2016 was an incredible year for television. Between AMC, FX, HBO, and Netflix, there’s so much great television it’s impossible to catch everything but I did my best, only missing Atlanta and The Night Of as I was too obsessed with some of the other shows on this list. I also have personal issues with shows that feature flat cinematography and a lack of color so I’ll probably never get around to seeing The Night Of but thanks to the recent Netflix drama The OA, I got to see just how fantastic of an actor Riz Ahmed is because Rogue One clearly didn’t do him justice.
Now before I dive in I want to give an honorable mention to Better Call Saul. It was just barely edged out by number 5 on the list but I feel the need to express my love for the series which focuses on Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) back when he was Jimmy McGill, Esq. vying for the love and acceptance from his brother Chuck (Mike McKean). Being a prequel to Breaking Bad, it does a great job standing on its own as a completely different series. It took the first season to find its legs but quickly hit its stride early on in season two becoming one of the best shows on television. The series also features incredible performances from Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, and Patrick Fabian.
5. The Crown
The Crown is absolutely superb. The show manages to capture the reverence and majesty of the royal family with its tremendously talented cast, incredible direction and cinematography, breathtaking production and costume design, along with an epic score from Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams that captures the power and emotion of the choices made by Queen Elizabeth II. It is the most expensive television series produced in history due to its lavish sets and on-location shoots in the UK and Africa. The series also features exceptional performances delivered by Claire Foy and John Lithgow as Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill.
FX’s anthology series based on The Coen Brothers film Fargo returned for a second season that turned the clocks back to 1979 when a butcher’s wife has an accident that thrusts her and her husband into the middle of a mob war in the Midwestern United States. The series features standout performances from Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Patrick Wilson as well as a chilling performance from Bokeem Woodbine.
3. The Americans
The FX series The Americans has been the most under-appreciated show on Television since it’s debut back in 2013. The series follows a family of Russian spies posing as a Suburban American family living in Washington, DC. In the beginning, the series focused on the parents as their love for one another seemed challenged by a deteriorating loyalty to their homeland after becoming comfortable in the United States and wanting to keep their children away from their life of espionage. But as the series has gone on, their daughter has (spoiler alert) been brought into the fold per orders from “The Center”, fostering a level of tension that rivals that latter seasons of Breaking Bad. Living across the street from an FBI agent doesn’t make things any easier either.
2. Game of Thrones
The book series on which the show is based has the most incredibly realized milieu since J.R.R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings. What is most impressive is how it manages to pack so much in without feeling overstuffed. The writing on Game of Thrones is so great it makes the writing of most other shows on television look mediocre, even in one of its weakest seasons. The final two episodes of season 6 featured some of the most incredible filmmaking on television including the greatest medieval battle sequence brought to screen whether it be large or small. The final episode brought us the culmination of years of developing storylines with a sequence that hearkened back to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather.
1. Stranger Things
As soon as Will (Noah Schnapp) rolled the dye and that warm and fuzzy synth kicked in, it was like the show reached out and grabbed me. I knew it was an homage to Spielberg but did this show actually possess that old movie magic on its own? By the time Will and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) were racing on their bikes there was no doubt that it absolutely did.
The Duffer Brothers managed to blend 80’s nostalgia into an exciting and heartfelt supernatural thriller. The series doesn’t just echo the classic films of the 80’s, it’s DNA is made up of them. What is most impressive might be how it all blends together into something unique and refreshing.
Stranger Things biggest strength is its characters. Winona Ryder and David Harbour lead the series with fantastic performances but the series’ core is the friendship between the group of children, most notably the connection between Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). A relationship that mirrors E.T. and Elliot without becoming a rehash.
Winona Ryder and David Harbour lead the series with fantastic performances but the series’ core is the friendship between the group of children, most notably the connection between Mike and Eleven. A relationship that mirrors E.T. and Elliot without becoming a rehash. Brown delivers an extraordinary performance that steals the show and your heart. She packs a powerful and emotional punch into every word she speaks and is able to express more emotion through her eyes than even most adult actors are capable of.
The series is thoroughly engaging from start to finish and spoke to all of my sensibilities as far as what I love about filmmaking and storytelling. From the directing to the music to the production design, Stranger Things captivates the mind and the heart taking you back to the simpler times of the 80’s when movies were hopeful and full of adventure.