Tim Goodman's Best Network Shows of 2015

10:15 AM 12/16/2015

by Tim Goodman

'Jane the Virgin,' 'Parks and Rec' and 'Empire' are among THR's chief TV critic's 16 favorite network series of the year.

Courtesy of The CW; ABC

The word is right there in the medium’s description: Broadcast. The trouble with trying to appeal to the largest audience is that you have to avoid turning anyone off; being palatable is preferable. So, no sex or nudity, and mind that swearing. Holding back is no real way to win qualitative acclaim, but network series do a lot of strong, creative work and this list of the best network series gives credit where credit is due.

  1. 1
    16

    Jane the Virgin

    The CW

    Patrick Wymore/The CW

    The only network series to make my list of overall best shows, there’s so much that’s impressive with Jane — an insanely difficult tonal balance, cast-wide strong performances (Gina Rodriguez, Jaime Camil and voice-over narrator Anthony Mendez, in particular), plus an abundance of episodes that makes its consistency all the more impressive. Oh, and heart. That matters as much as the comedy and drama. Well-earned applause for series creator Jennie Snyder Urman.

  2. 2
    16

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Fox

    Eddy Chen/FOX

    It’s ridiculous in the best of all ways. Laugh-out-loud funny, improbable, smart, with a cast that nails whatever is asked of them. I’m always stunned when I come across people who don’t watch this show. Yes, part of that is this glut we’ve been talking about. But it’s not exactly hard to catch up — and B99 is top-tier quality comedy.

  3. 3
    16

    Fresh Off the Boat

    ABC

    ABC

    After a big, enthusiastically acclaimed freshman effort, it would have been easy for this series to roll back and fail to live up to expectations. Instead, Fresh Off the Boat has exceeded them and remains important not only for its depiction of an Asian family, but because we need all the laughs we can get. (Also, extra points for not having annoying kids — all those actors deserve credit for that.)

  4. 4
    16

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    The CW

    Courtesy of CW

    Hopefully a little Golden Globes recognition will help bring an audience to this addictively strange little comedy (and musical). Rachel Bloom is this year’s breakout star on TV and, well, she just makes you want to break out in song. You know, if you could. And if you had a little ditty about how awesome she is. Instead, just watch.

  5. 5
    16

    Black-ish

    ABC

    Like fellow freshman sensation Fresh Off the Boat, season two was going to be a test to see whether Black-ish could keep up the funny and the diverse appeal. It did both (which means ABC is doing something very right tending to its comedies) and is actually funnier this season than last. That’s super encouraging.

  6. 6
    16

    Bob’s Burgers

    Fox

    The best animated network series (and arguably a close second to Archer overall), Bob’s Burgers has been Fox’s most complete comedy (animated or other), delivering consistently funny episodes packed with great lines and more than a little heart (and a lot of quirk and weirdness, too). Best of all, it’s such a singular show — you can’t mistake its comedy and its vision for anything else. Bravo.

  7. 7
    16

    The 100

    The CW

    Cate Cameron/The CW

    After culminating its first season by getting exponentially better than the pilot that kicked it all off, season two showed this drama in full control of its storytelling, character development and what it wanted to be (grounded sci-fi filled with the kind of originality that harkens back to the Battlestar Galactica reimaging). Not a bad comparison. And new fans will eventually catch up after coming in late (as I did). It’s worth the journey — particularly when you see how season two took off.

  8. 8
    16

    Parks and Recreation

    NBC

    Colleen Hayes/NBC

    As noted elsewhere when discussing the end of Mad Men and Justified, it’s hard to close out a series. It just is. But not only was Parks and Recreation winningly creative (shifting forward) it also gave satisfying conclusions to characters we came to love. That’s what you hope will happen. Hopes were exceeded this time. Well done everybody.

  9. 9
    16

    The Blacklist

    NBC

    Christopher Saunders/NBC

    Here’s the thing with this show: It’s always going to be entertaining — a thrilling little story well told each week in one hour. And James Spader is going to Spader the hell out of that hour. What he does here every week is a joy to watch. One of the best characters on network television.

  10. 10
    16

    American Crime

    ABC

    Van Redin/ABC

    This anthology series was extremely ambitious as it tackled race and crime. Standout performances were littered throughout the enormous cast. At times it could test your patience with Big Issues and grand emotion, but it delivered more often than not. You like to see this kind of scope on a network.

  11. 11
    16

    Elementary

    CBS

    Courtesy of CBS

    Because they make 22 episodes on average, a network series very often runs dry of ideas, fails to engage or loses the focus on the main characters that was the hook in the first place. The best shows don’t, however, and that’s a hallmark of Elementary, which gets superb weekly performances out of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Plus there’s a likable supporting cast that is essential to keeping an appointment with the audience. The durability and quality of this show is pretty amazing.

  12. 12
    16

    Empire

    Fox

    Chuck Hodes/FOX

    While it lost some of its believability in this second season (the Pepsi thing didn’t help), Empire hasn’t lost much of its best quality — the music (and its leads, Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard) gluing the soap down. Indeed, it's the music that keeps Empire steady when its story fails — and the production, presentation and seamless integration of it is a thing of wonder.

  13. 13
    16

    Person Of Interest

    CBS

    Giovanni Rufino/CBS

    Like Elementary (and Blacklist), Person of Interest long ago found out the formula that works: Make a smart show with wide appeal, keep hitting the sweet spot and never fail the one absolutely essential quality: keep it entertaining for 59 minutes. Done. (And let’s hope the final season keeps that going.)

  14. 14
    16

    The Flash

    The CW

    Courtesy of CW

    While stable mate Arrow is the grittier of the two, The Flash is, at its core, more fun. There’s nothing wrong with the superhero formula here (one that Supergirl on CBS hasn’t quite hooked into): you can be goofy and cute and light provided when it’s time to super you be super (and that’s not just about your power). A lot of that comes down to the framework of the stories and The Flash writers put Barry Allen in scenarios you want to see through. Of course Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh help with the heft.

  15. 15
    16

    Gotham

    Fox

    Fox

    While season one searched for an identity and slowly came to find a mixture of entry points, season two got a lot more fun with its "Rise Of the Villains" concept. It’s still sometimes hit and miss, and a lot of people clearly want a full-blown Batman show, but this series grew nicely in season two.

  16. 16
    16

    Arrow

    The CW

    Courtesy of The CW

    You might have seen a trend on this list. The CW is a network doing very intriguing work. While I always give CBS tons of credit for knowing its audience like no one else, the CW has managed to stay on point with companion fare like Arrow and The Flash, while nurturing a franchise into higher quality (The 100), taking creative risks (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and hitting on all cylinders when it hits the jackpot (Jane the Virgin). Arrow and The Flash are shows I check in on/catch up with and get impressed every time by their creative use of material and inventiveness within formula. If you haven’t already, time to put the past behind you and hug it out with the CW. You might find a lot to like there.

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