Top 10s for Christmas: Television in 2013 to treasure - and to forget...
07:37 24 December 2013
This year’s TV has boasted polite zombies, the ghost of Downton Abbey Christmas Special past, a murder mystery that kept us all on the edge of our seats, the most maverick of maverick cops, appalling comedy on BBC1 and Tom Daley splashing out before coming out. EDP TV reviewer STACIA BRIGGS picks her four hits and four howlers from 2013.
Four of the best shows on TV this year:
The Returned, Channel 4:
My Granddad maintained that there wasn’t enough time on the planet to waste it watching anything with subtitles (or “foreign muck” as he called it). He would have, therefore, missed one of the best shows of 2013, the French production of The Returned. Beautifully shot, this series posed a question that we’d all struggle with: is it worse to lose a child or a loved one or for them to come back to life, almost the same as they were before they died, but not quite? In The Returned, the dead came back to their loved ones in a French alpine town, seemingly unchanged yet potent with unanswered questions. Like Twin Peaks kicked through The Omen in slow motion, The Returned was the most mesmerising TV of the year by some distance.
Downton Abbey, ITV1:
After the perplexing Christmas special (set in the summer) and the untimely demise of Matthew Crawley in a horseless carriage, Downton returned with series four and – after the difficult third album – it was a triumph. Both Matthew’s widow and mother were paralysed by grief, the former drifting around like a threatening thundercloud, the latter staring at everyone’s chin and only perking up when given the chance to rescue Catweazle’s double from a workhouse. In other news, Lady Edith – formerly known as ‘the dull one’, ‘the jilted one’ and ‘thingy’ – had blossomed into a wanton strumpet who ate in public, wore revealing frocks and kissed married men, O’Brien had done a midnight flit leaving Cora in the unthinkable position of needing to dress herself, Mrs Hughes had found Carson’s old music hall partner (Catweazle) in dire circumstances, Matthew’s former valet Moseley appeared to be auditioning for a role in Fawlty Towers and Thomas took brooding menace to Def Con One. In a final twist, it appeared that Downton’s water supply comes straight from the fountain of youth: no one has changed an iota from series one when it was 1912.
In my review of the first episode of Broadchurch, I noted that Norwich’s own Olivia Colman portrayed that rarity in drama, the police officer with a happy home life. I might just have altered my opinion on that. Broadchurch was brilliant, must-see appointment-TV which couldn’t be rushed: you had to wait for weeks to find out who killed Danny Latimer and there were more suspects than a mystery involving an empty biscuit jar and a room full of four-year-olds. Even better, most of us had worked out who the murderer was in the week preceding the final episode, giving millions of viewers false hope that they had been unknowingly harbouring some form of previously dormant brilliant mind. Stand-out performances came from Colman, David Tennant (SO hot right now), Pauline Quirke, David Bradley, Jodie Whittaker and even, astonishingly, Will Mellor. Wonders will never cease.
Luther is the maverick cop’s maverick cop, a cop that could out-maverick the band The Mavericks before beating the Hertfordshire Mavericks at netball. Returning for a last hoorah before transferring to the big screen, Luther went out with (several) bangs, plus a murder, an abduction, three attempted murders and a shoot-out. Not to mention the ‘hand in the blender’ incident, the dangling of a loan shark from the balcony of high rise flats, the psychopath hiding under the bed, the psychopath hiding under plastic sheeting in the attic and the corpse dressed like Siouxsie Sioux of Banshee fame – and that was just in episode one.
n Notable mentions: The Walking Dead, the finale of Breaking Bad, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Homeland, Educating Yorkshire, The Escape Artist (particularly the levitating psychopath), True Blood, Misfits, Girls, Fresh Meat, Doctor Who, Made in Chelsea (don’t judge me), Gogglebox.
And four of the worst…
The Wright Way, BBC1:
How clever Ben Elton is, I thought as I watched his razor-sharp parody of appalling sitcoms of the 1970s. What a post-modern genius. What a brilliant social commentary about a nation that bursts into tinned laughter if someone so much as mentions the word “lesbian” or “health and safety”. What an ironic two-fingered salute to all those comedians who insist on writing comedy that actually makes you laugh. Then I realised: The Wright Way is a genuine attempt at a sitcom and Ben Elton, he who brought us Blackadder and The Young Ones, has clearly had some kind of horrendous operation involving a comedy bypass. There was a reason this hideous sitcom was given the graveyard slot of 10.35pm on BBC1 and, much as I try to respect everyone’s opinion, on this occasion I must be clear: if you liked The Wright Way, you are completely and utterly wrong.
As a nation, we were all concerned that the Olympic legacy might involve little more than a BBC end-of-year highlights montage, a glut of Wenlock mascots at The 99p Shop and sheds full of bikes and Lycra gently mouldering as the UK swiftly forgot its love for cycling en masse. The truth, I fear, was far more chilling. Splash! which is incredibly RETURNING next year was a five-part celebrity diving series in which teen dreamboat and Olympian Tom Daley coached four celebrity-flavoured nobodies how to jump into a swimming pool in a show so dreadful it made Big Brother look like film noir. Just to add salt to the wound, Vernon Kaye was the presenter.
Mrs Brown’s Boys, BBC1:
The law of averages says you’ll disagree with me (this show has the highest AI, or audience appreciation rating of any BBC comedy) but I will plough on regardless. Mrs Brown’s Boys is dreadful, lazy bilge packed with the kind of stereotypes that went out with the ark. What has happened to BBC comedy in 2013? The Wright Way? Mrs Brown’s Boys? Citizen Khan? Count Arthur Strong? Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow? This is the year comedy died on BBC1.
Sex Box, Channel 4:
Remember the dreadful sex education lessons from school in which you received dry lectures about fertilisation, studied pictures of ovaries and saw complicated spreadsheets about diseases that made you consider life in a convent or monastery? Sex Box was Channel 4’s equivalent: a show so unsatisfying that it might as well have been a documentary about watching paint dry. Host Mariella Frostrup warned us that what we were about to see would be “honest and for some viewers, uncomfortable”. In the end, the biggest shock of all was that a TV channel could make a show in which people, you know, and it still managed to be utterly, completely, totally, dull.
n Notable mentions: The X Factor (which was the least climatic series of all – we all knew Sam would win from the audition stage), The Voice (particularly Jessie J), The One Show (consistently terrible in 2013), the episode of EastEnders where Alfie won Kat back, any Lottery-based show, the Dexter finale, Your Face Sounds Familiar, Richard Hammond’s Secret Service, Steve Pemberton in Whitechapel.