1. “Surviving R. Kelly,” Lifetime. No other series made the kind of real world impact that this one did. Allegations of sexual abuse against minors followed R. Kelly for years: The superstar was even acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008. But it wasn’t until after the airing of Lifetime’s six-part docu-series featuring testimonials by alleged abuse survivors that criminal investigations were kicked into high-gear. He now faces criminal charges federal and state courts. Lifetime also announced last summer that it was planning a “Surviving Jeffrey Epstein” series.
2. “Unbelievable,” Netflix. This series about a young woman who is accused of lying about rape allegations and two female detectives in another state trying to catch a serial rapist is the kind of eye-opening show that isn’t just compelling television, but a lesson in treating sexual assault victims with compassion and humanity.
3. “Succession,” HBO. There was no sophomore slump for this HBO series about a wealthy family that owns a major media conglomerate. The show only upped the ante with compelling performances from its entire cast, playing characters that are ruthless and not even likable, yet somehow you root for (some of) them anyway. That final scene of season two was the perfect cliffhanger.
4. “Fleabag,” Amazon Prime. Not since “The Thorn Birds” has a forbidden romance between a woman and a priest been so exciting. Phoebe Waller-Bridge established herself as a woman in crisis in season one but season two showed her heart, with her in love with a hot priest and devoted to her sister who is trapped in an unhappy marriage.
5. “Schitt’s Creek,” Pop TV. The series aired its fifth season in 2019 but “Schitt’s Creek” has been a slow burn thanks to word of mouth and a run on Netflix. The comedy about a rich family that loses their fortune and moves into a rundown motel in a small town is funny and smart with rich, quirky characters.
6. “The Morning Show,” Apple+. Jennifer Aniston performs her best work in years as a long-time morning show anchor whose co-host (Steve Carell) is fired for sexual misconduct. Reese Witherspoon co-stars as the new co-host who makes Aniston question the status quo. Their scenes together, whether getting along or at each other’s throats, are just fun. The show also has a great supporting cast including Mark DuPlass, Billy Crudup and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
7. “Chernobyl,” HBO. This series about the 1986 Soviet Union nuclear power plant disaster is grim but masterfully executed. An equally heartbreaking and horrifying scene where children marvel and play in radioactive dust falling like snow will stay with you.
8. “When They See Us,” Netflix. Ava DuVernay did an excellent job with this four-part series about the five black and Latino teens wrongfully prosecuted for the rape of a white Central Park jogger in 1989. The interrogation scenes where the boys are confused and disoriented are especially hard to watch, but that’s the point. It also made an Emmy winner out of Jharrel Jerome and a star out of Asante Blackk, also featured this year on “This Is Us.”
9. “The Politician,” Netflix. Ben Platt has already mastered Broadway but he showed he could carry a series with “The Politician.” Platt shows his range as a young man obsessed with becoming student body president (a necessary step to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming president of the United States). The supporting cast including Gwyneth Paltrow and Zoey Deutch, and the wardrobe and lush settings of the show make the entire experience a colorful ride.
10. “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” Netflix. This documentary followed plans and hype for the kind of luxurious music festival in the Bahamas that Instagram was created for, except poor execution and over-promising turned it into a failure of epic proportions. Hulu also released its own film on the festival featuring an interview with its organizer, Billy McFarland, but the Netflix version is better.
Honorable mentions: “Euphoria” on HBO, “The Boys” on Amazon, “Shrill” and “The Act” on Hulu, “Mandalorian” on Disney+.