Under the Radar’s Top 50 TV Shows of 2016

Feb 01, 2017
Bookmark and Share


2016 was a fairly brutal year, what with the highly contentious and divisive election, the Brexit vote, and the deaths of various important musical and acting icons, among many other trying things. So it's little surprise that many of the year's best TV shows offered either immersive escapism or true laughs. A dive into Under the Radar's Top 10 TV shows of 2016 list illustrates this. Stranger Things offered a journey to a 1980s sci-fi/horror world, with a darker take on The Goonies, E.T., and other childhood classics of the era. Westworld presented the ultimate theme park, a video game come to life but with much more complex characters and a topnotch cast. Perhaps befitting the times, The Walking Dead shared its most unforgiving episode to date, with a shocking and powerful season premiere that challenged even the most gore-loving viewer. For those looking for laughs, there was the absurdity of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Last Man on Earth, whereas Love and You're the Worst presented the two most realistic and modern TV portrayals of love and romance in recent memory. 2016 had it all: superheroes galore, lots of time travel, pointed political commentary, a highly compelling drama based on the real life O.J. Simpson murder trial (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), and some highly silly parodies of real life documentaries (Documentary Now!). Once again, those who proclaimed, "I don't watch TV," were missing another year in the golden age. This list may be way past-due, but that's only because there are so many shows on so many channels (and streaming services) that it took us awhile to digest it all and poll our writers for the below Top 50 TV Shows of 2016 (plus honorable mentions).

By Mark Redfern

1.

Stranger Things

Netflix

In the year the future became increasingly uncertain for America, Stranger Things arrived to offer comfort in the past. The Duffer Brothers gave Netflix the watercooler hit of the year by blending '80s nostalgia with imaginative plotting, tight narrative control, and some of the best performances from child actors for years. There are horror and science fiction homages left, right, and center as a young boy goes missing in small-town Indiana. Soon sinister government figures, dangerous monsters, and a psychokinetic girl are combining to uncover the mystery. It's a show best viewed late at night when creeping shocks and perfectly judged episode finales will have maximum impact. Add a killer soundtrack and a remarkable performance from young Millie Bobby Brown and it's all gleefully entertaining. Season 2 has a tough battle ahead if it's to reach these heights. So does everything. By Stephen Mayne

2.

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

FX

Who'd have thought that a 20-year-old trial-albeit the supposed trial of the century, but one that has been written and pontificated about ad nauseam-would make for even half decent TV material? And who could have guessed that Cuba Gooding Jr.-the once promising actor who has long seemed washed up-could portray the eponymous O. J. half decently? Well it turns out that the doubts of us skeptics weren't just dispelled. Instead, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story proved to be our second favorite TV show of the year, and inarguably one of the best dramas of TV's golden age. Gooding's performance deftly captures Simpson's charm (critics have been unfairly harsh on him, with a few exceptions). But the rest of the cast is rightfully deserving of their accolades, from the brilliantly flamboyant Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran to the more thoughtful Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, both of whom deserve the Emmys they won. But the series' true coup belongs to Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark, who also deservers her Emmy but also every other accolade that comes her way thanks to endlessly nuanced performance, through a plot that makes her character endure sexist barbs from the prosecution, the harsh tabloid limelight, and more. Even though the glove didn't fit during the trial, each of the roles snugly suit impeccable actors cast in this fantastic limited series. By Kyle Mullin

3.

Love

Netflix

For the scene alone in which Paul Rust's slightly awkward Gus grabs a bass guitar and joins in on an impromptu living room performance of "Jet" at a hip stranger's party, there is reason enough to adore Love. Gus is the kind of guy who gathers endearingly earnest movie geeks at a weekly movie jam session at his apartment. But potential new love interest, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs), and her self-indulgent thrills are rubbing off on the guy, so much so that he voraciously performs "Jet" live in a hip stranger's house. This scene takes Love to another level. The tragic (and comedic) flaws in the interactions between these two lovers bring us to the edge of greatness. The performances are phenomenal: Rust and Jacobs resonate with perfectly-pitched darkly comic convergence, and Claudia O'Doherty is magnetic as Mickey's easygoing, self-deprecating roommate Bertie. Judd Apatow, along with co-creators and real life lovebirds Rust and Lesley Arfin, make a strong case for themselves here. Love's complex and tickling look at love and the tender, tortured footing of relationships have turned this humble web series into an acclaimed Netflix binger, demanding a follow-up. By Lauren Hardy

4.

Westworld

HBO

Westworld satisfied by being a twisty, mystery-laden thriller while also providing a glimpse into what it means to be human. Season one was built on individual moments punctuating a relatively laid back pace. While there was a sense of urgency, no development felt rushed and the characters were all given opportunities to grow and breathe. It will be remembered largely as a puzzle-box, but that doesn't do it proper justice. Westworld doesn't condescend to video games or those who play them, either. So often in film and television, the inclusion of gaming is treated without understanding or grace and is often executed in haphazard fashion. In Westworld, the gaming portion feels authentic. No other narrative television show has ever truly captured the thrills of gaming or the desire to unlock all the secrets within open-world or story-based gaming. It doesn't hurt that the cast is anchored by Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Sidse Babett Knudsen, and a delightfully mysterious (and uncertainly sinister) Anthony Hopkins. Season 2 will have a lot to live up to. By Jason Wilson

5.

The Walking Dead

AMC

No show had more to lose in 2016 than cable's most watched drama, and The Walking Dead seemed to spend much of the year in an identity crisis, landing halfway between plodding complacency and daring reinvention. As usual, when it was good-as it frequently was-it was great. But after a season six that meandered through a series of drawn-out plot points that seemed to exist only to set the scene for the much-anticipated arrival of uber-baddie Negan, the season concluded with a cliffhanger that infuriated even the show's most loyal fans. When the show returned with an almost unspeakably brutal season seven premiere that featured two beloved characters having their brains bashed in, the debate shifted. Did those fan favorites deserve such a pitiless fate? Had The Walking Dead finally taken their guts and gore formula too far? Would viewers continue to tune in week after week to see Rick Grimes mocked, menaced, and demoralized by an enemy far worse than any they had encountered before? By the end of the year, ratings were falling and there were signs that the world's zombie fever was finally breaking. But if the storylines from Robert Kirkman's comic book are any indication, the best could still be to come. By Matt Fink

6.

You're the Worst

FXX

You're the Worst is ostensibly a comedy show about two people who are terrible for each other and somehow end up dating, complete with a prophetic theme song, funny sidekicks, and lots of dick jokes. But starting with season two, it also became a searing drama about how to love someone with mental illness, what it's like for soldiers to return home to a country (and a VA system) wildly unequipped to help them, how to deal with parents who have hurt you deeply, and how to make a relationship function when real love is a lot of hard work. Anchored by tremendous performances by Aya Cash and Chris Geere, the show deftly marries comedic "sitcom" tropes and real insight into what it's like to be a young adult trying to love someone else in 2017. Season three deepened the arcs of several secondary characters, in particular the relationship difficulties and painful re-entry into America of Jimmy's housemate Edgar, who is juggling PTSD and a girlfriend he loves. Edgar (played beautifully by Desmin Borges) provides a voice to a population little understood, and his story is alternately heart-breaking and hilarious. Other storylines this season were a bit less successful, but overall, You're the Worst continued to be a remarkably frank and refreshing look at a modern relationship navigating the foibles most shows are just too polite to address. By Ryan E.C. Hamm

7.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Netflix

This Netflix series is so over the top it'll leave you over the moon. It's relentless in its sunny tone and inundating weirdness, and plot twists and beguilingly quirky one liners in nearly every moment leave the viewer rushing to rewind what they just missed because they were still laughing unexpectedly at the blindsiding hilarity of the gag a few second's prior. In that way the show reflects its eponymous character's sensibility. Ellie Kemper stars as the bombastically out of touch, yet eternally peppy red headed protagonist who spent much of her life in a cult leader's bunker and is now trying to adjust to the real world. The gleeful surreal plots are anything but realistic of course, but that not only makes the show fun, but also highly creative and wholly distinct. By Kyle Mullin

8.

The Last Man on Earth

FOX

A comedy that relies on morbid, built-in tropes for its humor-like kicking off each season with a death-might struggle with tone. This has never been the case, however, and the quirky, uneven tone that has made the series so memorable was perhaps fully mastered this season, which deals with themes of PTSD, murder, misanthropy, and suicide without compromising any of its many hysterical scenarios. By Shawn Hazelett

9.

Documentary Now!

IFC

True story: I've twice convinced my mom, and once convinced two others, that an episode of Documentary Now! was a real documentary. The show's parodies of classic documentaries are that spot-on. An unfamiliarity with stars Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, as well as each episode being introduced by the trusted Helen Mirren, helped make my case for the episodes being real historical documents, rather than clever larks with subtle but hilarious jokes. In season 2 Armisen and Hader took on the 1993 Bill Clinton political campaign documentary The War Room with season opener "The Bunker." In one of two episodes this season written by Seth Meyers, they spoofed Salesman, the 1969 documentary about door-to-door Bible salesmen, with the black & white episode "Globesman" about door-to-door globe salesmen. And following last season's Eagles documentary parody, this year they targeted Talking Heads and the iconic 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense with "Final Transmission," about the fictional New Wave band Test Pattern. The fake Documentary Now! show introduced by Mirren has been on for five decades, let's hope the real Documentary Now! lasts at least a tenth that long. By Mark Redfern

10.

Atlanta

FX

After tackling films, sitcoms, hip-hop, and stand-up comedy, Donald Glover has finally synthesized his style, concerns, and humor into a singular effort: Atlanta. As showrunner, writer, and lead actor, Glover has birthed a show as funny and observant as it is strange and unclassifiable. Following a trio of young African-American men muddling their way through the rap game, Atlanta sharply addresses issues of race, gender, class, and culture, all while blending the welcoming hangout vibe of a Richard Linklater film with the structural and tonal weirdness of an Adult Swim cartoon. In the Peak TV landscape of self-serious prestige dramas and mean-spirited comedies, Atlanta recognizes that honesty and social awareness can easily co-exist with irony and absurdity. By Stephen Danay

11.

Penny Dreadful

Showtime

12.

The Goldbergs

ABC

13.

Real Time with Bill Maher

HBO

14.

Luke Cage

Netflix

15.

Better Call Saul

AMC

16.

New Girl

FOX

17.

Life in Pieces

CBS

18.

Homeland

Showtime

19.

Portlandia

IFC

20.

Silicon Valley

HBO

21.

Game of Thrones

HBO

22.

Doctor Who

BBC America

23.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

HBO

24.

Veep

HBO

25.

Girls

HBO

26.

Transparent

Amazon

27.

iZombie

THE CW

28.

The Middle

ABC

29.

Gilmore Girls

Netflix

30.

The Americans

FX

31.

Daredevil

Netflix

32.

Supergirl

The CW

33.

Togetherness

HBO

34.

The Good Wife

CBS

35.

The Flash

The CW

36.

Mr. Robot

USA

37.

Fear the Walking Dead

AMC

38.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The CW

39.

The Night Of

HBO

40.

Grey's Anatomy

ABC

41.

Project Runway

Lifetime

42.

Broad City

Comedy Central

43.

Arrow

The CW

44.

Insecure

HBO

45.

Orange is the New Black

Netflix

46.

The Good Place

NBC

47.

This Is Us

NBC

48.

Preacher

AMC

49.

Baskets

FX

50.

Ash vs. Evil Dead

Starz

Honorable Mentions:

The Affair (Showtime), Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN), Archer (FX), Billions (Showtime), Black-ish (ABC), Black Mirror (Netflix), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX), Catastrophe (Amazon), The Crown (Netflix), Designated Survivor (ABC), Fleabag (Amazon), The Get Down (Netflix), Grace and Frankie (Netflix), Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC), Legends of Tomorrow (The CW), Lethal Weapon (FOX), The Man in the High Castle (Amazon), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC), Modern Family (ABC), Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon), The Muppets (ABC), The Night Manager (AMC), The OA (Netflix), One Mississippi (Amazon), Outlander (Starz), Peaky Blinders (Netflix), Person of Interest (CBS), Project Runway Junior (Lifetime), Rectify (Sundance), The Strain (FX), Timeless (NBC), UnREAL (Lifetime), and Vinyl (HBO).

Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Steinna
February 10th 2017
11:19am

Westworld is my favourite TV Show. I usually miss this TV show on my regular timings. So, I use Terrarium TV App to watch all episodes. There are many TV Shows are available for free on Terrarium TV.

uktv now
June 1st 2017
10:10am

check out this free movie app to watch online movie UktvNow app