These were my 10 favorite shows of 2016:
1. “Atlanta” (Season 1, FX) – Donald Glover’s brainchild is a crazy mix of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-esque wry observations (Earn’s inability to order a kids’ meal), envelope-pushing storytelling choices (the pundit roundtable parody) and outright horrific violence (Earn witnesses a murder, then moves on like it’s just another day in the ATL). It comes together as an on-point – albeit still crazy — portrait of being a dead-broke young adult on the backstreets of a collapsing American city.
2. “This Is Us” (Season 1, NBC) – Like everyone, I was hooked by the pilot episode that revealed the show’s secret conceit while giving it extra dimension: It’s not merely a show about 36-year-olds, but rather of two generations of adults — the parents in 1980 (and various other points on the timeline) and the children in 2016. Boosted by the innovative structure and spot-on period decor, it has become the most Kleenex-worthy show since “Parenthood,” with the dad’s (Milo Ventimiglia) inspiring pep talks to his kids consistently drawing waterworks.
3. “Bates Motel” (Season 4, A&E) – No longer suspensefully building toward something, this “Psycho” pre-make arrives at a pivot point when Norman (Freddie Highmore) kills Norma (Vera Farmiga). The sight of Nora’s corpse lying on the couch is the most harrowing image of that sort since Buffy’s mom died in “The Body.” It leaves us with a compelling question for next season: How will Norman move forward, both in terms of avoiding legal attention and in terms of functioning without his mother?
4. “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” (Netflix) – This series of four 90-minute-or-so episodes strikes the right notes as it welcomes us back to Stars Hollow, while also being a stunning logistical accomplishment (EVERYONE comes back, at least for a pop-in). Luke (Scott Patterson) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) have found their rhythm, Lorelia and Emily (Kelly Bishop) are close to a breakthrough reconciliation after Richard’s death, and – most interestingly – Rory (Alexis Bledel) is struggling mightily in her work life and love life.
5. “The X-Files: The Event Series” (Fox) – Darin Morgan’s “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” – about a monster turning into a man – is my favorite “X-Files” episode ever, and the other five entries are of high quality, too. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson effortlessly slip back into their iconic roles, while new X-Files agents Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) and Miller (Robbie Amell) provide hope that the series will continue even if the stars want to recede from the spotlight (a hope that seems to be at a low ebb as the year comes to an end).
6. “Gotham” (Seasons 2-3, Fox) – While some liberties have been taken with character arcs (for example, Ivy’s sudden aging is an entirely new thing), this is a stylistically faithful prequel to the “Batman” lore with its sumptuous pans across Gotham and delicious scenery-chewing by Ben McKenzie as Detective Gordon. Like clockwork, it gives us fresh takes on villains like Mr. Freeze and the Mad Hatter, who have never before looked so good in live-action.
7. “iZombie” (Season 2, The CW) – A fun and colorful show from the start, Rob Thomas’ best series since “Veronica Mars” gets confident in its mythology storytelling in its sophomore year without losing its focus on chipper-despite-it-all title character Liv (Rose McIver). The season finale unveiled another level of winky humor as the OTHER Rob Thomas (the singer) gets ripped apart by zombies.
8. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (Seasons 1-2, The CW) – The most ambitious show on TV, Rachel Bloom’s pet project – my No. 1 show of 2015 – lost steam early in the year, but found its second wind with the casting of “Pitch Perfect’s” Brittany Snow as Josh’s (Vincent Rodriguez III) girlfriend, who breaks onto the scene with the internet rabbit hole parody “Research Me Obsessively.” It also smartly gave more attention to laconic Heather (Vella Lovell) and has hinted it might do the same with Rebecca’s constantly stepped-on coworker Maya (Esther Povitsky).
9. “Scream: The TV Series” (Season 2, MTV) – I don’t think there’s been another show that improved so drastically between its first two seasons. After barely staying on my viewing schedule last year, “Scream” became my must-see summer mystery – perfect for watching with the lights out and then firing up the IMDB chat threads to read fan theories about whodunit. The turnaround was sparked by a cast of characters – particularly lead heroine Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) – who go against the genre stereotype and stand up for themselves; in one notable scene, Emma pushes Ghostface through a window rather than fleeing in terror.
10. “The Fall” (Season 3, Netflix) – After Paul’s (Jamie Dornan) murder spree in Season 1 and Stella’s (Gillian Anderson) pursuit and capture of him in Season 2, the final season of the Paul Spector arc marinates in the killer’s psychology, with juicy revelations about how bad experiences can brew together to form a sociopathic murderer. An additional dark layer comes from the way Paul’s very existence drags the people around him – investigator Stella, wife Silly Ann, obsessed teen Katie — into their own depths.
What were your 10 favorite shows of 2016? Share your lists in the comment threads below.