Aside from mainstream shows like ‘Empire’ and ‘Scandal’, these fifteen shows introduced me to some of my new all-time favorites (see 2014 list here).
15. The Bastard Executioner (Season 1)
Despite being cancelled after only one season, Kurt Sutter’s follow up to ‘Sons Of Anarchy’ proved to be a worthy watch. The show centered around a 14th century warrior named Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones) hell bent on revenge following his entire village being slaughtered. In addition to Jones, ‘True Blood’ alum Stephen Moyer joined his first #sutterseries as Chamberlain Milus Corbett and pop sensation Ed Sheeran appeared in a few episodes as a brutal priest’s assistant named Sir Cormac, while the legendary Katey Sagal portrayed a wicked witch named Annora of the Alders. But the biggest surprise is the debut acting role of her daughter (Sarah White) as the maiden’s assistant Isabel. The show was even bloodier than its ‘Sons’ sister, but the lingering medieval theme made all the violence seem quite worthwhile.
14. Looking (Season 2)
HBO’s critically acclaimed LGBT series ‘Looking’ was also cancelled this year, but its second season was a culturally interesting watch. The show is based in San Francisco and shows the life of a video game designer named Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and his on-again, off-again friendship/relationship with his bestie Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez). While Patrick’s troubles became the center of the show, the supporting cast provided quite a bit of comedic relief. My personal favorite was Dom (Murray Bartlett), who played a cynical lesbian nurse with a slant towards bisexuality. HBO plans to close the final chapter on the short-lived series via a one-time special, giving diehard fans a proper ending to an overall great representation of the gay and lesbian community.
13. Heroes Reborn (Season 5)
It’s very hard for a series to get the #reboot treatment – unless your fans have been waiting for five years for a proper ending to arguably the best supernatural primetime television show. ‘Heroes Reborn’ has left behind a legacy of fans dying to know what happened to Claire Bennett (aka the cheerleader) after the initial series finale’s climatic moment. While ‘Reborn’ revealed that Claire (played by Hayden Panettiere) and many of the show’s original cast would not return for the reboot, the casting was still stellar nonetheless. ‘Orphan Black’ alum Dylan Bruce appeared in an arc as strongman Captain James Dearing, and Judith Shekoni portayed Joanne, who was quite vengeful over the death of her son at the hand of evos. Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey), the Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis), and Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman) returned from the original series in an intriguing way, however, proving that ‘Reborn’ still has a few more superhero stories to tell.
12. Project Runway (Season 14)
The fourteenth season of the Emmy-nominated ‘Project Runway’ kept the show on a consistently high run this year. This season pinnacled with unconventional challenges featuring Hallmark cards and 1980s recycled electronics, while my favorite designer Kelli Dempsey rose to the challenge each week. The 14th ‘Runway’ winner was Ashley Nell Tipton, whose design aesthetic centered around plus-sizes and embracing curves. While “real women” challenges have been tested each season, there’s never been a designer whose sole purpose was to design clothes for this demographic. My favorite guest judge this year was Heidi Klum’s bestie Mel B, who appeared during the 3D avant garde design challenge. With an increasing fanbase size, ‘Runway’ fanatics just may help the show snag an Emmy win in the near future.
11. American Horror Story: Hotel (Season 5)
Anthology series ‘American Horror Story’ lost its lead actress Jessica Lange for season five, but the show went on with Lady Gaga as the center of the show’s fifth season. Dubbed ‘Hotel’, this year’s AHS focused on the mysterious Hotel Cortez and its numerous secrets. Gaga’s character, the Countess, is revealed to be a vampire who turns kids against their family for a more bloodthirsty lifestyle. Not only does the Countess have immortality, but she also lives an extravagant lifestyle as the “living” head of the hotel. But the hotel’s guests appear in spirit form to terrorize Gaga’s plans for riches. Finn Wittrock makes two notable cameos this year – as a drugged-out model who engages in a brief fling with the Countess and as the vampire who blessed the Countess with immortality. But this year’s most notable role is Sarah Paulson as Hypodermic Sally, a vampire who just can’t stop wishing for true love.
10. Daredevil (Season 1)
Standing as the first of four upcoming Marvel series with Netflix, ‘Daredevil’ became a breakout hit this year. British actor Charlie Cox stars as the titular character – a blind superhero with a penchant for fighting crime on his own watch. As Daredevil roams through Hell’s Kitchen, he crosses paths with Kingpin, a business conglomerate with larger-than-life strength. The most notable cameo is that of Rosario Dawson, who portrays the nurse Claire Temple from the original comic series. ‘True Blood’ alum Deborah Ann Woll also stars in ‘Daredevil’ as a secretary for the Nelson and Murdock law firm trying to eliminate the city’s crime rate. While the Kingpin is eventually defeated by season’s end, Daredevil’s quest for peace in Hell’s Kitchen will hopefully coincide with Jessica Jones’ via Netflix as well.
9. Iyanla, Fix My Life (Season 4A)
Iyanla Vanzant’s ‘Fix My Life’ series is a must-watch every year. Taking everyday people and applying her spiritual teachings to the numerous problems in their lives almost always ends in some type of chaos. The first part of season four began with attempting to fix Karrueche Tran’s obsession over Chris Brown. After the larger-than-life celebrity season premiere, ‘Fix My Life’ delved into a three-part series on gay pastors that shook the Black religious community. Other stories revealed during Iyanla’s run this year included a family with three generations (grandmother, mother, and daughter) of abuse and Olympic gold medalist Debi Thomas’ descending from the spotlight due to money problems. However, the most important episode of season 4A was ‘Fix My Toxic Obsession’ which dealt with being addicted to plastic surgery. It was within this real-life moment that Iyanla realized her methods required a different approach to get through to someone with this type of addiction.
8. Once Upon A Time (Season 4B)
The fourth season of ABC’s fairytale remix series ‘Once Upon A Time’ found three of the baddest Disney villains of all-time in Storybrooke. Enter Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit), Ursula (Merrin Dungey), and Maleficent (Kristen Bauer Van Straten) as the #queensofdarkness, a trio of evil set out to reverse history and give villains their rightful “happy endings”. While Ursula’s happy ending involved being reunited with her father and Maleficent’s with her daughter, Cruella’s idea of happiness had a bit more gore in planned. After murdering her mother, it was revealed that Cruella not only has abilities (controlling any animal), but that she was cursed and could never kill another human being. ‘Once’ is known for turning the tables on traditional fairytales, but the Cruella “twist” turned out to be one of TV’s best moments this year.
7. Ray Donovan (Season 3)
The third season of Showtime’s ‘Ray Donovan’ is especially important because the season earned Liev Schreiber his first Emmy nomination for the titular role. Known as a “fixer” of problems for California socialites, Ray’s journey in season three crossed paths with the worst of the rich and dangerous. Multi-billionaire Casey Finney (Guy Burnet) unveils a plan for Ray to assist him with obtaining a Los Angeles football team, while his father Mickey (Jon Voight) gets twisted in a complicated relationship with a gang of Armenian sex traffickers. Both situations eventually ended in bloodshed, but the latter cost my favorite character Daryll Donovan (Pooch Hall) to lose the love of his life. With all of this chaos, Ray still (barely) manages to his fledging family life, although it doesn’t stay this way for long in Calabasas.
6. Sense8 (Season 1)
Netflix Original ‘Sense8’ really takes the term “supernatural series” to another level. The show focuses on eight strangers from different areas who are emotionally connected to one another (known as sensates) via a “cluster”. While the newer cluster is explored during the first season, the cluster that created them is also highlighted by means of Daryl Hannah (‘Blade Runner’, ‘Kill Bill’) and Naveen Andrews (‘Lost’). The previous cluster are attempting to prevent the newer cluster from being hunted down by Mr. Whispers, who want to disable all clusters permanently. As every character’s story intersects, there’s a long line of chaos and destruction left behind leading up to a #familyaffair style season finale fight sequence. The show was created by Andy and Lana Wachowski (‘The Matrix’) and J. Michael Straczynski (‘Babylon 5’), who were aiming to shed light on taboo topics (such as gender, identity, sexuality, and politics) in a science-fiction series.
5. Jessica Jones (Season 1)
As the second Marvel series to appear on the 2015 list, ‘Jessica Jones’ wowed viewers with its strong female lead storyline. Based on the comic book series of the same name, the Netflix original series proves that you don’t have to be a fan of comics to appreciate a great storyline. ‘Breaking Bad’ alum Krysten Ritter plays the titular character, who is equipped with superhuman strength, optimum endurance levels, and flight. ‘Doctor Who’ alum David Tennant plays the first season’s villain Kilgrave, who can control the actions of others through pheromone production. Kilgrave’s character history is deeply tied to Jessica’s, which is why introducing him on the first season does amazing things for the show’s longevity. While there are elements of sexual assault alluded to, ‘Jessica Jones’ provides a strong foundation for feminists, as the character is (literally) one of the strongest in the Marvel universe.
4. The Leftovers (Season 2)
When reports began circulating that the second season of HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ would be going through a reboot, I didn’t know what would become of the show based on Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name. After the season’s first finale, Kevin (Justin Theroux), his daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley), and Nora (Carrie Coon) flee from Mapleton and head to Jarden, Texas. Their new location is known as Miracle because it’s the only town in America to report zero departures. During the second season, Kevin, Nora, and Jill encounter the Murphys (namely stellar actress Regina King as Erika Murphy), a neighboring family in their new town whose epileptic daughter named Evie goes missing in a possible departure. As everyone in the town scrambles to find Evie, Kevin is haunted with flashbacks from the Guilty Remnant leader Patti Levin (Ann Dowd), whom he killed at the end of the first season. When the second season pinnacles, a reveal is displayed that impacts all of my favorite ‘Leftover’ characters like never before.
3. Better Call Saul (Season 1)
As a prequel series, ‘Better Call Saul’ follows the immoral decisions of lawyer Saul Goodman six years before the events of ‘Breaking Bad’. Bob Odenkirk reprises his role as Goodman and brings along a few familiar ‘Bad’ faces, most notably Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz). Episodes throughout the first half of ‘Saul’ are each origin in nature, showing specific flashbacks that helped evolve Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman. “Alpine Shepherd Boy”, which is the only episode title that doesn’t rhyme with “uno”, is seen as the turning point in the season. After a series of mishaps, Jimmy discovers his true calling via elder law and eventually finds himself giving out Jello cups in a Matlock-inspired suit. While ‘Saul’ is a very subtle, low-impact show, its reveal into the McGill-to-Goodman transition has universally wowed both critics and ‘Bad’ fans.
2. Orphan Black (Season 3)
The fans of ‘Orphan Black’ have been pushing for criminally underrated lead actress Tatiana Maslany to receive an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of ten different clone versions of herself. Not only did the show’s third season provide just that, but it also introduced a new twist to the BBC America series’ overall format. After two years of introducing the ten female clones in Project Leda, ‘Orphan Black’ season three added a male clone project called Project Castor to mixed reviews from one of the largest television fanbases around. Played by Ari Millen (‘Nikita’, ‘Rookie Blue’), the male clones are much more volataile than their female counterparts mainly due to their heavy military upbringing. While the female clones were revealed to have been created for childbirth testing purposes, the male clones were solely dedicated to serving their country. The season pinnacles with a surprising reveal showcasing Cosima’s girlfriend Delphine’s involvement with both projects in an epic way no one saw coming.
1. Bloodline (Season 1)
When it comes to psychological thriller dramas, the Netflix Original ‘Bloodline’ shines the brightest in terms of television in 2015. The show centers around the Rayburns, a Floridian family with a deep, dark secret. In Emmy nominated roles, Kyle Chandler (John Rayburn) and Ben Mendelsohn (Danny Rayburn) play the two main characters, who have been at odds with each other since birth. The beginning of the first episode shows the tragic event that has haunted the Rayburn clan, while the remainder of the first season’s episodes flashes back to the exact events that led up to all of the chaos. Sissy Spacek portrays the matriarch of the family and tries to keep the family together as best as she can, until the chaos begins affecting her directly. ‘Bloodline’, which is produced by Todd Kessler of ‘The Sopranos’ fame, has received universal praise for its storytelling, cinematography, and acting – a trio of accolades that no other Netflix show has been able to fully procure to date. If there’s one show that you should binge watch at full attention, it’s definitely ‘Bloodline’.