Long ago (not long ago, maybe fifteen years ago which is starting to feel like long ago) if someone would ask me what television shows do I like to watch, I would answer smugly “I don’t watch television, I only watch films”. Which was mostly true, yes I would watch reruns of Seinfeld or pop in a Freaks and Geeks DVD but rarely thought about watching a show on week-to-week basis, let alone daily. Then LOST happened and it become appointment TV for me, when asked again, what television do I watch I would say, “I only watch LOST, I’m more into films”. Than someone told me I should catch up with The Wire, then Mad Men premiered, a year later Breaking Bad premiered. Comedies begin to change from studio audience laugh tracks to single camera shows like 30 Rock and Community. Eventually I no longer gave the smug response of not watching television, instead I made sure to point out all the interesting shows I was watching that you probably weren’t. I became a Television Snob!!! Television has gotten better which has made it difficult to keep up with everything. From the scope of one-hour dramas like Westworld to the unpredictability of half hour “comedies” like Atlanta, television has been inching towards the same respect its big brother known as film seems to get.
The Real MVP (Most Valuable Performance)
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld
For all the flaws and times the show left us scratching our heads, Hopkins managed to convince us to buy into what the shows creators were trying to sell. A truly difficult feat when considering the rabbit holes the creators of the show where trying to make us follow. Every time I thought to myself what the hell is going on here, Hopkins menacing eyes and ways with absurd dialogue pulled me back in. He may never overshadow is performance in Silence of the Lambs but in Westworld he showed all the skills he has in artillery in way we haven’t seen from him before.
Best Moment from Atlanta Because Any Other Moment from Any Other Show Would Just Be A Lie
Umm…I mean, can I just say the whole show? From the glow of those Lemon Pepper Sauce Wings to Black Justin Bieber and everything between. This show gave us Moments on top of MOMENTS! But if I had to choose one, it would have to be The Invisible Car scene. Early in the episode titled “The Club”, it’s suggested by one of the lead characters that a star football player supposedly owns an actual invisible car. No one believes this, but instead regard it as a lavish joke to display how rich this guy could be to own an invincible car. It’s so early in the episode in which this story is told and so much stuff happens through out the episode that you forget this ridiculous story that is until….
And some how you buy into this moment, in show grounded not in some alternate universe but in your reality and some how it totally makes sense like every other crazy thing in Atlanta.
Best Use Of An 80’s Song On A Show.
You’d be surprised by (or maybe not) by how many shows I could choose from in this category. The love of 80’s music seems to know no boundaries as most shows and films are made by children of the 80’s now. The likely sources for usage of 80’s music would obviously be in shows that take place in the 1980’s. From Halt & Catch Fire using Elvis Costello’s song “Beyond Belief” blare out of a speaker box to the nostalgia crazy episode of Black Mirror, “San Junipero” featuring a foreshadowing with 5 seconds of The Smiths song “Girlfriend In A Coma” or the dance floor ready “Need You Tonight” by INXS. And of course how could we forget the numerous music cues from Stranger Things, especially the perfectly eerie closing credits song “Nocturnal Me” by Echo and The Bunnymen. With all that said a show not taking place in the 80’s managed to out do them all. In the opening scene of episode of 2 of season 2 of Mr. Robot, Phil Collins (yes, I said Phil Collins) song “Take Me Home” is lightly heard from a distance but as the scene unfolds the song builds momentum gradually becoming louder as scene becomes ever so more dramatic and surreal. Phil Collins song writing has become an easy punching bag for most and doesn’t seem to have the admiration of other 80’s music but I tell you this, you’ll be obsessed with this song after seeing it used so will in this scene. In an utterly disappointing season this was a highlight for Mr. Robot and maybe the A.L.F. inspired episode.
Best (Favorite) Shows of 2016
Disclaimer: I don’t know why but for some reason I never catch up to Transparent until after I do these lists. So just know that if I did, the show would probably be on this list…it would probably be in the top 5 because it’s a great show.
Honorable Mentions – Better Call Saul, Broad City, Fleabag, Luke Cage, Preacher, The Night Of, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Westworld – HBO and Mr. Robot – USA
Although both of these programs showed the endless scope that can be had with television, they were both kind of full of themselves too. Here’s to hoping both shows got their worst qualities out of their systems. For Westworld, the endless setting the table with plot on top of plot on top of plot has hopefully ended with the first season/Prologue. Mystery and online speculation is fun but a lot was asked of its audience to buy into that was all wrapped up with a tremendous last thirty minutes of the season finale. Which can lead for a more entertaining and character driven season two (we hope). While Mr. Robot suffered a sophomore slump of high expectations, with a terrible stretch of episodes that left its audience wondering, “where the hell is this going”? I love to be challenged by a show but it seemed as though the shows creator Sam Esmail was trying to test his audience, which sure is fine but to do it for most of the season was too much. But that is also been the pleasure of the show, the boundaries and forth walls broken down by a show that uses conventional troupes in unconventional ways. Here’s to hoping the ship finds its course in Season 3.
- The Wine Show – Hulu
I’ve been fortunate this year to do a lot of traveling, eating great food and drinking some great wine. With that I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about food and wine from documentaries like Chef’s Table, Chef’s Table: France, Uncorked and Cooked. For me The Wine Show gave me the most pleasure to watch, which also educated me about this alcoholic beverage I enjoy so much. With the added bonus of the charming host Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys, enjoying the winery’s of Italy only made the show more delightful.
- Black Mirror – Netflix
I wouldn’t say any episode of Black Mirror was perfect this season, but almost all of them where fascinating and terrifying even the up beat “San Junipero”. It’s no secret that we has a society are succumbing to our new overlords known as technology. This year more than ever we’ve seen the power for better and for Worse that technology can have on our daily lives. Black Mirror touches upon the many avenues this can go horribly wrong, often in a Orwellian level that even George Orwell could have never foresee.
Best Episode – San Junipero
- Girls – HBO
It can be easy to forget about Girls after two lackluster seasons, but it would seem that the show figured itself out this past year. Yes these are the same narcissistic flawed characters we’ve grown to love or loathe but the mistakes and relationships they’ve chosen finally make sense. Adam and Hannah never made sense, they only seemed to be a construct for the sake of interesting television. For better or worse Adam and Jessa make sense even though that relationship could cause WWIII any day now.
Best Episode – The Panic in Central Park
- High Maintenance – HBO
High Maintenance has two things going for it that I very much like, New York City as it’s back drop and vignette story telling. Our guide into each story is The Guy, a marijuana delivery guy who interacts with the individuals who we follow in their own episode. The show has an amazing ability to mock and love it’s fictional archetype New York characters that we as non-New Yorkers have are own ideas of.
Best Episode – Grandpa
- Halt and Catch Fire – AMC
It’s a shame that more people don’t watch this show, but it’s hard to convince people to watch a drama without sex (there’s a lot of sexual tension) and violence (someone did kill themselves this season though). What makes this show stand out from other shows that might provide those needs you have is the unbelievably complex, intelligent, individualistic female leads. Cameron and Donna are the best of friends, the worst of enemies, without a man having to do anything with their relationship. The show is far cry from it’s first season, which came off as a Mad Men for the 80’s but it’s taking a few notes from the show in particular creating strong women in the workplace.
Best Episode – NeXT
- The Americans – FX
The Americans continues to be my favorite show about family, in the most extreme circumstances of a family unit no less. The long con of being Russian spies in America is taking it’s toll on Elizabeth and Phillip, who are trying to explain this life style to ever more curious, sometimes terrified daughter. On the grand scale we know how this story ends but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling to watch on the smaller scale for our leads in this story. The Americans manages to show that there isn’t anything sexy about spy work, it’s grunt job full of self-doubt and paranoia.
Best Episode – The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statute of Liberty Disappears
- Game of Thrones – HBO
Maybe this is what the GoT creators and fans always needed, or better yet didn’t need, a guide to explain to them where this story was headed. The results of the first season of the Game of Thrones without a book as a road map surprisingly gave us good results (for the most part). Given us some of the most memorable moments in a show already filled with classic moments. The final two episodes showed the amazing scope that could be had on the small screen.
Best Episode – The Winds of Winter
- Stranger Things – Netflix
Sometimes comfort and familiarity is needed, especially when the real world feels like it’s going to shit. Stranger Things came in a time when we needed some visual comfort food and it did so for us. A perfect construct of everything we love about the 80’s Spielbergian kids with Stephen King like scares, without the danger of the Cold War seeping in. The child like wander to keep us young and knowing that the danger wouldn’t ever come with a cost. Oh…that’s right, but what about Barb?!
- The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – FX
What made this show were the great performances by Sarah Paulsen, Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance. Bringing to life three people only vaguely remembered as caricatures and villains. The nuances of their performances elevated them over some hefty competition, of an Oscar winner, a Friends star and John Travolta doing some sort of Marlon Brando impression. This plus the added factor of the amazing mingling of tabloid like story telling while confronting Americas continues problems of race relations made for entertaining, while most times important television even twenty years after the events.
- Atlanta – FX
Twin Peaks for a Hip-Hop generation is a cute pitch but Atlanta is more than that. Yes it takes the unpredictability of what we like out of the more weird hour long dramas and stuffs it in an half hour comedy but it handles so much more under it’s belt. Confronting race, homophobia, celebrity and being flat out broke in ways television has never encounter. Donald Glover builds his own a unique world that reminds you of other comedy geniuses like Louie C.K. and Larry David, who see life in their own bizarre, funny and sometimes fucked up kind of way.