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Best of 2016: Shows

There were 455 scripted TV shows that aired in 2016. No one could watch them all and no one save for critics could watch even a significant fraction of them. We have so many options now and a decent portion of them are really solid choices that are capable of exciting and enchanting us. This is always a hard list for me to make because I watch so much TV and I really love most of what I watch. So in addition to my top 10 that I’ve briefly talked about, I included an additional 10 honorable mentions that I would recommend just as enthusiastically as my actual top 10. Especially since when I finalize these lists, I always feel like I have more to say about my dramas so my comedy favorites get a little neglected.

1. Rectify (Sundance) What a beautiful, special show. Over the course of four seasons, this show has treated its characters with such empathy and grace. It has been a slow and thoughtful journey all leading up to the finale and an important realization. Mistakes of the past can’t always be rectified, but we can still grow and move past them. We can become better. We can heal. Daniel’s imprisonment and subsequent release are moments that will shape not only his life, but the lives of each member of his family and the people drawn into their world. But they do not have to define them any longer. There is room for hope and all the messy emotions that accompany it. There is a place for dreams that take you far outside your comfort zone. There is a place for family and love, for forgiveness and understanding. It is a time for rebirth. This show has been one of the most emotionally satisfying I have ever experienced and I will always be grateful that it existed and went out on its own terms.

2. The Americans (FX) This show just keeps getting better as the seasons go on. It’s in the act of maintaining the tension and the emotional release that I find the show most impressive and it did that better than ever this year. After years of service with little break, the Jennings finally got to step back from their duties and truly be a family. It was a peace that couldn’t last as they still have a job to do, but that small bit of relief made all the difference. This could be a dark and depressing show. It’s full of lies and secrets and pain, inflicted both intentionally and unintentionally. But just as Philip and Elizabeth’s break helped bring them back from their breaking point, this show finds ways to prevent itself from becoming unbearably bleak. It’s a show that loves and honors the connections these characters make, even if those connections ultimately end in heartbreak. It recognizes their value and the way Martha shaped Philip and Young Hee shaped Elizabeth. Just because they started as assets to be manipulated didn’t mean that was their full value. We were encouraged to love them and care for them just as much as the Jennings did even when we knew we shouldn’t. It’s remarkable storytelling and I could never recommend this show enough.

3. American Crime Story: People vs. OJ Simpson (FX) I can’t speak to the authenticity of this series but I do know what it has done to re-contextualize this trial and the people involved in it. The original was such a media spectacle that it seems a perfect fit for a television show like this, especially when combined with a talented cast such as this one. We got to see the role racism and sexism played, the way it became a media circus, and most importantly, we saw a show that never forgot the victims in this case. Yes, the trial was technically centered around OJ Simpson but it never felt like he was the star of the show. It was a battle of the lawyers and we saw how deeply the outcome of this case affected Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. They wanted to win it for the Brown and Goldman families. They may not have won then and they have been mocked for it ever since, but I appreciate what this show has done to make people see how wrong they were to do so and for ending the show with Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, who somehow got lost amongst the madness of this trial.

4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW) This show could have made the list for the music alone, which continues to be fantastic, but even beyond the clever songs, this is one of the most confidently made shows on TV. It always feels like it always knows where it wants to take these characters. It knows when to lean into expectations and when to run the other way from them. The second season has been especially smart in ditching the love triangle in a believable way while focusing on the real relationship of the show, the messy friendship between Rebecca and Paula. The supporting characters round out the cast in the most delightful ways and the show has become even better as more of them are able to be highlighted.

5. Person of Interest (CBS) I would have loved a longer final season but there were so many outstanding episodes in the one we got. This season gave us a look into Shaw’s mind and the depth of her love for Root. No matter what happened, in any scenario Samaritan could dream up, Root was her constant. Her touchstone. She is her safe place and the only thing on the planet she would die to protect. I think the writers would have loved to give these two more time, but maternity leave made that impossible, so we were given this beautiful gift and I’m grateful. We got some truly lovely moments of Team Machine coming together to protect The Machine and Finch. We saw to see the people the Machine had saved and later recruited to her cause come together to save the people who originally saved them. We saw this family come together to save each other and save the world. However unrealistic, I would have loved if they could have done it all without any losses. But I know that was never in the cards. John’s death was always coming and I’m sure he’s in the Machine listening to Root call him a big lug and having all those conversations with Joss they never got to have while she was alive. These characters will live on and the memory of this show will live on in the hearts of the fans and create new ones as people discover it through Netflix.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Shows

Best of 2016: Relationships

In my list of my favorite characters of 2016, I talk a little about the fact that strong, well-written characters will always take priority for me over plot on TV shows. If a character arc makes sense, I’m happy. But characters can’t stand on their own. It is their relationships with others that help define them and give them what they need in order to grow. In the words of Cory Matthews, “people change people”.

These people have all been permanently impacted by the people they have chosen to let into their lives. For better or worse, they have played a significant role in the way they interact with the world. Those are the kinds of stories I will never have enough of, in all their possible forms. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or exist somewhere in the intersection of two of those forms, these are the relationships that I will remember from this year.

1. Dad!Kane and his children (The 100) In the course of building a new way of life on the ground, Marcus Kane inadvertently adopted several of the delinquents. It wasn’t intentional and it’s in no way official, as most of the kids are young adults and have been on their own for far too long. But he took them under his wing and mentored them and they developed a respect and love for him that no one could have anticipated. When the adults landed on the ground, Marcus was the authoritarian who still saw these kids as the rule-breakers he helped imprison on the Ark. But as he grew and learned that things couldn’t be so black-and-white on the ground, he saw the drive and skill it took for them to survive. He saw children who grew up under harsh conditions who have found their way but still suffer from the long-lasting effects of their culture. So he helped guide them. He was supportive of their emotional needs and made sure that they knew they could come to him. He tried to steer them back on the right path when they got lost in fear and anger and told them the things they needed to hear, even if they weren’t ready to hear it. There was never a doubt that he cared and it was the bond they had formed that helped Bellamy realize that the road Pike was leading them down was dangerous and to take the first steps toward making amends. As they all work together to save the world in the upcoming season, I can’t wait to see these relationships continue to grow. 

2. Riley and Maya (Girl Meets World) No matter who else comes into their lives, what these two girls share is extraordinary. This is the relationship at the heart of this show and these two are better because they have each other. Maya helps to ground Riley while Riley shows Maya that sometimes it’s OK to fly. These friends love all the parts of each other that others might consider flaws and want only the best for each other. They may not always know what the best is, as Riley ended up sending Maya into a bit of an identity crisis this year, but her heart was in the right place and she didn’t want to see Maya lose the parts of herself that were uniquely hers. When Riley gets to be too much for everyone else around her, Maya is there by her side. When someone implies that Riley’s made Maya weak, she’ll literally chase them away because Maya knows it’s Riley’s influence that has made her strong. When Maya gets scared of Shawn finding out that she and her mom can be kind of a mess, it’s Riley who gives her the confidence and trust that he loves them because what seemed like a mess was borne of a deep love. She gives up her traditional Christmas with her best friend because she knows that she needs to spend this one with her new family. It’s Riley who laughs at her boyfriend when he says that her relationship with him was more important than her relationship with Maya. These two are it for each other. No one else will ever hold such a special place in their hearts and that bond will keep them together no matter what comes. It’s friendship at its purest and it is a beautiful thing to see.

3. Donna and Cameron (Halt and Catch Fire) Give me more relationships like this on television. I want positive relationships between women on TV but I also want messy ones that don’t fit into easy descriptions. This season was complicated and so very painful for these two but I loved every moment of it. These two have been the highlight of Halt and Catch Fire since it realized what it had in them in season 2. Their friendship is strong and built on trust and respect for what the other has to bring to the table. They balance each other out and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it’s not enough and it breaks, seemingly irreparably, because despite all that, there is an omnipresent part in both of them who think they are the person with the best vision and will forge ahead without any discussion. It’s fine when they are fighting for the same goal, but when they are on opposing sides, it’s brutal. They know each other well so they know exactly where to strike to hit each other’s insecurities. They had a tentative truce in the finale but I should have known it was too good to last. Cameron’s admission that she enjoyed working with Donna again but couldn’t ever trust her with another project was heartbreaking but fitting for these characters and their history.

4. Maya and Lucas (Girl Meets World) I seem to need a new pairing to fall incredibly hard for each year and in 2016, Maya Hart and Lucas Friar were that pairing. In them, I see the promise and potential of a deep, lasting relationship based on recognition and love for everything that makes these characters who they are. I see something that is too big for them right now and too overwhelming to really wrap their minds around. It lacks the ease of love at first sight, at least in their young minds. Maya keeps her feelings close to her, it’s only when she can no longer hold them back that they slip out at all. But Lucas has seen them. He knows the heart that lies underneath that tough exterior. He sees the girl who would do anything for her best friend, who will put everyone else in the world first because that’s how she believes it should be. He’s always been among the first to fight for the person that Maya is. That beautiful girl who scares bullies away by running at them with hammers. As someone who loves Maya, that is all I want for her. Lucas doesn’t have the same level of development as Maya. We haven’t gotten to see him work though the fact that the person he was in Texas is still a part of him today. It doesn’t seem that he’s allowed himself the same complexity he allows Maya. But with everything we know about Maya and how she loves, she would be the same supportive presence that he was while she doubted herself. Maya was right to end the triangle the way she did. Neither of them are ready for what the other has to offer right now. They have some growing up to do first but what they shared was real. It wouldn’t take much for them to discover it again when they’re ready.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Relationships

The Situation’s a Lot More Nuanced Than That: My Top 10 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Songs

Tonight, the extraordinary first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wraps up. It could have been a disaster. It had originally been designed as a half-hour comedy for Showtime before being re-tooled as an hour-long comedy for the CW. It was easy for many people to write it off because of the title, but it would be a mistake to do so. Yes, Rebecca moved across the country after running into a former boyfriend, but as the theme song delightfully points out, the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. It’s a show full of rich, three-dimensional characters, a very flawed protagonist, and a lot of amazing music. In honor of the finale tonight, I’ve chosen ten of my favorites to spotlight.

1. Feeling Kinda Naughty (1×02, “Josh’s Girlfriend is Really Cool!)

First of all, this song is ridiculously catchy. Second, it’s a nice bit of commentary. By the title and the styling, you would expect something similar to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and you get exactly the opposite. It rejects the idea that a “girl crush” (or obsession, in this case) is sexual in nature and takes a much darker turn. It takes this performative view of women’s sexuality that too often gets fetishized and in its place, offers up a scenario in which Rebecca’s obsession with everything about Valencia is creepy and destructive.

2. Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshes (1×03 “I Hope Josh Comes to My Party!”)

This song couldn’t be any more made for me if it tried. It is the perfect boyband parody and it’s about psychology. Though I don’t think it’s too likely that anyone specializing in CBT would also be Freudian in their views. But nitpicking aside, I like that right at the beginning, the show didn’t shy away from Rebecca’s mental health struggles. Josh’s love was never going to fix her problems, but it makes sense at this point in time that she could believe it might.

3. Settle for Me (1×04 “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!”)

The styling on this is just gorgeous. It’s a homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that suits Santino Fontana’s voice perfectly. The ballroom dancing and tap break and the outfits are beautiful all while the song is incredibly depressing. Greg knows he’s not Rebecca’s choice but he doesn’t care because he thinks so little of himself. They share their self-loathing tendencies and makes them understand each other well and gives them an easy rapport but it also makes you want more for both of them, individually and together.

Continue reading The Situation’s a Lot More Nuanced Than That: My Top 10 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Songs