Life as a single working mother in LA. Suburban Russian spies. A Demogorgon and the Winona-sance. The Trial of the Century. Marvel’s superhero take on Harlem’s storied underworld and a re-imagined and resurrected Westworld – these are some of the best stories of 2016.
An embarrassment of riches and hundreds of new series in one year, TV is where it’s at, especially when you see the quality of most movies these days.
Biggest disappointments? The Amazon Woody Allen Crisis in Six Scenes effort and Netflix’s Gilmore Girls’ reboot.
Saddest turn of events that’s poisoned the well? The excessive and repetitive “big bad” Negan arc on The Walking Dead.
But let’s not dwell on the bad, especially when there was so much good worth watching. Whether you were binge-watching or viewing in real time, here are Monsters and Critics’ top pics from television in 2016, as chosen by TV critics Ernie Estrella and April Neale.
Just beware of spoilers in case you aren’t up to date with the shows we mention.
Best Supporting Performance (Drama): Alison Wright – The Americans (FX)
For those familiar with Martha’s story of being a meek FBI secretary who marries a man she thinks is a government worker but is, in fact, a Russian spy, then they’ll tell you that in a riveting Season 4 of The Americans, she owned the season.
So much of Wright’s performance is on her face as she’s often left alone to worry about where Clark (one of Phillip’s aliases) is, whether she’ll be caught at work, contemplating suicide, or threatening to expose the KGB in one of their safe houses.
Martha’s story is one of bravery but also one of heartbreak. She truly loves Clark and who she believes him to be, but her entire life is compromised when the Bureau starts doing some self-auditing.
An equally noble but unwise decision by Phillip, he pulls off his wig and reveals his true self to her and she doesn’t flinch. She accepts him for who he appears to be to her and, more importantly, demands to know the truth.
Surely all of this knowledge has her pegged for an execution, as there’s no way she will stand by to know what she was an accomplice to. But time and time again, Martha surprises viewers.
Her ultimate fate is still in question, knowing she’d put everyone in jeopardy and up in jail. She boarded a plane, knowing that she will probably never see Clark again and that’s when the water works start. Alas, poor Martha. – EE
Best Supporting Performance (Comedy): Louie Anderson – Baskets (FX)
This Minnesota gem used happy recollections of his female relatives and especially his mother to become Christine Baskets in Baskets — all heart, opinion and full of worries for her children, especially Chip (Zach Galifianakis) who is having a hard time landing his feet in a viable vocation.
Christine takes on Chip’s insincere French green card bride and dotes on her overachieving twins. She has also single-handedly done more for the Kirkland brand of Costco goods than any commercial ever could have.
Anderson gives the role heart and such a subtle hammer of hilarity, laced with bittersweet outcomes. Christine Baskets is one for the books.
Anderson is an American comedic genius and storytelling treasure and deserves every recognition for breathing life into her. -AN
Best Male Supporting Performance (Mini-Series): Denis O’Hare – American Horror Story Hotel (FX)
While the ladies of Ryan Murphy’s anthology series always seem to get the spotlight, Denis O’Hare has been one of TV’s treasures, playing several characters in all but one of the AHS seasons (Asylum).
All of them have been memorable, physical roles but was there a better diva than his Liz Taylor in Hotel? That’s saying a lot when Lady Gaga was a main cast member.
O’Hare brought a tender balance of brass balls and fragility but beneath the makeup and couture, was a woman looking for love and acceptance.
His portrayal of a transgender person who finds his way to the haunted hotel of the Countess and enlists in her employment after her acceptance of who he truly was is a stunning pinnacle of so many roles for O’Hare.
Liz Taylor had to be the front desk, the bartender, a corpse vanisher, and bitter employee — and do it all in high heels. – EE
Biggest Game Changer: Grace Gummer – Mr. Robot (USA)
Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday…pick any one of them and you’ll be mesmerized by their performances on Mr. Robot.
But I found myself hypnotized by newcomer Grace Gummer and her character, FBI Agent Dom DiPierro, who begins looking into FSociety’s involvement with the Evil Corp Hack.
Gummer singed my television with her smoldering looks, late-night eating habits and solo adventures. I pined for more information on Elliot, Angela, and Darlene, but Agent DiPierro took up more of my valuable attention as the weeks went on. Certainly, more than I ever intended.
When I later found out Gummer is Meryl Streep’s daughter, I started to connect the dots, but I was hooked long before knowing her lineage.
Gummer will make a name for herself and her addition to Mr. Robot was one of the best things about Season 2, extending the showcase of talented women on this essential ensemble show. – EE
Runner Up: Issa Rae in Insecure (HBO)
Best Guest Star: Dylan Baker – The Americans (FX)
This is usually Margo Martindale’s gig, but as terrific as she always is, you could fit all of her appearances for the season in under five minutes.
There are some meatier guest appearances on The Americans though that always get slighted or forgotten; this season it was Baker’s performance as William, the cantankerous Russian mole working close to America’s biowarfare program.
Whether he was describing in great detail how a bio weapon liquifies you from the inside, trying to outrun KGB agents Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings or his Grand Guignol of an exit complete with a monologue where he comes very dangerously close to revealing Phillip and Elizabeth’s identity, Baker stood out. – EE
Runner Up: Raymond Cruz – Better Call Saul (AMC)
Breakout Child Performer: Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things (Netflix)
Millie Bobby Brown relayed her character’s distress, fear, anger, and happiness with little dialogue but masses of natural expressive talent. Brown played Eleven, a psychokinetic weaponized child taken from her mother and made into a thing.
But she fights back, allies with other kids her age and foils the Big Bad. Eleven is a scene stealer and all the wonderful heartbreaking things we would imagine of a child wise beyond her years who was denied a normal life.
The tragic connection she has with her “papa” played by Matthew Modine leads us to a tragic end and a memorable character in the first season that galvanized the TV watching nation. – AN
Runner Up: Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things
Best Female Performance (Comedy): Pamela Adlon – Better Things (FX)
Better Things from FX takes its cues from the opening theme song “Mother” by John Lennon. Pamela Adlon’s powerful and subdued comedy is both funny and bittersweet.
This is a realistic look at a middle-aged working actress and single mother’s life sandwiched between two generations, her faltering mother Phyllis and her whip-smart middle child Frankie in the throes of gender confusion. There’s also her oldest child Max who is trying too hard to be a grown-up woman and making mistake upon mistake, and then her baby, Duke, the wizened child who feeds her soul daily.
The realistic teleplay is loaded with awkward life moments that Sam has to reconcile, navigate, and deliver in scenes where she emotionally rips your guts out while making you laugh.
The show is bittersweet, riotous and rings true for a lot of women. -AN
Runner Up: Abbi Jacobson of Broad City (Comedy Central)
Best Female Performance (Drama Mini-Series): Sarah Paulson – The People v. O.J. Simpson (FX)
Sarah Paulson became Marcia Clark, so much so that Clark herself was blown away by the ferocity and accuracy of Paulson’s performance.
The People v. O.J. Simpson, thanks to Paulson researching the role, gave the reputation of Marcia Clark a mega makeover — the chief prosecutor who faced a phalanx of defense attorneys, endured awful tabloid reports, weathered a contentious divorce and ultimately was seen in a more sympathetic light.
Paulson humanized Marcia Clark, who has since built a new world and reputation as a crime novelist, and embodied her character with a grace and strength that made this series a no-miss event and a heart-stopping watch, even though we all knew the outcome. – AN
Runner Up: Kerry Washington in Confirmation (HBO)
Best Male Performance (Drama Mini-Series): Courtney B. Vance – The People v. O.J. Simpson (FX)
You knew the script for Johnnie Cochran had to be tailor-made for an actor who could be larger than life, who could command the scene, who has power but warmth, appear cool under pressure but be able to sweat through a range of emotions.
There might have been no better casting decision than Vance to play the boisterous, preacher-like ring-leader of O.J.’s defense team.
He did all of the above, and in those courtroom scenes he managed to almost win me over from my living room. You can see how the jury could be seduced by his words and presentation – EE
Runner Up: Sterling K. Brown – The People v. O.J. Simpson (FX)
Best Female Performance (Drama): Maggie Siff – Billions (Showtime)
Killed it, she did. Maggie Siff in Billions on Showtime nailed the calculating role of Wendy Rhoades, the earner wife of the Attorney General Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) who acts as counsel and motivational psychiatrist/career strategist inside the company of her husband’s biggest nemesis, Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis).
This show was gripping, smart and a warm leatherette of a ride thanks largely to this former Sons of Anarchy character who elevated her game and delivered a complex female performance in one of the year’s best new shows.
She also deftly wove her character’s BDSM lifestyle kink into her day-to -day with a lot of style. Siff proved herself to be one of the best things about Billions from the get-go. She hurt us so good! – AN
Runner Up: Keri Russell – The Americans (FX)
Best Male Performance (Drama): Jeffrey Wright – Westworld (HBO)
Jeffrey Wright is absolutely one of our favorites. Even as a minor character in Boardwalk Empire, and in Confirmation, his delivery and presence are electric in every scene he’s part of.
No wonder HBO keeps him close as his turn as Bernard was so very profound — with his realization that he was not human but in fact a creature designed and made by Ford. How he analyzes this data and begins to have his own A.I. epiphanies and rewrite his own script was fascinating to watch.
Westworld was our happiest surprise this year. We weren’t sure how this was going to go over considering the production rough starts and delays, but hallelujah, HBO is on fire and Wright is a big reason why Westworld works so very well and is the success that it is.
As far as we are concerned, Wright is firmly a top echelon A-lister. – AN
Runner Up: Tom Hiddleston – The Night Manager (AMC)
Best New Drama – Westworld (HBO)
Dovetailing off of our praise for Wright, the best thing about Westworld for us is the elevation of the actresses as the driving force in the story next to Bernard/Wright and Ford/Hopkins.
The female characters are superb, the depth of their performances, plus the taught storytelling and the perfect use of musical scoring and, quite frankly, all the crafts made this our no-miss HBO event.
They’ve done an excellent job at keeping everyone guessing and many of the show’s twists perfectly hidden until they need to be revealed. Smart, scary and no wasted scenes.
Bravo to showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan for hanging in there and working out the details so perfectly. -AN
Runner Up: Berlin Station (EPIX)
Best New Streamer: Stranger Things (Netflix)
This binge-able series was emotionally a delicious period throwback that made us remember those great movies and those moments. It evoked many feelings and actually was a celebration of what family and friendship truly are.
Not about money, or superficial things but about being there, having your loved one’s back and fighting for what’s right and true.
Idealistic, sentimental, expertly paced and perfectly cast, this was a breath of fresh air in a medium that has a lot of great shows to compete, and it popped its head up above that crowded field and grabbed all of our attention.
This effort from Netflix and the Duffer brothers was a series that spoke to all ages, a cinematic adventure that had heart, horror and the right amount of humor as we fell in love with a new crop of child actors who each brought their A-game to the show.
Specifically, Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, and the older actors Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton.
Bravo to all who dreamt this one up and made it a reality. Stranger Things Season 2 is coming in 2017. – AN
Runner Up: Black Mirror (Netflix)
Best New Comedy (three-way tie): Atlanta (FX) Baskets (FX) and Better Things (FX)
TV’s most fascinating comedic trio was found in Atlanta, with struggling rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), his even worse off manager Earn (Donald Glover) and their aloof friend Darius (Keith Stanfield).
One of the best episodes of television this year was its seventh episode, titled “B.A.N.” which tackled a lot of racial issues and the overtly political correct world and its trappings through Charlie Rose/BET mashup show called Montague, in which Paper Boi must answer for insensitive twitter remarks about not wanting to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner.
On the panel with him is Dr. Debra Holt, head of the Center for Trans Issues. It’s an episode not to be missed, not only for what the show-within-the-show explores but also the mock commercials and cartoons that “sponsor” Montague.
There’s also some terrific dramatic performances by Earn’s girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz) as she fights to keep her head up when meeting up an old friend and dealing with the painful ramifications of smoking a joint.
Atlanta kept you on your toes week-to-week, never dealing the same hand two weeks in a row. It was a deafening blast of originality, inspiration, and spark in ways that TV needed the most. – EE
Pamela Adlon’s character Sam is trying to do it all — raise kids, take care of mum and earn a living while holding on to her sexuality and preserving her sanity. It’s not easy as she is the only one in the house with the shoulders to carry all the responsibility and financial burdens.
What resonates are the relationships played out by Pamela’s Sam and her middle child, rising star Frankie, Hannah Alligood and also with her mother, Celia Imrie (Phyllis) which are perfectly wrought. Bonus points for working Lenny Kravitz (Mel Trueblood) in as a guest star; he was great.
The guest stars are superb, from the opener with Constance Zimmer sitting at an audition with Sam commiserating as the role they read for goes to an inappropriate choice 20 years their junior, to Kravitz presented as a possible love interest for Sam while her mother delivers the most awkward dinner time chat ever.
The show also has a child who has gender identity issues presented in a tasteful and profoundly sweet way with middle child Frankie played by standout child actor Hannah Alligood. This realization for Sam was where the season ended, as she contemplates how to not feel like a failure as a mother and support everyone around her the best way she can.
The use of music in this series is also brilliant, from the tortured John Lennon opening theme song ‘Mother” which lays out the complicated relationship perfectly, “Mother, you had me, but I never had you.” That single lyric underscores the intentions of this series.
The use of Alice Cooper’s Only Women Bleed with Sam and her girls singing along to it together in the car was another perfectly wrought tear-inducing moment where all the sibling drama and teenage contention was laid to rest and the four women — from sweet little Duke to the older daughter Max — were united as one with their mother Sam. Adlon is a creative gift. – AN
This is what comedy is about. It makes you think while it makes you laugh, pausing to reflect on life in general.
Baskets is a totally absurdist comedy that has a huge heart, physical comedy moves and the soulful center holding it all together played by Louie Anderson as the Costco lovin’ matriarch Christine Baskets, who would cut a bitch if they messed with her beloved children.
Another brilliant FX comedy, Zach Galifianakis’ tale of the Bakersfield identical twins Chip and Dale who were absolute cheese and chalk was one of the year’s most loved and happy surprises for me.
It also elevated Anderson as a serious actor who can hold his own with the very best in a scripted series. -AN
Runner Up: Insecure with Issa Rae (HBO)
Best Genre Revival: Luke Cage (Netflix/Marvel)
Luke Cage did for Blaxploitation movies what Stranger Things did for 80s kids’ adventures. It was vigilantism set within the inner city streets of Harlem where politicians and crime lords mask their corruption in a fight against gentrification.
Yes, this series furthered out the urban sprawl of the Marvel/Netflix world established by Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but it had its own flavor, and definitely its own rhythm as it paid nods to the comics they were based on as well as tackling contemporary problems while having the dopest soundtrack of any superhero story.
Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker should be commended for pulling this series off and giving a series that doesn’t reek of the same old same old being done in the Marvel films. Michael Colter established himself as a smart, sexy and buff lead.
We got to see more Rosario Dawson playing the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Night Nurse, Alfre Woodard played nasty, and how nice was it to see Theo Rossi lurking in the background again as Shades. But the best thing about the series was seeing Mahershala Ali as the big bad Cottonmouth.
He was both charismatic as he was frightening. Between Atlanta and Luke Cage, there was about a month where I was watching original stories about young black adults in inner cities and it was beautiful. Hopefully, this is the start of a growing trend.
Runner Up: Ash vs. The Evil Dead
Best Animated Series (two-way tie): Voltron (Netflix) and Star Wars Rebels (Disney XD)
There’s always a wave of nostalgia with a revival and when it comes you always hold your breath because they will either blow you away or tarnish the legacy. The Netflix crew that took on the Voltron: Legendary Defender revival/reboot killed it, in a good way.
They blew up everything that was so… well, 80s about the cartoon and brought it to a modern sensibility and serial storytelling.
The animation was a hybrid of computer and traditional cel animation, which might mean a longer wait between seasons but everything from the character development, to the mythology to the robot battles have been upgraded.
Much of the writers and producers were involved with the equally superb Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra cartoons and took a similar approach to Voltron: Legendary Defender, taking it out of the formulaic creature of the week format to deliver the making of a great epic.
Now it’s a contemporary take the series, with empowering characters for younger audiences for both sexes and it doesn’t matter if you’re a new fan or a longtime devotee.
It’s seriously one of the best TV experiences of the year with the only problem being the six-month wait in between seasons but there’s still time to catch up before the next season is available on the digital streamer on January 20. – EE
Star Wars Rebels
If you are flipping head over heels about Star Wars: Rogue One, then you should be watching Star Wars Rebels which is now in its third season on Disney XD.
Like the Clone Wars animated series that came before, the disappoint of the Star Wars prequels were a necessary evil to show that excellent Star Wars stories exist prior to the Original Trilogy (Episodes 4-6) timeline.
In Rebels, we follow the Rebel Alliance grow from little factions spread throughout the universe to what we come to know as the Rebel Forces seen in Episode IV: A New Hope. So it treads the ground that Rogue One ventured but does so much more.
We get to see what little was left after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader in his prime, terrific female characters, a greater mythology of the Jedis and Siths explored, and much, much more.
The stories of one of the few remaining Jedi Knights, Kanan, a confident pilot Hera, and Imperial Academy dropout Sabine Wren, in particular, keep me coming back.
This season introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn, the main antagonist in the superb post-Return of the Jedi novels penned by Timothy Zahn, and he’s continued the parade of memorable villains on the show.
Rebels packs a lot of excitement in 20 minute episodes but have far more character development than any of the films and manage to make the dreadful experience of the prequels worth it as it all dovetails into story that fans love the best.
The only the limits are that of an animation budget and where the storytellers’ (led by executive producer Dave Filoni) imaginations want to go. – EE
Runner Up: BoJack Horseman (Netflix) and Archer (FX)
Best Mini-Series: American Crime Story: People vs. O.J. Simpson (FX)
Having lived through the O.J. trial as an undergrad in college, we picked and chose what to know when it was happening, and didn’t think we needed more of his story in our lives — until we saw the stacked ensemble cast including Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, and Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden.
I could really stop here because these three were phenomenal, but the rest of cast was just gravy. This condensed version of the Trial of the Century ran through all of the highlights, but what was most impressive is that it reminded why there were those who celebrated the outcome and others who were disgusted.
Both were justified being like that in the moment, and if you were on one side back then, watching this may have opened up the dialogue in understanding the other side.
The show reminded us of the two victims, the heinous strategies by the defense team and the blunders of the prosecution.
Sadly, we were also reminded of how little we’ve progressed in the way of inherent racial discrimination by authorities. – EE
Runner Up: The Night Manager (AMC)
Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America (ESPN)
I feared that after FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson that I would be exhausted once against with everything being about O.J.
But what the FX show did was shed light on perspectives and key events and people that weren’t necessarily caught on camera or played out beyond the media’s awareness.
Yet, taking that experience and headed directly into Made in America made it all the more important to view because of who they were able to speak to on camera and what they said.
This included one-time friends and longtime associates of O.J. and an exhaustive look at all of the factors coming in and from the Trial of the Century. Something that the FX show didn’t give me was closure, which I got with Made in America.
I didn’t know of all of the ugliness in this individual that followed him after he fled from the public eye to Florida and ultimately Las Vegas.
I was also impressed with the first part, which dove into the history of the LAPD and their history of racial profiling that started long before O.J. arrived.
I know it qualifies as television but really, this five-part series deserves to be treated like a gigantic 8-hour film that you couldn’t pull away from. – EE
Runner Up: 13th (Netflix)
Best Returning Ensemble: Game of Thrones Season Six
What a revenge-filled delicious hunk of storytelling this still is. Game of Thrones has elevated the game and now the stakes are truly harrowing, and they made sure each and every scene had us on the edge of our seats.
There were so many great moments from Bran’s visions and the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). Benjen’s portentous return. Roose being killed by Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay having his face eaten by his flesh loving hounds as Sansa gives her best Mona Lisa smile. Arya feeding Walder Frey his kids up in a pot pie. Olenna Tyrell cooking something up with Dorne’s Ellaria and Varys. Jaime and Brienne’s continued friendship. Hodor “Hold the door” Wylis reveal.
Battle of the Bastards, Cersei’s humiliation leading to her vengeance plot against Margaery and the Sparrows, Jon Snow not dying, The Hound returning. Drogon’s saving his mistress Daenerys. Jon Snow and Sansa reuniting.
Sansa’s sense of power rising too, as the Stark house is not dead, and Littlefinger is still the biggest villain in the Westeros. Wonder if the Walkers will pay him a visit? There was a lot to savor in this sixth season — and long live Jon Snow! – AN
Runner Up: Vikings
Best Returning Drama: Better Call Saul (AMC)
What started out as a quiet but surprising extension of the Breaking Bad universe was even quieter and more surprising in Season 2. This transformation of the main character from lovable loser to colorful shyster cannot be missed.
Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk hasn’t yet hit the point in his life where he creates the Saul Goodman persona but that’s okay because Jimmy remains a fascinating character study as he got the girl but not without complications and deception.
Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) got some well-deserved heft added to her role and Seehorn delivered.
Mike’s (Jonathan Banks) dip into the New Mexico crime world gets deeper and deeper and Jimmy’s brother Chuck (Michael McKean) is as unique and sinister an antagonist has ever been on television. – EE
Runner Up: The Americans (FX)
Best Kick-Ass Women: Evan Rachel Wood & Thandie Newton (Westworld)
Hosts, all naked and objectified, these high-function constructs made for our pleasure have learned and developed a consciousness complete with rational cognitive thought… better than we do.
Add to that far stronger and faster reflexes. The oldest is Wood’s Dolores Abernathy, as her story loop has become a complicated retread of a mixed time period, memories, and influence of Arnold, the late partner of Ford (Anthony Hopkins) who has different plans for the park.
Dolores goes from sweet, soft and gentle to a fast-draw assassin in a nano, and her frequent flashbacks and ‘reveries” make this role one that shines with Wood’s abilities as an actor. She’s perfect in this role.
Thandie Newton approaches her Maeve with a similar awakening though she is further along in her consciousness and now acts as a free thinking being, navigating and manipulating the people who tend to the hosts as she tries to figure out what she really wants.
Maeve is a cunning and clever host, her motives, and raison d’etre are far different from Dolores, but each has a desperate desire to claim their own story loops and break out of the abusive and objectified servitude they both endure. – AN
Runner Up: Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe – Halt (AMC)
Best Kick-Ass Men: Alexander Ludwig – Vikings (History)
Portraying one of Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons, we got to see Ludwig move closer to the front of the stage with this immense ensemble. As the younger, more ambitious Lothbrok, Bjorn was a feared adversary on and off the battlefield.
We’ve seen him be bigger and faster than most and it was his vision quest of a solo journey where he went to become a man where he kicked ass.
He took on a grizzly bear in the frozen setting of the Netherlands and then a hitman berserker who bared his guts to Bjorn Ironside. – EE
Best Villain: Anthony Hopkins in Westworld (HBO)
One of the most erudite and refined villains on TV was the role of Dr. Robert Ford played by Anthony Hopkins didn’t hesitate in taking on the role of Dr. Robert Ford.
Showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan’s take on this inventor of Westworld was a little bit Walt Disney, a little bit Frankenstein with a measured and cool as a cucumber modus operandi.
Were his intentions for his creations and park ever good? Ford’s brilliant mind is clouded by doubts about what the nature of consciousness and the notion of God and where the human gift of self-awareness, that inner voice we all carry and cognitive thought begins and ends.
All of these lofty notions troubled him. Hopkins course, has always been an exemplary actor in anything he has turned in, and his later years still show he is razor edge sharp.
Westworld would have sunk without his presence and he was perfectly paired and matched up for this drama with Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris, both of whom are at his level of craft. – AN
Best Comedic Duo: Pamela Adlon and Celia Imrie – Better Things (FX)
Celia Imrie is absolutely delightful as Pamela Adlon’s next-door mum from England, Phyllis (Phyll). The dynamic between Adlon’s Sam and Imrie’s Phyllis is one of the best things about this subtle comedy that rings true for many of us in a similar situation, that sandwich on point person and how the burden of supporting (financially and or emotionally) the older and younger generations is the stuff that if we cannot laugh about, will surely make us cry.
It appears that the show is very gently leading us to the realization that Phyll is faltering (her hoarder tendencies and anxieties about things in general), she’s losing her grip on reality and her behavior has Sam thinking, you can see that the back burners of her mind are simmering with this worry her mother is becoming irretrievably unwell.
Imrie plays Phyll loquacious and large – with all the British busty bonhomie she can muster. This, of course, delights her three American granddaughters with her off-the-wall Euro idiosyncrasies and a chipper attitude.
They just see it as her being their crazy “nan” while Sam has her hands full with their complicated relationship and the looming horizon of the day-to-day burdens of caring for someone who no longer may know what is good for them.
Chemistry-wise Imrie and Adlon work very well together, delivering two fantastic roles that will be interesting to see unfold as time goes on. – AN
Runner Up: Aya Cash and Chris Geere – You’re the Worst (FXX)
Best New Voice: Donald Glover, Atlanta
After watching a few episodes of FX’s drama-comedy Atlanta, it was clear that Donald Glover was wasting his valuable time in Community.
While cult fans of that NBC show wanted five seasons and a movie, we should have been opening doors for the modern Renaissance man to do his thing.
Thankfully, Atlanta rescued TV viewers from the network recipe that has poisoned television long enough.
It was created, directed and often times written by Glover who sought to tell stories born out of day-to-day life struggles and then threw in some quirky and bizarre moments (like black Justin Beiber) that made his unique eye for entertainment a breath of fresh air. – EE
Runner Up: Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Fleabag (Amazon Prime/BBC)
Best period piece: Vikings (History)
Ernie Estrella’s verdict: There’s terrific stuff out there loaded with production and props that transport you like Outlander with its sets and costumes… to Stranger Things’ synth music and Dungeons and Dragons and The Americans’ painstaking detail of the Cold War in American soil.
But if I have to give one the nod, it’s got to be Vikings. From recreating the Viking longboats, the villages, to pre-unified England and 7th Century Paris, this show really does take you all over Europe during the Dark Ages.
The hair, the warfare to the costumes and the Paris palace, the Vatican, and I could go on about all of the places explored.
It’s amazing that this is a television series and not a movie set because everything feels like it’s big and there’s a lot of splendor taking place here and it’s all about presenting the Viking Age in the most fascinating light.
It’s more than a period piece, though. It really is one of the best shows on television. – EE
April Neale’s verdict: History’s Vikings consistently is excellent and is perfectly wrought by an expert storyteller, Michael Hirst (The Tudors). Brilliantly cast and gifted craftspeople are supported with superb storytelling, Vikings is a top TV series that grabs us and takes us back in time as showrunner Hirst uses history as posts to hold up his version of how the great Ragnar Lothbrok lived and loved, and what then became of his legacy.
The series demonstrates that the greatest risk takers often live the most rewarding lives and that keeping an open mind is the key to growth.
This is done with actor Travis Fimmel’s expressive and curious Ragnar — who dared to defy the Norse god handbook — become a friend to a Christian monk and who was hungry for more than plunder.
Fimmel and his shieldmaiden Lagertha, Katheryn Winnick, each deserve awards for their work. Just a joy to watch. – AN
Now We’re Getting Somewhere Award: Orphan Black (BBC America)
Ever get so deep into a science fiction genre and years later feeling like, ‘where the hell is this all going?’
That all went away in Season 4 of Orphan Black as the series went back to the beginning of the series to look further into the mystery of Beth Childs, the detective who was looking into what her role in a large-scale cloning project was, only to throw herself into a speeding train seconds after appearing to another one of her clones, Sarah Manning who had no idea of the project.
That was how the series began and Season 4 rewinds the story from that fateful beginning to see the events that led to that suicide.
Eventually, we are brought to the present day where Donnie and Allison get in trouble again, Sarah and Mrs. S butt heads over and over and Felix went searching for his real family after suddenly feeling like he was the only person in this mad scenario who wasn’t genetically connected.
When news came out that Season 5 will be the series final one, that raised the stakes of everything that happened in this past fourth season and ensured that the series goes out on a high note, as roads continue to converge, instead of getting stale not knowing when to call it a done deal.
Tatiana Maslany is only a household name among the “Clone Club” but is slowly getting recognized for her incredible body of work, bringing to life several characters with unique and distinct stories and voices.
There’s still time to binge before the final season but Season 4 will be known as the one where it felt like the previous three were worth it. – EE
Most Under-Appreciated Comedy: You’re the Worst (FXX)
After an outstanding exploration of Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) depression in Season 2, Jimmy’s (Chris Geere) psychological issues stemming from an unsupportive father come to head after he kicks the bucket.
This past season was less dark but creator Stephen Falk kept the plates of tear-inducing comedy, life’s harsh humbling moments, and the pain that’s associated with dating all spinning.
There were some fascinating experimental episodes too like seeing an entire episode again but from Edgar’s PTSD-ridden point-of-view, Shitstain’s engagement ceremony done completely with the use of a Steadicam and one take, an episode driven by Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) and Paul (Allan McLeod), and the final Sunday Funday that turned the entire 20 minutes into a scavenger hunt for a hidden speakeasy.
I’m a little worried about what Season 4 has in store with Edgar’s newfound talent in writing for television, but I’m thrilled he’s getting out of Jimmy’s place and kitchen. I am thankful though that Kether Donohue’s Lindsay wound up getting rid of her baby but fearful for how she will adjust to living on her own.
But being excited and scared are good places to be in between seasons. But the best thing about the end of Season 3 is that we already know a Season 4 is in production because I really need more episodes where Gretchen speaks Spanish. Truly and honestly. – EE
Most Cinematic Show, Most Thrilling Show, and the Show Imitating Life/Life Imitating Show Award: Mr. Robot (USA Network)
I don’t know about any of you but I’m still shocked we’re talking about something that’s so beautifully shot and pushes the boundaries of gritting storytelling is on USA. While Season 1 was near perfect, one couldn’t help but make comparisons to a handful of movies that if I were to list them, would probably give away the big twist.
So shaking up the construct os Season 2 was not only brave but necessary and while the latest season went too long in stretches with characters not advancing when the series sang at the right pitch, it was on point.
Thankfully, the cinematic eye behind the lens of the camera or in Sam Esmail’s writing never wavered in its bravery to be unexpected and continued to put viewers through an unsettling thrill ride for 10 weeks.
Now, I cannot discuss Season 2 without talking about the 80s sitcom episodes starring Alf, which no one could have predicted was a place we thought the show could go and whenever the audience feels like it’s in the driver’s seat, the vehicle is thrown by a head on collision. I mean… Alf? C’mon!
I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen for a single second. As for Mr. Robot imitating life, for anyone who knows the show in-depth knows how it uses real-world hacks and technology as the basis for some of its main storylines, but after the lunacy of this past election and the mere possibility that it was altered by the efforts of hackers just keeps this show as necessary viewing. – EE
Best Love Scene: The Jennings – Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys – The Americans (FX)
While it is difficult for The Americans to top their “love scene” in Season 3 known to viewers as the “Tooth Extraction” scene, there was an equally intense moment in Season 4 where Phillip was beginning to worry that Martha’s (Alison Wright) cover is blown to the FBI.
A desperate call to Martha where Philip tells her that he “loves her” feels all too sincere as he fears that the Bureau may be tailing her and he is left guilted by the corner he’s placed Martha in. Cue David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” as we move to the Jennings home.
Elizabeth recognizes her husband’s distress, initiating a steamy, boundary-pushing-cable-TV-sex session, with the lyrics “We give ourselves… one more chance, can’t we give love, one more chance” then eventually cutting to the climax “This is…our last dance.”
She’s clearly into it more than him, but the act is a reminder from her that she is his actual wife, as if his fake marriage was beginning to mean more to him than just part of the job.
A little of Elizabeth’s insecurity is present, as is her concern to take her husband’s mind off the rope tightening around his (and Martha’s) neck, and finally, she’s sending a message to him about the bigger picture.
Meanwhile, Martha goes to bed alone, unbeknownst to her that there are FBI agents staked outside her home. Love scenes are never just love scenes on The Americans as they’re loaded with symbolism, subtext, and tension. – EE
Most F****d up Revelation: Rachel’s Family Secret – UnREAL (Lifetime)
The cast of suitorettes wasn’t as surprising or a hot mess as Season 1, but Shiri Appleby’s Rachel and Constance Zimmer’s Quinn more than made up for the lack of crazy in the cast.
Everlasting’s dual showrunners were like a fire-breathing dragon with two heads, burning everything in front of them, and those still left standing behind them.
But it wasn’t until Rachel revealed to her Season 2 love interest that her mother kept her and her father heavily medicated to hide an ugly incident involving Rachel and one of her mother’s patients.
It gave us a reason to understand why Rachel and her mother didn’t get along but also understood why she was so self-destructive. – EE