2016 was another great year for television, with a fantastic new slate of shows mixing with long running powerhouses. This trend of incredible TV isn’t going to stop anytime soon with #PeakTV pushing out larger amounts of scripted series every year. Not that that’s a problem, bring it all on. If we have to crank out 400 more shows a year and we get something like Stranger Things each time I’m not complaining.
That said, it is tough to keep track of your old favorites when there’s all this noise about hot new shows. Luckily, I have watched too much TV for my own good this year and can inform on what you should continue watching, catch up on, or completely drop off the queue. This is your buying and selling guide to TV in 2016.
*Important note: I haven’t watched everything as I am but one man, so some critically lauded and/or very popular shows may be left off since I don’t feel like talking about things I have not seen.
South Park (Comedy Central)
‘Member when South Park was super funny all the time? I ‘member. Good times. The past two seasons have shifted into social/political commentary which, while done pretty well, is not that funny. When the entire season is focused on two connective storylines that are based on the same four jokes, the laughs are few and far between. I respect their decision, and they did it very well, but it’s not what people love about the show. Now that the election is over they may switch back to their old ways, but until they do it’s time to pass.
The Walking Dead (AMC)
This is a long time coming with the same pacing issues plaguing each season and a lack of interest in progressing the storyline to anything different than before. Especially after pulling the audiences’ collective dick with a BS fakeout death, to only take that character away 8 episodes after his return anyway, it was time for many to peace out with a swift fuck you to the team behind the show.
I’ve stuck with it this latest half season, but each episode feels like more and more of a task to watch. They finally have a great villain that is entertaining to spend scenes with, but he comes at the risk of stalling everyone else until they get angry enough to actually do something. Additionally, the roster of characters is too big that often there are episodes devoted to people no one really cares about. The show needs an endgame or something big for the viewers to look forward to, but the creative team (and more likely, the network) don’t want to do that. They want to slog our ragtag bunch of survivors into harsher times and continue making them relapse into the same struggles. Get out while you can (even though they always have gripping season finales, like the one that aired two Sundays ago).
Fear The Walking Dead (AMC)
Verdict: Sell, Why Would You Ever Own This In The First Place
Think The Walking Dead, but way worse and even more wasteful.
New Girl (Fox)
Truthfully, I haven’t watched the latest (half?) season of New Girl. I tend to reserve each new season for that one week binge when it drops on Netflix in August/September and never watch when it’s actually on TV. So I really can’t vouch for whatever has been going on this Fall, but I can vouch for all that came before. Bringing on Megan Fox for a few episodes while Zooey Deschanel took time off worked out tremendously well and I almost wish Fox’s character would just replace Jess straight up. Jess is barely ahead of Cece in character rankings, and Cece literally does nothing on the show. It is consistently funny, they don’t need to focus on the weird Jess-Nick awkward relationship thing constantly, and have been able to move forward with no decline in quality since Schmidt and Cece locked each other up.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Kimmy Schmidt’s first season is the perfect blend of ridiculousness, network style sitcom, and dark comedy. It was one of my favorite shows of last year. The second season fell short. I honestly don’t even know what to say about it because I barely remember it. It is that meh.
Selling the funniest show on TV? Piping hot take, but hear me out. Without spoiling anything, the end of the past season throws the show into a much different scenario than what it has been for its entire run. Something that takes it entirely out of its element into almost a new show entirely. I have full faith for it to maintain its level of entertainment but considering the change, it may not be the same. Still recommend watching all that has aired already though.
The first season of the comic book based Preacher, adapted by Seth Rogen (quietly taking over the entertainment world) and his writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg, is up and down. It introduces compelling characters including but not limited to: an Irish vampire, a teen with a face that looks like a butthole, respawning angels, and of course a preacher that used to be some sort of hitman. It builds an interesting world for its characters to inhabit; a southern town that is essentially a desert with a weird meatpacking/slaughterhouse company basically owning the land. It sounds weird, and it is, with a bit of a requirement of being open to a lot of oddities to enjoy the show. The end of the season sets the stage for the three main characters to literally travel to hell. I recommend hitting up Travelocity and booking a ticket to ride onto the second season.
Daredevil & Luke Cage (Netflix)
Marvel’s shows have certain things that make them almost more intriguing than Marvel’s movies. They can be way darker, they have more time to develop characters, and they can create compelling villains. These things are present in both the first season of Cage and the second season of Daredevil. Both have villains that aren’t hellbent on destroying the world but have smaller focuses and feelings that impact their motivations and actions. They aren’t overly dark but they have no issue getting serious. And each of the main characters are people you care about, with even supporting characters (that are also kind of villains) being the best characters on each show! Jon Bernthal as The Punisher and Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth are the most well acted and developed on each show (although Bernthal now gets his own Punisher show to himself, and Ali’s character is…not returning ever).
Something is missing though, and the end of each of the seasons leaves something to be desired while leaving you with a slight worry that honestly you might be fine if they didn’t make anymore. Not that that will happen, as both are expected to receive at least another season and will be appearing in the Marvel’s Defenders series that will be dropping this year. I’m sure that series will be fine but I may not bother watching it.
The fictional scripted show inspired by The Bachelor was the surprise hit of 2015, dropping a darkly funny yet contemplative drama (not many shows handle mental illness as well as Unreal) into the summer on a network not thought of as a place for quality TV. The second season tries to bring in some topical issues and does things the real Bachelor has never done (for example: a black Bachelor) but ultimately whiffs on the execution. It has its highs but the season is filled with too many lows to inspire confidence in the future.
You’re the Worst (FX)
Verdict: Buy and inject directly into your veins
You’re the Worst deserves an entire article from me, and someday I’ll get around to that, but just take my word that it deserves your attention. While the third season is a decline from the previous two (to be fair, it is near impossible to top season two, a master class in depicting depression and how it can/is dealt with, among other things) it still is the cream of the crop when it comes to comedies centered on romantic relationships.
The final three episodes made up for a bit of weaker action earlier in season. The third to last episode being a one take/one shot-esque episode set at a wedding, with the seeds of doubt budding in each relationship, set the table for the fantastic final two, where each relationship ends (kind of, to varying degrees). The last episode ends beautifully, employing expert musical selections capable of manipulating even the coldest of people to feel something, with two surprising actions from the same character in the same scene that cause the entire element of the story to shift.
Breakups in a show about relationships can be hard to pull off, but the reasons for each relationships’ end (or break, or *shrugging emoji*) are different and interesting enough to make me excited for the next season and the enjoyment of spending time with each character, whether they have their significant other or not, is high enough that I have no worries. Buy hard, and catch up if you haven’t watched yet.
Narcos is a Wikipedia show, something that isn’t quite good enough that you want to watch it but has an interesting enough story that you have to, aka you’re better off just reading the Wiki summaries. And with the big bad finally dying at the end of season two, there is basically no reason to continue watching for the third season that will focus on the less than exciting Cali cartel. RIP Don Pablo.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Verdict: Buy, with the option of selling immediately because it’ll never get hotter than it is now
We all know Stranger Things so I’m not going to bother talking about it. Everyone loves it. It isn’t as great as everyone says it is, but it is extremely fun to watch and nostalgia is the official feeling that every last person on this planet loves more than anything else. The most important thing I want to say, though, is that if you aren’t #TeamSteve you can fuck right off.
House of Cards (Netflix)
Another show that I can’t remember all that well because it didn’t do anything phenomenal this year. I do remember it reeling me back in with a strong second half, however, and the end points to an interesting future. I’ll always buy in for this show.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
You either love or hate It’s Always Sunny and if you love it you are never going to stop. It’s dedication to absurd ideas never relents (one of the promos for the upcoming season portrays a musical in which the entire gang is actually an African-American family) and the execution is always pitch perfect, whether it’s the acting, writing, or even the technical aspects (like an incredible one-take episode centered on Charlie two seasons ago). Never change, Sunny.
Forever and always Donald Glover will be my greatest entertainment hero. First seeing him in the Derrick Comedy videos on Youtube (shouts to Bro Rape and my personal favorite, Keyboard Kid) and following as he became the likeable yet very dumb Troy on Community, to ingesting his Childish Gambino mixtapes and albums like I’d never heard music before, I’ve consumed his work incessantly over the past 10 years and I was eagerly awaiting Atlanta once it was announced over a year ago. So, it was likely I was going to be biased when it finally came to air.
Luckily, it was not what I expected, and even more luckily, it was so unique and so well done that I didn’t need a bias to like it. Atlanta is a singular phenomenon, equal parts legitimate realistic comedy and absurdist art. I truly think that the first season is the best thing to air on TV this year, and insist everyone watch it. It’s hard to define or describe without giving false expectations because it is that different from anything else. But I am definitely buying in and can’t wait for there to be more.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Thrones finally surpassing GRRM’s books helped the show move at its own pace, throwing out a lot of lesser scenes like people travelling from place to place. Some people may have issues with the deviating passing of time, but those people are nitpicking for issues considering this was one of the best seasons. Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Winter are two of the best episodes of the entire series (I watched that season finale twice sober and three more times drunkenly for no reason other than “yooooooo this shit is so dope”), but what really made the season stand out was the movement of major pieces to prep for the endgame of the story. Bring on the White Walkers yo, next season bout to be lit.
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Another tough one because Silicon Valley is better than most others, but a pretty down season kinda put a damper on it for me. It’s still very funny, but just not on the level it was at before. Pass for now.
If you ask me whether I would buy or sell the first season of Westworld, I’d tell you to sell that shit ASAP. Of all things overrated in 2016, this might take the cake. There are major issues with it that I really don’t want to get into (poor character development, slow ass pacing, lack of consequence, etc.) that some people may be able to get past but it just didn’t do it for me. Not to mention if you look at your phone for 5 seconds, or cough, or try to maybe blink, you will be confused for the rest of the episode you’re watching. Not ideal. All that being true, the next season is setup to actually correct some of the problems I stated and then hopefully it’ll get its gears moving. Have to wait til 2018 though! Fun!
Black Mirror (Netflix)
Black Mirror is a very legit show that is terrifying because, honestly, some of the shit seems not so far off from what can actually happen in this world. Sometimes that isn’t enough, though, as the latest season made apparent.
Apart from the absolutely horrendous and painful to watch first hour (Nosedive) in which Bryce Dallas Howard plays the most annoying person to ever exist, it isn’t bad, just not exceptional like the other seasons. It brings two great episodes (San Junipero and Playtest) that are equally awesome to watch as they are to think about for the real world. The other ones are average to meh. The disparity in quality isn’t worrying as its hard to hit a home run each time up, but the lack of quality for the lesser ones is worrying. The next rollout will probably have those stellar hits, but the show feels like it lost some oomph. Selling, or buy half off.
Red Oaks (Amazon)
Striking the 80’s nostalgia gold mine a full year before Stranger Things, Red Oaks is a full culmination of the current TV times. A weird mix of comedy and drama (it specifies itself as a half hour comedy but is still chock full of the ever popular indie style drama spells) airing on a streaming service that tosses money around like Dicaprio in Wolf of Wall Street, with actors past their heyday nabbing strong supporting roles, Red Oaks checks off the majority of popular TV requirements. Plus, the 80’s!!! Everyone loves that now. Buy that nostalgia and enjoy responsibly.
I love Suits, probably irrationally. It isn’t that great. But something about its total lack of care for being that kind of prestige show just begging for awards makes it enjoyable to watch. You can turn your brain off and just wallow in the excess of the characters and the no-way-this-would-ever-happen hook of the show. After several seasons of doing things in which the main character almost gets caught being a fraud, they finally said fuck it and threw the man in jail. Tossing the show out of its element felt kind of weird, but in the end it worked out well. Problem is, homie is back out now and I don’t know where it goes from there, other than becoming the show it was before without the anxiety and worry of the lead being exposed. You are *gavel bang* sold.
Mr. Robot (USA)
The hottest new show of 2015 was not as hot in 2016. Robot fell ill to the poor pacing and unreasonably long episodes that plague a lot of TV. It is still supremely interesting and a different perspective on the whole hacker vibe as well as a nice Fight Club-esque rebellion to corporate America and when it is entertaining it really dazzles. The end of the season was exhilarating and the show dropped some bombs that mean things are about to be happening quick and some mysteries are about to be revealed. The second season may have been a roller coaster of boredom and fascination, here’s to hoping the third season is just a full throttle thrill ride.
The Detour (TBS)
Finally. Sneakily a top 5 show for me this year. TBS is quietly becoming a great network for original programming and while The Detour did not garner much attention, it is something that TBS can build off of. A misguided husband taking his very dysfunctional wife on a roadtrip with their two preteen kids sounds basic, but it is hilarious. The story is enough to make things move along, but the acting of the entire cast is top notch with a combination of traditional style sitcom situations with It’s Always Sunny level of absurdity allowing for the cast to really have fun. The wife and kids are the funniest part of the show, something that basically never happens! The husband is extremely funny as well, but the rest of the main crew just deliver constantly.
The roadtrip/detour is over, but the second season is coming in February and even though they aren’t in their beatdown, disgusting smurf-blue minivan anymore, I’m willing to wager my left hand that The Detour still delivers on the “Very Funny” slogan TBS so often reminds us of.