- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Tumblr
Having given up trying to argue the pointlessness of top 10 lists in the Platinum Age of Television, I posit another new reality to glom onto, and this one is strangely comforting: It's impossible not only to watch every scripted series out there, but to watch every episode of the ones you actually manage to watch.
As strange as it feels — especially since November and December have historically been months where TV critics were frantically trying to watch everything they missed before preparing their Year-End Best-Of lists — there's also comfort giving in to the impossible. I can make my lists with the caveat that these are the best series that I saw. Perhaps some truly great series won't be on the list because I never had the chance to see them. Apologies in advance for that, but for every TV critic I know, this is the new reality.
I can't remember doing a mere top 10 list (though I have done them as a participant in someone else's poll). Even a short look back at THR found me doing 15 dramas and 15 comedies in 2012 (ah, the good old days when you could whittle the year-end list down to 30!).
In 2013, I grappled with the uneven playing field of cable and network, separating my lists into best cable dramas (20 of them), network-only dramas (11) and then best comedies (a combined 17 because, as I reasoned then, network comedies were as good or better than cable comedies so they could compete together). Yeah, it was ungainly, but the sheer volume of excellent television was out of control and making me crazy.
In 2014, I went back to combining the best cable series of the year (a staggering 31 of them) and a separate list of network-only shows (17 total). I've stuck with that formula because networks really are playing a different game — being forced to appeal to the masses often short-circuits the ability to invest in a kookily creative niche show. For me, 2015 was Peak TV insanity (or so I thought then), when I tried to watch everything and created a list of 46 exceptionally deserving cable series and 16 network-only shows.
Exacting and fun — but also exhausting. I'm not Kimmy Schmidt. I was broken. And then 2016 came. When the final totals are counted, we're likely to have 500 scripted series that aired this year. Sometimes you just have to let go. With fellow critic Dan Fienberg also plowing through shows, I still managed to miss (or didn't watch enough episodes of) potentially worthy candidates like Easy, Lady Dynamite, Love and The Crown on Netflix, Quarry on Cinemax, Goliath on Amazon, Queen Sugar on OWN, Underground on WGN, the O.J. Simpson documentary on ESPN and, probably, a lot of others. Not all of them were ever going to be considered for anyone's Top Whatever list, but certainly some of them were.
But that's the TV critic's new reality.
A lot of longtime favorite shows fell into that "Oh, I can watch these any time" pile —It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park, etc. — while some very good shows that I like ended up in a far bigger category called "I started to watch these and then didn't finish because life happened," so I'll list just a few in Halt and Catch Fire, Transparent, Outlander, One Mississippi, Red Oaks, Penny Dreadful, The Flash, Arrow, Narcos, Mozart in the Jungle, etc.
I will get to them. But will any of us get to everything? I still watched an insane amount of television. Countless hours. Unlike movie critics, who watch what's often less than a two-hour movie and then move on, TV critics try to watch as many episodes of as many shows as humanly possible, which isn't really possible.
I managed to create two very thorough lists (38 for cable, which I categorize as the best shows on television, and another, upcoming, 13 for network), but I still feel the need to say sorry to those I missed. So — sorry. Here then, as promised above, the best shows of 2016 that I watched.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day