Samuel Brace with the five best TV shows of 2016…
2016 has been an odd year for television.
Netflix has continued its ascension, the golden age has dissipated, and all the trends of 2015 have repeated and progressed. But there is still no doubt TV has figured things out while film simply has not. TV in 2016 is still the place to go for drama and adult themes. The kids have run off to see Marvel look down their nose at DC, and the adults have stayed home and watched TV. There have been some real treats available for them, treats that have permeated through the middling nothingness. New shows, returning shows, crime dramas, sci-fi, horror — 2016 kind of had it all when focusing on the best of the best. And there are five series this year that stood out above all others. Here they are, from the bottom up.
5) Stranger Things
Well this came out of nowhere. I, like most TV junkies and admirers of quality content, am quite aware of what is on the horizon, what to look forward to and to look out for. I knew Westworld was on the way, I know American Gods is coming. I didn’t know about Stranger Things until it was basically here. And oh, what a treat it was. It became instantly obvious the vibe this supernatural adventure was going for; the blending of Spielberg and King — part ET, part Stand by Me, and part IT. This was apparent right away and it was glorious. The nostalgia and sense of adventure was impossible to ignore and after five minutes there was no doubt this was going to be something fun, that they had something special here. And they didn’t drop the ball, they avoided the Netflix curse of butter spread too thinly over too much bread, they kept the season succinct and delivered the best binge-able experience of 2016. With a killer 80’s synthpop soundtrack (the key to my heart), a cast of characters you wanted to spend time with, and a story that intrigued from start to finish, Stranger Things delivered the goods — only losing out on the best new show of 2016 at the last hurdle.
Its back for season 2 in 2017, and fingers will be crossed for more of the same but just a little different.
4) Better Call Saul
I have a complicated relationship with Better Call Saul — the Breaking Bad spin off from Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould — one that I think many others share. On one hand its television of the highest quality, with performances, drama and visuals to match the very best the medium has to offer. On the other hand we know it can be so much more. No TV show currently has more potential than this. The tale of Jimmy McGill’s tragic rise, or really fall, to the depths of Saul Goodman, can offer us everything we’ve always wanted. All the components are there, and the men and women behind the camera are the very best in the business. They have greatness in their reach but the show just keeps narrowly missing the mark. It’s a truly wonderful show and taken out from the context of Breaking Bad, removing that most brutal of shadows, it would have an easier time. But that context is there, that shadow is there, and we know what is possible. This show is reaching for the stars and we know it can get there. We are just waiting for it to get there. It’s fantastic to watch but it could be more, it could reach greatness. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.
The most criminally underrated and under watched show of 2016 is without doubt Bloodline (surely thanks to the absence of The Leftovers this year). The first season of this show was sublime stuff and that continued with gusto this year for its second season. It’s been impressive, impressive considering the changes the show has undergone since its first outing. With the departure of a main and fan favourite character, many were wondering how the show could continue on after the splendour of season 1. Well no one needed to worry, because Bloodline figured it out. Continuing the dark and desperately dangerous journey of the Rayburn family, the Shakespearean like tale of lies and deceit stepped up into whole other realm of “oh god, I can’t believe you just did that”.
No other show available right now evokes gasps of disbelief at character decisions like Bloodline. The characters are so well drawn, the environment so vivid, and the story so harrowingly gripping, that such emotions from the audience are commonplace. This show is definitely a ride, a ride that makes you want to get off but everything is awful and broken and there is just no escape. Bloodline traps you inside its hot and humid Florida environs, while pounding you again and again — it’s bruising material but oh so enjoyable. This is sublime stuff, gang. And that finale closer… oh boy, that is good TV. 2017’s season 3 will be the end of Bloodline, that is sad for sure, but also incredibly exciting. Watch this show.
We all knew this was going to be good. We all knew it. We just didn’t know how good. Well the answer to that question was revealed very early on and the news was joyous. The show helmed by Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy, on paper was the stuff of TV dreams. It had the writers, directors, Hollywood stars, legendary actors, money, HBO, and a source material of huge potential. Adapted from the 1973 film of the same name, everything was there on paper and the end result lived up to those initial expectations and then exceeded them tenfold. It is rare that a show captures the imagination and pop culture zeitgeist like Westworld has. HBO have managed it better than anyone else and have delivered it again here. The story of a futuristic theme park, a Jurassic Park that replaces the dinosaurs with androids, has instantly become one of TV’s most gripping and intriguing. Like previous puzzlers, Lost comes to mind instantly, so many questions are posed, so many mysteries available, the difference here is that these questions consistently get answered, the answers are awesome and then we get new questions and new mysteries. Perfect.
Evoking another rather popular and great HBO show, the large cast of characters and plot that lends itself to fan theories and fan obsession, Westworld has all the cards, but the way it reveals those cards is what makes this debut season stand so tall. Of course it helps when the writer of Memento is crafting such wonderful material for a titan like Anthony Hopkins (seen here in one his very best roles), in fact it’s almost like cheating. I mean, how can you compete with that? You can’t really and it’s entirely our gain. Westworld is a wonderfully paced affair, HBO’s ten episode structure working a treat. From start to finish events unfold in what feels like just the right way. The climax of the season, along with crowd pleasing reveals, was top shelf stuff, setting up a future second season in the best possible way. Westworld knows you’ll come back for more which is why it can happily take 2017 off in order to bring us the very best of what TV can be. This is the best new show of 2016, and only beaten to the ultimate title by something unstoppable.
1) Game of Thrones
What more can be said of Game of Thrones at this juncture. Every year we wait for it to fall down, we wait for the burden to become too great (season 5 being the closest it came while still being sublime), and every year we are rewarded with more of television’s best TV show. Ever since Breaking Bad departed our lives, the number one spot has been undisputable. This is the show and this is the place to be. We are deep into the back nine of this epic journey of kings and queens, dragons and ghouls, the end is very nearly insight. This is sad but this very depth, the very history the show now has helps propel this always exquisite series to being top of the pile once more. By now, approaching our seventh season of HBO’s masterpiece, we are so connected to these characters, so firmly entrenched in this world, that any other show with perhaps just as much potential, or an even more cinematic feel, simply can’t match up. Game of Thrones has us in its grips and it won’t be letting go until it has left our screens.
Season 6 shrugged off the minute season 5 dip and delivered to us the most bruising of seasons. Progressing the story in a more rewarding way than perhaps previous seasons have, while still offering the nightmarish awfulness that the show has become famous for. Revenge was served, just deserts were crammed down deserving gullets, odd character side quests were brushed away, the greatest battle committed to television was presented in stunning beauty, and the real evil of the show arrived in the most heartbreaking of ways yet. Heartstrings were well and truly tugged. Most importantly of all the show’s most frustrating storyline — and surely the most crucial — finally has been kicked into action, with some (seemingly) very real progress on the horizon. This season wasn’t perfect, there was what felt like filler for the very first time, but with news that future seasons will be a tad shorter, there is even more reason to be excited about GoT end. The finale brought everything together and set up next year spectacularly. Goods were well and truly delivered. More of the same next year, please.
What are you favourite TV shows of 2016? Let us know in the comments below…