What a year 2016 was. Soaring highs matched with gut-churning lows. Television in Australia delivered some amazing new and returning seasons - stuff that meant you simply had to tune in else miss all the fine detail. It also has a lot to answer for with some time-stealing life-wasters that may or may not have had really great promos.
We've cast our collective minds back here at DeciderTV and deliver for your agreement and/or discussion the shows we think are the some of the best and some of the worst of the year that took Mrs Brady.
There was a lot of great television in 2016, but I can’t think of one show that stands out as The Best, so I’m picking something you probably haven’t heard of. The Japanese reality show Terrace House is a breath of fresh air after all the manufactured drama that happens on shows like The Bachelor (which I watch) and The Block. Co-produced by Netflix, Terrace House brings three young men and women into a shared living situation. People go on the show while to find love, or while they’re working towards a goal like finishing university or breaking into show business. The cast are supportive of each other’s dreams, and they can choose to leave the show whenever they want, after which a new member will come to the house. What makes this show unique is the panel of celebrities watching the show and providing commentary on the cast’s dates, an explosive argument about meat, and a conspiracy theory that one of the cast members has an alter ego she can’t control.
Netflix’s Flaked stars Will Arnett as Chip, a recovering alcoholic who acts as group leader at a 12-step program, and dispenses advice to his close friends in Venice Beach. The main storyline of the show revolves around a woman called London, who has caught the eye of his friend Dennis (David Sullivan). Chip runs into London unexpectedly and she catches his eye. Unfortunately, London isn’t seen as much more than a conquest for these men. The next day Dennis begs Chip to join him at the restaurant where London works during shift change, which is apparently the best time to chat up waitresses. If you want to watch a Will Arnett comedy on Netflix, rewatch BoJack Horseman or Arrested Development.
2016 was the year of the TV documentary series and Netflix’s Making a Murderer was clearly the best of the genre. Released in the final days of 2015 with little publicity, it would soon become the most talked about program Netflix has ever produced, and helped drive a significant boost in subscribers for the SVOD giant worldwide. Created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, the series turned ten years’ worth of documentary footage into ten gripping episodes of crime drama, and led other providers to invest more dollars into telling real stories.
It’s always unfair to brand something as ‘the worst’, but Westworld was my biggest disappointment of the year. Based on the great work of Michael Crichton, and produced with a seemingly limitless cash budget by HBO this should have been the drama of the year, but instead quickly become a tedious predictable mess. Rather than genuine character development or exploring the ethical/moral issues that occur in a fantasy land with no rules, Westworld instead followed the same path and mistakes that so many HBO series have done recent years with boobs and violence inserted regularly to cover up for obvious flaws in a poorly written script.
2016 was a good year for the TV viewer. Sure, there were shows that made you want to beat your head against a brick wall, but generally it was a good 'solid year'.
Game of Thrones set the tone, HBO's Night Of was excellent (and starred Rogue One's Riz Ahmed before he entered a Galaxy Far, Far Away), the ABC's Janet King was brilliant, while Trapped on SBS Demand was another "good 'un". Special mention for Wolf Creek and Ash vs Evil Dead on Stan.
As for my 'why did I watch that' list:
The Kettering Incident promised SO MUCH, but just ended up pissing off the viewers. Beautifully filmed and potentially as intriguing as Twin Peaks, it stalled pretty much after episode two. The story lines were confusing and so much was left up in the air, I wanted to throw something/anything at the TV.
Brock was another Matt Le Nevez project that I had high hopes for. Much was spent on getting the look 'just right' and was engaging at first until it turned right at 'cheesy'. Night two was boring.
Fear The Walking Dead needs to be taken out back and have a stake driven through its brain. This has been a misfire from AMC and is no where near as engaging as the original. I like a good zombie story, but I really wouldn't mind if no one survives this zombie apocalypse.
And finally, I will never and could never sit through another episode of Real Housewives of... anywhere. Kill me first, please.
2016 was a heck of a year for television, and boiling it down to the single best show of the last 12 months is a damn near impossible task. However, rather question what's best, perhaps we should ask what took us by surprise the most. In that category, there's a clear winner: The Shannara Chronicles. There's no reason a high fantasy series done in the style of Game of Thrones should work on MTV, let alone at the network's budget level... but it does. The series came out swinging at the start of 2016 with a two hour pilot that left audiences floored that something this good could come out of the former home of Jersey Shore. MTV has grown up a lot in the last decade, and Shannara is its thesis statement.
In a great year for local AND international productions—comedies like The Katering Show in the former category, ambitious genre fare like Stranger Things and Game of Thrones in the latter—arguably the most accomplished show of the year was HBO's Westworld. Some repetitive plotting and murky character work may have kept it from being perfect (but what show is? I mean, aside from Fargo) but it presented the best example of thematically rich, expertly acted and slickly produced TV that we saw this year. And that score. That score! Ramin Djawadi is a genius, in case that's news to anyone. On the other end of the spectrum was Vinyl, which attempted to meld a sometimes-interesting period drama about the music business in the seventies to a Casino-esque gangster tale and hobbled both approaches. Especially disappointing is that it failed to provide a worthy vehicle for Bobby Cannavale, one of our most charismatic character actors.
No question we saw some shockers this year. Nine couldn't get the start right with the remainder of Nine's You're Back In The Room; Reno Rumble season two (with no actual "celebs" this time); and the misstep that was Australia's Got Talent - it was never gonna beat MKR.
Even usually dependable drama Love Child struggled with season three - so much so that the new season of House Husbands was held over and not dropped with the detritus that became Nine's schedule.
The dogged return of Offspring season six was a stale move by Ten, and what could have been a brand new drama that filled the void The Wrong Girl was simple the wrong move, creating a greater void of quality Australian drama for the network.
But the biggest mistake was Zumbo's Just Desserts from Seven (and that's saying a lot for the network that delivered Kiss Bang Love). It was the lightest copy of The Great Australian Bake Off - its second season killing on Foxtel - with none of the actual fun or energy. Add to that the show wasn't hosted by the man with his name in the title but rather an accomplished dessert queen in her own right (Rachel Khoo). This left the man credited with developing Australia's love with the macaron and creating incredible desserts with his own high school-esque performance art project where he appeared to be ahead of the trend and deliver his own one-man mannequin challenge throughout the series.
Seven would have been better served using a cardboard cut-out than persisting with a man they barely let speak due to his chopping board charisma issues. It was visual MSG with zero flavour.
If you wanted televisual distraction that instead made you feel more than satisfied then the SVOD services earned their meagre monthly charges. Wolf Creek, second seasons of No Activty & UnREAL, Billions, The Girlfriend Experience, Flesh & Bone, The Circus: The Greatest Political Show On Earth and more drew Stan to the front. Netflix also popped up with Stranger Things (the show everyone talked about this year), Marvel's Luke Cage, the second season of Daredevil, six new episodes of Black Mirror, season four of Orange Is The New Black and another truckload of content to boot.
SBS continued to buck the funding trend with Deep Water - an incredible turn in a broad multiplatform format as much as a 4 part drama, long with the always excellent The Feed. They're also responsible for broadcasting the greatest music contest in the world in Eurovision where we saw our own Dami Im be robbed and come second. It's also the home of the brilliant LA Noir series Bosch and the new bitingly brilliant comedy Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Foxtel flew the flag for great Aussie drama with season five of Wentworth - offering the ballsiest move for a ballsy drama in seemingly killing off a main character in the final moments of the final episode. Both Secret City (amazing performances from Damon Herriman, Jackie Weaver, Anna Torv & Dan Wyllie) and The Kettering Incident (awesome work from Elizabeth Debicki, Sacha Horler, Matt Le Nevez, Damien Garvey & Damon Gameau) made their locations not only look incredible but also told stories worthy of the journey through to the season's end. Being the home of HBO and BBC First meant we got excellent comedies and dramas like The Night Manager, Game of Thrones season six, Veep season five, and the stellar new entries The Night Of & Westworld.
Again, the ABC really stood up in delivering quality drama, comedy and entertainment across the year. New Gruen, Mad As Hell, & The Weekly with Charlie Pickering all brought quality laughs with new seasons, along with the Comedy Showroom initiative that gave us six new pilots to enjoy and help choose which would get a series (congratulations to Ronny Chieng: International Student & The Letdown getting full series calls). Season three of Upper Middle Bogan was the strongest, funniest and darkest yet - a testament to Robyn Butler & Wayne Hope, along with the cast - and Celia Pacquola & Luke Macgregor's Rosehaven was a simple, charming, hilarious delight.
2016 was also the year the rest of the world discovered Glitch, which we all enjoyed in 2015, thanks to Netflix (as a result season two will come this year as an ABC/Netflix co-pro).
New seasons of Janet King and Rake both surpassed expectations (& fears) that perhaps the franchises couldn't handle a return of the respective core cast and delivered as strong features of the ABC's Thursday 8:30pm Australian drama lock.
Barracuda, however, stands as the best of a very strong contending group. The perfect adaption of Christos Tsiolkas' novel of the same name by Blake Ayshford and Belinda Chayko, along with the deft directing hand of Robert Connolly brought the book to beautiful life (the brilliant blues of the pool, and the underwater camera work set new standards not only for drama but sports cinematography). Produced by Tony Ayres for Matchbox Pictures, along with Amanda Higgs, this production has surely has propelled this group to be the one to watch in 2017.
Central to Tsiolkas' tale was the group of teenage swimmers (Elias Anton, Benjamin Kindon, Andrew Creer, Rhys Mitchell) and their coach (a star turn from Matt Nable). All delivered deep and deftly nuanced performances that enveloped you in their competitive, confusing, pressure-filled world. Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Victoria Haralabidou & Rachel Griffiths added amazing colour as parents of the two lead boys Danny (Anton) & Martin (Kindon). Barracuda is perfect summer fodder (catch all four 1 hour episodes on ABC iview until the end of January) & absolutely a DVD to add to your collection for future repeat viewings.