Top 16 TV shows of 2016
James R | On 31, Dec 2016
It’s the end of 2016 – and it couldn’t come quickly enough. But while the last 12 months have been horrifying horrors piled on top of terrifying terrors, not to mention a dollop of traumatising traumas, there have been some good things about 2016. Specially, the TV shows that it gave us. From This Is Us and The Night Manager to The Great British Bake Off and Who Do You Think You Are? with Danny Dyer, it’s been one of the best years for the small screen in recent memory.
But what were the best of the best? Some of our writers got together and voted for their favourite series of the year. After counting them up and ranking them in order, we give you the top 16 TV shows of 2016:
Game of Thrones: Season 6 (Sky Atlantic)
“Make no mistake, my Lady, the dead are coming.” Game of Thrones steps up its scale for its sixth season, making sure that we knew the dead are on their way – and all the while adding new bodies to the pile. A showdown with Ramsay Bolton is cinematic in a way the series has never managed before, while a reveal involving Hodor is enough to bring even an ice-hearted corpse to tears. What more could a Game of Thrones fan ask for? Read our reviews.
Preacher: Season 1 (Amazon Prime Video)
“Contrasting big ideas with small-town life, Preacher follows Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a disillusioned man of God with a shady past, as he searches for answers at the bottom of bottles. It opens in Outer Space, contains several counts of graphic bloodshed, a homemade bazooka, and a vampire who prefers to sleep in whiskey over coffins. Preacher is not your average show. Nor was it ever going to be. Gripping its comic book roots from the get-go, the show somehow manages to pull off the odd mix of intelligence, depth, and spectacular ultra-violence, via some richly ridiculous characters and dark, mysterious dialogue.” Read our reviews.
Mafiosa (Walter Presents)
“You’re not lacking in guts. Certainly not lacking in skill.” That’s how someone describes Sandra Paoli (Hélène Fillières) in Mafiosa. The crime saga follows Sandra’s rise to power within the Paoli clan, from young, just lawyer to increasingly corrupt clan leader, stepping into the shoes of her deceased uncle. Writers Stéphanie Benson and Hugues Pagan slowly navigate her moral descent – and her underworld ascent – with gripping precision, making sure that family remains as big a part of the story as the violence and power struggles. First aired back in 2006 in its home country of France, it’s taken 10 years to arrive in the UK – and it’s more than worth than wait. Read our full review
Fleabag (BBC Three)
Instead of swiping the night away on Tinder, allow us to suggest a friend of ours: Fleabag. Created by comic genius Phoebe Waller Bridge, Fleabag has been labelled ‘the British answer to Girls’ or ‘your new feminist icon’. Sure, if you want to class a show about a woman who plays fast and loose with sexual partners, common sense or common decency either of those two things. But they diminish what Fleabag is. She’s one of the most interesting female characters permitted on British TV screens. The best way to describe her is: just like us. Where a Hannah or a Carrie represent a terrible facet of womanhood, Fleabag is just a woman. Sure, a bitingly clever, screamingly funny one, but a real one. Frustrating and frustrated. Always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sexy and sexual. A great friend, a bad friend, someone who has her life together, someone who can’t handle anything. A total blooming mess. The fact that her show exists deserves celebration. As a date, she definitely deserves three hours of your time. She’ll probably get the drinks in too. Read our full review.
BoJack Horseman: Season 3 (Netflix)
“BoJack Horseman’s third season is still as funny and emotionally devastating as the first two. Few shows on air at the moment can match it for the extent and depth of feeling, or the intelligence and hilarity of its jokes. It’s a show with a social conscience, is unafraid to make its characters the bad guys and is packed with visual and verbal gags. While the third season does stumble in a couple of places and lags in pace elsewhere, it’s still one of the best comedies on television. It could just be one of the best dramas, too.” Read our full review.
Deutschland 83 (Walter Presents)
Written by (German) husband and (American) wife team Jörg and Anna Winner, Deutschland 83 portrays Germany in 1983 as a microcosm of the tensions of the Cold War, a country divided into east and west, between the tenets of Russia and the US. In a charismatic performance, Jonas Nay stars as Martin Rauch, a 24 year old who lives with his mother in east Germany, serving as a border guard. His life changes as his stone-cold Stasi agent aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader), drags him into an operation – he is spirited off for some minimal spy-craft training before being swiftly implanted in West Germany, taking over the identity of murdered west German soldier Moritz Stamm. Taken from his own family and placed in the heart of another, he finds himself in a spy game he doesn’t know the rules to or the players in, a hapless innocent in a world of espionage. The result is light, fun, stylish, cool and endlessly entertaining. Read our full review.
The Night Of (Sky Atlantic)
“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” That’s a lawyer speaking at the trial of Nasir Khan (a sensational Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani-American, in HBO’s The Night Of. Invited to a party in downtown Manhattan, he borrows his dad’s taxi to get there, but ends up picking up a fare by mistake. Her name’s Andrea. A night of booze, drugs and other naughty things later, he wakes up in the kitchen, finds her dead in the bedroom, and ends up on trial for murder. Sound familiar? That’s because this is a remake of Criminal Justice, the 2008 BBC thriller starring Ben Whishaw. HBO’s new version a magnificent takedown of the modern legal system, one that proves that justice isn’t blind or biased, but simply indifferent – a never-ending, messy machine that turns, not for what’s right or even what’s wrong, but for what’s easy and affordable. The people crushed in the middle of the cogs? They’re forgotten about, soon to be replaced by someone else. Read our full review
Orange Is the New Black: Season 4 (Netflix)
Season 3 of Netflix’s show, despite people at the time criticising its lack of direction, sowed the seeds for Season 4’s big question of reform versus retribution, of compassion versus cruelty. The dichotomy has been there since the programme’s very first episode, in characters such as Caputo and Healy, in creator Jenji Kohan’s concerted effort to show us prison from everyone’s perspective. Here, it crystallises into an urgent, pertinent and gripping question: why has the criminal justice system gone so wrong? Read our reviews.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (BBC One)
“Who knew what to expect when it was first announced that Ryan Murphy, best known for his trashy yet wildly entertaining programmes, Nip/Tuck, Glee, and American Horror Story, was going to produce a show based on the 1995 trial of OJ Simpson? The pitch-black subject matter – the murder of Simpson’s estranged wife, Nicole Brown, and her companion, Ron Silver – didn’t seem like an obvious fit for the king of campy schlock. That it was produced without the permission of the families involved didn’t bode well, either. And yet The People Versus OJ Simpson turned out to be the TV series of the year, confidently and intelligently teasing out from the events a complex web of connections, telling a story in which intersections of race, sexism and celebrity resulted in Simpson’s acquittal.” Read our full review
Narcos: Season 2 (Netflix)
“After Season 1’s hard-headed rollercoaster of documentary-style anarchy, political obstacles and the grand master of drug kingpins, it’s understandable to wonder if Season 2 of Narcos could possibly have much more story to tell. It does. Within an episode, Narcos puts its gritty boot-print back on the audience’s chest and starts asking the difficult questions. Netflix’s show thrives on its thought-provoking relationship with the truth. The dichotomous mix of believable fiction and disbelievable fact comes together again here to produce a show where the wildest, craziest moments are the most likely to be taken from the history books. The painstaking realism and detail blend perfectly with the jaw-dropping characters and larger-than-life story. Put simply, you will not believe that this actually happened.” Read our reviews.
Halt and Catch Fire: Season 3 (Amazon Prime Video)
“‘This is a really cool idea,’ says Cameron in the finale of Halt and Catch Fire Season 3. And in that single sentence, she sums up everything about the show that has made it get better and better – and, in this two-part finale, even better still. The show closes out its third run at a level that’s on a par with the very best TV of 2016. This isn’t just a cool idea. It’s one of the coolest ideas you’ve seen this year. Read our reviews.
The Crown (Netflix)
The royal family, but not as we know them, Netflix out-BBCs the BBC with its sumptuous period drama, which follows the young Elizabeth II as she takes to the throne and finds herself having to navigate her political relationship with Winston Churchill and her personal loyalty to her husband, Prince Philip. An endlessly expressive Claire Foy chirrups with the best of them, while Matt Smith brings scene-stealing depth to a part who could have easily been a caricature. Gorgeous stuff. Read our review
Transparent: Season 3 (Amazon Prime Video)
“Transparent has always been able to empathise with its shallow protagonists – an attitude combined with a wry disdain that balances laughter at their horribleness with an understanding of their identity crises. And Shelly, who has long felt neglected on the fringes of Maura’s life, is going through that crisis as much as anyone else. In the opening episodes of Season 3, she comes up with the idea of a one-woman show, brilliantly/terribly titled “To Shell and Back” – and after her initial debut of the premise in a temple talk, her concept blossoms horrendously out of control, emerging as a full-blown musical number. It sounds dreadful. And it is. But it’s also dreadfully uplifting. It’s no coincidence that Shelly first comes up with the idea of her show-stopping production at the temple, because religion is as much a part of these characters’ identity as their gender or sexuality. Many TV shows wouldn’t acknowledge that, or wouldn’t dare to treat it that seriously, but Transparent dives into it with both nuance and depth.” Read our full review.
The Man in the High Castle: Season 2 (Amazon Prime Video)
“Most people are different, depending on whether they’re hungry, safe or scared.” So says Abendsen (Stephen Root), the titular Man in the High Castle. But, though seemingly rendered cynical and world weary after years of exposure to film reels showing humanity’s darkest deeds, he’s still attempting to do good. And it’s exploring this question – are we merely the product of our environment or do we always have choice? – that’s at the heart of Season 2.” Read our full review.
Westworld (Sky Atlantic)
HBO’s sci-fi epic has been one of the most talked-about shows of 2016 – and with good reason. Based on the Michael Crichton movie of the same name, it takes us into a hedonistic theme park staffed by artificially intelligent hosts, a place in which human guests can explore their every appetite, no matter how noble or depraved. “These violent delights have violent ends,” promises one early one, a Shakespearean quote that seems to awake the seed of consciousness inside the synthetic mind of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). As she interacts with the humans around her, not to mention behind-the-scenes inventors Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), the show evolves into an absorbing study of humanity, identity and memory. The result is violent, smart, fascinating and rivals even Game of Thrones for geeky speculation and in-depth fan theories. The proof of how good it is? Even when some of those theories prove correct, you’re never disappointed. Read our reviews
Stranger Things (Netflix)
The hit show of 2016’s summer, if you haven’t seen Stranger Things, you’ve certainly heard of it. Netflix’s sci-fi horror mystery, which follows the disappearance of a young boy from a small US town in the 1980s, leaving his mum (Winona Ryder) devastated and his friends no choice but to play detective themselves, is a deft mix of retro nostalgia and modern-day storytelling. With its synth soundtrack, entertaining young stars and gripping screenplay, it takes strange children with telekinetic powers, nasty monsters, sinister scientific corporations and bike rides and turns them all into something entirely its own. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again to spot all the pop culture references. Read our full review
Search Party (All 4)
Flat TV (BBC Three)
Fargo: Season 2 (Channel 4)
Ripper Street: Season 4 (Amazon Prime Video)
The Expanse: Season 1 (Netflix)
Beauty and the Baker (Walter Presents)
The Night Manager (BBC One)
Line of Duty: Season 3 (BBC One)