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Friday, December 30, 2016

Harper's Top Five TV Shows of 2016

I always put a lot of energy into tracking and figuring out my favorite movies of the year, but I always find that I have a hard time remembering the TV shows that I watched during the year. No more! This year I decided there were more than enough awesome shows to warrant a top five list. Enjoy!

5. Stranger Things

This one really took everyone by surprise, and at this point I'm almost sick of hearing about it, but damn it was good. A heavy dose of nostalgia aimed directly at Netflix's user base certainly helped, but it is the Duffer Bros. masterful revival of the Spielberg style family adventure that I think it owes its cult status to. The all ages but still fairly mature movie/series has been all but lost after a failed attempt in 2011's Super 8, but is done excellently here. Given its nearly instant iconic status and its extreme binge-ability, it deserves a spot on the list.

Best Episode:
Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers

The first episode does a fantastic job of setting up the world and the characters, and is obviously a great place to start!

4. Westworld

While this could have easily been a rehash of the 1973 classic Michael Crichton film, HBO's Westworld aimed much higher than a cautionary tale about robots gone bad. This series plays with the ideas of consciousness, video games, and the morality of entertainment, and with the budget of a high profile HBO series behind it, the whole thing looks fantastic. While it lagged a bit in the midsection, the opening and closing couple of episodes are thrilling, clever, and some of the finest TV I watched this year.

Best Episode:
The Bicameral Mind

The final episode of this first season answers many questions, perfectly executes several gut wrenching twists, and boldly ends the season while setting up a reason for the show to continue into new territory.

3. Black Mirror

I've been a fan of the show since it originally came to Netflix a few years ago, so my expectations were pretty high for the Netflix-produced third season, and it delivered in a big way. At least four of the six episodes are fantastic, and a few of them are among the finest sci-fi short stories in recent memory. This season brings in bigger stars and directors and explores a wider variety of ideas and tones than the show has in the past. If you're a fan of speculative science fiction and somehow missed this, you'll find it hard to stop with just one episode.

Best Episode:
San Junipero

While the competition was tight on this one ("Nosedive" and "Hated in the Nation" are also really excellent), the gorgeously shot, sweetly romantic, nostalgic "San Junipero" deserves all the praise its been getting.

2. Halt and Catch Fire

The criminally under appreciated AMC period show that explores the early days of computer networking continues its winning streak with season three. Whereas the first season focused on Gordon, Joe, and Cameron creating a powerful consumer PC and the second season wisely moved to Cameron and Donna pioneering online gaming, season three reexamines all the relationships of the key players and drives them towards intense confrontation. The main cast continues to be the most engaging and relatable group of characters on TV, so when they naturally start to collapse and restructure themselves it is equal parts heartbreaking and exciting.

Best Episode:
The Threshold

This episode two-thirds through the season is when things come to a head and the central characters all walk into an ultimatum that doesn't feel forced, but is oh so painful to watch.

1. Game of Thrones

The massively popular HBO series Game of Thrones, at least in my opinion, has had a bit of a slump over the last few seasons. There is always a great episode or two, but the awesome-to-filler ratio has been fairly poor as each character in the huge cast only gets to move forward in inches over an entire season. Season six, which diverts from the novels as the show begins to overtake them, stepped up in a huge way, advancing nearly all the major plot threads in significant ways and thrillingly setting up the endgame for the series. There are several episodes that easily top the best the series has produced up to this point, and I've never been so excited about the fate of Westeros.

Best Episode:
The Battle of the Bastards

The incredibly intense culmination of six years of pent up conflict has to take the cake as the best episode of the series thus far, despite some fierce competition (Hodor! The finale!). It is one of the few episodes I've watched several times, and involves a long and complex battle sequence that rivals those of The Lord of the Rings.

**Runners Up**

So much good TV! Some other favorites include Mr. Robot, The Americans, 11.22.63, The Crown, Silicon Valley, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here's to hoping 2017 lives up to its predecessor!
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