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My Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

Because it’s never too late for needless list-making, my Top 10 TV Shows of 2016!

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First of all, yes, I know: it’s almost the end of February 2017. We’re already two months into 2017, so it’s pretty damn late to do an “end-of-the-year wrap-up” list. And, to that, I say…you are completely right, reader. But look, I’ll be entirely honest: I don’t do these lists for you. I do them for myself, so that years from now, I have a “record” of sorts about what the year in pop culture really was for me. So yeah, maybe this isn’t exactly timely. But I feel obliged to do it anyway and, if you’re reading this, I hope you get some type of value out of this very untimely list. And, c’mon, cut me some slack here — I still beat the Oscars to the punch, so doesn’t that count for something?

And it wasn’t like I spent the last few months just twiddling my thumbs — the reason I didn’t write out my Top 10’s of the year sooner was because I had so much stuff I had to catch up on first. The way I do Top 10’s isn’t “the best things I saw in the last 365 days” — if it was, most of the best things in 2016 would make my 2017 list. Every year I spend my January going through the quality things I missed out on in the year, all in an effort to make it as through a list as I can.

Which of course is still an impossibility: I’m sure I’ll end up seeing something months from now that I think was good enough to retroactively make my list. But hey, two months into the new year is already late enough: I couldn’t wait until June now, could I? In any case, here it finally is: my Top 10’s of 2016, beginning with my favorite TV shows of 2016. Kicking off the list at number 10 is…


10. Baskets


Though he’s gained international fame from his breakout role in The Hangover, Zack Galifanakis never seemed destined to become a “mainstream” comedy star. His sensibilities in his early years was always little oft-kilter, and it quickly became clear that he couldn’t completely shed off that persona while still making worthwhile entertainment (see: Due Date. Except, no, you shouldn’t.) But, thankfully, Galifanakis didn’t have to with Baskets, his FX tragicomedy created by him, Louis C.K., and Jonathan Krisel.

No, Baskets is Galifanakis at his best, a mismatch of awkward comedy and head-scratching surrealism, with a healthy dose of slapstick thrown on top. But what truly made Baskets one of the most delightful shows of 2016 was how much Galifanakis (and I imagine Louis C.K.) committed to the tragedy of the whole thing — to put it bluntly, Baskets is sad. REALLY fucking sad. It’s a depressing ode to the futility of dreaming, and the utter disappointment of a life unfulfilled. The fact that it’s also REALLY damn funny (and through the lens of primary director Krisel, fucking beautiful) is what makes Baskets unlike anything else on television. It truly lets Galifankis’ freak flag fly, and thank god for that. We don’t need more Keeping Up With The Jones’ from him.


9. Orange is the New Black


I’ll be honest: when a show starts to make a down-slide mid-way through its run, I’m quick to kind of shrug it off. I’ll keep watching, sure, but my expectations become substantially lower, and the series goes from “must-watch” territory to “catch it whenever you have nothing else to do.” And that’s what happened with Orange is the New Black Season 3, a still solid season of TV, but lacking the momentum and power that made the first two seasons so great. When that season came to a close, I figured the shows “glory days” were done.

But then Season 4 came, and I take it all back — Orange is the New Black is truly better than ever. Replacing the aimlessness of Season 3, Season 4 kicked the show into high gear, focusing heavily on the privatization and corruption of the prison system that puts all over our beloved characters in such dire straights. Season 4 of Orange is the New Black is fucking ANGRY, enraged at the system and the monsters that it ends up creating. The penultimate episode in particular, “The Animals,” is a masterwork of TV drama, both emotionally stirring and completely devastating, with one of the most heartbreaking and tragic endings of a TV episode ever (props go to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner here, who delivered a real tour de force of direction.)

To touch upon what made the season so stellar would require a lot of spoilers, but rest assured: the way that Orange is the New Black explores some of the most troubling aspects of modern society is completely captivating, absolutely relevant, and emotionally stirring. Enraged Orange is the New Black seems to be the best Orange is the New Black, which makes it such a shame that there’s nothing in 2017 that the show could possibly be angry about to fuel future storylines.

…That was sarcasm. Season 5 is going to be interesting, all right.


8. Westworld


In the interest of time, I’m going to keep my thoughts on Westworld pretty brief. After all, I’ve spent a good enough amount of time talking about the show in the past so, if you want more details, you can simply read one of these pieces:

https://freshlypoppedculture.com/the-5-best-moments-of-westworld-season-1-f5c7ea700b43

 

https://freshlypoppedculture.com/the-5-best-moments-of-westworld-season-1-f5c7ea700b43

But suffice to say, I am completely on team Westworld. Flaws and all, I found it to be completely captivating as both smart, thoughtful sci-fi and a fun, addicting puzzle box. Season 2 can’t come fast enough and, unfortunately, it won’t — it’s going to be a long wait until the next season arrives in 2018 but, if Season 1 is any indication, it will very much be worth the wait.


7. Better Call Saul


Poor Better Call Saul — the show is consistently one of the best things on television, but airs so early in the year that it’s really easy to forget about how good it is come list-making time. Thankfully the revving up to the next season is already in full effect (this list is REALLY late you guys), so my memory of how freaking great Season 2 was is starting to come back in full force.

Somehow the show managed to improve itself over its already great first season, and continues to cement itself as a very different show than Breaking Bad. Plots in Better Call Saul lack the same sense of danger that they did in the latter show, but somehow still feel just as pressing and important. But more than anything, Better Call Saul is a testament to the wonder of great writing, mixed with captivating performances. It’s not the type of show that will generate a bunch of fan theories or a lot of online engagement, but that in no way means its anything less than drama at its finest. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and everyone else involved deserve a massive pat on the back for another fine accomplishment in the world of television.


6. Atlanta


Describing what makes Donald Glover’s new show work is a surprisingly complex task, but here goes it: Atlanta is yet another surreal comedy-drama on FX, one that could easily share some of the same DNA with Baskets on paper. But one look at this series, and it’s easy to see that the two show’s respective approach to comedy/drama couldn’t be any different, with Atlanta setting out on a path that is entirely its own. It’s funny, yes, and well written, yes. But it’s also completely unique in the drama/comedy field, with no other show out there even vaguely similar to it. I know I’ve already said it once (and will say it at least one more time before this list is through,) but Atlanta truly is unlike anything else on the TV spectrum, and for more than any other reason, that’s why I love it so much.

Also: Lakeith Stanfield’s Darius is one of the best comedy characters of the year, and absurdly funny every time he is utilized. That is all.


5. Bojack Horseman


How is the show about the talking horse featuring about 2,000 cheesy animal puns one of the five best shows of 2016? I ask myself this constantly, because I will never not be in awe at what Raphael Bob Waksberg managed to accomplish with this crazy, crazy show. Bojack Horseman is hilarious, and as a comedy alone, I would have probably found a spot for it on this list. But it didn’t take long for this show to prove itself to be more than just a silly comedy.

Which, yes, is a weird thorough-line with a lot of the entries on this list: we are in a golden age of TV dramedies, and Bojack Horseman fits in quite well with Atlanta and Baskets in this regard. But while those two shows are still in their first season and “working things out” (so to speak), Bojack Horseman was in its third season in 2016, and has pretty much mastered its own unique blend of gut busting humor and heartbreaking drama. It’s themes have never been more clear, nor has its confidence been more strong. Season 3 of Bojack Horseman is a show at the top of its game, and what it manages to achieve emotionally is insane. When it comes to Netflix’s best original show, the answer is pretty damn clear: Bojack Horseman all the way.


4 & 3. American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson and O.J.:Made in America


Look, if you told me that two of my ten favorite TV shows of 2016 would be centered around the public figure that was (is?) O.J. Simpson, I would have called you absolutely crazy. Though I was somewhat aware of the huge scope that the O.J. trial had, I am a bit of a young-un, and thus did not live through the era itself. So, trust me, seeing it laid out in almost 20 hours of real and fictionalized footage is quite the eye opening experience.

But the subject matter of both The People vs. O.J. Simpson and O.J.: Made in America is one thing — it’s the execution that makes both shows so overwhelmingly excellent. O.J.:Made in America in particular is a documentary masterpiece, managing to perfectly tell the entire story of not just O.J.’s rise and fall, but Los Angeles in the post Civil Rights era. I have never seen a documentary so perfectly explore its subject matter, and there were literally dozens of times watching Made in America in which I felt absolutely floored at what I was witnessing. And yes, there’s a whole debate about if Made in America really even is a TV show, but I could honestly care less…because it’s totally a TV show. And you’re wrong if you think otherwise.

But though O.J.: Made in America is a masterpiece, that is no insult to The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which is just as excellent in a very, very different way. In fact, it’s a crazy bit of serendipity that the two launched so close together, because they complement each other very well. Though both focus on the same topic, I never felt like I was learning the same information twice, or felt like the feeling of watching either quite encapsulated me in the same way. But, rest assured, both O.J. Simpson projects in 2016 were some of the very best television around. Because 2016 was just weird like that, I guess.


2. The Americans


I’m starting to feel pretty bad for The Americans at this point: for the third year in a row, it just missed out on being my favorite show of the year. That is its fate for me, I guess — always the Best of TV bridesmaid, never the Best of TV bride.

But just because The Americans once again missed out on the top spot, doesn’t mean the show is anything less than stupendous. It doesn’t even mean the show is getting worse over the years — hell, I would argue it’s getting better, which is kind of insane when you consider the crazy good quality the series has always maintained. But what can I say? There’s no show on television right now that is as constantly engaging, as consistently nail biting, and as overall just as well executed as The Americans. The acting is near-perfect, the writing is near-perfect, the production design is near-perfect: everything about this damn show is just off-the-walls fantastic.

And yet…it always ends up getting kicked out of first place by something not just incredible, but all-time great. A masterpiece of the television form, if you would. And my number one pick this year is no different.


1. Horace and Pete


Because, I’m going to say it again, and this time I really do mean it: Horace and Pete is unlike anything else released in 2016. Hell, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever watched IN MY LIFETIME. A strange amalgamation of comedy and a top-tier melodrama play, Horace and Pete fits no category. It’s really funny, it’s really insightful, it’s really emotionally devastating — it’s really everything, in a way that only the best pieces of pop culture can be.

And make no mistake, Horace and Pete truly fits that category. Not an episode went by where I wasn’t completely awe-struck about what was unfolding in front of me, or stunned at what Louis C.K. managed to create almost entirely on his own. Both directing AND writing something of this magnitude is something only a creative genius could accomplish, and Louis C.K. completely proves himself to indeed be one of those with Horace and Pete.

Which is of course not to say he didn’t have a ton of help by a whole heap of gifted people working on this project. How C.K. was able to get Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange, and Laurie Metcalf in a room together to create this thing defies belief, because their collective actor powers should have enough force to shatter the entire universe. Instead it just creates some of the most powerful pieces of film I have ever said, wrapped up in a package that is far more emotionally complex and thematically rich than you would expect from the guy who wrote Pootie Tang.

But even more so than with Louie, what Louis C.K. was able to create with Horace and Pete is truly a revelation. I sincerely believe that the man is now one of our most talented storytellers, and has a knack for filmmaking that puts most others to shame. Because Horace and Pete isn’t just the best TV comedy I saw in 2016. Nor was it the best TV drama or, hell, the best TV show. No, Horace and Pete is hands down the best piece of pop culture I had the pleasure to bare witness to in a very, very long time.

So there you have it, my Top 10 TV Shows of 2016. Once again, sorry for the lateness but, hey, better late than never…right? Yeah, that’s what I keep telling myself. Anyways, also check out my list of the Top 10 Films of 2016, while you’re still here.

https://freshlypoppedculture.com/the-5-best-moments-of-westworld-season-1-f5c7ea700b43


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

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The 5 Best Moments of Westworld Season 1

The most visceral, violent delights of a stellar first season.

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Editor’s Note: This article was first published way back at the end of 2016 — a world away from the current one, if you ask me. Anyways, with the second season of Westworld finally premiering tonight, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my thoughts on the first season of the HBO show. Spoiler: I loved it, and I’m hopefully I can say the same about the second season. We shall see tonight! 

When Westworld first premiered about two months ago, I was quickly quite enamored with it. What a saw in Westworld was grand, ambitious science fiction storytelling, and I do believe that (for the most part) the show fulfilled my lofty expectations for it. Sure it wasn’t without its weak spots, but overall I really did find this to be a fantastic season of television, and I am beyond excited to see what comes next.

But before I jump into that particular vat of theories and speculation, I thought it would be appropriate to take a deep dive into the rest of the season, revisiting what I believed to be the show’s strongest moments so far. Keep in mind that, as you would expect from something with this title, there will be FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON OF WESTWORLD BELOW.


5. The Man in Black Laments


There’s few things in the world I love more than a well delivered, brilliantly executed little monologue. Westworld, being really quite dialogue heavy at its core (arguably to its detriment at times) was no slouch when it came to the monologue department, giving its esteemed actors plenty of space to really belt out the pained soliloquies regarding all the various torments of their lives.

But as great as Anthony Hopkins was at theatrically breaking down his character motivation, or as absolutely badass Thandie Newton’s every line of dialogue proved to be, I would argue that it was Ed Harris who really stole the show in the monologue department this season. His “Man in Black” character was shrouded in mystery throughout most of the season, so it made sense the character would instantly attract our attention the moment he chose to speak up. But the speech The Man in Black (nee William) made to Teddy and Angela at the end of “Trace Decay” was a real double whammy — it was both a strong moment for Harris to earn his possible Emmy nomination, and a chance to fill in his character in a very interesting way.

Brilliantly connecting the story of his return to Westworld with the murder of Maeve’s daughter, the real joy of this scene was the sense of discovery and tension that comes with a character literally (and finally) telling you things that actually happened, in a timeline that’s easy to understand. Yeah sure that might seem like a no-brainer for most pop culture, but for question-heavy shows like Westworld, there’s always such a grand level of suspense at play when characters start talking unobtrusively about their lives. Every word matters, every sentence a possible key to a huge and stunning reveal. And though the show would end up holding its biggest Man in Black trump card close to its chest until the very last episode, it doesn’t take away from the excitement and beauty of Ed Harris’ terrific, character defining speech. Westworld had a bonkers cast of talented people, and in scenes like this, it proved to be an absolute joy just to watch them perform.


4. Paint it Black


The moment in which you realize that you’re falling in love with a show is a pretty wonderful thing . And for me that moment came early with Westworld — halfway through the first episode, in fact.

A brilliantly conceived, wonderfully executed set-piece is something I appreciate a great deal, and Westworld really didn’t wait all that long to deliver a great one. Fueled brilliantly by a piano cover of “Paint it Black,” Hector Escaton’s violent siege of the Sweetwater Saloon was not just a fun action sequence, but also a wholly unique look into how fucked up the world of Westworld really is, as host after host is horrifically gunned down all in the name of…a hardware recall. It didn’t take very long for my sympathies to land with the robots, and scenes like this present a pretty strong reason why.

Plus, Escaton’s big speech getting cut off by a trigger happy guest is still one of the funniest moments in the show so far. Sizemore’s frustration with the system quickly became an excellent vessel for humor, huh?


3. It Doesn’t Look Like Anything To Me


The fan theories were already running wild going into the show’s seventh episode, “Trompe L’oeil.” Hell, the theories were running wild since episode two, if I’m being entirely honest. Still though, it speaks to the show’s quality that they were able to reveal one of the series’ most talked about theories, and still make the moment land with the appropriate amount of oomph.

I am of course talking about the big reveal at the end of “Trompe L’oeil,” in which Bernard learns of his true identity: a host crafted by and under the complete control of Ford. It was a show changing revelation but, like most of the twists on Westworld, not a completely surprising one. Still though, it’s a strong sign the show is of high quality when, even if I know pretty much where the series is going, it doesn’t keep from the reveal itself being a wonderful, exciting moment of television.

Because what really makes this “twist” work is not what it is, but HOW it goes about revealing it. And I think the internet has very much proven that this twist will stand the test of time: I mean, “It doesn’t look like anything to me” is already an iconic line, and an instant meme. And that’s because it was a terrific line in an absolutely terrific scene. This is the moment that the truth started to really spin itself out for the show and, as a genesis for the reveals to come, you can’t get much better.


2. Maeve Makes Her Escape


In the midst of alternate timeframes and earth-shattering reveals, it sure was nice to have Maeve’s storyline around to serve as a solid anchor for the rest of the series. Compared to pretty much every other plot point, Maeve’s was by far the simplest: she gained her sentience and, with it, began plotting to escape. Sure, things got a bit more complicated towards the end (the show is still Westworld, after all), but compared to all the other confusion going on, Maeve’s story arc was pretty clear cut.

I would personally chalk that up as a positive, however, as Maeve’s experience with sentience really did ground the series for me. Even at its most trippy and confusing, the show had this fantastic story at its core, moored by a terrific character played by an ever more stunning actor (it will be a crime if Thandie Newton doesn’t land any Emmy nod for this, right?) And unlike pretty much every other character on the show (with the big exception of perhaps Ford), Maeve is the only character to actually get what she wants by the season’s end. And by god did she do it in the best way possible.

Seeing Maeve and her ragtag “army” of Escaton, Armistice, and Felix fight their way out of the main compound was spellbinding television, directed brilliantly by showrunner Jonathan Nolan. Well technically not a single moment, I’m going to lump Maeve’s escape altogether simply because it’s impossible to choice what was the best part: from the first scene of Escaton and Armistice brutally slaying two techies (the first robot-on-human casualties of an ultimately bloody night) to the Cabin in the Woods-esque entrance into the Samurai Room, Maeve’s journey to escape the compound was just what the season was asking for, and the kind of propulsive storytelling that many other TV series would be lucky to have.

Also, that outfit. You lookin’ quit arch indeed, Maeve. Just never stop being you.


1. It All Comes Together


But there can only be one, and in the case of Westworld, the best moment of the season was easily the closing ten minutes of “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Bernard’s desperate attempt to learn his heritage and understand his creation is exciting in and of itself, but what truly makes this sequence shine is the build-up to the reveal, one that pretty much everyone knows is coming, but is beyond excited to see nonetheless.

Which, yes, is indeed a lot like the previous moment of Bernard learning of his identity, which also placed on this list just a few segments back. That’s even more of an accomplishment, if you ask me: the fact that Westworld can basically play the same exact trick TWICE and do it wonderfully both times is a testament to how strong the storytelling of the series really is.

Of course to say the reveal of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is the exact same as the one in “Trompe L’oeil” is a bit simplistic. The reveal at the end of “Clavier” is a whole lot more of a development, and manages to wrap in Delores’ storyline into the proceedings too. Really, the final moment of “Clavier” is the thing that brought the whole season together, explaining seemingly everything (including the multiple timeframe scenario) into one jaw-dropping package. In this, it was probably smart to drop the “Bernard is a host” reveal before the “Bernard is a clone of Arnold” reveal, as it allowed both bits of information a lot of room to breath. A lesser show would have just had both twists piled up on each other, and would have been a whole lot messier because of it. By separating the two show-changing revelations, the gravity of each is truly felt.

But so why then did the twist of “The Well Tempered Clavier” work better than the one in “Trompe L’oeil?” Well, for one reason primarily, and her name is Michelle MacLaren. She’s one of the all time best TV directors, and the skill that she brought to tackling this oh-so-important episode really pushed it to season-high quality. No disrespect to Frederick E.O. Toye (who is an excellent TV director in his own right), but MacLaren just brings so much style and confidence to everything she touches, and I don’t think anyone else would have been able to handle the balancing act of “The Well Tempered Clavier’s” final moments. When her name flashed up in the opening credits for the episode, I knew that I would be in for something special, and hoped that Episode 9 of Westworld would be as well-executed and exciting as the many great Episode 9’s of Game of Thrones before it.

And, thankfully, it was. This episode, and in particular its final moments, truly left me breathless. Television at its finest, and proof that Westworld is indeed one of the best TV shows of 2016.



Which, yes, I wholeheartedly believe is the case. Lord knows Westworld Season 1 wasn’t perfect, and there was certainly little things here and there that I had some problems with. But at the end of the day, I think the mantra of one of the show’s best characters sums up my thoughts quite nicely: while some people might chose to see the logical issues or storytelling quibbles of the series, I choose to see the beauty. And if this list shows anything, there was a hell of a lot of it to enjoy this season.

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Disney Is Rebooting The Muppets (Yes, Again) And A Whole Bunch of Other Dormant Properties For Their New Streaming Service

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap, the concept of time itself. You know, the usual.

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Disney has conquered mainstream Hollywood. That is an undeniable fact, if you ask me — between their Marvel and Star Wars output (not to mention their live action remakes, animated films, and projects from Pixar), Disney seems to be the only big studio thriving in the modern age. But as much as that seems like a compliment to Disney, it’s also something of a dour note for the industry overall — things are rough for theatrical film, for a variety of reasons. But perhaps the most substantial one is competition from the world of cable, Broadcast, and (especially) streaming outlets. When you are routinely getting things of the same (if not better) quality out of TV and streaming, why even go to the theater? The question is baffling to me (because it’s a movie theater, that’s why!), but not for the majority of Americans — ticket sales are the worst they have been in decades, as people would rather get their entertainment fix by staying at home and watching Netflix.

And Disney knows this. They are content with having conquered the ashes of traditional Hollywood, but they aren’t idiots — the media landscape is changing, and they want to be just as viable in the new one as a Netflix or HBO. So they are creating their own streaming service, and taking the battle for entertainment supremacy to Netflix in a big way.

But in building their new streaming outlet, I was rather curious how Disney planned to convince people to subscribe to their service when there were dozens more out there competing for the same eyeballs (and monthly set of dollar bills.) Well, today we got a pretty big hint in how Disney plans to build out their streaming portfolio and, no surprise, it’s taking advantage of their biggest asset: all the well-liked shit they have made and/or acquired over the last century. Brands are king for Disney, and they very much seem to be putting those at the forefront as they dive into this new frontier. Call it a safety blanket if you want (I will: it’s a safety blanket), but it has served Disney well in the last decade, so
…reboot time it is!

Of course, many of Disney’s bigger properties have already been rebooted or remade on the big screen, leading the selections for their streaming stuff to be a bit lower tier. The biggest property announced today for the potential reboot treatment is The Muppets, who Disney acquired from The Jim Henson Company back in 2004, and have since been left scratching their heads at what exactly to do with it. Things seemed great at first when the Jason Segal-led reboot film managed to enliven the love for the franchise, and perform pretty great at the box office to boot. But then Muppets Most Wanted came out and, despite being a whole lotta fun, underwhelmed at the box office. It seemed The Muppets would not be the blockbuster franchise Disney was hoping for.

Rebooting The Muppets

So they transferred the property back to TV, relaunching a new series simply entitled The Muppets. This series had a promising hook (basically The Muppets meets 30 Rock, through the mockumentary lens of The Office) but it failed to get an audience on ABC and, quite frankly, wasn’t even all that good to begin with. Then a whole controversy broke out when longtime puppeteer/Kermit the Frog voice actor Steve Whitmire was fired from working on the property. He argued that Disney’s plans for the character was against what Henson would have stood for. They argued he was a shitty worker who didn’t play well with others, and everyone else was glad to be rid of him. The truth probably rests somewhere in between the two stances, but that didn’t make the controversy anymore crippling for The Muppet brand. They laid low for a year or so, only popping up to make wacky promotional videos and the like for the franchises’ various social media pages.

But apparently, Disney still thinks they can make this thing work in a big way, as The Hollywood Reporter confirms the Mouse House intends to bring the property to their new streaming service. Which, by the way, could use a name pronto. I’m tiring of just calling it “their new streaming service.” Judging by what they seem to want to put on it, maybe simply “Reboot” will do?

Kidding aside, The Muppets isn’t the only reboot Disney plans to anchor the service with. Also in the mix according to THR is film properties like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (you, know the Rick Moranis movie about shrinking kids), Father of the Bride (you know, the Steve Martin movie about being the father of the bride), and The Parent Trap (you know, the Lindsay Lohan movie about trapping parents.) This is in addition to previously announced reboot fodder like High School Musical and The Mighty Ducks which, yeah, were all certainly things at one point in time. They have name value, and that’s all that matters to the house that Micky Mouse built!  At least there will be some top shelve franchise extinctions from brands like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. And, who knows, maybe an original property might sneak its way in there!

…But no promises.


Also published on Medium.

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Matt’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017

Right at the edge of being at all relevant, here are my top 10 TV shows of 2017.

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You know what? I’m rather impressed with myself, and I don’t particularly care if anyone else is. Usually I can’t release my Top 10 TV and Film lists until weeks and weeks into the new year — I am a completionist, after all, and live in an area in which many of the big Oscar films don’t even come out until months after they first hit limited release (if at all.) And as for my delay with TV, I’m lazy, and have a lot of things I end up catching up on based entirely on the fact that other people had them in their 10 Tops for the year. So most years (like last, for instance), I don’t release either lists until WAY past the point in which anyone even cares.

But this year? I was able to do my catch up far faster than normal, mostly because I am unemployed and have absolutely nothing better to do with all this time (SO MUCH TIME, you guys.) So rather than deliver my lists extremely late, they are just normal late. Believe it or not, it’s an improvement, and I’m not going to let anyone else take that away from me. Maybe a few years from now, I can actually be on time with them!

But, eh, probably not.

Anyways, I’ll be releasing both my Top 10 TV shows and Top 10 movies list for the year that was 2017, starting out today with television. As has been the case with the format for the past few years, there are WAY TOO MANY GOOD TV SHOWS, so the amount of stuff I had to regretfully push off the list was numerous. So numerous, in fact, I plan on publishing a separate list recounting those in the coming days too. But, for now, here’s what I settled on for the 10 best TV shows I saw in the past twelve months, starting with…


10. Samurai Jack

There’s a part of me that thinks I’m only putting Samurai Jack on this list because I remain in awe that we even got it in the first place. An actual conclusion to the long thought dead Cartoon Network series just seemed like a fanboy pipe dream, and that, eventually, one we would all just forget about (until the property got rebooted in twenty years, of course.) But, no, a final season of Samurai Jack is indeed something we got in 2017. And though I had a few quibbles here and there (namely that the romance felt a bit contrived, and the ending a tad rushed), I came away from the ten-episode run as enamored with the series as I ever was. The first three episodes, in particular, are just masterful television, combining astonishing animation with amazing action and, most exciting of all, brilliant character work. The show got darker with its return but, more importantly, it got more reflective and bold with the story it was trying to tell. Even if it wasn’t 100% perfect, Samurai Jack was unlike anything else on television, and a strong case that Genndy Tartakovsky is one of the most brilliant people currently working in the medium. Please let him do more of it, world, rather than continued Hotel Transylvania films. Samurai Jack proves he can do far, far, far, far better.


9. The Handmaid’s Tale

By far the most buzzed about new TV series of the year, it would have been easy for The Handmaid’s Tale to coast on the timeliness of its themes, trading in actual craftsmanship and skill for the mere fact that, yeah, what it’s saying is “important.” But what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so great is that it manages to do both in a way that is seamless and never preachy — the themes that the show approaches are powerful and important and sadly relevant, but that never takes away from how concise and skillful the show is on its own. There’s a fantastic dystopian tale at the center of The Handmaid’s Tale, and even if we lived in a utopia of equal rights (which we of course don’t), the story in and of itself would be enough to make The Handmaid’s Tale worth watching. Plus the incredible performances of the cast (especially Elisabeth Moss in the lead), and the absolutely awe-inspiring visuals. The Handmaid’s Tale might be the show of the current zeitgeist…but it’s also a pretty good one, so I can’t complain much about the love it has received.


8. Nathan for You

Every year that Nathan Fielder chooses to create more episodes of this brilliant show, I will almost certainly find a place for it on my end-of-the-year list. It’s just that good, and this season especially gave us a number of glorious episodes. Nathan’s amazing attempt to create a Late Night appropriate story in “The Anecdote.” His absolutely nutty plan to create a band that heavily used the sound of a smoke detector, which somehow got him wrapped up in the world of Big Oil, because it’s Nathan for You and the world is insane. And, of course, “Finding Frances,” the format breaker that ended the season with a surprisingly touching, thought-provoking story of lost love and regret, so good that even documentarian Errol Morris had to rave about it, calling it his “new favorite love story.” Also, the episode in question involved filming a Mud sequel entitled Mud 2: Never Clean. God I love this insane show.


7. The Americans

You know how good The Americans is? Even an off season of the show manages to find its way into my Top 10 at the end of the year. Because even if Season 5 is probably the weakest season since Season 1…god, it’s just so incredibly good. The Americans is probably the most consistently strong long-running show on all of television, and even a season that isn’t quite as masterful as Season 2 or 3 or 4 still has high points that other shows dream they could touch. The acting remains as powerful as ever, the writing as concise, and the direction as meticulous. Really the only thing setting this season back is the fact that it’s the penultimate one, meaning that a lot of the time was spent seeding the endgame and setting up the final plots — even by The Americans standards, it was a slower season than usual. But the final couple of episodes were absolutely brilliant, and proof that we need not worry about this show as it approaches its final 10 episode season. More than any other series on television, I have faith these people know what they are doing — they haven’t steered us wrong so far, right?


6. Better Call Saul

From one slow burn to another, it’s kind of fascinating how Better Call Saul has managed to grow in the face of its more popular, more explosive parent show. While Breaking Bad focused on big moments and huge plot movements (to genius effect, of course), Better Call Saul’s approach is entirely different. It’s even more character focused, a lot less action heavy, and as much as I hate to use the word to describe anything as exciting and brilliant as this show…yeah, a little bit slower. But that approach has actually benefited the show, especially going into its third season. The fact we got to know these characters so well is really helping this series excel as the plot takes off in kind, with Season 3 in particular delivering some rather huge moments for the character of Jimmy McGill and the people around him. It’s not a big action crime show like Breaking Bad, but it’s almost equally as good in every other regard. Season 3 especially was the show really finding its creative genius, delivering week after week of constant greatness. The series is off to the dramatic races now, and as long as the performances, writing, and visuals remain as strong as they do now, the show will very much remain a worthy predecessor to Vince Gilligan’s last masterwork. And, to be honest, that’s a far better position to be in than pretty much any other TV spin-off I can think of.


5. American Vandal

Ah: American Vandal — the little show that could of 2017. When Netflix dropped the thing in mid-September of this year, I don’t think very man people had it on their radar. The plot seemed a tad obnoxious, and pretty much no one of note was involved in its creation both behind and in front of the camera. But like any good surprise hit, word-of-mouth propelled this one to be one of Netflix’s most talked about shows of the year. And boy was all that conversation well deserved. American Vandal is a real treat from start to finish, a pitch-perfect parody that only gets better the more it unfolds. The series is really some amazing satire, managing to wrangle both blistering laughs and surprising pathos from the story of a bunch of dicks drawn on some cars in a parking lot. American Vandal works on pretty much every level, but what puts it over the moon is how stunningly authentic it ultimately feels. In addition to being a note-for-note true crime parody, American Vandal also makes for a great teen comedy, assembling a bunch of different teenaged personalities and delivering a concise message about how they behave and interact in the cyber age. Liberally featuring things like Youtube, Twitch, Instagram, and the like, American Vandal ended up feeling like one of the most authentic pictures of modern youth that I’ve yet seen. And with authenticity being the key to comedy…well, American Vandal ended up being an absolute knockout in pretty much every regard.


4. Master of None

It sucks that talking about Aziz Anzari has become something of a touchy subject, because it absolutely overshadows the accomplishments of the man a few months prior. But even if Ansari himself is something of a damaged good, I won’t let that stop me from appreciating the greatness that was Master of None Season 2. While I really enjoyed the first season of Anzari’s Netflix dramedy, the second season was a vast improvement, and on a whole different level altogether. With a renewed interest in making the most creative show possible, Aziz Anzari took inspiration from the first season’s best episode (“Mornings”) and molded most of the installments in Season 2 based on that episode’s unique approach to the structure of a TV episode. And what an end result — I legitimately think every episode of Master of None Season 2 is outstanding, from the big idea episodes like “Thankgiving” or “I Love New York,” to the smaller installments like the closing two-parter focusing on Dev’s relationship with his Italian crush. Extremely confident, extremely unique, and altogether impactful — I loved the hell out of Master of None this year. And I’m not going to let some groan-inducing behavior from its main voice detract from that.


3. Better Things

Remember everything I said about Master of None above? The same, but for Louis C.K., and with Better Things. On the one hand it’s a little easier to handle this one because C.K.’s role is strictly behind the scenes…but then again, what C.K. did was far more monstrous than Ansari. So fuck him and fuck the situation entirely. BUT don’t fuck Better Things, because man oh man did I love the show’s sophomore season. Pamela Adlon’s voice remains as unique and entertaining as ever, and Better Things represented a far more reflective, deeper reading of its subject matter than we got in the show’s freshman debut. It was heartwarming, and thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining, and I hope Adlon gets to do whatever the hell she wants with these things now that it’s separated completely from C.K.’s influence. All that being said, the comedian DID write or co-write every episode this season, and his prints were all over the brilliant writing for this. Because he is a brilliant writer, and creative voice. But, also, a fucking asshole. UGH, this whole situation. Anyways, Better Things is wonderful, and I hope it will remain wonderful for however long Adlon wants to keep things going.


2. The Good Place

Whew, finally, a comedy I can talk about without having to mention abhorrent, horrifying behavior! I’ve already spoken at length about how much I loved the second half of The Good Place’s first season (which started in January, lest you forget), but I haven’t really spoken about how the show followed up its amazing home stretch in its second season. Well, suffice to say, this show remains absolutely incredible, and is quickly climbing up the ranks of my all-time favorite TV comedies. That’s a bold thing to say for a show only two seasons in, but what can I say? The Good Place is one of the funniest, most exciting TV series I’ve seen in a while. It’s a show that not only has a strong and unique comic voice, but the storytelling and creativity to match it.

On a week to week basis, I literally have no idea where The Good Place is going, with its story pivoting wildly and it constantly burning through plot that a standard show would probably ruminate in for numerous episodes. And while that might seem like a flaw for some, it only increases my love of this nutty and brave show. Every week they jump into the abyss, with twist after twist after twist changing the nature of the show on an episode-to-episode basis. But after they have managed to reap the benefits of such transitions literally dozens of time, I stopped worrying about where the show might go. At this point, I’m just enjoying the absolutely delightful ride. And I highly recommend for you to do so as well. This is the beginning of a landmark comedy and, as always, I can’t wait to see where The Good Place goes next.


1. The Leftovers

Back when Season 2 of The Leftovers premiered, I was gobsmacked by how brilliant it was. While I loved the first season a lot more than some people, even I could never imagine how absolutely magnificent the show could get in its second set of 10 episodes. It was my favorite series of 2015 and, at the time, I had no idea how in the world a season of television could possibly get better.

It did.

The Leftovers Season 3 is a masterpiece. It is brilliant from top-to-bottom, with every episode fantastic on their own, and wonderous altogether. It served as the perfect capper to the series, more perfect than any other final season of a drama that I can think of. It’s pure, uncut brilliant, powered by the incredible acting, beautiful writing, and always outstanding production values. It’s the kind of show that’s so good that I can’t even think of more superlatives to use to express its greatness — already I’ve thrown like a dozen out, and none of them can match how I truly feel about this amazing little stretch of eight episodes. From the storytelling boldness of “The Most Powerful Man in the World” to the emotional wallop that is “The Book of Nora” (the show’s series finale), there was not a single misstep in this collection of episodes. Not a single damn flaw.

There’s a lot more I want to say about The Leftovers Season 3 that I didn’t get the chance to express when it first came out. How amazing Justin Thereoux and Carrie Coon were in their performances, and how much they absolutely grew into their characters over the show’s three-year lifespan. How the series turned out to be a pretty powerful romance, while simultaneously tackling a dozen other themes and plotlines. How the show ended up being the perfect one for 2017, with its constant theme of how we approach the end of the world feeling more and more relevant as we delved into the real life shitshow that was 2017. Hell, how it gave us an episode of television that referenced 80’s sitcom Perfect Stranger dozens of times, and was also as heartbreaking as any other installment of the show. So many, many thoughts. But, ultimately, I’m left with one thought that is more important than them all.

I’ve loved a lot of TV shows, especially in the modern era. And, for the last five years, I’ve had a clear favorite of all time — Breaking Bad, of course. But in three short seasons, The Leftovers has topped it for me. It is now my favorite TV series of all time, and I am 100% unwavering in that stance. No show has hit me harder emotionally, or impressed me more fundamentally, or wowed me in ways so absorbing. For me at least, The Leftovers is the new king of the TV mountain. Long live the king.


Whew. That was my love letter to The Leftovers or, umm, my Top 10 TV Shows of 2017. Sorry, got kind of carried away at the end there. Anyways, tune in on Wednesday for my list of the ten best movies of the year. I promise I’ll try my best to not turn it into a soliloquy about how much I love The Leftovers. 

You now…”my best.”


Also published on Medium.

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