From Master of None and Black-ish to The Leftovers and Mr. Robot, The Atlantic’s writers and editors pick their favorite TV shows of 2015. (For those seeking a lengthier list, there’s also a roundup of the year’s best TV episodes.)
Some shows have certain inevitable plot developments baked into their central premise. When one of those developments arrives finally, it can be anticlimactic—or it can be a moment of transcendence that allows the show to become freer and scarier and more profound. The latter was the case in The Americans’ third season, when the spy couple at the center of the action were outed to … well, no spoilers. Suffice to say, the emotional landscape of the story suddenly shifted in scenes that weren’t overly dramatic, that were attentive to the sophisticated inner workings of all the characters involved, and that triggered a journey rich with tension and catharsis. Most surprising was the role of religion. The wild card throughout the season ended up being God, as perhaps on some level it always has been.
I wrote about Fargo early in the season, and everything I said then still holds. Showrunner Noah Hawley’s second outing was a triumph from start to finish: stylish, witty, inventive, and at times almost painfully suspenseful. His skill in juggling disparate elements was frankly astonishing: gruesome murders, UFOs, Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan, and countless nods to the Coen brothers’ oeuvre. (In later episodes, there were lovely homages to Miller’s Crossing and Raising Arizona.) My one early quibble about the show—regarding a moderately mystifying character played by Kirsten Dunst—was very satisfyingly clarified. And the rest of the cast was uniformly terrific, in particular Patrick Wilson, who gave perhaps the best performance of his career to date. Am I eagerly anticipating season three? You betcha.