The season finale of HBO’s True Detective on Sky Atlantic towered imposingly over my telly-watching week; however, those in self-imposed exile who don’t have Sky won’t have seen this initially mind-blowing and even towards the more conventional ending superbly acted Southern Gothic whodunit, so Telly Addict does its usual dance around potential spoilers; we’re on safer ground with Gogglebox on C4; The Battle For Britain’s Breakfast and estate agents docusoap Under Offer on BBC2; plus the start of season five of Community on the Sony channel (is it too late for me?) and the end of the glorious season three of Parks & Rec on BBC4. You have, once again, been watching.
I doubt I’ve ever watched as much TV as I did in 2013. Self-evidently, it’s because I’ve been reviewing TV throughout the year, again, thanks to the Guardian’s continued patronage of Telly Addict, which has now reached its 134th edition. There’s a special review of the year up now, although, in the heat of trying to put together a definitive list, I forgot to mention The Returned, which is something of an omission. I’ll provide a Top 10 here, as it’s easy enough to siphon out the highest echelon from another quality-packed year. But after that, they’re in no order. All entries here are, in my fallible opinion, what the piece of furniture in the corner was made for.
1. Utopia, C4*
2. Breaking Bad, Netflix
3. Ripper Street, BBC1
4. The Returned, C4
5. Louie, Fox
6. Parks & Recreation, BBC4
7. Gogglebox, C4
8. Fresh Meat, C4
9. Game Of Thrones, Sky Atlantic
10. Broadchurch, ITV
Friday Night Lights, Sky Atlantic
The Walking Dead, Fox
Sound Of Cinema, BBC4
The Fall, BBC2
Y Gwyll, S4C
The Job Lot, ITV
In The Flesh, BBC3
The Village, BBC1
Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic
Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, Comedy Central
The Wrong Mans, BBC2
Bates Motel, Universal
Hannibal, Sky Living
The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic
The Good Wife, More4
Fried Chicken Shop, C4
The Route Masters, BBC2
David Bowie: Five Years, BBC2
Family Tree, BBC2
The Great British Bake Off, BBC2
Mad Men, Sky Atlantic
It’s Kevin, BBC2
London Irish, C4
Oliver Stone’s Untold History Of The United States, Sky Atlantic
The United States Of Television, BBC2
Veep, Sky Atlantic
I feel certain I’ll have missed essential titles off this already fairly swollen list, so let me know if I have.
*Having named Utopia as my TV show of the year, it would be rude of me not to provide a link to it at the Channel 4 Store website, as Channel 4 DVD were kind enough to send me a copy just before Christmas when I merely asked them, via Twitter, where I might buy a physical copy at short notice (having failed to find one in my local HMV). For that, they deserve a link. It was re-watching the whole thing between Christmas and New Year that just edged it past Ripper Street in my final list. It was close run.
I’ve never claimed to be a trendsetter or a trailblazer or an early adopter with anything. I do not lead, I follow, for the most part. So I accept, on behalf of Telly Addict, that I am woefully late on Gogglebox, the C4 show whose second series is already partway through and to which I am a tardy convert. It sort of makes all of this redundant but I’ll soldier on: so, the mighty sociological experiment and armchair wisdom goldmine Gogglebox on C4; the final Poirot on ITV; more Sky Arts’ Portait Artist Of The Year; the return of Borgen to BBC4; the awful Killing Kennedy on the National Geographic Channel; The Newsroom on Sky Atlantic; Yonderland on Sky1; oh, and the Christmas adverts, which had to be done. (New producer/editor this week, so say hello to Tim.)
Yes, it’s quite a solemn moment on this week’s Telly Addict. The last ever BBC4 “karaoke drama” about depressed comedians, batty writers and drunk actors: Burton & Taylor. But what a curtain call! And what a fine, channel-defining portfolio it completes. (Well, not channel-defining any more, thanks to the Murdoch/Cameron project Delivering Quality First.) Also made by the BBC, Badults on BBC3, but I can’t review that for obvious reasons, so instead we welcome back Phoneshop for its third series to E4; also, something new, an Irish import, from RTÉ1, Love/Hate on Channel Five; Why Don’t You Speak English?, a social-issues doc on C4 that actually had something worthwhile to say; and a glimpse of The Mill on C4, which I’ll review properly next week. I haven’t done the final episode of The Returned, as it’s impossible to discuss at this early stage without spoilers. There are plenty of places to discuss its failings and its glories elsewhere on the Guardian site.
What interesting connections we can make on this week’s telly on Telly Addict. Brushing Up On … British Tunnels with Danny Baker on BBC4 is essentially a middle-aged man reading out words he has written between some archive clips; Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States on Sky Atlantic (from Showtime in the US) is essentially a middle-aged man reading out words he has written between some archive clips; in Panorama: North Korea Undercover, easily the most talked about TV show of last week, reporter John Sweeney attempts, as does Stone, to get under the skin of a country whose propaganda is all-powerful (and in both cases, Stone and Sweeney risk excommunication from the nation which they criticise); 30 Rock‘s Season 6 finale, on Comedy Central, includes jokes – aired in May 2012 on NBC – about the totalitarian quirks of the North Korean regime; Modern Family, an imported US comedy not given to inter-textual cross-media jokes that are the stock-in-trade of 30 Rock, tries one on for size with a coda based on The Godfather on Sky1; and I also review new ITV three-parter The Ice Cream Girls, which has no link whatsoever with the other shows. Ah well. You can’t join everything up.
A mere 58,000 viewers tuned in to Sky Atlantic overnight on Wednesday to watch the majestic return of Mad Men, which is down even from the channel’s 98,000 for the start of Season Five last year. It really is one of the least-watched pieces of genius on TV, and it’s the lead review on this week’s Telly Addict, so the Murdoch-intolerant and/or surcharge-averse will at least get to see some majestic clips from its December 1967 incarnation. I also check back in with Game Of Thrones on the same channel (which gets more like 710,000 viewers, by comparison); welcome the first full series of Morse prequel Endeavour to ITV; warm to Victoria Wood’s Nice Cup Of Tea on BBC1; mark the upward turning point of Season 2 of Parks & Rec on BBC4; and applaud Mark Gatiss’s latest period Doctor Who on BBC1.
On this week’s Telly Addict, a clash of the Kudos-produced titans: the eight-part Broadchurch on ITV and the five-part Mayday on BBC1. It’s an unfair fight, as previously established, as I’m reviewing one episode of the former (I hadn’t seen the second when I filmed this, yesterday) and the entirety of the latter, but I hope I have given both a fair crack of the whip in difficult circumstances. Also, on a lighter note: bomb disposal in Afghanistan in new BBC3 comedy Bluestone 42. And, on an actually lighter note, local government in the where-have-you-been? US legend Parks & Recreation, finally arriving on BBC4 after four years on NBC and at least that long on the lips of international comedy aficionados with Region 1 players or no compunction about illegal filesharing. (I have a Region 2 player, a vastly reduced budget for DVDs in any case, and a total aversion to illegal downloading.)
And if you missed my chin-stroking essay on Broadchurch, Mayday and the new film Broken, you may read it here. (There was a time when I was paid for writing such essays, but now I do them for free, which makes them purer, in some ways.)
Last week’s Telly Addict broke box office records at the Guardian website – I believe I am right in saying that it was the most viewed of all my little, ten-minute TV reviews since April 2011. This week’s Telly Addict can only take a concomitant ratings dive, as it contains no full review of Mrs Brown’s Boys. I fully intended to assess the final episode of series three – the one with the gay wedding – on BBC1, but BBC1 forgot that it’s the most successful comedy on television and bumped the Saturday night repeat for the rugby, failing to find another home for it on any of its other BBC channels. (Let us not forget that the repeat was pulling four million viewers. Who needs ‘em, eh?) Instead – apart from a couple of spare clips from last week’s Mrs Brown’s Boys – it’s all about Dancing On The Edge, Stephen Poliakoff’s latest glacial masterpiece, on BBC2; Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience vehicle on Comedy Central; Danny Baker’s magnificent Great Album Showdown on BBC4; and a little nod to what might be the final mystery for Lewis on ITV. Perhaps I should have reviewed the rugby. (Oh, by the way, I shall be passing judgement on Louie, belatedly, and Nashville, next week.)
I apologise for the late running of the plug for this week’s Telly Addict. I’ve been busy. At any rate, it’s been up all day, and within it, you will see my nice new haircut, a shirt I haven’t worn very often and some considered, erudite, witty reviews of – plus some controversially throwaway remarks about – the adorable 1973 John Betjeman documentary Metro-land, shown again last week on BBC4; the similarly locomotive Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo on BBC2; the perhaps unfairly maligned Mr Selfridge on ITV1; the quite horrible World Without End on C4; and the return of Silent Witness to BBC1 for its 16th series! I’ve already found myself in a titanic struggle with a persistent man over at the Guardian website, should you have more time on your hands than sense. You’re more than welcome to discuss these shows here, in a friendlier environment. I always reply.
We’re back, for Year 3 of Telly Addict, and, after an unprecedented two-week break, during which I allowed all the germs of the season to infect me while my immune system was off guard, my voice is on the way out. Thankfully, we managed to squeeze the last few drops out of my larynx before silence set in, and thus, here is an unplanned BBC-only review, with Borgen‘s welcome return to BBC4; the arrival of Ripper Street to BBC1; a very good documentary series, Queen Victoria’s Children, on BBC2; and finally, the latest Attenborough epic, Africa, on BBC1. I accuse Sir David of “husky hyperbole”, but wrote that, during the day, when I had no idea how husky my own voice would turn out to be. I hope you can hear the words I am saying, and that you feel my pain. Normal service will be resumed next week. And a haircut, I think.
(My full review of Seasons Three and Four of Breaking Bad will follow separately.)