From the looks of it, television in 2017 is going to start off with a bang. But before we get too wrapped up in what’s right around the corner, it’s time to take a look back at the new series that made waves in 2016. While the question of Peak TV still looms over nearly every conversation regarding the medium, the crop of newcomers brought with it a few series that managed to capture the attention of seemingly everyone watching, and others that didn’t quite get the attention they deserved.
That is certainly understandable. According to an unofficial count from FX Networks, there were 455 original scripted series across broadcast, cable, and streaming services in 2016. That’s an astonishing amount of TV for anyone to keep up with. And for new, untested series, the number seems ever more daunting. But there were standouts.
The crop of new shows in 2016 was as impressive for its numbers as for its quality. While there seemed to be fewer shows reaching the zeitgeist-y levels of newcomers from recent years, like Mr. Robot, UnReal, and Transparent, some, like Stranger Things and Westworld managed to find a foothold, to become part of a larger, more sustained discussion. It says a great deal that with the increased expansion of television production two genre shows were able to hold audiences’ attention for longer than your average binge-watch. It says even more that so much of the best TV 2016 had to offer came from shows that didn’t exist a year prior.
And so, with that in mind, Screen Rant brings you the Best New TV Shows of 2016:
You would be hard-pressed to find a series in 2016 better directed than Cinemax’s Quarry. Adapted by Rectify writers Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller, from the novels of Max Allan Collins, all eight episodes of the gritty crime-thriller were helmed by Greg Yaitanes, who delivered a first season that smoldered like the cigarettes chain-smoked by the series’ lead, Logan Marshall-Green. Quarry took a deep plunge into the pulpy recesses of premium television and came back with a darkly cynical look at post-war United States that was so immersive in its sense of time and place you’d be forgiven for thinking this series had been lost for decades, only to be recovered and lovingly restored for 2016.
The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things swooped in over the summer and filled televisions with 80s nostalgia. Homage to many things, like the early films of Steven Spielberg and the books of Stephen King, the series made the smart decision of not overstaying its welcome, limiting its familiar story to just eight episodes. Its many nods to popular culture made this series more palatable, but at its heart, the story of friendship, first loves, and community underscored the tension built around potential tragedy to make this series more than just another attempt at mainstreaming the 80s.
TBS hit one out of the park late in 2016 with its comedy Search Party. Created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, the comedy by way of mystery-thriller wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the network dropped all 10 episodes online (and uncensored), further blurring the lines of how a television show is marketed and delivered to an audience. But the series works brilliantly, whether you binge-watch it or take your time. Starring Alia Shawkat as one of several self-obsessed twentysomethings, Search Party makes terrific fodder out of its characters’ oblivious sense of privilege, while also crafting an absorbing missing-persons mystery.
The Good Place
It says a lot about 2016 that one of the best new series is all about the idea of human decency and that people can be a work in progress. Hailing from Parks and Rec co-creator Mike Schur, The Good Place takes a high-concept idea and turns it into a surprisingly effective serialized comedy about the afterlife and the one woman – Kristen Bell’s Eleanor – who finds herself erroneously in “the good place.” Bolstered by a terrific ensemble that includes the always great Ted Danson, the series adopts a similar attitude as Schur’s previous effort, and sees where it can go on a much larger (okay, cosmic) scale. The results are very good indeed.
More and more, television has become a place where an exploration of distinct points of view is increasingly in fashion. In Issa Rae’s Insecure, that point of view is centered on a fictionalized version of herself as she saunters into the really real world of a person’s late-20s and early 30s. Rae and co-creator Larry Willmore have crafted a sharp, funny, and introspective story about approaching an uncertain future with curiosity and excitement, rather than trepidation. If anything, Insecure creates a subgenre that could be called a second-coming-of-age story.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge turned in an adaptation of her one-woman stage show of the same name, giving Amazon one of its best series, and certainly one of the best new shows on TV in 2016. Waller-Bridge has a knack for taking the point of view show to its extreme, turning Fleabag into less of a personal essay and more of a heartbreaking confessional. Her flair for addressing the audience and breaking the fourth wall could make Ryan Reynolds’ red-clad smack-talker green with envy, but it’s the series’ willingness to move beyond its characters’ shielding sarcasm, without undercutting the value of the humor, that makes Fleabag worth your time.
What can be said about Westworld that hasn’t already been said? There was likely no show in all of 2016 – Game of Thrones included – that had more people writing about it than Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s puzzle box adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Westworld. Granted, most of the writing was intended to beat the narrative’s various twists to the punch, but in the world of Peak TV, a show will take any kind of sustained attention it can get. Over the course of 10 weeks, Westworld built an audience obsessed with unknotting its tangled narratives and outguessing one another. That ability to sustain a discussion, mixed with a terrific ensemble cast that featured strong performances from Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, and a subtle but great James Marsden means HBO’s next big thing earned its place on this list.
The Night Of
HBO’s long-gestating The Night Of is a tricky series. In addition to delivering some of the most masterfully made television this year, it was a whodunit that wasn’t really about its central mystery at all. The series took a murder mystery and turned it into a finely tuned exploration of the legal system and how, so often, in serving that function, it fails on a human level. The series was well-served by its strong ensemble that arguably made a star out of Riz Ahmed, but also included commanding performances from John Turturro, Bill Camp, and the always-welcome Michael K. Williams.
Atlanta is the preeminent example of the television comedy that’s redefining what it means to be a television comedy. Donald Glover’s exploration of the series’ titular locale established him as one of the most important creative voices in TV today. Blending comedy with drama with social commentary, Atlanta never stayed in one spot for too long. The series continually kept audiences guessing where it was going – an entire episode dedicated to spoofing a talk show immediately comes to mind – without losing sight of what it wanted to be about. Glover and director Hiro Murai deftly shifted focus from Glover to co-stars Bryan Tyree Henry, Keith Stanfield, and especially Zazie Beetz with ease, demonstrating just how strong the ensemble really is. Atlanta was easily one of the best new shows of 2016, and now it’s one of our most anticipated of next year.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Like The Night Of, FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson was about process. Unlike The Night Of, the audience already knew ending to one of the most infamous murder trials in U.S. history. And yet, somehow, executive producer Ryan Murphy and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski managed to make the familiar spectacle of it all feel surprisingly new and relevant. Considering the pedigree and the subject matter, there was no series seemingly more likely to become a shameless piece of sensationalist television, but instead, the miniseires sat back and let history speak for itself. Bolstered by an astonishingly talented cast that shined a much-deserved spotlight on Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson turned the “Trial of the Century” into some of the most riveting television in 2016.
What did you think was the best new show to premiere in 2016? Let us know in the comments.