As the new season has officially started, it’s time for my wrap up of the 2012-2013 season! From the list below it really looks like I’ve watched 46 television series this year, which frankly even I find amazing, given that last year I was astonished that I’d gone from 28 to 39 series. Admittedly 10 of those series are still in progress and a couple might not get finished, but even without those, it’s still probably somewhere in the order of 700 episodes.
There are also a few miniseries I watched (mostly British) – Dancing on the Edge, In the Flesh, What Remains (to be reviewed), The Secret of Crickley Hall and Southcliffe.
The Walking Dead – I think this may be the show I obsessed most about this year (although see Scandal later on). I pounced on every episode as soon as I could, read analysis, studied trailers, frankly it’s a bit embarrassing. But what makes me really happy is that the show warrants its place in the best list, not just the favourite. The quality of this show is outstanding, from the breathtaking direction to the elegant writing and heartbreaking acting. There were a few miss-steps with the plot, but overall, this show is right up there with the likes of Battlestar Galactica for raising genre to a new level.
The Good Wife – It’s hard to think of new superlatives to describe The Good Wife, from the very first episode of season 1 this show has been consistently good, interesting and entertaining. Sadly that consistency also applies to the ongoing poor usage of Kalinda, but if that’s the only problem with the show, then it’s still leaps and bounds above most of its companions on the schedules.
House of Cards – It’s notable that of the three best shows I’ve selected one is on Cable, one is on Network and the final one is on neither! Thanks to Netflix it’s now possible to get exceptional television series completely independent of the television channels. House of Cards was smart, challenging and exceptionally well made and throws a real challenge at the traditional broadcasters.
Honourable mentions – I’m only 2 episodes in, but Orphan Black is rather amazing and reminiscent of the also stunning Utopia. Broadchurch was outstanding, blending believable responses to horrific events with a British humour and A Young Doctor’s Notebook was surprisingly weird and engaging.
Scandal – I haven’t written my review of this yet, because it would mean admitting that rather than waiting for the weekly episodes on the television, I was so addicted to the show, I saught out an alternate source and watched the whole season pretty much back to back over the space of a weekend. The story is utterly ridiculous, but I found it incredibly addictive. Shonda Rhimes has recreated the Grey’s Anatomy magic, it doesn’t matter how bad it is, I can’t let it go.
The Americans – It’s almost impossible to talk about this show without comparing it to Homeland, which appeared on my best shows list last year, but is significantly absent this year. The Americans gets right everything that Homeland got wrong in season 2, it never took itself too seriously, never sacrificed consistent character development for cheap cliffhangers and remembered that spies (even in the 80s) are cool!
Borgen – Last year Borgen was in the ‘Best shows’ category, this year I move it to ‘Favourite’ because although I still adore it, I just didn’t think it was as good. I had a lot of trouble with the storylines and characters this season, many set off down unfortunate paths which ultimately led to dead ends and frustrations. But despite that, it’s still hugely entertaining, with sparkling dialogue, beautiful direction and an unfailing ability to draw me in.
Honourable Mentions – hmm, the fact I’m struggling to find ones of note is a bit of an indicator that this years shows have really gone to the extremes of “great” and “meh”. Nashville was reliable ridiculous fun (far far more successful than the increasingly awful Smash) and Last Tango in Halifax was endearingly easy watching. Oh, and there have been great moments in the first few episodes of The Newsroom, but those moments of brilliance are unfortunately surrounded with some real mediocrity (and that’s being charitable).
I think there should be some kind of awareness that there is great acting going on in the oddest of places. Awards are generally given for great acting in great shows. That really is a bit chicken and egg, is the acting great because of the writing, or is the writing great because of the acting? For shows like The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Broadchurch, The Americans and The Good Wife, the quality just feeds back and forth elevating both to wonderful heights.
The more impressive achievement I think is great acting taking place in mediocre or even awful shows. The cast of Homeland did an admirable job with truly terrible writing as did some of the cast of Hannibal. The Thick of It had serious structural problems from a watch-ability point of view, but it did mean everything built up to the stunning inquiry which offered each of the actors an opportunity to give a masterclass in characters. Peter Capaldi was of course the star (and the only problem I have with him being Doctor Who is that he’ll have less time to do work like this), but everyone in the cast was incredible in that episode.
Then you’ve got the type of performances that complete transcend and transform the shows they are in. Performances from Idris Elba (Luther) and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) seem like they’re in entirely different leagues to everyone around them, bouncing off the screen with originality and charisma and really are the only reason I watch the shows. I came to Nashville because I love Connie Britton, but was surprised that I stayed with it in equal parts for was wonderful performance from Hayden Panettier. Between the two of them they made the ridiculous soap opera watchable.
When it comes to relying on her actors to sell ridiculous storylines however, Shonda Rhimes is queen, I forgive Grey’s Anatomy its many sins because of actors like Chandra Wilson, Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh. I forgive Scandal for being demented because of actors like Kerry Washington who portrays Olivia Pope with such hardness and such softness, Jeff Perry who makes Cyrus the kind of manipulative bastard you want to share popcorn with and Guillermo Diaz who makes you want to give Huck a cuddle even if he is a terrifying psychopath.
Mad Men – If not for the fact that the next season will be the last, Mad Men season 6 would have been the nail in the coffin for me. I’ve just got no interest in watching a show increasingly dedicated to the unpleasant and repetitive character that is Don Draper. He goes round and round in destructive circles, holding back the other characters and the show itself from really developing.
Once Upon a Time – I’m struggling to find the enthusiasm to watch the whole season of this I have backed up on my Sky+ box. I think there are just too many characters (particularly given almost every character has a fairy tale alter-ego), too many worlds and too many storylines. I don’t care enough to watch every week, and without that regular viewing I lose track and therefore care even less.
Fringe – I’m sorry, but the final season of Fringe just wasn’t as good as the previous seasons. Jumping to the future threw everything off for me, it wasn’t as much fun, I wasn’t as engaged and it felt less original. It did however at least offer a solid ending to the show, so I am still grateful for that.
Things I Didn’t Watch
In many ways the 2012-13 season was notable for the things I didn’t watch. Several shows that I’ve previously loved, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch. Glee and NCIS both got dropped because I was fed up with the inconsistent writing. I tried out Hawaii Five-0 to fit the NCIS spaced gap, but though I love the dynamic between the two leads, it wasn’t enough to keep my attention through the mind numbing plots. I also dropped Veep because I just didn’t find it funny enough to overcome the frustrations with stupid characters.
My reasons for stopping watching Girls are rather more profound. Like Veep, I didn’t think it was funny and I found the characters frustrating, but I had an extra level of repulsion to the series because it seemed to be claiming some greater reality than something like Veep. Lena Dunham, either through her own claims or those of the media appears to think this is what young women in New York are really like. Given that I think the characters are pretty hateful people, if that’s truly what this section of humanity is like, then I want nothing to do with them, even through the abstract medium of television.
This year’s high profile casualty is actually more about the fact that the writing is too good. Sons of Anarchy is a superb television show, but by making me care so much about the characters, the relentless misery heaped upon them has just become a bit much. As their situations become increasingly hopeless I found myself dreading each episode until eventually my anxiety overcame the quality and I remembered that I didn’t have to watch if I didn’t want to. It’s the same reason that I’m unlikely to watch Breaking Bad beyond the first season, that was enough for me to understand how good it was, and enough to for me to know I just didn’t want to watch something that hard.
To end this section on a positive note however, even though I didn’t get along with this season of American Horror Story (I just didn’t feel any connection to any of the characters) the clever thing about the way the series is structured means that I can try it again next year when it moves on again to a new set of characters and stories.
Every year I pledge to watch more British television, and this year I actually managed it! A lot of it suffers from, what Sky’s director of entertainment eloquently described as “po-faced stick up your backside morose drama”. When done well that sort of thing is hard but fascinating to watch, but when done badly it’s just dull. Southcliffe fell into the latter category unfortunately, The Fall was doing well until it failed to reach a conclusion that just left a bad taste in the mouth. On the plus side Utopia was quirky, brutal, intriguing and beautiful to watch, and Broadchurch was utterly engrossing and entertaining from start to finish. It’s a good job David Tennant was so good in that though, because The Politician’s Husband was horrific and I know at least one person who’s Tennant crush has been permanently damaged by the dialogue he was forced.
A lot of dross was also put out claiming to be ‘pure entertainment’ with Mr Selfridge and The Paradise both trying to capture the ongoing magic of Downton Abbey and failing catastrophically. Hunted was entertaining, but nowhere near interesting enough to make me want to watch a second season. Sky’s offerings of The Cafe and Young Doctor’s Notebook are far from what I’d expect from the juggernaut, both understated and unusual.