I did my awards post for 2016 a few weeks ago but realized I left out a few things. This week I’m going to list my favorite new shows that debuted last year:
O.K., I admit it, I’m a big fan of actor Eric McCormack, dating even before his stint on Will & Grace. Consequently, whenever he has a new TV series, I watch it. My feelings about his post-W&G era shows are, well, mixed. The recent show Perception was a solid entry in the “House” type detective show. Most of the other efforts I did not care for at all.
Now we have Travelers, which is a Canadian series that Netflix dropped late last year. It is a sci-fi show about teams of time travelers who journey back from a dystopian/post-apocalyptic future in order to change it.
It doesn’t sound like the freshest concept in the world, but I unabashedly love this show. Created by Brad Wright, who wrote and produced several shows from the Stargate franchise, it has a terrific pilot episode that doesn’t let complex worldbuilding detract from getting right into the thick of the story. The “travelers” take over the bodies of people in the present at the moment they die. They then must follow a set of “protocols” while on missions that are supposed to reset the future. They obey a shadowy figure known as “The Director.”
One of the great things about this show is not everything goes according to plan. One character takes over the body of a mentally-challenged young woman, based on misleading information they found on her in the future that obscured her disability. Another takes over the body of a young man who was supposed to have died during his first experiment taking heroine. Instead, it turns out he was already an addict, and the traveler has to overcome the addiction.
Even when the information they have about the people they become is correct, it is a challenge for them. They become embroiled in their new lives on a personal level, which is against protocol. While on missions they face many moral dilemmas over changing the present to change the future.
The show does a shout out to Ira Levin’s book This Perfect Day, one of my favorite dystopian novels. Which, if they’re taking a page from the show Lost, may just be a hint to what’s really going on in the future.
McCormack (who is also a producer) is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, particularly Reilly Dolman, who plays the addict, and Leah Cairns, who plays his character’s “wife.”
While watching the sixth episode, my niece walked in half-way and watched it with us. We asked her when it was over if she wanted us to change to something different.
“No way! I’m hooked now!” She even watched the final episodes after we went to bed because she couldn’t wait.
I’m hooked, too, and hoping the sudden revival of Will & Grace doesn’t mean there won’t be a Season 2 for Travelers.
I’m glad I was able to turn my niece on to Travelers, because it was a way to return the favor for turning me on to Atlanta.
Starring Donald Glover, Bryan Tyree Henry and Keith Stanfield, Atlanta is about Earn (Glover), who seems to be floating through life with a low-paying job and hand-to-mouth existence. Until, that is, he finds out his cousin (Henry) is an up-and-coming rapper. Determined to manage his career, Earn and his friend Darius (Stanfield) try to make it happen. Meanwhile, he has relationship issues with Van (Zazie Beetz), the mother of his child, who still dates other men.
It’s really difficult to describe this show, its style is so unique. While it’s nothing at all like Ugly Betty, it is the first TV series since Ugly Betty that I believe genuinely qualifies as a “dramedy.” It has that balance of drama and comedy down just perfectly. There’s a slice-of-life aspect that can be very difficult to pull off, but they do it here masterfully. The show is witty, the writing is sharp, the acting is superb. (Stanfield’s Darius became one of my all-time favorite TV characters after only one episode.)
It’s also great to see a show that takes place somewhere other than New York or L.A. that makes the setting almost like another character.
It’s because of Atlanta I was dancing with glee when I found out Glover was cast as young Lando Calrissian in the young Han Solo movie. Only sad part is that will delay Season 2 for a year.
Yeah, yeah, I really like dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories, and this isn’t even the last one on the list. Wanna make something of it?
Colony stars Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies as a married couple living in L.A. after a supposed alien invasion. (I say “supposed” because there have been a few subtle hints that something else might be going on, but nothing is certain at this point.) The city has been sectioned off by the “Hosts.” Humans who collaborate with the Hosts run a fascistic-style government. There are food and medicine shortages. People need to use their wits to survive. There is constant surveillance by drones. If they are caught rebelling, they are taken away and never seen again.
Will Bowman (Holloway) is an ex-cop who is recruited to work for the new order. The only reason he agrees is because one of his sons was caught in a different section during the “arrival” and they have no way of finding or communicating with him. Promised the boy will be returned to his family, Will reluctantly agrees. Unknown to him, his wife Katie (Callies) is part of an underground movement determined to overthrow the new order.
What I like about this show the most is how it continually puts its characters in impossible situations where nearly every alternative is unthinkable. Even the children are caught in these kinds of situations, which is disturbing but also feels realistic.
Its ratings weren’t that great for Season 1, but I’m glad USA Network has given it another chance to find an audience. One episode into Season 2 (which is mostly an origin flashback ep) and I’m still hooked.
The Crown is kind of unique in that it’s a running series about great personages who are still alive. Which can make it a bit unnerving at times, because you have to wonder if they are watching how their lives are being portrayed on screen. This isn’t a one-off movie like The Queen, after all. (Which, by the way, was written and produced by Peter Morgan, who created The Crown.) I’ve seen some people object to how the story of Queen Elizabeth II has been somewhat fictionalized, but that’s fairly common with historical novels and series.
It begins with the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (Clare Foy) to Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith). Her father, King George (Jared Harris) had the crown thrust upon him when his brother (Alex Jennings) abdicated to “marry the woman he loved.” While still a young matron with two small children, Elizabeth finds herself Queen when her beloved father succumbs to lung cancer. She must work with Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), now in the twilight of his career, and find her place as ruler of a declining empire in a rapidly modernizing world.
I have to say upfront that I’m not too fond of some of the “rah-rah colonialism” vibe of the show, but other than that, this is an utterly compelling drama. Season 1 examines how a young, uneducated woman (her schooling was appallingly inadequate, according to the series) had to work with and sometimes go up against some of the most compelling and powerful men of the 20th century. Of course, she is mostly a symbolic figure, but that doesn’t make her any less of an important one, particularly when one thinks of how important her parents were to keeping up morale during World War II.
The casting is impeccable. While I’m sure Lithgow will get most of the nominations and accolades, it’s Harris’ poignant turn as King George/”Bertie” that is truly memorable this first season. I hope he gets some Emmy love this year.
This show is a Brazilian production and, yes, another dystopian drama. Netflix dropped it last November. I’m only three episodes in as of this writing, but can tell already this is going to be a fantastic ride.
Set in a near future, most people are packed into slums on the Inland and face a great deal of deprivation. There is a place called the Offshore where life is supposed to be close to idyllic. When each person turns 20, they have a chance to vie for a life on the Offshore by going through the Process. The Process is a series of tests that only 3% of the participants pass. The show follows a group of the contestants and, a la Lost, devotes flashback sequences to each major character. It also follows the head of the process, who is under investigation by the Offshore.
Sure, it will remind you a little bit of The Hunger Games (though participants are not killed if they lose—at least not that I know of yet), a little bit of probably every dystopian you’ve ever read or viewed, but it’s really well done and offers a diverse cast of characters played by some very talented young actors.
Since the show is in Portuguese, you’ll either have to put up with subtitles or a dubbed version (Netflix offers both options). I usually choose the subtitle option, but this time went with dubbed and don’t regret it. They did a really good job with the dubbing.
The show is already renewed for a second season. I’m looking forward to finishing Season 1.