As was the case in 2014, when viewers were treated to an astoundingly varied bumper crop of fine new shows, 2015 was a great year for freshman programs. Here are my 20 favorite new shows of the year, some of which appeared on my overall Top 20 shows roster. (My third and final list takes note of the 20 best returning shows of 2015).
“The Carmichael Show,” NBC: A multi-camera sitcom with an excellent cast, smart things to say and tons of potential. Good on NBC for renewing it.
“Catastrophe,” Amazon: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
“Deutschland 83,” Sundance: If you like “The Americans,” chances are you’ll enjoy this tale of German espionage set in the early ’80s. Imagine Nena’s “99 Luftballons” turned into a meaty miniseries featuring a terrific collection of character actors and period blouses, and you’re almost there (well, not quite, but it’s thematically appropriate and period-appropriate to mention Nena’s dance-pop classic). Judge for yourself: The entire miniseries hits Hulu Dec. 18.
“Fortitude,” Pivot: A frosty and fine take on the thriving “murder in a remote community” genre. Anything that starts out with Michael Gambon shooting at a polar bear is bound to get interesting.
“Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
“Grantchester,” PBS/Masterpiece: To those who would say, “But Mo, this is simply a gentle, quiet period mystery about a handsome vicar who has a few tasteful emotional issues and occasionally goes for a pint with Robson Green,” I say, “For the love of tweed, not everything needs to be challenging to watch and emotionally draining. Please refrain from being a monster and let me have this.”
“Killjoys,” Syfy: A smart, energetic space romp starring an ass-kicking, cheeky and smart female lead? Yes, please! If you haven’t caught up with this delightful adventure drama, I urge you to do so immediately and thank me later.
“iZombie,” CW: This show has been one of the most consistently entertaining diversions of the year, and while Rose McIver is certainly excellent as the lead, the show’s supporting cast — Rahul Kohli, Robert Buckley, David Anders and Malcolm Goodwin — have just been killing it (so to speak).
“The Jinx,” HBO: I have some reservations about how this documentary series was laid out and edited, but I can’t deny that I was addicted to it when it aired.
“The Man in the High Castle,” Amazon: An intelligent meditation on the emotional and social costs of fascism, and thus a show that becomes more relevant to the current era with every day that passes. (My review of the drama and an interview with showrunner Frank Spotnitz.)
“Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” Netflix: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
“Marvel’s Agent Carter,” ABC: A brisk and enjoyable romp and a fine showcase for Hayley Atwell, whose energy and undeniable star power helped the show power through a few minor first-season rough spots.
“Master of None,” Netflix: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
“Mr. Robot,” USA: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
“Other Space,” Yahoo: I like comedy, I like shows set on space ships, and I like the work of Paul Feig, and all three came together in this sweetly silly and entertaining comedy.
“Show Me a Hero,” HBO: How do you get people to pay attention to a serious, deeply researched narrative about housing inequality? Step 1: Turn your story into an Oscar Isaac delivery system. Beyond Isaac, who was typically excellent, a stellar cast brought what could have been a dry story to vivid and memorable life.
“Togetherness,” HBO: A closely observed tragicomedy about commitment and the slow death of dreams, this show gained power over the course of its first season, and showcased exceptional performances from the core quartet of Mark Duplass, Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet and the quietly amazing Steve Zissis.
“The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Netflix: This show could be a lot — “Kimmy’s” cast of forceful actors played an array of in-your-face characters, some of which worked better than others. But it was impossible to resist Ellie Kemper’s sunny tenacity, Tituss Burgess’ delightful performance and the show’s respect for its characters’ ability to overcome trauma.
“Unreal,” Lifetime: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
“Wolf Hall,” PBS/Masterpiece: Written up in my Top 20 shows of 2015 list.
Honorable mention: “7 Days in Hell,” This entertainingly goofy fake sports documentary from HBO was a total delight from start to finish.