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AFI AWARDS 2016 – TELEVISION

THE AMERICANS bleeds with empathy for idealism on both sides of the wall, tapping into an unsettling common humanity with the enemy next door. Joe Weisberg’s taut thriller has set the table with secrets now shared, and in its fourth year serves up just desserts —‚ including increasingly deadly decisions driven by the compromised loyalties of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’ Soviet spies and Holly Taylor as their all-American daughter.

ATLANTA pulses with music, comedy and drama — masterfully mixed and managed with the assured voice of an auteur. Creator and star Donald Glover lays down the laughs with shock and awe to present a universal story of artistic ambition rooted in raw realism, social urgency and a perspective utterly unique.

BETTER CALL SAUL rises to new heights in its second year, if only to illustrate how far its unscrupulous hero can fail, fall and fly again. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould heap endless trials upon Bob Odenkirk’s colorful hustler as he wiles his way through clashes with friends, foes and an electric sibling rivalry that proves against the allure of a con, he just can’t help himself.

THE CROWN sparkles with epic ambition and emotional nuance. Peter Morgan’s pristine production crowns this mannered majesty in a tale of divine right — particularly through Claire Foy’s poised performance as Elizabeth, and John Lithgow’s portrayal of Winston Churchill as an aging lion clinging to power with a shrewd devotion to the young monarch.

GAME OF THRONES rises from scorched earth and takes to wing toward resurrection, redemption and retribution. Having planted the seeds of Shakespearean tragedy on a scale rarely envisioned in the medium, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss unleash unholy vengeance across the map — delivering vicious ends for those deserving, and glimmers of dark hope even against lengthening shadows of encroaching winter.

THE NIGHT OF shines a stark light on a complex case against a young Muslim man charged with murder — proving that truth may be incidental in the darkness of a system that consumes and corrupts. The revelations of Richard Price and Steven Zaillian’s provocative series are illuminated by the wrenching, realistic performances from Riz Ahmed and John Turturro — and, ultimately cast a harsh shadow upon racial prejudice, institutional perversion and criminal injustice.

THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY witnesses the trial of the century as a searing insight into our cultural obsession with celebrity schadenfreude. With an outcome already widely watched around the world, Ryan Murphy serves up surprises amidst the spectacle of this gripping legal theater — aided and abetted by a murderers’ row of all-star talent, including Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Sarah Paulson, John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance. The verdict is in: this show is a killer.

STRANGER THINGS unearths a monster built from nightmarish nostalgia — and reveals horrors wholly original. As the series’ dungeon masters, the Duffer Brothers turn genre upside down with this homage to the 1980s inhabited by icons of the era — including a masterful, maternal turn by Winona Ryder. At the heart of this heart-pounding mystery, however, is the marvelous motley crew of misfit kids and the indelible arrival of Eleven — played by Millie Bobby Brown.

THIS IS US blossoms with uncynical sentiment to celebrate the emotional complexity of a true modern family. Interwoven with warmth, humor and heartbreak by an ensemble that includes Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore and Sterling K. Brown, Dan Fogelman’s big-hearted series jumps through time to explore the infinite — and the universal — catalyzing causes and effects that illustrate the power of storytelling to unite a global audience as if we all share the same birthday.

VEEP proves the power of comedy to parody — and even predict — an American political system in pieces. This consistently incisive satire inspires laughter amidst the horror on both sides of the aisle — remaining urgently relevant and utterly essential to unite a nation in the common belief that America is stronger in stitches. Hail to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the leader of a free world of wonderful talent who never fail to find the funny in the halls of perceived power.

AFI SPECIAL AWARD

O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA is an epic indictment of a nation’s ideals and a dark reflection of its shattered soul. Ezra Edelman’s gripping retelling of infamous events bounds beyond a masterpiece of investigative journalism and scores as a cataclysmic cultural confession. In the spotlight are America’s lethal fascinations with power and the cult of personality as well our crippling inability to intellectualize, articulate and act upon the imperative issues of race and justice for all.

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