Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Flashback: TV

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Welp. 2016 sucked. It was a year, wasn't it? We lost Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Prince, Angus Scrimm, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Garry Marshall, Florence Henderson, John Glenn, and – way too soon – Anton Yelchin. We found out that not all is well in the state of… pretty much every country on the map. And pop culture seemed to fail to pick up the slack, dooming our depressed selves to cold, comfortless TV and movie screens.

But that’s why we’re here today, for a very special annual tradition: The Popcorn Culture year-end roundup of the best and worst of 2016. Let’s celebrate the triumphs of movies, music, and TV and take joy from giving one last kick in the pants to the dreck we were asked to swallow. It’s all we have left as we tentatively shamble into the vast unknown of 2017.

Um, hooray! Let’s pick that mood right back up, shall we?

[EN: As always, I have only pulled from material that I have personally watched or listened to, so as not to cast judgment on things I know nothing about. If your favorite movie, TV show, etc. doesn’t show up on my list, it probably sucked. But it’s equally likely that I just didn’t get around to seeing it, and you can rectify this gap in my knowledge by pointing me toward it in the comments section. Enjoy!]


Top Ten Episodes of 2016

#10 "Camp David" Veep

One of the sharpest political satires in a year where we really need them, this episode is a guns-a-blazin’ comedy of errors that proves that modern TV can still provide intricate, classical humor with aplomb.

#9 "Liv" Lovesick

Back when it was titled Scrotal Recall, this British sitcom landed the number one episode slot on my list. This year its Netflix-produced second season slipped somewhat but found its footing once more by the fourth episode “Liv,” which a is a delightful farce set in a lonely inn at midnight, showcasing the best of what the show has to offer: namely, Daniel Ings' mugging and Joshua McGuire’s impeccable physical comedy.

#8 "Halloween/Halloween II" Scream: The Series

I dig the Scream show as a trashy, slashy teen soap, but this post-season Halloween special pulled out all the stops, amping up the gore and postmodern referencing for a fun, non-sequitur island murder mystery.

#7 "Netwerking at the Nursing Home" Haters Back Off!

A Netflix show based off the Miranda Sings YouTube channel (which is just an endless series of videos of an actress in character as a terrible teen singer)? It sounded like a disaster, but lo and behold it produced a deeply misanthropic yet kind of sublime dark comedy, as evidenced by this secondhand embarrassment-fueled episode in which Miranda attempts to kickstart her career at the funeral of a Hollywood big-shot she barely knows.

#6 "Notes Toward a Post-Reagan Theory of Party Alliance, Tribalist, and Loyalty: Past as Prologue" BrainDead

This episode lands on the list on the strength of one moment: the single most hilarious sex scene ever broadcast. It makes absolutely no sense out of context, but I promise you it’s a corker.

#5 Stranger Things

Because it’s physically impossible not to binge the show all at once, I’m counting Stranger Things as a single episode.  The show wasn’t perfect, but it put 80 things I love into a blender and came out with a fresh, exciting nostalgia piece with some truly dazzling child performances.

#4 "The Power of Euphemism: How Torture Became a Matter of Debate in American Politics" BrainDead

BrainDead’s off-kilter vibe reached it peak in this take on a bottle episode, in which the entire plot hangs on whether or not our lead will be waterboarded. As the narrative arc take a midseason breath, the comedy and characters ramp up for a blowout episode combining political satire, slapstick, genuinely tense sci-fi horror, and the world’s friendliest torturer in a sharply funny gem.

#3 "Charlie Catches a Leprechaun" It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s hard to say which plotline is better: the escalating series of costumes and mishaps that lead Dee and Dennis to accidentally rob St. Patrick’s Day revelers at gunpoint? Or Charlie’s Reservoir Dogs-esque threatening of a tied-up man he’s convinced is a leprechaun. It’s the show’s second best holiday episode, a mean-spirited delight that’s both shocking and wildly hilarious.

#2 "Nosedive" Black Mirror

Imagining a lush, pastel future that would make Her jealous, “Nosedive” tells a hard-hitting fable of the ways we choose to define ourselves with social media. It’s alternately fun, lively, engrossing, and anxiety-inducing, and always deeply gorgeous.

#1 "Dave Chappelle/A Tribe Called Quest" Saturday Night Live

After half a season of amusing but not terrific Trump mockery, SNL pulled out all the stops with this post-election episode, starting with the mournful, tastefully simple cold open and Dave Chappelle’s incredible monologue, then following it with some of the best sketches of the year, both political and otherwise.

Bottom Five Episodes of 2016

#5 "A Christmas Special" Sense8

This one-off holiday episode was packed with a lot of the sublime, mind-bending imagery this supremely weird show is known for, but it's utterly empty otherwise. An aimless plot that feels like a derailed slam poem chafes against a series of increasingly boring storylines and a between-seasons recasting that never can't be noticed. And it takes an hour and 36 minutes to even get to Christmas in this punishingly long 2 hour epic that's so far up its own ass it can see daylight.

#4 "The Rising" MacGyver

James Wan produced this reboot series and directed this episode, so I guess I should have expected it to be horrifying. The dialogue is trite, the protagonist is a douche, and the whole thing is lit like a 90’s strip club. Craft your escape, and quickly.

#3 "Pilot" Man with a Plan

I suffered through one episode of this eminently disposable sitcom, and that was enough. This show beats unfunny one-liners to death with a flaming club, all in service of the fabulously retrograde plot line of “mom’s working, so dad is in charge. Hoo, boy!” Is it 1966 again? Who needs this show?

#2 "Halloween Blues" Scream Queens

This episode really highlighted the flaws of the second season for me. Following the death of the show’s best character, it’s just a mirthless, focus-free slog through prissy tantrum after prissy tantrum. Then it went and killed off the second best character. F**k you too, Scream Queens.

#1 "Chapter 8" American Horror Story: Roanoke

What started off as a decent, if low-key season quickly devolved into a nasty, unending pinwheel of torture porn. It’s not scary or fun, it’s just relentlessly unpleasant.

Best New Show: BrainDead

BrainDead was everything I could ever want in a show. Timely political satire. Sci-fi pastiche that is both hilarious and legitimately tense. Packed with loveable characters. Possibly Tony Shalhoub’s career-best role. Cancelled after one season. If that’s not a mark of true quality, I don’t know what is.

Worst New Show: Shadowhunters

I won’t kick this misbegotten teenybopper programmer while it’s down, but no. The television adaptation of the feature film flop adaptation of the B-level YA book series was not good. Who’da thunk?

Best Netflix Show: Stranger Things

C’mon, nobody wants to listen to me or anybody else prattle on about this show. I’ll just say this. It has its flaws, but it smoothes them over with lush 80’s nostalgia. It creates a universe you want to wrap around you like a blanket, even with its creepy, dark edges.

Worst Netflix Show: Love

Judd Apatow’s geeky wish-fulfillment hits an all-time low in this unbearably reductive show about a  relationship between two of the most hateful characters ever written.

Best Returning Show: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

How can a show in its eleventh season still kick out fresh, misanthropic comedy masterpieces? As always, this season has its share of dud episodes, but they’re still churning out perfectly hilarious gems about terribly unpleasant people on a near-weekly basis.

Worst Returning Show: American Horror Story

You’ve already read my complaints about Roanoke, which at least started out strong, but Hotel concluded this year as well, and that season was an unholy mess form beginning to end. Ryan Murphy, what happened to you? You used to at least occasionally produce good TV!

Best Cancelled Show: The Muppets / BrainDead

God damn it, you guys! This is why we can’t have nice things!

Worst Cancelled Show: Episodes

It took me so long to stop watching Episodes, because I think I was hoping it would turn out to be Matt Le Blanc’s The Comeback. It didn’t. It’s a boring, shrill, hateful show and I’m glad it’s over. Although I’ll miss Kathleen Rose Perkins. Hollywood, give her jobs.

Best Actor: Walton Goggins (Vice Principals)

I love me a truly weird act of character creation, and Goggins’ fey cowboy of a vice principal is thrillingly offbeat. His razor sharp timing and retina-searing bow ties are works of true genius.

Worst Actor: Cuba Gooding, Jr. (The People vs. O.J. Simpson)

I didn’t think it was possible to find new things to dislike about O. J. Simpson, but Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s hoarse, flailing performance is certainly something to add to the pile.

Best Actress: Colleen Ballinger (Haters Back Off!)

This might seem like an odd choice, but Ballinger’s embodiment of the delusionally untalented Miranda Sings is a triumph of physical comedy. Her grotesque overconfidence and sheer weirdness come through from every aspect of her performance, down to her gait and the way she sits, but nothing can beat her “listening face.” Where most actors would opt for a neutral look while another actor says a line, she adopts a half-cocked, vaguely suspicious expression that’s utterly, hilariously weird.

Worst Actress: Laverne Cox (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Cox was the one element I was most looking forward to in Fox’s abortive Rocky Horror remake, but her attempts at camp were so abysmal, I’d rather take in an old Steve Reeves movie. And I hate to say it, I love her, but that girl ain’t a singer.

Best Couple: Titus and Mikey

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is progressive for even depicting the courtship of a gay couple, but the idea to make that love interest the catcalling construction worker from the first season is a stroke of genius that never stops paying off thanks to the easy chemistry between Tituss Burgess and Mike Carlsen.

Worst Couple: Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart

The inexplicable VH1 series Snoop and Martha’s Potluck Dinner Party is surprisingly OK, but a lot of its humor is derived from their freakish, inhuman attempts at creating chemistry with one another.

Biggest Surprise: Feed the Beast

A David Schwimmer/Jim Sturgess vehicle about two friends opening a restaurant together and it’s a crime drama? How did we allow this to happen?

Biggest Disappointment: Jon Benéxploitation

I already found The People vs. O.J. Simpson to be pointless and crass, but one more reason to dislike it is that it ushered in a new wave of true crime programming that led to a tidal wave of gross new material exploiting the tragic death of pageant girl JonBenét Ramsey. Thanks, guys.

Most Overrated: Ken Bone

Thankfully, people got over this one rather quickly, but the sudden popularity of debate attendee Ken Bone is a rather unfortunate symbol for America’s tendency to get distracted from the issues. We’re living in Ken Bone’s America now, and it’s all Twitter’s fault.

Most Underrated: John Early

John Early has standout roles in both Neighbors 2 and the upcoming The Disaster Artist, but hopefully TBS’s Search Party is what puts him and his effortless comedy stylings on the map.

Best Theme Song: Stranger Things

I love the 80’s, and I’m glad everybody else has realized that they do too. This synth throwback is just terrific, no two ways about it.

Worst Theme Song: Fuller House

Carly Rae Jepsen is great, but her processed pop vocals are a terrible fit for the warm nostalgia of the instrumentation, creating a sonic jumble that hits the ears like a battering ram.

Best SNL Sketch: "Office Hours" (watch here)

I couldn’t say exactly why this sketch tickled me so, but the combination of Benedict Cumberbatch’s florid melodrama and Chad’s utter indifference gets me every time.

Worst SNL Sketch: "Talent Competition" (watch here)

I like John Cena’s comedy work, and he was certainly enthusiastic to be included on SNL, but this sketch hinges on a gross-out joke that isn’t particularly funny and closes with a whimper rather than a bang.

Best Musical Performance: "The Way I Am" The Muppets

It’s an immutable law of the universe that any song can be improved with the addition of Muppets, and Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” was pretty stellar to begin with.

Worst Musical Performance: "The Time Warp" The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Why don’t we take the most iconic number from one of the most beloved cult musicals of all time and warp it into a downbeat funk track? No? Well, we’re doing it anyway.

Best Use of a Song: "Previously On" BrainDead

One of the many delightful elements of BrainDead is the “previously on” segment which, instead of being a bland clip show, recaps the previous episode via a jaunty song that never gets stale, catching you off guard with surges of spirited creativity.

Worst Use of a Song: "Star-Spangled Banner" Baskets

OK, this is a sneaky one, considering that it’s hilarious exactly because it’s terrible. Baskets underscores the depressing plight of Zach Galifianakis’ rodeo clown by having him perform at a stadium who thinks it’s a great get to have the O. J. trial’s Kato Kaelin sing the National anthem.

Best Guest Star: Barb (Stranger Things)

In just two episodes, Stranger Things’ Barb won over the hearts of millions. Her immensely relatable character leaves a big impression thanks to a curiously captivating performance by Shannon Purser and some delightfully tacky outfits.

Worst Guest Star: Lisa Kudrow (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Don’t misread me, I adore Lisa Kudrow from the bottom of my heart. But she’s wasted in a flatly written one-episode arc about roller coasters that mostly exists to promote Universal Studios. …Whoa, déjà vu.

Best Commercial: Diversity

I’ve been seeing it everywhere. A typically “gangster” looking African-American depicted as a loving father. A commercial about a dad wanting to play catch with his kid, only it’s a daughter instead of a son. Little things subverting societal norms everywhere you look. It’s fabulous.

Worst Commercial: "ARCO Quality Top Tier Gas: Robot"

Then there’s this piece of sh*t. Advertisers are attempting to capitalize on the perceived randomness of internet humor and failing miserably. This commercial is shrill, incomprehensible, and doesn’t say a thing about the product it’s selling. You could show a car performing fellatio on a gas pump and it would still be a better commercial.

Top Five Pretty Guys

#5 Aarón Díaz (Quantico)

I wouldn’t be caught dead watching Quantico, but I’d be willing to at least risk getting maimed if Velez was in every scene.

#4 Justin Hartley (This Is Us)

I don’t watch the obscenely successful drama This Is Us, but if anything were to convince me to, it’s Mr. Hartley over here.

#3 Alfonso Herrerra (The Exorcist)

The Exorcist was a pretty dumb show, but Sense8’s Alfonso Herrera wears a tank top sometimes, so it’s worth it.

#2 Nyle DiMarco (Dancing with the Stars)

In addition to being (I assume) the only person in history to win both America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars, Nyle is also a deaf superhero and one of the hottest men on the planet. A+ work.

#1 Glen Powell (Scream Queens)

Last year I thought Powell was the funniest dude on TV, but after what must have been a very productive summer, he’s now the fittest dude on TV, too!

Bonus: Richard Thomson (Lovesick)

From his face, you wouldn’t think Lovesick side character Richard Thomson would be totally ripped, but you would be dead wrong.

Top Five Pretty Girls

#5 Robin Wright (House of Cards)

She’s still got it, folks. Whenever I question why I’m still watching House of Cards, Robin Wright steps back onscreen to remind me.

#4 Kiana Ledé (Scream: The Series)

Ledé could have been just another boring doomed love interest in Scream, but she reigned over the screen with a quiet, dignified beauty.

#3 Mary Elizabeth Winstead (BrainDead)

C’mon, who doesn’t like Mary Elizabeth Winstead? I would fight off seven evil exes to win her heart.

#2 Kate McKinnon (SNL)

Talent can be a real turn-on, but Kate doesn’t need its help to be a powerhouse of sexy.

#1 Antonia Thomas (Lovesick née Scrotal Recall)

I know I’ve put her on this list before, but since the show’s name changed, I say she’s allowed back. Plus, who could say no to those eyes?

Bonus: Princess Bubblegum (Adventure Time)

In honor of Adventure Time’s impending cancellation, I’d love to give a goodbye shoutout to everyone’s favorite TV scientist, Princess Bubblegum.
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