Our picks for best new TV shows of 2015 reflect an immense and seemingly unquenchable desire for something different. Every year, it seems, that’s what we’re looking for—stories we haven’t heard, actors we didn’t know we loved and character types we didn’t know we were missing. It is an absolute thrill to reflect on how new shows like Jessica Jones, Catastrophe, Mr. Robot and Master of None brought us all of these things and more. In other words, damn it feels good to be a TV watcher in the golden age. Here are our picks for the 15 best new shows of 2015.
Yes, it’s true. Lifetime, the same network that brings you painfully cheesy movies and unauthorized looks at the TV shows from your childhood, had one of the best TV shows of 2015. Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) is the producer on Everlasting, a Bachelor-type reality series that helps women find true love. Except, of course, that it doesn’t. UnREAL is a scathing look at what really happens on reality shows—from the constant retakes, to the forced story lines, to the fabricated settings, UnREAL will make you rethink every reality show you’ve ever watched. And Rachel is a fascinating character who, along with her executive producer Quinn King (Constance Zimmer), manipulates the contestants to get the reality show the network needs and viewers want. The result is a thought-provoking soap opera. UnREAL is the TV equivalent of a smart beach read. Once you start watching, you won’t want to stop.—Amy Amatangelo
Don’t let the name keep you from tuning into this one—creator/star Rachel Bloom (who was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on the show) addresses it before the theme song’s even over, responding to choruses of “she’s the crazy ex-girlfriend” with lines like “that’s a sexist term” and “the situation’s more nuanced than that.” And it is: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a clever musical-comedy (think Flight of the Conchords, if they leaned more heavily on musical theater) about Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who turns down a partnership at her New York firm to follow her ex-boyfriend Josh to West Covina, California and try to win him back. But it’s more complicated than that: along the way Rebecca learns to address some of the neuroses she’s been carrying around since childhood and gets sidetracked (depending on how you look at it) by a sort of Sam and Diane “will they/won’t they” thing with Josh’s friend Greg. Her “crazy” is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always presented smartly and sensitively—never what you might expect from a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.—Bonnie Stiernberg
It took Grinder a little while to figure out what kind of show it wanted to be. Was it a Lookwell-esque bit of absurdity, a blend of genre parody and pure silly nonsense? Or, was it a slightly more traditional sitcom, albeit one about a former actor returning to his hometown to turn his family’s life upside down? While the heart of the show was in flux, what Grinder has always been is funny, and that’s half the battle. As the season has gone on, the show started to find that voice, becoming a more traditional sitcom, but keeping some of that meta humor and showbiz parody that made it stand out. While Rob Lowe’s Dean has spent very little time in a courtroom after the pilot, the ensemble, led by such luminaries as Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Steve Little, and Natalie Morales, has helped bolster the dynamic duo of Lowe and Fred Savage as the Sanderson brothers. Some may argue that a show this idiosyncratic would have a hard time finding an audience, and be destined to fail. Grinder dares to ask, “But what if it isn’t?”—Chris Morgan
When Marvel first dipped its toes into the television world with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., they either dipped too far or not enough, depending on your perspective. Where their cinematic brand had long found its footing and built up momentum over years of careful planning and shrewd casting, their attempt at transitioning that brand to the small screen stumbled within its premiere. Too content to live in the shadow of The Avengers and all subsidiary properties therein, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rushed out the gate with no identity of its own. But the opposite is true of Agent Carter, Marvel’s post-S.H.I.E.L.D. series, originally intended as a one-off that is now counting down to its second season. Agent Carter knew exactly what it was and what it wanted to be from day one: A pulpy, women-centric series of deeply retro sensibilities, built around one of Marvel’s best-liked supporting characters, Peggy Carter, the great love of Steve “Captain America” Rogers and a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its fledgling stages.
Everything about Agent Carter rings with confidence: The tone and the setting, the style and the characterization, the humor and the action. It’s true that S.H.I.E.L.D. has vastly improved in its subsequent seasons, but Agent Carter didn’t need time to figure itself out (mostly because it didn’t have time to do so). The show doesn’t miss a beat, from its debut all the way up to its finale, rarely winking and nudging along the way with appearances by characters who only matter tangentially in the long run of Marvel’s universe. Most of all, it had Hayley Atwell, whose good looks belie her indomitable toughness, and lead both her audience, her allies, and her enemies alike to underestimate her. She’s the heart of Agent Carter, a story whose female concerns and casting act as a blueprint of sorts for today’s lauded Netflix series Jessica Jones. Captain America might be the first Avenger, but Peggy Carter is the first lady of Marvel ass-kicking.—Andy Crump
Few shows feel as fully formed as iZombie did from episode one, bursting out of the gates with confidence, definitive structure and clear tone. The distinct take on zombies (they remain in control of their faculties as long as they feed on human brains) revitalized a stagnant genre and opened a world of possibilities that other zombie shows can’t provide. The real standouts of the show, though, are its characters. New shows often push leads while letting the supporting cast wallow in clear-cut stereotypes, but iZombie displayed, from the beginning, a discernible focus in building out the figures surrounding Rose McIver’s Olivia Moore. One of the best new faces on television this year is Rahul Kohli’s joyous forensic pathologist, and Liv’s primary confidant, Ravi Chakrabarti, but he’s joined by other great characters including Liv’s ex-fiancee Major (Robert Buckley) and her partner, Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin). With the ability to slyly move from comedy to drama, iZombie always keeps the viewer on its toes and halfway through the second season, it’s is making a case for being the best comic book show The CW has to offer.—Eric Walters
When a follow-up comes along for any project with a huge cult audience, it seems doomed to disappoint. Arrested Development’s fourth season’s breaking apart of the cast was bound to frustrate, and Anchorman 2 could never reach the surprising joy of the original. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp obviously came with a certain amount of trepidation. But instead of trying to recreate the glory of the last day of camp, as seen in the 2001 film, First Day of Camp added a considerable amount of depth to the original film and explained aspects of Camp Firewood that never needed to be understood, but make the entire history of these characters feel more whole. The Netflix series managed to redefine these characters that we fell in love with over a decade ago, all while giving us laughs and immense heart as well.—Ross Bonaime
As the first team-up between Netflix and Marvel, Daredevil had the most to prove of any new show this year. Few knew what to expect when the comics behemoth and streaming giant joined forces, and the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe did little to scrub fans’ memories of the 2003 Ben Affleck debacle. When the series launched in April, it was clear this version of The Man Without Fear shared little DNA with the silver-screen iteration and, surprisingly, little with its larger universe. Daredevil was darker than anything the MCU had created, a gritty portrayal that highlighted a seedy underbelly most Marvel movies strictly avoid. This was not the bright lights of The Avengers, but instead a grim world that sprouted from the wreckage of the Battle of New York, and the devastation allowing crime syndicates to establish a vice grip on Hell’s Kitchen through numerous real estate developments. Bolstered by strong performances, particularly from lead Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio as the villainous Kingpin, and stupendous action, Daredevil unspooled with a deliberate pace analogous to a multi-issue comic book story. It may not be the best thing Marvel and Netflix did in 2015—Jessica Jones has a strong argument for that crown—but it set the tone and proved that the comic company isn’t all glitz and glamour.—Eric Walters
Togetherness is a wonderfully put-together series, filled with phenomenal victories and heartbreaking failures. The Duplass brothers have made a show with four fascinating leads, where every motivation makes sense and every moment feels completely earned. Even with all the growth we witnessed in the first season, by the end, the characters are still circling the answers that might potentially make them happy. The season finale, “Not So Together,” might be one of the most beautiful and well-crafted pieces that the Duplass brothers have ever put together. I for one absolutely can’t wait to see them try to find more answers next season, after an incredible introduction.—Ross Bonaime
What if you got pregnant from a one night stand? What if you lived in London and the father of your future child live in Boston? It would probably be a catastrophe. The result for Amazon’s fictional world, however, is an absolutely charming series about two people (played by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan) trying to make the best of a tough situation. What really sets the show apart, aside from its bawdy humor, is that Delaney and Horgan’s characters are genuine and real. The way the average TV show handles pregnancy is ridiculous. A pregnant woman is usually just a cliché of bizarre cravings and nausea. But Catastrophe is an honest look at what pregnancy entails, particularly when you’re over the age of 35. Indeed, I may be making the show, entirely written by Delaney and Horgan, sound heavier than it is. It’s simultaneously hilarious and grounded. How often does that happen? But here’s what you really need to know—the entire first season is only six episodes. You could start watching right now and be done by dinner. So what are you waiting for?—Amy Amatangelo
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
Marvel’s first team-up with Netflix, the excellent Daredevil early in 2015, took the shiny Marvel Cinematic Universe and rubbed much needed dirt on it. Jessica Jones furthers the trend with a psychological thriller that is, somehow, more brutal and dark than its Hell’s Kitchen contemporary. Unlike Daredevil, Jones not only redrew the lines for a Marvel production, but redefined what a comic book show could be. The emphasis is not on the physical, but instead the mental destruction caused by Kilgrave (the phenomenal David Tennant), a sociopath with mind-control powers. Netflix’s binge model is used to its full-effect, each episode’s conclusion begging the viewer to let the train roll on. And, like a victim of Kilgrave, its impossible not to abide. Jessica Jones keeps the viewer guessing, leaving them suspended in a state of fear and anxiety for 13 perilous, but wonderful hours.—Eric Walters
So, the title The Last Man on Earth turned out to be a bit of a mislead. That’s for the best, because, as ambitious and fascinating as it was to watch the show in its early moments when it was just Will Forte ambling around an empty landscape, more people in the cast, including the excellent Kristen Schaal, has benefited the series by giving it to actual human dynamics. The shift also gives Forte other people to bounce off of with his particularly brand of unhinged comedy.
The first season was strong, but it had its flaws—like almost every show does. It had, at a certain point, become a fairly formulaic sitcom, only lifted by the talent of the cast, and the post-apocalyptic landscape. However, the second season has really seen The Last Man on Earth take it to another level. The rough edges have been sanded down, the dynamics of the group have grown in interesting ways, and most importantly, it has become even funnier. Who knew so much humor could be mined from a show about the vast majority of people on the planet dying off?—Chris Morgan
“Offbeat” has long become a tired buzzword in the TV lexicon. That being said, if any new show this year deserved that very label, it’s USA’s Mr. Robot. Indeed, few things in 2015 dominated the cultural conversation quite like the story of a mentally disturbed, drug-addicted hacker looking to take down an evil, Enron-esque corporation and bring about a new world order. Tackling his first leading role, Rami Malek is nothing short of a revelation; more surprising, the show also blesses Christian Slater with his best role in years. Though not without its occasional bumps along the way, Mr. Robot has the potential to be the latest entry in the ongoing narrative of this current Golden Age of Television. If nothing else, the show has successfully shifted USA’s brand away from “blue sky” procedurals, towards more prestige-worthy dramas. Season Two can’t come fast enough.—Mark Rozeman
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
Like its creator and star, Master of None is stylish, smart and clever—a half-hour comedy that ranks as one of Netflix’s best efforts in original programming. Following the trend set by Louie, Transparent, You’re the Worst and many other modern sitcoms, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang built a show that doesn’t mind the occasional laugh hiatus. Instead of pushing the joke quota to astronomical levels, Master of None is content to find poignancy amid the humor, and if the former outshines the latter, so be it. The result is a show that is fun to watch, emotionally satisfying and thought provoking. It’s also been paramount in furthering the discussion about race and representation on television, both with its own casting and the topics it addresses. There is so much to say about this show, and these few hundred words are a pathetic attempt to do it justice. Master of None is not only one of the best shows of 2015, but one of the most important in a long, long time.—Eric Walters