This has been one of the best ever years for TV. Whether you stream it, watch it live on TV, view it in the UK or US, or just buy loads of box-sets, there has been an embarrassment of small-screen riches. So, to wrap it all up, here's Rich Edwards - Editor of SFX magazine - to give you the lowdown on the finest TV of 2016.
What went well?
People have been saying for years that we’re living in a golden age of television – and it’s showing no signs of coming to an end. The sheer volume of quality shows this year has been mind-blowing, taking in a vast range of genres and platforms – it’s as if the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime has prompted everyone else to get their act together and make really good TV. There’s no longer any excuse for settling for second best. Westworld grabbed plenty of headlines as it gave the 1973 robot cowboy actioner an HBO makeover (more violence, more swearing, more nudity), and became the most hotly debated show of the year. It looked spectacular, had an amazing cast and plenty of unexpected twists, but its biggest legacy is perhaps keeping people hooked despite the fact that most of the time we didn’t have a clue what was going on. Looks like we are ready for the return of Twin Peaks next year.
By a scheduling quirk, it ran at the same time as the second season of Channel 4’s Humans, a more suburban, British take on AI gaining consciousness – very different in terms of scale, but a brilliant counterpoint. The robots really are coming.
The best thing to come out of the UK, meanwhile, was The Night Manager – yes, the spy drama pushed plausibility to its limits, but it was often unbearably tense, and had a cast to die for. British channels also continued to embrace foreign-language drama from the rest of Europe: my favourites were Cold War drama Deutschland ’83 (doing for political thriller what Stranger Things did for sci-fi), and Icelandic whodunit Trapped – a gripping crime story with a wonderful high concept summed up perfectly by the title.Of this year’s big returning shows, Game Of Thrones was epicly back on form after a slightly stodgy offering in 2015. Overtaking George RR Martin’s novels gave the show a new lease of life, as it stopped trying to be an adaptation of a book series, and instead prioritised being an amazing TV show, spectacularly picking up the pace as it moves towards its epic endgame. Just 13 episodes left to decide who’ll end up on the Iron Throne...
Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul also had a greatly improved second season – few shows relish letting their characters simply talk to one each other so much – while Black Mirror’s tech-gone-wrong anthology show got a US refit courtesy of Netflix, and produced one of the year’s most memorable (and touching) hours of TV with 'San Junipero'.
Superheroes continued to be nearly as successful on the small screen as they are at the cinema; a second season of Daredevil only just fell short of its predecessor (the Punisher was a triumph – and is poised for his own series); Luke Cage made a solid debut; Agent Carter was unfortunate to be cancelled after a fun second season; and DC continued to expand its ambitious TV universe, bringing Supergirl properly into the fold, trotting out crossovers galore, and playing around with timelines, Flashpoint-style.And, yes, I know it started its run in December 2015, but The Expanse also deserves a mention for flying the flag for small screen space opera – it’s the closest thing we’ve seen to the new Battlestar Galactica, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out when it returns in February. And then there was Stranger Things...
What was your personal highlight?
Netflix’s Stranger Things was up there with Rogue One as my pop culture highlight of 2016 – and it might just trump Star Wars because it came out of nowhere. It’s nice to be surprised sometimes. A wonderfully affectionate homage to classic movies from the ’80s, Stranger Things played the nostalgia card masterfully while still managing to be compelling drama in its own right. The kids were uniformly great, the John Carpenter-esque credits and music were spot on, and running to a perfectly-contained eight episodes, it never got the chance to outstay its welcome. So wonderful that a tiny part of me almost wishes they weren’t making more – though I have every confidence that season two will be just as good.
Lowlight of the year
Aside from the fact that it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s too much quality TV out there for any person to keep up with unless they quit their job, abandon their family and mainline telly 24/7? It has to be The Walking Dead. When it’s on form, the zombie show still has the power to grab you in a way few other shows can, but 2016 has seen a show struggling to live up to its best moments. The main source of the problem? Negan. His name dominated the second half of season six even before he’d appeared on screen, as the show relied on the Big Bad’s comic book infamy as it took its sweet time generating tension. Then there was that baseball bat cliffhanger, that left us hanging for six months, waiting to find out which of the principal characters would have their head caved in – and was resolved in one of the nastiest, bleakest episodes of TV in recent years. The show’s turned into a slog, a cruel form of torture to watch, and I’m really hoping that 2017 sees it finding its mojo again.
What trends defined 2016?
Watercooler television is well and truly back. With the rise of multichannel TV and streaming services, the idea of the entire world watching the same shows at the same time seemed to be going the way of the cathode ray tube. But 2016 has been defined by shows that everybody wanted – and needed – to talk about, whether it was HBO/Sky Atlantic’s double whammy of Game Of Thrones and Westworld, or the entire world asking “have you seen Stranger Things yet?” back in July, turning the Duffer brothers’ ode to the ’80s into a word-of-mouth smash. Movies arguably grab the bigger headlines, but it’s TV that generates the real love.
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