In comparison to last week's selections, part two of this list will probably look a bit more familiar to those of you who were around for last year's installment. But there's still a potential surprise or two in store.
Again, mild to moderate spoilers ahead:
5. Steven Universe
So, let's run down some of the things that made Steven Universe so wonderful this year, shall we? For starters, this run of episodes contains "Sworn to the Sword," which I named (along with fellow "Pearl makes me cry" episode "Rose's Scabbard") one of my 10 favorite episodes of 2015. It also includes the simply beautiful Ruby/Sapphire origin story "The Answer," one of the early contenders for best episode of 2016. It features the introduction of Sardonyx, the long-awaited Pearl/Garnet fusion, whose introduction spearheaded a devastating arc in which Pearl's deep loneliness led her to an inexcusable act of betrayal. It continues to showcase a brilliantly thought-out mythology that it explores with both elegance and economy, as well as character arcs that continue to surprise and delight at every turn. And of course, it has songs . . . some of the most utterly beautiful, witty, and emotionally rich songs of the show's entire run to date. In short, it's Steven Universe, and (with the exception of a couple of somewhat weaker comic relief episodes that didn't fully land) it's arguably an even stronger version of the show than the one we were blessed with last year.
How many shows can truly be called radical? I don't mean in terms of their storytelling, but in terms of expressing an ideology of people transforming the world for the better through collective action and empathy. Enlightened perhaps qualifies, but its overall scope is minuscule compared to Sense8, a series whose grand scope, inclusivity, and sense of possibility are incredibly refreshing. Perhaps the show has its head in the clouds a bit, but so what? Sometimes it's wonderful to see the world as it could be: a place where people help lift each other up and fight against displays of oppressive power. both large and small. That's what the central sci-fi hook of this series is all about, and I for one got chills every single time two or more sensates linked up to share knowledge, experience, and (in more ways than one) intimacy. Plus, it's also one of the most visually impressive shows on the air right now, delivering some stunningly ambitious setpieces that, at least in terms of their sheer scope, top anything else you'll on TV. There were a few rough moments here and there, mostly related to dialogue and some of the initial narrative groundwork. But in the grand scheme of things, Sense8 is something special. There's never been a show quite like it, and I'm deeply glad it exists.
The news that Rectify would be ending after its fourth season was, for me, quite welcome. Don't get me wrong: I love this show as much as any current drama outside of The Americans. But season three sometimes felt as though aspects of its central story were about to fall apart at any second, and perhaps not always in a good way. My main gripe lies with the ongoing investigation into Hanna Dean's murder, which continued to unearth even more contradictions and inconsistencies, to the point where I'm not sure the logic behind certain characters' behavior hangs together in any possible scenario. Fortunately, regardless of how this concern pans out (and it should be noted at this point that Rectify's writers are far smarter than I am), it's hardly a deal-breaker; this show has always been less about this sort of plotting and more about exploring human behavior and emotion in the face of tragedy. Its fundamental heart remains the Holden and Talbot families and their ongoing attempts to carve out a little bit of happiness for themselves amid just such circumstances, and those stories were just as beautifully written and acted as ever this year. Now, with only one more season left to go, there's next to no chance that my lingering concerns about Rectify's long-term storytelling will overshadow the fundamental greatness and humanity at the heart of this beautiful series. Barring a very surprising and unfortunate turn of events, you can expect see it back near or at the top of this list one last time next year.
2. You're the Worst
The first season of You're the Worst was already pretty great, and one of my biggest mistakes of 2014-15 was leaving it out of the top 10 in favor of (in retrospect) several significantly less accomplished shows. Season two would make sure I didn't repeat this error, turning in a close-to-flawless run that deepened the show's wonderful central love story, offered a deeply empathetic portrayal of mental illness, and delivered a pair of marvelous structural gambits in "There is Not Currently a Problem" and "LCD Soundsystem," all while rooting everything beautifully in character. The show is simply the complete package right now; it's smart, emotionally satisfying, ambitious, and (most of all) just flat-out funny almost every single week. (Let's all agree to pretend that one episode with Jimmy's family didn't happen, shall we?) As most of the other recent hopes for the next great TV comedy have started to creatively stagnate a bit, this one has seized its opportunity to head to the front of the pack, offering a sense of character and dialogue-based comfort while still pushing itself and its tremendous cast to new, truthful, and consistently wonderful places.
1. The Americans
Season four of The Americans might (and this is really saying something) end up being its most beautiful creation yet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has also been the show's most harrowing. Not so much physically—last season's combination of tooth extraction, bone-snapping, and death by fire form an infamous trifecta in that regard. Emotionally, though, it's just crushing, taking a number of the massive story developments from the end of last year and following up on them in superbly unexpected ways that somehow lead to roads even darker and sadder than I thought possible. Scenes of simultaneous emotional clarity and wreckage abound, in which characters are allowed to gaze upon a damaging situation with newfound honesty while having limited options available to fix it. All of this sounds depressing, and . . . well, it is. But watching the show's graceful, taut, and emotionally complicated storytelling in action (and the way it draws on its now-rich history in crafting its many shattering moments) remains as much of a thrill as ever. Sure, these people are likely doomed, and their attempts to excavate themselves from seemingly inescapable situations will probably lead to something even worse, as one character learned in heartbreaking fashion early in the season. But it sure is riveting watching them try.
And that's a wrap on this year. What did your top 10 look like?