Despite everything else that happened in the past year, 2016 was an excellent year for television. So good in fact that I had a really tricky job narrowing it down to just a top five. So to begin, here are all the shows that didn’t make the list. Keep in mind that on another day any number of these shows could have broken into the top five, but I had to make a final decision. Here are the honourable mentions in no particular order;
- Stranger Things
- Black Mirror
- Better Call Saul
- Luke Cage
- House of Cards
- Game of Thrones
All of these shows are worthy of accolade and acclaim, but the I possibly enjoyed the following five just a tiny bit more. But the above are all excellent. Now, the top five!
5 – Daredevil
Best moment – The speech by The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) in ‘Penny and Dime’.
A lot of people had issues with this season. In a similar way to Luke Cage, some people thought the pacing was off during the second half of the season. A lot of people wanted more of Jon Bernthal’s interpretation of The Punisher. But what we got of him was amazing. The Punisher has had a difficult treatment on the big screen in past years. Though I will defend 2004’s The Punisher, the character here is the best possible version of the iconic skull-emblazoned antihero. His morals clash with Daredevil and that makes for an interesting dynamic between the two, and his backstory is well fleshed-out and explored throughout the season.
Though The Punisher is the standout element of the series, the rest of it is excellent. As you will have come to expect the action is some of the best on TV at the moment and there are a number of excellent fight scenes throughout the season. A fight in episode 3 even tops the very impressive hallway fight of season 1, as Daredevil kicks and jabs his way through an army of very angry bikers. Again edited to look like one continuous shot, it’s intense in a way that few other TV shows can even dream of. Another standout moment sees The Punisher fight through a cell block full of inmates, and it’s the closet Marvel will ever get to feeling like The Raid (pretty darn close!).
The actors bring their A-game and season 2 sees the return of some really cool characters. As well as this it deepens the mythology of the show in a way that was only teased in the first season. Netflix proves again that the shows can succeed without having to tie them closely to the MCU.
4 – Peaky Blinders
Best moment – The Shelby family is arrested.
The Shelby’s are back! Though it’s easy to forget they made their return, back in the far off land of early 2016. Picking up in 1924, 2 years after the last episode, the season begins with Tommy’s wedding. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s settling down to a quiet family life. We get train robberies, True Detective-level orgies, a bunker full of Russian jewellery, gypsy curses and a crazy Tom Hardy. We are also introduced to the very creepy Father John Hughes played by Paddy Considine. This year Peaky Blinders demonstrated that it is still the absolute best looking show on TV and definitely the best sounding. The anachronistic soundtrack is the coolest thing you’ll hear all year and fits the show wonderfully. You’ll be humming Nick Cave’s main theme, that’s for sure.
The show manages to be utterly compelling, even with the Sam Neill shaped hole that the second season left in it. The stakes are heightened more than ever as Tommy and the Shelby clan reach higher places than they have before, almost becoming a legitimate business. But despite all of the charities they fund or the mansions they live in, they will of course they will somehow always be brought back down into the dirt. Tommy paid a big price this season with the death of his wife. And by the end of the season the whole family was being carted away and Tommy was left alone. It was his Heisenberg moment. Season 4 will be interesting.
3 – Westworld
Best moment – “Doesn’t look like anything to me.”
There is a lot of potential with the idea of a robot theme park. The excellent 1973 film showed us this world of rootin’ tootin’ depravity but only scratched the surface of the moral and ethical questions faced in a place like that. Luckily the show has come along to deal with all the sticky philosophical musings. As soon as the show starts you know that showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have planned it all out. It feels at least like they had this first season planned out beginning to end, every detail meaning something later down the late. It’s mind-boggling to think of all the work, diagrams and flow charts that must have gone into the creation process for this show.
The acting in the show is probably the best on TV at the moment, and it’s all done by a really great cast of actors. The absolute standout is Jeffrey Wright as Bernard. For most of the show he is a broken man after the loss of his son. But then after the reveal he becomes something else, a much more complicated character. Also excellent are Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Ben Barnes, Basically I could list the entire cast. For me the real revelation was Jimmi Simpson, a man known for playing kind of goofy characters, he turned in a standout performance here.
Sure some of the twists were guessed online (looking at you Reddit) but that was actually a lot of the fun for me. I’ve never wanted to discuss a show so much, except during Lost perhaps. The mysteries definitely worked to keep me coming back every week. And even if you have an idea of the twist, or you’ve read a spoiler, it’s still great to see it play out.
2 – The Walking Dead
Best moment – Rick getting his Python back.
Season 7 of The Walking Dead has been intense, to say the least. The premiere finally revealed which character had met their end to Lucille, and it was Abraham. He went down fighting though with a defiant “Suck my nuts!” after the first blow. But then he was dispatched in brutal fashion and damn it was hard to watch. But at least the other characters were safe now right? Nope. We then have to watch as Glenn gets his head beaten in, shot for shot from the comics, in a somehow even more gory scene. That headless corpse twitching on the ground has got to be the most violent things I’ve seen on TV, making Oberyn’s head pop from Game of Thrones look like a kid’s show.
The rest of the series was great, I thought. We spent some time with some characters that really needed some development like Rosita and Tara. It made interesting characters out of some previously poor ones, just look at Father Gabriel’s transformation. Now I can’t wait for him to come on screen. That’s not to say it wasn’t a tough watch. Seeing Rick Grimes, the most badass man on TV, crying with fear on more than one occasion was difficult. He was broken down to a cowardly version of the character we love. But that just made the end of the season all the more satisfying, when Rick finally got his Colt Python back.
And then there’s Negan. One of the most loved comic book characters, the casting was always going to upset some fans. But I think it seems now that most people have warmed to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal. Not that they like the character. The amount of things I’ve seen about how horrible he is and how people want him dead is crazy. And if you’re familiar with the comics you’ll know that Negan is probably not disappearing anytime soon, which is fine by me.
1 – Bojack Horseman
Best moment – Fish Out of Water
Bojack Horseman is a difficult show to tell people about. “A cartoon about a talking horse” doesn’t do it justice. “But he’s also an actor! And he has severe depression!” doesn’t convince people either. It really is a show that needs to be watched to truly understand the depth and great characters that you can’t really describe to people. By season 3 the characters are all familiar and it’s great just seeing them interact. Will Arnett is excellent as Bojack, excellent at the sad stuff and equally as good in the silly parts.
Whilst it definitely isn’t just Family Guy but with a horse, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a comedy. There are clever jokes and satire but the show isn’t afraid to throw in a more simple joke or a ludicrous plot line. My favourite is the pasta related disaster in the final episode of the season. There is also an Arrested Development-type feel to the jokes, which means some pausing and rewinding to catch everything. As well as this however, the show can also be astoundingly sad. Sarah Lynn’s death this season is especially heartbreaking, and Weird Al’s against-type turn as Mr Peanut’s ill brother is surprising.
The standout part of the series is episode 4. Called ‘Fish Out of Water’ it sees Bojack going to the Pacific Ocean Film Festival which is under the sea. During the episode Bojack must return a lost baby seahorse to its father. It’s part slapstick comedy and part touching character study as Bojack finds himself unable to verbally communicate with anyone because of his diving helmet. This means the relationship between him and the baby seahorse is all silent and it’s wonderful. On top of this the episode looks amazing, with some really magical imagery. There is also one perfect joke regarding Bojack not being able to talk which is the icing on the cake of an already standout episode.
By Jack Bumby