I was ready to quit TV. I swear. (I still might.) The plan was to finish the shows I still cared about—which was only four or five at that point—until I had no more TV to watch. Kind of like how someone watches their childhood dog grow old, become sick, eventually die, and then decide not to get another dog after that.
So basically that, except with TV, and much less crying about it. I even made it all the way to September without starting a new show.
Then Atlanta came around and fucked everything up.
How could I pass on a logline of “Twin Peaks with rappers” created by Donald Glover? The next phase of Troy Barnes and Childish Gambino? Yes, please and thank you. Oh, Keith Stanfield is in it too? And it has an all-Black, mostly-first-time writers room, with almost all of the episodes directed by an Asian dude who’s only done music videos? Lol okay, stop messing with me.
The crazy thing though? It ended up being a bona fide great TV show.
I still think most TV is bad, but it’s remarkable that five out of the top 10 shows on my (stupid) list are new shows that I may have otherwise missed out on. The experience I went through with Atlanta—the intrigue, the seduction, the concession, the “holy shit that was good”—became pretty common with Insecure, Horace and Pete, et al. throughout the year. And here I am, having watched enough shows I enjoyed in a calendar year to make another annual list. Here are my ten favorite TV shows of 2016:
- Fleabag, Season 1, Amazon Studios
- The Americans, Season 4, FX
- Horace and Pete, Season 1, LouisCK.net
- Atlanta, Season 1, FX
- Catastrophe, Season 2, Amazon Studios
- Transparent, Season 3, Amazon Studios
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Season 3, HBO
- Veep, Season 5, HBO
- The Girlfriend Experience, Season 1, Starz
- Insecure, Season 1, HBO
Honorable Mention (alphabetically):
- Chef’s Table, Season 2, Netflix
- Game of Thrones, Season 6, HBO
- Girls, Season 5, HBO
- Orange Is the New Black, Season 4, Netflix
- Stranger Things, Season 1, Netflix
- You’re the Worst, Season 3, FXX
*Rankings are based on the particular season of the show that aired in 2016 (i.e., I think Transparent is a better show than Catastrophe, but Catastrophe had the better season this year).
The Americans somehow keeps getting better. Amazon proves yet again that it has better tastes (and more money) than pretty much everyone in the business. Game of Thrones continues its descent into spoiler-dependent mediocrity (I love it regardless). Subjects all worth their own posts. And then there’s Fleabag…
I might one day forget the intricate character development of The Americans; or Laurie Metcalf’s superlative monologue on Horace and Pete; or the surrealist strokes of genius in Atlanta (invisible car, Batman, gun range, cereal commercial, etc.); or how much I laughed during Insecure‘s Black Jesus play (“no homo”). One day, I might even forget that people amusingly thought that this was a Golden Age of anything.
But I don’t think I’ll ever forget how Fleabag made me feel. How unafraid of itself and how [the-opposite-of-artistically-vain] it was. How refreshingly direct (often literally) it was. How it captured the acute sense of loss and the subsequent grief like I’ve never seen before. How it used quotidian moments of levity—not as comic relief but as a release valve necessary for sanity and survival. How it showed that you can fail so hard in life and somehow still be triumphant.
P.S. I miss Mad Men.