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In 2015, readymade and/or reductive ways of summarizing the year’s TV output cropped up as frequently and unexpectedly as new seasons of Netflix originals. Plummeting viewership foretold a true broadcast apocalypse, until Empire strode onto the scene, expanding its audience in every week of its first season. Season two brought diminished returns (in the ratings and the show’s mad-science approach to soap-opera plotting), though its continued popularity—combined with passionate responses to Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, Jane The Virgin, Transparent, Master Of None, and (sigh) Dr. Ken—signaled the TV audience’s interest in a broader range of storytelling perspectives. A few months later, FX CEO John Landgraf seemed to put the TV year in a nutshell, but his prediction of “peak TV in America” was the subject of so much initial handwringing and scrutinizing that the general public (and some of the critics Landgraf was addressing) twisted the notion of peak TV into a jokey hashtag in a matter of weeks.
Some of that response could’ve been knee-jerk defensiveness: Peak TV essentially destroys any TV analyst’s pretensions to comprehensiveness. Any one critic’s list of a year’s best television is bound to have some blindspots, but the members of a voting body (like the A.V. Club staffers and contributors responsible for the following list) can usually fill in one another’s gaps. 2015, however, might be a first in television history, in which no round-up of the year’s finest programming is guaranteed to be all-encompassing. Arguably, there’s a more interesting and less conventional “best TV of 2015” list to be compiled from the margins of A.V. Club contributors’ ballots and the upcoming AVQ&A about the stuff that didn’t make our top 40. But even if the following picks only represent a sliver of the TV that debuted across multiple platforms in the U.S. this year, there’s no arguing that these are the TV offerings that The A.V. Club loved the most as a critical mass. And enjoying something as a critical mass is what a populist art form like television is all about."