The gloves didn’t fit in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
The summer heat means it’s a great time of the year to kick back and catch up on TV. The first half of 2016 produced some superb episodes, and I just can’t wait until December to talk about them. In fact, I thought a best-of-the-year-so-far list would be a great way to condense some of the shows I’ve been previewing to see what’s lived up to my expectations.
While the second season of UnREAL is still unfolding, I can safely say it has many of the anxiety and thrills of last year. In the first few episodes, it felt a little uncertain exactly what the show was aiming to focus on this year — the suitor, the contestants, the producers? This season is gaining some momentum now while also making television history: The reality-show-within-the-show, Everlasting, has a black suitor before the actual program it’s inspired by, The Bachelor, ever has.
9. Broad City
If you want to know what millennial women are really thinking about, look no further than Broad City. This season boasted all of the creative hilarity found in real-life problems plus all the signature style of co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. The friendship/comedic partnership between Abbi and Ilana is as genuine and strong as ever. Bonus: Not only did we meet Abbi’s dad (played by Tony Danza), but we also got a “Joyful Joyful” Sister Act 2 lip-sync number and a dynamite cameo by Hillary Clinton. YAAS QUEENS.
The latest season of Girls was its strongest ever. Five seasons in, creator Lena Dunham and showrunner Jenni Konner know these characters inside and out, and the directions they took them finally seemed to have purpose. All four lead actresses had a solid campaign, but my favorite episode was one focused on Marnie, the Allison Williams character, who is almost universally disliked by fans. In “The Panic in Central Park,” Dunham wrote a wonderfully interesting episode for her, and Williams delivered a big-time performance.
7. Game of Thrones
The first several episodes of season six moved slowly and rather predictably. Coupled with so many fragmented plotlines, it was challenging to become immersed in any particular one. But the last two episodes, “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter,” were two of the best Game of Thrones has produced. Loose ends were tied up, and many of the characters seeking revenge got it. I understand why several of the earlier episodes were meant to set the stage, but this show would be unstoppable if the storytelling and cinematography were always as stunning as these last two episodes.
6. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
John Oliver has been a perennial favorite of mine since his time on The Daily Show. Now, he’s better than he’s ever been as the host of Last Week Tonight. Oliver is a great comedian, but he also genuinely enlightens people in an accessible way. There aren’t many other programs on TV that spend as much time on one issue, and I have Oliver to thank for my in-depth understanding of Brexit and many other recent complex issues.
Black-ish just wrapped up its second season, and the show has consistently been a bright spot in ABC’s family-centric Wednesday lineup. The back half of this season, however, really proved how strong a contender it is in the current TV landscape. One episode in particular, “Hope,” addressed parents Rainbow and Dre’s difficulty in explaining police hate crimes against African Americans to their kids. Perhaps there’s no best way to explain such a complex and contentious issue to children. Like many episodes of Black-ish, “Hope” made viewers laugh and think. Everyone could benefit from watching this episode in particular because of how great the show’s creative team handled such a delicate issue.
4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt uses a sugary-sweet comedic filter to handle innumerable devastating tragedies, and the cast and writers do it better than anybody else on TV. In particular, this second season saw characters go through issues with parental abandonment, alcohol abuse, deportation, gentrification and a lot of other frequently taboo topics. But all the hilarity is still there, with Ellie Kemper playing the eternally positive title character we love to root for. Also, give Tituss Burgess all the Emmys already! And also Carol Kane.
3. Grace and Frankie
I really enjoyed the first season of Grace and Frankie, but I loved the second season even more. You can’t really beat the dynamic duo of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and I’d hate to see the fool who’d try. The premise for the show is a bit goofy, but the emotions one feels while watching are real. I genuinely care about what happens to these fictional characters, and they make me laugh harder than I have in a long time. Plus, the lack of programming featuring people over the age of 50 is alarming. I love that G&F is representing an audience that doesn’t get its due.
2. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Sure, The People v. O.J. Simpson was a little campy and dramatic at times, but the first installment of this anthology series drew me in like no other drama had in a long time. This series broke down the lengthy and contentious 1994-95 trial that captured the nation’s attention for almost a full year, with Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance turning in master class performances as Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran,. Even David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian was surprisingly captivating. And while I don’t think Cuba Gooding Jr. captured O.J. Simpson perfectly and John Travolta was borderline dismal as Robert Shapiro, at least the actors made a clear choice in the direction they wanted to go.
1. O.J.: Made in America
My number one program of 2016 (so far) is this entry in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. It’s a meticulously thorough five-part documentary that gets into even more detail than the FX series about O.J. Simpson’s past and present. It provides multiple perspectives and contextual content that helps viewers better understand the events of 1994 and ’95. And it is all absolutely fascinating.