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The 10 Best TV Shows of 2016

VULTURE – Over the next few weeks, Vulture will be publishing our critics’ year-end lists. Today, we’re looking at the best TV shows and episodes.

 

It’s always tough to narrow an entire season of a vast medium down to a Top 10 list, but for 2016 it’s damn near impossible. This is, hands down, the best year for scripted television since I became a critic of film and TV 25 years ago; it might be the the best year since I started watching TV as a kid in the 1970s. The sheer variety of subjects, modes, and styles was dazzling, and it wasn’t just premium cable and streaming services that delivered wild innovation and pitch-perfect classicism; the networks stepped up, too. My initial Top 10 list had nearly 30 titles on it, and the longer I sat with it, the more I added. Some notable programs that didn’t make my Top 10 list — such as USA’s Mr. Robot and HBO’s Westworld — were so formally ambitious that they deserve respect, too; their failures are more interesting than most other shows’ successes. So it might be best to think of this list not as the cream of the crop, but as the tip of the iceberg.

 

8. Rectify (Sundance)

The fourth and final season of Ray McKinnon’s series about a newly released death-row inmate took the show in an even more unabashedly New Testament direction, stressing healing, forgiveness, and transformation. Along with Atlanta, OWN’s Queen Sugar, and Cinemax’s 1970s drama Quarry, it was also part of a great wave of new Southern fiction that counteracted many of the stereotypes that still fuel too much of American TV.

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“Rectify” Is a Quiet Marvel

THE NEW YORKER – In the first episode of “Rectify,” Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is released from death row, and he gives a speech to journalists and protesters gathered outside the prison. Rather than assert his innocence or talk about justice, he offers a zigzagging meditation on the nature of fatalism. “I had convinced myself that kind of optimism served no useful purpose in the world where I existed,” he explains, in an underwater monotone, as the protesters look on, baffled. “Obviously, this radical belief system was flawed and was, ironically, a kind of fantasy itself.” Humbly, as if ending a philosophy seminar, he concludes, “I will seriously need to reconsider my world view.”

 

For three years, “Rectify” has been a small marvel, an eccentric independent drama, filmed in Griffin, Georgia, and airing off the beaten track as well, on Sundance. With its skewed insights into carceral cruelty, “Rectify” took the slot that “The Wire” used to occupy: it’s the smart crime drama whose fans have trouble persuading others to watch, because it sounds too grim—or maybe too good for you. It’s a frustrating dynamic that has haunted other dramas without cowboys or zombies—“The Leftovers” and “The Americans” come to mind—but “Rectify” ’s reputation for difficulty is misleading. The show’s dreamy pace makes it a satisfying high, like a bourbon-soaked bob down a river on a humid day. It’s a show about the way that time gets distorted; it’s one that distorts time, too. As with many structurally daring series, it’s joyful, because its insides match its outsides.

 

It’s also, more straightforwardly, a gothic mystery about small-town secrets. When Daniel was in his late teens, he was convicted of the rape and murder of his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Hanna. He served nineteen years, most of them in solitary confinement. The crime itself was a foggy, ambiguous incident that involved psychedelic drugs; two boys testified against him, and, under pressure, Daniel confessed. DNA cleared him of the rape but not of the murder, so plenty of locals—and, at times, Daniel himself—suspect that he did it, because he was found cradling Hanna’s naked corpse, which he’d decorated with flowers. But Daniel’s younger sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), never lost faith in his innocence, and she’s been sleeping with the liberal Jewish lawyer she lobbied to work on his behalf—the big-city Reuben to her Norma Rae. Everyone involved wants clarity, now that Amantha’s faith has paid off.

 

No one gets it. The murder case is reopened and leads down alarming paths. Few people want to face the uglier facts, including the knowledge that Daniel was raped in prison, multiple times. While he was on death row, his father died and his mother remarried, so he has two new stepbrothers, Ted, Jr., and Jared, who is still in his teens. In some ways, Daniel is himself an adolescent, prone to self-indulgent, self-destructive whims. In isolated Paulie, Georgia, he’s a distinctly odd figure, a socially awkward autodidact who meditated and read obsessively in his cell. He speaks in an off-kilter, whispery style, making even sympathetic neighbors uncomfortable. His mannered intellectualism marks him as an outsider, queer in several senses, as much as any suspicions of criminal guilt do.

 

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Clayne Crawford Named One of Emmy Magazine’s “Faces of Fall”

 

 

 

Lethal Weapon, Fox

 

Google the word swagger and you may find an image of Clayne Crawford.

 

After two seasons as manipulative Ted Talbot, Jr., in SundanceTV’s under-recognized drama Rectify, Crawford tackles Martin Riggs — a character made famous by Mel Gibson in Richard Donner’s 1987 buddy action film, Lethal Weapon, and its three sequels.

 

What’s more, he makes the familiar part his own. Comparisons may be inevitable, but they’re unnecessary. The story doesn’t differ much from the movie: Riggs is an unpredictable, unstable war hero with a suicidal streak who lost his very pregnant wife in a car accident.

 

Now, as an L.A. cop, he’s partnered with middle-aged family man Roger Murtaugh (an excellent Damon Wayans), with whom he butts heads, yet grudgingly bonds. Equal parts Marlboro Man and street smartass, Crawford brings a reckless renegade edge to the role, with just enough sulky sex appeal to make him both volatile and vulnerable.

 

Born and bred in Alabama, he plays Riggs as an all-American casualty with a heart of gold — more Steve McQueen than Mel Gibson. And there’s enough comic banter, generational conflict and macho pride between the two leads to keep this bro-cedural crackling with humor as well as action. And lest we forget, McQueen got his start on television, too.

Note: He has actually been in three season of Rectify with this being the fourth.

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In ‘Rectify,’ Life After Prison and the Chance to Be Reborn

NY TIMES – For decades, television has been cop, judge, jury and jailer. Police and courtroom dramas are a mainstay; a few series, like “Orange Is the New Black,” have explored prison life. But “Rectify,” a drama entering its final season on SundanceTV on Wednesday, is exceptional in being concerned with what comes after prison, for ex-convicts, for their families, for an entire community.

 

In the first episode of the new season, Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who has been released from prison after 19 years, describes what the incarceration did to him. “When you are alone with yourself all the time,” he says, “you begin to go deeper and deeper into yourself until you lose yourself.”

 

“Rectify,” created by Ray McKinnon, is a small series; it has shown a mere 22 episodes in three seasons and will have eight in its final run. But by focusing on a small world and pacing itself deliberately, it manages to be both intimate and expansive.

 

Slowing down time — the first season takes place over about a week — “Rectify” is a meditative work of reconstruction, with a visual sense of wonder, as if the camera, too, had been released into the world after two decades staring at four walls.

 

The series begins with Daniel’s return home to the fictional Paulie, Ga., after DNA evidence vacates his conviction for the rape and murder of his high school girlfriend, Hanna Dean. He’s free but not exonerated, and he finds himself unequipped for freedom. Having spent his entire adult life under a regime, he’s paralyzed by simple things like a visit to a big-box store.

 

The show traces his transition, and that of his family: his mother, Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), who resents the years lost with her son; his sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), who fiercely defends Daniel’s innocence; his stepbrother, Teddy (Clayne Crawford), who doubts him; and Teddy’s wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), a deeply religious woman whose sympathy for Daniel draws her close to him and drives a wedge between herself and her husband.

 

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Sundance’s Rectify could be The Wire for small-town America

This wonderful series — wrapping up its run with its new season — understands the South in a way TV rarely does.

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VOX – One afternoon shortly after actor Aden Young had wrapped season one of Rectify, his wife called. He’d gone out a few hours earlier and hadn’t returned. She wanted to know if he was okay.

 

In the deeply emotional Sundance family drama, Young plays Daniel Holden, a newly exonerated death row inmate who re-enters society after nearly two decades in prison. On the day his wife called looking for him, he’d found the character hard to shake and had been standing on a street corner for four hours; as Young recounts the experience, it’s with the wry smirk he wears even when telling the most devastating story imaginable.

 

“I couldn’t move,” he says. “I was petrified that I was going to fall over. I was absolutely fine. I was healthy. My kids were healthy. I had a beautiful wife. For the first time in my career, I think, I even managed to pay off one of the credit cards. And yet Daniel was there, just going, ‘Don’t move. It all hurts, and if you move, it will hurt more.’ Like when you have a bad back. I was afraid to turn my head. I was afraid I would see through the façade.”

 

It sounds weird, I know — like the kind of mystical mumbo jumbo actors sometimes tell reporters to make themselves sound profound. But I know from having talked to Young several times over the course of Rectify’s run — the show’s fourth and final season debuts on Sundance Wednesday, October 26 — that he takes this character and this world seriously. And not in a self-important or self-involved way; that’s just the effect Rectify has on those involved in it, and its tiny coterie of devoted fans.

 

Young’s solution to his Daniel problem was simple: Build the character a guesthouse in his head where Daniel could go to live in between seasons.

 

“I knew he was there. I’d occasionally take him things, but I wouldn’t see him. Then Sundance would email me, and I’d go and check on him,” he says.

 

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LETHAL WEAPON: Clayne Crawford on new Fox series – Interview

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ASSIGNMENT X – Clayne Crawford is having a wonderful fall season. The actor from Alabama stars in Fox Networks’ new Wednesday-night action series LETHAL WEAPON, which premiered September 21. Based on the feature film franchise, LETHAL WEAPON has Crawford cast as dangerously daredevil – and heartbroken – L.A.P.D. cop Martin Riggs, opposite Damon Wayans’ more cautious fellow police detective Roger Murtaugh. Then, On October 26, Crawford will be back as troubled Ted “Teddy” Talbot Jr. on Sundance TV’s fourth and final season of RECTIFY.

 

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you looking to do another series once RECTIFY wrapped, or were you looking to stay home with the family for a little while?

 

CLAYNE CRAWFORD: Me and my wife laughed. It was a lot when I was struggling, trying to get work, which is most of your career. We would plan a vacation, and inevitably, I would get a phone call to go do a job, right? So I told my wife, “February. I’m going to finish RECTIFY, it’s the final season, I’ve got a movie coming out with Legendary, let’s take six months off.” We’ve been remodeling my farmhouse for three years. “Let’s just really enjoy the property and let’s wait for the best job ever. And I don’t know what that is.” I’d love to go work for HBO, I thought maybe Netflix.

 

Three days later, that man [points to his agent, Paul Santana] called my phone. “Fox wants you.” “No, no, I’m good.” I genuinely wanted to do nothing, but when I read the material, I felt like it was the chance of a lifetime. Even if we failed, I just wanted to play that role and show people I had a little bit of comedy chops.

 

AX: Riggs is coping with tremendous personal tragedy. Is he just able to close off and have a veneer of humor? If not, where does the comedy come from?

 

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Lethal Weapon 1×05 “Split Milk” Recap

BUDDY TV – Well folks, Lethal Weapon has done it again with “Spilt Milk,” the show’s fifth freshman installment. While the guffaws continue, the relationship between Murtaugh and Riggs deepens as we delve into the details revealing the breadth and intensity of Riggs’ military experience. This episode gives us Riggs at his most sane yet. For Murtaugh’s part, he faces the possibility that he’s just not as sharp as he used to be before the heart surgery.

 

With every episode of Lethal Weapon I’m loving it more and more. The humor remains fresh and entertaining without overkill. Murtaugh deals with some aging issues which ring true to life. And Riggs, while funny and daring and revealing (but not too quickly), continues to demonstrate that his “madness” is not so much calculated but mindful. At the same time, Murtaugh’s character is charming while Riggs is hot. A very good combination for primetime viewers starving for quality and engaging programming. Well done.

 

The Deranged Vet Asks, ‘Got Milk?’

 

All he really wanted was a job and a glass of milk. Chad Jackson, a veteran Navy Seal and sniper trashes and rips off a jewelry store after his application for a security guard position is rejected. However, it seems like the heist might have been the guy’s plan from the beginning, but he’s not concerned that his victims have seen his face and it just feels spontaneous. Throughout Jackson remains cool-headed and fearless. As we move forward, we find that there was always only one mission, and only Riggs and Murtaugh can help Jackson achieve it.

 

When talking to Dr. Cox, the therapist at the veteran’s hospital where Jackson was being cared for, we learn that the only help Jackson was getting was some pills and group therapy.

 

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A Love Letter to Clayne Crawford’s Hair on Lethal Weapon

TV GUIDETo those luscious locks currently residing atop Lethal Weapon star Clayne Crawford‘s head:

 

 

Having been familiar with your work since your early performance in A Walk to Remember, and more recently in a supporting role on Sundance’s heartbreaking Rectify, it’s safe to say that I was quite shocked by your current appearance on Fox’s Lethal Weapon. It was like gazing upon a baby deer as it took its first steps, but in a really powerful manly way. You know?

 

 

Seeing how you’ve matured and grown was not just breathtaking but reassuring, like maybe there’s hope for the rest of the hair on TV. Maybe one day I won’t throw my remote and scream toward the heavens when an actor suddenly decides to spend the barber money on yet more cheap whiskey. You’re living proof it can be done. And be done well.

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Lethal Weapon 1×04 “There Goes the Neighborhood” Recap

BUDDY TV – “There Goes the Neighborhood” is rife with high quality goodies. Right out of the gate we get Dr. Mo Cahill all smokin’ hot in a shortie wetsuit at the same beach where (surprise) hobo Riggs crouches over a spicket rinsing his delicates. She does look impressively smoking hot, by the way, and hotter yet when she slams Riggs about his raggedy-man appearance. This is the kind of feistiness that gives a character depth and staying power, so it’s a huge boost for the LAPD shrink.

 

Let’s not forget Officer Murtaugh who kicks it with Junior Murtaugh at their old neighborhood barber shop where they run into an old classmate of Junior’s selling bootleg DVDs. Buckle your seatbelt for another roller coaster ride and lots more interesting banter between this two hotties my friends. And while your savoring that deliciousness, the action continues with Murtaugh and Riggs chasing down a professional home robbery duo in Murtaugh’s own neighborhood. One of the guys looks like Mr. Clean, or the black Hulk, as Murtaugh likes to call him. (He looks like The Rock on steroids to me. Kinda handsome, but wide as a barn and 100% muscle.) The team chases the thieves through a closed garage door only to watch them fly out of there on a motorcycle moments later. And we’re off to the races.

 

Lethal Weapon Wows Millions (12.4 Million, to be Exact)

 

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard the joyous news, let me be the first to lay it on you: Lethal Weapon has been picked up for a full season. Yessir, that’s right. We’ve got another 14 whole episodes in our future. Hot damn. So lots more blood-pumping, testosterone-juicing, chase scenes, humor and romance is on the way. Onward.

 

Best Takedown Scene In a Decade of TV

 

Wow. There are no words … how do you do justice … just, wow. Talk about wildly entertaining! I’m talking about the takedown scene in the men’s locker room shower where Riggs and Murtaugh try (mostly unsuccessfully) to cuff the Black Hulk. “Come over here and try to take me down” threats and splashing and naughty bit humor and Murtaugh sliding across the room while Riggs gets his head lodged between the man’s massive thighs. Rajon “Black Hulk” Phillips literally cleans up the place with Starsky and Hutch … until Riggs finally slugs the man in his massive family tripod so Murtaugh can shock the shine out of him. We’re only 15 minutes in and my evening has already been made.

 

Riggs tackles and cuffs suspect number two, John “Boogie” Baker who stole the getaway van from his ex employer, Valley Star Cable, at a neighborhood basketball game run by Coach Marshawn Wiley. Remember that name because its important later.

 

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