We continue to forge onward into the digital future of the television medium, and it continues to look brighter and brighter. In 2016, Hulu and Amazon both made huge commitments to creating their own shows, which, along with Netflix and newcomer Seeso, challenges HBO and other broadcast channels for the best selection of original programming. This was the year that frustrations with Comcast finally led me to cancelling cable, and I’m still quite optimistic about streaming throughout this next year and beyond.
After all, I still haven’t found the time to watch 11.22.63, Black Mirror, The Crown, and countless other shows I probably should have. Beyond my honorable mentions, there are a few others shows I’d like to shout out, starting with Agent Carter and The Grinder, both of whom were cancelled too soon. If you do start a Seeso subscription, four other shows I’d recommend are The UCB Show, Hidden America with Jonah Ray, Harmonquest, and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, which was a nice rebound for Paul F. Tompkins after No You Shut Up! was cancelled. Also, HBO’s big comedies, Veep and Silicon Valley, were another couple of narrow misses, as was Comedy Central’s best comedy, Broad City. The Venture Bros. came back for a short, solid sixth season, that show has been going since I was in junior high. Also good: Documentary Now!, Luke Cage, Transparent.
Game of Thrones
Horace and Pete
Six people, three boys and three girls, are given a beautiful house and a huge car in Tokyo and we get to observe them. That’s the premise behind Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City, which was revived by Netflix in late 2015, and what’s remarkable is how it sticks to it. The show feels extremely natural and unscripted (it’s either an amazing illusion or incredible production) and it avoids entirely the forced drama that dominates Western reality TV. The people on Terrace House have all come to either find love or work on their careers, and they all are so beautiful and nice it’s hard not to get caught up in their stories. It’s like a Japanese, Great British Bake Off-inspired take on The Real World.
Take My Wife seems to be a show about making us all fall in love with Rhea Butcher. Ostensibly this is the story of Rhea and her wife, Cameron Esposito, working on the comedy careers. Cameron’s a little farther along, having been living as a comic for a while and getting ready for her big break. But it’s Rhea who I could really relate to, as she struggles with her shitty work-from-home graphics designer gigs and works up the courage to do a podcast in her backyard and go on her first tour. The show’s funny and sweet and also only a few episodes long and on Seeso, so I wanted to help get the word out in some small way.
The second season of the surprisingly great Daredevil focused on The Man Without Fear’s relationship with two antiheroes: The Punisher and Elektra, who both were re-imagined for and definitively added to the MCU through this show. While some of the side stories were weak, and I know the last few episodes with the zombie ninja army are divisive, ultimately what made the season work so much for me was Matt Murdock himself, and his arc throughout the 13 episodes. As a lawyer and Catholic, his feelings about crime-fighting and vigilantism are fascinating, and I’m impressed with where they decided to end it. Let’s hope The Defenders can live up to this, and the other Netflix shows’ legacy.
I think this show gets a slight boost for it being my first year watching the show. In its second season, Mr. Robot excruciatingly teased out a few mysteries, which left many frustrated, especially those who guessed everything on Internet forums. But the setting was fascinating: the way the show somewhat seriously took on the fallout of the end of the first season and how the world would change was great. Also, this is one of the most stylish shows on TV, with a few completely bizarre episodes that I could never explain in this space. Thanks for all your help, Mr. Hackerman, but the world’s maybe not a better place after all.
Donald Glover has finally arrived, I think. I’ve been rooting for the guy since Derrick Comedy, but in 2016 he put out a great album, got the coolest role in a new Star Wars, and wrote and starred in Atlanta, one of my favorite shows all year. What stands out about his show is how easily it blends not just the real and the surreal, but extremely dire truths with over-the-top satire. Sometimes a comedy, sometimes a drama, Atlanta was a really easy show to blast through, once I got my hands on it.
It feels weird to put a network sitcom on this list, given that it feels like nobody watches network TV anymore, but New Girl is inexplicably improving each season, even though Coach is gone. This year started with Jess leaving the show for a while due to Zooey Deschanel’s pregnancy (also, she named her daughter Elsie Otter because she likes otters, come on Zooey, stop it) but even that didn’t really negatively effect the show, as it got to show the rest of cast thrown off their regular dynamic. And geez, the wedding arc was so good – remember the bachelor party episode? I like New Girl so much I halfheartedly tried to remake my own life in its image and failed miserably.
This is another show that perhaps got a boost from it being my first year watching it, although I bet any Steven Universe fan would say that this latest batch of episodes were among the strongest in the show’s run. Case in point: Peridot became a crystal gem in January. Can you imagine going back to a life without Peridot, the beloved Peridot, on the team? You probably can, because not a lot of people in our audience join me in watching this super accepting, delightful show. That’s OK, if I could begin to be half of what you think of me, I could do about anything, I could even learn how to love like you.
Better Call Saul is pretty content being what it is, which is a story about a struggling-but-talented lawyer who might not be making the best choices. The fact that some of the characters will go on to be in Breaking Bad doesn’t seem to really matter at this point, as we’re probably years away from the start of that show and this show takes thing on day at a time. Both Jimmy’s dealings with big law firms and Mike’s trouble with organized crime would have been enough to make this a great show, but it’s sense of style – the way it’s shot, the music it uses – really pushed it over the top. When’s the next season start?
The Americans has totally gotten over its pacing problems and questionable plots, establishing itself as one of the best serialized dramas on TV. Boom. Done. Other critics were saying that a season or two ago, but by now I think everyone watching the show agrees on just how great it is these days. I’m not going to spoil anything save for the fact that there will only be two more seasons of sexy spy non-action, let’s go turn this thing into the next Breaking Bad-style late-in-run hit.
Goofy makeup and costumes made American Crime Story look like a disaster from afar, but the show’s ridiculous, hyperactive approach to one of the biggest trials in American history ended up suiting the material better than I would have guessed. There are numerous performances worth praising, although Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance stand above the rest for turning Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran into genuinely sympathetic characters. Somehow it’s hard not to look back at this crazy project as one of the best seasons of pretty much any TV show ever, it just fits.