Empire Available on: Hulu and Fox (with cable subscription)
Was there any new series this year that was more exciting than Empire ? Everything about Empire was exhilarating: the hip-hop focus, the amazingly diverse cast, the soundtrack, the impressive ratings that grew and grew, and everything that Cookie ever said (or did, or wore). Based on the ratings, I assume that everyone has already watched Season 1 by now, but just in case, every episode is streaming on Hulu for Plus members. And if you’ve already seen it? Trust me, it holds up to multiple viewings.
Other SpaceAvailable on Yahoo
While you were watching the sixth season of Community (that is, if you were watching), you probably noticed all of the ads for Yahoo’s two original series: Sin City Saints and Other Space. While Sin City Saints left much to be desired, Other Space was a wonderful little surprise. Paul Feig’s absurd sitcom in space follows a ragtag group of hormonal young’uns trying to get back to Earth. The season gets better as it goes on, and the finale is the real payoff; you’ll want to binge and get there as quickly as possible.
DaredevilAvailable on Netflix
Netflix’s Daredevil could be considered the prestige drama version of a superhero show. The first of five Netflix series taking place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil was an immediately addictive and thrilling comic book adaptation. Charlie Cox makes a perfect Matt Murdock/Daredevil, but the series is worth watching just for Vincent D’Onofrio’s complex portrayal of emotional supervillain Kingpin.
The FlashAvailable on Hulu (select episodes only), The CW (select episodes only), and for purchase on Amazon Instant Video.
On the lighter side of Daredevil is The Flash, The CW’s Arrow spin-off about the fastest man alive. It delights in showing the more fun aspects of being a superhero — Barry Allen, understandably, often enthusiastically remarks on how damn cool it is to run super fast and have the ability to do good in the world — without erasing the seriousness of Barry’s plight (his father is wrongfully imprisoned for the death of his mother). It functions as a nice introduction to The Flash’s world, as well as a police procedural, but the show is at its best when it delicately handles the pseudo-father/son relationship between Barry and Joe West. (It’s a shame that The CW doesn’t have the full series available for streaming yet, but I’m sure more episodes will be added over the summer.)
Big Time in Hollywood, FLAvailable on Hulu and Comedy Central
There was no show this season that caught me off guard as often as Big Time in Hollywood, FL. What I expected to be a pretty tame and mildly funny bro sitcom about two slacker wannabe filmmakers from Comedy Central was actually uproariously funny and brilliantly plotted. It’s a highly serialized comedy, one that you have to watch from beginning to end in order to fully appreciate it (though each episode is certainly funny, it’s the whole story that really sells it).
Black-ishAvailable on Hulu and ABC (select episodes only)
One of the surprise hits of the season, Black-ish spent an entire much-praised season finding humor in serious topics surrounding black culture. It expertly performed a balancing act between stereotypical sitcom plots and more specific and nuanced stories about black experiences — while also demolishing racist stereotypes. The show is also extremely laugh-out-loud funny, particularly when it comes to TV’s Most Adorable Twins Jack and Diane, and a pitch-perfect performance from Laurence Fishburne.
Fresh Off the BoatAvailable on Hulu and ABC (select episodes only)
While Fresh Off the Boat received plenty of understandable criticism for its watered-down, more palatable version of Eddie Huang’s brutally honest memoir, it still had a fantastic first season in its own right. It features an Asian-American family in primetime, in a clever and well-written sitcom that remarks on a unique experience. Sure, a few punches may have been pulled, but that doesn’t take away from the show’s success. Plus, Constance Wu is the funniest sitcom actress of the season.
iZombieAvailable on Hulu and The CW (select episodes only)
With easily one of the best first seasons in recent history, iZombie is one of the many new comic book-to-television adaptations that found its own way this year. Liv Moore, an adorable and charming zombie, works in a morgue and eats brains in order to both survive and help the police solve crimes (from brains, she temporarily gets the deceased’s memories and abilities). It’s part zombie thriller and part cop procedural, but it’s entirely amazing — and features one of the best young woman protagonists since Veronica Mars (this is no coincidence: iZombie is from Mars creator Rob Thomas).
The Last Man on EarthAvailable on Hulu
The Last Man on Earth was a peculiar new series in every respect. The very strong pilot episode has my vote for the most original pilot of the television season — Will Forte basically (and admirably) carried the entire half-hour on his own — and then the show’s quality went up and down all season, causing some viewers to give up on the whole thing before it reached a conclusion in the finale. It’s a show that would have benefitted from a binge-release (the season finale was a welcome reward for sticking with an unlikable character, as well as setting up something newer and weirder for the already-renewed second season), and now you can watch the whole thing in one sitting.
Jane the VirginAvailable on Hulu and The CW (select episodes only)
If this list is leaning heavily toward The CW, it’s because the network truly found its footing last season by airing three of the best new shows — no small feat for a network that has often struggled. One of the most joyous new series of the season was Jane the Virgin, the telenovela riff that took an utterly ridiculous and laughable premise about a pregnant virgin (gynecological mix-up!) and turned it into something stunning. Funny, cute, and featuring the best voiceover on television, Jane the Virgin is the show to catch up on this summer.