It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Thankfully, we had these shows to offer 30 to 60 minutes of salvation every week.
This Is Us
I did not expect to fall in love with This Is Us in the way that I did this past fall. Even though only 10 episodes of the new NBC series have aired, viewers are already emotionally attached to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), Rebecca (Mandy Moore), and their three kids, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and Kevin (Justin Hartley). From Jack’s powerful monologues that he delivers to his wife and kids, to Randall’s struggle as an adopted black son in a white family, and, of course, all of the complicated family dynamics in between, This Is Us reminds us all that family is complicated but it’s also inescapable. I may or may not cry at some point during every single episode, and not because I’m being emotionally manipulated by surface-level storylines, but because of actors like Metz, who depicts the difficult struggle of existing in a world that doesn’t accept you for you who are, and Moore, who portrays a mother who’s trying her best but her best isn’t always quite good enough. —Krystie Lee Yandoli
Nbc / Ron Batzdorff / NBC
RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 2
I watch a lot of bad reality TV — mostly vapid shows with Housewives in the title — but when done right, the genre has the ability to showcase the best humanity has to offer. And no reality show featured more charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent in 2016 than RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.
From the jaw-dropping lip-synch performances that left everyone gagging to the artfully composed sartorial extravaganzas, the second All-Stars season truly featured the best of the best of the best. If you need further proof (or just an excuse to rewatch it again), don’t miss the final four tackling “Read U Wrote U.”
But when the makeup, gowns, and padding come off, that’s when Drag Race conjures up its truest magic; imparting wisdom, strength, and confidence through the journeys charted by the brilliant men behind some of TV’s most fabulous women. —Jarett Wieselman
Atlanta just flows. The series, which was created by and stars Donald Glover, is a sort of luminous surrealist fog. It’s art that is supremely interested in both the everydayness and the inherent strangeness of being human. “I just think we need a chance, as humans, to fail in order to discover what actually works,” Glover’s character, the broke-ass Earn, says in Episode 3. “People don’t think there’s a process to being happy.” It’s one of the best new shows of the year, and chances are you’re going to be hearing about it for many more years to come. Might as well hop on the train now, while its quiet vitality is still new. —Alanna Bennett
Quantrell D. Colbert
The second season of this British series landed on Netflix in November with a revamped name to better match the show’s particular emotional milieu. Because while the original name, Scrotal Recall, fit the concept — a guy finds out he has chlamydia and contacts all of his exes and past sexual partners — the pun didn’t quite grasp what is really going on in this underrated gem of a series. It’s part classic comedy following the hijinks of sexually active twentysomething friends, and part sweet, gentle, and heartrending contemplation of love and friendship. The episodes are short, too, and so are the seasons — perfect for a weekend dip into this warm, funny world and the people who occupy it. —A.B.