In 2015, we moved out of the era of Golden Age TV (buh-bye, Mad Men) and into the era of Peak TV (there are over 400 scripted shows now, not including reality and docu series). And we tried to watch them all — and almost succeeded! I’ve gathered my fellow TV addicts Ange, Heather and Nicole for a round table discussion on what we loved on the small screen this year. (Warning: here be spoilers!)
BEST NEW SHOW
Jen: My two favourite new shows came from networks I’ve never even watched before: UnREAL on Lifetime and Mr. Robot on USA. I also like Netflix’s Master of None and Kimmy Schmidt, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, and AMC’s Better Call Saul.
Ange: Yeah, Lifetime and USA Network seriously brought their A-game this year with UnREAL and Mr. Robot. Both shows were simply fantastic and highly addictive. I was so happy not to binge Mr. Robot, even though I wanted to; I found that having it sit with me for a week really let it sink in and made it even that much more awesome! And, like Jen, I was highly impressed with Netflix this year: Jessica Jones, Master of None and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt … flawless!
Heather: I would put Mr. Robot on the top of my list. I lost interest a little bit in the middle (it was a bit too trippy so I took a break), but it dragged me back in and ended strong. UnREAL was also good – it was another one of those shows where the characters just seem so unredeemable but you find yourself watching anyway. I guess I measure a good show by how much I want to watch it once it’s on my DVR. For example, I just deleted all 10 episodes of Quantico that have been gathering there since October. The exception to the ‘DVR deletion rule’ is season 2 of Fargo – I really liked the first season, and it’s gotten great reviews so those episodes are definitely staying until I find time for a marathon session. Fingers crossed!
Nicole: I really liked UnREAL and Kimmy Schmidt, too, the first because I like having strong, flawed female leads and the second because it was so damn charming. I think there’s room for more of both. Mr. Robot was cool although I also lost steam mid-way through. I feel like next year Netflix should have its own category for our review; they put out so many good shows this year.
SCENES THAT MADE ME CRY
Jen: This was the year TV gave me heart cramps. The scenes that roundhouse-kicked me in the feels include Gretchen’s meltdown on You’re the Worst, Elizabeth killing the old woman on The Americans, Parenthood‘s terminally ill Zeke asking Sarah, “Was I a good father?”, Caroline’s mother dying on The Vampire Diaries (and I don’t even watch that show anymore!), Forrest losing his imaginary prison friend on Review, and The Flash returning to the past to stop his mom’s murder but then deciding at the last second to let it happen and just tell her he turned out fine instead. *sob*
Ange: I’m with you Jen on You’re The Worst – Gretchen’s realistic portrayal of someone with depression definitely got me to cry a few tears, but it was when Jimmy built her the fort and she said “you stayed!” that made me sob along with her. I also still can’t think of Parenthood without getting a little misty. It took me a full 24hrs to tell my husband about of the final ep without busting into tears. There was also Cindy’s speech on Orange Is The New Black about why she wanted to be Jewish, then was baptized in the river – perfect full circle for her character. Also sad was Charlie’s death on Supernatural. But I’m going to take it WAAAYY back to early 2015 with Parks and Recreation when we finally found out what Morningstar was all about and why it drove such a wedge between Leslie and Ron. When Ron – the man nearly void of all outbound feelings and emotions – admitted to Leslie that he was contemplating taking a job with the dreaded federal government, only for us to then see Leslie unknowingly neglect and hurt one of her most dearest friends, well, it definitely made me (and still does!) tear up!
Heather: I’m not sure if anything made me all-out breakdown this year (or maybe I just blocked the memory?!) but I agree with Ange about the Parks and Rec episode where we find out why Leslie and Ron are fighting. I think I was just surprised – I never thought that show would make me misty-eyed, but they did it. Of course that was quickly followed with me laughing my ass off with all the craziness that ensued while they were locked in the parks office and everything fell back into balance. Also, I caught back up with Grey’s Anatomy this year and it seemed like every other episode had the usual heart-string moments that made their earlier seasons great – damn you, Shonda Rhimes!
Nicole: I’m dead inside so I don’t cry (do I say this every year?). However there were a few moments this year that stood out for the feels, most notably the last scene in The Good Wife‘s mid-season finale when Eli tells Alicia about the voicemail. Wowza, that was intense. I’m also really loving Transparent season 2 and there are so many moments that got to me, like the look in Raquel’s eyes during the ultrasound or when Sarah’s in the bathroom stall during her wedding reception. Finally, You’re The Worst’s Gretchen crying in her car in the middle of the night was heartbreaking.
SCENES THAT MADE ME YELL AT MY TV (IN A GOOD WAY)
Ange: Definitely the single-shot hallway fight scene in Daredevil was (and still is) tops! Another best: Mr. Robot’s secret sister reveal (yes, swear-yelling was done) and Zoom tossing Barry around like a rag-doll after TKO’ing him on The Flash. And don’t even get me started on Will and Hannibal’s final scene together on Hannibal. I also want to give a special shout out to the entire Supernatural episode ‘Baby,’ which took place from the point of view of the Winchester’s trusted Impala. Each shot was carefully done either in the car, or the camera stayed in the car while the action happened outside. I definitely was in awe of that ep!
Jen: Like Ange, I also dug Daredevil‘s hallway fight scene (the ONLY thing I liked about that show), and Mr. Robot‘s secret sister/father reveals. My other favourite jaw-dropping moments include Jon Snow’s stare-down with the white walker on Game of Thrones, Kevin pushing little Patty down the well on The Leftovers, and Robert Durst admitting to murder while forgetting his mic was on during The Jinx.
Heather: The Mr. Robot “I see dead people” moment – I did not see that one coming. I generally like to just go along for the ride when watching and don’t try to guess ahead, so maybe that’s why I was so surprised. I was watching it by myself and I literally yelled out ‘What the *#&%*!!” at my TV. I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t complain.
Nicole: For me it was the Mr. Robot sister reveal, the way Raquel dealt with Josh when he came to the synagogue after she left on Transparent (cold but deserved) and when Kirsten Dunst’s character takes her birth control ever so casually on Fargo.
SCENES THAT MADE ME LAUGH OUT LOUD
Heather: There too many laughs to count from one of my absolute faves: Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver. This is one of the few shows I either watch live or as soon as I get home from work the next day. His thoroughly-researched yet hilarious rants on everything from FIFA corruption to mandatory minimums to televangelism (yes, I donated to ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption’, praise be) are some of the best on TV these days. I’m also a huge Parks and Rec fan so there are too many of those to count too…although there was a moment in the episode where Ron and Leslie are trapped in the office and are trying to get the attention of the janitor across the hall but he’s listening to Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” on his pocket radio. This was a shout-out to a similar scene in the Lil Sebastian funeral episode in a previous season so it cracked me up (and I’m not crazy, I only noticed because there was a marathon on Esquire channel leading up to the last season!)
Jen: Mad Men’s Peggy walking into McCann like a boss was a thing of beauty, while Titus’s “Peeno Noir: An Ode to Black Penis” song on Kimmy Schmidt was hilarious (it’s also made me incapable of ordering wine at restaurants without breaking out into song, which is hella awkward).
Ange: Ah ha ha ha – yes to all of the above! I also still laugh when thinking of Leslie’s saxophone fart on Parks & Rec, Review‘s Forrest shaking his Magic 8-Ball, and Donnie and Allison dancing with all that money and glitter on Orphan Black.
Nicole: Can I say all of Kimmy Schmidt? That whole damn season? So funny. My fave Mad Men moment was Peggy’s roller skating scene. I loved and will miss that character.
BEST COMEBACK SEASON
Nicole: Two shows that went off a cliff last year and showed moderate improvements are Scandal and The Good Wife. Neither is fully redeemed but both are better than last season. I feel like the spring episodes of this season will determine whether I drop them or not.
Jen: I can’t believe I’m about to gush about The Leftovers considering it was at the top of my Worst TV list last year, but I’ve never seen a show do such a complete and successful 180. They took the focus off Kevin, introduced intriguing new characters, moved the story from a town where everyone was trying to forget about the departure to a town where no one was allowed to, de-emphasized the Guilty Remnant, and added a forward-moving storyline with the missing girls. The show answered just enough questions to make the ones they didn’t answer (the cricket, the birds, Kevin’s apparent immortality) not annoying. Even better, by adopting a more traditional TV structure, it allowed the writers to occasionally lean into the weirdness extra hard, like the episode where Kevin “dies,” wakes up in a hotel as an international assassin, and basically does a dreamland walkabout for an hour. Last season, that would have felt frustrating and pretentious as hell; this year, it felt earned.
My other favourite comeback is Arrow, which took the opposite trajectory. Last year I named it my favourite show, but then it immediately fell off a cliff (literally, in Oliver’s case). When you stop rooting for the lead character, you stop rooting for the show. Luckily, the new season has almost completely rebounded. It’s still not a perfect show (the future death tease is like a cinder block tied to the writers’ ankles, and why does Oliver need to learn the same lesson about not lying to his loved ones every goddamn season?), but it’s back to being the show I’m most consistently entertained by.
Other shows I’ve long since dropped but have heard that they’re having stellar rebound seasons: Homeland, Sleepy Hollow, South Park, Grey’s Anatomy, The Affair, Halt & Catch Fire, and Scandal.
Heather: I tend not to go back to shows once I’ve had enough, so I didn’t really re-connect with very many this season. But I thought Justified came back strong for its final season. I really loved the first couple of seasons, but then it seemed to start going in circles so I just watched occasionally. In the end I think they gave a master class on how to finish off a series – I especially liked the very last scene between Raylan and Boyd. Surprisingly, I also think Grey’s Anatomy is also back to its old form this season which is not something I thought was possible. I especially thought the Thanksgiving episode when Callie’s girlfriend shows up was reminiscent of earlier, better seasons.
BEST TREND: TIME JUMPS
Ange: I haven’t seen a good time-jump in years, but recently, some shows have proved worthy. I really liked The Flash‘s jump, but I really loved Parks and Recreation‘s use of the time-jump in their final season. Not just once, but twice! Seeing everyone years later was perfection. It was like the happy time jump version of Six Feet Under‘s finale.
Jen: I’m usually not a huge fan of shows messing with timelines, but Pretty Little Liars, The Flash, The Vampire Diaries and How To Get Away With Murder all shook up their formulas and reinvigorated their plots by jumping into the future (or, in the case of Fargo, the past).
Heather: I’m all for time jumps if they add something to the story and are not just some gimmick to make up for a crappy storytelling. I think the time jumps in season 2 of The Affair definitely kept it interesting. The two-sided storytelling they use in each episode is pretty unique and the time jumps add to that. Unlike Bloodlines (which also used time jumps to give glimpses into a potential murder mystery), those used in The Affair actually made me want to keep watching.
Nicole: it took me a while to warm to the Transparent subplot that goes way back in time but it really worked for me.
Heather: Pretty much any Scandal scene with Jake qualifies for me in this category, even if he doesn’t take his shirt off (although if there could be more of that it would be greatly appreciated!).
Jen: Even though I was totally spoiled before Oliver and Felicity’s moment in Nanda Parbat on Arrow (because whoever cuts the CW promos is the spawn of Satan), it was still hawt. When Oliver pulled his shirt over his head while somehow still maintaining eye contact? Lordy! And I swooned over every moment with Jeffrey Dean Morgan on The Good Wife. Nicole, do you remember the episode where he took off his glasses and I texted you “holeeee shit”? And all he did was TAKE OFF HIS GLASSES!
Nicole: Dear The Good Wife: Bring back Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Or else.
Ange: I more than swooned for Olicity’s moment in Nada Parbat – and was never happier that I stopped watching promos quite some time before then – but I’m going to go semi-dark here and say that one sexy scene was Will and Hannibal killing Francis Dolarhyde, aka The Tooth Fairy, aka The Great Red Dragon on Hannibal. That embrace at the end, right before Will takes them both over the cliff. Whoa … I mean, seriously. Whoa.
BEST SHOWS NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE WATCHED
Ange: Sadly, I can count on one hand the amount of folk I know personally that watched Catastrophe, Review, and You’re The Worst. Sure, critics watch and talk about how great they are, but still. It just breaks my heart they’re not huge hits because these shows are so fantastic! Catastrophe and You’re The Worst both brought a real (well, as real as scripted TV can get) look inside relationships, while Review gave us a (really!) dark look into life’s experiences. That ending was dark as f*ck!
Jen: Those were the three I was thinking of too, Ange, along with UnREAL, which got lots of critical praise but not a lot of actual viewers. That doesn’t seem to matter anymore, though. You’re The Worst was averaging ratings of a minuscule 500K, and by some crazy miracle it’s already been renewed for another season.
Nicole: You’re The Worst and Transparent were both tops for me in terms of quality TV and no one I know is talking about them!
BEST TREND: COMPLEX FEMALE CHARACTERS
Jen: It’s awesome that we live in a world where we can watch a bunch of diverse, kickass ladies every week, including (but not limited to) Jessica Jones, iZombie’s Liv, Supergirl’s Kara, The 100’s Clarke, The Americans’ Elizabeth, Agent Carter’s Peggy, The Leftovers’ Erika and Orphan Black’s Sara/Cosima/Allison/Helena. As Kimmy Schmidt’s theme song taught us: “women are strong as hell!”
Heather: I’d like to add Gillian Anderson’s DCI Stella Gibson from The Fall to this list. Kickass female DCI dealing with chauvinistic colleagues while hunting a twisted (yet sexy) serial killer? Hell yes!
Nicole: So many great shows to pick from! Unreal, Jessica Jones, Transparent and Orphan Black are all tops.
Those were our Best TV picks — check out our Worst TV picks tell us yours in the comments.