So, trying to keep up this blog whilst Strictly and The Apprentice were on was too much hard work in this post-arms era, who knew? Anyway, I may as well do the unoriginal thing everyone is doing and list my top fives of the year. I’m steering away from music because I am at that annoying stage of life where all I remember is my old favourites and I forget to buy/Spotify/note the songs I like when I hear them on the radio, so let’s just not embarass myself there. I am also leaving books out because I am not sure how many I’ve read were actually from 2015. So I’m sticking to TV, film and beauty products over in the next 3-4 posts. First – TV.
Favourite TV shows of 2015
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
God, this was just a complete and utter joy, wasn’t it? Riduculous, lovely, cute, silly and very funny – plus perfect for my favourite bedtime routine, watching an episode of a half-hour comedy (or two-three if I am not up early) before going to sleep. So many catchphrases and awesome moments and played with relish by everyone involved. Gotta hope series 2 isn’t a disappointment, but even if it is, we’ll always have the catchiest theme song of the year. In a year when OITNB slightly disappointed (I still liked it, but it was no S1-2), and the Marvel series were a bit bloated, this was the reason to have Netflix. (Note: I haven’t yet got round to watching Better Call Saul or House of Cards so opinions subject to change, although apparently S3 of HoC was also a bit crap. Series threes might be Netflix’s achilles heel).
Peter Kay’s Car Share (BBC One/iPlayer)
This was the year of the warm and cuddly new sitcom, with Boy Meets Girl, Last Man on Earth, Catastrophe and From Cradle to Grave all offering a similar, funny-bit-sad-but-lovely-in-the-end feeling. This was my pick of the bunch because of the choice of random songs on the in-car radio as much as anything. Peter Kay and I share a lot of the same cultural reference points and have a similar sense of humour, so those things always tickle me. The conceit of this was so simple and yet the whole thing was really well-executed. Gotta say though, I didn’t bother with watching it all on iPlayer – even though I’ve put a Netflix comedy top, when it comes to it, I still prefer to view via ‘proper telly'(albeit recorded on my DVR… I know).
Great British Bake-Off (BBC One)
It’s a GBBO world and we just live in it. The ratings for this series were crazy. So bizarre that in an age of dwindling ratings everywhere, a midweek show about baking can manage 14 million viewers on a summer Wednesday. The show did miss having a history bit every week, as they were a bit inconsistent with this, and it got its ‘better in the old days’ grumbles – but I don’t think that’s true. It kind of is its own beast – and familiarly, comfortably, so. Also: let’s not forget Nadiya’s winning speech that broke all our hearts…
Neighbours and Eastenders 30th anniversaries (Channel 5, BBC One)
These soaps didn’t have a great mid-year, although picked it up towards the end (and how exciting is it that Neighbours goes out on the same day in the UK and Aus now?!) – but the anniversaries of both make the cut. They worked really well (although I still wish Kylie and Jason – and many others – had come back) – nostalgia, fun, sadness, weddings, births, deaths, stunts, returns, nods to the past, that Neighbours tribute to EE, #howsadam – it all felt like a great celebration of two stalwart soaps. The shows are at opposite ends of the ‘misery’ spectrum much of the time, but they still have in common multi-generational casts, ludicrous-ness mixed with the mundane, and a strong sense of character and fun. The 30ths were proper events and both BBC One and Channel 5 did a great job in supporting and promoting them. Here’s to their 40th, 50th and more!
Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish (Dave)
In its third series now, this remains one of my favourite pick-me-ups – it remains really, really funny and astute. OK, occasionally the targets are a bit easy, but generally it’s just what you want inbetween long and hard days at work, and it was pefectly scheduled in the autumn to meet that need.
BBC Three documentary seasons
So the move of BBC Three to an online service will take place this year, and that’s a shame – it will inevitably lose viewers no matter what’s been said, and it’s a double shame when this year, BBC Three has possibly fulfilled the public service remit more than most of their other channels. In particular, its documentaries have really upped the game – they’ve toned down the sensationalism and easy targets a lot over the years, and their continuing development of strands has been really useful in that they can approach topics from several angles. Their recent race and gender series, for example, had more shows in than you could count – many of them interesting, well-made and fresh. The channel’s drama and comedy outputs have not been as strong as they once were, for budget reasons (RIP In the Flesh), which is a crying shame – but their factual game has been phenomenal (and I say this as someone whose PhD made them hate almost all documentaries).
Raised by Wolves (Channel 4)
So I snuck in one last sitcom… I didn’t rate the pilot of this much at all, but the Moran sisters and their team must have worked hard to fix those issues, because this was great. I think the decision to focus as much on Rebekah Staton’s character as the older teenagers was probably the main reason this worked – one of the best, ballsiest, most exciting mother characters of the year. This was very funny, very recognisable and not always predictable in its plots or comic moments. Another sharp-but-warm comedy to add to the list, and one in which women had all the best parts and the men were mainly sidekicks for a change.
Humans (Channel 4)
Hooray, a great new drama that was not about the police! Humans did stumble a bit towards the end, but only a bit – on the whole it was an interesting meditation on technology and humanity. OK, so Star Trek: The Next Generation asked most of these questions with Data, but it was interesting to see them play out in a British, domestic, setting and when we were dealing with a range of synths, not just one. Gemma Chan was absolutely astounding, too, in one of the best performances of the year.
Banana/Cucumber (E4/Channel 4)
A bit of a mixed bag for the new RTD launches overall, and I never really got into Tofu, the online factual spin-off, but there was enough here to still, overall, propel them into the top ten. Banana was, arguably, the more successful of the two, and it could have legs – demonstrating a whole range of young characters and their different struggles with identity. The young cast were great, the stand-alone-but-intersecting stories mostly very successful and the range of writers and themes great, expanding young people’s stories of being LGBT+ beyond ‘coming out’ or bullying (though both were present) and telling some very interesting tales, not only about the youth themselves, but the world they inherit and there was a lot for the older characters to do as well. An episode with a middle-aged lesbian at the heart, including song-and-dance numbers with an army of illegal immigrant cleaners? It happened, and it worked.
Cucumber was something people struggled with more, largely due to Henry, the protagonist, being a pretty unsympathetic lead character. As with the Twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who (of which, more in a moment), abrasive and crotchety characters can alienate a lot of viewers, especially in drama where we’re asked to invest in them in a different way from, say, comedy. I didn’t have the same issue with him, but perhaps the series either should have been shorter or expanded its character focus. The episode of a day in the life of Lance was most people’s standout moments, and it really was something special and a proper kick in the guts at the same time. I’m not going to declare Cucumber RTD’s finest hour, but it was still good to have him back – I love his dialogue more than almost anyone’s.
Can I, hand on heart, say I loved Who more than some of the things in the ‘bubbling under’ list? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s probably on a par with several of them and I have more to say about this than, say, another warm sitcom. Anyway, series nine was a colossal improvement on S8. S8 was, overall, my least favourite New Who series apart from the David Tennant Tenth Doctor ego-trip-stayed-too-long specials (of which, only The Waters of Mars is any cop). Capaldi’s Doctor was too abrasive for too long, looked uncomfortable and uptight and had to battle with some uninspiring monsters/storylines, apart from 3-4 stand-out episodes that only served to demonstrate how lacking the others were in comparison.
S9, however, was much more enjoyable. This was largely due to the way Capaldi’s doctor was written, dressed and performed. His hair and costume were much less severe, much more Doctory and much more relaxed – Capaldi was allowed to relax into the role a bit more and bring the much-needed humour and fun back. Sometimes it went too far, obviously, with the much-hated sonic shades and the over-reliance on annoying gimmicks like the guitar playing – but there were so many more ‘yes!’ moments than S8 had. The format played fast and loose which is always worth attempting. I didn’t like the Heaven Sent Capaldi solo-episode much – the concept was OK, but for me, it was an 8 minute red-button special dragged out for AN HOUR – however, others raved about it. I didn’t find the Ashildr/Me arc as rounded off as it should have been and I would have let Clara be killed properly by the raven, but otherwise, I enjoyed it. Not sure it was a series full of classic episodes, and the scheduling was terrible (more on that soon), but now the twelfth doctor feels like The Doctor and not Peter Capaldi doing a bad impression of the doctor as in S8. Looking forward to a new companion(s) to freshen things up, though. Clara hung on too long – as did Amy/Rory and Rose. Some more short-lived on TV, longer-lived on audio or in-novel companions like Donna or Mel might be a nice change – and someone more ‘normal’ like Martha or Barbara rather than someone with a mystery/power/etc please.
Bubbling under: A Kylie Christmas, No Offence, Master of None, Casualty, Doctor Foster, Boy Meets Girl, Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, Last Man on Earth, Strictly Come Dancing, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Jessica Jones, Transparent, Wolf Hall, Catastrophe, Orange is the New Black, The Man in the High Castle, Sing it On, Girls, The Bridge, You and Me Vs The Apocalypse, The Returned, Wentworth, Great British Sewing Bee, Great British Pottery Throw Down, Only Connect, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Back in Time for Dinner/Christmas, Call the Midwife, Educating Cardiff, The Choir, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, The Mindy Project, Cradle to Grave, Channel 4 finally showing some new Simpsons episodes.
Must try harder
I still like it, but Karen and Claude were rubbish, Joseph won despite being fairly unremarkable and a bit of a dick (see also Not That Mark Wright last year), the tasks were a bit samey and had too many bits that made no difference to the outcome, it all felt very tired. Still, they’ve been in ruts and gotten out of them in the past, so maybe they can again. Bring back the shopping channel task, make the task rules clearer and more logical, sack Karren (and maybe Claude – at best don’t let him advise AND interview), try and stay away from the LADZ BANTER crap of recent years, and make sure all potential businesses are investable with the money on offer (Vana lost because hers would be too expensive, rather than anything to do with its viability or her ability/task record)… Still, the week where everyone got no sales was funny.
Whoever schedules Doctor Who
Doctor Who‘s ratings sunk this year, especially in the overnights – and this was in no small part due to some of the most bizarre scheduling this side of Four Rooms. After 8pm for a family show? Opposite the rugby and The X Factor? Never on at the same time twice? It’s never going to get the 7pm slot it needs when it’s scheduled alongside Strictly, and Moffat can blab all he likes about dark nights being ‘better’ for it, but that’s nonsense. It performs well in late spring-early summer when most of the good drama has been and gone (or is yet to come), when there’s no big-hitting talent show in the way of scheduling on the BBC or competing for viewers on ITV (OK, BGT, but they can work round that one easily enough) and when TV is a bit crap and needs a shot in the arm. Autumn is just too rammed with too many other things and Who gets lost in the mire.
The celeb versions are still doing their thing OK, but the ‘civilian’ version in 2015 was just awful. It reached its nadir when, quite soon in, they realised they’d cast a bunch of people they didn’t like much, so they kicked half of them out, threw several more in and started chucking in loads of old housemates despite it not being any kind of anniversary. I stopped watching when they did the mass cull. The point of BB is to follow these people’s journeys/dynamics etc and with an ever-changing roll call, who can be bothered investing in them? Ex-housemates should be reserved for Bit on the Side and anniversaries only, too. (Also: The X Factor had its worst series ever, which is some going, but everyone has talked about that to death. Steve has some things to say here that are worth a read. On the plus side, the live shows only took 20 mins or so to watch on fast forward because they were so bad.)
A big anniversary year should have really been a moment for Hollyoaks in the way it’s been for, well, all the other soaps (except, perhaps, Home and Away, which I don’t recall doing much for any of its recent anniversaries). They did some things right – a killer reveal, big stunts – but a lot wrong. When your only returning character is Finn, that doesn’t provide much of a nostalgia boost, when you kill the worst character in the world (Freddie) then reveal OOPS LOL HE’S NOT DEAD, when you repeatedly run characters like JP, Darren, Nancy, Ste and Cindy into the ground, when you have characters who are grandparents at whatever age Leela is supposed to be with no discussion of how being a young grandparent is, when you make Tom a dad, and when you have a whole bloody village of unconvicted murderers running around killing everyone with no consequences (EE is getting bad on that score too, BTW), when you make every new character someone who’s lying about who they are… It’s all just got very boring. There are some interesting characters and actors but the storylines are so, so dull right now.
Series two wasn’t the worst show in the world… but it had almost nothing in common with S1. I am perfectly happy with the change in cast/characters/maybe even location but there needs to be some connection between the two. That should probably have come through the mystical/cultish/Lovecraftian side of things that set S1 apart from a regular cop drama. Any of these elements in S2 were done so sparseley and ham-fistedly that they needn’t have bothered with them – it did feel more and more like a standard gritty cop thriller this time round. The actors did a decent job, but there were probably too many lead characters and plot strands to keep hold of so it felt like a fairly confusing mess a lot of the time. And the female/gay characters ended up with dull and stereotypical plots/back stories, which didn’t help the criticisms of S1’s lack of diversity much (this was also a white-heavy show as well as that). For S3 – streamline the core cast, streamline the baddies, streamline the plot threads and up the weird.