BEST & WORST 2016

Best and worst 2016: Television

BEST

• Signal

Viu

The narrative tour de force of the year is this South Korean thriller, which fuses electrifying, time- looping detective drama, fantasy and moving bromance. The puzzle pieces fit together cleverly in the show, where a magical walkie-talkie connects two policemen separated by decades: a present-day criminal profiler (Lee Je Hoon, pictured), who is looking into cold cases such as serial killings; and a police officer (Cho Jin Woong), who was chasing the same killers in the 1980s and 1990s, when the crimes were fresh.

But the drama has an emotional power beyond its formal ingenuity. In a landscape dotted with broken lives, what resonates is its belief that small differences made by good people do count.

• Sing! China

Zhejiang TV; Sing!China Official YouTube Channel

The singing competition formerly known as The Voice Of China has acquired a new name, following a split from Talpa Global, the Dutch owner of The Voice format. But what it has kept is its sense of fun. The jokey rivalry among the big-name judges - Jay Chou, Harlem Yu, Na Ying and Wang Feng - is a delight and the success of Singapore's Nathan Hartono in the contest (he should star in a musical romantic comedy on the strength of his hair-stroking, stage-prowling, gut-busting performance of Eason Chan's We Are Lonely alone) is a definite highlight.

• Another Miss Oh

VV Drama

Gorgeous, intricate and goofy, this K-drama is not just a mystery that traces a line of fate between two lonely hearts - a sound director (Eric Mun) and a catering employee (Seo Hyun Jin) who have both been left at the altar. It is also an irresistible comedy about surrendering to this crazy thing called love.

WORST

• Cheese In The Trap

VV Drama

This K-drama starts with a bang, as a nervy, sexy story about a girl (Kim Go Eun) falling for Mr Wrong (Park Hae Jin), a fellow student with a dark side. Then, inexplicably, it drops his story halfway through. When it remembers him near the end, it crams an explanation of his issues into a busy episode that explodes into cliche. The finaleis an anti-climax, a scrap heap of wasted potential.

Foong Woei Wan


BEST

• The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Fox Crime

True crime is having a moment in television and this exquisitely crafted dramatisation (pictured) of the 1994 O.J. Simpson murder trial stands out, with its insights into the racial, gender and other biases in the criminal justice system. The acting and writing are note-perfect. And the resonance with today's socio- political landscape is chilling too. The way objective facts in the case were brushed aside presages the "post-truth" era, since confirmed by developments such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

• Black Mirror: 3

Netflix

This returning Twilight Zone-esque anthology series, which debuted six new episodes this year, is proper sci-fi. It is anchored by an incisive commentary on technology, rather than just being a placeholder for the standard hero's journey or romance. Each standalone episode is crammed with observations on the dark side of those high-tech screens people cannot tear themselves away from. The stories - which are by turns witty, inventive and terrifying - take aim at everything from their social media-obsessed society to the implications of getting lost in virtual-reality worlds.

• Ali Wong: Baby Cobra

Netflix

In her stand-up special Baby Cobra, Wong dispatches weighty topics such as her Asian-American heritage and fertility struggles with the same aplomb as she does baser jokes about her sexual proclivities. In an arena dominated by white and male voices, her perspective is refreshing. But instead of falling back on the easy racial humour that Asian comedians often resort to, she slyly co-opts negative stereotypes only to brilliantly defuse them.

WORST

Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life

Netflix

What should have been a love letter to a cult series that celebrated quirkiness and female friendships ended up being a self-indulgent mess that made some fans question their fondness for the original show. The fact that these four episodes were greenlit also epitomises a flaw in series television today: creators and distributors remaking popular shows or adding new seasons when they should just quit while they are ahead.

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Best and worst 2016: Television'. Print Edition | Subscribe