Whether it’s the new shows giving us life – American Crime Story and Atlanta on FX – or veteran shows emerging – Black-ish on ABC – 2016 was a great year for television. Now, join me as I count down my favorite five new shows and five veteran shows from the year.
5. Luke Cage (Netflix)
Netflix has long been running their own branch of the Marvel franchise – the street fighters. They started with Daredevil Matt Murdock, humanizing the character and bringing him back into good graces after a lackluster early 2000s version from Ben Affleck. Then they gave us Jessica Jones, the first female superhero of the modern era, and one who is deeply flawed, showing us her through a gritty, real lens. Finally, this year, they joined the diversity movement and made Luke Cage. It’s a show about the black experience, written and starring black actors, for, perhaps, a mostly black audience. And it’s a great show.
In an era where television is supposed to be binged, Luke Cage is an epic, a long, winding story told over well spent hours. Luke Cage himself, played by Mike Colter, is charismatic, down to earth, and utterly charming. He’s also a black man trying to live his best life in a world where he’s not welcome, not because of the color of his skin, but because of its abilities. The villain, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, in the first half of the series, played by one of my favorite actors, Mahershala Ali, who was also brilliant in Moonlight this year, is wonderful as well.
4. This Is Us
This Is Us is the new family drama from NBC. While it is deeply flawed – the character of Kate is one note, and not a good one, and Kevin is still growing – it is also deeply touching. The family seems more real than other television families, and there is genuine conflict set up in the pilot episode.
The show is also trying to kill me. First, they came for my favorite character, Jack (Milo Ventamiliga), the father. Then, they continued to twist the knife, episode after episode.
The show’s real star is Sterling K Brown as Randall, who’s dealing with raising a young family while also figuring out who his birth father is. They’ve met after 36 years, and Randall invited him to live with his family, because his father is dying of cancer and how else is he going to spend time with him?
The show, right now, would do well to focus on Jack and Mandy Moore’s Rebecca, as well as on Randall. That’s also a complicated relationship, because Randall was adopted after the third of the set of triplets was still born.
Honestly, every relationship in this show is kind of complicated, except for the marriage of Randall and his wife Beth, who are a great television marriage with genuine chemistry.
Westworld was a show that aired on HBO this season, about half a year after the end of Game of Thrones. I mention that because that’s the hole it filled in my television watching schedule – the far-reaching, winding, fantasy. The one you get enraptured by, surrounded in, that you’d listen to podcasts about to try and confirm your thoughts, what was actually going on.
Westworld is based on an 80s film of the same name and initial premise – robot “hosts” in a Wild West world. What happens in the film and the television show differ greatly from there.
Evan Rachel Wood, before this known for The Wrestler and Across the Universe, steals the show out from under the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris as host Dolores. As the ten episode arch unravels, she becomes increasingly important to the story. As it goes on, one could be tempted to say that Westworld becomes her story, but that’s just not true – it’s always been about Robert Ford, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.
Ford, a cross between Hopkins’ most famous role, a certain Doctor Lecter, and Richard Attenborough’s Dr. Hammond. The hosts are his and his business partner’s creations, and he cares deeply for them. Deeply than perhaps he ought to. He also cares more about his business partner than he lets on. Anyway, if you want to watch the most mind trickery show of the year, it’s this one.
2. American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson
If you want to know why OJ’s crime spree has had a re-emergence in the last year, look no further than American Crime Story. The latest project from Glee and American Horror Story-creator/producer Ryan Murphy. The series takes a look at the OJ trial, how they got there, and presents reasons behind the famous jury finding of not guilty.
In doing so, they make OJ seem pretty guilty, much to the dismay of OJ theorists. But performances from Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark), Sterling K Brown (Christopher Darden) and the man himself, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson, steal this show for the great. It’s just a wonder to watch, and it got us caught up in distraction.
Yes, the series found a way to make our past a distraction, our reality a fantasy, a real life crime seem like a great work of fiction. It, as well as the ESPN documentary OJ: Made in America, seized
on one of the most fascinating moments in recent American history and made it seem unreal. Like the story of a man America loved – LOVED – who got caught up in this double-homicide, that he may or may not have been guilty of, all of the events surrounding it, it couldn’t be real. Yet it was.
The People V. O.J. is amazing. I’m awaiting both of the further seasons of American Crime Story, the second season focusing on Katrina and the aftermath and the third on the murder of Versace.
The passion project from Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), Atlanta aired 10 episodes this fall on FX. Working
around the rap scene in Atlanta and what it’s like to try and make it as a rapper, something Glover has experience with, Atlanta is by far the best new show of 2016. And it won’t be back until 2018, joining Westworld for a year long hiatus.
The show had very few conventional episodes. My favorite was a parody of a local talk show, which included ads and behind the scenes. The best part of that episode was a black teenager pretending to be a white 40 something year old man. It was great.
That’s also how wide-ranging Atlanta was. It covered multiple perspectives, it looked at multiple angles, and it was multiple tv shows. And throughout, it proved that that wasn’t a bad thing. You can be experimental and be good television. Glover was part of a team who did it with Community. Then, he picked up the charge.
And he wasn’t even the best performance in the show. I almost forgot about this – Donald Glover was the straight man. Brian Tyree Henry (Paper Boi), Keith Stanfield (Darius) and Zazie Beetz (Van) steal every. goddamn. scene. And it’s wonderful.
If you haven’t seen Atlanta, do so. And if you couldn’t stick with it after the first episode, give it another chance. It was the best new show of the year.
The best returning shows, however… that’s another question.
#5 New Girl
Ever since Zooey Deschanel returned from maternity leave, the show has gotten so much better. With the Nick/Jess relationship in flux, the show has a conflict once again, especially with Cece/Schmidt rightfully worked out. Winston continues to be one of the most underrated characters on television, although the show has done well to continue working him in.
In a landscape where the half-hour sitcom is dying out, and all the others are going to either one end of the spectrum in terms of conventionality or the other, New Girl continues to find its path as one of the best sitcoms on air. Nick Miller continues to be the best character on the show, and giving him someone who values him for him, allowing him to sit down and write, completing a lifetime goal – they’ve done a lot for his character the last year. A lot of that work has paid off. I’m not a huge fan of Megan Fox, but if she’s playing into making Miller a better character, she’s worth keeping around.
The last half-season, bringing Robbie back was a good idea. Ultimately, I don’t see him and Jess working out, but I think the writing staff is on the same page. He is a temporary solution if anything, while the staff attempts to figure out how to get Nick and Jess back together. I think it’s one of the few relationships on tv that could work given a second chance.
Also, does anybody else just very much miss Coach? I know Damon Wayans Jr. is busy doing other stuff, but can we get more occasional drop-ins from him? Sitcoms are better with him in them – look at Happy Endings and this one.
#4-Tie Full Frontal/Late Night With Seth Meyers
Late night has had a busy year. From breaking down the Trump path to the White House to Obama’s last year in office, to everything that’s happened this year – when you go back and revisit just how much went down when we were concerned about Trump, it’s insane. All those deaths man. Flint, as well as other cities going through lead crises.
The two best at breaking it down this year have been Seth Meyers with his “Closer Look” segment and Samantha Bee on Full Frontal. Bee is the spiritual successor to Jon Stewart that Trevor Noah has never been, and doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be, and Seth is the best hour-long late night guy. He figured it out after a rough year, and is now simply better than anybody at it.
There are only two problems with the both of them: 1. Sam Bee’s only weekly, not daily. She was apparently offered the Daily Show and smartly turned it down – you never want to follow the best to play the game. Steve Young was one of the best quarterbacks of all time but he had to follow Joe Montana and so his legacy is reduced. That’s what could have happened to Bee. But if she were to take over the Daily Show now – hey, I’m not complaining.
Meyers has the wrong time slot. I don’t do the worst of the year, because I’m trying to keep Brightside on the bright side, and doing the best and not the worst is a good way of doing it. But if I was going to do the worst show of 2016, well, it’s hard to look past the monstrosity that has become the Tonight Show. I would’ve never thought Jay Leno was the good times.
Jimmy Fallon is wrong for late night. I’m not the only one who thinks so, and it’s not an unpopular opinion. His humanization of Trump, his making him funny, real, somewhat normal, it helped that monster win the election. I hope Fallon’s happy with his awful, awful president. Please stay away from Hamilton. And also, give Seth your time slot.
But yeah, if you want good late night, watch Seth and Sam.
The continued adventures of Dre and Bow is quite simply the best sitcom on television. Sorry not sorry, but yeah, turns out the whole giving diverse voices a chance at speaking was a good idea. Modern Family helped to set the stage, but it’s well past time to step out of the limelight. In should step Black-ish, the family sitcom created by Kenya Barris with help from Anthony Anderson, who happens to star.
It’s a look at what it means to be a (successful) black family in America today. They’ve done episodes about gun control “Hope” (which also happens to be one of the greatest half-hours in television ever), about what it means to be biracial, and they did a Norman Lear parody episode called “Good-ish Times” to announce that Bow is pregnant. It’s been a great year and a half for Black-ish, and they’re also finally getting awards recognition. About damn time.
#2 Game of Thrones
Yes, the most pirated show in television history is coming close to the end. Yes, last season kind of sucked in retrospect. Which is why this season had to deliver. And did it ever.The whole battle episode. The badass Sansa and Khaleesi. Queen Cersei finally displaying her real colors, and her prophecy becoming prophetic. It was a good season for Westeros, and we’re getting closer to what it’s all meant. Oh, and the biggest twist in the early books was revealed publicly, officially, finally. Now if only George would finish with those last few books.
My favorite arch throughout the season though, setting aside what we saw from Jon, from Daenerys, from Tyrion, from Sansa, from really everyone, was Jaime. Yeah, the Kingslayer. I think his was the most underrated story of the season, now let me explain why.
The season opens with Jaime having to carry his daughter’s body to her mother. His daughter had known that he was her father, and was happy about it. She was the one genuinely cool child of theirs, and she was taken from them. Naturally, Jaime vows revenge. His attempts to restore law and order to the land he loves are rebuked, so he’s left on his own with nothing to do, well, except to get rid of those plaguing his lover.
In his attempt to do the thing that would put an end to all of it, rescuing the queen, he’s rebuked, rebuffed, and removed from the Kingsguard, what he’s wanted his whole life. He’s also ordered to go fight. He takes control of the situation, but isn’t listened to by the other side. He genuinely wants to help the Blackfish, but dude won’t listen. So he dominates the situation, enters the castle, and has all men stand down, except for Blackfish, who “dies” fighting. He watches as Brienne disappears out of his life, perhaps for good.
Feeling worn out, but still able to lead a force like no one else, Jaime returns to King’s Landing, to finally see what we all see: Cersei’s the wrong choice for him. She’s also crazy, and it feels like he realizes that also. Jaime’s the most changed at the end of this season, except for perhaps Arya.
#1 The Eric Andre Show
Haha that’s not how the French say poison, that’s how they say fish.
But it’s time to deliver a pizza ball though.
Need I say more? Yes? Okay.
For me, The Eric Andre Show this season was a metaphor for society – as the show went on in its ten episode season, it only got messier, more absurd, and more complicated. Eric Andre himself rapidly deteriorated. Yet, some of the best stuff from this season was produced at the end. See? Societal metaphor. Told you.
Hannibal Buress has had ridiculously good years of late, yet he’s still satisfied to be the co-host on the show. That’s how good this show is. Yet nobody watches it, because everyone is stupid. Just watch this show.
Also, be Kraft Punk’s Cheese Wife. He desperately needs one.