2015 was an exceptional year for television -- possibly the best, in terms of the sheer volume of good material, in history. Great stories and series came from everywhere, on every possible delivery system.
Our list alone features series from Cartoon Network, USA, and Netflix alongside proven networks like AMC and HBO. Even new digital markets like Amazon and Hulu continued to produce material that challenged as well as entertained. Even Marvel studios gave us the surprisingly complex Daredevil and Jessica Jones, a series that operated as a haunting metaphor for sexual abuse at the same time as it provided a kick-ass superhero story.
Here is our Top 10 in Television for 2015, gathered from votes from the writers and editors of Drunk Monkeys.
THE DRUNK MONKEYS
TOP 10 TELEVISION SERIES OF 2015
10. RICK AND MORTY
You think you know dark? You say you’ve seen the first season of the best animated series in about a decade, and you know what dark comedy is all about? Settle in. Rick and Morty goes into considerably more sinister territory for Season Two, which is a little disconcerting, considering how bleak that first season was.
Not only does Season Two up the stakes in the gallows humor department, but it also significantly improves its storytelling abilities, as well. The season finale goes for the throat, while simultaneously seeking to fuck with your head as hard as possible. It chokes you out, leaves you completely enraged at the wonderful people responsible for this madhouse, and provides you with some of the most uncomfortable laughs you’re ever going to experience. Rick and Morty proved over and over again in Season Two that you don’t have to be actively seeking to offend people with tired jokes. All you really have to do is take people into thoughts and realizations they would just as soon not experience at all. As far as animated comedies go, nothing tops Rick and Morty at this moment in time. In fact, it’s considerably better than a lot of live-action comedies, as well.
Gabriel Ricard, Film Editor
9. OTHER SPACE
On its surface, Other Space isn’t much: a silly sci-fi spoof starring everyone who’s ever been in a commercial. Look under the hood, and you’ll see what makes the series work so well: the series is the brain-child of Paul Feig, creator of the classic series Freaks and Geeks. Though it retains very little of the dramatic bent of that series, Other Space is just as filled with finely realized comedic details, which give testament to Feig’s obvious love of the low-budget sci-fi series and movies that he is referencing. And just as with Freaks and Geeks, Feig has cast well. The cast of familiar but largely unknown faces are each great in their own right.
Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-chief
8. UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
Ellie Kemper was one of the sole bright spots of the last two seasons of The Office. As a result, I’ve been waiting for her to get her own show. The combination of Kemper’s boundless courage and optimism in playing doomsday cult survivor Kimmy Schmidt with Tina Fey’s ability to create a relatable, hyperactive reality (co-creator Robert Carlock certainly deserves credit, as well) makes for one of the best comedies currently in production.
Kemper is more than capable of functioning as the cheerful, naïve centerpiece for the show, which does feel like a spiritual successor in certain ways to Fey’s 30 Rock. At the same time, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt also makes the smart play of surrounding Kemper with a wonderful ensemble. Carol Kane, we love you so. Tituss Burgess is easily the breakout star of the series, and there is no question that when Jane Krakowski is part of such a clever series, the world is a better place.
Expect Season Two to top Season One, which will prove to be no small feat.
7. MR. ROBOT
Engrossing and hypnotic, Mr. Robot is like nothing else on television: a paranoid vision of America, incorporating the iconography of the Occupy and Anonymous movements, filled with twists that keep the audience always on edge. All of that trickery would be too much, if the series wasn't conducted with the steady hand of series creator Sam Esmail, whose confident direction ensures that we are never lost in this labyrinthine world of cyber vigilantes.
The lead, Rami Malek, is a find -- handsome and haunting, as drawn and sickly as the wires he surrounds himself with. It’s through Malek’s yearning eyes that we see the series, and that we stick with the series through its most outlandish plot twists.
Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-chief
6. THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
It’s easy to forget that at one point, Letterman was pure counterculture. Dig up some early episodes of his iconic early days on late night. If you’re willing to do a little more legwork, compare them to the talk shows of the era. Nothing came close to Letterman’s smirking, subversive desire to fuck with everyone as hard as he possibly could. Even through the 90s and 2000s, there were occasional glimmers of this inimitable troublemaker. From a ratings standpoint, Leno may have won the so-called late-night war. However, to the very end, Letterman was still way more entertaining. Even when he apparently decided to coast through the last few seasons of Late Night, he still had a weirdly appealing, cranky old man quality about him.
And then something interesting happened, during the last season of his unprecedented late night television run: He started giving a shit again. People over a certain age could point to those last few episodes, and finally explain to younger skeptics that Letterman’s voice and perspective were essential antidotes to the banality of the Jay Lenos of television after 10 PM. Thanks to a full-force return of his surreal humor, coupled with brilliant final guests, Letterman did something that no one really expected him to do: He went out on top, and he made us wish for two, three additional seasons of his embittered-yet-bemused wit.
Any fears that the Netflix vision of the Marvel universe would be as toothless as ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were proven wrong the moment that Wilson Fisk, brought to life as a lumbering beast by Vincent D'onofrio, dispatched one of his underlings by slamming his head in a car door until it burst like a watermelon, spilling bright, slippery blood to the concrete below. Yes, Daredevil is as violent as it needed to be to pay proper tribute to its comic roots, but more surprising is how well-constructed the world and the characters are. Daredevil takes place in a world that is every bit as outlandish as the technicolor wonders found in The Avengers or Ant-Man, but Drew Goddard wisely uses the serialized structure of television to give his characters depth and weight.
Through kinetic direction, we believe in Matt Murdock’s powers, but through strong writing and a complex portrayal by Charlie Cox, we believe in Matt himself, even if he’s not quite sure what he believes in, or what side he’s fighting on.
3. JESSICA JONES
When was the last time someone told you to watch a show or film based on a comic book because of its emotional heft? Ghost World, maybe? Yet here’s a Marvel show that still has all the awesome of super-powered people duking it out but also delves into mental and emotional issues and does it well. While Daredevil showed that, as my father jokingly put it, Marvel’s ‘B-Squad’ characters can be turned into great television, Jessica Jones proved that it can become must watch television. And don’t get me started on just how well Krysten Ritter and David Tennant played their respective characters.
Taras D. Butrej
2. BETTER CALL SAUL
A Breaking Bad spinoff featuring Saul Goodman made sense. That didn’t mean it needed to actually happen. Thankfully, perhaps amazingly, Vince Gilligan, Bob Odenkirk, and everyone else involved in Better Call Saul’s phenomenal first season, pulled off one that exceptional, rare feat in television. Not only did they create a spinoff with very clear ties to its parent show, but they also put together a series that is very much its own entity. Better Call Saul’s first season is one of the best first seasons in recent memory. It adds depth to what we already knew about Saul (and for that matter, what we already knew about Mike), introduces a plethora of worthwhile new characters, and sets us up for a desperation to know more.
Season One is damn good. So much so, you suspect that in terms of storytelling, Better Call Saul may just surpass Breaking Bad.
1. THE LEFTOVERS
Co-creator Damon Lindelof (maybe you’ve heard of him from that other show) is freed from the constraints of episodic television. There’s also no audience, so perhaps there’s no need to gin up fake cliffhangers and endless fake mysteries, no need to blatantly lie and say it’s all planned out. There’s no Dalton Ross in his bunker, connecting photos with yarn on a giant bulletin board. The most maddening thing about Lost was in the latter years when the unexplained nonsense began to pile up to the height of an Oceanic airliner, Lindelof and Cuse began to nervously assure us that it wasn’t about the mysteries, it was about the characters. Well, here’s where he walks the walk. The characters in The Leftovers take center stage and are more compelling and dynamic than anyone on that other show. And yes, there are some mysteries. And yes, the latest episode finally confirmed that the supernatural exists in this universe. But that’s beside the point. The very theme song of the show tells us to “let the mystery be”. As you wish, sir. Just keep blowing me away every week and you’ve got yourself a deal.
Ryan Roach, Film Critic
LISTS OF NOTE
Please Like Me
Better Call Saul
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None
Better Call Saul
The Late Show with David Letterman
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Ash vs. Evil Dead
Better Call Saul
W/Bob and David
Wet Hot American Summer