I watched a lot of telly this year:
1.Better Call Saul
Described by the Guardian as being a comedy that doesn't make you laugh, it was more methadone for those still coming off of their BB addiction. Slippin' Jimmy was a fun and even sympathetic character and I became invested in him; I wasn't just watching for the moment he becomes Saul, like the transformation of Anakin into Darth. Obviously I was waiting for the BB alumni to turn up: Mike! Tuco! But on the other hand it's always great to see David St Hubbard on TV. On the downside, the props dept seemed to have spent very little money on a terrible selection of awful wigs.
2. Cucumber and Banana
These intertwined series weren't so much about gay life as middle aged life, middle-life crisis. Henry, the protaganist was fairly obnoxious, selfish and self-delusional but without his actions there would be no story: perhaps Russell T Davies wanted to write about a complicated gay man, not a victim or a queen or another coming out story.
Henry has the consolations of being 46: a nice house in the suburbs and a good job in insurance. This is contrasted with the post-recessional lives of the millennials - working for £6.80 an hour in the mailroom or canteen of the insurance company and living in a precarious, freezing and dodgy loft. They shag around, using the requisite technology of texting and Grindr. The young resent the old, milk them for money and food, whilst the old envy the young their freedom, looks and promiscuity. The even younger, the post-millennials, are already monetizing themselves: a 15 year old vlogger makes £500 if he and his friend record themselves doing topless lip synching for middle aged gay men. But Henry gives up his comfortable life, his adorable, good looking, faithful, solvent boyfriend, Lance, to purse the twenty-something Freddie. He wants one last fling, one last power bottom.
In this world, homophobia doesm't exist: parents are cool with same-sex relationships, straight teenage boys are happy to act gay, straight men send pics of themselves in the buff to gay friends, straight men are ok with teenage girls fancying their wives, straight sisters ask their gay brothers about anal sex. If only Mary Whitehouse were still around to be outraged. A gay friend objected to the portrayal of gay men as bitchy and promiscuous, but I don't that the series was meant to be representative of all gay men, just a Mancunian sub-section.
Banana was a series of one off dramas about characters who intersect the Henry/Freddie/Lance world. Some were dull (one tale was just about two women moving in with each other), but the best worked when the story was not necessarily about being gay, or in Helen (Bethany Black)'s case, trans. Her story was a touching tale of revenge porn, but I was blubbing like a baby as she reconnected with her family. Another week found Luke Newberry from In The Flesh return to Marsden to star in a runaway bride story as he persuaded his best friend not to marry aged 18, but to come to the city with him and live a full life. The series also featured St Hayley of Corrie (Julie Hesmondhalgh) Hayley, although I was mightily disturbed when she was doing sex things with Dougal from Father Ted.
3. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Liz Lemon, I mean, Tina Fey avoids repeating the same characters in her new sitcom about a woman escaping a cult. Although Kimmy is like a cross between Kenneth and Liz from 30 Rock, and Jane Krakowski pretty much plays Jenna, there's no Jack Donaghy; Titus, Kimmy's gay room-mate, is not Jonathan and older, crazy lady Lillian is not played by Rachel Dratch. There is more hugging and learning than in 30 Rock, but there's still unmistakeable snark, and some dark moments (Titus: "This isn't the Chinatown bus, you can't just strangle someone when they're sleeping!"). It also features the most annoyingly catchy theme tune - an autotuned version of Charles Ramsey.
4. Grace and Frankie
Older actresses often complain that there aren't enough parts for them, but G&F is a sit-tragi-com about two ladies well past the menopause: The Slightly Tarnished Girls, if you will. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin star as two women whose business partner husbands become romantic partners and they are left to deal with the fall out. Fortunately, the comedy doesn't come from two straight guys going gay, but with the odd couple of hippy Tomlin and upper-middle class, upper west side, uptight Fonda not getting along together. I was hooked in the first scene in which Grace (Fonda) sends away the restaurant's bread basket, which Frankie (Tomlin) is tucking into (because carbs), before ordering herself a large Martini:- “Alcohol has different rules.”
The tale of seven misfits at a community college, or a polytechnic, as I guess we would call it. Or is it eight misfits if you include the eccentric, costume-wearing Dean? Or nine if you count Senor Chang, who goes from teacher to student to murderous security guard to amnesia victim to part of the gang.
Or ten if you include OAP student Leonard. Twelve with Fat Neil and Vicki, thirteen including Garrett, fourteen inc. Magnitude (“pop-pop!”). Does one count Starburns, since he’s technically dead? What about the teachers, John Oliver, Omar from The Wire and Malcom McDowell?
The best episodes are not the mushy hugging and learning ones where Jeff reconciles with his dad or Pierce with his half-brother or Britta to the fact that she’s not a good therapist. It’s the ones where they use the college to enact A Fistful of Paintballs (with the cafeteria as the saloon bar), or use an airstream trailer as a space rocket, or riff off of Dinner With Andre, or classic noir or make CSI:Greendale. It’s the ones where the characters become puppets or claymation models or 8-bit avatars, the Xmas episodes where they have to navigate a magical land or put on a Glee-type show. I love the fake TV show: "Troy and Abed In The Morning" and Abed’s social confusion ("I need help reacting to this!" "Is this one of those social cues?"), Britta’s SJW actions, the baby-boomer piss-taking, Abed's astonishing Nic Cage impression and best of all, Jeff getting naked playing snooker (pool).
6. True Detective
I preferred S2 to S1 because noir > southern gothic and Rachel McAdams > Mathew McConnaughy.
Humans explored what it means to be human through a story about robots. The plot was that four altered AI androids and gyndroids - the robot liberation front - start a revolution. The main set up was domestic: a hostile daughter-cum-hacker, asks what's the point of exams when robots can do things beter than her, a kid who prefers the electronic help, Laura (played by Gemma Chan, a wonder), to her distracted mother, and her pubescent brother who tries to touch up the maid and a dad who actually shags her. The son rejects a pretty girl's advances at a party because he has a crush on Laura, similar to teens addicted to internet porn, whilst the sullen teenage daughter, Matty, stops another teenager roofieing a synth to rape her (i.e. turning off her power so she can't consent), and an AI goes mad at a Smash Club (where humans beat up synths), attacking the human agressors.
There was also a policeman whose wife kicks him out in favour of her physio-synth; he was partnered by a Bladerunner synth acting as a human, a scientist trying to keep his Windows 95 robot because this droid has the memories of his dead wife, and some boffins trying to shut down the AIs.
You can imagine the papers' take on it: The Guardian - Is it ok to have a black synth? The Sun - See our sexy synth page 3 droid. The Express - Did a synth take Maddie?
8 and 9. River and London Spy
Both of these were moody, frigid dramas, featuring melancholy shots of London - in London Spy's case, Vauxhall, Westminster and the river, whilst River seemed to only go where gentrification has failed to take: Shadwell, Whitechapel, and bits of Dalston (River, despite his age and bulk, chased a perp from Ridley Road to Petticoat Lane).
Each was a series-long mystery, no crim of the week, both featured characters caught up in something bigger than themselves but both determined to get to the truth. They were bereaved; River still conversed with his dead colleague (although the series made it explicit that this was schizophrenia and not The Sixth Sense) and Danny in London Spy (Ben Whishaw) had lost his boyfriend, who, unbeknownst to him, was a spy. I'd love to see Ben W play a bastard, rather than a vulnerable, sensitive boy.
10. Master Of None
This comedy series came across as a male, multicultural version of Sex and the City: four “guys “(one Jew, one Asian, one what British people call Asian, one lesbian) sit around having brunch and talking about relationships whilst being quirky and ironic. But as I watched more episodes, it was rather like a less edgy Girls; four slackers talk about themselves over dim sum/tacos/sushi whilst going for acting jobs. The show discusses racism, sexism, and other -isms, including Dev arguing with a producer that there can be more than one Indian dude in a sitcom without it becoming an Indian TV programme. “Black people have got to the level where are two in a show. But never three!”
I enjoyed it but it feels like Aziz Ansari is so hot right now that Netflix just gave him carte blanche just to write about his life – I think he is a brilliant comic actor, but he’s not quite there as a writer yet.
11. Jessica Jones
As if Faith from BTVS gave up slaying vampires and became a PI. I dislike the superhero genre and I'm not interested in the Marvel "universe" but I love noir, detective stories, damaged but hard-ass female characters, and I adore Krysten Ritter, who'll always be Gia Goodman from Veronica Mars to me. There was a lot of blah about this being the first female led superhero series - it's the 21st century, should we really need to have this discussion?
12. The Bridge III
I didn’t realise that I still needed Saga in my life until the new season began. Style icon (grubby t-shirt, too tight trousers, ratty hair), sociopath icon (“I do not like social activities”), personal saviour, the Bridge is all about Saga - I can barely remember whodunnit in the first two series. Something about a ship crashing into the bridge? Some eco-terrorists? A psychopath whom Martin murdered?
Although I did like Martin, I didn’t miss him in this series, as Henrik, Saga’s new Danish colleague and fuck buddy, was a great new addition with his tortured soul (missing wife and children with whom he communicates as hallucinations), photographic memory, and lax attitudes to promiscuous sex. He’s a great boyfriend for Saga, who was being bullied by both her new boss and her fantasist mother, and she seemed to be good for him too: after she spent the night, he stopped seeing his perhaps-dead wife. The series also featured the world’s rubbishest boyfriend, who gambled away money for a house, twice, a surrogate mother, trapped in the house of Freddie, an art collector and ultra-capitalist, whose wife was only pretending to be pregnant, a funeral director who blackmailed a motivational speaker into being her boyfriend, a CEO having an affair with her best friend's 17 year old son, and lots of gruesome murders.
I also concluded that Danish Vikings settled in Northumbria, their speech being all glottal stops and questioning sounds, and Swedish Vikings in Scotland, all "oot" and "hoose" and rolled Rs.
13. The Walking Dead
I got The Walking Dead S1 DVD for my birthday last year and since then we've watched five and a half series of zombie gore. I've gone from being icked out by a zombie torso crawling across the grass to laughing as a character used the still live head of one walker to crush the skull of another. Unlike this Guardian writer, I don't think the programme is a metaphor for fear of immigration and the alienation of late capitalism, but it did make me think of the pioneers trekking across the US trying to find a safe place where they could stop, farm the land, raise a family (in this analogy the walkers = native Americans, which I realise is beyond offensive). It also seems to be an analysis of the white man's burden of leadership. Everyone relies on Rick to lead the rag tag group of survivors and to instil in them a sense of hope. But Rick is a bit of a dick. He killed his best friend because he thought the latter was trying to start a coup. He killed some men in a makeshift bar because he thought (probably correctly) that they were after what he had. He killed a man who was beating up Rick's new love interest. Everywhere he goes, whether it be a farm, a functioning town, a prison, a hospital, a utopian commune, he fucks up. The town was run by a psychopathic murderous leader called the Governor, yet it worked well, but once Rick put his foot over the wall, it ended up looking Sarajevo in 1991. Yet all the time, he's shown as being a necessary leader. When he's resigned the Ricktatorship, and things are done by committee, it doesn't work. They need his smarts and weapons to defeat cannibals, motorbike gang rapists, scavenging gangs, and the ever present zombies. No-one ever suggests a co-leadership between warrior queen Michonne and red-neck survivalist Daryl, the two most functional characters.
14 and 15 Scream Queens and American Horror StoryThe older lady in AHS is the wonderful, wonderful Jessica Lange, playing an interfering next door neighbour, an evil nun, a supreme witch and a Dietrich-esque singer-cum-freak show owner. She's joined by Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Patti Labelle, the fabulous Sarah Paulson (last seen as Cate Blanchet's friend, Abby, in Carol), irritating Emma Roberts (again) and her real life beau, the dreamy Evan Peters, who looks extra handsome in the 1950s/60s-set series: his cute face suits the baby bad boy Jimmy Dean look of those times. The scariest story has to be season two, set in an asylum, with an ex-Nazi doctor experimenting on poor Chloe Sevigny, murderous aliens, and a haunted novice, but I'm also enjoying the current (Netflix) season in the freak show feat.
Both Ryan Murphy outings, the former is a comedy horror set in a sorority house where a serial killer wants to avenge the death of a girl twenty years previously and the other a serial set variously in a haunted house, a 1960s asylum, a New Orleans coven, and a 1950s freak show. Scream Queen's sorority house is populated by awful shallow girls whom aren’t quite as good as Heathers or even the rich bitches from Pretty In Pink. There's also a fraternity house where preppy bros (featuring, somewhat bizarrely, Ben the Christian swimmer from Coronation Street) make plans for panty raids before falling victim to the serial killer and his chainsaw. When Chanel (the top dog, played by Emma Roberts) and irritating good girl Grace, in a series of “quirky” hats, aren't screeching at each other, or Chanel's minions aren't coming out with misogynistic, racist or homophobic insults, which quickly stop being “edgy” and are just unpleasant, and the main focus is the murderous mystery, it's quite good. Also, as Murphy loves to resurrect the careers of older Hollywood doyennes, it also stars the original scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, who steals every last scene.
actual disabled actors (e.g. Mat Fraser), as well as some CGI on Paulson and Peters to make them into conjoined twins and lobster hands, respectively.