The kiss on Victoria (ITV) was the image of the TV year. Not the one between Alfred and Drummond, but the more impromptu one between the Queen’s new puppy and Prince Albert’s wolfhound in Episode 4. As an armchair historian, I’ve continued to enjoy Daisy Goodwin’s royal drama, secure that when something weird or on-the-nose happens, it usually turns out to have actually happened. A similar current of historical accuracy floats The Crown (Netflix), once again my favourite drama of the year, and an absolute life-saver this Christmas. I never want it to end, and we managed to sit on all ten episodes in order to save it for the actual three or four days of Christmas, at no more than two in one sitting. It rewarded this loyalty and restraint with more elegantly plotted sub-plots ripped from the news headlines and reenacted with just the right amount of speculation and dramatisation. It will be sad to lose Claire Foy and Matt Smith as the royal couple, but life moves on, and latex might have been distracting. Now that House of Cards is a tainted brand, The Crown must reign as the safest bet on the streaming service.
This was the year in which I truly embraced streaming. Without Netflix and Amazon, these would have been a less rich 12 months of screen-time. I think I’d got to episode four of season five of House of Cards when the allegations against Kevin Spacey took any last vestiges of pleasure from it. (I’m glad it’s continuing without him, though – it may be the injection of change it needed.) But other delights have filled the vacuum, not least Strangers Things, which has been a revelation and an unalloyed joy, even if season two is essentially a re-tread of season one. It’s sufficiently charming, nostalgic and Easter egg-filled to keep my interest.
A big tick, too, for Mindhunter, Medici: Masters of Florence, and RTÉ’s Rebellion, which aired in Ireland in 2016 but on Netflix in 2017. I’m just realising that it’s been a good year for period dramas. I felt Ripper Street (Amazon/BBC Two) went out in a blaze of glory, too.
Back on regular TV, I won’t painstakingly create a chart, or a list, but drama has been enriched this year with some fine returning series, not least season three of Fargo (Fox), whose dual Ewan McGregors was only one of its singular pleasures, a second helping of Unforgotten (ITV), and season two of The Frankenstein Chronicles on ITV Encore, soon to be pulled, which also gave us Moira Buffini’s Harlots, which I hope re-emerges on another channel. HBO/Sky Atlantic gave us the awards-magnet Big Little Lies, whose principal female cast were exceptional, once again proving that all the best parts are on TV now, more Game of Thrones, which I shall stay with until the very end, and The Deuce from David Simon and George Pelecanos, which is everything the similarly 70s-set Vinyl wasn’t. British drama was ennobled by Steven Knight’s mud-caked Taboo, ripped-from-the-headlines three-parter Three Girls, and Broken, from high priest Jimmy McGovern, giving Sean Bean the best role of his career. And all hail Mark Gatiss for curating and directing Queers (BBC Four), and the similarly anthological Urban Myths (Sky Arts), exemplified by Eddie Marsan as Bob Dylan.
My appetite for non-fiction TV [see: montage above] continues to revolve around war documentaries (highlights: Five Came Back on Netflix, The Vietnam War on BBC Four) and cooking competitions, both the miraculously improved C4 revamp of Bake Off, and the sensibly un-revamped Masterchef (BBC Two) brand extensions. I should note here that, since the Brexit vote, one of my old standbys Question Time has become literally unwatchable. I lament its passing, and the passing of something even more profound. Presenters like Neil Brand and Howard Goodall brought more knowledge and urbane wit to BBC Music, and you might be surprised to learn that I was a sucker for Carry On Barging (Channel 5), just one of many “reality” formats in which ageing celebrities are thrown together for a merry travelogue. There was one in motor-homes too.
Oddly, I have found 2017 to be notably weak for comedy on TV, but this may be just me. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight has been joined by Real Time with Bill Maher (both HBO/Sky Atlantic), the only real antidotes to the United States of America as it stands, or rather gropes around on the floor searching for its soul. I mean, I still laugh. Jack Dee’s Bad Move (ITV) was good enough to watch through to the very end, something I rarely do with sitcoms any more, and the quietly devastating Detectorists (BBC Four) was so courageously light on comedy, it was as good as a drama. And I enjoyed seeing Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out (BBC Two), but its very existence felt regressive. I think I’ll go out on a limb and name Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (BBC Two) as my comedy show of the year, even though it’s the dark heart at its centre that makes it unmissable in a pre-apocalyptic age.
Behind the scenes, I have been developing a television project of my own. But that’s for another day. I would like to thank North One and Crook Productions, who have revived my talking head career in fine and constant style on Channel 5. I love talking on camera, about anything really, and they keep asking me to do it. It stops my Mum and Dad worrying about me to see me pop up on a regular basis in a nice shirt.
See you on the other side. No flipping.
This just reminds me how much I miss Telly Addicts.
Don’t want to be one of those curmudgeons that moans because you missed their favourite programme from the list, but for me ‘Detectorists’ was one of the shows of the year- the last series maybe fell slightly short of the other 2, but the finale was a masterclass in understated writing (the simple, wordless scene of Terry’s glance over to Sheila sitting under the tree brought a lump to my throat).
Have a Happy New Year Andrew.
I have added Detectorists in. I forgot about it. My system is not foolproof, I base it on which TV shows I bothered to grab a pic of during the year for my ‘TV17’ folder!
Nice (and welcome) round up of the year. I am typing on a tiny screen so won’t be constructing an essay but thought some notable omissions might be of interest even though I am sure that this is through brain freeze rather than a lack of awareness.
Comedy is sorely needed these days and it
Lost my train of thought but thought Sam Bee was doing exceptional work this year as was Colbert. People preaching to the converted but I do wonder what Trump supporters can watch on TV thee days, but I guess with all he new platforms it is just cheaper to bury your head in the sand.
Nice fictional and pricey looks at our obvious betters in the royal family as well… If only there were some other way to talk about history. I don’t believe that the way that the truths of colonialism are token asides in love stories beneath and above stairs is the best way to deal with these issues. I watched an episode of Victoria last night where the Empress of the known world astride all humanity and as strong as an Oxlade-Chamberlaine was shocked that mere women might want the vote!
Black Mirror and Inside number 9 (plus league of gentlemen return parts one and two) are probably the most insightful and creative TV on right now. I also liked Motherhood and lament the fact that the excruciatingly poor Nish Kumar is on everything. Even the next Question Time which is a great place still to watch people applaud social justice before voting Tory.
I work as a night porter currently and rely on catch up. Even so, on a break from cleaning toilets and placating drunks I managed to catch you getting paid to talk about Lego on C5. Nice to see you are doing well and despite my obvious envy look forward to seeing something more substantial both from you and the people who may soon have us watching jungle has-Beens telling us all about their favourite cheeses.
Anyway… Happy 2018 Sir Andy of past addiction and may all your soufflés rise as expected. I am off now to scribble a poem on the toilet walls in the hope of an audience and hoping for less vomit than Boxing day