It’s been another good year for the telly. Some great new shows, returns to form for older shows and some surprises.
I’m only looking at new programmes here, otherwise I’d have to put in stuff which I will always revert to. Like Father Ted, M*A*S*H, Porridge, Curb Your Enthusiasm and even Sapphire and Steel, which I’ve been introducing my 13 year old to. Still creepy stuff!
So it’s new stuff only. Here, then, is my Top TV Series of 2016.
Like many of you, I grew up to the Spielberg classics in the 80s. I was 10 when E.T. came out, and also watched Close Encouters of the Third Kind every Saturday morning for a year. From the outset, Stranger Things paid testament to these times. The unusual-creeping-into-(troubled)-family-life formula and 80s backdrop stirred up a lot of emotional ties from our childhood.
A tale of kids discovering something, um, Strange about their town was dealt with intelligently, and crafted into an emotional journey with twists, thrills and a good amount of horror too. Stealing unashamedly from the aforementioned Spielberg, Silent Hill, Super 8, Midnight Special and Poltergeist, it was a thrilling ride. How happy we are to hear that Season 2 is in the pipeline.
Stunning music too.
The Night Manager
Tom Hiddleston. A terrifying Hugh Laurie. Olivia Colman. Tom Hollander. Tobias (Evil Bastard from Outlander) Menzies. Explosions. Exotic locations. A storyline from a John le Carré novel. International Arms Trading.
It’s was terrifically paced, spending just the right amount of time on the build up to justify Jonathan Pine’s (Hiddleston) decision to go undercover to try to bring down suspected arms dealer Richard Roper (Laurie). Loads of suspence and great performances all round made this an ambitious start to the year for the BBC.
War and Peace
Paul Dano is an incredible actor. To catch him being part of BBC’s War and Peace drama series was a delight. To have him up against such tremendous talent as Lily James, Tuppence Middleton, Adrian Edmondson, Rebecca Front, Greta Scacchi, Stephen Rea, Brian Cox, Ken Stott, Gillian Anderson and Jim Broadbent was just spoiling us.
This six-part adaptation of Tolstoy’s famous epic tale of Russia and it’s wars with Napoleon burst onto our screens on 3rd January and dominated with splendour. Suitably grandiose and never underplayed, it was a wonderful piece of dramatic storytelling from the BBC.
Master of None
Aziz Ansari stepped away from ensemble sitcom Parks & Recreation to write and star in Master of None, which is pretty much about him, his relationships and work and (real life) family.
His quick wit and machine gun style delivery balanced with a good slice of pathos and heart made this the best new comedy show of the year. I’ve watched the whole thing twice already. Is there going to be a second season? Quick google. Yes, there is. Awesome.
Returns to Form…
Game of Thrones
I didn’t enjoy 2015’s Game of Thrones series at all. The first six episodes could have been compressed down to one episode, such was the slow pace. Watching this year’s series therefore felt like I was giving it one more chance. I am very glad that I did!
We had the return of some recently and not so recently (presumed) departed favourites. Tyrion was back to being interesting, the Lannisters showed their grit and there were dragons. Big dragons. The twists were plentiful and the battles were big. It has definitely made up for the previous season’s shortcomings, and has left things perfectly set-up for the final two (somewhat shorter) seasons. Winter is here!
House of Cards
House of Cards was another TV series that left me a little underwhelmed after its last run. It just seemed to be going through the motions a little. This year, though, someone set some fireworks off in the scriptwriters room, and the resultant excitement and risk to life has translated to the screen. It was magnificent.
President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is no longer the infallible puppeteer of earlier series. He’s the target of the conspiracies and he’s having to fight to keep his head above water. He struggles, but eventually does what he does, and spins it to his favour. Machiavellian masterclasses ahoy. The only problem they’re going to have is topping what happened in the real life Presidential elections.
I didn’t really watch Still Game when it was originally on but, through the magic of DVD, I discovered them earlier this year. I have since devoured all six seasons and Christmas / Hogmanay specials with much enthusiasm, and just in time to join in with the fever that accompanied their much heralded return this year.
It took a moment to get going. (The first episode with Jack getting stuck in the bath probably had English audiences wondering what the Scots were getting so excited about.) From episode two onwards, however, Still Game series 7 was solid gold. Old favourites mixed it up with new characters, chiefly the big-hit Methadone Mick. They have already announced, and sold-out, a new live show next year. Fingers crossed there will be a new series coming soon too.
Series Two, No Problem…
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Another Netflix gem, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt finished its first run having introduced us to a world where each line has three jokes, a flashback and a bad pun in it. The eponymous Kimmy is a stranger in New York, having been kept prisoner by a rogue Reverend for many years. It sounds grim but it’s light, hilarious and clever.
Series two didn’t stay in the same safe zone it established originally. It was unafraid of progressing characters and it benefitted from doing so. Every bit as funny as series one, and with each character perfectly cast, this intelligent, camp comedy deserves its place here on my list of awesome TV.
Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul stepped out from the shadow of it’s parent show, Breaking Bad, five minutes into it’s first episode. It had the sharp writing, wonderful storytelling methods and great acting, but it also had far more wit and a lot of heart.
Series two brought with it teeth and anger. Saul Goodman / Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and his trickster nature led Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) to endanger her career. BB favourite Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) gets into deeper trouble and Charles “Chuck” McGill (Michael McKean) sets out to get his brother removed as a legit lawyer while continuing to suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
Season 3 will air in Spring 2017, for which I have very high hopes!
Luckily, we had two series of Taskmaster on Dave this year. The first had Doc Brown, Joe Wilkinson, Jon Richardson, Katherine Ryan and Richard Osman carrying out Greg Davies’ Tasks. Series two in October had Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Paul Chowdhry, Rob Beckett and Sara Pascoe. The tasks are decided and adjudicated by creator Alex Horne in a dry and hilarious fashion.
It’s a show which has me in stitches every single time. It just always hits the mark, making fools or geniuses out of it’s contestants. Whichever way it goes, the efforts and resulting reactions of Davies & Horne make it unmissable.
The TV Moment of the Year
Last Leg Live from Rio
The Last Leg, Live from Rio, was the most emotional, funny, eye-opening TV experience of 2016. From watching Johnny Vegas embrace the Paralympic Games on behalf of all of us to a never-ending stream of medal winners being celebrated on the show, it was the best in television which I rushed home from work to see.
Josh Widdicombe, Alex Brooker and Adam Hills brought tears to the eyes of both laughter and through poignancy. The most wonderful and inspiring TV moment of the year, however, was Brooker telling us that Alex Zanardi’s handcycling win meant to him. I defy anyone to watch this and not feel touched and inspired. Deep man breath to avoid crying.
Some were good but fell short of making the list. National Treasure with Robbie Coltrane & Julie Walters was haunting and well performed. Love Nina was a great find and good fun. Indian Summers rounded off nicely.
Silicon Valley didn’t meet earlier standards and is beginning to feel a bit tired. One of Us promised much but didn’t quite deliver. Dickensian was great at first but dragged on and, before the end, became a parody of itself. Outlander didn’t meet the standards of series one.