TV

Our Writers Offer Their Picks For The Best New TV Shows Of 2016


As 2016 comes to a close, the Uproxx staff will be chiming in on some of its favorite things about television from the year. The selections will be presented in no particular order. Like lists, but also not. Today, we present our Best New Shows of 2016.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (FX)

Admit it, you didn’t think this show was going to be as good as it was. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s fine. You’re in good company. Lots of people saw the description of the show and the people involved and worried that it was going to teeter its way into a campy mess. But then it started and, man, it was really good. Sarah Paulson turned in performance that made viewers rethink their feelings on Marcia Clark, and Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance were great, and John Travolta’s take on Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro was fascinating for about 20 different reasons. And yeah, it did contain a little bit of the campy aspect we all thought it might, but it turned out to be just the right amount. It was respectful camp, to the degree that is a thing. And it ended up being one of the best things about TV in 2016. — Brian Grubb

Atlanta (FX)

It wasn’t just that Atlanta met all the expectations created when the multitalented Donald Glover announced he’d be creating and starring in his own series. It’s that the show blew all those expectations away. Exploring life on the lowest rungs of the ladder of success, the first season of Atlanta shifted from funny to sad to weird — sometimes extremely weird, including some format-breaking episodes and a funny outing guest-starring “Justin Bieber” — while still feeling like the part of the same coherent vision. Glover also smartly surrounded himself with supporting cast that could shoulder the weight of whole episodes. The characters played by Brian Tyree Howard, Keith Stanfield, and Zazie Beets all felt like they could be the leads in shows of their own, and occasionally were, in a series that was often willing to blow itself up and start over with each episode. It’s exciting to imagine what Glover and his collaborators can do with a whole new season to treat as a fresh canvas. — Keith Phipps

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee (TBS)

The absence of diverse representation on late night is a continuing concern, specifically in that it feels like we all just went through a game of musical chairs where a ton of jobs came available and mostly white people wound up sitting behind desks as hosts. Samantha Bee spent more than a decade on The Daily Show but like Stephen Colbert and John Oliver before her, her career trajectory didn’t line up with the flight path of Jon Stewart’s descent, so she built her own damn chair… even though she stands on her show. (Man, metaphors, I don’t know.)

The point is, Bee made her own thing on TBS and she has, in less than a year, become one of the most respected and strongest voices on late night. Bee’s mission is to be a check against bullsh*t, but the same could be said of Oliver, Seth Meyers, and Trevor Noah. What makes her different is the way she calls these things out, distilling anger, fear, and outrage and turning it into fire. Bee is a peerless punch-you-in-the-throat kind of comic force at a time when a little extra oomph is needed to stand out from the flood of information and hot takes. The thrilling thing is, she’s just getting started. — Jason Tabrys

Lethal Weapon (Fox)

Lethal Weapon is not prestige TV by a long shot, but if you saw “remake of an ‘80s classic” and tuned out, it’s worth seeing what you missed. Engineered by veteran producer Matt Miller, best known for Chuck and Las Vegas, and aiming only to be highly entertaining, it’s surprising how much the show gets right: Clayne Crawford as the suicidal Riggs and Damon Wayans as sitcom dad/action cop Murtaugh have a great chemistry and it’d be easy to just have them front and center all the time. But the show also gives them their separate space where Crawford underplays Riggs’ deep depression for both comedy and pathos, and Wayans can have sitcom-esque frustrations at daily life. The result is an action show with unusually deep characters that keeps you showing up. Not bad for a remake. — Dan Seitz

Stranger Things (Netflix)

It’s quite telling that although Stranger Things quietly debuted on Netflix in the middle of July to little fanfare (unlike, say, Netflix’s Marvel shows or Fuller House), within weeks it was all anybody could talk about, making it the most binge-worthy show of the summer. Preying upon a keen sense of viewer nostalgia for ‘70s and ’80s horror and sci-fi flicks with incredible attention to detail, Stranger Things became a runaway hit due in no small part to the acting and chemistry of its kid cast, all of whom were virtually unknown prior to the series. If you can measure the success of a series based solely on the amount of Halloween costumes inspired by it, the instances of Eleven costumes might suggest that Stranger Things was even hands down the best show of the year. — Stacey Ritzen


Fleabag (Amazon)

In this time of Peak TV, there are sure to be shows that fall through the cracks. Whether you discover them after a few seasons and fall in love towards the end of the show’s run or you get caught in a constant loop of “I promise I’ll watch it eventually,” you just can’t watch it all. Don’t let that happen with Fleabag, and since the Amazon Prime gem can be binged in an afternoon, you don’t have much of an excuse. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (one to seriously watch) writes and stars in this feral comedy about a young London woman — known only as Fleabag — who can’t seem to get her life together. Her business is failing, her relationships with men and her family are dysfunctional, and she still reeling from an unspeakable tragedy in her recent past. Fleabag is foul, raw, and hilariously funny, but it’s the deep-rooted sadness that sneaks up behind you and punches you in the face. Waller-Bridge certainly has a lot to say, but the way she says it is what makes Fleabag something different. It certainly isn’t easy viewing, but it is essential. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to see Olivia Colman give a master class of passive aggression, you’re in for a real treat. — Alyssa Fikse

Better Things (FX)

Parenting, especially single parenting, is messy. It entails a number of competing interests: Work obligations, school events, making meals, dating, maintaining friendships, parenting the friends of your children, and sleep. It’s exhausting, and frustrating, and contentious, and often the moments of joy are few and far between. Pamela Adlon’s semi-autobiographical Better Things depicts all of those competing interests in a funny, wise, and heartbreaking manner, and imparts parenting lessons of its own about the value of oversharing, how to deflect the judgment of other parents, and to what degree parents should be involved in their children’s lives. “I’m dating my daughters. They’re my love life,” Adlon says in the pilot, and few shows better capture the highs and lows of that, the hardest, most rewarding relationship in a mother’s life. — Dustin Rowles

Billions (Showtime)

TV watching sometimes felt like work in 2016, especially if you were determined to keep up with the latest prestige drama du jour. For all their ambition, visual acuity, and storytelling complexity, shows like Mr. Robot and Westworld were, well, slogs, over-burdened with so much plot and “twists” that simply enjoying them took a backseat to deciphering their dense codes. And then there was Billions, a deliciously nasty rookie drama set in a high-stakes world of crooked hedge funds and even crookeder federal attorneys. Billions is the one show that I raced to watch the moment a new episode was available. Essentially a soap opera for people into quoting Goodfellas and The Conversation, Billions never let thematic ambition get in the way of delivering the goods. The core theme of Billions — greed is inherently destructive, because it’s also supremely seductive — was appropriately weighty given the damage that intense self-interest waged this year. But storytelling-wise, Billions was also refreshingly simple: This was a show about two megalomaniacs (Damian Lewis’s financial mastermind Bobby Axelrod and Paul Giamatti’s U.S. district attorney Chuck Rhoades) who won’t stop f*cking with each other. It’s Wall Street crossed with the cafe scene from Heat. That’s it, that’s the story — which is all you need when you have game actors like Lewis achieving peak smarm and Giamatti crazily strapping himself to a literal BDSM table. Given that Billions premiered back in January, it should get bonus points for predicting the tenor of political conversation at the dawn of Trump. — Steven Hyden


People of Earth (TBS)

When it comes to original comedy programming, TBS is having a banner year with late night and scripted entries like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and Search Party, respectively. Yet its best contribution to 2016’s endless array of new television comedies is also its quietest — the alien abduction farce People of Earth, which stars Wyatt Cenac, Ana Gasteyer and who’s who of comedians, comic actors and newcomers in one of slickest ensemble productions to date. Aside from the cast’s chemistry, however, a great deal of People of Earth‘s success is due to executive producer Greg Daniels’ (The Office, Parks and Recreation) guiding hand. Though television novice and series creator David Jenkins’ witty writing stands just as well on its own. — Andrew Husband

Speechless (ABC)

As a wheelchair user, I was thrilled ABC was adding to its comedy lineup with a series based on the life of a family which just happened to include a wheelchair user. Not only that, they cast an actor to star in Speechless who is actually disabled. (You wouldn’t think that would be surprising but casting for roles like this in the past would show you otherwise.) All that in mind I admit I was still concerned about how the story would approach disability issues but was quickly relieved to find out they realized honesty is the best policy (it also helps that they’ve been inclusive behind-the-scenes as well). The series approaches the daily challenges of being disabled without delving too deep but also not shying away from any topic. (Kenneth simply asking JJ early on “Do I handle bathroom stuff?” is the perfect example.) But the core of the show isn’t JJ, it’s the family unit as a whole. The DiMeos are the definition of a ragtag bunch and from the start it was easy to see how lovable these characters were going to be (even/especially when they’re being terrible, to each other or outsiders). Speechless has all the makings of a long-running comedy series — a unique premise, relatable characters, and performers with great comedic timing. That they also might happen to throw in a classic family comedy “life lesson” you’ve never been exposed to before it just an added bonus. — Jill Pantozzi

Lady Dynamite (Netflix)

So many of the year’s best new shows beg comparisons to existing works of pop culture. Stranger Things is a mashup of The Goonies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and basically all things 1980s. Atlanta is Twin Peaks meets Louie. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is Ryan Murphy’s Police Squad! The little-seen Lady Dynamite, meanwhile, is unlike anything in TV history. The Arrested Development juxtaposition is tempting, considering Netflix’s bipolar meta-comedy was created by Mitch Hurwitz and stars the brilliantly peculiar Maria Bamford. But Arrested Development never had sepia-toned flashbacks to mental hospitals, or Ana Gasteyer channeling Sylvester Stallone while singing a ditty called “Cradle the Balls and Work the Shaft,” or a talking pug named Bert who says like things like, “I have the constitution of a Friends season-seven-era Matthew Perry.” No show has a character like Bert, and no new show in 2016 was as good, or as weird, as Lady Dynamite. — Josh Kurp

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