Joey Moser presents his Best TV Shows of 2016.
Television felt really diversified this last year. Not just in terms of bringing important themes to light, but in a way that all different types of shows put out quality work. Both network and streaming shows stepped it up this season. This Best TV Shows of 2016 list could have included way more than 10 entries, but I’ve managed to narrow them down.
10. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee – TBS
There was a lot of talk about the roles of men and women on late night talk shows, but TBS gave us a wonderful gift. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is the only way that I want to receive my political news from now on. Is that OK with everyone? Bee has the easiest job in the world partly because a lot of people in politics can’t resist the overwhelming urge to be complete assholes, and she is more than happy to call them out on it. During the election (or the Decision That Shall Not Be Named), she provided an intelligent and acid take both candidates, but she’s not a one trick pony. Full Frontal is not SNL — it won’t be good just every four years. Watch her angry reaction from this summer’s Pulse nightclub shooting, and you will see someone who wants to see positive change for everyone. Plus, she’s hilarious. Dangerously hilarious. We need her.
9. Westworld – HBO
It’s safe to say that we should only build theme parks if guests can be assure they won’t be shot or murdered. Westworld, the presumed Game of Thrones successor, isn’t perfect. Some of the story feels rushed and some loose ends feel like they will never be revisited again. But when Westworld works, boy, does it work. The show features boasts production design and costumes, and you can tell the creators are having fun with a show that questions identity and playing God. It’s aided by a heavy hitting cast including Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, and Jeffrey Wright. It’s Thandie Newton, however, that rips the rug right from under her co-stars. As the host Maeve, we sympathize with her, cheer for her, and, by the end, fear her.
8. American Crime – ABC
A limited series in only its second season, American Crime feels risky for one of the big networks. The topics of racism, homophobia, and bullying are catnip for HBO and FX, but the show succeeds because of its restraint and good writing. Lili Taylor breaks your heart as a mother trying to protecting her son that admits to being raped by a fellow teammate, but Connor Jessup is the real star here. It’s criminal that he was snubbed for an Emmy this past year. While the adults scream and fight with one another, his sensitivity and confusion quietly radiate through the entire season. Another actor would have changed the entire tone of the entire season.
7. black-ish – ABC
ABC has been slowly churning out family sitcoms for the last few years, but the best brood to watch remains the Johnsons. It feels like this family–consisting of Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Jennifer Lewis, and Laurence Fishburne–has truly made its mark on the network and broken away from the shows that surround it. This season’s premiere (where the family heads to Walt Disney World) started things off very strong, and they have continued through the winter finale. Anderson and Ross balance out each other’s crazy and allow one another to shine, and the kids are starting to take center stage in a way that would make Modern Family jealous.
6. The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story – FX
The most buzzed about show of the year is also the most awarded, and that’s because it’s damn good television. Ryan Murphy has disciplined himself to create one of the most captivating true crime saga ever. Packed with top notch performances, Murphy managed to re-create a volatile time in American history and pulled back the curtain to showcase the anguish this case caused. Bravo, Mr. Murphy.
5. Difficult People – Hulu
My favorite show from last year has only gotten bitchier and funnier. It’s a testament of how great this television year has been if I can say my number 1 show came down to number 5 and it’s actually a better season. Thank God for Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner! I only hope that they would scream at me one day. A guy can dream. I don’t need to convince you anymore. All I will leave you with is this: Patches.
4. RuPaul’s Race All Stars – LOGO
Come at me, bitches. Is is wasteful to put a drag queen reality competition series on my top ten? Hell no! Drag Race is the most self-aware reality show out there. It embraces the ugly and diverse and raunchy, but the highly anticipated second season was also great because it gave us ten contestants looking for redemption. And the twists just kept coming from Mama Ru. In first episode, she informs the girls that they will be eliminating each other in the competition. It was as if the Plastics and Heathers were bitching in the girls’ room, and she threw in a rabid honey badger to mess with them. Choices.
3. Orange is the New Black – Netflix
Trust me, I had no idea that I was going to put Orange is the New Black so high in my top ten this year. Season 4 was its best season so far, and the stakes are raised from the very beginning. By the time the credits roll on the first episode, a few inmates have dismembered a guard’s body and bury it on the grounds. Corporate shakeups put angry, inexperienced, and immature people in charge of the safety of the inmates, and the last shot of the season has to make viewers wonder if more lives are in the balance at Litchfield. This isn’t a show about a basic white girl going to jail any more. This dark season could be the launching pad for another landmark, topical season.
2. Black Mirror – Netflix
There are images from this season of Black Mirror that haunt me so much that it makes me want to move to the Amish country and take up basket weaving. The anthology series has effectively made us justifiably wary of the devices in our hands, yet we don’t learn and keep on tweeting, texting, messaging and judging from the safe, warm glow of our individual machines. Bryce Dallas Howard is sad as a woman desperate to make a connection in the premiere, “Nosedive,” while fan favorite “San Junipero” swoons with 80’s influences and a warm color palette. Mirror also delves into nightmarish horror based on your fears in your head (“Playtest”) and the potential from very real outside threats (“Shut Up and Dance”). I’ve only seen each episode once, but I’m too scared to go back just yet.
1. Fleabag – Amazon
It’s difficult to bare your soul and put yourself really out there. For instance, would you be able to play a character that wonders if her new plaything is into you because you have a…shall we say…large anus? And would you be able to air these concerns out within the first few minutes of your new show? Didn’t think so. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the hilariously inappropriate mind behind this British gem, makes a splash in the starring role of a woman who is trying to get by and not let everyone know what a total wreck she is. This is the what an actual mess looks like. She makes the viewer her friend whether you want to be a part of it or not, but it’s handled in such an easy way that it’s not distracting or obnoxious. To go into the plot details of this 6-episode comedy would be a disservice to the material, so just go watch it now. It’s simultaneously sad and shocking and so, so funny.