admittedly late to the UnREAL party, but I succumbed eventually and am thrilled that I did. Run by Marti Noxon (an esteemed TV veteran who’s worked on Buffy, amongst many others) and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (a former Bachelor producer), UnREAL explores the gritty, gross underbelly of dating reality shows, setting up a world where the producers are hellbent on creating drama at absolutely any cost. Shiri Appleby, as the disgraced producer who’s incredible at pot-stirring, and Constance Zimmer, as the bitchiest, most devious EP alive, hold down the fort as their world explodes to pieces around them, and never has so much destruction and upheaval been this fun to watch.
Outstanding Episode: “Return” (Pilot)
No show, comedy or drama, has the scope of production like Documentary Now! does. Each episode, consisting of a different parody/homage of well-known documentaries, is so specific in it’s target (including Grey Gardens, The Thing Blue Line, and Nanook Revisited), some people might almost be convinced these are real documentaries (Many of the episodes actually use the same camera lenses that their subject of parody used in filming. It’s weird). Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Seth Meyers (along with directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono) have crafted a series that is so much more than a collection of mockumentaries. It’s a tribute to the documentary format in general, and the power of real-life storytelling. But man oh man, is it still freakin’ hilarious.
Oustanding Episode: “The Eye Doesn’t Lie.”
Nathan For You
Nathan Fielder continues to take television, and society, on a manic rollercoaster ride in the third season of Nathan For You. When the first episode of the season consists of Nathan convincing an electronics store to place low-priced TVs in the same room as a live alligator, you know things are going to get ridiculous. The season only escalated from there, with Nathan’s “genius” business ideas often crossing into the real world (include his Summit Ice windbreakers, and the self-help book “The Movement” available on Amazon). But things went above and beyond with the finale, “The Hero,” where Nathan took on the identity of an average schmo to change his life for the better. I don’t want to give too much away, but for a Comedy Central show, the finale episode somehow touched upon themes of identity, loneliness, and why we do good in this world. You’re making the world a better place, Nathan.
Outstanding Episode: “Smokers Allowed.”
Comedies don’t get much sadder than BoJack Horseman. In its triumphant second season, our favorite loudmouth horse celebrity has to come to terms with whether he can fully escape his past, and try and become a better person. Hilarious, right? Star of the new Secretariat film, finally in a stable relationship with new girlfriend Wanda (a very lovely Lisa Kudrow), you think BoJack has it all. But, in one of the most honest depictions of a character with depression on television, BoJack Horseman isn’t afraid to look at the darkness of humanity, and to why we treat people as terribly as we do. But it is still a hilarious show, I promise.
Outstanding Episode: “Escape from LA.”
Master of None
If I could wish one thing, it would be that Master of None wasn’t renewed for a second season, because I can’t imagine how anything could top this masterful debut season from Aziz Ansari. Beautifully shot, marvelously performed, and written with such wit and insight that raises the bar of what sorts of discussion are possible on a TV comedy. A dissection of race, relationships, and 21st century city life, Master of None is ten near-perfect episodes, crafting a season that asks us “Why is it so hard to make a choice?”
Outstanding Episode: “Indians on TV.”
The Last Man on Earth
The Last Man on Earth, both the show, and the titular character Phil Miller, are hard to love. Phil is awkward, stupid, and above all, a pathological liar. He’ll fabricate whatever story to get what he wants, and in normal society that might have worked. But it’s a little tough when there are only 7 people left on the entire planet. But the beauty of Last Man‘s first two seasons (both airing this year) is how honest the show is about Phil being, well, not such a great person. A wonderful examination of human interaction under extreme circumstances, starting off with one of the best pilot episodes of a new show in recent memory, and ending this year with a tragic second season finale, Last Man has ambition, heart, and humor, and like any good relationship, it’s tough to love at times, but you get there eventually, you truly do.
Outstanding Episode: “Pilot.”