As the year turned, most of us were still captivated by Making a Murderer (which came out in late December of 2015).
It was hard to turn off, and for those who didn’t catch the series immediately, it was just the first of many mesmerizing series in 2016.
New faces and names fill the list, but a few mainstays still made the cut. Here are our top ten television shows of the year.
10) Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
The Daily Show is not good enough anymore. Trevor Noah is no Jon Stewart and that leaves a gap in our lives. John Oliver is doing a pretty good job of filling that gap, but still leaves something to be desired. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is already getting better ratings than the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Full Frontal is the closest thing to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart you can get anymore. –Zac Fallon
9) Horace and Pete
Horace and Pete is like no other show you’ve seen before. So far, it’s only been available for purchase from Louis CK’s website, but will soon be available on Hulu.
With a small cast of characters and the static setting of a run-down Brooklyn Bar; the show watches more like a play than a typical TV drama. It’s genuinely a difficult show to describe without seeing it. It’s so hard to figure out; even the Emmy’s gave it nominations in both Comedy and Drama categories. –Zac Fallon
8) Black Mirror
Throughout it’s brief tenure, Black Mirror has shown remarkable consistency in challenging the viewer to not only question themselves and their own personal code, but to also critically think about the episode’s topic and how it relates to both present day and our future.
Season three continues this trend by giving us a glimpse of the future of virtual reality in “Playtest”, as it displays its potential in a manner that is both utterly immersing and immensely frightening, leaving the viewer to wonder how dangerously real virtual reality might become. In “Men Against Fire” the complexity of conflict takes center stage, practically demanding the viewer to determine the morality of warfare, if the ends truly justify the means, and who truly has the right to life. The constant challenge to think, to reflect, and to form our own opinions about the ideas, technologies, and moral quandaries presented in each episode is what separates Black Mirror and puts it on a pedestal all its own. –Mathan Gore
7) Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley has been delivering some of the best jokes on TV for a couple years now. This season continues a tradition of one of Mike Judge’s worlds luring us in and making us care for the characters. There might not be any jokes as funny as season 1’s “middle-out” moment, but that is an impossibly high bar for a show to reach year after year. That being said, I’m just as excited for season 4 as I was for season 2. Silicon Valley is still one of the best shows on TV, even if it isn’t as good as it once was. –Zac Fallon
6) Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul jumped right into season two continuing to do what it does best. The show thrives on the development of its characters and their relationships, particularly between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn), which often grounds writer Vince Gilligan’s praised desire to surprise and delight. Mike (Jonathan Banks) is fantastic, as the show dives much deeper into developing the beloved, tough old man. Odenkirk is uniquely hilarious, and the show’s musical choices, directed by Dave Porter, are terrific and perfectly placed. Better Call Saul can be interpreted as a man battling for morality, or criminal versus lawyer. It can also be seen as television’s greatest con-artist just trying to keep his head above water, and maybe fall in love in the process. –Matt Miller
5) Game of Thrones
I have a signed, first edition of Game of Thrones. It’s hard to believe now, but I bought that book in 1996, twenty years ago. In the meantime, George R.R. Martin’s epic series has expanded from four books to seven and severely lost its way over the last two books. If you had asked me twenty years ago about the future of those books, I never would have believed that a television show could be even be attempted from them. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that a television show would be made that could garner twenty-three Emmy nominations in its sixth season, pass the unfinished books with nary a pause and gain nearly universal acclaim. And yet, here we are.
In its sixth season, GoT finally lapped the books, leaving readers and watchers on the same uncertain footing. Amazingly, the quality of the season was equal to the best the show has ever done. Episode ten’s opening scene of the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, set to a moody piano and cello score and with almost no dialogue for seven full minutes may be the most ambitious thing a show, noted for its ambition, has ever done. The penultimate Battle of the Bastards lived up to its name and then some. With its brilliant writing, directing and casting (including a bravura one episode turn by Ian McShane), Season six was by turns heartbreaking, cruel, manipulative, shocking and brilliant, and cemented GoT’s place as one of the great series in television history. –Bill Foster
4) The Night Of
HBO’s The Night Of is one of the more intelligently beautiful works of television art in the past decade. The success of Richard Price (The Wire) and Steve Zaillian’s (Schindler’s List) brilliant adaptation of the British series Criminal Justice, begins with its relevant and gripping story. Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) plays a naive Pakistani-American college student living in Queens, who is charged with the murder of a young woman. Naz serves as our guide through the perils of awaiting trial in prison, the complications of the criminal justice system, and being a Muslim in America. Naz’s luck finds him with his lawyer, John Stone (John Turturro), a role previously filled by James Gandolfini, and after his death, Robert De Niro. Turturro makes a strong case for his name to be just as common, delivering a career performance with contagious emotion.
However, The Night Of excels most in the ability to tell a story, with a genuine cast, about real issues, in a way that consumes the viewer both emotionally and intelligently. The series reminds us that in the midst of law and order, right and wrong, clarity and confusion, life continues for everyone involved. The simple, yet carefully constructed emotional connection to each character is instant. There is an underdog to root for. There is someone just trying to do their job the best way they know. There are good people forced to do bad things. There are parents suffering for their child. Everyone will see some part of themselves in these characters, and television has always been at its greatest when we leave thinking about our own lives and the world around us. Many shows try to do this, but The Night Of makes it look simple, making it one of the best seasons of television we’ve ever seen. –Matt Miller
3) Stranger Things
As with many Netflix original series, the word of Stranger Things spread quickly, as we were introduced to a science fiction world where reality and fantasy seem to meet their perfect match. In this sense, it is much like The X-Files, rooted in reality, with sometimes overly fantastical ideas of monsters and strange dimensions. But Strangers Things is more than that. It’s a tribute to the 80s genre that inspired films to come, capped off with an amazing soundtrack to accompany. After a young boy disappears from a small town in Indiana, we are introduced to other dimensions, government experiments and conspiracies, and supernatural forces. The young actors in the show are what truly put it over the top. Millie Bobby Brown is fantastic as a young girl, named Eleven, with amazing abilities, held as an experiment for years. The other boys in the series have an impressive dynamic, with each bringing unique personalities intricate to the story. Stranger Things explored a world unknown to everyone. Where intelligent young kids, a weird little girl, a strong-willed cop and a wacky but loving mom open up more than they can handle, and handle it just fine. It’s a story of hope and optimism even when everything is terrifying. There is only speculation on some unanswered questions that remain. In a year of strong science fiction (Westworld, Arrival, Midnight Special), this show presented an idea of unity and toughness in the face of adversity. It was a show for the underdog, with a little nostalgia thrown in. –Matt Miller
Donald Glover’s new series Atlanta will challenge your perceptions of the world. Atlanta tries to explain to the world what its like to be black in America. As you might guess, that doesn’t come without some uncomfortable moments. Episode 1 sets the tone when Glover’s character, Earn, meets a white guy who uses the N-word around him, but won’t around his tougher looking friends. The unease and surprise built into Atlanta is exactly what makes it such a powerful show. It’s not just a show for some, though. It’s a drama and comedy at the same time, and more than anything it shows us that we are not so different after all. –Zac Fallon
Based on the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton, the science fiction western thriller, Westworld, arrived in new form on HBO with directors Jonathan Nolan, J.J. Abrams and an impressive cast leading the way. Westworld is a western-themed amusement park, filled with synthetic androids called “hosts”, while humans, or “guests”, enter the park for different reasons. The show captivates immediately with intense intrigue and unexpected turns guiding each moment. The story is like a maze, with layers upon layers that require attention and understanding. As the show bounces between the park and those who run it, the understanding of reality and human capability is discovered through memorable characters. Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris are evidence that television has caught up to film, delivering near perfect roles in critical, yet puzzling and different, leading roles. Evan Rachel Wood’s portrayal of a “host” is gripping, and Thandie Newton delivers a career-defining performance. Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, and the rest of the cast bring a story rooted in fantasy to life, and bring us a brand new perspective on who we are, and what we are capable of.
It’s not just the writing, or the directing, or the acting. The show is visually stunning, action packed, and nail biting. The show created speculation and excitement, enticing viewers to dive into a strange world, to try to understand it, and perhaps explore their own idea of consciousness. Westworld currently ranks as the most watched first season of an HBO original series ever. Take a second to think of all the other shows that have premiered in the history of the network. It’s an amazing feat, gaining Westworld ten more episodes to premiere in 2018. Although we have some idea of what next season may hold, Nolan and company have their work cut out for them to meet the success of season one, which earns BLANK’s top television show of 2016. –Matt Miller