It could be that it was a better year for freshmen TV comedies than dramas, or it could be that I am a busy person and the half hour time slot is more conducive to my lifestyle. Either way, there have been very few new dramas that I’ve had time to watch in 2016, but more than that, when I look at the listings and see what I’ve missed, nothing stands out as a “must see.” Of course I encourage you to correct me and sell me on your favorite debuting hour-long drama.
I know, I know, I’m sure Westworld would make this list if I would only stop wasting time writing meaningless blog posts, but I’m getting there. I’m 1 1/2 (now 2) episodes in, and I like it so far, but that’s not enough of a sample to steal a spot away from a show I’ve watched from start to finish. Or even one that I’ve seen only half of (so far – it’s the show the goes with the photo above) but love, love, love. First some notes:
Shows I didn’t watch that probably are worthy of consideration:
Chance, This is Us, The Get Down, The Night Manager
Show that would have made the list based on the first two episodes but jumped the shark soon afterwards:
Top 5 New Dramas
This one should probably go in the comedy section, but since there are dramatic and gorily creepy elements, and it’s an hour long episodic series, I’m putting it in the drama bin. Also — more strong freshman comedies than dramas in 2016. Also, this show was hugely underrated and under-watched and isn’t coming back for a 2nd season, and I predict this will become a cult classic in years to come, much like Idiocracy did in the film world. The parallels to today’s world are eerily prescient.Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as the documentary filmmaking sister of a Washington senator who becomes involved in a brain-eating political conspiracy plot…but it’s so much more than that, and maintains an inspired lunacy throughout. If it weren’t created by the team behind The Good Wife, I doubt it would ever have been made. And at that, it was barely promoted and aired during the middle of the summer. Soon to be on Netflix for sure.
2. The People vs. OJ Simpson – American Crime Story
This show sat on my DVR for a few months before I finally succumbed to find out what all the hubbub was about. I lived through the OJ trial in real life, why did I need to watch a miniseries about it?
Well, because The People vs. OJ is one of those shows that should never have succeeded as well as it did. Inspired casting, a perfect blend of melodrama, intrigue, and camp and cinematic artistry. You know everything that’s going to happen way before it does and still you are sitting at the edge of your seat.
Ryan Murphy isn’t my favorite TV creator, but this one was his magnum opus. Wonderfully imagined, well written and worthy of all the acclaim it has received.
3. The Night Of
I will admit that I didn’t love this show right off the bat as much as most folks. I liked it; I just thought it was a bit unoriginal and obvious. But then over the subsequent episodes, it flipped many of the show’s stereotypical scenarios — the “innocent” man turning hard in prison, the quirky investigator with a dubious medical condition, the violently murdered sexually aggressive woman — on their heads.
The acting was top notch, it kept me guessing until the end and it ended up tackling some big issues like racism, classism, the court system, the prison industrial complex, with smarts and sensitivity.
John Turturro was great; I hadn’t seen him in a role this meaty since Spike Lee’s, Do the Right Thing. And the last shot (no spoilers) of the series was the most perfect ending to a season in recent memory.
4. Black Mirror
No TV show riveted and excited me more than Black Mirror in 2016. Even though season 3’s (now on Netflix) six episodes fluctuated in the effectiveness of their singular visions, all of them had my heart racing and my jaw dropping. Half of the episodes take place in the US, which may be partly an attempt to expand the audience to those who can’t deal with British accents, but the trippy, technological, slightly futuristic morality tales (well, most of them have a clear message) work just as well on this side of the Atlantic.
None of the stories are related, you can watch in any order, but episodes 5 and 6 stood out the most for me.
5. Stranger Things
So much has been written about this 1980s inspired sci-fi series, which certainly was the buzz-show of the summer (and fall) of 2016. It’s one of those rare TV series that is truly suitable for all audiences. Maybe not ages 8 and under, but there’s something here for everyone. Creepy monsters, high-school angst, teenagers bonding to go up against a sinister government experiment, mentally unstable adults….not to mention a kick-ass analog synth score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, two of the four members of Austin sound-scapists Survive.
Watching it felt like witnessing the true power of cinema. A complete vision working on all cylinders. Like getting on a roller coaster that you hadn’t ridden since you were a kid, but as soon as the rickety car jerks away down the track your teenage heart takes over and you are shaking your arms in the air like you just don’t care, screaming your head off.