Every season, there’s a slew of new TV shows. Fall 2016 didn’t disappoint (for the most part — we’ll pretend Notorious didn’t exist). Now that the majority of these shows have ended or are on break until January, it’s time to reveal my favorites.
Pitch (Fox): While the Pitch pilot is easily one of the best episodes of TV this fall, the rest of the first season didn’t quite maintain that level of excellence. Kylie Bunbury stands out as Ginny Baker, Major League Baseball’s first female pitcher, and the rest of the cast isn’t too shabby either. The show deftly tackles issues of diversity. This, along with the exploration Baker’s past and of Baker and the team’s career and family pressures, provides the series with a strong emotional resonance. The show has yet to be renewed for a season two, and its ratings don’t give it the best shot, but I’m optimistic that this won’t be the last we see of Ginny Baker.
Timeless (NBC): It seems doubtful that Timeless will be renewed, but it’s had a good run. I’m going to remain optimistic, like with Pitch, that the show will see a second season. It still has a few more episodes after a short holiday hiatus, and it’s looking like the series will get even more exciting as it builds to a finale. Timeless focuses on history professor Lucy (Abigail Preston), soldier Wyatt (Matt Lanter), and scientist Rufus (Malcom Barrett) as they try to stop a man from unraveling history, but their mission goes much deeper than that. The series is chock-full of secrets, and the character development is full of potential. And while there’s a ton of time travel on TV these days, Timeless is definitely doing it right.
The Good Place (NBC): In the first half of The Good Place‘s first season, the show made it clear that it isn’t quite the typical comedy. The show takes place in the Good Place, which essentially acts as heaven, while its opposite, the Bad Place, is like hell. Kristen Bell is Eleanor, someone who should be in the Bad Place, but was lucky enough to end up in the Good Place by accident. While there, she must attempt to learn how to be a good person so she won’t be found out. The performance of the lead actors—Ted Danson in particular—bolsters the whimsical portrayal of the afterlife, creating a comedy much different from what’s come before.
Designated Survivor (ABC): I’ll always say I’m not a political drama fan, but Designated Survivor is certainly a standout series. Kiefer Sutherland of 24 plays Tom Kirkman, a secretary of housing and urban development suddenly forced into the role of president after a bomb hits the US Capitol. The show’s premise successfully balances Kirkman’s transition into office with the ongoing drama of the terrorist attack. There’s a variety of well-built characters, including my favorites in Maggie Q as FBI agent Hannah Wells, Kal Penn as White House Press Secretary Seth Wright, and Natascha McElhone as First Lady and attorney Alex Kirkman. There are some strong explorations of diversity as well, especially with Penn’s character. I’ll be honest in that I may not keep up with this series in the long run, but that’s only because I’m not an avid fan of political dramas. Despite that, it’s clear that Designated Survivor is excelling.
5. This is Us (NBC)
I have a few nitpicky issues with This is Us, but push those aside, and this is undoubtedly one of the most successful dramas on TV right now. The show started off as strong as can be with a powerful, twist-filled pilot, and it’s stayed pretty steady since then. At the start of the series, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are expecting triplets, Kevin (Justin Hartley) is an actor who is tired of his lifestyle, Kate (Chrissy Metz) is hoping to get a new start by losing weight, and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is searching for his biological father. There’s much more to the plot, but for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave those details out. The richness of the family drama brings the show all the heart it needs to last. While the series has some moments that get a little too cheesy, in a way that’s part of what gives the show its charm. What is currently holding the show back is its portrayal of Kate. Metz is performing well with what the writers are giving her, but right now, her character is not much more than her weight. For a moment, her character was nearing three-dimensional, but then she flattened and hasn’t evolved since. At this point, she’s a problematic and disappointing character. If it weren’t for that, This is Us would easily be higher on the list.
4. Speechless (ABC)
ABC’s new family sitcom is another mark of success for diversity on TV. This comedy follows a family of five, including J.J. DiMeo (Micah Fowler), who has cerebral palsy—even better: J.J. is actually portrayed by an actor with cerebral palsy—and Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver), his protective and feisty mother. Driver ultimately leads the cast, her performance full of hilarity and strong acting, but the rest of the cast stands on its own as well. The show’s heartfelt portrayal of how having a child with special needs can impact the entire family is where it shines. Speechless is careful to represent the impact on every member of the family as it also portrays J.J.’s experiences. There are a ton of family sitcoms on TV nowadays, and it’s nice to see one that so successfully stands out with such an important narrative.
3. Luke Cage (Netflix)
This list wasn’t supposed to include shows from streaming services, but Luke Cage strong-armed me into breaking the rules. The show is the third in Marvel’s The Defenders series, and it may just be the strongest of the three. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is a bullet proof black man, and that’s about all you need to know before realizing the level of diversity and social responsibility the show was taking on—thankfully, Luke Cage triumphs in these areas. All of the actors knock it out with their performances, especially Colter and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple. Add that to an exhilarating plot loaded with depth and top-notch cinematography, and you have one of the best shows of the year.
2. Westworld (HBO)
This show may have been hyped a bit too much—for everyone who claimed it might be the next Game of Thrones, it is so far from that—but it’s well worth the watch. The sci-fi series is gritty, complex, and dramatic, full of twists, and built on a foundation of strong writing, visuals, and exceptional acting. Based on the 1973 sci-fi thriller of the same name, Westworld takes place in a futuristic Western theme park populated by life-like androids. There are numerous plot arcs throughout the series, many of which are based around some of the androids realizing that they were created solely for the use of the massive theme park’s patrons. With its intense drama, it’s a show that’s difficult to stop watching. The twists keep coming, it keeps getting darker, and the quality never diminishes. It’s such an intelligent series. The way it packs in its mixture of sci-fi spectacle, emotional drama, and high intensity plot is excellent. I can’t wait for season two.
1. Insecure (HBO)
HBO nails the top two spots, taking first thanks to Issa Rae’s phenomenal Insecure. This smart HBO comedy has so much more impact than a few laughs. Partially based on Rae’s web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Insecure is all about authentically exploring the lives of two black women, played by Rae and Yvonne Orji, both of whom lead the cast with genuine, well-acted performances. The comedy is wonderfully snappy, and the thoughtful way that the show tackles issues makes the first season a powerful and emotional journey. The relationship between Issa and Lawrence Walker (Jay Ellis) is a devastatingly poignant emotional roller coaster on its own, giving the series some of its best-acted moments. Of all the TV I’ve seen this year, this show is easily the most relatable and the most real. Another plus: this show’s soundtrack couldn’t be better. And hey, even President Barack Obama loves the series (and its soundtrack), so it has to be good.