While the box office had a relatively weak year, the Home Box Office killed it with Season 6 of Game of Thrones and Season 1 of Westworld. Television seems to have surpassed film as the premier viewing medium, with massive hits from several different networks and streaming services.
Check out our top picks for best television of 2016!
Game of Thrones
The moment Season 5 ended, fans immediately began to wonder how Season 6—the first to fully surpass George R.R. Martin’s source material—would fare. It was natural to have doubts, but as David Benioff and Dan Weiss showed us, we were worrying about nothing. Season 6 of Thrones was a masterpiece, filled with countless memorable episodes. “The Winds of Winter,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Door,” were immediate additions to the show’s Greatest Hits. There was no greater 15 minutes of television this year than the opening to the season finale that culminated in Cersei’s wildfire explosion. The goosebumps still haven’t gone away.
It’s tough to review a non-linear show where each episode is a brand new storyline with different actors/writers/director—essentially, Black Mirror is like a syndicated collection of philosophical movies loosely tied together with the theme of the effects of near-future technology. However, Season 3 of Black Mirror is a chilling and thought-provoking masterpiece. Each episode feels like a thought experiment your philosophy professor asked you to watch before class, and when you’re done, you’ll want to find someone—anyone—who is caught up to discuss the series with. Brilliant television.
Stranger Things was unquestionably the surprise TV hit of 2016. With absolutely no prior buzz, Netflix's synthy, nostalgia-driven 80s lovefest came out of nowhere to both charm and terrify viewers of all ages. Influenced in equal measure by Carpenter, King, Spielberg, and Craven, the show followed a group of absolutely adorable D&D-playing nerds as they navigated a federal conspiracy, a girl with superpowers, and a ravenous interdimensional monster wreaking havoc on their town. It also delivered the year's best musical theme along the way.
While, ultimately, the show was probably given a bit more love than it deserved (nostalgia has a way of glossing over plotholes and occasional bouts of weak writing), Stranger Things was unique enough to stand out in a year filled with quality TV. Its true challenge will be to keep things fresh in Season 2.
In early trailers, HBO went out of its way to portray Westworld as a violence-ridden, sexed-up, light sci-fi romp of a series—perhaps in an attempt to court Game of Thrones viewers. In actuality, Westworld delivered biting intellectual treatises on the nature of man and machine and raised interesting philosophical questions around the meaning of life and sentience. Talk about a bait-and-switch! The sci-fi Western was riddled with intrigue and fueled numerous creative conspiracy theories all season long, culminating in a satisfying, mindbending finale that left fans in despair over having to wait until 2018 for Season 2.
Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is like a Jon Oliver segment come to fictional life. Over the course of Season 4, we’re given storylines that discuss race, sexuality, police brutality, rape, private prisons, and drugs. In the especially pointed finale, “The Animals,” two minor drug busts are juxtaposed in two separate flashbacks: one that results in a slap on the wrist and the other an arrest. “The Animals” might have been the most frustrating and depressing episode of television to air this year, but it certainly needs to be seen.
While Season 1 of Daredevil on Netflix introduced us to the gritty, realistic fight scenes and pseudo-religious background for the fight between “good vs. evil,” Season 2 really upped the ante. A lot of what we applaud in the Marvel Netflix shows is the realism that is in stark contrast (and often tongue-in-cheek mention) to the Marvel movies. And while we inevitably got into the more mystic aspects of the series’ source material with the introduction of the Hand, the show continued to impress with its delicate handling of the vigilante’s dilemma. The juxtaposition of Daredevil (Charlie Cox) and the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) expertly conveyed both sides of the debate, resulting in the philosophical conundrum of the subjectivity of good and evil. Who draws that line? Combine that with incredible fight choreography, great acting, and a non-Jennifer Garner Elektra and you get a hell of a season of television.
“Did she get away with murder? Or did she simply get caught in the line of fire? Don’t expect answers to such direct questions from this Netflix Original Documentary…
”But an answer to the guilty or innocent question wasn’t necessarily the point of this documentary. It’s about the monster that was created in the wake of botched police investigations and in the avalanche of unbridled media attention…”