Heroes and villains of the 2016 small screen

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Picture: Mark Bourdillon/PA

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Picture: Mark Bourdillon/PA - Credit: PA

We may have suffered in other areas, but it's been a big year for the small screen with some truly stand-out comedy, thrillers and costume dramas. In the first of two reviews of 2016, TV Editor Stacia Briggs looks at her highlights and lowlights of the year.

The Time Something Boring Was Thrilling Moment of 2016: The Missing II

The first instalment 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 Julien Baptiste, David Morrissey as father Sam Webster and Keeley Hawes as distraught mother Gemma, they had nothing to worry about. The only time The Missing was boring was when the serial killer involved used a drill to bump off an investigator asking pesky questions.

Most Impressive Adaptation of the Year: 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.

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Hardest Watch of the Year Part One: National Treasure, Channel 4

Robbie Coltrane was, of course, majestic as Paul Finchley (I asked in the office if there has ever been a role he hasn't been superb in, someone muttered about Nuns on the Run) the man accused of historic sex crimes. It was a brave and difficult role to accept and I imagine we can't even scratch the surface of how hard it was to play a man accused of such terrible crimes.

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Most Wooden Performance of the Year: The People v OJ Simpson American Crime Story, John Travolta:

Generally I insist on cathedral-like silence and a due sense of deference for my art while I am reviewing a TV programme, but that was before I'd seen my husband's impression of John Travolta in The People v OJ Simpson which, I feel, added to the whole experience. He stood, next to the screen and therefore next to Travolta, his hands awkwardly on his hips, his movements as wooden as a marionette. It was eerie, as if two Travoltas were in front of me, thankfully only one with a face like a doll left too close to a fire, and not the one I married. Travolta was, by a country mile, the worst thing about The People v OJ Simpson in the first of many whytheydunnits rather than whodunits of the year.

Does What It Says On The Tin Sitcom of 2016: Motherland, BBC2

Written by comedy heavyweights Graham Linehan and Sharon Horgan, this pilot episode which aired during the BBC's Sitcom Season was a standout highlight and as such, has won a full series. A searingly-honest portrayal of the trials and tribulations of the school run, Anna Maxwell Martin was perfect as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, in other words, a working mother. Honourable mentions for equally excellent comedies: Flowers, Channel 4; Catastrophe, Channel 4, Fleabag, BBC3

Hardest Watch Of The Year Part Two: Hillsborough, BBC2:

I thought that I knew the Hillsborough story pretty well – I lived a stone's throw from Anfield in the aftermath of the disaster, I saw the pain on the bereaved's faces at close hand – but it turns out I only knew part of the story. This harrowing two hours of television was filmmaker Daniel Gordon's love letter to Liverpool, a meticulous reconstruction of the day and its shameful aftermath that was aired a week after the inquest recorded an unlawful killing verdict in the case of the 96 dead. It was shocking, jaw-dropping, sickening – a damning indictment of institutional failure and injustice.

Binge Watch of the Year: Stranger Things, Netflix

This absolutely brilliant take on the tropes of 1980s horror and sci-fi was incredible from the retro credits sequence to the closing credits and was the most addictive programme I watched all year – I gulped the lot down hungrily in a day. Cycling home after playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends, Will, 12, goes missing as he takes a shortcut past a top-secret government facility on the brink of town. His distraught mother Joyce (an amazing turn by Winona Ryder) pulls out the stops – and the fairy lights – to find him with the help of the wonderful police chief (David Harbour) who stops nursing his secret sorrow with beer for breakfast in order to take a trip to another dimension. And then there are the young actors - Will's friend Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and his foundling Eleven (Millie Brown) are absolutely sublime – and a brilliant plot that takes us all through a portal to a different world, where Will is stranded. Brilliant.

Watching Bread Bake is the New Watching Paint DryVictorian Bakers, BBC2

I'm not the world's hugest fan of The Great British Bake-Off but I am the world's hugest fan of bread. I assumed that on the basis that I would find it simple, and hugely enjoyable, to eat bread for 58 minutes, I would easily be able to watch a 58-minute show about people baking bread because bread is so endlessly, spectacularly, indisputably ace. It turns out, however, that my love of bread is on a strictly knead-to-know basis. And I didn't need to know 75pc of what I learned in Victorian Bakers, which essentially takes the dullest five minutes of The Great British Bake-Off – the educational bit – and stretches it like elastic dough until it fills an hour-long slot. There are three episodes of Victorian Bakers: I am confident all three could have made one reasonably interesting hour-long programme or at the very least, an almost riveting five-minute section on The One Show. But no, it's an hour. It felt like longer. Once you've seen four people kneading wet dough once, you've probably seen it enough, even if there is an archaeologist on hand to keep saying: 'We are actually tasting history'. I do that every time I pick something from the back of the fridge.

Best Photograph I Used During the Year for a Show: Chico the capybara and his owner Jeff

World of Weird on Channel 4 is a series that relies on people's never-ending ability to do strange things in front of a camera (thank heavens for these people). Jackie from Texarkana – a weird-enough sounding place already – keeps a giant capybara as a pet. Chico the capybara is ungovernable and occasionally aggressive, a bit like me but he's an eight-stone rat. 'Chico doesn't necessarily like Jeff,' said Jackie, as Chico pinned her husband to a unit in the kitchen. Jeff has stopped growing, Chico hasn't. This won't end well.

Edge of the Seat Moment of the Year: Happy Valley, BBC1

Daryl (Robert Emms) confessing to his mother Alison (a wonderful performance from Susan Lynch) in the middle of the night that he was a serial killer. In a clever reprisal of the very first scenes of the series, where Cawood put a dying sheep out of its misery, we watched as Alison promised her son one last adventure in America, with trips to Las Vegas and Disneyland, a last hoorah before the police caught up with them: 'I don't think you'd like prison,' she said, walking into the back room to pick up a shotgun. The scene following Sarah Lancashire's Sgt Cawood's discovery of Daryl's bloodied corpse and his mother's apparent suicide was one of the most compelling of the whole series. As Cawood fought to keep Alison conscious, she not only managed to wheedle a confession from her, she also managed to comfort and arrest her simultaneously, her arms tightly surrounding a desperate mother who was ultimately trying to protect her son from himself and the world from her son.

Most Mysterious Chefs of 2016: Bake Off: Crème de la Crème, BBC2

It was, according to nice-but-dull host Tom Kerridge, 'the competition chefs like me have been looking forward to. Fifteen teams of top pastry chefs, a stern test of their skill and creativity and the best judges in the business.' We quickly realised that Tom was right: this Bake Off spin off really was a competition that only chefs like him have been looking forward to. The rest of us would far prefer to see a bunch of rank amateurs making cakes in the shape of Daleks, a bread tribute to Paul the Psychic Octopus or roadkill pie in a marquee with Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Mel and Sue. Three teams competed in the first episode, a group of young chefs, a trio of really messy chefs that create desserts for a top supermarket chain and a threesome who Kerridge mysteriously introduced as 'the secret agents of the pastry world who work in fine dining rooms so hidden that not many people know they exist'. The latter cater for people 'so wealthy or so private that they want to dine in total secrecy' (one confided, in case the point hadn't been hammered home hard enough, 'half the time we don't know who is in the room…maybe it's best that way') which begs the question why these tiresome moneybags don't just stay at home with a ready meal and the curtains drawn.

Soggy Bottom of the Year: Great British Bake Off moving to Channel 4

The immediate consensus was that the Great British Bake Off's defection to Channel 4 from the BBC was a Bad Bake – and less than 24 hours later, when presenting duo Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc announced they wouldn't be returning to host, viewers felt flatter than a pancake. Turnovers should be triangular pastries not an order to the masses to switch over to a different channel – I worry that the ad bakes – sorry, breaks – will ruin the GBBO experience.

Potential Lord of the Flies Moment of 2016: Eden, Channel 4

The channel's new survival experiment has echoes of BBC1's Castaway 2000. I don't envy them: 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. By two weeks in, I estimated that several of the participants were a couple of chicken feed chaser away from Lord of the Flies. I can't wait for the next instalment.

Show I Shook My Fist at Most in 2016: Eating Well With Hemsley + Hemsley, Channel 4

I laughed within 30 seconds of Eating Well with Hemsley + Hemsley when it set its stall out early with a shot of a 'biodynamic apple' before the latest marionettes of the cooking world loomed into view, the titular Hemsley sisters, Jasmine and Melissa, to tell us of their passion for 'wellness', mindfulness's more hateful cousin. They pronounce almonds as 'al-monds', call eggs 'big boys', say 'yum' and 'mmm' a lot and cook with the authority of two freshers using the shared kitchen in their university's halls of residence for the first time. I have been reliably informed that Double H are very nice women but on screen, they are more stilted than the world's largest collection of stilts in a stilt-walker's wooden cupboard – after watching for five minutes I had splinters in my eyes.

•Tomorrow, more 2016 TV highs and lows

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