There are a lot of TV shows on air right now—over 400. That means that the only people capable of watching all of them wouldn’t have the time to write up an end-of-year top 10 list of the best shows that aired in 2016, lest they miss one. This means that the idea of a “best” TV show becomes more meaningless as the people writing these lists become less qualified to do so. How can you say “Game of Thrones” or “Stranger Things” is the best show on TV when you haven’t seen “Take My Wife”?
Don’t think of this as a definitive list of the ten best shows TV has to offer, but rather a list of recommendations. With so much TV on the air right now, your all-time favorite show might have slipped past you while you were binging “Westworld”—heck, you might have missed “Westworld.” Hopefully, you’ll find something you dig below.
10. “The Crown” (Netflix)
The richest element of this historical drama isn’t the immaculately curated sets or props, but the relationships built around and compromised by becoming queen. Focused on the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign over the United Kingdom, “The Crown” is a sophisticated and well-acted take on the rise into a position of power. Not just for the queen, but for her family and the government she works with. Rolling with both the missteps and the progress, “The Crown” is fascinating and addictive.
Season 1 available on Netflix
9. “Halt and Catch Fire” (AMC)
Although no one is watching it, the ‘80s-set tech drama has steadily evolved over its three seasons into a mediation on friendship, the limits of genius and how resentment can destroy you. Its third season was its most ambitious yet, taking massive narrative leaps in service of those three elements. Simultaneously coming out with thematic riches as the main ensemble, characters variously come together, drift apart, implode and finds themselves renewed as loyalties change and relationships collapse. It wasn’t always clean, but “Halt and Catch Fire” is always rewarding.
Seasons 1 and 2 available on Netflix
7. and 8. “Catastrophe” (Amazon) and”Fleabag” (Amazon)
Amazon features plenty of original programming to watch, but its best shows are these two English imports that spin familiar comedic tropes. Firstly, an accidental pregnancy jump-starting a relationship between a one-night stand for “Catastrophe.” Secondly, with “Fleabag” we follow a selfish, motor-mouthed twenty-something constantly narrating her own adventures into unexpected directions. The emotional weight packed into these shows is impressive, as is the raw, hysterical banter delivered by its writers/stars. Both shows’ seasons only last six episodes, which makes “Catastrophe” and “Fleabag” the perfect shows to binge on a dull weekend.
Both series’ complete runs are available on Amazon Prime
6. “Horace and Pete” (louisck.net)
Released from his website with no prior announcement, comedian Louis C.K. intrigued many people with his miniseries, “Horace and Pete.” With tremendous performances from an impressive cast that included Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange and a stunning Alan Alda, “Horace and Pete” told the story of a family’s toxic history in relation to their bar. Unintentionally, it has become a reflection of the dissonant state America appears to be in right now. Its embrace of classical theatrical elements made it singular in 2016, not to mention devastating.
The series’ complete run is available on Hulu
5. “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX)
If “Horace and Pete” is the miniseries that reflects America, “American Crime Story” is the one that captures its attention. This is not a recreation of the famous O.J. Simpson murder trial that dominated the media and the nation in the mid-nineties. “Crime Story” rewrote the public perception of its chief operatives by delving into their personal lives behind the stereotypes. Of course, none of it would have worked if it hadn’t been for the mesmerizing performances by its rightfully Emmy-winning cast. With them, “American Crime Story” was elevated from docudrama into searing drama.
The series’ complete run will be available on Netflix in early 2017
4. “Steven Universe” (Cartoon Network)
Don’t let its status as a kid’s show deter you: “Steven Universe” is one of the funniest, resonant, action-packed shows on TV. From a deep understanding of its characters to mature, long-running story-arcs to a stellar range of stylistic diversity, “Steven Universe” is also incredibly progressive in relation to gender identity and sexuality. Similarly, it’s one of the kindest shows on TV. There are complex moral lessons that promote both compassion and empathy. All this in eleven-minute episodes, so don’t say it’s a just kid’s show—“Steven Universe” is high art.
Seasons 1 and 2 available on Hulu
3. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (The CW)
With strong, zippy plotting organizing each episode at an efficient pace, and a tour-de-force performance from star/co-creator Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is far-too-often overlooked. From its flights of fancy into well-crafted musical comedy, to a comedic consistency that manages to last a whole hour instead of half of one—not to mention a cast where all its members can adeptly shift from zany and loopy to straight-man effectively—“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is brimming with eclectic elements that make it a tough match in terms of quality.
Season 1 available on Netflix
2. “The Americans” (FX)
When time passes, people will regret missing out on “The Americans.” This soviet-spy period piece doubles as a family drama and an introspective dive into who we really are beneath the various roles we play. It didn’t surprise loyal fans when it managed to top its unparalleled creative heights in the fourth season. As the series gets deeper into its run—and the secrets harbored by its characters become more exposed—the show figures out in real time how to improve its writing, direction and acting to befit the advancement in narrative stakes. Remember how stunned you were by “Breaking Bad”? “The Americans” is here to fill that hole.
Seasons 1-3 available on Amazon Prime
1. “Atlanta” (FX)
“Atlanta” doesn’t follow the rules. It doesn’t conform to a stable narrative structure, it doesn’t prioritize certain themes and it doesn’t remain content to side with the realistic or the surreal. Nevertheless, it created the most satisfying, understated story-arc on TV this year. In just ten episodes, creator/star/writer/director Donald Glover kept audiences on the edge about what this series, ostensibly about a struggling hip hop manager’s quest for success, was capable of. Each episode invited the possibility that it might be different from every other one, even as it felt akin to a greater message. Every character had the distinction of a rich inner life, no matter how small the part. It brought a specific perspective on African-American culture in a world where they’re underrepresented, and criticized audiences for not understanding. “Atlanta” is completely original, and because of this it produced something TV has never seen before.
Season 1 available on FX Network