Thursday, December 29, 2016

Best TV Shows of 2016 - Top 50

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 50-41.

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 50-41 for 2016!

Season 5: February 11 - May 12, 2016

The fifth season of the hit drama from Shonda Rhimes proved to be its darkest one yet with Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope transforming into Command. It was a story that may have been too alienating to some viewers. Olivia was no longer wearing the white hat. She became every bit as monstrous as the people she once tried to take down. But her ambitions made sense on a grand narrative scale that were truly captivating to watch. Sure, not everything ultimately worked with the election story. But the main story of Olivia's transformation was truly compelling.

Season 2: January 19 - March 1, 2016

There was a minor bit of concern heading into the period drama's second season because of the move to Los Angeles. And yet, the move actually worked and improved the overall show. It became so much more confident with itself and took more risks. But more importantly, it was just a ton of fun to watch. It was a season-long story with dramatic stakes but it also found room for a fantasy musical sequence. Plus, the dynamic between Hayley Atwell's Peggy and James D'Arcy's Jarvis only continued to get better.

Season 2: September 2, 2016

The first season of the period drama was perfectly fine. It highlighted the rise of Pablo Escobar in the Colombian drug trade. But the second season was so much more compelling to watch because it centered on his fall from power that ultimately ended with his death. It was the completion of a full story. Sure, it creates an uncertain future for the series - which will continue without Wagner Moura's impressive work as Escobar. This season proved just how important that central focus was. The main narrative was always intense because it was clear that literally anything could happen at any given moment and lead to a significant change.

Season 2: January 6 - March 9, 2016

The anthology drama isn't always subtle with the themes it hits in its stories. But it more than makes up for that with big, emotional moments coupled with powerful performances. The weight of this season fell on young performers Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari as their characters dealt with a male-on-male rape at their private school. They delivered some of the best work of the entire year on any show. It was truly wonderful but also devastatingly brutal to watch week-to-week. This show proved it wasn't afraid to push the limits of broadcast television in its second season.

Season 1: January 17, 2016
Season 2: June 6 - August 8, 2016

This comedy is just so silly and stupid but also a ton of fun to watch. It only got more confident with its over-the-top ridiculousness as the two seasons went along. The first season was filled with episodic pleasures while the second tried its hand at a more serialized arc. Both approaches worked perfectly fine. In fact, it would have been higher on this list for the second season alone because that had a number of standout episodes. The first season was great too but it did struggle a little bit in the early going. It's just fantastic that it truly embraced all the silliness and took that concept to the absolute extreme to the delight of everyone watching.

45. HULU's 11.22.63
Miniseries: February 15 - April 4, 2016

This turned out to be quite a big year for series about time travel. This limited series starring James Franco showed the perils that come from trying to change the past. It had a pretty fantastic premise with Franco's Jake Epping going back to the 1960s to try and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Along the way, he had many notable interactions with a number of people. But it was truly the great ensemble work from people like Chris Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Nick Searcy and Tonya Pinkins that made the series feel grounded. Plus, it wrapped up in such a wonderful way that gave everyone a fine resolution to the story.

Season 1: April 11 - May 30, 2016

Much like Angie Tribeca, this comedy worked when it became sillier and more ridiculous. It has a very simple premise. It focused on a horrible vacation a family takes and all the distractions along the way. But it found so much great use out of a road trip gone awry. It had conventional plot setups - like the family getting food poisoning at an off-the-highway restaurant. But it also had some truly inspired moments as well - like the stop at the B&B and the murky feelings towards Russian mail order brides. More important than anything else though, it was just a ton of fun to watch as it reveled in its own characters' stupidity and made sure almost everything backfired on them because of it. That was a formula that never got old.

Season 4: February 18 - December 28, 2016

This year saw the period drama expand the number of episodes it produces for a season. 15 episodes aired this year. That's up from the 10 usually done. Plus, this turned out to be the most dramatic and intense season of the show yet. After three seasons following the rise of Travis Fimmel's Ragnar Lothbrok, the fourth season depicted his fall in an epic battle with his brother, Rollo, for Paris. It was a compelling story arc that once again reminded the vikings of Ragnar's humanity. It was a story that ended in an even more finite place than that as well. What happens next is more unclear than ever before which has led to some truly inspired episodes and tension over the last few weeks.

Season 2: March 9 - May 29, 2016

The multi-camera comedy from Jerrod Carmichael only continued to grew in its second season. It produced 13 episodes and expanded its world and characters a little bit too - to the benefit of an extremely talented cast. It's still very much an issues-based show. It has had some phenomenal conversations about a wide array of topics so far. This year that list included cheating, the legacy of Bill Cosby, death, birth control, depression and even the presidential election. This series proved that multi-camera sitcoms can still work. They just need to have purpose and be willing to take risks.

Season 2: February 2 - May 24, 2016
Season 3: October 11 - December 13, 2016

This comedy has one of the best populated universes of any sitcom right now. Its main cast is terrific. But it has done a terrific job fleshing out the world around them and making sure that every person has importance and an impact. Plus, the show has shown a willingness to tell stories that haven't been told before. It did an episode about Chinese New Year. It went to Taiwan to film an episode. This show is very ambitious and it's also very funny. Plus, this season has done such a stealthily smart thing in questioning what it means to be an American. That has proven to be such a profound story arc that reverberates throughout all the generations of characters.