Trying to stem the tide of new and returning shows is impossible. There will always be so many shows that I wanted to watch but didn’t have the time for. So here are my top 10, with an expanded Honorable Mentions and Comedy section coming soon.
10. Legion (FX)
After a messy and bloated Season 2, Noah Hawley’s excellent X-Men adjacent story righted the ship to end its run. The show was as trippy as ever, including an entire episode dedicated to a retelling of the Big Bad Wolf legend. Yet the focus remained on an undeniable truth: You can’t change the past, no matter how hard you try.
Standout episodes: “Chapter 20,” “Chapter 22,” “Chapter 27”
9. Veep (HBO)
A stellar end to one of the most deeply cynical shows to ever air, the last season made sure to remind us how deeply awful each of its characters are. And with such a deep bench of incredible comedians, that took some doing. Only this show would include a line like, “Hit me up on Venmo if you wanna go halvsies on the abortion.”
Standout episodes: “Pledge,” “Super Tuesday,” “Veep”
8. Russian Doll (Netflix)
Airing in February, this feels like it ran a lifetime ago. But this razor-sharp series from Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler and its fiery creative force Natasha Lyonne will be remembered for a long time. Reveling in a less luxurious part of New York, it brought us completely into the headspace of its deeply messed-up protagonist. It’s also one of the few Netflix shows to use the binge model to its advantage.
Standout episodes: “Superiority Complex,” “The Way Out, “Ariadne”
7. The Good Place (NBC)
Every time in the later seasons when it seems like the show has lost its way, it reveals where it’s going and all our second-guessing turns out to be wrong. There’s no denying that its current fourth season is its weakest, but it’s still deeper, warmer and funnier than almost any show on TV.
Standout episodes: “Pandemonium,” “Help Is Other People,” “The Answer”
6. Mindhunter (Netflix)
While the first season – which I finally caught this year – was solid and creepy, it went up a level in Season 2. Holt McCallany cemented his status as the best weary middle-aged guy on television, giving way to a deep reservoir of emotion as he learned his own son was involved in a murder. And then to close out the season, Carl Franklin took over, giving us a four-hour look into the hunt for the Atlanta Monster, never neglecting the grassroots activism it took for the FBI to even pay attention, the distrust of local law enforcement, and the anticlimactic feeling when the main suspect was caught.
Standout episodes: “Episode 2,” “Episode 4,” “Episode 9”
5. Chernobyl (HBO)
Never judge a book by its cover, or a writer by his first dozen projects. Craig Mazin had never written anything particularly good in his life, and had also written some especially awful movies to boot. But in seizing the reins of this project – the historical specifics of which are unknown to the vast majority of Americans – he made absolutely riveting television. He could have easily glossed over a lot of details, or embellished a lot for dramatic effect. Instead, he tried to be as accurate as possible, delivering a horrifying story of negligence, incompetence, bureaucracy and secrecy.
4. Schitt’s Creek (Pop)
I watched every single episode of this delightful show this year, and few things brought me as much joy as spending time with the Rose family and the quirky denizens of the titular town. The show got better every single season, with this penultimate batch of episodes delivering one of the most heartfelt proposals in the history of sitcoms, and one of the most moving musical numbers, too.
Standout episodes: “Housewarming,” “The Hospies,” “The Hike”
3. Barry (HBO)
If last season proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Barry is a bad guy, this season showed us how he got that way. When it seemed like he was finally going to have to face consequences for his actions, the show delivered an absolutely absurd twist that led to one of the most bonkers half-hours of TV ever. But it really delivered a gut-punch when Gene learned the awful truth. That it did all this, and gave Sarah Goldberg a true arc with real dramatic stakes, made it very close to being my No. 1 show again.
Standout episodes: “What?!,” “ronny/lily,” “The Audition”
2. Watchmen (HBO)
Damon Lindelof, you absolute madman. There were approximately 8,000 ways this show could have gone wrong, and it went right every single time. As a sequel to one of the greatest pieces of Western literature of the 20th Century, this was a major risk, and it absolutely paid off. Its incredible cast kept you engaged and kept you guessing. Its writing slaughtered sacred cows, honored victims of the past, brought us into the future and ended on an absolutely perfect note. I would love to see this creative team unleashed again, but it may be better to leave well enough alone.
Standout episodes: “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice,” “She Was Killed by Space Junk,” “This Extraordinary Being”
1. Fleabag (Prime)
The first season was a stellar dark comedy. The second season is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is even sharper, and her character has grown, even as her family has regressed. Her would-be romance with a priest (a dynamite Andrew Scott) revealed so much about relationships in such a brief amount of time that I’m still floored and a little choked up by it.
Standout episodes: “Episode 1,” “Episode 4,” “Episode 6”
VICTIM OF PEAK TV
The Tick (Season 2)
TOO HARD TO WATCH
Orange Is the New Black (Season 7)
My wife and I only made it three episodes into the final season before having to abandon it, as it took two of our characters out of Litchfield and placed them into an immigrant detention center. It mirrored the horrors of the nightly news so much that it became too painful to see it on our escape from it as well.
DIDN’T GET AROUND TO WATCHING BUT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE LOVED
The Act (Hulu)
Black Earth Rising (Netflix)
Dead to Me (Netflix)
Godfather of Harlem (Epix)
Good Omens (Prime)
His Dark Materials (HBO)
The Loudest Voice (Showtime)
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
Mrs. Fletcher (HBO)
On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime)
The Other Two (Comedy Central)
State of the Union (Sundance)
Too Old to Die Young (Prime)
When They See Us (Netflix)
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Work in Progress (Showtime)