The best television of 2015

From designing videogames with the Kardashians to metal detecting in East Anglia.

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My Mad Fat Diary

The final series of the teen comedy-drama contained just three hour-long episodes, but packed in as much wit, heart and synonyms for vagina as the first two series put together. In many ways, Rae at the end of series three returned to the same state she was in at the start of series one: still fat, single, and struggling with mental health problems. But she had also found new self-acceptance, bravery and generosity: Rae is given depth and nuance rarely offered to young women on screen.

The Jinx

HBO’s Serial-style, true crime documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst was hypnotic, cinematic and utterly bizarre. A mixture of dreamlike reconstructions, talking heads, and interviews with Durst, the show sucks you into a world of wealth, disguise and horrible murders. The show’s climax (yes, this sentence is about to get very spoiler-y, so switch off your radio now if you’re late to the game) came when Durst, confronted with new evidence, was left burping uncontrollably, before retreating to a bathroom, and muttering into his mic: “What did you do? Killed them all of course.” It was a television moment that was almost laughable: until you remembered the grim reality of the crimes he is accused of.

Broad City

Dog weddings! Pegging! Hallucinations in Whole Foods! The second series of Broad City was as kaleidoscopic and hilarious as the first. The show’s writers and stars, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, have an instinctive knack for marrying bizarre stoner comedy with the cringeworthy familiarity of a sitcom, and the show moves from the surreal (Abbi becomes Val, a 1930s Jazz Singer, with no recollection of her transformation when sober) to the mundane (Abbi admits, “I finally masturbated above the covers, without my eyes being closed: that was a really big journal entry”) with ease.  Bring on season three.

This is England ’90

More nostalgic and fuzzy than the original films and the series that followed, the first episodes of This is England ’90 missed some of the sharper social commentary of its predecessors, but finely drawn scenes between characters viewers have invested in for more than ten screen years more than made up for this lack. In any case, the final episode took a dark turn, reminding us that the insidious ideologies from the drama’s beginning can never truly disappear for the gang. Shane Meadows’s creations show no signs of declining with age.

The Great British Bake Off

Even more synonymous with Britishness is, of course, the baking competition that captures the nation each year, and this one was no exception. While the latest series might not have reached the levels of drama as 2014’s Bingate, Nadiya’s emotional win was quite rightly one of 2015’s greatest TV moments, and for that reason alone it had to make the list. In Nadiya’s words: “I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.” Let’s all just tattoo that on our foreheads going forward.

Master of None

Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy is only occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but always it’s-three-days-later-and-I’m-still-thinking-about-the-levels-to-that-joke funny. Each episode is themed (“Parents”, “Indians on TV”, “Old People”) allowing Ansari the time and space to create funny, insightful mediations on universal topics while effortlessly incorporating them into the texture of daily life. The comedy is gentle and generous, and Ansari’s characters are given a level of depth that prevents them from becoming vehicles for humour. It’s a combination that leaves you smiling on the outside, aching on the inside.

Orange is the New Black

While less shocking, violent and twist-laden as the previous two series, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black sacked off its most tiresome plotlines (we waved goodbye to Larry and Polly, thank God) and concentrated on the once more minor characters that are the show’s true stars. A highlight of the season was Suzanne’s erotic space novel, which includes “a sentence that goes on a whole paragraph about some lady’s clit that turns into a caterpillar" and, in Suzanne’s own words, is “not just sex. It’s love. It’s about two people connecting. With four other people. And aliens.” Another was Cindy’s conversion storyline: in its infancy mostly played for laughs, but eventually the emotional climax of the season.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians

It’s almost impossible to escape: both the entire tenth series, and the first six episodes of series eleven of Keeping Up With The Kardashians aired in 2015, dealing with a number of plotlines that shook global tabloids, from Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, to Scott Disick’s affair and Kim’s second pregnancy. But to focus on the “reality” aspect of KUWTK, and not the “television” part, is to miss the point. Playing with conventions of 90s romcoms and long-running sitcoms, it is self-aware and self-mocking in a way that most critics never fully give it credit for. How else can you explain one of the highlights of 2015 television? 

UnREAL

This dark, satirical look at the world of reality TV uses the set of a Bachelor-esque show to explore the things we project onto televised relationships from our own. Like the reality spectacles it critiques, its premise might sound silly, but UnREAL is reveals far more about our culture in general than the people who make and star in popular shows. Playing with the conventions and expectations of its subject, UnREAL is a sharp metatextual analysis that is also utterly watchable.

Detectorists

Without a doubt my favourite show of the year, Detectorists follows Andy (Mackenzie Crook), Lance (Toby Jones) and their fellow Danebury Metal Detecting Club members, as they search for an Anglo-Saxon coin hoard in the Essex countryside. Like the gold they endlessly hunt for, Detectorists is a bit of a hidden gem: buried amid BBC Four’s documentaries and educational quiz shows, it has gathered a loyal and effusive fanbase, but is yet to pick up mainstream attention. If a show about two middle-aged men spending all their spare time alone in fields sounds like it might mock the hobbyists at its centre, perhaps the most surprising thing about Detectorists is how it manages to be both ridiculously funny and deeply respectful of its characters: Mackenzie Crook’s script often feels more like a love letter than a send-up. The closing scene of the second series’ final episode was, for me, the most joyful and moving of the year.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.