With few exceptions, history will not be looking back upon 2016 fondly. Between the endless celebrity deaths, police shootings, and the dumpster fire that was (and still is?) the US presidential election, this past year is one we all would rather soon forget.
And, let’s not put on airs here: another listicle highlighting the best new TV shows of 2016 won’t help you get past what’s occurred in the previous 365 days. Sorry—we’re not miracle workers.
But, as we all need something to take our minds off reality at times, what a better way than to gear up for a long Winter’s nap with some new binge-worthy content that you may have overlooked in 2016? After all, television can be a grand escape—if only for an hour at a time.
So here we go: our definitive list of the top ten best new TV shows of 2016.
Based on the comic of the same name and executive produced by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogan, Dominic Cooper’s Preacher is fast-paced & intriguing, with enough clever dialogue & full-on violence to satisfy fans of numerous drama sub-genres. Cooper’s magnetic leading-role performance aside, the supporting cast (including Ruth Negga) could hold up much of the series on their own, giving viewers characters to both loathe & root for—sometimes in the same scene.
USA has been home to some of my favorite basic cable shows of the past ten-odd years—so when they announced a new post-apocalyptic, “aliens enslave the earth” drama starring Sarah Wayne Callies (Walking Dead, Prison Break) and Josh Holloway (Lost), I took note. Though the plot itself is similar to another show we’re already watching (The Man in the High Castle), there’s enough mystery surrounding the invasion & the planet’s new alien overlords to keep people tuned-in; and, plenty of surprise twists that even the most seasoned viewers may not see coming.
8. Hap and Leonard
Sundance TV absolutely nailed it with their adaptation of Joe R Lansdale’s book “Savage Season”. Michael Kenneth Williams and James Purefoy are incredible actors in their own right, and their on-screen chemistry made Hap and Leonard one of the more enjoyable shows of 2016. Add in Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and Jimmi Simpson (Psych), and there were few rookie shows we were more excited to be picked up for a second season. Bonus trivia: both Williams & Simpson appear in two other shows on this list—hardly a coincidence for either.
Pit Paul Giamatti as a US District Attorney with a personal grudge against Damian Lewis’ hedge fund king, combine that with powerhouse performances from Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy) & Malin Akerman, and it’s no surprise why Showtime’s Billions was picked up for a second season before the first had even finished airing. The writing is up-to-par with other premium cable dramas; but the characters themselves are what make Billions enticing television.
6. Animal Kingdom
Make no mistake: while the whole “bad-ass matriarch who runs a tough crew of criminalistic men” plot was done with Sons of Anarchy, Animal Kingdom is no SOA rip-off. TNT’s take on the Australian film of the same name, starring Ellen Barkin, is, at times, like watching Ocean’s Eleven on a small-scale; at others, the action scenes and interspersed sex & violence, along with characters we can care about at more than just a surface-level, remind viewers why basic cable can still deliver the goods.
5. Marvel’s Luke Cage
In a time after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and when unarmed African Americans are being gunned down by police at an alarming rate, a large black superhero walking the streets of Harlem in a bullet-ridden hoodie while being hunted by law enforcement likely would have won many viewers over as simply an allegory. But, true to form, Marvel’s Luke Cage is much more than metaphor—like Jessica Jones before it, the Netflix original is powerfully delivered with beautiful cinematography & a soundtrack to boot.
4. American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
As a generation that watched the OJ Simpson trial unfold live on television, we would’ve never guessed that season one of American Crime Story would be this damn brilliant. But, leave it to Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) and the folks at FX to assemble an all-star cast (including Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Sarah Paulson, and the impeccable Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran), and pair that with a behind-the-scenes look into one of the greatest spectacles of the 90’s, and you have one of the most enthralling dramas on television in 2016.
3. The Night Of
Can prison turn “innocent” people into criminals, or does it just bring out the true nature of individuals that was lurking beneath the surface all along? This is one of the mysterious sub-plots of HBO’s jarring single-crime drama The Night Of, starring relative newcomer (now Star Wars star) Riz Ahmed & John Turturro (along with his eczema-laden feet)—in a role originally conceived for The Sopranos‘ James Gandolfini. The Night Of left us with more questions than it answered; and, perhaps, in 2016, that’s only fitting. Certainly, though, between Ahmed’s good-guy-gone-bad (or was he?) portrayal of Nasir Khan, Turturro’s in-court awkwardness, and Michael Kenneth Williams’ jailhouse kingpin, there was enough going on that nine episodes might have been plenty, but there also could have been 5 seasons of material, too.
2. Stranger Things
Netflix’s sci-fi homage to the 80’s inspired one of the most popular Halloween costumes of the year, a career revival for Wynona Ryder, and, perhaps, one of the best quotes spoken on television in 2016 (“mornings are for coffee and contemplation”). Stranger Things was one of the most talked-about shows of the year and is nominated for two Golden Globes & three SAG’s thus far—all of which is well deserved. The show has an impressive soundtrack, not to mention cinematography and cast. Should we go on, or are we all just in agreement here? Stranger Things rocks.
HBO’s Westworld wasn’t just top of the best new TV shows of 2016 list, but, we’d argue, it was the best show on TV in 2016—period. The futuristic amusement park where the “hosts” look & act as real as the guests never stopped throwing viewers for a loop in season 1, delivering what might’ve been the most memorable season finale to any cable drama in recent memory. The star-studded cast, led by Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, and the aforementioned Jimmi Simpson fuel a deeply intriguing storyline with stunning visuals and more plot-twists than any show since Lost. Fortunately, unlike with the last seasons of that series (also produced by Bad Robot), Westworld isn’t steeped in unanswerable questions—while there is still much to be discovered about the future of the park, its past was all-but-revealed in the final hour of the first year.
There you have it; our complete list of the best new TV shows of 2016. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Use the comments section below to let us know if there’s some you think we missed!