It’s been a great year for television, with everything from superheroes to clone conspiracies to keep us entertained the past 12 months. But what was the cream of the crop on the small screen?
Our highlight reel covers a mix of new and returning shows, so here’s the best of what we watched in 2016. Check out our breakdown and let us know what was your favorite:
BBC America’s criminally under-watched sci-fi drama returned to form in 2016, with the new season digging back into the character that started it all — Beth Childs. The latest run went back to the beginning, filling in story elements and rounding out the narrative in a way that answered some lingering questions and fleshed out the narrative in new ways. As if the story wasn’t enough, star Tatiana Maslany continues to give a tour de force playing a half dozen characters that have only gotten more well-rounded as the story goes on. If you’re not watching, it’s time. The #CloneClub is onto something.
Game of Thrones
There’s a reason Game of Thrones has been the most torrented series on television for a few years now: It’s good. Really, really good. HBO’s ambitious fantasy drama moved the story ahead in a big way this year, and knocked off more than a few fan favorites along the way. George R.R. Martin’s sweeping world is starting to work toward its conclusion, and that fresh momentum made for one of the most memorable seasons to date.
It took a while to arrive, but HBO’s small screen adaptation of the 1973 sci-fi classic was well worth the wait. The series tackled big questions about identity and what it means to be human (or otherwise), weaving that into a story that veered from the weird to surreal, then back again. Despite telling one heck of a big story in Season 1, it still felt like the first chapter in something even larger.
Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl
Yes, we realize this is actually four different shows. But, The CW has made them all into one expansive universe, so we thought it made sense to combine them here, too. The CW’s superhero shows do what DC’s big screen universe still can’t manage to pull off, creating franchises that can stand on their own (with their own tones and stories) but still connect and make it feel like a living, breathing universe. Flash was arguably the best of the bunch, but Arrow has enjoyed some creative rejuvenation thanks to the addition of some new team members, while Legends of Tomorrow is finally just as weird and silly as it needs to be. As for Supergirl, her CW debut has paid off in spades, introducing a new Superman and character-focused stories designed to flesh out the ensemble.
The Good Place
Yes, this isn’t exactly a show that gets a ton of coverage here at Syfy Wire — but that doesn’t mean you should’ve have been watching it. The Kristen Bell and Ted Danson vehicle about a young woman trying to redeem herself in the afterlife has turned out to be a subversive and fantastical comedy. The set-up creates the opportunity for some wild fantasy visuals, but it’s the characters who are really the heart of this story. It’s a group you really wouldn’t mind hanging out with for the rest of eternity.
Marvel has built its own little street-level universe over at Netflix, and the latest installment both expanded on that world and gave us something we’d never really seen before. Luke Cage is a world steeped in the avenues and back alleys of Harlem, and a battle not just among superheroes and villains — but for the heart and soul of a community, itself. Oh, and the soundtrack is also pretty much killer.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel’s flagship small screen series has come a long way since its humble beginnings. It took a few seasons to find its footing, but the latest arc featuring Ghost Rider was S.H.I.E.L.D. at its best. The show got a bit darker, but it worked. The ensemble has also grown and evolved enough that this is really a team you want to hang out with. It also gave us the best live action Ghost Rider since, uhh, ever.
Syfy’s (Corporate owner of Syfy Wire- Ed) ambitious space opera was easily one of the best shows on TV for hard sci-fi fans, filling the void left behind by Battlestar Galactica while forging its own path for a near-future world set within our own solar system. It balanced world-building with storytelling, and home team or not, was one heck of a good show.
The Walking Dead
AMC’s unstoppable zombie juggernaut is still going strong, and 2016 saw the blockbuster introduction of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan. Fans have been mixed on the decision to kill off a few more fan favorites, plus the extra-long episodes can get a bit tedious, but there’s no doubt this show was still one of 2016’s best for sci-fi fans.
The Man in the High Castle
Trying to adapt Philip K. Dick’s mind-bending alt-history tale into a television series was no easy task, telling a story set in an alternate version of America that’s been taken over by Nazi Germany and Japan — but somehow — they pulled it off. Following a disparate cast of characters as they try to make their way through this world, the series bobs and weaves into a fledgeling rebellion. But, politics or not, it’s always about the characters first.
It’s not easy for a TV show to come out of nowhere, but Stranger Things snuck up on just about everyone in 2016. The Netflix original was a love letter to the Spielbergian classics of the 1980s, melding everything from The Goonies, to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Poltergeist into a perfect concoction that works all its own. We fell in love with Barb, met the enigmatic Eleven, and can’t wait for Season 2.