In Defense of 2016 TV

There's something fun (if frustrating) about loving a critically lauded TV show that the general public has yet to catch on to, but it's not as entertaining to defend a program or star whose work has been mocked or unfairly (in my eyes) derided. But I'm standing in my truth (#realhero) and coming to the defense of some series I think were unfairly judged in 2016.

 

Chelsea, Netflix

Despite good reviews of her four pre-series documentary specials, critics were dismissive of Chelsea Handler's return to "late-night TV" (whatever that means on Netflix) from the start. Obviously, this is the same polarizing host who spent eight seasons mocking celebrities on basic cable, so if you hated her personality on Chelsea Lately, you'll probably dislike even a more polished show with more interesting guests and more diverse topics. But Chelsea is a major upgrade over the E! show in every way. Really! And while not everything works, there have been some fantastic episodes, especially when the series breaks away from the studio for Handler's travel segments (Russia was fantastic) and dinner parties. Among the most interesting: Sarah Jessica Parker, Morgan Spurlock, Trevor Noah, and Julianna Margulies discussing friendship, parenting, and work. And as we consider the first season's 90 episodes, let's not forget how far along the Jimmys were seven months into their runs.

 

Divorce, HBO

It's been difficult for Sarah Jessica Parker to shake off the Manolo Blahnik shackles of Sex and the City since that iconic series ended in 2004. Going into Divorce, it seemed likely that HBO subscribers would be looking for a bit of that SATC magic. Well, they weren't going to get any. The two shows just don't have anything in common. Except that they're both good. In fact, Divorce is a much better show than Sex and the City was after Season 1. (Anyone remember this cringeworthy street interviews?) As Frances, a woman who suddenly reassesses her life and marriage, Parker is excellent. And Thomas Haden Church is a crackling scene partner, able to earn ire and sympathy within seconds. The supporting cast (especially Molly Shannon) is solid, too. Beyond the Manhattan-sized shadow cast over the show, its pairing with Issa Rae's Insecure (also very good) may have caused it to be overlooked a bit. But this is a mature, decidedly dark comedy that has room to get even better in Season 2.

 

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Netflix

The tide turned on this one pretty quickly. Leading up to its release, we just wanted to stuff ourselves with nostalgic Gilmore Girls content and debate Jess and Dean. The publicity for these four 90-minute episodes was so intense that some sort of let down or backlash was inevitable. And then the think pieces came out. Was Rory merely terrible or the actual worst? Is she a garbage journalist? How is she affording this lifestyle? Ugh, who cares? Amy Sherman-Palladino gave herself a very difficult task and while the result wasn't perfect, neither was the original series. Looking back, it had really schlocky moments, it got melodramatic at times, and sometimes it was just dumb. This revival wanders off into that kind of territory at times, too. But it also hit dramatic notes that the WB/CW version didn't. Alexis Bledel is a much, much better actress than she was, Lauren Graham is as charming and emotional as ever (thanks to all that Parenthood crying), and Kelly Bishop shows off her underrated skills thanks to a sad but rich storyline. it was at times funny, touching, heartbreaking, and uplifting. And best of all, it left room for more.

 

Homeland, Showtime

If you said "basta" and gave up after the bizarre Venezuelan detour, I get it. But you missed out on one of the most incredible turnarounds in television. Season 4 was a remarkable reset, and Season 5 was even better. Truthfully, nothing Homeland does will top the tension and excitement of the first season. But the Emmy-winning Showtime series remains one of TV's most suspenseful dramas. Back to Season 5: The globe-trotting show drops Carrie and co. in Berlin, where the ex-agent is now working for a philanthropic foundation. But naturally she finds herself pulled back into her old life. Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, F. Murray Abraham, and Rupert Friend all are superb. But arguably the season's best performance comes from Miranda Otto, the CIA's badass Berlin bureau chief. Unlike some other veteran shows, this one still deserves to be in awards conversations.

 

I Am Cait, E!

Step off. I know the Kardashians' brand of semi-scripted "reality" TV can be exhausting. But this was more than just another way for Kris Jenner's extended family to expand its entertainment empire. Whatever you think about her previous appearances on E! or her confusing politics, Caitlyn Jenner took the intense media interest in her transition and used it to tell the stories of a diverse group of trans people who don't have the kind of privilege or access Jenner enjoys. Sometimes silly, often challenging, this was important television.

 

What shows do you find yourself defending? Let us know below!

Comments

4 comments

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Jan 2, 2017 7:21PM EST

Really? Every one of the shows you mention there are losers. What I am surprised that is that you spent all your time in writing about losers.... all all the shows that are getting cancelled it should have included everyone that you mentioned

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TelevisionFanboyContributor
Jan 2, 2017 8:26PM EST

Homeland is actually pretty interesting again! definitely agree that topping the earlier seasons will be difficult but this last season was genuinely good. This was a major improvement from the terribly boring/convoluted season 3. (P.S that Gilmore Girls revival was not a loser! Though the musical scene was lame, the rest of it was uhhmazing!)

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Jan 3, 2017 2:34AM EST

Homeland is god awful garbage but then again it has always sucked hard so in that respect it is consistent.

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Jan 3, 2017 5:03PM EST

Nothing about I Am Cait is important television. Completely staged nonsense. You want to legitimize the transexual movement? Using a fixture from a family no one treats with any seriousness is not how you do it. This is unimportant, frivolous, stupid, pointless, reality trash.

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