1. ‘The Terror’ (AMC)
Dan Simmons is one of those authors who writes incredibly vibrant, oftentimes downright cinematic novels that are rarely (if ever) adapted into another form. “The Terror,” one of Simmons’ most widely acclaimed and commercially successful books, was initially slated to be a feature directed by Ridley Scott. Scott, busy retrofitting the “Alien” franchise (or something), instead turned the idea into a television show — and what a television show it is.
The tale of two ships trying to navigate the Northwest Passage, who get waylaid by ice, disease, and a grotesque monster (designed by the great Neville Page) who stalks them as they flounder, is both a deeply felt human drama and a terrifying survivalist ordeal. Handsomely produced and incredibly well acted (shout out to Tobias Menzies, who is in almost every television show these days and excellent in all of them), this is a grueling experience that you can’t wait to endure.
2. ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story’ (FX)
The first season of Ryan Murphy’s warts-and-all true crime series, “The People vs. OJ Simpson,” captured the zeitgeist in a way few series do. (Seriously, if you stacked all the think pieces on top of one another, you could probably touch the moon.) Sadly, the follow-up, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” didn’t capture the same amount of attention — but it was just as good.
If the first season of the show was a courtroom drama, this season was something of an erotic thriller. It began with Gianni Versace’s untimely murder and cycled backwards, following both the designer (played winningly by Edgar Ramirez) and his killer, Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). Murphy unflinchingly delves into the gay underworld where Cunanan frequented, and it’s in that cultural and sexual specificity that the show became totally universal. Ultimately, this brilliant, bejeweled suspense piece was less a whodunit than a why-he-did-it.
3. ‘Trust’ (FX)
Last year, Ridley Scott unleashed “All the Money in the World,” based on the true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. But as “Trust” proves, if you think that was the whole story, it most assuredly was not.
An inventive, energetic, and at times unwieldy epic of class and self-destruction, the series is elevated by the sharp direction (led by Danny Boyle’s three-episode kick-off), equally sharp writing (by frequent Boyle confederate Simon Beaufoy), and a murderer’s row of great actors (Donald Sutherland is the elder Getty, Hilary Swank is the stressed mother, and Brendan Fraser is the sardonic cowboy tasked with the child’s safe return). What a blast.
4. ‘The Americans’ Final Season (FX)
For six seasons, “The Americans” was FX’s underseen critical darling, about Russian spies (“illegals”) taking root in America’s backyard during peak Cold War 1980s. The series’ slow-burn take on marriage — put through the very real, very brutal, lens of tradecraft — has delivered all-timer episodes and performances in its final season, airing now. We’re gonna miss when we had new hours of this drama to watch, as it ends its run as one of the best shows ever made.
5. ‘The X-Files’ Season 11 (FOX)
Ever since Fox revived “The X-Files” with a limited “event series” back in 2016, it sometimes felt like maybe we were better off without the show. Not that it wasn’t a hoot to see Gillian Anderson and David Duchovnycomfortably slip into their truth-seeking FBI agent roles, but the episodes were more uneven than not, with little commentary given to the psychotic political climate.
Thankfully, Season 11 — which looks like it will be the last cluster of episodes for the foreseeable future — gleefully satirized the current political age and gave us at least two all-time classic episodes: “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” from genius writer-director Darin Morgan, and “Rm9sbG93ZXJz,” a techno-phobic trifle that felt like vintage “Twilight Zone.”
6. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2 (Hulu)
This Emmy-winning Hulu series kicked off its second season with one hell of an opener: Rebellious handmaids being lured to what’s left of Fenway Park for a lynching — only to find out that the nooses around their necks are to serve as a lesson, a way to keep them in line in a world where women are cattle/walking incubators. That gut-punch of an opener set the tone for this continually brilliant, insanely well-acted series that seems poised to beat the sophomore season curse.
7. ‘Barry’ Season 1 (HBO)
What if Walter White was a bad guy (in this case, a mid-level hitman) trying to become a good guy (re: an actor in LA). That’s the “Breaking Bad-y” premise of HBO latest too-good-to-be-true series from Bill Hader, who also stars as the titular assassin/aspiring actor when he’s not directing or writing or co-writing episodes.
Each episode of the too-short, eight episode first season effortlessly straddles that tricky line between comedy and blunt-force action drama. It tightens the screws and escalates the stakes in ways that would make Walter White sweat.
8. ‘Westworld’ Season 2 (HBO)
In the second season of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s redo of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, the wild west got a whole lot wilder. “Westworld” Season Two, now halfway through its ten episode run, has introduced a dizzying array of new mysteries including (but not limited to) the idea of “hosts” that have not only overtaken the parks, but also have slipped into the real world, several more parks (including The Raj and Shogun World), human consciousness within the hosts, and, of course, a time-bendy chronology.
This year is deeper, more emotionally resonate and more thrilling; it’s a perfect second act.
9. ‘Atlanta’ Season 2 (FX)
Donald Glover’s critical hit and award-winning series uses horror movie tropes in Season 2 to further explore its unique take on race and the American Dream. In doing so, it delivered several compelling hours of television that deserve to be on everyone’s “Best of” lists.
10. ‘Killing Eve’ (BBC America)
“Killing Eve” and “Barry” are two of the best shows about assassins ever made, and the former is scary-good in the twists and turns department. It also features some of best performances on television currently.