Wednesday, December 21, 2016

10 Best TV Dramas of 2016

By Kenny Howell

As I mentioned in my 15 Best TV Comedies of 2016, this was a better year for comedy rather than drama. And just like the comedies, I didn't get to see as many dramas this year as I should have. There are 500 scripted shows on TV now, so working through everything is difficult. Stuff gets pushed back on my calendar like the fact that I haven't finished Westworld yet, which would be somewhere on this list if I had completed it. So put that one as an honorable mention. Here are the 10 best dramas I did get to finish.

10. The Crown (Netflix) - Created by Peter Morgan; Starring Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Jeremy Northam, John Lithgow.

As far as production values and acting go, this was one of the top shows of the season. The Netflix series is extravagant, and helps make up for when the drama does seem a bit manufactured.

9. Black Mirror (Netflix) - Created by Charlie Brooker; Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Alice Eve, Mackenzie Davis, Kelly MacDonald. 

Brooker is back again to try to scare you about what your technology can do to you. Six very solid to great episodes once again for The Twilight Zone-esque show.

8. Stranger Things (Netflix) - Created by Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer; Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard. 

The most infectious series all year, Netflix brought a phenomenon of a throwback to great films and TV of the 1980s.

7. The Girlfriend Experience (Starz) - Created by Lodge Kerrigan, Amy Seimetz; Starring Riley Keough, Paul Sparks, Mary Lynn Rajskub. 

Very surprising, effective drama about a young aspiring lawyer who becomes a high priced call girl, then self destructs as she tries to keep that quiet while climbing the professional ladder.

6. The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) - Created by Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski; Starring Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane. 

It was a difficult task to take a story people know so well and make riveting TV out of it. But that's what Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were able to do here. They did it by getting great performances by Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, and really delved deep into the ins and outs of the trial.

5. Better Call Saul (AMC) - Created by Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould; Starring Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seahorn, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean. 

There was a fear that Better Call Saul would never be able to separate itself from Breaking Bad, but it definitely has. It is its own thing, especially in tone, which is drastically different than the descent into hell that Breaking Bad was. However, Better Call Saul is still very much of that world, so it still gives you that feeling you have been missing since the previous series went off the air.

4. The Americans (FX) - Created by Joseph Weisberg; Starring Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor. 

As the Cold War winds down, things are getting tougher for the married Russian spies. Their daughter knows their true identity now and is not handling it well, and also Philip's other wife Martha is starting to get out of hand. Things are coming to a head, and The Americans handled that ticking time bomb well.

3. American Crime (ABC) - Created by John Ridley; Starring Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, Regina King, Lili Taylor. 

The only network show on my list, and that is part of the reason it is so high. Being on a network, there are certain handcuffs on a show, that's why they don't even try to match cable dramas anymore, because they seemingly just can't.

But American Crime proved you still can. It handled issues of race, bullying, and an array of other issues around an event of young man that says he was raped at a teen party. It was truly great TV in a land where they don't even try to do that anymore.

2. The Night Of (HBO) - Created by Richard Price, Steven Zaillian; Starring Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams, Amara Karan. 

While most people had Stranger Things as their most bingeworthy show of the year, this was that for me. Even if I couldn't binge it since it was a weekly show, I couldn't wait for the next episode to come, something I haven't done in a long time. It wasn't perfect, especially in the back half of the season, but it was so finely woven that you couldn't help but be sucked into it.

1. Rectify (Sundance) - Created by Ray McKinnon; Starring Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, Clayne Crawford. 

Rectify went out and the same way it came in - quiet, contemplative, and the best character study on TV. It was a worthy successor to the Mad Men and Breaking Bad, elite TV that will be remembered for years to come. Unfortunately, it was on Sundance Channel, and not many people have gotten to it yet. Luckily, it is now on Netflix, so people are slowly finding it.

Over four seasons, McKinnon went on a deliberate pace, one that could have been slow had he not known and explored his characters so well. It was about a man getting off death row after many years in on the surface, but it was really about his family and life itself. Everyone on the show was trying to figure out how to get by, and were coming from many different arenas to do that. It really was something special, and I am now moving on to find a show that can carry that elite mantle forward.

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