The Golden Age of Television remains alive and well, but all good things must come to an end. Browsing the options on offer through your cable hookup or streaming subscription online, the bounty is plentiful. From great comedies to 90s nostalgia, drama series, thrillers, mysteries, documentaries – never before has the audience had so much choice at the click of a button.
However, this does introduce a number of problems. While iconic series like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones will cut through pop culture and transcend their genres to become must-watch around the world, other great series fall through the cracks and get lost amongst a rich tapestry of competing shows. Throw in our love to binge reality television and scanning YouTube for the best talk show segments and the time that we would normally set aside to absorb an engrossing narrative narrows down to become more finite.
Deciphering the good from the bad is far from an exact science, especially when they can be one and the same thing. A great example of that is 2016’s Queen of the South, a femme fatale/Mexican rags to riches version on Breaking Bad that is shot magnificently with tremendous leading performances and follows a well-written screenplay. Yet it falls down with pacing as well as using a narrator that exposes too much exposition where the audience cannot just enjoy the action taking place. That might turn enough people off, but whether it is one to avoid or keep watching is up to you.
As for the rest of the shows, let us do the work for you. Some new kids on the block are well worth sinking the proverbial teeth into and other classics are coming to the boil nicely. It is never too late to jump on the bandwagon, just make sure you don’t hitch your ride to a lost cause. These are the 7 shows to avoid and 8 to keep watching from this year.
15 KEEP WATCHING - UnReal
Speaking of our love for binging on garbage reality television – welcome to UnReal. The lead characters are morally corrupt, bitter, broken and damaged individuals who destroy lives both figuratively and literally, yet somehow we keep tuning in and wanting more. It is hard to remember a show where the central cast has almost no redeemable features because they are nothing more than agents of chaos. Two seasons into UnReal and a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes later, it is clear why America cannot get enough of seeing Rachel and Quinn rule the roost on Everlasting – a dating show that mimics The Bachelor. The contestants are exploited for television ratings with cold and calculated precision, manipulating them to the point of no return. People often wonder how these reality shows operate on the set and what takes place behind the camera. If the series is anywhere close to portraying reality, then it is best for us to be kept in the dark. Thrilling and unpredictable, UnReal is a must watch.
14 GIVE UP ON - Ballers
No amount of close up bikini shots and sports car drag races can distract from the truth – that Ballers is not very good. This is a painful admission to make because the cast is superb, from Dwyane Johnson to Rob Corddry, Troy Garity in a role that he looks made for, an underutilized Clifton Collins Jr., Richard Schiff and even Andy Garcia.
The “black Entourage” show follows an ex-NFL star trying to make good in the management side of the business. For a series that works under the banner of a comedy drama, the laughs are few and far between while the characters' struggles are offset by the extravagant wealth that makes them nowhere near relatable.
If the issues sound familiar then it is no wonder that Mark Wahlberg is taking virtually the same premise from his Entourage series and changing the names, faces and location from L.A. to Miami. For 30 minutes of mindless entertainment, Ballers could pass the test, but most viewers will choose to punt this one into the grandstands rather than run with it.
13 KEEP WATCHING - Homeland
The Golden Globes and Emmys aren’t always the best indication of what makes a quality television program, yet Homeland has warranted every accolade it has received over 5 stellar seasons on the small screen.
Not only has Claire Danes emerged as one of the best in her field, playing a CIA officer dealing with pain and a serious bipolar disorder amid violence and heartache in the Middle East, but the woman made famous on Romeo & Juliet is joined by other great names like Mandy Patinkin, Damian Lewis and Rupert Friend.
Dealing with delicate subject matter, the show has come under fire for its portrayal of the Muslim community in relation to terrorism but powers through with strong performances and a script that never underwhelms. With the 6th season set to hit screens in January, Homeland is essential viewing for anyone that enjoys a roller coaster ride of mystery, action, and intrigue.
12 GIVE UP ON - Mr. Robot
Someone needs to check if M. Night Shyamalan has been hanging around the set of Mr. Robot because the psychological twists and turns are becoming nauseating. Perhaps a controversial choice as a program to avoid, Mr. Robot is still receiving universal acclaim throughout the second season as Rami Malek's Elliot character struggles to come to grips with the revolution he has helped to create.
Activism and hacking are not sexy subjects to create a television show around, yet the first season of the series broke the mold in that regard by utilizing dark camera techniques that kept the audience guessing. But at some point that guessing has to lead somewhere tangible, with the second season going down a rabbit hole that is nowhere near as rewarding as the first installment. Given a third season, it could recover yet there is so much choice to watch in 2016 that Mr. Robot should be put down the pecking order.
11 KEEP WATCHING - The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth
Bloomberg is a small time player when it comes to channels covering politics. Falling behind the likes of Fox News, MSNBC, ABC and other established giants, the people at Bloomberg decided to venture out on the campaign trail and try something different this year, a little bit out-of-the-box if you will.
What they produced was The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth, a series that gave viewers an in-depth and behind-the-scenes examination of the US election through the bitter primaries towards the general with analysts Mark Halperin, John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon.
The series succeeds by not just placating political junkies or partisans, but providing a unique warts-and-all expose on the human cost of the political process, pulling down the curtain just enough to get an insight into these pampered individuals. Of all the campaigns to cover, 2016 appears to be the most unpredictable and chaotic of modern times and Bloomberg’s series will be lauded long after it concludes in November when the ballots are cast.
10 GIVE UP ON - Gotham
If Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice proved anything, it is that the caped crusader franchise can be botched with a bit of carelessness. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series got the character and the universe down to perfection, telling the Bruce Wayne story better than anyone before or since. That makes the series Gotham a show to avoid because on a smaller budget in the confines of television, the rebooting and retelling of a younger Bruce Wayne just doesn’t work at all.
There are some noteworthy performances like Ben McKenzie’s portrayal of a younger detective James Gordon as well as a creepy Robin Lord Taylor who does justice to the Penguin. Yet the remaining villains of the Riddler, Catwoman and Two-Face pale in comparison to their big screen personas. For those that have hung around for the first two seasons, the third installment of this DC franchise will hit television screens in September but it does not come with our recommendation.
9 KEEP WATCHING - Ray Donovan
Arguably the greatest drama series you have never heard of or never bothered to watch. Starting off as something of a slow burn in the first season, Liev Schreiber takes the Ray Donovan character and runs with it to propel the program into the top bracket among its peers. The 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes does not do the show justice as every season is an improvement on the last – an achievement that is almost impossible to create and worth its weight in gold.
With a cast that mixes big names and underrated talent such as Jon Voight, Hank Azaria, Pooch Hall, Paula Malcomson and Katherine Moennig, fans of the show will love the news that it has been renewed for a 5th season to be shown next year.
Schreiber plays an ex-South Boston boy turned Hollywood fixer for the elite of the entertainment industry, cleaning up their mess and having to help his highly dysfunctional family. There are twists and turns at every episode and those who have stayed loyal along the journey have not been disappointed.
8 GIVE UP ON - Scream
How much blood can be squeezed from a stone? The original 1996 slasher flick Scream from Wes Craven remains a classic film of the genre and decade, yet the subsequent three sequels were more disappointing as they were released. Why The Weinstein Company and Netflix then decided in all their wisdom it was a good idea to rehash this story for two seasons and a special to be shown during Halloween is anyone’s guess.
The plot integrates a cyber attack to bring the Lakewood environment into the 21st Century but other than that, the brutal killings follow a similar path to the movies with a lower budget cast of various white actors trying their best with a limited script. The 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes suggests that the Scream world has run its course. After all, there are only so many times you can show a man in a ghost costume running down the street with a bloodied knife chasing a 20-something white girl before it gets a bit old and stale.
You’re killing us guys – and not in a good way!
7 KEEP WATCHING - Master of None
If you already took our advice on board last year, then Master of None is already on your list of shows to keep watching. From clever ensemble casting to challenging stereotypes, utilizing and modernizing filming techniques of the great Louis CK, accurately portraying Gen Y culture and maximizing the talents of star man Aziz Ansari, Master of None manages to capture lightning in a bottle.
This will place a lot of pressure and expectation on the second season to see if it can live up to the incredibly high standards of the first but if anyone can pull it off, it is Ansari and this cast. Few other comedy programs are able to tackle complex modern social stigmas and translate it through the experience of one Indian-American comedian living in New York, yet Master of None knocks it out of the park which is saying something given his incredible stand-up success.
6 GIVE UP ON - Fear The Walking Dead
With the flag bearer program of this franchise starting to run out of ideas, how is the prequel/spin-off expected to keep up? Certain critics have pointed out that by the conclusion of the first season of FTWD, the central cast is essentially in a mirrored position to where Rick and The Walking Dead people found themselves at the beginning of their journey.
Frank Dillane stands out as Nick Clark, offering the audience a character that isn’t overly jaded or single-minded. But in reality that is where the positives start and end. We already know where the story goes from here and it used all of its currency in the first season as the outbreak began to take shape. Explanations are few and far between while the names and faces are the only things that distinguish FTWD from TWD. At this point, if you are still tuning in, we doubt there is much fearing going on and more tedium.
5 KEEP WATCHING - Billions
Corporate fraud and financial inequality are hot button topics right now, making Billions a timely series to encapsulate the public’s skepticism of mega-wealthy hedge fund managers and the struggles of bringing them to justice. With financial expert Andrew Ross Sorkin on board for the series as a creator and executive producer, the show not only builds on a superb cast but feels ingrained in the realities of insider trading and exploiting big players in the stock market.
Damian Lewis from Homeland is joined alongside Hollywood regular Paul Giamatti and a host of other acclaimed actors from various drama series like Maggie Siff, David Costabile, Malin Akerman and Jerry O’Connell. Occasionally the series will throw in a scene that throws the story off course with unexpected violence or vulgarity which probably explains the slightly underwhelming Rotten Tomatoes rating of 73%, but the back-and-forth battle between the two main protagonists is enthralling to watch.
4 GIVE UP ON - Flaked
The common consensus in Hollywood right now is that a show is better off with Will Arnett. Given his recent history, that confidence is well founded. From the Netflix animated smash hit BoJack Horseman to Arrested Development and memorable cameos in The Office and 30 Rock for good measure, Arnett’s trademark raspy voice and comedic timing is a great package for any production to utilize. That makes Flaked all the more disappointing.
The comedy follows Chip, a self-help guru who is struggling with relationships and his life in the wake of a tragedy as he wonders aimlessly around his California surroundings. The 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a fair indication of the lukewarm reception the show has made with audiences, failing to make an impact with a great lead actor and promising premise that never goes anywhere. With such a decorated CV this seems one comedy too far for Arnett.
3 KEEP WATCHING - Stranger Things
Any show that makes the 80s cool again has to have done something right. Stranger Things is regarded in some quarters as the best original production Netflix has produced in its history, modernizing the science fiction/supernatural adventure genre into the 21st Century with a fresh take on works from Stephen King and Steven Spielberg in decades gone past.
While this inspiration is the great architect for the show's success, it is also the biggest stick to beat it with. Parallels have been drawn with movies and shows like The Goonies, E.T., Stand By Me and The Thing but unless you are an expert on the genre, then Stranger Things should be appreciated for what it is.
It has reinvigorated Winona Ryder’s career, used a great soundtrack and unearthed a lot of young hidden gems in the acting world. The hype around the series is certainly warranted and if not for the overwhelming response to the show, it would be viewed as a cult classic. But it is probably too popular already to be boxed into that category.
2 GIVE UP ON - Blunt Talk
It is a bad sign for any show that peaks during the pilot and leaves the audience wondering what the hell happened by the time the second episode airs. Blunt Talk, a new comedy series starring Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Men fame, tracks the life and times of a British television talk show host working in Los Angeles alongside his confidante Harry.
Mixing old school English wit and humor inside the prism of an American sitcom was always going to be a huge gamble but with a talented cast featuring Stewart, Richard Lewis as an unhinged psychiatrist, Jacki Weaver as the show's producer, neat cameos from Jason Schwartzman and Moby with a number of other players, there should be more laughs and memorable moments.
Critics have identified the promise that began with the manic energy of the first episode until it disintegrates into crass gags that don’t exploit the dramatic and comedic talents of the main star. Of all the television shows on offer for 2016 and beyond, Blunt Talk should be avoided at all costs.
1 KEEP WATCHING - The Night Of
As the finale of the series is about to air, timing is of the essence for those to jump on and quickly binge The Night Of before it becomes spoiler fodder around the water cooler at work. Holding a Meta Critic score of 90/100 and a user score of 9.2/10 on the same site, The Night Of is a thrilling and rich 8-part miniseries crime drama that centers around the events of one fateful evening of a young Pakistani-American student who strays from his planned trip to a party.
The ensuing smoke-and-mirrors struggle of the defense and prosecution makes for fascinating viewing while the main protagonist Nasir Khan adapts to life inside a rough prison cell. With any number of suspects in the case emerging late in the piece, time is running out for Nasir to be saved by his team of lawyers, played superbly by John Turturro and Amara Karan. The show was originally planned to be a stand-alone feature, yet the reception has been so overwhelming that talk of a second season is already underway.