Movies & TV / Columns

Two Tivos To Paradise: The Best 50 Shows of 2015

December 23, 2015 | Posted by Al Norton

Hello friends, what’s good? Finally, Two Tivos To Paradise has returned to 411Mania…at least for two weeks as we celebrate the best TV had to offer in 2015. Hope the year has been a good one for you and that you are ready to celebrate the holiday with loved ones.

While TTTP may only appear here on 411Mania on a recurring basis, it continues to live on and thrive on Facebook (Al Norton’s Two Tivos To Paradise); if you’re on FB, stop by and click “like” so you can stay up to date on all-things-TV as well as exchange opinions with your fellow television lovers. It’s a lot of fun so please, come on by.

Here is one of the three shows I am most looking forward to in January…

WGN’s Outsiders is the second…

And here’s the other; I’ve watched the first three hours of Billions and greatly enjoyed it, with an incredible appreciation for just how talent Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are…

This is the start of our two week look back at the best that TV had to offer in 2015, with today being the Best Shows of the Year and next week being our 2012 TV Entertainers of the Year. As always, I welcome your comments below about what shows you think should have made it but please keep in mind that just because we disagree doesn’t make either of our opinions less valid. I love and respect everyone’s passion for TV but my goal is for the level of discourse to rise about “epic fail” and “you lost all credibility when…” types of posts. One of the reasons I am so happy and proud of the TTTP Facebook page is that I think it’s one of the best places on the web for folks to come and chat about TV in an intelligent and constructive manner. So feel free to tear me a new one if you think it’s deserved but at least be creative about it!

Also, let’s get this out of the way at the top; I’m not a Game of Thrones guy. It’s not that I think it’s poorly made in any way, it’s that I don’t find it particularly emotionally compelling. We all have our opinions, and that’s one of mine. So now that that’s out of the way, we’re just about ready to start our countdown; as usual, I’ll work in some of my favorite TV musical performances of the year.

I can’t feel my news when I’m with you.

TOP 10 SHEER ENTERTAINMENT VALUE PROGRAMS OF 2015
(This category highlights shows that aren’t necessarily at a quality level to be considered the Best-of-the-Best but still bring the entertainment week in, week out.)

Honorable Mention: Baby Daddy

10) Guy’s Grocery Games (Food)
The guiltiest of guilty pleasures. It’s Supermarket Sweep meets Top Chef, with as light a tone and feel as you could possible imagine, and it all works because everyone, including the rotating panel of judges, has so much fun.

9) The Last Ship (TNT)
No show on TV gets my testosterone and patriotism going the way The Last Ship does, with the majority of the credit going to Eric Dane, who is one of TV’s most credible bad-asses. I liked the political/governmental plot aspects added in for season two, and the action sequences are pretty strong, too.

8) Younger (TV Land)
Full disclosure; after Bunheads, I will watch anything with Sutton Foster, and Younger is, at its worst, watchable, and at its best a funny show that takes on the way society looks at age, both personally and professionally. Sometimes it tries too hard to be edgy/create shock value but it’s got a good heart and a GREAT lead performance.

7) The Chicago Trilogy (NBC)
Yes, all three are quite emotionally manipulative, with writing that doesn’t much go beyond standard network fare, but each of these shows – Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Chicago Med – has a cast that is fully committed to sucking the viewers in and it works. They each have their strong points (and their weak points), but there’s no denying just how entertaining they are.

6) Girl Meets World (Disney)
Perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen at capturing the way everything seems so important when you’re a teenager, and 100% the best show I’ve ever seen at using its past to great emotional impact. I’ve laughed while watching with my kids and also had to explain to them why I was crying.

5) Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce (Bravo)
I am not sure there’s a drama series on TV so willing to put its characters flaws front and center, and I mean that as high praise. GG2D is funny, it’s smart, and it showcases the force of nature that is Lisa Edelstein, who lays it on the line every week like no one else.

4) Cutthroat Kitchen (Food)
I found the first couple of episodes of Cutthroat Kitchen quite stupid/silly and then something happened along the way – I think it was the start of season two, where everyone taking part now knew exactly what they were in for so they weren’t mad any more, just amused/frustrated – where I embraced the absurdity and now I love it, finding joy in the ridiculousness.

3) The Flash (The CW)
Still the closest TV has ever come to duplicating the feeling of reading a new comic book. Grant Gustin’s acting has improved dramatically (ha, see what I did there?). Cisco continues to be one of the most entertaining supporting characters on TV, and I love what Tom Cavanagh is doing this season with Earth2’s Dr. Wells. Oh, and the special effects continue to be high quality.

2) UnREAL (Lifetime)
The best show about TV since Studio 60, and one that forever changed the way I looked at certain types of reality television. Shiri Appleby is fantastic – if the audience doesn’t buy into Rachel than the show doesn’t work – and I can’t wait to see what season two has in store.

1) Undateable (NBC)
A guaranteed half hour smile every Friday night; what more could you ask for?

TOP 10 NON-FICTION PROGRAMS OF 2015

Honorable Mentions: Outside The Lines, The Meltdown with Jonah And Kumail

10) The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central)
Larry Wilmore has always been a funny guy but this showcase for his intelligent wit has been fantastic, with his opening 15 minutes the definition of can’t-miss TV. The comedy “sketches” still need some work but the panel discussions have improved greatly. TV may be in a golden age of smart, funny talk and The Nightly Show is helping the cause.

9) The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO)
TV lightning in a bottle; the odds of getting a confession on camera were about as likely as finding a case as twisty/turny as this one, but HBO lucked out with on both fronts. The Jinx was a guilty pleasure you didn’t have to feel guilty about.

8) Inside Comedy with David Steinberg (Showtime)
If I made a list of the shows on TV I want to be longer, Inside Comedy would likely be at the top. I get why they keep it 30 minutes, because they want to keep the pace up and not get too inside baseball with Steinberg’s conversation with fellow legendary comedians, but I’ve always enjoyed the episodes enough to want at least five minutes more, which I mean as a compliment. Can’t wait to see who they get for next season!

7) The Soup (E!)
It saddens me greatly that this is the last year The Soup will be on one of my year-end lists, both because it has been a part of EVERY SINGLE ONE I’ve done and also because I am losing a guaranteed half hour of entertainment from my life. This move to go live was not necessary but still wonderful shot in the arm to the show. Not really sure why E! is getting rid of it, especially since other than paying Joel, it doesn’t cost very much to make, but since what I’m trying to do is praise the show I’ll say nothing on TV takes on pop culture as well – or as savagely – as The Soup.

6) American Masters (PBS)
The two best ways I can show my love and respect for American Masters are to say a) I’ve watched episodes about people I had no real interest in beforehand and LOVED them and b) if someone I was a fan of was going to be profiled by any show on TV, I would want it to be American Masters.

5) 30 for 30 (ESPN)
Not just the best sports documentary series in TV history but one of the best in the history of the genre in terms of informative and entertainment storytelling. I’ve watched hours about people that beforehand I had no interest in and loved them, and I’ve come back for second and third showings for some of their best work, picking up something new each time. Every time I get annoyed with something ESPN does, I remind myself that I will put up with that in order to get 30 for 30.

4) Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)
No show stepped up its game in 2015 like Late Night with Seth Meyers, where sitting down at the desk and focusing the majority of the first 15 minutes of the show on the Presidential race led to some of the smartest/sharpest late night comedy a broadcast network has ever put out there.

3) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Jon Stewart may not have been on TV for the whole year but his impact was still more than enough to get The Daily Show on this list. Even before the farewell tour, Stewart and the show were still taking on hypocrites and idiots with gleeful abandon, doing their best to shine a light whenever they found a situation lacking common sense. That they did this while still being funny as hell is why The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a ground breaking, truly Hall of Fame series.

2) @midnight (Comedy Central)
The best way to start my work day ever (I watch in the morning). This year saw a clear change to go with fewer games, and it paid off in a big way. I have been introduced to so many very funny people thanks to the show. No series on TV brings me anywhere near as much joy as @midnight, period.

1) Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
I am in no way engaging in hyperbole or overstatement when I say that no show in TV history has combined the actions of informing its audience and entertaining them the way Last Week Tonight does. The Daily Show certainly does a good job of it but LWT gets the benefit of being on HBO, meaning longer, unedited segments to really dive into topics, and man do they do a good job with it. Not many shows on TV can actually claim to make its viewers smarter but this one does.

THE T0P 10 REALITY SHOWS OF 2015

Honorable Mentions:

10) Fake Off (truTV)
I have no idea how to describe Fake Off to folks who haven’t seen it other than to say its pop cultured themed performance art, and is more than suitable for the entire family. I don’t watch a lot of TV where I think, “well, I’ve never seen THAT before”, but Fake Off is the rare exception.

9) Top Chef (Bravo)
I may have been more into this last season because of its Boston setting but every season I fall in love with Top Chef again, offering up my criticisms of both the contestants and the judges as if I have even a basic knowledge of cooking at that level. While some of the challenges feel a bit gimmicky, 90+% of the time it’s simply about who can cook the best, which is as it should be.

8) Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
On paper the show is completely silly but every season I end up not only crying a bit but yelling at the judges about the scoring and starting to care about celebrities I had no interest in coming into the show, which is a testament to how much respect I have for just how hard they work while in the cast, how committed they are.

7) Shark Tank (ABC)
One of the few shows on TV that legitimately changes people lives. It’s raw, it’s pure, and it’s honest – got a good idea but just need the money to get it off the ground/take it to the net level? Come stand in the spotlight of the tank and see if you can make your dreams come true. Truly compelling television every week.

6) Deadliest Catch (Discovery)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; that philosophy has worked very well for Discovery and the show’s producers, with the professional lives of the folks who make up this world simply recorded and presented in matter of fact style. Sure, there have been some roster changes over the years, but that’s life at any workplace. Eleven seasons and counting and I am still fully on board (see what I did there?).

5) The Voice (NBC)
Some seasons are better than others, and the show could do a MUCH better job trying to turn its alums into stars, but the Blind Audition rounds are ALWAYS among my favorite things on all of TV. My being thoroughly entertained watching people pursue their dreams is a recurring theme on this list.

4) Wizard Wars (Syfy)
I love when a show comes along with something I haven’t seen before, and magicians/illusionists competing against each other with random props (think of it as sort of Chopped: Magic) certainly qualifies. It’s a fun, thrilling ride and one of the best shows no one seems to know about.

3) Chopped/Chopped Junior (Food)
Such a simple concept – challenging chefs to create dishes using mystery ingredients – and yet they’ve manage to get soooooo many hours of entertaining television out of it. Some episodes are better than others but producers have done a great job of finding random groupings of contestants (veterans, celebrities, cops, grandmothers, kids) that it always feels familiar without ever feeling stale.

2) Restaurant Impossible (Food)
I’ve said it before and I will say it again; no one cares about their TV job as much as Robert Irvine, with his passion for getting to the heart of why the folks on the show are struggling always front and center. This year they added the “ambush” component, which gave viewers a great “behind-the-scenes” look at how these shows are made. Any show that entertains its audience while improving the lives of its participants deserves to be watched.

1) American Ninja Warrior (NBC)
The top family viewing show in my house – two hours of fun each week all summer long – what with its combination of feats of athleticism and compelling backstories. It’s the highest of praise when I call ANW perhaps the most human show on all of television.

TOP 10 COMEDIES OF 2015

Honorable Mentions: The Grinder, Fresh Off the Boat, Broad City, The Goldbergs, The Middle, Louie, Galavant

10) Life in Pieces (CBS)
The TV equivalent of short stories, each episode of Life in Pieces is broken down into four segments that focus on various members of the same family, almost always with laugh out loud results. This very strong cast could carry weak writing, so the fact they get such good stuff to work with is why the show ends up on the list.

9) Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
To me, no sketch comedy show has ever has ever been able to come close to sustaining the quality level Key & Peele did over the show’s run, with the final season raising that bar even higher.

8) Master of None (Netflix)
The biggest comedy surprise of the year, hands down; who would have guessed that Aziz Ansari had such a thoughtful, sweet, honest series in him? I mean, I knew he wasn’t actually Tom Haverford but I had no concept that he’d be able to put together something this good, and also this personal. Master of None is a show you should seek out.

7) Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
No 2105 comedy had as high a high point as 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer, one of the best pieces of comedy writing, directing, and acting I have ever seen. The rest of the season was also quite good – Last Fuckable Day was an instant classic – but the truth is 12 Angry Men was so good the rest of the season could have been a test pattern and the show would have made this lit.

6) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
NBC may not have cared much about the final season of Park and Recreation, double running the episodes in a “let’s just burn them off” fashion, but that didn’t make them any less funny, and at times moving. Leslie and Ron locked in the office together until she figured out why he was mad was a comedy highlight of 2015, and I truly loved the farewell to Johnny Karate. I am already missing Pawnee.

5) Black-ish (ABC)
Black-ish was already a good show in its first season but found a new, higher gear for season two, one that allowed the show to address very real issues parents and families face in the modern age in ways that were both very funny and very real. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross may be my favorite couple on TV right for the way their characters truly care about each other and their children.

4) Silicon Valley (HBO)
I’d use some sort of pun about how this is the smartest comedy on TV right now but Silicon Valley is so much better than that. It’s part workplace comedy, part underdog story, part everything The Big Bang Theory wants to be, and it’s all so well executed that it stands out among a strong sea of television comedies.

3) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Talk about taking my world by storm; I fell in love with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend like I hadn’t for any show since Glee, with Rachel Bloom rocking my world in the biggest of ways. CEG is smart and funny, with a huge heart, and it gets anxiety and depression as spot-on as any show in recent memory. It’s also not afraid to show its characters making bad decisions, which makes them that much more real to the audience.

2) Transparent (HBO)
While there are shows on this list that are funnier than Transparent, none are as moving, as real, or as well acted, and none that make you think about your own life as much. The best exploration of the American family since Si Feet Under, which coming from me is the best of compliments.

1) You’re The Worst (FXX)
That glorious moment when your favorite new show of 2014 steps up and becomes the best comedy on television in its second season. Aya Cash deserves every award possible for this season, when Gretchen’s depression took center stage. What makes the show so good is that it stayed fantastically funny even when dealing with some very real issues, not sacrificing an ounce of its bite in search of a “very special episode.” The four leads are top notch, with the supporting cast always bringing their A game. It’s high praise when I say that during every episode I both wish I knew these people and am also happy I don’t. What I am always happy about is when they are on my TV.

TOP 10 DRAMAS OF 2015

Honorable Mentions: Suits, Narcos

10) Daredevil/Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Cheating a bit by grouping these together, I know, but since they are both part of the same project, I am ok with it. The shows were clearly different, each very good on its own (Daredevil being the stronger of the two), and combined together demonstrate how you can vary things up a bit and still stay under the same umbrella. Also worth noting is the dead solid perfect casting in Netflix Marvel series so far. Oh, right – the action sequences are the best TV has to offer right now.

9) Ray Donovan (Showtime)
While the overall story arc of the season wasn’t actually the best the Showtime drama has offered during its run, the title character’s quest for not so much redemption as for meaning, for salvation, was riveting and brought the best out of Liev Schreiber.

8) Empire (Fox)
I can’t remember the last time a scripted show took TV by storm the way Empire did in 2015, proving that pop culture buzz and quality entertainment don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A well-cast, sharply written drama that fully embraced its nighttime soap-ness, Empire was one of the most fun series on all of TV, with a great soundtrack. Taraji P Henson was clearly the stand out in the cast, but I’ve also become a huge fan of Jussie Smollett.

7) Mad Men (AMC)
While some found the pacing of the second half of the final season to be slow, I loved the build, all of which led to a fantastic series finale. Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, and Christina Hendricks all maintained their level of excellence over the final hours, a set of episodes that further cemented Mad Men’s place as one of the best series in TV history.

6) Mr. Robot (USA)
Perhaps the single biggest surprise of the year, this dark (DARK) character study that had so much going on beneath the surface that even if you had inklings of the truth, you couldn’t be sure until the show confirmed it, and even then, who knows? Rami Malek had not only one of the top breakthrough performances of the year, it was one of the best performances, period.

5) Rectify (Sundance)
Season three of the Sundance drama series cut down from 10 to 6 episodes and the show improved as a result, proving that sometimes with TV drama, less really is more. While some view the pacing as slow, I describe it as real life, with an ebb and flow more like reality than most shows on TV. Clayne Crawford was this season’s real standout, as Teddy did some soul searching, bringing the audience along for the ride. The season finale was one of the best hours of TV of 2015.

4) Better Call Saul (AMC)
Living up to the standard of quality set by Breaking Bad was no small order but Better Call Saul pulled of the combo of being as good as BB fans hoped while also establishing itself as its own show, with its own pace and rhythm. Bob Odenkirk quickly did anyway with any worries that he couldn’t carry the weight of a lead role on his shoulders, and Jonathan Banks reminded us all why we loved Mike so much. A very strong first season that has me quite excited for new episodes.

3) Justified (FX)
Perhaps the single most underrated show of the last 6 years signed off with one of its strongest seasons, a run that featured a strong big bad and also brought the on-going battle between Raylan and Boyd to a close. The series finale was fantastic, with one of the best last scenes I can remember.

2) Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
The first season of Halt and Catch Fire was excellent but season two surpassed that by a long shot, with a lock on the top spot on this list until season two of Fargo hit the airwaves. It’s funny, sharp, gets the 80’s spot on, and has two of the best female characters on all of television. I thought it was a minor miracle when it got a second season, so HACF getting picked up for a third was the best of news.

1) Fargo (FX)
I am at a loss for words to truly describe the glory that was season two of Fargo. Yes, it was brilliantly written, exquisitely acted, beautifully filmed, and with a great soundtrack to boot, but it was so much more than just the sum of its parts. Fargo was a work of art, the true culmination of a master storyteller working with the finest instruments available to create something of lasting quality.

And there you have it, 50 (really 50+) shows from 27 content providers; you might not agree with all of my choices but no one can question the breadth of programming we sampled to come up with this list! Hop on down to the comments section below and share your picks for the best of 2015!

Two Tivos To Paradise
@Midnight, 12 Monkeys, All-Star Academy, American Idol, American Diner Revival, Antiques Roadshow, Beat Bobby Flay, Better Call Saul, Archer, Arrow, Baby Daddy, Bitten, Black-ish, The Blacklist, Bones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Cake Boss, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago PD, Chopped, Chopped Canada, Chopped Junior, Comic Book Men, Counting Cars, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cutthroat Kitchen, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Dancing with the Stars, Daredevil, Dark Matter, The Deadliest Catch, Empire, Expedition Unknown, Face Off, Fake Off, Faking It, Family Guy, Fargo, Flipping Out, Food Network Star, The Fosters, Fresh Off the Boat, Ghost Hunters, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, Gotham, Great Food Truck Race, Grey’s Anatomy, Hawaii Five-0, House of Lies, Impastor, Inside Comedy with David Steinberg, Inside Amy Schumer, Iron Chef America, iZombie, Jessica Jones, Kids Baking Championship, Killjoys, Kitchen Inferno, The Last Ship, Late Night with Seth Myers, Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Late Show with James Corden, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, The Librarians, Lost Girl, Louie, Major Crimes, MasterChef, MasterChef Canada, MasterChef: Junior, Master of None, Masters of Sex, The Meltdown with Jonah And Kumail; The Middle, Mike and Molly, The Mindy Project, Modern Family, Mr. Robot, Murder in the First, Nashville, New Girl, Next Great Baker, Next Iron Chef, The Nightly Show, The Originals, Outside the Lines, Penny Dreadful, Project Runway, Project Runway All-Stars, Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off, Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook Off, Ray Donovan, Real Time With Bill Maher, Rectify, Restaurant Impossible, Revenge, Royal Pains, Satisfaction, Saturday Night Live, Scorpion, Shark Wranglers, So You Think You Can Dance?, The Soup, Steampunk’d, Suits, Supernatural, This Is Not Happening, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Top Chef, Top Chef: Duels, Top Chef: Masters, Tosh.0, True Detective, Undateable, UnReal, The Vampire Diaries, The Voice, The Walking Dead, Wizard Wars, Worst Cooks In America, Younger, You’re The Worst, Veep

People Love You When They Know You’re Leaving Soon
Here ends another Two Tivos To Paradise.

We’ll be back next week with the 2015 TTTP TV Entertainers of the Year! Have yourselves a merry little Christmas!