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What an outrageously abundant year it's been for great TV — and we're only halfway through. 2016 has been a small-screen gold rush so far, from low-key comedies to mega-glitz miniseries, the Battle of the Bastards to the City of the Broads, hilarious fake news to horrifying true history — with dragons and spies and crooks and drunks. When two of the year's best shows are totally different takes on the same 1994 murder trial, you know all bets are off.
So here's a salute to the 10 best TV shows of 2016 so far:
Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) bans hate speech at her children’s school by taking to the barricades. She punches through a banner and chants into a megaphone, protesting in a shirt that reads “She-ro,” and although her passion proves too intense—she tosses a brick through a parked car’s window—her gesture of triumph is perfect. Tilting her head back in exultation, Ross emerges as the unsung star of Kenya Barris’ “Black-ish,” and the emblem of a sitcom character reborn: I am mother. Hear me roar.
Along with ABC counterpart Constance Wu, of Nahnatchka Khan’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” Ross, as the successful surgeon and mother of four, adapts the most familiar figure in American television—see: Carol Brady, Clair Huxtable, Roseanne—to the medium’s modern age, in which single ladies—see: Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope, Hannah Horvath—lately seem to attract the most attention. In part, »
- Matt Brennan
When mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio was running for the highest office in New York City, he promised to build on Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy of supporting the continued growth of film and television production in the city by helping the film industry spread into the outer boroughs. With cleanup of the Gowanus Canal threatening to close Brooklyn-based Eastern Effects’ main facility – including their main sound stage and productions office that have served as the home of FX’s “The Americans” – many in the New York film industry showed up at City Hall on Wednesday to call on the mayor to deliver on those promises.
“Last Thursday the Epa made it official, our studio, which we’ve spent invested years of our lives and millions of loaned dollars, will be demolished for a temporary staging site for Gowanus Canal cleanup. We are here today to call on the city to step in and save us, »
- Chris O'Falt
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There’s a lingering perception in pop culture that drug use is glamorous and au courant, something that builds character and renders a person sexy and intriguing, like an advanced degree in comp lit or the ability to acquire foreign languages easily. See Don Draper with a martini in one hand and a beautiful mistress in the other. Or Jessa on “Girls,” whose bohemian clothes and Rapunzel hair perpetuate the illusion that cocaine-cum-heroin junkies forever maintain the appearance of a Free People catalogue model. In real life, heroin junkies develop abscesses and hacking coughs, sores on their lips and acne. They look like ghosts. Even on “Nurse Jackie,” one of the decade’s most convincing portraits of drug addiction, there were just so many episodes where you had to suspend your disbelief — Jackie should have been dead by season two. Of course, then we would have missed out on five more seasons and Edie Falco’s most dynamic career performance, for which she won the 2010 Emmy for lead actress in a drama.
Because of addiction’s prevalence in our society — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 there were 10,574 heroin overdose deaths in the U.S. — TV is teeming with characters struggling with drugs and alcohol, from “Shameless” to “Mr. Robot” to IFC’s “Maron” and the sobriety sitcom “Mom.” And some shows do it well; if ever a series unflinchingly — if, occasionally, satirically — captured the gory violence of the crystal meth trade it’s “Breaking Bad,” for which Bryan Cranston pretty much monopolized the actor in a drama series category, winning the Emmy an astounding four times.
The Television Academy, in fact, has a history of rewarding small-screen lushes. For his iconic turn as the perpetually soused Hawkeye on “Mash,” Alan Alda won two actor Emmys. Candice Bergen won the Emmy for actress in a comedy series five times for playing a recovering alcoholic on “Murphy Brown,” and Ted Danson scored two Emmys for playing sobered-up baseball player-turned-bar proprietor Sam Malone on “Cheers.” Even Jim Parsons, who plays socially challenged theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper on the “The Big Bang Theory,” nabbed his first Emmy win for an episode in which he gets sloppy drunk. Hollywood, it seems, loves a character who can’t handle his booze.
But rare is the series that deals with addiction in a way that accurately depicts the frustrating, oft fatal, and sometimes even boring reality of what it is — a disease. There’s a general tendency among critics to assess shows on the strength of their entertainment value, and not how truthfully they convey what it’s actually like to be an addict — or live with one. “Ray Donovan” tackles heady addiction-adjacent subject matter like molestation and Irish-Catholic broods, and “Orange Is the New Black” features a cast of addict convicts, but there isn’t a small-screen counterpart examining, say, the lives of depressed, college-educated worker bees quietly dependent on benzodiazepines. And there are millions of those people.
Granted, most facets of addiction probably wouldn’t make for good television. Comedies like “Broad City” and “Freaks and Geeks” aside, in the real world there is nothing less interesting than watching potheads get stoned.
A life of abstinence, however, can be hilarious, which is why comedies like “Mom” and “Catastrophe,” with all of their off-color, self-effacing wit, so successfully chronicle the journey of the addict in recovery. On “Mom,” Emmy-winner Allison Janney and Anna Faris play a sober mother-daughter team coping with booze cravings, romantic dysfunction, and the daily challenges of being sober physically — but not necessarily emotionally. On Amazon’s “Catastrophe,” Rob Delaney nails the part of an affectionate and loving but also conventionally narcissistic man-child who quit drinking after he “shit at [his] sister’s wedding.”
What’s especially refreshing about both of these shows is that they debunk the myth that once you get clean you’re suddenly “fixed.” Instead, they’re predicated on the fact that addiction is a disease that people live with for their entire lives, whether or not they’re actively getting wasted. What’s so commendable about “Mom” especially is that it examines what most people do not understand — that sobriety can be the most difficult aspect of alcoholism.
On the flip side, Freeform’s now-canceled “Recovery Road” was a show that missed the mark entirely, serving up a candy-coated rendering of rehab that belies most everything we know to be true. The series’ collective flaws are best summed up in one line, said by a high school guidance counselor to Maddie (Jessica Sula), a strung-out party girl she’s threatening with expulsion unless she moves into a sober living facility: “You can go to school by day and spend your evenings getting sober.” As if sobriety is a part-time job. Maddie tries to keep her situation a secret, and the surrounding adults seem Ok with that — even though honesty is one of the primary tenets of recovery. You can tell what the network was trying to do — create a show about addiction that parents could watch with their kids. But that’s a pointless task if it doesn’t ring true.
“Shameless,” for all of its outlandishness — patriarchal drunk Frank Gallagher (Emmy-nominated William H. Macy) has survived liver failure, a kitchen fire, and being tossed over a bridge into a river — is the series that perhaps most accurately captures the pervasiveness with which alcoholism wreaks havoc on a family. Everybody suffers. Everybody is powerless. Denial rips through the family line. Whether they are using or not, all of the Gallagher kids are living with the –ism.
When it comes down to it, no fictional TV series can definitively capture the brutal truth of how drugs and alcohol destroy people’s lives. Rather, it’s documentaries like Steven Okazaki’s brilliant and harrowing “Heroin: Cape Cod” — which focuses on eight young addicts — that paint the starkest, most blistering, and most realistic portrait of addiction. Because addiction isn’t pretty, and it’s often not something that you want to tune in to watch.
- Malina Saval
We’re less than a week away from official 2016 Emmy nominating season, and that fact fills us with one part unbridled excitement, and one part nameless dread.
RelatedEmmys 2016: Outstanding Comedy Series — Our 7 Dream Nominees!
With 2015 Lead Actress in a Comedy Series nominees Lisa Kudrow, Amy Poehler and Edie Falco ineligible this time around, there’s a good chance we’ll see some real change in the category. But will the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences give us change we can believe in?
It’s a brutally deep field this year — TVLine’s own hotly contentious email thread on »
Voters love Crazy Eyes; Uzo Aduba has landed two consecutive Emmys (in 2014 she was submitted in the guest actor category) including last year’s supporting actress win. She could well repeat this year, but faces some serious competition from previous nominees.
Expect to see “Game of Thrones” ladies Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey return; both are coming off a strong season. A previous nominee for “ER,” Maura Tierney is fresh off a Golden Globe win for “The Affair” and could break in to the Emmy race this year.
With “Downton Abbey” having wrapped, it’s likely previous winner Maggie Smith and previous nominee Joanne Froggatt will break into the category. Also bidding farewell was “The Good Wife,” for which Christine Baranski has amassed six nominations.
- Jenelle Riley
“Leavey,” a feature film starring Kate Mara and Edie Falco, is now casting background actors—preferably with army or Marine experience. The project centers on Marine corporal named Megan, a K-9 operator caught in an explosion in Iraq. “It is their story of grit and determination and the love between handler and a Military Working Dog,” reads the casting notice. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and written by Pamela Gray along with Annie Mumolo, Tim Lovestedt, and Jordan Roberts, this story is based on the true events. For more information, check out the full casting notice here, and don’t forget to scan the rest of our Atlanta audition listings! »
Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” goes the old adage. But that doesn’t take into account the added burden of being a comedic actress these days, let alone a newcomer trying to find some Emmy love that is usually reserved for perennial favorites including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Lisa Kudrow and Edie Falco.
But there is some good news. With three of last year’s nominees — Poehler, Kudrow and Falco — not eligible this year, the comedy actress field is a lot more wide open. And while usual suspects Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”), Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer”), Melissa McCarthy (“Mike & Molly”) and Lena Dunham (“Girls”) have shots at nominations, 2016 could be the year when acclaimed fresh faces, including Aya Cash (“You’re the Worst”), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Constance Wu (“Fresh Off the Boat”), get some well-deserved attention. »
- Iain Blair
It’s that time of year — Emmy season is almost upon us. Before the race for TV’s top trophy takes off in earnest, Variety takes a look at nine key categories and breaks down which of last year’s nominees are in and out of the running and which newcomers have already made an impact on the kudos landscape.
What’s out: AMC’s “Mad Men” retired after seven seasons and eight series noms.
What’s back: AMC’s “Better Call Saul”; PBS’ “Downton Abbey”; Showtime’s “Homeland”; Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black”; and HBO’s reigning champ, “Game of Thrones,” are all eligible again.
Looking to return: CBS’ “The Good Wife,” last nominated in 2011, has one final chance to make its case.
What’s new: Among freshmen contenders, USA’s “Mr. Robot” has a leg up thanks to a Golden Globe victory, »
- Geoff Berkshire
The Sopranos controversial TV series finale, "Made in America," first aired on June 10, 2007. Gandolfini passed away on June 19, 2013, in Italy. Speaking at Vulture Fest, Chase said, "I’ll tell you this about it. I’m filled with sadness when I see that ending. I get all choked up — just thinking about it, I get all choked up."
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The Safdie brothers were not overnight successes, but the speed at which they’ve moved forward since Heaven Knows What — one of last year’s biggest accomplishments — is nevertheless remarkable. After completing production on the Robert Pattinson-led Good Time, they’ve secured the support of Martin Scorsese‘s Sikelia Pictures, who will partner with Rt Features and Elara Pictures to bring us the duo’s follow-up feature, Uncut Gems. Aside from Ronald Bronstein‘s involvement as co-writer, no real details have yet been made available. [Deadline]
If that tempers excitement in any way, consider Scorsese’s support: “I’m delighted to be working with Rt to support a new generation of filmmakers. The Safdie Brothers bring an exciting new perspective and tremendous vitality to their storytelling.”
- Nick Newman
Variety details beginning to emerge on Lars von Trier's serial killer drama The House that Jack Built. (Sounds typically overly complicated as befits von Trier's masochistic working methods)
/Film visits Ilm to see "groundbreaking" effects work on the forthcoming Warcraft
- NATHANIEL R
One of the most delightful indies of 2014 was "Obvious Child," and that was in large part due to the sharp screenplay and sensitive direction of Gillian Robespierre and the revelatory performance from comedian Jenny Slate. The two women proved to be a dynamite team for mining comedy from real human issues that teeter on the dramatic side, and it looks like their set to do it again for the 90's-set sibling comedy "Landline." According to The Hollywood Reporter, Slate is officially set to join director Robespierre and screenwriter Elisabeth Holm for the comedy, which will co-star John Turturro, Edie Falco, Jay Duplass and newcomer Abby Quinn. Read More: Review: Jenny Slate is a Vulgar Delight in 'Obvious Child,' But Quit Calling It an 'Abortion Comedy' Set in Manhattan in 1995, "Landline" centers around a dysfunctional family coming undone and trying to keep together after a shocking revelation. The »
- Zack Sharf
I stare at the mammoth pile of unread comics on my iPad and I get frustrated. I stare at my TiVo and I wonder if I’ll ever get to watch much of that stuff. I think of my Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts and I consider plucking my eyes out.
How the hell did this entertainment gaper’s block happen? It’s not as if I prioritize work, family and meals over passive goofing-off. I am and always have been committed to the latter, and I’ve got my priorities straight.
Amusingly, that media pile-up just might have gotten worse.
It turns out that one of my favorite new shows of the past year, Louis C.K.’s dramatic series Horace and Pete, has not been cancelled after all. Time Inc. said it was and everyone believed them, particularly after Louis told Howard Stern he was losing money on the series that he produces, »
- Mike Gold
M. Blair Breard, C.K.’s producing partner, spoke about the origins of “Horace and Pete” on Thursday during her appearance at Variety‘s Entertainment and Technology Summit in Manhattan. The 10-episode drama series debuted with no advance promotion on Jan. 30, distributed via C.K.’s website. The first episode was offered via streaming or download for $5, with the price dropping to $2 for subsequent episodes that were released each week on Saturdays.
“The most amazing thing really was we were able to keep it quiet,” Breard said. “Nobody knew about it.”
The surprise factor was notable given the level of talent involved with “Horace and Pete,” a story revolving around two brothers and a sister who inherit a bar in New York. In addition to C. »
- Cynthia Littleton
Spike TV on Monday released a sneak peek of Thursday’s episode (10/9c) in which Joel McHale fully embraces his inner Björk for a show-stopping performance of “It’s Oh So Quiet,” complete with Vegas-style backup dancers.
In fact, the only thing more mesmerizing than McHale’s performance is »
Louis Ck just announced that season one of his web series Horace and Pete was over. On a recent episode of Marc Maron's Wtf podcast, the comedian said he's open to doing another season of the dramedy, The Wrap reports.
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It’s last call for Horace and Pete.
Louis C.K. formally announced to his email distro list on Saturday that his self-financed, 10-episode web series won’t be ordering a double.
“So. That was it,” the multi-hyphenate entertainer wrote. “I didn’t want to say [before] that it was the last episode. Because I didn’t want you to know, as you watched the episode, that it would be the last one. But yeah, obviously, that was it.”
RelatedCable/Streaming Renewal Scorecard 2016: What’s Coming Back? What’s Cancelled? What’s On the Bubble?
Horace and Pete starred C.K. »
It’s only fitting that “Horace and Pete” has ended just as quietly as it began.
Louis C.K., the creator, writer, director, producer and star of the surprise web series, annouced on Saturday morning in a newsletter to fans that the show’s tenth episode, released on April 2, was also its final.
“That was it. I didn’t want to say in the last email that it was the last episode because I didn’t want you to know, as you watched the episode, that it would be the last one. But yeah, obviously, that was it,” he wrote.
The online series, which co-starred Steve Buscemi as Pete to C.K.’s Horace — brothers and bar owners — launched on Jan. 30 exclusively on C.K.’s website, LouisCK.net. Alan Alda, Edie Falco and Jessica Lange also appeared in the drama. The first episode was available for $5, the second for $2 and the rest for $3 each. »
- Maane Khatchatourian
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