Honorable Mentions:

This Is Us
Season 1 [NBC] Created by Dan Fogelman

This Is Us is a captivating family drama. The characters are diverse and likable. The family dynamic has its ups and downs, making it feel authentic. There are times that feel melodramatic, but they are few and far between. Two things stand out about this show to me. First, the times when a story progression feels like it could stretch out past the point of welcome, the show deals with it in a timely manner. That is so uncommon in network television. Second, I love the way this show deals with the overweight sister. It may be the most human take on obesity in television. It helped foster more empathy within myself, and when a show can do that, it deserves applause.

 

 

The Good Place
Season 1 [NBC] Created by Michael Schur

This one was close to making the list. It is one of my wife’s favorite new shows, and with good reason. The Good Place has a great premise. What would happen if someone who did not belong made it into Heaven? With a great and diverse cast, the show injects humor in different ways while also providing food for thought around issues of morality and mortality. The fact that the season is thirteen episodes also helps. It does not have time to get stale or drag out story lines. Plus, the show ends the first season in an innovative spot. It is the perfect way to leave a fresh place for the next season to start. Too many shows fail to think past their first season pitch. It is great to see a show that knows how to keep life flowing past its premise.

 

 

The List:

15. Preacher
Season 1 [AMC] Created by Seth Rogen / Evan Goldberg / Sam Catlin

As a comic fan, I know it is sacrilege to admit that I have never read Preacher. Somehow, I never got around to the series. However, it allowed me to come into the television show free of expectations. I cannot speak to the series as it compares to the source material. I can say that I was wholly satisfied with it as a property on its own. There are moments where it moves slower than desired. There were times where I felt confused on how things would tie together. But in the end, things fell in place, and the show found the right pace to tell its story. I enjoyed the bizarre cast of characters. I thought the theological aspects of the premise were intriguing. Plus, there were some damn cool scenes sprinkled throughout the season. If the goal of this season was to set up a cool world and leave me wanting more, then it more than accomplished its mission.

 

 

14. Westworld
Season 1 [HBO] Created by Jonathan Nolan / Lisa Joy

I do not think another show has had so much early on fan theorizing as Westworld. Viewers filled the internet with crack pot guesses, wishful thinking, and several theories that were dead on. As my wife and I watched the show, we listened to a podcast that talked about speculation around the season. It was fun to be a part of the community and see how things unfolded with everyone else. Some moments lost their shock value, but part of what makes Westworld so great is that even when you were certain something would happen, it still managed to deliver in a powerful way. It helps that the cast was strong, including two excellent female roles that stole the spotlight from everyone else. This season felt like an experiment in how serial television could hide its intentions. It felt like the start of something that could be special. In the end, the season entertained, and I want to know what happens next. That is more than I can say for the vast majority of television. HBO lost a lot of what made it feel like a special channel. Westworld shows that it still has some content worth your time.

 

13. Man Seeking Woman
Season 2 [FXX] Created by Simon Rich

The first season of Man Seeking Woman was unlike anything I had seen on television before. Its sense of humor and tone were fresh and bizarre. The second season found the show ramping up its absurdity and giving it a more cohesive story arc. It is hard to describe how unique and special a show like this is. The acting is perfect for the awkward nature of the material. The writing is pure genius. The show is not afraid to go places the audience could never expect. Want to see a man dating a car? You get a whole episode based on the concept, and it works. If you tire of the same old boring sitcoms on television, give this a try. It is a show that continues to defy expectations and improve in quality.

 

 

12. Orange is the New Black
Season 4 [Netflix] Created by Jenji Kohan

Many shows cannot stand up past their first season. It is easier to come up with a great idea than to sustain it in a way that makes sense to the theme and characters over multiple seasons. Orange is the New Black is a show that knows how to do things right. It continues to juggle a huge cast of characters, keep them interesting, and provide new threads of drama that make sense to the context of the series. On top of the incredible character building and intriguing writing, the show still contains one of the strongest casts of females and people of color. These actors are not set dressing and background props. They all have their own voices and stories. Those stories speak into our current culture, touching on themes like inmate abuse, mental health issues, and the privatization of prisons. There are few shows that have maintained quality after four seasons. Orange is the New Black bucks that trend and gives us their best season yet.

 

11. BoJack Horseman
Season 3 [Netflix] Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

If you asked me to picture a television series that took a smart, critical look at Hollywood and touched on themes of friendship, responsibility, and self-worth, an animated series about a washed up sitcom actor who also happens to be a horse would have never crossed my mind. It is an absurd premise, but the creators have hit on something special. Sure, the show contains puns and easy jokes. That is all surface though. BoJack Horseman has layers. There is a depth of humor and characters that is rare even in live action series. Season three found the show taking chances. There was an entire episode that included no dialogue for most of its running time. It worked perfect to tell the story, and the structure of the episode paid off in a great joke too. It would not be hyperbole to say that this show is one of the most important things on television right now. The things that it has to say have weight, and it does it in unique and compelling ways.

 

10. Happy Valley
Season 2 [Netflix] Created by Sally Wainwright

I gave up on police procedurals a long time ago. Most of them are stale and fail to deliver a compelling narrative for the characters outside of each episode. Happy Valley is a show about police, but it steers away from typical American trappings. The series creates a long form, character driven narrative that is satisfying. I have to admit that I have a hard time understanding what the characters say at times. My ears are not good with the strong accents. If you have tried the show and felt the same, turn on subtitles and strap in for a great ride. Season two picks up after the events of the first season. It is intricate, smart, and dark in all the right ways. There is real suspense, and the audience is able to empathize with the characters as they experience each twist and turn. After both seasons, I felt charged up with emotion, in awe of the story that I had witnessed. It is brilliant, and different from most of the boring cop crap on television.

 

9. Rectify
Season 4 [Sundance] Created by Ray McKinnon

Final seasons of series can be difficult. There are always expectations for where the audience wants the characters to end up and the story threads to end. Not every story can end as expected. Life does not always tie things up in a pretty bow. Rectify manages to skirt the line of delivering a fantastic final season and leaving things in a state of uncertainty. It is not a complete cliffhanger. The story points things in a certain direction and allows the viewer to decide where it will end up. Letting your audience fill in the gaps can be a powerful tool. The creators of Rectify use it well. They provide a season filled with the wonderful Southern feel and terrific character moments that I have come to expect. Plus, they introduce some great new people, and flirt with our emotions in raw and honest ways. The whole premise of the series is an indicator that happiness is not always attainable. And though it does not end as pretty as some may desire, it gives us hope; an emotion that is more compelling than happiness.

 

8. Stranger Things
Season 1 [Netflix] Created by Matt Duffer / Ross Duffer

Is there anything new or fresh I can say about Stranger Things? It was a surprise hit from Netflix that broke through our culture at a cellular level. And for good reason. The series has a terrific cast of people ranging across several generations of actors. The look and feel of the show pays homage to our nostalgia in wave after wave. It is hard to escape the abundance of influences that the show pulls inspiration from. It is eerie and charming, dark and dangerous, familiar and suspenseful. There is not a lot of originality within the series, but it does everything so well that you end up not caring. It hits all the right notes in the right ways. If you want something unique, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a good time with some great moments that will stick with you, dive in.

 

 

7. Black Mirror
Season 3 [Netflix] Created by Charlie Brooker

I do not know how Black Mirror continues to come up with such meaty ideas for each episode. Each concept is intriguing, plausible, and able to carry a story on its own. It is a true marvel from a writing perspective. I came to the series late. After hearing about its pick up by Netflix, I devoured the first two seasons. Like so many others, I sat and waited, hoping that Netflix could maintain the quality of the show. I was not disappointed. Splitting episodes between British and American settings, the third season features great talent, lofty ideas, and a continued unflinching look at the possibilities that technology brings to our lives. At times it is frightening, but even so, it is satisfying. There is a level of craft to a show like Black Mirror that other series cannot rival. It manages something different and important. Something vital for a world that is becoming more self involved and less introspective. It is a show that can teach us a lot if we are willing to listen. That is remarkable.

 

6. BrainDead
Season 1 [CBS] Created by Robert King / Michelle King

I am not sure if it is a fair view, but I tend to think of CBS as a network for old people. Their shows feel stale, repetitive, and often look like they are trying too hard to be hip. If there is one show that could change my mind about an entire network, it would be BrainDead. This show came out of nowhere during the summer months. A political dramedy about alien bugs infesting the nation’s top politicians. It was bizarre, funny, and completely relevant to our current political climate. The cast was superb, the premise was ridiculous, and the show recaps were all done in song form. BrainDead is a special show with a lot of intellect and polish behind it. It is unfortunate that it did not find an audience for a second season, but the first season is worth a watch on its own.

 

 

5. Broad City
Season 3 [Comedy Central] Created by Ilana Glazer / Abbi Jacobson

I was late to the game on Broad City. It is my fault. I heard friends talking about how great it was, but never bothered to give it the time. Once I did, the show hooked me. This is comedy done for our times. It is bold, brash, and raw. The show refuses to be lazy about the jokes it tells, especially when dealing with topics like gender and sexuality. It is stunning and absurd in all the right ways while keeping its characters likable and grounded. I tend to dislike entertainment that spends time on things like drug use. However, even that does not bug me with a series like Broad City. Glazer and Jacobson make it such a natural part of their world that it never throws me off. It enriches the people in the story and makes them real. Season three finds the series continuing to play around with its formatting, incorporating over the top SNL type moments throughout its episodes. It is lots of fun. The season also manages to do a lot to progress its lead characters. Nothing is more frustrating than watching characters do the same things over and over, season after season, with little growth or real consequences. Broad City does away with that, showing that even though it can be fun, it can also be truthful. It is a tough line to walk, but they nail it.

 

4. Fleabag
Season 1 [Amazon] Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Amazon and Hulu are terrible at advertising new series. Netflix does not hesitate to throw its content in your face. The other two services leave it to chance for finding their offerings. It is too bad. People end up missing incredible series like Fleabag. In its six episode premiere season, the series manages to touch on a plethora of issues while maintaining a light hearted tone. The main character often interrupts the narrative to convey information straight to the audience. House of Cards did this in a more serious way. Fleabag uses it to ease tensions and keep things from getting too dour. It works. Waller-Bridge is able to switch back and forth in a way that feels natural and disarming. That is especially important when the show deals with weighty subject matter. I like this trend towards comedies aiming for more than laughs. Fleabag is a show that entertains, but also educates and enlightens. That is an attribute that ranks high on my list of excellent television.

 

3. Better Things
Season 1 [FX] Created by Pamela Adlon / Louis C.K.

On the surface, a story about a single mother taking care of three daughters may not sound like the ideal vehicle for a comedy. It does not aim towards the typical television demographic. Though it could, it does not take its humor from cheap and tired misogynistic jokes. Instead, it aims to be something different. A show with integrity, trusting that what it has to say is relatable and interesting to the audience. To be honest, Better Things does not feel like a comedy at times. The life presented to viewers oozes with frustration. Yet, the series contains amazing moments between Pamela Adlon’s character and the rest of the cast. It is intimate. It is charming. It is warm, despite the discomfort of it all. I have not been a fan of Louis C.K. His delivery does not do it for me. But when you take his sensibilities and mix them with a great female lead, something magical happens. Better Things is eye opening. It gives the audience insight, and makes you want to come back for more. It is great that some networks have decided to give shows like this a shot. It is some of the best stuff to grace television in a long time, and I am excited for all it will inspire in the future.

 

2. Insecure
Season 1 [HBO] Created by Issa Rae / Larry Wilmore

I know Westworld received most of the attention for HBO this season, but Insecure is far and away its best new property. Issa Rae is one of the best storytellers of our times. She is able to draw me into a world that is foreign from my own. Sure, the show highlights a culture different than my own. It focuses on a gender different than mine. Television needs so much more of that for sure, but that is not what I am getting at. These characters’ passions, personalities, and the choices presented to them in life are different than my own journey. Yet, when I see it unfold through the people in the show, it is understandable, artfully laid out for the audience to soak up. Rae’s character deals with issues I will never have to face, but I can empathize through her experiences. That is a big part of the magic of Insecure. On top of the genuine feel of the show, it is also hilarious. From the raps that Rae psyches herself up with to the journey of an old couch, it encompasses the best kind of humor and charm. The show is able to make the audience flip their opinion of characters back and forth as events unfold. I like when shows can surprise me, not with twist endings or shock cliffhangers, but with humanity. Insecure captures the amazing, scary way it can feel to be a person and not know how everything is going to turn out.

 

1. Atlanta
Season 1 [FX] Created by Donald Glover

From the first episode, I knew Atlanta was going to be something special. Turns out that it is the best series on television in a long time. Most of its audience came for Donald Glover, anxious to see what he was doing now. I was happy to see that he did not keep up the goofy, over the top kind of character from Community that put him on the map. Instead, Atlanta is a sincere look at what life is like for many in the city it shares its name with. I have read that the creators made a concentrated effort to make the setting, characters, and feel as authentic as possible. Having never been outside of the airport in Atlanta, I do not know if that is true. Yet, the show feels like it has a well of life springing up from within it. The show is not a happy story. It is a tale about struggles with relationships, money, and handling life. It conveys the narrative in a fascinating way with the perfect moments of humor to keep it from getting too heavy. The show also gives itself a lot of freedom, experimenting with the format of episodes. There is a whole episode modeled after a local access television show, complete with terrible commercials. It is ingenious. From the acting to the music to the writing, there is so much to like about Atlanta. And yet, the thing I like most is that it makes me feel uncomfortable. Whether it is a scene in a police station dealing with a regular who suffers from mental illness or a confrontation in a parking lot with a gun, there are moments that force me to take a look inside myself, at my own preconceived notions and limited worldview, and realize that there is always room for self improvement, reflection, and a more empathetic worldview. It is powerful when a show can teach you to be a better person. Atlanta is that type of show, and I love it.