Friday, December 30, 2016

Best TV Shows of 2016 - Top 20

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 continues today with the shows I've ranked 20-11.

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 20-11 for 2016!

Season 3: January 4 - December 22, 2016

This year cemented Seth Meyers as the best in late night on the broadcast networks. He's doing his version of Weekend Update better than the current anchors on Saturday Night Live. Plus, he's doing four shows a week. His show is the most traditional of the late-night talk shows included on this list this year. He sits down with guests promoting their upcoming films and musical acts close out each show. And yet, he's doing some very interesting, exciting and important political commentary as well. His "A Closer Look" series at times seemed like a nightly feature because of how crazy this year in politics was. Meyers made sure to break down all of the issues and controversies with as much biting humor as possible while still delivering the daily news.

Season 1: September 16, 2016

This comedy completely came out of nowhere for me. I didn't even know it was something Amazon had until August when the premiere date was announced. And then, I didn't know what the show was about until I hit play on that first episode. What followed was a strong and distinctive six episodes of story. Phoebe Waller-Bridge proved herself this year as a powerful writer and actor. The story kept unearthing new details to paint an even fuller picture of this woman's life and complicated family history. It was so raunchy and explicit with its humor. But it was also painful, emotional and beautiful. It was all-consuming of those emotions and was such a joy to watch. Plus, it made me love to hate Olivia Colman! I didn't know that was possible.

Season 3: August 31 - November 16, 2016

The second season took the comedy to some really dark places. It was a rewarding journey because it highlighted just how broken these "terrible" people are. The third season continued to touch a number of serious issues as they affected the core group of characters. This turned out to be a phenomenal season for Desmin Borges' Edgar as he struggled with PTSD. But it was also a year of growth where the characters were faced with their deepest and darkest fears and had to decide what to do next. Do they repeat the same mistakes as the past and potentially ruin these new relationships? Or do they try to find a way forward by addressing these problems and try to heal? All of this is complicated material. The show touched on all of it while still being one of the funniest shows on TV.

Season 1: February 8 - December 19, 2016

Former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee proved herself more than capable as a spiritual successor to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. This show helped start a year of growth for TBS that showed their commitment to smart and edgy comedies. Bee may only do it once a week. But that half hour quickly became appointment television with a unique perspective that was desperately needed this year. The crazier the political season got, the more we needed Bee to voice our outrage and concern. Plus, the remote pieces she and her team did - from visiting Muslim American communities to meeting with female world leaders - were smart and insightful as well. And finally, Emmy winner Sarah Paulson reading Hillary Clinton's emails was one of the funniest things of the year.

Season 3: February 14 - November 13, 2016

The reigning Emmy champ for Variety Talk Series turned in another phenomenal season of episodes. There was just so much great political commentary this season. It was depressing to watch the cable news. So, it was easy to find relief and humanity from folks like Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee and John Oliver. All three of them have vastly different approaches to the material. Oliver does 20-minute takedowns of one topic once a week. This year required him to be more political than ever before. That was a move he was more than capable of making. It was an important story to cover. But Oliver also investigated other issues in the world as well - such as background checks, the Puerto Rico debt crisis, the 911 system, retirement plans, car finance, charter schools and so much more - with the same amount of vigor.

Season 1: September 8 - November 10, 2016

This year saw many potential successors to FX's Louie. Many of them were worthy of that distinction as well. C.K. helped create the trend of auteur driven half-hour shows. And now, they are popping up everywhere and each has its own distinctive voice. Better Things at times played as a female Louie. The comparison was easy to make because C.K. helped write a number of episodes. But it was its own thing as well. It was special because of Pamela Adlon's own stance on the world. The season explored what it means to be both a daughter and a parent. Adlon's Sam had to accept that she'll always have to give for her three daughters and get very little in return. But the core journey of this family was so much more profound than that as everyone was just trying to figure things out in a world where no one has all the right answers.

Season 2: April 15, 2016

This may be the second season of the comedy from Tina Fey but it was the first exclusively made for Netflix. As such, the writers could have really pushed things further than before. Instead, they largely kept to the status quo. The characters weren't suddenly swearing or taking all their clothes off. It was still the same show as the made-for-NBC version. And yet, this season dug into the psyches of the characters so much more and analyzed their behavior. It made them question whether or not they are really living healthy lives. The first half of the season was light and fluffy focusing on galas and relationships. That was a ton of fun. And then, the second half got into some darker material with Ellie Kemper's Kimmy going into therapy to further understand her problems from years of abuse. Plus, the casting of Fey as Kimmy's split-personality therapist and Lisa Kudrow as Kimmy's mother was absolute perfection.

Season 1: September 9, 2016

This half-hour series from Tig Notaro often focused on the tragedy instead of the comedy. And yet, it was absolutely breathtaking with its intimate focus on a small-town family after the death of a parent. It was so beautiful to watch as it personally examined how each person in this family has a wildly different reaction. It delved into the history of their shared pasts. It reflected on how family is always there for you no matter what while also being the sources of so much of that tragedy. It's inescapable but also rewarding as well. It was a season of growth for Tig as she had to accept a reality where her mother was no longer alive. Death wasn't a simple mystery for her to solve either. The show understood just how complex the world, family and death really are. Secrets may have been revealed but it was so much more about the experience and expectations clashing with the reality of the world for the characters. It was really something to behold.

Season 3: September 23, 2016

The third season of the half-hour series was perhaps more scattered than the previous two. It was more a season of great standout episodes than a consistent and all-consuming main narrative. Some character arcs felt more truncated than they have in the past. But when this show works, it works astonishingly well. This year returned the focus to Jeffrey Tambor's Maura in some phenomenal ways as she tried to undergo gender reassignment surgery. That struggle was set against the backdrop of this family still making the same mistakes even though their truths are supposedly all out in the open now. The Pfeffermans are still just awkwardly destroying their lives and pushing others away. That's devastating in episodes like "Elizah" and "The Open Road." But it's also easy to sympathize with these characters like in "If I Were a Bell" which showed Maura and Judith Light's Shelly when they were younger. And sometimes, all it takes is a performance of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket" to bring everything together.

Season 2: January 25 - May 16, 2016
Season 3: October 17 - November 28, 2016

Three seasons in, it's still crazy that this show is delivering great and powerful episodes every week. It's not easy to blend so many tonally different storylines together. And yet, this show does it with such ease and class. It makes everything look effortless. It has so much fun with its outlandish antics while also taking everything seriously as plot mechanics. All of it works because of such a strong grasp on character. Every single person of this ensemble is unique and important to the show. They all have points-of-view that are easy to understand. They've all changed and evolved over the years. The show honors that and makes sure that tension only arises between characters when it makes sense. Rogelio and Xo aren't a couple because they don't agree about having kids. Jane and Alba were fighting because they saw things differently about family and religion. This show make me laugh and cry in so many wonderful and surprising ways. Not every single plot line works - like Rogelio getting kidnapped by his stalker or Petra suddenly having a twin sister. But more often than not, this show approaches storytelling with so much earnestness and respect for the craft and acknowledgement that these characters have hopes and dreams that have been molded out of their lives so far.