Wednesday, 31 December 2008

TV 2008

Just been watching TOTP2 which, amongst a load of '80's crap, featured Voodoo Chile by Hendrix (RIP Mitch Mitchell), This Could Be The Last Time by The Stones, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush, Don't You Want Me by The Human League and Springsteen's new song, Working On A Dream. Good stuff. Before that we watched the revived Shooting Stars which had a few moments but was mostly pretty weak, and it didn't help that most of the guests were complete non-entities. And before that we watched some of Series One of The Mighty Boosh: mod wolves, Polar bears singing Gary Numan songs, Black Frost (brrr!) and other assorted madness. Anyway, I've already done Songs of 2008, so now it's time for TV:

Doctor Who:
Of course, for me, this was programme of the year, as it has been since 2005. I think Series Four was pretty consistent, with no let-downs like The Long Game or Fear Her to slow the momentum. Partners In Crime and the Sontaran two-parter were the weakest stories, but even they had their share of great moments and performances. And when you're talking performances, you're talking Catherine Tate. I thought she was great as Donna: a layered and often surprising character, not the one-dimensional loudmouth a lot of people had expected. She wasn't there to make doe-eyes at The Doctor, but to challenge him as well as to share the joys of space and time. David Tennant was fine as ever, especially in Midnight which was a real tour de force. The Unicorn And The Wasp was a good laugh, The Doctor's Daughter was a proper science fiction idea wrapped up in an adventure story ( not forgetting the gorgeous Georgia Moffett ), The Fires Of Pompeii gave us stunning effects and tough moral questions, the Library two-parter was another triumph for The Moff, and the finale was as mad and mind-boggling as new Who gets. Particularily nice to see all those old characters ( Jack, Sarah Jane, Martha, Mickey, Jackie ) brought back and all given a part to play, not just a walk-on. Oh, and Davros too: a real I Can't Believe It's Not Butter performance from Julian Bleach, effortlessly stepping into the shoes (?) of the insane scientist. Now all we have to do is wait for the DVD Box-set to come down in price in the sales: £54? I don't think so.

Another great series, doing what it does best: tense, exciting espionage dramas with characters you care for and scarily topical storylines. It was good to see Jo survive last series' cliffhanger, even though Adam Carter was killed off. ( A fact that seemed inevitable as soon as Richard Armitage's character arrived. Meet the replacement.) Now poor old Harry  has saved the country yet again but has been kidnapped by the Russian secret service. Roll on Series 8!

The Devil's Whore:
Peter Flannery's drama set during the English Civil War. A top quality series from the writer who brought us the classic Our Friends In The North. It makes a change to see a story with such an under-exploited setting; there seems to be an endless stream of dramas set in the Victorian, Tudor and Jane bloody Austen periods, so this violent and politically turbulent time is ripe for showing us a different side to our own history. A meaty role for John Simm as a battle-scarred mercenary who switches allegiances during the wars and falls in love with Andrea Risborough as Lady Fanshawe, a noblewoman turned adventuress. Also fine performances from Peter Capaldi as Charles I and Dominic West as Cromwell.

Little Dorrit:
This year's big BBC Dickens adaptation. Slow to start and not quite as involving as Bleak House, this was still must-see TV, mostly for its stellar cast: Claire Foy (Amy Dorrit), Eve Myles, Freema Agyeman (yay!), Maxine Peak, Mathew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Andy Serkis, Russell Tovey, Bill Paterson, the list goes on. The lovely Claire Foy and ex-Spook Mathew Macfadyen had the hardest jobs: making interesting viewing out of characters so teeth-rottingly nice you would have wanted to strangle them if they were in the hands of lesser actors. Well worth staying the distance, although the welter of revelations in the last episode was confusing. Best read the book.

Lead Balloon:
Jack Dee's vanity project sitcom, or is it? I actually think it's really underrated. Dee is perfect asRick Spleen, the miserable git comedian who always winds up in trouble ( in true sitcom style) due to his own selfishness and vanity. There are a lot of low-key, witty lines if not many belly-laughs, and the rest of the regular cast are spot-on too, especially Racquel Cassidy as Rick's wife, Mel.

Saturday teatime monsters and magic. James and I both got into this show. Lots of adventure, sword-fights, mythical creatures, some good jokes, and some eye-candy in the shape of Michelle Ryan and the girl who plays Morgana. Some liberties taken with the myths, but then they are only myths, so some reinvention doesn't hurt. And the lad who plays Merlin, Colin Morgan, is a star in the making.

Heroes Series 3 is starting to lose my attention: Series 2 was mostly tedious and they seem to have over-compensated this time by having endless, nonsensical plot twists and characters swapping sides constantly, until you don't know who's with who, who's dead, who's alive etc.  A bit of a mess, unfortunately. Channel Four's Big Brother/Zombie comedy/drama Dead Set was good, but gross, fun  -  although not as innovative as they seemed to think it was. I've already mentioned Survivors in a previous post, it was pretty good and improved throughout the run, ending on a big, dramatic cliffhanger. Hopefully it'll get a second series.

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