There was a lot of good TV in 2016, and a lot of that good TV was new TV. Naturally, some of those new shows either made my top TV list or just missed it (and, no, I won't tell you which show was which). But there were just as many first season shows that I watched, mostly enjoyed, then hoped would get better in season two (assuming they get one). Here are five of them.
Billions (Showtime): I was perhaps too harsh on this show when I wrote about it last January. Yes, I think it skirts a little too close to the "don't you wish you could live like a rich person?!" line, but if you watch the entire season, it becomes all the more clear that the show really does have, deep down somewhere, a conscience, right alongside those great performances from Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. I know that the usual pattern for Showtime dramas is to fall apart in season two (the only two that didn't -- Shameless and Penny Dreadful -- are also the Showtime dramas that consistently go under the radar, go figure), but I'm hopeful that the show can continue the strong streak it closed out season one with and grapple even more with the ethics at the series' center. There's a real chance this turns into one of the shows worth paying attention to under the new presidential administration, and I would love to see that show.
Colony (USA): So the rest of this list is going to be all sci-fi shows. There's a good reason for that: Sci-fi TV is what I turn to when I need something to just veg out to, and I'm willing to cut a show a lot of slack if it gives me even half a compelling character to pay attention to, if the worldbuilding is cool enough. (Also, a lot of sci-fi shows really take off in season two, for whatever reason.) But Colony had a lot more than just one character. It had a genuinely compelling workplace setting -- a group of characters who work for the occupation after an alien invasion -- and several morally complicated figures. The only problem was that the show's central family was filled with some of its least interesting folks, though it slowly but surely figured that out as the season wore on. I loved the way the show used its cold opens and other tiny moments to fill out its world (especially the reveal of a prison on the moon), and, hey, a series about how you simultaneously live under and resist an oppressive regime could have resonance for a lot more people when season two debuts early next year.
The Expanse (Syfy): I honestly don't know that this show will need to do too much to win my affections even more than it already has. If there was one complaint I had about season one, it was that the storytelling was a little poky, a little too disjointed, and a little too surface level when it came to the characters. But the show was cast well, the setting was nifty, and its central mystery was both eerie and well-constructed. The final three hours of season one were the show's strongest, particularly when all of the characters finally met up in episode eight (of 10). Here's hoping season two gets Shohreh Aghdashloo involved more, because that woman can do no wrong.
Stranger Things (Netflix): I have spent a surprising amount of time in the past few weeks thinking about this show as top 10 season rolls on. (Mostly, it was prompted by the show's excellent soundtrack garnering a Grammy nomination, which led me to start listening to the theme song over and over again.) I couldn't, in good conscience, put it on my top shows list, because I just found a lot of it too uninterested in pushing past nostalgic surface gloss and really engaging with its characters and its thematic core. But, man, I still had a lot of fun with this show. I loved the kids. I loved some of the setpieces (those Christmas lights!). I loved the way it beautifully channeled its influences without feeling beholden to them. This just feels like one of those shows that will really take off now that its writers have had time to steep themselves in its universe, and of all the series on this list, this is the one I have the highest hopes for in 2017.
Westworld (HBO): This, on the other hand, won't be back until 2018, most likely -- and I have no idea what to hope for come season two. So much of what people embraced about the series was playing the game side of it, trying to figure out what was happening before the series revealed its cards. And, of course, with the conclusion of season one, it sure seems like that aspect of the show is over now. If it is, I'd say it's not a moment too soon. The series has always been interesting to me, but it's only been fitfully gripping. It feels too cool and calculated, too smooth and sealed off. Yet the last 45 minutes of the finale were so audacious and shot through with passion and blood that I find myself hoping, all the same, that season two will ditch the mind games and just tell a story of what happens when the oppressed try to overthrow their oppressors. It should be a high-wire act either way.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I already have Colony screeners to watch.
Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com. tinyletter
Read more posts like this in your inbox
Subscribe to the newsletter