Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Best & Worst of TV 2016


5. THE SEASON PREMIERE OF THE WALKING DEAD (AMC) - Sorry, but 90 minutes of psychological torture is too much. Even torture-porn movies know when to hold back here and there. I hung in there, but ratings suggest about a million fans decided it was a bridge too far. The good news is the midseason finale has me excited for 2017.

4. CONFIRMATION (HBO) - HBO keeps doing these revisionist histories of recent political events, and like Recount, Game Change, and numerous others, it's written to make Republicans the villians and Democrats the heroes. This felt like it was written to not only turn Clarence Thomas into a mustache-twirler but to undercut Joe Biden in case he had decided to challenge Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

3. ANYTHING ON JON-BENET RAMSAY - Look, I know the 1990's are hot again, but can we not?

2. THE DO-OVER (Netflix) - Once upon a time, I liked Adam Sandler movies. Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and some of his stretching material like Punch-Drunk Love. Now he's the worst. Just the absolute worst. Just like The Ridiculous Six, I couldn't watch the whole thing.

1. THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA (Especially CNN) - They gave Trump a free ride, letting him call into shows instead of appearing live, carrying his rallies in their entirety, letting him be the first to talk to the channel's reporter after each debate to spin it how he wanted. So few of them tried to do actual reporting that no wonder everyone was surprised on Election Night.

But it wasn't just them. Sean Hannity had his most unwatchable year yet, as he's turned into Baghdad Bob for all things Trumpism. And he made $27 million doing it.

Advice for all TV news: You're in the news business, not the narrative business. Listening to party hacks and campaign spokesfolks spin and lie and filibuster is not informative and it's not good TV.


Honorable Mentions: The Americans, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Crown, Daredevil, The Good Wife, Gotham, Jane the Virgin, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Luke Cage, The Man in the High Castle, Narcos, Survivor, Westworld.

10. TRANSPARENT (Amazon) - This show isn't a comedy; it's a 30-minute drama with occasional funny stuff. This season saw the deeply dysfunctional Pfeffermans taken to new emotional places when most of their relationships from last season wind up crumbling. The secret weapon is Kathryn Hahn's rabbi. It'll be tough competition between her and Judith Light for Emmy's Best Supporting Actress this summer.

9. COLIN QUINN: NEW YORK STORY (Netflix) - Check out this, and his Unconstitutional special, and his Long Story Short special. For my money, the two best stand-up comedians working right now are Louis CK and Colin Quinn.

8. LEAH REMINI: SCIENTOLOGY & THE AFTERMATH (A&E) - Perfect companion piece to the documentary Going Clear, Remini spends each episode interviewing new people and exposing more and more of the dangers and darkness of Scientology, and yet the most chilling aspect of the show so far to me is the legal disclaimer they put during every commercial break that Scientology disputes her claims. You know it's there because one of Scientology's main methods of fighting their enemies is by suing them into bankruptcy. Also, the way they keep hiring P.I.'s to spy on her is creepy.

7. THE GOOD PLACE (NBC) - Kristen Bell plays a fairly rotten person who winds up in heaven due to a clerical error, so she pretends to fit in so she can avoid going to the Bad Place. Ted Danson is the amiable architect who doesn't quite understand humans. It's nice to see the networks can still make shows like these.

6. BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC) - Who knew how much depth Bob Odenkirk would be able to find mining the backstory of his slippery attorney Saul Goodman? Turns out, quite a bit. The rivalry between him and his brother (Michael McKean) heated up, and rumor has it we may get Gus next season. Bring it on.

5. VEEP (HBO) - This series kept it fresh, getting into an election day scandal and scrambling for power in the aftermath. I don't know where next season can go, but I trust the makers know what they're doing. House of Cards got back on track, but this is the sharpest show about politics on TV.

4. STRANGER THINGS (Netflix) - Combines the best of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg to make a show that has sympathetic adult, teen, and child characters, with the supernatural interfering with their heretofore unremarkable lives. Glad to see Winona Ryder is back, and glad to see a star be born in Millie Brown as Eleven.

3. THE PEOPLE VS. OJ SIMPSON (FX) - I knew the story, but having it told this way made me go back and compare how much was accurate, and it made me that much more sympathetic for Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulsen) and Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), two public servants who were not prepared for the media spotlight. I also like the final shot of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s OJ staring at his statue. He knows that even though he won, he still lost. But the main who really owned it was Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran.

2. FARGO SEASON 2 (FX) - I loved season 1, and season 2 gives us a story just as rich, with plenty of interesting characters. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons were great as the young married couple in over their head, and Ted Danson was really good too, but my favorite was probably the assassin Mike Milligan, played by Bokeem Woodbine, an actor we've seen around for 20 years but he's never really had a chance to shine like this.

1. GAME OF THRONES (HBO) - The first season beyond the books was a good one. More and more characters who've never interacted are coming together, and the finale swept a few more chess pieces off the board. Jon and Sansa are a team in the North, Dany and Arya are back on the mainland, now Queen Cersei will have to see just how long her reign of terror can last. Not long, I'd venture to guess.

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