Daily Californian Arts Awards: Television of 2016

stranger-things_netflix-courtesy
Netflix/Courtesy

Over the past half decade, the entertainment spotlight has slowly been shifting from film to television. As 2016 comes to a close, this past year may present the biggest argument for the latter yet. Whether on a broadcast cable network or a premium channel, television was stacked from January to December with exquisite programming. As the price of movie tickets go up and more and more films buckle under the weight of a crowded marketplace, television shows seem to be striving from the endless outlets for their shows to be viewed (or binged) upon. Along with that, television shows are rivaling the production budgets of the biggest blockbusters, bringing the term epic to black screens in the corners of the world’s rooms. For example, HBO’s “Westworld” (created from Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife Lisa Joy) and Netflix’s “The Crown” both cost upwards of $100 million for their entire seasons.

But the thing about TV is that the big shows aren’t the only ones gaining the attention. Smaller, edgier comedies such as “Baskets” and “Documentary Now!” or quietly excellent dramas such as “The Americans” and “Outlander” continue to thrive in the new Golden Age of Television. On top of that, the year saw an endless slew of new, quality shows (such as “Atlanta,” “Stranger Things,” “This is Us,” “Westworld”) along with classic, complex stalwarts (“Better Caul Saul,” “Game of Thrones,” Mr. Robot,” “Veep”) that have only gotten better.

We’ve undoubtedly reached the peak of cinematic television thus far in the most popular art’s young history.

 

Best Drama Series

stranger-things-2_netflix-courtesy

Courtesy/Netflix

Winner: “Stranger Things”

Nostalgia is as tricky to implement as it is powerful and the line between evocative homage and overdone cringe is razor thin. This summer’s “Stranger Things” treads that line exquisitely, driven by consistently a suspenseful and well-paced plot, strong characterizations and carefully implemented references to the 1980s pop culture from which it draws. Floating over an incredible analog-synth soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the show doesn’t merely reference the 80s. It breathes it. The attention to detail imbues the performances with an emotionally affecting sense of authenticity.

Winona Ryder is heart wrenching as Joyce Byers, the mother of the missing Will Byers, while David Harbour effortlessly captures the troubled, gruff-yet-affectionate pathos of the town police chief. But perhaps the most impressive performances come from Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin, who played the show’s child protagonists. More than offering just admirable performances, these actors carry the emotional core of the show. Ultimately, it’s through their performances that we see both the world of the show and its heart — a heart that, more than any of the fastidious detailing, crafts the “feel” of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and even George Lucas.

— Imad Pasha

Runner-Up: “Better Call Saul” 

“Better Call Saul” isn’t “Breaking Bad.” It doesn’t have nursing home explosions, chemical plant heists or any of the other insane events that made the tale of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman a jaw-dropping roller coaster ride. But what “Better Call Saul” does share with its predecessor is the same commitment to its characters and setting in the vibrant, but slightly sinister Albuquerque, New Mexico. In following the day-to-day lives of struggling lawyer Jimmy (or Saul) and retired cop Mike, the show offered some of the most honest and compelling drama of the year, all without forgetting the subtle zaniness that makes it stand out from the rest.

— Kevin Lu

Nominations: “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” and “Mr. Robot”


Best Comedy Series

atlanta_quantrell-colbert-fx

Courtesy/FX

Winner: “Atlanta”

What makes “Atlanta” great is that the main characters don’t have to be the funniest characters in the show. Throughout the season, the best moments have come when lead character Earn (Donald Glover) is simply observing and reacting to the ridiculousness that occurs around him. Earn is never really too energetic. He is awkward, broke and rarely in high spirits. But that’s the beauty of “Atlanta.” Glover never really has to go over the top or take the extra leap to be the star in his comedy.

The best moments in the show come from characters that only appear once. From a disrespectful Black Justin Bieber in a charity basketball game to a guest Twitter star who plays a Black teenager that identifies as a 35-year-old white man, “Atlanta” is wonderfully random in all the right ways. Other strong scenes come when Earn is subjected to clear and obvious microaggressions. In a Juneteenth party, a rich white optometrist lectured him about African culture and the importance of visiting Africa.

This isn’t a show about a rapper’s rags-to-riches story. Paper Boi’s (Brian Tyree Henry) moments of come up happen off screen in-between episodes. “Atlanta” is more about what happens when an average guy like Earn finds himself in the strangest situations.

— Ritchie Lee

Runner-Up: “Jane the Virgin” 

The excellent cast of “Jane the Virgin” breathes plenty of life into the CW’s most bulletproof show. The show has grown past its novel concept in new, sometimes startling ways. While its comedic timing is unparalleled — thanks in large part to the wonderful man-in-the-sky narrator — it’s really not too funny anymore. Jane (Gina Rodriguez) copes with life-altering trauma and familial growing pains, and this is where her perfect veneer starts to show its cracks. Rodriguez embodies Jane, flaws and all, so faultlessly that each episode still feels like a breathtaking feat. Lest we forget, where’s her Emmy nomination?

— Joshua Bote

Nominations: “Insecure,” “Veep” and “Documentary Now!”


Best Limited Series or TV Movie

Courtesy/FX

Courtesy/FX

Winner: “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

“The People v. O.J. Simpson,” more than any other show this year, was an event. It single handedly (well, with a little help from the ESPN-produced “O.J.: Made in America”) brought interest back into the court case and everyone involved. Yet, that’s not where the shows real lasting power is. On the contrary, the show is never really about the O.J. case, other than using it as a launching pad of exploring race, media, celebrity culture and the legal system in America. In an era when police shootings of African Americans are happening at a disheartening rate, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” is unafraid to look at this case with that very particular contextualization. Because of this, the show isn’t simply about whether O.J. was guilty or not, but rather about how race played a key component in determining the case’s verdict and what that verdict meant for all of those glued to their TV screens when watching. Just like then, we were all glued to our TV sets trying to figure out where to go from here. Like any great piece of challenging art, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” is a Rorschach test for audiences.

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: “The Night Of”

“The Night Of” sounds like a million other shows: a police procedural about a murder whose prime suspect proclaims his innocence. But by focusing on that suspect, a Pakistani-American kid named Naz, and his transformation from wide-eyed college student to hardened Rikers inmate, the show becomes something much more vital and gripping. Virtuosic pacing and unveiling of details by showrunners Richard Price (writer on “The Wire”) and Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) combined with knockout performances from Riz Ahmed as Naz and John Turturro as his sleazy lawyer make “The Night Of” must-watch television.

— Kevin Lu

Nominations: “All the Way,” “Roots” and “The Night Manager”


Best Showrunner(s)

jonathan-nolan_genevieve719

Winner: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, “Westworld”

While many believe that “Westworld” was too slow out of the gate and too fast in the last three episodes, the series from Jonathan Nolan, brother of director Christopher Nolan, and Lisa Joy is undoubtedly one of the best new works in longform storytelling. Having co-written the final two installments of “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and acted as creator and showrunner of the brilliant, dense and societally implicative “Person of Interest,” Nolan is no stranger to drawing out large concepts and themes over time. Joy herself was a writer on various episodes of “Burn Notice.” Yet, “Westworld” is their masterpiece.

Touching on concepts of consciousness/artificial intelligence and perception of time through the construction of a literal maze of storytelling — which is never too convoluted nor too vague — Nolan and Joy work wonders in slowly laying the groundwork of massive concepts, paying each off in satisfying, mind-blowing ways. “Westworld” is defined by its mysteries, but, in retrospect, we can see that the ideas were steeped deeply in its DNA from the first seconds. To investigate these themes is already a massive risk, but to dissect them thoroughly in each episode over 10 hours to make a greater point on consciousness — and to pull it all off — makes the job of Nolan and Joy the greatest accomplishment from showrunners this year.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Known for their film scripts, like “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Ed Wood,” Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski made the leap into television seamlessly. With the guiding direction from producer Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story,” who directed four episodes here) the showrunner duo impressively weave the history of the case along with the immediate relevancy today. Most importantly though, the duo bring real gravitas and Shakespearean-style tragedy to this real life story. While runner-ups for Best Showrunner, the race for the best was a close one for Alexander and Karaszewski, who will hopefully stick around in the longform medium and find another American tragedy to brazenly tackle.

— Levi Hill

Nominations: Donald Glover for “Atlanta,” David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for “Game of Thrones” and Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer for “Stranger Things”


Best Drama Lead Actor

Courtesy/Michael Parmelee

Courtesy/Michael Parmelee

Winner: Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”

Emmy-winner Rami Malek had some tough competition from our runner-up Bob Odenkirk — who’s excellent on “Better Call Saul” — but we couldn’t ignore the bug-eyed paranoia and potency that Malek brings to his character Elliot in “Mr. Robot.”

While the second season of “Mr. Robot” alienated many viewers and critics by taking the show to darker, stranger and more cerebral areas than many would expect from an already quirky, uncommonly intelligent show, Malek was universally heralded for making the show as compulsively watchable as Elliot is compulsively hacking things. The show’s controversial twists and oddities may not have all landed the way showrunner Sam Esmail intended, but with the riveting Rami Malek commanding the screen as easily as he does, “Mr. Robot” remains one of the very best series on television right now. It’s no small task for an actor to carry a show quite like Malek does on “Mr. Robot,” but that’s exactly why he is the best drama actor of 2016.

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”

For season 2 of “Better Call Saul,” Bob Odenkirk’s job became an impossible game of bridging years worth of emotional gaps between eager, budding lawyer Jimmy McGill and crooked mystery man Saul Goodman. It’s an acting feat of the highest order. Jimmy’s ill-fated struggle to be an honest man in law and in love reads both in Odenkirk’s tearful, quiet moments and showy, humorous ones — such as when he sings a rendition of “Bali H’ai” into Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) answering machine. Still, through all of Jimmy’s morally questionable cleverness and ceaseless film references, Odenkirk never lets us forget that Jimmy’s journey is a hopeless one.

— Danielle Gutierrez

Nominations: Anthony Hopkins for “Westworld,” Kevin Spacey for “House of Cards” and Matthew Rhys for “The Americans”


Best Drama Lead Actress

Courtesy/Netflix

Courtesy/Netflix

Winner: Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”

“Stranger Things” is credited with bringing back the 80s, but it should be most remembered for bringing back Winona Ryder. She gives a career defining performance as Joyce Byers, a mother determined to find her son Will, even if shady government suits and a monster from another dimension stand in her way. “Stranger Things” would not be the great show it is without Ryder and Will’s disappearance simply would not have been impactful if she weren’t so convincing. Ryder makes us wonder if our own mothers would react in a similar way, and when the answer is inevitably “yes,” she becomes the driving force behind the emotional stakes of “Stranger Things.” After all, if Will isn’t found then a mother will have lost a son. What greater emotional stakes are there? It all depends on Ryder’s ability to make Joyce relatable in her moments of fear but powerful in her resourcefulness and unshakeable determination.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”

Evan Rachel Wood’s performance as Dolores in “Westworld” is an absolute triumph of acting. Exploring her own consciousness and the idea that her world is not real, Dolores’ journey is an utter tragedy, largely thanks to Wood’s portrayal. Her ability to flip on a dime from violent sobbing to a completely deadpan stare in a way that challenges audiences with the Turing Test each episode is an incomparable technical achievement. On top of that, Wood hits the many tones of Dolores — the total badass who is not a damsel, the romantic, the existentially frightened, the angry revenge-taker and more — while also making them cohere as one. She has offered one of the best characters of the year.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominations: Robin Wright for “House of Cards,” Millie Bobby Brown for “Stranger Things” and Claire Foy for “The Crown”


Best Comedy Lead Actor

Courtesy/FX

Courtesy/FX

Winner: Donald Glover, “Atlanta”

Donald Glover has proven himself to be a true artistic chameleon. On the first season of his show “Atlanta,” he blends seamlessly into the role of Earn, grounding the absurdity of the world around him. Quiet and deadpan for the most part, Earn is a man simultaneously defeated by and skeptical of life. Glover enhances the stellar performances of those around him by reminding the audience that what they are watching is reality. It’s genius. Glover’s subtlety and reservation make his reactions seem gargantuan, such as when Earn finds out that the money Darius (Keith Stanfield) had promised him wouldn’t be coming until months later. The audience may chuckle at the obliviousness on Stanfield’s face or they might stare slack-jawed at the screen, mesmerized by the absurdity of it all. The same goes for the jail scene in which a mentally ill patient is beaten mercilessly by the guards: the stunned face of Donald Glover is the one way mirror through which an audience sees a world that is otherwise self-contained. The skill and finesse that Glover displays in his portrayal is impressive and highlights the thematic crux of the world of “Atlanta.” In an absurd world, reality is the butt of every joke.

— Sam Gunn

Runner-up: Fred Armisen, “Documentary Now!”

Fred Armisen might be the only person who could outshine the shapeshifting, sketch-comedy brilliance of co-star Bill Hader. The pair’s parody show isn’t meant to be laugh-out-loud funny, which makes Armisen the ideal poster child for “Documentary Now!” He’s the irrefutable king of impeccable, earnest awkwardness, and has further rubbed his oddball comedic talent in our faces for “season 51” — er, season 2 — of the series. In food doc episode “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken,” Armisen plays his role entirely in Spanish, hitting a series high. Never has preparing rice and chicken been a more mesmerizing (or artfully hilarious) ordeal.

— Danielle Gutierrez

Nominations: Anthony Anderson for “Black-ish,” Jeffrey Tambor for “Transparent” and Steve Buscemi for “Horace and Pete”


Best Comedy Lead Actress

Courtesy/HBO

Courtesy/HBO

Winner: Issa Rae, “Insecure”

In her Golden Globe-nominated performance on “Insecure,” Issa Rae doesn’t let anyone forget her roots as an “Awkward Black Girl,” even from the get-go: the first scene of “Insecure” finds Rae verbally berated by an especially mean group of middle-schoolers.

But Issa is more than just the token Black woman at her well-meaning, but ultimately White Savior-y education nonprofit. And just as Rae promised in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, her role on “Insecure” is more than the mere composite of Black womanhood typecasting that so often beleaguers her premium-cable counterparts. (Here’s looking at you, Lena Dunham).

Rae finds nuance where most other showrunners would be resigned to mere stereotype, digging deep within the complexities of the modern Black woman while maintaining a singular voice. Issa is charming and effusive, dorky and chic, her mirror-rapping self never at odds with her “Broken Pussy” rapping persona.

Issa Rae is so deeply ingrained in her show’s core, so comfortable with her identity and her work that she gives up her show’s misnomer of a title (and her YouTube origins) to showcase the real her, insecure or not. For the first ever Black woman to create and star in a premium cable show, that is groundbreaking.

— Joshua Bote

Runner-up: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

The Seinfeld Curse be damned! Julia Louis-Dreyfus has successfully carried her brilliant cast of wingnuts in “Veep” on the back of her comic genius. Never has the role of political airhead been imbued with such comedic depth and range. On all levels, Dreyfus’ “Veep” is a ditz and an airhead. Yet still, as an actress, she has been able to adroitly juggle Selina Meyer’s humanity with her idiocy, finding a sense of her collusion and acuity within the silver lining of Meyer’s character.

— Justin Knight

Nominations: Gina Rodriguez for “Jane the Virgin,” Tracee Ellis Ross for “Black-ish” and Ellie Kemper for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”


Best Limited Series or TV Movie Lead Actor

Courtesy/FX

Courtesy/FX

Winner: Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

It couldn’t have been an easy task to fill the flamboyant and grandstanding shoes of Johnnie Cochran. But Courtney B. Vance not only admirably stands in for Cochran, bringing him to life, but also creates the most dynamic, charismatic, vile and honestly rousing performance of the year. Vance shows the ticking mind of Cochran, of a lawyer gauging the jury as if they were audience members in a theatre. He listens to each of their reactions, to each movement, to each line of dialogue, responding in a meticulous (and somewhat manipulative) fashion in order to get O.J. to walk free. Rarely, if ever, do we see a performance portray someone this complex so accurately. With Vance’s layered portrayal, with perfectly timed diction and searing eyes, it’s not a simple caricature or impersonation of Cochran. Instead, Vance is inhabiting the person. Vance is Cochran on every single episode. Because of this, even when you want to root against Cochran and O.J., even when it seems the evidence is just too much, Vance’s performance reminds us of the racial implications inside the courtroom, but more importantly, outside of it.

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”

Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Naz, a Pakistani-American college student accused of murder, in “The Night Of” plays so naturally that when you find out he’s actually 34 and British-Pakistani, it makes his stammering American accent and wide-eyed demeanor all the more impressive. And as the series progresses, Ahmed meticulously peels back the layers with a series of choices, from a slight sneer at a classmate testifying against him to his menacingly blank-faced participation in brutal jailhouse rituals, that deftly convey Naz’s transformation into a seasoned Rikers criminal. The result: perhaps the most subtly devastating performance of 2016.

— Kevin Lu

Nominations: Bryan Cranston for “All the Way,” John Turturro for “The Night Of” and Benedict Cumberbatch for “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride”


Best Limited Series or TV Movie Lead Actress

Courtesy/FX

Courtesy/FX

Winner: Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Sarah Paulson had been a quiet stalwart for nearly 20 years before rumbling onto the scene with Emmy nominations for “American Horror Story” and an acclaimed supporting role in “Carol.” With her lead role as head prosecutor of the O.J. Simpson trial, Marcia Clark, Paulson stamps her name as one of the best working actresses in the entire entertainment industry, even winning the Emmy for Best Limited Series Lead Actress.

At times reserved while also immensely powerful in her portrayal, Paulson steals scene after scene while also working vibrantly off of the other cast members. Whether it be fighting gender bias and the media criticizing her appearance or falling in over her head from moment to moment, she imbues Clark with a sense of tragedy that audiences might not have expected. While the show is filled with a flurry of fiery men, Paulson proves that powerful women are here to stay.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Easy” and “Black Mirror”

Netflix was lucky to have Gugu Mbatha-Raw on its payroll this year.

In Joe Swanberg’s “Easy,” his mumblecore love letter to Chicago, Mbatha-Raw doesn’t miss a beat as she plays a rising actress on the brink of something more.

But she’s exceptional as Kelly in “San Junipero,” far and away the best episode of the just-OK third season of “Black Mirror.” The nostalgia-driven fantasia of this VR world wouldn’t hold any weight if not for Mbatha-Raw, who plays the edgy, emotive cool girl like it’s her birthright. She lives in the world so fully that San Junipero feels realer than any of the not-so-distant-past dystopias that her other “Black Mirror” compatriots inhabit.

— Joshua Bote

Nominations: Riley Keough for “The Girlfriend Experience,” Kerry Washington for “Confirmation” and Felicity Huffman for “American Crime”


Best Supporting Actor

Courtesy/FX

Courtesy/FX

Winner: Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and “This is Us”

Regardless of film or television, Sterling K. Brown may have had one of the greatest individual years for acting. Brown was a supporting actor in two of this year’s biggest hits with audiences and critics, giving two award-worthy performances. In “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” Brown portrayed prosecutor Christopher Darden, a lawyer who sees the racial and judicial implications of the O.J. case win or lose. From this emotionally complex starting point, Brown plays the maligned Darden with authenticity and sincerity, but also a sense of doubt amid the trial. Brown won a Supporting Actor Emmy for his role.

Yet, that’s not where Brown’s historic year ends, as he is also arguably the most lauded performer on the week in, week out super hit “This is Us.” Playing the grown-up version of the adopted Randall — without spoiling the show for those who haven’t watched it, there’s two timelines being played out — Brown brings an intensity and an intelligence that only heighten the interpersonal and familial relationships the show dedicates its time around. With his recent Screen Actors Guild nomination for the role, Brown is likely going to be a major threat for next year’s Emmys.

 

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Mahershala Ali, “Luke Cage” and “House of Cards”

If you see Mahershala Ali in a suit on TV, there is a 100 percent chance that the show is going to be fire. He’s always been consistent as Remy Danton in “House or Cards,” but it’s in “Luke Cage” where he really enters into a whole new level of awesome. His character Cottonmouth is the perfect super villain. Evil laugh? Check. Calm one-liners? Check. Angry one-liners? Check. Unstable temper? Check. Sad backstory? Check. Every time Cottonmouth speaks, Ali nails every line with his mischievous and calm delivery that makes the audience want to root for the bad guy. Ali as Cottonmouth is a case where, if the villain wins, most viewers will probably be fine with it because it’s impossible to hate Ali.

— Ritchie Lee

Nominations: David Harbour for “Stranger Things,” Keegan-Michael Key for “Key & Peele” and Jeffrey Wright for “Westworld”


Best Supporting Actress

Courtesy/NBC

Courtesy/NBC

Winner: Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

We haven’t had as committed a character performer on “Saturday Night Live” since Kristen Wiig, nor one as altogether consistently hysterical since Will Ferrell. Kate McKinnon is the cast member whose tenure will be the stuff of “SNL” legend. She’s ceaselessly ruthless in every sketch, whether she’s playing a cardigan-wearing cat lady or stuffing her face with leftovers alongside Colin Jost. Week in and week out, she destroys us all with impressions of passionate weirdos, oftentimes making her fellow cast members break character along the way.

As versatile of a performer as she is, it was her pant-suited, cringe-worthily stiff, utterly uncool portrayal of Hillary Clinton that made 2016 McKinnon’s year, and her year alone. There were plenty of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders impressions, but no one else dared to try a Clinton after McKinnon’s election year arc. She showed us the full saga, from pre-convention confidence to debate discomfort, in all of its wild, off-the-wall glory. Then, post-election, McKinnon showed us the quiet side of comedy as she settled down at a piano and sang “Hallelujah” to the helpless and defeated viewers across the nation. She destroyed us all once again.

— Danielle Gutierrez

Runner-up: Thandie Newton, “Westworld”

The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Thandie Newton’s performance as Maeve in “Westworld” is “badass.” Newton is captivatingly powerful, exuding a confidence and slickness through her sharp, yet smooth delivery of dialogue. She dominates the screen, both standing as tall as each member of the sprawling cast while also towering above them all in various moments. Yet, power is not Maeve’s only asset. Newton also imbues Maeve’s exploration of her twisted world with a subtle, sensitive self-consciousness — pun intended — so much so that she ends up alongside Evan Rachel Wood in terms of acting feats.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominations: Constance Zimmer for “UnREAL,” Lena Headey for “Game of Thrones” and Anna Chlumsky for “Veep”


Best Ensemble Cast

Courtesy/HBO

Courtesy/HBO

Winner: “Game of Thrones”

When people ask each other who their favorite “Game of Thrones” character is, the answers vary wildly. Some of the greatest and most widely-circulated buzzfeed quizzes categorize you as one in an endless pool of characters. That’s due in no small part to the thespian strength in every character portrayal across Westeros and Essos. Casting in “Game of Thrones” has been unparalleled across six seasons, as actors have entered and exited the series’ violent, unpredictable stage. The ensemble that had been built up by the start of season six is absolutely unmatched in all of television today. No plotline in “Game of Thrones” is any more engrossing than any of the others. From the fraternity bickering among the men of the Night’s Watch, to the public smearing and royal embroilment between the formidable women of King’s Landing, and even to the delicate maelstrom in the changing political landscape of Slaver’s Bay, every performance is masterful. While Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage may serve as the face of “Game of Thrones” in the public eye, no one actor carries the show alone. That’s just where the brilliance of the series lies.

— Justin Knight

Runner-up: “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

Evidenced by the show’s wins in three major acting categories, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” is filled with unbelievable performances. Not only do Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown turn in performances for the ages, but even John Travolta and David Schwimmer shine. The entire cast fulfills the weight of such a massively important story. And when Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. himself is not the star of the show by at least two to three actors and actresses, there’s no denying that “The People v. O.J. Simpson” offers one of the best casts seen in television today.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominations: “Westworld,” “Veep” and “Stranger Things”


Best Variety Talk Show

Courtesy/HBO

Courtesy/HBO

Winner: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”

John Oliver is the new king of late-night political commentary. Informed by his stint as a correspondent on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Oliver took his craft to HBO, where he has managed to not only carve out his own space in the political commentary sphere, but also redefine the late-night show structure, often going viral doing it. In some ways, his show is the organic extension of something like “The Daily Show,” capturing the same satirical-but-informative muckraking, only focusing on a single major story per week rather than a daily run-through of news.

That decision gives “Last Week Tonight” a depth that “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” lacked and still lack, despite their sharpness. Each week’s topic gets anywhere between 18 and 30 minutes of dedicated time, allowing Oliver to give the audience and viewers enough backstory and context as to why the issue is important, as well as build a coherent and logical argument. It also allows him to choose topics too “boring” to tackle on other shows, like civil forfeiture or pharmaceuticals. With an incredibly sharp wit and empathetic narrative, Oliver makes us care about things we didn’t even know existed 18 minutes before.

— Imad Pasha

Runner-up: “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”

While 2016 was the year of political hopes going down the drain, at least it was the year our “woman in late night” prayers were finally answered. Samantha Bee was well worth the wait. “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” arrived on the scene, confident and merciless as if Bee were a grenade just waiting to be thrown, and immediately became just the fast-paced, no-bullshit show we needed in a year of far too much nonsense. The one drawback is that we only get to see her once a week. (TBS, you should get on that.)

— Danielle Gutierrez

Nominations: “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden”


Best Animated Series

Courtesy/Netflix

Courtesy/Netflix

Winner: “BoJack Horseman”

On every level, “BoJack Horseman” is an anomaly. For an animated television show, “BoJack” is certainly treated with a great deal of seriousness, both by its fans and by its writers. Over the course of its three short seasons, the show has already successfully carved out a stylistic niche all its own. Whether it’s trying to be raucously funny or achingly heartfelt, this show never pulls its punches. Characters are at once caricatures and contradictions of themselves. Plotlines meander between the absurd and the solemn, often blending the two and generating their own special brand of heart wrenchingly earnest farce. In the context of this century, perhaps “BoJack” is the most lifelike show on television for this very reason. Looking past the anthropomorphic animals and the constant cringeworthy puns that hang over their heads, the deeply human character portrayals and stories that color the show’s Hollywood-insider landscape make it quite unlike any other animated television series to date. “BoJack,” like the titular character, isn’t above anything and it doesn’t have anything to prove. “BoJack” is nothing more or less than the story of a messed up horse-man, told earnestly and without shame. In doing just that, “BoJack” has broken every convention of animated television.

— Justin Knight

Runner-up: “Bob’s Burgers”

Now in its seventh season, “Bob’s Burgers” is set to enter the pantheon of long-running, much-beloved animated comedies on FOX (“The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill” and, depending on who you’re asking, “Family Guy”).

And much like the classic “Simpsons” or “Hill” episodes that preceded it, the Belcher family’s many antics still aren’t stale even after so long.

Somehow, showrunner Loren Bouchard and his incredible motley crew of writers still pack every episode with crass wit and emotional resonance by exploring uncharted familial dynamics (Gene and Louise), underutilized secondary characters (Mr. Fischoeder) and even kookier antics (Tina’s bewitching, Bob and Linda’s pot brownie adventures).

— Joshua Bote

Nominations: “We Bare Bears,” “Archer” and “Adventure Time”


Best Documentary Series

Courtesy/Netflix

Courtesy/Netflix

Winner: “Last Chance U”

The tiny nooks and crannies of the world are often the most fascinating, exemplified in television by Netflix’s documentary series “Last Chance U.” Following football players at East Mississippi Community College who seemed destined for stardom after high school, but came upon hard times or terrible injuries, Netflix’s gem in the underappreciated field of longform documentary is a gritty, down-to-earth human story. Even if these players are reluctant to talk about their pasts or uncertain futures and resort to hiding behind their flamboyant personalities, the documentary digs deep into their relationships with the coach, with each other and with the teachers and academic advisor at school. As players struggle in the classroom or on the field, fighting back against authority because that’s all they know how to do, “Last Chance U” shows us how constant compassion, love and encouragement given to even the most stubborn of people can bring them out of the darkest of moments. The show also offers some damn good football sequences that remind us of the classic series “Friday Night Lights.” It will come as no surprise to see some of these players in the NFL in due time, or this show with some Emmy wins.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: “Abandoned”

VICELAND is quietly the king of the documentary series. From “Black Market” to “Noisey” to “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” to “Balls Deep” to “Vice World of Sports” to “Cyberwar,” one can find everything and anything to watch. “Abandoned,” the documentary series following professional skateboarder Rick McCrank as he explores abandoned places with the people at peace in ghost towns or with people trying to restore them to what they once were, may just be their best achievement yet. With stunning and gorgeous visuals, a dry yet playful humor brought out by McCrank and a sensitivity in the portrayal of these places and people, “Abandoned” is captivating, hilarious and extremely powerful all at once.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominations: “Cyberwar,” “Black Market” and “Noisey

Contact the arts staff at [email protected].

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy