SciFi Weekend: Top Twenty New Shows Of 2016; Mary Tyler Moore and John Hurt Die; Genre Novels In The Age Of Trump; Riverdale Premieres

With over four hundred scripted shows (expected to surpass 500 in 2017) it is probably impossible for any one person to fairly rank the best of any season. Even many professional television critics, who don’t have another day job interfering, have said  how difficult it is to watch all the shows to do their end of year rankings. To make it more manageable, and to get around problems of listing the same top shows every year, I have limited this to the best new shows every season. Last year’s list is here and the top new shows of 2014 were listed here.

It got even harder this year with so many new streaming shows, some not dropping until December. In order to include more shows, I waited until the end of January to post the list. As usual, there are shows which I have heard very good things about which I have not watched at all. I put in a couple of shows towards the end of the list which I only watched parts of the season, and might rank them higher if I were to watch more. Also, as usual, it is very difficult to compare shows from different genre’s, or shows watched months apart. If you disagree with some of the rankings, it is very likely I also might agree and rank them differently if I were to do this on a different day. The real point of lists such as this is to point out shows which were worth watching.

Top 20 New Shows Of 2016

20. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW Network)

If based upon the premiere of the show in early 2016, this show would not have made the list, however it was much better when it returned for a second season in the fall. If you gave up on it last year, as I almost did, it is worth another look.

19. Class (BBC)

A Doctor Who spinoff aimed at an older audience than TheMary Jane Adventures. Torchwood (in its early years) remains the only spinoff I consider must see, but fans should find this enjoyable. It aired in the UK last fall, and will be shown in the U.S. this spring after Doctor Who. While I understand the decision in the U.S., I personally found it to be of more value as a fall show to fill the gap when, besides the Christmas episode, there was no true Doctor Who.

18. Fleabag (Amazon Prime)

I wasn’t as in love with this show as the critics, but if you have Amazon Prime, it is well worth checking it out and deciding for  yourself. The entire season is only about three hours, making it essentially a long movie. There is a definite payoff to some of the events of the season in the finale.

17. Atlanta (FX)

Another show which many would probably rank higher. I started watching when it premiered, but then it got forgotten in September because of a combination of being busy with personal matters and the premiers of all the fall shows. It very could rank higher after I see more.

16. Dirk Gentry’s Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America)

A fun and very quirky genre show which, by the end, definitely qualifies as science fiction.

15. Billions (Showtime)

An entertaining cable series. It’s most important benefit was to give Damian Lewis somewhere else to go to make sure they didn’t get desperate and try to bring him back to life on Homeland.

14. Speechless (ABC)

A few years ago it looked like network sitcoms were on the verge of death, beyond The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. ABC has managed to continue to make worthwhile sitcoms with the Modern Family formula, including Black-ish, Fresh Off The Boat, and now Speechless.

13. Goliath (Amazon Prime)

Billy Bob Thorton makes what could have been a run of the mill lawyer show well worth watching

12. The Crown (Netflix)

A young queen ascends to the thrown in a high budget presentation. She receives advice from the prime minister and is married to a foreigner played by Matt Smith, who adds a bit of whimsy to the show.

11. Victoria (ITV and PBS)

A young queen ascends to the thrown in a not-so-high budget presentation. She receives advice from the prime minister and is married to a foreigner. This also has strong connections to the Doctor Who world including Victoria being played by Jenna Coleman, with supporting cast including Eve Myles from Torchwood. It doesn’t have the budget of The Crown, but in deciding upon the ranking I deferred to my wife’s opinion. This aired in the UK last fall and recently started airing in the United States on PBS.

10. Luke Cage (Netflix)

The latest introduction of a Marvel character on Netflix. It could not meet the extremely high bar set last year by Jessica Jones, but was better than the second season of Daredevil.

9. The Magicians (Syfy)

Much more than an adult Harry Potter, but that would make a starting point to explain what this series is about. Yes, it did technically have an advanced showing of the pilot in 2015, but I’ll still consider this to essentially be a 2016 series. I watched the uncut episodes later in the year, and the editing for television on the premier episode of the second season last week was noticeable.

8. The Good Place (NBC)

A sitcom which has a continuing story, a genre element, discusses philosophy, plus has Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Extra points for having one of the best plot twists on television in recent years.

7. This Is Us (NBC)

I thought that quality drama was dead on NBC with the ending of Parenthood, but this fills the gap. It had a fairly good twist of its own in the pilot but, unlike in The Good Place, I saw this one coming. The bigger surprise was that Mandy Moore could do such a good job acting. Sure it is full of old television cliches and spends most episodes tugging at the heart strings, but it does a good job of it.

6. 11.22.63 (Hulu)

Received mixed views but I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation of the Stephen King time travel novel. (No comparison between this and the messed up adaptation of  Under the Dome). More on the show here.

5. Travelers (Showcase and Netflix)

Another low budget Canadian science fiction series filmed in Vancouver. This one is well-written and highly recommended, plus now easily available in the US on Netflix. The premise is that travelers from the future send their consciousness back to our present to prevent an apocalyptic future, taking over the bodies of people at the time of their recorded death. (I was  hoping that something like this would happen on January 20.) Besides having to attend to their mission, the travelers have to cope with the lives they took over–and sometimes their information was a bit off.

4. The Night Of (HBO)

A great self-contained story which shows both problems in the criminal justice system and xenophobia.

3. The Night Manager (BBC and AMC)

An excellent adaptation of the John le Carré novel. It was such a success that BBC and AMC are planning a second adaptation.

2. Stranger Things (Netflix)

The surprise hit from last summer. The series, with explanations of the finale, was discussed here.

1. West World (HBO)

The most discussed new show of the season, with mainstream critics also falling for this science fiction series. I looked at the show at various times, with a discussion of the season finale here.

There are also shows which might make the list which I did not see. I didn’t see any point in rehashing the O.J. Simpson story, but note that The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story  (FX) has received considerable critical acclaim. Many other shows, including genre dramas such as The OA (Netflix) and comedies such as One Mississippi (Amazon Prime) are also recommended by many people.

In past years I have found shows which I did not see when new, but saw them in subsequent years and thought they deserved to be in my rankings. This year I caught up on season one and two of Dark Matter (Syfy) and loved the show. I then tried Killjoys (Syfy) and didn’t get into it. I only watched the first episode, which might not be enough to judge it. I also thought that perhaps I was expecting Dark Matter and it might be better to watch some other shows before trying it again so I could judge it on its own merit.

It is notable that, once again, cable (both basic and premium), British imports, and especially streaming, dominate the list, with very little from the major American networks.

2016 ended with the loss of one beloved actress, Carrie Fisher, and began with the loss of another, Mary Tyler Moore. Later in the week, John Hurt died. While he is more famous for other roles, among science fiction fans he might be best remembered as the War Doctor for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary.

The past two weekends also were dominated by protests against Donald Trump. Earlier this week I looked at one good thing to come from Trump’s election–people are talking about books. This includes the classic 1984, as well as two other novels in which populist authoritarians became president. Even Doctor Who has been cited in discussion of the alternative facts coming from the Trump administration.

This week included the return of several genre shows, as well as the premiere of The CW’s reimagination of Archie comics, Riverdale. After watching Riverdale, I have three questions:

1) Who killed Jason Blossom?
2) What real teen talks about Truman Capote and about Mad Men by season?
3) And the old classic question, Betty or Veronica?

SciFi Weekend: The Top 20 New Shows of 2015

Once again, as I did last year, I’m concentrating, I’m concentrating on the top new shows of the past year (but will include some comments on returning shows below). This is for a few reasons:

  • Not having the time to devote professional time to television as professional television critics do, there are many shows I have not watched purely due to lack of time. Limiting to a single year reduces the impact of this.
  • Limiting to new shows eliminates the problem in many “best of” lists of including the same shows every year.
  • Talking about new shows could be of greater value. It is more likely that readers know about the top shows which have been on for the last several years, but might not be aware of some of the shows which started more recently.
  • If readers are inspired to catch up on a show from a list such as this, it is far more practical to catch up after one season than several. I know this from personal experience. This is why I cannot say much about the series finale of Justified, which has received great reviews, as I’m years behind. It was much easier to catch up on Manhattan and The 100 after missing the first season, allowing me to say more about them below.

Besides being limited to shows I have watched, this is also biased towards genre shows. Therefore, what might be the year’s biggest hit among new shows, Empire, is excluded from consideration on both counts. Rankings are also quite arbitrary, and some shows could easily be a few spots higher or lower if I were to redo this fifteen minutes later. Still, this gives a general idea of which I consider among the best as compared to those ranked lower. It is a sign of the increased number of good shows coming out, partially due to the increased influence of steaming video along with cable, that I have expanded from a top fifteen list last year to a top 20 list this year.

Top 20 New Shows Of 2015

Last Man On EarthCa

20. Last Man on Earth (ABC)

This would have ranked far higher if it could have maintained the quality of its original premiere, but adding new characters just led to it devolving into a number of more standard sitcom tropes. Still, while many gave up on the show, I continued to have interest in the first season finale and into the second season.

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19. Childhood’s End (Syfy)

Adapting a novel from Arthur C. Clarke seemed like a sure winner, but there were problems I didn’t expect from doing this until I viewed the miniseries. It seemed far more dated in 2015 compared to when I read the novel in the 1960’s now that we have seen so many shows with alien visitation to earth. This story worked out much better as a novel as they could not capture important aspects of the story, including the magnitude of the ending, on television as compared to in prose. The show also failed to make the new world created in the miniseries seem believable, compared to the far better adaptations in a couple of other shows listed below. We heard about all the changes on earth, but rarely saw them, and what we did seem, such as mankind giving up science, didn’t seem believable.

Togetherness

18. Togetherness (HBO)

An excellent sitcom showing how cable and streaming have replaced the “must watch TV” from NBC and the other broadcast networks.

The Expanse

17.The Expanse (Syfy)

Syfy returns to space, with a mystery and quite a bit of world building in the series based upon the novels by James S. A. Corey. I have only seen the first two episodes so far, so my opinion of the show could change once I see more. It was just recently renewed for a second season.

Fresh off the Boat

16. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)

Both Blackish last year and Fresh Off The Boat this year offer new variations on Modern Family. Constance Wu makes the show.

Casual

15. Casual (Hulu)

Yet another twist on a family sitcom, done far better by Hulu than the networks.

12Monkeys

14. 12 Monkeys (Syfy)

A time travel show which took aspects from the movie, but improved upon them for a weekly series. The series did an excellent job of building on its mythology, providing surprises, and moving in a new direction in the season finale.

Programme Name: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep2 (No. 2) - Picture Shows: Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire

13. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (BBC One/BBC America)

An excellent adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s novel, making a world in which magic exists seem real.

Supergirl-TV-Show-Actress-Melissa-Benoist

12. Supergirl (CBS)

Another show from the produces of Arrow and The Flash, with his being much closer to The Flash in style. The show had an excellent pilot, but for a while seemed like a weaker version of The Flash. It started getting more interesting toward the end of the fall season as the show had an opportunity to develop. Spoilers ahead: Major events before the hiatus included the revelation that Hank Henshaw is the Martian Manhunter. Calista Flockhart is excellent as Cat Grant, but considering her profession can she be trusted now that she figured out Supergirl’s secret identity? So far Supergirl doesn’t know about Hank, but it is inevitable that she learns who he is. A shape shifter could be useful to show both Supergirl and Kara in the same place to fool Cat.

Sense8 Will and Riley

11. Sense 8 (Netflix)

A very ambitious show, which took time to develop its story, but well worth the wait. Enjoy the scenery from around the world while trying to figure it out in the early episodes.

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10. Agent Carter (ABC)

This shows how much better a network show can be when limited to a single eight-episode story.  Maybe that is why it is the only network show which cracked the top ten. Of course a network still could not compete with streaming when entering the Marvel universe.

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9. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

This shows how the networks have surrendered quality sitcoms to streaming and cable. The show was originally produced by Tina Fey for NBC, but they passed on it and it was picked up by Netflix. It will be interesting to see if the show is even better when the second season is produced, knowing it will appear on Netflix rather than NBC.

Daredevil Matt and Karen

8. Daredevil (Netflix)

The first of a series of shows from the Marvel universe. Dardevil was darker, grittier, and more violent than any of the superhero shows before this. The series also took advantage of the streaming medium, often telling a continuous story, but sometimes including a more conventional single episode on a specific topic (which was still part of the greater story for the season).

Master of None

7. Master of None (Netflix)

Aziz Ansari shows how good a comedy could be on what I bet is a low budget if there is excellent writing. Besides comparisons to his character on Parks and Recreation, the show is often compared to Louie. I also see a lot of early Seinfeld in it.

Catastrophe

6. Catastrophe (Channel 4/Amazon)

The British show, also made available in the United States from Amazon Prime, was the best new sitcom of the year. It was this year’s, You’re The Worst, with Sharon Horgan playing what felt like could be an older version of Aya Cash’s chacter, and the nationalities of Jimmy and Gretchen’s nationalities reversed.

Man In The High Castle Poster

5. Man In The High Castle (Amazon)

While changes were made for the new version, Man In The High Castle was an excellent adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, providing a realistic look at what could have happened if Germany and Japan had won World War II and occupied the United States. Changes were made in some characters, and there were plot differences to turn this into an ongoing series. Hitler remaining alive in the 1960’s provides for a difference in the politics. Instead of a book with an alternate history in which the Allies won, using film reels worked better on television. While the main storyline was tied up, the finale raised new questions, making me very happy that it was renewed. Spoilers ahead: As happened earlier in the book, the finale did show a character crossing over into an alternate universe looking like ours, partially explaining the meaning of those news reels. I still have a lot of questions about them, and if the book gave any further hints, I read it too long ago to remember. The finale did wrap up the major storyline and led to an unexpected character living in a “high castle” who was interested in the news reels. Is he really the title character, and how is he connected to the films?

Humans

4. Humans (Channel 4/AMC)

Yet another British import on this list which was also shown in the United States presented a look at how robots (Synths) could change our society, along with a thriller storyline involving a small group of  Synths which were more than they seemed. I’m not sure if the second season could be as strong as the first now that all the secrets have been revealed, but they definitely left matters open to continue the story.

MR. ROBOT -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Rami Malek as Elliot, Christian Slater as Mr. Robot -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)

3. Mr. Robot (USA)

A cyber-thriller which is totally different from what anyone would expect from a show on USA. The show gave a lot of hints about one element which was not confirmed until later in the season, but still came up with surprises along the way. The season finale also left room for a lot more.

Better Call Saul

2. Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul greatly exceeded expectations, standing on its own in addition to being a prequel series to one of the greatest television series of all time, Breaking Bad.

Jessica Jones

1. Jessica Jones (Netflix)

Netflix exceeded what was accomplished on Daredevil with Jessica Jones, staring Kristin Ritter in the title role. The series, even more than Daredevil, was like a single long movie, with only brief breaks in the narrative to fill in viewers on the back stories of the major characters. This works as a stand alone story, but also has references to The Avengers, a character from Daredevil, and sets up future shows, especially Luke Cage.

Spoilers ahead. The show did so many things well.  While many super hero stories suffer from trying to create yet a bigger danger to the entire world to fight, Jessica Jones was a personal story between Jessica and the villain, with David Tennant doing a fantastic job playing Kilgrave. Without their powers, this is essentially the story of an abused woman who once again confronts the man who abused her. Add on the super powers, and it becomes a story of a man who can have whatever he wants and does not understand why Jessica does not love him when he is nice to her.

Most of the supporting cast was also excellent, including Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker. One neighbor initially seemed to be a stereotypical drug addict, but turned into a significant figure. The brother and sister also living in the same building were the weakest characters, but the sister was useful to allow Kilgrave to escape. The length of the story did require a series of  near-captures, captures, and escapes. Plus it was necessary to change the situation so that the ending could take place, when earlier Jessica had reason to not only capture Kilgrave alive, but provide proof of his powers.

Honorable Mention

Grace and Frankie Season 1 netflix handout .... Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series "Grace and Frankie". Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ê

Grace and Frankie (Netflix) Any show staring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston has to be good, even if some of other new sitcoms were more consistent.

Blindspot (NBC) A fascinating premise made the early shows feel like something unique from network drama, but far too often it is just a gimmick to introduce the case of the week. Whether the show becomes a great will depend on whether the underlying mystery of the show remains compelling. Also on NBC, Blacklist almost felt like a new show with Lizzie now on the run, reminiscent of how Person of Interest evolved into more of a genre show last year on CBS.

Limitless (CBS) A lighter genre show which shows potential to be entertaining, but I doubt will rise to greatness.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix) A prequel to the movie.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS) and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central) were two excellent additions to light night television, a genre which I arbitrarily left out of the rankings. They help make up for the loss of David Letterman and Jon Stewart. I haven’t actually watched much of Larry Wilmore but he has been hilarious when I’ve seen clips. I’m looking forward to seeing him host the White House Correspondents’ dinner.

The Republican Debates have become an amusing reality show, featuring reality television star Donald Trump. His previous reality show had a similar format in gradually eliminating candidates vying for a job.

Besides the above changes on late night television,  this year marked the end of many excellent shows including Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Hannibal, Parenthood, Continuum, and Justified. Downton Abbey concluded in the UK with the Christmas special, but the final season is just now beginning in the United States. (No spoilers, but the series ended well).

Last year I left out some shows only because I had not had a chance to see them yet. These included The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). These turned out to both be extremely high quality shows. and both would have made the top five if I had seen them when compiling last year’s list.

Among shows I’ve heard excellent things about, and very well might deserve to be ranked among the top shows but I have not had a chance to see so far are Narcos (Netflix), Wolf Hall (BBC Two/PBS), and The Jinx (HBO). While not as critically acclaimed, I have received a plug for another genre show, Wayward Pines (Fox).

SciFi Weekend Part 2: The Best of 2014

Part 1 of SciFi Weekend looked at shows from the past week, including Last Christmas, this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. Part II lists some of the top and most improved shows of the year. The point is not really to rank them so much as to highlight shows worth watching. Really, how do you compare Cosmos to Penny Dreadful? I am at a disadvantage compared to professional television critics as I have neither the professional obligation nor time to watch nearly everything. Therefore this is limited to the shows I have actually watched, and I will address this after the first list.

Rather than list the overall best shows, as most sites are doing, my first list will be limited to shows which premiered in 2014. Lists of all the best shows drive out most of the new shows, and I’m sure you are aware of Game of Thrones by now. I have limited this to shows available in the United States, including a couple which were primarily British shows but available here on cable or streaming. This list is not limited to genre but is biased by my preferences.Therefore Jane the Virgin (CW), listed by many television critics among the best of the year, did not make the list as, regardless of its quality, I still stopped watching after a few weeks due to the large number of quality shows which I’m more interested in.

Top 15 New Shows Of 2014

About A Boy

15.  About A Boy (NBC)

Family friendly sitcoms (or actually sitcoms of any nature) have not done very well on the networks recently. For that matter, relatively few network shows made this list at all. About A Boy, the second attempt to adapt the Nick Hornby novel, finally gets it right, also being a rare case of the television version being better than the movie version. The shows combines saccharin and snark, and can be highly entertaining in episodes where it gets the right percentage of each. Besides an excellent regular cast, Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights and Agents of SHIELD has had a recurring role.

14. The Knick (Cinemax)
Think of this Steven Soderbergh show as being like ER, except set early in the 20th century. I don’t know if they got all the facts right, but it is an authentic look at medicine of the era.

13. Black-ish (ABC)
Another of the rare successful sitcoms premiering recently. It came along at just the right time, when Bill Cosby is no longer on his pedestal

12. Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
Imagine if the main characters of classic horror novels all lived in the same city and interacted with each other. I am  hopeful of an even better second season now that the main characters and situations were introduced.

11. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Comedy is doing much better on cable than network television these days. Silicon Valley does a great job of mocking the tech industry.

The Honorable Woman

10. The Honorable Woman (BBC Two/Sundance)
The original story has the feeling of what it might be like if John le Carré were to write a spy novel on the middle east directly for television.

9. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Fox)
Neil deGrasse Tyson was inspired by Carl Sagan as a student. Now he tries to cure some of the scientific-illiteracy which has become a serious problem in this country.

8. True Detective (HBO)
The story had moments of brilliance, and moments when it dragged, but the performance by Matthew McConaughey earned it a spot on most top ten lists.

Transparent

7. Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Jeffrey Tambor leads an excellent cast in a story about an already dysfunctional Jewish family which now must deal with the father coming out as trans-gender. This is the story which Jill Soloway has been wanting to do since Six Feet Under, and she does an excellent job.

6 .Last Week Tonight (HBO)
This new comedy take on the news came along at the right time, with Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update being awful with the loss of Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert ending his show. John Oliver has done a better job than many others who have attempted to satirize the news with in-depth segments which are likely influence opinions.

5. The Flash (CW)
The best of this year’s attempts to enter the superhero genre. Lighter than Arrow but so far this season more compelling with its ongoing story line.

4. Happy Valley (BBC One/Netflix)
This British crime mystery does a far better job than most of the American counterparts, being far more successful than most other attempts at combining  the personal story of the main character with the mystery.

3. The Affair (Showtime)
Showing the events before the murder from the perspective of two people involved in an affair is a gimmick which works well for the story. When their stories differ are we seeing failings in memory, one or both characters lying, or even the plot of one of the protagonist’s novels?

Youre-The-Worst-690

2. You’re The Worst (FX)
The best new comedy in ages, with an often hilarious look at a couple of flawed individuals, frequently skewering millennials. The show is especially impressive in both gradually developing the supporting characters and telling a story over the course of the season. The season can easily be watched in one or two sittings as one of the best romantic comedies to come along in years, even by those who normally don’t like romantic comedies. It might also be worth rewatching this time of the year as a reminder of how good television can also be educational, showing why it is not a good idea to plug a vibrator into a string of Christmas lights. The more you know.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo in the Emmy award-winning series Fargo

1. Fargo (FX)
A dark comedy and crime drama which does justice to the movie which inspired it, and easily stands on its own. There is both outstanding writing and an excellent cast led by Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, and Colin Hanks.

Honorable Mention:
Among shows which did not make this list, and which aren’t mentioned elsewhere in this post, there are a some other good shows with a genre element: Gotham (Fox), Outlander (Starz),  How To Get Away With Murder (ABC), The Last Ship (TNT), Leftovers (HBO) (which has made many lists of both best and worst of the year), and Resurrection (ABC).

Some of the new genre shows which were left off this list were intentionally omitted.  Extant (CBS) might have made at least honorable mention if they stuck to the story of the AI child and stayed away from the ludicrous alien plot. Some shows couldn’t be ranked as I have not seen them, but reliable sources have recommended others to me which very well deserve to be highly ranked, and which I will hopefully catch up on later. These include The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). There are also two limited run shows which I have recorded and have heard excellent things about but have not seen yet: Olive Kitteridge (HBO)  and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS).

Most Improved Shows Of 2014

Some shows do better in their first year, often due to first raising a situation, but are not able to sustain the quality for a second season. Sleepy Hollow (Fox) has not been able to maintain the quality of the first season, but perhaps it will improve now that they appear ready to move on to a  new storyline. Orphan Black (BBC America) also couldn’t maintain the quality of the first season, when everything was still a mystery, but still remains better than most shows on television. House of Cards (Netflix) also did not have as great a second season as first but remains worth watching.

There are six shows which many consider better in their second season, or at very least did not deteriorate a bit going into their second season, listed in alphabetical order:

Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
The show was mediocre until Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. It became much better late in the first season as it mirrored the movie developments, and has become even better this season as it is now ahead of planned Marvel releases.

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The Americans (FX)
This was one of the best television shows of 2013 when it premiered, and was even better in its second season. The season was successful for both its season-long mystery and for how it combined the personal and professional lives of the main characters. It did one thing far better than other shows such as Homeland: making good use of a teen-aged daughter.

Arrow (CW)
The second season of Arrow started in 2013 but extended into 2014, allowing the show onto this list.  The second season surpassed the second season. The third season, starting in fall 2014, isn’t as good, but I’m still hoping it will return to the level of the second season.

Hannibal (NBC)
It is just amazing that a show of this quality can be shown on network television.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Actually a close call between the first and second season, with both worth watching.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Another example of a great show becoming even better in its second year, as the show successfully went beyond Piper to tell major stories with other characters.

Once again this list is limited to shows I have actually watched. Based upon recommendations from others, I hear that Rectify (Sundance) was another show with an excellent first season and an even better second season in 2014.

There are a couple shows which might not make a list of the best of the year, but these two shows which improved tremendously from their pilots in 2014:

Selfie Karen Gillan John Cho

Selfie (ABC)
The pilot was awful and the show never recovered, but it has gotten much better over the course of the season. Unfortunately this wasn’t soon enough as the show was canceled. The remaining episodes are being shown on Hulu and, with one left to go, have been worth watching.

Married (FX)
This show initially received more hype than You’re The Worst which followed it, but it was soon apparent that this was by far the weaker of the two. Still Married did manage to improve after a weak pilot and, being on cable during the summer when low ratings were expected, was able to survive to get renewed for a second season.

While I concentrated on second season shows in order to provide more coverage to relatively new shows in the list above, there are a few longer-running shows which have improved this season which are worth noting, also in alphabetical order:

Homeland (Showtime)
The show was at its best with the Brody storyline of the first season and they managed to stretch it out through a second season. The third season was just too much, and they finally let it go. The fourth season was mixed as they tried to reestablish the show with only a cameo from Damian Lewis in a hallucination. Some episodes dragged, including the season finale, but there were also some excellent moments during the season. Homeland not only must contend with the loss of Brody. Now it being criticized by Pakistani officials who are furious about how their country was portrayed.

New Girl (Fox)
I had stopped watching around the time that Nick and Jess were getting together, but heard it is much better with the two broken up but saying dumb things to each other, and I have resumed watching.

Person of Interest (CBS)
This was a good show from the start but every season gets better as the show has successfully transitioned from a procedural mystery of the week with a genre gimmick to a true genre show, which is also topical with current controversies over surveillance.

I added the networks to the show listings after I compiled these lists and find it notable that FX has the top two new shows along with one of the best shows of 2013. As expected, HBO and Showtime are well represented, with CW also doing quite well. Amazon has joined Netflix as a valuable streaming service with original shows. The broadcast networks are represented, partially due to having some successes among the larger quantity of original programing than any other source, but are frequently being beaten in quality by cable and streaming sources, which in some cases are owned by the broadcast networks. Showtime and CW now have better shows than CBS as FX has better shows than Fox.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Benedict Cumberbatch on Sherlock and Sex; Agents of SHIELD; Agent Carter; Gotham; Arrow; The Flash; 12 Monkeys; Billy Bob Thornton and Other Sitcom News; Crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Doctor Who Black Water

Black Water is so far likely to be the most memorable episode of this season of Doctor Who, but any such judgment will be influenced by the second part of the story, Death in Heaven. It is difficult to review the first episode of a two-part story as when an interesting idea in genre is raised we never know how well the story will play out. Of course this could also be said of both individual stories and entire series (such as Lost and The X-Files.)

The episode demonstrated how much the Doctor cared for Clara: “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Fortunately the betrayal was in a dream sequence. Before realizing it was a dream I expected that the Doctor would either pull out a spare key or show that he can still get into his TARDIS even without a key. Clara pointed out a common issue on the the series in which the Doctor is inconsistent as to whether he can change time. Such inconsistencies are unavoidable on a long running time travel series and actually seem less objectionable when openly acknowledged by a character.

Danny Pink appears to have died, but it isn’t clear if it is final. After all, the idea of the episode is that death is not what we think it is, although it is not clear if we were told the truth or if it was entirely lies coming from Missy. We were told,  “This isn’t really an afterlife. It’s just more life than you were ever expecting.” With rumors that Jenna Coleman might be leaving the series, it is possible that he really is dead, but also possible that he can be rescued from the Nethersphere for further adventures. The previews of Death in Heaven suggest that Clara might have never existed, but previews are often misleading.

The biggest danger to Danny might not be that he appears to be dead, but that he might delete his emotions and voluntarily become what was hidden away in the black water, which hides all not-organic material. Even though it was well known that the finale involved the Cybermen, and it might not have made sense keeping all of them stored in water, the scene revealing what they were as the water drained away still had considerable impact.

If we can believe what we heard, the dead are still conscious and feel what their body feels–making “don’t cremate me” a crucial plea and avoiding being studied for science also an important goal. One reason we cannot be certain of anything we were told was the reveal as to the identity of Missy: “Try to keep up. I’m Missy. Short for Mistress. Well, couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, could I?”

Although there was widespread speculation that Missy was the Master, we were kept guessing until the end, including with a claim earlier in the episode that she was just a droid. Now that we know that Missy is the Master, the question remains as to whether she really was the one who gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number in The Bells of St. John, and if so what the purpose was. We can be certain that her use of the Cybermen is not a good thing,

Having the Master regenerate as a woman has been received with excitement by a lot of fans who have been hoping for a female doctor. While this establishes that it is possible for a Time Lord to regenerate in the opposite sex, having this be possible and actually doing it are quite different things. I suspect that for now this might have been done to placate fans calling for a female doctor with no current plans to actually do so.

The Doctor Who Extra for Black Water is above.

Benedict Cumberbatch discussed Sherlock and sex in an interview with the UK edition of Elle.

ELLE UK: What do you think Sherlock would be like in bed? How would you play a love scene as Sherlock?

BC: Oooh… You know I’d get the, I’d probably test the latex, if it involved prophylactics, beforehand.

BC: I’d do a little experiment to do with durability, length, girth, and um, strength. And um, I would probably take a lot of vitamin supplements to make sure that I could perform, and had had my sleep, and probably not had many cigarettes. Or drink, for that matter. Not that he does drink.

ELLE UK: You see. Proficient, but lacking enthusiasm.

BC: Yeah, no wait for it. I would probably watch a lot of porn…

Cumberbatch is currently in negotiations to star in Doctor Strange but perhaps he should also be signed for a guest appearance on Masters of Sex.

Agents of SHIELD Ward

SHIELD could really use better security. We figured that Ward wasn’t going to spend the entire season in Coulson’s basement, but I would think that they would have taken even more precautions to transport him. Brett Dalton discussed his character with Entertainment Weekly.

ABC has released the official synopsis for Agent Carter.

It is too early to judge Gotham as they are busy building their pre-Batman universe. Screen Rant looks at Arkham Asylum. Of course any discussion of Arkham leads to the Joker, and the post also mentions the fan theory that Oswald Cobblepot actually turns out to be the Joker, not the Penguin.

It has been announced that Morena Baccarin (Homeland, Firefly, V) will be playing Dr. Leslie Thompkins:

She will play Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a gifted and dedicated physician who was a friend of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha. She is determined to use her skills to aid Gotham’s most in need, which currently means working at the newly opened Arkham Asylum’s Home for the Criminally Insane. In addition to her medical skills, her coolness under pressure will serve her well as she finds herself drawn close to James Gordon and into more and more dangerous waters.

Blastr looked at Christopher Nolan’s original ideas for the Dark Knight trilogy, which were changed with the death of Heath Ledger (the Joker).

At this point CW is doing the better job of bringing the DC universe to television, and Gotham has a long way to go to compete with Arrow as the best television adaptation of Batman. Last week Felicity visited The Flash and the next episode of Arrow features her in The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak. The synopsis for the episode reads:

When a cyber attack brings Starling City to its knees, Oliver and Felicity are pushed to their limits to contain the destruction. Life gets even more complicated for Felicity when her mother, Donna (guest star Charlotte Ross), stops by for a surprise visit. Meanwhile, Ted Grant (guest star JR Ramirez) questions Laurel’s motives, and Thea buys an apartment with Malcolm’s “estate””money, which infuriates Oliver.

 Stephen Amell discussed Arrow, The Flash, and DC movies;

We’ve heard so much in recent weeks about Marvel and DC announcing so many comic book movies over the next few years. Are you ready for a Green Arrow movie? I am completely indifferent. First of all, wanting a movie undersells the idea that making 23 episodes a year isn’t a huge achievement. It is and I would put that degree of difficulty up against any feature film that has ever been made… except “Lord of the Rings” and that gigantic Peter Jackson-led undertaking… and maybe “Titanic.” But, other than those two movies, I’d put making 23 hours of interesting content in a TV season up against anything on the film side. It is difficult to me to want or envision an “Arrow” movie when we are shooting the 10th episode of our third season with 13 more episodes to go and in all likelihood 3 more seasons on the other side of that. I’m interested in keeping that content fresh. Once we get to the end of that road, maybe then I’ll shift my focus. There was some talk and controversy about the fact that Grant Gustin is doing the “Flash” TV show but was not named the Flash for the “Flash” movie. If Green Arrow was going to be on screen, do you feel like it should be you? Yeah. Of course. And I feel like it should be Grant doing the movie. But the important thing to remember is just because Grant Gustin plays the part of Barry Allen doesn’t mean Ezra Miller can’t also play Barry Allen. There can be different interpretations of the character. Anyone who is a fan of the comics knows the Flash character is one of the forces that leads to parallel universes. And who knows, they might find a fantastic actor to play Oliver Queen on the feature side who has a different take on the character. I’m certainly a departure from the typical Oliver Queen from the comic books. I just think that everybody needs to be patient with the whole thing. The fact that DC and Warner have announced all these comic book features is nothing but good for business.

Syfy has released the above extended footage for their upcoming series (based on the movie) 12 Monkeys.

Last season CBS killed Cristin Milioti in the series finale of How I Met Your Mother.  Now NBC has killed her on A to Z, or for now turned her into a zombie. She is currently walking dead, not unlike Brady Hoke as Michigan’s football coach. The series will complete its initial thirteen episodes but end at that point. Unless the thirteenth episode is rewritten we will never learn about what happens in that final hour of her eight-month, three-week, five-day, and one-hour relationship. I would expect that viewership will fall even further now that we know the show will not be on much longer. I have already deleted it from my DVR’s schedule.

NBC also canceled Bad Judge along with A to Z. NBC still has Marry Me for now but, having watched the pilot only, it hardly seems worth watching. Seeing these shows leads to the inevitable question–why did NBC cancel Community to make room for these? (Fortunately it has been saved by Yahoo!)

It has not been a good year for romantic comedies, with ABC having already canceled Manhattan Love Story.  At the moment, the only new network sitcoms I’m watching are Blackish and Selfie. Weak romantic comedies seem even lamer than most years after watching You’re The Worst which premiered last summer.

Big Bang Theory Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton was largely responsible for the success of Fargo. Late in the series he impersonated a dentist, and last week he went on to portray a doctor on The Big Bang Theory. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed showrunner Steve Molaro about his memorable appearance (which hopefully will be repeated). Billy Bob Thornton is a big fan of the show, and he is the one who pitched the idea of playing a doctor who tries to steal Penny away from Leonard. Molaro also states that “a major move forward in the Sheldon-Amy relationship occurs” in next week’s episode.

It was a real tragedy when Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo experimental space plane crashed on Friday.  While a huge setback, hopefully this is not the end of the idea of commercial spaceflight:

For now, the future of the New Mexico spaceport intended as the hub and central customer for Virgin Galactic’s operations seems uncertain.

And for Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, Messier says, “it’s obviously a massive setback.

“I’m hesitant to try to make predictions this soon after the accident,” he says.  “They’ve been working on SpaceShipTwo for ten years now. If the engine blew, they may have to go back to the drawing board.”

SciFi Weekend: The Flash; Arrow; Gotham; Sleepy Hollow; Agents of SHIELD; Person of Interest; Doctor Who; Selfie; 12 Monkeys; Renewed Shows; Utopia; Gracechurch; Red States & Pornography

flash-pilot_612x380

 The Flash was off to an excellent start last week. It looks like it will be a lighter version of Arrow but has started to set up an interesting back story. There’s the death of Barry’s mother in the past and the episode ended with a look into the future which raises the question if they plan their own version of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. We don’t know for certain that the future will play out as suggested:

“Time travel is going to play a big part in the overall series, but one of the things that we will discover is that time is mutable,” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg says. “As the good Doctor says, time can be rewritten, so not everything you see on the show is necessarily what’s going to come to pass and not necessarily everything that’s happened is fixed.” In other words, that newspaper’s headline could change.

Presumably their version will not include the death of Barry Allen. The final scene also revealed that Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) can walk, contrary to what was previously suggested. Is his name supposed to bring H.G. Wells and time travel to mind? With Tom Cavanagh’s character able to walk, this also leaves open the possibility of returning to his bowling alley (Ed).

arrow316

Returning genre shows such as Arrow, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Person of Interest have all returned to strong starts. Arrow returned with a very brief romance between Oliver and Felicity along with  (major spoiler ahead)  an unexpected death, which I bet will ultimately lead to Laurel taking over as Black Canary. Thanks to flashbacks, this won’t be the last we see of Sara. The episode also introduced Ray Palmer, who has now taken control of Queen Consolidated. While Gotham has premiered, Arrow remains by far the best television adaption of Batman ever aired.

While still early, Gotham does look  promising. It essentially feels like a comic book world without the superhero. Jim Gordon serves as the superhero, even if lacking either superpowers of the special abilities of characters such as Batman or Green Arrow. In a city where virtually everyone else appears corrupt, just fighting for justice and being the rare good guy is enough. Hopefully the can continue to work in a storyline with young Bruce Wayne without it appearing too contrived.

Sleepy.Hollow.S02E03

What makes Sleepy Hollow so much fun is how theye can have both a conspiracy linking Judas, Benedict Arnold, and events in the current episode, mixed with such humorous scenes as last week with Ichabod learning about how our banks work and getting confused about men wearing hats indoors (but not gays).

Ichabod : Is that considered acceptable now?
Abbie : Oh, lots of attitudes have changed since your days, not everyone’s but supreme court has upheld the constitutional right of same sex couples, and more and more states are even legalizing gay marriage
Ichabod : I meant gentleman wearing hats indoors, I know about homosexuals thank you, I trained under Baron von Steuben. His affections for his own sex were well known. Also, I watches the finale of Glee.

Even when in the midst of the big conspiracy they still don’t take things too seriously, such as with Nick Hawley not getting too worried about the apocalypse they were trying to prevent. After all, every civilization has their own apocalypse story.

Last week had another strong episode of Agents of SHIELD with a new role for Simmons. They are making far better use of both Fitz and Simmons than last year. Presumably the real Simmons, as opposed to the one in Fitz’s head, will appear intermittently while undercover at HYDRA. It would probably appear too contrived if they run into her every episode.

Person of Interest is also off to a great start after a semi-reboot, placing the major characters in new situations. I am hoping they do more with the big issues of surveillance and artificial intelligence as the season progresses, rather than number of the week shows.  There is the danger that the reboot won’t matter as they have quickly made things similar to before with the establishment of a means to communicate, a new base, and a new source of money.

doctor-clara-train-mummy

Steven Moffat had a line in The Big Bang with a call about an escaped Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express in space. With the substitution of a mummy for the Egyptian goddess, this premise turned into this week’s episode of Doctor Who, Mummy On The Orient Express. Perhaps some of the plot holes and unanswered questions from Moffat’s stories will ultimately be answered if we wait long enough.

We don’t know who Gus, who masterminded the situation, really is, but perhaps this will be answered at a later date. I also wonder if there is more to Perkins, and if he will be seen again. I am also curious as to whether this episode was planned at the time of The Big Bang. I suspect that it might have just been an idea in Moffat’s mind, which he later altered because he could not resist the line, “Are you my Mummy?”

The episode also included themes from previous episodes, including jelly bellies and the Doctor talking to his previous regenerations. In keeping with themes from this season, the mummy was a soldier. There was progression in the Capaldi Doctor’s attitude. He still had no qualms about watching people he considered to already be doomed die in order to gain information, (“Old ladies die all the time.It’s practically in their job description.”). However, he also substituted himself for a potential victim. In the end, he used the TARDIS to save everyone.

The Clara storyline was handled in a strange manner. Last week it looked like she was done with the Doctor, leading to speculation that this might have been done to set up a solo adventure. Instead Clara was present, yet they teased that this might be their last trip together. If Clara was planning to leave the Doctor, why did she go with him on the Orient Express? After so much teasing that she would no longer travel with the Doctor, she changed her mind quite quickly at the end. I also continue to wonder what type of cell service the Doctor and his companions have which allows them to communicate not only with each other regardless of where they are, but back with earth in the present. Personally I can lose cell service if I wander too far from the cell extender I found necessary to purchase to set up a cellular hot spot in my own house.

The Doctor Who Extra is below:

I had mixed opinions from the pilot of Selfie but obviously I was going to give any show staring Karen Gillian and John Cho a second chance. I’m glad I did as the second episode was much better. Pilots can be a poor way to judge a series as the pilot has the burden of setting up the situations. In addition, changes for the better are sometimes made in shows between the time a pilot is shot and the show goes into regular production.

While there are some excellent genre shows in the fall, summer was weaker on broadcast television. CBS has shown a commitment to mediocre summer science fiction, renewing both Under the Dome and Extant.

Still no word from Showcase regarding Continuum.

ABC has given a full season pick up to two of their better new shows of the season, How to Get Away With Murder and Blackish.

12Monkeys

IO9 reports that Syfy’s television version of 12 Monkeys, which begins in January, will be different from the movie, taking the aspects they like and changing others, like their previous reboot of Battlestar Galactica. It sounds like it might be an intelligent time travel series based upon their review of the pilot:

What the pilot really proved was that this is a show not afraid of the complications of time travel. It does not slow down and explain to the audience its fractured timeline, save for a few title cards in the beginning. Ivanek gives a speech at the end of the episode that wholly relies on the audience being quicker on the uptake about time travel tropes than the characters.

The pilot also builds in a lot of space in the characters’ backstories to fill in later. And you actually want to know about them. you want to know how Stanford got to be in a position where he was picked for his mission. You wonder endlessly about how Railly can get from where we meet her to where she ends up. There’s more than enough to carry more episodes.

An old CBS science fiction series us returning. Legendary TV is working on a rebooted series of Lost in Space. Hopefully they can improve upon the original with the reboot as Battlestar Galactica did.

Utopia Jessica Hyde

Channel 4 has canceled Utopia after its second season, which was one of the better genre shows over the past summer. HBO is planning a remake with David Fincher directing. He is again working with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), who has written the scripts for the new series. While I often question making US remakes of recently aired British shows, such as with Broadchurch,I am curious to see Flynn’s take on this story.

As a consequence of lacking the time for all the genre and quality television shows now on (a welcome problem and change from the past), I have not watched Gracepoint, having already seen Broadchurch. For the benefit of others in this situation who are debating whether to watch, I have found that most reviewers are saying that the early episodes of Gracepoint are very similar to Broadchurch, and where they differed Broadchurch did it much better. Both version star David Tennant. Reviewers are also saying Gracepoint begins to diverge from Broadchurch in the seventh episode. The producers have teased that the ending might be different, so at this point the reviewers I have read (who have not seen beyond this point) do not know how significant the difference from the seventh episode will be.

And, finally, yet another study shows that people in red states are more likely to search for porn:

A new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, produced by researchers from Canadian Universities, found American states that identify as more religious and conservative are also more apt to search for sex online. Of course, the study makes a point of separating the religiously conservative from the politically conservative. The latter is more likely to look for sex specific terms, such as “gay sex, free porn and xxx,” whereas those that consider themselves religious were looking for generalized sex terms that could’ve theoretically fallen under the “health and wellness” category.

In heavily religious states, abstinence is often pushed as the only safe sex, with very little to offer in the way of sexual education. Unfortunately, that leaves a growing number of people with questions about sex but no answers. Enter Google: the best way to find an answer to personal, possibly embarrassing questions without calling attention to yourself. So of course the study finds that religious communities have a higher percentage of sex-related searches. That’s what happens when you can’t find it elsewhere.