by Matthew Thompson
I haven’t been very impressed with the new shows 2016 has had to offer so far. Still, I am here to recap my thoughts on what I have tried with an extra emphasis on the four shows I have stuck with and some quick hits on a few more. Here it goes!
The People v. O.J. Simpson (Tuesdays at 10 Eastern on FX)
This first season of FX’s new anthology show American Crime Story is, as the title would suggest, a retelling of the O.J. Simpson murder trial that became a bit of a phenomenon here in the US about 20 years ago. I was about ten when the real thing happened, so I only recall the broad strokes of it. Seeing some of the details I either forgot or never knew to begin with has been enlightening. This thing was wild. It is stranger than fiction. In fact, if I didn’t know this really happened, I might think the whole thing is just too absurd to take seriously. It isn’t quite Quantico-level stupid, but it is plenty ridiculous in its own right.
The cast includes a lot of familiar faces though I’m not sure they all feel like a good fit for their respective roles. Still there are some really fantastic performances here. My favorite by far has been Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran. He lends a surprisingly intimidating presence to the famous defense attorney and has been really stealing the show in my eyes. Sarah Paulson has been doing great work as his opposition in the Marcia Clark role as well.
The subject matter makes for an entertaining ride though your mileage may vary if you come in knowing all the details already. Still it remains one of two new shows from 2016 so far that I would wholly recommend.
Hap and Leonard (Wednesdays at 10 Eastern on SundanceTV)
The other winner from the 2016 crop is SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard. Based on novels by Joe R. Landsdale, this new series set in the late ‘80s focuses on the titular Hap and Leonard who get pulled into the search for a lost cache of money by Hap’s ex-wife. I was attracted to the series because of the top-tier cast which includes James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams – who I loved in Rome and The Wire respectively – along with Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame. They are as good as you’d expect, but Hap and Leonard also delivers a fun, pulpy adventure with a bit of a caper vibe.
Perhaps what I love most about the show is the odd couple friendship of the leads. Hap is a white, former activist from Texas who spent time in prison for refusing to serve in Vietnam. Leonard is a black, gay Vietnam vet. While they seem like unlikely pals on paper, their friendship feels extremely genuine. Their bond is highlighted by humorous, sarcastic dialogue that is a large part of the reason the show is so funny. That is another aspect I really appreciate about Hap and Leonard. It has a good sense of humor that helps keep the tone lighter despite some extremely tense and violent moments peppered throughout the series.
I’m only halfway through the season at the moment, but it has been a fun ride so far and things should get even wilder from here. It has been the highlight of the new shows I have sampled in 2016.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (Thursdays at 8 Eastern on The CW)
Legends of Tomorrow – the new superhero team-up, time-traveling spin-off of The Flash and Arrow – has been fun at times, but it is a rather middling affair overall. I think its problems start with the characters. I just don’t really like many of them. I love Captain Cold. Wentworth Miller continues to play him with just the right amount of hamminess and I continue to find it endlessly entertaining. I love watching Sara Lance be a badass too and this show features the first Canary outfit in these CW shows I have liked which is a plus. Beyond that, I don’t really care much for this bunch. And trying to serve all of these characters each week has definitely been a struggle for the show.
Another issue is that I don’t find myself very invested in the grander conflict between Rip Hunter and Vandal Savage, not to mention that you really have to turn your brain off a bit to get behind the way they are approaching the whole thing. I also feel like the best parts of these DC TV shows have featured great villains like Slade Wilson, The Reverse-Flash and Malcolm Merlyn. Vandal Savage just isn’t in their league.
With so many characters, there is a lot of room to experiment with different groupings and the show has definitely found success with some odd pairings throughout this first season so far (having Cold mock that dork Ray is always good). And some of the time periods they visit are certainly interesting (like that future version of Star City). But the whole thing still hasn’t coalesced into anything I’d call genuinely good yet.
Love (Whenever You Want on Netflix)
With its focus on dating and relationships in your late 20s/early 30s, Love is sort of similar to shows like You’re the Worst, Catastrophe or Master of None. But even if the leads in those shows weren’t all “good” people, they were at least easy to root for as a couple or had electric chemistry. I find that Gus and Mickey, the leads of Love played by Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs, possess none of these qualities. And perhaps they aren’t intended to, but it sure is a far less enjoyable watch for me as a result.
This isn’t my style of comedy either. It just leans too hard on cringe which isn’t my thing. That’s not to say it wasn’t funny – it made me laugh quite a bit – but if I could die from second-hand embarrassment for fictional characters, Love would have killed me several times over. It is that awkward.
I did enjoy the supporting cast. The standouts for me were Kevin, a really funny craft service worker on the set where Gus works played by Chris Rock’s brother Jordan, and Bertie, Mickey’s bubbly new roommate who remains fun and optimistic even in the face of some less than stellar treatment from the leads.
I didn’t hate Love, but it doesn’t seem worth people’s time in my opinion either, especially with better alternatives out there. So… you know… watch You’re the Worst instead. Sure I could say that about 90% of TV shows out there, but it seems especially appropriate here (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Over the years, I have accumulated a bit too much TV to watch. So in 2016, I have decided to be a bit more judicious in choosing what to continue with. Shows I have been watching for a long time are a bit harder to cut. But for new shows they have to impress me. Below are the victims of my choosier behavior.
Colony: I thought Colony’s pilot was pretty good. I like the show’s alternate version of LA that finds it occupied by an ominous presence while the citizens ride bicycles to get around the city. That aspect intrigued me and I enjoyed some of the performances too, particularly Josh Holloway and Peter Jacobson. But after a boring second episode, I just never got back to it. That probably wasn’t fair, but it is how things went.
The Shannara Chronicles: I was actually really looking forward to this. The trailer looked way better than I ever expected an MTV fantasy show to look. I also love Manu Bennett from both Spartacus and Arrow (and seeing him at a panel for the latter didn’t hurt). And yet I tapped out partway through the first episode of Shannara. Mostly because it was overwhelmingly cheesy in the early goings, but maybe more so because it quickly became apparent this wasn’t my kind of fantasy at all – more the heroic Lord of the Rings-style as opposed to the darker stuff I enjoy. Clearly I barely gave this a chance, so I can’t say how it turned out.
Billions: I don’t have much bad to say about Billions – a Showtime drama about a US attorney (Paul Giamatti) trying to take down a hedge fund manager (Damien Lewis) for insider trading. The cast is certainly talented. It is fun to watch Giamatti and Lewis spar. And I have a soft spot for Malin Akerman. But when I fell behind on it, I just never felt compelled to get back to it. So I haven’t. Maybe one day I will, but based on the few episodes I watched it gets a resounding meh from me.
That will do it for my thoughts on the new shows I have tried in 2016 so far. What new shows have caught your eye this year? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!