L to R: Hannah Gadsby in Nanette, Disenchantment, Tituss Burgess in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Photo: Ben King (Hannah Gadsby/Netflix), Eric Liebowitz (Tituss Burgess/Netflix), Image: Disenchantment (Netflix), Graphic: Caitlin PenzeyMoog

Looking back at what feels like a lot longer than 12 months—did you even remember that there was an Olympics this year?—it’s easy to forget what aired in April when you’re knee-deep in October’s bounty. Plus, plenty of shows that aired on niche cable channels earlier in the year are now available to stream on widely available platforms. With so much good television these days, not everything can make our Best Of TV list (though a few of these recommendations do). And with such an embarrassment of riches, there’s plenty to choose from, whether you’re looking for something to share with family over the holidays or looking for something to curl up with by yourself. Here’s a look back at the year in streamable television, month by month.


January

Waco, limited miniseries

Waco crafts a sturdy if inelegant study of how it all went so wrong, aided by almost uniformly strong performances that work to sell merely adequate dialogue. Topping the cast is Taylor Kitsch, who makes Koresh into a charming and relatable demagogue, a man who spends 90 percent of his time playing the everyday roles of folksy preacher and devoted friend and family man, only occasionally tipping his hand as to the degree of megalomania and sexual-predator tendencies within. (Recruiting an affable young man played by Rory Culkin, Koresh explains the celibacy rule for the men, saying, “I have taken on the burden of sex for everyone.”) [Alex McLevy]

Available on: prime VIDEO ($), YouTube ($)
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February

Altered Carbon, season one

Altered Carbon is often ridiculous, but damned if it isn’t the best-looking series Netflix has yet produced. The world of the show is a fully realized technological marvel, a society hundreds of years in the future that also looks like it. CGI spectacle suffuses nearly every frame of the series, making it compelling eye candy even—or especially—when the dialogue sinks like an overwrought lead balloon. As the cameras swoop and survey the landscape (thanks to the florid visual style instigated by the pilot’s director, Miguel Sapochnik), even tossed-off background sets suggest a lived-in world of stories to tell. [Alex McLevy]

Available on: Netflix
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The Tick, season one

This Tick is a show where silly, funny things happen all the time, whether that comes in the form of a gravel-voiced ’90s antihero named Overkill arguing with his talking boat (Alan Tudyk, who’s basically reprising his role from Rogue One) or an Egyptian-themed crime boss who gets pissy when his assistants don’t adopt matching Eye Of Ra tattoos. But it’s also a show about a guy struggling to come to terms with what being “normal” actually is, and whether he even wants it. That increased interest in the inner lives of its characters is the real meat of this new series, even as it provides all the nonsensical one-liners, giant naked men, and superhero parodies that fans of these characters have come to expect. [William Hughes]

Available on: PRIME VIDEO (included with prime)
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March

A Series Of Unfortunate Events, season two

Once again, a series of events appears to be happening; and once again, those events are very much unfortunate. ASOUE’s second season picks up where the first season ended with the Baudelaires waiting to enroll in the magnificently dreary Prufrock Preparatory School. Sunny looks a bit older now, but circumstances are very much the same. Their parents are dead, Count Olaf wants their fortune, and all the adults are too vain, too selfish, or too incompetent to be much use. Last season, our heroes discovered hints about a secret organization that might prove the answer to their prayers, but right now everything is miserable, which is just the way we like it. [Zack Handlen]

Available on: Netflix
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Barry, season one

On the surface, the premise of Bill Hader’s new dark comedy, Barry, seems like it could have been pieced together from audience suggestions he heard in his improv days at the Second City Hollywood. Occupation? Hitman. For location, how about an acting class in Los Angeles? And finally, a phrase to get the scene going? Well, “existential crisis” has a nice ring to it. But Barry doesn’t shy away from hard truths, including the difficulty veterans face returning to civilian life, and society’s insistence that we are what we get paid to do. It just takes them to absurd extremes, warping concepts like taking pride in your work and individualism until they seem ridiculous or terrifying. This is a show in which killers regularly workshop ideas like macabre calling cards, and acting coach Gene Cousineau’s (Henry Winkler) philosophy that we can assume a new life at will is also taken far too literally. [Danette Chavez]

available on: hbo NOW, PRIME VIDEO ($)
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Wild Wild Country, limited miniseries

Wild Wild Country—a new six-part Netflix documentary on the dark side of the utopian experiment that briefly took over the tiny town (think a few dozen people) of Antelope, Oregon in the early 1980s—is in part the story of a generational divide, a culture war between smug flower children who heap contempt on their less enlightened neighbors and scowling old folks deeply suspicious of anyone who deviates from their “God, guns, and red meat” lifestyle. It’s also the story of what happens when you create a religion with no consistent moral center, as Bhagwan did when he cherry-picked spiritual teachings from around the globe to justify his love of diamond watches, Rolls-Royces, and huffing nitrous oxide. [Katie Rife]

Available on: Netflix
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April

Killing Eve, season one

The show isn’t shy about its influences. This is a spy show, with the glamorous locales and gorgeous clothes to prove it. But for once, that beautiful woman walking by is just as deadly as she seems, and the woman being ignored in a meeting? She might be the only person smart enough to catch her. [Lisa Weidenfeld]

available on: hulu
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May

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, season four

The show spent its first couple of seasons proving its premise could work and then opened the story up to the other characters, putting them on equal narrative ground as Kimmy. Now, the show is so sure of its comedic voice, which makes it all the more immersive. And it has a crystal clear thesis that has transcended its initial premise, too. The end of season three and the beginning of season four reiterate that this show is about people finding their purpose in life—and often failing and changing course along the way. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

Available on: Netflix
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The Terror, season one

What The Terror gets right, and so many other works of period miserabalism—including executive producer Ridley Scott’s own Taboo, starring a soot-encrusted Tom Hardy—get wrong, is that you have to feel bad that the characters are so miserable in the first place. If you start them all at the same glowering, fundamentally mean-spirited place and just make things worse from there, that empathy can’t be generated; you’re left with the “endlessly unfolding tedium” that the granddaddy of the genre once described. Deadwood never fell into that trap, and neither, based on this opening hour, does The Terror. [Sean T. Collins]

Available on: prime video ($), YouTube ($)
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June

Marvel’s Luke Cage, season two

As season two unfolds, the show and its protagonist draw power from the past, both in confronting and embracing it. And in doing so, Luke Cage becomes the first Marvel show (not including Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) to best its first season. ... Season two immediately wins back a lot of good will with its Lucy Liu-directed premiere, which finds Luke methodically making his way through another underworld stronghold. [Danette Chavez]

availble on: netflix
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Pose, season one

There’s a lot going on in Pose, the new FX drama that explores the origins of New York’s ball culture, but little of it feels superfluous. The opening sequence alone is packed with introductions, finery fit for queens, a heist, choreography—and every entertaining bit of it is significant. Not a single stitch is dropped in crafting this memorable and meaningful first impression. Pose is unflinching in its portrayal of the racism and transphobia that exist in the LGBTQ community, but the show seems more interested in protecting its characters from further abuse. Here, it’s queer people’s joy and ambition, instead of their suffering, that drives the story. [Danette Chavez]

available on: prime video ($), youtube ($)
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July

GLOW, season two

The first season of GLOW didn’t have a lot of actual in-ring work because it was all building to the G.L.O.W. pilot, to when it could show the girls’ hard work off. (Though we’ll always have the war against racism.) Now, they’re taping a weekly show, but the focus still won’t necessarily be the in-ring—not when you need things like opening titles or to train a brand-new wrestler. The G.L.O.W. Girls may not be experts, but at this point, they know what they need to do to make a compelling television show. And GLOW knows what it needs to do to make one as well. [LaToya Ferguson]

available on: netflix
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8 stand-up comedy specials

With Netflix’s goal of a thousand original releases by the end of 2018, it’s easy to feel adrift in this sea of content. We rounded up eight of our favorite comedy specials this summer that stand out in the deluge. This is by no means a comprehensive list—Netflix seems intent on making that nearly impossible—but every special, whether it’s 15 or 60 minutes long, is worth your increasingly precious viewing time. Our selections include Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, W. Kamau Bell’s Private School Negro, and more.

available on: various
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August

Disenchantment, season one

Having already sent up the nuclear family and science fiction, Matt Groening turns his eye to medieval times for his first Netflix series, Disenchantment. The Simpsons and Futurama creator reunites with Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley for this fantasy parody, which could be described as “Game Of Thrones as recapped by Homer Simpson” (we know, “The Serfsons” did it already). It’s a fitfully entertaining yarn, one that gets entangled in overlong episodes, a meandering plot, and an existential crisis that mirrors that of its main protagonist. But the game voice cast—which includes several Futurama regulars—helps keep this genre-skewering adventure on course. [Danette Chavez]

available on: netflix
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September

American Vandal, season two

Last year’s brilliant first season of American Vandal ... asked one of the most pressing questions of our time: “Who drew the dicks?” It was one-part mystery, one-part parody, while developing into a surprisingly smart examination of the pitfalls of reading people by the reputation given them by teachers and classmates. Finally, it understood how young people communicate in the ’10s, often saying more over live streams, through stupid pranks, and on social media than they ever do face to face. How do show creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault follow up the word-of-mouth success of the first season? With poop, of course. This is “#2” after all. [Brian Tallerico]

availble on: netflix
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Maniac, season one

You’re going to be tempted to “figure out” Maniac. Deny the temptation. You’re going to want to decode the colliding trajectories of grieving addict Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and potentially schizophrenic black sheep Owen Milgram (Jonah Hill), who each have their reasons for enrolling in a pharmaceutical trial comprising three experimental drugs, some Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind hardware, and its creator’s lofty aims of eliminating “unnecessary and inefficient forms of human pain forever.” Pass on that. [Erik Adams]

available on: netflix
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October

The Haunting Of Hill House, season one

Haunted-house stories are, by their very nature, self-contained. So it’s especially impressive that The Haunting Of Hill House, the newest in a series of collaborations between Netflix and director Mike Flanagan, manages to be both sprawling and terrifying at the same time. Flanagan and the show’s writers take pains to include at least one horror sequence in each episode of this 10-part series, ranging from hauntingly subtle to nauseatingly intense. They’re all elegantly executed, however, and powerful enough to linger in that floating space between waking and sleep for nights on end. [Katie Rife]

available on: netflix
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Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, season one

Kiernan Shipka leads the series with growing confidence as Sabrina Spellman, who is half-mortal, half-witch, and wholly a teenager, which means she’s also idealistic, occasionally brash, and skeptical of authority. When season one begins, she’s facing a not-so-typical teen dilemma: stay in the mortal world with her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (My Friend Dahmer’s Ross Lynch) and friends Roz Walker (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), or sign her name into Satan’s book and gain previously untapped power. [Danette Chavez]

available on: netflix
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November

The Little Drummer Girl, limited miniseries

Although Park Chan-wook’s films have always had an air of the operatic about them, it wasn’t until The Handmaiden (2016) that the swooning romantic inside the celebrated auteur of the twisted and perverse truly came alive on screen. Park’s newest project, the three-night, six-part AMC miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, builds on the deliciously heightened sensibilities of his last feature for a glamorous take on the usually rather chilly spy genre. In Park’s hands, this ’70s-set game of geopolitical chess doubles as an exquisitely shot meditation on the masks we wear in life and love, laid over an erotically charged game of cat-and-mouse. [Katie Rife]

available on: prime video ($), YOUTUBE ($)
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Goatface, one-hour comedy special

Aristotle Athiras, Asif Ali, Fahim Anwar, and Hasan Minhaj have been making comedy together under the name Goatface since 2011, and with the recent release of its first Comedy Central special, the group is poised to reach a much wider audience with their hyper-specific, unapologetically brown brand of comedy. Like Key & Peele and Chappelle’s Show, Goatface harnesses culturally specific humor about race and identity that’s authentic, layered, and downright hilarious. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

available on: cc.com (free)
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December

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, season two

As Miriam “Midge” Maisel rightly points out at a show where she’s sidelined by a noxious comics boys’ club, if comedy is born from tragedy, who on earth would understand that better than a woman? Midge is our hero because she blazes a trail in a world where her path is unfamiliar enough to be nearly impossible. [Gwen Ihnat]

available on: prime video (included with prime)
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