Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
At the beginning of 2016 I don’t think anyone could have predicted the rollercoaster of emotions the year would bring. From soaring highs to distressing lows, the television world seemed to mirror 2016 quite a bit. This time around, my list of favorite shows was tougher to assemble than ever, and I found myself going back and forth between programs I find critically compelling and those I just plain love.
10. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (Netflix)
A lot of people had opinions about Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the long-awaited return of the WB/CW series that captured audiences’ hearts more than 15 years ago. Gilmore Girls is all about its two central characters, the mother-daughter duo (Lorelai and Rory Gilmore) who are more like friends than parent and child. It takes place in a tiny, almost mystical Connecticut town, and often it’s Lorelai and Rory against the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the follow-up episodes, which maintained the razor-sharp dialogue, unique characters, sense of community, artistic integrity and warm glow of early-2000s nostalgia. Sure, Rory kind of sucks and is a crappy journalist, but as a fan of the show I still enjoy the character. Perhaps my favorite storyline is the transformation of Emily, the Gilmore matriarch, into a happy, independent woman. I really dug these four episodes, and the ending is closer to the one I would have wanted for the original.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
It seems like ages since Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debuted its second season earlier this year. The series is as delightfully funny and hopeful as ever, and it’s full of Tina Fey’s trademark smart zaniness. It follows a young woman named Kimmy Schmidt, who was abducted into a cult when she was a teenager and was finally freed in her late 20s. This show has an innately heavy plot line, but it’s all about Kimmy taking in New York City and experiencing life for the first time. There are few shows with as much of depth and optimism. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has one of the most colorful casts of characters on television, and if you love intelligent writing and laughing until you cry, you have to watch this one.
Last Week Tonight / Game of Thrones
8. Last Week Tonight (HBO)/Game of Thrones (HBO)
In 2016, John Oliver and the rest of the Last Week Tonight team continued to educate viewers as well as make them double over in laughter. Oliver vigilantly covered the election and hit political figures where it hurt. This show is one I look forward to every week, and I always come away feeling more knowledgeable.
Tied with Last Week at no. 8 is another HBO series, Game of Thrones. This year the battles were gorier than ever, and the stakes higher. While Thrones took forever to bring you-know-who back to life, it finally happened, and some longtime villains on the series finally received their comeuppance.
NBC Justin Lubin/NBC
The Good Place
7. The Good Place (NBC)
Like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Good Place approaches serious existential topics through an optimistic lens. But while Kimmy Schmidt follows a naive person in a cynical world, The Good Place provides the opposite. The NBC comedy from Parks & Recreation creator Mike Schur follows one woman who ends up in heaven instead of hell by complete accident. She is the cynic surrounded by eternal optimists. It’s exactly what NBC needed — an upbeat, intelligent comedy. Also Kristen Bell is a beautiful acting unicorn, with unexpected range.
6. Better Things (FX)
The show Better Things comes from actress and voice artist Pamela Adlon, who you may know from Louie or King of the Hill. It’s on my best-of list because of how smart, honest and funny it is. Adlon’s character is a working actress in Hollywood trying to raise three well-adjusted children on her own. Adlon’s sarcastic delivery is juxtaposed with her relatively positive outlook, creating a complex character that is pure entertainment.
5. Black-ish (ABC)
Black-ish has continued to be one of my favorite shows on television. The series centers on an upper-class black family in suburban Los Angeles, with two working parents figuring out how to raise their children in an environment different from the one they grew up in. I love that its writers go full-speed ahead when taking on contentious issues: race, religion, politics, wealth disparity. This sitcom is as smartly written as they come, with great acting performances all around. It’s a great revitalization of the family comedy, and it’s stronger than ever.
4. Stranger Things (Netflix)
Stranger Things was the breakout hit of the end of the summer, and generated some major ’80s nostalgia. A man-made monster is terrorizing a small Indiana town in the early 1980s, as one person after another disappears. It perfectly mixes the genres of science fiction, drama and comedy to create a world that sucks you right into the upside down. Not only is the writing intense and intriguing, but Stranger Things featured superb acting performances from the adults and kids alike. And I’m not just saying that because I saw Nancy’s jerky boyfriend Steve at brunch in Chicago a few months ago.
3. Difficult People (Hulu)
So funny, so snarky. If you love shows like Will & Grace but wish they were even meaner, Difficult People is for you. Billy and Julie are two struggling comedians in New York City who have an infinite love for popular culture but can’t seem to get ahead in the entertainment industry. Creator and star Julie Klausner has found her groove with the series, expanding and stretching the characters by putting them into new and even more precarious circumstances. Her writing was simply perfection this season, creating clever and unique plotlines and positively killer one-liners.
Grace and Frankie
2. Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
I make no apologies for my love for this septuagenarian series, Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. The cast is essentially perfect. The four main characters are played by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, for goodness sake. The premise of the series is rather outrageous, Sheen and Waterston are law partners who have been carrying on a secret love affair for decades and leave their wives (Fonda and Tomlin) to be with each other. Fonda and Tomlin’s opposite personality characters initially hate each other, but grow into unlikely best friends. What makes the show even better is the writers give these heavy hitters the material they need to elevate this show to a higher level each episode. Grace and Frankie is touching, intelligent and downright hilarious. Grab your mom and watch this one.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
1. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Hands down, The People v. O.J. was my favorite show of 2016. Not only did this series capture the essence of the O.J. Simpson trial, it took you into the lives of the other key players involved. With a narrative that never lets up and spectacular acting all around (Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, and Sterling K. Brown, to name a few) The People v. O.J. is my pick for best show of 2016.
And here’s a nod to some of my other favorites that didn’t make the cut: The Goldbergs, Broad City, You’re the Worst, The Night Of, VEEP, Atlanta, The Mindy Project, Girls and Westworld.