Thursday, 9 January 2014

My 2013 Telly.

I’m sorry Mad Men, Step aside Breaking Bad and please forgive me The Wire and The Sopranoes, you are all wonderful television, but 2013 belonged to Doctor Who. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Doctor Who is still the best, most original, ground-breaking and unique television show there is, which still surprises and excites like it did the day it was aired, well maybe not the day, but definitely the week. To celebrate 50 years of my all-time favourite television I have watched every Doctor Who episode right from the very beginning, most of them for the very first time, and when I say every episode I mean every episode including stills reconstructions of missing episodes, even the stories that were found later in 2013 and even stories like The Abominable Snowman, which I could barely make sense of. That, gentle friends, is dedication. 

From the very first episode, An Unearthly Child, Doctor Who was as fresh as the morning after the rain, and just as wonderful. A children show made by grownups, who might not know much about children, but know a hell of a lot about television, with little money, even less faith from everyone around them, superb cast and a concept like nothing before it, this grownups who knew nothing about children, delivered instant quality and joy and the children were hooked.

The show has passed many hands, and don't expect me to remember the many names who made Doctor Who, I'm not that kind of fan sadly, some might argue that it completely changed since the jolly ol’ days, but after watching it all Doctor Who remains unified, continuous and still the same show only developing, to my eyes. Yes the Doctors are younger and prettier, yet they manage to come across older and wiser and make Hartnell look almost a child. Indeed there is a lot more smooching in the TARDIS these days, but Hartnell’s Doctor had a granddaughter, and have you seen his cheeky, carefree, flirting with an Aztec elderly lady while Ian fights for his life, Barbara faces an impossible moral dilemma and who knows what kind of stuff Susan is learning from the Aztecs. Besides, of course we ladies are going to fall in love with the Doctor, no matter how old and alien he is, he’s a genius with a time machine that’s bigger on the inside, all you need is a pulse! The important things, the things that makes Doctor Who such an important television show are still there. 50 years later it is still a children television that is like no other, original, ahead of its time, a trend setter even, and delivers quality for both children and those who were children when it first started. 

Undoubtedly, Doctor Who has suffered some bad episodes, we only have to look to the recent Christmas Special and the 2011 The Doctor the Widow and the Wardrobe, to find episodes that would be enough for one to turn their backs on Doctor Who for good if those were the only episodes one watched. But in the end the bad episodes, even the bad seasons (David Tennant’s first, don’t ask me what number Tom Baker’s, Colin Baker, I can go on) are worth it, not just because better episode would come and blow your mind, but because the bigger picture, Doctor Who as a whole, the Doctor, the TARDIS, the companions, the monsters, the adventures, everything, on the whole is worth it. Trust me I watched it all, and much like after I read all of Kafka for the first time, after watching Doctor Who I felt that I learned, I have grown as a person and I was inspired forever. Sounds dramatic for a, not-so-simple-anymore, sci fi telly, but such is Doctor Who and such is myself.

Despite those aforementioned Christmas disasters and a few others we shall speak no more of, Steven Moffat is, in my view, one of the best TV writer today. Russell T. Davis, even though I haven’t seen anything he wrote this year and despite Torchwood - Miracle Day, is another. Mark Gatiss, who after seeing him play a heart-breaking Meninus in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, listening to his radio play and watching League of Gentlemen for the first time this year, is a brilliant man of many extraordinary talents. Moreover, in addition to a history of top British writers, Doctor Who nurtures fan writers, Paul Cornell and James Moran are the first two to pop into my head, and the array of audios, books and other kinds of creativity Doctor Who has and still does inspire and it continues to be a source of talent, imagination and originality. And in the end forget the Christmas special the 50th anniversary special was fantastic!

Though a difficult act to follow, there was some other television in 2013 that was a great watch. Unfortunately, partly my fault, not enough British TV, something I intend to rectify in 2014. 

Breaking Bad 
I have deliberately avoided writing any reviews about Breaking Bad in general, because my friend writes about it much better than I ever could and frankly I slightly fear its fans. That said, despite an incredibly disappointing ending, which to me was completely untrue to the series up to this point and also reflects some of the other writing problems I had with Breaking Bad over the years, the fifth season was mostly glorious. Ignoring the very problematic female characters of the series, something I may write about in a general article about infuriating female characters on telly, Breaking Bad was a masterclass of acting, drama and tension. It’s hardly the nine o’clock news that Brian Cranston is a revelation and a superb actor, but nevertheless it has to be said, because, a bit like Matt Smith in Doctor Who, even when things got a bit annoying Brian Cranston was worth a watch. In general the men of Breaking Bad's Albuquerque were, one by one, superb! The tension and drama of Walter White’s stand-off with the rest of the world was absolutely brilliant, it’s just a shame that it didn’t pay off and in the end remained a predictable American mainstream. However, the original idea, the men’s character development and some excellent “villains” (the quotation marks are because the definition can be somewhat confusing in this one) make Breaking Bad one of the best shows that end in 2013. I can only hope one day my friend Nathalie would translate her Breaking Bad episode by episode analysis to English, because it is brilliant. 

Justified 
From one American desert to, it's probably the same one, Justified is one of my favourite TV shows these days and despite what everyone else say, to me it has been consistently fantastic. Often quite bonkers, but definitely good. Not to be confused with Justin Timberlake’s debut album, Justified is actually a brilliant modern day western TV series based on the stories of American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard, who passed away in August 2013. Full of old school action, awesome characters, men and women alike, and witty dialogue, Justified is beautifully cinematic, exhilarating, suspenseful and superb to watch. The latest season, following a somewhat crazy third season, opened with a beautifully bizarre scene that could have easily could have been taken from a Felini film. It continued with excellently elaborated plots full of twists and turns, maintaining wonderful pace and suspense building up as all great westerns do. I can hardly wait for season five to begin! (January 7th). 

Person of Interest 
To begin with I wasn’t entirely sure about Person of Interest. Its concept is so good and intriguing and my love of Jonathan Nolan's previous work is what made me stick with the series despite one of the leads, John Reese's insistence of speaking in Batman’s bedroom voice. It always had enough interesting characters, a consistent stinginess of arc development details and good action to keep it alive and going strong. In the latest season, which started in 2013 Person of Interest has gone wild and entered the big league of top American television. Similar to Minority Report, but without the exploitation of humans, the premise of Person of Interest is that following 9/11, a genus, Harold Finch, built a machine that can predict acts of terror for the government, but the machine also predicts crimes, which the government tosses aside as irrelevant. The genus and a collection of rouge “crime fighters” decide to use the information to try and prevent crime. The machine only gives a social security number, it could be that of the perpetrator or the victim, it’s up to the team to find out. The premise alone is a wonderful idea, but perhaps what makes Person of Interest so good to watch, particularly in the latest season, is that a whole lots of things happen, plenty of drama, action and layers of revelations, and yet the machine, who is a character that develops quite dramatically over the end of season two and the current season, and the genus behind it remain a mystery and every time a layer is uncovered, one can’t help feel that it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Mad Men 
I have written about Mad Men and why I found it unique before. Season six continued to develop brilliantly with the new characters bringing the wind of change. James Wolk’s character, Bob Benson, echoing Bryan Batt’s, Salvatore Romano, almost claiming revenge in his name. Ted Chaough, beautifully played by Kevin Rahm, standing against Don Draper, representing a different kind of man, but is her really? And for a moment it is unclear who influences who in their unusual bromance/rivalry. Don’s children, especially Sally, grow up and get to know him and his world is slowly crumbling as the sixties starts to climb towards its end. As I said previously, Mad Men is a brilliant piece of brave and fascinating writing, reflecting on a defining period in American history. As I hoped, the next season, which will be the end of the decade (1969-1970) will be the last of the series and will close this sad and beautiful story of a decade. 

Supernatural 
2013 started with the main portion of season eight and towards the end of the year we got the first and quite dramatic instalment of season nine. The Winchester boys are forever a joy to watch and the selection of wonderful characters, really I don’t think there is one character that I don’t like in Supernatural, which is rare even in my all-time favourite television programme, just make the series all the more fun. One of the best bromaces of telly, quite possibly because they are actually brothers, wonderful humour and a generous dash of Meta, give Supernatural that little extra cool to add to what was naturally there in a story of two American boys travelling the Americas fighting demons and Mark Sheppard being the King of Hell. 

The Big Bang Theory  
For quite a long time, The Big Bang Theory was one of my favourite television comedies, only surpassed by Miranda. The format is well known, classic even some (I) would say, and yet somehow, within this format, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady still manage to surprise and be different, fresh and quite funny, to me at least. In this old fashioned format, none of the lead men are alpha male, one of the women earns more than the man she is married to, both working within the scientific world, the “pretty one” is not the successful one and the successful women look dress normal and not like an anorectic Kelvin Cline model from the 90s. (Ahem… Friends… Ahem, not that I don’t love it, but you know what I mean). The Big Bang Theory is a show that celebrates science, knowledge, most of the sciency stuff in the show are real/true, including the mathematical or physics jokes, and “geekness” including the related TV and films homages. I am not ashamed to admit that together with Professor Brian Cox, The Big Bang Theory had a little something something to do with my new found interest in science. 

Castle 
I started watching because of Nathan Fillion and the endless references to Firefly and I stayed, because despite Fillion’s serious weight gain and the fact that the shows premise is an idea that has been done before and probably better, Castle is just fun to watch. Whether it is the Firefly love, the glitz of it all or Ryan and Esposito, I don’t know which one it is, but it’s just an enjoyable watch. Season five, a large portion of which was aired in 2013, was fantastic, back to what makes Castle the light-hearted fun show that it’s meant to be. Now, it’s just about time for Castle to say goodbye and indeed I’ll be surprise if there’ll be another season after the current sixth one, it is only so long that this formula can be stretched. Though a tepid beginning to the season, I am looking forward to what I hope would be its last fun season. 

Criminal Minds 
Yes, it’s a procedural and one day I will write an article to explain why procedural is not an offensive or a derogative word, but for now I’ll suffice in writing Criminal Minds praises. Perhaps the thing that amazes me always anew is just how psychotic and disturbing the cases they bring every week can still be after nine season, and indeed it seems that human malevolent knows no limits. Apart from a few cases in its first season, Criminal Minds is never about “who done it” and more and more there are episodes in which we get to see the criminal’s actions in parallel to that of the FBI’s Behaviour Analysis Unit. Like in most procedurals, there’s hardly any character development and even if one or more characters had some story arc over a season or so, they are mostly forgotten of or are there to pop up and induce another story. Nevertheless, if you do follow the series as religiously as myself, there is a subtle reward. Last season’s arc involving mine and anyone who watches the show with any sense, favourite character Spenser Reid (the brilliant Matthew Gray Gubler) broke my heart. In addition to the lovely quotes at the beginning and end of each episodes, which might be a bit over doing it, but in my opinion they work really well, it is clear that the creators of Criminal Minds or someone in their high places have love for cinema and Hitchcock in particular and every now and again comes a wonderful Hitchcocian or other references like Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and more, or you get to see James Van Der Beek or Will Wheaton in what is a one off and probably the best performances of their careers, and it makes me want to run into the screen and hug everyone involved in making this show. 

Suits 
When I first heard of Suits, which was only at the end of 2012, I thought that it’s going to be a sci fi show where aliens, from space, used people, lawyers, as “suits” and the name is a play on the word because lawyer and business people who wear suits and are called “suits” but also their bodies become suits for the aliens, who for some reason have decided to open a law company in New York. Therefore, I was watching the pilot episode in great anticipation for the big reveal at the end... I am still convinced that this is a great idea for a television show, but a different one perhaps. Despite the lack of aliens, Suits proved to be a great little drama, very sleek, glam and shiny. Everyone is beautiful, witty, smart and deep down they are probably good too. Like a few other TV series’ these days, Suits works because of the lovely bromance in its centre, but it also has awesome women power. When Gina Torres is the big boss you know the women in the series are going to be awesome and not as awful as some of the many other male centric series’ have paraded. And finally, if nothing else tickles your fancy, Suits is worth it for the legend that is Louis Litt. For no apparent reason Suits suddenly stopped mid-season, actually closer to the end of the season than to the middle, on quite a dramatic cliff-hanger and for ages! The last episode aired was in September, and I just discovered it won’t be back until March 2014! Come-on Mr Korsh, stop toying with us in this way. 

The Michael J Fox Show 
I’ll be honest, it’s not brilliant. It’s an old fashion family sitcom that offers nothing new, has no irony or self-awareness and really not that funny. The only twist is that the father of the house has Parkinson. None of the characters are anything to write home about and it is quite surprising that such an outdated sitcom is still being made. That said, I find myself enjoying The Michael J Fox Show immensely. I hardly laugh at it, but the minute I see Michael J Fox, Parkinson or not, I am transported back to the 80s and I’m in love with him all-over again. It seems that whatever power he used to commission this sitcom works on me as well. Michael J Fox was and forever will be a hero and as such can do no wrong in my eyes. 

The Crazy Ones 
When Robin Williams and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) are paired together as father and daughter running an advertising agency, there’s a good chance I’m already interested, when you put Mad Men's lovely boy, James Wolk, in the mix, my love is almost guaranteed. Indeed The Crazy Ones did not disappoint and so far it’s been a quick paced sharp comedy that not only utilises Robin Williams’ talent in the best possible way, but also showcases the lesser known actors’ talents, the aforementioned James Wolk, Newsroom’s Hamish Linklater and Gossip Girl’s Amanda Setton, who manage to keep up and match Williams speed and madness as the outtakes in the end of each episode, which are a treat, show. 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D 
Many Whedon aficionados I know are not impressed with the family’s latest claim to fame. I, on the other hand, am going to make a controversial statement and say that so far I have enjoyed the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D more than I did the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. True Buffy has developed to be a masterpiece television, long before vampires became the new black, but to begin with it came across to me as nothing more than a quite simplistic role reversal with nothing much more to offer, it’s only later on that Buffy became the dear show it is to me. It’s not that Agents, shortening the name to save typing S.H.I.E.L.D over and over again, is the best television to come on our screens, or that it is particularly brilliant in any way, but it is enjoyable and I keep coming back. Many have pointed out it’s predictable, I’m not entirely sure what is meant to be unpredictable in it, but what do I know, I didn't see the Angel finale coming. My one grievance is that I don’t particularly like Skye, I still prefer her to Xander. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, yeah well I already started typing the S it was pointless to go back, has a collection of lovable characters, good action, some looming arc and so far quite good story/ies. I’m looking forward to see how it develops, and given that Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon are involved, I am eagerly awaiting a musical episode. 

Miranda 
Miranda is my favourite sitcom and Miranda Hart one of my favourite comedy actresses. I can and did watch Miranda over and over again and still roll on the floor with laughter every time. Above all, Miranda is just the funniest of them all at the moment. But more than that, Miranda Hart is just so endearing and warms the heart I just can’t help loving her. Heavily influenced by Eric Morecombe, Miranda’s nods to the camera as well as her conversations with the viewers at home throughout the series is delightful and uplifting. Hers and Stevie’s (Sarah Hadland) slapstick abilities are superb and put Miranda Heart high up in the clowns' list, a female equivalent to Laurel and Hardy, or Morecambe and Wise if you will. The third series of Miranda ended on a dramatic cliff-hanger, what’s up with that television? And given Miranda’s lengthy gap between series two and three and her wish to continue with Call the Midwife, we are unlikely to see new Miranda before 2015. I will have to start watching Call the Midwife to fill in the void. 

Horrible Histories 
This brilliant children’s sketch show has sadly ended in 2013 and the talented ensemble went on to make Yolander for us “grownups”, which hasn’t made it to this list simply because I have yet to watch it. The opening theme song says it all:

Terrible Tudors, Gorgeous Georgians
Slimy Stuarts, Vile Victorians
Woeful Wars, Ferocious Fights
Dingy Castles, Daring Knights!

Horrors that defy description
Cut-throat Celts, Awful Egyptians
Vicious Vikings, Cruel Crimes
Punishments from ancient times!

Romans, rotten, rank and ruthless
Cavemen, savage, fearsome, toothless
Groovy Greeks, Rainy Sieges
Mean and Measly Middle Ages!

Gory Stories we do that
And your host's a talking rat
The past is no longer a mystery
Welcome to H O R R I B LE   H I S T O R I E S… 

Dancing on the Edge 
Beautiful and sad five-parter murder-mystery story about a black band in the 1930s, an idealist magazine editor/writer/everything and their brief affair with England’s aristocracy. Full of wonderful music and a hell of a lot of atmosphere and theatricality, in a typical Stephen Poliakoff fashion, Dancing on the Edge tells a good story in the style of an olden days evening of high culture, putting on a dramatic show. The performances are superb all around and I’m pretty sure, without even seeing the film, that Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose Othello performance at the Donmar has made a great impression, is on his way to Oscar nomination and quite possibly win in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. Dancing on the Edge is a well-crafted drama that takes its time and is beautiful to look at. 

Luther (may contain spoilers!)
Another series that came to an end in 2013 and wow! How I love Luther and the final season was superb! Including a truly scary first episode. Idris Elba, forever charismatic and brilliant to watch and Neil Cross, who wrote one of my favourite episodes in the recent Doctor Who series, The Rings of Akhaten, is rapidly becoming a writer to watch out for. I secretly wished for Paul McGann’s character to come back as well as Ruth Wilson’s brilliant Alice, simply because when Elba and McGann were a brilliant pairing and absolutely wonderful to watch. Despite my pining for McGann’s return not being fulfilled, Luther's last series was fantastic to watch. 

Atlantis (may contain some thematic spoilers)
What a lovely little series that is full of naked men! (I’m not sure all nakedness is for the best mind, but still…). If you’re looking for historical accuracy this is not the show for you. Mixing up mythology and Greek history of a sort, not to mention the time-travelling submarine at the beginning, Atlantis is a good and much needed adventure TV that is pacey, funny, fun and shows off a lot of man flesh, have I mentioned? I’ve been enjoying Atlantis quite a bit so now I might just check out Merlin. 

QI 
I decided to mention QI in my year’s summery, because it’s not usually a programme that gets mentioned in any kind of summery, that gets any kind of awards. People got so used to it being on that it is often forgotten and overlooked. It is not only a brilliant show almost literately, but also an important one. For over ten years now, QI (Quite Interesting) has been going through the alphabet, we have just finished series K, and introducing interesting facts about a certain subject beginning with the series’ letter, series K included episodes about Killers, Knowledge, Knees and Knockers, Kinky and many others. Stephen Fry, himself a source of great knowledge, is the wonderful host and Alan Davies, the regular panellist, is the representative of us little people who think we know a thing or two until they watch QI and realise that everything they knew is most likely wrong. Maintaining its scientific credibility, the wonderful QI Elves (the nickname Fry gave the series’ truly amazing researchers) often check back their facts and give or take points according to new discoveries, (famously people get points deducted for answers they gave in previous years and in one of the recent shows the matter of the half-life of facts was discussed, which means a large percent of known fact will turn out to be wrong with in several years, and Alan Davies received over 700 points. That was a happy day). 

Television I watched for the first time this year: 
Line of Duty 
Started in 2012 and finally coming back this year. This is an excellent internal affairs police drama as only the BBC can make. Excellent. 

Smallville 
Some may say it’s kitsch, corny and lost its charm towards the end, I say give me more! Smallville was fun, addictive and did well for Superman’s otherwise problematic reputation. I was surprised by how Tom Welling fits Clark Kent so perfectly, now I can’t see anyone else in that role. 

League of Gentlemen 
Shame on me for not seeing this brilliantly insane show! Hilarious and twisted, League of Gentlemen helped cement Mark Gatiss as one of my favourite writers of our day and a bloody talented man! Now please, don’t ever stop writing Sherlock and be magnificent! Thank you. 

Star Trek, Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine 
I’m not sure how much of this still going project was watched in 2012 and how much in 2013 therefore I put them all together here. As an avidly loyal Who fan I had trouble believing I would ever be able to like any other sci fi show. But it seems that Gene Roddenberry had other ideas. Due to the year of Doctor Who this project, watching all of Trek, had to be put on the back-burner for a little while, but I will get back to it very soon. Currently, I am somewhere in season seven of Next Gen and somewhere in season two of DS9, which for now doesn’t do it for me quite as much as Original Series and Next Gen, but I’m waiting in hope. 

Need to watch and hope to catch up with in 2014: 
Call the Midwife, Ripper Street (MUST), Last Tango in Halifax, The Thick of It (MUST), Toast of London, Broadchurch, The Shield, Arrow and finishing Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise and all the films) project as well as watching Babylon 5. The list is far longer than this, but these are my current top priorities. 

Looking forward to the most in 2014:
New Line of Duty, Last episode of series 3 of Sherlock, new Atlantis, The Musketeers, new Suits, new Justified and of course anticipating most of all the new Doctor Who with a brand new Doctor, the brilliant Peter Capaldi. 

      

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