I don't watch a ton of movies anymore. I've found that more often than not I leave the theater disappointed. My taste in storytelling has changed, that's certain, but I often find that film is so confined to an arbitrary, self-imposed time limit in order to get the story across. In many cases the hour-and-a-half to two hours are more than enough time to tell the story they want to tell. But in doing that, there are more stories that arise. It's why we're now, as of this writing, on film number 8 of Star Wars, with at least 5 more to go. It's why the Harry Potter franchise saw a new Play and a new film franchise begin this year alone. We find that the stories we're telling have branching paths.
It's why I love TV so much. There's no real time constraint. Shows can go as long or as little as they please (if people are watching it, of course). That's both an incredible thing and a frustrating thing. There are some shows that have simply been on for far too long (looking at you Homeland). This year saw some of the best new shows in recent memory and some of the strongest seasons of returning shows. It also continued the shifting landscapes of how we watch TV. Basic Cable is no longer the King, instead, streaming services are upping their Original Programming game that has quickly surpassed anything basic cable is capable of. And Premium programming continued it's strong stranglehold on the industry.
10. The Night Of - Mini-Series (HBO)
On a base level, The Night Of is a murder mystery. It's what hooks you into the show, but in the short 8 episodic Mini-Series, we quickly realize it's less about the murder that occurred and more about human nature. If we're put in a situation, how will we react? If we're told over and over that we're something we weren't originally, will we succumb to those accusations and become that person? And do we help people because it's the right thing to do or because it could potentially get us something we want? These are all questions that The Night Of asks without actually asking these questions. It's fascinating to watch unfold.
Starring the Riz Ahmed (Nasir, or "Naz") and the always excellent John Turturro (John/Jack Stone), The Night Of puts Naz in the shoes of murderer after a night out. He's a quiet, shy, and socially awkward young man who just wants a night out in New York City. So he "borrows" his dad's taxi and heads to a party. Being that he's driving a taxi (and not quite sure how to turn off the sign) he ends up picking up a girl. A stunning girl who doesn't seem all together. They hit it off, he heads to her place, drugs and sex ensue and when he wakes up, he finds that she's been brutally murdered, stabbed countless times. He panics, disoriented but aware enough to know how it looks, grabs the knife and runs for it. Eventually getting stopped by the police for not stopping at a stop sign. Things escalate from there, until he's booked for the murder of the young woman. It's a storyline that's been done countless times on Law and Order or any other crime show. But, that's not what makes this show special. The murder investigation takes a backseat to Naz and his journey. At a little over 8 hours, it's well worth the binge.
9. Shameless - Season 7 (Showtime)
Now in it's 7th season, the Gallagher's are still causing trouble and worming their way into our hearts. Originally a remake of a popular British show of the same name, the American version has paved it's own path. With each character getting their own story arc, it could quickly be overwhelming to keep up with. There's Fiona who's having a bit of a mid-life crisis at 30; Frank, the alcoholic crappy dad who continuously finds himself hated by his children and finding new ways to scam people for money; Ian, who's finally started to get his life together after battling a debilitating mental illness; Lip (my personal favorite) spiraling his way back to depravity; Kev and V who someone managed to get involved in a weird Russian three-way-marriage; Carl who has decided to leave his gang-banger days behind for Military School; and Debbie, who's finding out that having a child at 16 isn't easy, especially without help.
There's a lot going on this season, but it feels cohesive and tight. Each character is given plenty of time to develop further without over saturating the character too much. Each has moments where we feel deeply for them, and then absolutely hate them. It's a unique show that has continuously, year after year, delivered some of the best writing and acting on TV. For all of the horrible things these people do to others and to themselves, you love them.
8. Atlanta - Season 1 (FXX)
It's been a hell of a year for Donald Glover. The insanely talented actor/producer/singer/rapper/stand-up comedian, found himself a role as young Lando in the upcoming Star Wars film, he released his newest album under his music moniker Childish Gambino to rave reviews (including from me, ranking it #40 in my Top 50 Records list) and created/produced/wrote/starred in his first foray into TV since Community.
Atlanta centers around Earnest "Earn" Marks (Donald Glover) and his cousin, up and coming rapper Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) as they try to make it big in the rap music scene. Depending on who you talk to, Atlanta is either a drama or a comedy. There are definitely instances where both could be true, I'd prefer calling it more of a "Dramedy" simply because it melds those two world together so well. It's not funny in the same sense that "It's Always Sunny" is funny, never going for "laugh-out-loud" moments, but instead, humanizing the characters and bringing out believable situations that are genuinely funny. But this is a show about trying to make it as a rap artist in the heart of Atlanta, which is to say there's plenty of serious issues to tackle. And Glover tackles it well, considering a lot of the subject discussed is loosely based off his own life and struggles to make it as a respected musical artist.
7. Game of Thrones - Season 6 (HBO)
What is there to say about Game of Thrones that hasn't been said already? Six seasons in and the show continues to get better. In fact, Season 6 is regarded by most to be the best season in years. Largely due to the fact that the show has not only caught up with but passed the books, the creators of the show are beginning to answer some long running questions with the series. And with just 2 seasons left, the answers left are quickly approaching.
There's obviously wild speculation on how the series will end (I have my own theories and hopes), and one of the biggest is, will the show's ending differ from the books? They've already said there are certain things that will happen in the show that won't play out the same way in the books. I'm sure it was to keep people interested in buying the books (whenever they release). And that's a bit of a bummer, because if the show ends one way and the books end another, which is the true ending? And how many people will be disappointed we didn't get to see "that" scene in the show? It'll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next couple of years, but I have no doubt the show will only continue to get stronger as we lead up to the finale.
6. House of Cards - Season 4 (Netflix)
The first Original Show Netflix ever produced was not only a massive hit, but has sustained itself as one of the best shows currently on TV, and maybe one of the best ever. Frank Underwood is possibly the best depiction of a political, power hungry leader we've seen on TV. He's terrifying but relatable. Given the power, money, and circumstance, would we do anything differently? I'd like to think so, but real world politics have proven otherwise.
Season 4 was an interesting one because it showed the Underwoods actively working against each other. Claire Underwood, who may be more powerful than Frank simply due to how much more intelligent she is than anyone else in the room, wants more power and she's making a play for it. The season ends in such a fascinating manner that I can't wait for the new season to start. This is a show that I don't know how much longer it can stay on. The Underwoods have done, or are in the process of doing, everything they've wanted. How much more could they possibly accomplish?
5. The Crown - Season 1 (Netflix)
Being an American, I'm incredibly ignorant to most of the political workings in England. I have no idea how the current Queen actually became Queen. Maybe that's a statement to the education in America, maybe that's more on me to educate myself, but it was something I was intrigued by when this show was announced. Of course, this is a TV show, so I don't put complete faith into everything they're depicting, but from what I've read, it's doing a pretty good job of being faithful to the historical events.
Accuracy aside, The Crown is just an incredible show. Claire Foy is so convincing as the young Queen that it's as if she were directly related to her. The mannerisms she shows, the delicate way she chooses her words before speaking, the calm contemplation of her thoughts are all fascinating because she's capable of saying so much without saying anything at all. The show doesn't have big action scenes or bombastic scenarios, instead it's about her struggles with being Queen and having to decide how to act. Does she continue to live in the house she just remodeled or does she move into the Palace (because that's what's expected of the Queen)? It's these decisions that fuel the show, and while that sounds like a meaningless thing to ponder, the way it's handled is impeccable. Matt Smith as Philip is just perfect. His slow realization that the woman he married will slowly make way for a Queen. And that, he may be the "man" of the house, but she's Queen of a nation. It's yet another incredible entry into Netflix's ever growing list of solid Original Programming.
4. Vinyl (HBO)
There's no season listed because HBO has already cancelled any more season of the show. Which is a huge bummer, because the first season laid the groundwork for what could've been (and should've been) an incredible series. From the masterful mind of my personal favorite director, Martin Scorsese, and in collaboration with his "Boardwalk Empire" and "Wolf of Wall Street" cohort, Terrence Winter, and even with the help of Mick Jagger, this was a show that was set to be something special.
But, it took too long to get going (an issue Terrence Winter has), and the viewership fell off. By the time the first season was over, the writing was on the wall. It was too expensive and not enough people were watching it. Starring the incomparable Bobby Canavale as Richie Finestra, owner of a record label that has been hemorrhaging money and has seemingly lost its direction. He and his partners, including the odd casting choice of Ray Ramano, are poised to sell the label to a German label when Richie goes to a show and is reinvigorated by what Rock and Roll means. He decides not to sell the company, screwing his partners out of millions of dollars, and build his label back from the ground up. It's an incredible premise that could've brought forth any number of interesting storylines. Throw in Richie's wife, played by Olivia Wilde, who is an artsy type that Richie keeps hidden away as a housewife and the series could've written itself. It's a fantastic first (and only) season of TV that HBO killed too quickly.
3. Westworld - Season 1 (HBO)
It's been 2, almost 3 long years since I first heard about HBO adapting Westworld into a series. Development troubles, ethics issues, money, shoots, and reshoots; it was a tumultuous development, but it was well worth it. The first season of Westworld has everything that makes a season of TV great. Fantastic characters, mystery, and impeccable pacing. HBO and Netflix over the last few years have been throwing punch after punch trying to knock the other off the pedestal of "Best Original Programming". Westworld almost won it for them. It's one of the best single seasons of TV I've ever seen. Each episode left me hanging, wanting more, and that's not always an easy thing to do.
It helps that the premise is incredible. Based off the Michael Crichton book and the 1973 film of the same name, Westworld tells the story of an overly expensive amusement park set in the Wild West. The cities and lands are all filled with the most high tech animatronic robots you've ever seen. They feel things, they can hold conversations, they can do literally anything a human can do. It's here where things begin to blur a bit. Crichton really had a thing for amusement parks that were, in hindsight, probably a bad idea (he also wrote the Jurassic Park novels). Westworld, from the moment we get off the train into the park, seems to have some hidden secrets. And as the show progresses, many of those secrets are revealed. And, they don't bode well. There are still a ton of questions, a lot of secrets, and intrigue left to be had in this world. Like I said before, this is where TV is at its best. The amount of stories that could be told in just one of these towns in Westworld could fill a trilogy of films. Instead, we get over 10 hours of content, with a second season coming in 2018.
2. Lovesick - Season 2 (Netflix)
Formerly known as the much better titled "Scrotal Recall", Lovesick is the story of Dylan, who has just found out he has Chlamydia. He's advised that he should tell all of his myriad previous lovers to get themselves checked, just in case he gave them Chlamydia as well. Each episode is the story of a particular girl and how Dylan, seemingly always falling madly in love with him, gets crushed (and maybe Chlamydia) by the end of the episode. All the while being madly in love with his engaged best friend Evie. It's a delightfully charming, witty, and relatable show. Each character is written with such heart and care that it's easy to love them.
You root for Dylan in these relationships, even though you know they're likely doomed from the start. You want him to "end up" with Evie, even though that means she'd have to end her engagement to Mal, who's a perfectly likeable guy. I said it when I reviewed the season, this show completely nails what Hollywood has been fumbling about with for years. Romantic Comedies aren't always (or usually) going to be clean and end happily. Love can be hard, and love can be blind, and often times mistakes are made, repeatedly, until you realize you're wasting time. This show encapsulates that perfectly. All the while being outrageously funny with a tremendous amount of heart.
1. Stranger Things
No show in 2016 captured my imagination or my attention quite like Stranger Things. It had humor, it had genuine tension, it had monsters, it had 80's nostalgia, and it had Toothless. Toothless is enough to make this show my favorite (as is Eleven, or Mike, or Lucas. Literally, all of the kids), but this show had so much more. I was intrigued by the premise before it came out but had no real expectations. The day the first trailer was released I was sold. It felt like Stephen Spielberg and Stephen King met in a room, made love, and birthed this incredible show (too much? Yeah, that was a bit weird).
The supernatural aspects were a ton of fun, but what made this show so special was the chemistry between the child actors, and most importantly, the nostalgia. Who doesn't love the idea of being young and riding your bike all over the neighborhood while you're trying to solve this great mystery? Each episode continued to get better and better until the finale delivered exactly what you wanted.
Already picked up for a second season, it's going to be incredibly hard to top, let alone match, this first season. For about a month this show was literally all anyone could talk about. Which was a nice relief between talking politics and mourning every loss throughout the year.
The Shannara Chronicles; The Man in The High Castle; Orange Is The New Black
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