Samuel Brace with the four best TV shows of 2016 so far…
2016 has been… an interesting year for TV so far. Part wonderful, part steaming pile of crap, 2016 has signified the incipient collapse of TV’s golden age. There of course has been the usual mix of good and bad, the same as every year, but many of the shows which should have, or could have been good, simply were not, leaving a taste of disappointment in ones mouth, creating a certain pessimism about televisions future. But this isn’t about those shows. We are here today to talk about the best of what 2016 has had to offer in its first half. There have been some truly sublime seasons of television, spanning across many genres. But what are the four best? Well, sit down and let me tell you.
What Netflix’s debut Marvel show managed to achieve in its first season was really quite remarkable. It managed to blend the best parts of the films while creating an entirely new, more grown up experience to be binged at ones pleasure. The challenge of besting or even just matching that achievement for season 2 was always going to be a hard task to accomplish, but accomplish it they did, managing to deliver a season of TV that hit the marks that were so bright last year, while also adding a new aspect to the show in the form of the Punisher, taking proceedings to another level.
And let’s not get it twisted; it was indeed the Punisher that made this season as excellent as it was. Jon Bernthal’s scintillating, balls to the wall performance is what this second instalment of episodes will ultimately be remembered for. They nailed Frank Castle, what they did just worked, the violence, the emotion, everything. But this season was not without draw backs, it suffered from the same condition as the first. There just wasn’t enough story to fill the 13 episodes, and what they found to pad things out, simply wasn’t engaging enough — ‘too much ninja shit’, I remember thinking to myself. But this didn’t spoil the vastly enjoyable experience this show provided. Some of 2016’s best scenes can be found in Daredevil season two. Punisher is now getting his own series, but every confidence should be had in Daredevil delivering another terrific season of TV when it returns to us.
3) Better Call Saul
I struggled with the position of these next two shows, and I will probably regret it soon enough, but right now, this just seems right.
Better Call Saul was tremendous in its second season. This show has the impossible task of living up to Breaking Bad, a task it will obviously fail, but what they have achieved with these first two seasons of television should be admired by all. Spin offs aren’t easy — just see the horrendously mediocre Fear the Walking Dead — but Vince Gilligan and team have figured out the recipe and have very arguably delivered the best spin-off TV has ever seen. With season two, they took the foundations of the first and built on them with beautifully intricate detail. And the word ‘built’ really is most appropriate here, because BCS is about building a house, floor by floor, and only when the final product is complete, will we be able to truly appreciate the work done. They take their time, they are in no rush, but what they are crafting with such attention to detail is a sight to behold. I can’t wait until it’s finished.
There are many things to admire about ‘Saul’, but Jimmy himself stands above the rest, continuing to be the most engaging lead character currently on TV, his future exploits in Breaking Bad of course adding to that, but what we see in his present, during Better Call Saul, is a display of the highest level of characterisation you will see anywhere on TV or film. As with BB, the writing is what takes this show to another level, every time you think the story will zig, it zags — it’s a lot of fun. This show is a ride, not the most action packed (though when it is, it’s all the more effective), but in terms of emotion, of emotional connection to the characters that populate this most vibrant of fictional worlds, it doesn’t get much more impressive than this. The show isn’t perfect, it can be better, but I have every faith that it will reach those standards. It’s close, it’s on the cusp of greatness, hopefully we will see that come season three.
Yes, that’s right, Bloodline. I toiled with the idea of where to put this with relation to Better Call Saul, and I am not entirely convinced I made the right decision. But looking at this objectively (a tough task), this feels deserved. For those that haven’t watched the best Netflix show currently available, you are missing out. The tale of the Rayburn family, painted majestically during its debut season in 2015, was must see TV. It had everything: compelling characters, knock out performances, a superb Florida Keys setting, and a story that riveted from start to finish. Bloodline could have been a one and done, the story seemed to be mostly told, but what we found in season two, was that this could not be further from the truth. Season one’s painting had a companion piece, and fortunately for lovers of great drama, it was just as glorious to behold.
Danny may be dead, but that didn’t stop him from returning in season two, a fantastic decision not only because Ben Mendelsohn is absolute fire in the role, but because of the impact he continues to have on the story and his still breathing family members. In season one “they did a bad thing”, but that bad thing wasn’t enough to erase the past the Rayburn’s were so desperate to get rid of. The mistakes previously made all came back to haunt them, and the introduction of Danny’s son (a near reincarnation) was just the icing on the cake. Season one was Danny’s show, but the second was all John. Kyle Chandler is superb here, his character just can’t get a break, digging deeper into his own grave with each successive episode. This season was excellently put together, the tension kept racking, the drama kept building, and it all cumulated in a finale that was beyond satisfying. What surprised me the most was that there is obviously still more to come. The way things were left, so carefully and dangerously balanced was almost cruel. Season three needs to be here now. You need to watch this show.
1) Game of Thrones
Yes, I know, not exactly a surprising choice, but hey, great TV is great TV, and it’s not my fault Game of Thrones can’t help being the best show currently available.
For most, season five was a slight disappointment, it certainly wasn’t bad but not as immaculate as seasons past, but all of that can now be forgotten as season six was devastating — thematically and in terms of quality. This season was a crowd pleaser if you ever saw one. For so long Game of Thrones has tortured us, brutalised us, made us suffer through deaths of heroes and failed attempts at valour, but this season took a little turn away from such misery — though there was still plenty — and rewarded us for our continued patronage with jubilant character reunions and the return of faces that were long thought gone. It made for some huge smiles and satisfying pay offs. It was a real thank you to the fans, and one that was much appreciated.
Game of Thrones wouldn’t be what it is though without that aforementioned misery. Hodor’s big episode was a standout, and one that will not be forgotten. His reveal, the plight and limbo that was his life, is truly morose but also incredibly effective. What we know about him now will change the way we look at the series when watching from the start. This, for a while, also seemed to be where the season peaked, afterwards, the show did tread water for a while, they just didn’t have quite enough material to see them through, but things were finished off in thunderous style with the season’s final two episodes. The fight for Winterfell, Ramsay vs. Jon, was majestic, the best battle ever committed to the small screen and as good as anything on film, and the season finale was what every finale should be. It was perfection. You couldn’t have asked for more. The conclusion to the Sparrow arc was immensely enjoyable, timely, and set up events fantastically going forward. As did the rest of the episode, it all acted as a bridge, ending season journeys while also showing us glimpses of what is to come. The stage has been set so grandly, that excitement for the future is impossible to stave off. GoT always does a great job with its finales, but this was operating somewhere higher, nothing more could have been asked.
Season six wasn’t the best the show has provided, but it did contain within it, the best of what the show has to offer, and set the path for the final two seasons that at this point, is impossible to imagine won’t be executed with supreme quality, providing an ending that this most majestic of shows demands. There is nothing like it.