10. Sharp Objects
This HBO limited series, based on Gillian Flynn’s debut novel and set in a sweat-soaked Missouri town, wasn’t the most likable show of the year, but it’s one of the few that I rewatched in its entirety, mostly thanks to Jean-Marc Vallée’s hypnotic directing. I keep rewinding images from Sharp Objects in my head: teenage girls on roller skates looping through empty small-town streets; a ceiling fan pushing hot air around a motel room. Amy Adams is great, too.
Thankfully, still a total joy in its second season. GLOW is a show about a short-lived women’s wrestling series that aired on UHF in the 1980s, but it uses that narrow slice of the entertainment industry to illustrate how hard it was — and in many ways, still is — for women to see their creative visions realized. The late installment that was a full episode of the show-within-a-show was just *chef’s kiss.*
8. My Brilliant Friend
Thank you to my benevolent editor for letting me file this list late enough to include My Brilliant Friend, which premiered in November and just wrapped up its eight-episode season. An Italian-language adaptation of the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, the series nimbly dramatizes the inner lives of its young female protagonists — and vividly renders the casual misogyny and everyday violence of the girls’ Naples neighborhood.
7. High Maintenance
For “Globo” alone, this former web series about a Brooklyn weed dealer earns a spot on my list. That episode, the first of this shaggy comedy’s second season on HBO, takes place during a single, tragic day in 2016. Creators-writers-directors Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair use the reactions of a typically motley assortment of New Yorkers to shed light on some disastrous public event that never quite gets identified, the characters and the way a feeling can ripple through the city.
6. Blue Planet II
Gorgeous, illuminating, urgent, devastating — the BBC’s long-awaited follow-up to its 2001 nature docu-series Blue Planet featured some of the most breathtaking visuals to grace any screen this year. But it’s more than a trippy way to spend a few hours; the show forces viewers to contemplate even the tiniest sea creatures as vibrant, intelligent beings with personalities. It is a vital depiction of what may soon be a lost world.
5. Killing Eve
Colorful, zippy and full of insanely memorable dialogue, the espionage/assassin thriller Killing Eve gave TV a much-needed jolt when it premiered in the spring. Sure, it fell apart at the end, but the first season of this dark-funny cat-and-mouse thriller was the year’s most delightful surprise, featuring indelible performances by Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If there’s a better show out there about work — the glorious grind, the rush of finding your purpose — I’ve yet to see it. Yes, Better Call Saul can be grim; it is, after all, the prequel to a show in which a nihilistic drug dealer destroys the lives of everyone around him. But there’s an undeniable poetry to Saul’s dedication to the mundane. That's thrilling, too.
Succession seemed like the last thing I’d want to spend the late summer weeks watching — a show about a clan of solipsistic billionaires? Isn’t that what we’re using TV to escape from? And yet Succession stole my heart with its sharp wit, and even sharper depiction of a group of entitled nobs who don’t know where business ends and family begins.
It’s rare that a show ends even stronger than it began, but like a good red sauce, The Americans has been simmering down to its essence since its start (in 2013, in this case.). The Cold War-era spy series finished its six-season run with one of the strongest, most satisfying finales of a drama that I can remember. It will be sorely missed.
No other show toggles between funny and grim, surreal and all too real, like Atlanta, Donald Glover’s reverie of life — and fame — in a black body. Like GLOW, Atlanta is clear-eyed about the reality of making art in an industry ruled by white men; playing the upstart rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Brian Tyree Henry delivers one of the year’s best performances, full of skepticism, despair, rage, and finally, a bit of hope.