Now that we’re approaching the end, I think most of us can agree 2016 was a horrible, horrible year. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, 2016 saw the world become more fractured, many great faces departing this world, and just a whole lot of misery. It’s at times like these where we need entertainment the most as a shelter from reality, and in that aspect 2016 succeeded. So here are 10 great TV shows I took refuge in within the past 12 months.
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Admittedly, I was initially a bit cynical about Kimmy Schmidt, having found the last several seasons of 30 Rock to be dull and never growing to Elle Kemper’s character in The Office. But the first season was an absolute delight and the show only developed more in its sophomore year.
- The Night Of (HBO)
HBO’s latest miniseries offering is certainly far from flawless; its ending in particular feels clumsily written and susceptible to clichés. But anchored by two strong performances by John Turturro and Riz Ahmed, The Night Of was one of 2016’s most thoroughly compelling stories that provided an increasingly relevant take on cultural and racial anxiety in America.
- Stranger Things (Netflix)
No TV show gained more buzz this past summer than Stranger Things and for a good reason. An ode to Stephen King, John Carpenter, and other 80’s pop-culture figures made Stranger Things perhaps the year’s most addicting series.
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
In the “post-truth” era that we unfortunately live in, we need people like John Oliver more than ever. Amidst the insanity that descended upon 2016, be they Trump or Brexit, Oliver provided a stern voice of wisdom and guidance and his thorough takes on subjects ranging from car finance to Chipotle made it perhaps the most educational show on television. That may say something negatively on the current state of TV news but it’s impossible to deny Oliver’s influence.
- Silicon Valley (HBO)
As Pied Piper continues to fumble, Silicon Valley remained thoroughly excellent, and still is one of television’s finest comedies. No other sitcom boasts a funnier ensemble or writing that’s as equally clever as it is raunchy.
- Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
For those of us who miss Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee filled the void with Full Frontal, providing the wildly chaotic 2016 presidential election with a much-needed dose of reason and humor. While I have no idea what the future holds, I’m certain to continue to tune in to Bee’s commentary.
- Veep (HBO)
Speaking of elections, Veep had arguably its finest season yet, even with the departure of creator Armando Iannucci. New showrunner David Mandel (of Seinfeld and Curb fame) continued Selina Meyer’s hectic presidency and troubled election, further enlightening viewer on the absurdity of D.C. politics. It’s hard to imagine how Veep could top such an excellent run of episodes, yet the series is one of the few things I eagerly await next year.
- Westworld (HBO)
The much-anticipated show rode upon a hectic production cycle and a number of failed series on HBO. Yet Westworld delivered upon the hype, mashing Sergio Leone and John Ford with Grand Theft Auto and Blade Runner. You can argue about the show’s flaws, but no one can deny the appeal of such spectacle.
- Better Call Saul (AMC)
Better Call Saul’s first season was better than anyone could have ever expected, and in its second season, the Breaking Bad spin-off only continued to grow. Anchored by two magnificent performances from Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks, Saul lives up to Bad’s legacy, a triumph for creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.
- The Americans (FX)
Season by season, episode by episode, no show is more gripping currently than The Americans. In the series’ fourth year, showrunner Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields ramped up the stakes even further, as the Jennings not only struggle to maintain their secrecy but keep their family from falling apart. Nothing comes close on television for being as suspenseful and hypnotic, a testament to the show’s power.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)
South Park* (Comedy Central)
You’re the Worst (FXX)
Show I Still Need To See:
The People vs. O.J. Simpson (FX)
The X-Files** (FOX)
*This would have likely made the cut if the season hadn’t ended on such a sour note, but for the most part, South Park was excellent.
**It pains me to say this, since I’m one of the biggest fans of The X-Files, having enjoyed the last several seasons and even liking I Want to Believe. And while the reboot had some great moments, with two very good episodes (Founder’s Mutation and Home Again) and one great one (Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster) that could have come from the series at its peak, the other three installments were complete disasters, all of which were penned by creator Chris Carter. Not only did the overall alien mythology became more convoluted, but the crass and tasteless stereotyping of Muslims in “Babylon” felt more in place in a Sean Hannity special than The X-Files. Trust me, I wanted to love season 10 more than anyone else, yet it was just a disaster.