The Best TV of 2016: From New Sci-Fi Worlds to Excellent Comedy Duos
[For more of Collider’s Best of 2016 lists, click here]
There are so many TV shows now on broadcast networks, cable channels, and various streaming services, big and small. Thanks to Peak TV, there is no shortage of comedies, dramas, and some combination thereof, so much so that you could never possibly watch them all, even if you wanted to.
Narrowing down what to highlight for any year is a challenge, and 2016 is no exception. There was compelling storytelling, superb performances, and quirky new worlds to watch and explore. Some shows proved that they get better with age, while great new ones took the place of those others we had to bid farewell to. Given all of that, here are my selections for the biggest stand-outs of this year:
Best Show Creator: Dan Fogelman for ‘This Is Us’ and ‘Pitch’
Both This Is Us and Pitch were created by writer/executive producer Dan Fogelman and both shows have a tremendous cast of actors bringing their characters and the story to life. Although each pilot had a twist (one more directly affecting the show’s overall season than the other), neither lived or died because of that twist. While This Is Us is a roller coaster of emotions when it comes to the family at its core (Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley are all so terrific), and it’s hard to get through an entire episode without shedding some tears, Pitch also tugs at the heartstrings. You can’t help but root for the young pitcher who has become the first woman to play Major League Baseball, and Kylie Bunbury has a sensational break-out role here.
Best New Sci-Fi: ‘Wynonna Earp’
Based on the IDW comic created by Beau Smith and developed for television by Emily Andras, the Syfy series Wynonna Earp follows the life of the great, great granddaughter of famous lawman Wyatt Earp, who has inherited his mythic abilities and famous gun, along with his legendary old West enemies, known as revenant demons. The series got more and more fun each week, as the kick-ass female cast of characters, led by Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) and including younger sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and Officer Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell), provided endless amounts of trouble for the mysterious Agent Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson) and notorious gunslinger Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon). And then, it all ended on a huge cliffhanger that left fans (myself included) counting down the days for Season 2, to see who survived and what is coming next.
Best Returning Sci-Fi: ‘12 Monkeys’
The Syfy series 12 Monkeys is one of the most thought-provoking, well-written, and expertly acted science fiction shows currently on television. Its excellent second season was an emotional whirlwind, with enough twists and turns that you almost need a chart to keep track. And yet, they also came to a satisfying conclusion that provided hints for where things could head next in the show’s third season. As we finally got to more fully explore the romance of Cole (Aaron Stanford) and Cassie (Amanda Schull), and delve more deeply into the chaotic mind of Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), there was a heightened sense of urgency as the mysteries continued to unravel until viewers were gasping at the final reveal.
Best Weird New World: ‘Dirk Gently’
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a wonderfully weird world inhabited by the fast-talking, eccentric Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), who is hired to investigate the case of a murdered millionaire. Dirk’s philosophy hinges on the interconnectedness of all things and, as a result, he believes that he and Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood) — a bellhop at the hotel where the body was found — are destined to untangle the mystery together, even though Todd may not be as willing to embrace that notion. Along the way, Dirk crosses paths with countless quirky characters, including a holistic assassin and Todd’s hallucinating sister, an adorable little kitten, and a Corgi. It’s all wacky and odd, but a lot of fun, and we’ll get to explore it further in Season 2.
Best New Anti-Hero: Mac “Quarry” Conway
If you haven’t discovered the Cinemax series Quarry yet, it’s worth taking the time to check it out. Created by Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy and based on the best-selling books by Max Allan Collins, U.S. Marine Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) returns home to Memphis from Vietnam in 1972, only to find himself demonized for the actions he witnessed and took part in while he was there. As a result, Mac, who evolves into Quarry, is lured into an underground killing network of powerful criminals that turns his life upside down. Quarry is a flawed anti-hero who just wanted to return home to the wife that he loved, until he realizes that because of the war and everything that he’s been through as a result, that likely isn’t possible.
Best Family Relationship: Kara and Alex Danvers (‘Supergirl’)
It’s really hard not to love Supergirl. As a character, she’s such a positive role model, always wanting to do good and help others. She’s a great friend to the family that she’s chosen to surround herself with, as she and they work to hide her true identity while she spends her days working as journalist Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist). Further, she and her equally kick-ass sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) share a bond that shows you don’t have to be blood to be family, as they both work to save the world. Alex would and does lay her life on the line for Kara, and can do so knowing that Kara always has her back, whether it’s in fighting aliens or in encouraging her to be herself while she explores her own sexuality. There’s no denying that The CW series Supergirl is a superhero story, but at its heart, it is a drama about family and figuring out who you are in a world that can be pretty scary sometimes.
Best Case of Nostalgia: ‘Stranger Things’
Stranger Things, from Matt and Ross Duffer, had everyone talking this year, whether it was the feeling of nostalgia for the ‘80s that it brought, the excellent performance from Winona Ryder, the brilliance of the young cast, a mysterious but kick-ass character named Eleven, the Upside Down and the Demogorgon that lives there, or Barb. With just eight episodes that left fans wanting more and anxious for a second season, one of the biggest strengths of the series was what is quite possibly the most talented and most believable young ensemble – including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp – on television, and it will certainly be exciting to see how the world continues to expand.
Best Socially Relevant Series: ‘Sweet/Vicious’
Although it started out as a show for and about empowered women, Sweet/Vicious is so much more than that. It is an edgy, offbeat superhero story that’s viciously funny and deeply relevant, as it tells the story of two young women, Jules (Eliza Bennett) and Ophelia (Taylor Dearden), hell-bent on bringing justice to those who get away with abuse on their college campus. They’re living double lives as vigilantes who kick a lot of ass while hiding their secret life from best friends, parents and love interests, all so that they can give something back to those who often feel voiceless.
Best Final Season: ‘Rectify’
The SundanceTV series Rectify has consistently been one of the best dramas on television since it premiered in 2013, making you fall in love with its characters, feel sympathy and understanding for them, and have your heart broken by them, in the most human of ways. Knowing that its fourth season was also its final season made the last eight episodes that much more bittersweet, as we bid farewell to Daniel Holden (Aden Young), the man who returned to his small hometown in Georgia after wrongfully serving 19 years on death row, hoping that he could finally get to a place of happiness and purpose in his life. And while Daniel struggled to figure out his place in the world, we were also gifted with the journeys of his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) and his mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), as well as his step-brother Teddy (Clayne Crawford), the latter of whom had the rockiest road but with the biggest pay-off. The series may have left as quietly as it started, but those who watched are all the better for it, and it is one of those shows that people will continue to discover for years to come.
Best Female Performance: Sarah Paulson (‘American Crime Story’)
Whether it’s the multitude of characters she’s magnificently brought to life on any season of American Horror Story or the way she expertly brought humanity to Marcia Clark in The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, Sarah Paulson has easily become TV’s MVP. She can lift up any material and make any character compelling. Even though we all thought we knew who Marcia Clark was during the O.J. trial, she showed us just how wrong we were. Although Paulson told me that she was initially afraid that she wasn’t going to be able to pull off the role, she went on to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
Best Male Performance: Donald Glover (‘Atlanta’)
Thanks to FX’s Atlanta, the world has gotten to see just what Donald Glover can do, in all of its glory, and we’re all the better for it. When the series started, viewers weren’t sure what to make of this story of a mid-level hip-hop star and his cash-strapped manager. But as you got deeper into the world Glover created, you quickly realized that it was unexpected, unpredictable and unlike anything else on TV, in the best way possible. It’s weird, wild, funny and honest, and the setting of the story is as important as the story itself. And although the sun has set on the debut season, our world can remain a little brighter knowing that Season 2 isn’t too far away.
Best Supporting Performance: Louie Anderson (‘Baskets’)
Anyone who checked out the FX series Baskets was treated to a surprisingly heartfelt performance by Louie Anderson. Inspired by his own mother in bringing Christine Baskets to life, what could have been a character that was played for easy laughs instead became one of the most real portrayals of the season. As exasperated by her bitter rodeo clown son Chip (Zach Galifianakis) as she is deeply supportive of him, Christine became so endearing in her desire to be a better parent. Hopefully, she can find a little happiness of her own in Season 2.
Best Comedy Series: ‘The Good Place’
NBC’s comedy series from creator Mike Schur, The Good Place is brilliantly inventive and hilariously funny. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), is an ordinary woman who was sent to the Good Place in her afterlife, thanks to an inexplicable error. While she attempts to discover whether she might ever truly be good enough to stay there, viewers learn that she wasn’t the only one hiding her true self from the completely unaware Michael (Ted Danson), the wise and kind architect of the community of do-gooders. One of the best parts of The Good Place is not only getting to watch how delightfully magical Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are together, but discovering how incredibly talented the entire cast truly is. Still, Bell and Danson are a cut above as by-far the best comedy duo of the year.
Best New Drama Series: ‘Westworld’
With a finale that left viewers wondering how they’re going to wait until 2018 to find out what’s next, the ambition shown in HBO’s Westworld was epic and awe-inspiring and didn’t disappoint. While it took some time to figure out just what ride you were on, once all of the pieces started to fit together, it was easy to find yourself rooting for the hosts over the humans. From the glorious piano renditions of modern songs to the reveals of who’s a host and who’s human, to just when it’s all taking place, Westworld has been a display of compelling storytelling at its finest.
Bringing it all to life is a cast of actors that any filmmaker would be envious of, and that it was an honor to watch, every week (this was also definitely the most bad-ass cast on TV this year). Whether it was the innocent journey of discovery that Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) took, the heartbreak of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), the awakening of Maeve (Thandie Newton), the evolution of William (Jimmi Simpson) or the mastermind behind it all (Anthony Hopkins), this group of actors all deserve praise and recognition for their performances, as they have raised the game for everyone else. Even though the question of who will return hasn’t been announced yet, and we don’t know what other worlds we might get to see, the potential of it all is certainly very exciting.
Best Returning Drama Series: ‘The Americans’ and ‘Shameless’
Staying consistently strong in your storytelling season after season is no easy feat, but The Americans, soon heading into its fifth season, and Shameless, with its just announced eighth season, seem to do it with ease. As Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are spectacular, exploring the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C., shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected President. Both the show and the actors somehow seem to just keep getting better and more exciting to watch on screen with every passing season.
And much like we’ve gotten to watch their teenage daughter Paige (in an expertly nuanced performance by Holly Taylor) become an integral part of the story on The Americans — as her suspicions led her to a truth she never expected — the younger members of Shameless‘ Gallagher family have moved passed being there just to further contribute to the chaos around them, and instead have become crucial elements of the story that not only greatly add to the whole, but also each have their own emotional arcs. While the antics of Fiona (the always electric Emmy Rossum), Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who you can’t help but find yourself rooting for, are reason enough to tune in, the continued descent into depravity that is Frank (William H. Macy) just makes you root for them all even more.
Let us know – what were some of your favorites of 2016?