YOU GUYS! Do I have a treat for you today! I’m featuring my bro Gemma aka G X Todd, author of the amazing Defender which is out TODAY!!! YES! TODAY!!!! So what are you waiting for? GO GET YOURSELF A COPY DAG NABBIT! (But read this post first, obvs)
Last year was a real stellar year for TV. It’s a struggle to remember what it was like having only four channels (Channel 5 was a brand new channel introduced when I was sixteen). The choice of shows on offer today is insane, but with more choice comes more chaff. It’s hard to know what to invest our time in. With that in mind, let me share with you the TV shows that have entertained, surprised and wowed me over the past twelve months (in descending order).
Fargo Series 2 (Drama)
Full disclosure: Fargo (1996), made by the Coen brothers a whole year before Channel 5 was premiered, is possibly my favourite movie of all time (outside of Aliens). So the news they were making a Fargo TV series was met with a mixture of outright joy and deep-seated dread. I didn’t want them to ruin something that I loved, but I did want to be in that world again.
Suffice to say, Fargo Series 1 was utter brilliance. Martin Freeman was a revelation and Billy Bob is always fantastic. It was everything I wanted—I even bought it on Blu-ray, something I hardly ever do. Now, Series 2 is filled with a cast who were consistently batting it out the park—I’m a massive fan of Patrick Wilson and have been since Hard Candy—but it was Ted Danson who surprised and delighted me. The high drama and intelligence was here in Series 2, and I enjoyed a lot of it, but there were episodes where I just wasn’t as involved as I had been for Series 1. I don’t think the Gerhardt clan was as intriguingly immoral as Thornton’s Lorne Malvo, and I couldn’t find much heart in the series outside of the Patrick Wilson/Ted Danson relationship, centred around Lou Solverson’s desperately ill wife. Peggy and Ed Blumquist’ s scenes were often riveting, and Kirsten Dunst played a largely dislikeable character with enough vulnerability to keep me on side, but I didn’t much care for either of them by the end. That being said, the production was top-notch and I enjoyed it very much.
I had heard of Preacher, the graphic novel series, and knew the basics about it, but I didn’t go into watching the series with any prior knowledge of the characters or story. Which worked really well for me. The first appearance of Joseph Gilgun’s Cassidy is one of the best introductions to a character I’ve seen in a loooong time. Throughout, Gilgun burned brightly, immensely watchable as the over-excitable, foul-mouthed, homicidal vampire with a smidgen of a conscience. In fact, the way Preacher deals with the consequences of people’s actions is especially well done. Yes, all the characters make questionable decisions, but there are always consequences. No one gets an easy ride. I think that’s what I liked most—how nuanced Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip were. They fell off the Good Guy wagon so many times but always dusted themselves off and got back up.
And don’t get me started on Ruth Negga. Oh my god, I love her. She was superb in the role of Tulip. Her styling, her attitude, her sheer presence was exhilarating throughout. Frankly, I’d like to see a series just called O’Hare so I can watch her go round giving everyone a hard time and kicking their asses.
After a few blips in the first third of the series, when some episodes had a tendency to feel like filler, Preacher ended on a rip-roaring, explosion of a high. I can’t wait for series 2.
11.22.63 (Drama/JFK/Time Loops)
I rate Stephen King’s 11.22.63 in my top 10 favourite King books (I wrote about it here if you’re interested: http://crimefiles.co.uk/blog/2017/01/4717/), so yet again I was frothing at the mouth to watch this. I was wary of Franco playing Jake Epping, but credit where credit’s due, he did very well. There were moments, during some of the romance-led scenes with Sadie, where his painfully gurning grin made me cringe a little on the inside, but putting that aside, his performance was strong, as was George MacKay’s (who’s English, would you believe!) and Chris Cooper’s.
The set design and recreation of 1960s’ America is what stood out for me with 11.22.63. The clothes, the props, the cars, the music, even the colour palette, were so accurately portrayed it was a tonic for the eyeballs. I also commend the script-writers—there was an awful lot of material in King’s book and to condense that down into eight episodes must have been tough—and by-and-large they included everything I wanted to see, even though many set-pieces and in-depth character development had to be lost.
I also have another confession to make, which some of you won’t be surprised by if you’ve read any articles by me, ever. I haven’t, technically, finished watching 11.22.63 yet. I have three episodes left. Why is it in your top shows if you haven’t even finished watching it! I hear you yell. LET ME EXPLAIN. I haven’t finished it because I was loving it so much I never wanted it to end. Therefore, I will be re-watching the entire series again, including its denouement very soon. I can’t imagine it will disappoint.
Bob’s Burgers/Broad City (Comedy)
I’m hitting two birds with one stone for this one, because this article is already getting pretty lengthy. COMEDY. I don’t really do comedy much, in my TV viewing or with movies. I’m not sure why—I’m not a gloomy gus who never laughs, honest. I just find a lot of comedy… not that amusing. Bob’s Burgers and Broad City are two shows I watch repeatedly.
I watch Bob’s Burgers for two reasons: firstly, all the players here—Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene and Louise Belcher—are all outstanding creations. There isn’t one weak character in the mix. That’s rare in a show. And secondly, not only is it consistently funny, but it’s consistently a love letter to family life. The Belchers have many ups and down, falling outs, financial woes, trouble at school, and yet they all love each other unconditionally. They are always there for each other and are always willing to help each other out, without question. It’s a family to aspire to.
I watch Broad City for its two main characters. In Abi and Ilana we have two hilarious, irreverent yet endearing modern day stars. They masturbate, smoke weed, swear, love and do everything with each other, and get into trouble in every episode. Ilana could be annoying in her over flamboyance if not for Abi’s (mostly) straight-woman role, but as a duo they just work. Give it a watch: it’s genius.
The OA (Drama/Fantastical/Who the Hell Knows)
This show is either spell-binding or frustrating, depending on the viewer. And that’s what’s so great about it! In a sea of stereotypical TV shows full of clichéd protagonists (it feels like there’s a new one released every week), here comes The OA to blow them all out of the water. Its mysteries are built on a foundation of more mysteries, and it’s all revealed in slo-mo in the most wonderful act of story-telling. Brit Marling is like a goddess in how she discloses parcels of information, drip-feeding them to her followers (and TV viewers) bit by bit. The whole thing is strange and esoteric and I loved every damn minute of it.
If you like everything answered and tied up neatly, The OA probably won’t be for you, but if you want a ride into the unknown, and are happy to sit back and enjoy something for its sheer originality and courage to try something new, then you have to give this a try.
Stanger Things (80s/Horror)
I loved it. And Millie Bobby Brown needs to be in everything ever made from now on. The end.
My number one show of the year has to be Westworld. It was so bloody clever it made me want to cry. Because I will never, in all my future years of writing, be able to create something so intelligent and twisty. However, I will say that when Anthony Hopkins talked about the Bicameral Mind theory and the show began to delve into human conscience, I did a little dance inside, as those are all areas I’ve researched for Defender and the Voices series.
Everyone was excellent in this, but special props must go to whatserface who played Delores (Evan Rachel Wood—it just came to me), Thandie Newton and Sidse Babett Knudsen. And Hopkins effortlessly heaps a whole mountain of gravitas into a single delivery of a line than most actors can hope to achieve in a ten minute scene. I found Jeffrey Wright a little bit one-note, but he made up for it in the last two episodes, so he’s forgiven. I rated it 10/10 on IMDb, which I’ve only ever done for two other TV series (Fargo Series 1 and Firefly). It’s special.
Thanks so much Gemma!