2016 has been a damn good year for the small screen, so much so that many of us are still trying to catch up on all of its best offerings. The past 12 months saw the untimely cancellations of some great shows such as Agent Carter, but also gave us new and exciting things to binge on and obsess over such as Stranger Things and Westworld. Below is my own personal list of the best series to hit our television screens this year.
10. Supergirl Season 2
After a slow start to life on CBS, Supergirl’s move to The CW for season two has given second wind to the faltering series. Kara and her friends feel more at home on the station responsible for the hugely popular DC shows Arrow and The Flash and this is reflected in the overall quality of the show. Melissa Benoist continues to charm as the loveable heroine, who also does well to serve as an emotional anchor, and Tyler Hoechlin’s introduction as Superman is also a welcome addition that expands the show without damaging Supergirl’s position as the central protagonist. Chyler Leigh, David Harewood, Mehcad Brooks and Jeremy Jordan also continue to shine in their roles. With the recent four part crossover event, it seems as though Supergirl is now a fully fledged member of the DC TV family.
9. Daredevil Season 2
In a case of “more of the same” Daredevil season 2 expertly recaptures the violent thrills from the first season. The introduction of Elektra and Punisher at the beginning of the show’s second outing felt as though Netflix and Marvel were trying to do too much too soon, but towards the middle and final parts of the series, the show perfectly balances and interweaves storylines culminating in an ending that leads to more questions than answers. Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson continue to charm, but Jon Bernthal’s casting as the believably distraught and emotionally unhinged Frank Castle is a series highlight and fans will be pleased to know he’ll be getting his own spin off in the future.
8. The Night Of
Riz Ahmed continues his incredible rise to stardom in HBO’s co-produced slow burning crime thriller about a young man, Naz (Ahmed) who is arrested for murder after partying with a girl, only to wake up and find her stabbed to death in the bed he spent the night in. At first, the show begins to play out like a regular courtroom drama, only instead of questioning the morality and guilt of Naz, the tone quickly shifts to the ugly side of the US criminal justice system, and how it can dramatically alter the lives of those caught up in it. John Turturro is the show’s standout actor as his part as the washed up lawyer John Stone who suffers from a bad case of eczema, sees him put in one of his best performances in years.
7. House of Cards Season 4
In a year where Western politics has been shaken to its very core, it is worth remembering that before the rise of “bad guys” Trump and Farage, there was Frank Underwood, the baddest of them all. House of Cards‘ relentless Congressman-turned-President, played by Kevin Spacey, is undoubtedly the show’s biggest sell. Spacey’s reprisal as Underwood, a by-any-means type of person you do not want to cross is wholly cemented as one of the best portrayals of a TV villain in recent memory, as his methodical and ruthless rise to power results in his attempted assassination. But it’ll take far more than a crazed gunman to suppress the ever present danger that is Francis Underwood.
Atlanta is a drama-comedy created by and starring Donald Glover. The show centres on Glover’s Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks, a Princeton University drop out who is desperate to redeem himself in the eyes of his parents and ex-girlfriend, who’s also the mother of his child. When Earn realises that his cousin, up and coming rapper Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles is on the verge of blowing up, he offers himself up as his manager in an attempt to better his life as well as the lives of his family. The portrayal of people of colour in mainstream media often hinges on tropes and stereotypes, but Atlanta captures another level of authenticity not often seen on TV and film. Alongside him is Brian Tyree Henry as Paper Boi, and the ever impressive Keith Stanfield as Darius. Together, the three bring honest performances in the representation of young, black and poor Americans trying to break a cycle.
5. Game of Thrones Season 6
Unshackled from the laboured pace of the books, Game of Thrones season 6 offered some of the best television moments ever. From the Battle of the Bastards, to the explosive finale, to Hodor’s origins and Sansa’s revenge, the show’s set pieces, fight scenes and moment to moment plot points became more elaborate and so much more impressive. The show now seems to be running at a more favourable pace that manages to offer something meaningful and new with each passing episode, building to a tantalising climax and whetting our appetites immensely for the final episodes of the series. Season 6 has been the best Game of Thrones season so far, and season 7 looks to match and even excel what was laid down this year.
4. Stranger Things
There aren’t many words I can say about Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things that haven’t already been said. The retro sci-fi adventure centred on the disappearance of a local school boy has caused a storm over the past few months, with fans and critics raving about its homage to 80s monster movies and nostalgic feel. Genre storytelling is often a tricky path to walk, but the series from the Duffer brothers manages to capture everything good about movies such as E.T., The Fly and The Goonies and make it accessible for modern audiences. Some fantastic acting from a great young cast and an amazing synth heavy soundtrack give this show all the necessary ingredients to be an instant hit.
3. Mr. Robot Season 2
Mr. Robot is without a doubt one of the most relevant TV shows of 2016. Sam Esmail’s scathing commentary on cyber security, corporation, economic anxiety and the gap between the rich and the poor is highlighted even more so at a time when more people than ever are becoming engaged in these large scale societal and political themes. Rami Malek continues to deliver standout performances as the complicated Elliot, his work on the series rightly rewarded with an Emmy win earlier in the year for best leading actor in a drama series. Still one of the most beautifully shot shows on television, Mr. Robot offers everything you need from a contemporary drama series. Returning cast members Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday and the brilliant Martin Wallström deliver more of the goods, as newcomers Craig Robinson and Joey Bada$$ add more flavour to the eclectic group.
2. The OA
This Netflix series co-created and co-written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij went under the radar upon its release, for reasons no one seems to know. The supernatural sci-fi fantasy is anything but quiet when it comes to big ideas, as Marling stars as the central protagonist, Prairie Johnson, a young girl who returns home after having been missing for seven years. That would all seem pretty straightforward, were it not for the the fact that she was blind when she was taken, and now, somehow, has regained her sight during her disappearance. Now in her 20s, she looks to take control of the strange, other worldly experiences she’s been exposed to in order to rescue a group of people who were held captive with her. The OA is one of the most daring and impressive new television shows this year. It handles huge ideas of death, fate and reincarnation with a delicate and caring touch. The twists and turns along the way serve only to keep you hooked, as does the strong supporting cast, including a turn from The Office US’ Phyllis Smith, who puts in a particularly heartfelt performance. The OA is every bit as weird as it sounds, but that’s part of its irresistible appeal. Move over Stranger Things.
Westworld does one thing very well and that is it forces the audience to question its themes in the same light as its character do. Questions of morality, life, death and what it means to be human are handled with such subtle poise and expertise that you’ll be forgiven for contemplating your own existence at 2 AM after a 3 episode mini binge. The subject of whether or not it’s morally right for humans to create artificial intelligence and conscious beings isn’t something new by any means. In Westworld, however, it is something that feels fresh, and that’s partly down to some incredible acting from the cast and even more impressive writing from the creators. Westworld is intelligent storytelling through and through, and doesn’t ever skimp out on detail. It is in fact, the show’s incredible attention to the most minute of details that sets it miles apart from any other TV show this year.
It’s safe to say that 2016 has been an incredible year for television, and if you happen to have missed any of the shows listed here, then it would be wise to make time to binge on what is definitely the year’s best offerings.