The mid-season lineup of new television programming that hits around January each year has traditionally been considered a dumping ground for second string content used to prop up network schedules after the inevitable cancellations and hiatuses of fall programming. While this practice still holds true on the old networks, early winter is starting to become a haven for new quality content, particularly shows with shorter, more focused seasons (True Detective, one of the biggest shows of last year, falls into this category). It also helps that streaming services like Netflix play by their own rules and drop new shows throughout the year. Sometimes, it may feel like there are not many new shows to watch in the early months of the year, but these 10 shows are proof to the contrary and stand as the best new shows of 2015…at least, so far.
We live in a culture that places too much importance on looking young, especially when it comes to women. Younger, a comedy-drama produced by TV Land, stars Sutton Foster as a 40-year-old divorcee who reenters the workforce only to find that companies don’t want to hire someone her age and undergoes a makeover to pass herself off as 26. At first glance, Younger may look like just another low brow show made to poke fun at how out of touch older adults are, but it’s actually a surprisingly intelligent program that highlights the double standards between men and women’s looks and how older women are often thought of as disposable people. It helps that it’s a charming show in general, too.
9. American Crime
American Crime is the latest entry in the increasingly popular crime anthology genre (True Detective being the most recognizable name) and follows a murder investigation in Modesto, California and how it affects the various characters attached to it. Despite its uninspired title, American Crime is a worthy entry in the prestige drama class and is notable for airing on a major network (ABC). Programs like American Crime tend to be in the wheelhouse of cable networks, but due to the rising popularity of mature, intelligent drama in the last decade, it’s likely that American Crime will be the first of many shows of its kind on the major networks in the coming years. As such, it’s fitting that American Crime is the best new network crime drama of 2015.
8. Fresh Off The Boat
It’s incredible that it’s taken until 2015 to see the first American comedy series featuring an Asian-American family, but progress is still progress. That being said, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Fresh Off the Boat might be an exploitative affair, given that portraying minorities in a positive light is not something that American television does very well. Thankfully, Fresh Off the Boat quickly reveals itself as a quality family comedy first and foremost. If it can maintain its quality and bring in viewers through its next season, Fresh Off the Boat could usher in an era of increased representation for racial minorities on television.
7. 12 Monkeys
Based on the well-regarded 1995 science-fiction film of the same name, 12 Monkeys doesn’t quite live up to its big screen counterpart, but is still a solid entry in the increasingly-barren sci-fi television landscape. Considering 12 Monkeys is also produced by Syfy, a network that has become a shell of its former self in the last decade or so, the show’s overall quality is even more surprising. The show’s premise involves a time-traveler named James Cole (Aaron Stanford) who travels to the present day to stop a viral outbreak that will kill most of the world’s population. It’s a rather generic story premise, but makes up for this with a likable cast of characters and some decent mysteries to unravel. It’s not groundbreaking, but 12 Monkeys is still a solid new offering to come out of 2015.
6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Netflix has been going strong for the last few years with dramatic series like House of Cards, but it takes a bold step up in the comedy world with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. With major comedic talent behind the scenes (Tina Fey serves as co-creator, writer, and executive producer) and starring the underrated, but charming Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is definitely the breakout comedy series of 2015. The show takes an unconventional comedic direction (at least by today’s standards) by having its lead character be simultaneously bumbling, but optimistic and joyful. The ignorance of Kimmy is also her greatest strength, as the show finds comedy in the way she naively interacts with the world around her and never depicts her as victim. There’s nothing wrong with dark comedy, but every once in awhile, it’s refreshing to have a show like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that just makes you smile.
5. Better Call Saul
To compare Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad, its behemoth predecessor, is folly. Breaking Bad is one of the greatest shows ever made and to expect its spin-off to live up to that pedigree in every way is simply unrealistic. If you approach Better Call Saul on its own terms though, it becomes clear that the show is special in its own right and absolutely one of the best shows of the year so far. The early days of slimebag lawyer Saul Goodman (known here as Jimmy McGill) only get more riveting as the season progresses and to be honest, any return to the characters and world of Breaking Bad is welcome, even if it doesn’t quite reach the same heights.
4. Marvel’s Agent Carter
Marvel’s Agents of Shield, the studio’s first television entry in its cinematic universe, turned out to be a pretty weak offering that hasn’t come close to touching the quality of its film counterparts. Therefore, it was hard not to feel some trepidation at the prospect of another Marvel show on ABC, even if it was focused on Peggy Carter, Captain America’s butt-kicking love interest from 2011’s The First Avenger. Thankfully, Agent Carter turned out to be a much better show than Agents of Shield, thanks to some great acting and a general feeling of craftsmanship and artistry that isn’t really present in the latter show. In particular, Hayley Atwell is simply a revelation in the title role, working in a heroic feminist angle that is too often missing from comic book adaptations (and most fiction in general). The recent confirmation of a second season is news to be celebrated.
Approaching middle-age is a terrifying prospect for many and Togetherness pulls no punches when it comes to displaying the very real struggles that many couples face when they hit 40. Fortunately, as often as Togetherness dips into darker, genuine emotional drama that frequently hits close to home, it’s smartly written and often very funny. Written and created by Mark and Jay Duplass, as well as co-star Steve Zissis, Togetherness is one of the most authentic, heart-achingly sincere portraits of the difficulties of marriage, raising kids, dealing with work — basically, everything that comprises being an adult — in recent memory. It’s not a feel-good show, but any show that makes you engage with and think about your own life is worth supporting —and Togetherness definitely fits that mold.
Netflix has released a flurry of excellent shows in the first half of 2015, to the point where there is a risk of some being lost in the shuffle. Bloodline is something of the dark horse of new 2015 shows, as it is not an easily-accessible program. Focusing on the Rayburns, a family that owns a successful vacation resort in the Florida Keys and has to come to terms with a dark past when the troubled oldest brother returns to the fold, Bloodline is the definition of a “slow burn”. The early episodes spend a lot of time developing the various relationships in the family and it’s not always clear if it’s leading anywhere interesting. It pays to stick around though because Bloodline eventually becomes a riveting character drama, anchored by Emmy-worthy lead performances from Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn. It may have its shortcomings, but Bloodline is absolutely worth the time investment.
While watching Daredevil, the first of many planned superhero TV series from a highly-publicized partnership between Marvel and Netflix, the one thought that keeps popping up is, “how did this turn out so well?” Marvel knows how to make some great cinematic entertainment, but it was hard to gauge how well these Netflix series would actually turn out. Miraculously, Daredevil is not only a faithful adaptation of the violent tone of the character’s comic stories, but equivalent to the dark, acclaimed prestige dramas that dominate the television landscape. Most of the praise has to be directed towards series creator Drew Goddard, as less capable hands likely would have led to a lower quality program. Regardless, if the quality of Daredevil is anything to go by, the upcoming Netflix series (Luke Cage, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist — not to mention The Defenders crossover event) are poised to become the platform for Marvel’s best cinematic storytelling.