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Television

The Best TV of 2016

The Best TV of 2016 offers a bold mix of reality, virtual reality, animated reality, and pure fantasy across broadcast and streaming.

Best TV 2016: Page 2

 
TV Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Network: Fox

Cast: Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Andre Braugher

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine

The tonal successor to the much-missed Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine offers several of the same dynamics, to excellent effect. Though both shows were created by Mike Schur and share some similarities, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has its own voice, marked by a silliness inherent in Andy Samberg's humor, offset by Andre Braugher's dry, serious delivery. Rounding out the cast is a host of police detectives and department employees who run the gamut from overachieving to hardly qualifying as employed. Their evolving relationships with one another have fleshed out the characters that now in its fourth season, the series has hit its stride. There's certainly no need for yet another police procedural on television, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine's unique take has transformed a usually gritty and intense genre into a workplace comedy, one that celebrates a yogurt-obsessed sergeant, an ego-centric admin, a deadpan boss, and goofballs galore. -- J. M. Suarez

TV Show: Channel Zero: Candle Cove

Network: SyFy

Cast: Paul Schneider, Fiona Shaw

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Channel Zero: Candle Cove

Candle Cove takes an old internet short story, a "story" that's barely more than a handful of messages about a weird, half-remembered kids show, and expands it into an unsettling anti-nostalgia trip about returning to your hometown. When Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) was a kid in his small Ohio town, six children were murdered in a series of incidents that were never fully explained. Mike's twin brother was among the victims, and the murders were somehow connected to an obscure, dirt-cheap puppet pirate show called "Candle Cove". Mike's return to the town coincides with the return of "Candle Cove" to television, and it seems like he might be the key to stopping any further mayhem. What Candle Cove does so well is keep the audience guessing. Paul Schneider is expertly cast as an everyman, bland enough to seem trustworthy even as it becomes obvious that he knows more about the original murders than he’s telling people. For a large chunk of the six episodes, it’s not entirely clear if Mike is the hero or the villain. The show exploits this uncertainty by using it as a pivot point to fuel a creeping sense of dread. Simultaneously Candle Cove is smothered in a feeling of inevitability, filling in more and more of the backstory via flashbacks. Eventually the present and past come together in a finale that packs an emotional wallop. -- Chris Conaton

 
TV Show: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Network: CW

Cast: Rebecca Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Donna Lynn Champlain

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did something exceedingly brave and, well, crazy. It took a torch to its own premise. Within three episodes, it destroyed the love triangle that made the first season so compelling, and jettisoned one of its most interesting characters in one of its most audaciously moving scenes. What started as a fascinating subversion of romantic comedy tropes, and the role women occupy within them, has become something deeper, richer, and even more thoughtful. The performances are pitch-perfect and the songs are left-of-centre-incredible (a recent parody of The Spice Girls turned into a Hocus Pocus love fest and a call for all woman to hold a feminist political coup.) Season two is sharper, stronger and, frankly, the show we all want and need. The new title song talks about the show’s emotional thesis statement; and in 2016, it has made good on all its lofty promises. -- Jay Bamber

 
TV Show: Dark Matter

Network: SyFy

Cast: Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr

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Dark Matter

Dark Matter continues to offer up a rough and tumble future of factions and lost causes. As with all good science fiction, the focus isn't technology, but the purposeful struggles fought in the hearts of its main characters: loyalty or desertion, camaraderie or isolation, creation or destruction. Dark Matter's memory-obliterating second chance turns into distanced abstraction as the crew rediscovers their personal history. Some choose to eschew their past, and others to forge the paths they think they should have taken. Both choices lead to unintended consequences, calling into question the reality of self-determination. Season two launched into new territory by exploring how much a common moment of disruption can overcome threads of history literally woven into the fabric of the universe. The Android's awakening emotions recalls the best internal brawls in Star Trek's Spock and Data, while the “blink” drive offers new plots twists for Raza’s crew. -- Daniel Rasmus

 
TV Show: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Network: BBC America

Cast: Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannak Marks, Fiona Dourif

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Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently opens with the aftermath of a brutal slaughter in a hotel penthouse. A piano is smashed in half, there are shark bites in the walls, and blood is everywhere. Then, for some reason, a cute little kitten walks around in the room. Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood) is the unfortunate bellhop that stumbles onto this scene and becomes a suspect. Then Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), a man he's never met, shows up and declares that Todd isn't only his best friend, but also his assistant. Dirk is a detective but he doesn't do any investigative work, preferring to let the universe lead him around until he solves the case. In the midst of all of this, the show also throws in a mysterious corgi, a kidnapped woman, a missing teen girl, government black ops, a rare debilitating disease, a strange cult, and a holistic assassin (Fiona Dourif) who uses the same method as Dirk, except with killing people. It shouldn't work. It should be an absolute mess. Yet, from the start, Dirk Gently tells its story so confidently that it feels like everyone involved (except for maybe poor Todd) knows where they're going. This is a show that is super weird but also meticulously planned and highly, highly entertaining. Dirk Gently pays attention to its characters, finding their humanity despite all the strangeness. Oh, and they do know where it's going, and it pays off marvelously at the end of this short (eight episodes) season. -- Chris Conaton

 
TV Show: Drunk History

Network: Comedy Central

Cast: Derek Waters

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Drunk History

Four seasons in, and Drunk History is showing that it's essentially able to run forever on its concept. Get comedians drunk and have them tell a story from history. Rely on the combination of compelling stories and intoxication-related bloopers to provide hilarity. Repeat. Whether the story is familiar or obscure, the show treats everything with a sense of irreverence and fascination. It helps that the storytellers are generally so damn invested in their tales that their passion comes through no matter how many drinks they may have had. Host Derek Waters amiably encourages his subjects to keep going while also indulging in bizarre digressions that probably make sense to the drunk person at the time. Meanwhile, the show’s on-the-cheap reenactments still pull in a wide assortment of enthusiastic actors, both famous and not, to play roles and lip sync along. This season's highlight was getting Hamilton's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to recount the life and times of Alexander Hamilton in a very different way than his musical, while having actresses Alia Shawkat and Aubrey Plaza play Hamilton and Aaron Burr, respectively. -- Chris Conaton

 
TV Show: The Expanse

Network: SyFy

Cast: Thomas Jane, Stephen Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Florence Faivre, Shohreh Aghdashloo

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The Expanse

SyFy took a big swing with The Expanse, attempting to create a science fiction Game of Thrones. It too is based on a series of complicated books, and it too spends large chunks of its first season building its world. Of the show's three main storylines, Shohreh Agdashloo's is the most thankless. Her politician character is mired in a plotline that doesn't pay off at all in the first season but is essential for establishing the political situation in a solar system where Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt are at odds with each other. Much more interesting is Joe Miller (Thomas Jane). He’s a hard-boiled detective based on the asteroid Ceres who takes a side case and ends up so obsessed with tracking down a missing girl that he essentially ruins his career in the process. Even better is the rollicking space opera section of the show, where Jim Holden (Steven Strait) and his small band of space miners get blamed for the destruction of their freighter. While trying to clear their name and track down the people who were actually responsible, they inadvertently leave a trail of devastation in their wake and get themselves into deeper and deeper trouble. The storytelling in The Expanse is very strong, but equally strong are the show’s production values. SyFy wisely spent the money to make everything in The Expanse look convincing, and that goes a long way towards making the show as compelling as it is. -- Chris Conaton

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