Published Dec 20, 2016
Judd Apatow has been behind some of TV's most empathy-inducing endeavours, whether standing up for high school nobodies with Freak and Geeks or celebrating the nerdy college kids on Undeclared (though, to be fair, it's pretty hard to feel bad for any of the over-privileged, under-prepared characters in the Apatow-produced, Lena Dunham-helmed Girls).
Love lies somewhere in the middle, following the story of radio producer and recovering party animal Mickey (played by Gillian Jacobs) and the hopelessly geeky aspiring screenwriter Gus (played by Paul Rust). By the end of the first season, neither protagonist is particularly likeable — and perhaps, they're all the more relatable for it.
The show ditches typical rom-com tropes in favour of a more realistic approach to millennials' messy, undefined approach to relationships that lets the audience see the main characters falling for each other and fucking up their shots at a happily ever after.
Even when Mickey's at her most selfish and melodramatic, and when Gus is being a dick, the pair are utterly watchable — delivering a series that is packed with as many hilarious moments as there are tender ones.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has already established herself as a well-rounded star thanks to turns in Broadchurch and her work on Crashing (a show she also wrote). Her IMDb list got all the more impressive, however, with Fleabag.
Semi-autobiographical, the show was developed when Waller-Bridge was asked to come up with a 10-minute sketch at a storytelling night. That eventually blossomed into a one-woman play, and now a show. It follows Waller-Bridge as Fleabag, a young woman trying to deal with dating, a failing business and her frustrating family while also grieving the death of her best friend.
Fleabag is messy, lively and emotionally complex, but most importantly it's profoundly funny.
8. Vice Principals
Danny McBride and writer/director Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) returned to fill the Eastbound & Down-sized hole in our hearts (and TV schedule) by reteaming for the limited series Vice Principals. (The nine-episode first season is actually the first half of a planned 18-episode total run.)
Joining McBride on this journey into the heart of comedy darkness is dramatic actor Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield), who matches his co-star's intensity in this small town battle for power over the local high school. The two vice principals in question are denied their "rightful" ascension following the retirement of the current principal (Bill Murray). Equally distrustful of McBride's Neil Gamby (who has anger management problems, at minimum) and Goggins' Lee Russell (whose sycophantic toadying seems to mask some deeper psychological issues), he hires a qualified outsider in Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Herbert Gregory). Gamby and Russell immediately put their differences aside and unite to take down this new common enemy.
As Eastbound & Down fans can no doubt attest, Vice Principals is not for everyone. McBride's obnoxious, mulleted, egomaniacal characters are designed to scrape your last nerve — not everyone sees the comedy in that. Goggins' Lee Russell takes a different but equally nasty approach: his dandied-up outer shell hides a mischievous version of terrible human behaviour. Together they pull no punches in trying to destroy the life of a successful black professional in Dr. Brown; that alone is enough for many to simply disembark the Vice Principals train.
But if the dark humour of the Hill/McBride duo hits your comedy sweet spot — as the similarly dark and obnoxious Eastbound & Down did — there are few things in the world as satisfying. McBride, who co-wrote every episode and directed one, is in complete control of his comedy persona and modulates perfectly between insane bouts of self-aggrandizement and regular doses of humiliation dolled out as a result of his own stupidity. Behind Lee Russell we find a comedic, complicated home life and even Dr. Brown herself turns out to be no saint in many respects.
The world of Vice Principals is often mean, horrible and cruel; it's also dreadfully funny — if you're into that sort of thing. What it's not is one-note: it may be populated by occasionally hateful people, but they're always complicated, bruised and real.
7. Luke Cage
As a series, Luke Cage was as imperfect as its titular protagonist. It charged out the gates with a furious charisma before arguably losing a bit of steam in its second half. But there was a reason the Netflix show represented the streaming service's highest rated original series to date — it was a fun, self-aware, and intriguing show that offered up hip-hop super-heroics without swerving into parody.
As the Marvel Comics streetwise hero, actor Mike Colter offers an adequate, albeit low-key performance, while Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, Simone Missick and Moonlight's Mahershala Ali round out a cast who both elevate and illuminate the material they're given. The action is over the top, the performances nuanced, and the musical soundtrack is on-point. Luke Cage serves as the more grounded corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it holds it down with an urban, and urbane, edge.
Ryan B. Patrick
Few people know how to navigate forgotten urban spaces quite like skateboarders, so Rick McCrank's new Viceland docuseries is a match made in heaven. The veteran pro travels through abandoned shopping malls, amusement parts, suburbs and highways throughout North America.
Sure, he does take the time to shred rusty handrails and make-shift ramps, but Abandoned is so much more than a crass, ruin-porn skate video.
Thanks to McCrank's empathetic hosting skills and the show's solid production value, Abandoned is a sobering look at the wreckage left behind from boom-and-bust capitalism. And while it's ostensibly a show about abandoned spaces, it's really a show about people — the people who wants lived in those spaces, and the people who are now reclaiming them to revitalize their communities. The resilience of the human spirit is on display in full here.