Thursday, December 29, 2016

Best TV Shows of 2016 - Top 40

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 40-31.

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 40-31 for 2016!

Season 2: April 9 - July 9, 2016

The second season of the sweeping historical romp took Caitriona Balfe's Claire and Sam Heughan's Jamie to France. The story got a little too complicated at times. The French supporting players weren't as captivating as their Scottish counterparts. But the series is still one of the best because of the bond between Claire and Jamie. This season they went through quite an ordeal never knowing if what they were doing would have any impact at all on the future. When the narrative remained personal to them, the season soared magnificently.

Season 1: September 6 - November 30, 2016

This drama doesn't belong on this list solely because it hired female directors of color to helm every episode. But that story was key in terms of representation and making sure unique and different perspectives had a voice in this medium. The show itself also succeeded because of a strong grasp on tone and emotion. It did get bogged down by plot a number of times. But then, a moment would come along that would be truly devastating for both the characters and the audience. The mastery of that made the show memorable this year.

38. CBS' MOM
Season 3: January 7 - May 19, 2016
Season 4: October 27 - December 15, 2016

After a year of horrendous sitcoms on CBS, it is so comforting to know that Mom is still churning out great episodes. It's the best comedy on the network. But it still digs into deeper emotions as well - whether it's uncertainty over new love, despair over the death of a young friend, anxiety over the kids following the same patterns or concern for a friend making a potentially bad decision. This year saw both Anna Faris' Christy and Allison Janney's Bonnie stay clean and sober. And yet, that didn't deprive either of them from truly rich material that gave them a wide range of emotions to play with.

Season 3: February 17 - April 20, 2016

The comedy continues to be a reliable performer. This was yet another strong season of adventures for Abbi and Ilana. But there was also a nice amount of growth as well. This season pushed the limits of these characters' lives with changes at work, breakups, new hookups and the exploration of faith. But throughout all of that, the show was still consistently funny - especially in the season finale where having a period on a plane turned out to be quite an adventure.

Season 5: May 3 - June 21, 2016

The final season of the hit drama received a burnoff treatment from CBS. That wasn't fair at all. But the episodes themselves were still quite strong as the narrative brought things to a close for Team Machine. It was a final season that still saw value in episodic adventures while also being experimental in others. But of course, the final showdown between the Machine and Samaritan was intense and exciting as well. The war came to an end. Lives were lost. Others were significantly changed. It was a complicated ending but one very fit for the ambiguity the show lived in with its approach to artificial intelligence.

Season 3: January 5 - April 19, 2016
Season 4: September 20 - December 13, 2016

Four seasons in and the comedy remains a reliable source for laughs every single week. The ensemble continues to be one of the best in all of television. This season pushed the laughs in different but equally successful ways - from the stupid absurdity of Jake and Holt getting the measles to the squad breaking into the FBI to a serialized arc in witness protection. All of that was fantastic. But the show closed the year with one of its best stretches of episodes yet. Some characters may be a little broader now. But the show really is better than it ever has been before and on a consistent basis too.

Season 1: July 10 - August 28, 2016

The tense thriller starring Riz Ahmed and John Turturro boosted powerful performances and a transformative main narrative. The 90-minute premiere was one of the best and most intense episodes of the entire year. The season that followed did a fascinating job exploring the realities and injustices of the criminal justice system. Some character arcs were rushed while others moved a little too slowly. But the overall effect of the series was phenomenal and all-consuming. It showed how one case could grow and have a profound and lasting effect on an entire community.

Season 1: July 15, 2016

The drama broke through the cultural zeitgeist this summer. It broke out with raves, suffered a backlash, and then a backlash to the backlash. It was quite the roller coaster ride. But all of the conversation and thinkpieces weren't enough to distract from an entertaining main story. This was a strong debut season with some of the strongest child casting outside of ABC sitcoms. The kids really carried the narrative through so much. It was so much fun watching them explore the mystery of their friends' disappearance. It was especially a breakout performance for Milli Bobby Brown as Eleven, a unique character who truly came alive because of the actress. Plus, Winona Ryder and David Harbour were great as the adult leads too.

Season 3: July 24 - September 25, 2016

This was easily the best season of the comedy so far. It succeeded it embraced darker emotions. It has always been a show willing and able to talk about difficult and complicated subject matters. The season opened with the death of a family member which forced everyone to realize what matters most in their lives. But the season then continued utilizing those difficult emotions to great success. It didn't always make the characters likable but it did make it clear why they believe in the things they're saying. It was a great season of growth for Erica Ash's M-Chuck and a fantastic showcase year for RonReaco Lee as Reggie.

Season 2: April 8, 2016

This comedy is just so much fun to watch. It's easy to devour. The only criticism I have is that the seasons are only six episodes long. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are a fantastic partnership both as writers and onscreen talent. This season pushed the raunchiness of the storytelling in some truly absurd and brilliant ways. It was still capable of creating some truly earnest and emotionally raw moments as well. Overall, just a terrific season that is sexually frank and creative in so many different and imaginative ways.