Photo Credit: HBO
2015 was the year of Peak TV, a term popularized by FX Network President John Landgraf. It’s Landgraf’s contention that there is simply too much scripted TV across the various broadcast and cable networks, as well as the streaming services. Landgraf is predicting that this is an unsustainable model and that a collapse may course correct the number scripted shows in production.
Landgraf’s message is also a little self-servicing, since he played a big role in creating the current landscape of cable original programming during his early days at FX. Because FX found success with The Shield, Rescue Me, and Nip/Tuck, other cable networks jumped into the original programming game as well. More recently, Amazon Prime and Netflix have also emerged as major programing players who can compete with cable and broadcast.
However, Landgraf is right about one thing. There is simply too much television for any single person to cover every show. There’s more than enough choices to satisfy the cravings of almost any fan. Genre fans have numerous choices, including Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Daredevil, while other series like The Leftovers, Better Call Saul, and Fargo are redefining what the television medium can accomplish.
In no uncertain terms, 2015 was a great year for dramas. If you can’t find a show that you like in this television landscape then you’re just not trying hard enough. It was particularly challenging to put together CraveOnline’s annual list of the 10 best dramas on TV. A few old favorites didn’t make the cut this year, but there are some worthy new series on the list.
Feel free to share your picks for the best TV dramas in the comment section below!
Photo Credit: FX/Sony Pictures TV
For almost its entire six season run, FX’s Justified was criminally unappreciated. Justified was loosely based on characters created by the late Elmore Leonard, and the writers for this series had a particular knack for Leonard-esque dialogue.
The final season of Justified brought Raylan Givens’ (Timothy Olyphant) story to a close as he had his final confrontation with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) caught between them. The conclusion was just about the perfect ending for the series, as Raylan and Boyd shared one last conversation about their unique bond.
Photo Credit: NBC/Gaumont International Television
Hannibal is the only broadcast network drama on this year’s list, but it arguably should never have been network TV to begin with! Bryan Fuller’s take on Thomas Harris’ classic characters was deliciously dark and it constantly pushed the boundaries of what could be depicted on television.
The third season essentially mashed together and remixed the stories of Hannibal and Red Dragon while furthering the twisted relationship between Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). The nature of their dynamic has been the subject of debate, but they were always riveting together. Poor ratings doomed Hannibal, but hope remains that it could eventually return in the future.
8. The Man in the High Castle
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios/Scott Free Productions
Amazon Prime has lagged behind Netflix in terms of prestige drama programing. The Man in the High Castle changed that in a big way. The X-Files veteran Frank Spotnitz brought Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle to Amazon and it was one of the most unique dramas of the year. The series takes place in a world where Germany and Japan won World War II and subsequently conquered the United States.
The Man in the High Castle notably humanized its villains and treated them as main characters. SS Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) was a monster, but the potential euthanasia of his own child showed another side of him. Similarly, Japanese trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) was an honorable man serving a brutal regime. This series inhabited a very grey world, and its subjective morality made it more compelling.
7. Jessica Jones
Photo Credit: Netflix/Marvel TV
Marvel’s Jessica Jones went somewhere no other superhero series has dared to tread. It focused on its title character’s ongoing trauma from her rape and mind control at the hands of Kilgrave (David Tennant). As Jessica Jones, Krysten Ritter was able to play a damaged heroine who was allowed to be unlikeable at times. Jessica Jones wasn’t above playing dirty to bring down Kilgrave or beating herself up for her perceived failings.
Aside from one truly questionable comic relief character (Robin was just terrible), Jessica Jones was a refreshingly high quality show. But it wasn’t even the best comic book television series of the year!
Photo Credit: Netflix/Marvel TV
Daredevil was the comic book TV show that I’ve been waiting for almost my entire life. Imagine what Arrow would be like without the “Olicity” melodrama. Now imagine if someone who actually respected the source material got their hands on Daredevil. On a fraction of the budget from the 2003 Daredevil film, Steven S. DeKnight (and previous showrunner Drew Goddard) delivered a nearly perfect live-action translation of Marvel’s Man without Fear.
The action was particularly well done, but where Daredevil really excelled was in its presentation of its heroes and villains as three-dimensional characters. Wilson Fisk was brilliantly performed by Vincent D’Onofrio, and Charlie Cox was terrific as a very conflicted Matt Murdock/Daredevil. It’s no coincidence that Netflix renewed Daredevil only a few days after its release. This is the high water mark for superheroes on television.
5. The Americans
Photo Credit: FX/Fox 21 Television Studios
Perhaps some of John Landgraf’s frustration with “Peak TV” stems from FX’s inability to bring larger audiences into The Americans, the Cold War spy drama that is legitimately one of the best series on television.
Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are essentially the villains of their own story, as a pair of Russian spies raising a family in the backdrop of Washington D.C.’s early ‘80s political scene. And yet it’s nearly impossible not to root for the Jennings, especially as their marriage and relationship is strained by their duty to Russia.
The third season upped the stakes by letting the Jennings’ daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor) in on their secret, and by letting Phillip’s fake wife, Martha (Alison Wright) discover that “Clark” wasn’t who she thought he was. Either Paige or Martha could potentially bring the Jennings’ world down upon them at a moment’s notice, and next year’s fourth season will likely explore the fallout of season 3’s revelations. Hopefully an audience will come with it.
4. Better Call Saul
Photo Credit: AMC/Sony Pictures TV
The idea of a Breaking Bad prequel spinoff centered on Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman sounded like a bad idea. However, Better Call Saul proved to be more than a worthy successor to Breaking Bad. The real trick was in making the series about Jimmy McGill, the man who is destined to become Saul Goodman. Unlike Saul, Jimmy is a fairly decent man who simply can’t catch a break. No one believes that Jimmy is a good man, and his transformation is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As an added bonus, Jonathan Banks’ return as Mike Ehrmantraut provided some fantastic pathos and drama. Banks could have easily carried a show by himself. Having Odenkirk and Banks together made Better Call Saul into can’t miss TV.
3. The Leftovers
Photo Credit: HBO
The real mystery of The Leftovers’ departures is where did the viewers go between season 1 and season 2? Because HBO’s post-rapture series had an amazing second season that only a small number of viewers actually saw.
There’s no easy way to describe The Leftovers. Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have gone beyond the storyline of Perrotta’s novel and crafted an original story that was unlike anything else on TV. What other show could get away with killing its lead character and sending him to Hell…twice in the same season?! What other series would dare to jettison half of the season 1 cast and completely relocate the setting of the series?
Instead of rehashing the first season’s story, The Leftovers introduced a new family and a new town while weaving its original characters in and out of the narrative as needed. There were no weak links in this cast, and the ending was unexpectedly uplifting. The series could have ended there, but The Leftovers will be back for one more season in 2016.
2. Game of Thrones
Photo Credit: HBO
2015 was the year that HBO’s Game of Thrones was finally recognized by the Emmy Awards with a long-awaited win for Best Drama. Game of Thrones is an impeccably well cast show with strong writing based on the novels by George R.R. Martin. The season 5 cliffhanger is still a hot topic of conversation several months after the fact!
But the real magic behind Game of Thrones is that viewers care about the main characters, especially when they suffer trials, rape, and even death. The series is a crucible that is marching towards a definitive conclusion in approximately two to three seasons. Game of Thrones Season 6 will be the first year that the series won’t have a pre-released novel by Martin to draw upon. But if it’s anything like the first five seasons, Game of Thrones will once again have a high place on this list.
Photo Credit: FX/MGM TV
Fargo was 2015’s best drama on television.
The first season of Fargo came very close to taking the top spot on this list last year. It lost out to HBO’s immaculate first season of True Detective. You’ve probably noticed that True Detective is nowhere to be found on this year’s list. That’s because True Detective’s second season failed to live up to the heights of its first season.
Fargo managed to top its inaugural season in nearly every possible way. The distinction is simple: True Detective’s creative team hired movie stars, and Fargo’s creative team hired actors. Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Jesse Plemons, Jean Smart, and Ted Danson aren’t marquee cinematic names anymore, but they were absolutely amazing as an ensemble cast in Fargo Season 2. The supporting cast was also unusually strong, with a star-making turn by Bokeem Woodbine, and fantastic performances by Nick Offerman, Jeffrey Donovan, Cristin Milioti, Zahn McClarnon, and Brad Garrett. That cast was an embarrassment of riches, and they all delivered.
While Fargo Season 2 featured a separate story set decades before its first season, the links between the two seasons were extremely rewarding and even surprising. Showrunner Noah Hawley and his writers have captured the Coen brothers’ tone so perfectly that even the bizarre touches like the UFO seamlessly blended into the narrative. This series is truly special, and unfortunately, fans will have to wait until 2017 to see the third season attempt to keep Fargo’s streak alive.
In the meantime, someone should tell John Landgraf that if Peak TV can keep giving us shows like Fargo, then it should be embraced.