No major feature film is to be released over the weekend of Dec. 30 – Jan. 1, probably because the studios once again figure that anyone who decides to catch a matinee during 2017’s first Walk of Shame will just go see Rogue One. (Flash mob! Let’s all meet at the Sunday 9 a.m. IMAX 3D screening in smeared makeup, tousled hair, and crumpled dresses. I’ll be the tall one.) But if you’re in more a binging mood, Stranger Things and Westworld weren’t the only great new shows of 2016.
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Creator, producer, and co-star Donald Glover has described Atlanta as “Twin Peaks with rappers,” and it’s a consistently droll and inventive series that marches to its own beat. While Glover is his usual reliable self as the perma-stoned Earn, nobody on television exudes weariness like Bryan Tyree Henry as the not-quite-up-and-coming hip-hop star Paper Boi.
Adapted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge from her stage play, Fleabag has her starring as a London café owner who’s destructive to herself and to the fourth wall alike. She’s not quite dealing with the aftermath of a recent tragedy, nor with the dawning realization that she may in fact be a “greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” Notably, Waller-Bridge’s character is never addressed by any name on screen, but the show’s title speaks volumes.
Horace and Pete
Everything about this series set in a failing Brooklyn bar was unexpected: It was announced via email to Louis C.K.’s followers. Episodes were initially only available through his website. It was shot every week, like a 1970s four-camera sitcom, and dropped on Saturday morning. And it was written, directed, and funded by C.K., who shows more genuine empathy for the White working class than the Sexual Predator-elect could fake on his best day. And it is daaaaark — even by C.K.’s standards.
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Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl fame makes the leap to premium cable as a 29-year-old struggling with the pressures of being a Black woman at work and in her relationships. (Not to mention the balancing act of both working with kids while doing non-child-friendly things on the internet.) Though all the characters are fleshed-out and real, the heart of the series is Issa’s friendship with her none-more-secure best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), making certain events in Episode Seven one of the most heartbreaking sequences of the year.
O.J.: Made in America
Ryan Murphy’s narrative, American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson, deserved all the praise it received this year. But Ezra Edelman’s seven-and-a-half-hour documentary O.J.: Made in America is also required viewing. It covers the entirety of Simpson’s life thus far, and watching his spiral into depravity and petty crime after the infamous verdict, it’s hard not to feel like some kind of cosmic justice was belatedly served.
Just watch, and don’t read anything about this show beforehand, not even the rest of this sentence.