It’s a terribly kept secret that there’s too much good TV to watch; for every series you manage to finish watching, there’s two more already queued up and ready to binge. It’s an embarrassment of riches, as in you’re embarrassed when people ask you if you’ve seen the hot new show and you’re forced to answer “no” because, hey, there are only so many hours in a day… That’s what you need semi-professional critics for. In reviewing the last 12 months, and looking at the plethora of sci-fi, superhero, horror, and other genre TV shows, we’ve paired it all down to a Top 10. Here, in our humble estimation, are the Top 10 Nerdy TV Shows of 2016!
10. “Heroes Vs. Aliens” Supergirl/Flash/Arrow/Legends Crossover – The CW
The CW’s four superhero series have all had their ups and downs this year, but there was no denying the achievement, if only on a fan enthusiasm level, of the four-part “Invasion!” storyline. (Well, three-and-a-bit given the load Supergirl carried). Sure, it wasn’t The Avengers, but on a broadcast TV level it was highly ambitious, and it had a lot of masters to satisfy even if all four series come from the same production house. It’s also interesting to note that in between, Arrow had to set aside time to commemorate it’s 100th episode, which the showrunners were able to do with surprising finesse, using the “Invasion!” plot as a way to explore and reference back to all 99 previous episodes of Arrow. The story also had to deal with the various time travel shenanigans of Barry and Dr. Stein, which could have lost someone that doesn’t watch all the assorted shows, but then again “Invasion!” also gave us the Hall of Justice, and capped it all off with Oliver and Barry toasting their success in a pub. All in a day’s work for TV’s (sorta) Justice League, which is saving the day with more grace and skill than their big screen DC brethren.
9. Channel Zero – Syfy
It’s been quite the renaissance for Syfy the last couple of years, developing an impressive slate of genre entertainment that is about a million times more ambitious than their previous reality show and Sharknado strategy. Although it wasn’t the recipient of the most attention or promotion, Channel Zero was still impressive for not only the way it creatively translated internet ephemera to TV, but also for putting the “creepy” back in “creepypasta”. (We’re looking at you teeth monster!) As anyone internet literate knows, you can’t expect people to hang around forever – brevity is the soul wit, as they say – so making Channel Zero a six-part anthology allows the creators to keep things tight and never lose the unsettling feeling that messed up, crazy, freaky stuff is about to happen. The production team, which includes Hannibal writer Nick Antosca, Chucky creator Don Mancini and Chronicle screenwriter Max Landis, know their horror, and they know well the appeal of internet culture to create something that uniquely packages both.
8. The 100 – The CW
Orson Krennic wasn’t the only one to choke on his ambition this year, as the CW’s post-apocalyptic hit also learned the hard way that its reach somewhat exceeded its grasp. A third season fumble was inevitable given how tight The 100’s sophomore season was, but it was not for laziness or a lack of purpose that the show feel back on its heels. Despite that, there were still some powerful moments in season three, and it took a while, but the show found a way to reunite and galvanize the core group, while creating a threat that was even bigger and more ominous than what The 100 faced just one year earlier. Although there were a lot of growing pains in season three, The 100 still left things off on a compelling note that sets up the biggest problem yet faced by its ragtag group of survivors, while promising more character growth for Clarke, Bellamy, Octavia, and the rest of (what remains of) The 100.
7. Preacher – AMC
Even the most enthusiastic fan of The Walking Dead has to admit that the show is practically in love with nihilism. Sure, the world and humanity ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, there has to be some kind of balance between general nativity and cynicism, and I raise you Preacher. Based on another beloved graphic novel, the seminal work of Garth Ennis and the late Steve Dillon was brought to the screen with loving care, and an unexpected touch of grounded realism that surprisingly compliments well the dark fantasy. More than that, the series does an incredible high-wire act balancing pathos with dark humour and gore, a tricky feat that’s difficult enough to maintain over a two-hour movie let alone the length of a series. But just as important as tone, is how exceptionally cast the drama is. Dominic Cooper casts off the suave debonair playboy he plays in his other comic book role to tackle the more world-weary Jesse Custer, while Misfits’ Joseph Gilgun plays the vampire Cassidy with an insane amount of relish.
6. Westworld – HBO
After all the concerns about missed due dates, creative differences, and the rumoured use of real porn actors for real orgies on set, Westworld finally arrived, and for many people, it was the cultural and critical phenomenon that HBO was looking for. More than that, it was the kind of water cooler discussion that all networks are looking for, the kind of series that can’t be time-shifted or binged later on a rainy day lest you get accidentally spoiled, or worse still, left out of the loop of topical discussion. Although the early episodes showed some definite growing pains, signs that showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy weren’t entirely sure where they were going, no one could dispute that they had a handle on things by the end. Not only did they deliver a compellingly plotted story with a large cast of vividly realized characters, but there’s the realization that season one is all set-up for the real story. The robots have only started to rebel.
5. Person of Interest – CBS
Jonathan Nolan had another show on TV this year, though it got no where near the same amount of attention as Westworld. Person of Interest made its final bow this past year, cast into the cold of summer on broadcast TV and burned off at a rate of two episodes per week after CBS unceremoniously cancelled it before its season had even begun. The mistreatment of such a distinguished series is practically a war crime, as CBS’ sudden disinterest meant that the writers had to condense about two years of story in order to wrap up the series in a tightly-packed 13 episodes. The final season of POI burned too brightly, the journey was too rushed, but it was ultimately a satisfying experience to see these characters reach their logical conclusion. Friends were lost, fates were decided, and the final battle between battling A.I.s was as high stakes as it could possibly get, it just would have been nice to see it play out for a few more years.
4. Black Mirror – Netflix
Often considered a Twilight Zone for the 21st century, many wondered if the money, influence, and increased episode order brought by Netflix might ruin Black Mirror in its third season, but of course it wouldn’t. Instead, Charlie Brooker used the occasion to crank out six different stories that are so frighteningly prescient that you can’t help but laugh (or quietly excuse yourself to erase your search history). The openly ludicrous idea of a world run by social media likes seems too close to reality for comfort thanks to “Nosedive”, and the fleeting idea of privacy in the digital age, even for people you wouldn’t want to have it, had you frantically covering up your webcam after “Shut Up and Dance.” But there was still poignancy and grace, as seen in “San Junipero” where we learn that even while technology can change the afterlife, it can’t change the complexities of the human heart, and no matter how cold and sterile things become, we can still be touched by our common humanity.
3. The Expanse – Syfy
Not since Battlestar Galactica went off the air has a science fiction series done such a great job of balancing space opera, character, and socio-political commentary. Based on James S. A. Corey’s series of novels of the same name, The Expanse was part conspiracy thriller, part hard-boiled detective story, and part political drama. From the beginning, the show feels like a proverbial gumbo of styles and influences, and you wonder how is this all supposed to work together towards a common end, but you underestimate the capable showrunning by Iron Man and Children of Men co-screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby. Slowly, the mystery drags you in deeper and deeper as you come to understand that Julie Mao, the destruction of the Canterbury, and the political tensions in the solar system are all connected in an unexpected way. Like the a great first chapter of a novel, The Expanse gives you a lot of hints that make you eager to turn the page and read on, and we will in February.
2. Stranger Things – Netflix
A lot of shows are influenced by the 1980s, or are set in the 80s to take advantage of nostalgia and kitsch, but only one series was so 80s you can practically believe that the script for Stranger Things was found in an old desk at Steven Spielberg’s office circa 1982. From its hypnotizing synth score to its mashed-up narrative that was equal parts Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, it was hard to find a more addictive binge this summer than the story of three kids, their new friend with super-powers, carnivorous creatures from the “upside down,” and the government goons trying to cover it all up. More level-headed critics found where some of the holes in the show are, and people seem pretty divided on Winona Ryder’s performance as the harried mother of a missing boy, but even by Netflix standards, Stranger Things was still Must See (Streaming) TV, and it made the Duffer Brothers two of the most exciting new voices in genre entertainment.
1. Game of Thrones – HBO
Even if this season of Game of Thrones consisted solely of the first 20 minutes of the season finale, it would still be the best show of the year. The expertly paced, tension filled, and gloriously vengeful first act of “The Winds of Winter” not only put a cap on many of the series’ ongoing storylines, but it also said in no uncertain terms that we’re coming to the end game. Season six was driven with new purpose this year as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss marshalled their legion of characters to a single purpose: the final fight for the Iron Throne and the coming war with the White Walkers up north. It’s normally at this point in a series where plot starts to override all sense of character, but Benioff and Weiss were able to balance things well. The pay-off to season six worked because it functioned on an emotional level as well as a narrative one, and if Game of Thrones can keep this pace, these final 13 episodes will live in infamy.