Well, as John Oliver rightly noted, 2016 was not a good year. And while I’ll do my best to keep updating this space, regular readers (if there is such a thing) can vouch that I’ve been lacking in posts; mostly because it feels like the world is falling apart. (I say this not as a wholly political statement; for instance, Alan Thicke and Florence Henderson and George Michael have passed while I’ve been working on this draft. Update: Carrie Fisher, too.) But with that said, entertainment is often a good way to express discontent with the current political and social climate, and can often serve as a distraction from, well, our impending doom. So enough prologue: I humbly submit the winners and losers of the entertainment world that were on my radar in 2016.
Almost every year, I sing the praises of HBO’s comedies Veep and Silicon Valley, along with the above-mentioned Mr. Oliver. This year, HBO added to its collection of exciting new dramas and excellent mini-series by airing Westworld and The Night Of, respectively. Now, Westworld had its flaws (enough about the maze!) and if I never see John Turturro’s feet again, it’ll be too soon. That said, HBO on Sunday nights is still destination TV.
Besides airing the biggest new hit of the season in This is Us, NBC also strengthened its comedy brand by adding The Good Place and by committing to Superstore, a show that is my biggest network guilty pleasure. Also, any network that can air David S. Pumpkins and the Rio Olympics in the same year is doing something right…
…but not everything. Billy Bush. The Matt Lauer “interview” of Trump. Not releasing “Apprentice” tapes. Jimmy Fallon playing with Trump’s hair. No channel did more damage to its brand this year than NBC, and I say that as someone aghast that CNN hired Corey Lewandowski.
Angie Tribeca is as fun, weird, and quirky a show you’ll see, and outside of John Oliver, no one is doing better political commentary these days that Samantha Bee. Speaking of…
Winner: Political Comedy
Bee, Oliver, Seth Meyers and, of late, Colbert have shown that late night is still a great place to discuss the politics of the day. A victory for almost everyone…
Loser: The Daily Show
Trevor Noah would have gotten an A for effort (I actually admire him trying to have a conversation outside of the liberal bubble), but not with an interview of hate monger Tomi Lahren.
The Olympics were predictably fun, Game 7 of the World Series may go down as one of the greatest games ever broadcast, and the best event on TV came not from a network or premium channel, but from ESPN. OJ: Made in America (not to be confused with the inferior Ryan Murphy drama) was the best documentary of the decade.
Winner: The Star Wars Universe
And not just because of Rogue One (which of course was great, especially K2-SO, Bodhi, and the Vader scenes), but also because Star Wars: Rebels proves to be a compelling show year in, year out. Update: This was written prior to Carrie Fisher’s passing. RIP, Leia.
Winner: Riz Ahmed
Because of Rogue One, The Night Of, and because he’s called Riz MC and released this song:
Winner: Auteur Sitcoms
Atlanta (FX) was likely the best show on TV this year, and Love (on Netflix) was probably my favorite half-hour.
Loser: Season 2s
Mr. Robot had a serious sophomore slump, so did Unreal, and pretty much everyone agrees that the shows need to right the ships or further viewer erosion.
After years of just doing individual episodes, South Park embraced serialized storytelling (including the genius Member Berries) to air what was its most enjoyable season in years.
Loser: Shows with no Season 2
Networks complain about a lack of fresh hits, but these are the same people who cancel Grandfathered, The Grinder and Limitless.
Winner: Weird Shows
The Girlfriend Experience on Starz is as close to indescribable as you can get for a show with a simple premise: a law student becomes a prostitute. The show evolved into so much more than that, and while I’m not sure I’d ever want to watch it again, it was brilliant for what it was. So too was Stranger Things on Netflix, in a way that was able to able to recapture a feeling of 80s movies like Goonies and E.T.
Winner: Fox Comedies
Brooklyn 99 is operating at its peak, New Girl is finally showing flashes of its former self, Son of Zorn is the most insane show on TV (and I mean that as a high compliment), Last Man on Earth is the most somber sitcom on TV (and I mean that as a high compliment), and The Simpsons are still America’s favorite family.
Winner: Time Travel
11.22.63 with James Franco was really great on Hulu (and sadly seems to be overlooked for awards consideration). 12 Monkeys on SyFy was my favorite science fiction show of the year, and did the idea of a man out of time much better than big-budget Doctor Strange. And of all the Oscar movies this season, Arrival might be my favorite of all.
Because besides Love and Stranger Things, Netflix also got to air Luke Cage and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (whose season 2 was superior to its originally-meant-for-NBC debut season).
Loser: Sarah, The Challenge
When you think you’ve won $125,000 and Johnny Bananas plays you on a mountain, you may have had the worst 2016 of us all.
Winner: Strong Females in Movies
Natalie Portman in Jackie is the performance of the year, but also great were Amy Adams in Arrival, Viola Davis in Fences, Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, Rachel Weisz in Denial, and Emma Stone in La La Land.
Loser: This Oscar Season
I didn’t love Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight as much as everyone else seems to have; I found La La Land a boring place to visit; Fences was adequate, as was Hidden Figures; and now I’m living in a world where Mel Gibson is at awards shows again.
Loser: Matt Damon
Loser: The Summer Blockbuster
Captain America: Civil War was pretty good. Then we got, what? Jason Bourne, ID:4:2 (atrocious), the worst X-Men movie, Suicide Squad…overall, a pretty weak crop. Sure, there were some OK movies mixed in (Zootopia, Secret Life of Pets), but even the bigger movies from March – November (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Finding Dory, Passengers) really did not live up to the hype in any meaningful way.
Loser: Reboots and Sequels
Not just ID:4:2, but also Zoolander 2, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Huntsman 2, Inferno, Bad Santa 2, Blair Witch 2, Bridge Jones’s Baby, Ghostbusters, Star Trek beyond, Ice Age: Collision Course, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Now You See Me 2 all underperformed at the box office and were the target of fan and critical derision.
Winner: Unintentional Comedy
Winner: Intentional Comedy
From Deadpool, Sausage Party, and The Nice Guys, specifically, we got a good dose of humor from a comic book movie, an adult animated film, and a classic buddy comedy.
Winner: The Western
Magnificent Seven was actually a really good movie that used all the classic Western tropes (as well as winning performances from Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, and Chris Pratt). And Hell or High Water was an enjoyable modern western (and in my eyes, superior to the lame No Country for Old Men).
Losers: Ryan Lochte and Billy Bush
Although let’s be honest, this wasn’t the worst thing Billy Bush was involved with this year.
(In the literal sense). We lost, among, others, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Prince, David Bowie, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, Fife Dog, and Leonard Cohen.
Because even though I don’t post very often, I see that people are still checking the blog. I appreciate each and every reader, and wish you all a wonderful 2017.