It was about a year and a half after the end of Season One when Season Two of Humans arrived in the States. While the story isn’t particularly complicated, it does feature lots of characters, and I confess I began the new season not quite remembering all that had come before. After Season One, I wrote:
An English series about a time in the future when robots in human form work as servants for humans. ... It features the usual batch of English actors I’ve never heard of, all doing good jobs, with special kudos to Gemma Chan as one of the “synths”. Oh yeah, William Hurt shows up. Humans is a good combination of social commentary and personal experiences ... I wouldn’t say it breaks new ground, but it does well with the old ground. It’s certainly intelligent enough to maintain interest for another season.
Hurt’s character died late in Season One, but he is replaced in S2, in fame and stature if not in the narrative, by Carrie-Anne Moss. This means there is still one actor in Humans that I’ve actually heard of. Of course, by this point, I know the returning characters, and they are still doing good jobs, with Gemma Chan still worthy of singling out. I’d also toss in Emily Berrington and Ruth Bradley. It may be more than coincidental that all three actresses play synths ... they make more of an impression than the human characters.
Humans benefits from short seasons. There have only been 16 episodes so far, just the right amount to fit the amount of story and characterization Humans offers. I said before that it doesn’t break new ground, and that holds in the new season, as well. The show is well-done, but it doesn’t stray too far from other robots-in-society stories we’ve known. While the synths are shown sympathetically, after two seasons the title of the show still holds ... ultimately we’re watching from the perspective of the humans.
I’m not trying to damn Humans with faint praise. I like the show quite a bit. But it’s just another show about humans and machines that can’t quite live up to the greatness that was Battlestar Galactica. And while the straightforward presentation is helpful to clods like me who have trouble keeping up, it comes across as rather mundane compared to shows like Sense8 and Legion. B+.
In early 1961, CBS needed a show to quickly fill a time slot left open by a failed series hosted by Jackie Gleason. The new show was called Way Out ... CBS had The Twilight Zone running at the time ... it consisted of half-hour episodes peeking into fantasy and sci-fi tales. The host was Roald Dahl, later famous for, among other things, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl would introduce each episode, similar to what Rod Serling was doing on Twilight Zone. (Boris Karloff filled this function with Thriller, as did Alfred Hitchcock on his series.)
The first episode of Way Out, “William and Mary”, based on a story by Dahl, tells of a man with terminal cancer who agrees to an experiment where his brain is connected to an artificial heart after his death. It works ... the man also retains one eye so he can see. He sends a note to his widowed wife, explaining what has happened. She takes him home with her, and proceeds to flaunt actions in front of him that he disapproved of when he was alive.
Reviews were good. Ratings were OK on the coasts, not so much in the rest of the country. Way Out was cancelled after 14 episodes.
There was one episode of Way Out that has stuck with me for 55+ years. This is where I offer my usual caveats about the limitations of memory. We’re talking about an episode of a short-lived television show that aired in 1961 (June 30 for the episode in question). We’re talking a time long before On Demand and video recorders and the Internet. Unless a show was very popular (I Love Lucy, for instance), reruns weren’t always shown. It is likely that the only time anyone was able to watch that episode was the night that it aired.
So, to place myself in the time period, on June 30, 1961, I was 8 years old, having turned 8 ten days earlier. It would have been near the beginning of summer vacation between 3rd and 4th grade. I was, in short, very young. I’m surprised my parents let me stay up to watch Way Out, which aired Friday nights at 9:30 ... perhaps this was because it was summer vacation.
The episode was called “Side Show”. There were a few actors that remain at least a little familiar: Myron McCormick, who was in what seemed like every TV series back then (he died in 1962); Murray Hamilton, a “hey, it’s that guy” playing a character named Harold Potter (J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be born for another four years ... hmmm, this would make a good plot on a fantasy series); Doris Roberts, then in her mid-30s, who 35 years later would begin a long run as a regular on Everybody Loves Raymond. The plot is about a carnival act run by McCormick that features an “electronic woman”, who seems normal except she has a light bulb where her head should be.
Reading that now, I think, “this would have worked better as a radio drama”, where the ludicrous image of the light bulb head wouldn’t be actual, but only a fantasy of my mind. But the truth is, the only thing about that episode I have remembered since I was 8 years old is that damn light bulb. It haunted me at the time. In later years, the memory of it haunted me. And in more recent times, it still gnaws at my mind, because it was still one of the few things that were unavailable for re-visiting. There was a copy in some TV museum on the East Coast, and a few of the other episodes turned up on YouTube, but “Side Show” remained only a memory.
Until I was looking for something else on YouTube last night and found out that a year or so ago, someone had added a few Way Out episodes. Including “Side Show”.
It’s a weird thing, revisiting a past that has been just beyond your reach for decades.
I was surprised there was an actual plot to the episode. Because all I’d remembered was the light bulb.
The 100 is a show about communities. It’s about a lot of other things ... it tends to attach itself rather easily to current affairs, even though it takes place sometime in the 22nd century. It is as ambitious in its own way as the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, and if I don’t think The 100 is as good, that I would even mention them together is important. But at its core, The 100 is about the various communities that have formed over time, and the ways in which loyalties are compromised. The most obvious community is the titular Hundred, also known as The Delinquents, criminals (by the standards of the day, they are all adolescents) who are sent to Earth 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse has made the planet uninhabitable. (The few survivors end up in a space station, The Ark.) The Ark’s life support system was failing, and The 100 were sent to find out if the Earth had become habitable.
At this point, I’ve described a series that fits into the general concept of The CW, a network known for aiming at an audience of young adults. The first thing that happens on The 100 is that the adolescents are separated from the adults (who include the best-known actors on the series, like Isaiah Washington, Paige Turco, and Henry Ian Cusick). They are able to survive on Earth, but they quickly lose contact with The Ark, leaving them in charge of their lives and their civilization.
While The Delinquents are an umbrella community, factions form immediately. We also learn of other communities (clans) comprised of the offspring of survivors of the apocalypse. These various communities are not specifically fluid ... it is difficult to move from one community to another. But within the communities, things are very fluid, with friends becoming enemies, people rising (or falling) to the occasion, and people dying (this happens a lot on The 100). The result is reminiscent of a soap opera, in that relationships between individuals are central to the show’s appeal, but a soap opera with apocalypse as the backdrop.
I’ve detailed this in order to describe why I love The 100, despite its many faults. I care about the characters, not just as individuals, but as community members. The apocalyptic setting heightens every action, and there are times when “the problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans”. But by insisting not only on the daily battle against the apocalypse (which would make a dark show even darker) but also on the desire to maintain some semblance of humanity (which offers what little hope you can find in The 100), the series resonates far more deeply than might be expected.
And on the rare occasions when people change affiliations, it can be heart-breaking.
I may be focusing on the group, but the one-on-one relationships are also crucial, perhaps more crucial than I am suggesting. There is plenty of material for shippers who want certain characters to get together romantically. The 100 mostly steers away from this, but possibilities exist. That some of the most intense relationships are between people crossing community boundaries only makes those boundaries more clear (and, to some extent, more damaging). So one of the most interesting character arcs belongs to Octavia, a Delinquent who goes from near-airhead to a fierce warrior, falling in love with a “Grounder”, adopting another Grounder as a mentor, and thus constantly having to evaluate her loyalties in ways other characters can dismiss.
In the midst of all this, one relationship stands out, between Clarke, a Delinquent, and the most central character in a large cast, and Lexa, a Grounder commander. The world of The 100 is one where the great variety of sexual preferences is taken for granted ... after an apocalypse, there isn’t time to worry about who is sleeping with whom. Lexa is a lesbian, and Clarke is bisexual. They are leaders of their respective communities, and while their respect for each other grows, their commitment to their people means betrayal is always a possibility. The chemistry between Eliza Taylor (Clarke) and Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa) was palpable, and many fans shipped “Clexa”. Some of the most poignant scenes in the series are when Clarke and Lexa come together for the common good, with each step also bringing their relationship closer. When they finally slept together, Clexa fans rejoiced.
And then came the “Bury Your Gays” trope. Right after they have sex, Lexa is killed. The outrage from fans, especially in the LGBTQ community, was instant and enormous. Clexa became a symbol of existing problems with representations of gay characters, with many fans resolving to never watch The 100 again.
Tonight's season finale proved that the creators of The 100 know quite well how to properly send off a beloved character. If the send off we got tonight had occurred in, say, Episode 307, I'm guessing the uproar would have been reduced, or even absent. That those creators felt perfectly happy saving this send off for the finale, while participating in a trope that lost them a significant part of their viewership, is remarkably clueless at best.
I love The 100, and I loved most of the season finale. I really loved that send off. But it pisses me off the way it was mishandled. It's like a combination of when Tara died on Buffy, and when Friday Night Lights was derailed by that stupid murder subplot in Season Two. For many people, Episode 307 made The 100 beyond redemption. I'm still here, just as I stuck with Buffy until the end. But part of me wishes I'd just skipped all the episodes between 307 and the two-part finale.
I also thank Jason Rothenberg for creating the character of Lexa in the first place. (She wasn’t in the books.) Rothenberg finally seems to understand why the method of Lexa's death outraged so many. It's not about giving in to your audience, it's about understanding the place of your work in a broader social context. The 100 does not exist in a vacuum.
I understand that every character on The 100 is one scene away from dying (well, I doubt they'll ever kill off Clarke). I understand that Alycia Debnam-Carey was leaving for Fear the Walking Dead. I don't object to the decision to kill off Lexa. It's the way it was done that's the problem, and while I'm beyond happy that Clexa got their final moment, and that Lexa went out a badass, I would have been just as "happy" if it happened in Episode 307. Better put, the emotional damage of Lexa's death would have been tied directly to her final moments as a warrior and a lover, instead of being Just Another Dead Lesbian. Her death would have carried more dramatic weight within the context of the show.
Ironically, Lexa’s death led to arguably the most emotional scene in the show’s history, 9 episodes later in the season finale.
It would be interesting if Rothenberg had concocted this finale after seeing the reaction to Lexa’s death, but in fact, they were filming the finale when the first episode of the season aired. So Rothenberg always had this great finish in mind.
And, after her death, he assured people that Lexa’s presence would not be forgotten. He has held to that, not only in the above scene, but also in the first episode of Season 4, when Clarke told her mother that she loved Lexa.
Ultimately, The 100 ranks high on my list of current shows. But it ranks even higher on how much I look forward to it. Is it as good as The Americans, to use one example? Not even close. But I can’t wait for next week.
Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was an actress trying to find her way into the business. Her IMDB page lists two acting appearances, a short in 2007 and a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t feature in 2010. In 2014, Robinson, then 26, sold the script for what became Sweet/Vicious. In this world where showrunners reign supreme, it’s interesting to note that Robinson, who created the show and wrote four of the ten episodes, but who had mostly uncredited work behind the scenes, is generally considered the face of the show. Sweet/Vicious is hers.
The series looks cheap. One of the leads, Eliza Bennett, seems to be known a bit in England, but she hadn’t done a whole lot for American audiences. Her co-star, Taylor Dearden, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (she shares this oversight with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson). She was in a few shorts, and one web series (also shorts). Her primary claim to fame seems to be that she is Bryan Cranston’s daughter. The show takes place at a fictional college, so most of the main characters are in their early-20s ... the actors are relatively close to the ages they play, so the fact that I didn’t recognize a single one of them may just mean I’m 63 years old. The point is, Sweet/Vicious is a first-time series by a writer in her late-20s, that shows on MTV, with no “stars” in the cast. You are forgiven if you’ve never heard of it.
Sweet/Vicious is easy to summarize, for anyone who is thinking of checking it out. The problem is, the summary tells you nothing about the execution. (This can be said of many works, of course.) I haven’t recommended it to anyone, even though it just finished its first season, if for no other reason than it is built around the kinds of triggers that many people will understandably avoid. For the set-up of Sweet/Vicious is that a rape survivor and her friend become vigilantes, fighting against those who assault women.
And it’s not always a serious drama.
I can not speak for survivors. I can say that Robinson is very careful about the series, that she consciously set out to create a show about women who are broken but also powerful. While the show has its lighter moments, those never come when the subject is assault.
This all sounds cheesy, if not offensive. It is not the latter (it is sometimes cheesy). Two regular young women become ninja vigilantes on an MTV show ... does anyone hear that and think, oh, I have to watch that?
And not everything works. Some episodes are better than others. Some character arcs are more compelling than others. But the performances of these unknown-to-me actors are always on target. And gradually, the show grows on you, the characters grow on you, and you start looking forward to each week’s episode, even though you still have a hard time explaining the show, and so you don’t recommend it.
So this: Sweet/Vicious is an audacious show about a topic that is hidden far too often. It is never exploitative. And while it always returns to the story of survivors, it isn’t particularly preachy.
What effect does it have on the audience? It’s just one person, but I found this anonymous post from a survivor compelling:
The first episode took me close to 4 hours to watch. The second episode, the third… 2 hours. The fourth and the fifth… just an hour and a half. The sixth – I couldn’t finish. The sixth I stopped after Jules confronted her rapist. And I broke down in a puddle of tears – wanting to hug her and hold her and tell her I understood. That I was there for her.
The same way I wanted someone to be there for me....
Sweet/Vicious is one of the most important shows on television nowadays. It’s hard to watch, sure. But it’s those moments – those few hours a week where I watch someone take their life back, that make me feel less alone. That make me feel as if it’s okay to move forward and heal.
Sweet/Vicious helps me move towards healing. There is no time frame on that. It’s done in moments.
And every week – I have another moment that moves me closer to little parts of me feeling again.
Sweet/Vicious is apparently getting terrible ratings, the worst of any scripted MTV shows. It does do very well in other forms of viewing, like streaming or On Demand. As of this writing, it has not been renewed. Robinson says she has ideas about the next two seasons, if there are more seasons.
And a very intense scene where Jules confronts her attacker:
Hugh Laurie, winning for his work in “The Night Manager,” joked that he assumed this would be the last Golden Globes because “I don’t mean to be gloomy. It’s just that it has Hollywood, Foreign and Press in the title. And I think to some Republicans, even Association is slightly sketchy.” The point about the press is taken, and taken with thanks, but this formulation — which Streep repeated and made worse by prefacing it to say “You, and all of us in this room, really belong to the most vilified segment of American society right now” — has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that some of the richest and most influential people in the world are victims.
If happiness comes when you find something you are good at, and then you do it, then I guess Preston Epps was a very happy man. After "Bongo Rock" hit #14 on the charts, Epps locked in with the following songs, in alphabetical order: "Baja Bongos," "Blue Bongo," "Bongo Bongo Bongo," "Bongo Hop," "Bongo in the Congo," "Bongo Party," "Bongo Shuffle," "Bongo, Bong, Bongo," "Bongola," "Bongos in Paradise," "Bongos in Pastel," "Gully Bongo," "Hully Gully Bongo," "Prest Bongos Under Glass," "Stormy Bongo," and "Surfin' Bongos." None of them made the charts, with the exception of "Bongo Bongo Bongo," which made it to #78.
You won’t find a Top Ten here, but I did want one more post to summarize all of those previous posts.
I don’t have a #1, nor do I have a #2. But my two favorite shows of 2016 are The Americans and Rectify. The latter in particular is ready for streaming, as it finished its run last week.
The following are shows that would make a Top Ten (or whatever) if I did such a thing. They aren’t as good as the top two, but good enough (the ones in bold are particular favorites):
Atlanta, Fleabag, Happy Valley, Jane the Virgin, Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black, Outlander, Penny Dreadful, Shameless, Soundbreaking, Stranger Things.
That's 13 shows, and none of them were on HBO. It's not that HBO is no longer the home of good TV, but they aren't the only place to find things in 2016. Netflix had the most shows among the 13, with 3.
Special mention goes to The 100. This was a series with great promise, and I don’t think it has squandered it all (some have given up). I look forward to the upcoming season as much as I do any other show. But they made a crucial, tin-eared mistake midway through last season, and while the end of the season did a bit to mend things, the screw-up made the fix bittersweet at best.
This video is the epitome of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched through Season 3 but intend to at some time, do not watch this video. This observation is completely unscientific: the video below has 53,262 as I type this. A similar fan reaction video for Season 3 Episode 7 has three times as many views. (Among other problems with this conclusion, there are multiple reaction videos for both scenes). It should also be noted that after Season 3 Episode 7, many hardcore fans were vehement in claiming they would never watch again. So it is quite possible that many people who would have locked in to the following scene were no longer watching.
[The introduction is largely copied from previous years.]
In 2010, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.
When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.
Previous winners were Terriers (2010), Lights Out (2011), and Luck (2012).
And then I stopped. There weren’t any proper candidates in 2013. I attributed this in part to the emergence of mini-series that were always intended to have a short run. To take a recent example, The Night Of on HBO was always only going to last for one short season. Shows like this could not be Sisco-ed, because they never stuck around long enough.
I have not given a Karen Sisco Award since 2012. But I think I’m going to pull it out of the closet again in 2016, while breaking one of the rules of the award.
Peggy Carter is one of the bazillion characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She first appeared in 2011 in the film Captain America: The First Avenger. (In comic books, I believe the character dates back to the 1960s.) An aging Carter makes brief appearances in two other MCU films, and then, in 2015, she got her own TV series, Agent Carter. The first season was shown during a mid-season break for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and lasted just eight episodes. It received good reviews, and returned for a second season, also during a break for Agents of SHIELD, in 2016. This time there were ten episodes, bringing the total to eighteen. Critics still liked it, but ratings were low, and Agent Carter was cancelled after those eighteen episodes.
Agent Carter had some similarities to Karen Sisco, far more than previous winners of the award did. The title character first appeared in (comic) books and then movies. Gugino, who I called “ridiculously hot”, was in her early-30s during Karen Sisco ... Hayley Atwell, who played the title character in Agent Carter, was in her early-30s and, yes, is an eye-popping knockout.
Agent Carter was never a great show, but Atwell was perfect, the show moved along nicely. As is often the case, Maureen Ryan got it, placing Agent Carter among her Top 20 shows for 2016:
Some cancellations you just never get over (“Enlightened,” sob), and this is one of them. “Agent Carter” was a lovely concoction of action-adventure, superhero aspirations and retro delightfulness, and it hit its stride in its second season. Hayley Atwell was always perfect as Peggy Carter, but the show’s supporting cast and storytelling was even more fun in Season Two. This was a show that did everything right and got cancelled anyway, and I’m still sad, partly because I think many people assume it’s easy to create something this joyful and jaunty — but of course, it requires as much or more craft and creativity as bleak and doom-laden fare.
Agent Carter was one of those shows with a small viewership that was nonetheless extremely loyal. It’s all the worse because Atwell quickly signed on for another series, Conviction, which stunk and has already been cancelled. (Come to think of it, 2016 was a bad year for popular characters moving to other shows ... see Lexa/Alycia Debnam-Carey and Fear the Walking Dead.) Agent Carter wasn’t quite doomed in the way of the previous Sisco Award winners ... Terriers should have gotten another season, but at least the final episode gave some closure, same with Lights Out, and Luck lacked everything its title suggested. Meanwhile, Agent Carter got two seasons, even if they were truncated half-seasons. Still, no series in recent years has so much reminded me of why I came up with the Karen Sisco Award in the first place.
And so, the fourth winner of the Karen Sisco Award goes to Agent Carter.
Stranger Things. “Stranger Things does a wonderful job of presenting life from a kid’s perspective. There is no condescension, just an acceptance that kids see things their own way. The kids are far from perfect ... their silly squabbles are there for all to see ... but their loyalty is there, as well. It’s not just the kids whose perspective we get ... Winona Ryder’s mom, creeping into near madness, has her own definite way of seeing, and it is among the strongest parts of the show. Stranger Things is full of ominous paranoia and a hearty nostalgia for the period it recreates. It has its ups and down, but then, I never expect cheesy sci-fi horror to be perfect ... I just expect it to be fun. Stranger Things is fun.”
Supergirl. “Mostly harmless, with a fresh performance by Melissa Benoist in the title role. I think it’s mostly froth, although some find more depth. The kind of show where, if I get behind, I’ll probably forget to watch it any more, but so far, I’ve kept up.”
Timeless. “The first few episodes show a decent time-travel drama with a decent cast and decent recreations of the past. Co-showrunner Shawn Ryan’s work is always worth a look, and if you like time-travel stories, this will be right up your alley. Plus, it’s nice to see Abigail Spencer getting work after Rectify. Nothing special, but I’m still watching.”
Transparent. I like it, but I don’t feel obliged to binge, because I don’t like it that much. The Pfeffermans are mostly insufferable, which may be why I can’t watch more than an episode or two at a time. There is some wonderful acting, but very few characters I’d want to spend time with.
The Walking Dead. “As of this writing, I’m only one episode behind, but I’m not sure I’ll continue watching. Six seasons is enough, I guess. I always thought this was a good zombie show that was tarted up with character stories, but it’s true, a few of those characters grew on me over time. But starting last season, the creators starting fucking with the audience, and I don’t feel like being fucked with anymore. Plus, at some point, it’s just ridiculous that this show gets away with so much killing (because the victims are already dead). I’m all for TV violence, but don’t be coy (see Ash vs Evil Dead).” I haven’t watched a single episode since I wrote this, and I don’t miss it.
Westworld. “Gorgeous to look at, with a stellar cast, a bit like Timeless with a budget. The producers are trying for something big, but they are also big fans of keeping viewers in the dark about the ultimate scenario for the show. This is trickier than it used to be, since the Internet allows for hive-mind break downs of every detail. I have a feeling this is a less-than-meets-the-eye show, but it definitely pleases the eye.” After the season finale, I definitely think there is less than meets the eye.
Penny Dreadful. “There were all the great fictional characters thrown together: Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and the Bride ... Dorian Gray ... Dr. Jekyll ... The Wolfman ... Dracula and Dr. Seward and Mina Harker and Van Helsing and Renfield ... I half expected Abbott and Costello to show up. But in all of this, Eva Green rose above the rest. She was the best thing about a very good show.” Looking back, I think Penny Dreadful might have been more than just a "very good show".
Rectify. “The best show currently on TV (The Americans is between seasons). Its glacial pace turns away most viewers ... it’s a gift that creator Ray McKinnon has been given the chance to tell the story in full, given the poor ratings. Recently, I decided the show reminded me of soap operas, where it takes months to resolve anything. Except I don’t expect things to be resolved on Rectify. I can only hope that sometime in the future, people catch up with it on streaming, and kick themselves for missing out in the first place. Aden Young, the unknown-to-me star, is as good as anyone, week after week. And this is what Abigail Spencer did before Timeless. If you actually want to take my advice, this is the show to start with.” Since I wrote this, Rectify’s series finale has been shown. There was more resolution than I expected, but even then, it was very much in tune with how Rectify worked. As Aden Young as Daniel said, “I’m cautiously optimistic.” I’ll emphasize this point one last time: Rectify is one of the best series to ever appear on television.
Shameless. “Showtime always lets their shows run for too long. That would seem to be a problem here, but somehow, Shameless is still very good. The changes in the characters over the years are believable (at least within the cockeyed world of the show), Emmy Rossum deserved more than one of those awards named after her, and I’m glad it’s still on. Oddly, the least-interesting character is the one played by William H. Macy, the de facto star. Macy is excellent, his character is not.”
Soundbreaking. Terrific documentary series about music recording. Serves as a history of the music, and covers many bases. Especially good on the ways advances in technology led to an expansion of artistic possibilities. I could see this being used in the classroom, but it’s not nearly as dry as that might sound. If the subject interests you at all, I suspect you’ll be enthralled.
The Strain. “Another zombie show, this one doesn’t try for overarching significance, which for me means it’s better than The Walking Dead. I care about the characters, and there’s some good acting here, but this isn’t a classic.” I’d add that you won’t find The Walking Dead in these TV 2016 posts ... I quit watching after the recent season premiere.
The Night Manager. Classy mini-series based on a le Carré novel, with a cast headed by Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, along with other stalwarts of modern television like Olivia Colman, David Harewood, and the ever-present Tobias Menzies. (I first saw him as Brutus in the great Rome, but he has really kicked it into another gear the last few years. Besides The Night Manager, he was in an episode of Black Mirror, was in Game of Thrones, The Honorable Woman, a regular (in two roles) in Outlander, and the English comedy Catastrophe. All in the last three years.) It won a couple of Emmys, and probably would play well if binged. We watched an episode a week, and liked it, but I wouldn’t go any further.
The Night Of. “The first of eight episodes is as good as TV gets, and if the rest of the series can’t live up to that introduction, it’s still plenty good. Zaillian and Price work hard to elevate The Night Of above the usual crime drama, then turn it into something far more ordinary at the end. It’s a shame, because much of that last episode is equal to what came before. The result is a series where the first episode was an A+, the next six episodes were A/A-, but the last episode fluctuated between A and C.”
Orange Is the New Black. Now we’re four seasons in, and still going strong. The cast is enormous, which creates problems when trying to tell everyone’s story, but for the most part, Jenji Kohan pulls it off, adding new characters, changing things around to keep it fresh. The characters have evolved over the years ... no one is stagnant. And great acting abounds. Special shout out to Samira Wiley.
Orphan Black. Fans of the show might differ with me, but as a series, Orphan Black has about run its course. But it could run for another ten seasons and I’d be watching, just to see what Tatiana Maslany will manage next. It’s a decent show, but Maslany is far and away the best part. This year, she finally won her Emmy.
Outlander. A fascinating show, gorgeous to look at, intriguing in its narrative (a romance with sci-fi thrown in), and remarkable in its female-centric view of sexuality. (Maureen Ryan wrote strongly about this in Season One.) Showrunner Ronald D. Moore once again demonstrates a facility with genre fiction, taking us far beyond our preconceived notions, much he did with Battlestar Galactica. Drawing on a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, Moore is true to the books while creating something special on its own. And Caitriona Balfe is exquisite.