New year, new TV! Old standards are returning from their midseason break, but more importantly, there’s a fresh crop of television including midseason pickups and, of course, fall shows — while we don’t know much about the fall schedule since we haven’t seen the spring upfronts yet, we can dream…and I’ll warn you ahead of time that one of the shows on this list is fictional, because why not put my wishes for 2015 out there into the world? It’s up to you to guess which, though!
So what am I looking forward to in 2016? These fives shows are a taste of what could be a solid year in US television — and I sorely hope that it is, because 2015 was a bitter disappointment.
1) X-Files (Fox)
Like many of us, I can testify that Gillian Anderson was my adolescent awakening to the fact that girls are lovely. Absolutely lovely. Just…lovely. When she came out as bisexual, I’m sure my heart wasn’t the only one that stopped beating — because a date with Gillian Anderson would be sheer perfection, not just because of her X-Files character, but because Anderson herself has proved to be a sharp cultural and social critic in the years since the iconic series.
For those who weren’t in the US when the programme aired, or were too young to tune in, it’s hard to precisely articulate why the show was so important, and why it took on the form of a cultural watershed a la cult favourite like Twin Peaks. This was a show about aliens and conspiracies but also about partnerships and faith. And yes, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully often got rather soapy as the show dragged on and the creators looked for new material, but the banter was always glittering and the X-Files genuinely made for some of the creepiest US television. The cast and creative team alike are back, but, critically, Fox isn’t overreaching, instead turning the return into a miniseries, allowing us to enjoy the perfection that is the X-Files without the fear that it will be tainted by going on too long and dragging out a painful existence.
2) The Magicians (SyFy)
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is a rather controversial book and responses tend to be rather polarised. It’s about spoilt rich children who think they can get anything they want, determined to find the real-world Narnia…and what happens next. While it could come off as yet another entry in obnoxious literary fiction, there’s something I rather like about it, as it can be read (and I take it thus) as a commentary on the culture of entitlement and privilege that surrounds wealthy white boys and their followers.
Wanting something, but not quite getting it, is an experience that privileged members of society aren’t often forced to endure. I rather like seeing them forced into that position, and that’s what we got with The Magicians. I hope the TV adaptation follows in that vein, maintaining the peculiar, dark, twisted magic of the books, the complicated and sometimes venomous relationships between the characters, and the ultimate failure to get everything they want.
3) Prohibition (Netflix)
After chewing through all of Miss Fisher, I’ve been looking desperately for a replacement for the snappy, sharp drama featuring an independent woman, all sorts of queer overtones, brilliant mystery solving, and a stunning setting. There are lots of costume dramas, but only one Miss Fisher, and I’ve been predicting that it could act as a forerunner, much like Downton Abbey, that introduces a new trend in the genre. I’m pleased to say that I’m right, with Netflix bringing on a solid cast for Prohibition, including Lupita Nyong’o, who’s become an international superstar thanks to Star Wars.
Nyong’o leads as a scrappy suffragette who gets dragged into a sinister series of events when one of her sisters in arms is found murdered behind a DC jazz club. The clock is ticking on solving the mystery before the murderer gets away, and for her, it’s personal: Her close proximity to the deceased at the time of death makes her the number one suspect. I’m looking forward to glamourous frocks, great jazz singing, and some fantastic patriarchy-smashing drama.
4) Billions (Showtime)
Damian Lewis has been given a rum deal at times in the television world, which is a pity, because he’s an incredibly talented actor (and I absolutely loved him on Life). He’s returning for Billions, which revolves around one of my favourite subjects: Class war and a dismantling of capitalist social structures. If executed properly, the show could become a brilliant commentary on the state of US society and global financial systems in general. If done poorly, it could be another dull legal drama.
Lewis stars as Bobby Axelrod, a hedge fund manager who thinks he’s untouchable, facing off against Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades, the attorney who’s determined to take him down. After eight years of recession, the United States is definitely ready to see the financial system beaten about the ring a bit, as illustrated by the collective shiver of delight that sweeps the nation every time someone’s indicted for financial fraud. (Martin Shkreli carried the added load of being a terrible human being, making it a surprise that the US didn’t declare a national holiday when he was arrested.) This could bring about some much-needed fireworks.
5) Mercy Street (Masterpiece on PBS)
Public television is a national treasure, and we all know that PBS is absolutely obsessed with the Civil War. This drama is no exception, but it should prove interesting, as it will be integrating perspectives from both sides of the war in a setting that includes not just the sweeping family dramas US viewers (and readers) are accustomed to encountering, but also the realities of working as a medical provider on one of the most devastating battlefields in US history.
The kinds of injuries sustained — and the treatments available — in the Civil War were quite horrific, challenging medical providers who had few tools available. The war also marked one of the first time women played an active role in nursing and care in the field, not just in hospitals back home, and their stories have been largely left untold. Much as Call the Midwife alerted the world to the incredible work of women working in impoverished London in the 1950s, Mercy Street could be an illuminating look into the lives of women caught up in a drama that sometimes forced them to treat not just their own terribly injured soldiers, but those of the countrymen they were fighting against.