Best of 2015: New TV shows
It's been a big year for television. FX did the math recently, and we had 409 scripted shows to choose from, the most ever. And lots of us aren't even watching television on a television. With more channels and desperate TV execs hungry for viewers, there is a turbulent sea of good-but-not-great TV out there. So how do you choose what to watch? I admit, I couldn't watch everything I wanted to this year. So with help from a couple other loyal TV watchers, here are our picks for the best new series this year:
10. Difficult People (Hulu)
Comedians Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street) play kind of fictional versions of themselves in this quick-witted sitcom perfect for obsessive pop-culture connoisseurs. On the show, this vicious duo are struggling self-absorbed comedians. They live in their own loud bubble full of vulgar insults and disgust for almost everyone and everything. But their friendship is the show's heart. They are Will and Grace, with a grumpier edge. These characters aren't as likable, or sometimes not at all likable, but they're funny.
9. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Hard drinking, foul-mouthed super heroines on TV can be counted on exactly one finger. Netflix's Marvel's Jessica Jones is the antidote to the peppy world of Supergirl and the TV wasteland littered with damsels in distress. Krysten Ritter plays Jones, whose powers are strength, limited flight and limited invulnerability, can save herself and still be entertaining in a grown up kind of way. Hell's Kitchen is safer and cooler to have her. Robbyn Mitchell
8. The Jinx (HBO) and Making a Murderer (Netflix)
You're going to want to make time for these two true crime documentaries that expose injustices in our court system in very different ways. The first, The Jinx, came out earlier this year and left audiences breathless as Robert Durst, the black sheep of a New York billionaire real estate family, spoke on camera for the first time about the three crimes of which he somehow hadn't been convicted. He's twitchy, cocky and a little funny looking. The second, Making a Murderer, begins in 2003 as Steven Avery, a man born to a poor family in Manitowac County, Wisc., is released after serving 18 years of his 32-year sentence for a rape he didn't commit. DNA exonerated him, so he sued the county for $36 million. In the middle of that lawsuit, he's charged with the rape and murder of a young photographer. From there, the documentary goes chronologically into the details of the Avery's life. Many moments will break your heart, but the scene that had me reeling was when Avery's 16-year-old nephew, who is accused of participating in the crime, asks his mother what "inconsistent" means. This 10-year project is both infuriating and captivating and needs your full attention.
7. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)
One thing network TV got right this year is the need for more diversity on our screens. And props to ABC for giving us not one, but two great family sitcoms featuring people of color. Black-ish was last year's breakout family comedy, and Fresh Off The Boat continued that success earlier this year. The premise is simple: An Asian family moves from Washington, D.C., to Orlando in the 1990s, and comedy ensues. The three boys are absolutely adorable and dad Louis (played by Randall Park) has a heart of gold. But the real giggles come from Constance Wu. Jessica is the head B in charge who is learning to soften around the edges as she raises her family in the ‘burbs.
6. Master of None (Netflix)
Aziz Ansari should give tips on how to successfully create a series that is actually meant for binge-watching. I consumed all 10 30-minute episodes in one sitting (it was a lovely Friday night) and I never grew tired of the show or its great cast. Each episode stands alone in theme and story, yet a plot is continuously threaded. Ansari plays Dev, a struggling actor in New York, trying to find good love and tacos. (Aren't we all?) He meets Rachel (Noel Wells) and their quirky and cute relationship is played out throughout most of the season. If you've read Ansari's well-researched and hilarious book Modern Romance, many of its conclusions on love are delightfully illustrated on screen. But Ansari also tackles racism in Hollywood, millennial anxieties and parental relationships. Read more about Master of None here.
5. Catastrophe (Amazon)
The first 30-minute episode alone gives its characters more to do than most sitcoms. The British comedy introduces us to Rob (Rob Delaney), who is on a business trip in London where he meets, and sleeps with Sharon (Sharon Horgan), a local teacher. They spend a raunchy and fun week together before Rob has to go back to the states. When Sharon finds out she's pregnant, Rob decides to move to be with her and figure out how they're going to be parents and start dating all at once. Rob is as charming as you'd expect the lead man in a rom-com to be. Sharon is foul-mouthed, yet loveable, and any man would be lucky to knock her up.
4. Unreal (Lifetime)
I have only ever watched one season of ABC's Bachelor empire, and it didn't come close to how entertaining Unreal was this summer. This dark parody of the popular reality show features strong women characters, eye candy and top-notch drama. Each episode is full of soapy behind-the-scenes drama with a touch of realism that will make you cringe with delight.
3. Better Call Saul (AMC)
Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul's first season has no right being as good as it is. When it debuted in February, Bad devotees like myself tuned in to see some of the characters we grew to love on screen again. But, as with all spinoffs, we watched with trepidation, wondering how the show could possibly follow up Vince Gilligan's magnum opus — wondering whether it would really even try to. With nearly a year's worth of hindsight, it's clear Saul surpassed our high expectations. It was one of 2015's most competent, zany, tragic series. There is a pervasive chill throughout the season that belies a clear sense of why it exists and what it wants to accomplish. Saul never feels like it's trying to make you love it. Gilligan's involvement certainly helped, as did a surprisingly deep and thoughtful turn from Bob Odenkirk as the titular good man and an (unsurprisingly) excellent performance from Jonathan Banks as former cop Mike Ehrmantraut. Saul started slow and shaggy, creating a new world around the bumbling Bad lawyer that with time felt just as realized as the world of its predecessor. It deepened and grew with every episode, building to memorable moments I can still vividly conjure: Saul becoming hysterical at the bingo game; Mike telling us how he let down his son. In fact, Saul's first season is so sure of itself, so wildly entertaining, it can nearly be forgiven for all those terrible wigs it forced Odenkirk to wear. If you're catching up on Saul now or want to relive the first season, here are our episode recaps from earlier this year. Michelle Stark
2. Empire (Fox)
Empire smashed the TV about music game this year by bringing Scandal-levels of insanity to the familiar tale of The Lion in Winter. Taraji P. Henson's turn as freed-convict Cookie Lyon is not only award-worthy, it's aspirational in it's Prada-clad fabulousness. At the heart of the show is a troubled family with a malevolent patriarch set on world domination — you know the usual stuff. Lucky for us murder, kidnapping, scheming and double dealings are du juor for the Lyons. We've recapped the first half of the second season if you're catching up over the holidays. Robbyn Mitchell
1. Mr. Robot (USA)
Summer's breakout hit turned out to be the year's best surprise. This cyber thriller kept us guessing till the very end of its debut season, and left us with even more questions. The USA series stars newcomer Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, a troubled 20-something computer hacker. He pairs up with a man calling himself Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) and his team of cyber vigilantes to take down an evil Google/Enron corporation. Elliot's mental instability takes over and we're not sure who is real and who is not. Your imagination runs wild as the story unfolds and you'll get lost in the show's artistic confidence and originality. Read more about the show here.