Best of 2015: Zach’s Top Ten Returning TV Shows

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There were a ton of great new shows this year but also so many returning favorites, many of which had their final seasons.  Here’s Zach’s picks for the top ten returning TV shows of 2015.

  1. Fargo: Going into 2015, it was debatable if True Detective or Fargo was going to wind up on top as far as critically acclaimed anthology crime dramas go but it’s now clear that Noah Hawley and Fargo are vastly superior, as Fargo season 2 delivered the same dark humor and brutal violence of the first season but with a fantastic new cast that included Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jeffrey Donovan and Bookeem Woodbine and it used it’s 70’s setting to great effect, using the changing attitudes of the era to set off the series of events that culminated in the infamous Sioux Falls Massacre that was hinted at in the first season.
  2. Rick and Morty: Everything that we loved about the first season of Rick & Morty was back and even better in Season 2.  Rick was even more nihilistic and sarcastic and there was even more ambitious ideas, like the opening episode where reality keeps splitting and you end up with a screen filled with different variations of the same scene and it ends with a cliffhanger that is going to make the wait for season 3 almost unbearable.
  3. Hannibal: A show too brilliant for the network and timeslot it was put into, Bryan Fuller’s epic remix of the story of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham closed out this year thanks to a cancellation from NBC with it’s take on both the first half of Hannibal (the film and novel) where Will tracks Hannibal to Italy and then the second half of the season was an excellent re-imagining of Red Dragon with a stunning final sequence.  Mad Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy were both incredible and the supporting cast like Gillian Anderson and Laurence Fishburne were great as well.  Hannibal is also one of the most insanely violent and gorgeously shot shows of all time.  If you passed on it, do yourself a favor and check it out and then kick yourself for not supporting it when it was on.
  4. Flash/Arrow: I always tie these two together because they are basically the same show, with the amount of crossover and references to each other.  Arrow had a pretty rough early 2015 with the terrible finale to Season 3 but it wins the award but best turn around, as Season 4 has been a ton of fun, mostly due to Neal McDonnough’s delightfully evil turn as Damien Darhk.  Flash ended strong and just got stronger in Season 2, introducing the alternate universe of Earth-2 and doubling down on the fun of Barry’s fights against metahumans.  The casts of both shows have also cemented into great cohesive units with so much fun banter, whether it’s the STAR Labs crew trying to come up with a way to stop the latest villain or the in-mission conversations of Team Arrow.
  5. Justified: Wrapping up in the spring, Justified went out in an extremely satisfying final season that went against what everyone expected would happen.  After multiple seasons with different big bads of various quality, the final season got back to basics with Boyd vs Raylan and both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins in peak form.  Jere Burns, Joelle Carter, Mary Steenburgen and Sam freaking Elliott all contributed great supporting work for the final season and it’s a show that was never recognized for being great but those of us who watched it know it was an incredible show that was the equal of all the heavy hitters like Breaking Bad or Mad Men.
  6. The Americans: Another show that has not gotten the recognition it deserves, The Americans just keeps getting better and the third season was it’s strongest yet as Soviet spies Elizabeth and Phillip Jenner had to deal with the fallout of *spoilers* their daughter Paige, born and raised as an American, finds out what her parents actually do and there was the constant threat that she could crack from the pressure of such a massive secret at any time and put her parents in the cross hairs of the FBI.  One of the things that was also great during Season 3 was that the world of espionage got even less glamorous, with Elizabeth and Phillip having to stuff a body into a suitcase in one of the most brutal sequences I’ve ever seen and Phillip having to keep up a creepy relationship with the daughter of a key intelligence target, even though it disgusts him.  If you have not seen The Americans, you are missing one of the best shows on TV, so definitely seek it out because it needs all the attention it can get.
  7. Gravity Falls: Although it suffered again from Disney XD’s sporadic scheduling, the second (and final) season of Gravity Falls continued the excellence of the first season as twins Dipper and Mabel Pines dive deeper into the mysteries of their summer home.  The mythology got a huge boost with the addition of a second great uncle, or Grunkle, with Grunkle Stanford (voiced by JK Simmons) who is the best source yet for what is actually happening in Gravity Falls and it’s built up to a suprisingly dramatic finale against one of the darkest villains I’ve ever seen in a kid’s show, the psychotic alternate dimension demon, Bill Cypher.
  8. Mad Men: One of the most critically acclaimed series of all time wrapped up as Don, Peggy, Pete, Joan, Roger, Betty and everyone at Sterling Cooper ended the chapter of the lives we’ve seen at the start of a new decade and it was overall extremely satisfying.  Huge credit to Matt Weiner and co for not only giving favorites like Peggy and Joan closure or potential for the future but actually making us care about characters like Pete and Betty, the latter of which suffers the most heartbreaking conclusion of the final season.  Then there’s Don, who goes on a strange road trip after realizing the soulless environment he and the partners are entering into.  It’s not action packed and it’s not full of twists but the final half of the final season of Mad Men was great dramatic television that leaves a huge hole in the TV landscape.
  9. Game of Thrones: Game of Thrones continues to be epic as the battle for Westeros rages on and there were tons of epic moments this past season, including one of the all time best episodes “Hardhome”, which featured probably the best battle of the series as Jon Snow and a group of wildlings are overwhelmed by the seemingly unstoppable hordes of the White Walkers.  There was also Tyrion meeting Daenerys, the ever shifting politics of King’s Landing and so much more.  There were a few slight missteps, like Jamie’s seemingly unnecessary journey to Dorne, but there’s still barely anything that can match the size and scope of Game of Thrones on TV.
  10. Parks and Recreation: The final season of Parks and Rec was basically a victory lap but it was so much fun to just hang out with these characters that as long as they were all together, it could have just have been them in a blank white room and it would have still been delightful.  Most of the characters get an excellent showcase episode, with the high point being “Leslie & Ron” that had Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler at their absolute best, and the show brought back all the great weird side characters that made Pawnee feel like a live action Springfield, like Perd Hapley or Councilman Jeremy Jamm.

Honorable Mention

  • iZombie: The CW’s other comic book show, iZombie is just a ton of fun, especially star Rose McIver’s ever changing personalities and quriks as zombie ME Liv eats brains to not only stay clear headed, but to also help the Seattle PD solve crimes.  Equally as great as Liv’s personality quirks are her boss Ravi’s reactions to her personality quirks and it’s built up a great ongoing plot with evil energy drink company Max Rager and it’s super sleazy CEO, played by Steven Weber.

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