From dragons in Essos to '80s nostalgia in San Junipero, 2016 in television has given us so much. Here's our list of the best TV of 2016.
Catastrophe and You’re The Worst both depicted the foibles of modern romance with unflinching ferocity, but Love really took things to the next level. Its star-crossed protagonists, Mickey and Gus – brilliantly portrayed by Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust – weren’t just flawed, they were often downright toxic. And yet for all its daring darkness, Love knew when to pull back and let just a little light shine in. A rom-com for people who hate rom-coms.
If Lena Dunham’s millennial-defining series lost its way in its fourth season, everything came zinging back into focus for season five. Having watched Hannah and her friends/frenemies spend forever wallowing in various self-delusions, it was a joy to see them finally starting to, y’know, grow up a bit (albeit in reliably painful ways). The finale was perhaps the most hilarious, heartbreaking episode of the show’s entire run, with a Sex and the City-esque ending that shouldn’t have worked but totally did.
8. Broad City
Mixing some conflict in with the comedy for season three – Abbi’s squirmy lies to Ilana over her relationship with Trey – Broad City continued to be the daftest, realest depiction of female BFF-ery on TV, able to switch between warm relatability and scatological surreality at the drop of a hat. Side-note: we demand a spin-off show for Mona and Winona, the amazing air hostesses from the uproarious Abbi-gets-her-period-on-a-plane episode.
Credit: Comedy Central
It’s to Transparent‘s credit that, while its basic premise centres on a super-zeitgeisty issue – an older parent transitioning from male to female – it never feels like that’s all the show’s about. At its heart, it’s a study of how one damaged family copes when long buried secrets come rumbling up to the surface – sometimes triumphantly, often dysfunctionally. We haven’t seen characters this complex and ripe for armchair analysis since Mad Men.
6. BoJack Horseman
Watching the hit-and-miss early episodes of Netflix’s animated comedy BoJack Horseman back in 2014, it seemed unlikely it’d ever make it to a third season, let alone blossom into one of the sharpest and most affecting shows out there. Death, depression, addiction and the horror of watching your life spiral down the plughole – not subjects you’d expect to find skilfully handled in a goofy cartoon about a guy with a horse’s head, and yet here we are.
5. American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson
It’s not like OJ Simpson’s tale was one that had yet to be told – his original murder trial and its notorious verdict received obsessive media coverage around the globe – but this painstaking recreation of those divisive days felt horribly compulsive nonetheless. Much of the credit goes to Cuba Gooding Jr. for his shudder-inducing portrayal of Simpson, and to David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, slowly and wrenchingly coming to doubt his best friend’s innocence.
Spinning out of a one-woman play performed at Edinburgh Festival, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’ marked the emergence of a bold new voice in British comedy. The titular character was hedonistic, razor-witted and occasionally kind of evil, but with surprising hidden depths that, once revealed, cast her behaviour in an entirely different light. It’s probably a bit reductive to call Waller-Bridge ‘the new Sharon Horgan’, but we’ve gone and done it now so that’s that.
3. Black Mirror
Another batch of near-future nightmares, as Charlie Brooker’s anthology show once again had you wondering if you should delete all social media apps. The highlight of this third series, however, was actually (sort of) uplifting rather than terrifying: ‘San Junipero’ depicted love conquering all in a digital afterlife, eliciting more crying-emoji postings than anything else that’s hit our screens this year.
2. Game of Thrones
The biggest, baddest show on TV finally ran out of plotlines to lift from the doorstop-sized novels that it’s based on, but it ploughed on regardless and didn’t miss a beat. Who needs ya, George RR Martin! (Seriously though, do hurry up and finish that next book, yeah?) Producers of The Walking Dead take note: this is how you crank up the carnage levels and resurrect a much-loved ‘dead’ character without completely doing your audience’s heads in.
1. Stranger Things
The show that took dozens of pop-culture touchstones from the VHS era – from The Goonies to Poltergeist, E.T. to Nightmare on Elm Street – and beautifully blended them all together into one intoxicatingly nostalgic whole. There was more to Stranger Things, however, than fetishised Spielbergian stylings: it was the human drama – Mike’s heroism, Joyce’s grieving, Eleven’s daddy issues – that fuelled our ruinous binge-watching sessions. Plus: soundtrack of the year, no contest.