Man at His Best

The 25 Best TV Shows Of 2016 (So Far)

As we head into Fall TV season, take a look at the best shows the year has brought us.​

BY Editors | Sep 1, 2016 | Film & TV

Photo illustration by Kevin Peralta

It's been a tumultuous year, which means that most of us turn to our TVs—or laptops—for some light entertainment. But unlike most areas of entertainment that often reflects our own culture back at us, television works at a much quicker rate—meaning that TV is more likely to depict, through comedy and drama, our current cultural climate with an exacting speed and accuracy.

This year's TV offerings might indicate that we're at "Peak TV," but they have certainly brought us some groundbreaking and provocative episodes of narrative storytelling proving that the art form is at the highest point in its long history. With even the lightest, frothiest fare (such as the most ridiculous reality TV) manages to have something to say about the state of the world today, and the most ridiculous fantasy and sci-fi series are rooted in realism like never before.

As we head into Fall TV Season, it's worth taking a look back at the first eight months of the year and what we've been watching, talking about, and obsessing over. Here are the best TV shows of 2016 (so far).

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

Ryan Murphy's treatment of racism, sexism, tabloid exploitation, and the most notorious criminal trial of the 20th Century could have been a trashy mess. But the first season of his newest anthology season was a near-perfect masterpiece, a brilliant combination of high and lowbrow subjects paired perfectly with some stellar performances from the likes of Sarah Paulson, Courtney B Vance, and Sterling K Brown (plus campy, over-the-top appearances by Nathan Lane, John Travolta, and Connie Britton). And it was perfectly timed, proving in the midst of ongoing national conversations about race and sexism that the issues we encountered two decades ago still loom heavily over our culture today. —Tyler Coates

The Bachelor/The Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise

The entire Bachelor franchise has transcended the label of reality, and become something totally new, horrific, and unmissable. We now examine the headshots of each new cast member the day ABC posts them. We enter fantasy leagues. We watch hungrily as the contestants claw for screen time, position themselves for lucrative post-season hosting careers or Instagram partnerships, and somehow get so caught up in the moment that they cry on camera. Or we just watch bros chain a suitcase full of protein powder to their waists and do pull-ups. Whatever; it's perfect Monday-night viewing for the still-slightly hungover, and we hope it never ends. —Dave Holmes

Better Call Saul

Breaking Bad never seemed like a show that needed a spinoff, but after two excellent seasons, Better Call Saul has done more than justify its existence. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould's prequel takes us back to the days when crooked lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is still Jimmy McGill, a talented, tireless attorney who has the best of intentions but can't resist breaking rules. While the heartbreaking origin story of another Breaking Bad fan favourite, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), was the highpoint of the show's first season, this year's episodes focused on newer characters. By putting Jimmy's relationship with his successful, petty older brother Chuck (Michael McKean) under a microscope, Better Call Saul asked important questions about what it means to be a good person. It's their conflict that makes Rhea Seehorn's Kim Wexler the season's most crucial character, caught between her boss Chuck's moral rigidity and her sometime boyfriend Jimmy's kind heart. —Judy Berman

BoJack Horseman

Thanks to Louis CK, comedy shows about the sad, pathetic struggles of sullen white guys are a dime a dozen—and with each Louie imitator, the boundaries of "comedy" have certainly shifted. Enter BoJack Horseman, which by all accounts is yet another meta comedy with serious dramatic overtones that would be almost unwatchable if it weren't for the fact that it's a cartoon about an anthropomorphic horse. Perfectly balancing the absurd and the excruciatingly real, BoJack goes to psychological places that most TV shows avoid—and it works, because between each horrible action our beloved horse anti-hero commits is somehow forgivable because, well, he's just a horse. This season continued the stunning work, delivering another heartbreaking storyline with enough blink-and-you'll-miss-it sight gags to warrant a second (and possibly third) viewing. —Tyler Coates

Broad City

For two seasons, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson were content with making one of the funniest shows on TV about two 20-something best friends navigating a slightly surreal New York City. But Broad City upped its ambition in Season Three, forcing carefree Ilana to finally face the consequences of her unwillingness to grow up. Dumped first by her job and then by her long-suffering non-boyfriend Lincoln (Hannibal Buress), she learns from the crisis without sacrificing the joie de vivre that makes her so fun to watch. Not that getting serious—or enlisting Hillary Clinton to make a guest appearance—prevented Glazer and Jacobson from creating some of the series' most hilarious moments to date, from an art gallery disaster in the season premiere to a recreation of Mrs. Doubtfire's famous restaurant scene that features a perfect guest appearance by Mara Wilson. —Judy Berman


In a first season that improved with each episode, Zander Lehmann's Jason Reitman-backed Casual distinguished itself from TV's recent glut of LA-set romantic comedies (You're the Worst, Love, Togetherness) by focusing on family. Michaela Watkins' Valerie Meyers, newly separated from her cheating husband, and her taciturn teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) end up staying with Valerie's younger brother Alex (Tommy Dewey). The idle, commitment-phobic creator of a dating site, he's gotten rich off of other people's search for love. And, of course, the siblings' reunion reveals that the ghosts of their childhood still haunt their current relationships. But the show reached new heights in Season Two. The latest batch of episodes finds Valerie, Laura, and Alex—three very different loners—struggling to make and keep friends as they continue courting romance. Love triangles, heartbreaks, and old flames keep the storyline moving, as Casual begins to further differentiate itself from its largely hetero competitors with some of TV's subtlest portrayals of sexual fluidity. —Judy Berman


Season Two of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney's unsentimental but deeply kind rom-sit-com picks up the action a couple of years after Season One, and finds the leads settled into a halfway-functional relationship. Even with a kid in the picture, the show continues to be as salty as it is sweet, and at six half-hours a season, won't cause you unwatched-episode anxiety. —Dave Holmes

The Catch

ShondaLand's newest offering hasn't attracted the same devoted fan base as Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, or How to Get Away With Murder, but it might just be the most mindlessly fun thriller in Rhimes' stable. The series starts with the kind of epic twist you can imagine coming at the end of a slower show's first season: private investigator Alice Vaughan (The Killing's Mireille Enos) realises her fiancé Christopher (played by Six Feet Under and Parenthood star Peter Krause), is a con man who's seriously screwed her over. Critics were right to point out that there's not much heat between the two leads, but Enos and Krause still excel at creating complicated characters, and their lack of chemistry only heightens the appeal of the show's real standouts: Sonya Walger and John Simm's voraciously pansexual, deliciously manipulative siblings, who are vying for control of a British crime family. —Judy Berman

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Remember when late night political commentary was supposedly doomed because certain people left their Comedy Central desks? Ha. Full Frontal disproved that theory about two minutes into its first episode. Samantha Bee and her writing team are devastatingly smart and terrifyingly funny. Their jokes knock you on your ass. They are fearless in covering women's issues, religion, gun violence, anything. Their synonyms for Ted Cruz are the slimiest in the business. Full Frontal takes its one chance a week—and on TBS, no less—and nails it. Political commentary is in good hands. —Sarah Rense

Game of Thrones

Now free of the cycle of despair that was Game of Thrones' source material (sorry George RR Martin, but you're depressing as fuck), the HBO series was able to heal some of the wounds it had inflicted in its first five seasons. Yes, beloved characters died (you're holding that door in our hearts, Hodor), but it also built up and empowered many of the women who had been unforgivably brutalised throughout the series. Part redemption, part reward for fans who had suffered along with the show's characters, Game of Thrones finally delivered—both visually and conceptually. —Matt Miller

The Get Down

Hip-hop culture + New York in the 1970s + the Australian dude who made Moulin Rouge!: it all should've added up to disaster. But this summer's happiest TV surprise was that Baz Luhrmann's crushingly expensive Netflix drama about the birth of hip-hop turned out great. Combining elements of coming-of-age romance, historical fiction, crime drama, and musical, The Get Down is certainly over the top. If you find Luhrmann's endless party scenes overstimulating, it may not be the show for you. What (usually) saves it from silliness, though, is the way it situates likable, complex characters—played by a young, talented group of actors—in a world that fosters their dreams of stardom without downplaying the poverty and danger of the '70s Bronx. The input of hip-hop legends like Nas and Grandmaster Flash, who both get producer credits, ensures the show is historically accurate and does justice to great music. —Judy Berman

The Good Wife

I always tell people that The Good Wife isn't just a show for moms, despite what its title suggests. And it's not your typical case-of-the-week legal procedural, either; while it started out as such, it became a more ambitious drama that rivals what you typically see on cable networks (and boasting a tight narrative considering its 22-episode seasons). Wrapping up its seven-season run earlier this year, the final season was primed for failure—a fan-favourite had departed the series last season, and its producers hired two actors (Cush Jumbo and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to replace the irreplaceable Archie Panjabi. The bet paid off, bringing protagonist Alicia Florrick a new legal partner and a new romantic partner. But most importantly, the show offered network TV a stunningly flawed anti-hero—a female anti-hero, at that, whose ethics and morals were tested at every turn. —Tyler Coates

House of Cards

Hell hath no fury like an Underwood scorned. But two scorned Underwoods? We haven't seen such ruthless, unapologetic maneuvering since Frank introduced Zoe Barnes to the underside of a train in Season Two. This past season proved that when it's Frank and Claire against the world, it's good—but when it's Frank and Claire against each other, the results are seismic in proportion. While we watched outside forces try to remove Frank from office the old-fashioned way (RIP, Meechum), Claire proved to be an even more formidable foe as she undermined his foreign relations and manipulated her way into a Vice Presidential bid. It's tempting to say that we could imagine nothing more ludicrous taking place in our nation's highest office than the circus the Underwoods would cause—until, of course, we remember what our real-life lections are like. Either way, we can't wait to see how it all shakes out... on screen and off. —Renata Sellitti

Lady Dynamite

A spiritual sister to BoJack Horseman, Lady Dynamite is sort of like a live-action cartoon that shines a wacky, comedic spotlight on a serious subject. Like BoJack Horseman, the on-screen Maria Bamford is a difficult person struggling to maintain her career in show business. Although, in a contrast to BoJack, her problem isn't a vice as much as it is her bipolar disorder, and she's actually not the difficult one—it's everyone else who create the most problems. Lady Dynamite has probably done more for awareness of bipolar disorder than any other show on television, accomplishing that feat not by showing it is a debilitating, crushing illness, but by lightly poking at its complications and depicting Bamford as a heroic survivor as opposed to a tragic victim. And at a time when meta show biz comedies focus on semi-famous men with depression, Lady Dynamite is a fresh and brilliant spin with a feminine take. —Tyler Coates

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

In early February, before kicking off his third season, John Oliver told us he was finally ready to take on Donald Trump. For the better part of 2015, Oliver had completely ignored the Orange One on Last Week Tonight. As the loud anthropomorphised piece of dried fruit became an actual Republican presidential nominee, Oliver acted accordingly, picking his moments to hilariously and carefully analyse Trump's more dangerous qualities (and there are a lot of them!). More importantly, this season, Oliver, as he told us he would, maintained self-control to not over-cover the election, choosing to focus on important topics like journalism (!), the Olympics, and Brexit. —Matt Miller

London Spy

When Danny (Ben Whishaw) meets Alex (Edward Holcroft), he thinks he's found his soul mate. They move in together, start building a life… and then Alex suddenly disappears. What Danny encounters when he starts searching for his boyfriend is as shocking to viewers as it is to him. But despite its title, novelist Tom Rob Smith's five-part miniseries London Spy isn't your typical espionage thriller. The murky international conspiracy that propels its plot is, in part, a metaphor for the experience of being an outsider in a society that hates you for just because you're gay or poor or female. And like so many British serials, with such legends as Charlotte Rampling and Jim Broadbent supporting Whishaw, the show features a cast worthy of the big screen. —Judy Berman

The Night Manager

This UK import might as well have been Tom Hiddleston's James Bond audition tape. The six-episode miniseries, adapted from the John le Carré novel of the same name, cast Marvel's Loki as a hotel night manager recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate the inner circle of an international arms dealer (Hugh Laurie). These suave adversaries and the beautiful locations where their intrigue plays out—Majorca, Marrakech, the Swiss Alps—make The Night Manager one of the glossiest spectacles on the small screen. But Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, In a Better World) draws out the story's substance, too, underlining its political subtext with Olivia Colman's astounding performance as a righteous (and pregnant!) spy fighting institutional corruption. —Judy Berman

The Night Of

Not since The Wire has a show—with such stunning and unflinching accuracy—detailed the horrors, flaws, and institutionalised failures of our criminal justice system. An eight-episode limited series, The Night Of has created a focused work that contrasts the monotonous, daily horrors of true crime with the saturated tabloid-ised justice system we see on our television news stations. —Matt Miller

O.J.: Made in America

Eight hours is a lot to ask. Especially for a documentary—particularly for a sports documentary. Hoop Dreams, which Roger Ebert deemed the single best film of 1994 (beating Pulp Fiction by two spots), clocks in at a whopping two hours and 55 minutes, and you're exhausted by the end of it. But five more hours for a story about a largely unlikable protagonist? It worked—this time, at least. O.J.: Made in America, ESPN's five-night television event from this past June was just that: an event. Appointment television in the purest sense of the phrase, the 30 for 30 magnum opus offered a 360 view of American pop culture, our flawed criminal justice system, race relations, false idols, and human sexuality. We learned OJ's father was gay and that OJ suffered from deep-rooted homophobia. We learned that he could have been charged with a felony years before the deaths of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman had the LAPD done its job on prior domestic disturbance calls. We saw, from a distance, the tangible impact of sensational cable news on the national conversation. It was not a particularly uplifting story, or one that you'd feel "proud" to watch. You saw America then and recognised much of America now. Not much has changed. In fact, things seem a little worse. O.J.: Made in America was our mirror in the age of Trump and police shootings. People wanted to talk about it at parties, even if it made them uncomfortable. That's an achievement. —John Hendrickson

Peaky Blinders

Post-World War I Birmingham is an unusual place to go hunting for a gritty, incorrigibly violent family crime drama, but here we are. Peaky Blinders is an exploration of England's seedy underbelly at its industrial height, where the most ruthless man around, Tommy Shelby (played by the fantastic Cillian Murphy) makes the rules and you'd better follow them—"by order of the Peaky Blinders." By the time Tom Hardy shows up as the similarly ruthless Jewish mob boss Alfie Solomons in Season Two (and continuing, thankfully, into this year's Season Three), you will be hooked. Plus, Peaky Blinders is home to some of the best men's style on TV since Mad Men. —Jack Holmes

Silicon Valley

No industry is more ripe for satire than tech, and no creator is better suited to the task than Mike Judge. Thankfully, you don't have to understand data compression to follow the three-season saga of Pied Piper, which has slowly become TV's best case study on the conflict between art (in this case, the developers trying to make the best product they can) and commerce (the corporations and financiers trying to cash in on their innovations). Season Three finds Richard (Thomas Middleditch) fighting for control of his own invention and highlights the absurdity of the cottage industries that prop up the tech world, from media to overseas click farms. But its real draw is a cast whose chemistry increases with every episode. From TJ Miller's boorish Erlich and Zach Woods' human non sequitur Jared to Suzanne Cryer's robotic but righteous Laurie Beam and constantly feuding frenemies Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), it's impossible to pick a favourite character on a show where everyone's a standout. —Judy Berman

Stranger Things

The summer's breakout show came out of nowhere—not that it really should have surprised anyone. An eight-episode homage to '80s supernatural thrillers? A healthy mixture of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King? A John Carpenter-inspired soundtrack? A ragtag group of misfits that rival The Goonies? A supporting character who would go on to win the hearts of the Internet despite being onscreen for a manner of minutes? THE BLESSED RETURN OF WINONA RYDER? Stranger Things is a postmodern masterpiece tailor made for our time, a hodgepodge of childhood nostalgia and escapism that, well, is much more entertaining than it is intelligent. —Tyler Coates

The Walking Dead

Alright, let's talk about that season-ending cliffhanger, in which new boss Negan eenie-meenie-miney-moes our heroes before settling on an unknown main character to bludgeon. Like roughly 70 percent of what goes on in the world, it set off a round of Internet outrage. And yes! Yes, it was frustrating. Yes, it was manipulative. But frustrating and manipulating viewers is also what a television show is supposed to do. The Walking Dead has us counting the days until October and also thanking God social media wasn't around back when CBS had us wondering who shot J.R. —Dave Holmes


The only political satire to outdo Veep in terms of completely ridiculous comedy is the actual garbage fire of an election currently playing out in this country. When both Democrats and Republicans are approaching Julia Louis-Dreyfus and congratulating her on eviscerating the other political party, you know she's making a powerful and balanced critique of our batshit government. —Matt Miller


Even if Sutton Foster wasn't one of the most charming actresses on the planet, Younger would still be a must-watch. In its second season, we see Sutton Foster's 40-something suburban mom Liza continue to play at being a 20-something Williamsburg hipster in order to get ahead in book publishing. Hijinks ensue, as they should, with a terrific supporting cast showing how Gen X and millennials mix and match more than we might think. Bonus points for the razor-sharp satire of the publishing world, including a David Wain guest spot as a male feminist author with some penis problems, and Richard Masur as Richard LL Moore, a fantasy author with a Santa Claus-style beard and some demanding proclivities, sexual and otherwise. The only way the show could improve is if Season Three featured a group karaoke outing, allowing living Broadway legend Foster, and former teen pop sensation and series regular Hilary Duff, to show off their moves. —Maris Kreizman

From: Esquire US.