San Francisco Chronicle

Best and worst to hit the small screen in 2015

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In this image released by FX, Lady Gaga portrays the Countess in a scene from “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Lady Gaga was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actress in a series or TV movie for her role on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. The 73rd Annual Golden Globes will be held on Jan. 10.
AP Photos
In this image released by Hulu, Michaela Watkins appears in a scene from “Casual.” The series was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best television comedy on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. The 73rd Annual Golden Globes will be held on Jan. 10.
AP Photos
In this image released by FX, Patrick Wilson, left, and Keir O’Donnell appear in a scene from “Fargo.”
AP Photos
In this image released by Netflix, from left, Eric Wareheim, Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells appear in a scene from the Netflix original series “Master of None.”
AP Photos
This photo provided by USA Networks shows, Rami Malek, left, as Elliot, and Christian Slater as Mr. Robot in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series, “Mr. Robot.”
AP Photos

2015 wasn’t a particularly stellar year for television, but it was significant for one reason: The number of scripted series on all content platforms broke the 400 mark for the first time. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that not too long ago, there was a good deal of hand-wringing among those who care about quality TV that reality shows were going to take over.

The best

1. “Fargo,” FX. The second installment of the anthology series created by Noah Hawley maintains its link to the original Coen Brothers film and the show’s first season, but with new characters and situations, this year involving an organized crime family in North Dakota. It was funny, bleak, almost Beckettian. The show is being compared to “Breaking Bad” and Hawley to Vince Gilligan, which more than justifies the sweet production deal he just signed with FX.

2. “Master of None,” Netflix. Aziz Ansari stars as an Indian actor in a masterpiece of sly, smart and really funny comedy which the former “Parks & Recreation” actor created with Alan Yang.

3. “Difficult People,” Hulu. Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner play two absolutely insufferable people, and you love every minute of laughing at their self-obsession and near total obliviousness to the existence of other people in the world.

4. “Deutschland 83,” Sundance TV. Jonas Nay stars gripping, smartly nuanced drama about a young East German (Jonas Nay) who is recruited by the Stasi in 1983 to spy in West Germany. The show’s writing and character development were top notch, and nothing was lost in translation in the subtitled German import.

5. “Mr. Robot,” USA. Rami Malek was the break-out star of this USA drama about a young disaffected computer engineer with significant social adjustment issues and a drug habit who is recruited by a group of cyber-terrorist hackers. Their target is E Corp, which Malek’s character calls Evil Corp. TV’s hippest show in years.

6. “Casual,” Hulu. Hulu scored again this year with a slyly dark comedy about a recently divorced woman (Michaela Watkins) who, with her teenage daughter, moves in with her younger man-child brother and tries to re-enter the dating world, where love need not apply.

7. “Catastrophe,” Amazon. An American in London on business hooks up with an Irish woman and the two then go about their business, until she (Sharon Horgan) tells him (Rob Delaney) she’s pregnant. Now what? “Unknown,” and that’s what makes the basis for this sublime comedy about two people just trying to work things out.

8. “The Diplomat,” HBO. The late Richard C. Holbrooke, who died in 2010, was a singularly gifted diplomat and not always a great father. His son David wanted to know what made his father the smartest man in any room where international negotiations were taking place. What he learned becomes a useful lesson in foreign policy history with obvious implications to where we stand in the world today.

9. “Empire,” Fox. Big, brassy melodrama about a family owned record label starring Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, with killer original music. The themes are Shakespearean, but Lady Macbeth has nothing on Cookie Lyons (Henson).

10. “American Horror Story: Hotel,” FX. The best installment yet of the Ryan Murphy-Brad Falchuk over-the-top anthology series gives us Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Matt Bomer, Sarah Paulson and others dressed to the nines and slinking around a once elegant art deco hotel with a lurid past. The hotel has a lurid past, and Gaga’s character does as well.

The worst

1. “Wicked City,” ABC. An icky drama about a pair of romantically involved serial killers defied the odds this fall: At a time when nothing was getting canceled in broadcast, ABC pulled the plug on the show after three episodes. Deep into the season, it became broadcast’s first canceled show.

2. “Truth Be Told,” NBC. An unfunny sitcom about a young ethics professor and his wife and friends who cannot seem to have even a casual conversation without tripping over some perceived land mine of political correctness. The premise was exhausted before the end of the first episode.

3. “True Detective,” HBO. The first year of the anthology series was brilliant, the second year, with an entirely different cast, was a mess from the get-go, but there were glimmers of hope that creator Nic Pizzolatto would pull it out of its tailspin. He didn’t. It got worse, and unwatchable.

4. “Backstrom,” Fox. Rainn Wilson starred as a heavy drinking, unlikable Portland detective in a dreary drama which was supposed to have darkly comic undertones. It was a sad misuse of Wilson’s otherwise considerable talent.

5. “Mr. Robinson,” NBC. Craig Robinson starred as a music teacher and part-time musician who had a terrible lounge act. The lounge act was better than the show itself.

6. “Into the Badlands,” AMC. The show has great martial arts scenes, and Danny Wu is credible as chief henchman for a feudal baron, but the rest of the show is a mess. For some reason, the evil baron lives in a Mc-Mansion and talks like Foghorn Leghorn, leaving us desperate for Porky Pig to pop up with the relieving announcement, “Th-th-th-that’s all folks.” No such luck.

7. “Dr. Ken,” ABC. Ken Jeong could do no wrong, until he signed onto this thuddingly unfunny sitcom about a doctor and his psychologist wife.

8. “Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris,” NBC. Everyone loves NPH, but not when he’s in a corny mess like this one. The material and setup are so bad, it saps NPH of his trademark charm.

9.”Agent X,” TNT. Sharon Stone played the vice president of the U.S. who secretly oversees a special agent to execute “Mission Impossible”-like capers. Stone was nothing more than set decoration. Dan Quayle would have been a better casting choice. The show was impeached by critics and viewers and canceled by TNT.

10. “One Big Happy,” NBC. The Ellen DeGeneres-produced sitcom about a lesbian (Elisha Cuthbert) carrying her best friend’s baby and trying to get along with his live-in girlfriend was a concept in desperate search for decent writing and actual humor. It lasted one big unhappy season.

Beloved Shows that ended in 2015

1. “Getting On,” HBO

2. “Justified,” FX

3. “Mad Men,” AMC

4. “The Soup,” E!

5. “The League,” FX,

6. “The Comedians,” FX

7. “Parks & Recreation,” NBC

8. Tie: “Late Night With David Letterman,” CBS; “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Comedy Central

9. “Sons of Anarchy,” FX

10. “American Odyssey,” NBC

San Francisco Chronicle

In this image released by FX, Lady Gaga portrays the Countess in a scene from “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Lady Gaga was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actress in a series or TV movie for her role on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. The 73rd Annual Golden Globes will be held on Jan. 10.
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_AMS.jpgIn this image released by FX, Lady Gaga portrays the Countess in a scene from “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Lady Gaga was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actress in a series or TV movie for her role on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. The 73rd Annual Golden Globes will be held on Jan. 10. AP Photos

In this image released by Hulu, Michaela Watkins appears in a scene from “Casual.” The series was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best television comedy on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. The 73rd Annual Golden Globes will be held on Jan. 10.
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_casual.jpgIn this image released by Hulu, Michaela Watkins appears in a scene from “Casual.” The series was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best television comedy on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. The 73rd Annual Golden Globes will be held on Jan. 10. AP Photos

In this image released by FX, Patrick Wilson, left, and Keir O’Donnell appear in a scene from “Fargo.”
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_fargo.jpgIn this image released by FX, Patrick Wilson, left, and Keir O’Donnell appear in a scene from “Fargo.” AP Photos

In this image released by Netflix, from left, Eric Wareheim, Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells appear in a scene from the Netflix original series “Master of None.”
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_mastersofnone.jpgIn this image released by Netflix, from left, Eric Wareheim, Aziz Ansari and Noel Wells appear in a scene from the Netflix original series “Master of None.” AP Photos

This photo provided by USA Networks shows, Rami Malek, left, as Elliot, and Christian Slater as Mr. Robot in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series, “Mr. Robot.”
http://theweekender.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_MrRobot.jpgThis photo provided by USA Networks shows, Rami Malek, left, as Elliot, and Christian Slater as Mr. Robot in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series, “Mr. Robot.” AP Photos

Beloved Shows that ended in 2015

1. “Getting On,” HBO

2. “Justified,” FX

3. “Mad Men,” AMC

4. “The Soup,” E!

5. “The League,” FX,

6. “The Comedians,” FX

7. “Parks & Recreation,” NBC

8. Tie: “Late Night With David Letterman,” CBS; “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Comedy Central

9. “Sons of Anarchy,” FX

10. “American Odyssey,” NBC