Winter has increasingly become the best time of year for new TV shows. Freed from having to face off against the onslaught of fall broadcast network premieres, cable networks debut their new offerings, while the broadcast shows often grow more experimental. The crop for 2016 isn't as immediately promising as 2015's was, but there are still a bunch of solid shows slated for the months to come — and at least a couple of them should flirt with positions on most TV critics' year-end lists.
In compiling the following recommendations, we only included shows that already have a premiere date. Otherwise, we would also have included shows like AMC's Preacher and FX's Atlanta, both arriving sometime this year and both quite good. We've also only selected shows we've seen at least one episode of, with one exception (which is noted)
Superstore (premiered January 4 on NBC)
Superstore, a new sitcom about the ins and bizarre outs of working at a huge chain of Walmart-type big-box retailers, is one of NBC's more promising ensemble comedies. Every episode takes place in the sterile aisles of the optimistically named Cloud 9. The people who shop there are sometimes bizarre, but they're no match for the perpetually bored employees, who keep trying to find ways to make their jobs more bearable — or, at the very least, entertaining. The Superstore cast is sprawling and features some welcome familiar faces like America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Ben Feldman (Mad Men), Colton Dunn (Key & Peele), and Mark McKinney (The Kids in the Hall). Once the show finds its groove — about three episodes in — the cast and setting come together to make Superstore a surprise delight.
Superstore airs Mondays on NBC at 8 p.m. Previous episodes are streaming on Hulu.
Image credit: NBC
Teachers (premiered January 13 on TV Land)
This acerbic little comedy has only aired three episodes so far, but it's already got the confidence of a much more established show, flying out the gate with pointed gags and fully formed characters that unapologetically tear down whatever wholesome memories you might have of your elementary school teachers. Producers like Ian Roberts (Key & Peele) and Alison Brie don't hurt, but the real reason for Teachers' quick success is that its six stars (Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O'Brien, and Kathryn Renée Thomas) are also its creators. The six Katies, or "Katydids," as per their improv team's name, have been acting together for years. Plus, Teachers began as a webseries, so they already know these characters. On TV Land, the Katydids have more room to play than they did on the web, and they're not wasting any of it.
Teachers airs Wednesdays at 10:30 pm on TV Land. Previous episodes are streaming on Hulu.
Image credit: TV Land
Colony (premiered January 14 on USA)
Here's a good sign: Every single one of the first six episodes of USA's alien invasion drama Colony is a little bit better than the last. The series gets around a problem TV has always faced when telling stories about invasions — namely, that we expect to see the humans overthrow their alien oppressors sooner or later — by simply suggesting there's no good way for mankind to prevail in whatever war might result between the two species, at least not right now. The aliens are far off, distant, enclosed in giant superstructures that are hard to comprehend. The humans, meanwhile, must choose between eking out an existence in the aliens' shadow and growing rich off collaboration. The result is an eerie, politically resonant sci-fi show, with some great twists.
Colony airs Thursdays at 10 pm Eastern on USA.
Image credit: USA
Baskets (premiered January 21 on FX)
Baskets comes from the minds of Zach Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and director Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, Man Seeking Woman). Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it's one of the more distinctively weird shows currently on television, following would-be entertainer Chip Baskets (Galifianakis) after he flunks out of Parisian clown college and has to move back home with his suffocating mother (Louie Anderson). Galifianakis is in rare form here, switching between existential melancholy and short-fused impatience. If you stick with Baskets, its bizarre premise falls away to reveal a genuinely touching, "funny because it's sad" family comedy, anchored by Galifianakis and Anderson's straightforward performances.
Baskets airs Thursdays at 10 pm on FX.
Image credit: FX
The Magicians (premiered January 25 on Syfy)
Adapted from the popular novels by Lev Grossman, The Magicians unfortunately debuted with a very messy pilot, which tried to cram too much plot into a single hour of television. In subsequent episodes, however, the show settles down and starts to inhabit its world — one in which young magicians are trained at the mystically hidden Brakebills University — and develop its characters. Particularly of interest is Stella Maeve as Julia, a young woman who is rejected by Brakebills and decides to embark on her own magical education, in a storyline that runs parallel to and dovetails with the school-set storyline in fascinating ways. This one is worth keeping an eye on.
The Magicians airs Mondays at 9 pm on Syfy.
Image credit: Syfy
The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (premieres February 2, 10 pm, on FX)
The best new show of the winter, The People vs. O.J. Simpson is much, much better than you would expect after hearing that American Horror Story producer Ryan Murphy is going to retell the story of the arrest and trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown. But Murphy, who's always been a stronger director than writer, is only producing and directing here; scripting duties belong to a team headed up by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the duo who turned scripts like The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man in the Moon into biopic gold. And in the O.J. trial, the entire cast and creative team have found a terrific lens through which to view America's weird relationship with race, gender, and class — and will likely remind you of just how bizarre this whole soap opera truly was.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson will air Tuesdays at 10 pm on FX.
Image credit: FX
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee (premieres February 8 on TBS)
When Samantha Bee left The Daily Show last year, she was the program's longest-running correspondent; now she is set to be the first female host of a late-night satirical news show. But it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Bee's upcoming series as "the female Daily Show." While she and showrunner Jo Miller will incorporate some elements of The Daily Show, Full Frontal will only air once a week, will not feature an interview segment, and will focus more on field pieces that send Bee on reporting missions around the country and the world (one episode, for example, will focus on Bee's recent trip to Jordan). No full episode has been available yet, but the one clip that was recently screened for critics — in which Bee takes on the VA's inability to understand female veterans' needs — shows Bee at her most cutting and empathetic. It was, in other words, a very promising sign of the direction to come.
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee will air Mondays at 10:30 pm on TBS.
Image credit: TBS
Hap and Leonard (premieres March 2, 9 pm, on Sundance)
Sundance has been quietly turning out some of the best stuff on TV in recent years, without much notice in terms of ratings. That might change with its new crime drama, Hap and Leonard. Based on novels by Joe Lansdale, the series follows the titular characters, played by James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams, respectively, as they make their way through the small-time criminal underbelly of Texas in the 1980s. In particular, the debut season features everything from a rumination on how the spirit of the '60s faded away to a femme fatale performance by Christina Hendricks to a pair of weirdo assassins straight out of a pulp crime novel. The series maintains Sundance's artsy appeal, but with a stronger plot to hopefully draw in a larger audience.
Hap and Leonard debuts Wednesday, March 2, at 9 pm Eastern on Sundance.
Image credit: Sundance
The Path (premieres March 30 on Hulu)
It's not immediately clear if The Path will work as a TV series, but it sure is a fun show to think about. The series follows a couple wrapped up in a cult that has resonances with everything from Scientology to the followers of Jim Jones. The husband (played by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) is starting to have doubts he can't quite shake. The wife (True Detective's Michelle Monaghan) remains a true believer — who's also the former fling of the leader of one of the cult's local chapters (Hugh Dancy, of Hannibal fame). If nothing else, The Path is worth watching to see some great actors doing their thing, but it's also got some interesting things to say about religion and some neat, trippy imagery. And along with the similarly intriguing new miniseries 11.22.63, it marks Hulu's biggest swing yet.
The Path launches on Hulu on Wednesday, March 30. Episodes will be released weekly.
Image credit: Hulu
The Ranch (premieres April 1 on Netflix)
What a strange show The Ranch is! A traditional sitcom — meaning it's filmed with multiple cameras in front of a live studio audience, similar to a stage play — it's also a surprisingly poignant family drama and an examination of the collapse of American agriculture. If nothing else, it's the show that finally brings Sam Elliott, that mustachioed paragon of American masculinity, to the sitcom format. Elliott and Debra Winger play the parents of two sons, played by That '70s Show alums Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson; the ranch Elliott runs is in danger of going out of business, and Kutcher is the prodigal son who comes back to make good. The show is absolutely fascinating, if still figuring itself out.
The Ranch launches its first 10 episodes on Netflix on Friday, April 1.
Image credit: Netflix
The Girlfriend Experience (premieres April 10 on Starz)
Director Steven Soderbergh's 2009 film of the same name — about a woman who becomes a sex worker who offers the "girlfriend experience" of letting men feel like she's really in love with them — isn't a natural fit for a TV adaptation. And yet here's a terrific, nervy little half-hour drama that tells the story of a young woman (Riley Keough) who finds herself drawn into this world. The series' most intriguing aspect is the way she takes control of her own destiny. As directed and written by veteran indie filmmakers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, The Girlfriend Experience is as much about how women find ways to navigate halls of power that've been constructed by men as it is the story of its protagonist's slow creation of her alternate career. It's also incredibly gorgeous, filled with stunning shots.
The Girlfriend Experience debuts Sunday, April 10, on Starz. New episodes will air weekly on TV, but the whole season will be available to stream from the premiere date onward, via the Starz Play app.
Image credit: Starz
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