Surprises – to me at least – include the number of genre shows that are successful on TV, this year. I’m not talking mysteries/procedurals, sitcoms or hospital shows which always seem to thrive on the broadcast networks.
No, I’m talking the quality science fiction, fantasy, comic book and horror shows that are dotting the broadcast schedules of the Big Four, The CW and cable/streaming. There are so many of them that I’ve shuttled them off onto their own list this year – so with one exception, this is a mostly genre-free list of the best of network television for 2015.
As always, these are my favorites – your mileage will undoubtedly vary.
15. NCIS (CBS) – though it’s lost some ground to NCIS NOLA, it’s not because the show has suffered so much, as the new kid on the block has just been that good. Between Gibbs’ lingering after effects of being shot by a kid he trusted and Bishop’s marital woes, the show has probed more deeply into the personal lives of its characters, resulting in some great television – as when Ducky discovered his brother might still be alive.
14. NCIS: New Orleans (CBS) – the best of the franchise this year. Great cast, location specific cases and terrific atmosphere and music surrounding a great cast. Laissez le bon temps roulez!
13. Fresh Off the Boat (ABC) – the more the show has shown the depths behind the Tiger Mom façade of Constance Wu’s Jessica Huang, the better this show has become.
12. Elementary (CBS) – a take on Sherlock Holmes that keeps Holmes Holmes while allowing Watson to become more than just a sidekick (not that Watson was ever merely a sidekick in the canon, mind you – just in most of the many movies and TV shows about them). The twist that Watson is a woman isn’t even a big deal, anymore.
11. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) – a weekly movie musical about a deluded yet almost likable stalker who moved from one coast to the other to be near – and hopefully rekindle the sparks of a summer camp romance with – her one-time summer boyfriend. Funny, melodramatic and darkly, twistedly nuts.
10. black-ish (ABC) – despite a few missteps early on, black-ish has become one of the best half-hour comedies on network TV. In its second season, it has found exactly the right balance between showing what’s universal about the Johnsons and what is unique about them.
9. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) – since adding Amy Farah Fowler and Bernadette Rostenkowski, TBBT has become a solid sitcom that relies on more than making its original four geek protagonists uncomfortable for laughs. It can no longer be said of the guys on this show that they’re clueless outside their fields of expertise (they’re still not the brightest bulbs there, but they’re trying) and that makes all the difference in the world.
8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX) – consistently the best broadcast sitcom. If Archer was a live-action show set in a police precinct, it might be B99.
7. The Blacklist (NBC) – as The Blacklist burns through more story than anything short of a Shonda Rimes series, it rides the magnificence of James Spader’s performance. What keeps the show at a high level is that the cast has grown together and the writing is still just nuts!
6. Mom (CBS) – what started out as an obvious/unsubtle study of a mother and daughter whose lives had been disrupted by addiction and were trying to pick up the pieces gradually turned into this unusual look at the lives of women who recognized they had a lot to learn – possibly from each other. Less of a sitcom now, more of a dramedy, Mom is one of the best truth tellers on broadcast TV.
5. American Crime (ABC) – Bombshell TV in all the best ways. The exploration of what happens following the murder of a bright young man with the whole world ahead of him – and how that effects every person who is involved: from the victim’s parents to the accused, the parents of the accused and even the investigators – all filtered through our not-so-post-racist American eyes.
4. Jane the Virgin (The CW) – The best non-superhero show on The CW, this loving parody/pastiche of a telenovela simply transforms clichés into fresh and exciting material on a weekly basis. And Gina Rodriguez rocks!
3. Blindspot (NBC) – a truly unique mystery; a mysterious protagonist; unexpected (and timely) answers that set off a world of new questions. Blindspot is the season’s most WTF new series.
2. The Good Wife (CBS) – even more fun now that Eli has revealed that he deleted that phone call. Here’s hoping that the show’s writers take their time developing the crazy chemistry between Julianna Margulies and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
1. Person of Interest – the sneakiest science fiction series on TV, POI looks at the question of humanity vs. artificial intelligence in more depth than a lot of big-budget movies (A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, Transcendence), while also pitting A.I. vs. A.I. There’s probably no more poignant scene in the last year of TV than The Machine bidding her father farewell. (I left POI on the general broadcast TV list because there’s just so much great genre TV that it would have just been mean to remove all of it from this list.)
Bottom Feeders: Survivor (CBS), The Muppets (ABC), Sleepy Hollow (FOX, Minority Report (FOX), Mysteries of Laura (NBC), The Slap (NBC), Truth Be Told (NBC), Criminal Minds (CBS), Wicked City (ABC), Beauty and the Beast (The CW), 2 Broke Girls (CBS)
Photos courtesy of ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX and NBC