As if the presidential election wasn’t enough entertainment for the year, networks like HBO and FX dominated the small screen. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu also stepped up their game. Cult hits like Walking Dead, Mr. Robot, and Orange Is The New Black, and Game of Thrones only got better. Amazon blessed Gael Garcia Bernal fans with yet another light and wonderful season of Mozart and the Jungle. Marvel continued its winning streak with another season of Daredevil and Starz attempted to keep up with a new season of 50 Cent’s red-hot series Power.
In this new landscape where TV is more popular than movies, narrowing down the best 10 titles of the year is an unfair task. Shout out to Casual and Preacher, two shows that didn't make this list but deserve a big honorable mention. Here’s our top 10 TV shows of 2016.
All it took was one episode of Atlanta to become one of the most talked about of the year. Atlanta does everything right and takes on black culture in a way only Donald Glover could. With an eclectic mix of alternative rock, jazz, southern trap bangers, and awkward silences, Atlanta reaches out to everyone. And don’t sleep on co-stars Brian Tyree Henry and Keith Stanfield, they steal the show.
Westworld proved sci-fi belongs on the small screen. The series is confined to a western theme park where it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between a real person and an android. You name it, Westworld has it. Sex, blood, drama, romance, lies, twists and turns lead the show into one of the most explosive finales of the year.
3. Luke Cage
Luke Cage was so popular, it crashed Netflix. Exploring one of the first black superheroes’ rich history and significance in the comics, the first season featured a cast almost entirely of color and really spelled out the irony of a bullet proof black man to America. Unapologetically black in the most badass gentleman-like way, Luke eventually warms up to the idea of being a hero. The soundtrack was also groundbreaking for a tv series, let alone a comic adaptation. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad set a new industry standard.
Insecure chronicles a black woman struggling to make adult decisions. It’s a comedy at heart, but it’s not only the awkward situations that make you cringe. Exploring commitment, infidelity, and what love really means, this relationship drama is so relatable, so thought provoking that by the time the episodes over, Issa’s insecurity has jumped out of the television screen and into your life.
5. The Get Down
Whether you love it or hated it, The Get Down is one of a kind. Never before has there been a series that so vividly captures life in the South Bronx from a musical and historical perspective. With a love story pushing the plot, the six-episode Part 1 was paradise to those familiar with the subtleties of hip hop’s roots and can appreciate Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical approach. The show’s authenticity is undeniable, from the all-freshmen teenage cast to hands-on influences from Grandmaster Flash and Nas.
6. High Maintenance
Just like hipsters and stoners, High Maintenance succeeds without trying. Originally a web series on Vimeo, HBO took a non-sequential series about a pot dealer in New York City and polished it into a next-level comedy. Jump on The Guy’s pegs and meet his super weird customers scattered throughout the boroughs. The episodes are strung together by a series of arcane details and coincidences that will make you love this show for no distinguishable reason at all.
She has no filter. She’s too sharp for her own good. She talks to herself during sex and masterbates to Obama speeches. She says fuck a lot. She’s spiraling down after the death of her friend. She is Fleabag. Brutally self-loathing in the best-worst type of way, it’s a no brainer Phoebe Waller-Bridge carried this series into every best of 2016 list.
8. Stranger Things
Stranger Things took the internet by storm. One day we all went to sleep and the next is was binging mayhem. We all learned just how much a cute cast of child actors can do to the internet. The old-school vibe and nod to thrillers of the 1980’s had Gen Xers and millenials hooked from the jump. E.T. on crack, wistful and scary, Stranger Things wins the guilty pleasure award of 2016.
9. The Expanse
The Expanse premiered in mid Dec. 2015, but late enough to make the cut as one of the best new sci fi shows (pre- Westworld era). Starring space battles, flesh-eating bioweapons, and female characters whose storyline doesn’t rely on a man, the series takes place 200 years in the future where the entire solar system is colonized. The special effects are mind blowing and it’s only going to get bigger when the Rocinante crew goes to Mars next season.
10. Queen Sugar
Queen Sugar is much more than a soap opera and quite honestly hasn’t received the attention it deserves. It’s ambitious and at times flails for a handrail, but draws a powerful picture of the American black family with a fresh angle that doesn’t involve jokes or jail. After the death of their father, a family is forced to come together to fulfill his only wish: saving the sugarcane farm. Every male character represents unstereotypical black masculinity in a positive light. The series female leads take on mixed race relationships and infidelity with emotional depth. In the heart of Louisiana, the family’s newfound mission proves more difficult than they ever could have anticipated.