2015 is almost at a close, and that only means three things: Star Wars is coming, Christmas is coming and it’s time for BuzzHub to publish our Best and Worst TV Shows of the Year list, featuring all that was good and (so, so) bad on the small screen over the past 12 months.
Of course, there are countless TV shows we didn’t see this year, and that are excluded from this list. Some examples: Empire, Homeland, Outlander, Mad Men, House of Cards, Girls, Mr. Robot, The Americans, Louie, Transparent, Rectify, Justified, Broad City, Wolf Hall, The Knick, Hannibal, Orange Is The New Black, Vikings, Manhattan, The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, The Affair, Penny Dreadful and Bloodline.
32. WAYWARD PINES (FOX)
M Night Shyamalan visited network television this year with this absolute stinker: a 10-part adaptation of a terrible mystery novel starring Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo and Toby Jones. It started like a Twin Peaks wannabe and ended as perhaps the most obnoxiously stupid sci-fi show of the past decade. There are no words for how bad some of the writing on Wayward Pines was. Believe us: it’s awful. Go home, WAYWARD PINES, you’re drunk!
31. SENSE8 (NETFLIX)
In another example of Filmmakers Who Were Successful Once In The 90s On A Fluke But Have Lost All Trace Of Integrity heading to television, Andy and Lana Wachowski flooded our screens with this nonsensical, convoluted, pathetically dumb drama. The only reason any people like Sense8 is, it seems, because it has a diverse cast. Here’s an idea: how about we put diverse casts on good shows and cancel rubbish like Sense8?
30. LIFE IN PIECES (CBS)
Life in Pieces is the sort of middle-of-the-road sitcom that should have died out a long time ago. A dysfunctional American family go through “crazy” storylines, split into 4 separate threads every episode. Thomas Sadoski, James Brolin and Dianne Wiest are trapped in the middle of the madness, taking their cheque and praying for a better job.
29. UNDER THE DOME (CBS)
CBS finally put this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (which it stopped adapting a long time ago) out of its misery this Summer with a final season worthy of the The CW. It’s hard to decide which was worse- the writing or the directing- but these were safety some of the 13 worst hours of television imaginable. A screaming egg! The power of song to save the world! Moon Gods! Mike Vogel attempting to act! Could this get any more ridiculous? Dean Norris and Alexander Koch probably had a big party when the news of cancellation came through. They were, indeed, free.
28. THE SLAP (NBC)
Ah yes, The Slap. The “event series” that makes Under The Dome look like The Wire. The plot: a child is slapped at a barbecue. So begins an entire miniseries starring Zachary Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard, Thomas Sadoski (who seemingly couldn’t catch a break this year), Uma Thurman, Brian Cox and the despicable Australian actress Melissa George. Occasionally laughable in its soapiness, often mind-blowingly pretentious, The Slap will live on in TV history as a mistake NBC shall never forget.
27. THE BRINK (HBO)
A pathetic excuse for a comedy, The Brink is a show that HBO never should’ve greenlit. Tim Robbins sleeps with prostitutes; Jack Black negotiates with terrorists. How hilarious…
26. SCREAM QUEENS (FOX)
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk tried and failed to recreate the success of Glee with this shiny but shallow horror-comedy, a show too political for its own good which drowned under its cast of despicable characters. With none of Glee‘s musical glitz or occasional warmth, the show is nasty in all the wrong ways, and simply isn’t very funny/scary either.
25. THE GRINDER (FOX)
Rob Lowe and Fred Savage star in this mediocre legal comedy. Some satire on the entertainment industry’s ability to boost egos is amusing, but there’s a general lack of originality.
24. GRANDFATHERED (FOX)
John Stamos, Josh Peck and Paget Brewster are a terrific starring trio for any sitcom writer to have at their disposable, and Grandfathered has been immensely enjoyable, if clichéd, from the start. We look forward to the confirmed upcoming Drake Bell guest appearance!
23. SUPERGIRL (CBS)
The wonderful Melissa Benoist finally gets a lead role in CBS’ big-budget (but not big enough for good CGI) “feminist superhero” adventure. It’s fine, with silly-as-hell villains romping the streets of [Insert City Here] every week, but Benoist has a delightful rapport with her co-stars, making the show significantly more watchable than it would otherwise be.
22. MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
The thing with Modern Family over the past few years has been this: it’s still good. It’s still funny. The adult cast are still on fire every episode. But it’s so predictable, so formulaic despite its wit, that it’s nearly impossible to place it very high on any sort of “Best Of” list without feeling like you’re cheating newer, fresher more unique shows. Nonetheless, Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are some of America’s greatest comic talents. Just less of the annoying post-pubescent kids, please.
21. SHOW ME A HERO (HBO)
Paul Haggis and David Simon’s period political drama was boosted by a stellar cast (Oscar Isaac and Winona Ryder- need we say more?) and some beautiful footage of Yonkers, NY, but the script simply wasn’t quick or tight enough to make this 4-hour drama about housing estates particularly exciting. Was Aaron Sorkin not available for a consultation meeting?
20. DAREDEVIL (NETFLIX)
Daredevil is good in all the ways we want modern television to be: it’s slow, it’s dark, it’s brutally violent, it has a troubled antihero and a quietly vengeful antagonist. Daredevil is, in all honesty, of a high quality. But it’s just grippingly boring (as it seems is Netflix’s Jessica Jones, just released at time of writing). Anyone with the patience to make it through enough episodes for Vincent D’Onofrio to show up has our admiration.
19. GRACE & FRANKIE (NETFLIX)
The ‘Flix debuted this OAP-themed sitcom during the summer, with the West Wing/The Newsroom dream crossover cast of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston served far less witty dialogue than any of them deserve. Nonetheless, it’s sweet and pleasant and there are few quartets of actors it’s more enjoyable to bask in the majesty of than these.
18. GLEE (FOX)
The final season of FOX’s once-phenomenonally successful musical was neither its best nor worst, but rather an interesting 13-episode blend of what made the show great and abominable over the past 5 years. Some episodes were utterly delightful, some unwatchable cringe-inducing. The finale, however, was indisputably excellent, with exactly the amount of schmaltz one would want. #GleeForever etc.
17. GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
Thrones had its best season to date this year, with Arya and Sansa sent away to atmospheric sub-plot land, Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion given some intense and brooding stares to stare and the tiresome Jon Snow dispatched for extended periods on some mission we could only claim to understand. As one of the most overrated shows on TV, it was nice to see Thrones actually be entertaining for a change, but we can’t imagine this will last.
16. TRUE DETECTIVE (HBO)
It’s hard to explain to a layman just how inferior TD2 was to 2014’s groundbreaking TD1, but just trust us when we say it was. Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams tried their best to give solid performances, while one or two episodes spawned memorably intense Hitchcock-influenced sequences, but in general TD2 was as bad as good TV gets: all faux philosophy and extended periods of silence when the writer ran out of bullshit.
15. GOTHAM (FOX)
Gotham really stepped up its game in 2015, replacing the tedious villain-of-the-week structure with some genuinely thrilling story arcs (we’ll choose to forget the horrendous Fifty Shades cash-in that gave new meaning to the word “sleazy”) and giving the biggest scenes to the best players (namely David Mazouz, Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith). Best of all though was the show’s treatment of The Joker, which came to a head in the early part of Season 2 and genuinely shocked us with its ingenuity.
14. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (FOX)
Will Forte is a master of facial, vocal and physical comedy, and he gets to do all 3 to the max on FOX’s highly entertaining comedy. From episode 1, the show sprang surprises on its audiences and continue to dump new twists far more regularly than it has any right to (but we love it).
13. SILICON VALLEY (HBO)
While not as flawless as its first season, the second run of Mike Judge’s tech comedy gave its fantastic ensemble cast just as much smart Sorkin-ish babbling to do, and was all the wittier for it. Silicon Valley continues to be the best TV comedy nobody knows they’re missing.
12. FAMILY GUY (FOX)
It’s hard to say new things about Family Guy every year, but it has once again earned a solid place on this list and- unlike Modern Family– continues to surprise us and amuse us every week with its biting satire and utterly ingenious observations.
11. THE CASUAL VACANCY (BBC ONE)
Even a team of EastEnders writers couldn’t ruin JK Rowling’s moving story on the modern British class divide and the most despicable set of characters you may ever meet outside Scream Queens‘ sorority house. Rory Kinnear won our hearts; Michael Gambon our hatred.
and now, the top 10….
We had absolutely no interest in WHAS:FDOC prior to its release, looking like nothing more than a series of poor SNL sketches with random “celebrity cameos” thrown in to gain media attention. How wrong we were. WHAS:FDOC, hugely superior to the film it prequelises, is more Arrested Development than SNL, with a perfect balance of sharply-cynical observational comedy and charming nostalgia. Major stars like Bradley Cooper are utilised not for their fame but for their legitimate talent, and smaller names like Lake Bell and Michael Showalter carry 8 episodes worth of running gags like true pros. There’s much to laugh at, and little to dislike. The culminating Chris Pine power ballad and moralistic storyline about positive sexual experiences are unexpected, memorable highlights. Don’t be put off by the horrendous marketing; WHAS:FDOC has countless moments of comedy gold.
Noah Hawley’s Fargo may not have experienced a True Detective-level dip in quality this year after its stellar first season, but the inferiority of the 70s-set Season 2, replacing the magnificent Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton with the relatively dull Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons, is undeniable. The snow is stunning, the score is soaring and the Coen Brothers references are fast and frequent, but there’s an overall lack of heart and a lack of fun; something the abundance of innovative filmic gimmicks and cinematic homages cannot compensate for.
The long-running sitcom signed off in suitably whimsical fashion in February with a 13-episode final run that brought back beloved characters, introduced some new ones (hello, Bill Murray!) and reminded us why we loved Pawnee. The show that made stars of Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari and countless others will long be remembered as one of the century’s most joyful and charming, if not groundbreaking, TV comedies.
Amazon’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel in which, in an alternate history, the Nazis have won the war and taken control of the US is stunningly shot and performed, and provides some of the most grimly atmospheric moments of television this year. The high regard the show holds for the art of cinema is clear and admirable, and lead Alexa Davalos is immensely watchable.
30 Rock masterminds Tina Fey and Robert Carlock debuted their new comedy on Netflix in March, and what could have been a painfully cheerful explosion of positivity and the colour yellow turned out to be a sharp, cynical and laugh-out-loud funny satire on psychology, religion and New York society. Watch for, if nothing else, Titus’ Peeno Noir song.
Dan Harmon’s seminal comedy moved to Yahoo! this year for its likely final season, and delivered some of the finest conceptual episodes since the Dark Ages began in Season 4, despite the loss of approximately half its primary cast members. Community is one of the finest TV shows of all time, and though Season 6 was nowhere near its best, the (season/series) finale is suitably heartbreaking and a near-perfect conclusion to a near-perfect uber-meta comedy series.
What could have been nothing more than a cheap cash-in (The Hobbit to Vince Gilligan’s metaphorical Rings trilogy, if you will) turned out to be a stunning, surprising and unpredictable opera superior to vast stretches of Breaking Bad itself. With the equally charismatic and repellent Bob Odenkirk as its lead, and some of the year’s finest acting work from Jonathan Banks in the latter half of the first season, Saul is frightening and funny, beautifully written and directed and witty to the bone.
Our number one show of the year (see below) may provide the most intense existentialist experience currently on US television, but it has a close runner-up in BoJack Horseman: the Netflix animated comedy that has transcended all expectations of what a Netflix animated comedy should be to become a dark, brooding and shockingly smart exploration of Hollywood angst and mid-life crises in its portrayal of sitcom horse BoJack and his miserable, hateful existence. In one of several utterly brilliance Season 2 storylines, JD Salinger, voiced by the great Alan Arkin, comes to L.A. to produce a celebrity gameshow. Are you sold yet?
Based on Susanna Clarke’s novel, this fantasy miniseries lures you in with a tale of rival “practical” magicians in 19th century England and soon becomes an epic commentary on the period society, dealing with slavery, feminism and the bitterness of a man scorned. With some of the UK’s finest working character actors, including Eddie Marsan as Mr. Norrell, and a poetically powerful script, Strange & Norrell makes a mockery of Game of Thrones: this is what all period fantasy television could and should be.
What began as a case study in grief and misery with a strong but tonally inconsistent first season transformed this year into one of the finest television shows of our times. Damon Lindelof’s philosophical odyssey balances subtle retellings of classic parables (often presenting Biblical tales in a contemporary setting) with a beautiful, elegant deconstruction of the very nature of storytelling whilst providing its fantastic cast with reliably moving emotional work and pitch black comedy. The Leftovers is like nothing else on television, but is the show that all others should aspire to be more like. Ingeniously-structured episodes alternate between dedicated visits to specific storylines, self-contained urban fairytales and expansive overviews of the effects of faith, hope, ambition and uncertainty on the psyche of irreversibly-damaged characters. Birds are buried underground, children disappear, terrorists recruit armies, cities are born and torn apart, dreams and reality melt together: The Leftovers is hypnotic and haunting, and will take your breath away again and again.