The 10 Best Shows of 2016 — So Far!
It wasn’t easy, but somehow EW’s TV critics agreed on our favorite shows of the first half of the year. Set aside that binge time!
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) fixed her busted “happy place,” Titus (Tituss Burgess) confronted his guilt and fears, Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) addressed her profound wrongness. This is season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — smarter, bolder, more LOL-gonzo than the first, and about the importance of being breakable and remakeable. Creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock crafted a well-designed season built to a hilarious, emotionally complex, audaciously meta climax. They even improved the risky joke of Jacqueline’s Native American heritage by taking it more seriously — we’ll never cheer for the Washington Redskins again.
Roots (History, A&E, Lifetime, LMN)
The original, 1977 Roots was a TV landmark that presented the horror of slavery in ways Hollywood had never dared before. This year’s remake couldn’t match its significance, but it equaled its relevance and power. An extraordinary cast led by Malachi Kirby as the proud Kunta Kinte and Regé-Jean Page as the dangerously disillusioned Chicken George formed a complex multigenerational portrait of suffering and survival. Provocatively tailored for these racially fraught times, Roots is an engrossing, moving, necessary reminder of history that deserves constant remembrance and demands redemptive response.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
It’s hard to imagine that a miniseries could be as gripping as the real-life trial of the century. But American Crime Story felt like a national news event in itself. From the moment it opened with the beating of Rodney King, a scene that hit hard in the age of Black Lives Matter, it was chillingly relevant, and the smallest details about the lawyers’ decisions revealed so much about the legal system. Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance rescued their characters from caricature, showing how conflicted Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran were as they argued about what justice really means. Is it about honoring victims, or taking a stand against institutional racism? The finale was a haunting reminder that Americans are still divided.
O.J. Made In America (ABC/ESPN)
If TV has proved anything so far this year, it’s that O.J. Simpson might be the quintessential lens for examining American culture. (Well, Simpson and Donald Trump, obviously.) Ezra Edelman’s relentlessly juicy 10-hour, five-part documentary epic deconstructs the icon and the city that made him. What results is a richly reported and insightful meditation on race, identity, and the chase of transcendence through fame. But the power lies in the shattering, often squirmy spectacle of Simpson’s friends and enemies wrestling with their consciences — or trying to avoid it.
Tracking the meandering, fitful progression of a relationship between damaged people is a daring project. But Judd Apatow, Paul Rust, and Lesley Arfin’s delightfully shaggy cringe-com is continuously raucous and wise. Inspired performances by Community’s Gillian Jacobs as the cynical lady train-wreck and Rust as the neurotic man-child find new vitality in familiar archetypes. Claudia O’Doherty as their cheery, no-dummy Aussie pal is a show-stealing blast of comic sunshine. “The Date” — about a terrible one — is arguably the funniest episode of TV so far this year.
Lady Dynamite (Netflix)
Maria Bamford’s semiautobiographical comedy isn’t for everyone. But for anyone who’s ever felt like a freak, it’s probably the best thing on TV. Co-produced by Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development) and Pam Brady (South Park), it’s a highly exaggerated sitcom about a struggling comedian with mental-health issues. From the eye-scalding color scheme to the fantasy sequence involving a sheep riding a motorcycle, everything about the show is wild, shrill, and over-the-top. But it’s also an utter joy to watch, because it invites you to view the world through Bamford’s big, bright, manic imagination. And for all the bizarre jokes, its central theme — how to survive adulthood without feeling unbearably lonely — couldn’t be more relatable.
Horace and Pete (LouisCK.net)
Making like Beyoncé, Louis C.K. floored us with a veritable surprise album drop, a self-financed, theater-style tragicomedy about spiritually broken barmen (C.K. and Steve Buscemi) and their family (including Alan Alda and Jessica Lange) contending with their histories, legacies, and collapsed meaning. A winsomely rough yet thoroughly artful work committed to capturing humanity at its messiest, Horace and Pete was a beautiful stretch — for C.K. and the audience — that produced abundant brilliance. May Laurie Metcalf’s tour de force guest turn win all the Emmys.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Somehow, watching the McGill brothers undermine each other in a poorly lit New Mexico Kinko’s was every bit as high-stakes as witnessing two drug kingpins in a turf war. That’s because the rivalry between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) is fueled as much by bitterness as by love. Chuck couldn’t have caught Jimmy’s confession on tape unless Jimmy felt real tenderness for him, and season 2’s finale twist wouldn’t have been so gutting if the show hadn’t made us genuinely care about both of them in the end. Bonus points for the best cliffhanger ever delivered with a single word: “Don’t.”
The Americans (FX)
As ruthless Russian spies, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) have always believed that one must sacrifice humans in order to save humanity. But this season, The Americans really forced them — and us — to consider the cost of individual lives. When the KGB sent Martha (Alison Wright) on a plane bound for a permanent Siberian vacation, Rhys made us feel the weight of Philip’s conscience. But it wasn’t just Martha — seeing other beloved characters like Young-Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles) suffer the consequences of Philip and Elizabeth’s militancy begged us to investigate our own moral relativism as viewers.
American Crime (ABC)
2016’s best shows have been ingenious and deeply empathetic at dramatizing the collision of the personal and the political, and the damage done by dealing poorly with the consequences. Season 2 of John Ridley’s anthology series, American Crime, followed the complex fallout of an intimate encounter gone wrong between two boys in Indiana, producing astounding stories about sexual identity, class, race, gender politics, and gun violence. Extraordinary writing, directing, and acting — particularly from Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari — elevated these 10 episodes to the top ranks of TV drama.