My Heart Hurts — 2016 in Drama Series
In this shiny, new golden age of dramatic programming — bought about by renewed competition from young, upstart media companies such as Netflix and Amazon — broadcasters continued choosing the darkest timeline to commission in 2016.
Only this year the search was on for a new vision for humanity (something better than human), or something that would help explain why we were suddenly all living in bonkers crazytown, or ways to escape into similar but not always improved dimensions.
In the search for a new entity that could take the reins from the human race and sort us out (even if we all have to die in the process) we got 2016’s break out hit of the year (along with Stranger Things), a re-imagining of Michael Crichton’s camp-tinged action adventure film from 1973, Westworld. Reborn as a deathly serious, morally dubious and epically shot series that took a lot of viewers by surprise after hearing about it’s initial premise and issues getting to screen (including the issue surrounding extras contracts and a certain clause pertaining to ‘genital-to-genital touching’). Back in 1973, the robots went against their base programming. In 2016, they were way more focused on achieving a type of higher consciousness.
2016 also saw in an excellent second season of Channel 4’s Humans. We’d already had an initial season last year (which itself was based on a Swedish series called Real Humans, first broadcast in 2012). This year our new favourite synths were back with a truck load of fresh moral ambiguities to further boggle our mere human brains. If these synths can’t sort us out by acting as our moral compasses, then no one else can. One of the most striking sequences in the popular, but not unthoughtful, series will forever be the opening titles, which mix scenes from the series with, what looks like, reportage footage of actual robotic R&D. Whereas, the most striking aspect in Westworld almost became it’s casual misogyny that bordered on becoming too frequent to be labelled mere critique. In the end though there was enough competing elements to distract viewers from this aspect… I think.
There was extra terrestrial influence in 2016, from the criminally over looked Braindead, which laid the blame for this year’s political upheaval square on the doorstep of… ants from outer space?! Each episode was so perfectly on point due to it’s consistently whip-smart writing and warmly engaging cast. Keeping pace with the series, episode-by-episode, felt like looking into a portal to a mirrored universe with similar bonkers events unfolding, only this time being instigated by said brain-ingesting alien ants. Look past it’s initial premise and you’ll find one of the smartest, thrilling, pleasingly bonkers and entirely satisfying binge watches to come along in this post-truth era.
We slipped sideways into alternative worlds in 2016 with Stranger Things, Channel Zero and The OA. Stranger Things needs little introduction as millennials, with no actual experience of living in the 80s, embraced it as a document of past times, taking great joy analysing every aspect — from character development, to the music, to how the titles were created. Luckily, as this distracted from Winona Ryder’s bizarrely unhinged ‘welcome back’ performance. Channel Zero was the SyFynetwork’s grab to inject some respectability into it’s programming and it largely paid off by taking a story that previously lived as a sort of long-form internet meme and fleshing it out. The low key cast lending this fantastic story further authenticity. Overall, well played on Syfy’s part and promising for future stories in the series. The OA appeared at the tail end of the year as a surprise entry into Netflix’s Parthenon of left-of-centre commissions. Delayed so as not conflict with interest around Stranger Things, The OA is unlike anything else around and impossible to outline without being too spoilery. Needless to say, anyone familiar with the creators previous work will be ready to have expectations constantly in flux… and be comfortable with the idea of inter-dimensionality.
Which brings us neatly round to Charlie Brooker’s dystopian multiverse — Black Mirror. For Black Mirror’s third season the portal was pried wider open, thanks to a new deal with Netflix and an extra three episodes (with more on the way next year). With the U.S. public freshly exposed, comments on IMDb became a glorious mess — “This show hurts my heart” [regulus7000]. Amongst the usual melee of human deficits when it comes to addressing technology, there was one episode that Brooker himself describes as “shiny” and “aspirational” which the trolls had trouble talking down. It episode was titled San Junipero and became the must-see of this third season, if not the whole anthology series.