The best TV shows of 2015 | Virgin Media
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The best TV shows of 2015

04/01/2016TV

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TV sure was amazing in 2015. It had heaps, HEAPS, of brilliant shows. In fact there were so many, that only a bonafide telly-addict could possibly have watched them all… Being such telly-addicts ourselves, we thought we’d put together a list of the 20 best TV shows of 2015 just for you. If you’ve not seen any of these yet, we highly recommend catching up ASAP!

 

 

20. River

Don't panic, this isn't some ill-conceived TV spin-off of the Aliens movie franchise

Detective drama River offered up a compendium of cop clichés

Detective drama River offered up a compendium of cop clichés: tormented sleuth, personal demons, sleek and moody shots of London, plus a story arc about an unsolved murder. So why did it work so well? Because it dialled everything up to extremes. Our hero wasn't just tormented, he was literally haunted by visions of the dead, and genuinely looked like a man on the cusp of a total breakdown. It also helped he was played by Stellan Skarsgård, whose presence gave the whole thing the appealing vibe of a Nordic Noir saga.

19. Ripper Street

Now here's a show that definitely should have sucked

The Beeb must have felt a little silly this year

The Beeb must have felt a little silly this year. After all, they'd previously axed Ripper Street despite huge fan devotion and critical acclaim, leaving Amazon to save the day by producing season three for its subscribers. Only after this did Inspector Reid and company make their triumphant return to their original home on the BBC. The long wait was worth it though, with a corker of a series which has paved the way for at least two more runs to come.

18. Poldark

Aidan Turner had already been catapulted to fame by Being Human years ago

Aidan Turner had already been catapulted to fame by Being Human years ago

Aidan Turner had already been catapulted to fame by Being Human years ago, but the hype around Poldark made him seem like an overnight star all over again. That iconic image of him topless in a field is contemporary telly's equivalent of Colin Firth in that dripping wet shirt, but there was more to Poldark than man-candy. A sweeping saga of a dashing soldier making his way in 18th Century Cornwall, it made for perfect cosy telly and even edged out memories of the beloved 70s version. Almost.

17. Indian Summers

Brimming with viceroys, lords and people with names like Cynthia

Brimming with viceroys, lords and people with names like Cynthia

Brimming with viceroys, lords and people with names like Cynthia, Indian Summers was unashamedly old-fashioned 'event' television – a callback to those quaint days when the whole family would gather around shows like Brideshead Revisited, The Far Pavilions and The Jewel In The Crown. Luckily, it wasn't just a retro homage to past glories, but a proper, ambitious drama in its own right, plunging us into the lavish, turbulent world of the British Raj and giving Julie Walters one of her best roles in ages.

16. Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell

People like magical stuff and people like period dramas

People like magical stuff and people like period dramas

People like magical stuff and people like period dramas, so the BBC probably expected this magical period drama to conjure up some monster ratings. Instead it was a bit of a flop, perhaps because of its lack of major stars, or its sheer peculiarity. Which was a big shame, because this was a thrilling vision of a parallel England where magicians have real powers and supernatural forces affect the Napoleonic wars. Maybe it'll fare better when it's inevitably remade in about 15 years or so.

15. Agent Carter

 Marvel really pulled it out of the bag with Agent Carte

Marvel really pulled it out of the bag with Agent Carte

As if to make amends for the mystifyingly lacklustre Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel really pulled it out of the bag with Agent Carter. Here, at last, we got a small-screen spin-off with all the wit and excitement of their cinematic comic book adventures, with the added perk of an amazing female lead. Hayley Atwell pretty much gleamed with charisma as our 1940s secret agent, and the glamour of the era – the sharp fashions and sharper Art Deco – made the show look and feel different from anything else on the telly box.

14. Empire

The tale of a hip hop mogul struck with a life-threatening illness

The tale of a hip hop mogul struck with a life-threatening illness

If Dynasty was crossed with King Lear and multiplied by Jay-Z, something like Empire would be the result. The tale of a hip hop mogul struck with a life-threatening illness, and the battle between his sons to take over the family business, Empire is unashamed, soapy escapism at its best. Full of scandalous skulduggery, cunning conspiracies and smouldering looks, it's also got the best music ever to feature in a frothy US drama. Well, the best since the Dallas theme tune, anyway.

13. Peter Kay's Car Share

Commuting to work isn't generally renowned for chuckles

Commuting to work isn't generally renowned for chuckles

Commuting to work isn't generally renowned for chuckles, but adding Peter Kay to the equation gave us one of 2015's most charming sitcoms. The concept was beautifully simple – two colleagues natter in a car to and from work – and Peter Kay put in a sweetly understated performance alongside bolshy co-star Sian Gibson. With a deliciously cheesy 80s soundtrack, this was much-needed proof that BBC One can still do great comedy when it wants to (though the less said about this year's woeful Mountain Goats, the better).

12. You, Me And The Apocalypse

It sometimes seems that every third TV show is about the end of the world

It sometimes seems that every third TV show is about the end of the world

It sometimes seems that every third TV show is about the end of the world, so we didn't really have high hopes for this latest spin on the doomsday scenario. And yet You, Me And The Apocalypse turned out to have real impact – which is rather apt for a show about a comet about to slam into the Earth. Following a bloke in Slough as he tried to sort out his family strife in the final days of civilisation, it balanced the comedy with surprisingly dark drama, and also featured the wonderfully unlikely sight of Rob Lowe and Pauline Quirke sharing screen time (and a Volkswagen).

11. London Spy

Here's a (possible) TV first – a British drama about a gay relationship which wasn't ABOUT a gay relationship

Here's a (possible) TV first – a British drama about a gay relationship which wasn't ABOUT a gay relationship

Here's a (possible) TV first – a British drama about a gay relationship which wasn't ABOUT a gay relationship. In other words, the fact that they’re gay wasn't the main focus of proceedings. Instead, it was an espionage thriller which just happened to be about a man in a romance with another man. Add to that the fact that one those men was played Ben Whishaw, and the plot was as complex and gripping as something by Le Carré, and the result was one of the most intriguing dramas of the year.

10. Doctor Who

This year's Doctor Who just had so many things to tickle our minds

This year's Doctor Who just had so many things to tickle our minds

We were already sold on Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, because he's Peter Capaldi and immediately awesome in everything. But this year's Doctor Who just had so many things to tickle our minds, prick our tear ducts and delight our inner nerds. That bit where the Doctor realised he was about to save the life of a young Davros! The death and resurrection of Clara! The anti-war speech! And not forgetting the Capaldi one-hander set in the shape-shifting fortress, which has to be one of the all-time great episodes in the show's long history.

9. Wolf Hall

It couldn't have been easy, adapting a mammoth historical novel

It couldn't have been easy, adapting a mammoth historical novel

It couldn't have been easy, adapting a mammoth historical novel which was adored by everyday readers and snooty critics alike. But somehow they pulled it off with this exquisite TV version, with Mark Rylance acting almost entirely with his gloomy eyes and pursed lips as Cromwell, and Damian Lewis both charming and frightening as Henry VIII. The deliberately slow pace, shadowy atmosphere and actual intelligence made it all a far cry from The Tudors starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. And all the better for it.

8. Doctor Foster

Doctor Foster was one of the breakout sensations of 2015

Doctor Foster was one of the breakout sensations of 2015

Coming with absolutely no hype and telling the seemingly simple story of a failing marriage, Doctor Foster should have been one of those schedule-fillers that nobody remembers ever watching. Instead, it was one of the breakout sensations of 2015, with some critics even comparing it to The Duchess Of Malfi and The Revenger's Tragedy. Which might be over-egging it a bit, but Suranne Jones was absolutely riveting as the woman dealing with hidden betrayals, and that dinner party scene was utterly excruciating. In a good way.

7. The Last Kingdom

It was hailed as 'Game of Thrones for thinking people'

It was hailed as 'Game of Thrones for thinking people'

It was hailed as 'Game of Thrones for thinking people', which sounds a bit snobby, but you get the idea. This major BBC show certainly shared the iconic imagery of George RR Martin's epic (windswept men in big fat furs, lashings of gory violence) with the addition of actual, real-world history to make us feel like we were learning something. Depicting pre-Norman Britain as a dangerous realm of feuding kingdoms, rampaging Vikings, and blood-soaked agendas, it also had Rutger Hauer as a heavily tattooed mystic. Which can only ever be a good thing.

6. Cucumber

Cucumber was about a middle-aged gay man dealing with life as a singleton

Cucumber was about a middle-aged gay man dealing with life as a singleton

Everyone got excited when Russell T Davies unveiled this unofficial sort-of-follow-up to Queer As Folk. But nobody could have predicted just how much of an emotional wallop we'd get from Cucumber. It was ostensibly about a middle-aged gay man dealing with life as a singleton, but it was really a buzzing ensemble portrait of life in the 21st Century, full of laughter and tragedy, and one of the most jolting death scenes we can remember seeing on TV.

5. Chewing Gum

A star was born on E4 this year

A star was born on E4 this year

A star was born on E4 this year, when Michaela Coel gave us this bold, brash and brazenly filthy tale of a London girl torn between her rigidly religious upbringing and the vulgar, sinful pleasures of life in the urban sprawl. With lines like “Your vagina is holy, I command you to leave your nether regions be”, it was a uniquely brave and snort-out-loud comedy-drama which made Coel one of the most talked about newcomers of 2015.

4. Hannibal

Sumptuous shots of Italy, a new take on the Red Dragon story

Sumptuous shots of Italy, a new take on the Red Dragon story

Never mind American Horror Story – the most outlandish, hallucinatory, downright disturbing horrorshow of 2015 was Hannibal, whose final season followed everyone's favourite cannibal psychiatrist on a gory odyssey across Europe. Sumptuous shots of Italy, a new take on the Red Dragon story, and Mads Mikkelsen wearing the classic Lecter mask were among the highlights of this fiendish feast of a drama, which dared to ignore realism and follow its own dream-logic instead. Which is something you could never say about NCIS: Los Angeles.

3. Catastrophe

We'd love to quote lines or scenes but this is a family website so we won't

We'd love to quote lines or scenes but this is a family website so we won't

We could never have imagined that a sitcom about a couple having a baby would turn out to be a zeitgeist-grabbing national phenomenon. But that’s exactly what Catastrophe is, and the second season made us laugh (and writhe and cringe) more than any other comedy in 2015. We'd love to quote lines or scenes but this is a family website so we won't. It's just basically wonderful, and Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney deserve our weepy gratitude.

2. Ash Vs Evil Dead

The man, the chin, the legend

The man, the chin, the legend

The man, the chin, the legend. In 2015, Bruce Campbell returned to the role that made him a horror icon, and it was glorious. Swaggering onto our screens with all the sleazy, reckless heroism fans could want, Ash Williams is poles apart from standard sanitised TV heroes. And whether he's getting drunk and hitting on ladies or getting splattered with squidgy gore while taking on the marauding demon hordes, we're just glad to have him back

1. Fargo

Given that the movie version is a bona fide classic, we were deeply suspicious when they announced a TV spin-off

Given that the movie version is a bona fide classic, we were deeply suspicious when they announced a TV spin-off

Given that the movie version is a bona fide classic, we were deeply suspicious when they announced a TV spin-off. And given how legitimately brilliant the first season was, we were deeply suspicious when they announced that season two would be set in the 1970s. Well, they outdid themselves with this near-perfect crime saga which blended the brutal savagery and deadpan humour with consummate skill. Are we looking forward to season three? You betcha!

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