2016 was a rough year. And I don’t think there’s any need to recall all we’ve endured the last 12 months.
But rough years like the one we’ve just experienced show the purpose entertainment can serve as a necessary distraction, getting us to talk about something else so we can take a short break from reality.
And I believe the four shows presented here did the best job of any getting us together to talk, theorize, and debate just how great these shows were and just what exactly was going on during the hour we just watched.
Keep in mind, these are not what I necessarily consider the four best shows of 2016 (though I do expect Emmy nominations for three of these). These are the shows that, in my opinion, generated the most buzz across social media and in our circles of friends.
So here are the four shows (plus one, which I will explain at the bottom) we talked about the most in 2016.
At the start of the year, I previewed a number highly anticipated shows appearing on Netflix in 2016. “Stranger Things” and its 8 episode first season did not appear on that list.
But no show that Netflix put out this year got people talking like the 80’s science fiction series about a town dealing with the bizarre disappearance of a 10 year old boy.
Most refreshing to me about “Stranger Things” was its willingness to jump right into many of the show’s central mysteries while also finding a niche with audiences needing a break from the modern drama that celebrates complexity.
Or maybe it was just the brilliant use of 80’s nostalgia that got us talking about “Stranger Things” all summer. Regardless of the reason, “Stranger Things” is, in my opinion, Netflix’s biggest surprise hit to date.
This Is Us
The major broadcast networks finally found a foothold in the modern field of hit dramas dominated by cable and streaming services with “This Is Us,” NBC’s retrospective hit profiling the “then and now” of a unique American family.
But hiding behind what looks like another sappy network family drama is an amazingly written story with its own of set of Westworld worthy twists (just without all the 24-7 internet chatter predicting them all before they happen).
It’s also refreshing to see a family drama present problems from multiple perspectives that aren’t easily solved or dismissed. That is why I think “This Is Us” stands out despite being a family drama in an age where the majority of dramas we take in come on after the kids are in bed.
No show on this list had more hype to live up to than Westworld, HBO’s newest hit drama that debuted in October. The show about an adult theme park where the robots (or “hosts”) that humans interact with in the park are starting to develop thoughts and feelings of their own kept us guessing and theorizing until the end.
And with its superb cast and technical brilliance, “Westworld” surpassed all expectations, becoming the network’s most watched debut season ever.
With “Game of Thrones” nearing the end of its run, HBO needed a new signature drama to take its place. And Westworld appears to have provided just that.
Game of Thrones (Season 6)
After a subpar season 5, GoT returned with a vengeance in season 6. No, the narrative was not perfect. But what has captivated fans and grown the audience of Game of Thrones over the years has been the “punch in the gut” moments that bring fans together so we can process what the hell we just witnessed.
And season 6 brought two of the most jaw dropping moments in the history of the show with “Hold the Door” at midseason (take a moment and shed a few tears if you need to right here) and “King’s Landing Goes Green” in the finale.
Season 6 also set a record for character deaths as the show rapidly moved itself towards the end game. That “end game” part is bittersweet for sure, but it was good to see a show that often slept walk through its fifth season return to its proper form in season 6.
Plus One: Making a Murderer
Remember how in late 2015/early 2016 we were all experts in criminal law and proper investigative practices? Whatever you thought of it, “Making a Murderer” made us all talk about the American justice system and just how fair (or unfair) it is to some of the citizens subjected to it.
Technically, the ten episode venture into the murder trials of Steve Avery and Brendan Dassey came out in 2015. But it was all we wanted to talk about the first month of the year as we debated the evidence that put the two men on trial.
Honorable Mention and Final Thoughts
Considering I thought it was the best drama of 2016, I have to at least mention the second season of “Better Call Saul.” I hope I can include the tale of Walter White’s lawyer in Breaking Bad next season as its audience grows.
Also, I strongly recommend Speechless, a humorous look at a family with a child dealing with cerebral palsy. I know that description sounds horrible, but the show really is hilarious and somehow avoids being offensive.
What other shows had you and your friends talking this year? Let me know in the comments section.