ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Before the bells ring in 2017, we want to look back on some of the great television that aired this year. So if you want to know what to binge-watch in the few remaining days of 2016, Eric Deggans is here to tell us. Hi, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
SHAPIRO: There is so much good TV out there. If, in these final days of 2016, somebody wants to go back and binge watch the best stuff they missed, what are you going to tell them to watch?
DEGGANS: You know, I'm a black man. I've been writing about TV for a long time. And I've been pushing the industry to be more inclusive and more diverse, not just because it's some - out of some sense of fairness but because it teaches us about each other. We're such a segregated society that television can be an important way of bridging those worlds. So, you know, on my list is the growing number of great shows about black people and black culture including "Insecure" on HBO with Issa Rae...
SHAPIRO: I love that show.
DEGGANS: ...This former YouTube star...
DEGGANS: ...Done a great job with a comedy that's just about an average black woman. "Luke Cage," which is a great Netflix show about one of Marvel's first black superheroes translated to the modern age with a lot of hip-hop swagger. And then top on my list was "Atlanta," Donald Glover's masterpiece about two guys trying to make it in Atlanta's rap scene but also gave us a really important look at race and class and all kinds of things. We even have a clip. Let's listen to it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ATLANTA")
DONALD GLOVER: (As Earnest Earn Marks) I don't want a handout. I want to manage you.
BRIAN TYREE HENRY: (As Alfred Paper Boi Miles, laughter) Manage. You know where the word manage come from?
GLOVER: (As Earnest Earn Marks) Manus, Latin for hand.
HENRY: (As Alfred Paper Boi Miles) Probably, but I'm going to say no for the purpose of my argument. Manage come from the word man, and that ain't really your lane.
GLOVER: (As Alfred Paper Boi Miles) My lane?
DEGGANS: So that was Donald Glover trying to convince his cousin, an up-and-coming rapper, to let him manage him. And this show always and continually puts things in front of you and sort of says, here it is, you know, think about it.
SHAPIRO: You've also got a late night entry on your list here. Obviously the election gave a lot of material to late night shows, whether it's Stephen Colbert, John Oliver. You like "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" from TBS.
SHAPIRO: Exactly. This is a show - as much as Trevor Noah took over "The Daily Show" from Jon Stewart, I think Samantha Bee actually really translated Jon Stewart's sense of outrage and also his way of educating viewers about things that were going on in media and politics and the hypocrisies within both of them. We've got a clip of her talking about, for example, some of the trolls that have been employed by Russia to spread fake news throughout the information ecosystem. Let's check it out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
SAMANTHA BEE: The Kremlin has focused their trolls' efforts on shoring up support for the Ukraine war, advancing Putin's standing on the world stage and most recently, meddling with the American presidential election.
DEGGANS: So it's been great to see Samantha Bee bring a feminist voice, a very incisive voice that educates people about what's going on in media and politics. And she went to Russia to interview a couple of people for this story. So she's also doing some enterprise reporting, too.
SHAPIRO: Eric, two of the shows on your list of the best TV of 2016 are about the same subject, which is O.J. Simpson.
DEGGANS: I know.
SHAPIRO: I thought we got all the coverage we could possibly stomach in the 1990s. What was it about this year's coverage of that story that you found so compelling?
DEGGANS: You would think, well, I think 20 years of distance really serve storytellers well. So we have "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story," which is FX's limited series. We've got some wonderful performances by people like Sterling K. Brown playing Chris Darden, the prosecutor. And then we have "O.J.: Made In America," this five-part ESPN documentary that also unearths all kinds of things. So these are two really great shows that give us new insights, and for that I listed them number two and number three on my list.
SHAPIRO: Sterling Brown also stars in another show on your list, a network drama called "This Is Us." And I'm so glad you included this because the other day I was on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast talking about this show and nobody on the panel liked it as much as I did. So I'm glad you and see eye to eye on this.
DEGGANS: I am a sucker for a great family drama. And first and foremost, "This Is Us" is a great family drama. And it is a show that explores race and class issues very subtly and, you know, in an authentic and kind of innovative way. It does so many things well. And it's nice to see sort of the standard broadcast network really step up and succeed with a show that's high quality in a way that we haven't seen in quite a while.
SHAPIRO: That's our reviewer Eric Deggans on some of the best TV of 2016. Eric, great to talk to you.
DEGGANS: I'm going to have a full list on npr.org so check it out there.
SHAPIRO: Will do.
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