Disclaimer: this is not a ‘Best Television of 2010’ post – I don’t subscribe to Sky and all their channels (other satellite/cable providers are available) and I don’t download television illegally, so this discussion will not include a lot of quality shows from abroad that might be expected in this type of post. This is a summary of the best shows that I watched via Freeview over the course of 2010.
Before that, a few negative words about one particular show so I can get it out of my system. The updating of V: The Series, while not completely awful, was hugely disappointing. The original V wasn’t brilliant, but nostalgia has meant that we have fond memories of the red jumpsuits and the notorious hamster-eating sequence; therefore, I was anticipating a more sophisticated approach in this new version. The Vs announce themselves to the world, but we discover that they have been on Earth for many years already as sleeper agents in important positions (the reveal of Alan Tudyk as a V was rather fun). However, the show then decided to be the most boring, slow and annoying programme possible. There wasn’t a single character who wasn’t irritating in some way, although the award for most irritating went to the teenage son – every time he was on the screen, I wanted to punch his ridiculous face until I passed out with exhaustion so I didn’t have to watch it any more. The only thing that was a positive was Morena Baccarin, who was somehow even more beautiful with shorter hair. It almost makes me grateful that Channel One will no longer exist, and I won’t be tempted to watch the second season.
Now that’s out of the way, I can talk about the quality stuff. It was a good year for comedy. In the last part of the year, two shows at the opposite ends of the reality scale were on at the same time but were equally funny (and did episodes where the main characters were stuck in one location): the second series of Miranda and the seventh series of Peep Show. Peep Show continues to be funny and horrible in equal measures, while Miranda (the person) seems to have entered the general public consciousness as a funny woman, writing and performing in a delightfully old-fashioned but very funny sitcom that is all about her being very funny.
Another good show towards the end of the year was The Trip, the semi-improvised comedy about Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon supposedly reviewing fine restaurants in the north of England but basically allowing them to play exaggerations of themselves, much as they did in A Cock And Bull Story (both of which were directed by Michael Winterbottom). Listening to them doing their various impersonations and attempting to one-up each other on their drives and meals wasn’t to everyone’s taste (my girlfriend didn’t enjoy them, particularly Brydon’s neediness for laughs) but it constantly amused me.
Howard Overman provided two different but equally entertaining programmes in 2010: the excellent second season of Misfits (which he created), the fantastic BAFTA-award winning ‘Asbo Heroes’, and the adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently – Stephen Mangan was perfect as the detective who believed in the interconnectedness of everything, and I hope that it was a pilot for a full series.
Two shows that took old ideas and did something new were Rev and Nurse Jackie. Sitcoms about vicars shouldn’t work any more, but Tom Hollander was great in the lead, about a vicar moving to an inner city parish, and it was genuinely moving as well as very funny. Sitcoms in hospitals shouldn’t work any more either, but Edie Falco is fantastic as the pill-popping, smart-mouthed nurse who was shagging the pharmacist on the side for extra pills, before going home to her husband and children. It was smart and funny, but also dark and moving.
As I mentioned before, Channel One no longer exists, so some programmes won’t be readily available, which is a shame in the case of Warehouse 13 – it wasn’t a brilliant show, but it was enjoyable in an ‘X-Files with humour and more sci-fi bias’ kind of way. The stories were interesting, the two leads were nicely different and Saul Rubinek was a lot of fun as well; I’ll shall have to find other ways to watch the second season. The other casualty of Channel One’s demise was Leverage, a very entertaining and slick show about a team of criminals, led by a former insurance investigator (Timothy Hutton), who try to right injustices done to small people by big corporations. The main cast was a nice mixture, the various cons and heists were slickly performed in each episode, and there was an enjoyable atmosphere to the show – it left you with a good feeling at the end of the hour and a desire to see more. It was well put together, had a good soundtrack and a good cast, and I’ll miss not having easy access to it.
Another US import that fortunately was shown on a Freeview channel that is still around (Fiver) was Justified. This was an excellent little modern police procedural but about a US Marshal called Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), who is a throwback to a cowboy in the old West. Based on an Elmore Leonard story, this had the marshal reassigned to his home area of Lexington, Kentucky, after he shot a Miami fugitive in the first scene of the first episode; he is not happy about the reassignment, especially as he has to deal with people he grew up with. The show has a great sensibility, a location that is not usually used, a great theme song, and a great lead in Olyphant, who shoots first when necessary but who also has a strong moral sense of justice. He also looks great in a cowboy hat, which is very hard to pull off in a modern setting. I really enjoyed it, so I’m glad it was renewed for a second season.
I haven’t rated the programmes I’ve discussed above because it seems strange to distinguish between favourites by enforcing some arbitrary system to differentiate them. However, the final three warrant special distinction for the quality and the amount of entertainment they provided.
The reinvention of Doctor Who by Russell T Davies has been one of the great success stories of late, so Steve Moffat was always going to have a difficult job taking over as show runner on such a popular programme (even if he did write some of the best individual episodes of the previous four seasons). He was also fighting stiff opposition to a new face taking over the lead role after David Tennant had become so popular as the latest incarnation of the Doctor. However, Matt Smith made the part his own in the first appearance on screen and Moffat stamped his identity on this version immediately. The level of writing was high, the ‘fairy tale’ nature of his approach was perfect (and I loved that death was now rare and has more meaning in this season compared with the way Davies used to have people dying and sacrificing themselves for the Doctor all the time). It was superb stuff and I’m really looking forward to more.
There is the belief that television programmes shown during summer are being ‘dumped’ because they aren’t good. Sherlock certainly proves that idea wrong. Even though there were only three 90-minute episodes, and the second episode wasn’t quite as good as the first and last episodes, this exploded onto our screens and into the collective consciousness with brilliantly written dramas and two great performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, respectively. This update was concocted by Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss (the latter also played Mycroft Holmes), writing the first and last episodes, respectively, and they did a fantastic job of modernising the concept without losing any of the aspects of what made the original stories so loved. With lots of delightful details, fun dialogue and beautiful references to the original stories (the shows mostly used original adventures as the basis for these new versions), Sherlock was so good that you were left aching for new adventures – three wasn’t enough, and we’ll have to wait ages for new episodes.
I had first heard about this in The Guide (the Saturday supplement in The Guardian), talking about how good it was and how spot on the pop culture references were, so I was surprised that it ended up hidden away on the Freeview channel Viva. However, congratulations to Viva for acquiring this because it was simply one of the best seasons of a sitcom I have ever seen. A fantastic ensemble cast with great performances, brilliant writing that squeezed so many great jokes into such a small amount of time, and the most fantastic film and television references and homages ever. Modern Warfare (aka the paintball episode) was perfection. I haven’t laughed so hard at a show since 30 Rock and Arrested Development. Unequivocally my favourite show of 2010.