This year’s best television shows list features a record of five first-season series, while TUA’s top three #wallofgreatness is shaken up but not broken in 2016 (see 2015 list here).
15. Animals. (Season 1)
HBO’s sole animated comedy by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass made a strong impact at Sundance Film Festival leading to a two-season pick-up by the network. The duo’s unique brand of comedy (see their first HBO series ‘Togetherness’) shines brightly in the animated format, as animals literally come to life on the thirty-minute series. All of the animals are housed in New York City and face everyday metropolitan dilemmas such as bedbugs, subway rats, and moral ambiguity. While the show initially comes off as an anti-hipster indie comedy, the parodic nature of ‘Animals.’ proves just how fun talking animals can become. The first season prominently featured many domesticated animals such as cats and dogs, but I’m hoping to see snakes, bees, and even rabbits in the show’s upcoming season.
14. American Horror Story: Roanoke (Season 6)
Only a franchise such as ‘American Horror Story’ could keep up the suspense of hiding its sixth season theme until the premiere of the first episode in September 2016. The show’s initial documentary format divided AHS fans initially, but easily started winning people back once the major plot twist was revealed in episode 6. Although I was excited for Angela Bassett’s return and the inclusion of Cuba Gooding Jr. (post-OJ), it was fan-favorite ‘True Blood’ alum Adina Porter that won my AHS heart this year. Porter should’ve been included in the franchise seasons ago, but her acting (and eventual survival as a black woman in a horror series) is hopefully enough to keep her around for years to come.
13. Once Upon A Time (Season 5B)
The back half of ‘Once Upon A Time’ season 5 (finally) delved into the underworld and featured the great Greg Germann as Hades. Red filters aside, Germann’s Hades did an electrifying job of portraying the villain of 5B while the heroes traveled to his realm in hopes of bringing Captain Hook back to life. The journey to the Underworld (and back) was filled with lots of twists and turns, but Hades’ surprising love affair with the Wicked Witch Of The West/Zelena made viewers actually root for the villains (again). By the end of the season, a gay romance is introduced, Hades is defeated, Zelena is heartbroken, and Cruella is left to rule the underworld. By placing extra emphasis on the notion of “villains aren’t born evil, thery’re made”, 5B could easily be the best ‘Once’ season since 2A.
12. Finding Prince Charming (Season 1)
Logo achieved history in its own regard this year by becoming the first network to air an all-gay dating show. Featuring a similar (but much classier) format to VH1 dating shows like ‘Flavor of Love’ and ‘I Love New York’, interior designer Robert Sepúlveda courted thirteen suitors with hopes of finding his true love. While each of the contestants brought their own bit of diversity to the show, it was Robby who had the most social impact with his witty one-liners and ability to keep the entire house laughing. Although Robert ditched Robby for a more serious choice, every contestant in the house brought their share of unique moments to make ‘Charming’ rise above as one of the best reality series of the year.
11. Iyanla, Fix My Life (Season 5)
Life coach Iyanla Vanzant’s ‘Fix My Life’ series tackled two taboo subjects in her show’s sixth season – the angry black woman and the black man’s broken heart. With ‘The Myth Of The Angry Black Woman’, Iyanla spent several days trying to understand the root of a black woman’s pain while also debunking the stereotype that all of them are angry. Amongst those labeled as angry included Rick Ross’ former fiancée and Chrystale Wilson, most commonly known as Ronnie from ‘The Players Club’. With ‘Fix A Black Man’s Heart’, Iyanla coaches six Black men who are at various stages of depression and brokenness. Former Boyz II Men member Michael McCary and former RCA singer/songwriter Kevin McCall are among those needing heart healing from Iyanla. Although these two stories took up the bulk of the season, their impact towards the black community as a whole was definitely felt nationwide.
10. The Americans (Season 4)
‘The Americans’ is undoubtedly one of the most underrated shows in television history. Featuring a family of Russian spies portraying America in the nation’s capital, ‘The Americans’ is not only a great example of historical excellence, but also acting excellence as well. This year marked the first year in which the two main actors (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) earned well-deserved Emmy nominations of their portrayals of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, respectively. The show’s highly rated fourth season also delved into the notion of the Jennings’ family’s oldest daughter Paige possibly becoming a KGB spy while also keeping their secret from her congregation. After an entire season of conflict regarding revealing the truth, ‘The Americans’ culminates with a showdown that got the show renewed for two more seasons in 2017 and 2018.
9. Daredevil (Season 2)
Standing as the first of three Netflix originals on the 2016 list, ‘Daredevil’ continues its gritty crime drama trend in its second season by keeping Kingpin around to cause more trouble in Hell’s Kitchen. The show also (finally) introduced Elektra (Elodie Yung), which fared way better than the film adaptation played by Jennifer Garner. Season two also introduced a new villain, the Punisher, in the best way possible. By the end of ‘Daredevil’, not only was the superhero fighting off Frank Castle, but he also had to deal with Kingpin’s wrath while incarcerated. The fight scenes in ‘Daredevil’ undoubtedly surpass action in all of the other Marvel Netflix Originals to date, but this show proved to be quite impressive by showing just how great a blind man can fight crime.
8. Ray Donovan (Season 4)
Each season of ‘Ray Donovan’ proves just how important the slow-burning Calabasas family drama is to the world of television. The latest run of episodes featured a wife going through stage-zero breast cancer, a daughter escaping an ill-fated relationship with her teacher, and a son who wants to be like his father after being immersed in weapons and violence for so long. To make matters even worse for Ray (Liev Schreiber), his boxing ring is riddled with an incest scandal between siblings Hector (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Marisol (Lisa Bonet) Campos. Once Hollywood’s favorite fixer completed his due diligence for the sake of the ring, and the body count piling up by the episode, Ray was left with no choice but to consider other options for raising his family. The fourth season of ‘Donovan’ proved to be so great, that many critics began comparing the titular character – to God.
7. Game Of Thrones (Season 6)
I’m a bit late to the ‘Game Of Thrones’ hype mainly because the top three television shows on this list have been spoiling me for several years now. After binging all six seasons in nearly a month’s time, I’ve become a diehard fan of the show. In its sixth season, the power struggle continued amongst the Lannister house, culminating in a (literal) green explosion of tragedy. The show’s penultimate episode ‘The Battle of The Bastards’ has been referred to as one of the best episodes ever. While the episode answered many big questions raised in season six, it was the show’s sixth finale that was even more prolific as Cersei finally got the power (and revenge) that she rightfully deserved. The overall theme of women outsmarting men to achieve greatness is the single best thing about ‘Thrones’, and every (living) female character in the franchise did just that in the sixth finale.
6. Luke Cage (Season 1)
While black cable shows such as ‘Empire’ and ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ reached new lows with their 2016 installments, Netflix’s ‘Luke Cage’ came in as a huge breath of fresh air. The show is a modern adaptation of Marvel’s Power Man, a black man that was experimented on while in prison and given superhuman strength and impenetrable skin. Netflix not only does a superb job of showcasing Luke’s transition into a superhero throughout the series’ first season, but it also paints a better portrait of black women than ‘Lemonade’ ever could. Simone Missick (Misty Knight), Alfre Woodard (Black Mariah), and Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple) each provide performances so epic that you would forget all about Cookie and Olivia just from a first glance.
5. American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson (Season 1)
Ryan Murphy added a new franchise to his ever-growing filmography, and this venture has been his most awarded series to date. ‘The People Vs. OJ Simpson’ took a historically accurate look at the infamous OJ trial featuring staples from his ‘American Horror Story’ team. In what could be described as the easiest Emmy awarded to date, Sarah Paulson beautifully portrays attorney Marcia Clark, who was tasked by the city of Los Angeles to find OJ (portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.) guilty. Courtney B. Vance played defense attorney Johnnie Cochran in an equally impressive role that gave many black actors a platform to excel in a primarily white cast.
4. Insecure (Season 1)
Youtube sensation Issa Rae’s show based on her ‘Awkward Black Girl’ series broke out this year and became the best black show on television in its HBO adaptation ‘Insecure’. There were a lot of black shows on television this year, but none painted black culture in a more positive, uplifting, and realistic light as the new HBO series has done. Unlike ‘Girls’, which only focuses on a small group of friends, ‘Insecure’ takes all four main characters and delves into their deepest thoughts and actions all in a thirty minute show. Yvonne Orji has a standout role as Molly, Issa’s cynical best friend who can’t keep a man. The show’s pilot premiered a month early and set off a fire amongst social media because of its greatness.
3. Bloodline (Season 2)
For the second year in a row, television critics have called ‘Bloodline’ the best original series on Netflix – beating out ‘Stranger Things’, ‘Luke Cage’, and ‘Orange Is The New Black’ respectively. Set in the Florida Keys, this year’s ‘Bloodline’ takes a closer look at the motives behind the Rayburn family having to kill off their most troublesome sibling. It’s really hard to put into words just how great ‘Bloodline’ really is, not only as a show but as social commentary for those with a “black sheep” in their family. The Rayburns’ “black sheep” Ben Mendelsohn rightfully defeated ‘Game Of Thrones’ actors Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington to win the ‘Best Drama Actor’ Emmy earlier this year.
2. Orphan Black (Season 4)
In its critically acclaimed fourth year, ‘Orphan Black’ pushed the notion of human cloning even further with introducing its genetic mutation firm Brightborn. After nearly 20+ female clones and 10+ male clones, it was only a matter of time before cloning was further developed through unethical (payola) methods of in-vitro fertilization. This season also introduced children clones (Charlotte) and brought back the Clone Club’s favorite clone villain (Rachel Duncan). Any actress that can portray 10+ completely different versions of themselves in a 45 minute show deserves top recognition in the television academy, and she did just that in 2016 winning her first Emmy for ‘Best Drama Actress’ over Cookie and Annalise.
1. Better Call Saul (Season 2)
Following off the heels of ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Better Call Saul’ is the best prequel series in the history, without the blood and violence of its predecessor. The ten episodes that premiered in 2016 upped the ante for drama shows by simply telling a great story (about a crooked lawyer) from start to finish. Virginia Beach native Rhea Seehorn delivered an exceptional performance as Saul’s (ethical) girlfriend this year, but things got interesting once his crooked ways started to rub off on her. The third season will finally show the main character’s transition from good to evil, and will likely remain an Emmy staple for years to come.