Best TV 2016 – Returning Drama

rectify

Ahhh….some of you might be thinking (and by using the word “some” instead of “a couple of” is mostly delusion) — finally a post where I know some of these shows! I mean, you all have busy lives, how are you supposed to have time to add “new” things into it? The stuff that’s already laid claim to your attention is enough to keep you more than filled. But, in case you haven’t seen any of the below 5 returning dramatic series, now you have something to binge on during the holidays!

It was tough to narrow this one down – I pretty much only watch shows I really like already, otherwise it wouldn’t be “returning” to my DVR! It feels like picking a favorite child — so much depends on my mood, whether the chores were finished, if little Billy did his homework. Says the almost 50 year old dude with no kids….

Better Call Saul

BCS is a bit of a slow burn. I know many people who loved Breaking Bad but feel blah about Better Call Saul. I get that, but in a way, I don’t get that. It’s a subtler show, not as action packed, but the psychological tension is just as thick — and it’s a far more sympathetic show. Saul is a character we want to see succeed. I never felt that way, deep down, about Walter White. Bob Odenkirk is brilliant. It’s not easy to portray selfish man-child as likably as he does. Season 3 is supposedly going to be darker than the first two seasons, which is not surprising, considering last season’s finale. And, of course, the fact that Jimmy McGill hasn’t even become Saul Goodman yet.

The Americans

Another slow burner drama, similar to Better Call Saul, but without the layer of humor that BCS brings (that’s why I chose a blooper reel above). It was nice to see this finally get some Emmy love (in the form of nominations, not wins) even if most of the nominating committee most likely hadn’t watched a single episode. The show thwarts expectations constantly; as soon as you think you can predict where a plotline is going, you realize how wrong you are. I live for that. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are fantastic, the subtext in every glance, in every sentence, drips off the screen. I have a vision of D. Drumpf and Putin sitting in front of a 55″ 4K flatscreen, sipping martinis, watching this show with their pants off.

Happy Valley

OK, for all the amazing dramatic performances on TV in recent years, one that stands out for me, is Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Cawood in the BBCs Happy Valley. The British seem to know how to write roles for smart, strong middle-aged women and this is proof #1. The action moves at a brisk pace, as each season is only 6 episodes, but the speed of the plot never feels rushed and only serves to heighten the tension in every scene. The mix of family drama and the murder investigation that threads throughout the season is perfectly balanced. Even the most minor characters are given depth and dimension in this not-so Happy Valley. Hoping season 3 is on its way.

Rectify

Season 3 had a finale that could have worked as an effective series ending, with enough mysteries solved (except for the “did Daniel do it?” question) to satisfy most viewers. I’m only 2/3 through this official last season, and although it remains as haunting and layered as ever, there’s something a bit anti-climatic about it so far. I have to say, there is not another show on TV that Rectify quite reminds me of.It’s not for everybody. It requires attention, an openness to leisurely paced storytelling mixed with elements of in your face melodrama. It’s another slow burn serial and Aiden Young’s portrayal of psychologically damaged Daniel Holden is a marvel to watch. He can be exasperating, awkward, strange, funny and thoughtful – all in the same scene.  J. Smith Cameron, as Daniel’s mother Janet, gets a good bit of (deserved) focus in this last season.

Transparent

For some reason Transparent gets lumped into the comedy category for awards consideration, but that’s probably because it’s a 30 minute show, not an hour, and some imaginary power-that-be decided that dramas must be 60 minutes. Bullpucky to that. Yes, all (yes, all) the characters are self-absorbed and entitled. Yes, their can seem like upper-class, whiny brats. Yet, somehow, each and every Pfefferman family member, despite their (often) self-made struggles, gets a moment or two of true honest redemption. Everything about this show feels made from a singular vision — impeccable writing and direction, brave acting, perfectly chosen music. I never know where the stories are going, but when they arrive at their destinations, it always feels like the right journey. There are few shows I truly look forward to seeing as much as Transparent.

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