The Summer of 2016 may have been a bust at the movie theaters, but the Fall of 2016 has more than made up for it with its television offerings. This season has given us a better-than-average crop of TV shows. Now that we are a few weeks into most of the new shows, here are the five new shows that are sticking for me:
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a new show as much as this intense and intriguing drama about a massive Western theme park where adults can play out their fantasies with lifelike robot hosts. They can hook-up and shoot-em-up all they want and it’s no problem because the robots aren’t human. Right? You can pump ‘em full of lead or slap ‘em around and they won’t care because their memories will be erased and their bodies repaired at the end of the day. No worries! But something peculiar is happening in Westworld. Are the robots remembering after all? Are they developing consciousness? Are they yearning to break free of this world? And what about the creators and operators behind the scenes? What are their secrets? Half a season in and it continues to be the best new thing on television this year. (A)
Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino, aka the new Lando Calrissian) has created a world that seems at once precise and realistic while somehow also being dreamy, trippy, otherworldly. His characters are finely-drawn and distinct. Atlanta is a comedy, but it’s unlike anything else on television. Admittedly, this is not a show for everyone’s tastes. Like a good album, it requires some commitment and patience to fully get it, but once you do, you’re hooked. (A-)
The Good Place
I don’t find most network sitcoms funny. There are exceptions, of course, like Seinfeld, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, among a few others. Most have flat characters with jokes written by committee, so I fully expected not to like this latest seemingly prefab offering. Well, I have good news about The Good Place: it’s actually good! Bell and Ted Danson anchor a top-notch cast who are in “the good place” (aka heaven). The only problem is Kristen isn’t supposed to be there. Somehow she got sent to the wrong place and now she’s messing everything up. It’s a great premise that delivers. In addition to Bell and Danson, the show features some breakouts with William Jackson Harper as Chidi, the philosophy professor who is upholding his moral responsibility to help Bell become a good person, and D’Arcy Carden as Janet, a sort-of heavenly Siri. Some shows are more uneven than others, but when this show soars—like the episode where Janet is murdered—it’s laugh-out loud funny. (B+)
For those who want their 24-style Keifer Sutherland fix, this may be your new favorite show. Sutherland is the “designated survivor,” a Cabinet member who is kept in a remote location during the State of the Union Speech in the event of the unthinkable. Of course, the unthinkable happens, so now Keifer is Mr. President, whether he likes it or not. There are twists and turns, double-crosses and mixed motives. It cribs from the 24 template of high stakes global crisis coupled with relationship drama that only Keifer can fix. The country’s on the brink of war AND his son is a drug dealer! What’s a rookie president to do?! Unlike 24 where he started as badass and ended as badass, Designated Survivor has our hero beginning his journey as a tentative academic and morph into a pseudo-badass. It’s a great premise and there are limitless possibilities, but so far the show lacks the grittiness and smarts of its spirit ancestor, 24, and the characters aren’t yet compelling enough for us to care that much. Still, it’s a fun ride. (B)
This is Us
The surprise hit of the fall has earned its place in the lineup through strong performances, crisp writing, and a few early twists that hooked me. More importantly, it offers compelling characters I really care about. If you have space for a new relationship drama, this might be the one for you. (B)
These shows are full of great psychology angles, insights in the human condition, and intriguing questions. Westworld, for example, asks not only what it means to be human, but what drives us to inhumanity. It asks if human can be cruel to non-human and if artificially created beings can achieve consciousness and maybe even a soul. Atlanta is a meditation on race, fatherhood, friendship, adulthood, and how lot of other things. The Good Place explores if a “bad person” can become a “good person.” Designated Survivor looks at resiliency and wisdom under pressure. This is Us digs into everything from body image to the weight of fame to alcoholism to transracial adoption. These are all good shows that might be worth your time.
Those are the news shows for me that I’m sticking with so far. We’d love to hear your feedback. What new shows are you loving this year? Which shows have disappointed you? Which ones have surprised you? Let us know!