This was an utterly unpredictable and often astonishing season of beautifully shot, rigorously acted television. It boldly created spaces of thought and reflection while keeping up a frenetic, Earth-shattering pace. Willing to take risks, it was perfectly imperfect, never failing to provoke stunned silence or excited expectation.
Brilliantly directed by Steven Soderbergh, this season infused every image — gesture, face, object — with the weight of the world. Meanwhile, a perfect cast brought the full, colorful array of characters to life, daring us not to invest in its shocking, moving, and disgusting world.
This series offered perfectly balanced episodes, with sex, thrills, emotion, a and beautifully performed impossible scenes of revelation and realization. The writers gloriously fit heavy, weighty themes of family, love, and belief, into a cold war thriller narrative.
Devastating, entrancing storytelling, Andrew Jarecki’s HBO miniseries was the definition of additive television this year. With a charismatic, complex protagonist impossible to invent, the series told a long, winding story, abounding in moving characters, plot twists, and intense reveals — all unscripted.
Better Call Saul
This impeccably written, humorous and moving debut show successfully departed from its epic of a parent series. Bob Odenkirk works magic with the title character, while the supporting cast provides sufficient flair and dynamism. With dependably economical scripts and kinetic, colorful images, this was one of the most consistently good series of the year.
The well-established series continues to be singular in vision, brutally honest, and funny when you least expect. I’ve never stopped singing the praises of its creator, writer, and director Louis CK, and the consistency of his genius should not diminish the greatness of the work. While accustomed to the originality and intelligence of his comic sensibility, I remain in awe of his ability to surprise, with both humor and drama.
After an amazing second season, Hannibal returned with a stranger, wandering season that welcomed one of the most terrifying villains and brought full circle a great modern romance, between a brilliant serial killer and his equally brilliant detective. The chemistry between the two is palpable, even when they’re simply dreaming of each other while miles apart. Ironic, witty, visually breathtaking (and sometimes revolting), the series never lets you simply breathe, and its resistance to all normal viewing habits and gestures is what makes it one of a kind.
Master of None
This honest debut series speaks to the day to day while being emotionally weighty, touching, and straight up hilarious. Aziz Ansar’s new series for Netflix is a nice, easy combination of comic one-liners, emotional exchanges, and delicate insights on romantic and familial relationships. It’s also a biting commentary on race and sex in the entertainment business, and the writers seem unafraid to touch on usually avoided subject matter.
Low-budget, well-written, and powerfully acted, this surprisingly good Lifetime series hits all the right soapy notes, with some nice edge. No one is as dumb, mean, or naive as their archetype might let on, and relationships take surprisingly juicy turns. Shiri Appelby, who I keenly remember from Roswell, makes a very appealing anti-heroine, while her boss — and best friend? — is deliciously played by Constance Zimmer.
This is the quietly stunning show no one watched and was cancelled this year but did not fail make an impact. Not making any other year-end lists that I read, the show can be easy to forget given its small scale and condensed set of characters and plot. Yet, those brief encounters were so beautifully done, and I finished every episode with a deeper sense of who these people are, what they wanted, and how difficult yet exciting it was for them to get there.
You’re the Worst
This series takes the common formula of a group of unlikable friends, surrounded by even more despicable acquaintances, who are nevertheless hilariously shameless and witty to a new, gloriously delirious level. While not always hitting all of its notes, the series is one of the most ambitious comedies on television, with a tremendously talented cast headlined by Aya Cash, who did wonders with higher stakes for her character, and Chris Geere, with perfect comic timing and an appealing mixture of selfish delinquency and intelligent self-mockery.
For Rami Malek’s eyes, always off-center: Mr. Robot
For ending its long run with a great, fitting finale: Mad Men
For doing average things in humorously outrageous fashion: Broad City
For being goofy and sweet and melancholy, all at once: Togetherness
For making adult romance surprising (and hilarious): Catastrophe
For giving us some of the most socially provocative yet insanely funny sketches: Key and Peele and Inside Amy Schumer.