The best (new) things on television — and the Internet — in 2016
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor [email protected]
With so many platforms, doing an exhaustive rundown of what we call Tube — everything from traditional broadcast and basic cable TV, to premium cable, streaming services and Podcasts — would be nearly impossible. So we limit it to new shows (or at least basically new to us). So don’t get flustered if you don’t see Game of Thrones or Last Week Tonight or RuPaul’s Drag Race here — we love them too, and have said so in the past. This is in celebration of the newcomers.
10. The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified (Podcast). The old-school adventure serial — about a “girl reporter” (hey! “Woman!”) combatting evil at the upper echelons of business eerily prefigured Drumpf’s victory, except Eleanor defeated the meanies in this Podcast created for children (boys and girls), but with enough snark and sass for their parents as well, or anyone who enjoys having their auditory imagination teased.
9. The Night Of (HBO). A dutiful but flawed Muslim kid enjoys a drug-filled one-night-stand, awakes to the girl brutally murdered, and becomes part of the criminal justice system, for good or bad, in this limited-series procedural — a sort of modern-day anatomy of due process. Riz Ahmed is sympathetic as the kid and Michael Kenneth Williams electric as his prison protector, but it’s John Turturro’s as a lopey, annoying, eczema-plagued public defender who steals the show.
8. Take My Wife (Seeso). Real-life comics and partners Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher play fictionalized (I assume) versions of themselves, navigating love and relationships. Wisely observed and wryly executed, it’s one of the least abashed portraits of the urban lesbian experience seen on TV… well, streamed.
7. Making a Murderer (Netflix). Released very late in 2015, this documentary series is about a man who spent many years in prison for rape only to be finally and conclusively exonerated … and arrested a year later for another even more horrific crime. Twenty years in the making, this real-life mystery is life Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line blown up to series proportion, with a Kafka-esque, rednecky twist and a dash of the McMartin Trial thrown in. Provocative and unnerving.
6. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS). Oh, Jon Stewart, how could you abandon us before an election year? At least your protégé, Samantha Bee, picked up the mantle (far better than your Daily Show replacement Trevor Noah) to join John Oliver and Bill Maher (only on basic cable!) in fighting the good fight of political satire. Who knew women could be funny? …. Oh, right, everyone.
5. The People vs. O.J. Simpson (FX). The unmissable TV event of the first part of the year was this 10-part miniseries from Ryan Murphy, a detailed history of the racial, social and legal ramifications of what was, for many of us, the Trial of the Century. John Travolta was weird as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer surprising as Robert Kardashian, but it was Sarah Paulson’s inhabiting (and humanizing) of Marcia Clark that made it so compelling. More than 20 years after the events it portrayed, we finally have perspective to see where we were… and how far we’ve come.
4. Westworld (HBO). Dreamy and moody, but with an explosive heart, this TV reimagining of Michael Crichton’s 1970s film (which itself formed the template for Jurassic Park), in which robots are willingly abused by humans at a pricey amusement park until they start to fight back, was the must-watch fall show, and one of two that upended our conceptions about technology (see also Black Mirror, below).
3. Black Mirror (Netflix). Netflix began streaming all three (very short) seasons of this British anthology series, where modernity and technology are as problematic as beneficial: Imagine a world where strangers can Yelp-review you (and a low enough score keeps you from getting a mortgage), or where you awake to go on the run from armed hunters while cell-phone obsessed voyeurs film your every move but refuse to help? These are some of the twisted concepts presented here, all with new casts, plots and styles. It’s addictingly dark and perversely funny while occasionally terrifying.
2. Atlanta (FX). Donald Glover created and stars in this dramedy about an ambitious but aimless black man trying to balance fatherhood, relationships, work, money and the music industry. With deadpan brilliance and a knowing and unexpected frank take on race, it was 2016’s sleeper.
1. The Real O’Neals (ABC). One of the best network sitcoms since Modern Family, this good-natured and smart comedy is about an Irish Catholic family in Chicago violating their church’s doctrines against divorce and homosexuality, but doing so with love. Tonally reminiscent of My Name Is Earl, it’s a great ensemble piece with savvy writing about coming out as a teen.
Other great new shows in 2016: Stranger Things (Netflix); Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (Netflix); This is Us (NBC); Baskets (FX); Fleabag (Amazon Prime); Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (PBS); Speechless (ABC); Luke Cage (Netflix).
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2016.