Empire has already definitively decreed what we consider the best TV shows ever. Now, as we enter the home stretch of 2016, we thought it a fine time to cast our eyes back and evaluate the state of the year's output so far, starting with the small screen. Here are the 15 best shows to have lit up our living rooms over the past seven months.
Spending the best part of a decade flirting with both the TV and film elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dominic Cooper finally got to step up to the plate proper as DC’s Jesse Custer. Playing the titular man of God, things go awry for Jesse when he’s possessed by an otherworldly entity. After a storming pilot, the show has taken a little while to get going, but thanks to a trio of incredibly confident performances (Joe Gilgun’s Irish vampire Cassidy steals the show) and its carefree attitude (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are part of the creative team), Preacher won’t be losing fans any time soon.
Read our interview with Preacher star Joe Gilgun.
14. Stranger Things
Another under-the-radar Netflix success, Stranger Things slipped onto the streaming platform with a neon-tinged bang. When young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) mysteriously vanishes, his bike-riding best friends pal up with the telekinetic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) to get to the crux of their town’s supernatural secrets. A love letter to ‘80s cinema and Stephen King (which sees Winona Ryder racking up quite the electricity bill as Will’s desperate mother, Joyce), we won’t blame you for devouring its eight episodes in one eager sitting.
13. Broad City
A show that’s spawned a thousand gifs. Mentees of Amy Poehler, Glazer and Abbi Jacobson play heightened versions of their Jewish-American selves – think of it as Girls’ funnier, kookier cousin – as work-shy Ilana and the slightly anxious Abbi try to get by in New York City. This season’s highlights include the pitfalls of Airbnb and a hilarious run-in with Hillary Clinton. If you don’t yet say “YAS QUEEN” like Ilana Glazer – well, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
12. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Somehow finding the funny side of kidnapping, Tina Fey’s quirky sitcom began in earnest last year – but in its second season, Kimmy really found her feet. Fey’s razor-sharp writing flits nimbly and confidently between goofy surrealism and painful subject matters; here, the belly laughs come with a point to make. And the joke density is so thick, it practically requires an immediate re-watch. Which also helps to catch the many wonderful cameos: Lisa Kudrow! Amy Sedaris! Anna Camp! Ice-T! David Cross! Jeff Goldblum!
11. The Walking Dead
One name dominated the sixth season of television’s goriest show: Negan. It's hard to remember the last time a villain has been teased so aggressively. Hints began to drop at the end of last season, and a drip feed of whispers continued this year around the unseen menace, leading to a fantastically tense finale, which played out like a nightmarish ‘70s thriller. As with Dallas’s JR shooting or The Simpsons’ ‘Who Shot Mr Burns?’, The Walking Dead left us on that most televisual of conceits: a cliffhanger. Who exactly does Negan kill? We have to wait until October to find out.
2016 is increasingly feeling like the year in which real-life politics overtook fictional satirical politics in the absurdity stakes. HBO’s Veep comes as some comfort, then. Now in its fifth season, Armando Iannucci may have left the show he created, but Veep remains as furiously fast and fantastically foul-mouthed a farce as it ever was, with one of the most capable ensemble casts working in comedy today. In a year where the US and the UK both go to the polls, it feels as vital a piece of catharsis as ever.
9. Better Call Saul
Season 2 took what made the first batch of episodes so good (intense law cases! Drug lords! Mike Ehrmantraut!) and somehow made it even better. As Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) creeps ever closer to his alter ego Saul Goodman, Odenkirk makes us vouch for Jimmy’s fading benevolence whilst eagerly awaiting his fall from grace. Its slow burn nature may not be to everyone’s taste, but AMC’s drama is well worth the investment – even for those who aren’t Breaking Bad fans.
Detective Harry Bosch does not, as you might first expect, specialise in solving home appliance-based crimes as part of an elaborate and lucrative product placement scheme. Rather, he's a hard-bitten don't-play-by-the-rules cop in the LAPD, of the kind only found in police dramas. Adapted from the novels by Michael Connelly, this slick slice of LA neo-noir unfolds slowly and coolly, like a book, and demands patience that only a streaming binge can provide.
7. Happy Valley
Don’t be fooled by the CBeebies–esque title: Happy Valley is strictly for grown-ups. And, truth be told, it isn’t exactly happy. But what it lacks in cheerfulness, it more than makes up for in quality. What could be a run-of-the-mill teatime procedural is in fact a gripping, surprising, and frequently shocking crime drama, elevated by Sally Wainwright’s ferocious scripts and Sarah Lancashire’s devastating lead turn. We can but hope it continues to be this grim oop north, if it continues to be churn out telly of this calibre.
6. Peaky Blinders
The best thing to come out of Birmingham since Jasper Carrott’s Golden Balls, Steven Knight’s blinding gangster drama continues to bring cinematic standards to the humble setting of a Thursday evening slot on BBC Two. (It's not often that A-listers like Cillian Murphy have to compete with Don’t Tell The Bride). The third series saw a welcome return of Tom Hardy and his Kray-like accent, plus new addition Paddy Considine – as the most terrifying priest since Father Jack Hackett – adding an extra layer of acting heavyweightery. 10 reasons why you should be watching Peaky Blinders.
5. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
The first season in FX’s crime anthology (expect it to continue just like American Horror Story) charts the infamous 1994 murder trial, bursting at the seams with bravura performances from Sarah Paulson’s tenacious district attorney Marcia Clark, to David Schwimmer’s BFF Robert Kardashian, by way of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s titular football star. Considering 99% of viewers knew where it was headed, the show’s ability to remain nail-bitingly tense whilst never forgetting the memory of those at its heart makes it an absolute (albeit at times very difficult) must-watch.
4. Line Of Duty
If you enjoy TV shows that keep you nervously chewing off fingernails or having to restrain yourself from talking back to the TV while insanely taught police action happens in front of you, then Line Of Duty was the series you should have been watching this year. Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and the rest pull you in with their performances, effectively wrangled by creator Jed Mercurio. It feels relevant while never forgetting to be thrilling. Like more honest cop than some of its characters, Duty does the work and doesn't cheat when it counts.
3. The Night Manager
Viewed by many as Tom Hiddleston’s Bond audition, David Farr’s adaptation of the John Le Carré novel has so much more to offer – like Olivia Colman brandishing a gun, for instance. The BBC miniseries saw Hiddleston play ex-soldier Jonathan Pine, recruited by Colman’s gender-flipped Burr to infiltrate the arms trade. Hugh Laurie gives great bad guy as Roper, but it’s Elizabeth Debicki who really left a mark as his long-suffering trophy girlfriend, Jed. Explosive and full of twists and turns, this is an incredibly worthy addition to the Le Carré canon.
Read our Night Manager interview with Tom Hiddleston.
2. The Americans
In the shadow of the nuclear-powered (and threatened) 1980s, Matthew Rhys' Philip and Keri Russell's Elizabeth Jennings are Russian sleeper agents living a seemingly normal life in suburbia. ‘Seemingly’ being the operative word, as they also smuggle information, develop sources and kill anyone who gets in their way. The merging of family and spy craft is a potent combination, helped by the fact that the emotional fallout of the couples' actions are never skimmed over. Add in some powerhouse recurring cast members (Margo Martindale, Frank Langella) and you've got a hell of a show that just kept getting better in its fourth season.
1. Game Of Thrones
Winter finally came to Westeros this year – and Seven hells, what a season. After last year’s slow-build, the latest run of HBO’s fantasy hit found a renewed sense of purpose and vigour, bolstered by booming budgets and fever-pitch buzz. In such an eventful ten hours, it's hard to pick a highlight: the Hodor reveal was heartbreakingly constructed; the finale had more deaths than a Riverlands wedding reception; the Battle of the Bastards rivals any cinematic battle; and frankly the whole thing boasts such rich attention-to-detail, such clever long-game plotting and such richly textured characters that very little recently seen on the big or small screen even comes close. We can only pray to the Seven that the final two seasons delivers the payoff this show deserves.
Read our predictions for GOT's Season 7.