Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Top-15 TV Shows of 2016: #5 - #1

5.) Game of Thrones  (Season 6 - HBO)

When I was doing this list, I starting getting surprised at how well I thought the latest season of Game of Thrones stacked up. Let's face it, the shows had a rough two years, specifically with having to defend scenes showing/dealing with rape. But season 6 moved past those issues, showcased and grew great, strong female characters in an organic way, and drove the show forward in a way the last two or three seasons have not. If anything, Season 6 was a redemption season, with two of the Starks finally getting back together in Jon and Sansa's arc, to us finally getting some payoff on the Arya and Bran solo acts. Having pairs of people finally together, especially the Tyrion/Danaerys pairing, created an energy in the show that was lost. Seasons 3-5 were more about moving pieces around, while 6, the final full-length season, really set the stage nicely. It also had some of the most powerful, well constructed, scenes in the shows history, whether it be the death of Hodor, which of course also served as an origin story, to the bananas beginning of the final episode and melting of King's Landing, to finally the confirmation of R+L=J theories. Even while some of these had been more or less spoiled (that and Jon's reincarnation), it all played out nicely. Game of Thrones has the ability to hit higher highs than any shows given its budget, and we saw that in even the lesser seasons - particularly with Hardhome last year, but in this year, if anything their showcase episode (Battle of the Bastards), was not close to their best. The storytelling, plot speed and character development was its best in years, despite being the first season to move fully past George RR Martin's books. Maybe that was the key, afterall?

4.) Narcos  (Season 2 - NETFLIX)

I had Narcos ranked quite highly last year, and while I agree with some of the criticisms both of this season and the show overall (at times on-the-nose plot devices and the narration), I think they add to the brilliance of what Narcos became. Season 1 was built around Columbia itself and the American DEA, and the growth of an empire. It tried to be The Wire, cover all bases at once. Season 2 was more like a Breaking Bad season, an intense character study of the downfall of Pablo Escobar played out over 10 hours. It still had good work on the DEA (and even more CIA) front, showing the complexity of fighting the drug war, but it was a Pablo focused season, and man was it amazing. Wagner Moura's portroyal of Escobar is amazing. Native speakers will criticize his accent (Moura is Brazilian), but beyond that it is hard to criticize anything he did. The story itself of Pablo's slow crawl into an isolated monster, never knowing how to stop, was just as stirring, to me, as Walter White's, which is particularly impressive since this was based off of real history. The point-by-point view of his empire falling, his influence dwindling, and his energetic fury boiling was great storytelling. The cinematography remained brilliant, as did the acting as a whole by most of the cast. I have doubts on the show post-Pablo as Season 3 will turn its sights on the Cali Cartel, but this era of the show was every bit as good as it could have been.

3.) OJ Simpson: Made in America  (ESPN)

Spoiler: this is not the highest ranked show that centered around OJ Simpson - which says more about just how incredible that trail was. ESPN's seven-hour, five part documentary was absolutely incredible in every way. From the slow burn of starting it showcasing OJ's career contrasted with race relations decaying in Los Angeles, to ending it with a walkthrough of OJ's current legal issues (which was to me, the only forgettable part of the documentary), it was obvious the documentary was going to go into everything. Of course, the best parts centered around the parts that focused on the trail itself. I'll put aside my thoughts on the verdict itself, but I think the program did a fair job of showing why OJ was almost definitely guilty, but also why it is not a lie to say the LAPD and LA DA botched their investigation and trail. The best of the show really was how well the interview footage played. Both in showing how those close to OJ were as polarized as everyone else, and how bad Mark Fuhrman comes across even all these years later. I don't think the documentary would make anyone rethink their view of the verdict, but would definitely make people better understand why this trail captivated America - especially those like me who weren't alive for it. The doc did an unbelievable job of showing how the trail impacted the country, from footage and interviews of LA residents, both black and white, to comparing it to other racial issues across the US. This was a true uncompromising look at the Trail of the Century, and how and why it attached itself to all of our consciences. For ESPN's first try at long-form documentary storytelling, this was note perfect. The 30 for 30 series has done an incredible job in so many of its standalone stories, but this was a risk, and one that paid off so damn well.

2.) Stranger Things  (Season 1 - NETFLIX)

So often, the shows we never expect to take hold just do. NETFLIX didn't really hype up the release of Stranger Things, certainly not as much as many of their other shows. The show featured pretty much no known actors apart from XXXXXXXXX. Unexpectedly, for NETFLIX, it caught fire online, hitting all the right notes to attach itself to the influential TV writers that grew up watching similar shows in the 80's. Word of mouth worked, drew me into watching something I generally would not have, and allowed me to take in the spectacle. It is hard to imagine that a show that was such a call-back to the 80's in style, design and plot, would work so well in 2016, but maybe enough time has passed for it to be rightfully retro. The best part, really, was the acting. All the kids and teenagers were casted so well, especially Natalia Dyer (Nancy), Millie Bobbie Brown (Eleven) and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin). All the kids really were incredible in their roles, putting such energy and joy into the show. The show itself did such a good job of putting in all the right elements. There was just the right amount of sci-fi mystery, just the right amount of teen angst, just the right amount of childhood fun, and just the right amount of small-town, small-stakes drama. I found the show so good, so perfect, that it became one of the rare shows I would hope would not come back. I thought the same thing about Fargo, but there they had the benefit of being an anthology show and changing everything anyway. This doesn't. Im optimistic given how good this first season was, and how much young talent they have to work with, but I doubt anything will be better than the small mystery of hunting down the demagorgen.

1.) American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson  (FX)

The first time I did a list like this was in 2014, when I put Fargo at #1. To me, that was an easy call. It was the show that best defined television in 2014, that best showcased the medium - and ultimately it was a wholly surprising given how hard it was going to be to pull off, to create a TV show in the same universe with the same tone as a beloved cult film. In many ways, The People vs. OJ Simpson was so similar. Nothing was more memorable about TV in 2016 than this, and nothing was more surprising. Unlike the other OJ piece, this was not a documentary, this was scripted, original material. This was a show with actors playing the part of real people - people that themselves became celebrities during the OJ ordeal. This was such a daunting task, I was skeptical from the start. The skepticism went away quickly, and was replaced by sheer joy.

One of the links between Fargo and The People vs. OJ Simpson (and so many other great shows including my #2 this year), was just how much fun they were to watch. I don't know if any show was as good as this in that regard. Like all shows it starts with the acting. Everyone was great. Few shows have such a star-studded cast, and, putting aside Travolta's Shapiro for a minute, while most of the big names got smaller parts they were all amazing, like Nathan Lane's F. Lee Bailey. Of course, the stars were Courtney B. Vance's amazing portrayal of Johnny Cochrane, and Sarah Paulson's great, complicated view of Marcia Clark. While the documentary focused on the larger picture, The People vs. OJ Simpson focused in on the trail and the main players, and did an incredible job. The courtroom scenes were great. The emotional arcs of Chris Darden and Clark were great. The infighting in OJ's circle was so well scripted and played. The largest flaw people seemed to have was Travolta's portrayal, but even that I thought hit the spot given how larger than life Bob Shapiro considered himself. My main takeaway from the show ended up being just how incredibly entertaining it was. The hours flew by, and after each one I left my chair with a large smile on my face. Nothing was better, few were even close, to The People vs. OJ Simpson in 2016.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.