Posts Tagged ‘ doctor who ’

Doctor Who: 2014

doctorwhoAnother season of Doctor Who has gone by, and I find myself completely and utterly ambivalent about the whole thing. I can’t even find the enthusiasm to get properly cross about it, I’m just utterly bored. That makes me really sad. I’ve had some mixed responses to Doctor Who in the past, but never before have I felt so un-engaged from it that I can’t summon the enthusiasm to rant. I mean, what’s that about?! What’s the point of me if I can’t even be bothered to rant?

The whole series just felt messy. Too often really solid ideas were drowned in frippery and fuss. Two dimensional aliens who turn people into pictures in order to understand them – Cool. A shrink ray that traps the doctor inside a MUCH smaller on the outside Tardis – adorable! Bodge the two of them together with an excuse that “2 dimensional aliens are stealing energy which makes things smaller” – ridiculous. The explanation makes no sense at all! It was cluttered, inelegant and a waste of two good ideas in one fell swoop. Over and over the writers relied on fast talking and bouncing between ideas to cover the fact that they lacked the courage or rigour to fully develop any single idea into a solid storyline.

Then of course you’ve also got the usual problems with having to make excuses about when the Tardis could be used as a time machine and when it couldn’t. The entirely clumsy bolting on of a mysterious character at the end of each episode to power the two-part finale (and what was going on with her accent?!). Also, was there a massive dent in the budget this year? Many of the episodes and effects were stunningly naff, London turned into a forest with no people and the occasional red phone box, inside the Dalek looking like the air conditioning room of the studios).

The biggest problem is that when the writing of the stories is bad, you lose faith in the writing of the characters. How much of the Doctor’s hypocrisy, selective memory and mood swings were supposed to be a character trait and how much was lazy writing? We’ll never know. I’d love to say that despite everything Capaldi rises above, but I just don’t think he had a chance. Without the subtlety and the quiet moments in the right places, I never really got the hang of his character and he just didn’t have the material to shine. I know Capaldi is a fine actor who can do both comedy and drama, but I just didn’t feel like the Doctor was being written for the actor in the same way it was for previous incarnations.

What actually held it together was Jenna Coleman as Clara. I described her before as almost painfully adorable, but she was so much more this season. She did everything and she did it in a way that felt fresh and original. Romantic comedy, grief, determination, terror… I believed her. In fact she was the only thing that I believed. While the stories swerved about all over the place, she clung on and matched tone perfectly. It may not have made for an entirely consistent character, but it certainly gave a consistently enjoyable performance.

I think it’s time for Moffat to move on. It’s time to take Dr Who back to basics and get the stories back on track. Make it fun, make it coherent and make it powerful again. There were powerful moments and lines, but they were buried amidst so much stuff that they get lost. Turn it around Doctor Who, you’re losing me.

BBC Dramas

I seem to have fallen woefully behind in my reviewing over Christmas and the New Year; not because I was doing something massively exciting, or trudging through some kind of trauma, just because I didn’t get round to it. So I’ve gathered up a few reviews that can be broadly grouped into a “dramas on the BBC” category.

Last Tango in Halifax
Last Tango in HalifaxI loved the first season of this series, saying “There’s nothing stressful about Last Tango in Halifax, it’s easy going, amiable, sweet, funny and just utterly lovely”. Sadly the same cannot be said for the second series. It’s still a thoroughly good watch with interesting stories, characters and a realistic blend of humour and seriousness, but the loveliness was somewhat lacking.

There was a thread of unpleasantness running through the series in the way characters treated each other, and occasionally it escalated to outright viciousness and cruelty. I think the writers were trying to look at an interesting question – at what age in your life can you be selfish and where is the line of what you should do for your children and family? But that question became hard to see when it was buried under broken confidences, sanctimonious recriminations and critical gossiping behind people’s backs. I’m not saying that any of these responses were unrealistic, they may even have been justified, but it certainly wasn’t the easy going and lovely light drama that I fell in love with last year. It sort of all came good in the end, but I had to really push myself to keep watching.

Death Comes to Pemberley
pemberleyI’m not a big Jane Austin fan and would probably not have bothered watching just another remake of Pride and Prejudice, but the added interest of a murder mystery drew me in to this. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) as Mr Darcy helped as well. It turned out to be just perfect for the Christmas/New Year sofa slump, pootling along with enough suspense and drama to make you pay attention, enough comedy (from the excellent Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) and Rebecca Front (The Thick of It) as Lydia and Mrs Bennett) to make you enjoy it and enough character to make you care. Even without fully remembering the characters I was still interested to see where their lives have gone, that things aren’t as simple as a happy ending, but they’re also not catastrophically awful. I actually left the three episode miniseries wishing it was coming back, which is more than I can say for any other Austin (or similar) work.

The 7:39
739I thought this was going to be a nice easy going romantic comedy/drama to ease me back into the reality of a new year. I mean it’s got a cast made up of lovely people – Olivia Colman (Broadchurch et al), Sheridan Smith (2 Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) and David Morrisey (ok so he’s pretty horrible in Walking Dead, but he still seems a nice bloke). At first it matched my expectation, the characters were wonderfully vivid and interesting, the situations familiar enough to be completely relatable while different enough to be fascinating and the tone of the whole thing had a lovely humour to it. But then everything gets very serious, very quickly. As the inevitable consequences start to reveal themselves that comfortable familiarity suddenly feels like a punch to the stomach. And when Olivia Colman reacts… oh my word. No one does devastation like she does.

As with Last Tango, this is a truly excellent drama, invoking powerful empathy and reactions. But it’s not necessarily what I was wanting to watch. Rather than a nice gentle story of forming a connection on a train this becomes a hard hitting drama about how we can’t have everything that we want, some things exclude others. It’s beautifully constructed, written, and performed and that’s what makes it heartbreaking.

Dr Who
doctorwhoI realised that I’d normally write a bit about the Doctor Who Christmas special. Then I realised that I hadn’t written about the 50th Anniversary episode either. I won’t go into an epic piece about them, because my response to both was quite similar.

On the good side, I love the heart and soul of this current incarnation of Dr Who (Steven Moffat, Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman), it’s sweet and funny with a thread of darkness and strength running through it. I also love the little nods to fans, I squealed and clapped with delight at some of the references and the watching Smith and Tennant together was everything I hoped for.

But why can the plots not make more sense?! Everything is so complicated and intricate that I’m left neither understanding or caring what’s really going on. It starts off simple enough but then gets more and more elaborate. Every episode I watch and at the end am convinced that certain things didn’t work. On conversation with other viewers I sometimes see that I’d misunderstood, or missed a reference, or not seen an unspoken explanation, but I shouldn’t have to go out looking for ways for the story to make sense! All the good stuff is enough to keep me laughing and crying through an episode, but it NEEDS to be better. Peter Capaldi and the fans deserve better.

Ironically Adventures in Time and Space, telling the story of how Doctor Who actually made it to screen was an infinitely better story. It was beautifully story of aliens and time, but aliens in the sense that they were very different people to those who would normally be in this environment and time in the sense that it’s all entwined with the period and history. It was a fascinating story about people who cared and it was told with such love and attention to detail that I was completely enchanted.

Doctor Who: Season 7 Part 2

doctorwhoBy my understanding, season 7 of Doctor Who started last September, aired five episodes, then a Christmas special, then restarted at the end of March for a run of eight episodes. So fourteen episodes spread over eight months. What I should have done is review those first five episodes in isolation, because they really did feel markedly different. Primarily because those episodes felt like an ending, they finished the story of Amy and Rory. The Doctor’s companions define the series, and with a change half way through a season it really felt like two separate seasons. Also, if I were to review the first half of the season it would be largely positive and unfortunately the same cannot be said of the latter half.

So this review is focussed around Clara, the Impossible Girl. She’s introduced (actually in the first episode of the season), she saves the Doctor and then she dies. Then she’s introduced again (at Christmas), she saves the Doctor again and she dies again. The third time she’s introduced she actually manages to stay alive and stick around to have some adventures, while the doctor freaks out a bit and tries to find out how she keeps popping up.

I liked Clara a lot. She was smart, quick, original (“it’s smaller on the outside”) and almost painfully adorable. She asked challenging questions and not only did she keep up with the Doctor, but managed to be out in front of him on occasion. The problem isn’t with the character at all, it’s with the speed at which her mysterious was introduced and solved, and to deliver that speed an awful lot of steps are skipped over, and the impact is greatly diminished.

It’s eventually revealed that she keeps popping up in the Doctor’s life because she jumps into his timestream (via his tomb) and is scattered through it, to save him from The Great Intelligence, who is trying to destroy the Doctor. The idea has some elegance to it, but sadly it didn’t work for me, it just didn’t feel solid. Clara has been there for the doctor, through all his incarnations past and future (although she says she’s seen 11 incarnations, so I guess this is his last body). But she hasn’t. We’ve seen those adventures and we’ve never seen her. You can’t just have a montage of her cgi’ed into scenes from old episodes and tell us that there’s been a mysterious invisible helper for all these years. It’s CGI. It’s not real. Also if Clara was the one to persuade him to take his Tardis, wouldn’t the Doctor with his impeccable memory remember her?

In addition to the logical problems I found myself having a strangely guttural reaction to the revelation – Clara hasn’t earned the right to be that important to the Doctor. She’s only known him a few episodes, barely has the slightest clue about who he really is and what he’s done, and now she’s his saviour? If we are to believe that all this time she’s been watching over the Doctor it also completely undermines every single previous story, he’s basically had a fairy godmother all this time nudging him along and saving him.

However there’s an even bigger problem with the run of eight episodes this year, which was that the episodes just weren’t very well written. Every episode left me simultaneously overwhelmed with content and underwhelmed with quality and overall frustrated. It felt like they had designed a full length season with two parters and recurring ideas, then edited it down to 8 episodes and refused to cut anything. They just talked a bit faster, skipped out on explanations and replaced them with mcguffins and coincidences. Problems weren’t solved, they were just sonic screwdrivered into submission (Bob the Angry Flower nails it); over and over tension would be created by saying “it can’t be done, we’ll all die” but then they do it anyway and it’s all fine – the Tardis can fly into the collapsing universe, the doctor can step into his own time thingy – the dire consequences just don’t materialise.

It’s not just that the series didn’t hit the highs of the previous season, there were episodes that were just plain rubbish. That 80s submarine? Teenagers on the Tardis. Then there were episodes that jut left me bewildered – that one with the Tardis dying my housemates thought it was great and proceeded to explain that all the things I thought of as plot holes could be explained. But you had to want to explain them, to believe that although the explanations weren’t given, you could extrapolate them if you wanted. But the moment you stopped wanting to see the explanations, all you can see are the holes. I started questioning whether the writers were skipping exposition because it was boring and instead wondered if it was because they just didn’t know, or even worse, couldn’t be bothered to come up with explanations. It’s okay leaving some things unsaid, but if you leave everything unsaid, it’s pretty easy to think that you’ve just got nothing to say. And if you have a big marketing campaign implying you’re going to reveal the Doctor’s name and then you just plain don’t, it rather starts to feel like you’re taking the audience for a ride.

I’ve adored the reboot and praised the high quality of the writing over and over again, but now I feel like I’ve been betrayed. I still like Matt Smith as The Doctor, he plays the humour, anger and sadness of the doctor beautifully well and can fluidly shift between them in the blink of an eye. I like the Victorian trio of Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax who have turned up repeatedly this season and Alex Kingston as River Song never disappoints. I do like Clara as well, although I worry having resolved her mystery she’s left being a bit vanilla. I desperately want to have liked the season, but I just felt it was sloppy. Doctor Who is a series which requires you to have faith in the writers, and now that I’ve lost that, I’m not sure it can come back. That makes me very sad.

Christmas Specials

I don’t know about you, but Christmas in the Robinson household is mostly about eating and watching television, often at the same time. Fortunately no one suffers unfortunate addictions to any soap operas, so don’t have to suffer through those tumultuous offerings and can focus more on the lighter and heart warming side of the spectrum. Here’s just some of the stuff we’ve watched over the last couple of days. You’ll note the Queen’s Speech isn’t mentioned, as we were watching The Muppets instead.

Outnumbered ChristmasOutnumbered is a show with a natural life-span, and I’m not sure that it’s not a couple of years past the point where it should have retired gracefully. In the early days its use of real child actors and allowing them to use their own dialogue was something really very special, but as the children aged, the whole thing became considerably more scripted and, frankly, unoriginal. The fact that the kids are growing up was brought home dramatically in the Christmas special when Karen was completely unrecognisable and Ben was suddenly 2 foot taller and his voice was two octaves lower. However despite all that, I did find the episode very funny and well pitched for Christmas with the family. So, even though it’s no longer particularly innovative, maybe it is still funny enough to stick around.

lovingmisshattoLoving Miss Hatto was one of those TV movies that I only ever watch at Christmas, inspired by the true story of Joyce Hatto, a concert pianist in the 50s whose career was stalled due to her nerves. Decades later, she and her husband stumble into conning the music industry by faking recordings and relaunching her career. It was nice enough, with a solid story and charming performances from the four actors playing the young and old versions of the couple. Victoria Wood’s writing shone through with some beautiful little moments of observational comedy and it was another family friendly distraction for the evening.

roomonthebroomRoom on the Broom was a charming little cartoon that I almost didn’t bother with, but would highly recommend seeking out on iPlayer. Based on a children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (The Grufallo) it’s a beautifully animated story about a witch and her cat, and the increasing number of animals that want to share they’re broom. It has a lovely rhyming narration and recurring phrases that lull you into the story with some nicely understated voice work from people like Simon Pegg and Gillian Anderson. The animation is simple, but done with a lot of humour and character for all the animals, although I am a bit hazy on why birds, dogs and frogs talk, but cats don’t; although they do laugh.

mr stinkMr Stink was also surprisingly lovely and another one that I didn’t actually intend to watch. It’s another adaption of a children’s book (written by David Walliams), but with enough humour and charm to appeal to adults. Hugh Bonneville plays the homeless Mr Stink like he’s Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham fallen on harder times. Most of the characters and situations are played large and ridiculous, but are perfectly balanced by just a couple of realistic elements and characters who make the whole thing relatable. It’s an impressive achievement for actors, writers and directors that Pudsey the adorable dog didn’t actually completely steal the show.

doctorwhoDoctor Who is becoming almost as synonymous with Christmas as turkey, too much chocolate and falling asleep in front of a children’s film you’ve seen seventeen times before. Unfortunately while there was plenty that I liked, overall I thought the episode was actually a bit rubbish. Tucked into the episode were some clever, funny and occasionally quite beautiful character moments for the Doctor and his future-companion Clara. The relationship between the Doctor and his companion have always been the most important thing about the series, and this is a very interesting set-up for next season. Clara is suitably ‘spunky’, with an interesting intelligence to her which draws the Doctor’s and audiences’ attention alike and I’m intrigued as to how her story will play out.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the actual story of the Christmas episode. It felt like a show written to tick boxes and then the storyline was added in like polyfilla to pad the gaps. The horrific grinning snowmen made for a great Christmas poster, but the explanation for where they came from, what they wanted or how they were defeated was thrown together in a couple of chunks of exposition. It felt like they couldn’t decide whether the villain would be the snowmen or the frozen governess (with a Punch and Judy obsession) and so decided to put both in. There was way too much stuffed into the episode, and it was the plot that was sacrificed. I don’t know why the episode can’t be longer, or even made into a two parter across to boxing day or New Year’s Day. Or just have a one-off episode and companion for this and introduce Clara in another episode. This episode was just messy and self-indulgent, leaving me feeling frustrated and slightly sad. Not really what I was after for Christmas day.

Downton AbbeyDownton Abbey however made up for it! I described season 3 as a “pantomime soap opera”, which may not have been meant as a compliment at the time, but was exactly what I was looking for on Christmas evening. I thoroughly enjoyed all two hours of it (well, 92 minutes of it, I didn’t really enjoy the 30 minutes of sofa sale adverts). All the favourites were there – Lord Grantham mourning the changing times, Carson harrumphing, Lady Mary being a cow, the Dowager Duchess sniping from the side lines, simpering Anna, Owen conniving and Thomas being slimy. It felt just like a family Christmas.

Unlike the latest season, the plot wasn’t crammed in too much, in fact nothing really happened for most of the episode, and it was stronger because of it. All of the stories were much lighter and it was just fun to watch all of these characters, allowing the dialogue and humour to really shine through.

thegirlThe Girl was another one-off drama, about the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedron during the filming of The Birds and Marnie. Despite excellent performances (impersonations?) from Toby Jones and Sienna Miller in the lead roles and an interesting and chilling story, the whole thing bored me to tears. Maybe it was the timing of it at 9pm on Boxing Day, the good will of Christmas had evaporated and I’m settling back in to my usual negative outlook.

Downton Abbey is available on itv player for a month, Loving Miss Hatto, Outnumbered, The Girl, Room on the Broom, Mr Stink and Doctor Who are all on iPlayer for a week or so.

Doctor Who – 2011

I hate trying to write reviews of Doctor Who. I love the show to pieces, but find it a little tiresome to over-analyse it. Sometimes it really does feel like it’s enough to say “that was great!” and leave it at that. Unfortunately for me apparently I made some kind of commitment to not just leave these things hanging.

The series as a whole adopted the technique of showing us what’s going to happen, then leaving us the rest of the season to work out why it happened, what it means and what happens next. It’s a good idea, keeps you guessing all along. Unfortunately they made it just that little bit too big – the doctor dies. Not just regenerates, but really properly dies and has a Viking funeral and everything. But it’s too much, as soon as they did that you know there’s a trick – the BBC isn’t going to kill off the franchise! So from the get-go you know you’re being manipulated and it will all be undone one way or the other, which rather takes the drama out of it.

The rest of the season is rather surprisingly not about the Doctor’s journey, it’s River Song’s. While certain dimwits complain about the complexities of her storyline (or timeline) I for one loved it! What’s the point of having a show about time travel if you’re not occasionally going to do things in the wrong order? Everything made perfect sense and was a really fun look at what you can do if you take ideas to their distant but logical extremes. That’s what science fiction is supposed to do. Plus Alex Kingston is wonderful.

While a couple of the more standalone episodes left a bit to be desired (pirates? Really? And what was all that with the cloned people?) I am willing to forgive almost anything because this was the season that Neil Gaiman introduced us to the TARDIS. A stunning episode, hilarious and heartbreaking from start to finish. The Girl Who Waited was another superb piece of science fiction and provided some great acting opportunities for the companions. I’ve really enjoyed the themes they play about with for Amy and Rory, I love the way their characters have gradually been clarified this season, not developed because nothing has really changed about them, it’s just that the audience and the Doctor have come to understand their characters so much better. These two companions more than any I can really remember are full characters in their own rights, they don’t just define themselves by their relationship with the Doctor.

With the Doctor, two regular companions , regular visits from River and visiting companions like the TARDIS and Craig, it’s felt pretty crowded at times but I for one have really enjoyed it. I like Doctor Who when the solitary brooding is implied off screen rather than front and centre. I think this season worked spectacularly well for combining characters, thought provoking plots, action adventure and outright fun. It’s a phenomenally difficult balance to find, but I think Doctor Who is easily one of the best shows on television at the moment – my only complaint is that there’s not enough of it.

Other reviews (containing spoilers)
Slouching Towards Thatcham – Most importantly though, was season six actually any good? It was certainly more ambitious, scary and arc-heavy than any season since the series’ rebirth. And despite a couple of clunkers early on, the quality has been consistently high.

CliqueClack and The Guardian both review episode by episode and generally like them.

The 2010-2011 Season

As always my definitions of what counts for a season are a bit variable, pretty much anything that aired somewhere between the beginning of September 2010 and the end of August 2011 are fair game for this.

Blue Bloods: S1
Bones: S6
Brothers & Sisters: S5
Castle: S3
Criminal Minds: S6
CSI: S11
CSI:NY S7
Doctor Who 2011
Downton Abbey: S1
Friday Night Lights: S5
Fringe: S3
Game of Thrones – S1
Glee: S2
The Good Wife: S2
Grey’s Anatomy: S7
House: S7
Leverage: S3
Lie to Me: S3
Mad Men: S4
Merlin: S3
NCIS: S8
NCIS: Los Angeles – S2
Sons of Anarchy: S3
Stargate Universe: S2
Supernatural: S6
Terriers: S1
The Big C: S1
The Walking Dead: S1

There’s a few bits and bobs that don’t make the list – Outcasts (meh), Mad Dogs (ok), Warehouse 13 (fun but poor), Bedlam (awful), Falling Skies (still haven’t got round to finishing) more documentaries than I might expect (I remember being impressed by a lot of them but the only one I really remember is the superb Inside Nature’s Giants).

Between everything listed above and the pilots I reviewed that’s getting on for 600 episodes of television, probably about 500 hours, which given the national average is somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week, actually is still way below ‘average’. Of course most normal people don’t watch television in the ridiculous concentrated way that I do, so I guess I shouldn’t jump up and down and declare myself well adjusted just yet.

All in all, I’ve not been massively impressed with this year. Although I found it hard to narrow down most of the categories below there were relatively few things that I’d label as outstanding. I don’t know whether this is because I’m getting increasingly hard to please in my old age or because television writers and networks are getting more willing to settle for mediocre in the tough financial times. Either way, given that several of the shows I mention below have come to an end or are looking at likely final seasons, it doesn’t bode particularly well.

Best Shows
These are the shows that are superb – with amazing writing, beautiful direction, compelling acting and thought provoking stories. The ones that the Emmy’s and Golden Globes *should* be nominating.

  • Friday Night Lights – I don’t think season 5 was the best season of the show, I never fell in love with the Lions as much as I did the original Panthers, but even with that in mind it was still one of the absolute highlights of the year and I will miss it.
    Mad Men – this show can appear very slow and dull to a casual viewer, but if you invest in it and pay attention there is such incredible depth that with a little bit of analysis and discussion you have a real sense of satisfaction fitting everything together.
  • Fringe – I rewatched a few episodes of the first season recently and who knew that the ok but unspectacular X-Files wannabe would turn out to be such a fascinating and creative story about alternate worlds literally colliding.
  • The Big C – A comedy about terminal illness, really? But it manages to combine being hilariously funny with being beautifully moving without becoming cloying or preachy. It’s one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen in a long time.
  • Stargate Universe – as far as I’m concerned season 2 was as near to my idea of perfect science fiction as is likely to be seen for a long time. It had interesting stories and ideas, but more importantly was all done with a fascinating group of characters and a lot of humour.

Favourite Shows
These are the shows that I adore. They’re the ones that I desperately wait for new episodes of, the ones that I follow on blogs, the shows that make me smile, cry, and forget that the characters aren’t actually real. Comparing these to Mad Men is like comparing apples and oil rigs, but they still deserve recognition.

  • Glee – this is far and away my favourite show of the year. It has massive consistency problems when it comes to writing and storylines, but every single episode makes me laugh, and simply hearing one of the songs on my ipod can make me forget all about my troubles and grin like a fool.
  • Grey’s Anatomy – with the exception of a questionable couple of storylines towards the end of the season Grey’s has been right back on the sort of form that got me addicted to the early seasons of the show. Even my frustrations with what I describe as poor writing choices are only because I’m so unhealthily emotionally tied to these characters.
  • Doctor Who – I’m not sure whether I’m referring to the previous season that ended at Christmas or the one that’s currently half way through (which is likely why I’m missing the season review), but it really doesn’t matter because each has been superb, somehow managing to be hugely entertaining Saturday evening family viewing, but also superb quality drama with delicate and beautiful writing. This one really could have gone in either category.
  • Terriers – This may be a partial pity vote, if it hadn’t been cancelled would I have been so passionate about it? Don’t know and never will, so it’s on this list because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Downton Abbey – I’d been looking forward to the remake of Upstairs Downstairs and probably to the BBC’s consternation, this ITV almost-rip-off blew it out of the water. A great cast, hilarious writing and a lovely Sunday evening vibe to the whole thing made this a lovely piece of television to watch with friends and family.

Male actors

  • Tim Roth, (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) –Roth’s performance was so entertaining and unpredictable that it took me three seasons to notice that the rest of the show around him was actually not very good at all.
  • Jared Padelecki (Sam Winchester, Supernatural) – I’m a Dean girl through and through, but even I have to acknowledge this season that Sam got the better material and Padelecki acted his way through Sam’s splintering personalities impressively.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – who knew that I’d start forgetting David Tennant. The energy and charm of Smith’s doctor is just infectious.
  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Noble made it on to my list last for playing the wonderfully bonkers character of Walter – sometimes brilliant scientist, sometimes emotionally unstable child. Given that in addition to that performance he adds on the character of Walternate, an alternate universe version where he’s a terrifying politician, there was no way he wouldn’t make the list this year too.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – poor coach had a miserable couple of years struggling with having to chose between the lesser of two evils over and over, nothing ever seemed to quite go his way. Chandler’s understated performances just broke my heart.

Female actors
I still find myself struggling to find 5 decent nominees for this category, I hope that it’s just a coincidence of the shows I watch, but I fear that it’s representative and that’s very troubling.

  • Laura Linney (Cathy Jamison, The Big C) – I imagine this is the kind of role that actors dream of. Linney is simply phenomenal.
  • Julianna Marguiles (Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife) – I think this season of The Good Wife lost its way a little, but that doesn’t change that this continues to be a wonderfully rounded character and a lovely performance.
  • Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham, Fringe) – I’ve found her character a bit bland in previous seasons, but this season thanks to playing multiple different characters, Torv proved that it’s the character that’s bland, not the performance. The subtle differences with her alternate universe version were fascinating, and as for her performance of being possessed by Leonard Nimmoy…
  • Connie Britton (Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – like her husband, nothing ever seems to go Tami’s way, every piece of good news is balanced with a difficult decision. She’s got more stoic and resigned to this as the years have gone by, but watching her wrestle with the potential break up of her family at the end of the season felt like the world was ending.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Teller-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – I very nearly put her into the group category alongside Maggie Siff’s Tara because these two women at the heart of the male oriented motorcycle club are incredible. But Segal’s performance is the more nuanced one, the balance between confidence and insecurity, cold blooded scariness and utter devotion to her family.

Casts
In cases like Tom Sellek there’s one actor holding together an otherwise mediocre group, in cases like Laura Linney, she’s clearly carrying the weight of the series and standing out from an already very good supporting team. But for these guys and gals it’s the pairings and groupings that are the standout, if I commented on one of them, I’d have to comment on them all or I’d have the guilt.

  • Grey’s Anatomy – this show has always been the gold standard of ensemble acting and character development and this season has been no different. Everyone has interesting relationships that grow and mature (if you overlook some terrible backwards steps) and all are equally capable whether dealing with melodramatic emotions, intense medical scenes or hilarious comedy.
  • NCIS LA – the season has been an exploration of what it means to be partners and each of the pairings has delivered fascinating and entertaining performances, ably supported by the centre point of Hetty, NCIS could learn a lot from its offspring.
  • Glee – although Chris Colfer is clearly my (and the writers) favourite this is a spectacularly talented bunch of kids. The movie proves that they can perform just as well live in front of thousands of people, while the tv series shows that they can also deliver even the most ridiculous of storylines compellingly. All this on a ridiculously intensive schedule, imagine what they could do with decent material and a bit of sleep.
  • Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James (Terriers) – My new favourite partnership sadly gone too soon, but I loved the easy camaraderie and open friendship of two people who came from entirely different backgrounds and ended up exactly the same.
  • Stargate Universe – it took a while, but eventually I came to love these characters and performances, right from the flamboyant ones at the front, through to the ‘supporting’ array of scientists and soldiers who could steal an entire scene with a throw away reference to Star Wars or a perfectly timed eye-roll. A dysfunctional family, just like lies at the heart of every great science fiction show.

Notable absences
Not listing Supernatural as one of my favourite shows of the year actually hurt, but it came down to a choice between it and Terriers and Supernatural was edged out just because my abiding memory of the season is one of sadness. It all just got a bit much this season for the show to be as enjoyable as before, but while it was all done really well it doesn’t quite make it into the other category of top shows because it wasn’t quite even enough to stand alongside the other shows.

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead – being a genre fan I also find it sad that I can’t comment on these more favourably, but just being about a different subject doesn’t give you a free pass, you still need to be good. Game of Thrones was good, it only narrowly missed out in the favourite category, but The Walking Dead just wasn’t good enough, yes it’s great to see zombies on television but it still needed to just be better – better writing, better characters, better acting – just better. My feelings on BBC’s Outcasts meanwhile were so confused that apparently I never even got round to writing a review of it… it tried hard, but it really wasn’t very good.

British TV – there are a few British series that I watched all the way through this year, and a few that were so short they didn’t make it to proper reviews, but generally I find that I really have to force myself to watch them. Partly it’s self-fulfilling, I watch mostly US stuff, so I mostly read US blogs etc and therefore mostly find out about US stuff. I often find out about British stuff a couple of episodes in and then never get round to catching up. iPlayer et al help, but it’s one of the areas that I’d like to watch more of this year.

End of year report card

The start and end points for the television year is pretty fuzzy. Given that I watch mostly US shows, I tend to go by their year which runs roughly from September rather than the calendar year. So I decided that I’d count the start of the year as 1st September (and I go by American air dates, not the UK). BUT life isn’t that simple, because what do I do with shows that start in one year but end in another. For example Mad Men season 3 ran August-November 2009, running one year to the next. Then I looked at what the Emmys do and it turns out they run June 1st 2009-May 31st 2010. BUT they don’t strictly speaking pay attention to show seasons, it’s just whichever episodes ran in that time frame, which means from what I can tell – the last two episodes of the season of Glee weren’t eligible for entry as they aired in June 2010.

So after all that, I decided to hell with it and I’d count what I felt fit within 2009-2010 and be pretty much arbitrary about it.

Bones – Season 5
Brothers & Sisters – S4
Caprica – S1
Criminal Minds – S5
CSI – S10
CSI:NY – S6
Defying Gravity – S1
Dollhouse – S1
Doctor Who – 2010
FlashForward – S1
Friday Night Lights – S4
Fringe – S2
The Good Wife – S1
Glee – S1
Grey’s Anatomy – S6
House – S6
Leverage – S2
Lie to Me – S2
Mad Men – S3
The Mentalist – S2
Merlin – S2
NCIS: Los Angeles – S1
NCIS – S7
Outnumbered – S3
Sons of Anarchy – S2
Stargate Universe – S1
Supernatural – S5
Trauma – S1
Warehouse 13 – S1
White Collar – S1
V – S1

Top of the Class – Best Drama

  • Mad Men: For once, I’m in absolute agreement with the Emmys. Season 3 (season 4 has just started on BBC4) was a work of near perfection. The pacing, the way everything had been so carefully and subtly built up until the final episode which was one of the most satisfying hours of television I’ve ever seen. The detail of this show is incredible, it’s a slow burn, but it’s really worth it.
  • Friday Night Lights – I have a guilty relationship with this show, because despite the fact I have it ‘available’, I haven’t managed to bring myself to watch the second half of the season. This season has felt like really hard going, everybody’s’ lives really seem to suck and it’s just hard to watch. But that doesn’t make it any less superb or any less worthy of its position in the number 2 slot in the drama category.
  • Sons of Anarchy – There’s just something about this bunch of gun running, murdering, hells angels that just makes you forgive them everything they do. The closest thing I can think of to this show is Brothers & Sisters, it’s got the same sense of families fighting amongst themselves, but ultimately doing anything for each other – just with more Nazis.
  • Trauma – Maybe this show wouldn’t have made the cut if I didn’t feel bad for it being cancelled, but I really do think it was one of the better shows of the year. It’s not perfectly refined like Mad Men, but the heart and soul of it are true, the characters and relationships are interesting and different and I enjoyed every episode.
  • The Good Wife – Proving that ‘legal procedural’ doesn’t have to mean Law and Order or wanting to kill all the characters. The ensemble cast is amazing and contains some of my favourite actors, and seeing them together creating such complex characters is immensely satisfying.

Head Boy – Best Male Actor/Character (you don’t get to be a great actor without a well crafted/written character and great characters don’t survive great actors)

  • Tim Roth (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) – I don’t understand why Tim Roth and Lie to Me don’t get more attention. In a world of dark, sober, troubled and angsty television detectives, Tim Roth lights up the room. He’s manipulative and arrogant, but he’s also a brilliant father, a caring friend and of all the investigators on television, he’s the one I’d want in my corner the most.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – I had my doubts, not because he was young or unknown or anything like that, but just because I thought David Tennant had created an un-equalable character. Matt Smith blew me away with his charm, his goofiness, his terrifying speeches and his ability to make a fez look cool.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – This man seems to do less acting than anyone else on television, he hardly says anything, sometimes he barely moves, but somehow you understand every single thing the character is thinking.
  • Jenson Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) – I was a bit disappointed by the season of Supernatural, but I was never disappointed with either of the lead performances. Part of what frustrated me about the season was that it was all over the range from slapstick to suicidal angst, via homicidal range and utter psychosis. Jenson Ackles nailed each of the emotions and how stubborn, but over-his-head Dean would approach each one.
  • Hugh Laurie (Dr House, House) – I didn’t like this series of House much, as per usual I think it spent too long coasting through the middle of the season and then made some dubious relationship choices. But Hugh Laurie was consistently great throughout, except for the bookending episodes, where he was absolutely amazing.

Head Girl – Best Female Actor/Character (is actress politically incorrect?)

  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick,The Good Wife) – A breath of fresh air on network television, a woman with kids, a career, issues and most importantly a personality of her own. I loved when she got drunk with Kalinda, or acted as a big sister to Cary, or didn’t quite know how to interact with Diane. But mostly I loved the way she fell back to being a college student falling for her friend and not knowing what to do about it.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Taylor-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – Gemma had the epitome of a bad year on Sons of Anarchy, but through it all she was their Queen, she loves all the members of her family and fights to protect them, whether with a gun, her fists, or just by keeping a secret. Katey Segal was amazing.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – The other half of the best couple on television, Tammy’s not had a great year either. But like her husband, she doesn’t have to say anything for you to understand the multiple faces the character presents to everyone, including herself. When she steals her little victories wherever she can, and fights for her kids (the whole school load of them) it makes me want to hug her.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – Meredith grew up and got happy and made me love her. Last year I put her on this list partially out of pity, this year she’s there on merit, actually taking her position as ‘lead’ actress more than just being a ‘prominent female member of the ensemble’. She’s completely settled into her position as the mother of the group – her reaction to her marriage and the loss of her friends was really mature. Whiny Meredith is hopefully gone for good.
  • Sally Field (Nora Walker, Brothers and Sisters) – When Sally Field cries, I cry. When she screams, I hid under a cushion. Whether herding her unruly brood, or causing chaos all by herself, I love her to pieces.

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Walter is crazy. Utterly and completely, self-medicatingly, one-too-many-magic-mushrooms, bucket loads of crazy. But then in alternate world Walter is utterly sane and calm and scary and slimy. Noble bounces around between Walters multiple personalities and bodies with amazing talent.
  • Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel, Glee) – The best thing in Glee. He’s completely over the top and ridiculous to the point you almost want to throw him in a dumpster yourself, but then he does something heartbreaking. Also, he can belt out a tune like the best divas out there.
  • David Blue (Eli Wallace, Stargate Universe) – He’s exactly what the stereotypical Stargate fan would be like if they found themselves inside a Stargate series. He’s got no clue about the military, or really people at all. He’s a massive geek who breaks tension by making Star Wars jokes. He brings a bit of reality to the otherwise slightly highly strung Stargate team.
  • Cliff Curtis (Rabbit Palchuk, Trauma) – Cliff Curtis became one of my favourite actors this year playing the deeply troubled, but utterly charming Rabbit. A really fascinating character and a slightly unlikely leading man, but he was the heart of this show.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Victor, Dollhouse) – I ummed and erred between Victor and Fran Kranz’s Topher, but eventually the Doll edged out the geek because he got to play a different role (and accent) every week and nailed them all, even managing to play Topher to perfection.

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – She wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy this year, which I was so astonished by I had to check multiple times. Bailey follows the Sally Field rules – she cries I cry, she shouts, I actually cheer out loud. Her final scene of the final episode just destroyed me.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson, Mad Men) – “I’m Peggy Olson. And I want to smoke some marijuana” and “Beg me? You didn’t even ASK me”. Nuff said.
  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockheart, The Good Wife) – Although her colleague Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) got the Emmy, I think Christine Baranski was far superior if for no other reason than she seemed to be having so much FUN with the role. Not afraid to flirt with a colleague or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a situation.
  • Allison Scagliotti (Claudia, Warehouse 13) – like Eli in Stargate, Claudia is the voice of the fan. She’s a geek who loves a gadget and points out the idiocy of all the plans. She, and her ever changing hair colours, brings life to the show.
  • Linda Hunt (Hetty Lange, NCIS:LA) – A breath of fresh air, a bizarre mix of motherly and drill sergent that manages to make even LL Cool J quake in his boots.

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

  • Callen and Hanna (NCIS:Los Angeles) – A perfect yin and yang thing of hot headedness and cool, all bundled up in a caring (but not out loud!) partnership. Who’d’ve thought it.
  • Team Free Will, Supernatural
    “This is it… Team Free Will. One ex-blood-junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name and Mr Comatose over there. Awesome.”
    “It’s not funny”
    “I’m not laughing”
  • Christina and Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy) – When Meredith revealed the plans for her and Derek’s dream house and pointed out Christina’s Room I burst into tears yet again. I love these two sisters.
  • The Walker Clan (Brothers and Sisters) – You can’t really break this group up. They squabble and occasionally even fight, but the group of them together and the complex relationships between all of them are amazing.

Points for effort – The home of the things that are solidly doing their job, are entertaining, and occasionally verging into brilliant, but are generally just really solidly plugging away doing what they do.

  • CSI:Original had a really solid season, settling down after the changes of recent years and just turning in an entertaining, reliable and interesting season, there’s not many shows that can say that moving in to their 11th season they’ve still got some spark.
  • Grey’s Anatomy deserves a lot of praise for bouncing back from the previous terrible season, I nearly gave up on the show, but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • Brothers & Sisters – cheesy, melodramatic, sappy and utterly sentimental – it embraces these things with such enthusiasm and does them so well, it’s hard not to love.
  • Glee – If only the quality of the plots were more consistent, this would be worthy of considerably more praise. As it is, I enjoyed most of the episodes, but ended up frustrated that it wasn’t just slightly better.

Must Try Harder

  • The Mentalist – A nice idea, a charismatic lead character… but ultimately the character development isn’t, ‘mysteries’ aren’t, and the novelty wore off.
  • Outnumbered – It was still funny, but it just wasn’t as good as previous seasons. Not least because it seemed to spontaneously stop dead, to such an extent that I completely failed to note it had finished and never got round to writing a review.
  • Science fiction – it’s not been a good year for science fiction imho. V, Caprica and Flashforward were all disappointing.
  • NCIS – Still flipflopping all over the place with a lack of consistency and character development. Maybe it’s time for this one to retire.
  • Criminal Minds – I praised the show for finally having the team come together and having an impressive group of strong female characters… then they sacked two of them.