Towards the end of its first season, BoJack Horseman offered hints that it was striving to be something more than a silly cartoon about a talking horse. But in its sophomore outing, the Netflix series fully embraced the dark side, transforming into an achingly accurate examination of what it's like to live with depression - and yet, somehow, still managing to be laugh-out-loud funny. Season 2 was further elevated by the addition of Lisa Kudrow as Bojack's love interest, a patient owl named Wanda Pierce.
Catastrophe doesn't have the most unique set-up: Rob and Sharon, played by creators and writers Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy after a fling and decide to give it a go. Where it is unique is its approach to relationships. This is your anti-rom-com. At times sweetly painful and painfully sweet, Catastrophe realistically depicts the effort that goes into companionship. Like its grown-up characters, it doesn't have time for bullsh--. It doesn't do big, broad manufactured drama, but nuanced, intimate small moments that range from hilarious and vulgar to dark and ornery -- and somehow it's still the most romantic rom-com you'll see.
How often does a television show become actual evidence in a murder case? The investigation of rich creep/probable murderer Robert Durst was reopened partially due to the revelations made in this explosive HBO documentary miniseries. The Jinx could make this list based on real-world ramifications alone, but it's also a masterfully paced, meticulously detailed, think-about-all-day fascinating work of true crime.
There's so much darkness and angst on TV that sometimes you just want a feel-good show that warms your heart. That show is Jane the Virgin. The CW telenovela balances over-the-top drama (Sin Rostro kidnapping Jane's baby, Rogelio feuding with Britney Spears) with the grounded realities of being a single mother, immigration and the sacrifices parents make for their children. The love in the Villanueva household is infectious, and it doesn't matter whether you're Team Michael or Team Rafael, because at the end of the day we're all just Team Jane.
Rebounding from its worst season, the Southern-fried FX drama went out with the kind of confidence and cool swagger befitting its leading man. The final season focused on the show's central triangle, and Joelle Carter delivered series-best work as Ava played both of her former lovers and lifelong frenemies Raylan and Boyd against each other while still managing to escape with her life. Stuffed full of colorful supporting characters and the best dialogue on all of television, the show ended as it lived: a wonderful and always entertaining embodiment of the genius of Elmore Leonard.
Is John Oliver still claiming that his show isn't journalism? Because it wasn't true last year and it's definitely not true now. Oliver and his brilliant writers spent the year educating viewers about international politics and diving deep into important issues - mostly about all the ways the rich prey on the poor - with a rigor most "real" news shows don't attempt. The show has an investigative journalist who wrote for the New Yorker on staff, for crying out loud. The fact that it's hilarious is almost a bonus.
Empire goes big all the time. The gratuitous parade of celebrity guests, overly outrageous plot turns, and alternately dull and wild portrayals of the music business can make you roll your eyes, but they all kinda fit in Lee Daniels' patently insane pyramid. Ever-present drama and betrayals in the Lyon family kept our attention, while characters, including Cookie, Jamal and Andre, changed in provocative, if crazy, ways that kept things fresh. Even on a slow day, Empire has a visual allure -- from lush sets, Cookie's costumes and its own sponsored Pepsi commercial to evil trees, SWF wigs and a thumping soundtrack -- that makes it a seductive treat.
The best part of The Americans is how quiet it is. Bleak and chilly, apt for its Cold War backdrop, it lurks with a sense of foreboding as if Philip and Elizabeth's KGB identities will be revealed at any moment. And in Season 3, they were. The show could've held onto the secret longer, but the crushing reveals to Martha and Paige only propelled its story to new heights after Paige's own betrayal in the finale, underscoring again that family politics are far more captivating than spy games.
Few shows make the kind of creative leap that The Leftovers did between Season 1 and Season 2. Co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta found a way past Perrotta's novel by relocating the action to Jarden, Texas, stripping away (most of) the problematic Guilty Remnant and telling its story through focused point-of-view episodes that slowly revealed the larger, beautiful mosaic of the season. Anchored by standout performances from Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Regina King, Kevin Carroll and Ann Dowd, Season 2 continued to explore how humans deal with issues of grief and sanity in a heartbreaking, insane world. But by putting its characters in action, the show was able to find not only another gear, but a surprising level of hope.
The darkest, most powerful addition to the MCU, Jessica Jones isn't about a superhero attempting to take down a supervillain. It's about a woman trying to get the world to believe the victims of a rapist and serial abuser. However, this assailant, Kilgrave, just so happens to have the power of mind control, making his atrocities nearly impossible to prove. And after another year filled with cheap and lazy rape plot devices, it's thrilling to see a show present such a thoughtful meditation on life after sexual assault - all without a single rape depicted onscreen.
After its groundbreaking first season, where was Transparent to go in Season 2? Answer: down a wormhole of self-exploration, touching on themes like religion, inherited trauma and sexual identity along the way. The true standout of the series is still Jeffrey Tambor's gentle handling of the central character Maura Pfefferman, as she discovers that coming out as transgender is only the first step in a very long journey. But the supporting cast members - particularly Judith Light as Maura's ex-wife Shelly and Gaby Hoffmann as their daughter Ali - also buoy the show in Season 2, making it so that Maura isn't the only character we want to accompany on her road to self-discovery.
Matthew Weiner's beautiful, meticulous drama went out doing what it was always great at: making the human struggle to find love and self-worth as riveting as any thriller. There weren't any huge fireworks in the final run of episodes, but the big punches came from the emotional payoff that rewarded each viewer's investment in the journey. Whether it was Betty's triumphant climb up the stairs after a cancer diagnosis, a simple conversation between Pete and Peggy where subtext was everything, or Don's emotional discovery that he isn't alone, Mad Men proved that even if people don't change, they can still find peace with who they are.
Raising the stakes in Season 4 by putting Selina in the Oval Office, Veep exceeded expectations with even more bumbling buffoonery and profane diatribes from Selina & Co., while hitting effective emotional beats with some of its most raw moments to date (see: Gary's and Amy's rage spirals at Selina). Turns out Selina Meyer, leader of the free world, is just as sharp, acerbic, delusional and mercilessly funny as impotent, bored-as-hell Selina Meyer, because being in power can be just as unfulfilling as being powerless. But the smartest move the reigning Emmy champ made? Finding a complicated Constitutional fine print to make the show title applicable to Selina once again come Season 5.
After having its romantic leads move in together, the tragicomedy forwent the traditional sitcom route of throwing obstacles in the couple's way. Instead,You're the Worst became one of the most heartbreaking and realistic portrayals of clinical depression. But despite its unflinching look at Gretchen's depression, the series never lost its cartoonish sense of humor, remaining one of the funniest and most relatable shows on television.
Daredevil is the best of both worlds. It mixes the masked vigilante's classic origin story with a grounded noir crime drama. From the detailed characterization of the ensemble cast to the breathtaking shot composition, every aspect of the series is painstakingly considered and purposed. Daredevil also featured one of the most impressive fight scenes ever seen onscreen that was not only beautifully choreographed but highlighted the physical toll of vigilantism often ignored in superhero tales.
Much like a Louie for millennials, Master of None perfectly balances musing on large universal ideas -- such as misogyny, race on television and growing up with immigrant parents -- with delightfully minute banter. The result is an extremely sweet show about living, dating and growing up that serves as a reminder that everyone is one step away from watching Twins with Paro if they don't stop doing what's expected and do what they actually need.
This Breaking Bad spin-off proved all the cynics wrong, not only justifying its need to exist, but proving that these storytellers know exactly what they're doing. Bob Odenkirk gives a masterful performance as the put-upon little guy who refuses to take the easy way out until the world conspires to give him no other choice. Just like Jonathan Banks did with Mike "I broke my boy" Ehrmantraut, Odenkirk slowly reveals the broken heart underneath the future Saul Goodman's lawyerly gab and bluster. We may know where these two men end up, but the show has given us plenty of proof that getting there will be even more entertaining.
Very few shows arrive fully formed, but Kimmy Schmidt was one of those rare gems. Kooky, clever, absurd, rich with jokes and as addictive as its hilarious earworms, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's brainchild is so shrewdly executed that when you're not collecting yourself from a laughing fit, you're just in awe of its assured dexterity. The true genius of Kimmy is not merely its sparkling, zany optimism, perfectly captured by the incandescent Ellie Kemper, but its portrait of survivors of trauma. Kimmy's indomitable spirit and reclamation of identity are endearing, empowering reminders that we are all strong as hell. Dammit!
Fargo did the nearly impossible: It got even better after its already Emmy-winning stellar first season. In its sophomore year, rival crime syndicates engaged in a violent turf war, Kirsten Dunst channeled her inner sociopath, Ronald Reagan had a urinal heart-to-heart and a hitman recited "Jabberwocky." The quirky, bloodthirsty comedy made us alternately cringe with terror and laugh at our own depraved sensibilities, but ultimately we marveled at how Noah Hawley was able to create such an audacious, note-perfect show in only 10 drama-packed episodes. It's a feat worthy of a celebratory Hamburger Helper and tater tots meal.
This season's biggest surprise? A complex serialized thriller on USA, the former home of happy blue-sky procedurals. Mr. Robot seemingly broke all the rules, from its unconventionally framed shots that constantly reminded you that something was a little off to its revolutionary lambasting of corporate America -- on an ad-supported cable network, no less. As the titular Mr. Robot, a resurgent Christian Slater is a perfect complement to Rami Malek's standout performance vigilante hacker Elliot, which anchored the show with both brains and heart. Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the dark, twisted world the show depicted was just how much it felt like our own. But after stunning and surprising with a Season 1 long con that didn't feel like a cheat, we can't wait to see exactly what this all-too-familiar world has in store.