1. The Leftovers
Going into this HBO drama's sophomore season, we'd never have predicted that we'd be naming it our favorite show of the year. The first season gave off sparks of brilliance, yet the proceedings often felt too bleak and the plot -- the world reels after 2% of the population vanishes in a rapture-like event -- was simultaneously overwrought and under-explained. But showrunner Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame), along with The Leftovers novelist and co-producer Tom Perrotta, took a detour in season two by relocating its main characters to a "miracle town" in Texas, introducing the fascinating Murphy family (with a tough-as-nails matriarch played expertly by Regina King), and ratcheting up the crazy via a new batch of psychological, emotional, and physical responses to the brave new world. In doing so, it soared.
The show operates, as co-star Amy Brenneman once put it, on "dream-logic," eliding clear explanation, so watching The Leftovers can be something of a primal experience. And yet its elliptical narrative, vivid imagery, and mythic elements work together to create something we, as viewers, intuitively understand, echoing the traumas and longings within us. The struggles portrayed by the show's top-notch ensemble -- Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Liv Tyler, Ann Dowd, et al. -- feel both real and allegorical, as their characters grapple with questions of faith, fate, religion, terrorism, selfhood, mortality, and -- that old Lindelof stomping ground -- purgatory. In the third-to-last episode, our protagonist Kevin (Theroux) finds himself trapped in some sort of limbo realm, and what unfolds there is unlike anything else you'll see on TV this year -- a blend of Black Mirror, Twin Peaks, and the best parts of Lost, only without that show's inclination towards convoluted twists and flashy reveals.