Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Year in Television

My list of the Top 10 things that did not suck on TV this year...

10. Minnie Driver (Speechless - ABC)
The show itself is already starting to wear on me, but this is a role that Driver was born to play. Pitch-perfect casting with her as the way overprotective mother of a teenage boy with cerebral palsy. 

9. Lethal Weapon (FOX)
Conversely to Speechless, this reboot of the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover vehicle of 1980's cinema has surprised me with how much it's grown on me. My initial reaction to the somewhat stale pilot was, "Oh great, another retread - more unoriginal ideas." I originally started watching because I was curious to see Damon Wayans' take on Roger Murtaugh, but it ended up being relatively unknown Clayne Crawford in the Gibson role of Martin Riggs who has pushed everyone around him to be better. And the chemistry between Wayans and Crawford comes shockingly close to equaling that of Glover and Gibson. I'm curious to see where they go with this.

8. Josh Holloway (Colony - USA)
The first season of this post-alien invasion drama was pretty entertaining, and I waffled between whether to highlight the show or Holloway's performance. In the end, I decided that it's the "Lost" veteran's uncanny handle on leading man/action hero status, which was also palpable on the short-lived cyber-security thriller, "Intelligence," that really is the rising tide behind this show. I'm looking forward to Season 2.

7. Juliette Lewis (Secrets & Lies - ABC) 
After the Ryan Phillippe-led first season concluded in ridiculous fashion, I was encouraged when word on the street was that the second installment of the series would feature a mostly new cast, and focus more squarely on Lewis' Detective Andrea Cornell. This turned out to be complete nonsense, as Lewis barely had anything substantial to do throughout what was a mess of a new murder storyline. But, what she was given she handled deftly, further solidifying her status as a serious television presence.

6. The Good Place (NBC) 
A heavily satirical look at the afterlife, this sitcom stars Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. It's really Bell who shines as a young woman who led a less than admirable life, but was allowed into "The Good Place" due to what amounts to the heavenly version of a clerical error. Like last season's "The Grinder," this is a show that thrives on quirk, and is most certainly an acquired taste. Unfortunately, the number of viewers acquiring it has dropped precipitously since its inception, so I fear that it will  meet the same one-season fate "The Grinder" did.

5. Pure Genius (CBS)
After unfairly being skewered by virtually every TV critic on the planet, this Durmot Mulroney vehicle never stood a chance from the jump. As the only new series that CBS did not pick up a full season episode order for, this intriguing look at the potential future of medical technology will very likely be coming to an immediate close, and will need to find a place on the revised version of my Top One-Season TV Shows of All-Time. A shame, since I think it's a series that has a solid emotional center, a fresh and unique premise, and a likable cast. 

4. Andrew McCarthy (The Family - ABC)
The series was forgettable, and has appropriately landed on the one-season ash heap of television history. But 80's star McCarthy, who has seen a career resurgence mostly in directing, gave a standout acting turn as a child molester who was wrongly suspected of the kidnapping and murder of a politician's son. He brings out the creepiness of the character, but somehow also manages to make the audience empathize with him as well. 

3. John Turturro (The Night of... - HBO)
An absolutely stunning performance by Turturro, in what turned out to be a somewhat disappointing 9 episode mini-series. The show had its other highlights, but it was Turturro in the role of sad-sack, seemingly second-rate attorney, John Stone, that kept me glued to the TV. It was a role that was originally intended for the late James Gandolfini, who retained executive producer credit, and then was passed on to Robert DeNiro, who had to drop out due to other commitments. To say Turturro took advantage of these circumstances would be an understatement. An Emmy-deserving turn.

2. Ray Liotta (Shades of Blue - NBC)
The show ended up being pretty strong as well, with a strong performance by Jennifer Lopez and the supporting cast. But Liotta as crooked Lieutenant Matt Wozniak just blows everyone else off the screen. A mesmerizing comeback from an actor I had not seen in anything for years. Season 1 ended kind of lame, but I hope they come up with some more solid material for Season 2, so Liotta can continue his stunning run.

1. This Is Us (NBC)
File Under: NOT EVEN CLOSE! This was far and away, not only the best show on television in 2016, but one of the best new series I've seen come around in a long time. Shockingly brought to us by the folks at NBC, who desperately needed a hit of this magnitude. Halfway through the premiere season, there is not a single negative thing I can say about TIU. The acting: stellar. The emotion: off the charts. The writing: simply incredible. They've hit every note of family dysfunction, societal issues, coping with sickness and death of loved ones, and even thrown in some twists with dramatic flair. This is an absolute barn burner of a TV series - event television in every sense of the word. If you haven't been watching, you're doing nothing with your life.