The online streaming service beat out major networks like CBS and ABC to produce the most popular show of 2016: the fourth season of Orange Is the New Black. CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, Netflix’s Stranger Things and Fuller House were next on the list, respectively, with ABC’s Designated Survivor rounding out the top five.
The data was collected by ratings startup SymphonyAM, which defined popularity by viewership in the first 35 days. The rising popularity of streaming services like Netflix has made judging a show’s viewership on only the first few days after release an inaccurate metric, according to Business Insider.
Netflix itself has always refused to reveal any viewership numbers. SymphonyAM gathered its data from an app that listens to subscribers’ TVs and estimates viewership.
While carving out time to watch more shows is tougher than ever, a dozen new ones have the most potential to be worth your time. Note that I’m excluding returning series—including Curb Your Enthusiasm (Larry David is making new episodes for the first time since 2011), Fargo (Ewan McGregor will play two brothers in Season 3), and SundanceTV’s Top of the Lake (with Nicole Kidman joining Elisabeth Moss)—but I’m just as enthusiastic for that trio as anything listed below.
Here are the 12 new series you should watch this year, in order of their premieres (I’ve already had a chance to see the first six on the list):
One Day at a Time (Netflix, Jan. 6)
We’re not even a week into the new year, and the multicamera comedy genre has already been successfully revived! Norman Lear updates his 1975-1984 sitcom about a single mom raising two teens—there are now three generations of Cuban Americans living together (and yes, the superintendent is still named Schneider)—and the result is the best new multicam comedy in several years.
While Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) solidly anchors the new cast, the true standout is Rita Moreno as her mother, who steals scenes as deftly as she did six decades ago. After several years in which seemingly every network but CBS gave up on multicams, One Day at a Time proves they can be just as topical, compelling and, most importantly, funny as they were back when the original came out.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix, Jan. 13)
Netflix is on a roll so far in 2017, going two-for-two with this entertaining series based on the darkly comic, 13-book children’s series from “Lemony Snicket” (actually Daniel Handler). Neil Patrick Harris, who lost a bit of his mojo hosting NBC’s Best Time Ever in 2015, is back in fine form as Count Olaf, who is trying to steal the inheritance of three inventive kid relatives after their parents die in a fire. The series is a rollicking, visual feast, thanks to director Barry Sonnenfeld, who is channeling his Addams Family heyday.
Sneaky Pete (Amazon, Jan. 13)
I had this in last year’s 2016 TV preview as well, but it just missed the cutoff. This story about a recently paroled con man (Giovanni Ribisi) who passes himself off as his former cellmate, hiding out with a family that runs a bail bond business as he is on the run from a crime boss, was initially going to be a CBS procedural. Now it’s something far more interesting, with executive producer Bryan Cranston taking his first post-Breaking Bad TV series role as the man hunting down Ribisi. Margo Martindale plays the grandmother who is hiding secrets of her own, and Justified creator Graham Yost takes the reins as showrunner.
24: Legacy (Fox, Feb. 5)
A 24 without Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer once seemed as unthinkable as a James Bond movie without Agent 007, but Corey Hawkins breathes new life into the franchise. He plays an Army Ranger whose squad is in federal witness protection after killing a terrorist leader six months earlier; now the man’s followers have tracked them down. Hawkins seamlessly steps in for Sutherland, who has given the project his blessing and is on board as an executive producer. Buyers and execs have been buzzing about this one since upfronts, which is why Fox is debuting it after Super Bowl LI.
Legion (FX, Feb. 8)
FX and Marvel: Just like chocolate and peanut butter, these are two great flavors that taste even better together. Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley oversees this series, set in the X-Men Universe and based on the Marvel Comic about David Haller (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens), who was diagnosed as schizophrenic as a child but realizes he might have special abilities. Jean Smart and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza also star.
Big Little Lies (HBO, Feb. 19)
HBO hit a rough patch with its A-list projects (Vinyl was last year’s most disappointing show), but the network is back on track with this limited drama series starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman (who also executive produce) based on Liane Moriarty’s bestseller about three well-to-do first grade moms and a mysterious murder. That’s more like it, HBO.
The Good Fight (CBS All Access, Feb. 19)
The Good Wife ended its run last spring, but its story will continue in this spinoff from showrunners Robert and Michelle King. It is set a year after the Good Wife finale, where Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) loses her savings after her goddaughter (Rose Leslie) is embroiled in a financial scam; the pair join up with Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) at another Chicago law firm. Spinoffs can be dicey, but with Baranski and the Kings, the show is in excellent hands. The Good Fight will debut on CBS, but all subsequent episodes will air exclusively on CBS All Access.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, April 26)
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel—about a dystopian future in which the U.S. government has been overthrown by a fundamentalist regime in which women are enslaved—takes on a new poignancy in today’s uncertain political climate. Elisabeth Moss stars as Offred, one of the last remaining fertile women, who is trying to survive in a horrific new world.
American Gods (Starz, Spring)
How does one possibly turn Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed yet seemingly unfilmable novel into a series? There are few people I’d trust with the task more than Bryan Fuller, who resurrected Hannibal Lecter with NBC’s Hannibal and turned it into something simultaneously gorgeous and horrifying. (Meanwhile, Fuller’s co-showrunner, Michael Green, is bringing Blade Runner back to life later this year.) With a cast that includes Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth, whatever that duo comes up with, the series will certainly be memorable.
Feud (FX, Spring)
Ryan Murphy is starting yet another anthology series for FX (his third, after American Horror Story and American Crime Story). This one will look at epic battles, starting with the making of the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and the legendary behind-the-scenes clashes between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). If the result is half as good as The People v. O.J. Simpson, it will be better than almost everything else on TV this year.
Twin Peaks (Showtime, TBD)
While I excluded returning shows like Fargo from this list, I’m making an exception for the first episodes of Twin Peaks we’ve seen since 1991. Showtime still hasn’t released a frame of footage, but that doesn’t make me any less excited for whatever insanity David Lynch, who directed all the episodes, has in store for us.
Matthew Weiner’s Untitled Series (Amazon, TBD)
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner won’t say a word about his new series, telling me last month, “It’s not like, ‘Oh, it’s so amazingly top secret!’ It’s more like, I can’t work and have people saying, ‘Whatcha doing?’” All we know for now is that his eight-episode series will be set in present day. But given that it’s Weiner’s followup to one of the best TV series of all time, attention must be paid.
The television series phenomenon that is “Better Call Saul” still continues to drag millions of viewers with each and every episode, and it doesn’t look like its slowly down either. While the show itself has slipped a notch in rankings for its second season episodes, the third season still promises a lot of surprises that will likely have it reigning the top spots once again in 2017.
The series’ premise is quite a challenge, as far as television shows are concerned, as Showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan had to create something out of a franchise that was already a massive success in itself. The producers had to work backward in trying to capitalize on the same formula in “Breaking Bad,” while also making a plot that is unique and different from the show it was based on.
“Better Call Saul” has slowly been building up the transformation of Jimmy McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk, into the smooth talking sociopath who was well-loved, and sometimes hated, in “Breaking Bad.” However, throughout the first season, fans apparently became more interested in Jimmy and his overall experience as opposed to seeing him quickly becoming the character he was meant to be.
His relationships with Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seehorn, his brother Chuck, played by Michael McKean, and Mike Ehrmantraut, played by Jonathan Banks, became focal points of the story that ultimately will explain how he will become Saul Goodman. Fortunately, the story still has a lot of unanswered questions, with the narrative so far exploring different aspects of Jimmy’s life without really providing any conclusions.
As for the third season, there is still a lot that can be explored. As previously teased, the new season may be slowly bridging the gap between “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” as an iconic character from the latter may be returning. The return of Gustavo “Gus” Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito, will certainly add a new degree of complication to Jimmy’s life. Something that fans of the show will likely be delighted to see.
It’s over! Praise whatever religious or scientific belief structure to which you subscribe.
In real life, the year of 2016 was a lot like a hurricane of dumpster fires falling out of the sky onto a giant birthday cake. But hey, it was another great year for TV, so let’s talk about that while Rome burns, shall we?
I should be clear, though; this is not a definitive list of the best TV from 2016. I may be Cultured Vultures’ Gandalf of television but I haven’t seen every show that’s debuted this year. What I can do is recommend each show on this list. For however much faith you ascribe to me. So if you’ve had a miserable holiday period, here’s a list you can explore from your couch alongside what’s left of the chocolate.
7. DIRK GENTLY
For its first two episodes, Dirk Gently is going to look like bottled anarchy. Each progressive scene for all appearances piles on one tangent after another. Just when you think you’re getting a handle on who’s who and what kind of story you’re watching, something unexplainably weird happens. Why are there a bunch of strange bald Germans looking for a kitten? Why is there a gang of punks trashing an apartment and sucking energy out of people?
Dirk Gently follows Todd Brotzman, a down on his luck hotel bellhop whose life is suddenly entangled with that of English PI Dirk Gently. There’s a bunch of bizarre murders, a sinister cult and a ‘holistic’ assassin who relies on intuition to know who she’s supposed to kill.
Everything has a point, though. While this isn’t quite as crisp as the short lived British adaptation of the Douglas Adams book series, there’s something near Pythonesque about it. Great writing from Max Landis and a surprisingly game cast made this an obvious late addition to best of year lists.
If TV shows got points for how many times they made you weep like a baby, Flowers would be top of the league. The Flowers family are an eccentric British unit who are all about presenting a brittle shell of stability. Truth is, Dad Maurice just tried to commit suicide and he can’t find the right way to tell his wife Deborah.
The result is a beautiful but desolate vision of a failing marriage and a collapsing family. Maurice just can’t find the words to explain why he feels the way he does about life. Deborah puts on a facade of middle class optimism all while struggling to understand her distant husband.
It’s tragic, grounded and even zany at times, but somehow it all works. It balances them all, challenging itself to fit them in to a rhythmically flowing story. If there’s one show from 2016 I’d recommend you watch, it’s this. It’ll take you less than three hours to binge the lot. If you’ve ever felt sadness in your whole life, you’ll find the emotional climax heartbreaking.
Oh BrainDead, you poor thing. America wasn’t ready for you. If more people had watched this zany political satire, perhaps the world wouldn’t be facing a tornado of shit right now.
BrainDead follows the adventures of Washington DC. staffer Laurel Healy who arrives just in time to witness a government shutdown. Democrats and Republicans are at loggerheads over politics stuff, but there’s something else going on. Elected officials are falling victim to mind controlling space bugs. The bugs have an agenda, and they’re making liberals and conservatives more extreme.
A neat thing about Braindead is how well the series builds its story into semi-regular crescendos of chaotic comedy. I don’t know another show this year that’s balanced subtle satire with moments of outright slapstick and farce. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great in the lead role, while Tony Shalhoub is having a blast here as a Republican senator under the sway of the mind controlling space bugs.
Out of the gate, Lucifer had the swagger of a show here to stay. It knew it wanted to be a fun police procedural and no other show in 2016 did it so well. That it was also about the literal devil living in LA in the body of an ostentatious English dude didn’t seem to hurt. The fact said English dude could make even the most mundane sentence sound like he was delivering a slightly dirty joke wasn’t a problem either. It was pure fun, and its two leads had surprising chemistry.
That commitment to being fun and wry gave Lucifer the time it needed to burrow its supernatural story arc into our heads. Ostensibly, it’s a murder-of-the-week show. We’ve all seen plenty of those. But Lucifer can have fun with this formula while also giving us all that supernatural Devil stuff on the side. It’s worked so well that as 2017 begins, it’s already knee deep in its second season.
3. STRANGER THINGS
Small town 80s nostalgia meets Lovecraftian horror, and all through the eyes of a group of nerdy kids? That’s what Stranger Things boils down to. It doesn’t sound like a show with mass appeal, but Stranger Things managed to capture our collective imagination this year.
When their friend vanishes on his way home from a Dungeons and Dragons session, three twelve year old boys begin a fantastical adventure to find him. There’s a mysterious girl in the woods. She might have superpowers. And that’s not even mentioning the unspeakable thing that’s lurking near the government research base at the edge of town.
There’s something magical and inexplicable about Stranger Things. On the one hand, its themes and aesthetic are draped over a surprisingly conventional plot structure. But it transports you back to your adolescence and asks how you might fight the monster lurking in the dark.
2. WYNONNA EARP
For the longest time, Wynonna Earp was my show of the year. A premise that should have tanked in week one delivered the most feelgood, easy to watch show of the year. A story centred on Wyatt Earp’s modern day descendant and an army of demons could have been so much supernatural garbage. Instead, it was exceptional.
Because there’s a curse on the Earp family, it means every single criminal Wyatt killed keeps coming back to life to torment the town of Purgatory. Every heir to the Earp throne is tasked with sending all these demons back to hell. With a magic gun. The cast is great, in particular Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna and Tim Rozen as the magnificently mustached Doc Holiday.
Also, Wynonna Earp has the kind of fandom usually reserved for young adult movie franchises. It’s a level of passion that’s refreshing in an era of calculated cynicism, but just be sure to ship the right couples. I’m reliably informed by one fan that Earpers are a fandom with ‘no chill’, whatever that means. Know what you’re getting into, is what I’m saying.
No show in my entire life has had me on my feet pulling at my hair in amazement. Westworld’s season finale gets that accolade. It masks a complex story about what it means to be alive with cowboy hats, gunfights and a rabbit hole so deep you’ll fall in. It’s also my best show of 2016.
Cyborgs in an old west inspired theme park sounds like a 90s Bruce Willis movie. As a piece of TV, it sounded like a gimmick show which relied on over the top action and softcore levels of boobs to reel in an audience of idiots. Westworld was something more than that though. HBO wanted their next Game of Thrones. Not only did they get a ratings winner, they got a masterful slow burn of a story with acutely philosophical themes. It was a series about sentience. About self-awareness.
The quest for self-realisation made Meave, Dolores and Teddy some of the most compelling (and human) characters of the year. By the end, more than a few of us were transfixed by what was being revealed to us, and there’s not a lot of TV which can claim that.