Television is pretty dormant over the holidays — unless you have an unlimited hunger for Lifetime Christmas romances — so it’s a good chance to catch up on what you may have missed in 2016. It was another good year for fresh TV, and I list some recommendations below.
Shows With Lady Stars
gave Pamela Adlon (who worked with Louis C.K on Louie
) her own show, and it’s a big-hearted, funny look at a single mom and her three daughters. Like Louie, it is not a sitcom, but it’s own off-beat riff. Film director Ava DuVernay (Selma
) set up Queen Sugar
, a melodrama series about three siblings who inherit a sugar-cane farm in Louisiana; family drama intertwines with themes of race, masculinity, sexism and even the South’s legacy of slavery. (DuVernay hired only female directors.) Search Party
, a five-hour comedy-mystery aired over Thanksgiving, stars the awesome Alia Shawkat, and is laugh-out funny. Finally, when shit got real, Samantha Bee got angry on Full Frontal
. In a world of male comedy-talk-show hosts, her withering takedowns on the 2016 campaign were the communal scream we needed; worth revisiting because we need to stay righteously angry. Returning-show shout-out: Halt and Catch Fire
, which continued its exploration of female professional friendship in the crucible of the 1980s emerging (and male-dominated) tech world.
Revisiting the O.J. Simpson trial
The People vs. O.J. Simpson
and O.J.: Made in America
proved that some 16 hours of re-examining the racial, cultural and political aspect of the life, times and trials of Simpson was utterly warranted. The two shows complement each other. If you’re not familiar with Simpson’s pre-trial careers, start with Made in America
, then go deep for the trial.
Sophomore Year Sucks
Two shows I loved in 2015 — Mr. Robot
— had wobbly second seasons. But both are ambitious enough that I hope they can get out of the ditch in their third seasons.
Better Call Saul
broke away from being just a Breaking Bad
prequel and became its own funny, heartbreaking story about a man torn between pleasing others and succumbing to his true (and not so great) nature.
Crime in Europe
delves deep into the organized crime in Naples, Italy. The Last Panthers
spins a sprawling, gritty tale of crime, corruption and surviving trauma, touching down in Marseilles, France; the U.K.; and Bosnia (now and during the war). The globe-hopping criminals are all silky smooth and beautifully dressed in The Night Manager
, a John Le Carre adaptation starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie.
Hard to Pigeonhole, Just Watch
Donald Glover’s comedy Atlanta
offered episodes that ranged from shaggy-dog tales and a talk-show format (with the most biting kids-cereal ad ever) to an hilariously bad date. It poked fun, it critiqued, it did what it wanted and was the only show I saw this year to feature an invisible car.
And Finally, Your Lump of Coal
No bad show gave me more pleasure than HBO’s much hyped Vinyl
, a colossal misfire, backed by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, about how one coke-addled record exec in the mid 1970s discovered punk and hip hop. A hot mess — like watching money burn. I was devastated when Season 2 was cancelled.