Once again I watched too many shows this year. You don’t need a lengthy paragraph explaining my madness. Basically it comes down to sleep less, watch more. Oh and don’t see Hamilton until the end of the year because basically since then I’ve just been watching Hamilton clips and watching my DVR overflow. But there are plenty of shows that I haven’t caught up with or I’m too behind on that aren’t on my list. They are…Banshee, Bosch, The Fall, The Get Down, Queen Sugar, One Mississippi, Quarry, Scrotal Recall/Lovesick, Steven Universe and Underground. And now let’s begin with something easy.
Joe Swanberg has hit a nice groove with his past few films (Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas, Digging with Fire) where he knows how to get really good actors and put them in a more naturalistic setting. An anthology Netflix series was a perfect fit for him. In this he brought them all to Chicago and filmed them in familiar locations to me (with familiar beers) and told intriguingly small stories about relationships. In a tight half-hour format, I’m willing to invest in these new characters and how the little things are very personal to them. None of them blew my mind, but as a set it was a really nice look at these people.
I’m not sure what the hell that was, but I liked it. Based off a graphic novel series I really need to reread, this is the bizarre story of a Texas preacher who is given a mystical power that allows people to follow his commands. He thinks he may be able to listen to God’s word, but also he needs to get into giant bar fights, fight demons, save someone from hell, reconnect with his bazooka-toting love, befriend a vampire and try to call up God on a telephone. The show wants you to trust it as it all ties together in unpredictable ways but even then I don’t know what’s happening in a few scenes but dammit, I really want to watch the next one.
This is one of the hardest shows to recommend to people because people are unwilling to believe that Taylor Lautner is hilarious. The Twilight star replaced Andy Sandberg as the clueless American dropped into this normal British family. Season Two had Lautner’s character unaware that he was in a cult for many years and this time after some self-discovery, he has traveled and is now responsible and in love. But he is unaware that he is working for the Triad. This reinvention uses Lautner’s physicality so well in the sitcom farces. This season may be the best one if only for how well it develops the romances which includes the complicated love triangle between the daughter of a Triad leader and Lautner’s step-mom. (It makes sense.)
The Girlfriend Experience
This is one that I admit that I haven’t finished yet. There’s not enough time! But I am going to finish it soon and the first half that I’ve seen is really compelling. It goes in a very different direction than the movie of the same title. While both of them are intense character studies, the TV shows displays a much more sociopathic character. She isn’t violent or dangerous; she just seems to be purely anti-social. She prefers to interact with people when both parties are under contract with understood expectations. The life of a girlfriend-ish call girl is ideal for her because she gets to indulge in her own fantasies while nicely getting paid. One of the best parts of the show is Riley Keough’s incredible performance and how she lets you in on what could break her.
I love New Girl. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the show’s prime was because after its problematic first season, it has been coasting on a success of character chemistry. The combination of Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston and Cece is, perhaps, my favorite hang-out ensemble. The show has now gained a new focus with the characters as the show is allowing them to mature. Even in silly subplots, we’re are seeing Nick succeeding in writing, Schmidt and Cece making major life decisions, Winston achieving his dream job and Jess becoming more emotionally aware of what she wants in a relationship. I’m not sure if the series is going towards a finale, but I’m happy to see them age in their own ageless way.
Jonah Ray’s Hidden America
The secret to so many travel shows is that they make every location seem glamorized and newly discovered once their film crew arrives to film their tracking b-roll. The formula is rife for parody and Jonah Ray pulled it off with a very entertaining take. Instead of going to a city and being enlightened, Jonah goes to cities and finds out they’re all worse than he thought. He is often humiliated by horrifying family secrets, insane locals or his nemesis, a Guy Feiri-style food host. While something like Review documents the host’s failure, Hidden America continues to film everything in an upbeat way almost in a way to trick the network (and themselves) in thinking they succeeded.
Pamela Adlon has been a key part of many successful projects for years and it has taken far too long for her to have a starring role. With Better Things she is the star and the co-writer of 9/10 and director of two of them. With this control, she’s able to capture the reality of being the mother of three daughters with incredible accuracy. Exhaustion seems to be ever present as Pamela’s character juggles the complicated lives of her children, her needy mother, the politics of playdates and the sexism of the entertainment industry. This is all told through a confident voice that is relatable, bizarre and necessary.
Time Traveling Bong
I’m a sucker for time travel stories. This was a weird miniseries starring and co-written/created by Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs from Broad City. As they stumble across a bong that transports them randomly to different famous sections of time, the show doesn’t focus on the overdone science-fiction ramifications. Instead, it becomes a great social commentary on gender politics through the ages. Glazer’s character of Sharee is treated horribly in Puritan Salem, but in caveman times, she’s treated like a queen. The opposite is in effect for Downs’ Jeff character as his male status in Salem outweighs his inability to hunt or gather in an earlier era. In only three episodes, it’s able to be surprising and hilarious and worthy of its great title.
Only a few episodes have aired in this new ABC family sitcom, but it’s quickly rising the ranks as one of my favorites. The hook appears to be that it’s looking at how a family operates when one of the son has cerebral palsy. Yet, even though the characters know so much of their life pivots around making sure J.J. is okay, the show allows them all to shine. There is a remarkable balance the show has where the family is working hard to best care for cerebral palsy (even when it’s hurting their own need for attention/comfort) to also being the laziest family on TV. A recent plotline depicted how incompetent they can to make a simple morning deadline with wonderful hysterics thanks to impressive failings of Minnie Driver and John Ross Bowie. It’s sill early days for this show, but the laugh to minute ratio is very strong while also being very sweet.
Take My Wife
As someone who seen so many Seeso shows, it’s not surprising that I like a lot of comedy podcasts. Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher have popped up a number of times to hilarious effect on Comedy Bang Bang and Harmontown. In between discussing what to do with Cameron’s discovered vigilante father and Rhea’s disapproval of Scott Aukerman’s new baseball rules, they have both been powerful spokeswomen for lesbian representation in the media. With their new sitcom, they have achieved their dream with remarkable success. The show is about a fictional version of themselves who are earlier in their relationship. Rhea quits her job and decides to devote all of her time to stand-up comedy alongside Cameron. Their ups and downs to this decision makes for moments of delight, pain and incredible insight. The second episode which delves into the impact of rape humor is truly important television.
Downton Abbey meets Keeping Up with the Kardashians is one of the stranger pitches, but it ended up being one of the funniest comedies on TV. Partly because creators Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome fill their world with incredible characters who only get funnier when put in stranger situations. They play the vain and ignorant heiresses who only want to be more famous in 1902 Rhode Island. These characters are strong enough to hold the show, but they play with true trove of riches. Jason Ritter, Beth Dover, Brett Gelman, and Brian Huskey all get some of the best roles of their careers as they embrace the complete absurdity of it all. But none can compare to Michael Ian Black’s inspired take on the head butler, Peppers. If the Emmys weren’t so blind, he would have been nominated by now.
I have always liked this show, but something has changed with the show in Season Four. Maybe it’s them or maybe it’s me, but everything is clicking for me now. The silly world feels even more secure with its characters in a way that is making every funnier. So much of the humor around Andre Braugher was just the disbelief that a serious actor like him was saying lines like that. But instead of having him just be the straight man, he’s such a straight man that he’s a little bit insane. There was a recent episode where he was so dismayed that a colleague told him that he needs to bone his husband, there was a montage of shots of him screaming BONE from his office. The show has always had a strong ensemble, but now they are getting gold material on a weekly basis.
The Good Place
If there was ever a show that was made for me, it may just be The Good Place. It’s a serialized sitcom about the afterlife starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Bell stars as a terrible woman who was sent to the Good Place by mistake and now is trying to learn to be a good person so she won’t be sent to the Bad Place. Plenty of shows try to have a redemptive arc for their sarcastic characters, but few shows really break down morality into true philosophical discussions in relatable fashions. This is not the only inventive take on the sitcom. The show is constantly expanding the hysterical rules of their heaven setting to great effect and the twists in the series are LOST worthy. (I’m fine if Janet never fully recovers if that means we get more of this controlled and insane performance from D’Arcy Carden.)
A lot of sitcoms fall into the categories of family, hangout or workplace comedies. The workplace has always seemed like the hardest one to me because it seems more limiting in what kind of stories it can tell. Superstore is brilliant because its Wal-Mart-esque setting feels more like a city than a normal office. The characters have to constantly deal with different aspects than the usual office not only because the customers are often silently insane, but because a large discount store means they can address stories of class. Unions, teenage pregnancy and maternity leave are essential parts of their world. Their commentary and satire makes for fantastic weekly material, especially their bold take on election politics.
David Mitchell was born to play young William Shakespeare. To take the dislikable charm from his Peep Show performance and to place it in 1592 is inspired. For this is not Shakespeare as the acclaimed author of Hamlet or Macbeth. This is before he was famous and he was just the annoyance of his friends and family. Filled with hilarious theatre humor, this farce includes six of Shakespeare’s works as they bring strife to his life before he has even written the plays. Creator Ben Elton not only mocks the bard, but does a great take-down of sexism, who actually wrote the Shakespeare plays and a dead-on parody of Ricky Gervais. I want Series 2 immediately.
Jane the Virgin
One of the strengths of Jane the Virgin is about how it is completely unafraid to reformat the entire show. They boldly move Jane from her work setting to a school setting. She has gone from single to married. And now [SPOILERS] she’s not even a virgin anymore! Every change in the life of Jane and the rest of her family is treated with extreme care and authenticity. It addresses difficult questions with even more difficult answers with a large degree of warmth and humor. Also as if the show wasn’t brilliant enough, Rogelio tried to make an unauthorized Mad Men telenovela.
No critique of millennials seems to be as biting as from the voices of the millennials. Like every young generation, the core seems to be one of frustration. In the realm of seeing yourself as incompatible with the rest of the world, Search Party takes that existential confusion and turns it into a mystery. In 10 episodes, it’s a great twisty story about a woman trying to solve the disappearance of a casual acquaintance. Yet it’s also a great story about trying to find something to be passionate about while exploring these strange sections of New York where everybody seems to know what weird thing they’re into. Part of the reason this is so good is because it is a show that’s also about consequences. It’s rare to see a relationship this far on the brink and for such good reasons.
Bajillion Dollar Propertie$
An improvised show is a hard thing to pull off because a 22 minute format is harder to develop everything you need as opposed to a usual bout of long-form comedy. The charm of this show is that the purpose of the scene is always there. You have a fantastic group of comedy realtors played by a brilliant ensemble of instant favorites. Every episode, you put one of those characters in a new expensive house with a new weirdo as they try to sell them the house. Everybody gets the chance to shine thanks to a rotating set of objectives and subplots and so many houses. It’s really great how funny this show is right out of the bat.
Outlander Season Two begins with a what-the-fuck episode that was mind-boggling reminiscent of the fun of LOST. Then it presents us with a story that challenges what it means to tell a story. For time travel stories fall into several camps but one of them is being stuck by fate. Claire and Jamie travel to France to try and prevent the bloody Jacobite rebellion at Culloden but the audience knows that they will fail. We don’t know how and we don’t know why. Just as Claire uses her knowledge of the future to act, the audience uses it to question. While I think the show is adapting a weaker book than the previous season, this ends up being an even better shows as it embraces its strengths including those daring moments of madness, reveling in the chance to play in 1740s France and always knowing that Caitiorna Balfe is one of the best actresses on TV.
“The Grinder rests” is one of the sadder sentences of the year. (ONLY IN TV NEWS. THE REST OF THE NEWS HAS WAY SADDER STATEMENTS) The Grinder was this strange delightful treat that embraced the weirdness of sitcom plotting by making it almost like a plague. The more that Rob Lowe’s delusional character succeeded in convincing others that he was just as much of a lawyer as those with law degrees, the more the world agreed. One of the greatest episodes of TV in 2016 was the uber-meta “Grinder vs. Grinder” where two actors hold a mock trial to determine which of them is closer to being a real lawyer. Essentially, actual logic is thrown away and only TV logic dictates the winner. The season delves into a conspiracy where it’s unclear why this is even happening, only to allow for one of the most triumphant sitcom conclusions. Like so many fated FOX shows, this was cancelled before its time. But the fact that it existed in the first place was a treat.
For years, Spencer Crittenden has been a dungeon master to Dan Harmon, Jeff Davis, Erin McGathy and who else was available for the Harmontown podcast. It was incredible because their personalities were so strong and so was the vodka. It was unclear how it would translate to an animated TV show, but it succeeded. Spencer created an exciting plot that easily allowed the arrival and usual death of guest stars while the core characters continued to work out whatever it is they’re working out on stage. It’s more polished than Harmontown, but Harmonquest is filled with real moments of strangeness and uncomfortability that is why we flock to the cult of Harmon. The result is funny, hammy and awesome. LET’S QUEST.
Earlier, I called New Girl my favorite group to watch hang out. Difficult People features the duo that I most want to hang out with. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner return as perpetual failures who breathe pop culture and will spew it in anybody’s face. This season had them be more ambitious as they strive to be successful which leads them to be yelled at by more famous people including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ken Burns and Nathan Lane. There is a glee in watching them because it allows for a lot of great discussion about pornography and pointed satire on what is seen as critically successful in art.
Halt and Catch Fire
In Season Two, Halt and Catch Fire reassessed its narrative and realized who were the most interesting main characters. It wasn’t the Apple stand-ins, but the women who were shifted early in the series. They were the ones with the more internal drive and the most struggle that led to great television. Season Three is the best season yet as Cameron and Donna appear to have received exactly what they wanted. Success in Silicon Valley always seems very temporary and this requires innovation and trust in order to stay on top. In the pinnacle of the series, “The Threshold”, mastered the story of the computer saga with some of the best drama on TV. I’m excited where the series will end next year.
Black-ish doesn’t have “very special episodes” like network sitcoms used to have back in the day. Instead the show constantly is using its silly structure to examine difficult issues. The reason the balance works so well is because these are things that pop up unexpectedly in one’s life just as often as a farcical situation will for a sitcom. Whether it’s trying to understand if your daughter will not share your religion or trying to figure out your own feeling of isolation with being bi-racial, Black-ish handles these stories in a way that never feels cheesy. This is always a sitcom of its time and this year it even recognized the shows it evolved from by having its own Good Times episode. Also, it’s consistently really funny.
Screw you guys, this show was awesome! CBS is not a channel that a lot of young people go to and so its prime audience never knew this was on the air. After having a great success with The Good Wife, the Kings made this bonkers political sci-fi parody about alien bugs eating the brains of politicians. Filled with Broadway stars and Jonathan Coulton providing catchy “previously on” videos, BrainDead was really funny and inventive in its own particular style. The plot twists not only proved that they were dedicated to its premise, but that they were taking it as seriously as one of the Good Wife court cases. The sci-fi explanations were brilliant and was Tony Shalhoub’s performance. I look forward to everybody loving this five years from its cancellation.
And once you finish BrainDead, pop over to Netflix to watch the other crazy network show that everybody missed. The first season of Galavant was a likable enough fantasy musical with an ear-worm of a title song. Season Two boldly throws away that song and makes a promise to go bigger and bolder. The result was very effective as the show became more serialized as warring factions are building to a great war. All the actor’s strengths were enhanced this season especially shifting Timothy Omundson as a goof and Mallory Jansen as a true villain. And as if I couldn’t love this show any more, they do a fantastic riff on the ending of All That Jazz. Even though it left a slight door open in the plot in case they were miraculously renewed (they weren’t), the main story is wrapped up in a very satisfying way that earned the season-long build up. Long live the king!
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
A lot of political comedy is reactionary. Something crazy happens with a politician and it’s up to The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live to satirize it. Last Week Tonight did that a few times as it had to cover the dumpster fire that is Donald Trump’s presumed soul. Yet, Last Week Tonight succeeds even more by providing a digestible investigation that is not necessarily topical. What it lacks in being topical, it makes up for in being very depressing! The insight into how we cover scientific journalism or the capability of the GPS of 911 numbers is essential when we now have our main news channels not choosing to cover this in favor of dumb fluff. While John Oliver is always frustrated, there is always the feeling that this can be fixed if we work for it. And the first step to fixing something is to educate yourself.
After existing as a web series on their own and then through a deal with Vimeo, High Maintenance made the transition to HBO this year. The show plays out like a New York version of Black Mirror. Every episode or segment plants you into someone’s life and the only constant is that they will eventually run into a weed dealer know as The Guy. There is a wonderful level of authenticity and empathy towards each of these people. I caught up with every episode of this series and somehow I keep being surprised by each and every twist they throw out there. Especially in the premiere episode where I felt certain that the show lost its vulnerable nature and sold out. The show keeps challenging how we tell stories and who we tell stories about. This is the perfect thing to binge.
The Night Manager
Going undercover takes a dedication that is almost impossible to imagine. It’s stripping yourself away for a greater good with great risks to your safety and sanity. This miniseries succeeds with that choice by putting the audience in the position of agreeing with the decision. Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) is seen as so successful as a modern wealthy businessman that it’s so hard to trace his involvement. Yet Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) witnesses something so globally horrific that something must be done by somebody. In just a few episodes, the tension builds in an intelligent fashion thanks to a sharp script by David Farr and the best direction of Susanne Bier’s career.
Black Mirror is back! This is a show that I have loved for years and have watched and rewatched the previously existing seven episodes several times. So I feel it’s a bit early to rate this season because I have only seen them once. Nearly doubling the episodes in the series was always going to be a risky thing and most of this season currently is ranked in my bottom half of the series. But every episode still remained an intellectual delight. Charlie Brooker continues to be the best at starting conversations with his concerned parables about how human nature is just looking for new tools in order to emotionally hurt ourselves. My heart dropped a few times at the reveals, but in one glorious episode, it was lifted. “San Jupinero” is a rare example of Black Mirror where it’s a complicated romance that isn’t programmed entirely towards despair. Instead it’s an exploration into a unique science-fiction concept that never reveals where it’s going until it matters the most to everyone on screen. The result is one of the best episodes of the series and of the year.
There was no Doctor Who this year and that was a goddamn shame. We do have a Christmas Special coming up, but we also had this unexpected treat. Class is a spin-off of Doctor Who but is immediately its own show more than Torchwood ever was. Peter Capaldi’s appearance in the premiere is enjoyable, but surprisingly unnecessary because this new ensemble of students were doing just fine on their own. Patrick Ness made five really compelling kids thrust into a world of aliens by instantly making each one essential to the on-going plot and emotional centers for each other. Bad things happen and they happen quickly on this show and they aren’t magically reversed. It’s dark, it’s edgy, it’s complicated and it really knows how to make everything worse for its characters. The season ended on a set of really bold scenes that I have no idea how they are going to resolve and who else will have to die in order to resolve them. Get very excited when this airs in the US this spring.
There was recently a remake/reboot/sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation and like the rest of the country I didn’t see it. Now I really don’t feel the need to catch up on it, because The Detour is the more natural successor. Jason Jones plays a father who starts a road trip with his family but we know in a few weeks he’s going to be interrogated by authorities for something horrible that happened. As they jump around in time, more is understood but at the center of it all lies this ridiculously dysfunctional family. In today’s age it’s hard to be surprised by content, but in 10 episodes almost every time I was shocked that it went there. While Jones primarily plays the straight man, his wife (Natalie Zea) gets to be a boozy fool and his kids (Ashley Gerasimovich and Liam Carroll) get to be perhaps the dumbest children ever in a comedy. Every stop and every distraction threatens to destroy their family, their sanity and perhaps their freedom. I fear what happens next.
This show is this high on my list and I haven’t even finished it yet. It’s because every episode is an incredible triumph that it’s best to do a little research before you watch each episode. Bill Hader and Fred Armisan have made the most niche show on TV by doing dead-on parodies of classic documentary films. It’s not just that they keep nailing the exact aesthetic of films like Grey Gardens or The Kid Stays in the Picture. It’s not even that their parodies actually provide new insight to the films like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The War Room. It’s that it can do all of this while being so damn funny that I’m sometimes crying from laughing so much. I highly recommend watching or rewatching their subject and then starting their episode and you will be impressed by how much care and thought they put into every single frame and performance.
Peter Morgan you’re just too good about making me so invested in things I didn’t care about. I have never been compelled to pick up a book about Elizabeth II but now I can’t stop watching a show dedicated to every decision she makes. It’s an incredible look at the nature of power. With royalty, power is bestowed to them at birth instead of how politicians need to rise up and earn it. With that opportunity, it is up to them to decide what type of ruler they want to be. Elizabeth wants to always look out for what is best for her country but she is always at conflict. She claimed the throne earlier than expected, she is paired with one of the most respected Prime Ministers in the country’s history and her husband is an asshole. This show gave me a newfound respect for the royalty and all that encompasses it including the coronation of which I now have many thoughts.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is the real show that seems to be appointment television. Partly it’s a fear of Monday’s spoilers but also it’s excitement about what will happen next in Westeros. Now with Season Six, it’s unknown territory for all fans. Season Five teased some new elements that haven’t appeared yet in the books but this was the bold new season. The results were one of the most emotional seasons of the series. “Hold the door” is now a cultural landmark; “The Battle of the Bastards” may not have been the most inventive story but it’s the greatest battle sequence in the history of television; and the season ended with burning down all hopes for a civil conclusion. The die is set; everybody knows who they are and what they stand for. Here we go.
Better Call Saul
The fate of Jimmy McGill is established. He is damned to become Saul Goodman, a corrupt lawyer who now lives in hiding. How he gets there remains incredibly compelling because it’s not just an attempt to defeat all who stand in his way, like it was for Walter White. This is a man who is trying to work in the world around him but struggles due to his own shortcomings. Mostly, it’s that he’s a TV character. Law firms want their employees to follow the law to the letter and to maintain protocol. When Jimmy has a great idea for his clients, the audience of Better Call Saul wants to see him do that. Those in power in the show, don’t want that to happen and repercussions persist. Everything became more complicated and confident this season, especially as this was such a strong season for Kim. The ties to the Breaking Bad world are becoming more frequent in an organic way that shows how it’s all connected. And if their tease is correct, next season can be its most explosive.
The Night Of
The premiere of this miniseries is devastating. We follow a nice guy named Naz, a young New Yorker who borrows his dad’s cab to go to a party. We watch him make mistakes that always feel forgivable but because we know the channel is on HBO that this won’t go well. Sure enough, one blackout later his life is forever changed as he flees from a crime scene that he doesn’t even know he did it or not. The real-time element to the rest of his night is cringe-worthy as stress leads him to even worse choices. For the next seven episodes, the case develops as a great mystery and character study. Novelist Richard Price does an excellent job crafting the story to a wonderful conclusion that tests morality from every direction as we try to draw the line to what is acceptable. Riz Ahmed gives one of my favorite performances as Naz as he goes through a terrible transformation.
Based entirely on clips on YouTube, I have watched this show more than any other this year. The draw is the sublime musical numbers that are consistently impressive. How they manage to have on average of three new songs every week in bonkers. How they manage to always make them character based and in tune with the arcs is even crazier. (Of course the pun was intentional.) Rebecca’s obsessive journey to win back her childhood boyfriend, Josh, began as a platform seemingly to get her to this new town with these great new character. Instead, this plucky musical keeps delving into unprecedented territory as every relationship is questioned. We are left to examine what is lacking in Rebecca’s psyche that she thinks she needs Josh in this way. And how does this ruminate for all the relationships in her life.
In many ways, secrets are the best way to hide everything about you. It’s especially effective for the ones telling the secrets. When the secrets evaporate, what is revealed can be shocking to everybody. This incredible season kept bearing the souls of everyone who has been there since the beginning. Characters like Nine have nothing left to hide, Elizabeth and Philip have now been glimpsed as something more real and now they have to confront that within themselves. One of the biggest threats within the spy plotline is a chemical weapon that can kill you from within. This is a show that fights for the souls more than anything else and much like the Cold War, nobody is feeling like they’re winning.
You’re the Worst
For the first two seasons, Jimmy and Gretchen enjoyed being contrarian to normalcy. They didn’t need love, they didn’t need relationships, they didn’t need to wash their legs. In this season, they felt the most mature as they struggle to keep so many of the things that they used to dismiss. (Except for the leg thing apparently.) As Jimmy struggles under a family disaster, Gretchen keeps trying to find what’s best for him. Both of them take steps to better themselves either through therapy or strange reorganizing of their lives. The show walks the line brilliantly between the silly (the glorious Last Sunday Funday) and the serious (Edgar’s incredible PTSD episode) because that’s how the characters know how to live. As Lindsay fears the inevitable break-up of her family, she calls her abortion an “a-bo-bo.” It’s not because she’s hiding or regressing; she’s just silly. Silly people have it tough too.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
2016 fuckin’ sucked. We elected a fascist ignorant racist sexist moron into the presidency and even as I write this, he keeps tweeting things that are filled with typos and lies. It’s perfectly normal to get mad! More than any other show, Full Frontal is mad. It’s really mad and it knows what it’s talking about. Samantha Bee was always good on The Daily Show but this is a venue that is not like Jon Stewart. Jon will talk to you from a desk and explain the hypocrisy, Samantha Bee is going to stand-up and not sit down until this shit is fixed. The show is so well researched, so funny and so damn passionate with its unique take on the news.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpsons
I was all set not to watch this. I have been burned by Ryan Murphy before in every single thing he’s ever made. But the reviews were so strong that I had to check it out—after I saw that he didn’t write a single episode. What happened next began a yearlong obsession with the O.J. Simpson case. I was too young for the non-stop media coverage of the murder case so I only knew about what happened in pieces. The glove, the acquittal, the following arrest. Yet, this miniseries brilliantly looks at how everything fit together in one of the craziest cases in legal history. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski took the incredible Jeffrey Toobin book and found every emotional element. Marcia Clark’s episode is heartbreaking, Sterling K. Brown makes Darden a tragic hero, David Schwimmer made us like the Kardashians. Looking back, it’s easy to wonder how the hell did they lose until you see the whole story. Addicting television.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is phenomenal. She adapted her one woman show into one of the best three hours of television of the year with so much charm and sophistication. Then to top it all off, she gives one of the funniest performances of the year. She plays Fleabag who is telling her story to the audience of how she handled the death of a woman she really loved. This means she’s going to bug her sister, sleep with random people, hate on her godmother and try to get a loan for her struggling coffee shop. These seem like mundane things, but the whole world is more vibrant under the lens of Waller-Bridge. It nails the neediness of guys so brilliantly, it can articulate the essence of awkwardness in a relatable fashion, and it knows why we tell the stories we do in order to avoid pain. Please please please make a sequel.
O.J. Made in America
First came American Crime Story and then came Made in America. The former focused just on the courtroom battle while Made in America gives you everything. Everything. This wasn’t just the story about how a celebrity got away because he was rich. This is the story of America and how race relations expand to every aspect of society. In this long documentary, we get to see why O.J. Simpson was that good and we get to see that juxtaposed with the LA Riots. O.J. was morphed into something that he could never sustain. Partly because the role of “not being black” was impossible to navigate to keep everybody happen. Also because he’s a murderer. The more the story twists, the more everything falls apart. Yet the movie does the get the benefit of hindsight so people who were involved can give intimate details and they can laugh at the absurdity of it all. The miniseries not only explains why this saga is so pivotal; it also proves that 2016 is the essential time to reexamine these moments.
A high school student was raped and the first course of action by everybody is to be on the defensive. In the course of 10 devastating episodes the wheels keep turning for everybody involved as they are confined in this perfectly constructed spiral. The aesthetic of the show is so strong because it doesn’t do anything to shy away from its performances and characters. Most of the show is just people sitting down and talking to each other one-on-one but it’s riveting. There are moments of the show when it’s actually too underwhelming and we can’t even look at who is speaking to our characters. It’s just a voice and maybe some hands as it seems that this person can’t help them. Schools are supposed to be an institution designed to always help students for the future and this is a cold spotlight on how easy it is for that ideal to fail.
It’s still unnerving that the most depressing show on the air is about a Hollywood horse. Every season dives deeper and uncovers more about these tragic characters who happen to be animated talking animals. In this season, you watch characters pick a goal that they think will help them but everyone knows will further make them alone. BoJack got the role of his dreams, but he was digitally replaced. But maybe an Oscar nomination will be the key to everything. Maybe a new show will be the key to everything. As all of these elements continue to feel as empty as the last, BoJack falls back on destructive patterns that continue to become more and more dangerous. The repercussions lead to some of the most shocking moments of television. Yet the show is never sadness porn. There is a constant desperation to make it work, to feel what we want to feel.
I have never been to Atlanta. I feel even if I have gone for a conference or something, I would still have missed Donald Glover’s Atlanta. This isn’t because I tend to avoid clubs or I don’t go to music producer events. It’s because I’m not Donald Glover. TV has the opportunity to have a unique vision because the emphasis of creation is on the writer. Glover doesn’t settle for that because he also directs and stars on the show as well. Every episode feels like something special and new. It’s a fantastically black show as it is able to depict elements that simply aren’t seen enough. It’s a portrait, an examination, a character study, a music revolution, a commentary, a satire. It’s miraculous.
It’s so easy to say there will never be another show like Rectify but I want there to be. It’s not necessarily form breaking; it’s just so damn pure. These were the final eight episodes with the Holden family and its few connecting outsiders. While the show seemingly could have ended last season, this is the time where they get to end on their own accord. The characters examine their lives and question whether they should have compromised how they did. They can choose to settle or they can choose to change. In these choices, lies the conclusion to the story. Everything is wrapped up in a purely Recitfy fashion. There are chills and tears and moments of beauty. I believe I have convinced four friends to start watching this show so I have doubled its viewership. Since it left as perfectly as it arrived, this is now a tremendous 30 episode package waiting for people who want to discover something grand.
Horace and Pete
Binging is not the only way to watch television! In fact, I prefer not to do that. I like to soak up and episode and reflect on it. Since I didn’t know anybody watching Horace and Pete, I happily watched this show in my own pace over a matter of months never in fear of being spoiled. It was a treat to revisit this world. Like Louie, it was never clear what was going to be in the next episode or what type of story it was going to be. But unlike Louie, this was something strikingly brand new. Filmed like a piece of theatre, Louis CK and Steve Buscemi are owners of a bar who has always been run by a Horace and a Pete. There’s nothing necessarily joyous about the bar aside from the fact that it has this legacy ascribed to it. They are all trapped by what they are supposed to be. They live, they get mad and they drink. But they always seem to listen. They hear the barside chatter of politics, they hear the pain that other people are projecting and they hear the cruelty that is placed upon them. The show shocks and devastates, surprises and charms. This is a highlight of the careers of so many successful artists.
Orange is the New Black
Damn. Just….damn. Last season seemed to quiet, like it almost ran out of stories to tell. Little did we know that Jenji Kohan was setting up the most devastating second act. As every character was allowed to pause and reflect and act on who they thought they were, their prison was reforming as well. It became privatized and filled with owners who only cared about stats and guards who were completely lacking sympathy. The racial tensions escalade, all of our heroes are scared about their safety and sanity and even the kindest of gestures has to go through hell in order to succeed. This show deserves its place in the pantheon of the greatest shows in this “Golden Age” and this is its crowning achievement thus far. This is a show that has fought for humanity and compassion for everyone, even those who are being punished. In this season, that is harder to achieve even as so many beg for it. The season finale is aptly called “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again.” The fate of Litchfield seems to be the fate of us all and it’s hard to tell who is going to make it out okay. The stakes have never been higher and the show has never been better.
Holy crap, thanks for making it to the end of this insanely long article! I hope you found some new shows to watch and come back tomorrow for the Top TV Episodes of 2016 article with contributions by many wonderful people!