Film and TV

The Best TV of 2016

Controversial opinion: Lists are a great way to both organize and digest horrifically large amounts of information. And they’ve never been more relevant than this, the Lord’s year, 2016, in television. There’s just too damn much, and nobody could possibly watch it all — except maybe Scott Bakula on a very special episode of Quantum Leap. Here’s my list, in a very particular order, because it’s time to take a stand. TV is supposed to scratch that itch of “I can’t wait to watch next week!” and that’s what all these shows do. They’re compelling, which is something TV is supposed to be. And if you learn something, well then good for you!

1. Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. I can’t tell you how damn wonderful it is to get my news from a whip-smart, funny-as-hell, loudmouthed, haranguing, shrieking harpy who’s probably menstruating into a DivaCup while she yells at me about what a boor Melania’s husband is. She’s a voice of sanity in these crazed times, and her show probably saved lives this year. I love it the most.

2. Broad City. I’ve never been more jealous of any piece of art, and that’s how I know this show is the greatest. Well, that and I laugh so, so much. In its third season, Comedy Central’s Broad City continued to be goofy perfection, and when it took a stab at going deeper, it worked. Ilana ran away from Abbi at the dinner in the third-to-last episode, and I straight-up bawled and then called my best friend.

3. Teachers. TV Land’s show about a group of public school teachers is like that woman you meet who seems like a total square, but then you talk to her for five minutes and you find out she speaks five languages, used to sleep with Vin Diesel when he was a bartender in Tribeca and does a spot-on Bobcat Goldthwait impersonation. It’s undercover awesome. Don’t sleep on it.

4. Take My Wife. Watching Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butler’s low-key Seeso show about married comedians is like being a fly on the wall in the relationship of your funniest friends. Because the couple is also married off the show, the chemistry is real, and so is the depiction of wedded bliss.

5. Insecure. Issa Rae’s star-power-backed HBO series — the people credited with the music have fans enough for a stadium tour — is aces. Largely an exploration of friendship, the show's real love story is between Issa and her best friend, Molly, and it will resonate with a lot of women whose one true love isn’t romantic. And if you don’t enjoy having “Broken Pussy” stuck in your head, I don’t want to know you.

6. Search Party. It’s got comedy, mystery and John Early. What more do you want? This show pours one out for every late-20-something who wakes up one day and wonders if there’s something more. Also, it’s so, so funny.

7. Difficult People. In a year of sad-coms — Lord love You’re the Worst (and I do! Shitty Jimmy is my Patronus!), but they had an entire episode about PTSD that felt like a very special episode of Saved by the Bell — Hulu’s hard comedy about jerk-ass best friends will make you legit LOL several times an episode. You can feel the time and love poured into every dick joke, but the stellar cast’s delivery makes it feel effortless.

8. The Americans. Like the presidential election, Season 4 of AMC’s '80s spy drama about a pair of Soviets who look amazing in wigs was deeply stressful to watch. Unlike the presidential election, though, I want to watch it over and over again. It’s a mix of everything you want in a nail-biting thriller-drama: intricate plotting, hot actors and a lot of brooding synthesizer music.

9. The Good Place. NBC’s show about heaven is the best new network sitcom of the year. Can executive producer Michael Schur be the new mayor of comedy?

10. Atlanta.
This bleary, tense FX show about an upstart music producer is described by creator Donald Glover as “Twin Peaks for rappers,” and that would be totally correct if Twin Peaks hit you from the side with something really funny twice per episode.

11. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s like musical theater and feminism had weird sex (with props) and produced the CW’s wonderfully deranged, super head-smart and hilariously crotch-driven baby. Blessed are we to live in these TV times.

Special shout-outs to more A+ comedies you should watch: The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, whenever Winston is on New Girl and moments of Lady Dynamite.

Best network: TBS. Girl! You’re killing the game. Full Frontal, Search Party, Wrecked and People of Earth are all straight-up delightful, and I even put up with their piss-poor app to get my fix. Could do with a little less American Dad, but only God is perfect.

Best dramas: Better Call Saul, Queen Sugar, Rectify and American Crime.

Random thoughts: Black Mirror is always depressing and often dumb, but the San Junipero episode broke my heart in the best way. The compulsive watchability of Yolanda on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled. I know it’s un-American to say, but I loved both the U.K.’s cringingly real Fleabag (the lead character played by creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge is low-stakes Walter White with a vagina) and Brazil’s horrifying dystopian 3%, which looks amazing, in large part due to the visuals of director César Charlone, who was the cinematographer on City of God. And finally, Soundbreaking on PBS is a docuseries that will make you want to quit your job and record a masterwork in your mom’s basement. Do it.
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Laura Beck
Contact: Laura Beck