With technology so developed, the television market is literally drowning with all kinds of ideas for productions, while only a handful of them make it to the A-list. Whether it’s the rush to create more quantity rather than quality, or the fear to break from certain proven formulas for directing or screenwriting, two things are certain. First of all, we need more comedy, and, yes, we are still waiting for Rick & Morty‘s third season. Second of all, HBO is still ahead of the game, but Neflix is catching up. This can mean only one thing: what used to be television for the elite and the privileged, it is now the accepted standard for quality more than ever. What’s more, with all the variety of programs and films today, people simply want good television, and they want more of it!
Before I begin with the top 10 TV series of 2016, here’s a couple of shows that have certainly gained the status of ‘notable mentions’. HBO’s Vinyl is definitely one of the most discussed music-related shows in early 2016, followed by Netflix’s The Get Down, which actually surpassed the success of Vinyl. Later on, FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story made a big fuss alongside Showtime’s Billions, aka the show with Homeland‘s Damien Lewis. AMC’s The Night Manager managed to capture the attention with a somewhat engaging plot and great acting from Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, yet I can’t help but think that the show had the potential to do more with the editing process or perhaps the storyline. Same happened with Hulu’s 11.22.63 where James Franco went back in time in order to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination – one seemingly interesting idea that just kept speeding up and then slowing down, thus, never finding its true rhythm. Ultimately, I think the people’s favourite show ended up being NBC’s This is Us, which makes me think that in the end everyone appreciates a well-made comedy/drama mix, despite the growing fame of sci-fi/ fantasy productions.
EDIT: One show that I forgot to mention was Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, which is, of course, not a new show, but rather such a big event for all the loyal fans out there, myself included, that it somehow deserves to be in list! For those who haven’t seen it at all, I highly recommend the original series.
So, without any further delay, here are the shows that have made me look at television with wonder in the eyes and awe in the heart.
Fleabag (BBC Three)
Attempts at comedy series are somewhat getting fewer and fewer, thus, the exceptionally good ones are rare findings today. I mean, with the majority of comedy shows, it’s all remakes, clichés, and the same jokes all over again. The truly sad part is that Fleabag is the only TV comedy featured in here.
Fleabag is a six-part comedy show set in London that dives into the so-called ‘hook-up culture’ and explores what it means to be a modern middle-aged single lady: including the late night calls, the strangers, the constant comparison with the main character’s perfect, but not so perfectly married, sister. In other words, the show’s not just easy-going, but it manages to also capture the everyday issues that we sometimes try to hide or ignore, those little embarrassing moments that actually make us more human, much like Lena Dunham’s Girls does. The creator and main star of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, shares the feminist philosophy and as a result her creation truly carries the notion of independence mixed with meaningfulness.
The Night Of (HBO)
The pilot episode of The Night Of begins to tell the story of Muslim-American college student Naz whose simple wish to go out to a party somewhere in New York leads him to a female stranger’s flat – and the day after, to a prison cell facing murder charges. On his troublesome journey to justice, Naz (Riz Ahmed) is joined by the state lawyer John Stone (John Turturro). The viewer’s not given any further information at this point, but the TV mini-series quickly and surely becomes one of the most engaging programs of the year.
When it comes to HBO, great cinematography, editing and audiovisual presentation are bound to be expected. What’s great about this TV drama is that it asks and demands the answers to questions, that are more important than ever today with technology being able to connect everyone (and everyone’s stories), regarding religion, racism, injustice and violence. It’s a daring but righteous exploration of the human nature and consciousness that gives voice to the minorities and stands behind equality.
The Crown (Netflix)
The Crown is more than a TV drama, it feels like a documentary from half a century ago that was brought back to life with the help of technology’s magic powers. It is, of course, the talented people on screen and behind the scenes that are responsible for the amazing cinematic television experience that the show delivers. The creator, Peter Morgan, is more than equipped to handle a historical drama, having written The Queen (2006) and The Last King of Scotland (2006), while the many stars of the show include Claire Foy, Matt Smith, John Lithgow, and Jared Harris.
The Crown is a British TV drama that portrays the stepping of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom into being a queen together with the post-war state of the country and its people. It stands as a great example of how alluring history drama shows can be when done with the right mixture of storytelling (in this case, that includes facts and fiction), cinematographic skills and editing techniques. Consequently, the TV series turns out to be one of the most touching and beautifully told stories of the year.
Written, created and produced by its main star, Daniel Glover, Atlanta might be the most down-to-earth addition to this list. With its beautiful soundtrack, diverse cinematography, real chemistry on screen, strong screenplay, and quirky dialogues, Atlanta is all about the realistic portrayal of what it is to live as a poor but creative adult in the black ghetto, one that is forced to grow up by his life circumstances: having a baby, dealing with people’s expectations and his own ambitions, constantly trying to prove his worth to society. The TV series tackles matters related to music, success and failure, family and friendship, racism and bigotry, but the best part of the show is truly its presentation.
The future of television lies in unpredictability. The element of surprise is key to original drama writing. Atlanta demonstrates its ability to adapt to the ever-changing world of technology with an entire (or almost entire) episode of TV commercials, much like one of Rick & Morty‘s episodes.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Netflix’s sci-fi/horror TV series brings to life an 80s-inspired production that absolutely charms with its authentic style and soundtrack. The plot revolves around a kid that goes missing, Will, in a small town somewhere in the state of Indiana. While everyone’s searching, a mysterious girl appears in town, one who turns out to have strange powers.
Starring Winona Rhyder and the young but talented Millie Bobby Brown, the show follows its own rhythm and pace, but, ultimately, the storyline keeps on bringing surprises and plot twists till the very end. Stranger Things is undoubtedly the most adventurous show in the list for its true powers lie in the fact that it makes you look for the kid within you.
The Young Pope (HBO, Canal+, Sky Atlantic)
The Young Pope is to HBO what House of Cards is to Netflix. Set in the Vatican City, the TV series follows the encounters and actions of Pius XIII, the first American Pope in history. The show might appear to be unrealistic and eccentric, but that doesn’t stop it to be equally honest and truthful about the issues we have been facing as citizens of the ‘global village’ we occupy – questions of hope, of religion, of same sex marriages, of child abuse, of losses and gains, of miracles.
Created by the Italian mastermind Paolo Sorrentino and starring the charming Jude Law and Diane Keaton, the TV drama does more than impress – it teaches and enlightens. The audiovisual editing combined with the amazing cinematography and acting will leave you absolutely speechless. The carefully assembled storyline and the smart dialogues, of course, play a key part in success of the show. Needless to say, it’s the themes illustrated or hinted in the series that make it so impactful and important within the realm of television.
In the words of Frank Capra, “No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan, has ever had the power that a filmmaker has—the power to talk to hundreds of millions of people for two hours in the dark.” Only it is no longer just cinema that has the privilege to do so, but television as well, moreover, The Young Pope does it through the image of the Holy Father himself!
HBO is perhaps most known by its 1996 slogan “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” Two decades later, it appears that all television has become more than just TV. Everything’s so grand and cinematic nowadays, the lines are too blurred to tell when does the television experience end and when does the cinematic experience begin. You get it all at once – that’s the beauty of it, I guess – the complexity, the brilliance, the cinematography, the dialogues, the screenplay, and the originality.
This year’s biggest surprise is beyond a hint of doubt HBO’s ambiguous masterpiece Westworld. A show that arouses your curiosity with the very first episode, not due to its clearly outlined narrative, but rather because of its contemporaneity. I’ll try to refrain myself from saying too much, because Westworld needs little to be described and plenty to be analyzed, which means that the process of experiencing it first hand is not only essential, but the only way to truly understand the many themes filtered in the show.
The TV sci-fi Western drama created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy could be described as the boosted remake of the 1973 film with the same title and concept. The action takes place in a dystopian adult-themed park populated with artificial human-like beings, aka the hosts, that are put there to obey and satisfy the guests. Keeping in mind the futuristic outlook, the TV series has to offer also great acting, starring big names, such as Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, and James Marsden. It’s HBO, but also television, at its finest.