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: Doctor Who; Sherlock; Sense8; The OA; Travelers; Westworld In Chronological Order; Carrie Fisher; Father Of The Bride

While waiting for the Christmas Special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio, we have The 12 Doctors of Christmas video above.

This will lead us into the upcoming season, to start in April 2017, which will be Steven Moffat’s last as show runner. He talked to Digital Spy about his plans:

If you’re expecting a grand finale to the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, then you might want to think again.

Moffat told press including Digital Spy that his final episodes of the BBC series will be about “pushing forward” – not bringing anything to a close.

“With Doctor Who, you never want to have finished the story – I’m not going to do that,” he insisted. “I want Chris [Chibnall, the new showrunner] to come in and have a brilliant time, so I’m not going to wrap it all up.

“So no… it’ll still be pushing forward. The thing is, people don’t really care about me or Chris, that’s the absolute truth. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s true – so the departure of a showrunner and the arrival of another one doesn’t really matter very much, ’cause no-one’s ever heard of us!”

Whether Peter Capaldi remains after Moffat stays might depend upon negotiations over pay, as the BBC has cut its fees in recent years.

Steven Moffat also has an interview with the BBC over the upcoming season of Sherlock, to premiere on New Year’s Day:

What do you mean when you say ghosts of the past are coming back?

By ghosts of the past we mean consequences. There are consequences to the kind of mad cap in-the-moment fun lives that Sherlock and John and Mary lead. There are things that have happened, there are enemies that they have made, there is damage that has been done and some of that is coming back to visit them. There will be surprises and when some of those surprises happen you’ll think “ah I should have seen that coming”.

How have the main characters developed in this series?

That’s the whole story of this series, so I’m not talking about that! Events get out of their control for a while and we see them in their darkest hours and in their highest moments.

How does Sherlock feel about John and Mary’s new addition?

The thing about Sherlock Holmes is that he is a grown-up. We always like to pretend he’s an absolute lunatic but he does things well and he straightforwardly adores John and Mary, they’re his best friends. So he behaves probably better than most young men behave when their best mates are having babies. He’s pretty good at all that.

Netflix released the Sense8 Christmas Special on December 23. At first it seemed an unlikely show to have a Christmas Special, but in retrospect it made a lot of sense. This provided a way to get reacquainted with the characters during the two year hiatus between the first and second season. The slow pace of the show worked well here. Not all that much happened to advance the story lines of the characters, giving plenty of time for holiday celebrations and the obligatory orgy scene.

Netflix also released two genre shows around the holidays, The OA and Travelers. I have not had time to see either, but The OA has been receiving a fair about of buzz since released. More information at Variety, Vox, and The Atlantic. The Travelers (trailer above) has an overall plot line similar to many science fiction shows including 12 Monkeys, Legends of Tomorrow, and Continuum in which time travelers from the future try to prevent a catastrophe in their era. This differs in that the travelers do not physically travel through time. Instead their consciousness takes over the bodies of others at the moment of their death. Here is the official synopsis:

Hundreds of years from now, the last surviving humans discover the means of sending consciousness back through time, directly into people in the 21st century. These “travelers” assume the lives of seemingly random people, while secretly working as teams to perform missions in order to save humanity from a terrible future. These travelers are: FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack), the team’s leader; Marcy (Mackenzie Porter), a young, intellectually disabled woman in the care of her social worker, David (Patrick Gilmore); Trevor (Jared Paul Abrahamson), a high school quarterback; Carly (Nesta Marlee Cooper), a single mom in an abusive relationship; and Philip (Reilly Dolman), a heroin-addicted college student. Armed only with their knowledge of history and an archive of social media profiles, the travelers discover that 21st century lives and relationships are as much a challenge as their high-stakes missions.

Westworld is one show which in which things would be much clearer if viewed a second time. While watching the season finale I was thinking it would be even clearer if recut in chronological order, as some have done with a work by creator Jonathan Nolan’s brother–Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Of course it would be much harder to rewatch the entire season of Westworld as opposed to a movie such as Memento. These issues have been solved at The Outline where there is a recut version of Westworld season one in chronological order in which what they call the “normal” parts are sped up. This reduces the video to only ninety minutes.

As of time of writing this on Saturday, Carrie Fisher remain in intensive care after suffering a heart attack on Friday while flying from London to Los Angeles. She survived thanks to passengers on the plan initiating CPR. Hopefully she has a full recovery. We do need Princess Leia back to lead the rebellion against the evil empire when Donald Trump takes over in January.

For the last few months Father of the Bride has been the movie which means the most to me personally, still recalling watching it on ancient video tape when my daughter was a long way away from this point in her life. Therefore it caught my attention when I was scanning entertainment news for this post and saw that E! News had an article on the movie entitled How Realistic Is Father of the Bride? Fact-Checking the Classic 25 Years Later.  572 guests!!! I’m going to have nightmares tonight contemplating that.

After the show received quite a bit of controversy, A&E has cancelled Escaping The KKK.

Update: Carrie Fisher Dies At 60, May The Force Be With Her Always