Television's new "golden age" continued this year with a number of incredible dramas, comedies and projects that simply don't fit within the traditional confines of TV genres.
Such was the case for multiple new series, which challenged the norm and pushed the art into uncharted territory.
There are perhaps a dozen other titles which could appear on the list below, but for various reasons, these 15 stood out among the best.
01 /// Transparent (Amazon)
The evolution of television was on full display this year in the form of this bold, groundbreaking original series from Amazon. It was hardly just another family dramedy, with Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) delivering his best performance as a 68-year-old man who comes out to his children as a transgender woman. Although the show brilliantly documents how much has—and hasn’t—changed in society, it’s more about the struggles and mess of family. The beauty of Transparent is that, regardless of one’s personal story, it’s impossible not to see fragments of yourself embedded somewhere within its 10 episodes.
02 /// True Detective (HBO)
Matthew McConaughey solidified his glorious run this past year with the complex and exceptional Rust Cohle. Creator Nic Pizzolatto developed one of the most riveting and unique seasons of television of the past decade.
03 /// Orphan Black (BBC America)
There’s simply no denying the wonder of Tatiana Maslany. For a second year in a row, her portrayal of multiple clones in BBC America’s sci-fi serial has been must-see TV. Even if you don’t care about science, this thrilling drama is a one-of-a-kind, addictive look at the potential dangers of human cloning.
04 /// The Americans (FX)
Led by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, the Cold War-period drama has been a perfect balance of business and pleasure. While it centers on two Soviet KGB spies posing as Americans, the art of this show is how it handles marriage, family and other real-life issues. The second season was creatively one of the best on television, bar none. Russell and Rhys, along with a number of others, are giving some of their best performances to date.
05 /// Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
Jenji Kohan has proved to be one of the television’s greatest minds with the stellar second season of this Netflix original. The dramedy thankfully expanded a bit more outside the world of Taylor Schilling’s Piper, delving into the lives and pasts of other inmates and ultimately making for a binge-watcher’s dream come true.
06 /// Louie (FX)
The fourth season of Louis C.K.’s comedy gem continued to test its audience by experimenting with the outer limits of onscreen humor. By mixing in multiple storylines, the comedian proved that had any of his peers ventured into similar territory, it probably wouldn’t have worked. The show, this season more than the others, was uniquely Louis C.K., someone who has rightfully earned his place as one of the genre’s best.
07 /// Fargo (FX)
The dark comedy could have been a massive flop. Instead, it perfected the concept of an anthology series and was perhaps even better than its source of inspiration, the Coen brothers’ film of the same name. The cast of Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman and breakout star Allison Tolman turned this murder mystery into some of the finest entertainment on television.
08 /// House of Cards (Netflix)
From that “killer” season opener to Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) rather quick rise in power, the darker second season of this political thrill ride was deeply satisfying, revealing previously unseen layers in its major characters and forcing viewers to cheer for one of the most twisted characters currently on television. Note: After such a major win in the season finale, we’re counting on the writers to throw Underwood some losses in season three.
09 /// The Walking Dead (AMC)
The AMC zombie thriller is without a doubt the definition of blockbuster television. But in the second half of its fourth season through its current fifth round, there’s hardly been a moment to catch one’s breathe. At this point in many other series, with a story like the post-zombie apocalypse, it wouldn’t be unlikely for a dip in creativity. Instead, thanks to a number of twists and turns, this show is as alive as ever.
10 /// Mad Men (AMC)
Although the Jon Hamm-led series had arguably been on a decline heading into its final season, the first half of its last episodes proved the show is just as strong as ever. Laced with plenty of nostalgia and bravado, the drama has built up to a promising second half which arrives next spring.
11 /// Jane the Virgin (CW)
With its soapy, over-the-top roots, this freshman comedy has been an unlikely breath of fresh air in the midst of an otherwise sleepy roster of network newbies. Gina Rodriguez’s Jane is a down-to-earth, confident virgin navigating through life and morality after becoming unexpectedly pregnant through artificial insemination. It’s an ambitious project, but Rodriguez proves to be a future star.
12 /// You’re the Worst (FX)
Stephen Falk created a rom-com that is hardly a rom-com at all, with lead characters Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) each being flawed, sort of terrible people who are the opposite of the relationship type. Despite their well-documented flaws, their honesty provides viewers with such a relatable and human pair of antagonists. Skip the fluff, this is real life—not fairy tales.
13 /// Masters of Sex (HBO)
Just when it looked like the sex-research serial was about to lose its luster and head south, it shifted focus and pushed forward (literally and figuratively) with a greatly executed time jump. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are at the top of their game right now and it’s made for some exciting television.
14 /// Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
While discussing current events from a comedic angle has long been the bread and butter of late-night TV, John Oliver’s voice has been a welcome one, blurring the lines of satire and eyeopening journalism. It might be odd that a comedy program has gained a reputation for sometimes being more investigative than its cable news counterparts, but somebody’s got to do it!
15 /// The Mindy Project (Fox)
Despite less-than-satisfactory viewership, Mindy Kaling’s relationship comedy found new life in its third season. Mindy (Kaling) and Danny’s (Chris Messina) budding romance could have easily sunk this ship, but the show has navigated these new waters perfectly and delivered some of its best laugh-out-loud moments yet.