Sir Anthony Hopkins discussing the ethics of Westworld

The Iris names the 21 Best TV Shows of 2016

2016 will go down in history for many reasons – but one of its more positive spins was the sheer quality of television that came out of it. Where you could once count the number of great series at any given time on one hand, it’s now impossible to keep up with everything that’s coming out of networks around the world – opened up extensively by the streaming capabilities of Amazon Prime, Netflix, Stan and more.

The quality is so strong in fact, that we struggled with narrowing the list down to just 21 series – for every one we included, there are three more we we wish we could mention too. But as for what we did pick, let’s jump straight in…

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21. Hack Live

Like Q & A on steroids, Hack Live – hosted on ABC by Tom Tilley as an offshoot of his triple j current affairs series – hones in on a specific topic and engages with a diverse group of people live on TV. As people get deeper and deeper into their “social media bubbles”, Australian television needs more of this, and Hack Live is the example of this format done right.

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20. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

It’s funny, stylish and sure to pique your curiosity – regardless of whether you’re familiar with the source material. It’s simply too mad to miss.

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19. Mr. Robot

Though its convoluted plot made for some – at times – frustrating viewing, the 2nd season of Mr. Robot turned itself into one of the most compelling, original and creative series of television we’ve ever seen. And that twist halfway through was a master stroke of genius that still has us asking questions…

18. Luke Cage

Luke Cage continued the exploits of Marvel’s Netflix heroes, with Luke Cage getting his long awaited solo show. The hero of Harlem proved himself to be more than worthy of his own series, as he took on formidable villain Cottonmouth in an explosive way.

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17. Luke Warm Sex

Full props to comedian Luke Mcgregor for putting himself out there and making a show that other people would be afraid to make. Extra points for how interesting (and hilarious) it wound up being. Definitely check it out in iView if you haven’t seen it yet.

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16. Transparent

Transparent returned with a bang in its third season, expanding the world of the Pfefferman clan in new and exciting ways, while still being one of TV’s most original and important series.

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15. The Exorcist

Beautifully acted, amazingly told and most importantly, genuinely frightening, The Exorcist’s debut season was gripping television that left the viewer hungry for more and more as each week passed.

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14. Mozart in the Jungle

The move to Italy for part of the third season of the acclaimed Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle, while the ensemble was on strike in NYC, created the series most interesting – if disjointed – seasons yet. Gael Garcia Bernal’s Rodrigo remains one of the most enjoyable characters on television, while the dysfunction and ambition of Lola Kirke’s Hailey “High-lie” Rutledge makes for an engaging watch. But it was the unpredictable nature of Monica Bellucci’s guest arch that was the third season’s highlight. Here’s hoping for a fourth season.

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13. The Night Manager

One of the most compelling series every produced, buoyed by an incredible cast – with an intelligent script to boot. The Night Manager deserves all its accolades and is destined to go down as one of the great television adaptations.

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12. Girls

Five seasons in and Girls feels more dynamic than ever. It makes you laugh, cringe, cry, smile, think and wonder where how things will shake out when the series ends next year. Season 5 feels like a show that’s rediscovered the best version of itself, and one that you’ll be happy to invest your time and emotional energy into.

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11. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Still the funniest show on television, Always Sunny started its remarkable 12th season this past week in the US, and its 11th season last year was among its best yet. The show has no plans to stop anytime soon, either, with FX renewing the series through to its 14th – which will tie it with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the longest running live-action US sitcom of all time. And you probably didn’t even know it was still on TV did you? Well part of that fact could be that no one in Australia wants to stream the damn thing (even Channel 7, which seems to have a permanent “No Episodes To Stream” notice on its website). Can someone please fix this?

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10. The Kettering Incident

The finest Australian series of the year was without question Showcase’s The Kettering Incident, with an extraordinary cast, an engaging mystery and a puzzling, divisive ending that still has fans talking. That’s the sign of a great story – though we do still hope we can get some more answers!

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9. Preacher

American network AMC decided to up the weird factor ante with Preacher. Created by Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad), Evan Goldberg (This Is The End) and Seth Rogen (Sausage Party), they took the original source comic material and brought this series to graphic life, with brutally violent and twistedly weird quirks.

The first season requires patience as it slowly unfurls to reveal itself, so it’s worth sticking it out even if you think it’s making no sense at all. Dominic Cooper (and his fabulous hair) as Jesse Custer, the wickedly delightful Ruth Negga as Tulip, and the real MVP of the show Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, the chemistry with these characters is on point. Season One literally ended on a bang, so it will be great to see what they do with Season Two.

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8. Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman continues its lead as one of the best animated comedies on TV, with season three being its darkest and best season to date. Building further upon the Hollywood satire and rich array of characters, season three darkens the mood and examines the characters psyche even further. Its poignant and thought-provoking themes will resonate with you for months to come. Despite being one of the most depressing and heartbreaking seasons, it does not take away from the comedy and still remains genuinely funny even in its darkest form.

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7. Atlanta

Donald Glover has been growing within comedy roles and externally as a musician, but he’s seemed to reach his zenith in 2016. Atlanta could almost be called a POV comedy, in that the characters seem to lead normal lives or at least, they seem like real people. The audiences follow college dropout Earnest as he tries to promote his cousin Paper Boi as an upcoming rapper, through an unglorified, occasionally sombre and at times political comedy.

6. The Crown

Although slow at times, as a whole The Crown is an addictive drama that almost fills the good British drama hole that Downton Abbey left behind. Visually, the show is incredible, as well with incredible acting and writing. If the show improves on its pacing in the future, it will continue to stand out as a high quality drama.

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5. Black Mirror

Although I’ve been a fan of the anthology series since its debut, I am so happy that it is now known worldwide, thanks to Netflix. Incredibly cinematic, topical and filled with nightmarish situations that are eerily close to home, Black Mirror is truly the Twilight Zone of this generation and the best TV show I’ve seen this year.

4. American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson

Courtroom dramas often have a tendency to be over-acted and over-simplified. This however, was not the case with the debut season of American Crime Story. With a superb ensemble cast properly backed by an engaging script, the well-crafted show that is The People vs O.J. Simpson reintroduced the world to the well-publicized murders and in doing so, once again brought forth the intertwining issues of race, fame, and the American Justice system.

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3. Game of Thrones

The sixth season of Game of Thrones was a peak for the series – almost every episode delivering moments that broke social media, and one of the most unforgettable season finales in history. It truly felt like the payoff for five seasons which alluded to the dragons and the winter that was to come – and now it has finally arrived, and has paved the way for two final seasons we expect to be nothing less than epic.

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2. Westworld

A though provoking sci-fi drama with stunning production design, an outstanding ensemble of cast such as Anthony Hopkins, and complete with a deeply chilling and captivating narrative, it is a television masterpiece. There is so much to love about Westworld, from the philosophical themes, to the layers of details in each scene ready to be uncovered.

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1. Stranger Things

Matt and Ross Duffer have combined the best of the 80’s ethos with a contemporary shot and entirely immersive 8-part multi-dimensional mystery. Trying to piece the story together begins as difficult as an early Twin Peaks episode, but the constant intrigue and depth, supported by a brilliant cast of newcomers and veterans helps keep Stranger Things flowing in the right direction. The writing, the aesthetics and the soundtrack distinguish the series as a cultural gem and help redeem 2016 from the spate of iconic deaths and political division that have branded it the worst year of the century.