2016 is over and it brings us to a time when we look back and celebrate the best of all our media choices. Television is getting exceptionally good. I would dare say that it could make a comeback to the point of overcoming movies as the top entertainment choice. The networks are catching on, but the best of this venue is usually found on Netflix, AMC and HBO. And, my choices this year are all over the place. And they all (for the most part) fit a certain genre.
Entertainment tends to go in themes. Did we not just spend YEARS of class warfare themed movies? Are we not in a surge of Superhero movies? Well, this year seemed to be the year of TIME. It was mostly time travel stories that I followed, but the best were set in the past and the future.
TIMELESS debuted this year on NBC with a bang. Set in our time, we see an immediate theft of a perfect time machine. End of story; bad guys win, end of story, right? Nope. Bring a team of three and an old model, junk yard reject time machine and a plan to follow the time terrorist and stop them before they do any damage. The strength of this story is in the team assembled. A historian. A tech-head, time machine pilot. And an ex-military hit man to take out the head snake. These are three of the most unlikely people ever to mesh as a team and, throughout the series, they seem to truly be on the road to implosion. But, they don’t. They come close, but, the farther apart they seem to drift, the closer they become.
A powerful caveat is the history lesson we get without getting talked down to . We get to see pivotal points of history in the raw without getting preached to about the failures of America’s past. We get to see history on the edge of destruction. Also, instead of conveniently cleaning up history at the end of every episode like a 70s sitcom, the very first episode ends with the saving of the Hindenburg. Totally shocking. Stunning. Not what you would expect at all. And that’s what I like about this series. I’m sure, down the line, they will clean up, but they’re not beyond breaking a few eggs on the way to making an amazing omelet.
Next and equally surprising is TRAVELERS. Debuting also this year on not sure where, this smart, character driven drama takes a unique take on time travel. Instead of time machines or rifts in the time-space continuum, they travel time across minds. Much like Days of Future Past (sorry, old-school comic nerd here) , the future has found a way to travel between minds. 4 characters in the present find themselves on the verge of death; suffering mostly fatal head injuries. But as their final moments pass before them, their mind is violently invaded by ‘travelers’ from the future.
The vessels are as diverse as life. A mother. A student. A drug addict. A learning disabled librarian. A FBI agent. But, that’s not where the fun ends. The traveling minds from the future are vastly different than the vessels they fill. The mother in the abusive relationship becomes a military skilled living weapon. The student becomes the seasoned tech genius. The drug addict serves as the historian. The librarian facilitates the team? And the government agent is, of course, their leader. This eclectic team becomes a well oiled machine. They are on a mission to save Earth from a near planet ending event. But there are so many twists and turns along the way. And the biggest roadblock are their own muddled lives.
And, speaking of roadblocks, I have few on my path to fully appreciating this drama. The first problem I run into is the main gimmick. Most of this team suffered brain trauma events and just walked off once the travelers invaded. And, it’s amazing that, in most of the other instances, the travelers showed up before the damage that caused the death even happened. It started with the government agent who was saved from a drop down an elevator shaft. Why not show up before the blunt force trauma?
On top of that, why are there so many travelers invading from the future? When do we start to be concerned about effecting the past too much? It seems to me that the future is now in the business of molding the future.
The other time travel show that I watch religiously is a bit different and bit more up my fan-boy alley. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow entered its sophomore season in 2016. Featuring the remaining heroes from last season and adding a couple of new heroes in Steel and Vixen, the adventure continues without Rip Hunter. But, with assassin turned Legend, Sara Lance as team leader, our Legends struggle on to work together building to the season finale.
This show has the DC comic greatness that I love; bringing in relative unknowns to the forefront and making them amazing. I really never thought I would be this interested in Mick Rory, but he’s really was developed into an amazing and interesting flesh and blood character that we love and care about. Not just a hero, but a legend.
I’ve always loved Firestorm since his introduction in the 80s and Jackson and the Professor are continuing to amaze me. We see Ray Palmer and ninja chick also flesh out more as the season moves on. Add a few twists of intrigue and an ominous prophecy and you have an interesting season.
But, the two shows that top my list for 2016 aren’t time travel shows. But they are set one in the past and one in the future.
STRANGER THINGS debuted on NETFLIX earlier this season. I had no idea what to expect going in. What I found was a period piece from one of my favorite eras; the eighties. I was in college at this time, so I could totally relate with the setting. That locked me in. The writing nailed it, though.
And, by writing, I mean the amazing characters and the tantalizing plot. The Dungeon and Dragon’s playing kids had my attention immediately. Wynona Ryder as the mother of a missing son was perfect. The sci-fi, other worldly aspects of the show brought a dark and foreboding tone from beginning to end. The big bad was scary as hell and finale was satisfying.
Hearing that there would be a second season with the same crew was both exciting and a bit of a let down. As a writer, I thought the story came to a proper horror end. But, as a fan of the show, I was so stoked for their return.
My favorite show came late in the year. WEST WORLD is set in the near future; maybe as far forward as STRANGER THINGS was backward. It includes one of the best actors, in my opinion, of all time, Anthony Hopkins. He’s playing the lead of a futuristic playground based on the old west. Here people can do whatever their little, black hearts come up with. Based on a novel by Michael Crighton and a 70s scifi movie that starred Yul Brenner, this re-imagining is both brilliant and stunning. You suspect things, but you can never truly be ready for all the twists that are ahead for you. I haven’t been this stunned and confused since LOST ended.
I found myself standing and applauding at the finale. As a writer, I am in awe of this complex and appealing story and cannot wait for the second season. Unfortunately, HBO has announced it will be 2018 before we see the next episodes. Let’s hope 2017 can rise to the occasion and at least meet, if not surpass, the accomplishments of television in 2016.
Still looking forward to a few others I haven't caught up with like FREQUENCY and more in 2017 like TIME AFTER TIME and MAKING HISTORY. Should be another year of looking back and hoping for better and better tv.