The State of the Art: Television 2016

I think it's official now. Television has overtaken movies. Back in the day, movie stars wouldn't be caught dead appearing on TV, which they considered "the enemy". Then, when it was clear television was here to stay, film actors started to deign to appear on the small screen, but there was never any worry that cinema's little brother would ever catch up in terms of quality or prestige. And yet, here we are. Though there are plenty of good movies out there, TV is just exponentially better right now. I don't know how long this trend will last, but for now, it seems clear that if you want top-notch entertainment, you don't even have to get off your couch.

All that said, I have limited time and access to the wealth of variety TV is offering right now, so as always, my top five will look nothing like the critics'. There are certain channels I don't get, and there just aren't enough hours in the day to watch everything I'd like to be. These are the kinds of problems you want to have, though. There was still plenty to delight me over the course of 2016. So why don't we get to the best of the best?

#1: Black Mirror - Season 3

One way I can tell if a show belongs at the top of my list is that I can't stop talking about it with other people. As gloomy and pessimistic as Black Mirror tends to be, I couldn't stop myself from enthusing about Season 3 to anyone who would listen. While all six of the episodes are good, four of them are straight-up excellent, and one of them has the distinction of having absolutely no competition for my single favorite episode of television this year. When people usually talk about horror, what they're referring to are slashers. A group of dumb, horny teens goes to a remote cabin and gets butchered by an axe-wielding maniac. When I talk about horror, I mean watching what we're capable of when the baser aspects of human nature have access to advanced technology. Black Mirror paints a terrifying portrait of where society could be headed if restrictions on our impulses were lifted by convenient techno-gadgets, and what makes it so thrillingly scary is how realistic it is. Even amongst the dire warnings and chilling scenarios, Season 3 found some time for levity, for hope, and dare I say it, for a single happy ending.

#2: American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson

Another way to determine the great shows of the year is by noticing something that shouldn't work at all, yet manages to overcome all obstacles and actually be terrific. There was so much stacked against a miniseries dramatization of OJ Simpson's arrest and trial. There's an inherent danger in it just coming off as tabloid trash, like a pretentious Lifetime original movie. It was helmed by Ryan Murphy, who may be great at starting projects, but has a poor track record when it comes to sticking the landing. People could've had little interest in revisiting the topic; though it fascinated the world at the time, was this story really worth ten episodes? But when I actually sat down to watch this, I shut my fat mouth in a hurry, because it was enthralling. All of those Emmy wins were well-deserved.

#3: The Great British Baking Show - Season 3

What else makes a television show worthy of making the top five? Much like baking, you need consistent quality. Once the novelty of something wears off, it is still entertaining? The Great British Baking Show answers that with a jolly wink and probably an awful food pun or five. Everything I originally loved about this show is still on-point. Terrific bakers, terrific challenges, terrific hosting, terrific judging, terrific food photography... You name it. Unfortunately, nothing this wonderful ever lasts long enough, and once Season 3 had aired, all sorts of news about the impending massive cast upheavals started rolling out. So before too long, we'll likely have to say good-bye to this gem of a show that filled me with happiness and warmth, provided an opportunity to have guests over to enthuse over the people and the bakes with me, and even got me into the kitchen to try some experimental recipes.

#4: Lady Dynamite - Season 1

Consistency is great, but there are also shows that come out of nowhere, and are completely unlike anything else on the air. It took me a few episodes to fully embrace Maria Bamford's absurdist, semi-autobiographical show about clawing her way back to a life in entertainment after a mental breakdown. Haha! What a laugh riot! Thing is, it was! Before a few modern shows came along (see below), most comedy/sitcom characters always had such easily-solvable problems. Whether it was a misunderstanding at work or accidentally giving your date food she's allergic to, there was nothing that couldn't be dealt with in a half hour. These days, though, comedy is stretching its muscles to talk about issues that aren't so tidy. It must be incredibly difficult to walk that fine line between being funny and having something real to say about bipolar disorder, and this show pulled it off perfectly.

#5: BoJack Horseman - Season 3

Though Bamford's story is factual, fictional depression can also amazingly be adapted into comedy, if you're smart enough to do it well. And BoJack Horseman does it very, very well. Like The Great British Baking Show, this is not the show's first appearance on the end-of-year favorites list. Unlike GBBS, though, which maintained its superiority by sticking with a formula that works, BoJack Horseman expanded its universe even further than last season. There are scenes that made me laugh out loud, and scenes that made me cry. There's an underwater episode that's almost entirely wordless, which was a close second to Black Mirror's "San Junipero" in Favorite Episode of the Year. The other four shows on my favorites list almost sell themselves, but this one is weird enough that it tends to drive some people away. Don't be frightened. Jump in!

Honorable Mentions

They may not have made the top five, and some of them aren't terribly current, but I can't ignore the other shows I saw this year that got at least an A- on the grading scale. These are all definitely worth your time, so settle into your couch and treat yourself to some quality entertainment.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season 1: A really fantastic show with really fantastic music, but even I can't justify having three shows about mental illness on my top five. That, and the CW makes this show impossible to conveniently stream, so I tend to catch up a long time after it airs. Still, I often can't keep myself from singing those (often-inappropriate) ditties to myself out loud.

Man Seeking Woman - Season 1: Ineligible, since it aired in 2015. This is another one that doesn't stream until well after it airs, so it'll constantly be playing catch-up. The magical realism technique for cracking wise about the maddening complications of the dating world works incredibly well in this show, and its absurdities are zany without ever becoming obnoxious.

Making a Murderer - Season 1: Ineligible, since it aired in 2015 (and probably wouldn't have quite cracked the top of the list, anyway). It's tough for documentary television to grab my attention, since I usually use television as an escape from the grim realities of life, not to delve even deeper into them. But the story of Steven Avery's trial and conviction are so compelling that I couldn't tear myself away. As agitprop decrying the corruption of the judicial system, it may have been a little one-sided, but I can't argue with the production value one bit. I'm not a true crime fanatic, but am firmly on board for more episodes of this.

Superstore - Season 1: Hey, did you know NBC is capable of making good sitcoms again? I know, I was shocked, too! After a few place-setting episodes, this one snapped into a really terrific ensemble comedy. It's very jokey, but still finds sly ways to comment on the culture of big box stores, whether it's their anti-union policies or the token nods to minority employees. The interstitial shots of customers being all customer-y, and the fact that it's set in my hometown doesn't hurt, either. It may not be the most groundbreaking show on television, but it makes me laugh, and that's all I want out of it.


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime