Television Was Your Therapist in 2016

the-crown-netflix_opt.jpgIn a year that was sort of terrible for nearly everything else, television was never better. The future of American storytelling is alive and well–especially if you have Netflix, Amazon and HBO.  It’s mind-boggling how many great scripted television shows there are right now which means coming up with a list of just ten of my favorites was really fucking difficult. Especially, when you consider that tv shows were more than just average tv shows in 2016. They became sources of inspiration and light as well as entertainment. At least in my world they did. Like after a tragedy like Orlando, I was thrilled immerse myself in the spooky, 80’s soaked world of Stranger Things.  The latest season of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie saved my life during the crazy week after my grandmother died. To keep from jumping out of a window after the election, I was more than happy to spend 10 episodes in Buckingham palace with Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. Sure, I’ve always used television and pop culture of all kinds as a way to escape and also deal with reality but these shows were all really fantastic. I think great art of any kind transcends its medium and becomes something more important, like a service or a contribution and television felt like it did just that this year.

Naturally, this list is missing some titles that I really loved like One Mississippi, Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse, Orange is the New Black (renewed, fierce and shocking), Lady Dynamite, Love, both 2016 incarnations of RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Great British Baking Show. Also, there are brilliant shows like Fx’s Atlanta and TBS’ Search Party that I didn’t finish watching that didn’t make the list but they are certainly worth checking out.

So without further ado, here’s my list of the best shows of 2016 (in no particular order) that not just entertained me but made a difficult year a little bit easier.

The Crown: I can’t be positive but when I look back on 2016 I will always remember this show. Not just stunning to look at and incredibly well-acted, The Crown had profound things to say about the marginalizing of women in power, the isolation of celebrity and complicated family dynamics that all felt very 2016, even though it took place in the 1950’s.

Catastrophe: As we’ve discussed, I love this damn show. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are gifts to the world of entertainment and this seemingly simple, underrated sitcom rolled up its sleeves and got messy this year with hilarious results. Plus it has my favorite season finale of anything I watched all year.

Transparent:  Like Catastrophe, I have written about this show before and if it continues to be this damn good I will write about it again. I have a theory about how many shows (Sex & the City, Six Feet Under, Parks and Rec, Top Chef) really find their stride and get better in their third season and this gorgeous, moving and very funny season of Transparent goes a long way in reinforcing my theory. Plus, no moment on any show this year was as amazing as Judith Light singing an Alanis Morissette cover.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: More is more when it comes to the jokes on this show and Tina Fey and company sling out the one liners at dizzying pace. Minute for minute, it’s the funniest show currently on tv and this season even had some unexpected heart and empowerment.

Silicon Valley: Another one that I find to be highly underrated, the super satisfying season three(theory proven once again, people!) of Silicon Valley finally delivered on long simmering plot points, trimmed the fat on dead-end jokes and storylines and really found its footing as the funniest, albeit most untraditional, workplace comedy of 2016.

Game of Thrones: I’ll pretty much tell anyone who will listen how much I hated the rambling, misogynistic piece of garbage that was season five of this show so color me delighted when GOT returned more badass, fast-moving and fun to watch than ever.

BoJack Horseman : Another show I’ve rambled about here before but it’s worth the ramble if gets one more person to watch this incredible show. Cynical, beautiful, crass and downright hysterical, who would have suspected that an animated show about a half horse half man would be the most human and biting show of 2016?

Chef’s Table: Unapologetically artsy and pretentious, Chef’s Table’s second season provided visual delights for days. You don’t have to be a foodie to revel in the beauty and artistry of chef’s around the world and their individual struggles to stay inspired.

Stranger Things: I’ll fight anyone who says this show is just capitalizing on 80’s nostalgia. It had great storytelling, creativity for days and in my mind, the best cast on television.

Westworld: Look, I’m sorry if it bored you in the first 5 episodes and it didn’t move fast enough for you. But I honestly, thought Westworlds’s slow-brew storytelling was a huge part of the appeal. It didn’t deliver the goods right away and it made us wait but when it did it was all worth it. And I’m on the edge of my seat to see where they take it next.

Now, it’s your turn tell me what you watched and loved in 2016 in the comments. Happy New Year!

 

Shoshanna On My Mind: Hearting HBO’s Side Characters

shoshanna.jpg

Perhaps all of this is Samantha Jones’ fault.

My husband recently watched all of the seasons of Sex and the City. He’d never see them combo’d with the fact we just got HBO Now. The show has done some really fucking weird aging, by the way. Like nearly everything Carrie and Big do, which I once considered romantic, is kind of the most deplorable behavior ever which makes people the globe over despise American straight people. I used to want a Big and Carrie kind of love but now I realize I used to also really hate myself. The show also has some,shall we say, “whimsical racism” and backward homophobia- which is fucking bizarre considering the whole thing was pretty much written by gay dudes. I had a hard time rewatching the episodes for these reasons but I’d get stuck in an episode, thanks largely in part to Samantha Jones. Samantha Jones to this day remains the sole survivor of the group who you’d actually want to hang out with and who wouldn’t make you want to step in front speeding New York City bus. She’s the only one who tells the truth, she’s the only one whose personality doesn’t make you die inside and of course, she has all of the good one liners.  All of this Samatha-ness made me think, in a very Carrie Bradshaw way, “I started to wonder did I love HBO shows or did I just like the side characters?” Cue the burning cigarette as I type on a vintage Mac.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-10303-1381880871-30.gif

I suppose I should give you some background info: The reason we went down the HBO Now rabbit hole to begin with is because of Game of Thrones. Look, I didn’t want to nerd out over some goddamn fantasy series. Really. But the storytelling is so good I had no choice. And now I’m some sheep all invested in these sword wielding weirdos. Such is life. Instead of getting cable or waiting until the series comes out on DVD(which we had been doing) we chose HBO Now. It was a good choice. I am invested in Game of Thrones despite really hating the poorly plotted mountain of misogynistic garbage that was season 5. A lot of that has to do with the characters too. Just so we are clear- a great Game of Thrones episode for me contains one or all of the following:

  1. Direwolves
  2. Tryion Lannister
  3. Dragons
  4. Brienne of Muthafucking Tarth

I don’t have time for 45 minutes of Sansa whining or John Snow brooding in a corner. Ditto whatever bullshittery they’ve cooked up with the Red Woman or the assortment of a-holes currently ruining the North at a snail’s pace. But I will put up with these things however if an episode has some great, juicy character stuff. Four minutes with Lord Varys or Davos, for example, can make some other not terrific scenes easier to digest. In general, I think season 6 is back on track because of that very thing. We are getting more character stuff and faster moving storylines that push along the action. And this season has had some incredible (if not heartbreaking) scenes featuring all of my favorite GOT things. And 10 minutes of Brienne with a sword goes a long, long way in my book.

Brienne Hearts.jpg

So the side characters aren’t the only reason I heart GOT but what about other HBO shows? We’ve also added Silicon Valley to the rotation. While I think Mike Judge is probably the best comedic chronicler of the mundane, this show has a lead character problem. Richard, our protagonist programmer waffles between endearing dorky and “Oh. My. God. Dude. Get it together”-ness. His dorkiness can also morph into uppity and judgey (says the guy judging fictional characters from his computer) and he can be hard to root for when you want to smack him in the head. Thank god for Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle. These side characters mixed in with an assortment of Silicon Valley tech misfits make Richard palatable. When the show is brilliant (and it frequently is) it lets these geniuses with zero social skills flounder in the real world and finds big laughs in parodying this universe that creates tech superstars. Plus, every single line that Kumail Nanjiani as Dinesh delivers is comedy gold. The guy can say more with his eyebrows than any other actor on the planet. This is a compliment, by the way. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are the frenemy, genius progression of Judge’s own Beavis and Butthead and utterly entertaining to watch.

dinesh hearts

The one thing that all of these HBO shows have in common is fantastic casts. Casts so fantastic that they can, at times, make up for the weak parts of the show as a whole. Which brings us to Shoshanna. Shoshanna Shapiro, for those uninitiated, is quirky, motor-mouthed mess of early 20-something emotions who steals every scene in Girls. According to tv trivia, Shoshanna was intended to be a single episode character but I’m glad she’s stuck around. There’s a lot of feelings about Girls out there on the internet and a lot of feelings about Lena Dunham. While I don’t want to wade in well-tread waters, I will admit I certainly fell into the “this whole thing annoys the shit out of me” camp when the show first came out. But we’ve watched the first three seasons and I gotta say I’ve changed my mind. I mean yes the narrative can be shrill and annoying but I think that’s really accurate for the age of people they’re portraying. And when Dunham finds the funny in situations, the show actually soars. Shoshanna, played with comic precision by Zosia Mamet, personifies what’s brilliant about Girls. Simultaneously a parody of 20-something girls as well as a lost lamb in the New York City woods, Mamet pulls off a hell of a hat trick by creating a character that we both laugh at and root for. For the 40 scenes where you want to throttle Marnie and Hannah, you get one scene with Shoshanna and all is nearly forgiven. Point being, I’m sticking it out with Girls through its current season because I hear it keeps getting better and because it means I’ll get more Shoshanna time.

So wait. Did I even answer my own question? Did Carrie ever answer her questions? Who the hell knows. What I do know is an overflow of good side characters means there’s quality writing happening out there in HBO land and in TV land in general. Writers are clearly doing their thang if they can create people we want to see week after week, even it’s only for a few fleeting moments.

Cue the jazzy saxophone over the end credits.