As with all of my forthcoming 2016 coverage, this list is in no particular order, mostly because it was hard enough to pick ten, let alone choose a number one. However, unlike the rest of my coverage, this isn’t a “best” list; rather, it’s a list of the shows that I most enjoyed watching in 2016 regardless of their critical acclaim.
Once Upon a Time
Longtime readers of the blog know that this has been a favorite of mine for awhile, largely because of its unabashed optimism. Optimism that, if we’re being honest, was particularly needed this year. Chock-full of swoony yet meaningful romantic relationships, nuanced friendships between characters with complicated histories, and offering some of the best light-hearted fantasy on TV, Once remains the ideal way to ease into a new week.
I enjoyed the back half of season one quite a bit, but Supergirl turned into something even more impressive in its second season. It kept the elements I loved during the first year: Kara’s bubbly but tenacious personality, her wonderfully realistic relationship with Alex, and the increasingly dynamic guys in her orbit: Winn, Hank, and James. However, the show also added several new characters who I fell in love with right away, most notably Lena, Maggie, and Mon-El. Add in Alex’s stellar coming out arc and the way they savvily (and sweetly) said goodbye to Cat without replacing her outright, and it becomes clear Supergirl’s only getting stronger with age.
This Is Us
Like the late, great Parenthood, This Is Us is the increasingly rare family drama, a genre I’ve missed a whole lot since the aforementioned Bravermans left the air. I haven’t connected with a show as quickly as I did this one in a long while, from its emotional, twisty pilot to its remarkably deep characterizations, especially impressive considering the small number of episodes under its belt. The best part of this show is that it’s just getting started, and I’ll happily follow the Pearson family for as long as NBC lets me.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I’ll admit this one almost didn’t make the list, not because I didn’t love season two, but because I forgot it actually aired in 2016. Similar to Supergirl, Kimmy evolved a bit this year, tweaking Jacqueline’s character into something more interesting (but just as hilarious), giving Tina Fey a fun arc that led to some great character development for Kimmy, and stealth-casting Lisa Kudrow for the best scene ever done on a roller coaster. Even with the changes, though, the punch lines remained sharp (remember cheese business man?), Ellie Kemper stayed a darkly funny revelation, and, most importantly, Titus was as hilariously outrageous as ever.
Legends of Tomorrow
Will this be on most critics’ “best” lists? No, probably not. But like I said up top, this list is for favorites, and very few shows entertained me as much as Legends did in 2016. It often feels like the forgotten child of the DC shows (look no further than this EW cover), but as Arrow, and, to some extent, The Flash continue their descent into darkness, Legends has gone the way of the sunnier Supergirl, offering crazy costumes, colorful characters, and an “anything goes” approach to retelling history that’s a whole heck of a lot of fun to watch. And really, Victor Garber: Pretentious Time Traveler is worth the price of admission alone.
The Good Place
This fall was an embarrassment of riches when it came to new shows, but Mike Schur’s involvement was enough to make The Good Place a priority for me. I was also intrigued by the idea of a central character less morally centered than Leslie Knope or Jake Peralta, both characters Shur helped create. Surprisingly, I fell in love with Eleanor just as quickly as the other two, with her journey toward that moral center helped by the always winning Kristen Bell. TGP also has an outstanding ensemble cast, from the joyfully manic Ted Danson to the measured William Jackson Harper, both terrific comedic partners for Bell.
Yes, in the age of Peak TV, it feels like Agent Carter’s second season aired eons ago, and yes, I’m still lamenting its devastating cancellation. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Agent Carter was everything I want a TV show to be: action-packed, romantic, charming, and, most importantly, centered around a badass lady who made her femininity an asset not a hindrance. There are very few shows as unapologetically feminist as Agent Carter, and that’s one of the zillion reasons I’ll continue to hope for the return of Peggy and Co.
Like Parks and Rec before it, Nine-Nine is one of the most consistently funny and heartfelt shows on television, something that happily continued this year. And, impressively, Jake and Amy continued their descent into coupledom as effortlessly as Leslie and Ben did: supporting each other even when work circumstances separated them, meeting one another’s parents, and generally practicing open and honest communication. The show’s fantastic ensemble also continued to shine; Stephanie Beatriz, in particular, added some wonderful nuance to the already great Rosa Diaz.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Television reboots and revivals are a dime a dozen these days, yet A Year in the Life was the first I was genuinely excited about. I never thought the seventh season of Gilmore was as horrible as everyone else thought it was, so I was thrilled just to see Lorelai, Rory, and the gang again. Although the revival wasn’t perfect by any means (Rory’s journey in particular), it was still the nostalgic piece of comfort food I’d hoped it would be, from the titular girls’ still wicked banter to the assurance that Stars Hollow remains the same warm, quirky place it’s always been.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
In contrast to nearly all of the feel-good escapism populating this list, Full Frontal is a different beast entirely; as much as I needed to forget the world this year, sometimes I also needed to be angry about it. And yes, Samantha Bee did several vicious, well-deserved takedowns of Trump and those who enabled him, but, it’s worth noting, she was on fire from pretty much the moment her show premiered early this year. For me, it was the long, long overdue female perspective on women’s issues that made her show so important, offering impassioned but thoroughly logical takes on abortion, misogyny, and really anytime a man thought he had the right to a woman’s body. I cheered. I nodded emphatically. But, most of all, I was exceedingly grateful that someone gave voice to issues near and dear to my heart.
What were your favorite shows this year? Let me know in comments, and stay tuned for more 2016 coverage!