Whether you're binging, streaming, or watching live (remember that?), in the era of peak prestige television, there are almost too many excellent shows to watch. And there are so many kinds of shows, too, all of which serve many different purposes in our fractured, media-saturated lives. Did you spend this year getting into a gritty feminist dystopian drama? Or maybe you laughed and cried with a president so bad in parody it made you feel better about our real one. And there were plenty of pure escapist offerings to choose from, whether you're in the zany world of a comedian single mom on her way up, or a retro supernatural thriller going all the way down. At this breakneck pace, it’s easy to lose track of all the great things you’ve seen—which is why we've condensed it all down to the best TV of the year, none of which should be missed. So hurry up and watch—before the list gets even longer!
American Vandal The true crime genre had the biggest boom in media this year, in podcasts, documentaries, and dramatized miniseries. It's gotten to a point where some procedurals are so familiar as to border on parody—which is exactly what the creators of American Vandal were banking on when they set a Serial-like mystery in a high school. The cast is charming, and hilarious, and the send-up of true crime self-righteousness is pitch perfect. Streaming on Netflix.
Better Things When comedian Pamela Adlon’s critically acclaimed series first premiered, she was applauded for bringing the not-often-discussed perspective of a single mother raising three daughters to TV. For her second season, Adlon continues to take control of her career on her terms, deciding to direct and co-write all 10 episodes of Better Things—which, unsurprisingly, is even better than the first. Season 2 on FX.
Big Little Lies BLL was the mega-hit of the year, capitalizing on an abundance of girl power and women's empowerment in TV and music—and turning it on its head. Set in beautiful, well-heeled Monterey, there's something for everyone here: female friendship, catfights, marriages on the rocks, cute kids, rabid PTA members, and a climactic ending worthy of a major Hollywood movie. With a knockout cast, a great soundtrack, masterful production, and the Emmys to prove that yes, audiences are interested in women’s stories. Season 1 on HBO.
The Crown We've loved The Crown since it debuted last year to rave reviews, especially for Claire Foy's turn as Queen Elizabeth. Season 2 is no slouch; in fact, as Foy told Vogue, it seems almost like a different show, with the focus shifted from the pomp and circumstance of Elizabeth's coronation and first years as monarch to the domestic lives of the queen and Prince Philip (Matt Smith). Moody and tense, with national crises mitigated by gorgeously detailed sets and costumes, The Crown continues to deliver, on both dramatic and historic fronts. It's that rare show that actually makes you feel like you accomplished something by watching it. Season 2 on Netflix.
The Deuce In case you didn't know, we're in the midst of a Franconaissance, and The Deuce might just be what started it. The Wire creator David Simon turns his attention away from the streets of Baltimore to the corners of Times Square as he takes on the rise of the porn industry in New York City. James Franco masterfully plays a pair of twin brothers who are tied to the mob and dabble in producing, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy, a sex worker who sees the potential in turning her night job into something more. The series portrayal of gritty, pre-Bloombergian New York City is just as captivating. Season 1 on HBO.
Fargo For the latest season of the FX anthology series, Ewan McGregor does double duty, playing a pair of brothers in the titular Minnesota town: Emmit, a rich, successful parking lot impresario with a full head of hair, and Ray, his balding, struggling brother, whose envy he can’t hide. Ray becomes entangled in a heist gone wrong, which leads The Leftovers’s Carrie Coon to investigate the grisly crime. Fargo continues to have some of the strongest writing and acting on TV. Season 3 on FX.
The Handmaid's Tale If one show could define the year in television, it's probably The Handmaid's Tale, the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood that has eerily mirrored real life under the Trump administration. The show swept the Emmys, for good reason, including a win by star Elisabeth Moss for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Atwood's novel is a tight, thrilling, maddening look at patriarchal society gone rogue. Season 1 on Hulu.
Insecure Issa Rae’s genius HBO show continues to explore femininity, friendship, love and sex, all with humor and sincerity, and a killer soundtrack. Season 2 upped the ante, with more complex storytelling techniques, and relationships pushed to the brink. Rae walks the line so expertly between the sitcom and the drama format, that you're laughing while you're crying. Not to mention how important it is to center a friendship between black women on television. Season 2 on HBO.
Lady Dynamite Co-created by South Park’s Pam Brady and Arrested Development’s Mitchell Hurwitz, Lady Dynamite won plaudits for its untethered mining of comedian Maria Bamford's real-life struggles with mental illness. In its second go-round, the show unfolds across three settings: Maria’s teenager-hood in Duluth, Minnesota; her present-day life in Los Angeles; and the not-so-distant future. The second installment of Lady Dynamite is (blissfully!) just as hilariously bizarre as the first. Season 2 on Netflix.
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel This new Amazon series from married Gilmore Girls co-creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino tells the story of Midge Maisel, a fictional aspiring comedian (played by Rachel Brosnahan), who ends up having to hone her act alone when her husband, also an aspiring stand-up, leaves her for another woman. Midge is audacious, theatrical and stylish, and so is the Manhattan where she lives, a sparkling, whistle-clean musical stage, as per usual in the Palladino universe. The series is as warm and funny as we've come to expect from the showrunners, and Borsnahan is a marvelous tribute to real-life Midge Maisel counterparts Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. Season 1 on Amazon.
Master of None When we last saw Dev, Aziz Ansari's character in Master of None, he was newly single and newly impulsive, jetting off to Italy to learn the art of pasta-making. We start in Italy, where we left off, but we don't stay there; Master of None keeps you guessing, and it’s part of why the series, particularly this latest installment, is so compulsively watchable. The episode that won co-star Lena Waithe an Emmy for co-writing, "Thanksgiving," is a tour de force. Season 2 on Netflix.
Mindhunter This David Fincher–produced series about the founding of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI—the unit tasked with analyzing serial killers—will tick all of your true crime boxes, even though it's a drama, with less graphic violence and more procedural twists and turns. Jonathan Groff plays an FBI agent (based on a real person) interviewing past killers who are currently behind bars in an attempt to understand how and why they do what they do: the result is so deeply addictive, it's already been renewed for Season 2. Season 1 on Netflix.
Riverdale You might think that teen soap Riverdale, a sexy, dark spin on the Archie Comics series, is not for adults. You couldn't be more wrong; Riverdale is expertly crafted to also appeal to the older audience members in the room, not only because there is a rotating array of retro cameos (Molly Ringwald! Luke Perry!) as parents, but because the show's take on beloved characters like Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica are clever and creative. The show is charmingly soapy, super melodramatic and yes, over-the-top, but it comes with just enough of a wink to make sure you know it doesn't take itself too seriously. You will be binging, trust us. Season 2 on The CW.
Search Party The satirical, darkly funny, and critically lauded Search Party ended with a huge, bloody cliffhanger last year. In Season 2, Dory (played by the excellent Alia Shawkat) and her friends are trying to make their way out of the mess they made—an especially tall order in the heightened hipster dystopia of Brooklyn. With existential crises ripe for 2017, Search Party is even smarter, more relevant, and more ridiculous. Season 2 on TBS.
SMILF SMILF is a dark, gritty, semi-autobiographical comedy series, and a masterwork from Frankie Shaw, who wrote, produced, starred in, and directed the show. Finding its focus in a young, single mom struggling to balance her libido, her toddler’s tantrums, her unpredictable mother, and her own ambitions, the result is a show that is at once raunchy, hilarious, and emotionally challenging. Season 1 on Showtime.
Stranger Things 2 The Stranger Things sequel picks up a year after the events of season one, when a gang of prepubescent friends from Hawkins, Indiana escaped the Demagorgon and the evil henchmen of Hawkins lab. A little more slow-moving than the last, season 2 is still as fun and as spooky as ever, with even more ‘80s references, and a new monster in town. The Duffer brothers have figured out a fool-proof formula, while Millie Bobby Brown continues to stun with her acting shops. Netflix.
This Is Us This Is Us, the sprawling family epic on NBC, breaks you down with family dinners, copious hugs, and melodramatic monologues; with love letters read via voice-over, and grand, rom-com attempts to get the girl. It’s like the television equivalent of killing you with kindness, an escapist balm for our troubled times. The show feels like a throwback—but unlike the latest crop of reboots, actually a welcome one. Season 2 on NBC.
Twin Peaks: The Return For Twin Peaks fans, The Return was as joyous and exciting as it was maddening—a perfect mélange for David Lynch devotees, who knew to expect the unexpected from a return to the small town of our Americana dreams and nightmares. Kyle McLaughlan's Dale Cooper and his evil doppleganger are both comforting (Coffee! Suits! Pie!) as they are incredibly troubling, and Lynch's update seems designed to remind us that everything we loved about the quirkiness and simplicity of Twin Peaks is also what enabled its dark, dirty underbelly. Season 3 on Netfix.
Veep Veep is consistently one of the funniest and smartest comedies on television, and it's only gotten more prescient and relevant with our current sitting president. The machinations of every character scrambling to hold onto whatever scrap of power they can get more familiar by the day, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Selena Meyer's ego only matched by the bumbling incompetence of her team. Season 6 on HBO.
The Young Pope The internet went gaga over the trailer for The Young Pope when it first premiered, and gave us the first glimpse of Jude Law's chain-smoking, Coca-Cola Cherry Zero–drinking pontiff. The show actually turned out to be one of the best of the year, with the seemingly outlandish idea of a hot, young American pope becoming a vehicle for a solid, enthralling costume drama. Plus, the always-excellent Diane Keaton as the Pope's surrogate mother (and a nun herself) is worth a watch alone. Season 1 on HBO.