TV Review of the Year

Walking-and-Talking
Flipping Wotsit

In no particular order, here are my personal TV highlights of the year. Let’s all bask in the memory of the Olympics (BBC) whilst pretending to ignore that the coverage wasn’t actually all that good, with too many rotten presenters and commentators (hello Rob Walker). Even that couldn’t banish such moments as Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah winning Golds within minutes of each other on Super Saturday. The coverage of the Paralympics (C4) was far superior, if only because they were smart enough to poach the best of the BBC (hello Claire Balding).

Because of the unique way American TV transfers over here, both the first and second series of Homeland (C4) were shown this year, so we got double doses of Claire Danes’s twitchiness and Damian Lewis getting increasingly pained as the world refuses to leave him alone and let him be a terrorist. Whilst both series lurched from arch goofiness to all too plausible takes on the modern CIA (well, at least in comparison to things like 24), it never stopped being must-see TV even when the writers were clearly making it up as they went along.

In other imported news, Veep (Sky Atlantic) was essentially an American version of The Thick Of It from the same creators, with a smartly casted Julia Louis-Dreyfus suffering the sorts of privations and humiliations normally afforded her Ministerial equivalents over here. A show happy with both higher politics and toilet humour, it may take a few series before it transcends its British originator but there are signs of a classic show in the making.

Meanwhile, The Thick Of It (BBC2) itself returned for a final series, centred around a fictional version of the Leveson Inquiry that saw Malcolm Tucker finally get arrested for perjury whilst poor Rebecca Front went from Leader of the Opposition to being interviewed by a man dressed as a pork shop. Whilst her character may be down and out, Front herself starred in a particularly surreal episode of new political chat show The Agenda (ITV), where she told the actual Prime Minister exactly what she thought of him.

The year started out with three more episodes of Sherlock (BBC1), one of which was a load of nonsense based on the Hound of the Baskervilles whilst another featured some rather dodgy gender politics with regards to a dominatrix who implausibly melted under Benedict Cumberbatch’s somewhat misanthropic ‘charms’. Fortunately, the last episode, which featured a ding-dong battle between Holmes and Moriarty (Andrew Scott) was an absolute belter, climaxing in what may be the most talked about moment in TV of the year.

To shore up the increasingly large gaps whilst its stars play Bilbo and Smaug, there was Elementary (Sky Living), another modern take on the Holmes canon which, whilst not as smart as its British cousin, had a wonderful pulp sensibility which was actually closer to the original Conan-Doyle stories. It showed every sign of only getting better as stars Jonny Lee-Miller and Lucy Liu get to expand their characters.

Talking of Cumberbatch, which we were two paragraphs ago before he transmuted into a dragon, he popped up in the best unintentional comedy of the year in Parade’s End (BBC2), a lavish costume drama of the sort the BBC probably won’t do anymore since hardly anyone watched it. Cumberbatch played the virginal officer willingly fighting in the trenches whilst his wife, played by the wonderful Rebecca Hall, tried her best to make his war even worse. Throughout, the tone was of Cumberbatch as a hapless loser surrounded by befuddling idiots. A slapstick treat.

Equally bizarre of tone was The Hour (BBC2), although it also had a case of multiple personality disorder. Was it a hard-hitting period drama? Was it a light-hearted expose of attitudes and prejudices of the recent past? Was it a love triangle comedy, an office drama, a police procedural? It was all of these things but its schizophrenic nature, or indeed the sometimes arbitrary plotting, never made it less than compelling.

Just as enjoyable was Fresh Meat (C4), the epic saga of six halflings journeying through the dark lands of what was once quietly spoken of as university. So diverse was the cast that it’s difficult to pick out any favourites, but I’m sure we all loved Josie getting expelled for putting a drill through a patient’s face whilst hungover, Kingsley’s ‘meaningful’ efforts as a rock star, Vod accidentally killing a legendary poet during an epic bender, Oregon (or rather Melanie) going out with the son of the professor she slept with, or Howard’s befuddled love for a sour Dutch mature student. Or, indeed, JP being the finest upper class twit since Bertie Wooster.

The best TV programme ever returned for its 49th year of existence, although sadly in truncated iorm. Doctor Who (BBC1) only lasted five episodes and a Christmas special, but contained just about enough goodness to satisfy this moderately obsessed junkie. It had to contend with showrunner Steven Moffat’s most recent writing efforts showing notable tiredness; indeed this year’s best episode was a barnstorming piece of nonsense about dinosaurs on a spaceship that wasn’t written by him. It’s been a long time since the best episode of any of the revived series wasn’t a Moffat episode.

An even more quintessentially BBC show than Doctor Who was The Great British Bake Off (BBC2), perfectly positioned just after the Olympics to ease the withdrawal pains of those seeking light competition amongst talented amateurs. Mel and Sue were the perfect replacements for Clare Balding, as twelve gladiators of gastronomy went head to head with the only one who actually bled for his art, John, winning.

But programme of the year was undoubtedly Kathy Burke’s Walking and Talking (Sky Atlantic). Virtually nothing happened over its four very short episodes, as young Kathy and her best mate Mary wander around a sun-drenched London in the seventies, discussing all the things teenage girls obsess over without ever swearing, because they’re good Catholic girls. As charming a TV show as ever got recorded, Walking and Talking was so great precisely because it mattered so flipping little.

Awards:
Best Actor: Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It)
Best Actress: Rebecca Hall (Parade’s End)
Best Writer: Kathy Burke (Walking and Talking)
Best Director: Armando Iannucci (Veep)
Best Presenter: Clare Balding (Olympics and Paralympics)
Best Supporting Player: John (The Great British Bake Off)
Best Sport: Wheelchair Murderball (Paralympics)

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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