This image released by HBO shows Kit Harington in a scene from "Game of Thrones." — AP photos

Every show on this list has to go through a rigorous vetting process known as my life: I don't hang on to season passes for returning shows unless they really deliver the goods most weeks. And it's the relationships that keep bringing me back, for the most part. A good television show is really the chronicle of a tangle of relationships worth following; friendships that seem real, even in the most strange or surreal circumstances; families that are believably supportive and exasperating; marriages that are full of resonant echoes, even if they're nothing like my own.

When you've spent years with a fictional family or a group of friends, or an intriguing mixture of the two, and the show has done the hard work of getting you invested in their loyalties, betrayals and small victories, there's a good chance I'll stay with it. Even if it sometimes takes me forever to clear that DVR backlog.

 "The Americans" (FX): This drama about Russian agents working to undermine America is, as I noted in my list of the Top 20 Shows of 2016, "a glorious, heartbreaking thing of beauty, and it creates momentum and unfurls character development with assured and thoughtful discipline."

"Black-ish" (ABC): "Few comedies pack as much into 21 minutes as this nimble program, which comments on topical issues with incisive wit and cutting vigor and also supplies the kind of warm (but not treacly) family dynamics we've come to expect from ABC comedies," as I noted in my Top 20 Shows of 2016.

"Better Call Saul" (AMC): In its second season, this meditation on thwarted aspirations and self-sabotage got richer and deeper, while still displaying the kind of tight plotting and bone-dry humor that were the hallmarks of "Breaking Bad" at its best. "Saul" was more energetic, less clinical and ultimately more appealing in its second go-round, partly due to Bob Odenkirk's continued mastery of the comedic and dramatic dimensions of the role, and partly thanks to killer supporting performances from Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael McKean and the dependably great Jonathan Banks.

"BoJack Horseman" (Netflix): "BoJack" continues to mine existential despair and Hollywood angst with perceptive compassion, and the way it mixes surreal flourishes with restrained emotional nuance remains truly impressive. And as my Variety colleague Sonia Saraiya points out in her list of the 20 best TV episodes of the year, the show's underwater episode was a tour de force.

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (Fox): We shouldn't take this show for granted; turning out really sharp and enjoyable ensemble comedy every week is not easy, but this show and this deft cast make it look that way. It continually finds ways to mine the vast comic talents of its cast, and it's especially fun to see Andre Braugher, already a master of every kind of dramatic scene, lean into his comedic side with such hilarious results.

 "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (The CW): This CW hour-long comedy "has taken a bunch of conflicting ideas, tied them to smart subversions of rom-com conventions, given the whole thing a bunch of energy, added great dance numbers and catchy choruses, and thanks to this amazing cast, I can't get enough," as I noted in my Top 20 Shows of 2016.

 "Game of Thrones" (HBO): "Game of Thrones" does a number of things well: In scale and scope, there's nothing like it on TV, and its most memorable epic scenes, like the Battle of the Bastards, leave everyone jabbering about the show that night through the next day. It can also be lacerating in quieter moments, many of which focus on a character's pain or a long-anticipated confrontation or reconciliation. When those moments of intensity-personal, political or visual-really come together, "Game of Thrones" is often spectacular in all senses of the word. Of course, the drama's shortcomings are also easy to identify: It still doesn't quite have a handle on how to handle sexual violence (which it still relies on way too much), there are a lot of moving parts to all these storylines and they don't always mesh well, and in a show that always leaves its fans wanting more of their favorite characters, it gives far too much screen time to plodding filler like the Dorne plot or predictable arcs about one-dimensional characters like Ramsay Bolton. Still, thanks to this show's cast, its visual poetry, its perceptive moments and its complicated take on the costs of gaining and losing power, this HBO tentpole is unmissable.

 "Mr. Robot" (USA): However timely "Mr. Robot" was before, in this surreal post-election world, its intense and off-kilter exploration of the real vs. the unreal and the malleability of the truth feels especially prescient. Sure, the USA drama dragged out certain elements of its second season far too long, kept some characters off-screen or apart in ways that undercut its momentum, and undertook some narrative experiments that didn't quite land. But the desire to change things up and take risky chances was laudable, and the second half of the season contained some thrilling formal experimentation and undeniable moments of suspense, connection and loss.

 "Silicon Valley" (HBO): This HBO comedy has always had a lot of tricky elements to balance: It satirizes various excesses of the tech world and startup culture with razor-sharp glee, but it takes great care to make sure that none of its characters end up looking like walking punchlines or predictable cartoons (well, the possible exception is the pompous billionaire Gavin Belson, but actor Matt Ross should have a shelf of Emmys for his ferociously spot-on performance). Once again, the show delivered an enjoyable and crisply executed balancing act, as the principals (and principles) behind Pied Piper were tested by a system seemingly designed to separate humans from their souls.

"Suits" (USA): The consequences of the fraud at the heart of the show's premise finally played out in a devastating way, and the prison arc "brought new energy and urgency to the show. 'Suits' has always been underrated, and its sixth season is one of its best," as I wrote in a recent column.

 "Transparent" (Amazon): Despite some third-season turbulence, as the Pfefferman clan continued down the road of transformation, this show "once again found moments of unexpected grace and trembling discovery," as I noted in my Top 20 Shows of 2016.

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (Netflix): As was the case with a very different show-"Better Call Saul"-I wanted to like the first season of this show a bit more than I actually did. But like the AMC drama, "Kimmy" did a better job of fleshing out its characters in its second year. "Kimmy's" funny yet heartfelt exploration of its lead character's ongoing recovery from trauma gave the show a depth and heart that grounded all the whimsical, topical and goofy stuff, and proved once again that Ellie Kemper and Titus Burgess are treasures we may not deserve.  - Reuters