These were my 10 favorite TV shows of 2015:
1. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (Season 1, The CW) – In blending musical numbers, broad comedy and genuine character drama about a troubled 20-something, Rachel Bloom’s brainchild is the most ambitious show of the year. By doing all three of those things well (particularly the musical numbers, which are consistently clever and catchy in the way they explore Rebecca’s and other characters’ neuroses), it’s also the best show of the year. I’ll be following whatever Bloom does next, but I hope this series defies the low ratings and sticks around awhile, at least long enough for an official soundtrack release. (Here are my 10 favorite songs so far.)
2. “Fargo” (Season 2, FX) – Even without Billy Bob Thornton chewing scenery, Season 2 – set in 1979 – turned out even better as it explored the takeover of a Fargo family crime business by a Kansas City crime corporation (the fact that we don’t know the precise industry somehow isn’t a knock against the show), and the law officials who are mostly helpless to stop it (although Patrick Wilson’s and Ted Danson’s characters are worth rooting for). Ed and Peggy (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) provided dark comedy as the couple who stay a step ahead of the baddies through a combination of luck and pluck. Although the violence is over-the-top, as a Fargo native I can confirm that the way Upper Midwesterners speak and interact is spot-on.
3. “Gotham” (Seasons 1-2, Fox) – I know this stylized “Batman” prequel won’t be quite so high on most people’s lists, but I adore the dark noir look of the city and the way Detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and young Bruce Wayne (Joseph Mazouz) shape themselves into heroes through willpower rather than forces of destiny. The roster of villains keeps getting stronger, with the Riddler following the Penguin on his journey to rogue’s gallery status, and I’m looking forward to the continuing arcs of Tigress and Silver St. Cloud in the new year.
4. “Bates Motel” (Season 3, A&E) – At year’s end, it’s easy to forget about this “Psycho” prequel series because it airs in the spring. But it continues to fascinatingly explore the nature and nurture that lead to Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) becoming the psycho we know and love. Particularly tasty supporting turns came from Kenny Johnson as Norma’s brother and Ryan Hurst as a backwoods-based weapons dealer, as the show managed to keep illicit trade in a central role despite Oregon’s recreational marijuana legalization in the real world.
5. “Fear the Walking Dead” (Season 1, AMC) – This was a show I didn’t know I wanted to watch until it actually arrived as a six-episode summer series. Whereas the parent show chronicles the destruction of the old rules and the construction of a new society, “Fear” details the chaos and hard decisions in the wake of the zombie outbreak. We generally know where it’s going, but not precisely, since this group of characters is on the West Coast rather than the Southeast. Frank Dillane is particularly great as a teen going through drug withdrawal as society breaks down.
6. “iZombie” (Seasons 1-2, The CW) – It started off riding the residual goodwill of the previous Rob Thomas/Diane Ruggiero mystery series, “Veronica Mars,” but by year’s end it had grown into a show I enjoy nearly as much. The mythology about the science of the zombie plague is convoluted, but the procedural cases are smartly engaging and the cast is a joy to watch – starting with Rose McIver’s titular Liv, but also including Rahul Kohli as the medical examiner and Malcolm Goodwin as the police detective.
7. “The Walking Dead” (Seasons 5-6, AMC) – 2015 was the year when we explored Alexandria, which had been protected from walkers by walls and dumb luck, and how the town reacts to the arrival of Rick’s war-torn group. The clash of old-world and new-world philosophies led to plenty of philosophical conflicts for “Talking Dead” to break down, and it also was a strong year for characters (welcome, Enid and Jessie), with the highlight being the indie-film-style episode that showed us how Morgan became a pacifist.
8. “The Mindy Project” (Season 3, Fox) – In a down year for sitcoms, Mindy Kaling’s show remained the highlight even as it began to slightly favor the Mindy-Danny relationship over workplace drama at the clinic. No series does self-deprecating non-sequiturs better. From what I hear, the quality remained high when the series moved to Hulu for Season 4, which I haven’t watched yet. (I also intend to watch Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” someday.)
9. “The Strain” (Season 2, FX) – The ancient vampire mythology got ratcheted up, but I remained riveted by the characters and how they navigate the increasingly dangerous New York City (always with the implication that the vampire takeover could go worldwide). As with the first season, my favorite scenery chewers were Kevin Durand and David Bradley as members of the makeshift vampire-hunting squad; the evil Eldritch Palmer’s tryst with his young secretary was also weirdly compelling.
10. “UnReal” (Season 1, Lifetime) – Maybe I’m biased because she’s my favorite actress, but Shiri Appleby (“Roswell,” “Life Unexpected”) has a knack for picking good projects. This one is quite different, though, because she doesn’t play a lovable character. Rachel, the producer of a “Bachelor”-style reality show, must manipulate people for the sake of ratings – she’s been both blessed and cursed with this talent. Every character on the series is mostly a terrible person, but we see moments that make them relatable, making it hard to look away from this collective trainwreck of human decency.
Share your own top 10 lists in the thread below. I’ll be back with my top 10 movies list next week.