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Monday, January 05, 2015

Comic Cutlets - 5 January 2015

(* I had intended writing this for publication at the end of the year, but ended up having a more relaxing time actually watching the TV than writing about it! Anyway, here it is now... late, but not a repeat!)

When it comes to television, I'm like most people who complain that, despite all the new channels, there's still bugger all to watch when you actually want to sit down and watch TV. However, unlike the complainers, I don't see it as a big problem.

One difference is that we can't actually get most of the freeview stations; we're out near the coast and the coverage here is very poor. So, no Yesterday or Dave or even ITV3 for us. However, we do have Dave online, so we can easily catch up with the few shows worth watching: Dave Gorman's Modern Life is Goodish, Ross Noble Freewheeling and Alan Davis' As Yet Untitled. We don't have Sky.

But despite our main source of entertainment being comparatively limited, we still find ourselves watching two or maybe two and a half hours of TV most nights. Because everything starts at 9 o'clock, we find ourselves juggling between watching a show, recording it and recording others on the +1 channels in order to see everything we want. Top choices tend to be crime dramas, comedies and animal or historical documentaries. We watched Sue Perkins travelling up the Mekong River recently, although the most memorable series of the year was David Attenborough's Life Story. I can (and have) watch and rewatch his shows again and again: Planet Earth, Blue Planet and last year's Africa were not only highlights of documentary film making but of broadcasting history.

Cats, Egyptians and castles were subjects of interest. Personally, I like some of the space/science docs on BBC4, one or two of the music documentaries (the one about Kate Bush, for instance, and others at the proggy/rock end of the musical scale). The annual Dara O'Briain/Brian Cox Stargazing programme was superb and the recent Tomorrow's Worlds: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction, with Dominic Sandbrook was OK—almost wholly ignoring science fiction magazines and books in favour of film and TV. Surely there are enough illustrators from Frank R. Paul through John Shoenherr to Jim Burns to give the eye a feast while someone talks you through the historical significance of the images?

Moving on...

It was great to see shows like Matt Berry's Toast of London, Greg Davies's Man Down and Vic and Bob's madcap House of Fools get second seasons. There has been a dearth of shows that are a bit bonkers. Lot's a very good Irish comedy this year: Toast is co-written by Arthur Mathews, Graham Linehan has written and directed The Walshes and Count Arthur Strong and Chris O'Dowd co-wrote Moone Boy (first seen in 2012, but I only recently caught the first season on DVD).

Other newcomers I enjoyed were The Detectorists, which is far gentler and co-stars the amazing Toby Jones and W1A, the follow-up to Twenty Twelve, in which the BBC took the piss out of the BBC.

Mel and I are both fans of BBC4's subtitled foreign dramas (The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge etc. from Denmark, Inspector Montelbano from Italy, Spiral from France) and this year we had Salamandar from Belgium and Crimes of Passion from Sweden. The latter is a series set in 1950s Sweden but delightfully Agatha Christie in tone. For those of us who like old-fashioned book covers, the title sequence was beautiful—it would make a superb sequence of abstract posters. Mind you, as enjoyable as the series was, it was no replacement for Miss Marple and Poirot.

I discovered that BBC4 will be broadcasting the third series of The Bridge in due course and had picked up another Belgian show, the 10-part thriller Cordon, about a deadly and contagious virus. The latter was announced back in August 2014, so I wonder if the current ebola situation has made the Beeb too nervous to show it. There's also a period drama from Denmark, 1864, a love story set during the war between Denmark and Germany. And the fifth season of Spiral begins on 12 January.

From not so far away came  Y Gwyll (Hinterland), which had a one-off special on 1st January. I'm sure it will be shown on BBC4 at some point. Channel 4 will also hopefully show the second series of Les Revenants (The Returned), the first series of which was shown in 2013.

Later in the year, there will be an adaptation of Len Deighton's SS-GB crime thriller set in an alternative universe where German won the Second World War. The BBC are to adapt The Night Manager by John Le Carre, The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad and, er, J. K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy.

The best of last year's thrillers were probably Broadchuch, Line of Duty and The Honourable Woman, all of which I thought gripping. My favourite crime thriller was Fargo, which was wildly inventive in its telling and gorgeous to look at. I can't wait for the next series, unlike Under the Dome, The Americans and The Fall, all of which fell by the wayside as far as my viewing them was concerned. Top of the Hill was also one I probably won't return to, although it had its moments.

I found the latest series of Doctor Who disappointing. Not Peter Capaldi's fault but the fault of the writers. There were only two episodes that didn't disappoint: "Mummy on the Orient Express" and "Flatline". The others were uninspiring and only Michelle Gomez as Missy saved the finale. I did enjoy the Christmas episode, despite it being horribly derivative.

There are plenty of shows I need to catch up on: Game of Thrones, True Detective and Veep spring to mind. I shall find them cheaply on DVD at some point. In the meantime, we're looking forward to the next series of Broadchurch... not long to go now, although I'm sure the papers will find ways to rip into it, having sung its praises so loudly last year.

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