Let’s not look back on 2016. Sure, there were some good moments. I think. Maybe. The Cubs, for sure. That’s one. Game of Thrones gave us two episodes, “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter,” that changed the idea of what television could do, that elevated the medium. But thinking back over the past year hurts my brain and my heart.
Let’s look forward to 2017. Here are ten television wishes I have for the upcoming year. I want:
10) The Codys from Animal Kingdom to find some stability. Yes, conflict makes story, but constant chaos does not make for good story. Everything can’t be on the brink of falling apart all the time. There needs to be periods of relative calm to make the big moments seem big, to let the characters rest and reflect. I think the problem here stems from the show’s origin as a film. A self-contained two-hour feature can portray everything unraveling. But, now that the series has gone beyond its first season, it needs to show that the situation of narrative—the family immersed in the lifestyle of crime—is sustainable.
9) Shadowhunters to shape up its act. I enjoyed Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments book series. I found the 2013 film adaptation of the first book City of Bones to be tolerable. But the television adaptation so far has been painful. The first season managed to fail on every level. It’s not a good adaptation of the source material. It’s not good on its own. The writing shows a paint-by-numbers approach to the novels—hitting all the major plot points without any consideration toward narrative coherence or character development. And it lacks the books’ wit. The series looks ugly and overly blue. And the acting barely rises to the level of “good for a high school production.” I’m amazed that the network (Freeform) let the pilot go to series without overhauling the cast (unless it was straight-to-series). Male lead Dominic Sherwood is blandly handsome, not nearly charismatic enough for the role, but at least he doesn’t struggle the way female lead Katherine McNamara does. The supporting cast varies from adequate to awful but doesn’t have any stand-outs. And, yet, the series got renewed for a second season, with the episode count upped from 13 to 20. I’m not sure what the series can do to improve quality, but I hope it does something. At least the trailer seems to suggest that there will be less color grading.
8) iZombie to stick to its case-of-the-week formula. The Season 2 finale finds perky undead medical examiner Liv Moore and her gang of trusty associates facing what looks like the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. Yet, the series worked best when focusing on the episodic murder mysteries Liv would solve every week and not on the overarching narrative. Let’s hope the series recognizes this and doesn’t go too deep down the zombie rabbit hole, leaving Liv free to continue her crime-solving ways. No new trailer yet, but reports from last summer’s ComiCon panel don’t leave me hopeful.
7) Sleepy Hollow to find new creative energy with its change of direction. It was a show that never lived up to its promise. Despite strong chemistry between leads Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, the show’s weak sense of narrative and muddy cinematography often made for ponderous viewing. At times, that chemistry was the only thing that seemed to buoy the series as it threatened to drown in its own mythology. It was also a refreshing friendship between male and female characters that never veered into romantic waters. With the departure of Beharie, the best thing about the show, the relationship between the leads, is gone. The newly-released trailer for Season 4 shows little of new female lead Janina Gavankar, so we can’t tell how she’ll fit in. But Ichabod’s new haircut recalls Felicity’s Season 2 disaster. Ichabod’s flowing locks were the second best thing about the series. I fear that the show will go out with a whimper, but I’m hoping I’m wrong.
6) How to Get Away with Murder’s strangely-separated lovebirds Connor and Oliver to reunite. HTGAWM often has characters do things just because that’s the way the writers want it. (Does it make sense that Bonnie killed Rebecca? No, but somebody had to have done it.) Also, the series has a grapeshot approach to pairing characters romantically. It throws out partnerships with little character compatibility or pre-coupling groundwork—Asher and Bonnie, Laurel and Wes, Asher and Michaela?!—and sees what makes an impact. Connor and Oliver worked as a couple. We watched the development of their relationship from the first episode, and it made sense. Until Oliver broke up with Connor for no apparent reason. I realize that, in real life, people do things for complex reasons that they themselves often don’t understand, but, in narratives, the audience should be able to begin to comprehend those reasons. Clearly, Oliver was still in love with Connor. He was not put off by Connor’s association with Annalise, as he had just joined Team Annalise himself. I think the writers simply wanted them to be apart this season, so they made it so. It’s time that the writers waved their magic wands and brought the two back together.
5) Jason Mantzoukas’ Brooklyn Nine-Nine character, Adrian Pimento, to vanish in a bizarre balloon accident, never to be heard from again. I can’t think of more annoying recurring character in the history of television. (I’m sure there has to be one, but nothing’s coming to mind.) His loud insanity doesn’t fit with the sitcom’s laid-back humor. Mantzoukas has no dynamic changes; he’s always dialed to eleven. But with all his screaming and manic intensity, he’s just not funny. It doesn’t have to be a balloon—Pimento can be kidnapped by desperate Minnesota housewives, move to Tibet to join a monastery, or join up with Basque freedom fighters. I don’t care. I just want him gone.
4) The return of Sean Maguire’s Robin Hood on Once Upon a Time to prove permanent. Killing off the outlaw archer at the end of Season 5 was the writers’ way of providing a catalyst for the Season 6 arc of the return of the Evil Queen. His death, which involved him being wiped out of existence (as opposed to going to some sort of afterlife), was necessarily presented as final due to Hook’s recent resurrection. His return, brought about by the alternate reality created as a result of the genie’s wish, could be transitory if he vanishes when that reality does, as it must, or could be permanent if he is brought back into the world of Storybrooke. So much about his story seemed unfinished when he was dispatched last season. Robin provided some needed masculine energy in a show with so many powerful female characters. Plus, baby girl Robin should not be left to be raised by the Wicked Witch, particularly considering the vile way she was conceived.
3) The Royals to get renewed for Season 4. The ratings for Season 3 were on an upswing from Season 2 until the holidays hit. The next episode airs on New Year’s Day, so that will probably be down, too. It would be unfortunate for the show to be cancelled just as it hits its creative stride as an unabashedly campy soap.
2) Toby Stephens to get some critical recognition for Black Sails. Some series fly (or, in this case, sail) under the radar of critical and popular acclaim. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those shows are bad. It means that the people who can start a broad conversation about a show haven’t found them. Black Sails lacked the star power and network power to get that conversation started. It didn’t have a built-in passionate fan base like its fellow Starz drama series Outlander. So, while the series has been successful enough for a four-season run on Starz, it has not been a part of the cultural discourse—which means that Toby Stephens gets no recognition for the outstanding work he’s been doing, playing an antihero every bit as complex as Walter White or Tony Soprano. Prior to Black Sails, I’d seen Stephens in a few projects—a Poirot, a Marple, a couple of movies. I knew he was a good actor. Until Black Sails, however, I had no idea he could do that. His ability to convey contradictory ideas with the same look continually impresses me. Stephens shows the same intensity mastered and honed by training that characterized Olivier’s performances. I don’t use the “O” word lightly. Stephens deserves to be in that rarefied company.
1) Elena to return to The Vampire Diaries. The series is ending this year. I would be very surprised and disappointed if the show didn’t find a way to lure back Nina Dobrev for at least one episode to wrap up the series. Any series ending that does not feature Elena in some way would be inadequate. Naturally, I want a happy ending for Elena and Damon, but I’ll take any ending that brings a sense of closure. Elena must be a part of that.