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Sobs and soundbites: Stacia Briggs’ review of 2014 TV

11:28 31 December 2014

Martin Freeman (left) as John Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the hit drama Sherlock.

Martin Freeman (left) as John Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in the hit drama Sherlock.

Robert Viglasky Photography

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 2014, Stacia Briggs picks her TV moments of the year.

Our Zoo.Our Zoo.

“So THAT’S how he did it” of the year: Sherlock, BBC1.

We sat there, my son and I, postulating on how Sherlock managed to die and then return from the dead.

“I don’t think we’re clever enough to solve this, Mum,” he said. Nonsense, I told him, I am definitely clever enough because I have scoured internet forums and taken the best bits from all the theories and can now appear wise and deductive while simultaneously being a bit quirky, dangerous and sexy, like Sherlock.

“You haven’t got a clue, have you?” he answered. Frankly, son, no.

The Jump.The Jump.

We finally discovered that Sherlock had actually jumped into an airbag hidden from John by a building and then he’d arranged to have Watson knocked over by a cyclist, giving him time to take up position as a corpse, temporarily halting his pulse with a squash ball under his armpit. Aha.

Was the explanation worth a two-year wait? Possibly not, but it didn’t matter. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman returning to our screens was a treat.

Least climatic murder in a soap in 2014: Lucy Beale, EastEnders.

Billed as the BBC’s very own Broadchurch, the murder of Lucy Beale is being dragged out until February 2015 when the murderer will be revealed in a live special to mark the soap’s 30th anniversary.

Lucy, a hateful, lemon-faced crone-in-waiting was by far the least likeable of the Beale family (and bearing in mind it includes Ian Beale, that’s really saying something). It was less a case of ‘whodunnit’ and more a case of ‘whodidn’twanttodoit’. Hell, had I lived in Walford I’d have wanted to see Lucy six feet under.

To be fair to EastEnders, the real skill was in the telling of the story and in particular Adam Woodyatt’s performance as grieving Ian Beale, which has been masterful if incredibly difficult to watch. And for what it’s worth, my money’s on Dot in the launderette with the lead piping.

Most miserable new drama of 2014: Quirke.

You’d think the producers of Quirke had a guaranteed recipe for success – an award-winning author, a celebrated screenwriter, a top-rate cast, a fabulous slot on primetime telly and enough BBC cash to sink a battleship and yet this Dublin Noir was as entertaining as watching a jelly setting in the fridge.

Quirke is like Father Ted: The Radiohead Years. Like a depressed Terry Wogan locked in a broom cupboard lit by a 15w bulb. Like Louis Walsh after watching Sophie’s Choice on a continuous loop for 60 years. Basically, it’s lots of miserable people in Ireland living miserable lives in the rain and because it’s the 1950s, there aren’t even cats on the internet to look at.

It’s a surprise, because dramatist Andrew Davies normally has the Midas touch: Mr Selfridge, House of Cards, Little Dorrit, the Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth emerges dripping from a lake…and now Quirke, the cure for both happiness and insomnia. I might have to read the original book, by Benjamin Black (the pseudonym of Man Booker prize winner John Banville), to see if Davies murdered it or if Banville handed him the gun.

The Paul Ross Soundbite Award for The Most Random Celebrities In An Allegedly Serious TV Debate: The Big Benefits Row, Channel 5.

It was, according to presenter Matthew Wright, “the row that got Britain to boiling point”. Everyone, it seems, is steaming with righteous indignation about the benefits system and what better way to illustrate this than to gather together a surreal selection of celebrities (Peter Stringfellow, Terry Christian, Annabel Giles) some voices of reason (Owen Jones, Ken Livingstone, Steve Chalke, Jack Monroe) the nation’s favourite benefit claimants (‘White’ Dee, someone else from ‘Benefits and Proud’) and some rent-a-gob hardliners (Katie Hopkins, Edwina Currie) for a reasoned debate?

As it turns out, any other way would have been better. Bare-knuckle fighting, perhaps. Bear baiting. Vegetable pelting. Pistols at dawn.

Katie Hopkins, “self-styled social commentator” displayed as much compassion as a vulture in an abattoir.

Channel 5 would’ve done better to ditch The Big Benefits Row and televise a live poll in which the public chose whether to fire Hopkins into space or towards the roiling guts of an active volcano. My vote is on the latter: we don’t want to upset any extra-terrestrials.

Best new Sunday night drama that was mystifyingly shown on a Wednesday night: Our Zoo, BBC1.

The BBC’s latest foray into Sunday night drama is, confusingly, not shown on a Sunday night – it’s Animal Magic (an abandoned monkey, a parrot pining for the fjords, a camel living in a Coronation Street-style backyard) kicked through The Mill (northern accents that range from lilting Yorkshire to grating Manchester) with a hint of Downton Abbey (a racy toff who rides horses, smokes and wears scarlet strumpet-wear).

Fortuitously, Our Zoo was on just hours after I’d taken my kids to our zoo, by which I mean Norfolk’s Banham, so I couldn’t have been any more in the mood for exotic creature-based entertainment. You could say I was primed for primates at primetime.

And to be fair, Our Zoo, the 1930s-based story of George Mottershead who loved animals so much that he persuaded his family to help him set up a zoo in Chester, didn’t disappoint, unless you count the realisation at the end credits that it wasn’t Sunday and therefore I didn’t have the following day off work – I don’t work on Mondays.

Worst dialogue of the year: Houdini, Channel 4.

If Houdini often found himself shackled to a set of chains, the two-parter that bore his name was shackled to the dead weight of a leaden script and strange, oppressive background music which wasn’t so much ‘background’ as ‘foreground and brandishing a broken bottle and a general look of malevolence’.

The script was the kind of thing I’d have been proud of if I’d written it at sixth form after spending too much time in my darkened bedroom inhaling patchouli incense and listening to The Cure. When it came to episode two, I had my own escape planned: the remote control and the ‘off’ button.

My happiest TV moment of the year: Our Gay Wedding The Musical, Channel 4.

I knew when I watched this that it’d be one of my favourite programmes of 2014: what a wonderful, joyful piece of television it was. Shown the week after same-sex marriage finally became legal in England and Wales and almost 100 couples walked down the aisle, it was the marriage of Nathan Taylor and Benjamin Till who wrote and staged an entirely musical wedding which was narrated by our very own Stephen Fry.

If it sounds awful, it absolutely wasn’t. Obviously there was pre-wedding moaning from several quarters that musical matrimony would devalue the solemnity of the ceremony, but I very much doubt that any of the joyless whinge-buckets in question actually watched it: you’d have had to have a heart of stone not to be moved, I cried for an hour non-stop, and I’m practically carved from granite.

I Wept Like a Baby moment of 2014: Coronation Street, ITV1.

It was an unconventional romance: he was a socially-inept oddball, she was born a man.

In the hands of less accomplished writers, the partnership between Roy and Hayley Cropper could have been a dreadful thing – a terrible, sneering Mrs Brown’s Boys/Little Britain hybrid – but thankfully, if there’s one thing Coronation Street excels at, it’s quietly-done pathos: EastEnders, take note.

I was good for nothing on that Monday night; a sofa-bound sobbing wreck as Hayley decided to take control of the terminal cancer creeping up on her, taking her life at a time of her choosing rather than waiting for her illness to make the decision for her, mistress of her own destiny despite her husband’s begging protestations.

The two episodes in which Hayley said her final goodbyes, hugged her foster sons and daughters for the last time, ironed husband Roy’s best shirt ahead of her funeral and went gently into the good night were proof that soap operas – at their very best – simply can’t be beaten and definitely shouldn’t be written off as populist drivel.

“As long as you’re alive, so am I,” she told Roy after taking the drugs that would end her life, “you’ll be my eyes and my ears and my heart for years to come. I will never leave you, Roy Cropper, I don’t care about your science and your logic, some things don’t just stop.” Sob.

Strangest TV hybrid: The Jump, Channel 4.

Like Dancing on Ice kicked through Splash! with a hint of Big Brother at its most evil, The Jump saw a group of 12 celebrities (I recognised them all, so they qualify) competing in eight absolutely terrifying Alpine sports including the slalom, bobsleigh, skeleton, ski cross and speed skating.

Viewers moaned that there wasn’t enough danger involved even though glam socialite Henry Conway had to withdraw after breaking a bone in his hand and Melinda Messenger had to drop out after suffering a blow to her head as she practised for the bobsleigh event. Two other celebrities bowed out before the show even started.

Just how much more danger did people want? Should there have been hidden blades in the snow? Snowball-hurling angry Yetis at random posts along the slalom? There was even an event called the skeleton, for heaven’s sake – it doesn’t get much more chilling than that (unless you count over-excited host Davina McCall, whose pitch was a decibel away from causing the kind of major avalanche that might even have silenced her). Astonishingly, another series is planned.

Honorary mention: The Crimson Field, BBC1: or Holby City on Tour Does Call Downton Abbey’s Midwife: The Great War Years.

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