The Best TV Shows of 2016

Best TV Shows of 2016 Variety
Illustration: Variety; Images: Courtesy of Netflix/Endemol UK/HBO

Television is a dynamic and democratic medium, seeking both mass appeal and serving underserved niches. Our lists are indicative of just how excellent programming can be when it is specific, heartfelt, and considered; they might require very different tones or formats, but at the end of the day, a good show is a good show. Each of the series on this list found a way to make the particular into the universal, with at times truly astonishing nimbleness and grace.

It’s a testament to the broadness of television in 2016 that both our lists below encompass so many types of shows. More than ever, it feels like there is something good for literally everyone — period dramas, docuseries, late-night comedy, comic-book shows, family sitcoms, ironic telenovelas, and cinematic series that feel like independent films. To be sure, it was quite a year for half-hour programming, — 30-minute shows make up the majority of both of our lists. But within even that format, there has been so much innovation — an animated comedy about depression and addiction, a chilly and powerful glimpse inside the life of a call girl, a broadcast comedy set in a fictional Wal-Mart, a meditation on grief, and cancer with a Southern twang.

It has been a joy to review television in this era. Here are each of our top 20 shows, ranked.

Maureen Ryan’s top 20 shows of 2016 | Read more. You can also check out her lists of the best new and returning shows.

1. Jane the Virgin
2. Rectify
3. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
4. Black-ish
5. The Americans
6. One Mississippi
7. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
8. Atlanta
9. Insecure
10. Better Things
11. Halt and Catch Fire
12. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
13. Catastrophe
14. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
15. OJ: Made in America
16. Fleabag
17. Transparent
19. Stranger Things
19. Superstore
20. Marvel’s Agent Carter

Sonia Saraiya’s top 20 shows of 2016Read more. You can also read Sonia’s best 20 episodes of 2016.

1. Atlanta
2. Silicon Valley
3. The Girlfriend Experience
4. Halt and Catch Fire
5. Fleabag
6. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
7. Better Call Saul
8. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
9. Insecure
10. BoJack Horseman
11. Rectify
12. Frontline
13. Black Mirror
14. The Real O’Neals
15. Lemonade
16. Veep
17. Superstore
18. The Crown
19. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
20. Lady Dynamite