10) “Parks and Recreation”
In its final season, the charming NBC drama took some chances with a big leap forward into the future. Not everyone loved it, but “Parks” never stopped having one of the biggest hearts on television, as well as one of the best ensemble casts. And the series finale was one of the most solid in recent memory, laying out the lives of its characters for decades to come while also leaving room for questions. Leslie Knope might have been ready to face her destiny, but we weren’t ready to say goodbye.
9) “Fresh Off the Boat”
“Fresh Off the Boat” got people excited when it premiered back in February because it brought an Asian-American television family to prime time for the first time in decades. But we were pre-disposed to like “Fresh Off the Boat” because it meant the return of Nahnatchka Khan — creator of the dearly missed “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23” — to showrunning a new ABC comedy. While the first season of “Boat” had its uneven patches — clearly leaning into the pressure to work with ABC’s brand of family comedies — it still had us charmed, especially thanks to its anchoring performances from Constance Wu and Randall Park. Plus, it never ducked away from honestly exploring the race issues that, despite its 1990s period setting, felt as true as they did modern.
8) “Inside Amy Schumer”
Beyond the increased profile of star Amy Schumer (her upcoming feature debut, “Trainwreck,” looks pretty funny!), is there any particular reason why the third season of “Inside Amy Schumer” has broken out in a way the first two didn’t? It’s hard to say. But since premiering this April, the show has become must-see for its ruthless attacks on gender norms and hilarious spins on dick jokes; the pinnacle likely being “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” a 20 minute “12 Angry Men” homage that featured an all-star cast and maybe some of the best on-screen usage of a dildo, ever. On a sketch-by-sketch basis, “Inside” doesn’t have a perfect track record. But the complete package is unskippable.
7) “The Comedians”
Consistently clever and immediately self-aware, “The Comedians” hit the ground running in its first season and hasn’t looked back. The FX series’ layered approach to comedy has been as ambitious as it is flawlessly executed: Jokes land within “Billy Crystal” and “Josh Gad’s” diegetic world, but they pay off two, three, four times over depending on your level of pop culture obsession. What could have been a tired attempt to illustrate the difference between generational humor has instead turned that discussion on its head — “The Comedians” doesn’t focus as much on what drives these two jokesters apart, but honors what brings them together. It’s a laugh (or six) we can all share in, regardless of age.
It’s funny how new series can make you appreciate old ones, and that, in turn, helps you value the new show even more. Though “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a beautifully original creation, binge-watching the first season brought to mind “30 Rock” time and time again — even when former cast members like Jane Krakowski and Jon Hamm weren’t on screen. Season 1 of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s latest creation paired an empowering spirit with jab after jab at its central character — much like they did with Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” — but the speed at which jokes were flung at the audience made for a sensory overload (in a good way). “30 Rock” grew into its rapid-fire rhythms, but “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” started there. And you didn’t have a week-long breather between verbal schoolings, forcing the viewer to adapt or die (again, in a good way). Helping to keep viewers grounded was a dark central premise that transitioned smoothly with some outstanding oddball comedy, making “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” an unbeatable follow-up for Fey and Carlock. Season 2 can’t come soon enough.
Even though things got back to normal this year (more or less) after an experimental season of “Archer Vice,” the sixth season of Adam Reed’s sharp-witted comedy took one very bold narrative choice: it forced Archer to grow up. Made to face his own mortality — or, at least, questions about it — by fatherhood, Sterling Archer went through various phases of grief regarding his quickly-ending bachelor lifestyle. First, he ran away to Thailand, the Swiss Alps and Wisconsin (denial) while occasionally lashing out at Lana for lying to him (anger). Most of the season was spent trying to live both lives simultaneously (bargaining), which made for an entertaining old school throwback before the final mission left the team in tatters and Archer in need of a way to provide for his family. One might think this would lead him into the “depression” stage, but that’s not in Archer’s DNA. Instead, his acceptance of the situation made for an inspiring and upbeat ending, even after the worst had happened. Turns out Archer’s self-assured nature isn’t as ignorant as Lana — or the rest of us — may have thought. It’s his way of life, and we’ll be on board for wherever it takes him.
4) “The Americans”
Why doesn’t “The Americans” get any Emmys? It’s a question for the ages (though one prevalent theory is that a show about Russian spies infiltrating America during the Cold War might not appeal to a voting body that grew up during the Cold War). Still, the show’s incredible acting and sensitive writing made it one of the year’s more subtle achievements, especially when the underlying tensions finally exploded. While the finale was a quieter ending than many anticipated, the third season kept up the high bar of drama established in its first two years.
3) “Better Call Saul”
The official prequel and spiritual successor to one of the 21st century’s greatest television achievements had, well, that whole thing hanging over its head. But with a slight shift in tone, a roster of new characters and a very different lead in Bob Odenkirk, “Saul” eventually managed to shift out of “Breaking Bad’s” shadow by the end of its first season. By choosing to make Jimmy McGill’s journey toward becoming the best “criminal” lawyer in Albuquerque a quieter, more contemplative ride, “Saul” quickly found its own voice. And while the pacing was the furthest thing from breakneck, the show did take our breath away with one extraordinary episode — the Jonathan Banks-starring “Five-0” — and one extraordinary scene — the conclusion to Episode 9, “Pimento.” Shows run for years without ever being so good.
With greater power comes greater laughs. “Veep” Season 4 saw the power-hungry former vice-president get a belly-full of Presidential status, and boy was it satisfying — for viewers. Selina’s struggles only intensified once she got what she’s always wanted, making for a high stakes game of political juggling the likes of which no one in the show or watching it had ever seen. Their follies were our fun, as creator and departing showrunner Armando Iannucci left it all on the table. From deftly introducing new cast members (imagining the show without Sam Richardson’s blabbermouth Richard is impossible now), to new formats — as seen in the news footage presentation of Episode 9, “Testimony” — “Veep” Season 4 was a triumph of vicious passion and spot-on satire. Keep it coming, Veeple.
1) “Mad Men”
Many people wondered how Matthew Weiner’s compassionate period drama would end, but the journey to that end was just as significant. The final half-season of “Mad Men” carried itself with an aptly casual assuredness, leading to more speculation on the finale and the occasional impatient stirring of criticism. Still, each episode when examined with hindsight holds up even better than it did on first airing.
Joan’s journey began with a chauvinistic tirade in “Severance” that carried her through to the end. Peggy’s love story — given weight by a drunken, later abandoned, promise to vacation in Paris — reached a fitting close in the office (where else?), and Don finally found the secret to life in an empathetic moment with a stranger. Watching him blindly search for happiness in the arms of another random woman now emphasizes how lost he’d become and how much he needed a fresh start.
Without that West Coast mentality — forced upon him by Stephanie, the purest influence left in his life — Don may have never found the inner peace he’d been craving since birth. Whether you read the final scene as honest or snarky, “Mad Men” provided the perfect ending for a series proven to be worth revisiting again and again. We certainly will, and we’ll keep savoring every second.