Screen Savors: The best of 2015

The critic’s choice of the year’s outstanding TV shows.

‘Show me a hero’ (photo credit: PR)
‘Show me a hero’
(photo credit: PR)
There was so much worth watching on television this year, more than any one person could possibly absorb.
This was true for premium cable, network television and streaming services such as Netflix. Mad Men ended, and while nothing will ever replace it, other shows worth watching came along. There were also terrific locally produced shows, as well as some original television movies. So, with the proviso that there are a few shows I’m going to have binge-watch later, here’s my best of the year:
Mad Men: The second part of its extended final season had a few missteps, but in the end Matthew Weiner pulled it together. We lost Betty (January Jones, who excelled at playing the much-hated first wife of Don Draper) and Don found his bliss, which led him to create an iconic Coke commercial.
And Jon Hamm finally got his Emmy.
Jane the Virgin: It may sound silly, but this story of Jane (Gina Rodriguez), a young Latina in Miami who gets artificially inseminated by accident (her gynecologist was drunk), has been a delight since its debut.
Although it’s often silly by design, this show, which plays like Gilmore Girls directed by Pedro Almodovar, is smart and funny.
The Jinx: Truth may be stranger than fiction, and that is certainly the case with this you-couldn’tmake- this-up documentary series by Andrew Jarecki about wealthy serial killer Robert Durst, who confessed on camera to all three murders he was suspected of, and was arrested the day the last episode aired.
Good Family: Eytan Fox co-wrote and produced this drama about a Jerusalem couple and their adult children who live in Tel Aviv. Well acted and addictive, it featured some of Israel’s rising stars, among them Nadav Nates and Yaara Pelzig, as well as veterans Lior Ashkenazi and Anat Waxman.
Orange Is the New Black: This extraordinary show by Jenji Kohan, based on the memoirs of a woman who did jail time for a drug offense, became an epic in Season Three, as even more of its supporting characters had their back stories dramatized. It took a surprising spiritual turn as one of the African-American inmates converted to Judaism — and not just for the kosher food.
Show Me a Hero: David Simon, the creator of The Wire, adapted a book by Lisa Belkin about housing desegregation in Yonkers in the 1980s and turned it into riveting television, starring an amazing cast led by Oscar Isaac.
Silicon Valley: “I don’t know about you people, but I don’t want to live in a world where somebody else makes the world a better place better than we do,” says the CEO of a Microsoft-like company in this wickedly funny series about app developers trying to make their first billion.
Empire: Hip hop meets Dynasty with a great cast, especially Taraji P. Henson as the Joan Collins-type character.
The Good Wife: Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and her colleagues have been around since 2009, and the show keeps getting better.
The Affair: This story of an affair and how it affects everyone around the couple, co-created by Hagai Levi (who made Be’tipul) had its bumpy moments in Season Two, but was still addictive and, thanks to its sex and fabulous real estate, a guilty pleasure.
Homeland: Carrie (Claire Danes), everybody’s favorite bipolar ex-CIA agent, tries to live a quiet life with her daughter in Germany — what could possibly go wrong? The storyline about Syria was especially topical.
The Americans: I came late to this show about Russian spies in Washington in the 1980s, but the third season, as they grapple with how to tell their daughter about what they do, was the best so far.
Saturday Night Live: The Republicans have given the writers at SNL a great gift this year — how can you not make fun of front runner Donald Trump? But the strong cast this year had lots of other funny moments. The most recent show, with co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reprising their impressions of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, and musical guests Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (with a cameo by Paul McCartney), was a standout.