Spoiler warning for, well, everything on TV in 2016 (so far) past this point.
Its a tricky prospect to break out a best-of list for television halfway through the year. Even with the traditional TV season virtually no longer existing, and streaming shows dropping whenever the heck they want, the majority of broadcast TV still spans from September to May. So when we took a look at making a list of the 10 best TV shows of 2016 (so far), we aimed to look at episodes broadcast between Jan. 1 and June 30.
That meant ignoring some shows that started strong and fizzled out by May, while others may have started slow, but built by their finales. And others — read cable, and streaming — just side-stepped the whole "controversy" by broadcasting their limited runs in one solid chunk (and in one case, aren't done broadcasting).
With that business out of the way, here's our list for the 10 best, most unique, most exciting TV shows of 2016. And if this is what the first half of 2016 has brought? Bring on the rest of the year.
More claustrophobic business thriller than sexy drama, the Starz adaptation of Steven Soderbergh's identically named film bears little resemblance to its source material. Credit the duo of Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimitz, who brought the same level of loose adaptation that's worked for Fargo or 12 Monkeys. But most of all, credit Riley Keough's fearlessly stunning, career defining performance, The Girlfriend Experience is the one drama this year that defies definition. The plot swerves and steers in entirely unexpected directions as Keough's law student-turned-high-priced escort navigates two very different business worlds that ultimately aren't that different after all. The remarkable final episode alone is a unique, layered experience that brings together the themes of the show, and demands multiple viewings. — Alexander Zalben
American Crime's second season told the story of Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup), a teenage boy of meager means who is sexually assaulted by another teen boy, who's a star on his private school's basketball team. As the story unspooled and sucked in more people — administrators from both the wealthy school and the poorer one, parents of Taylor, the accused and other teens — American Crime shoved issues of class, sexuality, race, privilege and male rape in our faces. Like he did in his first season, showrunner John Ridley employed an all-star cast of superb actors in telling a wrenching story that got more nuanced, surprising and heartbreaking until its chilling climax. Though it ended with lingering questions, it also offered definitive statements; most notably a call for tolerance and compassion that haunted anyone who watched. — Malcolm Venable
Rather than starting to lag in its fourth season, Orange Is the New Black took the drama — and its buzz factor — to new heights. The back half of the season in particular reminded us why the show pretty much invented binge-watching. When it comes to seamlessly blending political and social commentary, humor, tearjerker moments, and jaw-dropping cliffhangers, Orange remains in a class of its own. — Liz Raftery
Over the course of its freshman season, The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical comedy co-created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, evolved from an off-kilter but on-point pilot with a potentially worrisome title into a relentlessly enjoyable series unafraid to shine a light on its protagonist's (also Bloom) darkest self-destructive tendencies. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend leaned in hard on its initial premise, and although Rebecca's search for happiness frequently made for uncomfortable or no-win situations, it's what also elevated the series to the top tier of television. The show's exploration of mental health issues, its strong feminist voice and the introspective look at Rebecca's psyche through original song made it not just one of the best shows of 2016 (so far) but also one of the most ambitious. — Kaitlin Thomas
Finally freed (for the most part) from George R.R. Martin's books that inspired the TV series, HBO's Game of Thrones did something unexpected: it sped up. The normally slow, careful show became a thrill ride in Season 6, with shocking reveal after shocking reveal. Leading up to the finale "The Winds of Winter," which was arguably the best single episode the show has ever broadcast. Heck, for introducing pint-sized tyrant Lyanna Mormont alone, GoT deserves to be included on this list. — AZ
FX's spy drama enjoyed its best season in 2016, continuing to combine history lessons with a tense family drama. But what Season 4 did better than the rest was sketch out the endgame by sending off two main characters in chilling fashion and putting doubt — and a potential exit strategy — in front of the spy couple The Jennings. — Tim Surette
Season 5 of Veep could have gone either way. Season 4, which found Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer transitioning to the Oval Office, was also the last for series creator Armando Iannucci. But even without his signature voice, the show continued — and strengthened — its creative high with another laugh-out-loud, brilliantly sharp and satirical season that ended in an entirely unexpected fashion. Veep has become a show that deliberately defies expectation, and it's better for it. — AZ
The enthralling miniseries from Ryan Murphy proved that, more than 20 years later, O.J. Simpson's murder trial and the events surrounding it are more relevant than ever. In addition to being an edge-of-your-seat courtroom drama that kept viewers engaged even though the outcome was a foregone conclusion, The People v. O.J. Simpson also shed thought-provoking light on topics such as racism, sexism and the criminal justice system. — LR
This year Better Call Saul further differentiated itself from its predecessor Breaking Bad by taking a distinctly opposite tack: where Breaking Bad was all forward momentum, Better Call Saul is all detours. In its second season, Better Call Saul slowed to a crawl and explored its immaculately rendered world, letting viewers really get to know Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and the people around him, especially his partner/girlfriend Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and his brother/adversary Chuck (Michael McKean). When Jimmy finally becomes Saul, we're going to look back at this season as the one that started to break our hearts. — Liam Mathews
As of this writing, UnREAL,Lifetime's behind-the-scenes look at a reality dating show drama, is only halfway through its second season. So why, when other shows have had their full runs did we choose this show for best of the year (so far)? Because no other show on television is as shocking, as hilarious, as stunningly original as UnREAL. The first season of the show drew comparison to all-time greats like Breaking Bad, but the second season has proven so far that it's a classic in its own right. The central relationship between fellow producers Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and Quinn (Constance Zimmer) is unlike anything that's ever been seen on television, as their mutually assured destruction causes everyone — and everything — around them to implode.
Where Season 2 has transcended, though, is its willingness not to just turn the microscope on Quinn, Rachel and reality dating shows — but the whole of television, and society. Race relations, domestic abuse, alcoholism, and even the NFL aren't safe from showrunners Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon's razor-sharp satirical eye(s). Week to week, UnREAL is a thrilling high-wire act you can't look away from — and if it keeps up in the back half of the season, we won't want to. -- AZ
Check out the rest of The Best of 2016 (So Far):