A Year in Review: Top 10 TV Shows of 2016
I was out to lunch a few weeks ago with some people from work. Conversation turned toward the TV shows everyone liked to watch. People threw out some favorites. “Game of Thrones,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Better Call Saul,” some show on Netflix that actually came out 20 years ago, etc.
As the conversation went on, I found that I had no real desire to talk about my favorite show. It was too personal. No one would be as interested in it as me if I brought it up. No one would “get” my show. It’s my show, not theirs. In a world of way too much TV, I simply retreated into my corner, nestled up with my show.
I guess what I’m saying is, this list is for me, not for you. It is not objective or unbiased or any other kind of inane, unattainable standard you’d like to place on your entertainment.
This is my list of favorite television shows from 2016, just as I imagine you have yours. And in this time of excess television, I imagine our lists will look quite different. For me, I compiled my list wanting shows on it that distinctly represented 2016— shows that I could look back on saying, yes, that show was important to me during that year.
Let’s get into it:
Quickly, I want to shout out a few shows I simply did not have room for on my list. Because even in a year of good-not-great TV, I still couldn’t fit everything into the top 10. (I should also mention here that I did not get around to watching “Horace and Pete” or the ESPN O.J. Simpson documentary, so you won’t be seeing those shows anywhere on this list.)
“The Americans” (FX) – The fourth season of “The Americans” was once again excellent, displaying more elegance in storytelling, powerful character work and amazing acting than almost anything on television. When it came down to it, though, I didn’t “enjoy” the show enough in a season that felt like a bridge toward its ending for it to crack my list. As it winds down (or more likely, cranks up) its final seasons, the show should not have a hard time at all getting back into the top 10.
“Better Call Saul” (AMC) – Spoiler alert: Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan, and Co. are still really good at making television. The second season of “Saul” began to hint at a show that was quite reminiscent of “Breaking Bad” while also carving out room for its own distinct sensibilities. I’m not sure where this show is going, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up on my list one day.
“One Mississippi” (Amazon) – Tig Notaro’s extremely personal and somewhat factual half-hour show was tremendously affecting, combining great characters, great jokes and great tragedy to make one of the bravest, most heartfelt shows of the year.
10. “Supergirl” (CBS/CW)
“Supergirl” had a bumpy year behind scenes, bouncing from CBS to the CW over the summer and losing one of its best lead female characters when the show returned for its second season. However, the show never let anything off-screen affect its charming, sunny outlook on the world. And in a year of fear and division in the real world, a show that truly believed in the inherent goodness of all people and the common good was just what the doctor ordered. It was hopeful and comforting to have someone tell me everything was going to be okay.
9. “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
One thing I miss terribly is the feeling that everyone is watching the same shows. The feeling that you could go into work the next morning and say, “What did you think of that episode last night?” “Thrones” seems to be the last vestige of that world, and I’m soaking up every last moment of it that I can. When you combine the fun of consensus and popularity with a show that finally has direction as it hurdles toward the finish line, you’re left with a damn good season of television that included a finale I would hold up as one of the five best television episodes of the year.
8. “Halt and Catch Fire” (AMC)
In its third season, “Halt and Catch Fire” finally began to reach the heights it was pretending it could reach during its fledgling first season. The last few episodes reminded me of “Mad Men,” with complex characters exploring their complicated relationships in multilayered and often explosive ways. This season elevated to a level where one line of dialogue often hardly scratched the surface of the multitude of feelings and emotions the characters contained. Any one of its final few hours could easily crack a “five best episodes of the year” list as well.
7. “BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)
When you make a television show about a talking, depressed horse, I think it’s fair to say you run the risk of tiring people out as your protagonist rises and falls, rises and falls, and rises and falls again. But the show continued to find creative and interesting new ways to explore BoJack’s twisted, screwed-up psyche while remaining one of the funniest shows on television in its third season (with my stupid sense of humor thrown in for good measure).
6. “Quarry” (Cinemax)
I remain more and more impressed by this tale of an Army-veteran-turned-hitman by the day. The show basically came out of nowhere and easily cracked my top ten list by virtue of being one of the best melodramas of the year, the prettiest-looking show of the year and the best action show of the year. The show’s fourth episode, “Seldom Realized,” is probably the best bottle episode of the year and would easily make my “Top Five TV Episodes of 2016” list, too.
5. “Black Mirror” (Netflix)
“Black Mirror” made two transcendent television episodes in 2016. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. The entire batch of this twisted sci-fi anthology show was far from perfect, but “Playtest” and “San Junipero” still cross my mind once or twice a day because of their depth and prescience. And when you combine that with the fact that this show swings for the fences creatively more than anything else on television, that’s all it takes to crack my top five. I highly recommend experiencing the world of “Black Mirror.” It might not always be a journey you enjoy, but it’s certainly one you will not regret.
4. “Atlanta” (FX)
If you’ve read any top 10 lists this year, you’ve probably seen this show once or twice. Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” was probably the most exciting addition to the TV landscape this year, (sort of) telling the story of a rapper named Paper Boi and his friends as they try to make it in music and in life. It’s funny, it’s smart, and it tells a story that I’m pretty sure hasn’t been told on television before. From POV episodes to CCTV parodies to invisible cars, this show really had it all. It could be the new “Seinfeld.”
3. “Veep” (HBO)
Speaking of “Seinfeld,” how insane is it that at this point in her career, Julia Louis-Dreyfus may have completely overshadowed her iconic role as Elaine Benes with her work as politician Selina Meyer? “Veep” is 50 miles ahead of everything else as the funniest show on television, and the most recent fifth season was arguably the best the show has ever been. I shouldn’t say much more or else I’ll stop writing and start watching “Veep” again and we don’t want that when we’re this close to No. 1.
2. “American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson” (FX)
When we look back on 2016, it’s fair to say this will probably be the most important show of the year. It touched on countless hot-button issues regarding race and class, showcased some ridiculous performances, was the closest thing to a communal show we had outside of “Thrones,” and potentially changed the direction of television production for the near future. I loved every minute I spent with this show, and it will always stand out as one of the very best of 2016.
1. “Rectify” (Sundance)
Whoops, I did it again. And truly, it would have been disingenuous if I didn’t. It probably would have been more fair for me to make a list called “Top 10 TV Shows of 2016 that Aren’t ‘Rectify'” if I wanted anything else to finish in the top slot. “Rectify” makes me laugh and cry and think and feel so much that it puts me at a loss for words. This show has more emotional weight behind the prospect of selling a Furby than most shows ever have behind anything.
I’ve said before that “Rectify” understands humanity more than anything else on television and really, it’s not close. The show’s fourth and final season proved that over and over again, and moreso, it made me comfortable with the fact that the show was ending and that although things were potentially just as tough as they ever were for its characters, life was going to continue on regardless. And everyone was going to do the best they could to make it work.
On and on it goes.