The biggest television moments of 2016

From gripping dramas to intriguing documentaries, it’s been quite a year on the small screen, writes Des O’Driscoll.
The biggest television moments of 2016

Game of Thrones

By the time Jon Snow popped open his eyes, we were so sick of the speculation about his mortal status it was more of a ‘whatever’ moment than a big revelation.

To make matters worse, subsequent episodes plodded along. But all was forgiven by the penultimate instalment of the series with its Battle of the Bastards.

The excitement and brutality were ramped up to 11, and it all was so emotionally engaging that it took at least one other watch to appreciate was a brilliant piece of television it was.

We were even treated to what passes for a happy ending in GoT, as the odious Ramsay Bolton was fed to his own dogs.

Happy Birthday, Mr Attenborough

If TV-land was a real country, David Attenborough’s 90th birthday on May 8 would have been a national holiday.

The greatest living presenter might not be up to with gorillas any more, but his wonderful tones were an essential part of Planet Earth II, a show that was as important as it was entertaining. We could fill a page with mentions of the magic moments in the series, but if we had to pick one, it would be the thriller-like chase sequences involving the baby iguanas and the snakes in the Galapagos.

This riveting segment also gave rare prominence to the editing profession as the action/reaction shots were masterfully knitted together with Hans Zimmer’s score.

Ireland won – why is Daddy crying?

After that epic Italy game at Euro 2016, Robbie Brady’s celebratory embraces with his family pushed many over the emotional edge.

For the first time, a whole generation of Irish children got to witness their father shed a tear. Elsewhere, it was laughs all round for the clips of Steve McLaren on screen commentating on Iceland v England at 1-1.

‘No problem... perfect response...’ he offered, confident that the unthinkable couldn’t happen; and then his face suddenly dropped. Iceland had got another goal.

Free the Netflix One

Making a Murderer was released on Netflix in late December 2015, but the word-of-mouth momentum went from rolling snowball to hurtling avalanche as it became the must-see show of the early part of the year.

Thousands of Irish people even put their names to petitions calling for the release of Steven Avery, and thousands more went to see his lawyers speak at venues around the country.

Stream dreams

Netflix also hit big on the word-of-mouth front when Stranger Things distilled a whole load of ET-era influences into something that actually struck a chord with a 21st century audience.

Even more bizarre than that drama about parallel worlds and peculiar aliens was The Crown, about the British royal family. It was so convincing in portraying Prince Philip and co as actual humans, it left one feeling rather conflicted in this centenary year.

Winds of Change

The growing popularity of Netflix underlined how much we’re in a period of major change for the broadcast world.

Digital viewing options, both legal and illegal, are eating into the traditional channels’ audiences, and beginning to redefine our relationship with that box in the corner of the sitting room.

Financial pressures on RTÉ even had the state broadcaster selling-off some of its land, and outsourcing children’s productions.

The fledgling UTV Ireland is also about to become defunct, albeit for different reasons. Did the people who set it up seriously think they’d attract more viewers by offering a lesser service?

The Wrong David

The unlikely collision of David Bowie’s death and Celebrity Big Brother gave us one of those moments that you knew you shouldn’t have been laughing at but... well, it really was funny.

It’s one to watch rather than read about, but these are the basics: Bowie’s ex wife Angie was a guest on the show. The producers told her the sad news off-camera and, after she composed herself, she encountered another housemate, Tiffany Pollard.

Angie made the mistake of confiding in her: “David is dead.” Cue hysterics as Tiffany takes off screaming, thinking Angie had been referring to another housemate, David Gest.

We got a few minutes of comic farce that was gleefully milked by the Big Brother producers. A tragic post-script to CBB was that Gest actually did die a few months later.

Highest bidder

Was your child converted to rugby for ever more after watching Robbie Henshaw’s try that sealed the first win over New Zealand in more than 100 years? Probably not.

It might have made short-term financial sense to sell the live rights to somebody other than RTE or TV3, but the sport really missed out on creating indelible memories in the minds of the vast majority of people who didn’t see the game.

Other regrets in the TV sporting world probably included Gary Lineker’s promise he’d present Match of the Day in his underpants if his former team Leicester won the title.

God Save The Queen

For all its briliance, we still tend to characterise the BBC as a posh and stuffy organ of the state, so it was nice to see some cutting humour from the organisation back in November.

Andrew Rosindell, a pro-Brexit Tory MP, had called for ‘God Save the Queen’ to be played at the end of each day. While signing off BBC Newsnight, presenter Kirsty Wark said they were happy to oblige the politician. Instead of the national anthem, however, they blasted out the Sex Pistols’ version.

One liners

We were all reminded about the stature of Terry Wogan in the broadcast world following his death in January. John Giles signalled the end of an era with his retirement from the RTÉ panel.

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope wasn’t quite an Irish equivalent of Girls, but it was seriously zeitgeisty in its portrayal of drunken sex and complicated friendships. The Walking Dead thrilled in series six, and then followed with a dud first half of season seven.

Line of Duty and Fargo II were among the must-see dramas of 2016 and we’re already on a countdown for next year’s instalments. Bring it on.

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