2016 was a pretty miserable year, between Minute Maid Mao hating minorities on his way to the presidency, and every celebrity dying, leaving only YouTube stars and Glenn Beck to entertain us. BUT one of the saving graces from the dumpster fire that we considered the last 52 weeks was an immense amount of really, REALLY good television. Here are the five best shows that I watched this year, in no particular order.
Taskmaster, one of Dave’s original works this year, cranked out two seasons in 2016, and is cranking out two more in 2017. Each series, a collection of funny people are given a series of tasks to accomplish through whatever means are at their disposal. The tasks are basically judged by one metric: how much they meet the baseline standards of host and final arbiter: comedian Greg Davies. The tasks are always esoteric, such as the one above, where the guests must get the potato into the hole without stepping on the red green. Taskmaster is one of those panel shows, like QI, in which no matter what kind of comedy a guest is specialized in, all can shine through in this neat hour package. The dynamic between Davies and co-host and task monkey Alex Horne (whose band The Horne Section performed the theme of the show) is always awkward and hilarious. This is one of the best original panel shows that Dave has commissioned, and possibly one of the funniest shows of the year.
For me, American Horror Story hit a scary slump after Asylum. Coven was kind of scary, but the teenage drama between the witches wore thin. Freak Show’s scariest entity, a murderous clown named Twisty, was removed from the proceedings way too early. And Hotel was a wonderful mystery surrounded by a whole load of violent butt-sex, but none of that is particularly scary. Roanoke, on the other hand, managed to take the hackneyed (but purely American) trope of the found-footage horror movie, as well as the glut of re-enacted basic-cable talking-head documentaries, and combine them into a bloodbath with excellent pacing, an impressive amount of blood and gore, a mythos that starts to tie earlier episodes together, and a twist at the end of the season that was unexpected and very intriguing.
Donald Glover fronts this FX sitcom that, at first glance, looks like another dramedy along the lines of Girls or Master of None, and that’s what I expected sitting down to watch it. What I got, instead, was the most genuine sitcom I think I’ve seen all year. When Donald Glover said in an interview with Vulture, “I wanted to show white people, you don’t know everything about black culture,” he wasn’t kidding. It’s clear that the writers of this show have experienced life in Black America at a very front-line level, but they’re writing with an interpretive filter that gives those watching either a feeling of dread of disbelief that there are people who are experiencing in real life the things Earn and his compatriots are coming across, or chuckles and laughs amongst knowing nods that there are definitely people who are experiencing in real life the things Earn and his compatriots are coming across.
Certainly the best sci-fi show I’ve watched this year, and one of the stunning blockbusters of the Netflix original library. Two things really stood out to me while watching, outside of the amazing acting, the engaging writing, excellent cinematography and great special effects, and of course Barb: 1) this is one of the few pieces of media I’ve seen that portray a group of children asking an adult about a cockamamie plan, idea or otherwise silly hypothesis and not having that adult immediately shit on the idea (I think Donnie Darko’s another one, but those are the only two off the top of my head), and 2) this is one of the few pieces of media set in the 80s I’ve seen that resisted most of the obvious “hey look it’s the 80s” references that other works (oh, the Conjuring, I know it’s the 70s from the bell-bottoms. I don’t need you to say groovy over and over) tend to run into the ground. I can’t wait for season 2.
Adam Conover in Adam Ruins Everything is a human “Well, Actually.” The construct of the show is that normal people are going through their everyday lives doing things or believing things that are surprisingly problematic, and Adam comes in to ruin the day with pesky facts. If you haven’t seen this show, it’s really really good. It doesn’t just spout facts at you, either: there are recurring characters, a loose storyline between episodes, and even a death in Season 1! Imagine Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, but with better research and less libertarian hosts. With such a wide range of topics like the prison system, immigration and Christmas, Adam Ruins Everything should be required viewing, if just to develop a critical eye to the world around you.