Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best TV Shows of 2016 - Top 10

As 2016 comes to a close, it's a perfect time to look back at the year that was and celebrate all the great things that happened on television - and there were so many this year too. Over the next few days, I'll be counting down my favorite shows of 2016 - a list that will include 100 shows! The list finishes today with the shows I've ranked 10-1.

Of course, it should be noted that all lists are completely subjective. These are simply the 100 shows that I enjoyed the most this year. The act of ranking is completely arbitrary. I may rank a show much lower or higher than you would. That's completely fine. We all have different tastes in this world. Moreover, it's more difficult than ever before to keep up with all of the shows currently airing on the broadcast networks, basic cable, pay cable and streaming services. This year saw the total of original scripted shows rise to 455. That's completely insane. More networks are producing original content than ever before. That's notable because so much of it is good. When I was making this list, I was surprised by how strong the overall quality was. In years past, I could get away with only talking about the 20 or 50 best shows on television. This year merits a list that includes 100 shows. It was just that good.

And yet, it's impossible for any one person to watch it all. There simply isn't enough time to watch everything. So this list will have some pretty notable omissions. I am only human. Stuff that I missed out on years ago are particularly challenging to get caught up on because of all the new shows coming out. You'll notice that HBO's Game of Thrones isn't on this list. That's entirely because I still have not found the time to watch any of it. It's something I'm interested in doing but I've also had to keep up with everything else happening in this industry. Of course, there's also a fair number of new shows I missed out on as well. Streaming only continues to grow. A few years ago, outlets like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu weren't even producing original scripted series. And now, they are seemingly debuting new shows every week. It's a lot to keep track of. I caught up on a number of shows over the last month in the hopes of being able to cover many of the great things that happened this year. But my time management skills could only do so much. I couldn't get to Netflix's period drama The Crown or the second season of Amazon's The Man in the High Castle. So while I do think it's a good idea to do this year-end list, it shouldn't cause concern or outrage. These are simple the shows I watched this year and really enjoyed.

Here are the previous posts from this week:

So with all that being said, here's the shows I've ranked 10-1 for 2016!

Season 4: June 17, 2016

The fourth season of the prison dramedy was its darkest one yet. It was also a well-plotted masterpiece. It understood that systems don't fail because of the mistakes of one person. Instead, things fall apart because of multiple decisions multiple people make over time. This season carefully showcased how destructive the prison culture became under new management and just how devastating that was for so many of the inmates. Even if they could sometimes use the new rules to their benefit, it still ultimately lead to despair and agony. It was a season of power trips where the people in charge looked down at the people in Litchfield as less than human. It was a demoralizing season that built to such a depressing ending with the tragic death of a beloved character. But it always remembered the humanity of the inmates. It always saw the light in their actions and the hopefulness in their eyes. It was truly a thing of beauty to watch this season.

Season 5: April 24 - June 26, 2016

After four seasons, the hit comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus finally won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series. But it also lost its series creator Armando Iannucci. The comedy was so singularly in his voice that it felt impossible for anyone to replace him. Not only did David Mandel ultimately do that, he also created one of the best seasons of the show so far. This season was great as the characters got even uglier than before as they desperately tried to hang onto power. Every single move they tried failed and it was hilarious to watch. These people were rewarded with the presidency at one time. And now, it's being taken away from them. Their biggest victory came in getting Timothy Simons' Jonah elected to Congress - an absurd and truly hysterical subplot. Plus, it stuck the ending too by deciding to go into the unknown instead of retreating to familiar storytelling territory. This is a show with as much confidence and wit as ever before.

Season 1: January 25 - April 18, 2016
Season 2: October 21 - December 9, 2016

When the musical comedy first started, it had amusing and original songs but a story that wasn't completely there yet. All it took was a couple of episodes for it to really get going and know what to do with each of the main characters. Rachel Bloom's Rebecca is frequently an awful person trying to achieve her messed-up version of love - no matter who it hurts in the process. But the story has been very insightful and willing to go deeper into Rachel's own neuroses and explain why she feels this way and how it's ultimately hurting her just as much as the people around her. This has been a year of growth for so many characters. Darryl and White Josh's romance is one of the best stories on all of television while Greg accepting his alcoholism and Paula chasing her own dreams were phenomenal story beats as well. And on top of all of that, the songs have only gotten better and more fantastical. This entire blurb could be me citing a dozen songs as the reason for why this show is in my Top 10 this year.

Season 3: August 21 - October 11, 2016

The period drama has made leaps in quality with every season so far. It's a miracle it's still on the air because the viewership is so low. But it's worth it for seeing just how far this story has developed since those early days. This season was absolutely mesmerizing to watch. It showed the perils of looking to the future while avoiding the problems of the present. The year started with so much hope as Mutiny had traveled to California and was on the verge of becoming the next big company. But it was absolutely devastating to watch not only the company fall apart but the partnership between Kerry Bishé's Donna and Mackenzie Davis' Cameron. Those were two of the best performances of the year. Their friendship was so real and earned. And yet, it was so easy to understand their actions that ultimately torn them apart. It's not surprising that a show about personal computing is ultimately about connection between humanity. But this season took that theme to some new levels as everyone strived to make the best product but struggled articulating their ideas and plans to everyone else.

Season 1: January 30 - April 2, 2016

It was a Saturday almost a year ago when Louis C.K. sent out an email to his website subscribers saying this was a thing he made that could now be watched. He provided no details for what it was or if it would be an ongoing thing. What followed was the beginning of a truly phenomenal story. Horace and Pete was ultimately a ten-part staged play with C.K. getting a number of famous friends to play the roles. But the acting and writing were so top-notch. Alan Alda has had a career of great performances. His work as Uncle Pete is easily one of his best yet. Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange and Laurie Metcalf are all acclaimed actors. They each had such wonderful and nuanced material to work with - especially that third episode which is largely just Metcalf's character telling C.K.'s Horace a story of a sexual encounter with her father-in-law. It was such a dark and twisted main narrative. It touched on the importance of family and responsibility but it was all turn apart by the failings and changes of the modern world. It was a bold experiment that was ultimately very satisfying to watch.

Season 1: February 2 - April 5, 2016

Who would have thought that 2016 would include 2 series about O.J. Simpson and both would be absolutely terrific? That was somewhat surprising with this endeavor because Ryan Murphy's track record hasn't always worked. This series focused much more on the actual lawyers of the 1990s murder case. It sought out to humanize, sympathize and empathize with Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance). It was less a series about O.J. Simpson and whether or not he is guilty. It depicted the events of this infamous case as they actually happened. The episodic structure understood that it had a lot of ground to cover. So, it made sure that each one highlighted something different about the case - like the racial impact in "The Race Card" or the rampant sexism in "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia." It was an engrossing and captivating series to watch - even though everyone watching knew the outcome. It was still devastating when that final verdict came in because there was a newfound understanding of what those three lawyers went through and wanted to achieve with this case only for it to change them in ways they weren't expecting.

Season 1: September 6 - November 1, 2016

This turned out to be a year of such terrific half-hour series. There were so many of them doing wildly different things but succeeding in so many different ways. Comedy right now is doing some truly imaginative and original things. It's to be applauded throughout the whole industry. The show that stands at the top of that list is easily Donald Glover's Atlanta. This first season came out strong with a distinct look and worldview. It depicted the surreal life of what it means to be a black man just trying to live in modern-day America. The hopes and goals of the characters were so easy to understand. They wanted to build better lives for themselves but found themselves trapped struggling against a system where they can barely get by. They have these big ambitions to make it big in the music industry. But they are still just trying to get enough money to have a decent meal and provide for family. Plus, the comedic experiments were all strokes of brilliance too. This show cast a black man as Justin Bieber, did an entire episode as a segment on a fake news show (complete with fake commercials) and had a running joke about an invisible car. All of it worked phenomenally well. It soared as well as it did because of the easy chemistry and screen presence of Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Keith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz.

Miniseries: June 11 - June 18, 2016

As the FX limited series pointed out, there is so much story and nuance to cover when it comes to the O.J. Simpson story. It would seem impossible to cover all of it without it becoming too overwhelming to the audience. And yet, O.J.: Made in America made every single moment of this important story feel significant and powerful. It painted the picture of O.J.'s entire life and the systemic worlds he grew up in. It also covered the world away from him. How race and celebrity would ultimately become the pitfalls of his story. The documentary found even more nuance and connection. It unearthed new information that only made this case more surreal and powerful to behold - like the story of the helicopter pilot who captured the start of 1992 Los Angeles riots and the infamous white bronco police chase. It was one of the most mesmerizing experiences on all of television this year. It covered so much ground and brought in so many different perspectives and understandings of this case. It showed the whole story in every single detail. Not a whole lot of it was easy to watch but it was important. There will probably never be a story as crazy and unpredictable as O.J. Simpson.

Season 4: October 26 - December 14, 2016

In its final season, Rectify revealed itself as a series about hope. Hope that people are capable of change. That the worst can happen and things will still be able to get better. That someone can be beaten down and lose every shred of their humanity and still have the ability to try and live again. This drama has been so special for four years now. Its gone under the radar for all of them. Hopefully one day, people will start discovering it on Netflix and wonder why it didn't get more attention at the time from the awards groups. Those concerns are valid. Just look at the phenomenal monologue Aden Young gives at the start of "Happy Unburdening." It's a tense moment depicting humanity at its worst and Daniel being broken even more by a life turned against him. It was a haunting moment that sticks throughout the hour. That's the emotion the show delivered throughout its entire run. This season saw so many of the characters break and know that their existences will need to change. At times, that's a beautiful display of emotion. At others, it's uncertain because the future is so unclear. What is clear, is that this is one of the most profound and poignant shows on all of television. It deserves as much praise as it can get.

Season 4: March 16 - June 8, 2016

It is still miraculous that the period drama manages to improve every single season. It was already one of the finest dramas on TV in its second season. But somehow it was able to raise the stakes yet again in the seasons since. Things got so intense and dark for Keri Russell's Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys' Phillip this season. It was a season marked with significant character deaths and long-run operations gone awry. Things got so bad and heavy for the Jennings that the Centre had to put them on a vacation for a little while to give them a break. At times, this season felt like the show nearing the end of its story. But it also proved that this world is still capable of delivering some epic twists that show just how fragile and resilient all of these characters are capable of being. There's a moment where Elizabeth is telling her daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), the new status quo in the handling of her pastor which is one of the most devastating moments the show has ever done. This season held nothing back for the characters or the audience. Everything was falling apart even when things seemed to be looking up for the family. Their lives are under a constant state of change. There's no telling what the next day - or even hour - will bring. That unpredictability forced some powerful and harsh confrontations to occur. It revealed new facets of these characters. They've grown so much. And it's clear that things will only continue to be complex as long as Philip and Elizabeth are in America. That's what makes this show so smart and clever. It's not afraid to push the limits of storytelling. It simply tells the best story and sees what will happen next - which is often better than what anyone could have thought of.