I’ve spent the entirety of 2016 working as a TV reporter, which has not only been ace but has also meant WATCHING FUCKLOADS OF TELLY.
So as we reflect on what was actually quite a barbaric year, let’s remember the best of the box over the last twelve months.
And if lengthy year-end lists are your thing, here are my best singles, albums and theatrical productions of 2016 as well.
20. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The first season was such a breezy delight, it was a relief when Kimmy came back as fun as ever for another serving of episodes. With Jane Krakowski and Tituss Burgess providing flawless support, Tina Fey also enjoyed a bigger role as the second season addressed the only real problem with the first: “ok, but seriously, this woman would be FUCKED UP in real life”.
19. American Idol
Christ knows who any of the contestants were on Idol’s 15th (!) cycle, but the fact that everybody knew it was the final one made it a little bit more special. Past contestants returned to perform (the final had an ABSURD number of guests) and – most fittingly of all – the show had its most publicised moment in YEARS, courtesy of the biggest star it’s ever created. When Kelly Clarkson broke down in tears during an emotional rendition of Piece By Piece, she not only bagged her own first US Top 10 hit in four years, she also – as the show’s first ever winner – took it back full circle.
18. This Morning
No but seriously this entire episode – in which Holly and Phil were still drunk from the night before – was ICONIC:
17. Stranger Things
Don’t @ me but I haven’t actually got round to finishing this yet, which is perhaps why it’s relatively low down the list. But if you take its 80s-style feel as nostalgic rather than a rip-off, it’s an absolute treat; Barb injustice and all.
16. Orange Is The New Black
Many have argued that the prison smash lost its way in 2015’s third season, but 2016 put things firmly back on track. From a healthy injection of new characters to the writers finally figuring out what to do with Piper (accidentally starting a horrible white supremacist movement? BINGO!), it was as addictive as ever – and THAT final twist was impossible to bear.
15. The A Word
Morven Christie, Lee Ingleby and little Max Vento were brilliant in this adaptation of Keren Margalit’s Yellow Peppers; a gentle – but honest – drama about a young boy with autism and his family’s various struggles to accept and deal with it. A second series is on the way.
14. The Good Wife
Season six was, for me, a waste of everyone’s time; but the seventh and final run redeemed Alicia Florrick et al, just about: opinion is divided over the very final episode, which I thought was pretty good – my only qualm was the noticeable hole left by the exit of Kalinda.
13. National Treasure
Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters were all kinds of amazing in this super-dark drama about a high-profile celebrity accused of historic sex abuse. The long-running ambiguity over the guilt of Coltrane’s Paul Finchley was what made things so buttock-clenching, and there was amazing support too from Andrea Riseborough as his troubled daughter.
All of the soaps turned out great work this year but Emmerdale really has been unstoppable; arguably overtaking Coronation Street to become one of the country’s best serials. From the sudden death of Tess to the beautifully executed decline of Ashley, it’s been a corker of a year; duly rewarded with the show’s first Best Soap awards in decades. That stunt week, though – in which separate story strands culminated in a truly jaw-dropping pile-up sequence – was the cherry on the cake.
11. Strictly Come Dancing
10. Two Doors Down
The quality of some of the Glaswegian accents remains up for discussion but this really has been a cracker of a new sitcom, based on a pilot that first aired way back in 2013. Its two series this year have both been ace, poking fun of the quiet agony that comes out of a close relationship with your neighbours. Elaine C Smith in particular is hysterical.
09. Crazy Ex Girlfriend
This technically started in 2015 but didn’t hit UK Netflix until July of this year, SO IT COUNTS. And it’s so much better than its premise suggests: creator and titular star Rachel Bloom is a revelation as a deeply, deeply unhappy lawyer who packs in her high-flying job in New York for the small West Coast town inhabited by her ex, spending the next 17 episodes trying to subtly win him back. But it’s the songs that are the programme’s strong suit: lyrically ingenious, they’re perfect send-ups of pop songs and showtunes, and really give the show its edge over similar rivals.
08. Happy Valley
Sarah Lancashire was once again unstoppable in the second series of Sally Wainwright’s watch-it-through-your-fingers thriller, which this year introduced a new set of characters but kept James Norton’s spine-tingling Tommy Lee Royce on the periphery at all times. This is a rare example of a drama that gets huge ratings, unanimously positive reviews, AND IS ACTUALLY GOOD.
Stefan Golaszewski’s sitcom about Cathy, a suburban 59-year-old widow, was played beautifully by Lesley Manville and a tip-top cast; deploying quiet laughs that came not from showy set-pieces but from excruciatingly realistic mini-moments. Honestly, try and catch-up on this if at all possible, it’s more than worth it.
06. Celebrity Big Brother
Look, we all know this show is a hot mess and is a basic hate-watch more than anything else. But whilst the summer series – inexplicably won by Stephen Bear – was a waste of everyone’s time (not least Biggins’), the January run was an exquisite catastrophe thanks to the spectacular unravelling of Stephanie Davies, the ingenious wit of dictionary fan Gemma Collins and the uncompromising takedown of noted homophobe Winston McKenzie by a razor-sharp Emma Willis. But it was this unbearable moment that will surely go down in reality TV history: Angie Bowie, Tiffany Pollard and one ALMIGHTY misunderstanding:
05. Cold Feet
I loved Cold Feet back in the day, so it was such a relief when the new series was actually great. And what made it so great was that the characters, now a decade older, were pretty miserable: turns out, as we all know anyway, 2016 isn’t actually that nice a time to be living in, and the trials and tribulations of just Getting On With Life are that bit harder now than they were back then. It was the handling of Pete’s depression, though, that gave the series its real boost – including THAT unforgettable clifftop scene mid-series.
I’m hard to please when it comes to stuff that’s been massively hyped-up (I remember flatly refusing to listen to Daft Punk’s latest album whilst everyone was banging on about it in 2013), but Fleabag mercifully met and kinda exceeded all expectations. I did genuinely like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Crashing, which played to an audience of about 6 people at the start of the year, but Fleabag really puts her on the map. Brilliantly written, directed and performed, it’s worth SO MUCH MORE than the lazy “dirty Miranda” labels, and is completely unmissable for anyone who likes television, comedy or feelings.
03. Planet Earth II
Fucking hell, that iguana scene though…
02. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars II
It was actually straight friends who first got me into Drag Race, but I have noticed that the last few ‘regular’ series have been must-watches for only the most dedicated of Twitter Gays. Whether that’s just a natural sign of a show being almost a decade old, or because it’s just not as exciting anymore is up for discussion – but any shortcomings in seasons 7 and 8 were well and truly made-up for in the completely enthralling All Stars II. Reality television at its absolute peak, it saw jaw-dropping twists, world-class Lip Synchs, truly captivating inter-personal drama and – even better – the added jeopardy of the contestants knowing how viewers had perceived them first time around, and how they wanted that to change. This was a truly fantastic TV event for all involved – except maybe Phi Phi O’Hara.
01. Brief Encounters
Right I’m possibly only on my soapbox with this one because ITV have, for some OBSCENE reason, cancelled it; but my God I LOVED this show. So, so hard. The trailers showing Penelope Wilton getting in a flap over sex toys drew me in; the heartwarming comedy-drama kept me hooked. No other scripted programme in 2016 has had me laughing and crying so consistently; caring deeply about all the central characters and rooting so hard for them to escape their oppressed roots and win a happy ending. Sadly its consistent ratings and sky-high audience popularity weren’t enough for ITV to green-light a second run, but luckily things were tied up neatly enough for it to exist beautifully as a standalone six-episode delight.