What I Watched Last Year: Best TV 2016

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billions-posterBillions (Showtime)  Paul Giamatti plays Chuck Rhodes, a U.S. Attorney obsessed with taking down hedge fund manager Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, played by Damien Lewis. It’s nice having Lewis back after seeing him on the first three seasons of Homeland. For me, there’s something unpleasant that Giamatti frequently brings to his roles, and that’s definitely the case here. So I’ve been pulling for Axelrod to get the better of Rhodes, even though Axe is a ruthless, entitled rich guy who does whatever he wants and mostly gets away with it. It’s a compelling series with a great cast and a twisty story line. The second season premieres on Sunday, February 19th.

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Bosch (Amazon Prime)  I love this one. One of the reasons I signed up for Amazon Prime was to see this series. Season 1 had already been released and season 2 was about to be. I ended up watching them back to back and got that satisfied feeling I get when I see something that works on all levels. I’ve been reading Michael Connelly’s crime novels about LAPD detective Harry Bosch for years. I had a problem when I first heard that Titus Welliver had been cast as Bosch, because he didn’t fit my image of the character from the books. It didn’t take _V9A5813.CR2long bosch-harry-irvingfor Welliver to wipe out any doubts I’d had. He’s perfect. I first recall seeing him in Brooklyn South, a cop series from 1997-98, and then Deadwood and The Good Wife, as well as Sons of Anarchy. The entire cast is excellent; it’s especially nice seeing two actors from The Wire (still my favorite series of all time), Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector. Reddick, who’s also been in the series Fringe and the John Wick films, is Deputy Chief Irvin Irving. He’s been totally convincing in everything I’ve seen him in. Hector is Det. Jerry Edgar, Bosch’s partner. Their conversations, natural and very real, reflect the excellence of the writing. Bosch was developed by Eric Overmyer, who was previously involved with Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, The Man in the High Castle, and The Affair. These are serious credits. Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Amazon Prime, which season 3 scheduled to be released on April 21st. Below is a trailer for season 2, followed by the complete first episode of the first season.

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doctor-thorne-posterDoctor Thorne (Amazon Prime)  Written and executive-produced by Julien Fellowes, this is an adaptation of a novel by Anthony Trollope. The involvement of Julien Fellowes makes comparisons to Downton Abbey unavoidable, though Doctor Thorne is set in the 1850s, 60+ years before Downton begins. And with only four 45-minute episodes, it’s pretty light on its feet. With a large cast of characters and numerous complications, it’s also deeply satisfying. Tom Hollander as the title character is the moral center of the story, a truly decent and extremely patient man. Ian McShane plays Sir Roger Scatcherd (great name). Whenever I see McShane I always think of his iconic Al Swearengen from HBO’s Deadwood (2004-2006). He’s played a lot of larger-than-life characters since then. They suit him well. Fellowes introduces each episode. His avuncular presence makes you feel that nothing too terribly bad is going to happen. You want it to end well, and it does.

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Goliath (Amazon Prime)  I like this series as much as I do Bosch, and for a lot of the same reasons. It’s just so well done from top to bottom and side to side. Co-created by David E. Kelley (L.A. Law, Boston Legal, Picket Fences, etc etc), Goliath concerns Billy McBride, a down and out lawyer in Los Angeles, played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton, who frequently has roles where he looks like he just stepped out of a Sam Peckinpah movie. McBride, despite a dependency on alcohol, cheap motels and bars, decides to go up against the powerful law firm he founded with his former partner, Donald Cooperman, where he was once a star. Cooperman is played by William Hurt in a performance that gives new definition to the term “creepy.” This is the last thing McBride wants to do. He’s comfortable with his tattered life, but he gets a taste for the fight and digs in his heels. There’s an aspect to this that reminds me of Better Call Saul, but Goliath is its own thing. Billy Bob Thornton received a Golden Globe for his performance. The series got a lot of attention and will probably return for a second season, though that hasn’t been verified yet. In the meantime, all ten episodes are available for streaming. Below is a trailer followed by the complete first episode of the series.

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homeland-poster4Homeland (Showtime)  We finally caught up with Homeland. Friends had told me repeatedly how great it was. We didn’t have Showtime when it premiered in 2011. We got Showtime a couple years later, but I wanted to see Homeland from the beginning, so we kept putting it off. Finally enough was enough. This past December we bought the first four seasons on DVD, which we burned through in a couple of weeks. We loved it. If you get on the ride, it’s totally addictive. Showtime ran the entire series earlier in 'Homeland' takes filming to Cape TownJanuary in a run-up to season six, so we recorded season five and watched it in a couple of days. Now we’re watching season six the old fashioned way, one episode a week at a time. I think the series lost some snap with the departure of Damien Lewis at the end of the third season, but it’s still extremely good. The show clearly revolves around Claire Danes’ Carrie Matheson, but Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) has been my favorite character since he first appeared in season three. Mandy Patinkin is great as Saul Berenson, and F. Murray Abraham is quite scary as Dar Adal. Even his name is scary. So everyone was right, Homeland is terrific. We were late to the party, but we’ll stay to the end.

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Luke Cage (Netflix)  Like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, this is a series based on a character from Marvel Comics that’s darker and grittier than you might expect. All three series are set in a “real” world where some people have superpowers. Luke Cage was the first black superhero to headline his own comic book in 1972. What sets Luke Cage apart is that it presents a very black-centric world. The action takes place mainly in the Harlem of today. Except for the fact that Luke is bulletproof and has super strength (the result of illegal experiments performed on him while he was in prison), the stories, people, and relationships are very much real-world. The excellent cast includes Mike Colter as Luke Cage (previously seen as Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife), Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Treme, Moonlight, Hidden Figures), Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson (repeating her role from Daredevil), and Frankie Faison (another graduate of The Wire).

The Night Of  (HBO)  Created by writer Richard Price and director Steve Zaillian, this limited series follows a young Pakistani-American college student from his arrest for the murder of a young woman, through his time in custody at Rikers Island, the subsequent trial and after the verdict. Anyone familiar with the work of Richard Price — the novel Clockers, writing episodes of The Wire, to name two of his many credits — won’t be surprised at how precisely detailed The Night Of is. He goes deep. The show takes its time; it’s in no hurry to get where it’s going. Along the way we get a sense of the profound and likely permanent changes experienced by someone caught up in the criminal justice system. Innocent or guilty, he’ll never be the same.

the-night-of-turturro-in-chinatownThe cast is excellent. Riz Ahmed is the student, Nasir “Naz” Khan. Ahmed is seemingly everywhere these days. I remember first seeing him in Nightcrawler in 2014. Last year he was in Jason Bourne and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and so far this year he has a recurring role on the final season of Lena Dunham’s Girls. John Turturro plays his defense lawyer, John Stone, plagued throughout by excema on his feet and ankles. Stone knows he’s an ambulance chaser, but he’s smart and stubborn; he wants to do right by Naz. This role was originally intended for James Gandolfini when the series was first in development. When he died, Turturro took the part. Michael K. Williams (The Wire again!) plays Freddie Knight, an inmate at the-night-of-bill-camp2Rikers who’s kind of the mayor on the cell block. He helps guide Naz through his long days there, though he has his own agenda. A revelation for me was Bill Camp as Dennis Box, the homicide detective on the case. I’ve seen him for years in supporting roles in feature films and on TV. I didn’t always know his name, but I do now. Recently he’s appeared in Midnight Special and Loving (both directed by Jeff Nichols last year), Jason Bourne (2016), and the series Manhattan (2014-2015). His Dennis Box is in dogged pursuit of the truth. All the circumstantial evidence points to Naz. It seems like a slam dunk, but something doesn’t feel right to Box. This isn’t exactly a feel-good story, but it’s really great.

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people-vs-oj-simpson-posterThe People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)  Based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, this award-winning mini-series is nothing less than riveting. The series follows the prosecution and defense of the “trial of the century.” The writing and production are top-notch, with a great cast to bring it to life. Sarah Paulson is excellent as prosecutor Marcia Clarke. Courtney B. Vance is equally strong as defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran. He’s the leader of the so-called “dream team,” which includes John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, and Rob Morrow as Barry Scheck. Co-counsel for the prosecution is played by Sterling K. Brown; I was unfamiliar with him, but he’s a revelation in the role. The one weak link for me in the casting is Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson. He lacks the physical stature and charisma to be convincing as O.J. I’m more certain of this having recently seen the eight-hour documentary O.J.: Made in America. Gooding Jr. is a good actor, but he just doesn’t compare to the real thing. That aside, The People v. O.J. Simpson is a great series, well worth seeing. All ten episodes are currently available for streaming from Netflix.

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last-week-tonight-posterWe’re regular watchers of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS), and Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO). We sorely miss Tonightly with Larry Wilmore, which was abruptly cancelled last year by Comedy Central for reasons I’m still unclear on. John Oliver and Samantha Bee are our favorites. He’s very sharp, impassioned, and extremely funny. She’s all that, and fearless. Both were regulars on The Daily Show during the Jon Stewart years. Bill Maher can be off-putting; he’s a bully at times and his jokes have a sledgehammer quality. But we watch him every week regardless. Of course, in these post-election times, the humor on these shows has a very dark strain, not so much ha-ha.

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The following titles are carry-overs from last year.

americans-season-5-posterThe Americans (FX) — Season 5 premieres March 7th

Better Call Saul (AMC) — Season 3 premieres April 10th

Bloodline (Netflix) — 3rd and final season release date TBA

Dicte (Netflix) — Season 3 is currently streaming on Netflix

Downton Abbey (PBS) — Last year was the 6th and final season

The Fall (Netflix) — No word as yet on a 4th season, but season 3 is currently streaming on Netflix

Grantchester (PBS) — Season 3 premiere TBAhouse-of-cards-poster3

Grace and Frankie (Netflix) — Season 3 will be released March 24th

Happy Valley (Netflix) — 3rd and final season release date TBA

House of Cards (Netflix) — Season 5 will be released May 30th

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime) — Season 2 is currently streaming

Masters of Sex (Showtime) — Last year was the 4th and final season

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime) — Season 3 is currently streaming

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) — Season 5 will be released June 9th

Penny Dreadful (Showtime) — Last year was the 3rd and final season

Silicon Valley (HBO) — Season 4 premieres April 23rdveep-poster

The Simpsons (Fox) — 28th season is currently airing

The Strain (FX) — 4th and final season premiere date TBA

Transparent (Amazon Prime) — Season 4 release date this Fall TBA

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) — Season 3 will be released May 19th

Veep (HBO) — Season 6 premieres April 16th

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Too much to see. Just keep watching. – Ted Hicks

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About Ted Hicks

Iowa farm boy; have lived in NYC for 40 years; worked in motion picture labs, film/video distribution, subtitling, media-awards program; obsessive film-goer all my life.
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2 Responses to What I Watched Last Year: Best TV 2016

  1. David M Fromm says:

    Great Choices !

  2. Ted, I finally read this. I agree 100% with your choices. The problem is there are just too many good series available these days. One could spend every non-working moment watching and still not catch them all!

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