Many of us budding entertainment types will be glad to see the back of 2016, in large so we can let the likes of David Attenborough and Maggie Smith out of their protective bunkers, to flourish in what will hopefully be a far-better 2017. Saying that, not all of 2016 has been bad – especially when it comes to good TV. With the powers of both Netflix and Amazon Prime now lording it over the market, television is now proving itself an equal to the once-dominating film industry. So without further ado, take a look at The Edge‘s list of the best TV shows of 2016…
10 – Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Orange Is the New Black has never shied away from tackling the big issues. Rape, murder, racism and drug addiction are just some of the concerns the show has explored over the course of its four year run, but never has the series seemed quite so bleak. Following on directly from its third season finale, Season 4 signalled a definite change in the tone and direction of the show, with it becoming even more disturbing, and increasingly critical of the for-profit prison system in the US. The corrupting influence of power looms throughout this season, with a new assembly of unsupervised guards drunk on their own power, terrorising the prison community we have come to know and love. The familiarity that viewers have come to feel for the characters populating the prison is what makes this season so difficult to watch, but it is also this familiarity that makes its criticism of the justice system in the US so successful.
Of course, despite the darkness, OITNB maintains its witty edge from previous seasons, and the ever-developing relationships of the incredibly well-drawn and eccentric characters keeps the show watchable. Transcendent and more powerful than ever before, the only thing that keeps this criminally good drama from being truly great is the unevenness with which it treats some of the already established storylines of rape and racism.
words by Laura Woodhouse
9 – The Night Manager (BBC)
Online streaming services may be dominating the industry (and this list) right now, but the BBC still knows how to make some pure, brilliant drama, as proved in February with The Night Manager. Based on John Le Carré’s 1993 spy thriller novel of the same name, this tightly packed mini-series unveils a world of espionage, extravagance and betrayal, as an ex-soldier goes undercover to seek vengeance against a charming but ruthless arms dealer.
Beautifully shot by director Susanne Bier, the series intrigued from start to finish, offering sumptuous scenery, intense action sequences, and dramatic stand-offs (and not forgetting a glorious peek at Tom Hiddleston’s bottom, in what is perhaps the most iconic TV sex scene this year). Its stellar cast, which includes Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman and Elizabeth Debicki, give dynamic performances as their multi-layered and morally ambiguous characters. Special mention also has to be given to Tom Hollander, who stole many a scene as Corky, Richard Roper’s slippery right hand man.
Nominated for several Golden Globes in 2017, The Night Manager was a slick and intricate thriller that showcased the best of British talent.
words by Anneka Honeyball
8 – The Great British Bake Off (BBC)
In what has been a divisive year in many ways, The Great British Bake Off united the nation over baker heartthrobs and botanical showstoppers. In contrast to the ever more-bleak fiction dramas and cut-throat reality contests which dominate the rest of television, there is something refreshing about the sweet and humorous BBC show.
The contestants win viewer hearts, not from cat fights or sob stories, but from sexual innuendos and their passion for baking. The greatest suspense of the show was awaiting Candice’s weekly shade of lipstick, and seeing which image of Selasi would become a meme after each episode. Only in The Great British Bake Off could the failure of rising pastry create such nail-biting tension. There is real compassion within the show, both between the bakers who come together to help each other out, and between the presenters and judges.
The Great British Bake Off may have been a surprise hit when it first became popular a couple of years ago, but its magic still managed to compel thousands of viewers to switch on this year. The news that it is moving to Channel 4 – and is consequently losing Mel, Sue and Mary Berry – angered thousands, and it is hard to imagine it maintaining its same simple charm next year.
words by Nelly Mair
7 – Marvel’s Daredevil (Netflix)
Daredevil, the show which kickstarted the Netflix-side of the Marvel universe, returned earlier this year with a second season; and pulled out all the stops in introducing two new main characters, The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra Natachios (Elodie Yung) – and a new villain in ‘The Hand’.
Following up on the first season was inevitably going to be a daunting task, especially with the departure of showrunner Steven De Knight, but the show manages to keep its footing. It has even (somehow) managed to top that epic hallway fight scene, with a phenomenal one-take stairwell skirmish where Daredevil obliterates countless thugs. Whilst ‘The Hand’ are a somewhat disappointing villain after the Vincent D’Onofrio’s excellent performance as Wilson Fisk in the first season, the introduction of Elektra and The Punisher have added a fresh new dynamic to Hell’s Kitchen.
Jon Bernthal’s The Punisher is the standout from Season 2, bringing an unerring sense of dread that the character has severely lacked in its most recent big screen outings – the prison fight scene is a particular highlight, showcasing the sheer brutality of the character. Regardless of the violence that The Punisher causes, Jon Bernthal manages to humanise the character and makes it that much easier to empathise with his viewpoint.
The holy grail of comic book TV shows has yet again delivered an outstanding season of action and drama, and further adds more depth to the Daredevil canon.
words by Sanjay Patel
6 – Westworld (HBO)
Westworld reaches a well-deserved sixth place on our top ten this year. For those who are not acquainted with it yet, the show follows the various adventures of characters in an artificial world, created as an amusement park for their human guests. The TV show is amazingly thought up, including constantly surprising twists and restless storylines.
It’s bitter image of mankind sees us presented with a cruel and shocking nature, with its finale revelation in particularly intended to make the audience think by leaving some slightly noticeable clues. Westworld‘s manner of approaching a world that is both ancient and futurist is flawless, and all of the actors play their roles to a marvellously accurate standard. It can be watched in many ways; just as an entertainment, to elaborate theories, or even to reflect on how our civilisation will go on. The show even incorporates some elements of our culture, such as Shakespeare’s citation, 21st century music, and even Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous paintings. For me, Westworld is the best new show to come out of 2016.
words by Lisa Veiber
5 – The Crown (Netflix)
In recent years, period drama seems to be the genre where things are happening. From Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge, to Lark Rise to Candleford and Call the Midwife, most major networks have come to realise that this is a type of television into which people are really investing. Netflix are no different, and jumping on the bandwagon, their recent original series The Crown has shown just how much we love history, and given the fact that it was released around a similar time to ITV’s Victoria, it shows that we aren’t done caring about the monarchy either.
Peter Morgan’s ambitious show aims to eventually cover the entire reign of our current monarch Queen Elizabeth II, and dig into the little details that have never really been fleshed out and fictionalised in this way. There’s no doubt that it is a mammoth task, and a risky feat given the fact that the subjects of the show are all still alive – and could easily be watching. However, The Crown does not tiptoe or shy away from controversy, but instead sets out to be frank, accurate and explicitly authentic about not only the good parts of being Queen, but the difficulties.
Claire Foy and Matt Smith are both sensational and riveting in their performances as Elizabeth and Prince Philip, as is John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. However, their greatness is largely due to the beautiful crafted scripts they are given to work with, aided by thoroughly researched costumes and props, and shot with masterful cinematography. The Crown is a real jewel, and its first season’s success makes it more than deserving of a place in our top ten.
words by Rehana Nurmahi
4 – Planet Earth II (BBC)
It’s easy to pinpoint the attraction of David Attenborough’s long-awaited sequel to 2006’s acclaimed documentary series Planet Earth. Potentially the most peculiarly dramatic of the long string of documentaries having graced our TV screens recently (Netflix’s Making a Murderer and Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie are two easily, guiltily dramatic instances), Planet Earth II comes as close to filmic attraction as a nature documentary can possibly get.
With a stunning cinematographic eye, a dazzling use and handling of colour, and a fitting score from the most dramatic name in entertainment composing, Hans Zimmer, Planet Earth II portrays the realism of the natural world as anything but ordinary, and elevates it almost into the realm of the utterly fantastical. Attenborough forms a relatable narrative from the primitive actions and routines of animals and insects, ones that would fit quite smoothly into the cinematic world of modern blockbuster mayhem. The unbearable tension of a newly born lizard’s audacious escape from a cascade of rancorous snakes could easily rival the chase-sequences of Fast and Furious, or Creed’s one-shot boxing match; whilst the heartwarming search of one sloth to find his partner, moving literally across oceans, could very much replace the last scenes of Love Actually.
And with the news of its overtaking the viewing figures of even The X Factor, our collective interest in the outside world as a spectacle of this year’s television has just started to solidify. And at a time when the Earth’s life hangs precariously in the balance, maybe Planet Earth’s rendering of the world as astounding phenomena will be just the kick we need to start saving it.
words by Sophie Trenear
3 – Black Mirror (Netflix)
Though much of 2016’s Channel 4-related televisual relocation outrage revolved around an early entry on this list (Mary Berry and her distaste for soggy bottoms), far more notable and perceptible was the defection of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s grim dystopian anthology, to Netflix. Its previous two runs have drawn especially prescient parallels to the current state of the world – following the breakdown of the divide between semi-reality television and political offices in 2016 elections, I’d bet my student loan on a spot of crowdsourced drone-based genocide within months – and the six new episodes bear an altogether more chilling aftertaste.
After ‘Nosedive’, a tranquil utopia embroiled in an enforced pastel affront to integrity that makes Community’s MeowMeowBeenz look Black Mirror-ly prophetic, the season rushes through survival horror (‘Playtest’) and voyeuristic paranoia that makes Blu-Tack blobs on laptop cameras feel somewhat comforting (‘Shut Up And Dance’). Some of its late pivots, destined to unnecessarily satisfy, are 🙄 (although the show is unlikely now to sabotage communal perceptions of emoji before The Emoji Movie, an actual thing, hits cinemas), and the technological targets critical to the caustic lampoons are rather obvious – virtual reality, human augmentation, drones, surveillance, hacking, social media, etc. – but where those latter four meet is ‘Hated In The Nation‘, a spellbinding feature-length piece that storms from eight characters of everyday outrage to a meticulous, steely finale. With Netflix’s special effects budget getting milked for a lingering sting, 2016 was the year Black Mirror properly cracked through from quaint British doom-monger to the global force in foretelling the terrors ahead.
words by Xavier Voigt-Hill
2 – Game of Thrones (HBO)
Last year’s winner narrowly misses out on the top spot! TV’s behemoth Game of Thrones might not be The Edge’s number one this year, but Season 6 of the epic fantasy show still managed to reach new heights with its back against the wall. After a lukewarm reaction to much of Season 5 (‘Hardhome’ aside), Game of Thrones had an uphill battle on its hands. But Benioff and Weiss managed to steer the show through uncharted territory, with no books to guide them this time round, and the season comes out on the other side looking remarkably stronger. Packed full of powerful dialogue, outstanding acting, twists, and awesome action, Game of Thrones delivered what many are claiming to be the show’s strongest season to date.
Characters felt properly utilized, with Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen especially stepping into the spotlight. Jon Snow returned (obviously), as did Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (wait, what!?) and Benjen Stark (mm’kay); we said goodbye to many a beloved character (most devastatingly thanks to a certain door…); we punched the air with joy and covered our faces in shock too. A number of popular fan theories were confirmed, and a number of intriguing storylines were set up moving forward, making this a season of both pay off and set up.
But Thrones saved the best until last. With a stunning one-two episode punch, the stunning ‘Battle of the Bastards’ was usurped by season finale ‘The Winds of Winter’, two of the best Game of Thrones episodes of all time. Game of Thrones‘ sixth season did everything it needed to, and then some.
words by David Mitchell-Baker
1 – Stranger Things (Netflix)
It comes with no surprise that Stranger Things tops off this year’s TV favourites. Stephen King’s illegitimate love child with Stephen Speilberg couldn’t get any more 80s without hitting you over the head with a shoulder pad; expertly weaving classic nostalgic moments from cinema into a modern, innovative storyline. It’s unlike anything we’ve had in recent years in terms of its influence – simultaneously stirring up memories of all these films we’ve seen before (think The Goonies, Nightmare on Elm Street, E.T.) and spinning them out in horror, science fiction, and romantic genres.
A government conspiracy, a group of misfit children, and a desperate parent willing to do anything for her missing son – Stranger Things offers something for everyone, from every age range. Playing out as an 8 part film rather than a series, the Duffer brothers curated and developed their characters in such style. An easy binge-watch and consistently returnable, Stranger Things has permeated through every piece of pop culture we’ve seen in 2016. Eggos sales are through the roof and shaved heads are in, 80’s club nights ravage the nation and D&D has come back with a vengeance – all of which are very good things. Season 2 has already been confirmed and there’s a host of exciting opportunities to expand the Stranger universe… but the most exciting? The chance that Barb might at last get the validation she deserves. A worthy winner of The Edge‘s best TV show of 2016!
words by Ashleigh Millman
NB: Due to the tight competition in 2016, narrowly missing out on the top spots were Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and House of Cards! You can also check out The Edge‘s choices for the ‘Hidden Gems’ of 2016, criminally good shows that were criminally forgotten about this year. And from The Edge, a very Happy 2017!