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HomeArts & CultureGet with the programmes: the best, worst and weirdest of TV from 2016

Get with the programmes: the best, worst and weirdest of TV from 2016

What a year it was for television. The idea that this is a golden age for small-screen entertainment has become almost a cliché, but there is no denying we have never had so much high-quality TV entertainment to choose from – so much so, it is tough to keep up.

We have limited our best-of list to just five, which means we had to reluctantly leave out many other noteworthy shows – so honourable mentions go to: Westworld (those poor robots); Ash vs Evil Dead (demonic fun); The Expanse (Syfy’s perfect space opera); Luke Cage (the best Marvel TV show to date); This Is Us (a poignant family drama); and Veep (which had arguably its best season so far).

But wait. Some will be muttering that it cannot all have been golden moments – and, yes, there were more than a few stinkers, as you might expect with more than 400 scripted shows on the air. Our worst of the worst is also listed below, but dishonourable mentions also go to: Rush Hour (no Jackie Chan? No thanks); Uncle Buck (pointless without John Candy); The X-Files (one sweet, funny “werewolf” episode and five muddled-tone duds); and Crisis in Six Scenes (Woody Allen, what were you thinking?).

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The best

Better Call Saul

Is it any wonder Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk is up for a Golden Globe? As the evolution of small-time hustler James McGill into Breaking Bad’s con man Saul Goodman continues, viewers can only marvel at a high-octane drama with no discernible faults. Equally potent on screen, Jonathan Banks continued to thrill, as his crusty ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut took on a drug cartel. After this year’s finale teased the arrival of kingpin Gustavo Fring, another Breaking Bad veteran, we can hardly wait for season 3.

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The best

Game of Thrones

The blood-soaked epic about the battles and political intrigue behind the Iron Throne had another great year, as the HBO drama started to move towards its endgame. All men must die (except Jon Snow, obviously) – and this year’s body count hit the stratosphere, as Cersei (Lena Headey) explosively settled Lannister debts with the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and poor Margaery Tyrell – among many others. And watching a resurrected Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finally punch the snot out of vile Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) felt better than winning the lottery. With Daenerys leading her invasion fleet towards King’s Landing, and ol’ blue eyes, the Night King, approaching from the North, we are ravenous as a dragon for the penultimate season 7. Winter is here, indeed.

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The best

Stranger Things

A homage to the nostalgia of the Spielbergian 1980s – a cherished era of ET and The Goonies – this Netflix sci-fi fantasy still managed to blaze its own creative path with a fantastic ensemble of child actors, and reminded us of why we used to love Winona Ryder so much. From kids riding bikes with torches taped to the handlebars through the rainy woods at night, to mysterious government agents in hazmat suits, and a truly creepy interdimensional monster, this was the most binge-able show of the year.

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The best

Black Mirror

“I’m a total dweeb and I love technology – but I’m [also] an incessant worrier,” says Charlie Brooker, the British creator and writer of Black Mirror, a truly disturbing Twilight Zone-style anthology series for millennials that brilliantly taps into our collective unease about the modern world. The show – hailed by fright-meister Stephen King as “terrifying, funny, intelligent” – found new life on Netflix after Britain’s Channel 4 hit the delete key in 2012 after six episodes and a Christmas special. Now, thanks to a two-season, 12-episode revival, its global cult has been fed … for now.

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The best

The People v. O J Simpson: American Crime Story

More than 20 years after O J Simpson was cleared of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, the “trial of the century” again dominated TV screens, earning 22 Primetime Emmy nominations and winning nine, including Outstanding Limited Series. As “The Juice”, Cuba Gooding Jr nailed it. John Travolta looked nothing like lawyer Robert Shapiro but was riveting, while Sarah Paulson took us deep into the anguished mind of prosecutor Marcia Clark. The combination of race relations, fame and the legal system made it a must-see guilty pleasure.

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The worst

Vinyl

What should have been a 1970s rock ’n’ roll record-industry dream drama was a big-bucks failure for cable-TV giant HBO. Despite having on board the brains behind Boardwalk Empire – writer Terence Winter and director Martin Scorsese – plus rock legend Mick Jagger as an executive producer, and captivating actor Bobby Cannavale as frantic music executive Richie Finestra, the show struck all the wrong chords as the execution failed to match the ambitious vision.

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The worst

Roadies

This was another music industry-themed show that flopped, despite being created by Cameron Crowe, the former Rolling Stone journalist and acclaimed film writer/director who has perhaps had more face time with the legends of vinyl than any man alive. His love letter to the unsung heroes of rock, the roadies who set up the instruments and gear, lacked the magic of Almost Famous, his hit 2000 movie about life on the tour bus. A lack of chemistry between stars Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino turned this insider’s look at a musical family into more of a cheesy sitcom than a cutting-edge dramedy.

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The worst

Kevin Can Wait

As Kevin Gable, a newly retired police officer in Massapequa on New York’s Long Island, Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Pixels, The King of Queens) machine-guns the jokes – but his ammo is strictly small-calibre and barely make a dent in this lacklustre comedy. And yet, CBS has already upped this season’s order to a full 22 episodes. Let’s hope they hire some better writers, too.

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The weirdest

The Walking Dead

It’s official – the most famous “Lucille” on Earth is no longer comedienne Lucille Ball or the beloved guitar played bluesman BB King. It is the barbed wire-wrapped, blood-encrusted baseball bat wielded in The Walking Dead by the impressively cartoonish Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the leader of the Saviors, who so cruelly dispatched not one but two of our heroes in the opening episode of season six. Something’s wrong when the zombies start to look like the lesser threat. Some have complained the show has become such a gorefest that the compelling human drama is getting lost – but we are not sure what show they had been watching for the past five years.

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The weirdest

Animals

It’s hard to top the strangeness of lovelorn rats, gender-questioning birds or ageing bedbugs struggling with a midlife crisis, but HBO’s Animals turned the humdrum lives of New York City’s rodents and creepy-crawlies into an existential comedy. There were also snappy exchanges between tourist-buggy horses about uncomfortable “metal on concrete” footwear and nasty cats. With its crude animated style, this show has a look all its own.

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The weirdest

Lucifer

Fantasy fans had high hopes of a dark, edgy drama based on a popular supporting character from The Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman (whose American Gods TV adaptation will debut next year) – only for TV to turn the original fallen angel into a droll playboy who has had enough of hell, moves to Los Angeles, starts to develop a conscience and decides to help a cop solve crime. While it bears little resemblance to the source material, the show is not without merit in its own right. As Lucifer Morningstar, Welsh actor Tom Ellis is one charming, cheeky devil. Season two is under way already, with reviews suggesting a notable leap in quality, so if you gave up during season one, it might be worth revisiting this one.

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