I started writing this last night, just after we finished recording our top ten TV shows of 2016 podcast, kind of in the hopes that all the thoughts I’d had about 2016 TV while recording it were still fresh swirling around in my head. And then I took a break and wrote the rest tonight, feeling like yeah, what ever thoughts I’d had about these shows were a lot more fresh in my head after we recorded that podcast. So I apologize if the second half of this is a little undercooked.
But regardless of that, 2016 in TV was anything but undercooked, though I feel like there was plenty more shows I could have enjoyed from this year if I had just been a bit more diligent of a binger, but I guess I’ve just never had that in me. Also, this year was kind of a weird one for me TV-wise, since a lot of the shows from the past few years I’d really loved ended last year (meaning 2015), and so I think I was a bit hesitant to seek out new shows to call my favorites. But here are a few of the new discoveries I made this year as well as a few old favorites that managed to get even better.
I feel like Documentary Now! is a pretty good example of where TV is at right now, in that it’s something very specific and not really for everyone, and yet still got a second season and will hopefully get another. Also, I’m now just realizing I never got around to watching all of season 1, but considering each episode is its own stand-alone thing, that’s fine. I feel like a lot of people’s faux-documentary from this season was the Jiro Dreams Of Sushi tribute Juan Likes Chicken And Rice. Though I’d probably give it to the Stop Making Sense-inspired episode that features the equal parts reverence and poking fun at its source material that makes this show such a delightful anomaly.
Considering it’s about a couple of New York comedian-types following and failing at their showbiz dreams, Difficult People doesn’t exactly stand out from the pack of half-hour comedies airing right now. But I think what this show lacks conceptually, it more than makes up for in tone, as it goes straight for the jugular with it’s acidic laughs, of which there are a lot. I’ll admit it can be a little hit-or-miss sometimes, but when it hits, it’s as funny as any show out there, and I guess I just have a soft spot for Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, who prove that some of the best friendships are built around bitching about how much you hate other people.
For anyone familiar with my tastes (and thanks for noticing…), you probably wouldn’t assume Westworld is a show I would care about. But I guess after years of ignoring Game Of Thrones (to which I’ll never surrender), it just seemed like I should catch up with something that is unanimously popular. Of course, the problem with this is that I ended up catching up with Westworld just a little bit later than anyone else was interested in talking about it. So I was able to avoid all the internet speculation and enjoy basking in the mystery without obsessing over it, while enjoying this shows twist-laden, deeply cynical look at the way humans treat other humans (but with cowboys!)
Yeah, I don’t get it either. How is New Girl this fresh and funny 6 years into its run? I guess the only real thing I can point to is the chemistry of its cast, whose apparent knack for improv is combined with some great joke writers making up the show’s writing staff. But whatever New Girl‘s secret is, I’m totally fine with it keeping the idea of a sitcom filled with characters you love spending time with each week alive in the 21st century. Because yes, prestige drama is nice, but having a show you can depend on to leave you with a big goofy grin on your face is practically just as good.
Hmmm… yeah, this is one where I’m at a bit of a loss for. Better Call Saul made it on to every one else’s lists, and I think I like it for pretty much the same reasons. It’s a show that takes its time, considering it’s set more years before Breaking Bad than you would expect this show to last. But at this point, who really cares if it overtly starts heading where we know it’s all going? I also enjoyed seeing the nuts and bolts of being a working lawyer that this show depicts in an often less-than-heroic way, and though I’m not alone in this of course, I enjoy any opportunity to see Jonathan Banks continue to be TV’s oldest badass.
I suppose it’s ok that Aziz Ansari never released a second season of Master Of None in 2016, since Atlanta kind of feels like it fills that itch, but also with a voice all its own. I mean, on the surface these shows aren’t that similar, but I guess it just felt like Donald Glover, a former comedy wunderkind like Ansari, really came into his own in multiple mediums this year as a serious talent to be reckoned with. Also, like Master Of None, this was a show that was plenty funny when it wanted to be, and also took on more thoughtful, compelling issues when it wanted to. And I know, it may seem a little easy to write off another FX comedy pretending to be a drama, but it’s not as easy when it’s this good.
BoJack Horseman is a lot of things. It’s a show about animal people living with regular people, it’s a show about Hollywood, it’s a show about depression, it’s a show about fighting your past, and a lot of the time, it’s all of these things at once. This particular season saw BoJack making a push for Oscar glory while finding out that this kind of success wasn’t going to fill the giant well of unhappiness within him. Oh, and this is a show where character actress Margo Martindale plays a version of herself that’s an international fugitive who can’t stop getting wrapped up in action-packed mayhem. As I said, it goes a lot of places, and I’m glad I finally caught up with it this year.
It took a while for The Americans to go places, also coincidentally with character actress Margot Martindale wrapped up in some espionage (though not this season). What we got in season 4, was a lot of threads that the show had been slowly leading us along with that finally came to a head, and gave us a lot of satisfying, if sometimes heartbreaking conclusions. I’m being a little vague because I’d really like more people to check out this show, but also because it’s spy shit, so I’m having a hard time remembering all the little plot details. But all I know is I’m eagerly awaiting the next season, which unfortunately doesn’t have an air date, which makes me afraid it it’ll air in the summer, which would be weird considering how icy cold this show always feels, but I suppose stranger things have happened. Like on that show Stranger Things, maybe, I don’t know, I didn’t watch it (and now I’m just rambling…)
I think we settled it on our podcast that this is TV, not a film. But honestly I don’t care, because whatever 30 For 30’s five-part series of the American tragedy that was O.J. Simpson’s life is, it truly has to be seen to be believed. Which of course is weird, since O.J. lived such a public life, but I guess the way this documentary weaves all these different threads and decides to cast a light on so many compelling issues connected to O.J.’s story makes it a really god damn compelling thing to watch.
I honestly could’ve gone with either of the riveting O.J. shows to air on TV this year, but maybe I decided to give the number 1 spot to American Crime Story‘s take on “the trial of the century” just because it felt more like TV. And not just because there’s all this “it was played in theaters” stuff surrounding Made In America, but also because it totally took advantage of what makes television such a powerful tool. Not just the sensationalism of it, but also the potential empathy of it and also its ability to keep you glued to the screen even if you know you’re watching a train wreck. The People V. O.J. Simpson felt like a faithful tribute to what TV was in the ’90s, but also took advantage of the prestige acting inherent in modern television, and of course, like Made In America, had this insanely fascinating story at the heart of it that, both in 1994 and 2016, made for great television.