I know I’m supposed to write about music and earworms and tell wacky stories of my youth, but it’s the end of the year and I wanted to beat the throngs of “best of” lists that will undoubtedly fill every magazine, newspaper and blog in the coming weeks. So, why am I writing about TV and not music? Good question. Well, the best answer is that I haven’t listened to everything I’ve wanted to yet, and I know I’ll leave out some amazing album from my lists, so I’m gonna use the next week or two to catch up. I’ve got over 400 new songs from my “Song of the Day” podcasts playing from an SD card in my car and when something of note catches my ear, I take a screenshot of the song and, when I’m back at my computer, add that song to my “best of” iTunes playlist. Now you know my process. Everything is out in the open. I am hiding nothing from you.
TV, on the other hand — well, there are few new shows scheduled for December and so I feel secure that I am not jumping the gun by listing my best TV shows of 2016 before the month has a chance to breathe.
It’s a little strange that the TV industry still works on a September to September calendar year, even though the majority of our best series are not on the commercial networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW). That doesn’t really effect my choices, as I’ve had 3 months to give the new shows a chance to make these lists. I will admit, I don’t watch much network TV. These channels don’t hold a candle to the innovative and smart fare on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, FX, FXX and TBS. I do watch “The Last Man on Earth” which airs on Fox, but I watch it on Hulu, without commercials. And it didn’t make my top 5 returning sitcoms list (will be the next post, stay tuned), so don’t expect an further whooping and hollering about that show.
I will, though, give an honorable mention here to a network comedy debut series. Before I list my top 5 new shows of 2016, I am going to give a little love to the only network comedy I gave a chance to, mainly because I love Mike Schur, the writer and creator of two of my all-time favorite comedies, “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.”
Like both of those series’, “The Good Place” is a critical darling and a ratings ugly duckling. Not surprisingly, huge audiences are not flocking to their couches to watch Kristen Bell and Ted Danson cavort in a “heavenesque” world where residents discuss philosophy, eat frozen yogurt and try to connect to their “soul mates.” It’s perhaps overly clever, but considering how mindless most network sitcoms are, reaching this far over the bar is to be commended. When most of America would prefer to watch Law & Order and CSI reruns for the remainder of their lives, it’s refreshing to find a show that celebrates our inherent goodness and humanity with some perfectly goofy special effects. And Kristen Bell is such a natural comedienne, she reminds me a bit of a young Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Funny but with a dark, sarcastic edge. Hopefully NBC gives this one a chance, as it’s really the best network comedy, out of the one that I’ve watched.:)
One more thing regarding my list…Because I have a life, albeit a boring one, I was unable to find time to watch every new, acclaimed comedy series. I didn’t watch Insecure (HBO). I didn’t watch Horace and Pete (too cheap). I just started Search Party (TBS), which is so far, decent, but not top five worthy. A few new shows I gave up on after a couple of episodes, even though I liked them OK. But OK doesn’t cut it anymore. I’m talking to you, Better Things (FX). I’m talking to you, Vice Principals (HBO).
OK, here’s my top 5 new comedy series, in random order:
5. Atlanta (FX)
Donald Glover explores themes of race, class, ambition, and identity (just to name a few) in an urban hip-hop setting most of America (including me) haven’t seen before in Atlanta, perhaps the most audacious and thought provoking show on this list. Savor this one: Donald was just signed to star in the next Star Wars film, so season 2 probably won’t be until 2018.
4. Lady Dynamite (Netflix)
Lady Dynamite deftly and hilariously takes on Maria Bamford’s lifelong struggle with bi-polar disorder and relationship fears, using flashbacks, fantasy sequences and adorable advice giving pugs speaking in German accents. From the creators of Arrested Development.
3. Master of None (Netflix)
Co-created and starring Aziz Ansari, Master of None is a revelation in that it is instantly recognizable — the situations here we’ve seen before — but the stories go in all manner of unexpected direction. It gets called the Millennials’ Louie, which I can understand, but this is less artsy than Louie, in a good way. What it’s trying to say about the world and the topics it explores (being a minority in a mostly white world: in Hollywood specifically, the greater America, generally) does not require sitting around contemplating the show afterward. It’s deep, it’s got layers, but you can peel them while you watch. And if you want to lay around and consider what you’d just viewed afterward, more power to you.
2. Baskets (FX)
Thank (higher power of choice) for FX for taking on Baskets. This show, starring Zach Galifianakis and Louis Anderson is a marvel. This isn’t a laugh-a-minute type of comedy. There is a heartbreaking sadness that permeates every frame, but this is mostly because of how much vulnerability every character exhibits in each scene. This is a show that grows on you. And will surprise you with its humanity, its subtext and its daring. Baskets’ friend Martha might be the not-so-hidden gem of this show. Season 2 this January.
1. Fleabag (Amazon)
Fleabag explores, how a 30-something British woman deals with her best friend’s suicide, while trying to maintain her snarky, promiscuous persona at the same time. The use of breaking the 4th wall and talking directly to the audience is perfectly woven into the plot-line here. Even during the sex-scenes, Fleabag (we never learn her real name) turns to the camera to give exasperated looks at “us.” We are her audience at all times, which gives an uncomfortable intimacy to the entire show. Some of the best writing of the year can be found in the scripts of this darkly, hilarious new comedy.
All five of these series are highly original and take the 30 minute comedy format to new and exciting places. Each masterfully blends thick scoopings of drama into their comedy smoothies and none are not afraid to face tackle complex issues like racism, mental illness, cultural appropriation, loneliness, death and other heavy topics.
If you, like me, prefer to be challenged and wowed, and not mindlessly numbed by your comedies – I urge you to find these shows ASAP and check them out.
What new comedies really floated your boat this year? What did I overlook? Let me know in the comments! Tomorrow will be returning comedies, so check back for that….