1. This Is Us
I did not expect to fall in love with This Is Us in the way that I did this past fall. Even though only 10 episodes of the new NBC series have aired, viewers are already emotionally attached to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and their three kids, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and Kevin (Justin Hartley). From Jack’s powerful monologues that he delivers to his wife and kids, to Randall’s struggle as an adopted black son in a white family, and, of course, all of the complicated family dynamics in between, This Is Us reminds us all that family is complicated but it’s also inescapable. I may or may not cry at some point during every single episode, and not because I’m being emotionally manipulated by surface-level storylines, but because of actors like Metz, who depicts the difficult struggle of existing in a world that doesn’t accept you for you who are, and Moore, who portrays a mother who’s trying her best but her best isn’t always quite good enough. —Krystie Lee Yandoli
2. RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 2
I watch a lot of bad reality TV — mostly vapid shows with Housewives in the title — but when done right, the genre has the ability to showcase the best humanity has to offer. And no reality show featured more charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent in 2016 than RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.
From the jaw-dropping lip-synch performances that left everyone gagging to the artfully composed sartorial extravaganzas, the second All-Stars season truly featured the best of the best of the best. If you need further proof (or just an excuse to rewatch it again), don’t miss the final four tackling “Read U Wrote U.”
But when the makeup, gowns, and padding come off, that’s when Drag Race conjures up its truest magic; imparting wisdom, strength, and confidence through the journeys charted by the brilliant men behind some of TV’s most fabulous women. —Jarett Wieselman
Atlanta just flows. The series, which was created by and stars Donald Glover, is a sort of luminous surrealist fog. It’s art that is supremely interested in both the everydayness and the inherent strangeness of being human. “I just think we need a chance, as humans, to fail in order to discover what actually works,” Glover’s character, the broke-ass Earn, says in Episode 3. “People don’t think there’s a process to being happy.” It’s one of the best new shows of the year, and chances are you’re going to be hearing about it for many more years to come. Might as well hop on the train now, while its quiet vitality is still new. —Alanna Bennett
The second season of this British series landed on Netflix in November with a revamped name to better match the show’s particular emotional milieu. Because while the original name, Scrotal Recall, fit the concept — a guy finds out he has chlamydia and contacts all of his exes and past sexual partners — the pun didn’t quite grasp what is really going on in this underrated gem of a series. It’s part classic comedy following the hijinks of sexually active twentysomething friends, and part sweet, gentle, and heartrending contemplation of love and friendship. The episodes are short, too, and so are the seasons — perfect for a weekend dip into this warm, funny world and the people who occupy it. —A.B.
5. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
There were a lot of reasons to be excited about television in 2016, but Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was by far at the very top of my list. I grew up watching the original series and found comfort in everything about the fictional world of Stars Hollow, from the adorable town gazebo to the townspeople themselves, and even all of the la las. Not only did I crave the knowledge of where Rory and Lorelai wound up, but I simply wanted to return to the fictional town that’s long felt like home.
A couple of weeks after the presidential election, everyone with a Netflix account (or someone else’s Netflix password) was gifted the ultimate present: reprieve from national politics by way of the Gilmores. Nearly a decade after the original series ended, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino brought fans an incredible revival. Instead of engaging with our families about politics over Thanksgiving weekend, viewers tuned into four 90-minute episodes and fell right back in love with Lorelai, Rory, and Emily Gilmore. Not to mention, Jess Mariano was able to distract us from everything else going on in the world with his dreamy, book-reading presence…and the fact that he’s clearly he’s been hitting the gym. That’s not to say A Year in the Life wasn’t without its highly emotional moments, but all in all it was comforting to go home again. —K.L.Y.
6. The mothers on ABC’s family comedies
Since its debut in 2009, Modern Family has won the Emmy for best comedy five times, but the show’s greatest legacy is actually the innovative wave of family comedies it ushered in at ABC. At no point in recent memory has the network boasted as deep a bench of family-focused sitcoms as it does now; particularly Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Goldbergs, The Real O’Neals, Speechless, and The Middle — six joyous shows that represent a broad swath of America, past and present.
And while each offers a slightly different version of the nuclear family, they’re all led by women anyone would be proud to call “mom.” There’s Wendi McLendon-Covey’s well-meaning but undeniably overbearing Beverly on The Goldbergs, Constance Wu’s proud yet critical Jessica on Fresh Off the Boat, Minnie Driver’s headstrong and assertive Maya on Speechless, Tracee Ellis Ross’s lovingly honest and brilliant Bow on Black-ish, Martha Plimpton’s resolved yet inquisitive Eileen on The Real O’Neals, and Patricia Heaton’s all-seeing Frankie on The Middle.
They’re deeply developed women of humor, complexity, and compassion, whose presence makes this world a slightly less scary place. And what more could you ask for in a mother, TV or otherwise? —J.W.
7. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Sometimes what you need when the problems in your own life are too big and seemingly apocalyptic to grasp is to get wrapped up in other people’s issues for a while. And Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is built for that feeling, from top to bottom. The CW series follows a woman who moved to California’s San Gabriel Valley in pursuit of her coupled-up ex-boyfriend and it dances through her every unhealthy urge with unflinching commitment. At times it’ll make you feel deeply uncomfortable, and it should definitely come with a warning for the massive amounts of secondhand embarrassment it provokes. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is worth it, for its sharp take on antiheroism that actually feels new, and not like a retread of the past decade of TV. —A.B.
In its transfer from CBS to The CW, Supergirl has remained a bright, zippy, entirely enjoyable series fronted by one of TV’s most effortlessly charming actors: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Supergirl. Fans were also gifted with a second, perfectly cast superhero this year when Tyler Hoechlin stepped into the iconic boots of Kara’s cousin, Clark Kent/Superman. It’s a truly inspired pairing of actor and character that has me clamoring for a spin-off.
But the real reason Supergirl earned a spot on this list is because it has, in Season 2, delved into storytelling with real-world implications. There’s been lots of attention — and rightly so — paid to Alex Danvers’ nuanced coming-out story, and actor Chyler Leigh is delivering career-best work through her character’s storyline. Then there’s this year’s sadly prophetic big bad: Project Cadmus, a nefarious organization that aims to eliminate the alien presence from Earth. While racism and xenophobia are particularly problematic right now, it is an indescribable joy to watch so many people, from all walks of life, stand up for what’s right and say, “Not on my watch.” —J.W.
9. Orange Is the New Black
Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black Season is arguably one the darkest yet, and a number of its storylines paralleled important conversations and events that occurred in our real lives, as well. OITNB’s seriousness, however, still managed to serve as a major distraction this year. It was impossible not to get emotionally invested in the well-being of characters like Daya (Dascha Polanco), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne). Plus, watching Poussey (Samira Wiley) and Soso (Kimiko Glenn) fall in love and learn how to be in a relationship together was pretty adorable. Even Judy King (Blair Brown) and Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman) were a hilarious duo. The Netflix series does a great job of balancing its more sobering storylines with laugh-‘til-it-hurts ones through incredibly compelling characters who all have their own unique backstories. PS: Are we EVER going to find out where John Bennett (Matt McGorry) is?! —K.L.Y.
Fleabag is as devastating as it is delightful, as emotionally messy as it is tightly brilliant, and as raucously hilarious as it is dark. Its creator and star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is a voice to watch — and given that she’s already got two series (the other is Crashing) with more on the way, she’ll definitely be a notable influencer in TV. In Fleabag, she plays a woman addled with grief but covering it with bawdy nonchalance. The result is a raw character study fueled by inner anguish and deeply felt humor that will leave you feeling both bolstered and shook. Pair with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for two of the best antiheros TV’s seen in years. —A.B.
11. Madam Secretary
It may seem odd to spotlight a series steeped in politics when discussing shows that provided an escape from the political hellfire of 2016, but all year long Madam Secretary served as a much-needed reminder that capable people in positions of power are our country’s most valuable resource. And when it comes to sweeping speeches about the importance of bipartisan cooperation, compassion, and ethical fortitude, the brilliant woman in front of the camera — Tea Leoni’s secretary of state, Elizabeth McCord — was matched by the brilliant woman behind the scenes — show creator Barbara Hall. Madam Secretary is the closest thing television has to The West Wing at the moment. —J.W.
There’s been clamor for an Issa Rae TV show since her web series Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl premiered in 2011, and five years later, the powers that be finally gave us one. It truly was a gift. Insecure really builds, and burying yourself in a story so artfully invested in the everyday comedy and drama of adulthood is exactly what so many of us could use right now. Rae’s vision was worth the wait, and in some ways, just in time. —A.B.
13. Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin has been a heartwarming delight since day one — and an increasingly necessary one as time’s gone on. The world needs more series that are good at marrying comedy and drama, and Jane’s particular brand of telenovela zaniness lives so wonderfully side-by-side with the rock-solid emotional base the show’s near-perfect first season set up. The writing and performances leave viewers wanting to walk through life with the Villanueva women as they make both the big and small choices that shape them. Whether that’s the decision to reconnect (or remain estranged from) family members, choices around pregnancy, or deliberation over which career path will fit in with their plans for themselves, it all feels vital and affirming. Do yourself a favor and take a walk in their world. —A.B.
After five seasons, Scandal continues to bring viewers joy and distraction. Sure, the show is a Washington, DC-set drama that addresses politics and government head-on, not to mention the level of stress it brings to its invested viewers. But in a lot of ways, Scandal is so far-fetched and consistently dramatic that it’s easy to completely immerse yourself in Olivia Pope’s world, all the while knowing these storylines are entirely fiction and unlikely to occur in real life. There’s plenty going on in this fictional political world that helps us forget all of the drama going down in our very real world, too. Any TV show that inspires me to eat a bowl of popcorn, drink a glass of wine, and completely lose myself in both the grit and the glamour is well worth my Thursday nights. —K.L.Y.
Never did I think I’d end up so invested in this show, but here we are. The performances of Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, and the flock of men who adore them swallowed me up, and every week I can’t wait to dive into an episode and see what conundrums they’ve gotten themselves into. Younger is sexy, and it’s fun. It also could have easily buckled under an unbelievable premise — a fortysomething woman masquerades as a twentysomething to reboot her career — but this show is more emotionally grounded and charming than it has any right to be. Younger has been one of the most underrated but enduring retreats I’ve found on television lately. Don’t underestimate the power of something that’s truly dishy. —A.B.
16. Good Girls Revolt
It didn’t even take one full episode for me to get sucked into Good Girls Revolt. I nearly watched all 10 installments of the new Amazon series in one sitting. The show, based on real-life events at Newsweek in 1969 when a group of women who were researchers sued the magazine for the right to become reporters, proves history is far from boring. Not to mention, the soundtrack is filled with amazing music from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson), Cindy Reston (Erin Darke), Jane Hollander (Anna Camp), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant) are inspiring to watch as they fight the establishment, attend consciousness-raising parties, and navigate relationships with men, their families, and themselves. Plus, any show that honors the legacy of Nora Ephron is all right with me. Good Girls Revolt is removed enough from reality that it’s a lovely distraction, while also serving as a reminder that change, small and large, is worth fighting for. —K.L.Y.