My Top Television of 2015

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.

Broadchurch (ITV)

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.

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My Television Moments of 2014

After looking ahead to  what’s coming to the stage, cinema and TV screen in 2015, as well as picking my favourite theatre of the year, I thought I’d look back at those television moments in 2014 that had the biggest impact, whether for good or shockingly terrible reasons, especially if you didn’t see it coming.

Here are my top ten.

1. Line of Duty episode 1 – Farewell to DC Georgia Trotman

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I hadn’t watched the first series of Jed Mercurio’s police drama and it was only the buzz on Twitter as series two began that motivated me to catch up and I’m certainly glad I did. This definitely was one of the strongest dramas of the year – superbly written to keep you guessing as to guilt or innocence of Keeley Hawes’s DI Lindsay Denton. However the moment that stands out for me and had me stunned was the murder of new cast member Jessica Raine’s DC Trotman. Just as you felt you were getting to know her and she was settling in, she gets thrown out of a window! Goodness knows what series three will have in store.

2. Sherlock: The Empty Hearse – Sherlock & Molly 

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January saw the much anticipated return of the BBC’s Sherlock after two years! Yes it was only around for three weeks, but in three episodes it reminded us how much better it is than most shows on television. I could have picked so many moments from series three (the stag night, the best man’s speech, the game of Operation), but the one I have to go for is the fantasy Molly/Sherlock kiss from The Empty Hearse. I first saw it at a preview screening and the reaction from the audience was brilliant. For a few seconds I really wondered what on earth was going on! Not only was the whole sequence a wonderful way to open the episode, but it is one of the hottest kisses on the big or small screen.

3. Game of Thrones – The demise of the Red Viper

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Ahh Game of Thrones, it can always be relied on to bring some truly shocking moments to the screen. As someone who has read the books, it’s great to anticipate the scenes that you know will shock and see how well they are executed. Only choosing one is tough and a close second is Tryion’s superb speech during his trial, but it really had to go to the fight between the Red Viper and the Mountain and its unexpected and brutal end. Could this really be as shocking as it was to read? In short – yes. In fact it was more gruesome than I imagined it would be and is a great moment to watch with those who have no idea what’s about to happen.

4. The Good Wife – the tragic death of Will Gardner

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It’s refreshing that a series in its fifth year only continued to get stronger and I loved the latest twists and turns in The Good Wife, as we saw Alicia leave to start her own firm (the whole episode where everyone finds out is superb). However nothing could beat the tragedy of Will’s unexpected death. Sadly due to the gap between US and UK air dates (about five weeks), I found out what was in store and so the surprise was lost on me. However the moment Alicia hears the news was still beautifully played by Alan Cumming and Juliana Marguiles. Series six will certainly be interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction it will take.

5. Life Story – Barnacle goslings leap from their nest 400 feet up to follow parents

barnacle-geese-lif_3147805cI don’t watch all nature programmes but the BBC’s Life Story was wonderful and filled with stunning moments. The one that stands out though is the story of the Barnacle goslings, who only days after birth must either follow their parents in their 400 feet leap or starve. Watching each chick leap off and plunge all that way, before hitting the rocks and bouncing to a stop was terrifying and astonishing and reminds you how incredible nature is.

6. Happy Valley – Catherine is almost killed saving the day

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I missed this superb drama on its original airing and have only recently caught up after so many people raved about it. They were certainly right. I’m still not a fan of shows with young women in danger, but I couldn’t stop watching this thanks to Sarah Lancashire’s superb performance as Catherine Caywood. She’s such a fantastic character. The moment for me has to be after she has found Ann and after a frightening struggle with James Norton’s horrid Tommy, is dragged, bloody and hurt out in to the street. It was shocking, but some of the most realistic and powerful television I’ve seen for a while. It’s great to hear a second series in on the way.

7. Doctor Who – Fear is a superpower

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2014 saw us welcome a new Doctor in to the TARDIS as Peter Capaldi became the Twelfth Doctor. I loved series eight, for its strong run of episodes and its slightly darker tone and I was torn between three moments that stick out. Runners up are the alley scene from Deep Breath, in which the new Doctor demands a homeless man (played by Elisabeth Sladen’s husband) gives him his coat and the scene from Flatline in which the Doctor moves the mini TARDIS to safety with his hand. However, my favourite moment is from Listen when the Doctor explains to a young Rupert why being afraid is a good thing because “Fear is a superpower.” I really knew at this point how wonderful Peter was going to be as the Doctor.

8. The Blacklist – Red’s monologue about death in “Anslo Garrick”

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Okay, I admit that this is a bit of a cheat as this moment was actually aired in 2013. However, as I only started watching The Blacklist this year and this moment has stayed in my mind, I thought I’d include it anyway. In this two-part story, Red ends up locked in the secure holding box with Agent Ressler to escape from the terrorists who have entered the FBI facility to kill him. As he tries to save Ressler’s life, in an impressive scene by James Spader, he explains why he doesn’t intend to die then and paints a vivid picture of everything he wants to do before he does die. It’s a really beautiful moment and was when I knew I was hooked on the story of this intriguing character.

9. GBBO – Alaskagate!

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Although series three of the Great British Bake Off has yet to be bettered for me, in terms of contestants and creations, Alaska-gate from the latest series had to be mentioned here! Along with a large portion of the country I was appalled when Iain discovered Diana had removed his baked alaska from the freezer. When she says “Well you’ve got your own freezer haven’t you?” I was livid! Fair enough it may have only been taken out for a few seconds and been edited to make it seem worse, but that comment from Diana seemed wholly unacceptable to me and very rude. Poor Iain.

10. House of Cards – Did you think I’d forgotten you?

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Last but not least is a moment from the first episode of the second series of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards. No, it’s not the death of Zoe Barnes, as I could see it coming a mile away. Instead the moment for me is from the very end of the season opener, when I’d forgotten that Frank Underwood tends to speak to camera every so often. After him not doing it for the whole episode, it’s quite creepy when, all of a sudden, he looks in to the bathroom mirror and says: “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” Kevin Spacey is so good in this role and his monologues are some of my favourite scenes, with this one certainly top of the list.

So those are my television moments of the year. Hopefully the next twelve months will be filled with many more.

My Top Television Choices for 2015!

As 2014 draws to a close, it seemed to be the perfect time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2015. There are certainly lots of 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 next year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here.

1. Broadchurch 2 (ITV, starts 5th January 9:00 p.m.)

uktv-broadchurch-2-generics-5 Series one of Broadchurch was a television highlight in 2013 and now series two is almost here. Starting on 5th January, I truly hope that our return to this little community meets the expectations that we all have. With the plot still much of a mystery, which is certainly a good thing, it seems a safe bet that the cast will be just as brilliant as before, with David Tennant, Olivia Colman and many of the cast returning, together with new additions including Eve Myles. From the trailer, will this revolve around Carver’s old case Sandbrook, is one of the new cast his ex wife (Eve Myles maybe?) and will we meet the character mentioned in the tie-novel, Jocelyn Knight, which I thought was the clue teased at. All will soon be revealed, but in case you missed it, here’s the trailer!

2. Wolf Hall (BBC Two, air date TBC)

24-wolf-hall-bbc I’ve owned Hilary Mantel’s pair of Booker Prize-winning novels for years and have never quite had time to start them. However after a February trip to the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the adaptations by Mike Poulton and Mantel herself, led by the superb Ben Miles, I am now very much looking forward to this BBC dramatisation. It’s an impressive cast, including the fantastic Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and no one quite pulls off a period drama like the BBC do. Maybe I’ll try and read those books at long last before it starts!

3. The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (BBC Two, air date TBC)

624 More period drama coming to the BBC next year is the second series of the excellent Hollow Crown. After the success of Ben Whishaw’s award-winning Richard II and Tom Hiddleston’s Hal in Henry IV and Henry V, 2015 will bring us Henry VI and Richard III, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard and a starry ensemble cast including Dame Judi Dench. As with Wolf Hall, the cast and directors attached to the project are very exciting for a Shakespeare fan and hopefully these television dramatisations will continue to bring a whole new audience to some of the finest plays ever written.

4. The Good Wife (More 4, UK air date TBC) thegoodwife

It’s incredibly refreshing that a drama entering its sixth year only seems to get stronger. I’m currently avoiding all spoilers as this new series has already started in the US, but hopefully a UK air date on More 4 will be announced soon. After the tragic loss of Will last year, I’m excited to see if Diane will now indeed join forces with Alicia and what exactly will happen between her and Peter, not to mention seeing more of Matthew Goode’s Finn Polmar, as well as a return by Michael J Fox and the superb Alan Cumming.

5. House of Cards (Netflix, available 27th February)

Kevin-Spacey-in-House-of-Cards-Season-2-Chapter-26 Netflix certainly did well to bring this brilliant series to the screen. Based on the UK original, Kevin Spacey has become an iconic television character as Frank Underwood, who by the end of series two has successfully schemed and manipulated his way to the very top. I still see echoes of his Richard III when I watch the show and its twists and turns will no doubt keep us gripped yet again when the drama returns in February.

6. Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, likely air date in April) Teaser-Game-of-Thrones-Saison-5-720x365

Another highly anticipated return is to the glorious world of Westeros as the series makes its way further through George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Books four and five split the narratives of the characters up, with some only appearing in four and some only in five. However, the television producers have sensibly decided to merge these for the screen, meaning we’ll get to follow all our favourite characters throughout. Whether like me you’ve read the books and are looking forward to seeing certain moments brought to life, or are simply enjoying the series as it unfolds each year, no doubt the production quality and cast for series 5 will be as high as ever. Winter is indeed coming (probably in April).

7. The Blacklist (series one returns to Sky Living in 2015)

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I was a little late to the party watching The Blacklist, but after having caught up this year, I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of series two, when Red Reddington returns in 2015. If you haven’t yet watched it, The Blacklist centres on Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent, turned master criminal, who voluntarily surrenders to the FBI. He offers to help them catch dangerous criminals (some of whom they aren’t even aware of!), with the agreement that he will only talk to a rookie, young profiler Agent Elizabeth Keene. James Spader is superb as Red and it’s his mysterious link to Keene that really grabs your interest and attention. Catch up if you can.

8. Fortitude (Sky Atlantic, January)

Fortitude-Specials-02-16x9-1 Set in the Arctic town of Fortitude, a shocking murder rocks this usually safe, close-knit community. Sky Atlantic’s new drama has an incredibly impressive cast, including Richard Dormer as the local Sheriff, partnered with Stanley Tucci’s out-of-town DCI Morton, as well as The Killing’s Sophie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston and two of my favourite young actors Luke Treadaway and Jessica Raine. The plot reminds me of both Broadchurch and nordic hit The Killing and I’m truly hoping this will be as good as it sounds. You can watch the trailer here.

9. Sherlock (BBC One, Christmas 2015 Special)

fe817b86-1ba2-472b-b9ff-f1c473bcf4f8-bestSizeAvailable Although we won’t be getting a full series until at least 2016 (something I try not to think about!) due to the crazy schedules of those involved, we can at least look forward to a Sherlock Christmas special a year from now! With filming due to start in January, no doubt more information will start to be revealed (and I hope to at least see a bit of filming if I can!). So far we have the above photo of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, suggesting some nod will be made to a period-style Holmes and Watson. I do however hope that not everything is revealed as for me Sherlock is a series that is so much better the less you know before you watch it. I’m confident enough to say already that this will be a television highlight of next year’s festive season!

10. Crisis (Watch, 2nd January 9:00 p.m.) CRISIS-TV-Series

I was disappointed to hear that this series has already been cancelled in the US after 13 episodes. Created by Rand Ravich (who also created one of my favourite shows Life starring Damian Lewis), Crisis revolves around the kidnapping of a number of students at an elite Washington D.C school, whose parents include some of the most powerful and influential people in the country. However, as a Gillian Anderson fan, I’m thrilled that it’s at least being shown over here on Watch and I’m still looking forward to watching it. The trailer is here.

11. Doctor Who (BBC One, air date TBC) peter_capaldi_who

After a strong first series (see my thoughts here), Peter Capaldi will be back in 2015 for series 9 of New Who. With filming to start in the new year, not much is known as yet. The opening episode is to be called The Magician’s Apprentice and the good news is that series nine will also be aired as one block, rather than split in two (which I think is much better for the show). Whether Jenna Coleman will be back will no doubt become clear after Christmas Day’s special Last Christmas, the trailer for which you can watch here.

12. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (BBC) jonathan_strange_and_mr_norrell

I have never read Susannah Clarke’s fantasy historical novel, but I’ll certainly be tuning in to this new BBC adaptation. It tells the story of an early nineteenth-century England at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, in which magic exists but has been largely forgotten. That is, until a young recluse (Norrell) displays some remarkable magical skills, kick-starting an expansive period tale of a society in flux, which includes fairies, war, and magic. I’ve always heard great things about these books and I’m definitely looking forward to this seven-part series starring Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan, to air some time in 2015. So far all we have is this teaser clip to whet the appetite!

13. Grantchester (ITV, air date TBC) uktv-grantchester-james-norton-episode-one-2

I thoroughly enjoyed the first series of ITV’s Grantchester, based on the books by James Runcie and was thrilled to hear that it’s been renewed for a second series. For anyone yet to catch up, the series stars the brilliant James Norton as Sydney Chambers, the clergyman of the sleepy village of Grantchester, who seems to spend more time solving crimes with Inspector Keating (Robson Green) than working on his sermons. Hopefully series 2 will appear some time next year.

14. RIVER (BBC One, air date TBC) Stellan-Skarsgård-198x300

This new drama by Kudos has been written by the brilliant Abi Morgan (The Hour) and stars Stellan Skarsgard as John River, a brilliant police officer whose genius and fault-line is the fragility of his mind. He is haunted by the murder victims whose cases he must lay to rest. As stated by the BBC he is “a man who must walk a professional tightrope between a pathology so extreme he risks permanent dismissal, and a healthy state of mind that would cure him of his gift.” Also starring Nicola Walker, Eddie Marsan and Lesley Manville, this sounds very interesting indeed.

15. The Game (BBC One, air date TBC)

the-gameOddly this BBC drama has debuted in America first and as yet has no UK air date! It is a Cold War spy thriller set in London in the 1970s, in which the head of MI5 sets up a secret committee to investigate the existence of a Soviet plot code-named Operation Glass, whose existence was revealed by a KGB officer seeking to defect. Written by Toby Whithouse (Doctor Who, Being Human) and with a great cast including Brian Cox, Tom Hughes and Jonathan Aris, this six-part drama sounds very promising. Here’s the BBC America trailer.

…And here are a couple that better reach the UK in 2015!

Aquarius (UK channel and air date TBC)

article-2736404-20DCB86300000578-475_634x291 After the success of Californication, David Duchovny is returning to television with Aquarius. Set in 1967, LA Police Sergeant Sam Hodiak is investigating the disappearance of the teenage daughter of a respected lawyer. Needing help, he partners with an undercover cop and along the way they encounter a small-time cult leader, who will go on to become Charles Manson and the series will delve in to his cat-and-mouse game with the police. As yet there is no UK channel or air date, but I’m keeping all my fingers crossed that we will get to see this some time in 2015.

Heroes: Reborn (UK channel and air date TBC) Heroes-Reborn-2015

I still maintain that series one of Heroes is an excellent season of television. It had a fresh and interesting premise, great characters and lots of drama and tension to engage the audience. Yes, the show did become a bit ridiculous and although I’m glad I watched all four seasons, it did become weaker by the end. I’m therefore intrigued as to what to expect from this new 13-part miniseries. It has the potential to be brilliant. All fingers are crossed!

…….With all this to look forward to, 2015 looks to be a fantastic year for high quality television!