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Best of 2016: 10 new TV shows

Donald Glover plays Earn Marks in "Atlanta," the year's best television show.

FX

Donald Glover plays Earn Marks in "Atlanta," the year's best television show.

14

December

At least something good came out of 2016. More than ever this year we needed to escape into our screens, and thankfully we have a lot of quality TV right in front of us. And that means it's harder than ever to pick what programs to watch.

Veteran shows such as Game of Thrones, The Americans and Veep continued to impress us. And late-night television from Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers and John Oliver had its best material this year thanks to the election. ESPN's documentary O.J.: Made in America was as riveting as it was informative on a familiar narrative.

Narrowing a best-of-TV list down to 10 is a tough task, so this list only includes scripted shows that debuted this year. There are familiar titles you've probably already watched and hopefully a few you haven't. Catch up on these before even more new shows drop (we'll preview those in a few weeks) and your favorites return.

1. Atlanta (FX)

No surprise, your boyfriend Donald Glover tops the list. Somewhere between Community, his music career as Childish Gambino and (my personal fave) his role as a male stripper in Magic Mike XXL, Glover found his voice. It was risky, but he took a simple premise (aimless man begins managing his cousin's hopeful rap career) and added poignant surrealism and strong social commentary on race and class. The show's slow pace brought something unexpected each episode, from a show within a show to a black Justin Bieber. Glover's experiment worked. This half-hour "comedy in theory" was the most confident new show on TV this year.

REVIEW: Donald Glover's 'Atlanta' a distinct, leisurely look at the reality of Dirty South rap.

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

Perfectly yet surprisingly cast, The People v. O.J. Simpson served up delicious comfort food on our screens. As frustrating and exhausting as the O.J. Simpson case was 21 years ago, we happily got swept up in this new drama. Even though we knew the outcome, this miniseries gave fresh perspectives on the case, using familiar race, gender and class tensions that still divide the country.

Netflix

These kids delighted us this year.

3. Stranger Things (Netflix)

This was summer's biggest hit, and no one knew it was coming. Netflix didn't promote this sci-fi/horror/family drama all that much, relying on a word-of-mouth campaign. And boy, did people spread the word fast. It appealed to both '80s film/pop culture geeks and a younger audience discovering adventure sci-fi for the first time. Impeccable casting, a captivating soundtrack and splendid cinematography took us on a journey with four kids to save their friend from a monster in another world. Season 2 is fast approaching, and the Duffer Brothers have a lot of pressure to recreate the magic. But for now, we'll be watching the first season for the fifth time.

REVIEW: 'Stranger Things' on Netflix is a thrilling ode to '80s sci-fi and cult classics with a horror twist.

4. Search Party (TBS)

Nope, we sure didn't need another take on the entitled life of the meandering millennial. But Search Party's smart self-awareness, most notably in Alia Shawkat's heroine Dory, was an original satire blending millennial comedy and the serialized mystery. This genre mash-up gave us some absurd storylines and characters (we love you, Parker Posey) as Dory and her clueless friends unravel the mystery behind their friend's disappearance. Sure, these characters are stereotypical (liberal, artsy, oblivious), but the show relishes in their unsympathetic awfulness, not asking for forgiveness. It's a tale as old as time: In trying to find Chantal, they were ultimately on a journey to discover themselves, right? But in the end, we'll all be asking ourselves, "Would anyone even care if something bad happened to me?"

5. The Girlfriend Experience (Starz)

It's easy to dismiss this show as a pornographic psychological thriller. Its frank take on sexuality through its protagonist, a Chicago law student and intern who's also a high-end escort, is every bit as uncomfortable as it is intriguing. But if you hold on and watch all 13 half-hour episodes, you will be rewarded with the finale, easily the year's best episode of television. The series merges storylines of the secret call girl and corporate conspiracy, but not in a way you'd expect. It's erotically existential and endlessly fascinating that will leave you breathless. And Riley Keough (Elvis Presley's granddaughter) deserves high acclaim for her intoxicating performance.

Netflix

An American playing a Brit? John Lithgow as Winston Churchill in Netflix's "The Crown" is perfect casting.

6. The Crown (Netflix)

We needed something to fill the Anglophilic hole in our hearts now that Downton Abbey departed. Peter Morgan's lavish 10-episode series is allegedly Netflix's most expensive project (at about $5 million an episode). Following the early reign of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, every episode has political dilemmas and pearl-clutching scandals. And no British period drama would be complete without gorgeous costumes and snarky banter. But it was John Lithgow's standout performance as the brilliant and belligerent Winston Churchill that kept us entertained.

7. Fleabag (Amazon)

It's the old bait-and-switch. At first we're watching a filthy comedy anchored by an anti-heroine. The next, our hearts break as we learn where her endless barrage of bad behavior stems from. As her character's life crumbles, Pheobe Waller-Bridge's raw wit and intelligence shine. This British import, a six-episode fourth-wall-breaking dramedy, is adapted from her award-winning play, and it cleverly finds an impressive balance between grief and humor.

8. Baskets (FX)

Premiering in January, Baskets came and went mostly unnoticed until September, when Louie Anderson snagged an Emmy for his role as Zach Galifianakis' mother. Yep, mother. From the weird minds of Galifianakis and Louis C.K., this dramedy is the perfect setting for Galifianakis' angry humor. He plays Chip Baskets, a clown who failed Clown School in France but picked up a French wife looking for a green card. She didn't have Bakersfield, Calif., in mind, but it's there we are introduced to the Baskets family and matriarch Christine Baskets. It's a role tailor-made for Anderson, who routinely channels his own mother in his standup. Warning: Baskets' eccentricity will have you asking "Huh? Why is this funny?" It's not for everyone, but we certainly found so much to love in this bizarre show.

Amazon

We're hoping a new network saves "Good Girls Revolt."

9. Good Girls Revolt (Amazon)

Amazon knew exactly what it was doing dropping this show a couple weeks before the election featuring the first major-party female presidential nominee. The show follows a group of newswomen who fight for the right to be equal in the workplace. It excelled with its nuanced depiction of strong female characters and relationships, as well as its refreshingly accurate take on journalism. And even though it was set in the late '60s, it (unfortunately) still felt relevant today. So after the election, Amazon's cruel decision to cancel the show stings a little more for its audience. But any good girl knows, nothing goes down without a good fight. So we'll see if Sony can #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt.

REVIEW: 'Good Girls Revolt' gives spotlight to 'nasty' newswomen of the '60s.

10. Braindead (CBS)

This CBS quirky satire won't be on most TV writers' top lists. Its timing amid a crazed campaign made this show a welcome delight this summer. From the creators of The Good Wife, this political satire where D.C. politicians were literally being infected by bugs from outer space was as perceptive as it was entertaining. Its delightful cast (Tony Shalhoub as an infected shouty senator was perfect) truly embraced the zaniness. Unfortunately, the show wasn't renewed.

Honorable mentions: This is Us (NBC), Insecure (HBO), One Mississippi (Amazon), Speechless (ABC), The Night Manager (AMC), The Night of (HBO), Better Things (FX), Horace and Pete (LouisCK.net), The Good Place (NBC), Quarry (Cinemax), Lady Dynamite (Netflix), Underground (WGN America), Marvel's Luke Cage (Netflix), Queen Sugar (OWN), Angie Tribeca (TBS)

Note: Wondering where Westworld is? There's just so many other shows to spend your time watching. HBO's sci-fi drama, while lavish and full of spectacular acting, fell flat. Its storylines repeated, the timelines were unnecessarily confusing, and the characters talked at each other, instead of with each other. It needed more nuance; showing, not telling.

Tweet me: @bevolk

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 2:25pm]

    

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