TV in 2016: January to April (Part 2: Returning Series)

 

Banshee Season 4

As with my list of new series premiering over the same period, this is a highly subjective and not at all comprehensive rundown of what’s coming up for TV and “TV” (eg Netflix) over the next few months. That means no Fear The Walking Dead, no House of Cards, no Togetherness, no Agents of SHIELD, etc., because for one reason or another, they’re just not my bag.

Oh, and midseason premieres don’t count.

Already Back

MSW S2

Younger (TV Land)

One of 2015’s undersung pleasures, the Sutton Foster vehicle overcame a theoretically heinous premise (40-year-old divorcee pretends to be 26 to work as an intern at a publishing house, complete with work bestie Hilary Duff) with ample servings of wit, charm, and some surprising literary humor (a recurring character seems to be a walking reference to Karl Ove Knausgård). The second season has stumbled out of the gate a little bit by having to extend the lifespan of the contrived core premise, but there’s no reason to think it won’t bounce back, especially since it still has Foster, one of the most reliably charming comic presences on TV to come around in a long time.

Galavant (ABC)

I wasn’t a tremendous fan of the deeply silly medieval comedy-musical back when it premiered last year, but there’s something wonderful about a series this profoundly uncool and unserious getting a second season. The showrunners must know it, too, because the entire season premiere is one long “we actually got renewed, you guys!” gag. (The episode itself is subtitled “Suck It, Cancellation Bear!” Seriously.) More importantly, the series feels more confident this time around, and so densely loaded with silly gags that even if three quarters fall flat, that’s still better than most. Also, if you’re nostalgic for mid-90s Disney, note that Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) can still pen a fine earworm.  

Man Seeking Woman / It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FXX)

By the end of its first season, Man Seeking Woman had successfully morphed from a promising-but-troubled comedy to something more reliable, a truly distinctive series that uses extreme surreality to make surprisingly cogent points about modern dating and gender relations. In the first two episodes of the new season, it feels like Simon Rich and company have really taken stock of what the series is best at and are determined to exploit and expand upon that, with a discipline that can only come from a year’s worth of trial and error. Meanwhile, its timeslot neighbor It’s Always Sunny is on its 11th (!) season, and has already comfortably established itself as one of TV’s greatest-ever comedies. Are the highs as consistent as in the series’ peak era (roughly seasons two through six, depending on who you ask)? Not really, but even its least inspired episodes are still worth catching, and you never know when you’ll get an all-timer like last season’s accidental Birdman parody “Charlie Work.”

 

Monday, Feb. 15

Better Call Saul (AMC)

On paper, Better Call Saul was anything but a sure thing. Yes, some of the creatives behind Breaking Bad would be present, and yes, Bob Odenkirk had already gotten surprisingly great mileage out of the character of Saul Goodman over the course of the series’ run. Still: a prequel’s a prequel, right? And yet: Better Call Saul deserved praise as not only one of last year’s very best series, but as a master class in purposefully referencing cinematic touchstones for the small screen. Where some series use style and reference simply to showcase their oh-so-cleverness (I’m looking at you, Fargo), Saul’s consistent evocation ‘70s and ‘60s American auteur cinema, which colors everything from the framing and editing to the characterization, acts as an a reflection of its protagonist’s inability to catch up with the times and reshape his life into one he feels he deserves. As it moves into its second season, Saul faces the challenge of retaining the surprising emotional resonance of the first as Jimmy/Saul inevitably descends into the full-time shyster we know he’ll become. Of course, there’s still the small matter of that pesky flash-forward…

Wednesday, Feb. 17

Broad City (Comedy Central)

Broad City

Has any recent comedy so quickly and thoroughly defined the zeitgeist as Broad City? Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s unruly creation found even more satisfying comic heights in its second season, shaking off the slight awkwardness of its early episodes and going boldly where no comedy has ever gone before – at least, not well. (Consider for a moment how just about any other series would have yoked the pegging plotline in “Knockoffs” for cheap laughs.) Glaser and Jacobson seem to have fed productively off of the series’ rabid fanbase, and the only way they could go astray now is to lose their edge, which is why news of a Hillary Clinton cameo this season is…worrisome. If Glazer and Jacobson can pull that off without a cringe, it might be the greatest proof of their genius yet.

Sunday, Feb. 21

Girls (HBO)

Speaking of showrunners with the Clinton seal of approval, Lena Dunham and her creative stable have managed to make Girls one of the most consistently engaging comedies of the decade, and the recently announced decision to make next year’s sixth season the series’ last should help to secure its legacy, even if a certain percentage of the population will always find it insufferable (and loudly tell you as much). Girls has arguably been as influential as any series in helping to define the current wave of auteuristic TV; its influence can still be felt in recent successes like Master of None, which derives much of its success from the specificity of Aziz Ansari’s concerns and comic voice. With an end-date on the (distant) horizon, Girls might be able to counter its chief weakness – its tendency to strand key characters in driftless subplots – thanks to the urgency that only a finite episode count can provide.

Wednesday, March 16

The Americans (FX)

Going by its pitiful ratings, you’re probably not watching The Americans. It’s dark, serious, mature (in the “grownup” sense, not the Showtime sense), emotionally exhausting television that makes mincemeat out of other series’ shallow conceptions of “antiheroes” and moral ambiguity. Not only that, it’s set in a time period (the mid-’80s) most people associate with gated-reverb snare hits, kitschy fashion, and bad hairdos, which makes its serious nature difficult for some would-be viewers to imagine. That’s a damned shame, because it just so happens that it’s been one of the very best dramas around for three years running, not to mention quite possibly the greatest series about spycraft ever conceived. That’s largely due to the extraordinary – and underrated – double act at its center. It’s an absolute crime that Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell will likely remain forever Emmy-less for their work as the most believably complicated married couple in TV history, but if my insistence that you should absolutely catch up on the existing 39 episodes ahead of its return convinces even one skeptic to give it a shot, that’ll be comfort enough for now. Oh, and the great Frank Langella is still onboard, if that helps.

Friday, March 18

Daredevil (Netflix)

There are so many TV and film properties making up the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point that even the most superhero-averse can find something of value in one or another of ‘em. For some, Netflix’s Daredevil distinguished itself from the pack with its hard-R violence and unusually flawed characters. Its first season had the benefit of being crafted by Steven S. DeKnight, whose Spartacus remains the high-watermark for wedding hyperstylized violence with emotionally potent storytelling. DeKnight is out this time around, replaced by Buffy/Angel vet Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez. On the plus side, the series is gaining a major asset in Joe Bernthal, who will recur as The Punisher. Bernthal’s been a secret weapon for years, stealing scenes in everything from Show Me A Hero to The Wolf of Wall Street, so even if the rest of the series goes off the rails, it should be an absolute treat to watch him devour the scenery.

Friday, April 1st

Banshee (Cinemax)

A balls-to-the-wall action series with few concessions to prestige “respectability” and a miniscule but very passionate fanbase, Banshee is the definition of “cult TV” in the ‘10s. Like its hardscrabble heroes, its survival has never been assured, so it’s almost certainly for the best that it’s bowing out this year with a final season its creatives had time to conceive in advance. Truthfully, I’ve never been a great fan – I wish any other aspect of the show were one tenth as compelling as the remarkably choreographed and filmed action sequences and fight scenes – but I’m certainly curious to see what ridiculous lengths the series is willing to go in an attempt to outdo its own history of outsized, operatic violence.

Friday, April 8

Catastrophe (Amazon)

The comedy equivalent of The Americans – no, really. I mean this both in the sense that it features a killer dual lead performance from co-creators Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, whose comic chemistry (eclipsing even Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner on Difficult People, great as they are) could power a couple more series without too much added effort, and in the sense that almost no one watches it. If you have an Amazon Prime account, check out the short first season. While Master of None might have charmed the nation with its methodical take on modern love and coupling, Horgan and Delaney’s approach is a little harder-edged, with its characters’ hard-won cynicism staying intact even as they fall for each other. That darker vantage point may make it a tougher sell, but at least give the pilot a shot if you can – it was one of last year’s very best.

Sunday, April 24

Silicon Valley / Veep / Game of Thrones (HBO)

HBO’s Sunday block is back, complete with a fresh new set of challenges and opportunities. Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley lost one of its greatest assets when Christopher Evan Welch passed away, but it was able to bounce back pretty strongly nonetheless – although its apparent efforts to diversify its sausage-party / geek-bro vibe with some actual human-female characters turned out to be a little on the shallow side. Veep was moving from strength to strength for a long time, and the acquisition of Hugh Laurie (in his first outright comedic role in an age) seemed to be a no-brainer; yet Season 4 was arguably saw a small quality dip, and Season 5 will be the first without venerable showrunner Armando Iannucci (The Thick Of It). Finally, Game of Thrones faces its thorniest season yet, having more or less exhausted George R. R. Martin’s published source material, not to mention having to deal with the [spoiler] of [spoiler] in a satisfying fashion. Whatever the shortcomings of last season – Jaime’s Dornish holiday, anyone? – face it: you know you’re tuning in to see if the most lavish production in TV history can still have the confidence to take off when the safety net gets pulled away.

Part One (New Series)

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Simon is a roving writer and editor who has been crawling slowly Westward across Canada for the last decade. (He currently resides in Toronto.) He obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University in the spring of 2012 and a Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing from Algonquin College in 2015. He is a former co-host of the Sound on Sight and Televerse podcasts. His favorite films include F for Fake, Brazil, Stroszek, The Fog of War, Grave of the Fireflies and In a Lonely Place.

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