Spoiled for choice after another bumper year, here are the shows that mattered most in the last 12 months
The year is drawing to an end. The days continue to get shorter. The glow of televisions continues to fill our living rooms. We’ve never been more spoiled for choice when it comes to settling down in front of the box. So much so that earlier in the year, John Langraf, the CEO at FX Networks, the network behind Fargo, American Horror Story and The Americans, said “There simply is too much television.”
Well, as Mae West would say, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
The last 12 months have continued the trend for expanding the abilities of the small screen to tell the kinds of stories people used to gather round water coolers to natter about. These days, we don’t wait for the morning after, sharing the viewing experience live, comments amassed under hashtags and whole seasons spoiled for the latecomers with giveaway gifs.
On that note, consider this your spoiler warning for our round-up of what the 10 best TV programmes of the last year were.
When whittling down the list, certain things just simply cannot make the cut, yet deserve an honourable mention for entertaining us. In a particularly strong year for animation, South Park’s 19th season changed the very structure of the show, yet retained its shrewd and slicing look at the world today. Bob’s Burgers and Rick & Morty returned with strong episodes to further build on their cult audiences, and Stephen Universe on Cartoon Network is undeniably sweet and beautifully made – the kind of show you could sit down and watch with your kids, then binge on all the rest while they’re asleep.
Rami Malek stars as hacktivist Elliot Anderson in Mr Robot via GIPHY
UnReal played hard and fast with the concept of the antiheroine, with Shiri Appleby’s Rachel as conniving and conflicted as Walter White, though the show’s fast descent into pulpy soap opera somewhat spoiled it by over egging the pudding. Fargo is the most cinematic show on TV, but occasionally is just too bleak to be enjoyable. Same too for Mr Robot, which perhaps could do with one likeable character, and The Affair, which admirably flipped the page, but of which the crime subplot seems to be spiralling out of control.
When playing for laughs, Veep’s run remains unmissable and largely unwatched on these shores, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt landed its first season on Netflix with an up and down run significantly bolster by dream casting.
Channel 4’s voyeurism remains the most enjoyable chewing gum on television, with Gogglebox, First Dates,and The Secret Lives of 4/5/6 Year Olds all reminding us that being a fly on the wall can sometimes reach incredible heights, provided you don’t mind a bit of repetition.
Finally, on Irish screens this year, it was a big start for TV3’s home-grown soap Red Rock, and RTÉ 2’s Après Match of the Day is worth a look only for its brilliant take on TV advertising, not to mention the punning punditry. Designing Ireland’s look at how architecture and design have shaped the country around us was fascinating and, understandably, stylish, while TG4’s Pioc do Ride deserves some recognition for that drive-by shooting of a social-media moment.
From love deparment to glove department over on TG4 via GIPHY
But on to the main list, here are the top 10 TV shows of 2015...
10. Room to Improve
Architect or anarchist? The jury's out on Dermot Bannon via GIPHY
RTÉ One's flagship flagstone show, Room to Improve has worked its way into the nation's hearts by presenting an architect who knows it all, is unwilling to bend, and is almost always right.
It's near impossible not to covet the architectural gems Dermot Bannon helps to create, but watching the budget inevitably teeter into Celtic Tiger excess and seeing the site foreman's stress levels go apoplectic replace some of the envy with a shared sense of schadenfreude.
9. Master of None
That Netflix, an online network now renowned for allowing creative people to produce the television shows they want without helicopter executives chiming in, would create one of the most original sitcoms of the year should come as no surprise. That it came from the guy best known for playing Tom Haverford in Parks & Rec and a sassy snail in the animated movie Epic really did.
Clever, stylish, romantic, and flawed, Aziz Ansari's show grows and grows with every episode, with emotional suckerpunches and incredible swagger.
8. The Hunt
He's behind you... via GIPHY
The BBC's stunning widelife photographers have helped create a series that is touching, gripping, terrifying, and often surprisingly comical. Narrated by the the voice of nature, David Attenborough guides viewers through the bitter truth that the natural world is cunning and cold, and that when it comes to surviving, it's very rarely fair.
Watch on the biggest screen you can find and take in the high-definition footage of a world we need to save.
7. The Jinx
The enigmatic and guilty-until-proven-innocent Robert Durst via GIPHY
Not long after the true-crime podcast Serial had awoken the world to the fun of a grizzly death with questions left unanswered, Sky Atlantic aired the six parts of the story of Robert Durst, looking at the real estate heir’s life.
An ongoing suspect in the disappearance of his wife in 1982, not to mention the murders of two other people, Durst agrees to take part in a number of interviews, with the final episode – along with his now infamous belch – arguably the biggest ‘WTF did he just say?’ moment of the year.
6. Broad City
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson's self produced comedy flies largely under the radar via GIPHY
What started out as a web series is now a blisteringly funny look at how two young women, played by the show’s creators and lead writers Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, make it New York. With barely any money, a bunch of odd supporting characters, increasingly surreal set-ups, and Amy Poehler acting as producer, the show’s credentials are as impeccable as its leads’ comic sensibilities.
Get on it while there’s still bragging rights to be made about discovering it before everyone else.
5. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
British comedian John Oliver has conquered American satire via GIPHY
Besuited, bespectacled, and behind a desk, British comic John Oliver, who cut his teeth on similar ground as a correspondent on the The Daily Show during John Stewart's tenure as host, is now in the host chair, and charming the world with his take on American and global politics.
With in depth and scathing assaults on political spin and an unjust legal system, his soundbites are so shareable and ready-made for social media that most audiences this side of the Atlantic will have seen the guts of the show before Sky Atlantic airs it just days after its Sunday-night slot on the American cable network.
4. Peep Show
The 'El Dude Brothers' returned for one final season of the critically acclaimed sitcom via GIPHY
After a three year hiatus, the Channel 4 sitcom that made stars of David Mitchell and Robert Webb made a triumphant and glorious return for six final episodes. With the show's novelty having long worn off, particularly in the Go Pro era, it's easy to forget how clever and original it was.
Some of the seasons slump and there are whole episodes in the show's run that can be forgotten. But the final season has hit all the right notes in capturing the love/hate relationship of two best friends.
3. Game of Thrones
Kit Harrington's Jon Snow faces off against... something beyond the Wall via GIPHY
It's the sprawling fantasy epic that's destroying television as we know it and changing the attitudes of what can be done on the small screen when it comes to scale and special-effects achievement.
Not without its flaws – particularly with regard to how women are treated and how rarely this treatment ends in something positive – Game of Thrones' fifth season is shocking, with twists and turns that change the plot at the flick of the wrist. That the wrist is often pointing a large blade into someone beloved's heart, and the sheer audacity of the show to kill its darlings, remains it's secret weapon.
2. The Great British Bake Off
Nadiya Hussain, who stole the viewing public's hearts with her brilliant creations, and even better faces via GIPHY
More people watched the final of the BBC's cake competition than watched the FIFA World Cup Final in 2014. It's a staggering statistic in a show that it the epitome of nice and cosy.
Whisking and whipping up a frenzy, the show's presenters, Mel and Sue, make puns that that equal part atrocious and clever, while the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, are equal parts figures of authority and rocks of support. The contestants want to win, but not by beating the others. Simply by being the best.
Writers and stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney via GIPHY
Based purely on the premise, Catastrophe really shouldn't work. The story of an unlikely couple who find themselves unexpectedly becoming parents after a casual fling is a well-worn trope at this stage. But it's by leaning into the well worn and scraping out something fresh and entirely original is where the show becomes brilliant.
As Sharon and Rob, Horgan and Delaney – whose professional relationship started off as a mutual twitter following – have created two fully fleshed characters, flawed and cruel and sweet and loving, with whom it is nigh-on impossible not to be charmed by. As two fish out of water living in London, the series combines the best of Irish and American humour, tossing barbs and jibes liberally in arguments, and landed every joke and set up.
Two seasons in one year, the 12 episodes so far have frequently led the audience down the garden path only to find something entirely unexpected at the end of it. Wickedly funny, packed with heart, Catastrophe is all about how love changes you, and it hard not to love it.