The Year In Review: Pop-Culture In 2016
There you have it, folks. Another year, another few thousand hours whiled away consuming the vast amounts of entertainment popular culture has to offer nowadays. Whether you’re a gamer, TV fanatic, film buff, bookworm, melomaniac or some geeky combination of all the above, this year had something for you. There’s no denying that this was a dark year and that darkness seemed to invade every facet of popular culture. So as we look to the future let’s reflect on both the good, and the bad, to see what made 2016 one hell of an interesting year.
Say what you want about the quality of 2016 as a year, but the quality of television on offer throughout the year was staggering. As much as I’d have liked to, I haven’t seen every episode of television that aired this year, and as such have missed out on some seemingly fantastic shows. Westworld, Atlanta and Black Mirror are but a few that spring to mind, critically acclaimed as they are. Yet despite missing out on so much, what I did see was at such an awesome level of quality, I’m not sure I could have handled any more.
I may be exaggerating a little here. Very few shows, if any, maintain a consistent level of quality throughout their run, with most having episodes that fall flat. For example, 2016 gave us the 2nd half of The Flash Season 2, and the first half of The Flash Season 3 (you still with me?) Season 2 ended on a considerable high, whilst Season Three has failed to live up to it by repeating the same themes and ideas. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just not as good. Elsewhere, though, other shows thrived. Marvel’s Agents of Shield remains one of TV’s most underrated shows, whilst the comedy scene was alive and kicking thanks to such quality shows as The Goldbergs, Modern Family and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Streaming giant Netflix proved its place of dominance yet again with a myriad of stunning original content that spanned multiple genres, appealing to varying age groups. Stranger Things evoked fond memories of 80’s cinema, whilst providing us with a thrilling mystery. Luke Cage couldn’t have debuted at a more perfect time due to rising political and racial tensions. Voltron brought new fans to the series whilst pleasing the old. Whilst even Trollhunters, the animated series by Guillermo Del Toro released only a week ago, has already garnered critical acclaim.
Left, right and centre the boundaries of what can be done on television are being smacked down. Not so long ago TV was thought of as the underdog, but I’m not sure that can be said anymore. Films may have the budget and resources behind them, but Television is quickly evolving. I think a lot of Television’s success this year comes down to the storytelling present in the medium. Whether it’s across 6, 16 or 22 episodes, TV has the ability to tell a much more detailed story than film. It’s in those details, in the relationships we build with the characters and even the settings, that television excels, and with more shows on air than ever before as we head into 2017, I can already tell it’s going to be one hell of a year.
I think I made it pretty clear above just how enamoured I was with TV this year, but Film did very well too, even if it was more of a mixed bag. Obviously, when I say that, I’m of course speaking of my own experience. Again, as much as I’d love to, I just can’t see every film that releases in a year, but based on general reception and the trends in moviegoers, 2016 has heralded some pretty interesting results for cinema. Disney ended the year as the dominant force, with a number of high profile releases such as Doctor Strange, Zootropolis/Zootopia, Finding Dory and Rogue One, coming from all four major branches of its film empire. When you have Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars under one roof, with a bit of Disney magic added in for good measure, it’s no wonder you end the year on top. It wasn’t all good news for the House of Mouse however, with key releases ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ and ‘The BFG’ failing to connect with audiences.
Elsewhere, other studios had similar struggles. We returned to the magic of J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World in the fantastically received ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, yet despite commercial success, Warner Bros’ efforts in the comic book department polarised viewers, with both Batman VS Superman and Suicide Squad receiving mixed reactions. All told, it was a rocky year at the movies, with critical hits such as ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ failing to take off, whilst others were sadly doomed before they even had a chance to prove themselves (Ghostbusters). Still, it has to be noted how huge a year this was for films. We saw iconic comic book storylines come to life in ‘Captain America: Civil War’. Disney finally break their tired formula of what a ‘princess’ has to be with ‘Moana’. Song and dance capture the heart in ‘La La Land’, and the alien invasion story get turned on its head in ‘Arrival’.
There’s more of course. Smaller, indie affairs which deserve no less praise, and even huge blockbusters I haven’t even touched upon. There may have been some uneven patches throughout the year, but nevertheless, there’s no denying that 2016 delivered some truly brilliant movies.
Where to begin with this one? I’ll start by noting that I play both PC and Nintendo games, so I’ve experienced a broad spectrum of games this year, some that delivered, and some that did not. We’ll talk about Nintendo first, as the company managed to somehow have a simultaneously big and small year. The official unveiling of the Nintendo Switch in October as the hybrid console we’ve all been waiting for seemed to reignite the fire in Nintendo fans’ hearts, especially owners of the Wii U. After a year with few releases on the Wii U, the Switch reveal showed that Nintendo is still very much in the game. With an exciting lineup of third-party developers behind it, a plethora of interesting rumours concerning launch games, and the much-anticipated release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (a game that stole the show at E3), the Switch is looking set to launch Nintendo back into the limelight!
It wasn’t all quiet on the games front with Nintendo however, as the 3DS enjoyed something of a renaissance. Many thought the system would be dying down this year, much like the Wii U. Luckily that wasn’t the case, as Nintendo’s year would have far fewer positives, but if you’re a fan of the 3DS, and a fan of RPG’s in particular, 2016 was the year for you. The system received a whole host of quality releases from such top franchises as Fire Emblem, Kirby and Monster Hunter, whilst the indie scene over on the Eshop brought forth a plethora of inventive and exciting ideas.
Elsewhere, Sony and Microsoft continued their fierce rivalry, as both their flagship consoles received revised additions that improved the systems vastly. With the Xbox Scorpio still to come from Microsoft, these new consoles ignited discussion about the future of console gaming. Will we just be getting upgraded editions of consoles from now on, or will we see more truly new consoles from the companies in another five years or so? Whatever happens, times are changing, and the gaming industry has never been more exciting.
In the actual games department for these systems, and over on PC 2016 saw many an exciting new release, yet throughout the year titles from 2015 seemed to remain the most popular. Indeed, Steam released their Top 100 bestselling games for 2016, with the results seeing Fallout 4, The Witcher 3 and GTA V reign supreme. Still, there was plenty of excitement across systems as WatchDogs 2 improved greatly upon the first instalment, Doom made a welcome comeback, Uncharted went out on a high, Stardew Valley charmed us all and so much more!
If ever there was a year we needed an escape from, 2016 was the one, so we were very lucky that we were given so much quality content to escape into.
2016, Good or Bad?
I’ve addressed some of the more specific highs and lows in three of Pop-Culture’s largest areas, but it is so much more than just Film, TV and Games. If this year did anything, it reminded us just how much artists can move us with their work, as 2016 saw the loss of so many greats. The last few days of the year alone were an onslaught of loss, to the point that people were begging to reach 2017 so that we might start anew. 2016 saw the loss of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Prince, Alan Thicke, Gene Wilder, Terry Wogan, Kenny Baker, Ronnie Corbett and many more. It was a sobering year, but one that demonstrated what a connection we have with those working in the entertainment industry. Whether you were inspired by Carrie Fisher’s time as Princess turned General Leia. Moved by the music of Bowie or Prince. Tickled pink by the comedic stylings of Sir Terry. Or just generally entertained by some or all of them, these people meant a lot to a lot of other people, and that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
So yes, 2016 was certainly a year marred by political strife, baffling choices and the loss of so many icons, but as the Doctor said in the latest Christmas special, “Be Happy”. So that’s what I intend to do. When looking back on 2016, we can choose to look back on the darkness, or we can choose to be happy, and look at what brought us so much joy. There’s no avoiding the fact that we lost all those great people, or that the world seems to be imploding around us, that will always be there, but we can focus on the positives. Focus on what all those who died meant to us, or how we might approach the new world being formed by our decisions. When I look back on 2016, I’m going to remember how a Pokemon game on mobile united people the way no game has ever done before. I’ll remember the brilliant conversations I shared with friends, family and even strangers about the latest in the Pop-Culture world, but most of all, I’ll remember this. I will remember that 2016 was the year my passion for writing, my passion for pop-culture, be that film, television, games, comics, music, books or even toys, brought me to a platform where I could share my opinions with others. I will remember that 2016 was the year I joined Skatronixxx (as we were formerly known). It was the year I joined a fantastic group of people all dedicated towards the same goal, and who were just as geeky as me.
That’s what I choose to focus on when looking back at 2016. No matter what happens there’s always good in everything, and that’s what this year in Pop-Culture has taught me. No matter what, there are people out there with the same interests as you, willing to share in that with you. Pop-Culture brings people together, helps people through the darkest of times, and that to me is pretty damn awesome.
Bring it 2017!
As you can see, Joe had a mixed reaction to 2016, but is ready to tackle 2017 head on. To see how he manages, be sure to check him out @resonantrevs on Twitter.