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Nick’s 30 Best Shows of 2017-2016

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  • Nick Spake
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    The #Emmys are just over a month away! In preparation, I’m counting down my 30 favorite shows of the past TV season. For the record, these are shows that aired new episodes between 6/1/2016 and 5/31/2017. Let’s kick things off!

    30. The Goldbergs: We’ve been getting a lot of throwbacks to the 1980s lately and “The Goldbergs” still stands out as the best, at least from a satirical standpoint. Season 4 brilliantly parodied “The Breakfast Club,” “The Karate Kid,” and numerous other staples of the decade. Even “Howard the Duck” got a shout out, reminding us that not everything that came out this era was great per se. Along the way, the cast continued to fire on all cylinders, most notably Wendi McLendon-Covey as the quintessential “smother.” I still don’t understand why Adam F. Goldberg’s semiautobiographical comedy can’t get any love from the Emmys, especially seeing how “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” have scored major recognition. In another three decades, though, maybe audiences will look back on “The Goldbergs” as an overlooked nostalgic gem.

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    Nick Spake
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    29. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: The third season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” wasn’t quite as focused as the previous two. However, it still offered some welcome character development as Kimmy went to college, Jacqueline took on the Washington Redskins, and Titus tried to deal with the aftermath of his ill-fated cruise “I Ate Dionne Warwick.” All the while, it still provided the same witty dialog, clever scenarios, and positive charm the series is known for. Plus, nobody lemonades quite like Titus, including Beyoncé.

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    Nick Spake
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    28. Master Of None: While I personally think its first season had more laughs overall, Season 2 of “Master of None” saw star/co-creator Aziz Ansari grow as an actor, storyteller, and director, even earning comparison to the likes of Louis C.K. and Woody Allen. The season premiere perfectly set the mood as Ansari’s Dev found himself against the beautiful black and white backdrop of Italy. Ansari followed up this homage to Italian cinema with a slew of even more ambitious outings. Highlights included “First Date,” which explored the dating app phenomenon, “New York, I Love You,” which revolved around a diverse collection of New Yorkers, and “Thanksgiving,” which followed Denise’s complex relationship with her family as she came out as a homosexual. On the whole, “Master of None” once again delivered a strong helping of culture, romance, and food… lots of food.

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    Nick Spake
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    27. Bates Motel: In many respects, “Bates Motel” is a series that shouldn’t have worked. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is an immortal masterpiece that can never be topped. It already inspired two unnecessary sequels and an even more unnecessary shot-for-shot remake. So what makes this modern day reimagining so special? For starters, it gave us something that the previous incarnations didn’t: a detailed look at Norman Bates’ relationship with his mother before her death. It made for a fascinating and disturbing dynamic, elevated by exceptional performances from Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. In the fifth and final season, “Bates Motel” essentially caught up with the events depicted in the original 1960 film. Even then, though, the showrunners managed to put a unique spin on many iconic scenes, from Norman’s first encounter with Marion Cane to the infamous shower scene. “Bates Motel” remained loyal to Hitchcock’s vision while also being its own thing, which is exactly what any good reimagining should do.

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    Nick Spake
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    26. Atlanta: Donald Glover has certainly come a long way since Childish Gambino and Troy Barnes first hit the scene. On the big screen, he not only scored a role in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” but also in the upcoming Han Solo prequel and “Lion King” remake. On the small screen, he both created and starred in “Atlanta,” a smart, original, and timely comedy that could only come from Glover’s one of a kind mind. Glover plays Earn Marks, a down on his luck Princeton dropout that teams up with his cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), a rising star in the world of hip-hop. In addition to those two, we also get some breakout work from Zazie Beetz as Earn’s ex-girlfriend and Keith Stanfield as the scene stealing Darius. While “Atlanta” is a terrific sendup of the rap industry, it also makes clever commentary on pretty much everything else, from race, to class, to celebrities, to the media. The episode, “B.A.N.,” in particular packs more brilliant satire into twenty-four minutes than most sketch comedies do in an entire season. “Atlanta,” a grade A show about A-town.

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    Nick Spake
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    25. Better Call Saul: In the third and best season of “Better Call Saul,” Jonathan Banks continued to delight as Mike while Giancarlo Esposito made his long-awaited return as Gus Fring. However, the focus remained on the complex relationship between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean). The tension between these two brothers reached an all-time high this year, as the righteous Chuck took the dishonest Jimmy to court. The episode “Chicanery” gave us the showdown we had been waiting for in a stellar hour of television. While I won’t dare give away the verdict, let’s just say that the episode accomplished something that Vince Gilligan and company previously mastered with “Breaking Bad:” making the audience root for a two-faced conman over an honest lawman that just wants to see justice served. It’s anti-heroism at its finest.

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    24. The Americans: It might be set in the 1980s, but “The Americans” has become an increasingly relevant show. The USA’s current relationship with Russia added another level of dread to this drama’s penultimate season. As per usual, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys delivered subtle, multi-layered performances as Soviet spies Elizabeth and Philip. In some respects, this couple has become closer than ever before, most notably making their marriage official this year. At the same time, however, the sound of silence still separates the two. As Elizabeth and Philip put their ethics and loyalties to the test, their daughter Paige became increasingly fascinated with the secret life her parents kept from her for so long. Meanwhile, their son Henry, still in the dark, grew further away from his parents, instead developing a stronger bond with the neighborhood’s resident FBI agent, Stan Beeman. Inevitably, Elizabeth, Philip, Paige, and Henry will be forced to choose between family and country, which just might drive them all apart. I can’t wait to see which route they each take in the final season.

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    Nick Spake
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    23. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: As silly as it might sound, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a franchise that has truly defied all expectations. Even over thirty years after their initial conception, Leo, Donnie, Ralph, and Mikey have managed to stay relevant in popular culture. For my money, the current animated series on Nickelodeon is the definitive incarnation of “TMNT,” giving several classic storylines a fresh spin. The second half of Season 4 in particular delivered the show’s best string of episodes yet, centering on the Super Shredder’s rise to power. Remember that lackluster anticlimax in “Secret of the Ooze” where Shredder is defeated by getting crushed under a dock? Well, this narrative arc totally compensates for that! The turtles meet a physical match unlike any other, a major character is given a heartbreaking farewell, and it all builds up to an epic final battle that showcases the finest fight choreography in the show’s history. Going above and beyond, the showrunners have proven that even the strangest ideas can be dramatic, funny, intense, visually interesting, and – dare I say – even tear jerking? Take notes, Michael Bay.

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    Nick Spake
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    22. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life: Although I never caught “Gilmore Girls” during its initial run, I finally got to catch up on Netflix. Numerous hours and countless cups of coffee later, I was finally ready to watch the sequel miniseries. Told over the course of four extended episodes, each dedicated to a different season, “A Year In The Life” was a welcome return to Stars Hollow, especially with creator Amy Sherman Palladino back in charge. Complete with the witty dialog and great performances its predecessor is known for, this revival delivered several strong storylines. Lorelai and Luke finally tied the knot while Emily coped with the loss of Richard. Plus, supporting players like Paris and Kirk stole virtually every scene they were in. Granted, it was by no means perfect, particularly when it came to Rory Gilmore. Once a bright young woman, Rory basically turned into an entitled millennial that expects everything to be handed to her. The series did find redemption with its final four words, however, which bring Lorelai and Rory’s journey full circle. Without giving too much away, the ending is bound to satisfy some viewers and leave others begging for more. While I personally think this is just the right note to leave these characters on, I wouldn’t mind revisiting the Gilmores in another ten years.

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    Nick Spake
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    21: The Loud House: Once the #1 network for children’s programing, Nickelodeon has been in a downhill spiral for the past several years. They’ve had an occasional winner here and there, such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “The Legend of Korra.” In terms of completely original content that’s not a reboot or a sequel series, however, Nick’s seemingly lost all the charm and creativity that put it on the map in the 90s. Then “The Loud House” came along and gave us a beacon of hope. Creator Chris Savino, who has worked on everything from “Ren & Stimpy,” to “Rocko’s Modern Life,” to “Hey Arnold,” based this delightful cartoon on his experiences growing up with a big family. The series centers on Lincoln Loud, who literally finds himself stuck in the middle of ten sisters. Each girl is given a distinctive, colorful personality, but they’re never reduced to one-note stereotypes. Much like “Peanuts,” which was a clear inspiration for this show, the appeal here is largely derived from its ensemble and how all the kids play off one another. As with any large family, there’s a fair deal of yelling and bickering. At the same time, though, there’s a genuine connection between Lincoln and his sisters, who always have each other’s backs when push comes to shove. These characters completely win the audience over with heart, humor, and Dutch ovens. Above all else, “The Loud House” will make any only child wish they had one or ten siblings growing up.

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    Nick Spake
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    20. Veep: It’s unsettling to think how fiction has become reality. In the same vein of Hillary Clinton, Selina Meyer’s presidency seemed to be secure until a last-minute upset. Although you could argue that what’s happening in Washington right now is even more outrageous than any modern satire, “Veep” still delivered a sharply written, hilariously acted, and timely season. Offering a change of pace, Season 6 saw the cast go their separate ways for the most part. Selina in particular struggled to secure her legacy and figure out where she belongs if not in the White House. Granted, it could be seen as repetitive that almost all the characters inevitably wind up back where they started by the season’s conclusion. However, this still made leeway for several priceless subplots, as Dan got a new gig at CBS, Catherine and Marjorie welcomed their first child into the world, and Gary revisited his dysfunctional family. The funniest storyline involved Jonah Ryan’s ascension up the political ladder, which just might lead to a presidential nomination. Honestly, weirder things have happened. Even if Selina never gets to be president again, Julia Louis Dreyfus seems poised to win her sixth consecutive Emmy for playing this classic character, which would give her ten Emmys overall.

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    19. Silicon Valley: In addition to being hilarious as per usual, “Silicon Valley” delivered one of its most timely outings in Season 4. Richard finally figured out what he wanted to do with Pied Piper: create a new internet that would literally and figuratively tear down all firewalls. In an age where big brother is on the rise and net neutrality is in serious jeopardy, Richard’s vision could certainly bring about a better tomorrow. Since this is Richard Hendricks we’re talking about, however, nothing comes easy. Around every corner, Richard encountered another challenge, driving him to a point of desperation where he himself practically became a villain. While some may argue that this went against Richard’s character, it did provide leeway for what might be Thomas Middleditch’s best performance on the show to date. With just the right balance of dark humor, Middleditch made us believe Richard’s descent into corruption while still making him identifiable and redeemable in the end. Speaking of performances, the entire cast fired on all cylinders this season, from Josh Brener’s Big Head, to Kumail Nanjiani’s Dinesh, to Matt Ross’ Gavin Belson. Every time somebody started to stand out as my favorite character, another person would suddenly steal the spotlight. There’s just one downside: TJ Miller’s Erlich Bachman isn’t coming back next year!

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    18. Big Little Lies: The past year gave us several incredible limited series, many of which were carried by female ensembles. This black comedy brought together some of the most gifted actresses the industry currently has to offer, setting them against a seemingly peaceful backdrop where something much darker lurks behind the curtain. Reese Witherspoon is a delight as Madeline Martha Mackenzie, a woman that’ll stand up for her family, friends, and beliefs with the fortitude of a mother wolf. Shailene Woodley gives one of her best performances as Jane, a young, single mom looking for a fresh start in Monterey. Of course this becomes increasingly difficult when Jane’s son is accused of harming a little girl, igniting a heated retaliation from her controlling mother, played by Laura Dern. The most effective performance of all comes from a heartbreaking Nicole Kidman as Celeste, who’s trapped in an abusive marriage to a chilling Alexander Skarsgård. All of these ladies are attached to a murder mystery that’ll keep the audience guessing from start to finish. Calling “Desperate Housewives” and “Picket Fences” to mind, “Big Little Lies” is certainly worth causing commotion over.

    17. Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil: Say what you will about Disney Channel, but #DisneyXD is a treasure trove of family entertainment. The network is currently airing a slew of quality programs, including “Milo Murphy’s Law” and “Star Wars Rebels.” However, “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” is the standout thanks to its expressive animation, fast-paced slapstick, and hysterical voiceover work, particularly Eden Sher of “The Middle” as the titular Princess Star Butterfly. Much like “Gravity Falls” and “Adventure Time,” though, this series is so much more than one joke after another. It’s epic in scale, rich with coming of age themes, and even quite romantic at times. Star and Marco just might be Disney’s finest duo since the days of Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable.

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    Nick Spake
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    16. Regular Show In Space: Sitcoms are traditionally about little problems that snowball into big problems. “Regular Show” followed a similar formula, although the big problems were on an even larger scale. In Season 8, the entire series escalated into something much bigger, as it went from being a show about a couple millennials working at a park to a show about saving the universe. While it was definitely a change of pace, “Regular Show In Space” still maintained everything that made this series great to start with. It was absurd while being grand. It was meta as hell, but not at the expensive of character develop or storytelling. It was literally a regular show and an irregular show at the same time. The “Regular Epic Final Battle” left Mordecai, Rigby, and the rest of the gang on just the right note, marking the end of an excellent run. As Pops would say, “Good show.”

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    15. OJ: Made In America: So much as has been said about OJ Simpson over the years, and yet, there’s still so much left to say, especially given the outcome of his recent parole hearing. Last season’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson” masterfully took audiences back to the trial of the century. This Oscar-winning documentary, which originally aired as a #30For30 series, casts an even wider net, exploring the Juice’s ascension to superstardom to his inevitable downfall. At 467 minutes, “O.J.: Made In America” offers an incredibly in-depth look at this fascinating, mysterious, and infamous figure. Whether you’ve been following Simpson from the beginning or just recently started to learn about him, this series is a must-watch.

    14. The Crown: There have been numerous interpretations of Queen Elizabeth II, but none have gone into quite as much detail as this ambitious Netflix Original Series. Set to consist of six seasons overall, the first season of “The Crown” explored Elizabeth’s early years as Queen. Claire Foy delivers a magnetic breakthrough performance as the young monarch, who struggles to balance what’s right for her family and what’s right for her country. When she puts the crown on, it’s as if she’s wearing the weight of the world on her head. John Lithgow is equally mesmerizing in a transformative performance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, an aging politician with only a few more good years left in him. With extraordinary production values, sophisticated writing, and stunning direction, “The Crown” is a triumphant television achievement.

    13. Adventure Time: Over the past year, “Adventure Time” released two miniseries that expanded upon its already incredibly immersive world. With the “Islands” saga, Finn, Jake, Susan Strong, and BMO set sail to discover what happened to the human race after the Great Mushroom War. With the “Elements” saga, our heroes returned to restore order, as the land of Ooo became divided by ice, fire, slime, and candy. As we’ve come to expect from this wonderful show, the results were hilarious, dramatic, and epic all at once. Plus, for the first time, Lump Space Princess actually served a purpose.

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