With an estimated amount of 400 scripted programs available from traditional networks, cable, and streaming services, it is hard to make a manageable list of shows that are worth your time. The amount of times I have rewritten this list (three) shows how difficult it was. We here at The Movie Sleuth aim to cut through the clutter with a list that we believe represents the best of the best. The following ten shows represent the cultural spirit of 2016. 2016 was a year of great division that caused both great sorrow and great joy. It was a year of transition, politically and culturally. Issues regarding race, gender, and mental health have moved to the forefront of our societal conversation and television is no exception. These shows offered us not only shelter from the storm known as 2016, they offered us a way to reflect on the current cultural landscape.
10. HORACE AND PETE - 2016 was the year of surprise dropping a project and even comedians like Louis CK got in on the fun. Horace and Pete is what I imagine a tragicomic (emphasis on tragic) version of Cheers written by Eugene O’Neill would be like. In this bar, everyone knows your name but they are sure as shit not happy you came. Louie CK and Steve Buscemi star as the owners of Horace and Pete’s, a run down family owned bar in Brooklyn. Rounding out the supporting cast is Alan Alda as the racist Uncle Pete and Edie Falco in an award worthy performance as the put upon sister who is trying to get rid of this bar that metaphorically sucks the souls out of it’s owners. Horace and Pete is a show that talks about issues relating to health, politics, and family matters in 2016 America in a way that it is funny and heartbreaking. The show itself was overshadowed by the hubbub about how it was made and released which I think is a damn shame as it is truly a great show. The performances, writing, and staging of the show harken back to a different era of television and show that Louis CK has a lot of range as a writer and as an actor. I hope it is a range that we get to see more of in the future. Available on: Hulu, Louis Ck.net
9. THE PATH - Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad") has the distinct honor of being in two of the shows on this list. In this excellent and offbeat Hulu original, Paul stars as Eddie Lane, a member of a new-age spiritualist movement known as Meyerism. Unbeknownst to his wife and children, who are also members of the movement, Eddie has a vision about Meyerism's founder that causes him to have a crisis of faith -- right as he is expected to advance further up the spiritual ladder. Eddie decides to secretly meet with a defector from the religion, causing his wife (Michelle Monaghan) -- an important figure in the religion--to become suspicious and putting him at odds with the charismatic unofficial leader of the group (Hugh Dancy). Featuring a trifecta of great performances, The Path invites viewers on an intoxicating journey of faith and doubt and show that Hulu has the chops to step into ring with it’s streaming rivals Netflix and Amazon. Avaliable on: Hulu, iTunes
8. ATLANTA - Despite 2016 being a mixed bag of year for almost everybody, no one could argue that Donald Glover didn’t have a great year. Between landing the part of Lando Calrissian in the Han Solo spin off, releasing the critically acclaimed and incredible funky “Awaken, My Love!” and creating and starring in one of the best shows on TV, things are looking up for the 30 Rock writer turned actor turned rapper. Atlanta is the story of Alfred Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), a hot new rap artist who is trying to understand the line between real life and street life. His cousin, Earnest (Donald Glover), gets caught up in the local rap scene and his cousin’s career. In the era of Black Lives Matter and calls for more diversity in media, Atlanta is a breath of fresh air. It is a show that is sympathetic to the African American experience in America in time and place where it often feels like no sympathy or understanding. The social and cultural relevance is not the only reason this show works. Unlike most of the comedy dramas of late, the characters are not flawed or stereotypical. The characters on the show are real, human, and compelling. You want to spend time with these characters and you want to see them succeed. The show is also frequently funny and surreal, like Twin Peaks with rappers. The combination of surreal, funny, and racial politics is a hard balance to achieve but Atlanta does it with grace. The best example of this is episode seven, entitled B.A.N. which examines a black fictional television network that combines the funny surreal nature of the show with the politics around it in one of the most daring episodes of television I have seen this year. By the end of the season, I was hooked and wanting more. I grew attached to the world and characters and the world of Atlanta in a way that have connected with a show in sometime. Hopefully, the next season is just as funny and compelling as the first. AVALIABLE ON: Amazon, iTunes, FX
7. CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND - Never in a million years would I have imagined that a show like this would be one of my favorites. I normally do not go for shows on the CW and I cannot think of a musical television show that I cared for in recent years. And yet, this show is one of the most underappreciated shows on TV. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the story of a successful and driven woman named Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom). Rebecca seemingly has it all but she feels like something is missing. After a chance meeting with a former romantic interest, Rebecca impulsively decides to give up her life in New York and relocate to West Covina, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb she hopes will be the perfect home base as she embarks on a quest for love, adventure and true happiness. Despite it’s premise, the show subverts and analyzes the tropes of the romantic comedy in a way that hasn’t been done on network television. Rachel Bloom and her writing team have made a show that analyzes the lengths we go for in the pursuit of love and how mental illness can help and hinder relationships. This is done in a way that is unique and funny while also being true to life. The characters in this show are likeable and memorable. You end up rooting for characters to be together and to get their shit together. The music in the show is incredibly well written and biting. What I really like is that the genre of songs varies from episode to episode. From Rock and Roll songs about being bisexual to imaginary boy bands made out of your love interest, to songs about settling for someone romantically, to songs about the pains of having heavy boobs, the sheer variety of songs on the show make for a hilariously memorable experience. These songs have crawled their way into brain and won’t leave. You know, in a good way. If you enjoy musicals and well done comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is worth checking out as soon as possible. AVALIABLE: Netflix, iTunes, CW.
6. AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE PEOPLE VS OJ - Like everybody else in the world, I rolled my eyes when I saw the commercials for this. There is no way that the people behind American Horror Story could manage to make a compelling drama out of one of the most controversial cases in recent history. Thankfully, I was wrong. The People Vs OJ is a smart and well-written look at a case that we thought we knew all the details about. It is a tour de force of writing, acting, and directing. The pacing is gripping and will make you rethink everything you thought about the case. The cast is engaging. Cuba Gooding Jr., David Schwimmer, and Sterling K. Brown give career best performances. While it is well acted all around, there is one person in particular who deserves all of the praise and all of the awards. Sarah Paulson gives the best performance in the show as Marcia Clark, crafting a sympathetic and multilayered performance out of a tabloid punch line. While I have not heard about the next season of the show, whatever it is, I hope it is at least half good as this season. Available: Blu-Ray, DVD, and Netflix.
5. STRANGER THINGS - This thrilling Netflix-original drama captivated critics and audiences alike. Stranger Things stars Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers, who lives in a small Indiana town in 1983. When Joyce's 12-year-old son, Will, goes missing, she launches a terrifying investigation into his disappearance with local authorities. As they search for answers, they unravel a series of extraordinary mysteries involving secret government experiments, unnerving supernatural forces, and a very unusual little girl. With it’s likeable characters, great cinematography, and awesome soundtrack, Stranger Things harkened back to an era in American history in a broadly nostalgic way that connected with audiences young and old. We here at The Movie Sleuth are big fans of the show and can’t wait to see what happens next in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. Available: Netflix
4. BOJACK HORSEMAN - It says a lot that the most humane show on television and that the best show featuring Aaron Paul this year is about a humanoid horse. BoJack Horseman is the continuing story of a 90’s sitcom star lost in a sea of self-loathing and booze – who decides it's time for a comeback. His show, at the time, was the hottest thing around, and then suddenly, was canceled. Now 18 years later, BoJack wants to regain his dignity. With the aid of a human sidekick and a feline ex-girlfriend who is his agent, he sets out to make it happen. Bojack Horsemen uses it’s exaggerated animated world as a way to look at the impact success and failure can have a person. We experience the highs and lows of Bojack’s life, with moments that hurt so hard, I had to stop watching and try get myself together. It is hard to find a show that manages to feature the line “Suck a dick, dumb shits!” and manage to hit the emotional beats that it does. Bojack Horsemen is recommended watching for anyone who enjoys smart adult animation that goes into dark places. Available: Netflix
3. GAME OF THRONES- George R.R. Martin's best-selling book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" is now in it’s sixth season and it has never been better. After a lackluster season five, season six offers a palette cleanser that is some of the best hours of television ever made. I would argue that it is even better than any of the other seasons of the show. Free from having to spin the narrative wheels and wait for George R.R. Martin to catch up, the series has been reinvigorated. Every episode of this season mattered and offered an entertaining and engaging hour of television every Sunday. Loyal sleuth readers will remember my weekly coverage and how invigorating it was to write about so I will keep this short and sweet. Shocking deaths, the return of fan favorites, and epic battles made this the best season of Game of Thrones yet. Let’s hope that the quality set by this last season is continued for the final two seasons. Available: Blu-Ray, DVD, HBO NOW and HBO Go.
2. MR. ROBOT - For the second year in a row, Mr. Robot is one of the best shows on TV. Young, anti-social computer programmer Elliot (Rami Malek) works as a cybersecurity engineer during the day, but at night he is a vigilante hacker. Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is the mysterious leader of an underground group of hackers who recruits Elliot to join his cause. Elliot's task? Help bring down corporate America. Mr. Robot combines themes of paranoia, corporate espionage, and a bitter view on the state of the world that makes for some socially relevant and entertaining television. Combine that with some whip smart writing, effective camera work, and some incredible acting, Mr. Robot is a dazzling experience that needs to be watched as soon as possible. Available on: Amazon, On Demand, iTunes, and Blu-Ray/DVD
1. WESTWORLD - The best show of 2016 is Westworld, a show that no one expected to be as great as it was. Who would want to watch a television remake of a film from 1973? The preshow buzz around the show was talking about how costly it was and the graphic nature of the sex on the show. To the relief of both HBO and viewers everywhere, Westworld was worth every penny. Set in amusement part for rich vacationers, Westworld -- which is looked after by robotic "hosts" -- allows its visitors to live out their wildest fantasies. No matter how illicit the fantasy may be, there are no consequences for the park's guests, allowing for any wish to be indulged. Westworld is a beautifully complicated show that asks the viewers some questions in a way that is both thoughtful and interesting. It asks us about what it means to be human and makes us think about the way we treat other people. The characters are rich and compelling, especially the hosts. Even though they are not human, they feel like. The audience will end up finding themselves just as attached to the hosts as the guests are. While the entire cast does a fantastic job, the real stands are Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton. Those two women give career best performances as Delores and Maeve. This show even manages to feature a great later period Anthony Hopkins performance. Given his recent track record, that is no small task. In a year of excellent television, Westworld was the best because it offers not only escapism but it also offers us a chance to reflect on human nature. It achieves what all television shows strive to do: it entertains you and makes you think. AVAILABLE: HBO
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-Liam S. O'Connor