The 20 Best TV Shows of 2015 (So Far)

TV Lists
Share Tweet Submit Pin

We’re halfway through 2015 and many of us still haven’t recovered from this incredible, unforgettable season of television. This year will go down in television history as the season of the Empire premiere and the Mad Men finale. We said goodbye to some of the greatest series characters the world has known, with the departure of Justified, and we made bizarre new friends who introduced to important phrases and questions like, “What is this white foolishness?” (Titus Andromedon, forever). Comedies became sharper and dramas more poignant. We lost and found religion, and issues concerning politics, race, feminism, and intersectionality became a greater part of TV dialogue than perhaps ever before. It’s safe to say we are, indeed, working towards a TV world that embraces and celebrates diversity in the truest sense of the word, with characters who are not only varied in background and physical makeup, but are also complex—just like real people! Here are our picks for the best TV shows of 2015 (so far).

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-empire.jpg 20. Empire
Network: Fox

The logline for this drama—hip-hop meets Dynasty—was, on its own, enough to perk up the ears of network TV viewers bored with middling criminal procedurals and dull three-camera sitcoms. Then you throw in some radio-ready jams produced by Timbaland, a strong anti-homophobia storyline, snappy hashtag-friendly dialogue, and an electric performance by Taraji P. Henson as the matriarch of a family musical kingdom—is it any wonder that this show destroyed all expectations and nearly doubled its viewership from the first episode to the season finale? Empire was the show you didn’t know you always wanted: an empty calorie feast of soap opera tropes with an ear for how the real world speaks and acts.—Robert Ham

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-louie.jpg 19. Louie
Network: FX

The definition of a critical darling with low viewership, Louie remains relevant for the risks taken by its visionary creator, Louis C.K. If you’ve read anything about this show, you’ve seen it compared to French film, and the reason that analogy is so ubiquitous is because C.K. is a legitimate filmmaker, and his medium is melancholy. That’s the driving emotion behind the comedy and tragedy that duel for primacy in each half hour—in every moment of defeat and triumph, there’s a lingering sadness that is portrayed as an inescapable component of the human condition. It’s a complicated pallor, often presented obliquely, and frequently disguised in an absurdist approach that will never resonate with a large audience. As long as it lasts, Louie will be a niche show, and it all stems from the zealous commitment of its auteur, who has proved, five seasons in, that he will not be compelled to appeal to any audience beyond the strange, morose little artist inside his own head.—Shane Ryan

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-goodwife.jpg 18. The Good Wife
Network: CBS

Coming off a stellar fifth season, The Good Wife had much to accomplish in the sixth season, as the show and Alicia (Julianna Margulies) continued to adjust to the new normal—life without Will (Josh Charles). The back half of the season had Alicia winning the State’s Attorney Election, only to lose the position almost instantly. At times it felt like the show was constantly pressing the reset button. Somehow, by the end of the season, Alicia was back in her old office with her old job contemplating once again starting her own firm. But the larger story of Alicia’s further descent into corruption was fascinating. What won’t she do to win? As an added bonus, we got to see a lot more Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter) one of the most fascinating, intricate and innovative criminals on television. We also had to say goodbye to Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), in a way that was final, but also left the door open if Panjabi ever decided she wanted to return. To put it simply, The Good Wife is network TV’s best drama. If you’re not watching, you’re missing out.—Amy Amatangelo

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-hannibal.jpg 17. Hannibal
Network: NBC

Hannibal’s third year stands as its strangest yet—and that’s certainly saying something. Equal parts horror, art film and European travelogue, the season begins with Hannibal gallivanting through Europe, all while his previous victims band together, determined to finally bring the monster down. The series’ creative reformatting brings with it a doubling-down on all the jaw-droppingly gorgeous imagery and surreal nightmare logic that gives Hannibal its cinematic zest. Likewise, the season also benefits from Gillian Anderson’s beefed-up role as Hannibal’s lover/prisoner, Bedelia. And there’s still much more to come, with the season’s latter half designed as a six-part retelling of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the novel that began this whole perverse affair. Time will tell whether or not this is the last we’ll be seeing of the good doctor and company, but—whatever the case may be—there’s no denying that Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal has been a strange, bloody ride, the likes of which we’re not likely to see again anytime soon.—Mark Rozeman

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-broadcity.jpg 16. Broad City
Network: Comedy Central

For the last few years, Comedy Central has consistently presented us with great comedy duos: Key & Peele, Kroll and Daly, and now Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Broad City presents us with two unforgettable characters who are desperately trying to become the boss bitches they are in their minds. This epic friendship is instantaneously contagious, and the brilliant plots, centered on the two twenty-somethings scraping by in New York City, makes this one of the great, most promising new-ish series. This year Broad City seems to have discovered how to keep its slacker-powered comedy machine firing on all cylinders, resulting in some of the season’s most successful episode yet.—Ross Bonaime and Hudson Hongo

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-lastman.jpg 15. The Last Man on Earth
Network: Fox

The last time Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Will Forte teamed up for a show, it was the brilliant but short-lived Clone High, an animated teen comedy parody about a school filled with clones of historical icons. Over a decade later, Lord, Miller and Forte reunited on TV once again for another high-concept idea, The Last Man on Earth, about Phil “Tandy” Miller, who lives in Tucson, Arizona and as the title implies, believes himself to be the last man on earth. Phil Miller started off as a sort of wish fulfillment surrogate for its audience, but quickly became an anti-Walter White, constantly digging himself into worse situations, but without the quick-on-his-feet thinking to get him out of his growing problems. Forte – one of the most underrated comedians to ever come out of SNL – makes Miller despicable, while also understandable, lovable and hilarious in his constant spiraling down that made the end of the world look like the easy part. The Last Man on Earth is one of the most original, exciting and unpredictable shows to come out of network television in years.—Ross Bonaime

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-walkingdead.jpg 14. The Walking Dead
Network: AMC

The original Night of the Living Dead wasn’t just a zombie movie—it was a frightening depiction of how humans behave in crisis. That’s always been part of the fun with zombie tales, and what’s so awesome about The Walking Dead is that it’s taken these themes and matured them. Whether it’s the brutal inhabitants of Terminus, or survivors of the Alexandria Safe Zone, the way people deal with the end of the world is much more interesting than the walkers who have caused it. This season, once again, The Walking Dead managed, through its horror, comic book-based form, to really examine the human psyche in a way that remains unrivaled by most other shows on TV today.—Leland Montgomery

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-justified.jpg 13. Justified
Network: FX

The last decade is littered with very good shows that missed greatness by collapsing at the finish line. Justified will not be added to that list. Instead, the show overcame a rocky fifth year and presented a sixth season that was not only excellent, but possibly even the show’s finest overall. Though no single performer could match Season Two All-Star Margo Martindale, the ensemble elevated their game. Each week it seemed that a different actor took the show on their back and willed it to victory. In the end, as ever, Justified succeeded by leaning on its Big Three. Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Joelle Carter literally carried the show all the way to its final moment. Always difficult to pin down, to the very end the show was a study in opposition. It was simultaneously hilarious and heart wrenching. It was of the moment, but elegiac. It was a classic western, but completely revisionist. It felt as familiar as an old pair of jeans, yet we had never seen anything like it. And we may never see its like again.—Jack McKinney

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-OITNB.jpg 12. Orange is the New Black
Network:   Netflix  

No show remains as compulsively watchable as Orange is the New Black. The third season took on the weighty topic of religion and faith and brought some previously background characters into the forefront. Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) truly became the breakout character of the season, while we also learned why Norma (Annie Golden) never talks and how Bennett (Matt McGorry) always chooses himself over others. Along the way Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) broke our hearts, as did the backstory of a character who was, in past seasons, incredibly difficult to understand or identify with—Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning). Spending time with Orange is the New Black can be like hanging out with life-long (foul-mouthed) friends. Sometimes theses characters annoy you to no end (like the increasingly narcissistic Piper), but it doesn’t make you love them and the stories they bring into your life any less.—Amy Amatangelo

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-daredevil.jpg 11. Daredevil
Network:   Netflix  

Daredevil represents a brand of adaptation that Marvel aficionados have been awaiting for some time, particularly in the wake of Fox’s disastrous handling of the character back in 2003. Having proven it can successfully translate its light, colorful comic book fare into equally light, audience-pleasing blockbusters, the Marvel Studios machine took a major step out of its comfort zone with this serialized take on Stan Lee and Bill Everett’s iconic character. In a landscape where “dark and gritty” has become a hollow buzzword, Daredevil actively pushes the envelope in what’s expected of “mature” superhero content. This is not the standard “characters-brood-and-discuss-serious-moral-issues” school of thought, but more along the “holy-crap-a-guy-just-got-decapitated-by-a-car-door” variety. All that said, Daredevil is so much more than the sum of its broken bones. Like the best Marvel properties, the intense spectacle serves as an organic extension of the story’s emotionally grounded, character-based center. Boasting a near pitch-perfect cast—Charlie Cox beautifully embodies the titular character, while Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is nothing short of pure genius—as well as some of the greatest action set pieces ever put on television, Daredevil marks a new creative high for Marvel. The Man Without Fear is back and better than ever.—Mark Rozeman

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-americans.jpg 10. The Americans
Network: FX

Season three of The Americans featured some truly iconic moments and jaw-dropping reveals. I could say two words to you—tooth extraction—and that scene alone would be reason enough to watch. Undercover KGB spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are at the center of this incredible thriller. This season was brought to new heights as their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) grew increasingly suspicious of her parents. Philip’s new target was an impressionable and lonely teen. Elizabeth’s devotion to the cause almost trumped everything else, and poor Martha (Alison Wright), who entered the season having no idea she was “married” to a spy, once again mistook Philip’s deception for true love. The Americans will make you think and over-think. It will break your heart. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll never see what’s coming next.—Amy Amatangelo

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-parks.jpg 9. Parks and Recreation
Network: NBC

Fans of Parks and Recreation were not given much of a chance to savor the final season of the show. It lasted only 12 episodes, including an hour-long finale, and most nights they doubled up the episodes. However, none of this stopped it from being a great season. The bold choice was made to set the season in the not-too-distant future, giving the writers a chance to shake things up, which led to a lot more storyline possibilities. Some of the best episodes ever of Parks happened this year, including a fantastic series finale. Sure, it was an unbelievably positive season filled with a litany of happy endings, but that’s not a bad thing when it’s done this well.—Chris Morgan

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-bettercallsaul.jpg 8. Better Call Saul
Network: AMC

To misquote The Simpsons’ Troy McClure, “Spinoff—is there any word less thrilling to the human soul?” Better Call Saul began its first season with the tricky task of using characters from one of the best TV series ever created while simultaneously forging its own identity. Fortunately, Saul’s long gestation time was evidence of the seriousness with which creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould took these goals, and while the resulting program has some of its progenitor’s stylistic trademarks, if anything it gets off to a smarter, stranger start than the first season of Breaking Bad. Without an easy hook like Gilligan’s “Mr. Chips to Scarface” pitch, the show is forced to delve into murkier moral territory, eschewing easy forms of evil like violence in favor of petty crime and fraud. Saul is intentionally slow, resistant to easy characterization, and aside from the miserable white male protagonist at its center does a good job of sidestepping the tropes of typical “prestige” television. In the process of differentiating itself from Breaking Bad, Saul also managed to differentiate itself from everything else out there, too, and the resultant show is the smartest drama currently being made.—Sean Gandert

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-insideamy.jpg 7. Inside Amy Schumer
Network: Comedy Central

To understand the impact of Inside Amy Schumer, consider the fact that there’s a Washington Post article circulating online right now that derides Amy Schumer as a racist. This isn’t totally off base since much of her humor is race-based. Is she racist? Is she feminist? Is she both? Is she neither? Is it all ironic? Does it even matter (especially to those of us who can’t stop laughing)? For a stand up comedian whose 26-minute show mostly features skits about abortion and herpes, she’s entered the cultural conversation in a big way. Not only is her comedic timing on point, but her perspective is fresh and her voice is honest. This year her series wades into issues (whether deliberately or by happenstance) that have sparked conversations about race, women and intersectionality in an exciting way.—Leland Montgomery

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-veep.jpg 6. Veep
Network:   HBO  

Veep is the smartest, best comedy on television, and I don’t say this lightly: I’m ADAMANT. On the macrocosmic level, it nails American politics—the amount of corruption and incompetence, along with a thick web of conflicting interests, which makes it impossible for anything real to be accomplished. More often than not, Selina Meyer ends up backing a position directly opposed to her true beliefs, and the goal shifts from political progress to mere survival. Finding a scapegoat or dodging a crisis is vastly more important to a politician’s life than passing a law or aiding the country, and no show looks at this reality with a more cutting kind of cynicism than Veep. On a microcosmic level, it’s a show that’s absolutely packed with comedy. This is like Aaron Sorkin if he were funny—overlapping, interrupting dialogue flies in at a lightning pace, chopping down egos, exposing insecurities, and generally adding layers of the most hilarious cruelty to a bitter, cutthroat world. It can be high-brow, and it can be low: One of the funniest recurrent bits this year involved Patton Oswalt’s slimy character grabbing Jonah by the balls. “Political comedy” is not an easy genre to pull off, but Veep has made it an art form, and the show’s fourth season was its best yet.—Shane Ryan

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-farlast-week-tonight.jpg 5. Last Week Tonight
Network:   HBO  

The difference between Last Week Tonight and nearly all the other news talk shows, comedy or otherwise, is simple: depth. It manages this in two ways; first by expanding its scope to global so as to develop a better perspective on what’s really newsworthy, then by spending a majority of each episode digging into one particular story. Generally speaking, these stories aren’t going to be “news” to anyone—pharmaceutical marketing, judicial elections, and student debt problems aren’t exactly breaking stories. But by giving each of these subjects more than just a passing reference, it takes on aspects of the narratives that in and of themselves aren’t generally known. John Oliver’s gleeful approach to hosting is a perfect fit for Last Week Tonight, too, creating a carnivalesque atmosphere that’s closer to Conan than something you’d see on MSNBC or even Comedy Central. With this, there’s a knowingness that the show’s at times deeply serious stories needing to function as entertainment, and that activism is important, but so is having a guy in a giant space frog suit. Last Week Tonight balances all of this, and has quickly become the only talk show where every single episode feels vital.—Sean Gandert

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-kimmy-schmidt.jpg 4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Network:   Netflix  

NBC has made any number of mistakes over the years, but few bigger than shelving Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock follow-up, before punting it over to Netflix. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wound up becoming one of the highlights of a great year for TV comedy. The fast-paced and flip sitcom featured breakout performances by Office vet Ellie Kemper as the titular former “mole woman” trying to make it on her own in New York, and Tituss Burgess as her flamboyant and put-upon roommate, Titus Andromedon. (NBC has recently tried to make it up to Kemper for dropping the ball on this by planting her in the guest host chair at Today—too little, too late, peacock peddlers.) Throughout the first season’s run, some writers and critics seemed dead set on finding some kind of flaw to pounce on with the show, zeroing in on how the minority characters are represented. This may be a wild generalization, but I think this was a natural reaction to one of the most overtly feminist sitcoms ever produced. Kimmy Schmidt is most certainly upsetting the natural order of your typical network sitcom. The show’s titular character is defining her life on her own terms and by her own standards. For some reason that still freaks some people out so they dismiss it or find some way to poke holes in the vehicle for that idea. That is what makes the prospect of a second season so exciting. Just as the show can go in a myriad of different directions, so too can Kimmy Schmidt. Now that she has put the awful time in the bunker to bed, she can face a new day with that infectious smile, bubbly attitude, and enthusiastic embrace of life experience. Sorry nitpickers and network executives; Kimmy Schmidt is going to make it after all.Robert Ham

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-got.jpg 3. Game of Thrones
Network:   HBO  

There’s no such thing as a sure thing on television, but Game of Thrones, which is in the midst of a spectacular seven-season run with the same directors, writers, and cast, comes awfully close. Which isn’t to say the show is without critics—issues ranging from misogyny to plain boredom rained down on the early parts of the fifth season. But those were fleeting critiques, and they paled in the face of the eighth episode, “Hardhome,” which featured one of the best battles in TV history. The introduction of the White Walkers made good on the season’s slow build, and that spectacle triggered a flurry of jaw-dropping action as the season wound to a stunning close. The puzzle pieces are slowly interlocking in Westeros and beyond, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the final two seasons will be some of the most anticipated TV seasons of all time. That wouldn’t be possible without the continuing excellence we witnessed in Season Five, as the power plays intensified and the armies assembled for what promises to be one hell of a conclusion.—Shane Ryan

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-silicon.jpg 2. Silicon Valley
Network:   HBO  

Though this HBO sitcom did a great job skewering the doublespeak and hyper-positivity of the tech world, the second season of Silicon Valley shone the brightest by putting the antisocial misfits of upstart startup Pied Piper in more and more ridiculous situations: trying to appease the grumbling jocks that populate an energy drink company and butting heads with the bloviating bro more concerned with maintaining his status as a billionaire than actually doing anything with his life. This provided ample opportunity for some amazing comedic performances by Thomas Middleditch as the twitchy, nervous head of Pied Piper and T.J. Miller as his perma-stoned co-founder. continue to hide in plain sight but the stakes during the third season are raised exponentially.—Robert Ham

BEST-TV-SHOWS-OF-2015-so-far-madmen.jpg 1. Mad Men
Network: AMC

I’d like to believe that Don has achieved the impossible and become one of TV’s first antiheroes to get a truly happy ending, just like I’d like to believe that Pete will never cheat on Trudy again, that Joan’s new production company will be an enormous success, that Peggy will marry Stan and become a creative director by 1980, just like Pete predicted. But we don’t know for sure, and in many ways, that’s the beauty of a show like Mad Men. It’s not all black and white; just like in real life, sometimes people change, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they try valiantly, but slip up and revert to their old ways. But either way, life, like Don Draper, keeps on moving. That Kodak Carousel keeps spinning. We can put on as many masks as we want, dress it up however we please, but as those hippies shilling for Coca-Cola from atop a mountain sang, “what the world wants today is the real thing”—and that’s what Mad Men gave us, why it’ll go down as one of the greatest TV dramas of all time.—Bonnie Stiernberg

Also in TV