If someone was to ask me what the best network for new and promising TV was, there would be a handful of names that come to mind. HBO remains a juggernaut of quality program that makes using it as an answer is like asking "Is the sky blue?" You can find the run-offs on Showtime or Cinemax for equally engaging TV series. However, there are two networks that I feel actually have earned their stripes in recent years. The first is Comedy Central, whose impressive run a few years back brought us darlings like Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and Broad City. However, I think that the channel having the biggest and most interesting turnout in 2016 has to be FX. Don't believe me? Then all you have to do is give this one week a chance to do its bidding, and maybe you'll understand why I think this way.
Earlier in 2016, comedian Zach Galifianakis released the series Baskets. It was a show where he played his own brother and Louie Anderson played his mother. It was an absurdist set-up with a poignant drama hidden underneath the surface. To those long familiar with FX's brand of comedy, it feels reminiscent of one of FX's most critically successful series: Louie. Whereas that series became more experimental the further along it went, the tone had been set and it feels like every series since has owed some debt to it. If nothing else, it established the auteur theory for TV comedians who have what can essentially be called passion projects.
True, not every show that FX (or its spin-off network FXX) has created feel reliant on a familiar comedian. You're the Worst is a comedy from creator Stephen Falk starring a cast that was fairly unknown before the series debuted three years ago. However, the remainder almost feels like it has precedent for having shows created by "That guy!" types. One could look at Judy Greer's Married or Jay Baruchel's Man Seeking Woman. While they run the gamut of tone, the Class of 2016 feel more in the vein of Louie than FX's other senior series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Beyond Baskets, it's easy to think see the melancholic Atlanta fitting into the Louie mold with ease despite being about a young black musician (a far cry from an old white comedian). The other new FX series this week, Better Things, sees former Louie collaborator Pamela Adlon getting her first series as the lead actress. If the show is anything like the ads, it is bound to be just as dark in its comedy.
True, FX also prides itself on quality dramas like The Americans and anthology series like American Horror Story. However, their tackling of comedy has becomes pretty interesting over the past few years. While they still have the generic catchall shows like The Comedians or Anger Management, their noteworthy series seem to establish FX as the network with comedians attempting to revolutionize TV by exploring the grounds between sitcom culture and darker subject matter - often within a half hour time frame. It may be a gimmick that seems like it wouldn't sell well, but it's even more astounding that it actually does sell. Most of these series may be too niche to exist anywhere else, but one should be thankful that FX has dedicated a large portion of their current line-up to making TV that pushes boundaries not in vulgar ways, but in artistic ones.
I admit that I haven't seen everything that the network has offered nor do I believe that everything that they make is great. However, there is something to watching a network make programs that challenge the emotional intelligence of its audiences. For instance, You're the Worst spent a large part of its season exploring a character's struggle with depression in authentic ways. It is the type of content that probably wouldn't fly on major networks like NBC or ABC. However, it works because FX let Falk and his writers pretty much create the world that they feel comfortable telling stories with, which just so happens to involve repulsive and obnoxious people.
I'm sure that the arguments could be made for every network having one advantage over the other. While Comedy Central has slowed down on producing interesting auteur TV by comedians, FX has only continued a steady stream with a handful of series per year that cater to the low energy manic depressives who find solace in comedies that have "realism." It's hard to imagine what would happen if Louie never came and if It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia forever set the norm with several series like The League. It would be fine, but it wouldn't be a singular sensation like their crop of series are now.
I'm not expecting the shows to appeal to everyone who turns on the network. However, there's something reassuring about a channel that allows artists to make art, and to have a place to present some of the weirdest and most exciting forms of comedy (not Adult Swim weird, either). It is almost cathartic, and it makes me excited for the foreseeable future to know that FX will continue to give my favorite second tier comedians a chance to make their voices heard and possibly even move up to top tier. I don't know if Atlanta or Better Things will have that future, but I do know that it's at least exciting to know that these shows exist. Part of the joy is my belief that none of these shows feel built to last for too long, so support is always welcomed. When they do last, it almost feels like you helped that happen. Without really reaching out to its fans, FX feels like the network that could, and that warms my heart.