15-16 Season

Wow, I haven’t watched nearly as much television as I thought I had. There’s 22 series this year, whereas last year I watched 27 American series, without even counting the British ones. I really thought that living by myself would increase the amount of TV I watched, but I guess I’ve been focusing rather more on films and reading this year. But, I don’t think that’s the only reason, either the series themselves are just not grabbing me or possibly (shudder) I’m just going off TV a bit.

Things I’ve watched

American Gothic: S1 (review pending)
The Americans: S4
Braindead: S1 (review pending)
The Bridge: S3
Code Black: S1*
Criminal Minds: S11*
Downton Abbey: S6*
Doctor Who: Swhatever*
Fargo: S2 (no review? Oops. It was great)
Grey’s Anatomy: S12
Happy Valley: S2
Jessica Jones: S1
Lucifer: S1
Marvel’s Agent Carter: S2
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: S3
The Muppets: S1
The Musketeers: S3
NCIS: LA: S6 (in progress)
Penny Dreadful: S3
Preacher: S1
River: S1
Stranger Things: S1 (review pending)
Trapped: S1
Unforgotten: S1
Walking Dead: S6

* Failed to review the season. I’ve been really slack this year! I promise to make an effort to do better!

goodwifeI know people describe this as a golden time for television, and there are still some real gems out there, but there’s a huge amount that I just find unexciting. I repeatedly found myself realising that I was only watching something because I thought I should, a kind of inertia. So I waved goodbye to the increasingly rubbish Scandal, couldn’t face the endless misery of The Affair and opted out of the abundance of awful people on Transparent. A tougher cut was one of my previously favourite shows, The Good Wife. I may go back to finish off the final season at some point, but I just found myself too frustrated by the big storylines endlessly pulling characters in frustrating directions.

ncislaShows like Criminal Minds, and NCIS LA remain on my Sky box only for their use as background noise while ironing or playing Candy Crush. But there’s only so much time for that (I really don’t iron that much) and most of the networks’ offerings this year would only have bulked out that list rather than add any particularly quality. I just about made it through the year with Code Black despite it being almost entirely ridiculous, and The Muppets only really lasted the year because at 20 minutes per episode, it was useful filler. I didn’t make it beyond the pilot for any other Network shows this year.

Agent_Carter_Series_LogoThere were a couple of returning shows that I actually looked forward to, The Americans goes from strength to strength as the characters and stories continue to evolve. Fargo had another great season, maintaining the offbeat tone but brought to life by an ensemble of familiar actors really showing their talents. The two Marvel series (SHIELD and Carter) remained entertaining, and while The Walking Dead writers made some big, annoying miss-steps its still probably the show I await most eagerly each week.

Jessica_Jones_NetflixSo, thank heavens for Netflix and Amazon. The ease of watching, combined with some actual originality has made Amazon and Netflix my TV source of choice recently. Things as diverse as the dark Jessica Jones and the cheesy American Gothic; the throwback Stranger Things, and then the downright un-classifiable Preacher and Braindead. These are the shows that I actually remember more than 5 minutes after I finished watching them, ones that I have something to say when I come to write their reviews, and the ones that I talk about with friends. Even shows that I didn’t get on with (Mr Robot for example), I still respect them and talk about them.

happy_valleyNon-American TV faired a little better at the start of the year with Happy Valley and Unforgotten both absolutely superb dramas with incredible performances by Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker. Trapped and The Bridge were both excellent entries in the Scandi-noir genres. Downton Abbey closed as it lived in cheesy ridiculous fashion, but for all that it really wasn’t very good, I will miss it as a pretty much perfect piece of Sunday evening rubbish telly. Things went a bit downhill after Christmas, with many dramas sounding too depressing for me to even start watching, and several leaving me apathetic and giving up on before too many episodes in (War and Peace, Victoria). The theoretically more light hearted, entertaining shows have also rather suffered, another season of Doctor Who that failed to grab me, a final season of The Musketeers even the writers couldn’t be bothered with and an array of uninspiring shows that never got off the ground.

I don’t really have a massive amount of enthusiasm for the coming year. There are only a couple of returning shows that I can summon any real enthusiasm about, and a couple of the new shows look like they might have potential; but at the same time I’m feeling rather cynical that things will turn out to be rubbish and I’ll be disappointed. I miss science fiction, I miss shows with a sense of wonder about them, imagination and the ability to surprise me. Is everything feeling a bit formulaic because it’s getting worse, or is it just that I’ve watched so much that I’m only now detecting the patterns. Fingers crossed something will manage to re-inspire me soon.

Things I want to watch but haven’t yet: Orange is the New Black S4 (half way through), Orphan Black S4 (argh! British scheduling), and I still want to catch up on iZombie and Empire

I was tempted to not bother with the “Best of” lists, but decided to do it just of the sake of tradition.

americansBest Shows:
The Americans – still one of the best shows out there and just getting better and better
Jessica Jones – there are so many levels to this show and it’s excellent on every one of them
Happy Valley – I didn’t think a second season of this could work, I was beyond delighted that I was wrong.

The Walking DeadFavourite shows:
Braindead – a total surprise of a show, totally fresh and incredibly current, I alternated between laughing hysterically and dropping my jaw in astonishment.
Walking Dead – really the only show that I pounced on new episodes each week, so it makes the list despite the fact that it wasn’t actually very good this year.
Trapped – I ummed and erred about the 3rd slot in this list, but then I remembered just how obsessed I got with the show, counting down until the new episodes aired each week.

2014/15 Season

I’m getting worse and worse at actually writing stuff promptly. So my end of year wrap up comes after several of the 2015/16 shows have already started. Oh well, better late than never. I’m only talking about US shows here, I think I’m going to move the UK series so that I look at them at the end of the year. Frankly that’s pretty arbitrary but I watch so little UK television that adding it to the list just looked embarrassing. Also I’m focussing more on the returning shows as all the new things got their own little article last week.

Things I’ve watched

The Affair: S1
American Horror Story: Freak Show (S4)
The Americans: S3 (in progress)
Aquarius (in progress)
The Blacklist: S2 (half)
Criminal Minds: S10 (failed to review)
CSI: S15
Defiance: S3 (in progress)
Downton Abbey: S5
Forever: S1 (half)
Game of Thrones: S5 (half)
The Good Wife: S6
Grey’s Anatomy: S11
Jane the Virgin: S1 (review pending)
Justified: S6
Mad Men: S7 Part 2
Madam Secretary: S1 (half)
Marvel’s Agent Carter: S1
Marvel’s Agents of Shield: S2
NCIS: Los Angeles: S6 (failed to review)
The Newsroom: S3
Orange is the New Black: S3 (review pending)
Orphan Black: S3 (just starting)
Penny Dreadful: S2
Perception: S3 (failed to review)
Scandal: S4
Stalker: S1 (failed to review)
Transparent: S1
The Walking Dead: S5

So that’s 27 series, although four of them I only watched part of the season before giving up and four are still in progress. I think that’s probably about 340 episodes? It felt like I watched less television this year, but actually it’s up on last year’s count of 20 series. I think though that a lot of what I watched was just less memorable so it doesn’t feel like I’ve watched as much. 20 episodes each of Criminal Minds, NCIS LA, CSI and Scandal all add up pretty quickly, yet take up remarkably little space in my brain.

I watched six new shows to completion this year, an additional two I made it half way through and actually Orange is the New Black and Justified were both new series for me too which I binge watched from the start and then caught up to the current season. So 10 shows that appear on this year’s list but weren’t on last year’s. In the other direction there were 9 series that I watched last year which didn’t return. Five I chose not to pick up again: Castle (I just got bored with it), The Big Bang Theory (I just missed the start and never felt like catching up), The Following (just too ridiculous), Extant (I don’t think I even got through the whole first season) and The Lost Ship (couldn’t be bothered) . Two I haven’t got round to yet: House of Cards: S3 (it’s in my new Netflix queue) and The Night Shift: S2 (still no UK distributer). Almost Human was cancelled and Fargo didn’t broadcast any new episodes.

The more I think about the list of shows I’ve watched, the more underwhelmed I am with the year. Did I miss something? Have I watched so much TV that I’ve over-dosed and its lost its appeal? I just don’t think anything this year was outstanding. Even the shows that I list below for plaudits are mostly ongoing series that have just continued doing what they do, well. Where were the paradigm shifts? The big evolutions? The watercooler moments? It just feels like a very flat year.

Best Shows
Orange_Is_the_New_Black_Title_CardOrange is the New Black was a show that I’d wanted to watch from the get-go, but couldn’t justify the Netflix cost for. I finally caught up on the first season on dvd and then binged the second and third over a week or so when I finally gave in and signed up to Netflix. The lightness of the humour and the positivity of the relationships is starkly contrasted with the bleakness of the characters’ situations. The acting and writing is wonderful, the slow reveals of characters’ pasts through flashbacks is particularly clever and the whole thing is fresh, original and utterly compelling.

Justified_2010_IntertitleJustified was a great discovery for me, which I should thank Sky Boxsets for. I caught up with the first five seasons in just a few weeks and then got to watch the final season as it broadcast. I loved the whole series, but was particularly impressed that rather than fade away, the final season was actually one of the best. It focussed back on the main trio of characters and played out the uncertainty of “good”, “bad” and “somewehre in between” to the very end. A masterclass in how to close out a series.

americansThe Americans has been slow to reach the UK so I’m only about half way through, but it continues to be absolutely fascinating. The focus is alwasys on the emotional impact of the secrets and lies all the characters have to tell, which is good for me because I often struggle to remember the details of the various conspiracies and am far more interested in watching the phenomenal Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell acting. I feel a bit of a cheat putting something on here that’s only half way through, but it seems unlikely it will take a nosedive now!

Honourable mention: Defiance got off to a surprisingly brutal but very interesting start. There’s so little science fiction on television outside the super-hero genre that it’s a huge relief that this one doesn’t suck.

Favourite Shows
greys anatomyGrey’s Anatomy – only 4 of the original cast are left by the end of season 11. Each time someone leaves I think the show will struggle without them, that their gap will be unfillable, but each time the characters and relationships mature and evolve, not to replace the missing person, but to grow around the gap and evolve the show into something new. I love how the characters have grown, how the relationships mature and how nothing in the past is forgotten, but all makes a part of the present. Yes, it’s a daft soap opera with unbelievable stuff happening, but if you accept that key premise, everything else makes perfect sense. It’s like a comfortable blanket at the end of the day.

Agent_Carter_Series_LogoMarvel’s Agent Carter – while Agents of SHIELD did improve this year it’s still got a lot of problems and the pressure of being a headline show for both ABC and Marvel isn’t helping it. Agent Carter however didn’t have any of the pressure or any of the problems and quietly came along with a phenomenal central cahracter and hugely entertaining story.

Honourable mention: Jane the Virgin was a breath of fresh, if extremely cheesy, air.

Same old, same old (in a mostly good way)
The Walking DeadThe Walking Dead – The relentless pace of The Walking Dead never stops (ironic, given the increasingly shambling nature of the zombies). In the space of twenty odd episodes an incredible amount happened and it’s only through the efficiency of the writing and the talent of the actors that all the characters manage to develop and every nuance is clear. I do wish that we could catch our breath a little, and that the characters could actually find some brief respite and happiness, but I guess that wouldn’t be The Walking Dead.

pennydreadfulPenny Dreadful continues to be an under-watched and under-appreciated gem. The period detail is stunning and the interweaving of various literary characters is fascinating. It’s definitely a show that benefits from watching in chunks though as it is quite easy to lose track of the many different threads.

Mostly honourable mention: Orphan Black has got off to a strong start to season 3 (I’m about 3 episodes in) but its storyline is becoming more convoluted and I hope it’s not going to get lost.

Same old, same old (in a middling way)
CriminalMindsCriminal Minds – I didn’t even bother to review Criminal Minds this year because I honestly have nothing to say and very little recollection of what happened. I mean, I guess it’s safe and familiar (as much as that’s weird to say about a graphically brutal series about serial killers) and it’s not that I want it to be cancelled or dramatically changed, but 10 seasons later it needs some energy.

csiCSI – the final season trundled along much as the last half dozen or so had gone. Unremarkable stories, increasingly losing touch with the actual science and credibility that the show was founded on. Mind you (spoiler alert) having just yesterday watched the final feature length episode, the last season comparatively the creative highpoint of the show.

Middlingly honourable mention: NCIS: Los Angeles continues to have fun with its characters but struggle when it comes to memorable and engaging plots.

Same old, same old (in a bad way)
scandalScandal – oh good lord. It just keeps getting stupider and stupider. The core relationships are all stunningly unhealthy and I endlessly wonder why any of them (friends, colleagues or lovers) stay together when they’re clearly all phenomenally bad for each other and in fact the rest of humanity. I think I might be done.

Game of ThronesGame of Thrones – I’ve finally given up. There’s way too many characters that I really don’t care about, too many drawn out plots that aren’t going anywhere and a complete absence of any real fantasy. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Dishonourable mention: not even James Spader was enough to make me stick with The Blacklist as its convoluted mess of a story left me completely confused and utterly uninterested in who was trustworthy or not.

What happened there?! (in a very bad way)
goodwifeThe Good Wife – I hate seeing The Good Wife down in this section, but the more I think about it, the more frustrated I was by this season. I’d been really looking forward to seeing what would happen with Cary and Alicia’s firm, particularly with Diane joining them… and I was cheated out of it by a ‘too fast’ change of direction that saw Alicia running for State’s Attorney. The ongoing ridiculous arguments with the old firm was just pantomime and Cary’s legal problems were just contrived and frustrating. There’s still a lot of good about the show, but all the major storylines were miss-steps.

Scandal: Season 4

scandalWhen I’m reviewing a continuing series, generally just sit down and write the review cold; I know exactly what I want to say, sometimes I’ve even had a couple of bullet points that have been stuck in my brain from mid-season. Other times though I’m not sure what I want to say and my first action is usually to look back over things I’ve said about past seasons and see how my feelings have developed.

Sometimes that works really well, I can comment on how a series has addressed previous criticisms and/or developed new ones. Other times, it doesn’t work out so well and this is one of those times. I read back my review of Scandal’s season three and nodded along with myself. By the time I got to the end I was rather pleased with myself for (in my smug opinion) a pretty good review that got to the heart of the issues with the series. But I’m also deeply disappointed with myself, because despite being spot on about why the series is rubbish and getting worse… I still sat through another 20 odd episodes this season.

I mean the whole thing is just idiotic. Which I’d be kind of ok with, because the dialogue is snappy, the monologues heartfelt and the characters are fun to watch thanks to some great performances. But at some point through the season I stopped caring about the characters and they instantly became phenomenally annoying.
Olivia is the centre of this cloud of awfulness and all her attempts to make it better just make it worse. I can sympathise with crap luck, but she’s just out of control at this point and dragging everyone down. Her endless whining about wanting to be with the president just bores me, because fundamentally – he’s not a very nice person. He’s like Derek Shepherd (who I’ve also never thought is the least bit dreamy), he’s arrogant, self-righteous, ambitious for all the wrong reasons, manipulative and awful to the people around him. If he wants to be with Olivia so bad, STOP BEING PRESIDENT! Quit. Just go. Everyone around him is selling their souls (without too much encouragement it has to be said) for him to be president and all he seems to care about is making jam and babies with Olivia. So for the sake of everyone… go do that!
Once that thought has crossed your mind, unfortunately the whole series unravels, because all the stories are basically built on keeping the president in office and no one seems to be willing to look at why that’s a good thing either personally or for the country.

God, if last season you thought that their relationship and his presidency was bad news for everyone then it’s got nothing on this year when they literally cause a war. Oh, and now his equally awful wife is repeating all the same mistakes. Everyone claims to be trying to do good, to be the white hat, but for a start, I’m not sure their aims are really that noble and for a second, they’re so bad at it that the trail of destruction left in their wake rivals anything that the black hats could do!

I should probably make the same claim, that I won’t bother with Scandal next year, but I’m self-aware enough to acknowledge that I’ll probably be back. Last time I said that I needed some rubbish, mindless programmes on my schedule and that is still true. But there’s also a momentum to my watching, or possibly some sort of unhealthy addiction. The briefest of flashes of Shonda Rhimes’ great writing, the connections between the characters and the acting talent of Kerry Washington who brings nuance and subtlety to a script that doesn’t deserve it… those moments are enough to keep me hooked. So heaven help me… I’ll see you next year for pretty much the same review.

The Upfronts 2015: ABC

ABC network logoOf all the American Broadcast Networks, it seems ABC is my natural match. I watch, or have watched more shows on this channel than any other, although even I would be hard pressed to describe some of them as ‘good’. I don’t know whether it’s just my good luck, or if I’m just synced up with what Americans want to watch, but ABC is also having a particularly successful run of things, with renewals far outnumbering the cancellations and some impressively long running series.

Finished or Cancelled
Forever is the only cancelled show that I was sort of watching. I liked the pilot and stuck with the series for the first half dozen or so episodes mostly thanks to the charismatic acting combo of Ioan Gruffudd and Judd Hirsch. But the momentum fell away and it slipped into ‘stuff to watch while cooking’ territory and then slipped off the list altogether. A bit of a shame really. It did see out the whole season though, which is more than can be said for Manhattan Love Story which won this year’s prize for fastest cancellation, airing only 4 episodes before the plug was pulled. Selfie made it 6 episodes, Cristela made it the whole season.
Revenge was a show that to me took the themes of the channel to an extreme and showed how hateful it could be. It made it four seasons though, so what do I know. Resurrection was a show that while more engaging that the French version Les Revenants still wasn’t quite compelling enough for me to watch and was cancelled after its second season.

Returning
greys anatomyShonda Rhimes continues to rule supreme, Grey’s Anatomy enters season 12 (although losing another original cast member this year may signal it’s living on borrowed time), the ever more ridiculous Scandal goes into season 5 and How to Get Away with Murder makes it to season 2 (I somehow missed it when it aired in the UK and am waiting for it come around again). Marvel’s Agent Carter gets a second season following its 8 episodes this year, to compliment Agents of SHIELD which swings widely in quality, but maybe Joss Whedon will spend some time with it now Avengers is done.
castleI actually gave up on Castle this year, I just got bored by it. It was touch and go for a while whether both Fillion and Katic would sign up for season 8 but they did, and back it comes. Once Upon a Time and Nashville are both series where I enjoyed the first season, but got lost and disinterested in the second and never bothered returning to. They’re renewed for seasons 4 and 5 respectively. Secrets and Lies is a new drama that completely passed me by but got renewed for season 2, American Crime is an anthology series (cf American Horror Story) and has been renewed for a second season with a whole new story but an overlapping cast.
ABC also has a pretty strong sitcom line up renewing six in all, upcoming season in brackets: Black-ish (2), Fresh Off the Boat (2), Galavant (2), The Goldbergs (2), Last Man Standing (5), The Middle (6) and Modern Family (6).

New in Autumn

The Muppets: The Muppets are back. Just like the original Muppet Show, it’s behind the scenes as they put on a show, this time a television late night chat show rather than a variety show. The series is set up as a behind the scenes documentary, including little interviews etc and aims to be more grown up. The trailer wasn’t as funny or as nostalgic as I might have hoped and they actually used the phrase “like you’ve never seen them before”. Honestly, what idiot writes these trailers?


Dr Ken: Ken Jeong a comedian who I find irritating in everything he does (most notably Community) now has his own show to spoil all by himself. The trailer was so painfully awful that I only made it half way through.


Quantico: A group of new recruits join the FBI training academy which is half military level special ops and half high school summer camp. But there’s a terrorist attack, one of the recruits is a traitor and another one is framed and must clear her name. I found the trailer deeply confusing, so I’m not sure whether the series told chronologically or in flashbacks. It also had a terrible narration that hopefully will not carry through the series.


OIL: Rich families, oil fields, money, poor families, American dream, yadda yadda yadda. Utterly not interested.


Of Kings and Prophets: Based on the biblical Books of Samuel, it looks like Game of Thrones with even fewer dragons. The trailer hovered on the edge of parody I felt and Ray Winstone may be the worst casting I’ve ever seen.

Coming later

The Catch: A woman who chases con-artists is herself conned by the man she spent a year with and was going to marry. I’m guessing the series will comprise her occasionally taking cases but mostly dealing with her personal stuff. It’s Shonda Rhimes again, so expect a strong female lead, a horrible male lead that we’re supposed to find dreamy and increasingly ridiculous plots that all combine into something incredibly compelling that you sort of hate yourself for.


The Family: Ten years ago Claire’s son disappeared. Now she’s the mayor and about to run for governor, and the son she thought was dead has reappeared. It’s a good idea for a film or mini-series, but I’m not sure it’s got the legs for a whole series. Still it’s actually an original idea so I’ll give it a try and see where it goes.


Wicked City: St in Los Angeles in 1982 following a serial killer and the investigation. I’m not sure how this can stretch into a series without becoming exceptionally repetitive and frustrating.


The Real O’Neals: A perfect catholic family turns out to have a few secrets. I may be desperate and mistaken, but I didn’t spot anything offensive or depressing in this trailer. I actually smiled a couple of times.


Uncle Buck: posh people get sufficiently desperate for a babysitter they call Uncle Buck who takes the kids to bars and is disreputable in a pre-watershed kind of way. Nothing horrific, nothing that exciting.

Scandal: Season 3

scandalGood grief, was that really only season 3 of Scandal? This show is like something on fast-forward, burning through plots and defcon levels at astronomical rates. Unfortunately, I think that means in the space of 3 seasons 2 they’ve propelled themselves through the growth phases and (to extend my rocket metaphor to breaking point) rather than settling into a happy steady orbit, they’ve burnt out and are about to crash and burn.

If you look at Shonda Rhimes most successful show Grey’s Anatomy, it’s made it to 11 seasons because most of the time it’s quite small. It’s about individual doctors living their lives and treating individual patients. When it struggles is when it tries to be big with plane crashes and life changing ridiculousness, but the moments that the fans keep tuning in for are the small moments of connection and relationships.

Scandal went the other way. It didn’t want to be about small things, it wants to be about Presidents and politics and conspiracies and the safety of the good old US of A. And it’s ridiculous. By midway through the first season they’d made things so big that they couldn’t back down and the only way was to keep getting bigger. SPOILERS!

So in season 3, Olivia’s mother, who’s an international terrorist, tries to kill Olivia’s lover, who’s the president. But she is foiled by Olivia’s other lover, who runs a secret government spy agency, which used to be run by Olivia’s father. Meanwhile the vice-president has decided to run against the president, despite the fact that she recently murdered her husband after finding out he had an affair with a journalist, who is also the husband of the president’s chief of staff. But the chief of staff and the secret spy agency covered it up. But then journalist wanted to come clean, so Olivia’s lover (the spy one, not the president one) killed the journalist, who also happened to be the father of Olivia’s godchild.

To coin a phrase from Grey’s Anatomy – Seriously?!

I mean the whole thing is just idiotic. Which I’d be kind of ok with, because the dialogue is snappy, the monologues heartfelt and the characters are fun to watch thanks to some great performances. But at some point through the season I stopped caring about the characters and they instantly became phenomenally annoying.

Olivia is the centre of this cloud of awfulness and all her attempts to make it better just make it worse. I can sympathise with crap luck, but she’s just out of control at this point and dragging everyone down. Her endless whining about wanting to be with the president just bores me, because fundamentally – he’s not a very nice person. He’s like Derek Shepherd (who I’ve also never thought is the least bit dreamy), he’s arrogant, self-righteous, ambitious for all the wrong reasons, manipulative and awful to the people around him. If he wants to be with Olivia so bad, STOP BEING PRESIDENT! Quit. Just go. Everyone around him is selling their souls (without too much encouragement it has to be said) for him to be president and all he seems to care about is making jam and babies with Olivia. So for the sake of everyone… go do that!

Once that thought has crossed your mind, unfortunately the whole series unravels, because all the stories are basically built on keeping the president in office and no one seems to be willing to look at why that’s a good thing either personally or for the country.

I made it all the way to the end of the season because frankly I was in need of something stupid and mindless to watch and this filled a hole. Whether I’ll be back next year rather depends on whether I have anything else filling my quotia of mindless television. I’m not actually sure which outcome would be considered “good”.

Emmy Awards 2013-14

Emmy AwardIt’s the Emmy Awards next week and I figured in advance of my own assessment of the 2013-14 season (I’m still trying to finish a couple of shows off!) I’d quickly run through some of the Emmy categories. I’m only looking at the drama and mini-series categories as I’ve watched hardly anything that would qualify in the comedy, variety or reality categories.

goodwifeOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson), Masters of Sex – I only watched one episode and don’t remember much about her performance I’m afraid.
  • Claire Danes (Carrie Mathison), Homeland – I gave up on the series due to the terrible writing, but that was certainly no fault of Danes who always delivered impressive performances.
  • Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Downton Abbey – Sigh. No. Dockery does an ok job with what she’s given, but this is not an Emmy worthy role or performance.
  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick), The Good Wife – Another powerful but human woman again beautifully performed. Margulies was given some great material this year and she delivered accordingly.
  • Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope), Scandal – The series itself is bonkers and Washington plays the powerful but human Olivia Pope superbly.
  • Robin Wright (Claire Underwood), House of Cards – She’s superb as this very complex and unusual character. A really mesmerising performance
  • Who’s missing: Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black is such a gaping absence in this list you could almost believe that someone screwed up reading the nominations out. It’s possible that she could almost be viewed as cheating as she’s playing half a dozen characters, but that doesn’t change the fact that she should certainly be in Dockery’s slot and should quite probably have won. Keri Russell of The Americans, Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy would also be worthy nominees if more slots were available.
    Who’ll win: This is a phenomenally strong year for women on television and choosing one winner is hard. I’d be pretty happy with either Wright, Margulies or Washington winning, but the general consensus seems to be that Caplan will win.

    House of CardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Bryan Cranston (Walter White), Breaking Bad – I haven’t seen it, I’m sure he’s great, but I do get a bit frustrated when show’s drag out a minimal number of episodes to extend across multiple years.
  • Jeff Daniels (Will McAvoy), The Newsroom – a good performance through some very uneven writing, I think some of the people I mention below are more deserving of his slot, but his nomination isn’t as ridiculous as some have suggested.
  • Jon Hamm (Don Draper), Mad Men – I think Hamm is managing to deliver a strong performance of a very poorly written character. Maybe that’s even more deserving than an actor who’s given a great character from the start, but it’s a bit tricky.
  • Woody Harrelson (Martin Hart) and Matthew McConaughey (Rust Cohle) True Detective – Bundling both nominations together, I didn’t watch beyond the first episode of the series and know McConaughey has got a lot of praise for his performance, but I found Harrelson the more interesting and delicate role.
  • Kevin Spacey (Francis Underwood), House of Cards – superbly chilling, it’s a very restrained performance for the most part, but the moments of emotion that the character allows through are startling.
  • Who’s Missing: If we put the two True Detectives into the miniseries category where they belong and bump off Daniels and Hamm, that leaves plenty of space for some under-appreciated performers. Matthew Rhys in The Americans gave a stunning performance of the conflicted spy, James Spader is wonderfully unpredictable on The Blacklist, Andrew Lincoln continues to be amazing on The Walking Dead and I haven’t seen this season, but I bet you anything you like Charlie Hunnam was incredible on Sons of Anarchy. I didn’t watch them, but I know a lot of people who did are frustrated by the lack of love for Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex and Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal. I’m also a bit surprised that Damian Lewis isn’t here for Homeland.

    Who’ll win: I’m actually pretty ambivalent about this category, it’s nowhere near as strong as the Actress category. I’d like Spacey to win I think, but I don’t know enough about Cranston and the True Detective roles to really make it a particularly educated choice. I suspect McConaughey will win on the night though. I think it’s just been a little too long since Breaking Bad and I think the academy will be smitten with the idea of McConaughey winning the Emmy and Oscar in the same year.

    Downton AbbeyOutstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart), The Good Wife – Amazing. She had some of the best scenes of the series and she utterly broken my heart.
  • Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Downton Abbey – a meatier storyline, but still the roles on Downton do not give the actors enough subtlety to really deserve these nominations.
  • Anna Gunn (Skyler White), Breaking Bad – no idea
  • Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Game of Thrones – slightly surprising to see her here. Like with the Downton roles, I’m not sure this one really had the subtlety to show off Headey’s talents to the full, but it was certainly interesting. I think I may have voted for Maisie Williams (Aria), Sophie Turner (Sansa) or Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) who got more range in their characters.
  • Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris), Mad Men – I like the character and performance a great deal, Joan is such a strong period character, fully belonging in the period, but also pushing the boundaries.
  • Maggie Smith (Violet Grantham), Downton Abbey – she didn’t have anywhere near enough material to be here.
  • Who’s Missing: Sandra Oh had a great final season on Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t imagine Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff on Sons of Anarchy were anything less than incredible. I didn’t watch season 2 of Nashville, but given her performance in season 1 and the material she had, I’d guess Hayden Panettiere was pretty impressive. Belamy Young (Mellie) manages to make her character both a bitch and a hero all at once on Scandal and Annet Mahendru (Nina) from The Americans quietly turned her character into an absolute star as well.

    Who’ll win: Baranski would most definitely be my choice, but Anna Gunn may steal it.

    Game of ThronesOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

  • Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman), Breaking Bad – the number of times I have to write “I haven’t watched Breaking Bad” really should have motivated me to watch it by now.
  • Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Downton Abbey – Oh for pities sake. I actually thought Allen Leech as Branson gave a more interesting performance.
  • Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) Game of Thrones – yes indeed. Very much so. In fact, I’d almost say he should be in the Lead Actor category and winning that one.
  • Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson), Homeland – it was actually the shift in Patinkin’s character that made me stop watching as his character gave up the moral highground. It was a good performance though.
  • Jon Voight (Mickey Donovan), Ray Donovan – I didn’t watch more than the pilot and don’t remember the character or performance.
  • Josh Charles (Will Gardner), The Good Wife – I didn’t actually like where the character went this year, falling into old patterns in his anger and betrayal. But another great performance.
  • Who’s Missing: Guillermo Diaz as the terrifying Huck on Scandal, Matt Czuchry as Cary on The Good Wife and both Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Chandler Riggs (Carl) had great seasons on The Walking Dead.

    Who’ll win: I suspect it will be between Paul, Dinklage and Voight. Personally I’d probably have given it to Dinklage as he really does carry the show.

    Breaking BadOutstanding Drama Series

  • Breaking Bad – at just 8 episodes long, this almost feels like cheating.
  • Downton Abbey – sigh. It’s hugely entertaining, but no other series is ever allowed a drama nomination just because it’s entertaining and/or popular.
  • Game of Thrones – this season was better than previous and the series is certainly spectacularly well produced, but it’s still got problems that it inherits from the books.
  • House of Cards – Such a fascinating series, whether despite of or because of the way that it’s produced it’s a fascinating and original new tone for American television.
  • Mad Men – I’m calling time on Mad Men, it’s just going round and round in circles, foregoing linear character development in favour of dragging things out.
  • True Detective – I didn’t make it past the first episode because although I could see that it was very good, I just didn’t want to watch it and none of the characters or stories grabbed me enough to make me want to stay.
  • What’s missing: There are two big problems with this list, the first is the absence of The Good Wife which is an oversight so huge that if I had any faith in awards it would be completely destroyed. The Good Wife should not only be nominated, but should be winning this category easily, if for no other reason than it produced 22 stunning episodes this year, rather than just a dozen like most of these nominees. The second problem is the presence of True Detective which may well be superb, but should appear in the mini-series category. If it’s going to have a new cast and storyline next year, then it should be competing alongside Fargo and American Horror Story. Beyond that, I think Orphan Black and The Walking Dead should certainly be there and The Americans if we could find space.
    What will win:: Of this choice, the only one I’ve seen and think is worthy is House of Cards, I suspect True Detective will win though.

    Outstanding Miniseries
    truedetective

  • American Horror Story: Coven – it was fine, but I don’t think it was necessarily outstanding.
  • Bonnie & Clyde – didn’t see it
  • Fargo – I wasn’t sold on it at first, feeling it was just an extended version of the film, but the subtlety grew on me and eventually completely sucked me in.
  • Luther – excellent performance from Idris Elba in an otherwise very mediocre show.
  • The White Queen – didn’t see it
  • Treme – I never made it past the first episode several years ago.
  • What’s missing – I strongly believe True Detective should be in here instead of competing in the drama category. Yes, it would probably sweep the awards to the detriment of others, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. It would seem that Sherlock was submitted as a ‘Made for TV Movie’ which is a mistake because a) it’s not and b) it’s not going to beat the phenomenal Normal Heart. Penny Dreadful by the way aired after the eligibility period, so saves me thinking too hard about whether it should be here or not.
    What will win: Fargo. I don’t think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s certainly the best of this pretty poor list.

    American Horror StoryLead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Jessica Lange (Fiona Goode) and Sarah Paulson (Cordelia Goode Foxx) both of American Horror Story: Coven – good performances from both actresses, I think Paulson’s was actually the more interesting and varied character though.
  • Helena Bonham Carter (Burton and Taylor), Minnie Driver (Return to Zero), Kristen Wiig (The Spoils of Babylon), Cicely Tyson (The Trip to Bountiful). – I haven’t seen any of these, in fact the only one I’ve even heard of was Burton and Taylor.
  • Who will win – Dunno, don’t care. Clearly while women are doing well in Drama series, they’re not getting anything particularly interesting in miniseries. Incidentally, I rather think that Allison Tolman from Fargo should be in here instead of in the supporting actress category, and she should be winning.

    lutherOutstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (Louis Lester), Dancing on the Edge – solid but unremarkable performance. Ejiofor is clearly capable of far greater than this role allows him to show off.
  • Martin Freeman (Lester Nygaard), Fargo – it’s a very engaging performance, playing to Freeman’s speciality as the seeming bumbling everyman with a strong/dark core.
  • Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo), Fargo – initially this seemed the more interseting role than Freeman’s, but actually, it was all a bit monotone. Admittedly an interesting tone, but the relentless creepy coolness became a bit old..
  • Idris Elba (John Luther), Luther – a wonderful performance bringing life and originality to an otherwise unremarkable series. Like James Spader, his characters are always utterly unpredictable, while still being coherent.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes), Sherlock: His Last Vow – Always excellent and this season gave his character some depth and conflict which was delivered expertly.
  • Mark Ruffalo (Ned Weeks), The Normal Heart – A devastatingly powerful TV Movie and stunning performances from the whole cast. Ruffalo plays to type as the slightly bumbling academic with a fiery temper, but he does it exceptionally.
  • Who’s missing – I can’t actually think of anyone who’s missing, although I think I would argue that Freeman is as much a lead in Sherlock as Cumberbatch is, but I fully understand why he wouldn’t enter this category to compete against both himself and his co-star!
    Who will win – men in miniseries are fairing far better than the women are, particularly British men, it says a lot when I think that the Oscar nominated Ejiofor is the weakest of them all. I suspect Mark Ruffalo will win, not undeservingly but strongly helped by the subject matter of The Normal Heart. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Elba, Cumberbatch or Freeman was announced though.

    Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
    fargo

  • Frances Conroy (Myrtle), Kathy Bates (Delphine) and Angela Bassett (Marie), all from American Horror Story: Coven – all of these were single note performances, and frankly hammy over-the-top ones. That’s what the show demanded, but I don’t think it gave any of these wonderful actresses a chance to shine.
  • Allison Tolman (Molly Solverson), Fargo – she started off a little basic but gradually revealed more depth until she really became the star of this series.
  • Ellen Burstyn (Olivia), Flowers in the Attic – didn’t see it.
  • Julia Roberts (Dr Emma Brookner), The Normal Heart – her character was a bit of a macguffin in the movie and didn’t have the subtlest of material so I thought her performance came across a bit heavy handed.
  • Who will win: I think and hope Tolman wins, she gives a far more nuanced performance than anyone else in this category.

    SherlockSupporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Colin Hanks (Deputy Gus Grimly), Fargo – like Freeman, Hanks is playing to type here and he does it very well, but it’s not a role with a huge amount of variety in it.
  • Martin Freeman (John Watson), Sherlock: His Last Vow – Watson is almost the opposite side of the coin to Lester Nygaard, starting from strength and adding uncertainty. He’s such a restrained character opposite Sherlock’s extravagance and this episode certainly gave Freeman the opportunity to shine.
  • Matt Bomer (Felix), Jim Parsons (Tommy), Joe Mantello (Mickey) and Alfred Molina (Ben) all from The Normal Heart – Everyone in this cast deserves an award, all very different, utterly superb and devastating performances. I would definitely have put Taylor Kitsch in instead of Molina.
  • Who will win – I would like to see Freeman win, his co-star gets all the glory for Sherlock, but for me, Watson is by far the more interesting character and the straight man is the harder role. That said, anyone from The Normal Heart would also be thoroughly deserving and if I had to pick just one of them, I think the heartbreaking Matt Bomer would just edge ahead of the beautifully restrained Jim Parsons and the explosive Joe Mantello.

    Scandal: Season 2

    scandalI have a confession to make. I cheated when I watched this. I was trundling along quite happily watching week by week on Channel 4, frustrated that we were months behind the US, but plodding through. Then a friend pointed me at a reliable online source of episodes and I promptly lost an entire weekend, utterly incapable of doing anything but watching episodes back to back until I reached the end of the season.

    That could be taken as an indication of just how good the show is, but it’s more complicated than that. The show is completely and manipulatively addictive; each episode racing along and ending on irresistible cliffhangers. There are so many mysteries and storylines, each constantly waxing and waning that you’re carried along without having time to stop and ponder the the fact that it’s actually a bit rubbish.

    Most of the plots make no sense. I was utterly lost about who knew what about which conspiracy as everything twisted itself in knots. Then various characters and relationships just go round and round in dysfunctional and destructive circles of “we shouldn’t”, “but we want to”, “but we shouldn’t” until the only sensible conclusion is that everyone should retreat to separate corners of the globe and have nothing at all to do with each other.

    But then the Shonda Rhimes magic kicks in. You don’t want the characters to be apart, because they’re so fascinating together. In the first season I was full of praise for Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope and my admiration has only increased. She plays Pope’s great strength and great vulnerability perfectly in synch with each other, a woman whose brain has all the answers but whose heart still makes poor choices. After the very short first season I commented that the supporting characters got minimal development but had potential. Boy does that potential fly this season. With the possible exception of Harrison, everyone gets a huge amount of backstory and character development, while still leaving massive amounts of mystery and interest. Ironically, of all the characters I think the weakest is actually the President, who comes across increasingly like a sulky, lovesick teenager.

    I do maybe wish that the series would slow down a bit, allowing more time for the stories and characters to marinade before rushing on to the next challenge. I thought the first season was rushed because of the episode count, but it turns out that’s just the pace they want to move at. It does wobble precariously between busy and chaotic, the moment when John Barrowman appeared and was actually the most understated thing in the episode was a moment that should have caused some pause in the writers room.

    But like Grey’s Anatomy, the faults don’t really matter because it’s a show that I HAVE TO WATCH. Every episode has a moment that has me immediately wanting to share with a friend and gossip about. It replaces the emotional manipulation of Grey’s Anatomy with intrigue and mystery, but loses absolutely none of the heart. Come on Channel 4, I need season 3 now. This instant!

    2012-13 Season – the best and the worst

    2012_2013As 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.

    The Americans: S1
    Blue Bloods: S3
    The Big Bang Theory: S6
    Bones: S8
    Borgen: S2
    Broadchurch: S1
    The Cafe: S2 (in progress)
    Castle: S5
    Chicago Fire: S1
    Criminal Minds: S8
    CSI: S13
    CSI: NY: S10 (in progress)
    Defiance: S1
    Doctor Who: S7
    Downton Abbey: S3
    The Fall: S1
    The Following: S1
    Forbrydelsen (The Killing): S3
    Fringe: S5
    Game of Thrones: S3
    The Good Wife: S4
    Grey’s Anatomy: S9
    Hannibal: S1
    Homeland: S2
    House of Cards: S1
    House of Lies: S2 (in progress)
    Hunted: S1
    Last Tango in Halifax: S1
    Luther: S3
    Mad Men: S6
    Merlin: S5
    Nashville: S1
    NCIS: LA: S4 (in progress)
    The Newsroom: S2 (in progress)
    Once Upon a Time: S2 (in progress)
    Orphan Black: S1 (in progress)
    Les Revenenants (The Returned): S1
    Scandal: S2 (Review to come)
    Smash: S2 (in progress)
    Supernatural: S8 (in progress)
    The Thick of It: S4
    Utopia: S1
    Vegas: S1
    The Walking Dead: S3
    Warehouse 13: S4 (in progress)
    Young Doctor’s Notebook: S1

    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.

    Best Shows
    The Walking Dead title screenThe 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.

    GoodWifeThe 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 CardsHouse 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.

    Favourite Shows
    scandalScandal – 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.

    americansThe 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!

    BorgenBorgen – 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).

    Actors
    bBroadchurchI 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 Thick of ItThe 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.

    lutherThen 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.

    Grey's Anatomy CastWhen 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.

    Disappointments
    Mad MenMad 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 TimeOnce 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.

    fringeFringe – 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
    SonsOfAnarchyIn 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.

    Local Talent
    utopiaEvery 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.

    Downton AbbeyA 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.

    Emmy Awards 2012-13

    Emmy AwardAh the Emmys. Every year the nominations come out and television fans and critics alike look at the list and go “you what now?”. It’s full of the same old stuff, some of it deserving, but a lot of it just old, tired and not as great as people remember it was. The nominators seem to have massive blind spots for certain shows, often it’s a straightforward “genre shows aren’t good” (The Walking Dead), or “police procedurals may be popular but we shouldn’t reward that” (Southland), or “motorcycle gangs are bad” (Sons of Anarchy) or even just a blanket “there’s nothing good on network, quality is only on cable” (The Good Wife). But this year for some reason the Emmys have also taken against The Americans and when you start wondering if that’s because they still don’t like Russians, you have to wonder what the hell is going on over there.

    So here are my thoughts on who I would give awards to and who I think will win the Emmys. I’ve only really covered the major drama categories. I don’t watch enough comedy, reality or factual to comment on those, I don’t have enough technical knowledge to comment on sound design or camera work and I can’t be bothered to look at the directing and writing categories because those frankly seem like they’re just used as an extension of the outstanding drama/comedy/whatever award and not looking at whether the direction or writing is actually creative or innovative.

    OUTSTANDING DRAMA
    Breaking Bad – I’ve only watched the first season which was brilliant, and I can’t imagine the final season is anything else, although stretching it out for nearly 2 years does feel a little like an awards show grab.
    Downton Abbey – Ah, the Americans’ love of Downton Abbey. It’s a fun series, with a very specific genre. Does it deserve to be here? Hell no.
    Game of Thrones – Another very specific type of show that just does not belong on this list.
    Homeland (2012 winner) – I think the second season is probably best described as ‘troubled’. Season 1 was very good, I think season 3 could be very good, but season 2 was not.
    House of Cards – It’s already a huge deal that a Netflix original programme is on this list at all. The fact that it’s also absolutely superb should terrify the other channels.
    Mad Men – Far from the best season of the show. I’ve lost interest completely.

    The Walking DeadWith the exception of Breaking Bad and House of Cards I think this is a really very poor selection from the vast number of outstanding shows that are out there. The Walking Dead is far more deserving than Game of Thrones (if we’re going to allow one spot for genre). The Americans is better than Homeland, Nashville is a better cheesy soap than Downton Abbey (not that this category is necessarily the place for a cheesy soap) and The Good Wife (while not such a tidy genre comparison) is so far beyond Mad Men it’s not funny. I would also not be appalled to see Scandal, or Sons of Anarchy (even though I haven’t seen it) on the list, and I know a lot of people would grumble at the absence of Southland and Justified.

    My outstanding drama – The Walking Dead
    My Emmy Choice – from that list, I think House of Cards (Breaking Bad can have it next year)
    What will win – I recon House of Cards might just do it

    OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
    Connie Britton, Nashville – Excellent choice, she’s wonderful. And lovely.
    Claire Danes, Homeland (2012 winner) – manages to ride the roller coaster the writers put her character on, always knocking it out of the park
    Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey – she’s doing the best with some pretty miserable writing, but no way she deserves to be on this list (not least because it’s an ensemble, she is not the star)
    Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel – Haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know, but I’ve heard good things.
    Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men – She’s a great actress, but I don’t think she’s a lead in Mad Men, she just didn’t get enough material.
    Kerry Washington, Scandal – Another excellent choice, she’s incredible on the show.
    Robin Wright, House of Cards – A difficult character, but played very well to make her both unsettling and sympathetic.

    scandalThere are some amazing roles out there for women at the moment, and some amazing actresses filling them. The presence of Connie Britton brings into notice the absence of her co-star Hayden Pannetier. She submitted in the supporting actress instead, I guess for fear of splitting votes, but then didn’t get nominated). I would say she was as much a lead as Britton and did just as good a job and actually with a greater range of material. Keri Russell of The Americans is overlooked, Ellen Pompeo continues to quietly do good work on Grey’s Anatomy, Anna Torv for Fringe didn’t even bother submitting herself apparently, Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff of Sons of Anarchy might as well not have bothered because the Emmy’s fails to acknowledge their shows existence. I’m also only a couple of episodes in but Tatiana Maslany is incredible in Orphan Black and pretty much cleared up at any award show voted for by critics. But that all pails into insignificance with the absence of Julianna Margulies for The Good Wife which is just beyond belief.

    My Outstanding Actress – Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (although I might change that to Tatiana Maslany when I finish Orphan Black)
    My Emmy Choice – I think Kerry Washington, she makes the show work, which is a true mark of a leading role.
    Who will win – Robin Wright, and it would be well deserved.

    OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
    Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey – He did have some amazing moments this season, but they were only moments. I think he belongs in the supporting actor category.
    Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad – I’m sure he’s amazing
    Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom – Interesting. The writing for the character was all over the place, but he did convincingly sell it all.
    Jon Hamm, Mad Men – I hate the character and think the continual yo-yoing is beyond a joke, but even when I try to ignore that and just look at Hamm’s performance, I find it a bit… flat.
    Damian Lewis, Homeland (2012 winner) – As with his co-star, ropey writing salvaged by superb performances.
    Kevin Spacey, House of Cards – It’s Kevin Spacey, of course he’s amazing.

    House of CardsTo my mind, Matthew Rhys in The Americans gave just as good a performance as Damian Lewis and the show around him was immeasurably better material. The fact that Andrew Lincoln’s breathtaking work on The Walking Dead was ignored isn’t surprising but is endlessly frustrating. I think the show is rubbish, but Hugh Dancy gives an amazing performance in Hannibal. I wouldn’t have been displeased to see Matt Smith for Doctor Who, or even Kevin Bacon for The Following on that list either. The surprise absence is Michael C. Hall for Dexter who must have really pissed someone off to not get his sixth consecutive nomination.

    My Outstanding Actor and Emmy Choice – Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
    Who will win – Bryan Cranston.

    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
    Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad – probably excellent
    Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (2012 winner) – I was initially frustrated at this nomination, but then I remembered the scenes after Sybil’s death and actually, I think she deserves this nomination far more than her win last year.
    Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones – She’s one of the best things in the disappointing series, but I’m just not sure there was that much complexity to her character.
    Christine Baranski, The Good Wife – yay!
    Morena Baccarin, Homeland – Also yay!
    Christina Hendricks, Mad Men – I love her, but I’m not sure her character got enough to do to warrant this nomination. I’d almost rather see January Jones in this space. (Oh, but two actresses from Firefly in the list, how cool is that?!)

    NashvilleGiven I think Hayden Pannetier could have been nominated for lead, the fact she didn’t make the cut here is surprising and sad. I’d happily see Chandra Wilson or Sandra Oh for Grey’s Anatomy on the list. Kate Mara gives just as good as she gets from Kevin Spacey on House of Cards (and could be argued is more the lead than Robin Wright is).

    My Outstanding Supporting Actress – Hayden Pannetier for Nashville, and I’m as surprised as anyone by that.
    My Emmy Choice – Christine Baranski (Maggie Smith can just consider she won a year early and it averages out).
    Who Will Win – Maggie Smith

    OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
    Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire – Don’t watch, dunno.
    Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad – Dunno, haven’t seen any episodes with him in.
    Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (2012 winner) – I’m sure he’s great.
    Jim Carter, Downton Abbey – Sigh. No. Just no.
    Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones – The best thing in the show and almost the only reason I keep watching. Absolutely wonderful.
    Mandy Patinkin, Homeland – A worthy nominee.

    Game of ThronesI’m pretty unexcited by this list, but then can’t really comment on three out of the six. John Nobel for Fringe is unsurprisingly overlooked. Josh Charles is always wonderful in The Good Wife, Sam Waterstone is powerful and hilarious as Charlie in The Newsroom, Guillermo Diaz and Jeff Perry were both superb on Scandal, and for all Smash’s woes I rather adore Jack Davenport.

    My Outstanding Supporting Actor and Emmy Choice – Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. Every scene he’s not in is just counting the minutes until he returns.
    Who Will Win – I recon Peter Dinklage might win again, but the Breaking Bad people could snatch it.

    OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
    Margo Martindale, The Americans – oh apparently the nominators *are* watching The Americans, or is it just that they loved Margo Martindale in Justified so much they keep nominating her. She’s good, but not spectacular.
    Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones – I think this is more about the name than the performance, which while good, I’m not sure was one of the best of teh year out of the thousands available.
    Carrie Preston, The Good Wife – Yay Elsbeth! I adore her, she’s so quirky and offbeat, but somehow incredibly real.
    Linda Cardellini, Mad Men – I had to look up who this was. Unenthused.
    Jane Fonda, The Newsroom – I just remember her shouting a lot, not really anything phenomenal
    Joan Cusack, Shameless – No idea.

    goodwifeThis list could easily be made up with just The Good Wife – Maura Tierney, Martha Plimpton, Mamie Gummer, Stockard Channing, Amanda Peet… all wonderful. Shirley McLain was hilarious in Downton Abbey. I’m sure Grey’s Anatomy had some good guests too, but the one I remember most was Sarah Chalke.

    My choice and the Emmy’s choice, was Carrie Preston for The Good Wife (awarded at the Creative Arts Emmys last week)

    OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
    Nathan Lane, The Good Wife – it’s always odd to see Nathan Lane doing something low key and he was heartbreaking as a drab little accountant in a suit inspired by Steve Jobs’ biography
    Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife – gloriously manipulative, skirts the edges of comedy villain beautifully
    Rupert Friend, Homeland – I had to look him up, but as soon as the photo loaded I recognised him as the creepy and mysterious Quinn, an excellent addition to the amazing Homeland cast, but he was in 9 out of 12 episodes… doesn’t sound like a ‘guest’ role.
    Robert Morse, Mad Men – Bert Cooper (I had to look him up and check) just doesn’t really do that much, more a reliable piece of furniture than anything outstanding imho.
    Harry Hamlin, Mad Men – I have no memory of him in the series. Not a great indicator.
    Dan Bucatinsky, Scandal – I was surprised to see this name here, he was a little umm… melodramatic I thought, but I don’t begrudge him this space on the list.

    Another list that could just be made up of guests on The Good Wife – Matthew Perry, Gary Cole, Dallas Roberts, T.R. Knight – all my favourite actors show up here sooner or later. Guest stars are always the hardest to remember though and I’m struggling for other shows.

    My choice – I can’t bring myself to pick between Nathan Lane and Michael J. Fox.
    Emmy’s choice – Dan Bucatinsky, which really surprises me.

    OUTSTANDING TV MINISERIES OR MOVIE
    behindthecandelabraAmerican Horror Story: Asylum – I just didn’t get on with the series this year. I found it much harder to engage with the characters and stories
    Behind the Candelabra – not being in the idiotic US, I was able to see this in its true home on the big screen and it will probably feature as one of my top films of the year. Telling a fascintating story about complex characters in a hugely enjoyable way – a joy to watch.
    Top of the Lake – I made it through 2 and a half episodes before calling it quits due to extreme boredom and disbelief at every single one of the characters.
    The Bible, Phil Spector, Political Animals – haven’t seen ’em

    My outstanding miniseries/movie – Behind the Candelabra and I think the Emmy voters will agree. I think Michael Douglas will also win the lead actor award, although Matt Damon is equally worthy.

    Scandal: Season 1

    scandalOlivia Pope is a fixer, she leads a small team of misfits working in Washington DC and if you’ve got a problem, or done something you shouldn’t have, she’s the person you go to even if you’re the President of the United States. She is phenomenally smart, she knows absolutely everything and everyone and she will stop at absolutely nothing for her clients. Fortunately for the viewers she’s also actually a real person with feelings and emotions and is not above making a few mistakes of her own. Olivia Pope is a fantastic character and beautifully played by Kerry Washington.

    The other characters fall into the shadows a little in comparison. Pope’s team never really get much beyond a sentence character description each. Harrison is a lawyer/salesman and talks very very fast, Abby is a highly strung investigator who is blatantly in love with the womanising and frankly rather dodgy Stephen, Quinn is the naive, neurotic new girl and Huck is the quiet tech guy who retired from doing very bad things for the CIA. They’ve all got potential, but they never got much of a chance to develop depth. The political characters are a lot stronger, with the President, his Chief of Staff and First Lady all having considerably more layers to them, most of them not very pleasant. Oh and there’s Joshua Malina in there as a district attorney, it really doesn’t matter about his character, because he’s Josh Malina and he’s always great.

    The big problem the first season has is that it’s only 7 episodes long; that’s not a season, it’s an introduction. But rather than take any time to establish the characters and their day lives, it jumps straight into a massive, potentially world changing plot. That’s a real difficulty here, because there’s never really a chance to understand what normal is before we’re thrown into something exceptional, meaning it’s difficult to fully appreciate the stress and impact. I thought the series was going to be about the consultancy business and fall into a “client of the week” pattern, with a long term arc around the more major political stories. I’m still not really sure whether I was wrong, or whether the “client of the week” all just got cut when 15 episodes got hacked off the season.

    Despite the questionable pacing, the show is good fun to watch with the snappy dialogue and knowing tones that I love in Grey’s Anatomy, and the smart appreciation for complex situations that makes The Good Wife so interesting. However I think the season (and possibly the whole series) is undermined by rushing all the establishing stuff which left me feeling a bit like I was watching the edited highlights. Hopefully season 2, with a full 22 episodes will take a bit more time to allow the characters and scenario to establish properly before inevitably turning it all upside down again.