2016 was an amazing year of TV- one of the most eclectic, challenging, entertaining seasons in history with too many brilliant shows to count. We tried to watch as many of them as possible to accurately capture what stood out this year. We obviously failed- it’s literally impossible to watch everything- but we think this year’s winners represent a pretty great cross-section of what made 2016 so remarkable.
Don’t miss our 2016 Nominee Interview Series, featuring exclusive interviews with nominees from all of our branches and be sure to check out Awards Headquarters for the full list of this year’s winners.
Without further ado, the winners are:
The unadorned moodiness of this southern gothic makes it unique in a landscape of flashier work. The character and actor direction is just as evocative as the perfectly composed shots that capture the tone of Paulie, Georgia with all its commonplace realism and grand representational hellishness.
Outstanding Writing for a Drama
“Ambush” by Ariana Jackson (UnREAL)
In the darkest episode of a brutal (in a good way) second season for this surprisingly sophisticated Lifetime hit, Rachel’s better angels fall prey to her toxic faux-SJW ambitions in a piece of writing that beautifully melds honest character insight with big picture themes and over-the-top drama.
Outstanding Writing Outside of Genre
“Streets on Lock” by Stephen Glover (Atlanta)
Any episode of Atlanta could have won this year but we’re particularly fond of the series’ second episode in which Ern waits for bail after being arrested at the end of the pilot. The show’s groundbreaking blend of magical realism and breathtaking fact makes its first real appearance in this episode, the half hour that really set the tone for what was to come.
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy
“Grinder vs. Grinder” by Ben Wexler (The Grinder)
We loved this not-long-for-this-world Rob Lowe/Fred Savage sitcom about a former TV lawyer and his real lawyer brother. This episode wherein Lowe’s character faces off against his TV replacement in real-life court was the meta highlight of a show that wasn’t afraid to swing for the high-concept fences.
Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy
One of the most casually diverse, smartly developed, truly hilarious casts of supporting characters we’ve ever seen TV backs up a leading quartet that’s 3/4 perfect on this underrated network gem. Rather than broad joke-machines, these people feel real enough that pretty much any character could lead their own show.
Outstanding Ensemble Outside of Genre
The whole cast did incredible work this year from series lead Jeffrey Tambor to his constantly evolving kids to darkhorse MVP Kathryn Hahn and season stealer Judith Light who grew Shelly into a whole new woman in her breakout season.
Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama
We have complicated feelings about the filmiphication of television but one plus it’s hard to argue with is the calibre of performers who are finally dipping their toe into the medium. The world-class performers who populate this HBO juggernaut are some of the best of their generation.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
John Early (Search Party)
Early delivers every line perfectly in Search Party‘s great first season. His laughs-per-minute rate is off the charts and he can steal a scene by standing in the back and making a face. Layering revealing vulnerability beneath the bitter comedy elevates the performance even further.
Outstanding Supporting Actor Outside of Genre
Ethan Cutkosky (Shameless)
Each season of Shameless, another member of the incredible ensemble breaks out as a force to be reckoned with. In the first of the series’ two seasons in 2016, it was Ethan Cutkosky’s Carl, a character who’d been too young to really flesh out when the show premiered but has since grown into a compelling, conflicted, enthralling presence on the show.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
Clayne Crawford (Rectify)
The fact that Clayne Crawford never received awards recognition for his work on this show will never sit right with us. The fact that he’s now moved on to something far simpler and sillier (Lethal Weapon) bothers us even more. His heartbreakingly human performance as a man who will never be first is the crown jewel of a series that deserved far more attention.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Lauren Ash (Superstore)
Lauren Ash’s perfectly timed, quietly sad, irresistibly strong take on the Shrute-ish role in NBC’s wonderful Superstore is our favourite thing about one of our favourite shows. She’s a woman unlike any we’ve ever seen on NBC and hopefully she’ll open the door for many more like her because she’s just too wonderful.
Outstanding Supporting Actress Outside of Genre
Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black)
Pennsatucky has always been a fascinating presence on Orange is the New Black. Manning’s bravura work as a meth-addicted zealot in the show’s early seasons deserved far more buzz than it got but it’s the subtlety of her performance now that Penn is sober that really hits our heart. In season four she carried a heavy story we’ll never be able to forget.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama
Constance Zimmer (UnREAL)
We’ve loved Constance Zimmer since Good Morning Miami and Boston Legal but it’s thrilling to see her finally start to get the strong, complex roles she deserves now that she’s in her 40s. As the hard-edged but deeply human executive producer of the Bachelor-style show-within-UnREAL, she’s doing her best work yet.
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy
Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
Rachel Bloom is a woman of particular talents and particular interests and particular style so she created her own star vehicle that caters to and showcases those talents, interests and style. That’s just so incredibly cool. Rebecca Bunch is one of the great complex heroines of her generation on television and that’s all because of Bloom.
Outstanding Actress Outside of Genre
Michaela Watkins (Casual)
Her compatriot Tommy Dewey won for his role last year and this year we simply couldn’t help but highlight the other half of the most complex relationship on TV, marked by funny, nuanced, brave performance and writing so real Watkins can’t really play it, she just has to live through it, which she does unspeakably beautifully.
Outstanding Actress in a Drama
Sarah Paulson (The People vs. OJ Simpson)
It’s Sarah Paulson, we shouldn’t have to explain this to you. Ryan Murphy is one of the worst writers in the world but he’s extraordinary at two things: 1) he knows exactly what story to tell when and 2) he has an unparalleled eye for talent. We’ll always be grateful to him for giving Paulson so many roles so worthy of her talent.
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy
Neil Flynn (The Middle)
The Middle makes us cry pretty much every episode and it’s usually Neil Flynn who does it. As stoic dad Mike on this under-appreciated sitcom, his deadpan humour, bristly personality, and giant beating heart combine to perfect effect. 22 episodes a year, he delivers one of the most dependably delightful performances on TV.
Outstanding Actor Outside of Genre
Chris Geere (You’re the Worst)
The central conflict of season 3 was the death of Jimmy estranged father. Navigating a psychological minefield with gallows humour, outlandish childishness, deep-seated hurt, and shocking insecurity-based narcissism, Geere had his best season yet as a character you love too much to hate even though you know you should.
Outstanding Actor in a Drama
Paul Dano (War & Peace)
One of most memorable scenes on television in 2016 involved Paul Dano silently eating a potato. That’s all, just eating a potato. A world of fierce emotion and complicated relationships swirled around that moment in this wonderful BBC miniseries but the hurt and pathos and pleasure and release of Pierre and that potato sums it all up.
Outstanding Guest Actor
Corey Stoll (Girls)
Stoll’s subplot as a powerful newsman who falls for Andrew Rannells’ Elijah on the penultimate season of Girls walked the line between fun fairytale and harsh reality check as it slowburned its way towards catastrophe. He was stunning in the role and stood out in a show known for its incredible guest cast.
Outstanding Guest Actress
Laurie Metcalf (Horace and Pete)
The transcendent third episode of this masterpiece opened with a 20 minute uninterrupted close-up on Laurie Metcalf’s face. The whole episode is a tour de force but that opening monologue, boy, that might be one of the best pieces of television acting in the history of the medium. No exaggeration.
Best Voice-Over Performance
Phil Matarese (Animals.)
The unexpected, off-kilter, insightful brilliance of Animals. was one of the great delights of 2016. Co-creator Phil Matarese (with collaborator Mike Luciano) is right at the heart of that, bringing perfect timing and anthropomorphic honesty to a new animal character every episode.
Outstanding Variety Performance
Bo Burnham (Make Happy)
Have you seen Bo Burnham’s Netflix specials? Either of them, but the latest Make Happy we think is the real piece de resistance. He’s so inventive, incisive, intelligent, and totally laid bare in a high-production-value spectacular that not only more than justifies the rate at which his star rose but gives new meaning to the dual-use word “special”.
Outstanding Sketch Artist
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
When she first showed up as a featured player on SNL, it was easy to tell that McKinnon would one day be the face of the show. What we didn’t see coming was the extent to which she would become the face of an era. Hillary Clinton, KellyAnne Conway, Angela Merkel, Jeff Sessions- her impressions defined 2016 perhaps more than any other comedic voice.
Outstanding Talk/Variety Host
Seth Meyers (Late Night)
The other most important comedic voice of the year belonged to the late night host who has most truly carried on the trusted funny newsman legacy of Jon Stewart. Once Seth found a format that worked for him (no monologue, start at the desk, “A Closer Look”) Late Night quickly became our go-to show for smart political commentary and well-meaning solace.
Outstanding Reality Host/Coach/Judge
Valentin Chmerkovskiy (Dancing with the Stars)
Tough, charming, supportive, talented and classic in his choreographic style, Val has quickly become the heir apparent to Derek Hough’s mirror ball record, winning his second trophy this year with gymnast Laurie Hernandez and coming awfully close with his other partner Ginger Zee. He’s never not in the finals these days, and there’s a reason.
Outstanding Male Reality Star
Adam Klein (Survivor)
Adam didn’t play a perfect Survivor game. He had an odd strategy, depended too heavily on idols, put his foot in his mouth often, and risked taking his biggest threat David way too far. But he was one of the most compelling TV characters of the year by many miles and his triumphant win in the face of massive tragedy was a story too unbelievable to not be true.
Outstanding Female Reality Star
Ashley Iaconetti (Bachelor in Paradise)
The tears are a lot and she really really needs to take a break from reality TV, but we’re rooting so hard for Ashley I. She’s a refreshingly frank, sneakily smart, consistently funny person who makes the audience feel like a friend and, in return, we just want her to be happy. Not with Jared, though.
Best New Show
When Donald Glover left Community, it felt short-sighted. He’d turned a seemingly pretty conventional character into a complex breakout and the show was so much smarter and stranger and evocative than anything else on the air. Then he started creating his own work and that work makes the genius of Community feel dinky. Atlanta is a triumph, nothing less.
Best Cancelled Show
Oh man, we loved this oddball political sci-fi comedy with its musical recaps and wacky approach to socio-political activism. A perfect cast, delicious writing, and a perfect single-season premise, at least BrainDead‘s first season can live forever completely on its own. But we would have loved to see another chapter.
Honest, hard, not-always-super-fun but always worth-it character development made season three Broad City‘s greatest season yet as Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson continue to deliver big laughs by being as bold as they can possibly be. They’re fearless and brilliant and true standouts in a crowded comedy field. The hiatus has been too long; we miss them.
Best Show Outside of Genre
Orange is the New Black
Season four succeeded with standout single episodes (“It Sounded Nicer In My Head”, oh my god) and larger arcs both principal (the injustices of the private prison system; the white supremacists) and supporting (Pennsatucky just killed us this year) all culminating in the most painful episode of TV any of us can remember. A true masterpiece on every front.
This nostalgic Netflix gem was arguably the biggest TV phenomenon since Game of Thrones. For months, it was all anyone talked about. To top off a year of remarkable Netflix domination, we had to award this beloved hit for its creativity, sincerity, and inarguable impact.
Poussey & Brook (Orange is the New Black)
*spoiler alert* There were lots of great couples on this list but we had to celebrate this one while we could. Samira Wiley has gone on to an Emmy-nominated turn on The Handmaid’s Tale while Kimiko Glenn delivered her best work of the series as Brook mourned in season five but we’ll always remember them most fondly in each other’s arms.
Moment of the Year
Bret comes out to Zeke (Survivor)
A defining emotional note in a top-tier season, the perfect encapsulation of the generational differences Jeff Probst had been making the castaways talk about all season, and one of those “this is why reality TV exists” moments that have to be true to be believed. Not to tip our hand but look for another transcendent Zeke moment to make this list for 2017.
Horace & Pete
This show was a one-of-a-kind piece of artistic output the likes of which we’ll likely never see again. Self-funded and released online with no set schedule or formula or genre or even episode length, this unstylish, hard-to-describe, perfectly cast tragic comedy was an exercise in pure artistic freedom and the unbelievable rewards that those things can reap.
LaKeith Stanfield (Atlanta)
We’ve had our eye on this chameleonic 26-year-old since 2013 when he stood out in that year’s best indie (Short Term 12 starring a pre-Room Brie Larson; if you haven’t seen it you’re crazy) but with his scene-stealing role in Atlanta (not to mention a tiny but clutch supporting turn in Get Out), we can’t wait any longer to call our shot on this future superstar.