It’s that time of year where pick the best shows of the year. A lot has been made of what generally awful year 2016 was but when the television was good it was bloomin’ brilliant. Here are our picks!
Walking The Himalayas (January 2016, Channel 4) We’ve always enjoyed Levison Woods’ adventures and his Himalayan walk was as eye opening as ever. Levison’s enthusiasm for the places he visits and people he meets is infectious and it makes for fascinating television.
Endeavour (January 2016, ITV) Although not quite reaching the quality of the first two series, Russel Lewis’ Inspector Morse prequel still provided plenty of drama to keep us hooked. Set throughout the year of 1967, all four episodes built up the tension beautifully and the majority of the reveals made sense. Unlike the majority of ITV’s other police procedurals, Endeavour puts the characters first with the relationship between Shaun Evans’ Morse and Roger Allam’s Fred Thursday being the key to the drama’s success. This relationship developed throughout the course of the series and culminated in a gripping final episode which saw both men caught up in the events of a bank siege. Coupling tense action with emotion, Endeavour is one of those dramas that you just get caught up in and we can’t wait for the new series to debut early in 2017.
Happy Valley (February 2016, BBC1) If you’ve followed us on Twitter or visited the site in the past you will know we were crazy about Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley when it was first shown in 2014. We loved every little thing about it, but it is because of that we felt a sense of dread when the BBC announced plans for a second series. Not get us wrong we wanted to spend more time with its characters but it ended so perfectly did it really have more story to tell? Of course we shouldn’t have worried as Sally Wainwright delivered another draw dropping series. A twisted tale, with so many plots going on centering around a lot of characters yet it never felt confusing and everyone got their moment to shine. Helped by incredible central performance from Sarah Lancashire it proved the show, the characters and the world inhabit is far more complex than we’d imagined and that infinite series could be possible. We just hope we get the opportunity to see Catherine Cawood and co again.
Fresh Meat (February 2016, Channel 4) Saying goodbye to our favourite students from Manchester Medlock University was always going to be hard but we felt that writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong did an admirable job in wrapping up the stories of Fresh Meat’s six primary characters. What Bain and Armstrong did particularly well in our opinion was to capture that feeling of doubt about what’s next to come after uni but did in a way that was both funny and touching. The characters all had their own separate stories whether it be Kingsley’s affair with an older woman, Vod’s struggle with crippling debt or Oregon’s reign of terror at the student union. But it was when the characters all came together that Fresh Meat shone the most which was best exemplified when the housemates were all trapped in their cellar as their abode was ransacked. Overall we felt that Fresh Meat was given a fitting conclusion and gave all six characters a great send-off.
Thirteen(February 2016, BBC3) The series opened with a young girl running for her life. She’s wearing a tatty dressing gown and her feet are bare. She finally reaches a phonebox and we watch as the frantically dials 999. Barely moments we were completely gripped. BBC Three had made the move to their online platform weeks before and Thirteen managed to keep the channel relevant. The story is a simple one of a girl who returns to her family years after she was abducted. It wasn’t a perfect show, the police were frustratingly inept but the incredible lead performance from Jodie Comer made this utterly unmissable.
Stag (February 2016, BBC2) We initially didn’t know what to make to Jim Field-Smith’s follow-up to The Wrong Mans as it didn’t have the same tone as the Corden/Bayton comic thriller. Instead Stag was a much darker show even though one of its main characters did spend most of his time in a pink bunny outfit. As Stag went on we began to get sucked in by the characters most notably Jim Howick’s mild-mannered teacher who’d be dragged along on the laddish stag weekend of his future brother-in-law. Although the jokes weren’t as free-flowing as they had been in The Wrong Mans there was still a lot of fun to be had in Stag even when the characters started being killed off one by one. Alongside Howick’s brilliant performance there were also great turns by Stephen Campbell Moore as the titular stag and Rufus Jones as his TV producer friend Cosmo. The Scottish highlands also formed a perfect backdrop for this macabre tale which provided many twists and marked itself out as one of the most original shows of 2016.
Life & Death Row (February 2016, BBC3) When the announcement was made that BBC Three was move online was made we were outraged. We’d lose all those thought provoking documentaries they were known for, not to mention a huge voice for young adults on television. Where those people suppose to go now? E4? Not likely. ITV2? Even less likely. Now the dust has settled it seems our fears were founded. BBC Three is still somewhere online but nothing they have produced since Thirteen has generated any conversation. When they first jumped ship from TV things looked more promising. Life and Death Row returned for a third series. It’s always been an insightful and utterly fascinating watch following the lives of people waiting for their lethal injection. Those on both sides speak honestly about how the crimes have affected their families and you find yourself sympathizing with those who have found themselves in such an awful situation. We find the BBC Three website impossible to navigate but if it’s still available we urge you to check it out. We miss the days BBC Three produced shows of this caliber, Those days are probably long gone.
Born to Be Different (March 2016, Channel 4) The series that has followed the lives of a group of parents with children with severe to moderate disabilities returned for a two-part catch up this year. We’ve loved this from its inception in 2003 and we’ve grown with the children. Always compelling, sweet natured and heartwarming Channel 4 need to be commended for their commitment to the series and with putting disability front and centre in primetime. They do with The Last Leg and The Undateables too and it’s odd that other channels aren’t following suit. This has always been a favourite and we hope we get the opportunity to catch up with these children as the enter adulthood.
Line of Duty (March 2016, BBC2) We’ve always championed Jed Mercurio’s drama that centres around an anti corruption unit that bring down police officers. If we’re honest we didn’t think he could better the faultless second series but boy were we wrong! In an expertly plotted series he pulled the rug from beneath us so many times we were afraid to stand up. Just like the previous two series this was gripping from the opening second. It’s a series that demands your attention and rewards you for it at every turn. With two more series and a move to BBC1 set for 2017 we are besides ourselves to see what Jed has in store for us next. One things for sure, we could never second guess him.
The People Next Door (April 2016, Channel 4) Last year we raved about Cyberbully. And this year the team behind it bought us another compelling ‘what would you do?’ tale. The People Next door see a couple move into their first home. Everything is perfect until a young boy runs through their house. Initially they think nothing of it but when they hear the screams of a young boy through their walls they become concerned for his welfare. As their concern grows they invest in CCTV cameras hoping capture a sight of the boy or at least be able to learn more about their mysterious neighbours. The tension is ramped up when they come up with the idea to conceal a camera into a teddy so that they can see what goes on inside the house! As the whole thing is filmed on phones and CCTV cameras it has a wonderful claustrophobic feel. As we reach the spooky conclusion we’re as paranoid and jumpy as the characters on screen. It was like nothing else on TV this year.
Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion/A Different Brain (April/May 2016) We’ve always loved Louis’ documentaries but these two offered something different. We’re used to seeing Louis Theroux in the US but these two documentaries saw him shine a light on alcoholism and brain injuries in the UK. Theroux has a great skill of talking to people and getting them to open up, but perhaps because he was on home turf Louis seemed to have a more genuine connection with the people he was talking to. We were affected by each episode and Louis has gone even further up in our estimations and we didn’t really think that was possible!
Mum(May 2016. BBC2) As we’re all big fans of Him and Her here at The Custard TV we were highly anticipating creator Stefan Golaszewski’s next project. That project in question turned out to be the funny and poignant comedy drama Mum which shared several similarities with Him and Her but also felt a lot more grown-up. Lesley Manville was fantastic in the lead of recently widowed Cathy who we followed over the course of the first year without her husband. The scripts were well-observed with each member of the ensemble feeling realistic and their various dramas being believable. Brilliant support was provided by Lisa McGrillis as Cathy’s son’s girlfriend Kelly and from an almost passive Peter Mullan as her late husband’s best friend Michael. Mum was rather a low-key show and wasn’t promoted by the BBC enough in our opinion but hopefully more people will seek it out before the already announced second series begins.
Peaky Blinders (May 2016, BBC2) Confession time: We never really got the hype that surrounded Peaky Blinders. We were late to the Peaky Blinders party as it were. By the time everyone was chomping at the bit about its impending return we were still clueless. However, and mostly down to the series being available on Netflix we quickly caught up and we too are on tenterhooks waiting for the Shelby clan to reappear. The world that creator Steven Knight presents is so immersive you can’t help but be utterly captivated. Lead performances from Cillian Murphy and Helen McCrory seem effortless but the whole cast deserve credit for bringing the world of Peaky Blinders to life. The BBC confirmed a fourth AND fifth series so we’ve got a lot more time with the Shelbys ahead and that can only be a good thing.
Exodus: Our Journey to Europe(July 2016, BBC2) An insightful three-part documentary that you may’ve missed this summer. Exodus: Our Journey to Europe gave a voice and more of a face to the migrant stories that we’d become so accustomed to hearing about on the news all year. It followed migrants from their warn torn homes and throughout their perilous journey to safety. At times when it was too dangerous for a camera to be with them they filmed their terrifying adventure on mobile phones. It forced its audience to confront the reality of the issue and although difficult to watch at times it forced to ask whether we too would be capable of such a thing to save our family.
Child Genius (July 2016, Channel 4) Whilst we’ve always enjoyed this series we had to include it this year for one reason alone: MOG! If you’re clueless please google image search this enigma of this year’s competition. He made this year’s series one the best yet. All the other tropes we’ve come to expect like the equally competitive parents and the kids not coping well with losing were all present and correct. Perhaps it’s a bit of guilty pleasure but we’ll always have a soft spot for this series. Special mention has to go to the Celebrity special for Stand For Cancer which saw some of favourites geniuses battling against celebs like Alan Carr, Rachel Riley and Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
Cold Feet(September 2016, ITV) When murmurs of its return first became to swirl we dismissed them. We’d seen enough interviews with the cast over the years and they had always said they would never never revisit the show that made them household names. But then, when we’d given up all hope, ITV sent over a press release confirming the eight-part series for the autumn. As fans we were desperately excited, but as fans we were also really worried that a reunion series could tarnish our memories of the original. Writer and creator Mike Bullen achieved the near impossible, the first episode saw our worries melt away as we got met up with the gang away. Mike Bullen’s skillful writing meant that moments into the opening episode it was like Adam, Pete, Jenny, Karen and David had never been away! The relationship drama is a rare thing nowadays and the fact that viewers new and old gravitated toward it in such numbers proved Cold Feet was always going to succeed. With a second series set for 2017 we can’t wait to catch up with them again.
National Treasure (September 2016, Channel 4) Last year BBC3’s Don’t Take My Baby made the list. The one-off realistic docudrama blew our minds and touched our hearts. The show was penned by Jack Thorne who appears this year with his four-part drama which that was literally ripped from the headlines. Robbie Coltrane played a beloved entertainer who has his life turned upside when two policemen knock on his door and arrest him when two women come forward and accuse him of historical sexual abuse. We watch as his personal life is thrust into the public eye and his family struggle to keep together. For a four-part drama this packed a lot in. Thorne’s incredible script coupled with mesmerizing performances from Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Andrea Riseborough and Tim McInnerny made this one of the most thought provoking dramas in recent memory.
The Missing (October 2016, BBC1) This list isn’t about ranking the shows of the year, but if it were The Missing would come top. The second series from Harry and Jack Williams was an absolute triumph. A tangled tale that took us from Germany. Sweden and Iraq. This was television drama at its most compelling. The week between one episode and the next seemed endless with the Williams brothers leaving us on a tantalizing cliffhanger each and every episode. I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who missed out.
NON UK HONOURABLE MENTIONS:
Trapped (February 2016, BBC4) We feel that in 2016, not all of BBC Four’s foreign drama output was as strong as it had been in previous years. The big exception to that rule was Icelandic drama Trapped which had us glued to our screens throughout its ten episode run. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson made for a compelling lead as small-town sheriff Andre who had to deal with a dead body floating onto his shores just as a ferry came into town. As the series progressed we learnt about the secrets the town was hiding and when all of the electricity went out more tragedies struck. With a well-structured story, a great score and characters that you wanted to root for; Trapped was an incredibly gripping thriller and one that we’d highly recommend checking out.
The Americans (February 2016, FX) Another show we’ve always championed, The Americans is always unmissable. It’s a show that goes from strength to strength. Admittedly it’s had a bumpy ride here in the UK eventually settling on ITV Encore, but we would seek this out wherever it ended up. It’s a show that oozes confidence and that always keeps the viewer on their toes. The story of Russian spies masquerading as an American family in suburbia has such an emotional depth to it that you can’t help but be captivated by it. This year’s fourth season was utterly fantastic with so many twists and turns it was very nearly exhausting. The US network FX have committed to a fifth and sixth final season. Bring it on!
Veep (April 2016, HBO/Sky Atlantic) Until recently this was the funniest political comedy on television. It has since been overtaken by a funnier political TV show called ‘the news’ The fifth season of Veep was the first without creator and showrunner Armando Iannucci at the helm. As it happens it didn’t really matter. New boss David Mandel made sure the show felt the same wonderful monster we’d always known it to be. This fifth season saw President Myers lose her presidency so we’re more than curious to see what direction it will go in next year’s season, but we’d be happy with more of the same please.
Stranger Things (June, 2016, Netflix) The word-of-mouth hit of the summer; The Duffer Brothers’ eight-part Netflix thriller capitalised on its core audience’s love of eighties movies. Focusing on the escapades of a number of outsiders in a small Indiana town, Stranger Things featured references to everything from The Thing to The Goonies with a little bit of John Hughes mixed in for good measure. Whilst Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine provided some big name value to the show it was the young performers who excelled at giving Stranger Things a human aspect. British actress Millie Bobby Brown deserves particular credit for playing the mysterious Eleven who changes the lives of everyone she encounters and whose arrival provides the impetus for the rest of the series. Combining a familiarity with some well-observed characters, Stranger Things hooked in a large audience and we’re hoping they can continue their strong momentum into a highly-anticipated second season.
Better Things (September 2016, FXX) Loosely based on the life of comedy actress Pamela Adlon, this US comedy was a bit of a revelation. It was a simple premise that centred around Alldon’s brilliantly named character Sam Fox raising her three daughters alone whilst trying to find work as an actress. Unapologetic and full of realism it’s no wonder this was universally praised by US critics. With any luck this will find a UK home soon.
Rectify (October 2016, SundanceTV) If you follow any US critics on Twitter you’ll know they’re all publishing their top 10 lists of the year. Rectify comes top in the majority and it’s no surprise why. This is television drama at its most profound. Rectify is a story of Daniel Holden who has been returned to his family after serving 19 years on Georgia’s Death Row. The series follows his struggle to come to terms with his life outside and how his family cope with his freedom after years campaigning for his release. The world Rectify inhabits is peaceful and tranquil but the characters, particularly Daniel are going through the most turbulent and unsettling times of their lives. I adore this show, Its feel and tone is unlike anything on television and it will be sorely missed.
This is Us (November 2016, NBC/Channel 4) Similar in tone to ITV’s Cold Feet This is Us was an instant hit on its native NBC. The story of seemingly unconnected people who happen to share the same birthday was hailed as one of the best new pilot of this fall season by anyone and everyone who saw it. The pilot ended with a such a clever twist that further ingratiated it. Well observed, warm and continually tugging at the heart strings, this was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
I’d like to thank to anyone who has contributed to the site this year, followed us on twitter, liked us on Twitter or listened to our podcast. It means an awful lot and we look forward to filling your life with much more telly in 2017.
Have a wonderful Christmas.