2015 has been an outstanding year for the small screen. We had thrilling Nordic noir, captivating British dramas, fantastic fantasy and rib-tickling comedies. There were a host of new original series from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Studios, and enough on-going American shows to fill every single night of the week. But from the many series to grace our screens over the last twelve months, which ones stole audience’s hearts the most? From Game of Thrones to Jessica Jones, join us as we continue the annual tradition of selecting our favourite shows across the board from the past year.
You, Me and the ApocalypseMy surprise TV hit of the year has to be You, Me and the Apocalypse. Ambitious in both scale and story, Sky 1’s black comedy didn’t look like much from the trailers but when it got going it was funny, dramatic, moving and even a little shocking. The plot was simple – a group of disparate people are forced to come to terms with the reality that a comet is scheduled to hit earth in 34 days. Initially set in Slough, New Mexico and Rome, the transatlantic series was bold, brilliant and a little bonkers.
With a cast including Pauline Quirke, Jenna Fischer, Rob Lowe and Megan Mullally, the stand-out performance came from Mathew Baynton who played estranged twins Jamie and Ariel – one good, one evil, one a potential messiah and one a raving loony. Each episode counted down to the comet hitting and it was with delight and dread that the audience waited to see what would happen when it finally did. The series finale was far-fetched, melodramatic and utterly absorbing. Who knew Slough could be so exciting? NX
HumansChannel 4’s co-production with AMC turned out to be a winning partnership, resulting in one of the finest pieces of television this year had to offer. Audiences have seen AI apocalypses and robot uprisings in all shapes and forms, but Humans was different. It felt real, it felt, well, human. Adapted from the Swedish TV series Real Humans, Humans questioned the consequences of artificial intelligence, the importance of family, and the significance of experiences shaping a person. The writing was consistently excellent and the performances were even better (Gemma Chan was particularly outstanding). It was slick and polished, but it felt inherently British, something that would have been lacking had it been given an American makeover. If you missed it in June, make sure you catch up on this superb show before series 2 arrives. NX
FargoOk, I’ll admit it. The second season of Fargo didn’t instantly win me over. I adored the first season but the first few episodes of the second outing lacked the punch and quirk I’d come to love and expect. Fast forward to episode 4 though, and I was once again hooked. What gives Fargo that edge is its style and cinematic flair; this season made excellent use of the split-screen effect and the eclectic soundtrack added to the air of cool and unease. There were some truly spectacular moments this season, with Bokeem Woodbine, Jeffrey Donovan and Kirsten Dunst putting in award-worthy performances. The stand-out scene, and perhaps the most bizarre, was Peggy Blumquist feeding Dodd Gerhardt beans, leading on to Dodd’s rant about women being crazy before Peggy stabbed his foot with a knife. This is dramatic stuff, yes, but Fargo never loses its sense of fun, and that’s why we love it. NX
Jessica Jones This was one of 2015’s most anticipated shows, and once Netflix finally released it, it easily became one of the most binge-watched shows of the year. A superhero show without the action-packed superheroics, Jessica Jones focused more on the drama of PTSD, abusive relationships, victim-shaming and addiction. Mind-control villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) is one of the most successfully realised antagonists on television and Jessica herself is a captivatingly real hero: intelligent, vulnerable, snarky and brave. After this and Daredevil, expectations are high for Luke Cage in 2016. AS
Master of NoneAziz Ansari’s Netflix series came late in the year, but by the end of its ten episodes it easily ranks among 2015’s best. Each episode follows Ansari’s Dev, a New York-based actor making ends meet with small roles in gardening adverts and a sci-fi horror B-movie (with Colin Salmon). A hilarious but subtle examination of the lives of modern thirty-somethings that follows a fresh path – exploring gender equality, marital infidelity, race and immigration, and child–parent relationships, as well as showing one of the year’s most sweet but honest romantic TV pairings. AS
Game of ThronesGame of Thrones’ fifth season was probably its weakest yet, and certainly it’s strangest. With the writers finally catching up with the books and heading into uncharted territory in places, it’s hard to know just how faithful some of their decisions will end up being. Regardless, it was definitely a season of two halves, with the slow, meandering early episodes giving way to breathless action and gut-wrenching shocks as things went on. But even at its most uneven, Game of Thrones is still a show of great acting, lavish production values and unexpected twists that leave you wondering just exactly what is going to happen next. KB
The 100With a newly-released trailer for the third season making the social media rounds earlier this month and reminding us all just why this show deserves so much praise, the fact that The 100 doesn’t appear on more best shows of the year lists is a situation that needs to be addressed and quickly. With a basic premise of surviving in a world that was destroyed by a nuclear apocalypse 97 years after the surviving earth population was sent to live in space, The 100 tackles the kinds of questions no other so-called teen drama will go near – studying the ethics of morality or the politics of War is just another day in the life of our heroes. The storylines are well-plotted, the characters are incredibly well-developed and the world this show is building is rich enough to sustain its storytelling for (hopefully) many seasons to come. The 100 is at once brutally heartbreaking, intensely thrilling and just an honest-to-God good show that continues to impress. MD
Mr. RobotRami Malek is more than deserving of that Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Elliot Alderson in this persistently unpredictable and subversive psycho-thriller. With one hand it tackles the disfranchisement of left-leaning social outcasts of the millennial generation, following the Anonymous-inspired ‘fsociety’, a group of hackers bent on ending world debt and creating a cyber-revolution. With its other Mr. Robot delves deep into Elliot’s crippling social anxiety and childhood trauma, paying respects to past works of the genre, whilst applying their themes to a distinctly modern setting. Fantastic performances all round are complemented by showrunner Sam Esmail’s inspired directorial vision, as the show’s characters are made to look as small as possible in a world of overwhelming corruption and greed. Bring on season two next year. LR
CatastropheProduced and written by its two stars, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, this astutely observed rom-com centres on an American man and Irish woman who attempt to forge a relationship together after a fortnight of heavy passion leads to pregnancy. Acerbic in tone, but with an affecting air of authenticity, the genius of Catastrophe lies in its dramatic subtlety, and its ability to not rely on melodrama to propel the plot. And, of course, it’s filthily funny. Despite what the title may suggest, this tart comedy is no calamity! JM
Walking The NileLevison Wood’s four-part TV series charting the course of his quest to walk the length of the river Nile was aired on Channel 4 back in January; it’s remained one of my favourite TV pieces of 2015. Capturing the excitement, absurdity, beauty and dangers of such an epic journey the series is like the grittier, rougher round the edges little brother of the BBC/Attenborough version of Africa. With a new series in the making, Walking the Himalayas, Wood fans won’t have long to wait for another vicarious stroll through some incredible frontiers. LS
OutlanderIf Outlander’s premise doesn’t hook you in, I don’t know what will. The show sits somewhere between Game of Thrones, Poldark and Doctor Who, but with a distinct flavour of its own. The series begins in 1945. The Second World War may have ended, but its wounds remain fresh. Ex-British Army nurse Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) embarks on a second honeymoon with her husband in Scotland, hoping to get to know him again after so long apart. But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of mythical standing stones and finds herself unexpectedly transported back to 1743. Suddenly in Jacobite Scotland, Claire is an outsider, struggling to survive and finding herself increasingly attracted to dashing Highlander Jamie (Sam Heughan).
Eminently watchable, Outlander hooks you in from the outset: the time-travel is handled with flair and Scotland, Outlander’s gorgeous setting, has never looked so beautiful. Balfe and Heughan have a palpable chemistry and the high stakes, high drama action will have you hooked in no time. Outlander combines time-travel, romance and history for thoroughly addictive viewing. FS