10. Fleabag (Amazon)
With more than 400 scripted shows airing this year, it’s nearly impossible to say a particular series did something you’ve never seen before. Sure, breaking the fourth wall isn’t exactly revolutionary, but the way Phoebe Waller-Bridge addresses the audience in Fleabag is especially intimate, divulging the psyche of a woman who uses sexual exploits and a wry sense of humor to cope with trauma. The juxtaposition between what Fleabag (her name) says to other characters and what she shares with the audience is a fun way to play with the visual medium, and it’s sneaky effective in revealing its quiet devastation and distinct bleeding heart.
Best Episode: “Episode 6”
9. Transparent (Amazon)
Three seasons in and you’d think a show about a bunch of narcissists would start to run its course, but Jill Soloway’s ethereal filmmaking is so beautiful and hypnotic that Transparent is able to deconstruct its subjects in breathtaking new ways. Jeffery Tambor continues to dazzle as the pioneering Maura (and, in Tambor’s words, hopefully the last cisgender performer to portray a trans person), but Jay Duplass is just as great as her son Joshy, a broken man looking to find peace in all the wrong places.
Best Episode: “Exciting and New”
8. Casual (Hulu)
Your tolerance for Casual might hinge on your ability to handle a family that’s just a little too close – nothing creepy, but there’s definitely something uniquely intimate going on between Alex (Tommy Dewey), his sister Valerie (Michaela Watkins), and her daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr). The show isn’t doing anything new with its “affluent white people in Silver Lake dealing with emotional problems” premise. Nonetheless, it is resoundingly vulnerable in its handling of selfishness, loneliness and mortality through the lens of a fractured family. The finale resolved all the season’s moving pieces so perfectly that I would have been happy (and maybe even preferred) if the story ended there.
Best Episode: “The Great Unknown”
7. Veep (HBO)
While these lists clearly show I have a propensity to gravitate towards dark comedies where the human story overshadows the laugh-out-loud factor, jokes are great too, ya know. Veep somehow manages to get funnier every year thanks to casts’ ability to deliver an endless stream of creative insults. Finding new ways to satirize D.C. in future seasons could be difficult, however, given the unpresidented unprecedented situation our country finds itself in, where scenarios deemed too unrealistic for the Veep writer’s room shake out on a daily basis.
Best Episodes: “Cuntgate,” “Kissing Your Sister”
6. Horace and Pete (LouisCK.net/Hulu)
Louis C.K. is no stranger to changing the television paradigm, and with Horace and Pete he rewarded his audience with something unique. In the vein of the surprise album release, C.K. made a star-studded show in secret and rolled it out independently. It has the look of a Eugene O’Neill production and all the melancholy of one too, as C.K. takes a bare-bones sound stage and simple camerawork to focus on the intricacies of a fucked up family caught in a purgatory between what is done and what is next.
Best Episode: “Episode 1”
5. Rectify (Sundance)
The fourth and final season of Rectify doesn’t offer much in the way of narrative answers, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the abstract, atmospheric tones crafted over the course of 30 episodes. Creator Ray McKinnon made a bold choice to largely ignore the trappings of a classic Whodunit by instead pointing the narrative focus inward, dissecting the fallout of Daniel’s conviction from every possible angle. It’s a slow burn that rewards patience and one of the most breathtaking TV experiences of the last decade.
Best Episode: “Pineapple in Paris”
4. Atlanta (FX)
Take one look at Donald Glover’s eclectic resume (comedy writer, actor, rapper, Lando) and it’s easy to see what an ambitious dude he is, and the scope of Atlanta is a living, breathing testament to all the brilliant ideas swirling around in his head. It’s as surreal and absurd as it is hilarious and heartfelt. It makes off-the-wall filmmaking choices and never tries the same thing twice. It manages to be true to its characters while finding creative ways to enlighten the ignorant. And I’m pretty sure everything Keith Stanfield’s bumblingly insightful stoner Darius did and said made me laugh.
Best Episodes: “B.A.N.” “Value”
3. High Maintenance (HBO)
Many people on the Internet have said this already, but High Maintenance is the TV version of Humans of New York, using the protagonist (weed dealer simply known as The Guy) as a gateway into the lives of his fascinating and diverse clientele via a series of captivating vignettes. It’s not a documentary, but it wouldn’t be much different if it was. It doesn’t have flashy performances or intricate plot lines, but the mood and the setting is so vibrant that it doesn’t matter. No show made me happier this year.
Best Episode: “Ex”
2. Better Call Saul (AMC)
Weirdly enough, one of the best comparisons I can think of for Better Call Saul is Hannibal. At the outset of the show, everyone knows who this guy is, and yet the storytelling is so good that all the suspense and tension still holds true. There’s no stopping Jimmy McGill from turning into Saul Goodman, but we’re still rooting for him. BCS doesn’t need the ambitious scope of Breaking Bad to utilize the same pillars of success; If anything, its dazzling high-wire act is even more impressive considering the smaller scale. Every episode is pulsating with visual poetry and dynamic performances, none better than Rhea Seehorn as Jimmy’s unwilling confidant Kim.
Best Episodes: “Bali Ha’i,” “Fifi”
1. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
I have a theory that Raphael Bob-Waksburg had this idea for a Difficult Men-style anti-hero in the vein of Don Draper or Tony Soprano, but as an unknown writer no one gave him a chance to make such a prestigious show. So instead he disguised his unbearably dark human story as a half-hour animated comedy about an anthropomorphic horse and BoJack Horseman was born. It disarms you with a bright and clever universe filled with animal puns and Hollywood in-jokes, then blindsides you with deft social commentary and a deep understanding of what it’s like to live with depression and disillusionment. My No. 1 show for the second straight year, BoJack keeps finding new ways to floor me.
Best Episodes: “Fish Out of Water,” “That’s Too Much, Man!”