Tim Goodman: The Best Network TV of 2016

8:00 AM 12/18/2016

by Tim Goodman

THR's chief TV critic ranks his 13 favorite network shows, which include a magical musical-comedy, a heart-tugging rookie drama and two late-night standouts.

'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' and 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'
'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' and 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

Everything that I said in my Best TV of 2016 piece earlier in the week applies here, but the quick take is that yes, I believe network television is playing on a different field than cable and streaming.

I still believe broadcast networks are churning out great comedies, and they dominate this list. I'm less interested in the dramas, because, frankly, most can't compete qualitatively with the best of what cable and streaming services offer. Whether it's because they have to pander to a mass audience, conform to wince-inducing FCC restrictions or pad their seasons with 22 episodes, dramas almost never end up in the first tier when weighed against Platinum Age cable and streaming offerings.

The time crunch critics (and viewers) face had a negative impact on my network viewing habits. Though I still watch a few of the "just entertain me" gems I had on the list last year, like CBS's Elementary and NBC's The Blacklist, I didn't follow full seasons (well, technically they are still on the DVR) — and since I was just sampling, they couldn't in fairness make the list. The same applies to The Flash, Arrow, and Gotham, all series I endorse but now visit more than inhabit. That said, there was plenty to like on the network side, including some invigorating new blood.

  1. 13
    13

    This Is Us

    NBC

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    In the spirit of Parenthood, there should definitely be a place on television for a drama that unapologetically tries to pull (OK, yank) your heart-strings. Broadcast networks are the perfect home for wide swings of emotion and wow, does This Is Us believe in that (though I may not believe so much in the show's time gimmick, which isn't really necessary, but still).

  2. 12
    13

    The Good Place

    NBC

    It was far too short but it was very funny — and straight-up silly and good-natured and infectious. Michael Schur knows what he's doing and Kristen Bell is the best as usual. A lovely rookie.

  3. 11
    13

    The Goldbergs

    ABC

    Kelsey McNeal/ABC

    I'll be honest: I take some network comedies for granted. I record them every week. They pile up (and up — it's crazy-making how many episodes broadcast needs….I just can't). Then one night I go on a binge. I love the '80s and so I love The Goldbergs, another fine example of a comedy that doesn't get nearly enough credit for how great it is.

  4. 10
    13

    Speechless

    ABC

    Along with The Good Place, ABC's Speechless was the standout of freshman comedies. It has heart, a point of view, a nice mixture of hilarious and sweet humor and a fine cast. This could have been "the disability show" that you were supposed to root for just because; what it quickly became is a standout.

  5. 9
    13

    Fresh Off the Boat

    ABC

    Courtesy of Michael Ansell/ABC

    The stages I go through with Fresh Off the Boat are, in order: 1) Wow, I love Constance Wu so much it's probably wrong. 2) I should finally write that full appreciation column on the wonders of Randall Park. 3) When is the Grandma Huang spin-off? 4) I should stop letting unwatched episodes of this show stack up (you see the trend) and just watch.

  6. 8
    13

    Late Night with Seth Meyers

    NBC

    Lloyd Bishop/NBC

    While John Oliver and Samantha Bee are (rightly) getting a ton of attention for their political eviscerations, it's Meyers who has the sharpest tongue on the network side. He elevated not only his show but his status with his strongest year yet behind the desk.

  7. 7
    13

    You, Me and the Apocalypse

    NBC

    Courtesy of Ed Miller/WTTV Productions Limited

    Totally unexpected. Out of nowhere. Hilarious. Gone, but not forgotten, and I would love more ambitious fare like this from networks, even if it might cut into their pile of cash. This show was boldly original.

  8. 6
    13

    Jimmy Kimmel Live!

    ABC

    Randy Holmes/ABC

    He's the king of late night when it comes to quality. He did a bit of politics as needed and held his own, but Kimmel's strong suit is putting out a show that is always funny, inspired on a daily basis and looks like everyone involved is having a blast. It is relentlessly entertaining. Not bad for a guy who only eats like twice every seven days.

  9. 5
    13

    Black-ish

    ABC

    Courtesy of ABC

    Here's the rare sitcom that's like a car racing off the line and shifting gears upward. It has improved every season, which is the evolution you want, but also a tricky feat to pull off. Black-ish deftly mixes family comedy with social issues and topicality. It continues to feel invigorated, which is harder than you might imagine with high episode counts. Also, this is the point where we say, nice job all around in comedy, ABC.

  10. 4
    13

    Bob's Burgers

    Fox

    Courtesy of FOX

    No show throws absurdity, ridiculousness, sight gags, tossed-off one-liners and sweetness into a blender like Bob's Burgers. As episodes of various series stack up on the DVRs, the easiest watch for me, the show that opens the gate to just doing it and catching up with hours of overdue television, is this one. (Professionally: Thank you for the help, BB). It goes by too quickly and it always reminds me how lovingly crafted it is.

  11. 3
    13

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Fox

    John P Fleenor/FOX

    OK, what? How is this series seemingly getting better and weirder and more creative each week? The cast, the show's writers and the series itself is network television's most underrated. It's always frustrating and mystifying talking to people about Brooklyn Nine-Nine when they say they've never seen it. What kind of world are we living in? How about making it your New Year's resolution to watch? (Catch up now on Hulu.) Also, Andre Braugher should have a statue. Like, in every city, but definitely Los Angeles.

  12. 2
    13

    Jane the Virgin

    The CW

    The CW

    One recipe for success at the network level, as proved by Jane, is combining humor, a sense of inventiveness and skill at balancing some crazy tonal shifts. My only wish, as before, is that Jane the Virgin had a cable-like episode order (and yes, I know, that's not cemented yet as a feasible network idea). But barely into the beginning of its third season, Jane has 51 episodes and counting — the equivalent of FIVE SEASONS of Game of Thrones. All I can say is, hang on and do your best, because you're worth it.

  13. 1
    13

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    The CW

    Greg Gayne/The CW

    If you haven't figured out that Rachel Bloom is a national treasure yet, well, give it time. (For my money so is Adam Schlesinger, but I'm a longtime Fountains Of Wayne fan.) The nuttiness of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend makes it easy to forget that at its heart the show is more than brilliant songs and musical numbers — it's also a comedy with more than a few serious overtones. In relative (and frustrating) obscurity, this show is doing what no other show on TV is doing and that alone is reason enough to check it out (catch up now on Netflix). This show is an example of American ingenuity — and magic, I think.

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