BEST OF 2015: Twenty-One TV Shows You Need To Be Watching
As the Tubes once sang, TV is king — and television in 2015 is no exception. There were a ton of great series this year — both new and returning — and all the Unicorn Booty writers (including Matt Craven, Matt Lawrence, Matt Keeley and R.S. Benedict) contributed our top 21 TV shows of 2015.
Here they are, in alphabetical order:
Adventure Time: Stakes
The first (and so far only, but we can dream) Adventure Time miniseries, Stakes had it all — a Marceline-centric story, a brand new intro sequence, Andy Daly as the King Of Ooo, and a deeper look at Marceline and Princess Bubblegum’s relationship — we ‘ship Bubbline all day everyday y’all. Even though the main series of Adventure Time continues to fire on all cylinders, Stakes is still the best Adventure Time has been in a while.
Better Call Saul
AMC’s series follows the origin story of Breaking Bad’s beloved sleazebag criminal defense attorney. With a heavier emphasis on internal conflict rather than murder and mayhem (so far, anyway), Better Call Saul offers an intimate character portrait of a struggling lawyer trying (and failing) to shed his swindler past and make it big. The series is brilliantly written, beautifully shot, funny, poignant and heartbreaking.
Bojack Horseman, Season 2
It might sound like an odd combination but Bojack Horseman‘s mix of cute animal puns and crushing despair make for one of the best shows of the year. Season one took about four episodes to get going; season two started strong and found some way to top itself.
It might be unexpected for a cartoon, but Bojack is a brilliant exploration of one horse-man’s unfathomable darkness and self-loathing. The title character — voiced by Will Arnett in the role of his entire career — repeatedly does horrible things. But unlike, say, Family Guy‘s Peter Griffin, the show never absolves him. Bojack’s bad decisions are understandable, but unforgivable — and yet, we’re compelled to watch with a mixture of hope that he’ll finally better himself and fear of what life-ruining thing he might do next.
Broad City, Season 2
Broad City has appeared on a lot of end of year “best of” lists — season one won over critics, and season two proved even better. After all — did season one devote an episode to pegging? No, it did not. But Broad City has seriously progressive chops too: Queer relationships are normalized, sex remains an open topic of conversation, all while being hysterically funny at the same time. If you can’t wait for next season (coming in February!), Comedy Central has been posting “Hack Into Broad City” shorts on YouTube.
Casual, the Hulu-original series that debuted in October, was a surprisingly hilarious examination of family, relationships and modern dating. The best moment came when main character, Alex, catches his sister in bed with his girlfriend after they had taken ecstasy at his parents’ wedding. By being honest and awkward, Casual provided a breath of fresh air.
Club de Cuervos
Netflix’s first Spanish-language original series (no, it wasn’t Narcos) provides family and athletic drama that even non-sports fans can enjoy. When the president of the Cuervos football club dies, his immature party-animal son Salvador Iglesias Jr. gets elected as his successor, much to the chagrin of his smarter, more business-savvy sister, Isabel. Throw in the dead father’s pregnant mistress and you not only get passionate, telenovela-level drama, but also a cultural look into Mexico’s obsession with soccer and celebrity media. The frequent gratuitous locker room scenes are also mucho escandalo!
Rachel Bloom’s new musical sitcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the best show you’re not watching. The show takes an unflinching, yet hilarious look at mental illness — and if you can get through an episode without any of the songs (written by Fountains Of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger) lodged permanently in your brain, there’s probably a prize of some sort, because that is impossible. The show’s been getting low-ratings, but the CW did just bump up their first season order by five episodes, so catch up now before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns January 25th.
Days Of Our Lives, Season 50
One only has to sit through five minutes of any reality court show to realize how tragic it is that campy daytime dramas are becoming a thing of the past. The fictional town of Salem celebrated Days of Our Lives’ 50th anniversary this August, but the endless war between the Brady and DiMera clans has waged on unabated for 12,753 episodes and growing. The show gets extra drama points for heartlessly ditching its groundbreaking (and GLAAD award-winning) gay storyline when Will Horton fell victim to a serial strangler.
Difficult People isn’t for everyone — we found that out when there was wide controversy over a child sex-abuse joke in the pilot. But if you’re a fan of dark comedy, check it out. The series stars Julie Klausner (author and podcaster of How Was Your Week?) and Billy Eichner (from Billy on the Street and Parks & Recreation) as struggling comedians in New York City whose biggest problems are the way they treat anyone and everyone like garbage. The supporting cast is also wonderful — especially Gabourey Sidibe as Denise, Billy’s boss, James Urbaniak as Arthur, Julie’s boyfriend and comedy legend Andrea Martin as Julie’s mother.
Inside Amy Schumer, Season 3
Comedy’s raunchiest and funniest new talent returned to Comedy Central for a third season for her half-sketch/half-comedy show. Whether she was meeting Tina Fey, stripping for dogs or worrying about having too many buttholes, she affirmed why she made so many waves in 2015.
Key & Peele, Season 5
While the news of this season of Key & Peele being the last came as a horrible sh0ck, at least they went out on a high note. Season five — filmed at the same time as season four — built wonderfully on what went before. Recurring characters got used properly (and never over-used), and Key and Peele’s gift for social comedy has never been sharper.
The links in season four and five were stronger too — the thoughtful riffing during the driving segments let the jokes breathe, and there’s much more room for subtlety than during their live audience segments of the first three seasons. Key & Peele ended before it could go off the rails…. but, if you’re like us, you certainly wouldn’t say no to another season or two.
Nathan For You, Season 3
Season three of Nathan For You featured some of the best episodes of the entire series — “The Movement” and “Smokers Allowed” come to mind — but the season finale, the format-breaking “Nathan For You: The Hero” is one of those episodes like “Chuckles Bites The Dust” that defines what television can do.
In a Charlie Kaufman-esque mindfuck straight out of Synecdoche, New York, Nathan Fielder makes an ordinary man a national hero. And to say more would spoil the pure amazement of this episode — but let’s just say that he doesn’t go about it in the way you’re thinking he does. Watch it and see…
One Punch Man
The pitch goes “so, it’s about a guy who is so powerful he can utterly destroy any foe with just one punch!” Sounds like it’d get boring fast, right? One Punch Man has that very same premise and yet it’s one of the most interesting, affecting anime since Your Lie In April.
Saitama, the titular One Punch Man, wanted to be a hero for fun, but since he’s so powerful, he can’t find a worthy combatant. Much like David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, One Punch Man is, at least partly about boredom — and yet, deeply entertaining.
Orange Is The New Black, Season 3
Orange is the New Black gave us a wonderfully Larry-free season with religious conversions, New Age cults, attempted suicide, panty-smuggling and more of the lesbian drama we all know and love while new cast member Ruby Rose gave straightish female fans of the show some new feelings.
In 2015, the series offered glimpses into its quieter characters’ origins, including Norma’s horrible hippie past and Chang’s glorious gall-bladder-removing rise to power. Orange is the New Black offers a precious, all-too-rare, complex portrayal of women from all walks of life. Its characters shift deftly and alarmingly between sympathetic and monstrous from one scene to the next.
Also, the show continues to tackle political and social issues like poverty, trans rights and private prisons without too much sermonizing — an after-school special it ain’t.
Terrorism drama Quantico caught us off guard with its unexpectedly campy mix of reality show-style challenges, soapy plot twists and genuinely interesting bomb plots. Everyone’s a suspect and no one is innocent as a seemingly-but-not-really random class of FBI recruits tries to solve a terrorist plot.
At the center of it all is former Miss World, Bollywood action hero and occasional Pitbull collaborator Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish, the FBI recruit who suddenly finds herself in the midst of the rubble at Grand Central Station.
Review, Season 2
Andy Daly — who also appears in Adventure Time: Stakes — is a master character actor. He can disappear so thoroughly into any of his roles you start to believe he’s them… which is disturbing when he’s doing characters like Forrest MacNeil, star of Review, a show whose fictional host reviews life experiences like, in the video above, what it would be like to have every decision made by a Magic 8-Ball.
Review sounds like it could be an actual reality show at first, but it soon becomes clear that MacNeil’s delusions of grandeur are more important than the harm he regularly does to himself and others. Review, though it may not look it at first, is serialized, so be sure to catch up with season one, too!
Rick & Morty, Season 2
ARRRGH WHY ISN’T IT 2017 YET?! We’ve got to go another whole year and change until we get more Rick & Morty. If you’re not watching Rick & Morty, you’re missing out; the brainchild of Justin Roiland (from House of Cosbys and The Sarah Silverman Program) and Dan Harmon (from Community and The Sarah Silverman Program for about five minutes) is a deeply nihilistic, smart sci-fi comedy.
Watch in horror as Rick Sanchez takes his grandson Morty Smith around the universe, selling guns to mercenary killers and learning about love. No, really.
Ryan Murphy returned with a campy, self-knowing teen-horror series that was Glee plus Mean Girls, raised to the power of Heathers. Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas and Jamie Lee Curtis added star wattage, while bitchy gays found their new queen in sorority president, Chanel “Number One” Oberlin. The final reveal was blindingly obvious in retrospect, but the brilliant one-liners (“Did I ask you to pull down my panties and blow a compliment up my butt?!”) kept the show entertaining and engaging.
Steven Universe, Season 2
There’s a reason we called Steven Universe the most progressive cartoon ever, and that was at the end of its first season — it’s only gotten more so. We’ve had more canon, explicitly queer relationships and stories about accepting yourself and powerful women. And the show’s actually entertaining too! We’re really getting into the meat of the backstory now, and season two makes us all excited for what’s to come.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey’s new sitcom The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is – like Broad City — a joyous show. It’s about a kidnapped woman, forced to be in a cult for ten years who gets finally rescued. She decides to move to New York and follow her dreams, since the worst thing that could happen already happened to her. It’s a clear statement to try to find the joy and kindness in life, even when handed a whole pile of awful.
The show does have its faults — Kimmy’s stepfather character doesn’t really work, and the decision to name a Vietnamese character “Dong” is problematic — both because getting laughs out of ethnic names is pretty racist and also because, dang, that gag was whack back when John Hughes was doin’ it. But, thankfully, Carol Kane and Tituss Burgess steal the show — we could watch the two of them in anything.
W/Bob & David
For comedy nerds, Mr. Show with Bob & David was a touchstone — and the launching pad for a lot of careers: David Cross, Bob Odenkirk (whom you may have seen in Better Call Saul), Paul F. Tompkins, Sarah Silverman, Mary Lynn Rajskub and so many more. Last New Year’s Eve, Paul F. Tompkins teased a Mr. Show reunion, and this November we got it.
It turned out to be great! Well, mostly great — there’s a few transphobic jokes that are way, way dated, including one really gross one where David Cross dons a cheap wig and explains it as “I’m transitioning”. It’s always sad when your comedy idols let you down that way — but thankfully, the rest of the series is as good as the best of Mr. Show.