Another year is drawing to a close, and Film Slate Magazine is here to drop yet another Top Ten list on your already full plate. However, we thought we’d do something a little different this year. While it wasn’t a particularly memorable year for movies, the Golden Age of TV continues. The premium channels like HBO and Showtime have been joined full force by FX and others, and now Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have their legs under them as far as producing quality series as well.
And while we all know about the biggies—“Game of Thrones,” “Walking Dead,” and the rest, we figured we’d highlight the shows that may have slipped past your TV viewing radar. So here are the ten best shows you may have missed in 2015.
10. “Black Sails” – This Starz series dealing with pirate life may be the ultimate guilty pleasure. It’s a perfect blend of regular fiction and historical fiction. The main character, Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) is of course the invention of “Treasure Island” author Robert Louis Stevenson, but many of the characters which inhabit the show are real pirates or government officials that lived and operated during this time period. Whether they actually co-mingled and waged battle as depicted on “Black Sails” may be open to conjecture, but it’s ridiculously fun to watch and imagine that it happened this way. Sex, violence, spectacular set pieces, and a fair amount of humor make this a show to look for in 2016.
9. “Rick and Morty” – Many of the offerings on Adult Swim over the years have been hit or miss; for every “Squidbillies” there is a shrug of a show like “Mike Tyson Mysteries.” But with “Rick and Morty,” created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, here is a show that is far beyond most bawdy late night Cartoon Network fare—or any other network for that matter. The show follows the Smith family and how they deal with their sardonic and dimension hopping scientist patriarch Rick. There was a pretty set formula for season one (the show debuted in 2013, but the gap between seasons was about a year and a half), with Rick’s well-meaning grandson Morty accompanying him on adventures and the family dealing with the fallout—but in season two, the family became much more integral to the storylines. Season two also delved more into Rick’s psyche, and in turn the show became a bit darker and set up some plot points to be resolved in season three. No matter the emotional current, “Rick and Morty” offers up sci-fi, absurdist humor, and some thought provoking themes in one package.
8. “You’re the Worst”– Here’s another show which began to evolve in season two. Season one was all about how the protagonists—Jimmy and Gretchen (played by Chris Geere and Aya Cash)—meet, reluctantly do the relationship dance (both professing to be terrible in romantic situations, and not wanting to do things in a conventional way), and eventually find some form of twisted companionship. Season two was a little bit uneven, as the show became unmoored from the initial arc which focused on Jimmy and Gretchen and it started to lose its way a little. But any problems are more than made up for by the electrifying performances of Geere and Cash. Geere’s Jimmy is a shallow, opportunistic writer who forgets people he sees on a weekly basis; played by Cash, Gretchen is a music publicist who fancies herself a shark but whose depression becomes a third partner in the pair’s relationship. This series, which airs on FX, is very character driven, which seems to be a rarity in today’s TV universe.
7. “The Americans” – This often overlooked FX series is an excellent treatise on the so-called American dream, our own paranoia, and the real cat and mouse game of espionage played by the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With season three having wrapped (and season four ready to go in early 2016) all the issues the show has deftly dealt with in the previous two years are all there. The family dynamics of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) and their children—especially their daughter Paige, played by Holly Taylor—always seem to be about five minutes away from doing them in as much as the tension of debating the merits of particular missions from the homeland. Noah Emmerich continues his rock solid work as FBI agent Stan Beeman, the next door neighbor who can’t quite put his finger on why the Jennings are always on edge.
6. “Fargo” – Another FX series, “Fargo” has the unenviable task of living up to the Coen brothers’ movie of the same name. While the show isn’t a direct spinoff or continuation, it has been revealed that it happens in the same universe as the movie. The events of season two take place in 1979, about 25 years earlier than season one, focusing on the character of Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson here, Keith Carradine as the older version in season one) and his attempts at trying to stem the tide of a gang war which spans from Minnesota to North Dakota. “Fargo” the series does an admirable job of getting the movie’s flavor right, but it also expands on it and becomes fascinating in its own right. There are some truly mesmerizing moments in this series—each episode should be watched twice. The violence is both poetic and disgusting, and the feeling of impending doom is palpable right up until the final resolution.
5. “The Affair” – 2015 was the year of the sophomore season, and Showtime’s “The Affair” looked to build on the tightly wound, effective drama that was season one. Season two wasn’t nearly as solid—the linear storytelling was abandoned in favor of flashbacks, jumping around in time, and some non-continuous moments which made for some head scratching moments. And there were some definite moments of high melodrama. But this series is still eminently watchable and that’s largely due to Dominic West, whose character Noah anchors the proceedings. It’s been highly interesting to watch his disintegration, reinvention, and possible downfall, all in 22 episodes. The rest of the cast, including Maura Tierney as his long suffering ex-wife Helen and Ruth Wilson as the passionately destructive Alison, seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with each other, which more than makes up for any slips in the storytelling from season one.
4. “Silicon Valley” – Sometimes lost in the deserved hype over “Game of Thrones” and the unnecessary hype of “Girls” and “Veep,” this HBO series set in the land of technology startups and takeovers maintained its voice and was almost as funny in season two as season one. One huge loss was the real life death of Christopher Evan Welch, who played mega tycoon Peter Gregory. The show runners tried to clumsily replace him with Suzanne Cryer’s Laurie Bream, who ended up being a poor carbon copy. And while the character of Gregory wasn’t going to make or break this show, things like his marveling over the Burger King menu added a lot. At the heart of “Silicon Valley,” though, is the journey of Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his compression algorithm. And if this sounds slightly boring, it’s not. The business dealings and legal wrangling make for high comedy and riveting storytelling.
3. “With Bob and David” – Any show featuring David Cross and Bob Odenkirk together in their natural environment is worthy of a mention. There were only four episodes of this Netflix series, but you now have an answer to the question of, “What happened if Bob and David emerged from a time machine 16 years after ‘Mr. Show’ ended?” Cross’ badly planned sting of a police traffic safety operation is particularly hilarious.
2. “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”– For fans of the movie, this Netflix mini-series (eight episodes) regrouped the original cast (14 years older but playing the same age to some hilarious results) portraying events which happened before the film, which was set on the last day of camp. Now that we have that out of the way, that part really doesn’t matter. Just sit back and enjoy what Michael Showalter and David Wain have wrought.
1. “The Knick” – One part historical drama, one part allegory on humanity, and one part indescribable hurricane of literate drama, “The Knick,” which airs on Cinemax, was possibly better in its second season than it was in season one. Now that we’re well immersed in turn of the century New York, the medical storylines are just as vital, but they are more seamless within the storylines. Clive Owen, who plays the brilliant—and tortured—John Thackery, is even more interesting as his life continues to tumble out of control while he tries to maintain control of his surgical discoveries. “The Knick” does well as it weaves issues and themes of the time with that of the lives of its characters; it’s hard to single out any of the supporting cast because everybody is mostly spot on, but special attention must be given to Jeremy Bobb, as the duplicitous hospital administrator Herman Barrow. His schemes are stacked on each other to the point to where you wonder how he even breathes.