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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.

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Brittany Falussy

18

‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’ (Netflix)

It might seem daft to compare this reunion event to Brian Wilson finally completing Smile in 2004, but First Day of Camp is that kind of achievement — a crazy idea that seemed doomed to disappoint, an embarrassing nostalgia trip, except against all odds it turns out to be the real thing. David Wain and Michael Showalter got the whole Camp Firewood band back together—even the ones who've gone supernova famous since the original 2001 movie, like Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd. And everybody is freaking overjoyed to be there, which gives emotional resonance to even the stupidest jokes, especially the climax where the campers battle Reagan's invading troops with Frisbees, kickballs and rock & roll. And I love this pep talk from Amy Poehler's Susie: "Now you get back up onstage, you beautiful broken son of a bitch, and you dance like your life depends on it. Because it does."

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Brittany Falussy

17

‘The Leftovers’ (HBO)

The first season was a somber portrait of a grieving town after two per cent of the world's population mysteriously disappears. I admired it, felt vague relief when it ended, found the memory so depressing I had zero interest in the second chapter — and, in fact, completely ignored it for weeks. So it's a welcome surprise that Season Two turned out to be a riskier, nuttier, less reverent and infinitely livelier story. Justin Theroux's Sensitive Sweaty Cop moves to a small town in Texas to start a new life, but finds that grief follows him around like a bloodhound. The stranger it got (that afterlife-as-1970s-spy-thriller episode!), the more emotionally accurate it felt. 

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Brittany Falussy

16

‘Jessica Jones’ (Netflix)

It's easy to forget Jessica Jones is officially a superhero, because she's so noir to the bone — a black-leather hard-boiled detective in Hell's Kitchen, into rough sex and poison whiskey, staring down her traumatic past with a cold eye. She carries her memories of abuse the way Bogart's Sam Spade carried his memories of World War One (or how Bogart's Dixon Steele carried WWII), as a permanent burn only a chump pretends not to resent. And speaking of superpowers, Krysten Ritter — the unsung B you weren't supposed to trust in Apartment 23 — goes so deep here, we can only hope she has more Jones in her.

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Brittany Falussy

15

‘Silicon Valley’ (HBO)

"What's got two thumbs and three commas? This guy." Silicon Valley is never less than enjoyable when it's about five guys trying to strike it rich — but most of the time, it's about five guys trying to be good at something, which is different and harder to make funny. The already-excellent tech comedy took a big step up this season, especially when their Pied Piper livestream captures a man falling off a cliff and screaming for help; for these geeks, the human tragedy is proof that they built something that works. "This guy's gonna drink his own piss? That's too good." As Kumail Najiani's Dinesh explains in the heat of the crisis, "I can always find another job, but look at us. Doing this. It's intoxicating. Don't act like it's not magical. It is." And he's getting sentimental about streaming video of a man drinking his own urine. With its monomaniacal focus on the highs and lows of work addiction, it really resembles Mad Men more than it does than any other comedy around.

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Brittany Falussy

14

‘Hannibal’ (NBC)

In retrospect, it was always vaguely psychotic this show ever made it to NBC in the first place. I'm sure somebody along the chain of command decided that was a fit. The shocking thing about Bryan Fuller's Hannibal wasn't so much the violence, which many of us had to watch through our fingers, but the lushness of the killer-aesthete's well-appointed abodes, the comfiness of his furniture, the finicky attention to detail in his culinary-cannibal lifestyle. Mads Mikkelsen has the predatory focus of any Top Chef contestant who ever made it past the first Quickfire. The third and final course was the most disturbing, with Hannibal living la dolce vita in Florence with Gillian Anderson, lecturing about Dante (he ate an Italian professor for dinner and stole his identity, a shrewd move in today's academic job market) en route to his deadly rendezvous with Hugh Dancey's Will and Laurence Fishburne's Jack. Nice new Siouxsie song in the finale, too. Ciao, Hannibal.

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Brittany Falussy

6

‘Empire’ (Fox)

How exactly did we all function before we met Cookie? (There was a Cookie-shaped hole in our hearts, with room for one of her leopard-print fedoras.) The hip-hop soap became the year's surprise blockbuster, thanks to Taraji P. Henson's gangsta matriarch, with a big assist from Terence Howard's record-label mogul Lucious Lyon. Plus a barrage of shamelessly ridiculous plot twists, usually involving Courtney Love, Judd Nelson and/or Marisa Tomei — whose performance as the fabulously named lesbian wheeler-dealer Mimi Whiteman should convince any remaining doubters she's Oscar material. Pray us out, Cookie: "And God, please do not withhold your blessings, even from hos that hire skanks to spy on me. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen."

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Brittany Falussy

5

‘Difficult People’ (Hulu)

The year's most brilliant new comedy, starring two of the year's most hilariously repulsive creeps. Julie Klausner comes on like Larry David in Ann-Margret drag ("I was told I can't have children, because I hate them"), while Billy Eichner earns a first-ballot spot in the Eyeroll Hall of Fame. They do what they can to make NYC life more miserable for anyone unlucky enough to sit near them at a funeral, a diner, an Annie matinee, or pretty much anywhere. They even attempt "the nice thing," which lasts until they meet Williamsburg's premier sober magician. They've both done so much brilliant work separately — Eichner hosts Billy on the Street, while Klausner wrote I Don't Care About Your Band, the definitive guide to boning the unbearable — but together, they truly capture the romance of falling in hate with the human race.

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Brittany Falussy

4

‘The Americans’ (FX)

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are two deep-cover Soviet spies in the D.C. suburbs, in the early 1980s. Their family life is based on lies and betrayals — which is exactly what makes them authentic Americans. The third season raised the stakes — especially in "Dimebag," the truly heartbreaking episode devoted to Yaz's Upstairs at Eric's. (New rule: Every prestige drama needs a Yaz episode.) The most shocking moment: after Russell's undercover agent breaks a tooth in a fight with a couple of FBI agents, they can't go to a dentist — so her husband performs some DIY dental work. When he pulls out her tooth, it's a long, gory, dialogue-free moment of agony … one that weirdly also plays like the year's most intense sex scene.

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Brittany Falussy

3

‘Broad City’ (Comedy Central)

Can I get a "Yas queen"? Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer ruled 2015 as two BFFs in the city — pegging the boy next door, wandering Whole Foods high on wisdom-tooth drugs, and generally living the carpe-dayumn lifestyle. Most spiritually cleansing 15-second sequence of the year: Ilana's "hold please" and wall-humping victory dance when Abbi calls with a dildo question. These two can make any nothing day a keeper, whether they're discussing their funerals ("I made a playlist already — it's pretty much RuPaul's 'Supermodel' on repeat and I need leather tissues") or the environment: "Reduce, reuse, recycle, Rihanna." And we'll all be stealing their trick of how to fake bringing wine to a party. Abbi and Ilana might not have any clue what they're doing with their lives, but as long as they have each other, they're the most bad-ass broads in any room. Romantic dialogue to kill for: "I'm your main squeeze?" "You're my favorite little Jewie this side of St. Louie!"

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2

‘Mad Men’ (AMC)

"Men don’t take the time to end things," as sexual philosopher Joan Holloway Harris once explained. "They ignore you until you insist on a declaration of hate." But not only did Matthew Weiner end Mad Men, he saved some of the Sterling Cooper crew's most unforgettable moments for closing time. Don Draper stranded on a desert bus-stop bench, a Buddy Holly tune in his head, watching as his Cadillac disappears into the dust. Peggy Olson doing her glam strut into the office, rocking her shades and cigarette and Thermos. Roger Sterling crouched over the organ, his mustache reeking of vermouth, playing "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo" as Peggy shows off her roller-skate skills. And that ingenious final scene — Don has his moment of Zen doing yoga on a cliff up in old Big Sur, where you see the light and it looks just like Coca-Cola, C-O-L-A, cola. Damn, I'll miss these bastards.

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1

‘Mr. Robot’ (USA)

Once upon a time called right now: A shy tech geek in a black hoodie gets recruited into an underground squad of vigilante hackers with a Coney Island clubhouse. Their mission: take down the capitalist system. But as he keeps learning, the hardest system to hack into is your own mind. Mr. Robot is easily the year's most audacious drama — a punk psycho-thriller full of anti-corporate sabotage, digital paranoia and heavy drugs. (All the revolutionary talk is even more surprising on USA Network, of all places.)

Newcomer Rami Malek is fantastic as the hacker kid Eliot with the haunted eyes, with Christian Slater as his grizzled guru Mr. Robot. (I never figured 2015 would be the year I'd type the six fateful words "Christian Slater has never been better," but there you go.) The story hit home because it taps into the way too much solitude plants bugs in your brain, the way we use our phones as shields to hide from the world, the way hallucinations turn into memories, the way basic human interaction requires a backlog of personal history that can be just too painful to lug around. (The scenes of Eliot alone in his apartment recall Gene Hackman in The Conversation, a Seventies high-anxiety classic that's all over Mr. Robot.) And Slater has the right kicked-around look — this guy could be Hard-On Harry, the teen-outlaw DJ from Pump Up The Volume, except 25 bitter years older. Talk hard, Mr. Robot.

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