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The best TV series of 2016

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2016-12-15


Better Call Saul

Iím not sure Iíve ever been connected to a show as I am to Better Call Saul. Iím so interested in each new episode that Iíll actually get up a bit early for work so I can watch 10 or 15 minutes of the latest episode via DVR, even though I know itíll be the first thing I watch the minute I get home in the evening.

If the first season of Better Call Saul was all about Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a low-level attorney starting to flirt with a life of crime, then the second was about McGill if not embracing whole heartedly becoming a ďbad guy,Ē not entirely turning his back on doing bad things if that means him getting an advantage on the competition either.

The stories of Better Call Saul are deceptively simple. There arenít any life or death stakes and much of the series rides on McGill navigating the slopes of questionable business practices with him slowly becoming the bad guy. But the things he does arenít too bad and usually affect only a few people. Where Better Call Saul excels again and again and again is with the characters. Theyíre so nuanced and complex and unique that the underlying story almost doesnít matter here ó itís what the characters are doing and how they interact with each other that makes Better Call Saul one of the best shows of the decade.

Stranger Things

What can I say about Stranger Things that hasnít been discussed ad nauseam since the series debuted last summer? This early 1980s period show about a little girl with strange powers who escapes from an institution and is taken in by three boys was the highlight of my, and I suspect many other peopleís, summer. Stranger Things was this weird, wonderful unexpected bolt of goodness that quite honestly I didnít think was going to work when I first heard about it. The marketing from the show screamed ďTHIS IS GOING TO BE LIKE STEVEN SPIELBERG!!!Ē and Iíd been burned by that with the movie Super 8 that also featured a group of boys and a girl that period who come across some weirdness going on around their small-town. Heck, Super 8, much like Stranger Things, is shot in such a way to be a love-letter to Spielberg.

Except that where Super 8 was a disappointment is that while the film looked and had some of the themes of Spielberg it was totally missing the emotions of Spielberg. Which is what Stranger Things got totally right, it doesnít look quite as much like a Spielberg movie as the marketing materials would have you believe but itís overflowing with the heart of something Spielberg would have been involved with.

Westworld

As I began writing this article in October Westworld was much lower on this list. But as time went on and I saw more and more episodes the series it kept rising higher and higher here. And thatís saying a lot for a show that seemed to be damaged goods before it even aired with it arriving more than a year late after having suffered through ďscript problems.Ē Yet almost from the beginning Westworld was a brilliant show that asked a lot of very interesting questions about the nature of reality and what it means to be human.

The Expanse

This series takes place in a future thatís near enough to right now that we can still recognize the architecture and people, but far enough away that some of this architecture is on asteroids zooming around the solar system and we canít quite understand some of the characters who have new and different accents. And these characters live normal, ordinary and dull lives except the places they live in space are incredibly dangerous where one mistake can result in an agonizing death. Into all this are the survivors of a ship destroyed in an attack who hold the key to exposing a mystery that might just be the beginning of the end of mankind.

Honestly, I wasnít expecting much from The Expanse because itís on SyFy, a network known mostly for cruddy original movies mostly starring sharks and crummy original series post BSG. But The Expanse is quite different. Much like BSG itís based on a previous work, here a series of books by James Corey, and much like BSG, the storytelling in The Expanse is excellent.

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