10. “The Night Manager”
It took Oscar-winning filmmaker Susanne Bier to finally bring John Le Carre’s espionage thriller to life, and boy, did she ever. The miniseries was striking in every way, from the global locales and picturesque hotels to the way characters were displayed upon such backdrops. More than just eye candy, Tom Hiddleston as soldier-turned-spy Jonathan Pine was a man with a mission, quietly stoic in the face of his nemesis Richard Roper, played with dangerous glee by Hugh Laurie. Olivia Colman brought the heart, Elizabeth Debicki the heartache and Tom Hollander a sense of impotent rage. The storytelling was large in scale yet intimate in how it played out, and it’s no wonder that viewers are hoping for more, even though Le Carre never wrote a sequel.
9. “Silicon Valley”
To many, Mike Judge’s gloriously profane comedy is escapism. But ask anyone who actually works in the San Francisco Bay Area tech scene, and it’s not like they’ll admit that it’s a full-on documentary… But they also won’t deny that at times, the show has struck awfully close to home when it comes to how incredibly absurd start-up culture can be. In Season 3, “Silicon Valley” truly established its groove, while also being unafraid of tossing the occasional curveball into the mix. And it has some of the most memorable characters and quotable exchanges on television. Way to use that D, “Silicon Valley.” (We’re referring, of course, to dialogue.)
Ostensibly a comedy, Mark and Jay Duplass’ relationship opus featured some staggeringly good performances from its ensemble, including Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet and Steve Zissis. Thanks to what felt like a truly collaborative effort, the show never shied away from getting real about how hard it can be, to be in love, to be looking for love or to just be unsure about what you should be looking for. And there was a “Dune” musical starring puppets. We may never get to find out what happens next to Brett, Michelle, Alex and Tina, but it was wonderful getting to know them in the first place.
7. “Broad City”
“I love comedy rhythm,” Ilana Glazer said in a recent IndieWire interview. “When I was younger, I listened to a lot of stand-up comedy albums, but then when you add the visual element, I just love it. I like thinking of it in terms of rhythm.”
The statement is significant for two reasons. First and foremost, “Broad City” is a lesson in comedy rhythm; not only in how to flow from point to point, joke to joke, during an episode, but also how to construct episodes over the course of the season that challenge expectations without disrupting the series’ established identity. But Glazer’s fascination with rhythm also applies to her irreplaceable dynamic with co-star and co-creator Abbi Jacobson. “Broad City” is built on their rhythms, and it’s all the better for it.
6. “The Path”
Combining the doubly topical subject of cults — I mean, “movements,” which are in the zeitgeist thanks to Scientology’s detractors, but also finally being explored in a real way on TV — with the grounded realism associated with all of Jason Katims’ shows (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”), “The Path” hits home in a major way for anyone who’s ever doubted, well, anything. Aaron Paul, Hugh Dancy and Michelle Monaghan make for a commanding lead trio, but the casting is impressive across the board. From veteran character actors like Rockmund Dunbar to newcomers like Kyle Allen, “The Path” feels frighteningly real from start to finish — in every way.
The sophomore outing for one of TV’s most brilliant dark-horse series continued to stun viewers with its daring. Few comedies have the deft touch to be able to handle all of the ugliness of relationships, but “Catastrophe” did so while still somehow remaining positive and really kind of sweet. This season brought a lot of loss — sexual desire, self, trust — but despite this, we feel that Sharon and Rob (Sharon Horgan, Rob Delaney) will somehow work it out. A side plot about their friends’ broken marriage may have seemed like a curious departure from our heroes (each season is only six episodes, after all) but it offered a different, more mature and poignant take on the nature of relationships and how a couple — as individuals and together — evolve.
4. “The Americans”
“The Americans” is coming to an end. Granted, there are two more seasons left — 13 more episodes next year before a 10-episode final season in 2018 — but Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields’ critically-adored masterpiece will come to a close the way it’s always wanted. What that might look like, we have no idea, in part because each season becomes more enigmatic than the last. More surprises means more action; more action means more development; but what separates “The Americans” from the other twisty dramas out there is its primary developments are always internal. It’s not so much what physically happens to these core characters — or what they physically do to others. “The Americans” is concerned with the Jennings’ emotional health, and after so many up and down arcs, we’ve become far more invested in their future than just about anyone else on television. Season 4 took this devotion even deeper, making us all the more eager to see what’s next.
3. “Better Call Saul”
In its second season, “Better Call Saul” proves that it can stand on its own as more than just a “Breaking Bad” prequel hurtling to its inevitable destination. In particular, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) has become so damn sympathetic, in part because of his dogged protection of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) who neither trusts nor appreciates him but also in part because of the very flaws that will lead him to become Saul Goodman. It’s frustrating, it’s heartbreaking, it’s freaking hilarious, yet always compelling TV that dives deep into morality in a way that’s neither preachy nor contrived. And let’s not forget how gorgeously realized the show is, from its stunning photography to its deliberate, psychological framing. As for “Breaking Bad” devotees, the Mike (Jonathan Banks) storyline has progressed in a satisfying way that foreshadows what’s to come (perhaps Gus Fring in Season 3?).
It’s not that no one expected “The People v. O.J. Simpson” to be any good (they didn’t), but no one wanted the well-documented story of the O.J. Simpson trial to still be relevant, more than two decades later. We want to believe the racial bias, sexism and media’s obsession with misinformation is an example of past behavior we want to keep in the past. But recent events, before and after the release of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” serve as evidence to the contrary; that we’re not there yet; that we’re as far from harmony, truth and justice as we were when O.J. Simpson walked free. This series brought that to mind with stark, uncomfortable yet addictive clarity; a potent mix designed to make audiences question everything without alienating them from the story driving this crucial discussion. Well-acted, perfectly produced and artfully directed, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” is a stunning accomplishment that will stand the test of time — whether we want it to or not.
All eyes were on the Emmy-winning comedy this year due to a change in showrunners — often the sort of move that shows don’t survive. But under the new rule of David Mandel, “Veep” remained one of the ballsiest shows on television, taking major narrative chances all while continuing to teach us the art of insulting our enemies. The streak of cruelty that underlies Selina Meyer’s roller coaster career is at times rough going, until you consider the world of actual politics. Selina might never truly be President. But she’ll always be the “Veep” of our hearts.
More Best Of 2016 (So Far)