Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is the best new TV family of 2016?
Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com
I feel like the Pearsons are going to dominate this, but the correct answer is the DiMeos. “Speechless” is one of the fall’s best new shows that could’ve easily succumbed to a mawkish tone with its premise centered on a child with cerebral palsy. But like so many of ABC’s sharp family comedies, it toes the line of being sincere without being saccharine, witty without being desperate and inclusive without being morally superior, with finely etched characters, led by Minnie Driver’s ferocious mama bear, who are not afraid to get dark and unlikable. The DiMeos are hardly your typical aspirational TV family, but their flaws are as real and funny as you can get.
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
No new TV family of 2016 better manifested the spirit of the year than the crazed family of backwoods cannibal serial killers on “American Horror Story,” all of whom were apparently also expert directors of photography. If I had to join some TV family for a holiday celebration, why not them? I might not make it all the way through, but the journey to my demise would at least be all-over-the-place and stylistically ambitious.
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
The Windsors! The wacky family at the center of Netflix’s “The Crown” has so many problems! Elizabeth just got a new job and she’s worried that people will look at her differently! Her husband Philip is worried that Elizabeth is gonna make more money than he does and he doesn’t want to move out of the house that he finally got just the way he likes it. Sister Margaret’s got a thing for married men and she’s totally insecure that Elizabeth is hogging the spotlight. Uncle Eddie lives abroad, but he keeps popping up to tell Elizabeth that he could probably do her job better. Then there’s crazy ol’ Winston, who isn’t actually part of the family, but seems to drop by almost every day. And Elizabeth’s son Charles? Let’s just say I’ve got a feeling exciting stuff is ahead for that little scamp. Royals! They’re just like us.
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
The Windsors! As a non-Brit who hasn’t been inundated with tales of the family, I loved watching the changing dynamics among members of the royal house. Elizabeth’s struggle between her familial desires and the duties of the crown defined the series, but Margaret’s relationship with Peter, the Queen Mother’s search for a new purpose, and watching Philip struggle to find his place and deference in regards to his sovereign wife were extraordinarily compelling, and occasionally heartbreaking. That’s without even mentioning old snarky, abdicated uncle Edward and the tragic figure of King George, either. (And let’s not forget Winston because you know he was like family, of course).
Though the show took its characters through historic halls and exotic locales, it’s often the most successful in showing their smallest moments (in phone calls, muted reactions, and stolen glances), and I will miss being able to check in with them as we wait for Season 2.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
I must say, whether they’re just the most memorable (after all those madcap adventures) or legitimately my favorites (thanks to some truly charming character work), 2016’s Best New Family has to go to the Parkers from TBS’ freshman road trip comedy, “The Detour.” While it was recently pointed out to me by an observant coworker that the family patriarch’s oft-used full name is Nate Parker, such a perturbing coincidence is one befitting a family who doesn’t just suffer a stretch of bad luck, but is plagued by obscenely awful occurrences from the moment they hit the road. “The Detour” gets more and more uncomfortable as it goes along, much like a road trip stretched well beyond its arrival time, but every outlandish moment spent with the Parkers proves delightful to behold. They make misery entertaining, and for that, we want them to find happiness.
Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR
Cynical critics have taken potshots at this show for months, but NBCs “This Is Us” has resurrected the family drama in a way that feels compelling, illuminating and moving. One reason the show works so well, is that the family at the heart of the series reflects the realities of today’s blended, ever-changing families. Milo Ventimiglia’s patriarch Jack Pearson is everything you’d want in a dad raising triplets – understanding, idealistic and energetic – but not without his own flaws. Crissy Metz and Justin Hartley are wonderful as the biological twin siblings with a bond that helps and hurts them. And Sterling K. Brown is quite rightly earning lots of awards-season love playing a black child raised in a this white family who suddenly discovers and embraces his dying biological father. As a close second, I’d name the three black men topping Donald Glover’s excellent dramedy “Atlanta” on FX. They’re not biological brothers – Glover plays a college dropout trying to convince his cousin, an up-and-coming rapper, to let him serve as his manager. And they pal around with an eccentric buddy who often plays like the African American version of Seinfeld’s Kramer. But they are brothers in spirit, navigating pitfalls of race and class while trying to make something of themselves in a city filled with black folk which can nevertheless seem awfully inhospitable to working class black men.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
OK, I know everyone is gonna pick the Pearsons from “This is Us” because it makes them cry and wah wah wah. Hard pass, thank you. Yes, the show is lovely and the cast acts the shit out of some seriously manipulative material, but I cannot with all of the emotions every week. I watch TV for an escape not primal-scream therapy. So I am going with the non-conventional (nonventional?) family unit of Syfy’s outstanding “The Magicians.” Set in a world where magic is as real as depression and misguided sexual hookups, the adaptation of Lev Grossman’s books gave us a dysfunctional family of familiar sibling types—broody Quentin (Jason Ralph), overachiever Alice (Oliver Taylor Dudley), black sheep Julia (Stella Maeve), over-it big brother Penny (Arjun Gupta) and bitchy sidekicks Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil)—all college students at a school for magic, who wind up forming the closest thing they have to a family after a sinister force targets them. Throw in a fictional land, a literary clan with some severely dark inspirations and a group dynamic that made it hard not to love even the most unlovable member (ahem, Julia!) and you have a family that I am very excited to spend more time with when the show returns in January.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
While “Better Things” didn’t make me long for a sibling of my own gender, I’ve always wondered what it might be like to have a sister. The deep love that exists within the family crafted for the screen by Pamela Adlon is tempered by a realism that sells us on the idea that this is a family we’d want to join, for better or for worse, one even more engaging given that its core is entirely female, just trying to get by in a man’s world. Silly and accepting and real, there are far worse clans to belong to than the Foxes.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
For me, Netflix breakout series “Stranger Things” was all about the power of family having your back in the face of unimaginable odds. The Byers and the Wheelers equally are two families I loved getting to know on this show.
“Stranger Things” revealed these families in well-written scenes and perfectly cast characters. The Byers family, the Wheeler family and the core friendship of these kids, made us care for them and what was to be, and glued us to this yarn.
This nostalgic series showed that sometimes our “family” can be our closest friends and not blood relatives. These bonds between family members and friends were one of the solid aspects of this thriller, and for me delivered a believable emotional journey in a show laced with fantastical supernatural stretches that could have swamped the importance of their relationships in the course of this story unfolding.
Of note, I loved Will Byers’ (Noah Schnapp) relationship with his older brother Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, and the touching work turned in by Winona Ryder as the mother Joyce Byers, who hung in there and never gave up her sleuthing on how and where her son went despite all the obstacles of their poverty and persevering despite that town’s distancing themselves from her.
Add to that a solid performance by Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler, mother of Nancy, Mike, and toddler Holly. Also of note was the brother-sister relationship of Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler and his sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and the extended friend-family between Mike, Will and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin).
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “The Man in the High Castle” (2 votes)
Other contenders: “Chance,” “The Great American Baking Show,” “The Hollow Crown,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” The Rose Bowl, “Sense8,” “Vikings” (1 vote each)
*In the case of streaming, the show must have premiered in the past month.