Not only was 2016 maybe my favorite year of movies ever, but it also was one of the best years in a long, long time for TV. This list was way harder to make for me because (a) I love TV maybe even more than I love movies, (b) There’s still so much I want to see that I haven’t, and (c) I don’t rank as I go. I’M SUCH A FAILURE.
After staring at a list of TV shows I watched for like an hour, I decided this is what I was going to do: I’m going to do write-ups for my 10 favorite shows of the year, plus a quick sentence or two about my next 30 (or so). This list really got away from me. Feel free to stop reading whenever. Or, just scroll through the pictures! That works, too.
Anyway, less words, more pictures. Here’s the list. (And here’s the full 100+ list.)
10. Comedy Bang! Bang!
I’m going to miss this show so, so much. This is the first of a few of my Top 10 shows that ended in 2016 (although, as we learned in the finale, it’ll never really end). We’ll always have the podcast, but this show let Scott Aukerman & Co. reach new heights of weirdness. All 20 episodes of its final season are worth watching, as no two are the same. Thanks for the laughs, Hot Saucerman. We’re all Takin’ it Slow from now on.
9. Horace and Pete
Unlike the rest of the shows on this list, I’m pretty much good never seeing this one again. Louis CK penned some of the most realistic, depressing, horrifying family issues that I’ve ever seen on film, and many of this show’s episodes are tough to watch. But! It also features some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in my life, anywhere, ever. Also: thank you, Amy Sedaris, for giving me a brief respite from the despair of the finale. Also also: if Laurie Metcalf doesn’t win awards for her work in Episode 1.3, there is no justice in the world.
The best show on TV not nearly enough people watched, Rectify was a master class in storytelling and pacing. Everyone and everything about this show is perfect. Aden Young deserves all the praise in the world for his work on this. Caitlin Fitzgerald was my favorite part of Masters of Sex (before I gave up on that show), so I loved seeing her here. This season somehow managed to make me care about antagonistic characters (oh hey, Teddy) after 3 seasons of making me dislike them. Also: there were tears. Lots of tears.
I DARE YOU to find a better back-to-back show premiere than FX’s Atlanta/Better Things duo (Divorce/Insecure is close, but not quite there). FX was firing on all cylinders this year, and both of these shows were outstanding. I ultimately ended up loving Atlanta more, mostly because Donald Glover can do no wrong, Keith Stanfield steals every scene he’s in, and the “Paper Boi” hook has earwormed its way deep into my brain and will never leave. I think the funniest episode/my favorite episode of any show this year was “B.A.N.”, which is worth watching even if you don’t watch Atlanta. (Which, I mean, why aren’t you?)
6. Better Call Saul
It’s almost unfair to shows like Better Call Saul that they air so early in the year. Especially in a year with as much good TV as there was this year, it’s kind of easy to forget how effortlessly good this show is. As much as I love seeing connections to the world of Breaking Bad, I’m loving the brand new stuff even more. Is it February yet? I want a new season of this show so badly. I need that fix; I need that blue. I need to see where these guys go, and what happens to Kim Wexler.
5. The Americans
The Americans is the best show on TV. Full stop. Like Better Call Saul, it’s maybe a little lower on this list than it should be, only because it aired in the first half of the year. (Turns out I probably should take notes on these shows/do a better job of remembering them/watch less stuff? Nah.) I loved the way they brought Paige into the fold. Will Henry be next? I don’t think my heart can take it. Two more seasons. Let’s keep it going.
4. Lady Dynamite
I’ve loved Maria Bamford for, like, 15 years, but I had no idea I’d love her show this much. It’s one of the funniest, silliest, and most Maria things I’ve seen all year, but (like many other top-caliber comedies) tackles incredibly dark stuff, too, like Maria’s depression and hospitalization. Also, with no offense to Arrested Development’s fourth season, but Lady Dynamite is closer to the first three seasons of AD than anything else to date. Love her.
3. Stranger Things
Stranger Things wasn’t the best show I saw all year, but it combined all of my favorite things into one wonderful gumbo. Coming-of-age? Check! 80s nostalgia? Check! Sci-fi/horror? Check! I know it was inevitable, but I’m honestly a little bummed that they’re making a second season of this. I hope it’s great, but the first season was exactly what I wanted it to be. I’d rather see an anthology-type structure here because I never want anything to taint the wonder of this first season.
2. The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story/OJ: Made in America
Alan Sepinwall combined these two shows on his list, so I’m going to, too. (#dealwithit). It’s really kind of hard to differentiate the two of these, especially because they work so well together. Having been alive but not really remembering the trial, this was a fresh look for me into the absolute madness of OJ. Watch the scripted show first, and then watch the 10-hour documentary. It’s a perfect pairing. I doubt we’ll ever have a combination of such great TV ever again, so let’s savor it. HE’LL ALWAYS BE YOUR UNCLE JUICE!
My favorite show of all-time is LOST. Since it ended, many things have tried to recapture its magic, but none have come anywhere close to what Westworld managed to do. I looked forward to no other show as much as I looked forward to this each week. You can keep your theories and secrets, Reddit; let me uncover the twists and turns on my own. There’s supposedly a five-season story in mind, and I can’t wait to see where this goes. I think they said it won’t be back until 2018, which is fine – we’ve got The Leftovers to look forward to in 2017. That’ll do, pig.
And now, my next 30 or so, alphabetically.
American Horror Story
After Freak Show (awful) and Hotel (mostly good), American Horror Story dropped its best (and most ambitious) season yet and blew me away. The second half of the season is less consistent than the first, but the finale proves it’s all worth it in the end.
Everything Pamela Adlon does in this show is incredible.
The best (and most original) show on Netflix keeps getting better (and darker).
Brooklyn Nine-Nine/New Girl
These shows make me laugh out loud for an hour straight each week, and that’s all I need. Even a middling crossover can’t change my mind!
Car Boys/Touch the Skyrim/Griffin’s Nuzlocke Run
Watching Nick and Griffin completely break video games each week on YouTube was one of my favorite things I saw all year. Griffin’s Nuzlocke run of Pokemon Y had more emotional highs and lows than most scripted dramas on TV.
I like both of these shows enough to deal with Hulu’s silly weekly release schedule, rather than Netflix’s bingeable dump. I really like Casual a lot, but I will gladly watch Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner be horrible people to everyone but each other forever.
I love how angry and funny and loving and real all of this is. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are superb together.
Thomas Haden Church on this show gave one of my absolute favorite performances from anyone on any show all year. He steals every scene he’s in. It’s almost unfair.
If you have 2 hours, watch this now. It hurts me that I couldn’t fit this into my Top 10 because I loved it so much. The only person on TV who can come close to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s facial expressions is Scream Queens’ Billie Lourd. Seriously, go watch Fleabag.
Game of Thrones
Was this the best season of Game of Thrones ever? Maybe! I know for sure its final two episodes were two of its best ever.
Hate on Lena Dunham and this show all you like, but its most recent season was arguably its best yet. There was even a good Marnie episode! Who knew that was possible?!
House of Cards
Sometimes, it’s just fun to watch the world burn. This season ended with a bang.
I enjoyed watching Divorce more, but Insecure was always a “better” show. It was supremely confident and on top of its game from the get-go.
Can we start putting (contest winner extraordinaire) Claudia O’Doherty in everything?
Man Seeking Woman
There’s nothing else like this on TV. Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as much as I love this show, I love its annual episode of Woman Seeking Man even more.
I really hope this show doesn’t get cancelled because I think it’s made of pure, infectious happiness. Give us a season two!
People of Earth/Search Party/The Detour
It’s kind of bonkers to me that TBS put out not one, not two, but three terrific new comedies this year. People of Earth has the best aliens on TV. Search Party was one of the best TV viewing experiences I had all year. The Detour turned what could have (and maybe should have) been a hacky, corny, dorky show into a show with four truly likeable leads, including two (!!) great performances from kids. Keep it going, TBS.
The first season was better, but this picked up steam toward the end of the year. Let’s also start putting Billie Lourd in everything along with Claudia O’Doherty, okay?
The perfect hour to unwind after the furor that is Game of Thrones. This is the funniest hour on television.
The Good Place
I forking love this show.
We suffered a lot of losses in 2016, but one of the ones that stung the most in the TV world was the cancellation of The Grinder. This show was never not funny, and really hit its stride toward the end. Supremely meta and supremely funny. The Grinder rests.
The Last Man on Earth
This is turning into a comedy about looking depression and anxiety. It’s not the show it was when it started, but it’s a better, more complex, and more interesting one. Plus: it’s still got jokes!
The Night Of
The pilot of this show was one of the absolute best hours of TV I saw all year. The rest weren’t too bad, either.
Look, I know there were some stinkers in here, but the fact that we got new episodes of The X-Files (!!) and we got one as good as “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” makes the whole thing worth it to me.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I already loved everyone and everything involved with this – and then Season 2 goes ahead and gives us Fred Armisen as Robert Durst. What more could I ask for?
You’re the Worst
I didn’t think this season was as good as its first two (amazing) seasons, but there were some very, very high highs in this. Plus, even a lesser season of this show is better than most of the rest of TV.
On last year’s list, there were 30 shows I wanted to see but hadn’t; I got to ~15 of them. This past year, there were another ~30 series I wanted to see and haven’t yet. They are: American Crime, Arrow, Blackish, Chance, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Crisis in Six Scenes, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Fresh Off the Boat, Goliath, Good Girls Revolt, Gotham, Halt and Catch Fire, Luke Cage, Mozart in the Jungle, Mr. Robot, Outcast, Red Oaks, Rick and Morty, Supergirl, The Carmichael Show, The Crown, The Flash, The Get Down, The Girlfriend Experience, The Knick, The Man in the High Castle, The OA, The Path, Transparent.
Here’s a list of (most of) my favorite TV episodes from last year, in alphabetical order:
BoJack Horseman: Fish Out of Water
Fleabag: Episode 1
Game of Thrones: Winds of Winter
High Maintenance: Grandpa
Horace and Pete: 1.3
Man Seeking Woman: Tinsel
Rectify: A House Divided
The Americans: Travel Agents
The Good Place: The Eternal Shriek
The Night Of: The Beach
The X-Files: Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster
This Is Us: Pilot
Togetherness: Advanced Pretend
Veep: Kissing Your Sister
Westworld: Trace Decay
You’re the Worst: Twenty-Two
See you next year. Here’s a spoiler: The Leftovers and Sense8 will be #1 and #2.