I watched more new television this year than any other year. There is just so much of it out there these days, from network shows that surprise, to streaming only originals that get the budget of full on movies. Some of our best creators have moved to TV, because that’s where both the money and acclaim lies, so keeping up with all the latest shows is essential for any pop culture connoisseur. That being said, there are still so many shows that were on last year’s list that didn’t return this year, making this list even more diversified than it would have been. None of Nathan For You, Master of None, Review, or Fargo (which were all in my top 10 last year) released a new season this year, which means they will likely come out in 2017, making my year all the more busy.
10. Bajillion Dollar Properties (season 1 and 2)
The launch of Seeso by NBC this year provided a platform for comedians to do shorter and smaller things with little need to draw in huge audiences. Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, a parody of high end real estate shows, launched with the network and has already come out with two seasons of its ridiculous and improvised satire. Each episode, for the most part, follows a pretty standard routine–each broker has some new client or goal to meet, we are introduced to them (typically played by someone from the UCB/Earwolf crowd) and learn about whatever abhorrent idea they have of what they want in a home. Add in some office hi-jinx and you’ve got the show in a nutshell. It’s not groundbreaking, but if you enjoy funny rhythms and indie comedians then it’s a must watch.
9. The Night Of (Limited Series)
HBO jumped into the crime story rage this year with The Night Of, a gritty tale about a young Pakistani adult who experiences one awful night and the aftermath of all that happens. Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, it expertly draws out this tale across six episodes, intensely bringing you into Naz’s life as his experiences slowly change him. I didn’t find the pilot as gripping as some, but I found the conclusion more satisfying than others.
8. The Good Place (Season 1)
The latest from show runner Michael Schur (Parks and Rec; The Office; Brooklyn 99) takes place in the after-life. Like all of his previous shows, it’s a workplace drama, filled with wacky but sincere characters who work together to get by–only this time it’s all in heaven–or as they call it in the show, “the good place”. It’s a clever show and heartwarming, like Schur is great at doing, but is also highly serialized, featuring very specific rules for the world that has been built. It’s one of those shows that you can only hope they have an idea of where they want it to go (and apparently Schur and co. do), but for now it’s been a great ride.
7. Brain Dead (Season 1)
CBS released BrainDead this summer, where it was promptly ignored by both critics and audiences alike. The network, which is the biggest network in the US due to its pervasive knowledge that most of America really just wants to watch Kevin James, cancelled it after this season, and ultimately ignored that it had one of the most unique and strangest shows of the year on its hands. It’s a political satire that tries to explain the partisan state of our union through the premise of bug aliens invading our brains. It stars Marie Elizabeth Winstead (who crushed it this year) and Aaron Tveit (of Broadway fame) as its two impeccably charming and good looking leads who fall in love despite being across the aisle politically and in the middle of an alien invasion. It recaps every episode with a new song from Jonathan Coulton and at one point has a US senator eat someone’s brains. If any of this at all interests you, I recommend watching it, because we need more weird things like this on mainstream television.
6. Crazy Ex Girlfriend (Season 1)
The comedy auteur is alive and well and the fact that CW gave Rachel Bloom the resources to fund what is a pretty raunchy musical comedy is shocking. It’s about a woman facing a mid-life crisis of sorts, who, upon running into a high school fling decides to upend her successful life in New York to move to West Covina, California. The show turns into a crazy love triangle and while it mocks many of Rebecca’s decisions, is thoroughly feminist and progressive. All of this madness takes place intertwined with big bombastic musical numbers that cover every genre of music. It’s delightful for the comedy and musical theater nerd alike.
5. Veep (Season 5)
Veep came back in full force this year, creating electoral circumstances that at one point in time (maybe January of 2016) might have seemed crazy. It’s the best straight up comedy on television, satirizing our politics in a way that has never felt more essential than right now at this moment.
4. The Americans (Season 4)
The Americans continues its run of being the highest stakes drama on television. This year saw Phillip and Elizabeth, two Russian spies living undercover in America, continue to deal with the tensions that come with their job and the very real feelings they’ve developed for the people around them and the place they live. As the stakes rise for the show, each character grapples with the tasks they’ve been given and whether the orders they receive are worth following through. Russia’s interventions in US elections and our leader’s man crush on its autocratic leader should only make this show more interesting and poignant moving forward.
3. Catastrophe (Season 2)
I put this Amazon original on on a whim this year (accidentally watched the second season before the first) and it became an instant favorite. It’s a shame (and a blessing) that each season is only six episodes, but what results is a raunchy realistic romp about two people forced together by a pregnancy who manage to make it work in brutal, conflict ridden honesty.
2. Lady Dynamite (Season 1)
I think this is perhaps the best spiritual successor to Arrested Development since the show ended its initial run in 2005 (maybe even more so than the critically mixed fourth season–a season I will admit to enjoying quite a bit). From the same producer as AD, Lady Dynamite is a fictionalized account of Maria Bamford’s comedy career and time spent in recovery for bipolar disorder. The show is abstract, filled with minute jokes and zany bits as it jumps from time period to time period (each aided by its own color palette). It’s a true pleasure for any comedy nerd, one that is sure to reward those who come back for rewatches, catching every callback and pop culture reference. It’s a weird show, no doubt, but I found it both hilarious and delightful.
- Atlanta (Season 1)
Atlanta was the year’s critical darling, drawing comparisons to everything from Twin Peaks to The Wire, while blending a deadpan comedic tone throughout. It’s Donald Glover’s project, he stars as Earn, a poor 20-something (more like young poor rather than poor poor, though certainly most of the spaces he occupies are not known for their wealth), trying to navigate his life vocationally, while also taking care of his daughter and trying to figure out his relationship with his (ex-?) girlfriend. He becomes the manager of sorts to his cousin, Paper Boi, an up and coming rapper in Atlanta. Despite what may sound like a straightforward premise, the plot is all subtext to whatever Glover and his crew feel like showing on screen. There is little serialization here and each episode takes place entirely in its own context. There are episodes that are all about Paper Boi, there is one that focuses entirely on Van (Earn’s girlfriend) and what is going on in her life, and there are some that parody various things within the rap community (drug deals, the club). It’s a show where anything can happen at any moment and after I finished each episode, I immediately wanted to watch it again.
Shows that just missed the cut: Fresh Off the Boat; Stranger Things; Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life; Love; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt