Whenever the Primetime Emmy Awards roll around, bloggers have various obvious tracks they can take. There’s the tried-and-true predictions list, usually broken down into who will win versus who should win. There’s the snubs list because Emmys always be getting it wrong. There are also endless deep dives to be taken into the year’s most-nominated shows, mixing academic analysis with behind the scenes tidbits, as well as more business-minded examinations of the dollars and cents behind the various awards campaigns.
I’m not going to do any of that.
Maybe it’s laziness, lack of discipline, simple narcissism or all of the above, but when I think of what to write about this year’s Emmys, which air tonight, I keep remembering that my past year of TV watching wasn’t actually dominated by Atlanta, Veep, The Crown, Stranger Things, This Is Us and the various other nominees. Instead, when I look back at the year I remember binge watching Twin Peaks for the first time, being blown away by the first two seasons of Fargo and falling madly in love with every single second of Halt and Catch Fire’s second and third season. See, this was the year where I caught up on a lot of shows. Sure, I also got sucked into Westworld, Big Little Lies, Feud: Bette and Joan and various other current shows in the running for awards tonight, but for me the past year has been a mixture of new and old.
And this keeps happening to me. Every year people ask me what my favorite shows of the year are and I have to remember to sort out in my head which of my favorites are current and which are slightly older programs I just finally got around to thanks to Netflix. I guess that means in the age of peak TV I am constantly drowning, but I think plenty of people are drowning right next me. So, best TV of 2016/2017? Screw that. Here’s the best TV I watched this year, regardless of when it actually came out:
Black Mirror – “San Junipero.” Really, what more is there to say?
Fleabag – A 6-episode tour de force for Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the titular character (fleabag, of course, being a nickname) whose initial sex positive actions and jumbled memories eventually give way to a devastating finale revealing the trauma beneath her outwardly confident attitude. It has the best use of fourth-wall breaking I’ve seen in any TV show, as Waller-Bridge’s initial funny winks to the camera and little jokey asides later take on an uncomfortably invasive feel as we are let in on some remarkably intimate moments and peer deeper into the character’s soul than we ever could have expected. A must-watch.
Halt and Catch Fire – What initially began as a flawed Mad Men clone transplanted to a different time period (the 80s) and industry (computers) has morphed into a four season wonder chronicling an entire decade in tech history (first in Dallas, then in Silicon Valley) as experienced by our four principle characters, none of whom have ended up where we ever would have expected them to. Some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen this past year, in film or on TV, has been on Halt and Catch Fire, which has executed multiple time jumps via ingeniously orchestrated oners and montages, and some of the best acting I’ve seen has also come via Halt and Catch Fire, with special praise reserved for Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis. The fourth and final season is currently playing out on AMC on Saturday Nights. It’s not too late to binge and catch up.
Legion – The series, as a whole, was not actually among the best I saw this year, but it contained individual moments and episodes which are still burned in my memory, such as Aubrey Plaza’s “dance” and the entire episode inside of Dan Stevens’ mind.
Parenthood – Don’t tell me how it ends. I’m only an episode into season 6.
The Exorcist – Most seemed to ignore The Exorcist and write it off as just another reboot in a season full of them since it did come out around the same time as the new TV show versions of Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Training Day, MacGyver and various others I’m sure I’m forgetting. However, the way Exorcist played with its franchise’s history and expectations was inspired, in ways that makes the show hard to discuss without unintentionally veering into spoilers. I can say, however, there are several pure horror sequences which are among the best I’ve ever seen on a TV, and that’s coming from someone who watched all of Hannibal. I don’t know if I’ve emotionally recovered yet from Exorcist’s subway sequence.
Sense8 – Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. At long last, The Wachowskis finally found their perfect post-Matrix project. Don’t tell me what happens, though. I only just finished the first season.
Twin Peaks – “It’s happening again” One of the most chilling sequences in TV history.
Westworld – Westworld is not a show you feel; it’s a show you appreciate, but there is so, so much to appreciate, from the amazing production values to the various mysteries to be solved to the breakout performances from Jimmi Simpson and Evan Rachel Wood.
A Series of Unfortunate Events – Neil Patrick Harris as Olaf. Nuff said.
Drunk History – I finally got around to binge-watching the majority of this through Hulu, and while the series is more or less the same joke – drunk comedians fuck up stories about history – over and over again it’s still a pretty good joke. Plus, you usually learn some fun history trivia.
Gilmore Girls – I can only take Amy Sherman-Palladino’s signature screwball dialogue and extreme white privilege in small doses. So, I binged the original Gilmore Girls in chunks and came away seeing exactly why so many people adore this show.
G.L.O.W. – Orange is the New Black meets A League of Their Own with a standout performance from Alison Brie.
Last Man on Earth – I still find Will Forte’s character to be unbearable, but the pure experimentation always lurking around the corner makes this one of the more intriguing TV shows on the air right now.
Lucifer – Tom Ellis is so pretty and funny. Sure, the show is so much more than that, especially now that it has built up its supporting cast and more than found its rhythm as a hybrid police procedural/supernatural serial, but Tom Ellis is still at the center of it all and a more engaging and multi-talented leading man you’d be hard-pressed to find. Even in Lucifer’s weakest moments, Ellis can always be relied on to coax a laugh out of you with some ingeniously delivered one-liner.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return – I liked it so much I went to see their live tour.
The Good Place – I don’t know if Good Place is truly an amazing show, or if it is simply a decent one made better by an amazing twist ending. Either way, easily the best season finale of the year.
BoJack Horseman – As Uproxx put it: “Lots of shows will make you laugh. Bojack will make you laugh, knife you in the gut, and leave you weeping to sort through your confusing mix of emotions in the aftermath.” The fourth season, which just dropped on Netflix last week, takes a surprising stab at the notion of inherited trauma and offers one of the more heartbreaking takes on dementia I’ve ever seen. Plus, a talking dog runs for governor of California and almost wins. Thus the insane balancing act of drama and absurdity that is BoJack Horseman. This isn’t just the best animated series on TV; it’s one of the best comedies, period.
F is For Family – Think of King of the Hill crossed with All in the Family crossed with the freedom of an R rating.
One Punch Man – A surprisingly contemplative anime about the boredom of being a superhero with no physical equal.
Rick and Morty – Pickle Rick!
BEST LIMITED SERIES
Big Little Lies – I went from quietly despising every second of this show and wondering why I should care about rich white lady problems to wanting to rally around Reese, Nicole, Shailene, Laura and Zoe in their fight against their would-be male oppressors.
Fargo – You know how everyone on the internet has already spilled literally thousands of words on the brilliance of this show? Yeeeeeaaah, it’s true. All of it. Everything you’ve ever heard about Fargo being a straight-up masterpiece is spot-on. The only debate, now, is simply which season is better: first, second or third? I lean toward the second, myself.
Feud: Bette and Joan – Longer than it needed to be and suffering from signature Ryan Murphy ADD syndrome, Feud still managed to astound with two performances for the ages from Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. The Oscar episode, alone, validates the whole series as does Joan’s final dinner with the ghosts of her dearly departed friends.
Manhunt: Unabomber – Paul Bettany disappears into the role of Ted Kaczynski, and Sam Worthington redeems himself with an admirable attempt at pulling a Jake Gyllenhall in Zodiak by playing an investigator whose obsession comes at great personal cost. The split timelines tracking both the investigation of the unabomber and pending trial of Kaczynski several years later confuses more than it should, but it allows for a jaw-dropping episode chronicling Kaczynski’s tortured origin story.
When We Rise – ABC’s old school, heart-on-its-sleeve four-night mini-series about the history of the AIDS epidemic in America as seen through the eyes of various real life-inspired activists who fought the good fight from the beginning kind of came and went without much fanfare. However, as the son of a gay man I found it educational, moving and entirely engrossing, a worthy successor to And the Band Played On.
Beware the Slenderman – You will walk away from this angry at internet culture and the juvenile justice system. Plus, it will make you think twice before you let your kid/nephew/niece/whatever veg out while watching videos on your phone.
BEST ESCAPIST SCI-FI/FANTASY
I’ve written about all of these in more detail elsewhere on the site, but these are the purely fun shows which will never be in the running for an Emmy but will pack people into conventions for years to come:
- 12 Monkeys
- Legends of Tomorrow – One of the most improved shows of the past year, and now arguably the most purely enjoyable series in the Arrowverse.
- Lost Girl – The Canadian Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just, ya know, with way more sex
- The Magicians
- Wynonna Earp
BEST IN LATE NIGHT
Graham Norton’s…well, anything
John Oliver’s Deep Dives
Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” Segments
Stephen Colbert’s Monologues
And all the various other late night clips I now habitually watch the next morning on YouTube
STILL DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL ABOUT…
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life – Too long. Too mean. Too much wasted time on an outdated homage/parody of Wild. But still irresistible, particularly the way it charted a newly widowed Emily’s year-long struggle to move on with her life.
Preacher – As io9 recently concluded, this is not the show we were expecting. The sooner we accept that the quicker we can learn to live with Preacher’s sluggish pace, but I’m still struggling.
Twin Peaks: The Return – The most self-indulgent, yet wildly challenging show I’ve seen in, maybe, ever.
WORST USE OF MY BINGE-WATCHING TIME
Californication – I watched four seasons of this, and I still don’t know why. Somewhere deep down inside, do I simply envy Hank Moody’s warmed over-Dream On life of mostly consequence-free hedonism?
Crashing – It’s like BBC’s version of Friends for broke-ass millennials, centering on a group of twentysomethings illegally crashing in various flats. The reason to watch is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but all these months later all I remember about the show is she’s in a love triangle with the guy from Being Human and that everyone in the cast seems to eventually sleep with everyone else. I think. I binged this the same weekend I binged Fleabag. One stuck with me; the other didn’t.
Friends From College – If I had to watch Keegan Michael-Key Woody-Allen-fast-talk his way out of another sticky predicament I was going to have to punch myself.
Iron Fist – Not as bad as you might have heard, but, still, not great.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Dreadful Third Season
SHOWS I FINALLY GAVE UP ON
- The Flash
THE SHOWS I WOULD MOST IMMEDIATELY RECOMMEND TO ANYONE
- BoJack Horseman
- Halt and Catch Fire
What about you? What have been your favorite TV shows this year, even if they happen to be older shows you just now got around to watching? Let me know in the comments.