Thursday, January 19, 2017

Best Shows of 2016

Of the ten shows on my list last year, eight had their final season or just took 2016 off. Eight! That left me scrambling to come up with a list, especially since I didn't jump on many new shows to compensate. So there's a few shows here I feel strongly about, and several more than I like and haven't written about before.

Best of 2016

10. Daredevil (Netflix)

Daredevil is a messy show. It's more violent than it needs to be, and the supporting cast can often feel wasted, and the plotting is fairly inconsistent. But as Luke Cage (sorry) showed us, there are definitely worse alternatives. Daredevil has been Marvel's most consistently good comic over the last fifteen years, and the show doesn't reach that standard, but it's a fun adaptation of the darker depictions the character has had, and it has some of the best action scenes of any regular TV series I've seen. The second season added the Punisher and Elektra as foils to Matt Murdock, and while both stories had their ups and downs, their coexistence kept the show's energy high and its tone varied. Not every show needs to be great to be worth watching.

9. Todd Margaret (IFC)

Todd Margaret is sort of a hybrid of American and British comedic sensibilities that works really well. After the apocalyptic ending of the second season I wasn't expecting a third, but it shakes up the formula in a really clever way and gets a lot of comedy out of its half-rebooted premise. David Cross says this was definitely the last season, but I think he's there's another series coming with a similar concept (Cross + England = comedy gold), so I'm looking forward to that.

8. Agent Carter (ABC)

I watch and enjoy Agents of SHIELD, but I don't think it really benefits from having 22 episode seasons. Even the 13 episode Netflix seasons might be a bit long based on the amount of story they come up. Agent Carter is in the sweet spot with 8-10 episodes. Or it was, because it got canceled. I can understand why the show never built a big audience, but the fact that it was an enjoyable, charming, 1940s sci-fi spy action series starring a woman (who was great) was incredible, and I wish there were more series that idiosyncratic.

7. Broad City (Comedy Central)

I've seen Broad City described as something like the female equivalent of Workaholics, but the fact is it's actually better. Abbi and Ilana are a great classic odd couple, with their clashing personalities making their friendship richer and the show's solid emotional core. They're also hilarious, and I would watch them try to work their way through any awkward situation they care to imagine. The third season wasn't the show's best, but it was still very good.

6. Bob's Burgers (FOX)

For my money, Bob's Burgers is easily television's best current traditional family sitcom. The three kids are generally the standout characters, but the parents are great too, avoiding the cliches of moron husband and shrewish wife. The voice cast is wonderful, including the great names they get for guest voices, even for roles that might easily be forgotten without the right character quirks and performance behind them. The show seems like it should be getting long in the tooth at this point, but I still enjoy it every week it's on.

5. Decker Unclassified (Adult Swim)

Decker Unclassified is televised continuation of Decker, a webseries which was a spin-off of On Cinema at the Cinema, another webseries which was itself based on On Cinema, a podcast satirizing bad movie podcasts. So there's a weird lineage here, a lineage that helps explain what Decker Unclassified is. It's a spy show starring fictionalized versions of Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington playing special agents Decker and Kington, with intentionally-unintentionally terrible writing, acting, and production value. It's great and terrible and great because it's terrible. If that sounds interesting, check it out.

4. Stranger Things (Netflix)

I think Stranger Things has some problems. It's eight episodes long but doesn't have much more story than the average two hour 80s movie it's paying homage to, so things feel stretched. Characters often willfully withhold information for no real reason, or fail to change much over time and feel like they're stuck in place. But the core of what it does is so fun that I enjoyed it a lot anyway. The kids are generally great. The horror and sci-fi elements are well done without being too alienating. The period style isn't totally accurate, but works as a pastiche for what's obviously an homage coming from a good place. And the theme music is great. It's got flaws that I hope they improve in season two, but I kind of love it anyway.

3. Game of Thrones (HBO)

So they finally did it. The sixth season of Game of Thrones surpassed the books it's based on in the story, and it makes no apologies about that. Characters die, stories continue, battles are fought, events transpire that readers did not already have knowledge of. It was a new experience, and an interesting one. Part of me wishes I had gotten to read some of these things first, that I had more detail in my mind for what was happening on screen. But part of me also enjoyed being surprised by the show consistently. The show has the same strengths and weaknesses it always had - it's great at big moments, and not quite there on connecting those moments with quieter scenes and meaningful character work. There are two seasons left, and I'm eager to see what happens next.

2. The Venture Bros. (Adult Swim)

Six seasons in and the show is as good as ever. After the Gargantua-2 special wrapped up a lot of long-term storylines, the season proper is a bit of a refresh, as the family moves to a new headquarters in New York and quickly begins piling up new problems and distractions for them to tackle. The series has always been a hodge-podge of genre influences, but super heroes take more prominence here, as the Ventures have trouble with the neighborhood Avengers/Justice League hybrid, and The Monarch starts dressing as a Green Hornet knock-off to go after his enemies in the Guild. It's the same mix of zany plotting and humor it's always been, and I'll continue waiting however long it takes for the creators to return to the wonderful world they've been creating for the last decade-plus.

1. Better Call Saul (AMC)

In its second season, the Breaking Bad spin-off continued to wring more great material out of the backstories of two supporting characters than I thought anyone would be capable of. Jimmy realizes being part of a large law firm might not be his thing while his relationship with his brother gets more complicated and heartbreaking, while Mike finds himself slowly getting pulled further and further into New Mexico's criminal underworld. Obviously Bryan Cranston's work as Walter White was fantastic, but this show proves that it was just part of the entire team's ability to put together a show that is consistently original, beautiful, and enjoyable.

Delayed Entry

This is the best show that didn't air in 2016 but I didn't watch until then.

Friday Night Lights (NBC)

I don't usually go in for shows about sports or family and relationship drama, but there were enough voices saying Friday Night Lights rises above that I gave it a shot. It has its ups and downs, with the latter being exemplified by a pretty weak second season that ignores the show's core charms in favor of easier sensation. On balance though, it's a great drama about being true to yourself and giving everything you have to what you're passionate about. The cast is wonderful, especially Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as the central married couple, and Taylor Kitsch as the burnout running back you can't help but love. I finally understand why he's been given so many chances in major movies. It has as much heart as any show I've ever seen.

No comments: