2016 has been a golden year for TV, says Stacia Briggs

Adam Gettrick (Derek Riddell) probably isn't hunting deer with this rifle. Picture BBC/NEW PICTURES

Adam Gettrick (Derek Riddell) probably isn't hunting deer with this rifle. Picture BBC/NEW PICTURES - Credit: BBC/New Pictures

I know television is not real life (kind of) but in 2016, we've all been in need of the kind of sanctuary only a good murder, period drama or shirtless Cornishman can provide. Here's my round up of the very best distractions of the year.

Stranger Things (Netflix) Season 1, 2016Featuring: Winona Ryder, Charlie Heaton, Natalia DyerWhen: 0

Stranger Things (Netflix) Season 1, 2016Featuring: Winona Ryder, Charlie Heaton, Natalia DyerWhen: 03 Aug 2016Credit: WENN.com**WENN does not claim any ownership including but not limited to Copyright, License in attached material. Fees charged by WENN are for WENN's services only, do not, nor are they intended to, convey to the user any ownership of Copyright, License in material. By publishing this material you expressly agree to indemnify, to hold WENN, its directors, shareholders, employees harmless from any loss, claims, damages, demands, expenses (including legal fees), any causes of action, allegation against WENN arising out of, connected in any way with publication of the material.** - Credit: WENN.com

1)The Missing II

The first installment of this tense thriller about the search for a missing child left some viewers disappointed with the ambiguous ending – writers Harry and Jack Williams ensured this wasn't the case with the second outing which wrapped up the perplexing case of Alice Webster and Sophie Giroux perfectly. Viewers also worried the series would suffer without James Nesbitt, but with the return of Tcheky Karyo as the magnificent (and now legendary) Julien Baptiste, David Morrissey as father Sam Webster and Keeley Hawes as distraught mother Gemma, they had nothing to worry about.

2) Happy Valley

One thing's for sure, there's was no welcome in the valley for James Norton, even if the rest of the country has fallen in love with him. Writer and co-director Sally Wainwright circumnavigated Difficult Second Series Syndrome in the most masterly manner possible, by delivering the kind of characters that you rarely see on television, in other words, those that actually sound as if they could be actual, real people. This is such a mind-blowing departure from most drama that you see on the small screen that it leaves you hanging on every word and, in the case of this deftly-crafted series, even appreciating the deafening silences when the normally hard-as-nails, fast-talking, unshockable Sergeant Catherine Cawood, played brilliantly by Sarah Lancashire, was left without words. Once again, Lancashire managed to blend comedy, grit and pathos into every performance she gave in this taut series and with Wainwright's superlative dialogue, created an entirely credible and likeable heroine trying to get on with life against heavy odds, heavy drinkers and heavy workloads.

Peaky Blinders. Picture Photographer: Robert Viglasky

Peaky Blinders. Picture Photographer: Robert Viglasky - Credit: BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky


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3) Soap moment of the year

Phil Mitchell's drunken digger rampage. Having pushed his family away and almost driven his son to murder, Phil Mitchell reached peak psychopath when he replaced blood with alcohol in his system and went for a joyride on a digger. No one acts 'drunk' better than Steve McFadden, who plays Phil, and while rampant alcoholism is no laughing matter, watching him steam around the car lot in a mechanical digger, destroying everything in his path, was one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I saw all year. An honorable mention to the ghost of Pat Butcher, too.

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4) Stranger Things

It was worth subscribing to Netflix just for this superb 1980s-based sci-fi thriller which followed the disappearance of a young boy and the monstrous chain of events it launched in a small American town. With an incredible cast – both children and adults (including the superb Winona Ryder) – a heavy nod to classics such as ET and Stand By Me, a fast-paced plot and enough references to the 1980s to keep anyone over the age of 40 happy, it was the runaway hit of the summer.

EastEnders' Peggy Mitchell and Pat Evans (Picture: BBC - Photographer: Kieron McCarron)

EastEnders' Peggy Mitchell and Pat Evans (Picture: BBC - Photographer: Kieron McCarron) - Credit: BBC/Kieron McCarron

5) Peaky Blinders

Granted, this season wasn't as good as the last, but Peaky Blinders feeling a bit peaky is still head and shoulders above most things on TV. The series was about family, consequences, sin, absolution and hope. The cast is astonishing – in particular Paul Anderson, Helen McCory, Finn Cole and, obviously, Cillian Murphy.

6) Hunted, Channel 4

A real-life thriller where 14 ordinary people go on the run from a team of expert hunters who track them by any method available to them, this show returned for a second series and from day one, viewers rooted for house husband Nick, for whom victory was worth far more than the prize money - he was playing for his self-esteem. When he won the show, it was like a victory for everyman.

7) War and Peace, BBC1

We had six weeks of breathlessly brilliant storytelling, a peerless cast, a visual feast with regard to scenery, settings and costumes and enough heartstring-pulling and edge-of-the-seat moments to satisfy the most ardent thrill seeker. Yes, it drastically altered the denouement of Leo Tolstoy's epic, giving Pierre, Nikolai and Marya the happy ending we all wished for them, yes most of the cast were dead by the end credits of the last episode but such criticisms constitute nit-picking. Script writer Andrew Davies proved once again that he is a master storyteller, taking the 'dense' out of 'condense' and creating a six-and-a-half hour masterpiece which had something for everyone: an epic love story, incredible battle scenes and some Casualty-esque gore (remember the amputation scene?). Stunning.

8) Hillsborough, BBC2

I studied at Liverpool University when the Hillsborough disaster was still painfully raw and I thought I knew more than most about what happened that fateful day: until I saw this masterful documentary about the shameful aftermath of the disaster. The mothers talking about their lost children were the most heartbreaking. Margaret Aspinall's son James shouted to her, 'We're gonna win today!'as he left the house. It took his mother and a brave group of relatives and truth seekers 27 years to secure the inquest verdict they deserved.

9) Versailles, BBC2

This gorgeous drama livened up up our week with its rococo and ruffs: written by les Rosbifs (no subtitles!) but produced in the Francosphere, Versailles was a visual feast, each episode reputedly costing £2.1million to make, twice as much as each Downton chunk. Basking in the light of the Sun King Louis XIV, viewers were treated to unadulterated pre-Revolutionary French glamour inside the most famous palace in the world complete with cross-dressing Phillipe, Louis' Queen Marie Theresa and her penchant for sex-dwarf-jesters, spy catcher general Fabien Marchal and enough beautiful people to fill a modelling agency's books. An expensive soap opera, a saucy history lesson and an adornment to any living room – j'adore.

10) Eden, Channel 4

I am a fool for a social experiment and still wistfully remember watching Castaway 2000 while pregnant with my son. Eden followed a similar concept: 23 strangers were marooned on a Scottish estate for a year, building their own Eden. In many ways, I envied them their experiment – they avoided Brexit, had no idea that Prince is dead and didn't have to navigate around groups of phone-wielding zombies hunting imaginary Japanese creatures in the street. In all other ways, I did not envy the participants of Eden at all – if I was cast out of society and forced to survive with a group of strangers on my wits alone, I would be dead by teatime or, more to the point, I'd be dinner by teatime.

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