Saturday, 24 December 2016

My Top 5 TV Shows of 2016


Crikey, would you look at the date? 2016 is almost over and that can only mean one thing - it's time to recap the best and worst that popular culture had to offer throughout the year.
My 2016 has been filled with some truly amazing TV; from The CW's excellent ongoing superhero shows to the vast array of Netflix Originals arriving on an increasingly frequent basis.

Before we start, some ground rules - obviously, I haven't watched every single show that aired in 2016. That'd be ludicrous. I'd never leave the house (actually that sounds pretty sweet). As such there are some pretty glaring gaps that I need to rectify but unfortunately haven't found time for just yet (just a heads-up for anyone who feels like screaming WESTWORLD or ATLANTA at me in the comments).

Neither have I 'caught up' with every show I do watch so I can't judge how good their most recent runs have been. This post is simply to illustrate my TV highlights from what's new in 2016.

Honourable mentions: Better Call Saul Season 2 (AMC), House of Cards Season 4 (Netflix),  Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Season 3 (HBO), Black Mirror Season 3 (Netflix), Mr Robot Season 2 (USA Network), Jane the Virgin Season 2 (The CW), Supergirl Season 1/2 (The CW), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 (Netflix), The 100 Season 3 (The CW), Orphan Black Season 4 (BBC), Marvel's Luke Cage Season 1 (Netflix)

5th - Stranger Things Season 1 (Netflix)

Best episode(s): 'The Weirdo on Maple Street', 'The Flea and the Acrobat', 'The Monster'

Take a little bit of Poltergeist, add in some hefty dollops of Super 8 and E.T. and top it all off with a healthy dose of Firestarter and you've got Stranger Things.

The first season of this eight episode Netflix series arrived in the middle of July, seemingly out of the blue. One second it had popped up on my dashboard, the next I was neck-deep in a four-hour binge consumed by a gripping retro sci-fi narrative that encompasses everything from shady government conspiracies, an escaped monster and a sleepy Indiana town wracked by the sudden disappearance of a 11-year-old boy.

Right from the opening bars of that dripping synth theme tune, I was entranced by Stranger Things; the kids act like actual kids, the adult cast (which includes Winona Ryder as the dishevelled single mother searching for her kid) were all excellent and the overall Spielbergian aesthetic was perfect.

The show is a bonafide 2016 cultural phenomenon that has sprung from literally nowhere to make stars out of its young cast - Millie Bobbie Brown, who played Eleven, in particular.

4th - The Flash Seasons 2 and 3 (The CW)

Best episode(s): 'Welcome to Earth-2', 'Escape from Earth-2', 'Flash Back', 'The Runaway Dinosaur', 'Flashpoint', 'Invasion', 'The Present'

Yeah, okay - sneer if you like. I don't care. The Flash might be at the other end of the spectrum to Marvel's more contemplative string of Netflix shows, but somehow I'm able to enjoy both and not let it bother me. I know, weird right? It's almost as though liking both is totally cool and not at all unacceptable.

Anyway, The Flash has gone from strength to strength in the last 12 months. Season 2 saw the show grow and evolve into an ensemble piece that splits focus across the entire cast, particularly drawing more on Candice Patton's Iris West and Carlos Valdes' Cisco Ramon.

I really enjoyed the way the show handled the multiverse concept as well as the episode that Kevin Smith wrote and directed, 'The Runaway Dinosaur'. The finale could've thrown a spanner in the works, but Season 3 returned in October with 'Flashpoint' and hit the ground running (pun intended) by showcasing the lasting repercussions of Barry's decision to alter the timeline. Each episode continues to build on the established mythos that Flash fans know and love whilst ensuring that Barry ain't always the sole focus. Most recently we've seen Danielle Panabaker's Caitlin Snow come to the fore. Plus, who didn't love that epic four-way crossover with Arrow, Supergirl and Legends?

All in all, The Flash is easily the strongest of The CW's superhero line-up with a likeable cast and increasingly impressive production value.

3rd - Marvel's Daredevil Season 2 (Netflix)

Best episode(s): New York's Finest, Penny and Dime, Seven Minutes in Heaven, A Cold Day in Hell's Kitchen

Opinion was a little divided over Daredevil's second season - but personally, I loved it. After the riveting first season that built Matt Murdock up into a hero for all of Hell's Kitchen, this next string of episodes focused on threatening his secret identity.

The action in this second season was ambitious stuff that really demanded your attention; an astounding hallway fight in Episode 3 was the highlight but the choreography and direction is consistently excellent, from a prison brawl in Episode 9 'Seven Minutes in Heaven' to the climactic rooftop scrum in the final episode.

I really liked the introduction of Elodie Yung as Elektra and the reappearance of Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk. However, the indisputable star of the show however was Jon Bernthal as The Punisher - his performance during that opening salvo of episodes was superb stuff.

2nd - Outlander Season 2 (Starz)

Best episode(s): 'Not in Scotland Anymore', 'Untimely Resurrection', 'Faith', 'Prestonpans', 'Dragonfly in Amber'.

Outlander is one of those shows that I sampled out of sheer curiosity and wasn't sure what to think; I'm certainly not the target audience, but something about the lush production value and the intricate plotting sucked me in until I was 20 hours in (midway through the second season) and too far to turn back.

The second season sees Claire (Catriona Balfe) and Jaime (Sam Heughan) travel to Paris to stop the swelling Jacobite revolution from the inside, but the show builds in confidence across the 13-episodes, adding complexity and intrigue until it culminates in the harrowing battle on Culloden moor - and anyone who has come within six feet of a British history book knows how that turned out.

The Emmys' neglect for the show or its amazing lead performance from Balfe is one of the more overlooked snubs this year - thankfully the Golden Globes recently went the opposite direction and handed Balfe a nomination for Best Actress. Episodes like 'Not in Scotland Anymore', 'Untimely Resurrection' and 'Faith' are some of the most compelling, emotional and cinematic hours of television you'll see this side of...well, the number 1 entry on this list. Speaking of which...

1st - Game of Thrones Season 6 (HBO)

Best episode(s): 'Oathbreaker', 'Book of the Stranger', 'The Door', 'The Battle of the Bastards', 'The Winds of Winter'

A lot of fans feared that HBO's TV show journeying beyond the reach of the GRR Martin's source novels would significantly dent the quality; thankfully, this wasn't the case. In fact, you could make a solid argument for the sixth season being the best string of episodes to date!

After the earth-shattering cliffhanger of Season 5 (was Jon Snow really dead!?) the question soon turned to how was Jon Snow coming back to life? The answer, and his subsequent arc throughout the season from corpse to King in the North made for Game of Thrones' most brisk seasons that rapidly advanced the narrative and set the stage for the big finale in seasons 7 and 8.

Episode 9, 'The Battle of the Bastards', was one of the most cinematic hours of television ever produced. The opening prologue that saw Dany riding Drogon into battle above Mereen was only outdone by that incredible cavalry charge towards Jon during the second Battle for Winterfell.

Aside from the battles, what else did this season have to offer? Well, the finale saw Cersei finally ascend to the Iron Throne after literally blowing the roof off of the Great Sept of Baelor and killing all her rivals. Dany FINALLY set sail for Westeros with an armada at her back; Arya escaped Braavos and sought revenge of Walder Frey; Sansa was reunited with her brother; Davos learned the truth about Shireen; and Bran generally fucked everything up once again (RIP Hodor). Also, shoutout to Ramin Djawadi for acing the original score for another year.

If the finale ('The Winds of Winter') doesn't get your heart pumping for next season, nothing will. Game of Thrones is the most cinematic show currently on-air and the production value is second to none. I can't wait for the saga to conclude so I can go back and watch it again and again in its entirety.

What have been your TV highlights of 2016? Let me know in the comments section below!

1 comment:

  1. S6 of Game of Thrones was so much better than S5, that's exactly what I hoped for, even though it wasn't perfect. I like seeing Stranger Things and Daredevil on your list too!

    My top 5, I think would be
    1) Game of Thrones
    2) Mr. Robot
    3) Westworld
    4) Stranger Things
    5) Daredevil

    Mini series mention; The Night Of

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