As we look back at 2016 I’d like to think we can all agree that there was some pretty great television on. Whether it was O.J.-centric programming or Game of Thrones or Atlanta or coverage of the 2016 Presidential election, there was a lot to choose from, a lot to enjoy. When it came time to evaluate the year in television, I wanted to go micro, really get down in the nitty gritty. Of course, as with any television consumer, I had my favorite shows this year. Here are my top five, listed in a very particular order.
5.) The Night Of
4.) The Americans
3.) Game of Thrones
2.) The People vs OJ Simpson
Now, back to the task at hand. Here is my list of the ten best things I saw on television this year. These are listed in no particular order if you’re keeping track at home.
Game of Thrones season six, episode nine: ‘Battle of the Bastards’
When it comes to penultimate episodes, the second to last episode of a season, Game of Thrones has become straight up pros. In season one, they killed Ned Stark and in the second season, it was the Battle of Blackwater. The Red Wedding took place in the third season’s penultimate episode, in season four it was the assault on the Wall by the Wildlings and in season five, Daenerys rode a dragon. So going into the sixth season, we were pre-conditioned to expect something big and something big…and bloody…and violent was what we got. In ‘Battle of the Bastards‘ we got Jon Snow leading a rag tag army in an effort to take back Winterfell from Ramsey Bolton. It was yet another instance when I found myself in disbelief that what I was watching was television and not a movie. The show even had somewhat legitimate stakes. On any other show, you’d be watching the battle and would be all but certain that the hero, Jon Snow, was going to live. But on Game of Thrones, they’ve made a cottage industry out of killing their heroes. I mean, they already killed Jon once already so what was stopping them from doing it again?
On a related note: please don’t do it again. Thanks.
The Night Of’s first episode, ‘The Beach’
HBO once again dominated a big part of the national conversation this summer with this fascinating eight-part limited series about a young dude being pinned for the violent murder of a young lady. Of course it eventually became much more than that, with the dude spending time in Riker’s Island, his parents forced to find ways to reinvent themselves to pay for his legal bills and a case of eczema so bad it made at least person out there (me) become convinced going to prison would be better than having eczema. The show’s high point was the first episode, specifically the ratcheted up tension felt when Naz is at the police station being searched and the cops produce a bloody knife from his jacket just as the lead detective on the case is describing the knife. Ooooohh, it was like the circus dude. Intense.
Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver: Donald Drumpf
Jon Oliver had his fair share of highlights this year, but the best one by far was his take down of Donald Trump, someone the show had tried very hard to ignore until they simply couldn’t anymore. When Trump ended up cleaning up on Super Tuesday, Last Week Tonight decided it was time to point their well-informed, meticulously researched satire in his direction. The apex of the bit was when they hit Trump where it hurts, his name. A fun fact that we all learned after this segment was that the Trump’s family name before immigrating to America was Drumpf and seeing as how the name “Trump” was such a big part of Trump’s life and image, re-branding him with his family original name could be the best way to hurt him. Of course in the end it didn’t and Trump is the President-elect, but hey, funny is funny.
The Chicago Cubs Win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series
In a battle of tortured fan bases, it only made sense that a series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians would not only go seven games, but in that seventh game, be won in extra innings. After a rain delay. The Cubs were winning, then it was tied. The Cubs were winning and then the Cubs were winning by more. Then all of sudden the Indians tied it up in the bottom of the eighth and screw it, no one was going to bed at this point. After a scoreless night, a hard rain started to fall. Tweets went out showing the radar. How long would the rain delay last was a good question to ask right before, hey, should I go to bed? If you did, you missed the Cubs scoring two quick runs after the rain let up, the Indians only scoring one and a 108 year drought ending as the Cubs, yes the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series.
The Halftime Show of Super Bowl 50
If you’re Coldplay and they ask you to play during Halftime of the Super Bowl, you say ‘yes.’ If in the days prior to the game, they ask you if Bruno Mars can join you, you say that ‘of course Bruno can join us.’ Coldplay are nothing if not nice and polite English gentlemen. If in the days prior to the game that are even closer to the game that the days prior to the game when they asked about Bruno Mars, they ask if you’d be okay with Beyonce performing as well, you say yes. You don’t throw a fit, you don’t throw shade. You don’t hop on Twitter and complain about stolen spotlights and the like. No, you show up and play, which is what Coldplay did. And truth be told, they did it pretty well. Were they overshadowed by Mars and Beyonce? Of course they were. You would be too! Initial reaction (which you know, is always a good barometer) declared Coldplay the loser of the show. I disagree. The real loser was the future prospects of a rock band getting the gig. It’s not their stage anymore.
Kendrick Lamar’s Performance at the 2016 Grammys
Kendrick Lamar won the 2016 Grammys. No, not specific awards – although he did take him four awards. Kendrick won the whole damn thing with his legendary, show-stopping performance of “The Blacker The Berry” and “Alright.” Throughout the performance, we went from a jail cell to Africa to Compton. Kendrick rapped and moved like a man possessed. Prior to the performance, he was already a name. But after? He was a Name, a force to be reckoned with and one of those artists where you can’t wait to see what they do next.
Van Jones Drops the Term “White-lash” On Election Night
Election Night in 2016 was to be honest, not great. Well unless of course you’re Jeffrey Lord and that blond lady in the cover image above. They seemed to be really enjoying things. They are also assholes. Van Jones, the third person in that frame, is not, and on Election Night, he provided us with one of the clearest explanations for what had just happened, coining the phrase “white lash.” The clip most likely appeared on nearly every one of your liberal friend’s Facebook feeds the morning after the election and spawned negative reaction from the right who saw it as divisive, think pieces from the left who found it insightful and clarification by Jones. It was also the moment for Jones that bumped him up to the top tier of cable news pundits, which I can only imagine means better snacks in the green room.
HBO Real Sports’ Profile of a High School Soccer Team in Maine
Lewiston, Maine is a fairly large city (by Maine standards) in central Maine and was once a bustling mill town. As with most towns whose economy was heavily dependent on factory jobs, Lewiston hit a bit of a rough patch. This downturn coincided with the influx of refugees from Somali and other war-torn African countries. I remember hearing of problems between locals and the Somali population in the early nineties and as a soccer player for a rival for high school, played the Lewiston High School soccer team. Back then the team was largely made up of white dudes with French last names. They were always good, but never great. That has apparently changed, as evidenced by a segment on Real Sports on HBO that profiled the current Lewiston team, which is made up almost entirely of refugees and immigrants and won the state championship in 2015. The segment uses the team as a way in to the current state of life in Lewiston, one that is still teetering on a fragile relationship between locals and immigrants. Yet given the times we are living the election of He Who Shall Not Be Named, I found the piece incredibly moving and would suggest it to anyone who is arguing for an isolated America and steadfast refusal of the acceptance of immigrants.
Saturday Night Live’s ‘Black Jeopardy’ Sketch
Saturday Night Live sketches have inspired various articles before and they’ve inspired their fair share of think pieces, although a lot of those usually coincide with naming of new cast members, most of whom are usually white dudes. The show reached a new height with a sketch on a show in late October, in which Tom Hanks played a Trump supporter appearing on ‘Black Jeopardy,’ a game show hosted by the cast’s clean-up hitter Kenan Thompson. They’ve done ‘Black Jeopardy’ before and the format is usually the same: two black contestants and one out-of-place white person. This time the out-of-place white person wasn’t as out-of-place as everyone originally thought. The sketch showed the common ground that actually exists between the two communities…well, except for the fact that one community is scared to death of the other.
The “B.A.N.” episode of Atlanta
Moments from the first season of Atlanta could make up this whole list and I’d be cool with it. But I wanted to pick only one and that choice was easy: the “B.A.N.” episode. It was if a sketch from The Chappelle’s Show was a half hour long and it might have been one of the most entertaining half hours of television I saw this year, whether it was Paper Boi trying to explain his lyrics, the various parody commercials or the story of Harrison, a black teenager who identifies as a white dude, or more specifically…
“I’ve always felt different,” he tells the interviewer. “I go to the store and movies and just be thinking to myself, ‘Why am I not getting the respect that I deserve?’ And then, it just hit me: I’m white. And 35.”
It’s amazing, absurd and so well done in how it toes the line between making fun of Harrison and calling BS on reactions to such things. The best part of the episode though might be when Paper Boi and the other guest on the show, a trans-gender activist, start seeing eye to eye when it comes to freedom of speech, a move that throws the host for a loop. Man, Atlanta is the best.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Tackles the Idea of a Rigged Election
Samantha Bee’s show really started to come on and come into it’s own towards the end of the summer, beginning of fall. I hadn’t really paid much attention to it until I saw her segment on Trump supporters talking about the potential of a rigged election. With two correspondents, Allana Harkin and Amy Hoggart, interviewing supporters, the segment is comprised of amazingly insane theories and ideas and punctuated by reactions like this:
I feel like we’ve all made the face Harkin is making at one point or another in the past few months.
‘Jordan Klepper Fingers the Pulse’ Segments on The Daily Show
The Daily Show has struggled to stay relevant in the wake of Jon Stewart’s departure, but one of the things that did help them stay in people’s hearts and minds was the work by a hold-over from the Stewart era, Jordan Klepper. Klepper made the trek to numerous Trump rallies, tackling a variety of subjects from Trump’s “locker room talk” to the most popular conspiracy theories Trump supporters liked to peddle, not to mention highlighting the always popular background dab that was a mainstay in his reports.