Screen Scholars’ Top Shows of 2015: 10-1

10. Inside Amy Schumer [Comedy]

2015bestinsideamy

Amy Schumer took all of the flak she took last year, and all of the controversies and struggles women face, and made it funny. She challenged the notion that she isn’t hot enough for television. She criticized ageism. She satirized health care. In “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” she dedicated the full episode to one bit, using 12 Angry Men in a brilliant, cinematic takedown. She married low culture and highbrow criticism at the same time, making the feminists’ battle accessible for everyone.
-Katherine M. Hill

9. Silicon Valley [HBO]

2015bestsilicon

Easing into its second season — sadly sans the enigmatic and scene-stealing Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch died in December 2013) — Silicon Valley thrived by embracing its absurd chaos. We get deeper dimensions to some of television’s best side characters — Guilfoyle and Dinesh (Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani, respectively) particularly shine as they tour an energy drink company then debate whether to warn an extreme sports stuntman about a life-threatening miscalculation as only they can — in a hilarious logic puzzle. There’s also more of “Big Head” (Josh Brener) as he fails majestically up the Hooli ladder; Brener’s oblivious expression as he guzzles caffeinated soda is a sight to behold. Then there’s Chris Diamantopoulos’ latest repellent concoction, billionaire investor Russ Hanneman (a thinly disguised Mark Cuban), an uber-bro collector of gaudy trinkets who owns a framed portrait of three commas (rep’ing his first billion), and is gleefully — as Dinesh dubs it — “the worst man in America.” Despite the gang’s predictable weekly descent into peril, only to save the company (or be saved) at the last moment, Silicon Valley’s deft writing crew manages to wring every bit of drama and suspense from actions as intangible as waiting on whether a computer will crash.
-Jason Thurston

8. Parks and Recreation [NBC]

2015bestparks

There was a time when Six Feet Under was lauded as having mastered the series finale –pioneering the way a beloved show ties up its loose ends and showing the audience the future, so that nothing is left unresolved. Friday Night Lights and Parenthood did a pretty good job, too. But Parks & Rec‘s final season served as its finale, jumping forward to 2017, and sending the residents of Pawnee on quests that would positively affect their futures, setting the course for a clean resolution before its two-part finale, which jumped as much as 50 years into the future. Season Seven is the show’s greatest — delivering not a series of episodes more confident, funny, charming, and heartfelt than before.
-Katherine M. Hill

7. Playing House [USA]

2015besthouse

Nothing says bff like giving up your career and moving in with your friend to help her raise a baby. That’s what happens when Maggie finds out her husband is cheating and calls on her longtime pal, Emma. Now childhood friends Emma and Maggie are off on their biggest adventure to date, navigating motherhood.
-Navani Otero

6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt [Netflix]

2015bestunbreakable

Tina Fey’s first post-30 Rock sitcom UKS makes it fairly clear in its opening sequence and faux-viral video theme song that it inhabits its predecessor’s goofy, whimsical, hyper-meta shoes. Kimmy Schmidt (inhabited by the irrepressible Ellie Kemper) emerges from an underground cult prison after 20 years to discover a bright, shiny world she struggles to understand. She decides to make a go of it in New York City, findings a basement apartment (points to UKS for realistic NYC lodgings) featuring the showstopping and Emmy-worthy (and duly nominated) Tituss Burgess as her aspiring-actor-turned-Broadway-costume-wearer roommate Tituss Andromedon (nee Ronald Wilkinson) and a job with Upper East Side trophy wife Jacqueline Vorhees (30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski pretty much reprising Jenna and all her oblivious diva tantrums). While on its surface, it’s sunny and absurd — from the holla-ring construction worker who gradually pieces together his latent homosexuality to Kimmy misconstruing a potential love interest’s enthusiastic pocket-dialed rpg exhortations as expressions of passion (up to and including “troll the respawn, Jeremy”) — what makes UKS truly work is its ultimate realness. Kimmy was kidnapped and raped after all — a fact the show does not gloss over. Problematically (and newsworthily), it also included 30 Rock‘s glib no-comic-holds-barred attitude towards cultural-based humor, notably in Kimmy’s Vietnamese love interest Dong and the Native American lineage of Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline Voorhees. While protesters (and there were many) had a point, it’s also fair to say these characters are the farthest from one-dimensional, and the former is even the primary (and easily rooted for) pairing for Kimmy.
-Jason Thurston

5. Jane the Virgin [The CW]

2015bestjane

Jane Villanueva vowed not to follow her mom’s footsteps by having a baby as an unwed teen. She thought she was in the clear too at 23, engaged to an amazing guy and still a virgin when a routine gyn appointment went haywire and she walked out artificially inseminated. But the insane premise is not even the best part of this show. Its charm lies in the satirical, over-the-top, telenovela dramatics from characters like Jane’s novela superstar dad Rogelio and from the love triangle between Jane’s fiance and sperm donor. Extra points for Jane’s cheeky abuela who speaks only in Spanish with English subtitles.
-Navani Otero

4. Mr. Robot [USA]

2015bestrobot

Some vigilantes scale buildings in one jump and toss cars, others have social anxiety disorders and save the world from the comfort of their computer. Enter Elliot, a cyber-security programmer by day and hacker by night. He usually goes after society’s scum but is faced with a moral dilemma when he is recruited by an underground anarchist called ‘Mr. Robot’ to attack the company he actually works for. What is a hacker to do? What if the dilemma is not with Mr. Robot but with himself? So many plot twists, so little time. The scariest part about this drama is it actually mirrors what’s happening IRL, so much so that the finale had to be postponed from airing as to not upset viewers. Season 2 promises to be even tougher so you def want to be caught up by then.
-Navani Otero

3. Fargo [FX]

2015bestfargo
What a wonderful world we live in, to receive the clever, brilliant, beautiful (and it’s digital!), perfect second season of Fargo. An ensemble cast, all characters of separate motives, dreams, and desires, collide at the lodge (as foretold in Season One). The writing, editing, and photography was better than some of this year’s greatest movies, and the end result is a dizzying, delirious, immersive sensation that begs the question: Why aren’t the other networks adopting this dedication to cinematic perfection?
-Katherine M. Hill

2. Master of None [Netflix]

2015bestmaster

At one point in an episode dealing with casual racism, after Aziz Ansari and Ravi Patel fail to connect on a joke, Aziz announces to the air, “well, that interaction didn’t go as planned.” It’s as good a tagline as any for Ansari’s sometimes-do-well comic actor Dev. While the post-Woody Allen neurotic mensch is nothing new, Ansari’s Master of None takes a rather original spin on the trope by not taking it to any extreme. Dev isn’t unrepentant like Larry David, nor terminally pathetic as with Louis C.K., but a real 30-something struggling to understand his own generation’s post-device perfectionist (and often emotionally isolationist) lifestyle. When Dev and friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim of Tim & Eric fame) spontaneously decide to grab lunch, it results in a labyrinth of choices within which, while chasing the perfect Yelp-endorsed meal, the pair go hungry. What’s most striking about Ansari’s masterful series is in his bold willingness to let conversations be genuine and unfold in real time; Dev & his friends’ dialogues build into referential reverie, go off-track, and often just peter out. So goes his relationships, as Ansari is not afraid to show his courting of Rachel (SNL’s Noel Wells) delightfully connect, adorably implode, and haltingly revive. Master of None is neither eternally awkward nor saccharinely full of cute moments — nor tidily focused on one element of life — but thrives in a world of unplanned interactions that occasionally, but not always, work out fine, kind of like life. It’s a show about everything craftily disguised as a show about nothing.
-Jason Thurston

1. Broad City [Comedy]

2015bestbroad

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are twenty-something bffs trying to navigate life in NYC with all its quirks and glory. Unlike other coming-of-age shows, there is never a dull moment with these two whether it’s getting your air conditioner stolen, trying to figure out how to carry weed on your person without subway dogs smelling it or shopping at whole Foods under the influence. Luckily, they have great friends like al dente dentist Lincoln and roomie-extraordinaire Jaime who have their backs through all the hilarious shenanigans.
-Navani Otero

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