It could reasonably be argued that the last thing anyone needs right now is another TV show based on a comic book. And yet Noah Hawley’s deliriously inventive FX drama, starring Dan Stevens as conflicted mutant David Haller, obliterated our preconceived notions with an intoxicating blend of colorfully surreal visuals, mind-bending twists that we’re still puzzling over and — most vitally — a strong emotional current flowing underneath all the chaos. (Even when our brains didn’t understand what was happening, our hearts did.) Hawley’s filmmaking triumph was matched by a cast of memorable oddballs, with Aubrey Plaza doing sensational work as the mischievous figment lodged in David’s psyche. When’s the next issue come out again?
Like Madonna and Cher before him, Archie Andrews has found countless ways to reinvent himself since his inception in the 1940s, an evolutionary journey that has culminated with a self-aware CW drama that’s as frothy and delicious as the milkshakes at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. (Seriously, how do those kids stay so fit?!) Equal parts sexy teen drama, sexy mystery and sexy throwback to simpler times, Riverdale is one of those guilty pleasures that you soon find yourself not feeling so guilty about. And lest you doubt the show’s binge-ability, Riverdale was such a hit on Netflix over the summer that its second season premiered to double its Season 1 numbers.
8. STRANGER THINGS
Season 2 of the Duffer Brothers’ 1980s-set smash wasn’t totally tubular: Eleven’s reunion with Mike didn’t come until the penultimate episode, “Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister” should’ve stayed lost, and new bully Billy’s rump was more well-rounded than his character. But the Netflix drama struck pay dirt with Sadie Sink’s plucky Max and Sean Astin’s Bob the Brain; Steve and Dustin’s bromance was an unexpected delight; Dart proved to be the cutest/scariest beastie since Gremlins; and the flipped script on the Jonathan/Nancy/Steve triangle only made it more poignant. Besides, any quibbles we might’ve had were forgotten the second we got to the Snow Ball, a denouement so sweet, we can barely write about it without sniffling.
7. THE DEUCE
We’re still not sure how David Simon and George Pelecanos did it: What at first seemed like little more than a string of character studies set against seedy, circa-1970s midtown Manhattan coalesced into a deep, moving, informative portrait of the city’s prostitutes and pimps just before porn got its start. James Franco did an admirable job of moving beyond the novelty of his double role, but the biggest reason The Deuce worked was its women: Dominique Fishback’s young-but-not-naive Darlene, Margarieta Levieva’s whip-smart Abby, Pernell Walker’s knowing Thunder Thighs and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s visionary Eileen, to name a few. We’re still thinking about that scene where Eileen took over adult-movie directing duties for an absent Harvey. Her eyes alight, her ideas in motion, the hooker suddenly saw a different life for herself — and she liked it. We did, too.
6. THIS IS US
The are no superpowers, dragons or Upside Down monsters to be found in the NBC drama, but it holds its own against larger-scale dramas thanks to its big, beating heart and cathartic storytelling, delivered by a uniformly stellar cast. Earlier this year, the breakout cryfest hit dared us not to sob as Randall said goodbye to his dying father in a heart-wrenching hour. (We failed, FYI.) Refusing to rest on its freshman success, the second season has taken on even more ambitious and emotional arcs, with a carefully woven trilogy about The Big Three and a standout episode for Milo Ventimiglia’s as Jack struggled with his alcoholism.
5. GAME OF THRONES
Yes, Season 7 of the HBO fantasy drama had its share of plot hole-induced flaws. (We’re still not sure how that raven got to Daenerys so quickly.) But travel logistics aside, the penultimate batch of episodes were some of the series’ most visually stunning and emotionally compelling. As it began to unite each of its storylines, Thrones delivered moments both satisfying (toodles, Littlefinger!) and gut-wrenching (Viserion, nooo!), all while setting the stage for one heckuva conclusion in 2019…ish. In this era of #PeakTV, it’s rare that a new episode must be watched live — but thanks to the edge-of-your-seat drama featured in Thrones‘ seventh season, we were glued to our screens every Sunday night.
4. HALT AND CATCH FIRE
Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan once said, “Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.” Because for Joe, as well as the AMC drama’s Cameron, Gordon and Donna, it was never truly about the technology: It was about making connections with each other and becoming better people along the way. This very idea helped shape the series’ exquisite final season, which did pretty much everything right — from the top-notch casting of Susanna Skaggs as Haley and Anna Chlumsky as Katie, to Gordon’s mesmerizing death sequence and the subsequent displays of grief. But best of all was the cathartic series finale, which reunited Cameron and Donna and brought Joe full circle, on his own but knowing he’ll never truly be alone again.
3. BIG LITTLE LIES
The HBO limited series arrived with, um, big expectations — and resoundingly, remarkably exceeded them. Not only did BLL feature one of the year’s most engrossing and satisfying mysteries, but it deftly toggled between heavy drama (the domestic violence storyline that propelled Nicole Kidman to her first Emmy win) and subtle camp (every damn scene featuring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern’s feuding moms). The seven-episode saga left us wanting more. Lucky for us, it looks like we’ll be getting it.
2. THE HANDMAID’S TALE
The Hulu drama is no-joke scary, a dystopian take on an America where women are valued for little more than their procreative powers. But it’s also insanely captivating, thanks in large part to the performances of a powerful cast led by Elisabeth Moss. There’s so much to love about the drama, from its effective use of flashback to its stark costume design to its subversive feminism. But perhaps the best decision made by the novel’s adaptation was to tweak Margaret Atwood’s iconic work in ways (such as Luke’s escape to Canada and the reappearance of Offred’s daughter, Hannah) that ensure that Offred’s story can continue for seasons to come.
1. THE LEFTOVERS
Though we hate that the surreal HBO drama’s third season was also its last, we could hardly have been any more satisfied with the way it departed. Over the course of its final eight episodes — stunning, one and all — Justin Theroux’s Kevin was cast as a reluctant Jesus-come-lately, “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” gave Scott Glenn a showcase worth waiting for, and “The Book of Nora” allowed Carrie Coon to deliver a performance that was so moving, it made her a legend (if not the Emmy winner she deserves to be). Best of all, in its final hour, the show dispensed with its usual bleakness to reveal that at the heart of its byzantine plot was the love story we hadn’t dared hope would have a happy ending.