End of year television review: The best and worst of 2015
It has been another great year for television; Marvel unleashed their Netflix expanded TV universe, Amazon upped its original content, revivals became the latest craze (we all despaired and cheered as David Lynch departed Twin Peaks and then returned to direct more episoders). The Great British Bake Off broke viewing records, Doctor Who delivered its best series yet, great shows like Hannibal were cancelled but still managed to go out on a high, while others like Supernatural managed to keep going with a genre-breaking eleven seasons.
But what was the best and worst of 2015? Well I got together some of the biggest and brightest TV writers here at The Digital Fix and here we present our recommendations for what made the cut - and what failed - this year. Of course, your opinion matters so please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
So without further ado...
BEST TV NEWS STORY OF THE YEAR
The X Files Returns
Had I written this article last year, I probably would have put the announcement that Twin Peaks was returning for a third season my number one news story and this year on a very similar theme it has to be the announcement that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were returning or six new episodes of The X Files in 2016. It is such an iconic show and it left audiences with a number of questions. Rewatching key episodes of the show and reviewing them for the site, I continue to appreciate just how brilliant the show was at times and for that reason, the announced revival has to be my biggest news story of the year.
Here's what our other writers thought...
It's not strictly news, but for me 2015 has been a great year for female characters and one worth celebrating. Whilst ostensibly a man's world, Ripper Street saw Myana Buring's Susan rise to be a key player in the show, finally shaking off that lingering victim status. Jessica Jones gave us one of the most complex female superheroes to ever grace the screen (big or small) whilst Agents of SHIELD has a whole roster of kick ass (if a little thinly written) females. Clara and Ashilda/Me are off travelling time and space as Doctor Who concluded. Star Wars has also got in on the action, not only by giving us a female lead in Star Wars: The Force Awakens but by populating the excellent Star Wars Rebels with some of the best female characters in the whole canon, Hera, Sabine and the return of the ever wonderful Ahsoka Tano. Finally, to top the year off ITV sees the welcome return of DCI Bernhardt in Chris Lunt's Prey, one of the best written female detectives on television.
Star Trek returning to TV
The big screen Trek revival has been a mixed bag - massively successful but yet alienating some of the more hardcore of fans. That said, the news that CBS are working on a small-screen series to be launched in 2017 is exciting. We know hardly anything about this new series as yet. When will it be set? Who will star? Will it tie in with the films? Despite this we're chomping at the bit to find out just what we have in store in just over a year. It Is a shame they'll miss the 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2016 though.
MOST IMPROVED TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
Yes, it still doesn't hit the heights of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel or Supernatural, but it made great strides forward towards brilliance in the second half of its fourth year. Turning Nick's girlfriend Juliette into a villain, an act that led to her death and his mother beheaded made for a bold and thrilling conclusion to season four and that pace has continued into season five as the show tries to shake of the shackles of earlier meandering storylines in favour of a focused new direction. It will never be consistently brilliant but it certainly becoming an enjoyable to truly great show at times...
Runner up - Doctor Who. I love the Steven Moffat era and episodes from all the recent series but this year the multiple two-parters, the return to weekly cliffhangers and stunning performances from Peter Capaldi made it the best series since the Hinchcliffe era of the 1970s...
I was already a fan of Bryan Fuller's take on the Hannibal Lecter story, with the show's first two seasons imaginatively showing new ways to tell a familiar tale but the third and, unfortunately, final season turned the programme into art. Never a huge ratings puller, the show lost viewers as it went along, but those who stuck with it were treated to a beautifully shot, abstract piece of horror, detective television which went out on an ambiguous high note. A sumptuous show.
Runner up: Penny Dreadful
The first season was a bit hit or miss for me but Penny Dreadful seemed to hit a certain stride this year. With a story more focused on witches and covens, the series grew to a fairly satisfying end and I look forward to more.
Despite one of the most confused series finales in some time, Doctor Who really benefited from the return of two parters, allowing stories to brief and for us to have endings that didn't solely rely on "love saves the day" or the sonic screwdriver / sunglasses / macguffin. The last moments of its finale sets the tone for a great next series as the Doctor shakes off that mid-life crisis funk that has been hanging over him since Trenzalore.
Could this have been the best series since the show returned in 2005? For my money it easily is. Peter Capaldi's second year in the show saw him really embrace the role of The Doctor and his pairing with Jenna Coleman's Clara was the perfect realisation of the platonic Doctor/Companion relationship. Some people weren't too keen on the focus the show had on Clara but it was key to they way this year played out. There are easy criticisms - after the wonderful ending to Clara's story in Face the Raven I was keen to see the Doctor move on and return to centre stage. The finale therefore was a frustrating, yet still fun, experience. Other than that there were some real standout stories and the two part structure to most of them worked really well in reinstating the series trademark cliffhangers in an effective way. I hope we see more of Maisie Williams Ashildir/Me, but hopefully sans-Clara who really has already had the perfect send off.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
I hate to write this because I still loved so much of the third season, particularly the culmination of the Mason Verger arc and the Red Dragon storyline. But is also became so over indulgent at times now I found myself really frustrated as a viewer. In the first two seasons, not a single moment in wasted and it quickly became one of my favourite shows of all time. But in the third season there was an episode which went so art house it was literally 15 minutes of plot and thirty minutes to close up of snails. It ended very well and I still love Hannibal dearly but I have to admit there were moments in the third season that were completely disappointing...
Sorry Baz Hood. And what did he consider the most disappointing show of 2015?
I just don't enjoy Steven Moffat's, general, take on Doctor Who these days. Sure, he IS still capable of mind bending brilliance as evidenced by the episode, Heaven Sent, this year but overall, his 'Who' just doesn't sit right with me. Maybe I'm too old and grumpy but the heavy handed, barely logical story arcs bore me. The constant dining on the show's past and re-writing of established lore infuriate me and his tendency for 'sexualising' the dialogue makes me cringe. I enjoyed four episodes this year and that's the worst return, for me, since the show's revival. And Christmas sees the return of River blummin' Song. Bah humbug!
Runner up - Gotham
Gotham hardly set my fire alight with it's first season and I had hoped for better this year but the second season has been more of the same coincidence upon coincidence thus far, up to it's, oh so fashionable these days, mid-season finale. Lazy writing wasting good acting talent.
This was hyped as a thrilling psychological thriller and for the most part it was. It was superbly acted, slow burn stuff and it looked gorgeous. Unfortunately the five-part miniseries could quite easily have been compacted down into a solid three episodes. It had a great first episode, a meandering second episode, a fantastic third episode (if only the whole series was so tightly paced), a decent fourth episode and then it lost its way in the fifth having written Ben Whishaw's hero into a fight he was never going to win; it's hopeful ending just rang false.
Game of Thrones
Probably a controversial choice, but given the high calibre of previous years it felt like the fifth season of Game of Thrones lacked a lot of the spectacle and nuance that we're used to. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but its beginning to feel like a show that takes it self a little TOO seriously. Gone has the wonderful humour that Diana Rigg, Peter Dinklage and David Bradley brought to the show in the third and to some extent fourth season and in its place is po-faced, straight talking fantasy that doesn't balance its controversial - rape, incest, murder - elements with a darkly delicious humourous streak. Could this be as a result of divergence from the storyline of the books? We're not sure about that; but something feels just a little less fun and far more challenging than it use to be and that's a shame. I guess its a testament to the quality of TV this year that one of the best shows is actually also one of the most disappointing.
BEST STREAMING TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
It has been a big year for TV streaming with more new content from Amazon and Netflix producing more new content than ever. So it was only right to look at this new medium which has proven it can compete on the same level as the big TV channels and networks. But what was the best? Established classics like House Of Cards or Orange Is The New Black? Or did new content like Jessica Jones dominate?
Knowing what my fellow writers have written, it's clear there is one show that made such a huge impact in 2015; Daredevil. The thirteen-episode structure allowed the show to fully develop its lead characters in a way a movie never could and we treated some stunning moments, from the exhausting hallway fight in episode two, to the 'car door' scene shocks of episode four and a gripping final episode. But it was the villain, not the hero, that stole the show; Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk gave us a child in a monster's body and a fascinating relationship with Vanessa made him one of the finest villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Runners up - Sense8, >b>Jessica Jones and The Man In The High Castle; three amazing shows filled with fascinating characters and premises - truly some of the best television in 2015 period.
Did our other writers agree?
Daredevil Knocked me for six this year and, from it's one take, Oldboy-esque hallway fight scene in episode two, this show had me hooked. A Marvel show like no other, (until Jessica Jones!) with its neo-noir style, Daredevil builds slowly and deliberately to an expected showdown with good scripts, terrific fight choreography and a delicious, villainous performance from Vincent D'Onofrio. Also due to return soon, and introducing The Punisher, again I can't wait.
Runner Up - Jessica Jones. I'm only halfway through Jessica's dealings with Kilgrave but again, the noir atmosphere just suckers me in. And David Tennant's brilliant.
This show proved that Marvel can do super heroics on the small screen and do them well. Easily the best incarnation of the Man Without Fear, the show benefited from a tightly plotted, small season (Agents of SHIELD writing often feels like a victim of network television's punishing schedules) and gave us arguably the best villain in the whole Marvel canon.
It was a tough choice this year - The Man in the High Castle and Mr Robot put Amazon in a stunning position. However Netflix struck gold with their partnership with Marvel with the phenomenal Jessica Jones. Despite its comic book origins, the series is one of the most adult series we've seen dealing with the complexity of real adult and abusive relationships and its the performances turned in by Krysten Ritter and David Tennant that really elevate this into the realms of real event television. Probably the best thing we've seen this year.
BEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR
The final twenty minutes of Hardhome, Game Of Thrones
It came out of nowhere, the army of the dead attacking the wilding settling as Jon Snow tries to recruit them for the fight ahead. Outdoing possibly anything The Walking Dead has done in its five and a half years, this gripping scene had me literally at the edge of the seat, hands to my mouth as the dead swarmed over the camp, led by the White Walker. Utterly stunning, a huge but welcome departure from the books and a moment worthy of elevating the entire fifth season of Game Of Thrones to greatness. And those zombie children...
Runner up - The anti-war speech by the Doctor in The Zygon Inversion - Peter Capaldi shone with a speech that truly made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end!
Baz Hood meanwhile had a different pick from the same season of Game Of Thrones...
Jon Snow's Death - Game of Thrones
Whilst nowhere near as gut wrenching as the Red Wedding in series four, the betrayal and ultimate murder of fan favourite, Jon Snow, in the Game of Thrones season finale was a blow nonetheless. Having watched him rally the Wildlings to side, only to then be forced to help them flee an unexpected and savage attack by hordes of White Walkers, AND THEN see him die at the hands of his brothers of the Night's Watch was a pretty unforgettable moment.
Runner Up - Ash getting his chainsaw in Ash vs Evil Dead, Capaldi's speech in Doctor Who's The Zygon Inversion or the mere mention of Negan in The Walking Dead.
I struggle to pick one so here are a few: Nadia winning The Great British Bake Off. Selina getting kicked off The Apprentice (aka Bake Off for bastards). Realising that Thunderbirds Are Go was actually pretty good. The Doctor's anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion.
Daredevil - Hallway Fight Scene
Ever seen the original South Korean film Oldboy? If not, stop reading, go watch it and come back - there's a stunning sequence in there which sees Park Chan-wook's character fight his way along the hallway to take revenge on the person who kept him captive. Now translate that to the Marvel / Netflix event series Daredevil and you have something close to this amazing sequence that turned what was already an excellent series into something beautiful yet shockingly violent. Unforgettable.
BEST TV PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
Peter Capaldi- Doctor Who
For me, there is no contest. Peter Capaldi proved that he was the actor of 2015 who managed to develop a very funny side to the Doctor (drinking tea in Davros's chair in the middle of the Dalek chamber) and brought hair-raising gravitas to his anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion. But it was his solo performance in Heaven Sent that really proved that he is one of the greatest actors currently on TV.
Runner up - does anyone come close? Perhaps Vincent D'Onofrio's gripping portrayal as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil?
Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul
Given the room to breathe in his own show, Bob Odenkirk, as Jimmy McGill has shone throughout the first season of Better Call Saul. Playing the character at different ages, he slips effortlessly and convincingly between them. Odenkirk hails from a comedy background but plays Jimmy dead straight and never loses your attention when he's onscreen.
Runner Up - Peter Capaldi - Doctor Who
Capaldi has properly claimed his Doctor(ship) now with his landmark speech in The Zygon Inversion and his bravura, one handed turn in Heaven Sent and for that superb 55 minutes alone I put him in this list. I was riveted! (For the only time this series unfortunately)
Peter Capaldi- Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi wins this hands down for his almost solo turn in Heaven Sent alone. It finally feels like his Doctor has found his feet, by turns terrifying, vulnerable and utterly charming. "Anyone for dodgems?"
Peter Capaldi- Doctor Who
There have been some great performances this year - in the end it came down to a toss-up between Stellan Skarsgard for his lead role in River and Peter Capaldi in his second year in Doctor Who. In the end it came down to just how fun Capaldi's sophomore series has been - it just goes to show how much of an effect having a world-class actor in the role has given things a whole new feel. Capaldi, as with Matt Smith before him, can switch from the most funny of moments to some of the darkest and I'm loving the way Capaldi has embraced aspects of all of the previous actors that have taken on the role.
BEST NEW TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
It would be easy to say Daredevil should take the top spot and I was almost tempted to do so. But there has been a lot of competition this year, a lot of it on Netflix and Amazon. There was one show that bowled me over this year; Dark Matter. It was a return to a proper sci-fi show on a spaceship, something which is surprisingly novel these days. It also has a great cast, a great mystery and gets better with each episode. There might be better shows out there but as a new show that made the most impact, it would have to be this little sci-fi gem.
Runners up - So many contenders; Daredevil, Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, The Man In The High Castle, Mr Robot. 2015 has been a very fine year for great new television.
Ash Vs. Evil Dead
With the golden team of Raimi, Tapert and Campbell reuniting for the Starz Original series of Ash Vs. Evil Dead, the Starz have most suredly aligned. Hilarious, pin sharp writing, over the top bloody violence and magnificently measured production values (i.e. state of the art VFX AND old school practical effects brilliantly utilised), make this my favourite new show this year. Episodes are only 25 minutes long but this just leaves me wanting more. The show cleverly expands the universe of the original movies, while never slavishly repeating itself. Sam Raimi directs the first 45 minute episode and Bruce Campbell is just magnificent in it! What more do you need?!?
Runner Up - Fear The Walking Dead
Not everybody embraced this spin off show from, The Walking Dead, but I really enjoyed the first 6 episode run. Perhaps understandably, zombie action is limited but the series did a decent job of creating a sense of paranoia among its main characters and reminded me, at times, of the original series of V from 1985, which pitted families against each other amidst an alien invasion, as opposed to an undead one. The series will return next year with a full 16 episode run. Apparently on a boat! We shall see.
Given we've got a separate category for streaming TV show, I'm pleased to be able to shine a light on the new BBC series, River; starring the phenomenal Stellan Skarsgard and Nicola Walker. What initially seems like a standard police drama takes on a sudden and deeply interesting new light when it is revealed that River's partner is actually dead and a figment of his imagination. Stunningly well shot and with performances above that of the usual TV drama; everything about this show is nigh-on perfect. To say more would spoil the twists and turns of the show so if you haven't watched it yet you're really in for a treat.
BEST TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
And here's the big one. Considering all the great choices, which was the best?
It would be tempting to say Daredevil but even that great show had the occasional slump in its storytelling. (And yes, I said Dark Better for best new show, purely because it was great to have a proper sci-fi show on TV again). But it was another Marvel TV show that stole my heart this year. Agent Carter was eight episodes of perfection. It had action, heart and plenty of humour. The double act of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter and James D'Arcy's Edwin Jarvis is one of the greatest in years, Bridget Regan delivered a great villain in Dottie Underwood, Dominic Cooper almost stole the show with his appearances as Howard Stark and it had a great mystery too; as a precursor to Agents Of SHIELD and the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe it worked perfectly. Roll on season two!
Runners up - Daredevil obviously, Dark Matter, but also Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi delivering one amazing performance after another and the return of weekly cliffhangers, it was the best series since the show returned in 2005.
Did my fellow writers agree? Here are their choices for best TV show of the year...
Better Call Saul
I certainly didn't expect the follow up (prequel) to the legendary Breaking Bad to be anywhere near the quality of it's parent show but Vince Gilligan and his team have seemingly struck gold again. Focusing largely on the (mis)adventures of Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul, they crafted an incredible first season of 10 episodes, with sparkling dialogue, stand out performances, top drawer production values and a satisfying emotional pay off. I cannot wait for the second season to air in February next year.
Runner Up - Ash vs Evil Dead, which is just barnstorming fun and the best thing I'm watching right now.
Runner Up - Fargo. Another intricately plotted master work from Noah Hawley! Surely he can't repeat the trick for a THIRD season!
It was incredibly exciting to see Ripper Street return to BBC, albeit a few months after it had been on Amazon. The Victorian crime drama is gorgeously produced and it's lyrical dialogue remains some of the best on television. This series had gripping twists and turns, some of the highest emotional stakes and felt like the show was given what felt like a proper ending.
Not only is it my favourite new show, it is the best show of the year hands down.
So what did we learn this year? Well Peter Capaldi was utterly brilliant in Doctor Who and Game Of Thrones had some majorly shocking moments even if the fifth season didn't win everyone over. With Star Trek and The X Files, revivals are most certainly in. Hannibal was more decisive than ever in its final season and EVERYONE loved Daredevil. What are you TV highs and lows in 2015? Please join in on the debate!