We give thanks to the year in pop culture that brought us fresh faces and new obsessions
Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC; Dale Robinette; Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We said hello to the life-like androids of Westworld, and goodbye to a tumultuous election cycle. We welcomed the resurgence of musicals, and embraced the comeback of Britney Spears. 2016 gave Entertainment Weekly staffers more than enough reasons to be thankful. Ahead, we give thanks to the year in pop culture.

  • “I’ll be honest: J.K. Rowling’s Twitter has been a damn rollercoaster this year. For every stunning tweet about social justice and global politics, she also has to reveal that McGonagall was colorblind or Neville was, like, doing Paleo in book five. Still, I appreciate the revelations and all that Pottermore ‘guess what, your Patronus is a duck’ curricula, even if it does tend to occasionally feel like straight-up trolling. When all is said and done, though, I’ll never NOT be thankful for J.K. Rowling or the continuation of her magic.” – Marc Snetiker
  • “With HBO launching Westworld and Netflix giving us more episodes of Black Mirror than ever before, there are now two shows serving up literate, provocative, intellectually challenging sci-fi — without the space battles and aliens or any of the usual genre tropes. Once you look past the robo-sex, the lavishly produced Westworld is the most intricately designed TV puzzle box in years, and full of challenging forward-thinking ideas about what it means to be human. While Black Mirror’s usual dark carnival of tech horrors gave us the year’s most unexpectedly hopeful vision with the ending of its dreamily romantic ‘San Junipero.’ ” – James Hibberd
  • “The resurgence of music by Prince, an iconic artist who will be forever missed! It was awesome to hear his classic songs and more played over and over again!” – Sabrina McFarland
  • Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in The Crown. She is such a badass and I could stare at that wardrobe and bone structure all day!” – Caitlin Brody
  • “Seeing Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling together again in La La Land! The film is totally delightful with its amazing numbers, nostalgic nods to old Hollywood, and much more, BUT it was especially wonderful seeing the pair back at it — after 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. and 2013’s Gangster Squad — and falling in love to the tune of them tap dancing at that.” — C. Molly Smith
  • “I’m grateful for television that continues to inspire me. Growing up being able to see a piece of me in diverse and relatable stories led to my love of TV. That continues with Supergirl’s exploration of Alex’s sexuality, delicately telling a genuine and heartfelt LGBT tale of coming out later in life that reflects my own.” — Natalie Abrams
  • “Is it demented to say that I’m thankful for O.J. Simpson? More than two decades after his acquittal, the Juice was the genesis of two epic, Charles Dickens-caliber cultural events: the brilliant scripted series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and the deep, wide ocean of a documentary, Made in America. Some might have put these on the back burner as the election freak show took everyone’s attention, but believe me. Those matters of race and gender and TV and celebrity explored are more relevant than ever as we head into 2017.” – Joe McGovern
  • “Having grown up listening (and dancing) to Britney Spears, I loyally cringed my way through Britney Jean and was ready to do the same for Glory, if need be. This year, I’m thankful that Britney’s latest album turned out to be a truly glorious comeback.” – Mary Sollosi
  • “I’m thankful that movies and TV shows with diverse casts and stories like Moonlight, Queen Sugar, Hidden Figures and Loving exist to illustrate that even in these dark times light and love persevere.” – Nicole Sperling
  • The Vampire Diaries is ending, so it seems only fitting that I say thank you to the show that introduced me to the Salvatore brothers, made me cry more times than I can count, surprised me, scared me, and of course, gave me Elijah Mikaelson.” – Samantha Highfill


  • “I’m thankful that Kacey Musgraves released her incredible holiday album, A Very Kacey Christmas, all the way back in October. The onslaught of Christmas commercials and decorations up throughout November can be mildly infuriating, but Musgraves’ smooth croons put me in the holiday spirit extra early.” —Gregory E. Miller
  • “The year in pop culture has only one name: Hamilton. (Sorry, Trump.) The historic musical hardly needs an introduction, but here’s one anyway: a political statement about the messy nature of politics and the importance of diversity Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning show is also just plain awesome. It’s basically impossible to pick a favorite song (“Satisfied” is pretty great, though) or character (ditto Aaron Burr). Hamilton is such a cultural earth-mover that its resonance will be felt long after thousands pass through the room where it happens. And in an unsettled climate, Hamilton feels more powerful than ever.” – Chris Rosen
  • Chris Evans’ majestic biceps in Captain America: Civil War during that helicopter scene. And when he was even kind enough to adjust his grip to give us a better view… I’m real thankful for that.” – Alison Wild
  • “For The Year of Donald Glover. After spending the last few years focusing on his music career as Childish Gambino, the Community veteran returned to TV with Atlanta, an innovative series (in which he created, wrote, directed and starred) unlike anything before it. Glover’s momentous year didn’t end there. The announcement that he will portray Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo film set the internet ablaze to universal praise. Glover is now delivering an early Christmas present in the form of his first album in three years. I’m so happy I could cry.” – Derek Lawrence
  • “I’m thankful for This Is Us for keeping it real and making me feel human and vulnerable each week. And also for sharing Milo’s backside with America. Definitely very thankful for that.” – Chris Rackliffe
  • “I’m thankful for celebrity cooking shows. There’s no better way to spend a lazy Sunday than combining my two favorite things – cooking and former ’90s TV stars. (Naturally, Dinner at Tiffani’s, The Real Girl’s Kitchen and Tia Mowry at Home have all earned a spot on my DVR.) But even more delightful than the cocktails and cuisines they whip up are the conversations with celebrity friends that often become the mini-reunion (Ahem, Saved by the Bell and 90210) that you’ve been waiting for.” – Robyn Ross
  • “For Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s friendship and their love for Alanis Morisette’s ‘Ironic.’ – Carly Klaire
  • “I am thankful for Bill Murray’s presence during the World Series that will continue live on in GIF form on the internet!” – Mettie Ostrowski
  • “Final seasons are hard (just look at The Good Wife), but Person of Interest nailed it with powerful and moving episodes like “6, 741,” “The Day the World Went Away” (the 100th episode), and “return 0” (the series finale), which were some of the show’s best ones ever.” – Chancellor Agard
  • “A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. By all rational logic, this album shouldn’t exist. For one thing, A Tribe Called Quest founding member Phife Dawg died earlier this year. For another, the influential New York rap crew hadn’t made an album in 18 years. And yet here it is, exactly when we needed it most, full of political rhymes, funky beats, and star-studded guest spots from the likes of Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar. Given the unlikelihood of all these things coming together so precisely at such a crucial cultural moment, I feel nothing but all-encompassing gratitude for this album. Thank you for everything, Phife.” – Christian Holub
  • “For 1980s nostalgia. Between Stranger Things, Sing Street, and Everybody Wants Some!!, some of 2016’s best pop culture was totally ‘80s — right down to the bad hairstyles and phenomenal soundtracks.” – Devan Coggan


  • “The nearly three-year wait for a new Britney Spears album was frustrating for every Britney stan, but it was worth it: In late August, the icon dropped Glory, a fresh collection of pop ditties that found the songstress returning to form after 2013’s lackluster Britney Jean. I can’t even say how much happiness this has brought me on the elliptical, strutting up the street, and everything in between. Now if only the world would hit Spears, baby, one more time, and give this album a shot.” – Nick Maslow
  • “I’m thankful for Sarah Silverman’s Baba Booey bomb at the DNC. I’m a lifelong Stern fan and it was a show highlight.” – Joe Rodriguez
  • Musicals. Between La La Land, Moana, and the steadily-building excitement for the live-action Beauty and the Beast (is it 2017 yet?), it’s been a great year for people who love people who spontaneously break out into song. And after all the stress of the presidential election and its aftermath, it’s nice to have a little more singing and dancing in the world.” — Jessica Derschowitz
  • The look in Colin Firth’s misty eyes in Bridget Jones’s Baby when she tells him that she’s pregnant. Darcy has to excuse himself from the room (in the most gentlemanly of ways), then returns to tell Bridget that this is the most ‘wonderful thing he’s heard’ in his life. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful in its sincerity. In that moment, part of his joy seems to be knowing that he is tied to her forever. Plus, Firth looks delightfully dapper in a well-fitting suit the entire time.” – Ruth Kinane
  • “I’m thankful for the debut of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. Sam was able to insert herself into the ‘late night comedy boys club,’ and she and her team did an incredible job covering important issues pertaining to women and the world. I never realized what a crucial difference a female lens could make in my satirical comedy intake.” – Christina Ciammaichelli
  • The Durrells in Corfu, the British series based on my all-time favorite funny/comforting book, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.” – Tina Jordan
  • “I’m thankful for Tatiana Maslany’s riveting performance in Orphan Black’s stellar fourth season — and that the Emmy Awards finally recognized her talent.” – Noelene Clark
  • “I’m thankful for the uber-funny Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon on SNL for giving us something to laugh about this year during a not-as-funny election cycle.” – Gerrad Hall
  • “For Designated Survivor fulfilling my 24 needs. I have been waiting to see Jack Bauer as POTUS since its premiere in 2001, and Tom Kirkman is a fine substitute. I’ll always be thankful for political dramas that let me escape the real world political climate – you rock, Kiefer Sutherland!” – Audrey Meaney
  • “I’m thankful for Milo Ventimiglia and Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s facial hair in This Is Us and Pitch, respectively. 2016 was a good year for beards, it would seem.” – Rachel DeSantis
  • “I am thankful for ‘hopeful’ television this season. From Madam Secretary showing us that a strong woman can have it all to Speechless illustrating just how normal – nay, awesome – kids with special abilities are. Then there’s This Is Us, which reminds us that family comes in all forms (and Milo Ventimiligia is #dadgoals). I’m grateful these shows let us escape for a bit and allowed us to come away with a little more hope for 2017.” – Brittany Kaplan