The 20 Best TV Shows of 2016
While 2016 had its fair share of high and low points (Beyoncé’s Lemonade obviously being the highest), one thing remained constant: Our TV shows were always there for us. This year especially, both the networks and streaming services offered higher quality series with more original content than ever before (thanks for upping the ante, Netflix and HBO).
This year brought us old favorites (don't even get us started on Game of Thrones) and new series that dominated the airwaves, like the '80s thriller Stranger Things, which quickly garnered a cult following, and the futuristic Westworld, which made us all question the naure of our reality. It's safe to say our DVRs and streaming queues were consistently full this year. Check out all of our favorite 2016 programs below.
Inspired by the film of the same name, the 10-episode sci-fi series follows the dark world of artificial intelligence, and takes place in the future at an adults' Wild West-themed amusement park. When the park's "hosts" start gaining consciousness, things begin to go awry. Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright and more star in the epic HBO series.
Who didn't fall in love with Netflix's Stranger Things? In the series, which is set in Indiana in the 1980s, Winona Ryder stars as Joyce Byers, the mother of two sons, one of whom mysteriously vanishes. As she and local officials try to solve the case, they stumble upon secret government experiments and supernatural forces. The missing boy's friends also start a search party, and in the process, they meet and care for an escapee from the government's lab named Eleven (played by the adorable Millie Bobby Brown). She loves Eggo waffles and pretty dresses (and is basically us). One question we're all collectively asking: What about Barb?
GAME OF THRONES
We still can't believe how much transpired in the sixth season of the HBO series, from Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) coming back to life in the premiere to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) taking over the Iron Throne (and killing everyone in her path). In between, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons set sail for Westeros, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) take back Winterfell, and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) ditches the Many-Faced God for good.
Said to be Netflix's biggest and most expensive production to date, The Crown follows the early life of Queen Elizabeth II as she begins her reign. Claire Foy stars as young Elizabeth in the 10-episode series and Matt Smith plays her husband Prince Philip. John Lithgow takes on the role of Winston Churchill and we love all of his scene-stealing moments.
THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY
The limited FX series took viewers inside the courtroom of the most famous trial ever—the O.J. Simpson murder case. It followed both the defense and prosecution, and chronicled each side's legal strategy and showed how the case spiraled out of control. Cuba Gooding Jr. starred (as Simpson) alongside an incredible ensemble cast including Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Sterling K. Brown, David Schwimmer, Selma Blair, and more.
The super -talented Donald Glover created and starred in this new Atlanta-set series on FX about two cousins working their way through the city's music scene in hopes of bettering the lives of their families. Brian Tyree Henry, Keith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz also star.
Gilmore Girls fans finally got what they've been asking for: a reboot of their favorite series about mother-daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (played by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel). The Netflix series was divided into four parts—Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall—and ended on a major cliffhanger (and four words that the creators have been teasing us with for months), which makes us wonder if it will return for another season!
The final season of Downton Abbey aired earlier this year and lucky for us, it did not disappoint. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) fell in love again, Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) wed in an intimate ceremony, and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) finally found happiness. Poor Edith, it only took six seasons for her to come out on top.
MOZART IN THE JUNGLE
This season of Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle took our favorite maestro (Gael Garcia Bernal's hilarious Rodrigo) to Venice, Italy to work with famous Opera singer Alessandra (Monica Bellucci). Hailey (Lola Kirke) makes her way to the city as well, eventually helping the two put on a massive show in the canals. Back in New York City, the New York Symphony Orchestra is still at odds with management over contract negotiations, leaving all of them to find odd jobs to fill their time.
Issa Rae is undoubtedly one of the biggest breakout stars of the year. She co-created this new HBO comedy series with Larry Wilmore about the friendship of two black women and the uncomfortable (and sometimes crazy) shenanigans they get in. Rae starred in the series alongside Yvonne Orji and Jay Ellis. It totally filled our Girls void after that season ended earlier in the year.
The second season of Outlander was nothing short of epic. From the over-the-top costumes at the French Court to the final showdown at the Battle of Culloden, the show was nonstop drama from the first episode to the last. In the latter part of the season, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) travels to the 20th century after she believes Jamie (Sam Heughan) to be dead. Our favorite part? When she goes back through the stones to the 18th century after finding out her Scottish husband might have survived the famous battle.
Roots, the powerful four-part remake of the 1977 miniseries, aired simultaneously across several networks—History, Lifetime, and A&E—and told the epic story of Kunta Kinte and his family, beginning when he was kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery in America in the mid-1700s, and ending with the struggles his great grandchildren faced. Newcomer Malachi Kirby took on the role of Kinte, starring alongside Derek Luke, Laurence Fishburne, Anika Noni Rose, Forest Whitaker, Matthew Goode, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anna Paquin, Mekhi Phifer and more.
This Louisiana-set drama from Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey follows the lives of the estranged Bordelon siblings: Nova (Rutina Wesley), a journalist and activist; Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), a wife and manager of a professional basketball player; and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), a young father recently released from prison. After their father suffers from a stroke, the three reunite and figure out how to run their family’s ailing sugarcane farm in the South. The series aired its first season on the OWN Network.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
This season of NBC's SNL has been especially fun to watch thanks to Kate McKinnon's and Alec Baldwin's uncanny impressions of the former presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Kudos to Larry David for stepping in as Bernie Sanders as well.
THE NIGHT OF
This chilling eight-part limited HBO series dives into a mysterious murder case in New York City. It follows the police investigation and court proceedings that take place shortly after, all while taking a deeper look at the criminal justice system as a whole. John Turturro and Riz Ahmed starred.
THIS IS US
This heartwarming ensemble dramedy on NBC follows the lives of the Pearson family at different stages of their lives, from childhood to adulthood. They're constantly facing obstacles, both within their family and outside of it, but no matter what happens, they always seem to lean on one another for support. Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, and Justin Hartley star.
Earlier this year, Showtime aired this new, cutting-edge drama about hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and the shrewd U.S. Attorney (Paul Giamatti) trying to take him down every step of the way. Malin Akerman and Maggie Siff also star.
Award-winning playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and starred in this new Amazon series about a woman trying to get by in London. She's dry-witted, angry, unfiltered, and utterly complicated, which makes the show equally hilarious and relatable.
MARVEL'S LUKE CAGE
Luke Cage marks Netflix's third collaboration with Marvel Studios (they also teamed on Daredevil and Jessica Jones). In this series, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is left with super strength and unbreakable skin after a botched experiment goes awry. He becomes a fugitive and tries to clear his name by rebuilding a life in Harlem, but the neighborhood needs his help, whether he wants to be their hero or not. Rosario Dawson and Alfre Woodard also star.
Is it just us or does FX's The Americans get better every year? This past season took a toll on KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) as they continued their espionage efforts in America. Philip's relationship with his source Martha (Alison Wright) takes a weird turn when, in his disguise, he marries her to keep her loyalty in check.