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25 Best TV Shows of 2015

From female superheroines to cyberpunk hackers, the year’s small-screen highpoints

Best TV of 2015

What an insanely abundant year for TV. There was so much to feast on in 2015 — the year America finally recognized the severity of our Peak TV glut — but these shows were the peakiest of the peaks. Punk hackers. Leopard-print-loving hip-hop divas. Sleazy politicians, sci-fi cartoon trippers and bad-girl noir detectives. Spies, drug dealers and cannibals. And that's just a typical episode of Empire.

Here's to a year where TV reached history-making creative heights — and here's to more in 2016.

20 Best TV Shows of 2015

Brittany Falussy

13

‘Orange Is the New Black’ (Netflix)

The women's-prison ensemble story has expanded to the point where Piper, originally the main jailbird, has become dead weight; nobody would argue that an early parole for her would hurt the show. But that's a tribute to the abundance of unforgettable characters in Litchfield Penitentiary — with so many unforgettable actresses seizing the chance to tell their stories. Orange had star turns from Uzo Aduba's Crazy Eyes (who wrote her erotic sci-fi saga, The Time Hump Chronicles) as well as Samira Wiley's Poussey, Kimiko Glenn's Soso, Lea Dalaria's Boo and Kate Mulgrew's Red, who ponders marriage and divorce: "I owe my younger self 23 years of wild sex with multiple partners, but I'll settle for my name back." And Danielle Brooks' Taystee really zoomed to the top of my favorite-inmate list this season, especially when prisoners are trying to revive a comatose Soso. Taystee just says, "I done seen enough dead to know alive."

20 Best TV Shows of 2015

Brittany Falussy

12

‘You’re The Worst’ (FX)

"Let me tell you how relationships work: You cheat, and then she cheats, and then one day you wake up and he's gone, none of your stuff works, and you're having crabby puffs with some British guy." You're the Worst is the rawest of TV rom-coms, with Aya Cash's Gretchen and Chris Geere's Jimmy as a couple-or-whatever who share "I don't do feelings" as a way of life. (They've got sexual PTSD, which stands for previously taken or sucked dicks.) So they can't understand why having sex gets so messy — almost as if they're falling in love or some dumb stuff like that. Steven Falk's cult hit hits even harder in its second season, as these two find out each other's dirtiest secrets. Gretchen's "side bitch" sneaks out to cry alone in her car; Jimmy prefers to have wet dreams about Janis Joplin in the shower: "Yeah, Janis was a no-go. Pivoted to Grace Slick at the last second, so it wasn't a total waste." Feed your head.

20 Best TV Shows of 2015

Brittany Falussy

11

‘Bojack Horseman’ (Netflix)

Everybody's favorite cartoon horse who happens to be a self-loathing sitcom star and horrible-ish person, BoJack spent this season struggling for his big comeback role in the biopic of his hero Secretariat, a project that, like everything else, turns out to be a crushing disappointment. Raphael Bob-Waksberg's animated brainchild just keeps getting more inventive and more emotionally hardcore, as BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) tries to make something of his life, with a little help from his feline ex Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his human crush Diane (Alison Brie) and her dog husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), as well as the mysterious bearded runner dude who offers advice in that powerhouse final scene. Keep running up that hill, BoJack.

John Oliver Tonight

Eric Liebowitz/HBO

10

‘Last Week Tonight With John Oliver’ (HBO)

It definitely says something about our insane times that the only TV journalist anyone can still trust is this joker. As a Brit outsider, Oliver can get away with laughing at the powers that be instead of sucking up to them, going for in-depth investigative satire rather than bite-size cliches. Week after week, he makes everybody else in the TV-news puppet show look like the cowering toadies they are. Oliver was at his absolute best ranting after the Paris attacks: "If you're in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck, because go ahead, bring your bankrupt ideology. They'll bring Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gaulois cigarettes, Camus, Camembert, madeleines, macarons, Marcel Proust and the fucking croquembouche. You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight, my friend. You are fucked."

20 Best TV Shows of 2015

Brittany Falussy

9

‘Better Call Saul’ (AMC)

Nobody had any lofty expectations for this: Saul Goodman, the sleazebag lawyer from Breaking Bad, gets his own spin-off prequel. Who could have predicted it would turn out this great? It stands on its own as a comic desert noir — Bob Odenkirk fills every scene with the dank odor of a small-time shyster's flop sweat, doing his little All That Jazz "It's showtime, folks!" psych-up routine in the courthouse bathroom mirror. And Jonathan Banks has never been more terrifying, especially in the standout episode "Five-O," as tough guy Mike Ehrmantraut makes his bones. What more could Odenkirk fans ask from 2015? Oh wait … he also got back down with David Cross for Netflix's four-episode Mr. Show reunion. Now that's a year.

20 Best TV Shows of 2015

Brittany Falussy

8

‘Veep’ (HBO)

"You are the worst thing to happen to this country since food in buckets. And maybe slavery." Now that she's President, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer has never been more heartless, and neither has Veep, cranking up the spite to warp speed with new MVP Patton Oswalt as a crotch-grabbing staffer. And Timothy Simons as poor Jonah, a.k.a "Johnny Titballs," "Benedict Come-In-His-Own-Hand," "Spewbacca" and "One Erection." The show will never ever top the bravura "Testimony," which might have more lies per minute than any sitcom episode ever — the perjury equivalent of a Neal Peart drum solo. (As usual, Kevin Dunn gets the best line: "If I had children, which actually I do, this bill would be my baby.") Since Armando Iannucci ended his final season with that Election Night cliffhanger, nobody can say what's next for the Selina presidency. But please, four more years.

20 Best TV Shows of 2015

Brittany Falussy

7

‘Fargo’ (FX)

The first season took off from the Coen brothers' film, without ever escaping its shadow — but this is a whole new Fargo story, as Patrick Wilson's Vietnam-vet cop faces Bokeem Woodbine's super-smooth killer. The amazing cast is full of actors you didn't know had this much jam in them: Jesse Plemons as a thick-headed butcher boy, Kirsten Dunst as his deceptively dangerous blonde wife, Jean Smart as a mob mama. Most surprisingly, there's also Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan, 2015's favorite TV villain — the old draft-dodging nuke freak had cameos in The Americans, Deutschland 83 and Wet Hot American Summer — but he really gets his here, as the frontman for the fat cats who’ve figured out he's their meal ticket. It's a heartland crime tale that doubles as a snapshot of the whole country.