End of year television review: The best and worst of 2016
Following in the tradition of 2015's end of year television review, The Digital Fix is back to present the best and worst television of 2016. It might not be a year that many will look back on fondly, but there is no denying that there was some remarkable television to be celebrated.
Last year Peter Capaldi wowed audiences in Doctor Who, the debuts of Daredevil and Jessica Jones gained a lot of fans, Hannibal left fans divided in its final season, Game Of Thrones delivered some fantastic moments and River and Better Call Saul emerged as some clear favourites. 2016 looks rather different.
We've picked a number of categories, including a couple of new additions to 2015 and asked our team of writers to ponder on some of the best and worst TV the year had to offer. With entries from our The Digital Fix editor Colin Polonowski, TV reviewers Daniel Theophanous, Stephan Burn, Alex White and Omar Soliman and myself Baz Greenland, the editor of the TV section, here's our thoughts on 2016's TV. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below...
BEST TV NEWS STORY OF THE YEAR
Baz Greenland and Daniel Theophanous
The Twin Peaks revival cast announcement.
Baz: In a mix of TV renewals and cancellations it has been hard to find the definitive news story of 2016. But the one that has got me the most excited is the released cast for the Twin Peaks revival in 2017. After some potential issues over David Lynch departing the revival, every subsequent news story on 'season three' has just got better, from Lynch directing every episode, to more than the original eight hours planned to a frankly incredible cast list of old and new faces, which you can check out here...
Dan:I know I am being predictable here but I was big fan of the series when I was growing up, as well as the film film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, so I am naturally curious how this will turn out.
Star Trek coming back to TV.
I'm really excited about the new Star Trek TV series coming next year. Hoping it'll be closer to Roddenberry's vision than the recent films. I'm a bit worried that it's on CBS All Access in the US and could therefore not get the audience it needs for renewal and that Bryan Fuller has now dropped out. The delay, which was obviously needed given casting still isn't even complete, was disappointing too.
MOST IMPROVED TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
Okay, perhaps I didn't give this show a chance. It had its charm from the very start, but it really started to find its feet as it headed towards the end of season one this year. Better villains and a greater use of the brilliant Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant certainly helped. But then with the move to The CW, it really shone. The first half of season two gave us a more confident show with the best Superman in years, a heartwarming narrative as Alex discovered she was gay and a renewed sense of purpose, with Melissa Benoist giving her all. She was the highlight of the recent crossover with The Flash, Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow and Supergirl quickly emerged as the strongest of all four shows this season.
Season Two which I got to review for The Digital Fix, was such a departure from season one, which was still just as brilliant. The creators managed to take the show to the darkest of places, dropping the biggest twists and it was all done in a super stylish way.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones was stagnating a little last year - there were some great moments peppered amongst what had turned into a bit of a slog. 2016 though saw the show break from the books and gain an impetus that it sorely needed. Answering long-held questions and turning in one of the most impressive battles ever televised, Game of Thrones Season Six was a triumph.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
Baz Greenland. Omar Soliman and Colin Polonowski
The Walking Dead
Baz: Without a doubt, The Walking Dead. Even when it was slow, the characters were still engaging, there was humour in all the darkness and most importantly, I cared about the fate of these survivors. But for me the rot set in lat last season when Rick and his team went with the stupid decision to kill Negan's men before they were killed. We got a very long, drawn out cliffhanger and while the season seven opener was arguably intense and harrowing, it was the start of misery for misery's sake. I quickly found that I was watching week after week with all my favourite characters going through utter despair at the hands of Negan and suddenly any enjoyment was gone. It's just too grim to carry on anymore...
Colin: The Walking Dead seems to be even more reliant on shocks than ever before, at the expense of anything even close to a solid plot. It's unfortunate that The Walking Dead seems to have run out of ideas entirely now.
Three episodes in and I become truly disinterested. There is only so much corporate talk one can take in from a TV show when its starts becoming incomprehensible. The show felt like it was trying to portray the dark side of money, instead it provided with a plot that was weak, not very plausible or interesting.
The show everyone got tired of 10 years ago was dragged kicking and screaming from the grave, given a new lease of half-life and thrust at an audience who had seen better and wanted either something more than Tim Kring was able to deliver; or much much less. One standout episode in a whole season of forgettable, execrable TV couldn’t save this shambling franchise: Heroes not so much reborn as undead.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE TV OF THE YEAR
This Icelandic nordic noir starts with beautifully evocative opening credits, and then spirals into mix between Agatha Christie and Fargo. This is the show Fortitude desperately tried to be, and fell so short of.
Labelled as the Spanish version of Orange Is The New Black, the show is a real gem, shown on Channel 4's Walter Presents. It is perhaps more plot driven than character driven compared to Orange Is The New Black. It is in fact the edge of your seat high drama that makes this such great viewing. It was very much like watching an Almodovar film: vivid colours, superb theatrical acting, intriguing plot and high camp.
BEST TV REBOOT / REVIVAL OF THE YEAR
My heart wanted to say The X Files, but there was too much frustration mixed in with the good. There is one revival that really captured the magic of the original series and proved that it could be consistently good years later and that was Cold Feet. The characters were just as engaging, there was that perfect mix of humour and drama and the storyline of Pete's male depression was beautifully handled with sensitivity and care. More please!
I saw the original film earlier in the year after many years, and was struck by how I wasn't scared on any level the second time around. So investing time to see a whole TV show of it, I had my reservations. Three episodes in so far, I am pleasantly surprised, mostly by the quality of the show and the attention to detail. Watch this space...
The X Files
BEST STREAMING TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
Baz Greenland, Stephan Burn, Omar Soliman and Colin Polonwski
Baz: Forget the really good Marvel / Netflix content this year, there was one online streaming show that I adored from beginning to the end and that was Stranger Things. It was the perfect mix of 80's nostalgia, horror and mystery; it looked beautiful, the performances were fantastic and soundtrack evocative. It certainly caused a buzz on this site and you can check out The Digital Fix review of Stranger Things from Colin, Stephan and myself here.
Stephan: Stranger Things is one of those rare shows that emerges out of nothingness, blazes past our ignorance of it and settles itself into our minds as a must-watch. A 80's period drama, a supernatural love letter to the Spielbergian kids movies of the 80s, and with only Winona Ryder in the star billing, this has been an unexpected success. But it's been a success that's been deserved, the show is excellent; one of those circumstances where we demand more than the eight episodes there are, but also applaud the 'just right' length of the season. And rest assured, it's already been renewed for a new season.
Colin: It has to be the stunning and nostalgic Stranger Things, certainly the best thing in Netflix already impressive oeuvre. Like a dark and scary take on some of the best of eighties Spielberg, it also had some standout performances from the young cast and ensured that Millie Bobby Brown will become a huge star. Utterly brilliant and brilliantly creepy stuff.
Season Three is just as good as season one or season two. I would say I like every single thing about this show; whether its the intimacy of the show, the character's rawness, the beautiful way it's being filmed etc etc I cannot fault it any way. The characters of Transparent similarly to shows like Girls, are not the most endearing but they all posses good and bad traits and its all exposed bare and I feel that's great for people to see.
BEST TV MOMENT OF THE YEAR
The Iguana chase from Planet Earth II
I wanted to say The Battle Of The Bastards from Game Of Thrones season six, but I recently watched Planet Earth II and frankly I was blown away by the magnificence of it all. The Iguana chased by snakes has to be one of the most harrowing, tense moments I have watched all year. Sorry Jon Snow!
Rupaul's Drag Race
Anything from Season seven. Enough said!
Omar Soliman and Colin Polonowski
The Battle Of The Bastards from Game Of Thrones season six.
Omar: During Battle of The Bastards there is a shot of Jon Snow pulling out his sword before being charged by horses. It’s a real, gasp at the drama and behold, moment.
Colin: The battle scene in Game of Thrones penultimate episode, The Battle of the Bastards, featured the best battle sequence ever shot - both in film and TV. Focusing almost entirely on Jon Snow, and filmed in what was one take it plunged us into the middle of the fight in a way we've never seen before. Visceral and crunching there wasn't a second that didn't impress... So, the fact that the best TV moment this year wasn't that, but was actually the ultimate satisfaction of seeing Ramsay Bolton killed by his own dogs in the very same episode is saying something!
BEST TV EPSIODE OF THE YEAR
Three-way crossover Invasion! from
The Flash, Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow.
This is everything Batman v Superman and the upcoming Justice League wants to be. But unlike the grim, sour DC Cinematic Universe, their small screen counterparts on The CW proved how to make a superhero crossover fun. It was a joy seeing these characters interact - the highlight being Supergirl and Heat Wave - and the Dominator threat was a decent one. It might have wrapped up a little too quickly, but it was a story worthy of the four superhero shows.
Omar Soliman and Colin Polonowski
The Battle Of The Bastards from Game Of Thrones season six.
Colin: I couldn't pick anything other than The Battle of the Bastards - it provided the two best moments on TV in the last year so nothing else could come close.
Episode 1 of Fleabag.
Adapted from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning 2013 Edinburgh Fringe play, Fleabag is rude, sexy, irreverent and hilarious. This bleak comedy was adapted by the writer and actress into a TV show filled with comedy cameos. Narrated throughout, the show provokes endless, semi-guilty, surprise laughs. Since renewed for a second season, this is the Bridget Jones this millennium needs and deserves.
Tie between Girls, Season 5 episode Japan and Black Mirror's San Junipero.
Japan: Perhaps a filler episode of the season; we are treated to a glimpse into Shoshanna's new found life in Tokyo. The scenery, architecture, the day to day hassle and bustle of Tokyo are breathtaking and Shoshanna's outfits are the cutest and silliest things ever .
San Junipero: Possibly the most tame episode of the season. It tells a somewhat intricate dystopian story of two women who meet at various decades in a beach town called San Junipero. It's a rather beautiful episode filled with lots of colour and weirdness!
BEST TV PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
Thandie Newton in Westworld.
I've always liked the actress but as the host with self awareness Maeve in Westworld she utterly blew me away. It was a bold, fierce vulnerable performance that had me rooting for her from beginning to end, couple with a strong vulnerability; from the fact she went naked through several scenes and still came out stronger than the human characters to that harrowing moment she walked through the facility for the first time, Newton was phenomenal. And in such an impressive cast as this one, that was no small feat.
Winona Ryder in Stranger Things
It’s been 30 years since Winona Ryder began her acting career, but her focus was always movies, becoming very much the go-to girl of the 1990s. While she may not have had as many iconic roles in recent years, and she certainly contributed little to the TV renaissance of recent years, that stint is now over. In Stranger Things, Ryder brings a fevered pathos to the role of Joyce Byers, adding to the must-watch status of the show. Welcome back Winona.
Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things.
She'll be a star - a huge one.
Gillian Anderson in The Fall Season 3.
Well I've not made a list like this before and in the last 2-3 years I've been watching the show, I've been heavily invested in Anderson and her role as DSI Stella Gibson in The Fall. So of course it is without hesitation I include here. Especially as in Season 3, we see Gibson take a beating, things start to take their toll and from her usual interact, self controlled manner we become accustomed to she now appears vulnerable and downtrodden and starts revealing her softer side. Anderson plays her beautifully, fully embodying the role!
Riz Ahmed in The Night Of
BEST NEW TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
Baz Greenland and Omar Soliman
Baz: I love sci-fi, but I'm not such a fan of westerns, so I approached Westworld with hesitation. But my curiosity paid off. The long and troubled path towards its creation was well worth it as it emerged as the best new TV show of 2016. With a phenomenal cast, gripping mysteries, a brilliant musical score from Ramin Djawadi and stunning cinematography, it was a rare treat week after week. It was a show that really made you think and even when you guessed the twists, they were still rewarding. A simply excellent ten weeks; it will be a long, long wait until season two...
Daniel Theophanous, Colin Polonowski and Alex White
Stephan: I am just getting on the bandwagon with Stranger Things, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love Wynona Ryder in it, I thought the kids where great, I loved the parallel universe and the overall depiction of the 80s.
Colin: Easily Stranger Things - Netflix's best, and given they haven't really given us a dud yet, that is saying something. It was also a great surprise - I knew nothing about it until I watched it. Also a special mention to This Is Us which, although it's only just started, has turned in a couple of amazing opening episodes.
Alex: Stranger Things deserves best new show. It seems like it just arrived on Netflix one day and the next, everyone was talking about it. By combining the horror, sci-fi, and adventure genres with an ensemble of characters that has someone for everyone, Stranger Things created a story that enraptured us all. It has the feel of an 80s classic, and paid homage to many of them, but first and foremost was its own exciting thing, featuring a cast of faces old and new, all of whom were excellent.
BEST TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
For all the reasons I named it the best new TV show of the year, it is also the best show of 2016. It was a joy to review every week and I'd argue even with great shows like Game Of Thrones and Stranger Things this year, it was still way above - if not one of the best TV shows of recent years. And there's been a lot of competition...
Game Of Thrones
Not only was The Battle Of The Bastards the best episode of the year, season six was the best of the year too.
For all the many, many reasons I've listed above...
Not just the best streaming show, but the best show of 2016, for all the reasons listed above...
I'm going to have to pick Humans - Channel 4's drama set in an alternative reality where every home has an android is a brilliantly written and gripping show that is surprisingly topical and asks real questions about both humanity and equality. Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington are wonderful but the whole ensemble makes it work. The second series has really fleshed out the show's background making it must-watch TV.
Orange is the New Black
This is the best show of this year because it's consistently very well-written, but this year's season especially was fantastic. The conflict between characters this season had many parallels to real events revolving around racial tensions in America over the last year or so. Orange is the New Black is a positive force that delivers progressive messages about empathy and oppression that are all too applicable to the real world, as well as being an incredibly engaging and entertaining drama.
And there you have it. Game Of Thrones stepped up its game (pun intended), while Westworld and Stranger Things came out of nowhere and dazzled audiences. Some revivals worked (Cold Feet), some were good and bad (The X Files and some were outright failures (Heroes Reborn). The Walking Dead lost its shine, while we got one of the best superhero teams ups on the small screen. It's a very different picture to 2016, only Game Of Thrones remaining the one big constant from one year to the next.
And just because we've picked our favourites, there was still a lot of fantastic television this year. The Night Manager was a classy Bond-style drama for the BBC. Daredevil and Luke Cage continued to make Marvel magic on Netflix. The Missing, Line Of Duty, Dark Matter, House Of Cards - the list could go on and on...
So let us know your thoughts too. What have been your favourite moments, episodes and series old and new? 2016 delivered some fantastic TV and with more Game Of Thrones, The Defenders, Stranger Things season two, Star Trek: Discovery and the Twin Peaks revival among many, 2017 could be just as good...