The Top 20 TV Shows of 2015


More than 400 scripted, primetime shows aired in 2015, so how can anyone winnow that array down to the 10 best programs?

Trick question: It’s not possible. Not for me, anyway. After years of writing up Top 10 rosters (and sometimes fudging the numbers with ties), I cry uncle. For my sanity, my year-end best-of-TV list has to contain 20 entries. (Some of these entries are discussed in a new Talking TV podcast with Hitfix critic Alan Sepinwall.)

Even with that expanded roster, it was once again very difficult to come up with the list you see here. Hence the creation of more lists: Here’s my list of the year’s best new shows, and my rundown of the best returning shows of 2015 arrives soon. All told, around 50 shows and dozens of TV providers will be represented in these lists (which, I should add, don’t even contain all the great, good, pretty good, decent and not-great shows I watched this year; these were just the list-worthy contenders).

Faced with a smorgasbord of options, it’s only appropriate that a food-related word kept occurring to me as I wrote up this list: Umami. Beyond sweet, salty, sour and bitter, food aficionados have come to appreciate a fifth basic food descriptor. It’s hard to pin down what “umami” is, but most definitions describe it as a savory richness — a complex flavor that is hard to pin down but enhances a dish and makes it truly come alive.

There’s so much variety in the TV landscape that there’s no way to define what makes these shows special. Some shows are just bursting with umami.  

USA Network

USA Network

“Mr. Robot,” USA: An exceptionally ambitious meditation on technology, voyeurship and the mediated life we all live now. If Rami Malek had not imbued the lead character with depth, intelligence and finely calibrated suffering, in addition to sly wit and steely resolve, the show simply wouldn’t have worked. Also doing terrific things: Christian Slater, who was restrained when he needed to be but who also unleashed the glorious Full Slater when necessary; the show’s directors, who played with point of view and perspective in ways that enhanced every frame; and supporting players like Michael Cristofer, B.D. Wong, Stephanie Corneliussen and Martin Wallström. Now that “Hannibal” is over, we’ll have to rely on Corneliussen and Wallström to take up the mantle of “TV’s most terrifying couple.” (Further thoughts on the show’s first season are here.)