This year brought over 400 scripted shows across traditional networks, cable networks and streaming. That’s way too much. So here are the 10 best series I watched from there. If you’re wondering about your favorite show, there will probably be some room next year, as Community, Parks and Rec and Hannibal all got the axe, Fargo won’t return until 2017 and my No. 1 choice is a one-off mini-series. Those are half the slots right there. So check out what did make the cut this year.
10. Community (Yahoo! Screen)
Thanks to an 11th-hour save by Yahoo, Dan Harmon got to give us one last season at Greendale. Like any show this late in the game, some stories and beats felt a little repetitive, and losing yet another cast member (this time Yvette Nicole Brown) stung a little more. But the show still felt like itself, delivering incomparable genre parodies as needed and making sure every episode had the right balance of heart. It also delivered a true series finale that didn’t feel like a placeholder. Class dismissed.
Standout episodes: “Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing,” “Modern Espionage,” “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”
9. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
It’s fifth and sixth seasons weren’t quite as stellar as its third and fourth, but that’s not exactly fair, considering those were two of the best sitcom seasons of the ’00s. But it went out in a blaze of glory in its final season, delivering some of the most heartfelt episodes it’s ever done. That’s nowhere more evident than “Leslie & Ron” which showed the dissolution and repair of the show’s most important relationship. That it did this while finding time to make fart jokes and have a sing-a-long to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” proves why I’ll miss this show dearly.
Standout episodes: “Leslie & Ron,” “Two Funerals,” “One Last Ride”
8. Silicon Valley (HBO)
This tech-savvy comedy took a leap in Season Two, as the bros behind Pied Piper tried to find new investors and sponsorships for their official launch. Sadly, most of those folks were terrible, terrible people. After all their blunders, they found themselves in a two-part courtroom showdown with Hooli. The outcome prompted a hasty decision from Richard, which made for the most nail-biting finale of any show on TV this year.
Standout episodes: “The Lady,” “Binding Arbitration,” “Two Days of the Condor”
7. Veep (HBO)
It was a huge paradox: the addition of Hugh Laurie as Selina’s running-mate was a breath of fresh air, despite all the episodes he starred in being the weakest of this season. But there’s still no quicker, bluntly hilarious show on TV. It even found a little bit of heart in some of the scenes between Selina and Gary. And now, some of Jonah’s nicknames: Jizzy Gillespie, One Erection, Scrotum Pole and Supercalifragilisticexpialadickcheese.
Standout episodes: “Joint Session,” “East Wing,” “Testimony”
6. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
There’s simply no better comedy on TV – that may seem to be a lie given my next pick, but No. 5 is better lumped with most modern half-hours: occasionally uproarious but often more dramatic than a typical sitcom – as it masters workplace comedy and romantic comedy, and finds new and winning pairings for each of its characters. The return of the Vulture meant the return of one of the best recurring characters on any comedy, with Dean Winters wonderfully incompetent, sexist boss taking over as captain for a few episodes. But really, we got to see Peralta and Santiago finally get together, but didn’t make life smooth sailing for them either. And no, I haven’t even brought up living legend Andre Braugher as Holt, who is simply one of the best characters on TV.
Standout episodes: “Captain Peralta,” “Johnny and Dora,” “Yippie Kayak”
5. Master of None (Netflix)
It’s hard to remember seeing a show this confident right out of the gate, but Aziz Ansari has pulled it off. Taking bits from his own book Modern Romance and ridiculous ideas from his late friend Harris Witless, Ansari has constructed a show that hits on just about everything affecting Millenials (especially racial minorities, specifically children of immigrants) and makes it something fresh and exciting. While Master of None did feature some of the funniest scenes on TV this year, many episodes contained only a handful of laughs. And that’s intentional. While he may be a stand-up, Ansari is after something a lot deeper here, and he completely pulls it off. With that somewhat shocking finale, I’m excited to see where the show takes him next.
Standout episodes: “Parents,” “Indians on TV,” “Finale”
4. Hannibal (NBC)
Split into two halves, the final season of Hannibal sometimes felt like two different shows with the same cast. And that wasn’t a bad thing. The first seven episodes deal with trying to lure Hannibal out of his Italian hideaway to face extradition back to the United States. But like with anything on this show, that’s only part of it. Its handful of directors pushed the show into a more surreal, pulpy direction, with multiple femmes fatales, a lesbian romance and subtle winks to Ridley Scott’s 2001 film. But the final six were even better, as they try to find the Tooth Fairy (Richard Armitage) in what I will now say is the definitive adaptation of Red Dragon (and this is someone who likes both film versions). While I would have loved a fourth season (even only six episodes), they really ended it as best they could, with Will and Hannibal dying(?) in each other’s arms. Regardless, I wouldn’t be surprised if we somehow see these characters again a few years down the road.
Standout episodes: “Contorno,” “The Number of the Beast is 666,” “The Wrath of the Lamb”
3. The Americans (FX)
Losing a half-step from Season Two is nothing to be ashamed of. Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields started spinning a lot of plates that won’t be resolved until Season Four or later, and that’s fine. We hadn’t heard of Philip’s son since Season One, and his mere mention set off a string of emotional consequences. But Season Three was terrific in its own right, with Philip having to stay true to his undercover identity (as a tobacco lobbyist) while having to fight off the advances of the teenage daughter of the man he’s spying on. And Elizabeth wondering if she’s crossed an uncrossable line by forcing an older woman who saw them breaking in to kill herself. And this is on top of Paige’s eternal conflict of knowing her parents’ secret.
Standout episodes: “Salang Pass,” “Walter Taffet,” “Stingers”
2. Fargo (FX)
Even better than its terrific debut season, this iteration of Fargo was very close to being my No. 1 show this year. Shifting the action to 1979, Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) gets in over his head after a mob turf war spins out of control. And that was just the tip of the acting iceberg, as Kirsten Dunst gave her best performance to date as an ambitious but ditzy hairdresser. Jean Smart played a principled mafia boss and Nick Offerman showed up in a few episodes as a conspiracy theorist and drunk, who also happened to be the town’s whip-smart public defender. But it was really Bokeem Woodbine, as the poetry-quoting enforcer, who turned a role written for “an older Italian fella” into a smooth-as-silk bone-breaker. Season 3 will jump back toward present day, and it can’t get here soon enough.
Standout episodes: “The Myth of Sisyphus,” “Rhinoceros,” “Loplop”
1. Show Me a Hero (HBO)
Writers William F. Forzi and David Simon (The Wire) teamed with director Paul Haggis (Crash) to deliver the best, most heart-wrenching show of the year. Show Me a Hero tells the story of Nick Wasicscko (a tremendous Oscar Isaac), the young Yonkers mayor – and youngest-ever mayor of a major city – who tries to put the town’s ugly racial past behind it by enforcing a federal mandate to build low-income (black) housing on the affluent (white) side of town. Despite taking place in the ’80s and ’90s, and featuring a soundtrack of mostly Bruce Springsteen songs, no show felt more timely, as cities across this nation – and even the nation itself at times – cries out, “Not in my backyard!” As was proven time and again in The Wire, doing the right thing is always the hardest thing, and even if you succeed, you fail. It may sound depressing, and it often is, but this six-part miniseries was the richest time I spent watching TV this year.
Shows I Didn’t Get Around to Watching, but Probably Would Have Loved:
Ash vs. Evil Dead (Starz)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Blunt Talk (Starz)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Difficult People (Hulu)
Documentary Now! (IFC)
Fresh off the Boat (ABC)
The Grinder (Fox)
Jessica Jones (Netflix)
The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
The Jinx (HBO)
Making a Murderer (Netflix)
The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
Mr. Robot (USA)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)