At The Comeback, we love sports and pop culture all year ’round, including December, so we don’t understand why so many best-of-the-year lists are announced before the year is actually over. This week, the last of 2015, we want to share with you some of our bests.
From the best male and female athletes, to the best new TV shows and movies, to the best coaches, the best superheroes, the most memorable moments and storylines, to who had the best year of anyone on the planet, we’re running down the best list of best lists of anyone in 2015.
Here’s a look at the year’s 15 best new TV shows of 2015. Some of these made their debut early in 2015 and are already on to a second season this fall, while others are fresh fall faces, but they’re all compelling. It’s also worth noting that, unlike some of our other lists, television viewing is highly subjective to the individual, and this list tries to stay true to that while being respectful to the larger critical acclaim some shows have garnered. As you’ll see, this list lies more heavily on comedies than other lists might, as 2015 was a fantastic year in the on-going return of the sit-com, and that was clearly evident in this ranking.
15. Limitless (CBS)
This fall series grew out of a movie, the 2011 Bradley Cooper film of the same name, but serves as a sequel that stands in its own right, with Jake McDorman delivering an intriguing performance as slacker-turned-brilliant-FBI-analyst (thanks to dangerous drug NZT) Brian Finch.
14. The Jinx (HBO)
This six-part documentary miniseries from Andrew Jarecki this spring followed in the wake of his 2010 film All Good Things, examining accused murderer Robert Durst, and its conclusion provided not just remarkable TV, but also an ethical debate.
13. The Jim Gaffigan Show (TV Land)
Making its debut this summer, this feels like a throwback family sitcom in some ways, with a focus more on jokes than high-concept plots, and Gaffigan using his stand-up experience to deliver an often-entertaining fictionalized show about him, his wife, their kids and their friends.
12. Empire (Fox)
The Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson-starring soapy musical drama about family battles at a record label became one of the biggest ratings hits in recent memory when it launched in January, and it’s continued to do well in its second season this fall.
11. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Following in the wake of the well-received Daredevil, Netflix continued its gritty superhero trend this fall, but Jessica Jones stands in its own right as an excellent exploration of dark themes not typically seen in the Marvel comic universe. This was the most hotly-debated show on this list, as some had Jessica Jones as the best show of the year, but its underlying storyline of abuse could be difficult for some viewers to digest, especially on a binge.
10. Schitt’s Creek (Pop)
This hilarious Canadian import (it was created for the CBC) started in January and twisted the “charming small town” model of comedy setting on its head, with SCTV alums and comedy legends Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara playing a once-rich family forced to survive in a small town they can’t stand. It’s a terrific ensemble performance, with Daniel Levy (Eugene’s real-life son, who co-created the series with him) and Annie Murphy doing great work as their kids, Sarah Levy (Eugene’s daughter) as dim waitress Twyla Sands, Emily Hampshire as sarcastic motel clerk Stevie Budd, and Chris Elliott and Jennifer Robertson as local mayor Roland Schitt and his wife Jocelyn. There are some good plot twists over the course of Season 1, too. Schitt’s Creek will return for Season 2 on Pop in March.
9. The Last Man On Earth (Fox)
The ambitious Phil Lord and Christopher Miller-directed pilot here drew plenty of attention when it premiered in March, featuring star and creator Will Forte playing Phil Miller, a man exploring a seemingly-deserted world and doing all sorts of unconventional things. However, Miller character met Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal) at the end of the first episode, and other people soon followed. The premise drew plenty of people in, but didn’t always generate consistent laughs, especially in early episodes where Miller’s less-than-desirable traits were emphasized. Season 1 ended strong, though, and this fall’s Season 2 has largely built on that, delivering an entertaining post-apocalyptic comedy.
8. Mr. Robot (USA)
This Sam Esmail-created series took an unusual launch approach, premiering online and on tons of video-on-demand platforms at the end of May and earning a second-season order even before it hit TV in June. The results were impressive once it landed on TV, though; Mr. Robot’s tales of hacking, paranoia and vigilantism struck a cord, and its many plot twists kept viewers engaged throughout. Rami Malek has received plenty of praise for his portrayal of lead character Elliot Alderson, and there’s a strong supporting cast that includes Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin and BD Wong. Work is underway on Season 2, which will see Esmail direct every episode.
7. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Co-creator and star Rachel Bloom produced one of this year’s most original comedies this fall, full of catchy original musical numbers and unusual situations and relationships. Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, a New York lawyer who still pines over Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), her summer camp fling from ten years ago. When she runs into him and hears he’s moving home to West Covina, California, she decides to follow, and plenty of craziness ensues.
6. Daredevil (Netflix)
This April premiere provided something very different from most of the Marvel universe we’d seen on TV to date, getting darker and grittier and even including a one-shot scene that some have called “the greatest fight scene in TV history.” Much of what makes Daredevil stand out is its focus on its hero’s limitations, particularly his lack of sight, as well as his strengths. Charlie Cox does great work as the lead, while Vincent D’Onofrio is terrific as primary villain Wilson Fisk. There’s also a compelling supporting cast, including Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henderson as Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple. Season 2 will come out in March.
5. iZombie (The CW)
The Veronica Mars team of Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright have produced another show about a smart female investigator, but this one has even more brains—literally. Loosely based on the DC comics by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, iZombie features Rose McIver as Olivia “Liv” Moore, a former medical resident who became a zombie at a boat party gone wrong and now works as a coroner’s assistant, getting insights into murders from eating the corpses’ brains (and experiencing their memories and personality quirks as a result). Her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) is one of the few who knows her secret, and is trying to work on a cure for the zombie virus. Malcolm Goodwin also stars as Detective Clive Babineaux. In addition to murder-of-the-week material, there’s a complex overarching plot involving zombie virus creator Blaine DeBeers (David Anders), Liv’s ex-fiance and social worker turned zombie hunter Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley), and energy drink CEO Vaughn Du Clark (Steven Weber). The 13-episode first season ran from March to June, and the 19-episode second-season began in October and is drawing rave reviews.
4. Master of None (Netflix)
Aziz Ansari and long-time Parks and Recreation writer and producer Alan Yang have created a remarkable, distinct comedy series in this fall release, which stands out by having Ansari’s Dev constantly “reminding himself to be curious about people and things well outside of his comfort zone.” Master of None examines everything from race in television to kids to aging to affairs, and it does so in funny ways that still manage to make interesting points. It’s drawn deserved comparisons to FX’s Louie, but brings a much different perspective, a refreshing lack of subtlety, an unusual feel, and a variety of real New York locations. It’s also drawn a lot of praise for how it addresses issues faced by those in their 20s and 30s.
One of the most unique elements here is Ansari’s real-life parents, Shoukath and Fatima, playing Dev’s on-screen parents. His show-stealing dad Shoukath, a doctor, took off most of his vacation time for the year to act in the show and spend time with Ansari, who posted a thoughtful tribute on Instagram about what his parents mean to him and how neat it was to work with them in this way.
Master of None also features a strong regular supporting cast, including Noël Wells, Eric Wareheim, Kelvin Yu, Lena Waithe and H. Jon Benjamin (who acts with Dev in an absurd disaster movie within the show dubbed “The Sickening”). There are some great guest actors who appear as well, including Clare Danes and Noah Emmerich. A second season hasn’t been announced yet, but Ansari and Yang seem enthusiastic about the idea. Given the reception of the first season, we may well see much more of this series.
3. The Grinder (Fox)
The Odd Couple-style pairing of brothers Dean (Rob Lowe) and Stewart (Fred Savage, making a rare return to acting) is one great part of this fall comedy, but the meta show-within-a-show elevates it even further, brilliantly satirizing much of TV in the process. Dean’s an actor fresh off starting in the campy legal procedural The Grinder who returns home to Boise, Idaho, where Stewart’s an actual lawyer in the family firm (led by Dean Sr., played by William Devane). Dean thinks his TV law experience makes him a valuable asset to the firm, and much to Stewart’s chagrin, he’s sometimes right.
Lowe and Savage bounce off each other very well here, and creators Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel smartly drew each of them with strengths and flaws, meaning that it’s not always a case of Dean being wrong and Stewart being right. The leading actors each give a tour de force, though, with Dean’s remarkable lack of awareness of the real world and Stewart’s frustration at being the constantly-overlooked brother creating great moments. The world around these guys is fleshed out, too; other strong performances come from Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Stewart’s wife Debbie, Natalie Morales as potential Dean love interest (but not if she has anything to say about it) Claire Lacoste, and Steve Little as attorney and Grinder fanboy Todd. There’s even a terrific guest arc from Timothy Olyphant.
2. Better Call Saul (AMC)
This Breaking Bad spinoff from Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould drew buzz for years in advance of its official premiere in February, and AMC bet heavily on it, ordering a second season eight months before the first episode aired. So far, that bet has paid off both commercially and critically. Better Call Saul is largely a prequel, set six years before Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman first appeared on Breaking Bad, but it also incorporates some glimpses of what happened after that other show’s finale. Heading into this, there were questions about if beloved Breaking Bad characters such as Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) could carry a series on their own, but the answer so far seems to be a clear yes.
Better Call Saul is one of the more unusual legal dramas out there, as it lives up to Gilligan’s 2012 concept of “a lawyer show in which the main lawyer will do anything it takes to stay out of a court of law.” It’s a fascinating look at how Goodman (who’s actually Jimmy McGill at this point) went from a small-time hustler working out of a back room at a nail salon to the well-connected legal sleazebag who becomes prominent in Breaking Bad. It also continues a good year for Odenkirk, who’s also drawn praise for his Netflix series with David Cross, Mr. Show follow-up W/ Bob And David. Season 2 of Better Call Saul will premiere in February.
1. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Tina Fey teamed up with former 30 Rock writer, producer and showrunner Robert Carlock to create this Netflix comedy, and the results were amazing. The show features Ellie Kemper as the main character, a naive but strong and optimistic woman who escapes from a small-town doomsday cult and starts over in New York, and Kemper’s performance provides both heart and laughs. Titus Burgess is also phenomenal as gay aspiring Broadway star Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s friend and roommate, and Carol Kane delivers as crazy landlady Lillian Kaushtupper. The interactions of those three provide the basis for much of the comedy here, and they generate plenty of laughs.
There’s definite 30 Rock DNA in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, especially in the scenes with Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline Voorhees, a rich but not-that-smart woman with a lot of Krakowski’s 30 Rock character Jenna in her. However, this show largely stands on its own, bringing a feel many 30 Rock fans will love but doing a lot of different things with it, especially in the more plot-focused second half of the season. What’s also unique here is how remarkably upbeat and positive this show is despite the struggles Kimmy has faced, and how it manages to wring every possible drop of humor from both dark and light places. Tim Livingston called it “the funniest show on television” in an AP Party discussion this March, and there’s a good case to be made for that. Now, we just have to wait for Season 2 in the spring…