Emory Experts on the New Must-See TV

Don Morris

Television has been the center of home entertainment for more than half a century, beckoning families to gather around its flickering light with reliable lineups of popular sitcoms and procedural dramas. But in the past few years, the medium has undergone a sea change, rivaling the bigger screen for industry-wide talent and cultural relevance. “Reruns” have gone the way of the VCR as major networks compete with direct-to-consumer platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, and major Hollywood stars, directors, and producers are stepping up for—to quote the theme song from The Jeffersons—their piece of the pie.

As both scholars and fans, Emory’s Department of Film and Media Studies faculty—including Amy Aidman, Tanine Allison, Rob Barracano, Matthew H. Bernstein, Marc Bousquet, Michele Schreiber, and Beretta Smith-Shomade—offer some of their recent favorites.

30 for 30: OJ - Made in America (ESPN) and American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX)

You think you know about the OJ Simpson case? Well, think again. With its more than seven-hour running time, 30 for 30 is an exhaustive exploration of the case’s racial context, while American Crime Story offers an enlightening glimpse into the humanity of prosecutors Marsha Clark and Christopher Darden. Paulson is inspired as Clark and Episode #6: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” is one of the most entertaining and heartbreaking forty minutes of television this year.

The Affair (Showtime)

The multi-perspective narrative of The Affair—centering on the titular affair between characters Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson)—has managed to evolve gracefully beyond its original premise to become a richly layered and nuanced glimpse into how subjectivity colors our perspective on the constricting and empowering nature of the ties that bind us to friends, lovers, and family.

Atlanta (FX)

Earn, a fast-talking, conflicted Princeton dropout, returns to his hometown of Atlanta. Hearing that his cousin has scored a minor rap hit, Earn seeks to capitalize by becoming his manager. Surreal and unpredictable, Atlanta expands outward from this premise, becoming more surprising and sure-footed as the season progresses.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW)

Written by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a zany comedy of errors with a side of Glee. Rachel Bloom plays a successful New York attorney who moves to small town California set on rekindling love with her long lost summer-camp crush. Frequent bursts into bizarre song and dance numbers add to the hilarity.

The Fall (BBC2/Netflix)

The third and most recent season of this BBC production is less action-driven than previous seasons but the brilliance of the performances of Jamie Dornan as seductive serial killer Paul Spector and Gillian Anderson as inscrutable detective Stella Gibson has never been on fuller display. Gibson is one of the smartest, sexiest, and most complicated female characters in television history.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)

The best new comedy news show features the host simply standing in front of a digital screen while she delivers hilarious rapid-fire critiques, especially of sexist American politicians and groups. Google her Harriet Tubman $20-bill monologue for a sample of her weekly brilliance.

Greenleaf (OWN)

God is back and living in Memphis, Tennessee! Greenleaf, the second dramatic series hosted on Oprah Winfrey’s network, chronicles the trials and tribulations of mega-church running family, the Greenleafs. Starring actor Lynn Whitfield as matriarch and church first lady, the story captures television’s continued foray into religious dramatic programming that includes series like Big Love, Mary, Mary, and The Preachers of LA franchise.

Horace and Pete (Louis C.K.net/Hulu)

Brooklyn bar Horace and Pete’s has been in operation for one hundred years, always run by a Horace and a Pete. Louis C.K.’s self-distributed series is a theatrical, darkly comic meditation on family, and Laurie Metcalfe’s monologue in the third episode is the year’s best television performance.

Insecure (HBO)

Issa Rae’s hit web series, Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, comes to television in this series. Co-created by Rae and veteran writer-producer Larry Wilmore, this HBO dramedy follows millennial Rae as a thirty-something dealing with millennial-inflicted issues: career uncertainty, girlfriends, and relationship drama in South Los Angeles. Following in the vein of HBO predecessors Girls and Sex and the City, the series is much more grounded, nuanced, and culturally reflective of our national demography.

Stranger Things (Netflix)

This is a tricky watch. It is tempting to give up on this mash up of late twentieth-century horror when it starts to feel unoriginal, but if you ride that out, the series comes roaring back with a climax worth watching again and again. Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and several others give terrific performances.

This Is Us (NBC)

This Is Us captures life’s vagaries in a compelling narrative bookended by family and memory. This drama series is told from the perspectives of thirty-something triplet siblings and their parents. The narrative toggles between their growing up experiences and their current lives while asking serious questions about our life choices, the meanings of success, and the way we view ourselves.

UnREAL (Lifetime)

Ever wonder about the real drama behind the scenes of reality TV? Watch for the Emmys to recognize the show's writing and the second season of Constance Zimmer's career-defining performance as the show's driven, troubled executive producer.

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