Top 15 Dramas of 2016
It's time once again for the annual ranking of the best shows of the year. It's such a hard thing to narrow down because is this age of Peak TV, there are so many good shows out and they're available on every medium possible! This year's list features several new shows that have been amazing and a few returning favorites. Feel free to agree or disagree. I welcome your comments as always.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson – When the O.J. Simpson trial aired on TV, I was a freshman in high school. During our lunch time, one of the supervisors put it on for us to see. Although I remembered many things from the trial, I didn't really understand many of the things that happened. It could have been that I was too young or I just didn't see enough to create a context for myself.
Before this miniseries aired, I heard from many TV critics that would be a series that would be must-see. I was skeptical because it was being produced by Ryan Murphy and know that he can burn out on TV shows. I watched it and was drawn in right away by amazing performances. John Travolta as Bob Shapiro was the most confusing portrayal. My rationale is that he's an actor of a certain age so he's probably done some things to his face that prevent him from emoting much. The standouts in the group were Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Sterling J. Brown as Chris Darden and Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran. It was great to see all three of them win Emmy awards for their performances and for the show to win several more. I'm sure it will be the same for the Golden Globes this January. Whether you know anything about the trial of the century or not, it provided a well-rounded picture of what was really going on behind the scenes and shows how it was possible that Simpson was found not guilty. The stand-out episode was “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” which really gave Sarah Paulson the chance to shine. It is well worth your time to check out the 10 episodes. We'll see if they can do as well with a different case in the second season.
The Flash – Barry Allen and the story of The Flash has been a true delight the last few seasons. I didn't think it was possible to enjoy a comic series as consistently as I enjoy this one. Although I watch all of them on The CW, this one is by far my favorite (with Supergirl as a close second). In the back half of season 2, there were a lot of storylines that I really enjoyed. The introduction of Wally West was great, and now in season 3 we've seen him become a speedster which has been fun to watch. We also traveled to Earth-2 to a world filled with doppelgangers of our core characters. With the way that season 3 has unfolded so far, those counterparts are much closer to the characters now than they were then. We also were introduced to a few more versions of Harrison Wells and the introduction of his daughter Jesse, who may or may not turn into a speedster in the future. We had the first episode directed by Kevin Smith, where Barry had to become one with the speed force in a very interesting way. And then we had the season finale, where Barry decides to selfishly go back in time and save his mother.
As season 3 picks up we see the consequences of that decision and although it seems to reset after one episode, the ramifications of his selfish actions continue to affect all the characters on the show. By the middle of this season, Barry flashes forward and sees that his love has been killed and now as to deal with that knowledge and try to prevent it at the hands of Savitar. In season 3 we've also seen further developments in Caitlin and Cisco's powers and we had the introduction of Caitlin's mother. Barry's actions in changing history have affected everyone and his relationship with Cisco is still a bit strained because his brother is now dead in this new reality. John Wesley Shipp has returned to show after being killed off as Barry's father, only to come in the story as Jay Garrick from Earth-2. In this new role, he is still a father figure to Barry because he knows a thing or two about the speed force and not making selfish decisions. Season 3 also saw an episode directed by Kevin Smith, but focusing on Caitlin this time. As you can tell, there are many things that I have enjoyed on The Flash and I can't wait to see where they go from here.
Jane the Virgin – Jane the Virgin is on par with The Flash in shows that I love from week to week but for very different reasons. I am deeply invested in the characters of this soap opera and their struggles and successes. The back half of season 2 found Jane continuing to struggle as a new parent in a way that felt very realistic. Of course she has her mom and abuela to help, but at times she thought she was a failure because she couldn't figure everything out so easily. She was also struggling in grad school and balancing all the work she had to do there to keep afloat with motherhood. She attempted another relationship, but in the end she realized that Michael was her true love and they finally married in the season finale (and then he was shot!). Petra inseminated herself with Rafael's sperm (three kids and no sex for Rafael, as the narrator pointed out) in a very soap opera storyline and her never before seen sister Aneska showed up. She then took Petra's place and then Petrified her sister! By the middle of season 3 that truth was finally revealed but it was not looking good for a while! Rafael still struggled with his feelings for Jane, but in the end decided to do the right thing and let her go.
As season 3 picked up, Michael's life held in the balance. He survived and eventually he and his bride Jane were able to finally consummate their union. Jane started working on her thesis that centered around her abuela's early life and found herself in contact with a cousin who then showed up in town. This causes some strain in her relationship with her abuela, but is resolved when Jane and Alba have a heart-to-heart about Alba's painful history with her sister. Rogelio (the best character on the show!) crossed over to American TV, but had to make some sacrifices to do so. Xo became pregnant by another man, but decided not to keep that child. Although I didn't agree with that decision, I'm glad it led to her making a positive career decision to open her own dance studio. Rogelio still struggles with his feelings for her, but she's trying to move on. Jane and Michael got evicted from their new home (I knew it was too good to be true!) and they struggled with the lack of religion in Mateo's life. There's so much heart to the show and I can't wait for it to return for more fun, adventure and over-the-top craziness.
Orphan Black – Season 4 of Orphan Black started out by exploring a character we never met, Beth Childs. In the pilot of the series, Beth committed suicide in front of a train. Soon after, Sarah took over Beth's life. Since then we haven't had any more story of Beth. This season gave us that context to her story and it filled in a lot of blanks and answered many questions that were never addressed until now. This season gave Tatiana Manslany the opportunity to play Beth again, but also to introduce us to M.K. and to play Krystal once more. We were also introduced to face bots and both Sarah and Cosima had to deal with their consequences. Kira got bigger and her powers were explored more. Other new and returning characters came up against the sestras to cause conflict and the organizations of Brightborn and Neolution were further explored. Many issues I had with season 3 were remedied this season. The show was renewed for a final season 5 and I'm looking forward to seeing how they wrap up the story. There are still so many unanswered questions. The creators had a five season story in mind so I know they will answer just enough of those questions and leave a few unresolved to get to the series finale. Tatiana Manslany finally won an Emmy for playing 85 characters (only a slight exaggeration!) which was a delight to behold. I can't wait to see what she and everyone else involved bring to the final season.
Wynnona Earp – This is a show that I knew little about and only watched because Kevin Bachelder would not stop singing its praises. Wynonna Earp has been away from her hometown, Purgatory, for years but returns to reluctantly take on the role that Wyatt Earp's heir is destined for — demon protector. Her task is to take out Revenants, the resurrected souls of the criminals who were taken down at one time by her great-grandfather. Wynonna teams up with sister Waverly, agent Xavier Dolls and Doc Holliday, the cursed-with-immortality best friend of Wyatt Earp, as they work to stop the Revenants from taking over Purgatory and escaping into the world. Add in snappy dialogue, an amazing sister team and a cast that is very present on social media and you have the keys to success. The cast has amazing chemistry with each other and they care enough to interact with the fans. They have each appeared on Kevin and Bonnie's fan podcast and caused such a fan following that SyFy couldn't ignore it and renewed it for a second season. I enjoyed every moment of it (but maybe not as much as Kevin and Bonnie did) and I look forward to seeing where it goes next season.
This is Us – For six seasons, the show Parenthood was my go-to show for heartfelt family stories that frequently made me cry. When it went off the air in January of 2015, I didn't think there would be another show to fill that void. In the Fall of 2016, NBC heard my plea and premiered This is Us. I knew going into the pilot that there was a “big twist” but was delighted that no critics who saw it ahead of time spoiled it. I went it with an open mind and I was blown away. There were a few more twists at the ends of the first few episodes, but eventually those stopped and they focused on the storylines that mattered. They explored many concepts over the first half of the season, but in the end I counted on this show to stand above every other new show on the air. There's a reason it's the number 1 new show of the Fall. It's just that good. I've enjoyed every minute of it and I highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for something that tells heartfelt stories that will break your heart and lift your spirits at the same time. I went through some hard times this Fall, but this program gave me hope for a better tomorrow.
Supergirl – Supergirl did not make this list last year, because they had a lot of bumps during the first half of the first season. However, by the middle to end of the first season they finally figured out what stories were important and it soared (pun intended!). I was delighted that The CW picked it up for the second season (where it always should have been) but the move to Vancouver came with a cost. Calista Flockhart, who plays Cat Grant, would have minimal appearances. Although she's missed on screen, they have found a way to explore other characters more so that it's not as noticeable. By promoting Kara to a reporter, she's more grown up and it makes sense that she spends less time in the office. They've given James more to do as her semi-boss (taking Cat's place) and he's joined the action on the street as a vigilante in disguise. Winn is his accomplice, who has moved on from having a crush on Kara to being a valued member of her super friends. Alex explored a different side of herself and found herself accepted by her sister and mom. Kara found Jeremiah at Cadmus but couldn't bring him home but promised that she would one day. Other new characters (including Kara's cousin Superman!) were introduced to enhance the stories already in motion for the core characters. It still has a lot of story yet to tell, but it's on much firmer ground than a year ago. I look forward to seeing where it goes.
American Crime – I did not watch American Crime season 1. I listened to a podcast where the critics panned it for its storytelling and camera work so I decided to stay away. However, as season 2 approached I learned that Connor Jessup was cast and that piqued my interest. He did some great work on Falling Skies (even though the show fell off the cliff in the final season) and I was excited to see him in a new role. This young man has star quality and it shows in this season. It is a crying shame that he hasn't gotten any nominations this award season. He portrayed a high school student who claims to have been victimized by other students and through the course of the season, the truth of the incident is revealed. The emotions he goes through are many, so much so that it leads to a very dramatic action by him in the seventh episode. The consequences of his actions continue to impact all involved for the final three episodes. Although Jessup is the main star, there are many other young actors who have the opportunity to shine as they relate to what has happened. The adults, who also appeared in season 1, support as parents and educators. Lillie Taylor, in particular, shines portraying Jessup's mother and becoming as unraveled as he is by all that is happening. It was an amazing season and I hope that season 3 provides more opportunity for Jessup to show what he's made of.
Preacher – I had no good reason to watch this show, but so many of my friends had seen the pilot and were raving about it so I watched out of pure curiousity. I was very cautious though because I knew that the plot would be involving a preacher with supernatural powers. Would they be making fun of religion in the process? No, they did not make fun of religion, but they also didn't shy away from violence or language. There are some very graphic scenes in this show and those with low tolerance for that, probably won't make it through the first episode. I found myself oddly intrigued by it. Yes, I have seen other shows with violence, language or graphic scenes, but not as extreme as they are explored in this show. I found myself hooked from the first episode and although there were many times during the season where I questioned why I was still watching something like this, I couldn't turn it off. The story took many twists I didn't see coming and the end of the first season caused a complete reset and I can't wait to see how it plays out next season.
Gotham – Gotham is a show that is the complete opposite of shows like The Flash and Supergirl. It is dark, violent and mostly focused on the villains of Gotham city. I didn't watch all of season 1, but more than one friend told me it got better after I quit watching. I decided to watch the last several episodes to see what had changed and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there are darker themes than other DC shows, but I liked the potential that I saw coming. In season 2, they focused on the villains more prominently. In the season half of season 2 (subtitled Wrath of the Villains) they introduced Dr. Freeze (which played out much better than when Arnold S played him in Batman & Robin), his wife Nora, Hugo Strange (played brilliantly by BD Wong) and others. Penguin met his dad, played by Paul Reubens, and stepmom, played by The OC's Melinda Clark, and re-emerged from his conditioning. Riddler and Jim were in prison. A few characters came back from the dead with “enhancements.”
In season 3, Jim worked as a bounty hunter for a time. Valerie Vale came to town and got involved with Jim. Penguin and Riddler worked together as Penguin became mayor in a weird turn of events. Riddler met a doppleganger for his former love interest. The Mad Hatter came to town and his sister caused some strange happenings. Captain Barnes finally got a storyline. Lee married a Falcone. A lot of things happened, but in the end I was intrigued by the turns each villain took. Yes, it's a tough thing to root for the bad guys but without Batman (who's still a kid hanging around with the future Catwoman and Poison Ivy – who encountered some Miracle Gro) around, what choice do you have?
Stranger Things – Stranger Things was hands down my number 1 show this year. In just 8 episodes, they captured my attention and I can't wait to see what they do in season 2. The kids are amazing young actors. It's a blend of The Goonies, E.T., The X-Files and many other kinds of stories of the 1980s. The title sequence is perfection. There is so much goodness in it that it must be experienced. Go watch it if you haven't already and thank me later.
iZombie – I continue to enjoy so many things about this show. It is smart, has snappy dialogue, interesting characters and I'm deeply invested in the stories that they are telling. In the second half of season 2, Rose McIver continued to amaze me with how versatile she was as an actress. Kirsten Bell guest starred (kind of), Liv got a new love interest (that was again, short-lived), Peyton moved back in with Liv (yes!), Vaughn's mean side reached a whole new level and the truth about Major was finally discovered (just in time for him to turn into a zombie again). Clive finally learns the truth about Liv and then teams up with the rest of the gang to bring down Vaughn and the bad guys of Max Rager. After being victorious and discovering an even more dangerous woman is now in charge, Liv is asked to pick a side. We have to wait way too long for season 3, but I can't wait for this show to return.
11.22.63 – Starring James Franco, this limited series on Hulu explores a teacher discovering a time portal that leads to October 21st, 1960. He goes on a quest to try and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which is complicated by the presence of Lee Harvey Oswald and the fact that he's falling in love with the past itself.
This was a brilliant series and although I never read the source material by Stephen King, I was hooked from the beginning. I'm a huge fan of time travel stories, which can go in so many directions. I loved that this one dealt with the consequences of changing things. When Franco's character completes his mission, he discovers that maybe it was wrong decision (just like Barry Allen on The Flash) and has to figure out what to do to correct it. The depiction of the 1960s was spot-on and I loved that they could take such a long novel and tell it well through the course of 8 episodes. Of course they modified the story to their own needs, but they still did it well. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven't already. For more on the show check out this podcast hosted by my friends (and fellow Packer fans) Wayne and Troy.
Pitch – This was a new series this Fall that I had no reason to watch. I'm not a fan of baseball and a story about baseball did not appeal to me in the least. However, I heard many positive reviews about it so I gave it a shot. I'm a huge fan of Kylie Bunbury from the cancelled show Twisted (let's just leave Under the Dome out of her resume!) and knew she had the potential to be the breakout star that I always imagined she could be. Wow, did she deliver! Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack Morris!) also is great on the show, although whoever decided to hide his beautiful face under a full beard made a fatal mistake. Although he acts very much like a big brother to her in helping her through her first season as the Padres' pitcher, by the end of the season I found myself wondering if there could be more between them.
I also enjoyed seeing BJ Britt in a role where he could do more than act like a spoiled brat (like he did on UnREAL season 2) and Mark Consuelos (who will always be Mateo Santos on All My Childen to me) as the manager. Although the first season was cut to 10 episodes, they did a great job of telling a concise story that I very much enjoyed. The best part about a show about baseball is that it's a show that I could watch with my husband (who doesn't watch TV unless it's shows about Alaska or nature) because he's a softball coach. He knows the realities of the game and where this fictional show gets it right or wrong.
Grimm – Grimm is a show that I've enjoyed for five seasons as a great supernatural show. What started out as a procedural with supernatural qualities has continued to reinvent itself every season. In season 4, I was growing a bit tired of the show because they dragged out a few storylines a bit too long and I was ready for something new.
The second half of season 5 restored my hope in the show! Although I wasn't a fan of the Juliette story that they were telling, they left it in a place that gave me something to look forward to. The 100th episode, which was episode 10 of the season, was my favorite because not only for the adventure Nick and Monroe had in Germany, but it gave us a return to the mystery of the keys! This story was introduced in season 1 but since then it seemed to have been forgotten. Finally, they gave us a reason to care. And I don't know what the real story of that magic stick is, but I can't wait to see what else it can do! They also reintroduced the books with all the research info that Monroe's uncle had. Nick lost all his books when Juliette burned down the trailer (yikes!)
Adalind had a very interesting arc this season as well. She started it off as a human who had just had Nick's baby (and they begin a semi-romance as co-parents) but towards the end of the season her hexenbiest powers return. Her fear that she might do something to hurt her child was easily felt. Her daughter also returned to the show and she has some crazy powers! Wu turned into a Wesen due to being infected with lycanthropia and had no memory of what he was doing. The Black Claw mystery was very interesting and I enjoyed how it concluded with just enough of the story to carry us into season 6. Diana has a big part to play in that conclusion, but how will it affect Nick and his family? Grimm returns for a sixth and final season this Friday and I, for one, can't wait to see how they wrap up this show in the final 13 episodes. I will miss it greatly.
P.S. In case you're wondering why shows like 12 Monkeys, The Crown, Travelers, The OA, The Expanse, Designated Survivor, Empire, Mr. Robot, Man in the High Castle and Empire aren't on the list, it's because I either haven't seen them yet or I'm not caught up. Maybe they'll make the cut next year 😉