As the last of the Christmas treats hit the bottom of the wheely bin and it becomes officially too late to greet acquaintances with a “happy new year”, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on your life choices and plan for the future. Equally important, though, is watching all of the new and returning TV shows that will be populating your various screens in the coming months.
While not as fertile as the autumn season, the midseason has some tasty televisual morsels for the discerning viewer. Also, the new, kind of annoying practice of splitting seasons in half means some massive shows will be returning after a winter sabbatical.
So whether you’re looking for something new to entertain you on these bleak winter nights, or you need to brush up on your returning favourite shows, forge ahead and enjoy this spoiler-free preview of 2016’s upcoming highlights and possible lowlights.
Vinyl (Febuary 14)
HBO’s new drama drops viewers into the drug-fuelled hedonistic world of the 1970s New York music industry. The show’s creative team displays an embarrassment of riches that verges on the absurd. The creator, Terence Winter, was a writer and producer for The Sopranos who went on to create Boardwalk Empire. Legendary director Martin Scorsese, who formed Boardwalk Empire with Winter, is producing Vinyl, as well as directing the first episode, while rock legend Mick Jagger helped with the story and serves as an executive producer.
Such a quality pedigree means the show must be a guaranteed home run, right? While Boardwalk Empire had plenty of stunning moments, much of that show was empty pageantry. It seems likely that Boardwalk Empire was hastily put out to pasture with a reduced six-episode final season in order to free up the creative team to work on Vinyl. While the new show looks interesting and has the always excellent Bobby Cannavale as the lead – he is long overdue a major leading role – let’s hope that it doesn’t sink into the same period-drama tedium that made its predecessor so deflating.
The Night Manager (February)
The BBC has always been a great at delivering high quality, prestige television, and its upcoming adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager fits that mould perfectly. The show has a cast that reads like a roll call of English acting elites: internet darling Tom Hiddleston, the always excellent Olivia Colman, and Hugh Laurie in a villainous role. Hiddleston plays the eponymous night manager who is asked to infiltrate the inner circle of an arms dealer. BBC’s track record with these dramas is good so expect a compelling trip when The Night Manager arrives in the spring.
The Walking Dead (February 14)
The apocalyptic escapades of Rick and his motley crew of survivors has frequently toed the line between gore-strewn zombie fun and unconscionable monotony over its six seasons on air. Sadly, this most recent season has consistently been the latter, with the majority of the characters ranging from unlike-able to vaguely unlike-able.
It seems ridiculous that a show about zombies literally owning the world could be this uneventful. Each season is split, which essentially gives it two premieres and two finales. This generates a strong ratings boost but, sadly, it means the only episodes where anything happens tend to be these four instalments, while the remainder tread tepid water.
Should you binge?: If you love zombie-related content you could do worse, but more often than not, it is deeply uninspiring television.
Vikings (February 18)
History Channel’s Vikings is a strange beast of show. At a glance you’d be forgiven for dismissing it as another Game of Thrones clone; all the promotional images tend to be burly axe wielding warriors and fearsome maidens glowering at the camera in a distinctively Irish setting. But that’s where the similarities to HBO’s tent pole show end. It’s to Vikings’ credit that it manages to forge its own path and has a tone and feel all its own.
The show’s lead Travis Fimmel cuts a beguiling figure as the charismatic, unstable Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrook, and the action scenes are visceral and bone-crunching. While it may not reach the dramatic peaks of Thrones, nor does it have that show’s narrative heft, it is a frequently thrilling, always engaging slice of Nordic fun.
Should you binge?: While it may not be to everyone’s tastes, anyone with a penchant for massive sword battles and grisly Viking camaraderie will find lots to love here.
Girls (February 21)
Lena Dunham’s tale of mid-twenties ennui set in Brooklyn, New York has steadily grown from a divisive show that set the internet aflame with each episode, to a richly enjoyable, genuinely funny series. It reaches a fine balance of infectious, giddy humour and more serious, dramatic moments. The flawed and self-centered characters at the show’s core have been a great source of much of the its humour. Take Allison Williams’ Marnie, for example. Her ill-advised attempt to start a career in music has been equal parts funny and cringeworthy. It also bears mentioning that Adam Driver – who you saw slaying innocents as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – got his start in the show as Hannah’s lovable but emotionally unstable beau Adam. It is a show that has steadily been improving year after year and its fifth and penultimate season is something to look forward to.
Should you binge?: If you fancy a combination of sharply observed comedy with moments of effective relationship drama, this is the show for you.
Fresh Meat (February)
Channel Four’s college comedy goes into its final season this month, and while it began as mildly entertaining, if somewhat generic, student fare, it has developed into a show that’s frequently hilarious and occasionally moving. This is thanks to the show’s excellent writing, which has consistently improved year-to-year, and the cast, who bring their diverse characters to life with admirable deftness. The six leads do great work but special mention must go Zawe Ashton, who makes her character Vod abrasive and likeable in equal measure.
Should you binge?: It’s from the creative minds behind Peep Show, so if that was to your liking, proceed and enjoy.
Happy Valley (February)
BBC’s harrowing, unsettling drama Happy Valley is must-see television. At its surface, this is a simple tale of a poorly-conceived kidnapping, but the show’s depth comes from each deep characterisation and dark, compelling storytelling. Every character, from the police officers to the low-level criminals, is fully-realised. These well drawn-out, perfectly-acted characters inhabit a world that is violent and unforgiving. This show has some scenes that are genuinely disturbing and linger in the mind long after.
While the whole cast uniformly delivers pitch perfect performances, special mention has to be given to Coronation Street alumni Sarah Lancashire, who delivers a stunning central performance as the West Yorkshire police sergeant, Catherine. She is utterly believable as a pragmatic, intelligent police officer and a flawed, haunted surrogate mother. She carries the show effortlessly and delivers a truly great performance. Series 1 delivered such a fully-realised story that further instalments seemed unlikely, and the fact that a second series is coming in a short few weeks is a happy surprise.
Should you binge?: Yes. Stop reading this and watch Series 1 right this moment.
Empire (March 30)
If any TV show could be describe as televisual Marmite it would be Fox’s Empire. The show centres on Terrance Howard’s music mogul Lucious Lyon, and his dysfunctional family. It is, put quite simply, ridiculous. Intrigue bursts from the seams of every episode. Betrayal, sex and murder are rife. With its cast of borderline pantomime characters and its absurd plot twists, it could be seen as a spiritual successor to the original Dallas series albeit with the drama dialled up to 11.
Empire’s madcap craziness is further accentuated with a soundtrack that is mixture of syrupy R&B crooning and aggressive hip-hop bluster. It has been a ratings smash in the States and particular praise has been heaped on Taraji P. Henson for her scenery devouring turn as the wily family matriarch Cookie Lyon.
Should you binge?: If you like your shows loud, brash and compulsively watchable, watch Empire.
Banshee (April 1)
Banshee is made by Cinemax, which has earned the nickname Skinemax due to the cable channel’s propensity for broadcasting softcore porn late at night. That short synopsis will give you a sense of what to expect. And while the show is loaded with brutal violence and seemingly random and unnecessary sex scenes, it is also an insanely fun slice of lowbrow fun. It also should be noted that it has given us some genuinely thrilling, cleverly-choreographed fight scenes throughout its run. While it will never win any awards – for anything – it is thoroughly entertaining and delightfully stupid.
Should you binge?: If the idea of a 90s action film spread out to TV series length appeals to you this show will be your Valhalla
Fear the Walking Dead (April 10)
Fear the Walking Dead seemed intriguing initially. It had the look of a more thoughtful, leisurely-paced version of its parent show, The Walking Dead. And while this is true, and it had some encouraging moments in Season One, the show was mostly as lifeless as its world’s rapidly-decomposing denizens.
What’s doubly disappointing is the dearth of acting talent that is wasted. Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens are both top quality actors who have been doing outstanding work for years. Here they alternate between various modes of vacant frowning while fussing over their heroin addict son, who, it must be mentioned, is possibly the most beautiful heroin addict in the history of broadcast media.
The upcoming second season has been upped to a 15 episode order from Season One’s six, which is fantastic news if you like to have something on television while you check Facebook on your phone.
Should you binge?: If you really love zombies – like if the idea of missing out on any zombie-related content makes you physically ill – maybe you will get some enjoyment out of the show.
Silicon Valley (April 24)
The affable tech dorks of Silicon Valley return for the third season of HBO’s whip-smart comedy. The show has received high praise from critics with some calling it one of HBO’s best shows. In truth, it’s breezy fun but is nowhere near perfect. The standout episodes are exceptional but, over the course of a season, the show produces more than its fair share of forgettable fare. That said, when it’s good it is great and Season 2 was an improvement over the first, so the signs are encouraging.
Should you binge?: Its humour is snappy and smart and at 20 minutes an episode your life will hardly be derailed. Go forth.
Game of Thrones (April 24)
With heavyweight shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men no longer with us, HBO’s fantasy epic sits unchallenged at the head of television’s high table. Unless you’ve been living a life of absolute solitude in a dense woodland you will be aware of this series. As its viewership builds and builds, each season is greeted with an ever increasing level of hype-induced hysteria. And the show, to its credit, has succeeded in keeping the quality levels high.
As the series has now caught up with the book series that spawned it, Season 6 will be all new material that readers and viewers alike will go into blind. As George RR Martin’s source prose have dried up, the series has lost some of the effective dialogue and snappy one liners. While that hasn’t damaged its popularity, it’ll be interesting to see how the show copes with delivering what is ostensibly all new material derived from the showrunners conversations with the author.
Should you binge?: Surely a friend or family member has been on to you about this show already. If it doesn’t suit your tastes, fair enough. Perhaps give the pilot episode a try and see if the series can grab you by the lapels and drag you kicking and screaming into the compelling world of Westeros.
Penny Dreadful (May 1)
Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful tells a tale of blood-soaked, magic-infused adventure set in late 19th century Victorian London. True to its title, the show plucks many of its characters from the cheap literary titles of the era known as “penny dreadfuls”. This means we have Frankenstein’s monster prowling the streets in search of a place where he is accepted, Dorian Gray lustily enjoying the fruits of his eternal youth and various vampires, witches and werewolves terrorising the shows heroes.
While Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton acquit themselves well, Eva Green steals the show as the mysterious Vanessa Ives, a woman tortured through a demonic possession stemming from early childhood trauma. While she maintains a detached countenance for the majority of her screen time, the scenes that involve her possession verge on career best work, as she delivers a committed, harrowing performance. The dialogue, from the show creator John Logan, fittingly evokes the epic drama of the source material. While it isn’t a perfect show, it’s a very enjoyable one.
Should you binge?: If Victorian-era demon slaying sounds like your thing, dive in.