10. “Angie Tribeca” (TBS)
Can Rashida Jones and her department of hysterical cops get some love this year? Nancy and Steve Carell’s new TBS comedy skewering the police procedural, “Naked Gun”-style, produced two full seasons, 20 total episodes, and a countless total of cumulative laughs. Absurd humor of such high regard is virtually impossible to do well without becoming repetitive, and “Angie Tribeca” proved itself sustainable in one year by pumping out two perfect seasons. 2016 should be looked at as a banner year for the program, even if it continues to top itself in seasons to come.
9. “Search Party” (TBS)
With episode titles inspired by Nancy Drew mysteries, “Search Party” is a noir-ish nod to the classic plucky sleuthstress, but with an irreverent millennial sensibility. The mesmerizing Alia Shawkat plays Dory, an underemployed post-grad who finds her purpose when she begins to investigate the disappearance of college acquaintance Chantal. With the help of her three equally inexperienced friends, the funny foursome stumble upon secrets and conspiracies until the unexpected final moments — a twist we’re still debating whether it was disappointing, ballsy or inventive. From the first notes of the score to the last indelible image on the screen, we were locked in. It was one of the fastest binges of the year.
8. “The Path” (Hulu)
Few shows so fearlessly and effectively engaged with both the dangers and benefits of organized religion. “The Path,” from creator Jessica Goldberg and produced by Jason Katims, put a “movement” under the microscope, tossing aside those quick to label anything different a cult while acknowledging how easily a well-meaning organization can be corrupted. Hulu’s best original drama — and one of the best on TV — never allowed for easy answers, trusting its audience to want to tackle the tough questions alongside winning, charismatic turns from Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, Hugh Dancy, and newcomer Kyle Allen. It’s a testament to Peak TV that this one got lost in the shuffle, but anyone who unearths it will find a TV treasure trove.
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7. “One Mississippi” (Amazon)
Tig Notaro exposed herself in so many ways for her Amazon original series, and the result was beautiful in its raw real humanity, thanks to the way Notaro masterfully proved her talent for making tragedy hilarious. Not only did this intimate story about grief and homecoming prove rich with strong secondary characters, but it brought with it a singular feel that made us keenly aware of the fragile nature of family. Most importantly, it reminded us about the power of storytelling. We could listen to Tig tell us stories forever.
6. “The Girlfriend Experience” (Starz)
Easily one of the year’s most challenging shows, this Steven Soderbergh-produced dive into the world of Christine (Riley Keough) never offered any easy answers as to what to think about this law student’s decision to pursue a new line of work in “transactional relationships.” Instead, we were forced to confront our own feelings regarding this controversial topic, as writer/directors Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz presented Christine’s choices without judgement, with a frankness that proved haunting.
5. “Better Things” (FX)
Although Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K.’s new FX comedy shares some of the meandering genes of “Louie,” “Better Things” is its own fresh and optimistic take on life from a completely different point of view. Adlon stars in a fictionalized version of her own life as Sam, an actress and mother of three girls, but the show defies just that simple description. Little vignettes from the acting world are bitingly insightful and blunt, but it’s Sam’s personal relationships that make our hearts swell and ache in equal measure. Daughters Max, Frankie and Duke couldn’t be any more exasperating yet adorable, and it’s not uncommon to wish we had a mom with the earnest, straight-shooting qualities that Sam has. All this in brief 22-minute episodes? Thank goodness FX took mercy on us and ordered a second season already.
4. “Fleabag” (Amazon)
“Fleabag” is a revitalizing adrenaline shot to your id, and if it makes you uncomfortable, rejoice, or giggle-fart, then mission accomplished. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s story about an irrepressible single London woman whose libido knows no bounds takes the viewer unawares into realms of hilarity and heartbreak. Fleabag herself is a fascinating and fully realized heroine whose feminism is as complex as conversations about the concept are today. She speaks her mind, goes after what she wants, is sexually liberated and has taken an unconventional path in her career. But her name gives the hint of the toxicity and despair roiling beneath the surface of her perfectly coiffed head. She is a beautifully orchestrated mess of emotions that Waller-Bridge embodies with confidence and sympathy. We’ve all had our Fleabag moments, and bless Amazon for bringing this British acquisition to our shores.
3. “The Get Down” (Netflix)
To quote the Get Down Brothers in their climactic rap battle against the Notorious 3, “‘D’ is for doin’, “O” is for our group. “W” is for winning, ’cause ‘N’ is naturally what we do.” And winning is exactly what Baz Luhrmann, George Nelson, and the many vocal collaborators on Netflix’s ambitious and beautiful new musical did in Season 1. “The Get Down” is built from the heart: Passion drips from every facet, as the story is told to the beat of the music it’s about. Alive with rhythm and addictive because of it, the story could have been overwhelmed by an onslaught of showmanship, but these first six episodes still felt personal thanks to the sterling performances of its ensemble, from breakouts Justice Smith and Shameik Moore to veterans Jimmy Smits and Kevin Corrigan. For all the money that went into it, you can see that it went to all the right places. And that, right there, is winning.
2. “Atlanta” (FX)
Donald Glover and his talented collaborators proved why this age of television deserves the label of Auteur TV, and we’re still truly blown away, by how the show managed to draw viewers into a very specific world view, and make it feel relatable and universal thanks to that specificity. Incredible performances from Glover and the ensemble, plus genre-bending and mind-bending experiments in form and function made “Atlanta” unforgettable television. It’s shows like this that are why we care so much about this medium.
1. “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” (FX)
“Colony” (USA): I’m a sucker for sci-fi allegories, especially ones that draw upon the darker moments of real human history. Using the context of an alien invasion to essentially re-examine Vichy France and similar instances of occupied and enslaved societies, “Colony” is truly anchored by its core leads, but beyond Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies, there’s still an incredibly compelling story about life during wartime, and what we will do to survive. More people should have watched this show during Season 1. Hopefully, Season 2 will draw some new fans. —LSM
“Idiotsitter” (Comedy Central): Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse’s Comedy Central debut absolutely killed. Observant, quick-witted, and viciously funny, “Idiotsitter” was a web series that made a seamless leap to the small screen in its first official TV season, and it’s got a stellar plan to keep the good times rolling. We’re looking forward to college life next year, but we’ll never forget where it all began. —BT
“Mary + Jane” (MTV): A pot comedy executive produced by Snoop Dogg will always have the ring of authenticity to it, but MTV’s often-hilarious comedy went well beyond the realm of marijuana. Creators Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont took on hipster culture, Los Angeles’s celebrity obsession, gentrification, 1990s nostalgia and more in the show’s first season, which was another stellar example of how women in comedy, now more than ever, have the ability to be crude in their own special way. We’ll never forget how the talking vaginas of “Sn**chelorette” helped Paige (Jessica Rothe) and Jordan (Scout Durwood) connect on a new level with their femininity. More shows should be this level of free. —LSM
“The Night Of” (HBO): When HBO adapted this story from its British series roots, it switched the white accused killer’s ethnicity to that of a Pakistani-American student, Nasir “Naz” Khan. While Islamophobia and racial profiling were certainly addressed, “The Night Of” never fell into the trap of being too didactic or reductive about any issue. In fact, it raised far more questions about the justice system and the mutability of truth than we expected, to the point that we questioned Naz’s innocence and our own perceptions constantly. If anything, the show used its evil powers of manipulation to create a heightened sense of urgency and danger that each week we were sure this is when Naz — played brilliantly by the soulful Riz Ahmed — would make his fatal mistake. The seasoned and hilarious John Turturro added a surprising element of heart to this legal exploration, which made the show an addictive weekly viewing appointment. —HN
“Speechless” (ABC): In the vein of “Roseanne,” “Speechless” is a family comedy about the often awful DiMeos, who are not above lying or scheming their way to preferential treatment or better yet, free stuff, and that includes son JJ DiMeo, who has cerebral palsy. The show spends just enough time on explaining what his condition entails, before getting on with the business of making him an irreverent teenager who treats his aide Kenneth (the fantastic and warm Cedric Yarbrough) as a partner in crime. Minnie Driver as the fierce and mouthy matriarch rightfully gets a lot of credit for anchoring the comedy, but the rest of the cast are no slouches either. The biggest achievement of this bitingly funny show is to spotlight an ordinary family that many will find familiar in America but is so rarely acknowledged. —HN