It’s time to look back on 2016 and I’m starting off with a review of this year’s television offerings. Personally, I think it’s been a fantastic year for television across all channels and online platforms. There have been some fantastic new shows, which have drawn us in and have us anticipating their return, while other series have continued to keep us tuning in for yet another year.
It’s always hard to choose the highlights of the year, but below are the programmes that have really stood out for me over the last twelve months.
The Crown (Netflix)
If any series has impressed me the most this year it’s been The Crown. I’d heard the rumours about how expensive it had been to make, but on seeing it, it was clear to see it was worth every penny Netflix had invested in it! Taking us through from the wedding of Elizabeth and Philip in 1947 to 1955, I became absorbed by the world it created on screen. Everything works in The Crown, resulting in a drama of the highest quality. The acting ensemble is superb, with Jared Harris making me cry as King George, Claire Foy’s award-nominated performance as Elizabeth and actors such as Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby bringing people we feel we knew to life anew. Combined with strong scripts and direction, gorgeous sets and costumes and a wonderful score, this really was a television highlight.
Line of Duty (series 3, BBC Two)
Line of Duty is a rare series for the simple fact that every series it just gets better. After the excellent second series in 2014, I really didn’t think it could impress me any more. How wrong I was! With the perfect balance of new story and continuing threads left lingering since series one, this was a taut, nail-biting drama that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat (and indeed jumping out of it too). Jed Mercurio’s scripts are a joy to watch and the cast continue to deliver. Take your time writing series four Jed, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. If you have yet to watch Line of Duty, catch up fast!
The Night Manager (BBC One)
The BBC drama department didn’t hold back with this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel. Made in partnership with AMC and The Ink Factory, the additional budget available to the series meant that the result was a hugely impressive, movie-quality production. Heck, I actually preferred this to the latest Bond film! Hugh Laurie was on top form as the charming, yet dangerous Richard Roper, a pregnant Olivia Colman kicked ass as Angela Burr and Tom Hiddleston demonstrated to a new audience outside of theatre and Marvel films what a great actor he is as Jonathan Pine. It was tense, thrilling, visually stunning and superbly acted. Some are sad it will likely never return. I actually think that’s a good thing. Sometimes a series should go out on a high.
Game of Thrones (series 6, HBO/Sky Atlantic)
Game of Thrones series 6 was a bit of a mixed bag, with a few episodes in the middle slowing down in pace somewhat. However, as is always the case, it opened with some strong moments, including the return of Jon Snow (as if he was going to stay dead!) and ended with two of the finest episodes of television I’ve ever seen. The Battle of the Bastards was utterly incredible, showcasing battle scenes worthy of any film (and indeed better than most of them!), while The Winds of Winter took the show further down its darker path as Cersei Lannister shows everyone what a mistake it is to get on her bad side! With only two shorter seasons left, it’s all starting to get very exciting indeed!
Stranger Things (Netflix)
I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy Stranger Things, but I’m so pleased I gave it a try, as I loved its mix of dark creepiness, humour and 80s nostalgia (right down to its brilliant title music and sequence). As a kid I loved The Goonies and watching this show took me right back to that era. Indeed part of the fun of watching it was spotting the nods to the films of that decade, whether ET, The Goonies or another. The strength of the acting of its young lead actors was also a surprise and surely Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven has now become an iconic character. Plus I’ll never hang Christmas lights again without thinking about this show!
Planet Earth II (BBC One)
I admit I don’t watch many nature documentaries, but I couldn’t miss David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II, which surely brought some of the most incredible sequences to television this year. Whether the iguana escaping the snakes, the monkeys pinching people’s food in India, the bowerbird with its love heart, or the majesty of the eagles to name just a few moments, the series was breathtaking and really made you remember how much more to life there is on the planet that we all take for granted.
The X-Files (series 10, Channel 5)
As a lifelong X-Phile, the return of my favourite duo to television was bound to make this list! Yes, I admit some of the episodes weren’t as strong as the original run, but as a set of six, I thought they did a great job of showcasing everything that made The X-Files such an iconic series. There was mythology, creepiness and Darin Morgan’s brand of craziness in my favourite instalment “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster”. The series was always able to switch between these different genres and it was fantastic that by re-assembling the old writers it was able to do the same again and of course it was a thrill to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back together. Was it perfect? No. It was however a revival that made me smile in 2016 and I have my fingers crossed that there will be more to come.
Happy Valley (series 2, BBC One)
Series one of Happy Valley was a highlight of 2014 and this year the second series proved again that Sally Wainwright’s gritty drama was worth tuning in to. Set 18 months after the previous series, we see Catherine Cawood (the excellent Sarah Lancashire) moving forward with life as Tommy Lee Royce (superbly played by James Norton) sits in prison. However, his influence was still felt through the eerily brilliant performance of Shirley Henderson as classroom assistant Miss Wealand, a woman who has become besotted by Royce and manoeuvres herself in to young Ryan’s life. Cawood also had her day job, as we see her working a case that crosses paths with a detective (Kevin Boyle) who finds himself in a terrible situation following an affair. If you have yet to catch Happy Valley, put it on your to-do list for next year.
Olympics 2016 (BBC coverage)
Summer 2016 saw us all tuning in to Rio to watch the finest athletes in the world competing for Olympic honour. I always find the Olympics inspiring, as we see true role models who have worked hard to be there. You can keep all of your shallow footballers and reality stars in my view. Thanks to the BBC’s multi-channel and multi-platform coverage, I literally watched sport for two weeks and it was fantastic. Whether watching Team GB succeed in the velodrome, Bolt making history or Simone Biles’s incredible floor routine, it was a truly satisfying summer and I genuinely missed it once it was over.
The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (BBC Two)
The first series of The Hollow Crown took us from Richard II to Henry V and this second series moved the Tudor story along through Henry VI, culminating in the iconic character of Richard III. Shakespeare may not be on everyone’s must-see list, but the BBC’s efforts to make these famous plays appeal to a modern audience deserve attention. Henry VI as a play can drag in places and so this adaptation was able to tighten up the story without losing any of its power and emotion. Hugh Bonneville was on top form as the Duke of Gloucester, Sophie Okonedo was a force to be reckoned with as Margaret and Tom Sturridge’s Henry was a much more emotional and less petulant portrayal than I’d seen before. Then of course there was Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard. It’s a superb performance, that was both chilling and charming and with support from Dame Judi Dench and Keeley Hawes this series really does showcase the strength of the British actors working today.
This list started with one Queen and so it seems only right that it ends with another. The first series of Victoria took us in to the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. Jenna Coleman (best known for her role in Doctor Who) was excellent as the young woman taking on the role of monarch in a world ruled by men. Her chemistry with Tom Hughes’s Albert really sold their blossoming romance, but it was her close relationship with her first prime minister Lord Melbourne, played by the superb Rufus Sewell that I truly loved and I admit I was very sad when Lord M’s time in her life came to an end. Hopefully series two will be just as strong as the first.
So that was 2016 for me and there were so many shows I didn’t manage to watch (The Night Of and Westworld to name just two). The good news is that 2017 is already shaping up to be just as strong a year. For some suggestions of shows to tune in to next year, feel free to read for post on 17 shows to watch in 2017.
I can’t believe it’s the end of the year already, which means it’s time to look ahead to the top television choices for 2017. Personally, I think 2016 was a superb year for television, whether returning shows or new ones (my look back at 2016’s excellent television will be posted in the next few days) and the new year is already looking rather promising.
So, here are the 17 programmes that I’m most excited about tuning in to in 2017 (well it’s 18 actually, but I’m sure you’ll let me off). As I’m in the UK, air dates and channels are those for the UK.
Sherlock (series 4, BBC One, starts 1st January)
Well, Sherlock was always going to be on my list of hotly anticipated television for the new year! After last Christmas’s slightly bizarre special, series four arrives and from the trailers promises to be a much darker affair. With Toby Jones on board to play this year’s baddie and Andrew Scott making an appearance (in flashback? still alive? who knows), I have high hopes. Sherlock deserves its hype thanks to its strong cast, direction, writing and music and I hope the next three episodes will only leave us wanting more!
Broadchurch (series 3, ITV, expected Spring 2017)
Returning in early 2017 for its third and final series is one of ITV’s strongest dramas for years. I know I’m in a minority when I say I really did enjoy the second series of Broadchurch (it really does benefit from a rewatch), but even if you preferred series one, the partnership of David Tennant and Olivia Colman is always a joy and I’m intrigued to see what drama awaits the residents of this Dorset community.
Suits (Dave, series 6B returns 29th January)
I’ve recently started watching Suits again and had forgotten how much I loved it. Now up to date, I’m looking forward to seeing the continuation of series 6 when the series returns in 2017. One of the show’s biggest strengths is how it continues to adapt the focus of the series as it goes along and after quite a few changes over the last couple of years, it will be very interesting to see what’s next for the gang. I’d quite like to see Harvey’s mother make an appearance, to see how he copes with that emotional hurdle, but we’ll have to see. Oh, and more hand holding with Donna please Harvey!
Taboo (BBC One, starts 7th January)
A new eight part drama for BBC One is Taboo, created by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, British actor Tom Hardy (whose international reputation continues to grow following his Oscar nominated performance in The Revenant) and his father, writer Chips Hardy. Set in 1814, Hardy plays James Keziah Delaney, a man believed to be dead who returns to London from Africa to inherit his father’s business and avenge his death. With a supporting cast including Mark Gatiss, Tom Hollander and Jonathan Pryce and with Ridley Scott on board as an executive producer, this will certainly be an epic start to BBC One’s year.
24: Legacy (FOX, starts 15th February)
I admit I struggled with the idea of 24 without Jack Bauer and I’m still sceptical, but I’m willing to give this reboot of one of my favourite series a go. Yes, there’s no Kiefer Sutherland, but if the storylines continue to grab my attention and interest with the help of 24’s signature real-time format and if the acting is up to scratch, this could be very enjoyable indeed. I really do hope it proves to be worthy successor to the original run.
Making A Murderer (Netflix, date TBC)
The first series of this documentary in to the case of convicted murderer Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey both shocked and infuriated me and millions of other viewers. I’ve continued to follow the events online and it will be fascinating to get under the skin of this continuing case, as those representing Avery and Dassey continue to fight to unearth the truth behind the tragic murder of Teresa Halbach.
Guerilla (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
Written by John Ridley (who won an Oscar for the 12 Years A Slave screenplay), this drama set in the 1970s London revolves around black activism, when a young couple liberate a political prisoner from an underground cell. The couple’s ultimate target becomes the Black Power Desk, a secret counter-intelligence unit within Special Branch dedicated to eradicating such activism. Starring Idris Elba, together with a very strong cast for theatre lovers like me, including Rory Kinnear, Daniel Mays and Denise Gough this powerful series is near the top of my list for 2017.
Stranger Things (Netflix, date TBC)
Stranger Things’s mix of spooky, supernatural and classic 80s nostalgia was a real highlight of television this year and I’m already looking forward to seeing where the characters are a year on, when series two returns in 2017. We don’t know much yet, but set in 1984, it’ll be lovely to see what nods to the films of that era make it in to the series (it has already been said that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will be an influence). With all the wonderful kids returning (including Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven), as well as the other regulars from series one, this is sure to be as addictive as series one.
Prison Break (series 5, channel and date TBC)
It’s time to break out of yet another prison! I’m still surprised about the return of this series, which did get rather bonkers by the fourth series. However, as we left the show with Michael supposedly dead, it will be interesting to see how they explain away his reappearance back behind bars! Those behind the show have said that this is a one-off event series, which will conclude the Prison Break story and as most of the original cast are back, I’m very curious to see it. Hurry up UK and announce how I can watch this!
Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
Remember when people were shocked at the idea of a successful film actor choosing to do a TV series? Thankfully this is now commonplace and 2017 sees the arrival of HBO’s new series based on Liane Moriarty’s novel, starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicola Kidman and Shailene Woodley, as mothers of children at the same kindergarten. As their children become friends, their lives are apparently turned upside down as secrets are revealed. HBO and Sky Atlantic (who are airing it here in the UK) are doing a great job of not giving too much away as yet!
Game of Thrones (series 7, Sky Atlantic, summer 2017)
Let’s face it, Game of Thrones will be on this list for the next two years before the series ends! After moving past the books, the thrill now when tuning in to Game of Thrones is that anything really could happen and whether you’ve read them or not, all of its fans are now in the same boat. As Daenerys makes her way across the sea with her army and her dragons, it’ll be fantastic to see some of our favourite characters hopefully come together at long last. Will Jaime have to kill Cersei? Will Jon and Sansa finally reunite with Arya? Will the game of thrones really matter if the White Walkers breach the Wall? I can’t wait to find out!
Twin Peaks (series 3, Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
I remember dipping in and out of Twin Peaks when I was younger so that I could see David Duchovny playing Denise. To my shame I’ve always intended to revisit it and give this cult classic the attention everyone tells me it deserves. I now have the boxset and what better time to watch it than now, before David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series returns after 25 years?! With Kyle MacLachlan back as Dale Cooper and many others returning (including, I hear, Mr Duchovny!), together with actors such as Jim Belushi and Laura Dern said to be making appearances, this is sure to be one of the most talked about series on television in 2017.
Riviera (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
Another film actress leading a new television drama is Julia Stiles in Riviera. Created by writer and director Neil Jordan (based on an idea by Paul McGuinness and co-written by Booker Prize-winning author John Banville), this thriller is set on the French Riviera. When her husband is killed in a yacht explosion, Stiles’s character sets out to uncover the truth of what happened to him, only to discover the truth about the activities he was really involved in. It sounds as if this could be this year’s The Night Manager (pity there is no Tom Hiddleston though)!
Death In Paradise (series 6, BBC One, starts 5th January)
I do love Death In Paradise! What better winter pick me up is there than the glorious island life of Saint Marie (actually Guadeloupe) and the lovely Humphrey Goodman played by Kris Marshall? Yes it can be a bit silly, but that’s part of its charm and these murder mysteries are always great fun. Also, series six apparently includes a two-part story set in London. It’ll be brilliant if we get to see the rest of the gang trying to adapt to Humphrey’s world for a change!
Doctor Who (series 10, BBC One, date TBC)
After no new series of Doctor Who during 2016, I’m looking forward to the return of Peter Capaldi aboard the TARDIS during 2017. With a new companion Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie) who we’ll meet on Christmas Day, it will be interesting to see a new duo flying through time and space having adventures. Rumours are circling that Capaldi may call it a day after this series to make way for a new Doctor when Chris Chibnall takes the helm. I hope he doesn’t leave, but either way, I intend to enjoy a new set of episodes of this BBC classic.
Fearless (ITV, date TBC)
We still know very little about this new ITV drama. However, the simple fact it stars Helen McCrory is enough for me. Also starring Sir Michael Gambon, all we know at the moment is that it is a six part legal conspiracy thriller in which McCrory plays a solicitor determined to free a man she believes was wrongly convicted of the murder of a child. However, it seems forces in the police and intelligence community are just as determined to stop her. Written by one of the writers of Homeland, I have high hopes for this series.
The Crown (series 2, Netflix, hopefully late 2017)
After all the hype, it was thrilling to discover that Netflix’s drama documenting the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II was utterly superb. The writing, direction, costumes, realistic sets, stirring score and excellent acting from the whole cast means that series two can’t come quickly enough. We don’t yet know how many years the series will cover, but it’s already been confirmed that it’ll be the last series with the current actors, before older actors move the decades forward as the Queen’s reign unfolds.
Line of Duty (series 4, BBC One, date TBC)
Okay, so this makes 18, but on hearing that the new series of Line of Duty will likely air in 2017, I really couldn’t leave it out. Without a doubt, this has been one of the greatest dramas of recent years, with each series building on the success of the first. After the nail-biting end to series three, it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the team of AC-12 when the show moves from BBC Two to BBC One. If you haven’t watched it, then get catching up fast!
So those are my picks for 2017 and that’s only based on what has already been announced, so who knows what other shows we’ll be enjoying over the next twelve months! For now though, enjoy the Christmas television offerings!
Towards the end of last year, one of my friends recommended Bloodline to me and I’m very pleased he did. One of Netflix’s original dramas in 2015, it was soon a firm favourite of mine, due to its intelligent and engaging writing, multi-layered characters and the fact that it keeps you guessing from beginning to end. One thing is certain though – when you watch Bloodline, you need to be paying attention.
After a shorter wait than those who tuned in twelve months ago, I’ll finally get to see what the next chapter has in store for the Rayburn family when series 2 arrives on Netflix later this week. Therefore, now is the ideal time to catch up on one of the strongest dramas on television at the moment.
Created by Glenn Kesler, Todd A. Kesler and Daniel Zelman, the trio behind one of my all-time favourite series Damages (more on that here – if you didn’t watch it, then add that to your list too!), Bloodline is all about the Rayburn family headed by Robert and Sally, who have run a small hotel on the beach in the Florida Keys for 45 years. We meet them as the whole family is coming together to celebrate this 45th anniversary, including eldest son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the clear black sheep of the clan. Over the course of the thirteen episodes, we watch how all of their lives are affected by his return and see how, despite the setting, not everything in their lives is paradise.
One of the aspects I love most about this series is its structure. Following the mould set by its creators’ previous success Damages, glimpses in to the future are used to tease the audience about the path that lies ahead for this family. By the end of the first episode, it’s clear that the not too distant future does not look rosy for the Rayburns. The big questions though remain unanswered – what happens along the way to get them to that point and who in the family knows the truth? It is an incredibly effective way of hooking the audience early. You know more than the characters do and are intrigued by the mysteries that lie ahead.
There are also glimpses in to the past along the way, which only add more questions – who is Sarah? What happened to her and how has that impacted on the family? A series that keeps you guessing and reveals its secrets at its own pace is always one that will keep me engaged and enthralled.
One of Bloodline’s other great strengths is the quality of its cast. Mendelsohn is superb as Danny; he is a character you change your view on many times and his performance is always one from which you are never sure what to expect. However the rest of the cast is great too. Kyle Chandler plays his brother Detective John Rayburn brilliantly. He has clearly been forced to take the elder sibling role and you are conscious of the pressure of expectation he feels, whether from a responsibility to his siblings or his parents. Norbert Leo Butz and Linda Cardellini are very good as the remaining siblings, each with their own complicated lives, in to which the reappearance of Danny is something they could do without.
Heading the family is the brilliant pairing of Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek and you sense each has their own skeletons in the closet. As a unit they are fantastic and because they are all equally capable of holding the screen and the audience’s interest, it allows the writers to weave in strands for each of them, which gradually come to link in to the overarching questions you have by the end of the series opener.
I’d also be surprised if you don’t recognise an aspect of your own family’s dynamic when watching the Rayburns, whether it’s the mother with her favourite can do no wrong child, to the daughter always trying to make her father proud, to the brother who feels he has to be a stable force for the rest of his family on top of his own problems.
I admit, especially early on, there is quite a lot of talk in Bloodline and perhaps some may feel there are too many dialogue-heavy scenes and not enough actually happening. However, the writing wonderfully builds up events, as the jigsaw pieces start to slot in to place. Also, it’s certainly lovely to watch a show set in such a paradise – clear water, sunshine, white sandy beaches; the ideal backdrop for a story containing buried family secrets!
Series 2 of Bloodline arrives on Netflix on Friday 27th May 2016, just in time for the weekend. If you are in need of a new series and enjoy intelligent dramas, that are well written and strongly acted, then I highly recommend you give it a try!
The first series of Bloodline is available to watch now on Netflix. Series 2 is available from 27th May 2016. For a taster, here’s the trailer to the first series.
After looking back at my television highlights of 2015, it’s time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2016. There are exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to this year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here (if known).
The X-Files (Channel 5 – early February)
Anyone who knows me will have expected nothing else to be top of my teleevision choices list for 2016! The X-Files was my first addiction and would probably still be my category if I were ever to go on Mastermind. Therefore, it’s fantastic that it is returning to our screens, albeit for only six episodes. With David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in such iconic roles, Chris Carter back at the helm and stories also from Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan, this is already very promising. I sincrely hope this delivers for all the fans, but also pulls some new viewers in too. Remember, The Truth is Still Out There!
The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (BBC Two)
In the hope this would air in 2015, this was also on last year’s list, but we can expect the second series of the BBC’s Hollow Crown some time in the next few months. Entitled The Wars of the Roses, this captures Henry VI and Richard III, with some of Britain’s brightest acting talent involved. Alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there’s Dame Judi Dench, Sophie Okenedo, Andrew Scott, Tom Sturridge and Michael Gambon to name but a few. If the quality is as high as the first series (recommended if you missed it), then we are in for a treat.
Happy Valley (BBC One)
I came late to Happy Valley in 2014, but it impressed me almost immediately, with Sarah Lancashire playing such a strong and complicated character as Catherine Cawood. After the traumatic events of the first series, it will be interesting to see what writer Sally Wainwright has in mind for her next. I’m sure it will prove to be just as exciting and engaging as before and especially when the teaser trailer just released includes James Norton as the awful Tommy Lee Royce!
Line of Duty (BBC One)
Line of Duty quickly became a success (with help from social media fuelling interest) and with two strong series, both with separate stories, the possibilities are endless of Jed Mercurio’s drama. After focussing on Lennie James’s Tony Gates in series one and Keeley Hawes’s superb multi-faceted performance as Lindsay Denton in series two, the bar has been set very high for the next instalment. With Vicky McClure and Martin Compton being joined by Daniel Mays and Will Mellor, I’m already very excited to see this and will be going to a BAFTA preview screening of episode one on 8th February, so we can expect this some time in the near future.
Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, 25th April)
Although the last series was a bit of a mixed bag (but made up for with Hardhome!), I’ll always look forward to my return to Westeros. Now that we are in uncharted territory, with the majority of characters past book positions, anything could happen in series six and in a show where no one is safe, that is very exciting indeed. Filming photos suggest there will be some wonderful sequences in the new series and I’m looking forward to finally moving forward with the story (seeing as who knows when we’ll get book six from Mr Martin)!
James Norton will be back on our screens again for the second series of Grantchester, in which he plays the lovely vicar, turned detective Sydney Chambers, in stories based on the novels by James Runcie (the opposite end of the spectrum to his character in Happy Valley thank goodness). This was a lovely drama when it aired in 2014, with some interesting charcater relationships and a great partnership in James Norton and Robson Green. Anyone mourning the end of Lewis can take comfort in this series as a worthy replacement.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 15th April)
I admit to being a person who prefers dramas to comedies, on both film and television, but after two friends raved about this Netflix series last year, curiosity got the better of me and I’m so pleased that it did. You cannot fail to warm to the ever optimistic, innocently naive Kimmy Schmidt, as she adjust to life in the real world after 15 years spent in an underground bunker. The scripts are witty and sharp, the characters are fun (who doesn’t love Tituss Burgess’s loveable Titus Andromedon!) and the acting is very good indeed. If you haven’t been tempted yet, give it a go – I guarantee you’ll be humming the theme tune all day.
The Crown (Netflix)
“Two houses, two courts, one Crown.” The first trailer for this upcoming, ambitious new Netflix series has just been released (see above) and it looks very promising. The Crown will chart the two key istitutions of Britain – the monarchy and the government, from the 1950s onwards. Written by Stephen Daldry (writer of the acclaimed play The Audience), with a huge £100 million budget and starring some excellent actors, particularly Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth II (last seen playing Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Edward, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Churchill, this could be a historical drama to rival the BBC if the quality is there.
Queen Victoria (ITV)
Staying on the historical theme, ITV will later this year be casting a light on the young Queen Victoria in their new eight part drama series. Fresh from her time on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman is the young Victoria, as the series charts her life from accession at 18, through to her marriage to Prince Albert. It has a fantastic cast including Tom Hughes (as Prince Albert), Rufus Sewell, Peter Firth, Eve Myles and Nigel Lindsay. I still really only know about Queen Victoria’s later life and reign and therefore I’m looking forward to seeing a new aspect of her story.
House of Cards (Netflix, 4th March)
Everyone loves Frank Underwood right? Or is too scared not to?! In the series which undoubtedly helped Netflix become the success it is now, Kevin Spacey has become so iconic in this role and his partnership with Robyn Wright is always glorious to watch. Now occupying the Oval Office, it will be interesting exactly what lies in store for them in the next series.
Death in Paradise (BBC One – started Thursday 7th January)
Another heart-warming and fun series that blows away the winter blues is Death In Paradise, which returned this week. I didn’t see the first two series, but as a fan of the lovely Kris Marshall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Humphrey settle in to island life. How can anyone not love him?! It’s fun, entertaining and is Sherlock Holmes on a tropical island, as Humphrey seemingly solves murders using clues that no one else can see. Yes, your parents may watch it, but so what? This is a brilliant winter tonic!
The Night Manager (BBC One)
Coming soon in 2016 is this six-part adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, in which a former British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by intelligence agent Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the arms trade being run by Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie). I haven’t read the book, but I love a good spy thriller and with such a strong British cast I have high hopes for this series.
Undercover (BBC One)
As a fan of the BBC’s legal drama Silk, it’s wonderful that its creator Peter Moffat has a new series coming this year. Sophie Okenedo leads the show as the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, who discovers her husband (Adrian Lester) has been lying to her for years. I’m intrigued enough to tune in!
In the Pipeline / Awaiting a UK network…..
I always enjoyed Prison Break, although admittedly the first series was certainly the best. News that it is the next show to be revived is a bit of a surprise, but I’ll tune in to see what direction the story takes next. I believe it will be set as though the finale (in which we said farewell to one character for good) didn’t occur. After watching them act together in The Flash it’ll be great to see Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell back in the roles they are most famous for.
Of Kings & Prophets (starts in the US on 8th March on ABC)
I imagine the makers of this new biblical series are hoping it’ll attract the same audience as Game of Thrones. Its success will depend on whether it’s decent and can attract an audience fast enough. The pilot has already been partly recast and reshot, but the trailer looks promising. With established actors including Ray Winstone (as Saul, King of Israel) and Nathaniel Parker, hopefully the acting quality will be strong. For me though the biggest attraction is its young, male lead, playing David (as in David vs. Goliath, future King of Israel) Oliver Rix. He was Aumerle to David Tennant’s Richard II in 2013 for the RSC and proved what a fantatstic actor he is. I hope this does well (but doesn’t keep Oli away from the stage for too long)!
Damian Lewis is back on television is this new US series, playing hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is trying to be brought down by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti). Having just started in the US on Showtime, I’ll be keeping an eye how this series is received. Given the pull of the two stars, if it is successful hopefully it’ll soon appear here in the UK.
His Dark Materials (BBC One)
I’m quite excited by the prospect of the BBC adapting Philip Pullman’s popular trilogy of books in to a series, especially after the success of last year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Admittedly, this may not make it on to our screens until next year, but just in case, I wanted to include it here, as I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful series for all the family, whether a fan of the books or not.
So those are the shows I’m most excited about watching in 2016 from the ones we know about this early on in the year. Who knows what else could be coming to our screens over the next 12 months! Feel free to let me know what you will be watching. I’m always looking for recommendations!
The year is almost over so it’s time for another annual television review. How time flies! It’s been a mixed year, however, there were still some brilliant programmes during 2015 and these are the ones that stood out for me, which I couldn’t wait to rewatch and will no doubt tune in to again in the future.
Wolf Hall (BBC)
Wolf Hall was a truly superb achievement, highlighting the quality that the BBC produces effortlessly. As someone who had only recently seen the RSC stage productions and started reading the books after watching a BFI preview of this series, it met every expectation I had for it. The screenplay was a perfect adaptation of the books, the locations and costumes were gorgeous and the direction and choice of lighting was inspired. The scenes lit purely by candlelight truly captured the sense of England in another time. Then of course was the acting, with a strong ensemble bringing these famous characters to life, all led by Mark Rylance, one of my favourite actors. His Cromwell manages to capture all the internal thinking of the man. You can see that so much is going on in his head, even when no word is spoken and it’s lovely more people have become aware of his brilliance through this drama. I certainly hope that the third book will also be adapted once it’s released.
I’m aware that a lot of people were disappointed by the second series of Broadchurch, but I wasn’t one of them and actually think the series was underrated and very worthy of a revisit for those who only watched it on transmission. Yes, series one was superb, partly due to the unexpected quality of the story and the way it captured the nation’s interest. It was always going to be difficult to repeat. However, series two has a lot of brilliant elements that the first didn’t (and couldn’t) have. The bond and relationship between Hardy and Miller was stronger and gave David Tennant and Olivia Colman more scope to build on what had gone before. They are friends here and able to be a team in a way they couldn’t be in those early episodes before the trust had been built. On top of that you had two stories at once. Perhaps the weakness of this series was too many little plots (the barrister’s son as an example), but the mix of the court case with, for me, the more interesting plot of Sandbrook always kept me guessing. It also gave us one of the most interesting characters on television this year – Eve Myles’s Claire Ripley. One minute you liked her, then you suspected her, then you worried for her. She was a whirlwind of emotions and personalities and was always wonderful to watch. I’m a little worried a third series may be unnecessary, but I’m intrigued to see what Chris Chibnall has in mind.
Doctor Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC)
Another quality BBC drama was this adaptation of Susannah Clarke’s fantasy novel and I still think it received much less fuss than it deserved, being a brave and exciting choice of drama for the BBC to make. The cast were wonderful, with Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan doing fantastically as the title characters, with Marc Warren truly creepy as The Gentleman. Beautifully shot and with some impressive special effects (that sand horse scene in episode two was truly fantastic on first viewing for a television show). If you didn’t watch it, I’d encourage you to give it a try. It really is magical.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
I imagine Game of Thrones will make this list every year unless it does something spectacularly wrong before it ends! Series five also marked the year in which those of us who’d read the books finally moved on to new material! Anything is possible now! Ayra Stark’s development continues in fascinating ways and Maisie Williams only gets better each year, but let’s face it the pinnacle of series five was Hardhome. It felt like a scene from The Lord of the Rings and I’d love to see it on a cinema screen. The vast, epic and powerful scope of those 20 minutes were incredible. I’m very excited to see what will be coming next.
Jessica Jones (Netflix)
I admit that I came to Jessica Jones as a David Tennant fan rather than a Marvel fan, but I’m very pleased indeed that I did, with Jessica Jones being one of the one most fascinating characters on television this year, wonderfully played by Krysten Ritter. It may be part of a comic universe, but this is not what you’d normally expect from a superhero series, with that aspect of the show seeming secondary to the dark, adult themes that it contains. Tennant’s Killgrave is also a truly chilling villain, his ability to make anyone do anything, frightening in its possibilities. With strong writing and an excellent supporting cast, this was one of the strongest first series of a show I’ve seen in a long time. Read my full review here.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
I admit I tend to watch more dramas than comedies, but this new Netflix series was recommended by so many of my friends I had to try it. What a brilliant series it is and series two cannot come quickly enough! The premise may seem bonkers, but the writing is sharp and funny and the characters immediately likeable. Kimmy Schmidt is so full of naive, innocence and Ellie Kemper is wonderful in the role. Not many characters have made me laugh as much as Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess) did this year and it’s always lovely to see Jane Krakowski on screen. You couldn’t fail to be cheered up, no matter how naff you felt when you watched this series and that’s a rare achievement.
Arrow / The Flash (Sky)
I may be cheating a little counting two shows as one, but due to the crossover nature of the worlds of Arrow and The Flash it seems justified (look at the great promos they can do for them both now)! I’ll always love Arrow, as the characters have bedded in and let’s face it, it has Felicity Smoak (and yes, Stephen Ammell…), but The Flash really did a brilliant job in its first year of settling in so quickly. After only a few episodes the characters felt developed and were people you were genuinely interested in watching. I’ve not enjoyed series two of The Flash so far as much as the first, but together these two shows do a brilliant job of combining the fantasy/superhero elements with interesting, well-rounded characters and stories.
The Blacklist (Sky Living)
In my view, series three of The Blacklist is its best yet. Initially the plots felt a bit silly and the FBI characters laughable in their ineptness, but it was the brilliance of James Spader’s performance as Raymond “Red” Reddington that hooked me. He was enigmatic, charming, funny and with an edge that made you know you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him! Series three has seen him and Agent Keen work even more as a team, as she continues to be on the run from the very colleagues she used to work with. It has given the series an interesting new angle and given Megan Boone as Keen some much more interesting material to work with.
Doctor Foster (BBC)
Mike Bartlett is one of my favourite playwrights, currently on a role with his stage successes both here and on Broadway and with Doctor Foster he has brought his ability to write human emotions and behaviour to the small screen as well. Over the course of this series, the tension that developed as the truths of the characters unravelled was brilliant. Bertie Carvel was very good as the cheating husband who you couldn’t completely despise (well not initially anyway!), Adam James was on fine form as the sleezy neighbour, but Suranne Jones is utterly superb as Doctor Foster. Her performance is magnetic, as we watched her move ever closer to confronting her husband and the final episode was certainly nail-biting. It’ll be interesting to see where series two finds her.
Peter Kay’s Car Share (BBC)
It was actually my parents who told me how good this series was. This recommendation was quite unusual, as I wouldn’t have expected them to be watching this type of comedy and so curiosity meant I had to tune in. It’s such a gem of a series and so brilliantly written by Peter Kay. How he comes up with some of these ideas I do not know, but it made me laugh more than most series have this year. The central chemistry between him and Sian Gibson, as his colleague and friend Kayleigh Kitson is perfect and has so much potential. I’m very much looking forward to a second series, which surely must be coming soon.
So those are my television highlights of 2015. There has certainly been a lot to see this year and I have a list of things to catch up on that I couldn’t fit in. I hope 2016 proves to be just as entertaining (well it already has The X-Files so will be off to a spectacular start!). My top picks for 2016 will follow soon.
I’ll start this review with the disclaimer that I am not a huge Marvel expert. I enjoy the X-Men films and dip in to the others, but am not well versed on the Marvel Comics Universe and its sprawling branches in to film and television in recent years (I’m more of a DC girl). However, I am, as regular readers of this blog will have grasped, a David Tennant fan. Therefore Marvel’s new television series was on my radar from an early stage and I’ve been anticipating its arrival ever since.
The second collaboration between Marvel and Netflix following the recent run of Daredevil, Jessica Jones is perhaps unique in the opportunity it has to appeal to a wider non-Marvel audience. The main reason for this – as a television series, it’s not your typical superhero show. Say Marvel / comic series to the wider television audience and they think costumes, fantastical plots and out of this world characters. This is not hugely fair – as a fan of Arrow / The Flash, I can say that these shows still contain very real and engaging storylines and characters as well as the fantasy elements.
However, that aside, it’s fair to say Jessica Jones is very different. For the uninitiated, Jessica Jones has superhuman strength. You wouldn’t think it to look at her, but she could lift your car without much effort. However, she has left saving the world behind for The Avengers to do and instead is living as normal a life as she can, as a private investigator in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. She is not a stable woman – she drinks too much, has a very short fuse and does not take any crap.
She is also carrying around a huge amount of guilt and pain following a harrowing recent past, during which she was the emotional puppet of another “gifted” individual – Kilgrave, a man who can make anyone obey his every command simply by speaking to them. It’s clear Jessica is in a very dark place when we first meet her and that only gets worse once it becomes clear that Kilgrave is back. Over thirteen episodes we see Jessica Jones battle to prove the innocence of her new client, whose violent actions are a result of Kilgrave’s control and all to get Jessica’s attention. She will not stop until she gets justice for herself and all of his victims.
As the above trailer highlights, dark is certainly the appropriate description for this series. It’s definitely not one for young children wanting to see the Tenth Doctor on television again that’s for sure! Taking the superpowers aspect out of the equation, the show deals with very adult themes – murder, alcoholism, PTSD, rape, parental neglect and mental abuse. There is also a good dose of sex and violence thrown in to the mix. While watching Jessica Jones, you forget she is a “superhero” and instead see a woman fighting to survive each day after suffering some terrible experiences, not to mention some of the other characters too, who each have their own demons to deal with.
It’s a very strong first series for this new show for a number of reasons. The writing is very good, the characters are interesting and hold your attention, the themes are handled in a real and mature way and crucially, it has an excellent ensemble cast, led by Krysten Ritter. By the end of episode one I already liked her character and thought Ritter was excellent in the role. Through her performance you see the hard exterior, but also the vulnerable person within and both her need to isolate herself from those she cares about for their safety, while also needing them around her too shows her to be a very real and believable human being. The fact she can throw grown men through doors seems irrelevant.
Her achilles heel, Kilgrave, is a brilliant character and refreshingly is not a two-dimensional villain, seeking to rule the world / universe. He actually wants very little. He just wants Jessica Jones, mentally, physically and emotionally and his hold over her is chilling. The creators of the series also make a sensible decision in having him remain in the shadows for the first few episodes. He is always there through Jessica’s visions or conversations, but he is rarely seen. He is the dark shadow, lurking on the sidelines and for me this made him more disturbing, as instead you see his evil through the actions of those carrying out his twisted instructions. David Tennant is fantastic in this role. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him play his darker side (for the uninitiated, watch ITV’s drama Secret Smile from 2005). Tennant captures both the malevolence and playful psychotic evil of Kilgrave perfectly and you are always waiting to see what he’ll do next. His relationship with Jessica Jones is the lynchpin of the series and thankfully Tennant and Ritter have a great chemistry on screen.
The supporting cast also add to the quality of the series. Mike Colter is very strong as Luke (soon I understand to have his own Marvel series), whose character develops quite a lot over the episodes, as we learn about his past and his own abilities, while watching his relationship with Jessica deepen. I found them to be an interesting couple to watch. My other favourite was Rachael Taylor as Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker (a superhero in her own right in the comics). She has her own demons from childhood, which have bonded her to Jones and throughout she remains the person that helps keep Jessica’s darker side from totally consuming her. Caria-Anne Moss also excellently plays the hard, cold lawyer, who seems to play all sides to suit her own goals.
My biggest niggle about the series was that I felt the last few episodes lost some of the pace and edge of the earlier ones. This may be a result of watching the series in a short space of time, but I personally preferred Kilgrave as more of an enigma. The more we learn about his past, the more you start to have sympathy for him, which is frightening in itself, but for me it also took a slight edge off the threat of him too.
However, as grumbles go, it’s a pretty small one when offset against everything this series manages to achieve in just a few episodes. By the end of series one, Jessica Jones and her allies are well developed, established characters who you want to see more of. I certainly hope a second series will be landing on Netflix in a year’s time.
All 13 episodes of Jessica Jones are available on Netflix right now!