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.

    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.

    The 2011-2012 Season

    I’ve been dragging my feet on my season round-up post as I’ve been trying to polish off a few more series. But all the new stuff is starting, so the time has come to just get on with it! I’ve watched 39 series this year, last year was 28 so that’s a pretty terrifying increase! A fair number of the series are only a handful of episodes though (for better or worse) so I figure the number of episodes is about the same, somewhere around the 600 mark.

    American Horror Story – S1
    Awake – S1 (In progress)
    The Big Bang Theory – S5
    The Big C – S2
    Blue Bloods – S2
    Bones – S7
    Borgen – S1
    The Bridge – S1
    The Cafe – S1
    Castle – S4
    Criminal Minds – S7
    CSI – S12
    CSI:NY – S8
    Downton Abbey – S2
    Forbrydelsen (The Killing): S2
    Fringe – S4 (in progress)
    Game of Thrones – S2
    Glee – S3 (in progress)
    The Good Wife – S3
    Grey’s Anatomy – S8
    Homeland – S1
    House – S8
    The Jury
    Luck – S1
    Luther – S2
    Mad Men – S5 (In progress)
    Merlin – S4
    NCIS – S9
    NCIS: LA – S3
    The Newsroom – S1
    Once Upon a Time – S1 (in progress)
    Outnumbered – S4
    Sherlock – S2
    Smash – S1
    Sons of Anarchy – S4
    Supernatural – S7
    Terra Nova – S1
    Veep – S1
    The Walking Dead – S2
    Warehouse 13 – S3

    There are a few other bits and pieces that didn’t make the list, mostly documentaries, many of them really rather excellent – Inside Nature’s Giants, David Attenborough’s Kingdom of Plants filmed at Kew Gardens, Frozen Planet, Wonders of the Universe to name a few.

    BEST SHOWS
    Borgen. “The Danish West Wing” is an overused label, but it’s so accurate it’s hard to resist. It’s not just the subject matter that draws the comparison, but the quality of writing and production and, sadly, the ability for it to break your heart as characters realistically, but depressingly make the wrong decisions.

    Fringe. For complicated housemate related reasons I still haven’t seen the final two episodes of this series, but I can’t see how they would do anything that would mean the series drops from this list. Fringe continues to evolve into a spectacularly complex, yet completely followable series while never forgeting to actually entertain its audience with self-aware nods to the ridiculousness of the situations.

    The Good Wife. A brilliant cast, fascinating storylines, sure and steady character development all polished off with sparkling dialogue makes a package that’s just a complete and utter joy to watch. In a world of mediocre network procedurals, this one is so far ahead it’s clearly in a different league.

    Homeland. Another show that’s complex yet accessible. The gradual reveal and development of characters is fascinating and I was on the edge of my seat all season not knowing which way anything was going to go.

    Mad Men and Awake could potentially be added to this list, but I am less than half way through each.

    FAVOURITE SHOWS
    The Newsroom. This show was the one I’d been most looking forward to, and I’m slightly devastated that I can’t include it in the ‘best’ category. But despite massive flaws with the characters and a preachiness that even I find rather troublesome, it’s still one of my favourite shows of the year. That may be blind Aaron Sorkin obsession, but I don’t care.

    American Horror Story. A huge collection of characters and stories intricately interwoven and elegantly revealed over the span of a carefully structured series. It felt both innovative and yet thoroughly grounded in the history of the genre. I’m especially happy that each season is completely self contained, so nothing is dragged out or has the chance to get dull.

    Smash. It’s original and fun, balancing cheesiness and melodrama with engaging characters and a surprisingly real feeling storyline. I’m really looking forward to next season, particularly given they’re getting rid of all the annoying characters.

    Once Upon a Time. Another new show that’s original and fun. The storyline is incredibly complex yet revealed so elegantly that there’s never any difficulty keeping up. It’s beautifully designed and just a lovely series to watch.

    ACTORS
    I sort of covered my thoughts on actors in my Emmy post, so here are some broader thoughts.

    House . Hugh Laurie gets the most praise publicly, but the whole cast of the series are absolutely superb. Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson completely and utterly broke my heart, Peter Jacobson (Taub) cracked me up, Olivia Wilde (Thirteen) stole the very few scenes she was in, and Jesse Spencer (Chase) produced one of the most satisfying character developments I’ve seen in a long time.

    Homeland . One of the few things that myself and those that vote for awards actually agree on, the superbness that are Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. I however would go a lot further and also heap praise on the supporting performances by Morena Baccarin and Mandy Patinkin.

    Sons of Anarchy. Award voters clearly have some kind of blind spot when it comes to Sons of Anarchy, because year after year they completely fail to register the incredible performances throughout the cast, but in particular from the female leads Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff

    Katharine McPhee (Karen) and Megan Hilty (Ivy), Smash – I loved the dance the characters went on, competing with each other but respecting each other’s talents; sometimes gracious, sometimes bitchy. And boy can they belt out tunes! Also Jack Davenport (Derek) had some of the funniest lines of the year!

    Fringe . The cast are good as their primary characters, but what’s impressive is that most of them then go on to play the same person in the alternate universe, each of them the same person but with slight variations. It’s astonishing, they are the same person yet completely different, it’s mind twisting and fascinating. I can’t imagine a greater challenge as an actor. While Anna Torv and John Noble rightly get a lot of praise, the performances of Jasika Nicole (Astrid) and Seth Gabel (Lincoln Lee) are just as subtle. Poor Joshua Jackson must feel rather hard-done-by without an alternate version to play with. He is pretty though.

    The Good Wife – so many great performances and characters that I love from both stars, supporting characters (I could watch Josh Charles and Christine Baranski do the Will and Diane show all day long) and a dream list of guest stars (Michael J. Fox, Martha Plimpton, Matthew Perry – all playing deliciously slimy characters).

    GOOD THINGS
    Booth and Bones getting together on Bones. I was completely against it, but cheerfully admit I was wrong. Having them jump from no relationship at all to living together and having a baby brought a breath of fresh air to the series. It was handled with such lightness and charm, with both characters bending to accommodate the other, but not making any fundamental changes… beautifully written and acted. Here’s hoping Castle can do the same.

    The end of House. A series going out gracefully and winding everything up with a collection of satisfying resolutions for all the characters. House has never been about the medicine, but about the puzzles and about the people, while I may personally wish that Wilson had a different conclusion, it all fed in so perfectly and everyone ended up where they were supposed to be.

    Creativity! It felt like there was some variation with what’s on TV, not just an endless stream of interchangeable procedurals. Shows like American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and Walking Dead (finally) are investigating what it’s like to bring non-traditional genres to television, and shows like Smash, Luck and The Newsroom brought different subjects to the screen.

    Female Characters! There are plenty of people out there who have and will write far more eloquently on the plight of women in television, but this year has felt like a relatively good year. Shows are full of strong women doing their jobs, raising their families and doing so as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Shows like The Good Wife, Smash, Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy have dominantly female casts, and almost everything else has a nice balance. Even something like Downton Abbey with its period constraints provides some wonderful roles for female actors.

    BAD THINGS
    Lighten up! Supernatural is superb, but it really really needs to lighten up a bit! It’s turned into something I have to force myself to watch, rather than something I really look forward to. The same argument could be made for Sons of Anarchy. Relentless depression is just not entertaining to watch, I’m not saying they suddenly need to be all sunshine and puppies, but just every now and then, let them catch a break.

    NCIS . After 9 seasons, I realised there’s no point in watching this any more. The plots are utterly disposable and the characters are disastrously erratic. The last two seasons I’ve relegated it to ‘ironing watching’, but I’m even giving up on that (the show, not the ironing sadly).

    Glee. I still haven’t managed to get to the end of the season having realised that I’m increasingly just fast-fowarding episodes. I just got sick to death with the terrible writing which completely undermined the charm of the characters and the talents of the actors. It just stopped being fun.

    Still no spaceships. Can no one make this work?

    Too short! Sherlock and Luther both had only 3 episodes, each ‘double’ length. It’s not enough. There’s the obvious problem that like a small child if I like something I want more of it, but it also really hampers the ability to get invested in characters and stories, just as you’re settling in, it’s all over and the voice over man is saying “will return in 2014”.

    PS
    In preparing this article, I went back and looked at my summaries of last years shows and I have to highlight the following phrase in my summary of 2010-2011’s new shows:

    Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

    I rejoice in my ability to predict the future and can’t wait to see what Joss does with S.H.I.E.L.D.

    Sons of Anarchy: Season 4

    As with all seasons of Sons of Anarchy, I allowed this one to stock up on the Sky+ box until I could watch the whole lot in a burst, it really does work more as a 13 hour story than as a collection of 1 hour episodes. It’s still as addictive as it’s ever been, I had to force myself to move off the sofa and not watch 5 or 6 episodes back to back.

    In my season 3 review I was very critical of the storyline, I didn’t get on board with the IRA and Ireland storyline, and felt many of the ‘heroes’ were acting out of character. Thankfully season 4 is back in Charming and the characters are back to their usual selves, in fact many are revealing their true colours.

    Sons of Anarchy has always been about people doing the wrong things for the right reasons – the Sons are all about protecting their town, their families and the extended family of the club. They’re devoted to each other and have a strong code, but they achieve all that through threats, bribes, violence, gun running and murder. This season presents the challenge of what happens when all that comes inside the club, if one member feels the club is threatened by another member. Now who’s on the side of right and who’s not?
    Over the course of the season the levels of secrets and machinations build and build and build. The tension for the characters and audience is astronomical by the end of the season. And that’s without even getting into the new deals that the Sons start running which include multiple other clubs, drug cartels and the IRA gun sellers. I’ll be honest, I struggled to keep it all straight and often lost track of who knew what and what outcome each character was working towards.

    As always, the police and various representatives of the Law are just as morally dubious as the Sons are. They use dirty tricks, manipulation and ruthlessness, potentially causing as much damage as the Sons are. Everyone this season is plotting and lying to everyone else, trying to find anyone with the moral high ground is nigh on impossible, although the new sheriff gives it a try admirably and finds why it’s such a hard place to stay.

    The acting throughout is stunning and yet again criminally completely overlooked by all the awards bodies. Katey Segal is breathtaking as she increasingly desperately tries to manipulate everyone to keep her family together and Maggie Siff’s gradual transformation into the same role is well played. Theo Rossi as Juice came from being a low level background character to having an emotional arc that just about broke my heart. Ron Perlman meanwhile leaves the soft side of Clay behind and commits completely to the menacing and terrifying calculating thug that he apparently has always been.

    I love Sons of Anarchy. It’s so powerful and complex, but doesn’t lose sight of characters and what drives them – they’re all just trying to protect their loved ones and they love powerfully and unashamedly. But the series is not easy to watch because you know that it will all end very badly for these people. The way the tension grows through the season is claustrophobic, everything just gets worse and worse and possible escape roads are blocked or just not taken. Everyone is spiralling towards disaster and all they can do is try to slow the descent.

    Of course, if that all sounds a little too much, it’s still a very enjoyable action packed series with plenty of guns, explosions, some fast motorbike rides and witty dialogue. The symbolism did get a little heavy handed in the last couple of episodes, but usually it’s all very subtle. Sons of Anarchy is one of those series that is not about what it says on the tin, I’m not saying a show about a motorcycle club would necessarily be a turn off for me (everyone loves fast bikes surely?) but under the leather surface is a stunningly complex and fascinating drama.

    Links
    My reviews of seasons one, two and three.
    Guardian, Hollywood Reporter, The AV Club

    You can get most of the seasons on DVD for the complete bargain of a tenner at Amazon

    2012 Emmy Thoughts

    I’d originally decided not to bother commenting on the Emmy nominations, but I’ve been so addicted watching the Olympics that I’ve barely seen anything else and hence have nothing to actually write about! So here are my thoughts on some of the major categories.

    Outstanding Drama Series

    • Boardwalk Empire – The pilot was gorgeous but dull, so I didn’t watch any more
    • Breaking Bad – I still haven’t got round to catching up on this
    • Downton Abbey – I enjoyed the series, but ‘Outstanding’? No.
    • Mad Men – I’m only half way through the season, and it’s fine, but not as good as it has been.
    • Homeland – had some stumbles, but overall, superb!
    • Game of Thrones – all over the place, just too much packed in meaning a lack of depth

    I think Homeland will walk it, they did overlook Fringe and The Good Wife for nominations, but I think Homeland still deserves the win.

    Lead Actress in a Drama

    • Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florick, The Good Wife – Yes. Just yes.
    • Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, Downton Abbey – she did admirably with terrible material
    • Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, Mad Men – she’s always superb, but she hasn’t had much to do in the first half of the season.
    • Kathy Bates as Harriet Korn, Harry’s Law – no idea, but it’s Kathy Bates so I suspect she’s pretty good
    • Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, Homeland – She was given some amazing material and absolutely sold it.
    • Glenn Close as Patty Hewes, Damages – Never seen it.

    Of those nominees I think it will probably come down to Marguilies or Danes and I think it should and will go to Danes. Overlooked I think was Anna Torv for Fringe who played multiple versions of her character with great subtlety. Also, although I’ve only watched a couple of episodes of the season, I’d be astonished if Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff didn’t produce their usual superb performances in Sons of Anarchy.

    Lead Actor in a Drama

    • Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire – Haven’t seen it, but I expect he’s very good.
    • Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, Dexter – haven’t seen this season, but he’s always great
    • Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad – I haven’t seen any of the series, but he’s won a bazillion times already
    • Hugh Bonneville as Earl Grantham, Downton Abbey – I love him, but he shouldn’t be on this list.
    • John Hamm as Don Draper, Mad Men – I don’t think this season has been his strongest
    • Damian Lewis as Nick Brody for Homeland – stunning performance, he really kept me guessing all season

    I hope Lewis wins and suspect he has a good chance. Other than Lewis my list would have been completely different – Hugh Laurie for a solid final season as House, Charlie Hunnam as Jax Tellar from Sons of Anarchy, and the impressive Jason Isaacs for Awake. I would also be very happy to see Matt Smith on the list for Doctor Who.

    Supporting actress in a drama

    • Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma, The Good Wife – I like her a lot, but I’ve never thought her quiet mystery really gave her enough of a range to show her talents
    • Anna Gunn as Skyler White, Breaking Bad – no idea
    • Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess, Downton Abbey – hilarious, but I’m not sure a well placed one liner per episode is noteworthy enough for an Emmy
    • Joanne Froggatt as Anna, Downton Abbey – suffering from mediocre writing making her character a bit unremarkable
    • Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway Harris, Mad Men – I haven’t got as far as Joan’s story in the season of Mad Men, but I’m eagerly anticipating it as she’s always wonderful
    • Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, The Good Wife – I want to be her when I grow up, she’s fantastic, landing both the drama and the comedy, often in the same sentence

    I think Hendricks will walk away with this, and although I’d like Baranski to win, I won’t be that upset if it goes that way. Overlooked – I think Megan Hilty (Ivy) from Smash was rather impressive and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones did some great work too.

    Supporting Actor in a drama series

    • Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad – no idea
    • Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring, Breaking Bad – ditto
    • Brendan Coyle as John Bates, Downton Abbey – as with Anna above, I felt the writing for this character didn’t give enough to do to be nominated for an Emmy.
    • Jim Carter as Mr Carson, Downton Abbey – ditto. I just don’t feel any of them were “outstanding”
    • Jared Harris as Lane Pryce, Mad Men – as for Hendricks, I’ve not seen the biggest moments for Lane, but I have loved Harris’ work over the last couple of seasons of Mad Men.
    • Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones – the best thing about the series, hitting the drama and the humour throughout, without him the show was nowhere.

    I’d be happy if either Harris or Dinklage won, I suspect it will go to Dinklage. John Noble from Fringe, Robert Sean Leonard of House and Josh Charles of The Good Wife would all have been extremely worthy nominees.

    Outstanding Miniseries

    • Hemingway & Gellhorn which I’ve neither seen, nor actually heard of
    • Game Change – which I’ve at least heard of but not seen
    • American Horror Story – which was rather fun and original
    • Sherlock – which was superb
    • Luther – I missed this season, but enjoyed the previous one

    I think American Horror Story will win, although my vote would go to Sherlock. I don’t think I’ve seen anything else that would count as a miniseries.

    Acting in a Miniseries

    Having seen so few miniseries, I can’t really comment much other than to say that the ones I’ve actually seen would all be tough to beat. Connie Britton as Vivien Harmon in American Horror Story for lead actress, the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock for lead actor and his costar Martin Freeman for supporting actress. Jessica Lange as Constance in American Horror Story is a sure bet for supporting actress, edging out her co-star Frances Conroy (Moira).

    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.

    Sons of Anarchy: Season 3

    What I look for and enjoy in television shows are characters and relationships. To me the stories are just ways to put the characters in context, the plots are ways to poke the characters and see what they do. It’s why I’m apathetic about shows that have minimal character development and why I get cross when writers are inconsistent. It’s why I can love shows like Friday Night Lights and Sons of Anarchy despite having no interest or understanding of American Football or motorcycle riding gun runners.

    Unfortunately this season Sons of Anarchy was let down by its storyline. The season will go down as “the one where the Sons went to Ireland and took on the IRA”, or less charitably – “the one with way too many bad accents”. The whole thing kicked off with Jax’s son being stolen by the IRA in retaliation for the fact that his mother killed the son of an IRA member. But Gemma didn’t really kill the boy, it was a rogue federal agent who framed her, and the IRA member wasn’t acting on orders and didn’t stay an IRA member for long. Then it got complicated. I really struggled to follow a lot of what was going on with complex family relationships involving the head of the Northern Ireland Sons of Anarchy being married to the sister of an IRA leader, who also had some sort of relationship with Jax’s father… Those aren’t really spoilers, it all happens in the first episode. It was all just a little too much. And the accents were terrible.

    Meanwhile the epicness of the storyline completely overwhelmed the usual subtlety of characters and relationships. Too often the characters were being distilled down to one emotion that was driving their decisions and making them act stupid. Gemma, usually the one who thinks out all the long term implications, spends the whole season driven by the sole desire to see her family, even when it jeopardises her freedom which in turn forces the other characters into stupid reactionary choices. One of the things I’ve adored about the previous seasons is the apparent contradiction of these characters – seemingly tough and brutal bikers who are actually thoughtful and caring, forming an extended family with a strict moral code built on love and trust. Gemma’s choices (and some of Jax’s as well) broke or at least stretched that code by making decisions based just on what they want, not what the club needed.

    My criticisms of the season are more out of frustration and disappointment than anything else, there was still a lot to love. The humour and heart of the show are still great, even though they both largely came from the excellent supporting cast; each episode still left me wanting to immediately watch the next one. I think this season was a blip rather than an indicator of the show running out of steam. I think the overall plot was a mistake, taking the characters out of their native environment and introducing too many new characters and situations upset the balance. Next season looks set to take a bit of a time jump but have our characters back in Charming, dealing with the usual issues rather than interfering in international politics. I’m looking forward to it.

    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.

    Sons of Anarchy: Season 2

    I allowed the whole of Season two to stack up on the Sky+ box before starting it and this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. A soon as I started watching, I couldn’t stop. I would travel home from work planning the optimum arrangement of my evening’s tasks to allow me the maximum viewing time before a house-mate would come home and interrupt my viewing. The first season was great, the second season was absolutely superb.

    Wikipedia has a section in the Sons of Anarchy description talking about the similarities with Hamlet and although I don’t get the detailed links (I never studied it at school and ain’t starting now), the show certainly feels Shakespearean in tone. Airing on cable in the US means that the show can take a much more long term structure, relying more on telling a story over the span of the 12 hours, than having a strong start, middle and end to each individual episode. It’s great news if you’re watching on dvd, or can store it up, but I suspect watching weekly would be frustrating and a bit too slow.

    Life is a bit more black and white in season 2; the club, law enforcement and the viewers are all united in their hatred for the villains of the piece. Adam Arkin (who I’ve been a fan of since Chicago Hope) plays the leader of a white supremacist group who want to take over Charming, using calmness and intelligence in the face of the club’s more loud and obvious tactics. His calculated violence and manipulation is far worse than anything the club ever does, he knows exactly how to hurt them and how to get them to hurt themselves. It’s terrifying, creepy and fascinating.

    The Club meanwhile has its own problems with the simmering issues between Clay and Jax gradually bubbling over. More and more responsibility is pushed onto other members of the extended family to try and smooth the relationship for the sake of the club. Bobby is really interesting as the peacemaker of the group, contrasting with both the hot-headed leaders, and the emotionally collapsing Opie and Tig.

    I think the biggest strength of both the show and the club itself however are the female characters. Gemma (Katey Sagal – criminally overlooked for an Emmy nomination) and Tara are instrumental in holding the club together. Gemma learns she can trust Tara with her own secrets, and those of the club and her son, while Tara comes to respect Gemma’s advice and accept that she has power and responsibilities of her own. The way the two characters develop individually and together is amazing; as Jax and Clay grow apart, Tara and Gemma come together. Likewise the Sheriff and his deputy go through a similar journey, each finding a way to fulfil their responsibilities while not breaking their own moral codes – whatever they might be.

    Like Mad Men this is a show of quiet beauty and subtle pacing. I really enjoyed watching it, utterly riveted from start to finish – gasping, cheering and laughing along with the characters. But it wasn’t until I came to write this review that I started to fully appreciate how carefully structured the whole season was, how many things balanced each other, how themes were delicately introduced and developed. The plots may be about guns, motorbikes, the porn industry, drug dealing and white supremacy, but the story is about a great deal more, and it’s amazing.

    Links:
    My Season 1 review
    Official website, imdb, wikipedia, Reviews and News at TVSquad

    Season 2 has just finished on Bravo, season 3 will start in the US in September. Seasons 1 & 2 are available for £27 quid or Season 2 by itself for 15. (Amazon affiliate links, sorry for the crappy formatting, WordPress doesn’t seem to want to let me do them nicely :(

    Sons of Anarchy: Season 1

    I can’t for the life of me remember why I decided to watch a show about a Californian Motorcycle Club and its flexible attitude towards the law, but I’m really glad I did.

    The centre of the show is Jax, son of the founder and former leader of The Sons of Anarchy, step-son of the current leader, new father and seemingly nice guy caught up with the wrong people. But he’s not innocent, he’s more than capable of breaking the law and bringing out the fire-power to protect the club. He wants to leave behind the violence and gun-running, but not lose the security and family the club brings. It’s made even more complicated when he finds his father had exactly the same feelings, and wrote a manifesto before he died.

    Meanwhile the rest of the club and Jax’s mother are fighting the only way they know how – with ever escalating threats, bribes, blackmail and violence. Yet somehow they’re not villains, they all have good motives – protecting the extended family they’ve made, and the small town community they live in. They have their own rules and code, and until you take a step back it all seems completely logical. The hero/villain contrasts are cleverly done and rarely taken too far. While the characters do some pretty nasty stuff in season 1, it’s all for the noble motives of protecting their family. They really believe they’re doing the right thing, there’s no greed or selfishness, they really care for each other and their community. Jax is maybe just a little more intelligent than his comrades and starts to think about alternative ways to live.

    I enjoyed the show no end, there’s plenty of action and excitement, but also lots of careful character development. It’s also really funny, the characters will happily mock each other and the occasionally ridiculous situations they find themselves in. The acting is superb with the wonderful Ron Perlman out of his Hellboy make-up and perfectly cast as the club’s leader who’s vicious as anything, but also cares deeply about the extended family of the club.

    Season 1 has just finished on Five USA, season 2 is reported to be ‘coming soon’ and in the US season 3 will start in September. Or season 1 is available on dvd at the bargain price of £14.99 (that’s an Amazon affiliate link).

    Links: Official website, imdb, wikipedia