With such an abundance of television to choose from in 2015, we tread with caution using the term “best.” Reaching its peak at 409 TV shows makes watching all of them an impossible task, which is why this list comprises of the shows that we have seen. Even with that narrowing in on the number of contenders for this list, it was a rather difficult decision highlighting only a select few. Not only is the large number of great programming a challenge, but there was also the deciding factor of which episode in the series will grace the list.
Competition was steep as the tube said goodbye to Don Draper, Leslie Knope and Hannibal while being introduced to Jessica Jones, Supergirl and Elliot Alderson of “Mr. Robot.” As competitive as the race was, here are 15 of our favorite episodes from 2015.
‘Rubicon,’ ‘The 100’
The best episode of “The 100” Season 2 was definitely “Spacewalker” — which made Zap2it’s 2014 Best Episodes list, because it aired in December 2014. But a close second is “Rubicon,” the episode that sees Clarke (Eliza Taylor) fully embrace her role as the leader who must make the tough choices.
In the episode, Mount Weather launches a plan to level the Tondc Grounders camp with a missile. When Clarke learns of the impending attack, her first instinct is to evacuate the base. But Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) makes Clarke see that by saving all the people at Tondc, they’re sacrificing their entire plan by letting Mount Weather know there’s a man on the inside, Bellamy (Bob Morley). So Clarke chooses to sacrifice the few to save the many and in doing so becomes the hardened leader the Grounders and Ark inhabitants need to defeat Mount Weather.
She even has to deal with the fact that her mother, Abby (Paige Turco), is appalled and disappointed at Clarke’s decision, proving once again that a 17-year-old girl is the strongest one of them all. The episode also features a wonderful side plot of the Ark inhabitants giving some Mount Weather folks their just desserts and Jaha (Isaiah Washington) and Murphy (Richard Harmon) learning more about the so-called “promised land” out in the wasteland. It’s a stellar offering from “The 100.”
‘Protest,’ ‘The Carmichael Show’
The semi-autobiographical NBC sitcom, draws heavily from “All in the Family” as it follows the life of stand up comic Jerrod Carmichael. The ubiquitous influence of racial profiling and police brutality was felt by all, so it didn’t make sense when it was barely mentioned in pop culture.
Carmichael sent a ripple through the seemingly mum television landscape with the episode, “Protest.” The uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement following the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and many more was noticeably missing in the art that so often imitated other parts of life. Carmichael, who admittedly would like the show to start conversation, successfully dived into a topic that appeared to divide the nation.
“Scandal,” and later “Empire” were the other series to touch on the subject, but seeing the tough topic tackled on a network comedy was refreshing. In the episode, Carmichael is celebrating his birthday when an unarmed black man is gunned down in his hometown. The dialog concludes with Carmichael opening up about a true past experience of himself being roughly handled by police because he fit a description. With help from onscreen dad David Allen Grier and brother Lil’ Rel Howery, Carmichael can joke about the incident as a result of his seemingly “suspicious walk.” Finding a sensitive yet lighthearted approach to the issues at hand makes “The Carmichael Show” must-see TV.
‘Cut Man,’ ‘Daredevil’
Everybody talks about “the hallway scene,” and rightfully so — it is three masterful minutes of adrenaline-pumping, bone-crushing, non-verbal fury in one single brilliantly-choreographed take. But it’s also the cherry on top of an immensely-rewarding second episode of Netflix’s initial foray into the Marvel universe.
“Cut Man” begins with the newly-christened Man With No Fear learning that he has plenty to fear. Lying beaten and half-dead in a dumpster, he is discovered by Rosario Dawson’s nurse Claire Temple, who takes it upon herself to fix his wounds. In a series of flashbacks, we learn the tragic tale of Matt Murdock’s boxer father — and his supposed talent of being able to take a beating. We learn more about our hero’s blinding accident, witness a powerful rooftop torture scene, and see the only moment when his dad was a winner — and how it ultimately led to his death. And then, after all that beautifully-written symmetry has filled us in on the story of father and son and the unfortunate ties that bind, we have it: The full motivation for what would make a wounded blind man walk down that hallway to face certain death.
‘Legends of Today’ & ‘Legends of Yesterday,’ ‘The Flash’ & ‘Arrow’
While the 2014 crossover between “The Flash” and “Arrow” was definitely a special event, the 2015 installment was the first to feel like an actual crossover. Instead of two separate episodes that deal with separate events, “Arrow” and “The Flash” mingled to tell one larger story over two different hours of TV. It was practically a DC Comics movie — and one of their very best, at that.
The event had the dubious honor of serving as an introduction to “Legends of Tomorrow,” while also serving each show’s individual needs and did it well. Whether it was the Oliver and Felicity drama from “Arrow” or “The Flash’s'” forward momentum on the battle with Zoom, there were no loose ends. Well, except Iris, but her being a loose end isn’t anything new.
What’s most important is the event set up numerous possibilities for the future, including the fallout from Barry going back on time and what that will mean for both shows. Producers on “The Flash” and “Arrow” are going to have a heck of a time topping this next year.
Chris E. Hayner
‘Hardhome,’ ‘Game of Thrones’
When folks look back on the fifth season of “GoT,” they’re likely to remember the visuals: Daenerys flying away on Drogon, Jon Snow being betrayed by his men, Stannis burning his daughter at the stake. But if you wanted to sit a newbie down and show them the full-on rollercoaster ride of the HBO series in one episode, this season’s eighth installment was the way to go.
Juggling multiple storylines magnificently, “Hardhome” advances Cersei’s imprisonment, Sansa’s struggle to free Reek from his brainwashing, Arya’s tutelage with the Faceless Men, and Gilly’s relationship with Sam. But the true joy is in two pivotal moments: Tyrion’s first encounter with Daenerys, and Jon Snow’s realization of the full power of the White Walkers. The uniting of two fan favorites is immensely pleasing, and after making us wait for five seasons, Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke have immediate chemistry. But the battle at Hardhome, between an unlikely alliance of Night’s Watch brothers and wildlings versus the unstoppable White Walker army, is more brutal and terrifying than any horror film released this year. Jon Snow has a brief moment of triumph as his Valyrian sword kills a ruthless Walker — but as the Night’s King revives the dead of both armies to do his bidding, we can only stand there like Jon Snow, stunned and terrified.
‘The Wrath of the Lamb,’ ‘Hannibal’
When speaking of Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal,” fans talk of the series with an equal amount of surprise and disappointment. Surprise, that a beautifully violent show such as this landed on NBC and continued its run on the network for three whole seasons. And disappointment for the obvious fact that it was canceled after just three whole seasons. Easily one of the standout shows on network television in recent years — not just for its special effects, but also the writing and performances from the cast — Michael Rymer (“Daredevil,” “Man in the High Castle,” “Battlestar Galactica) directed the series finale, “The Wrath of the Lamb,” in the most beautiful manner that it’s almost impossible to even picture the series returning for a fourth season.
But this is how Fuller has approached the show since the get-go, tying up loose ends at the end of each season — just in case the show was not picked up for another. And aside from pointing to Fuller’s work as the mastermind behind the Thomas Harris-inspired series, the real heroes here are Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen. Reshaping how audiences view Hannibal Lecter and filling out the character of Will Graham, the series continued to push the envelope in exploring their light vs dark relationship.
In Season 3, the character of Francis Dolarhyde was thrown into the mix with Richard Armitrage displaying a more sympathetic view of the monster Ralph Fiennes portrayed in “Red Dragon.” The three come together in a bloody battle that is beautifully shot, which also ties the final plot point closed. Sure, it’s a violent scene but the odd love story between Lecter and Graham is brought to a tragic end. It’s worth noting that Siouxsie and the Banshees frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux came out of an eight year hiatus to record “Love Crime” which plays over the finale’s final scene above. That surely has to count for something.
’12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,’ ‘Inside Amy Schumer’
Season 3 of “Amy Schumer” was its strongest yet, and in episode 3, in which the show broke from its normal format, and made the risky move of dedicating an entire episode to just one sketch, parodying the 1957 movie, “12 Angry Men,” – it paid off as the best 19 minutes of TV in 2015. Shot in black and white, and based on Sidney Lumet’s original script, except instead a group of jurors debating whether or not a teenager is guilty of homicide, the debate is questioning whether or not Schumer is hot enough to be on TV, and nothing but hilarity ensues.
The topical debate of how women are treated unequally in Hollywood is heatedly discussed as men fight over whether Schumer could produce a “reasonable chub” for the male audience. The expert cast of gentleman Schumer picked to play the jurors included Paul Giamatti, Jeff Goldblum, Vincent Kartheiser, Chris Gethard, Kumail Nanjiani, John Hawkes, and as the judge, Dennis Quaid. Schumer, who also co-directed the episode, was able to not only attack the male gaze with her egoless humor, she expertly mirrored some of the most famous beats and actions from the original teleplay, which as a whole, was absolutely genius.
“Manhattan” is a series more people should be watching. If “Mad Men” is missed by many and “Breaking Bad” holds the Guinness World Record for “Highest Rated TV Show” ever, then fans of both shows should turn their attention to the WGN America series.
The finale of the second season just finished its run on the network, and the story has continued to explore — in a historical fiction narrative — the lives of those who live on “the Hill” in New Mexico as the race to build the first nuclear weapon has gripped America as World War II becomes imminent.
This is the story of the Manhattan Project and leading the science team is Dr. Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey). Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger which finds a bag thrown over Winter’s head as he is taken away to be questioned as the military believe he’s a spy. While this was part of plans which panned out in the first season, audiences are not given a further hint of his whereabouts until Season 2’s second episode, titled “Fatherland.”
Akin to the “Fly” episode from “Breaking Bad,” this bottle episode plays out in multiple layers as Winter is thrown in an empty prison and finds himself in the company of another prisoner by the name of Joseph Bucher (Justin Kirk). What plays out is an entire episode surrounding these two characters in a story that can easily be presented in a David Mamet-style stage production.
The performances from both actors are what carries this episode into territory rarely seen on the small-screen. There’s a raw, honest quality of “Fatherland” that consistently delivers an engaging trip for the viewers while these two men seem to never leave this one fixed environment. While every episode of “Manhattan” is must-see television, “Fatherland” is a clear and definite standout.
‘Indians on TV,’ ‘Master of None’
Aziz Ansari rang in 2015 with a thoughtful prose on what it’s like to be a second generation in America in his Netflix comedy, “Master of None.” This particular episode shows the struggles of being an Indian actor — which differentiates itself from acting experiences that were shown in the past. Similar to the ways that Spike Lee spotlighted old black stereotypes in “Bamboozled,” Ansari throws the disheartening images of Indians being portrayed on television as recent as Ashton Kutcher’s brown face ad for Popchips in 2012.
There is also the revelation that Indian characters are played by white actors instead of Indian performers as well. Ansari’s character, Dev, educates his colleague, Anush, that white actor Fisher Stevens plays the role of Ben Jahveri in “Short Circuits 2.” Then there is the issue of the accent. While Dev tries out for the role of a taxi driver, he is asked by a casting agent to better his performance with an Indian accent.
All in all, the episode begs the audience to take a deeper look into the few Indian actors that they come across in daily television. The majority of Indian characters on television can be described as one-dimensional and become a striking contrast to Dev, Anush and their other Indian friend Ravi. All three men share their different philosophies, interests and opinions on the subject of race in television and film. The episode correctly points the finger at Hollywood as holding back the progression of race in pop culture.
‘Trust No Bitch,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’
Season 3 of “Orange Is the New Black” was uneven. After its incredibly confident debut season and equally consistent followup, the third season, which attempted to bring together more characters, social commentary about mental health, religion, for-profit prisons, and more, and even broadening the show’s focus to the point where Caputo got a flashback episode, was all over the place. Some threads worked fantastically, while others were dead on arrival. And as always, Piper’s romantic drama dragged down what was otherwise a strong year, as she began a behind bars smuggling business and a transformation into an even more unsavory character.
But even though this season wasn’t as consistent as the last two, “OITNB” does endings better than anyone else, and the finale managed to wrap up almost all of the satisfying aspects of the season into an emotionally charged triumph. First of all, it wrapped up Black Cindy’s conversion to Judaism, which was one of the strongest story lines the show has ever done. It gave new life to the relationship between Boo and Pennsatucky, as they tried to move on from the traumas of Tucky’s sexual assault. And Piper gave herself an “awesome” infinity symbol tattoo.
But the real success was in the last moments of the episode, when a poorly-timed repair on the exterior fence leaves room for the inmates to briefly “escape” into the local lake for a few minutes. Largely a wordless montage, the conflicts from the season melt away as the women reconnect during their short moment of freedom.
‘Total Rickall,’ ‘Rick and Morty’
The clip show made up of heretofore unseen clips is becoming Dan Harmon’s most distinctive contribution to the TV canon, and “Rick and Morty” episode “Total Rickall” combines Harmon’s inventiveness with the truly anarchic comedic sensibilities of co-creator and showrunner Justin Roiland. The framework of the episode, as usual, concerns an alien invasion. When Rick realizes that an alien life form has infiltrated the Smith home pretending to be members of the family, the clips start rolling as increasingly cartoonish characters — like Sleepy Gary — start popping in, all using the Smiths’ fake memories of great times with them as evidence that they’re real.
Harmon and Roiland keep the episode perfectly balanced between silly sight gags and the tenseness of knowing that the recurring characters’ lives could possibly be in real danger on this rule breaking series (they did once have Rick and Morty murder versions of themselves out there in the multiverse). It’s like a 22-minute, animated, hilarious version of “The Thing” with a character named “Mr. Poopypants Butthole.” Harmon’s skill at structuring a joke-laden episode somehow gives the family an arc, and his melancholy nature gets at the truth of a sophisticated emotional idea — that the ability to forgive bad memories, but not forget them, is what makes a family real.
‘Get Out of Jail, Free,’ ‘Scandal’
“Scandal” is one of those shows that when an episode is boring, it’s super boring. But when an episode is good, it’s stellar, and punches you in the gut repeatedly. “Get Out of Jail, Free” was that episode this season. Two gigantic moments happened in one hour — one would have been enough, but no! Fitz proposed in an over-the-top manner on the White House balcony, complete with rose petals and Betsy Ross’ ring, only to be shot down by a repulsed Olivia (did you hear the screams of the Olivia and Fitz shippers? We did) only to slip the ring on later and say “well, sure ok” AND Mellie dropped the “your dad raped me” bomb she’d been holding for years on Fitz during the final death throes of divorce paper signing.
Not only did we get those scenes, but TWO Mellie v Olivia standoffs, Papa Pope weasling his way into the prison hospital by faking a heart issue and then popping up like a nightmare in the last 15 seconds of the show AND David Rosen and Susan Ross bonding over wine coolers. It was enough to make us have a second … or third glass of wine before “How to Get Away With Murder” started.
‘The Heart is a Dumb Dumb,’ ‘You’re the Worst’
“You’re the Worst” did not suffer at all from a sophomore slump — just the opposite, actually. Season 2 maintained and at times even surpassed the quality of Season 1, capped off with a stellar season finale.
“The Heart is a Dumb Dumb” was quintessential “YTW,” from a party at Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) and Becca’s (Janet Varney) house featuring trash juice, karaoke and life-changing revelations for nearly all the characters. But the real gem was how the season explored Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) struggle with clinical depression, all leading up to her eventual reconciliation with Jimmy (Chris Geere) that led to a very sweet “I love you” moment, while still leaving the sword hanging over their heads of weathering the damage the events of Season 2 inflicted on their relationship.
‘Two Days of the Condor,’ ‘Silicon Valley’
If it weren’t for “Veep,” “Silicon Valley” would’ve swept all the comedy category awards at the 2015 Emmys. It is hard to complain about having an abundance of smart, funny TV, however, it must be noted that the Season 2 finale of “Silicon Valley” was about as close as one can get to perfection. It was nail-biting in suspense, laugh out loud funny, and completely realistic in its portrayal of the woes that a tech start-up company faces.
Season 1 of “Silicon Valley” was mediocre at best, so it’s understandable if audiences gave up on catching Season 2, but now is the time to catch up because the way the writers closed out the finale leaves little doubt that Season 3 will be less than stellar.