3. “The Americans”
In an era where the average TV I.Q. is rapidly on the rise, “The Americans” stands in outright defiance of assumption. Did you think one of your favorite characters was safe in Episode 4? Think again. There’s no way they could take a time jump midway through the season, right? Wrong. Were you expecting a whopping twist in the season finale? Too bad. Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields’ drama is always one step (or six) ahead of its audience, treating them with the respect they’ve earned and expecting unparalleled mental and emotional intelligence on a weekly basis.
Season 4 showcased the series’ most complicated structure to date and never felt like it was straining to support the many moving parts. It flowed smoothly, breathed deeply, and spoke confidently — yes, this season very much felt like a living thing. Perhaps that’s because it’s one of the few shows on television to stay honest to its characters, its story, and, yes, its audience. With two seasons left, we can’t imagine what’s coming — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
It seemed like an impossible challenge: Inherit a prestige political satire that just won its first Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy without creating any distinguishable drop-off whatsoever — and in an election year, no less. That was the task facing not only new showrunner David Mandel (taking over for series creator Armando Iannucci) but his writing staff and the “Veep” players, as well. And hot damn if they didn’t come together to do just that.
From the moment Season 5 began with a frantic gathering of all our favorite characters to the subdued moment of silence Selina Meyer held all on her own, these 10 episodes were utterly identical to those that came before, save for one immeasurable difference: These may have actually been better. We’ll leave that matter of preference up to you, the “Veep-le,” but the fact there’s even a debate speaks volumes to what was accomplished in Season 5.
1. “BoJack Horseman”
Bucking the unofficial rules of animation in its exclusively adult themes and boldly defying expectations of a half-hour comedy by digging as deep (if not deeper) than any hour-long drama, the third season of “BoJack Horseman” quite literally had it all — and was all the better for it. Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s singular achievement tackled specific cultural events with razor wit and pertinent insight, touching on everything from Seaworld’s abusive past to comedy’s place in a human rights debate.
In the process, “BoJack” managed to cover more ground than Secretariat in the Triple Crown without straying from its characters’ core journeys. BoJack’s quest for self-fulfillment is aptly unpredictable and extensive, even plumbing the wordless depths of the ocean to discover emotional treasures for those willing to go looking. “BoJack” is constantly searching for purpose, and in his search, we all find meaning.
…And Two More From IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers
Perhaps the most meaningful series for America moving forward, Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things” exemplified the confidence and humanity needed in 2017 and beyond. As Sam Fox, a working actress and single mother of three, Adlon wasn’t afraid to confront issues of sexism and racism in her stream of consciousness storytelling, but the overwhelming feeling one gets from experiencing these episodes is that of immense admiration, pride, and understanding; admiration for the execution of tricky scripts, pride to know women like this in our everyday lives, and understanding for and of everyone. Without context, it’s a fascinating and moving series. Viewed in our current climate, it’s essential viewing.
“The Get Down”
Baz Luhrmann’s first television experiment proved to be just the creative spark he needed. Bursting at the seams with energy and unquestionably original from start to finish, the expansive Netflix production stood out for all the right reasons in a crowded TV season. Terrific performances from teenage actors who embodied the youthful ’70s story make the history of hip-hop come alive like we’re seeing it for the first time; which, outside of documentaries, we are. With propulsive music setting the tone and a touching love story to ground everything, “The Get Down” rides the beat of your heart from start to finish.
…And TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller
“Marvel’s Luke Cage”
After “Daredevil” Season 2 proved to be a bit generic in its execution, we were looking to the second Netflix/Marvel entry this year to try something different, and creator Cheo Hodari Coker really delivered. Between the fresh hip-hop edge that pumped through the veins of the series and the gift of Alfre Woodard as a comic book villain, we were sold on this one fast. We can’t wait for more Mike Colter in 2017.
Whether you saw its biggest twists coming or not, the fact is that few other shows in 2016 took us on the kind of ride the HBO drama did. The caliber of the cast involved made sure that we were never bored, watching robots and people alike question the nature of reality, as well as humanity. We may not be getting a second season before 2018, but that should give us enough time to tease out all the show’s many nuances.
…And Senior Editor Hanh Nguyen
It’s no fluke that “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is the only broadcast series that has sneaked onto our list via Honorable Mentions. It is a unique and charming beast that will not be tamed. Although the musical series first aimed to land on a cable network, it has somehow kept its brilliantly edgy sensibility while offering a message of hope on The CW. The show rightfully gets a lot of attention for its clever song-and-dance numbers — the lyrics are frickin’ brilliant and the choreography and productions are delightful showcases for an unfair amount of talented people. It’s the storytelling and acting, however, where the series is its bravest. Focused on the goal of its characters attaining happiness, the show uncovers all the ways that we get in the way of ourselves, how addiction is seductive, and how even the best intentions can go horribly, painfully astray. Through it all, however, is a loud, throbbing heart that demands to be felt in all of its bittersweet glory.
As Fleabag, newcomer Phoebe Waller-Bridge wields a disconcerting gaze that repeatedly obliterates the fourth wall as she addresses the viewers directly. Her confidences themselves are unsettling. Do we really need to know about all that anal sex? But this is the beauty of Amazon’s latest British comedy acquisition. What at first appears to be a fun but bizarre shtick that allows the randy Fleabag to overshare her cheeky thoughts with the audience is a mask for the deeper story that is happening. Without giving away what happens, “Fleabag” can be rip-roaringly funny while also revealing why we’re so cruel to those we love, including ourselves. The show, its star, and that finale were unexpected treats from a streaming service that didn’t call attention to this show enough.