Friday, 19 December 2014

2014 in Review: Top TV Shows

I've watched a frightening amount of TV in 2014. And not all of it has been repeats of Friends. 

Continuing my ‘best of 2014’ blog series, here’s a rundown of the best TV I've watched this year. I've limited myself to ten again and it was much harder to choose than I thought. So bad luck to The Walking Dead (which I've left off because its full series hasn't been on this year so it seems a bit unfair), Penny Dreadful and the two documentary series I mention later on who just missed the cut. I'm sure their respective production teams are gutted.

Here, in no particular order, are the lucky ten who made it...

Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi has completely changed my opinion of Doctor Who. Before it was a show I might watch on a Saturday if I was in, with Capaldi in the lead role it’s become must see. His Doctor is perfect for me - brooding, sarcastic, socially awkward and emotionally unavailable. The end of the ridiculous and boring Doctor/companion love stories was particularly welcome. Capaldi aside, I also really got into some of the storylines for the first time in many series too, especially the series closer with the fantastic Michelle Gomez as a basically perfect female incarnation of the Master. More of this please. 

The third series of Veep saw terminally gaffe prone Vice President Selina secure her party’s nomination for the Presidential election, but suffice it to say the course did not run smooth. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is my home girl and she is outstanding in Veep, but then she has to be because her supporting cast are all equally good (Tony Hale’s put upon PA Gary is a personal favourite). After a slow start, the Armando Iannucci penned series is going from strength to strength. The idea of a Selina Presidential campaign - in a fourth series which also features Hugh Laurie - is just too much.

Game of Thrones
Whilst series four has made some missteps (the Cersei-Jamie rape scene was awful on many levels) Game of Thrones is still one of the best series on TV. The acting is excellent across the board - Peter Dinklage's Tyrion and Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn Martel were my stand outs in season four - it looks stunning and the writing remains top notch. The thing that’s really interesting about Thrones now is how far it’s moving from its source material; every season feels less and less like a book adaptation and more like an original drama. I'm quite excited by this, even as a huge fan of the books, and can’t wait for the next season to start to see where the characters are going.

The Great British Bake Off
If ever proof were needed that Bake Off mania is fully set in, I think this year’s Baked Alaska-gate was it. Personally, all that angsty nonsense annoyed me (though I was Team Iain all the way) as did some of the more tenuously themed weeks but I will always love this show. Pleasing, too, that its move to BBC1 didn't dent anyone’s enthusiasm for some good old fashioned innuendo. I also continue to love the judges’ Masterclass spin off mini-series, mostly because Paul.

Strictly Come Dancing
It’s amazing how much the removal of Bruce Forsyth as host rejuvenated my love of Strictly. Claudia Winkleman is the best replacement too - I absolutely love her. This year’s series has been textbook classic Strictly: the good dancers are excellent, the bad dancers are funny, the boring dancers got voted off first and there have been some genuinely surprising eliminations. Even the themed weeks haven’t been too awful. It’s so great to feel enthusiastic about Strictly again. Long may it continue.

My Shakespeare
The only documentary to make this list (BBC4’s Len Goodman/Lucy Worsely dance history show Cheek to Cheek and BBC2’s three part history of sci fi Tomorrow's World just missed out) My Shakespeare is a Sky Arts series where prominent actors and directors discuss their favourite Shakespeare plays and characters. It’s perfect viewing for me, and just the right side of pretentious! My favourite was Kim Catrall on Antony and Cleopatra, but all of the ones I saw were really good - informative, accessible and interesting.

Boardwalk Empire 
My favourite TV show ever bowed out this year, which makes me sad but also happy that it went out on such a strong season. As ever with this show, the writing, acting (Stephen Graham’s Al Capone was my stand out this year), production and everything else were all fantastic. Although the ending was ultimately a bit predictable - no spoilers though - the series built up to it perfectly and it was the right ending, unlike so many other shows. Still kind of hoping for a Lucky Luciano spinoff...

Remember Me
Even though it trailed off in the final third, this BBC take on a modern ghost story was incredibly effective. Which is to say the first two episodes were fucking terrifying. The thing that got me into this show was the idea of Michael Palin playing not only a straight role but a pretty morally ambiguous one at that and he was completely brilliant at it. Ditto Mark Addy (I’m really enjoying his late career renaissance) as the world weary policeman so desperate to find a rational explanation for everything that was happening. The writing was solid and the Yorkshire scenery looked so beautiful, but the twisty turny plot was the most compelling thing about this show. I’d love to see the BBC do more of this sort of short series drama.

True Detective
A cop show that avoided all the clichés of a cop show, looked beautiful and was phenomenally acted? Yes please. I think this show was probably slightly over hyped, but it was still very, very good. Matthew Mcconaughey (continuing his baffling run of excellent form) and Woody Harrelson were both excellent as the mismatched Detectives forced to work together on a string of dark, ritualistic murder cases. The best thing about this show was the way it eschewed all the usual cop show plot devices, character stereotypes and stock scenes and presented something much more interesting and with far loftier themes. The only disappointment was that they couldn’t continue this into the series finale.

24: Live Another Day
Jack Bauer comes to London and mayhem ensues - what’s not to love? Ok, so there were some issues with the way the show was Anglicised (anything to do with transport for a start), the allusions to Wikileaks were about as subtle as a brick to the face and some of the plot details extremely dubious but it’s 24 and it was so much fun. It also inspired the most brilliantly snarky Guardian episode blog which is still worth a read months after the series has ended. Hopefully the cliffhanger ending - no spoilers - means we haven’t seen the last of Jack just yet.

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