Paste's 20 Most Popular TV Stories of 2016

TV Lists Year in Review
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<i>Paste</i>'s 20 Most Popular TV Stories of 2016

Technically speaking, the following 20 stories aren’t actually the most popular we published in 2016. If we went strictly by the numbers, this list would be dominated by, well, lists: of the 25 Best TV Shows of 2016, of the 20 Best Sci-Fi Shows on Netflix or of the 100 Best Sitcoms of All Time, which might grow a bit tiresome 20 times over.

Instead, we’ve collected the 20 most-read essays and reviews from a remarkably strong year in TV, with a limit of one piece per series. (Sorry, Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, only one item apiece.) From small series with passionate fan bases—Steven Universe, Shadowhunters—to the subjects of countless water cooler conversations—The People v. O.J. Simpson, Black Mirror—here’s a taste of what you loved in 2016, and what we promise to bring you more of in 2017.

20. What’s the Matter with the Rock ‘n’ Roll TV Series?
Author: Matt Brennan
Publication Date: August 22

“Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways: It’s still rock ‘n’ roll TV.”

19. For the Makers of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, the Drama of Classical Music Is Crystal Clear
Author: Kenji Fujishima
Publication Date: December 8

”[T]he series is, in many ways, a classic backstage comedy-drama, rife with competing egos and tensions between art and commerce. But the milieu gives it a specificity, one that, for all its exaggerations and gestures toward surrealism, speaks to real issues in the classical-music world.”

18. Sense8 Christmas Special: The Empathy and the Ecstasy
Author: Matt Brennan
Publication Date: December 22

“For all the flaws in its construction, Sense8’s Christmas special distills the series’ courageous gambit into a handful of sublime sequences, three or four of which—despite being utterly indulgent—left me grinning from ear to ear. (Certainly, nothing else on television is brassy enough to feature a musical montage that becomes a dance number that becomes a queer, multiracial bathroom-stall birthday orgy, a few minutes so joyous they’ll tide me over until the series’ second season debuts in May.)”

17. Cillian Murphy of Peaky Blinders is Giving the Best Performance on TV Right Now
Author: Brogan Morris
Publication Date: June 20

“So good he could stay silent for the rest of the show’s run and still remain a compelling lead, Murphy is the reason to keep watching Peaky Blinders even when it dips. The actor never quite made it as the star he perhaps deserved to be on film, but on television he’s luckily found a platform to reveal himself as a leading man in the young Pacino mold: given to explosive rage, but mostly so quiet and infinitesimally subtle you might not even notice the immensity of the performance. It’s often all in the eyes. Those eyes which Tommy uses to brutally survey his enemies, which occasionally bulge with rage, or swell with sporadic emotion, are those of an artist operating at his peak.”

16. How Netflix’s The OA Shows Its Independence from the Usual Sci-Fi Fare
Author: Rachel Brodsky
Publication Date: December 26

“Piecing together themes of faith, belonging, grief, trauma, and family (both spiritual and biological), The OA technically qualifies as sci-fi by pulling the classic move of showing what happens when man wants to play God. In this case, that man is good ol’ Dr. Hap, a guy so dedicated to his research that he’ll go to any lengths necessary (including trapping actual humans, gassing them and popping them into a medieval full-body drowning device) to achieve his ends. That, and the idea of there being multiple dimensions, give The OA a solid sci-fi stamp. But to dismiss it as another Stranger Things, or even the multi-dimensional touchstone Sliders, would be far too limiting.”

15. The Paradox of Steven Avery: How Making a Murderer Challenges White America’s Faith in The Police
Author: Hari Ziyad
Publication Date: January 8

“The blond hair and blue eyes of Steven Avery fly in the face of the presupposed idea that law enforcement keeps white people safe. Avery shows how white people can also become a government threat and be handled accordingly, the same way Black people and other people of color have been handled for centuries. In a sense, he becomes quite the paradox—shedding light on a police culture that basks in freedom from accountability for most crimes, but only giving importance to combatting that culture when the victim is white and relatable.”

14. On Leslie Jones and the Criminality of Carefree Black Girls
Author: Shannon M. Houston
Publication Date: August 24

”[W]hen will we be able to see a tweet—or a barrage of tweets—as an act of violence? When will we see the leaking of personal photos (a tried and true attack which has claimed everyone from Marcia Clark, to Rihanna, to the Duchess of Cambridge) as a form of sexual assault?”

13. Why Racism Always Trumps Sexism: On Confirmation and The People vs. O.J. Simpson
Author: Shannon M. Houston
Publication Date: April 19

“The idea is that, if we are going to defeat racism in this country, there can be no space for critiques from black women of black men like Clarence Thomas, Bill Cosby, Kobe Bryant, etc. Racism still trumps sexism in so many circles, and oftentimes it seems that the myth continues—that we must fight racism first. We get the black men to vote first; we get a black man on the Supreme Court first, before we start taking our men to task. Women like Anita Hill and Alice Walker are attacked for their positions, in the same way that a black woman on Simpson’s jury surely would have been attacked, had she spoken out against him.”

12. Mystery and TV Fandom: Why There Will Never Be Another Lost
Author: Roxanne Sancto
Publication Date: September 23

“Everything on Lost feels like it has meaning, everything feels like it’s happening for a reason and it takes dedication to find out what, precisely, the purpose of it all really is. This show is ‘the looking glass,’ but it’s up to you to make sense of what you’re seeing. It demands your full attention and, beginning in Season Four, an investigative mind on constant, full alert.”

11. In Insecure’s Hilarious, Heartbreaking Season Finale, Actions Have Consequences
Author: Hari Ziyad
Publication Date: November 27

“While it excuses nothing, the reality is, we’re all just trying to figure out how to get what we think we need, and not saying no to life’s dares sometimes seems just as likely to lead us to our goal as anything else. But if there’s anything I learned watching this show, it’s that there’s no one answer to all of this love, friendship and life shit, and trying to find a simple solution to complex problems will always lead to the failures Molly and Issa have now.”

10. Why Queen Sugar’s Nova Bordelon is the Best TV Character of the Year
Author: Kovie Biakolo
Publication Date: December 20

“It’s easy for the viewer to fall in love with Nova. She is spirited, kind, brave, and has all the compassion and conviction of a hometown girl who is protective of her loved ones, history, and space—a matter of importance for the Bordelon family’s Louisiana roots. But there’s also an air of self-righteousness to Nova, which especially manifests in interactions with her sister, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner). Their relationship is complicated, and although it appears to stem from their conflicting values and personalities (both are strong-willed), family matters yet unknown to the viewer may play a role, as it’s eventually revealed that Charley has a different mother from Nova and their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe).”

9. That’s Enough, Narcos
Author: Bonnie Stiernberg
Publication Date: September 12

“The idea that the story of Pablo Escobar is stranger than fiction is one that Narcos hammers home with Murphy’s narration and the use of real news footage to remind us that, yes, most of this really happened. The show is unafraid to pepper in images of the real Escobar because it knows it won’t take us out of the story. If anything, it sucks us further in—we marvel at the real-life things that are too strange to believe, like wide-eyed kids around a bonfire listening to ghost stories.”

8. Black Mirror’s Nauseating Tale of Online Crime and Punishment
Author: Roxanne Sancto
Publication Date: October 25

“Was it senseless cruelty with no purpose other than someone’s twisted idea of personal entertainment? Perhaps it was South Park resident Gerald Brovlosfki (a.k.a. Skankhunt42), a regular old guy who gets off on stirring shit up, or simply needs an outlet for his daily frustrations. It seems too intricate for someone merely trying to have “fun,” and the careful selection of the game’s targets too obvious to be written off as standard online trolling. The message, however, is clear. Regardless of the game’s purpose, ‘Shut Up and Dance’ grippingly demonstrates how dangerous our tendency to use the Internet as an extension of ourselves has become, and how easily it can be used to manipulate us—and further stimulate our perversions—in the most despicable ways. Ultimately, the joke is on us: We are the villains in our own online stories and games.”

7. Alex Hirsch Talks Gravity Falls and the Fascinating Journal 3 Project
Author: Zach Blumenfeld
Publication Date: July 29

Gravity Falls was a labor of love, but like all labor it could be painful at times. I’m glad the show-baby is finally birthed from my brain-womb and can finally run around on its own, without keeping me up all night with its deadline-contractions. This metaphor is kinda breaking down here. The point is, shows are babies and I’ve been enjoying my vacation!”

6. Gilmore Girls Has a Privilege Problem
Author: Whitney Friedlander
Publication Date: November 29

“When it comes to finances, A Year in the Life comes across as tone-deaf at best, snobbish and entitled at worst, but it’s just plain mean with regard to other, less explicit markers of class status. No one needed to see a fully-clothed Lorelai and Rory body shaming people at the pool, then coming out of their own food comas to ask, “Did we order Chinese, Greek and Italian food last night?” And who knew it was possible to feel for Jack Carpenter’s Paul, a barely-seen beau of Rory’s in A Year in the Life, who’s somehow unaware that she’s cheating on him—with both her former flame, Logan, and, on a whim, with someone dressed as a Wookiee.”

5. Why is Bill Simmons Getting Away with the Mess of Any Given Wednesday?
Author: Robert Ham
Publication Date: July 20

“The original sin with AGW is that Simmons somehow believed that he could just take the things that made him famous—his writing and his podcast—and translate it into TV form without any consideration of the format’s needs or voice. The four episodes he has produced to date have only proven how foolhardy that thinking was.”

4. Shadowhunters Executive Producer Michael Reisz on Writing Authentic LGBT Characters
Author: Abbey White
Publication Date: April 11

“I’ll tell you, as an out gay man, who is writing both straight and gay characters, those levels and those reactions are important to me. I’ve been involved with the Magnus and Alec storyline since its inception in the series. I’ve sort of been the protector of it through every episode. The writers have done a beautiful job, but we really wanted to layer the character traits to have these people be real people throughout each episode as things built and built. So, as far as Harry’s reaction to Alec’s explanation, this pressure is building up inside of Alec and he tells Magnus to back off. It’s like, everybody is on him right now, I’m in this hurricane and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

3. Steven Universe’s Fall Special, “Gem Harvest,” Is Exactly What the Country Needs Right Now
Author: Zach Blumenfeld
Publication Date: November 17

“The happy ending of ‘Gem Harvest’ may be a long time coming, if it ever arrives. Although Steven Universe is mature for a cartoon, it’s still far simpler than real-life America, and Trump supporters won’t see through new eyes after half an hour of convincing. But Steven serves to remind us that even as we fight the forces of institutionalized bigotry and cultural division in our country, our capacity to love needn’t and shouldn’t fade away.”

2. Does It Matter That Stranger Things Lacks Original Ideas?
Author: Brogan Morris
Publication Date: July 21

“If you were a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, chances are you’ve seen Stranger Things before. An eight-part sci-fi spectacle and shiny new Netflix original from filmmaking brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things is spooky supernatural entertainment unashamedly in the 1980s popcorn mould. It won’t be a problem for today’s kids less familiar with that period in film, but for those that recognize the influences—anyone who’s been paying attention to pop culture over the last 30 years, probably—there’s nothing surprising about Stranger Things. In fact, there’s barely an original idea across its six-and-a-half hours. Instead, it constantly recalls old stories.”

1. The Game of Thrones Theory to End All Game of Thrones Theories
Author: Shane Ryan
Publication Date: May 23

“If Bran is not just capable of greensight and warging, but is actually a time traveler who was also Bran the Builder, the Last Hero, and Azor Ahai, the promised savior, what does it portend for the story? On the surface, it gives him massive influence over the entire world. Could the whole thing be his creation, or at least highly subject to his influence? If he has that kind of control over events we’ve already seen, does it undermine the agency of the other characters, who would now be essentially just acting out a script that Bran writes and directs?”

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