Light, shade and gratuitous scything: The TV review of 2015
PUBLISHED: 11:25 28 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:38 28 December 2015
There have been many moments on television this year – some magical, some mundane and some plain mad. In her first of two TV reviews of 2015, EDP television reviewer Stacia Briggs picks her small screen moments of the year, from the unveiling of Bobby Beale as a pint-sized psychopath to the darkest drama (literally) of the year, the Briggs Eye Candy Award to an admission that I was wrong – a Christmas miracle, indeed.
• I always thought he was a wrong-un moment: Bobby Beale, EastEnders
So Abi Branning didn’t do it, even though she had form with the family dog, Ben ‘he’s done it before too’ Mitchell didn’t do it, Peter ‘vegetable boy’ Beale wasn’t guilty and Denise ‘make mine a double’ Fox wasn’t responsible. In its 30th anniversary week EastEnders had live episodes, live elements to other episodes and not one, but two mystery death plotlines.
While half the square conspired to conceal the death of Nick Cotton in order to save Dot the indignity of prison (note to selves: do not bother with ‘I am Spartacus’ moments if Spartacus is a brow-beating, hair-shirt wearing martyr), just one person was conspiring to cover the identity of Lucy’s killer.
Jane initially confessed to Lucy’s death but as her revelation came at the end of the first of a double-handed episode, we immediately knew it wasn’t her what done it, even though she had been behaving as suspiciously as someone sending themselves a packet of pot pourri from Amsterdam to their home address.
I had to hedge my bets and write a review based on who I thought had killed Lucy on the basis that the programme ended at 10pm and my deadline was 10.10pm. I won’t reveal whether I got it right or not, but I can reveal that I had a very, very fraught 10 minutes.
Bobby killed his sister because she made everyone unhappy which, to be fair, is a succinct summary of Lucy’s effect on everyone in Albert Square. The real twist turned out to be that he doesn’t realise he killed her at all – presumably he just thinks he clocked her with a heavy implement and then she immediately fancied a long sleep.
• Best name in any documentary in 2015 – Jetsun Pema Wangchuck in Christian Louboutin: The World’s Most Luxurious Shoes, Channel 4
In this overly-long programme which followed shoe designer Louboutin for a year, we saw the celebrity hoof-coverer visiting Bhutan to create his very own version of Dr Scholl’s. We also learned that shoes coming out of Bhutan must be personally approved by the country’s ‘Dragon King’ Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his queen, the aforementioned Jetsun Pema Wangchuck.
In addition to having THE BEST NAME OF ALL TIME, Queen Jetsun got the last say on which of the hideous wooden-soled Louboutin platforms would hit the market: “Custom dictates people must never look at the King or Queen directly,” we were told, “or breathe on them”. Blimey.
• Most improved range of facial expressions this year – Paul Hollywood, Great British Bake Off, BBC1
Great British Bake Off was back for a sixth series and showed no sign of going stale. There were 12 new bakers submitting their baked goods for scrutiny from housewife’s favourite Paul Hollywood (this year shoehorned into jeans bordering on the obscene) and surrogate Nanna-to-all and fan of booze-soaked pastries, Mary Berry.
Paul has increased his overall number of facial expressions from three to four this series after adding ‘borderline shocked’ to his canon of ‘delighted, bemused and slightly narked’ while Mary remains beatific at all times, with a one-size-fits-all expression suitable for occasions ranging from the acknowledgement of a successfully-constructed pie to the news of an impending apocalypse.
We’re heading in the right direction, Paul, although there’s much work to do before you reach the dizzying heights of Gregg Wallace and John Torode, the latter who can facially portray with complete accuracy the slight distaste and annoyance you’d feel if someone else’s child let one off in your people carrier on a hot day with the panache of Gielgud.
• Surprise hit of the year – All Aboard! The Canal Trip, BBC4
It marked a watershed moment for insomniacs, if by ‘watershed’ one meant ‘a barge travelling at four miles an hour along a canal’. Part of the channel’s “BBC Four Goes Slow” season, the gentle journey down the river was watched by half a million people despite having no commentary, voiceover or presenter.
A much-needed antidote to the election campaign that was running at the same time, this was two-hours of gentle meandering along the Kennet and Avon canal that didn’t involve seeing a single politician or swing-o-meter. It should be on prescription.
• Darkest drama of the year – Wolf Hall, BBC2
Wolf Hall, the BBC’s super-lavish historical drama was super dark – darker than a letter written in squid ink on a piece of slate, darker than a panther in a coal mine, darker than my mood when contemplating driving in Norwich city centre after the council’s latest road traffic improvements.
And by dark, I mean literally. I get that the Tudors were too busy lopping off heads and wearing silly hats to invent electricity and halogen bulbs, but the King’s court and the houses of those close to him were dripping with candelabras, yet no one in Wolf Hall appeared to know how to light any candles.
Last year it was mumbling on Jamaica Inn, this year it was straining to see what’s happening in the candlelit gloom in Wolf Hall – I look forward to the BBC’s next historical drama, Wolf Inn, where viewers won’t be able to see OR hear what’s happening.
Director Peter Kosminksy was unrepentant about the lack of lighting in Wolf Hall, claiming that the innovative use of new cameras used to film the entire series in natural light and candlelight made the scenes look far more authentic.
He fell short of suggesting that we all wipe our backsides with leaves or moss (lamb’s wool if we’re toffs) when we took a short toilet break while Wolf Hall was on pause in the pursuit of authenticity, but it would probably would have been best if we did. Authenticity is far more important than being able to see what’s going on, and anyone that says otherwise isn’t authentic and can’t play with us after school.
Moaning aside, Wolf Hall was a stunning piece of work, albeit one of those quality dramas that makes all but the most well-read amateur historian realise how many holes exist in their Tudor knowledge – there are, I have realised, black holes in mine, holes darker than – no, I won’t go there, I’ve made my point.
• Phwoar moment of the year – Poldark, BBC1
Gorgeous, rugged, windswept, mysterious, full of pasties – Aidan Turner, who played Ross Poldark was all of these things (and Cornwall wasn’t bad either).
Poldark was back from the 1970s and his welcome home wasn’t quite what he expected: his father had died owing the bank pots of cash, the love of his life Elizabeth (Heida Reed) was engaged to his insipid cousin Frances (Kyle Soller), the farm he’s inherited was sited on the equivalent of nuclear wasteland, his tin mines were empty, his father’s servants were the lost members of The Wurzels and there were goats in the front room.
On the plus side, he was a tousle-haired Adonis prone to skinny-dipping and naked scything. I forgave him the cloven-hooved visitors in the lounge.
This reboot of the 1970s series, adapted from Winston Graham’s novels, planned to recapture the success of the original which was watched by an incredible 15 million viewers, was sold to 40 countries, made star Robin Ellis a household name and was only outsold in video/DVD sales by 1995’s Pride and Prejudice. It succeeded.
I am too young to remember the original (I can still use that sentence occasionally, although the opportunities fade as every day passes) so I came the series with fresh eyes – hoping very much that there’d be no Jamaica Inn mumbling or Wolf Hall filming-in-low-light, putting the ‘dark’ into Poldark.
Ardent Wolf Hall fans might question the historical validity of Poldark, particularly as one of the market scenes featured a large burglar alarm, but frankly, Poldark was never really about brilliantly-honed dialogue or insights into 18th century history – it was about love, loss and a magnificent beast charging across the fields. I liked the horse, too.
• Well I never of the year – Car Share, BBC1
I know it’s cool amongst TV critics not to like Phoenix Nights or Mrs Brown’s Boys and it is true, I don’t like either. So I expected to hate this new Peter Kay vehicle (literally) – but I didn’t. I liked it. Written by Paul Coleman and Tim Reid, it stars Kay as a put-upon Everyman who is forced to car share, taking colleague Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) to work and their growing friendship which might, we all hope, blossom into something more. Genuinely funny, warm, engaging and infectiously silly, it’s made me question my prejudice against Peter Kay. It’s almost as if I might have been wrong.