Top TV shows to binge-watch before 2016

Jessica Jones” (Netflix)

The first glimpses of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” contain neo-noir cinematography and a familiar detective-like voiceover, all situated in New York City. From these first glances, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) appears to be no more than “someone looking for the worst in people” — in other words, she seems like a witty and frank private investigator trying to make a living. These first impressions, however, become the show’s bite and pull. In creating a nuanced and delicate character arc for “Jessica Jones,” writer Melissa Rosenberg masterfully places us both outside and inside Jones’ head. We do not fully learn the extent of antagonist Kilgrave’s abuses until the latter half of the season. In the first half, Rosenberg slowly fixates on the repercussions of Jessica’s abuse, trauma and PTSD, rather than specific abuses — a rarity for television.

As Jessica Jones, Ritter both melts into the difficulty of her role and plays sarcasm with ease. Physical fights permeate nearly every episode, but we end up rooting for Jessica’s fight with her day-to-day existence, as she self-medicates and succumbs to isolation. Jessica’s half-sister Trish, however, never leaves her side. She refuses to see the bad in Jessica and supports Jessica through her trauma. Together, they heal.

— Ariana Vargas

“Jane the Virgin” (The CW, season 1 available on Netflix)

“Jane the Virgin” melds its individual components effortlessly, a glorious spectacle that subverts and honors the traditional and cultural significance of the telenovela in a show that embraces the hyphenated identities of its protagonists.  

Singlehandedly carried by the wondrous Golden Globe recipient Gina Rodriguez, the show’s titular Jane, we stumble across boundless passion, love affairs and the occasional gruesome murder — all key elements to an unabashedly juicy and cheesy melodrama. Yet, “Jane the Virgin” never veers into weepy theatrics thanks to the show’s omnipresent narrator. While he merely offers narrative commentary, he imbues the show’s typical plot tropes with just the right amount of self-awareness, humor and sheer relatability to make the show a ceaseless, thought-provoking delight.

Perhaps more important is the show’s political discourse — in a political climate where presidential candidates can spew xenophobic, racist noise without abandon, “Jane the Virgin” is urgent now more than ever. At its core, the show is about love, both romantic and familial. Touching upon the woes of undocumented immigrants with Jane’s grandmother, Alba, “Jane the Virgin” does the revolutionary through normalcy: It transforms specific, individual worries into relatable, universal matters. And by rooting for Alba, viewers are rooting for much-needed immigration reform. A win-win.

— Joshua Bote

Master of None (Netflix)

Of former “Parks and Recreation” fame, show creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang took a step away from the cheerful absurdism at the core of “Parks and Recreation” to set their sights on a bold, ambitious concept in their new Netflix sitcom, “Master of None.” Witty, touching and grounded in a deft, breezy realism, “Master of None” is the rare kind of sitcom that manages to dodge the looming threat of cliche while casting a keen critical gaze on the contemporary social climate.

The series follows protagonist Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari) through his everyday millennial struggles — from finding love to confronting racial microaggressions. Though the series also boasts an often lighthearted plot and fun, natural dialogue, what really sets this show apart is its smart, uncompromising critique of social injustices in modern society. Each episode tackles political topics with an unusual finesse, addressing each issue at a level not watered down to the “well, duh” simplicity of American media’s safer bounds.  

— Lindsay Choi

Mad Men (AMC, seasons 1-6 available on Netflix)

“The End of an Era,” announced the posters for the final stretch of the last season of “Mad Men.” It would be a lazy bit of hyperbole for any other show, but “Mad Men” is a genuine cultural phenomenon, a trailblazer in sublime prestige drama. It has been name-dropped by President Obama, parodied by everyone from “Saturday Night Live” to “Sesame Street” and credited with reviving fervent American interest in the 1960s. After eight years, the meticulously imagined world of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency has been given a worthy send-off.

These last seven episodes produced some of the show’s best moments. We got Roger Sterling playing the piano drunk as Peggy roller skates around the empty Sterling Cooper offices. We got Peggy’s now iconic strut down the hallway as she confidently claims a new job. And finally, there is that last smile on Don Draper’s face, an enigmatic parting gift. The end of the era is at once triumphant, joyous, tragic, bittersweet, enlightening, satisfying and ambiguous — the kind of full and complex range we expected of Matthew Weiner’s masterpiece.

—Miyako Singer

Catastrophe (Amazon)

“Catastrophe” is a rare thing — a romantic comedy about two mature adults who really like each other. That doesn’t seem like a tall order, but in a rom-com landscape populated with slovenly man-children and the nonsensical love-hate trope, Catastrophe is refreshing, whip-smart fun.

Twitter personality Rob Delaney and Irish actress and writer Sharon Horgan co-write, produce and star in the show. Delaney is Rob Norris, an American ad man, and Horgan is Sharon Morris, an Irish schoolteacher. The two have a weeklong hookup in London and part ways, but Sharon gets pregnant. Rob returns to the U.K., and the two try to make it work. Not only is Rob an actual adult man, he’s often the one pushing for commitment. Rob and Sharon are likable but flawed — they’re filthy, funny, complex people. They have palpable chemistry, not just in their perfectly written banter but in the sack, too. It’s nice to see TV people having really great, fun, consensual sex — and lots of it.

“Catastrophe” hits every rom-com note without ever falling victim to tired convention — it’s sweet, sexy, dirty, human and seriously hilarious, with a couple worth genuinely rooting for.

— Miyako Singer

Fargo (FX)

Recent reboots of beloved movies and franchises have proven to be rather hit-or-miss, from the incendiary “Mad Max: Fury Road to the middling “Terminator: Genisys” this year alone. For FX to reboot the Coen brothers’ classic black comedy “Fargo as an anthology series was bold, to say the least.

The first season was a stylized blend of nihilism, violence and small-town, down-to-earth goodness. The newest season, set in the tense year of 1979, expands on that formula in thrilling ways. In this latest installment, three good ol’ families in Minnesota and North Dakota become embroiled in a mob war between Kansas City and Fargo crime syndicates (yes, those apparently exist) because of a series of ridiculous accidents, chance showdowns and increasingly irrational and hilarious decisions.

Without spoiling too much, both Ronald Reagan and a group of aliens make an appearance. The cast is absolutely terrific — loony housewife Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) and inebriated conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman), in particular, knock it out of the park with the perfect mixture of Midwestern decency and pretense. If anything, check “Fargo” out for the considerable pleasure of Offerman, who rose to prominence as “Parks and Recreation”’s Ron Swanson, drunkenly ranting about everything from the tarnished sanctity of the law to the act of soiling himself.

— Kevin Lu

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