2014 in TV (Part Three)
2014 was an even finer year for television than 2013. It featured another wave of intelligent TV with highlights including a newly-reformed Doctor Who, E4 mystery series Glue and BBC dramas like Happy Valley, The Missing and The Musketeers adorning the schedules. Furthermore, American TV continued to improve with the acclaimed return of Arrow, Agents of SHIELD and Hannibal as well as brand new shows, The Flash, Fargo and True Detective. Sexy period dramas like Penny Dreadful and The Musketeers wowed viewers as did Netflix imports House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.
Suffice to say, 2014 did good in terms of TV so allow a number of Cult Fix’s (wonderfully talented) writers to explain why…
Despite struggling to find its feet early on in its first series, once it did it quickly became one of my favourite shows of 2014. There’s no doubting there was some undeniable charm about the show. What was it? The sex appeal of the dashing Luke Pasqualino? The devilish scenery chewing of Peter Capaldi? The sizzling score of Murray Gold? Whatever it was, it led to perhaps one of the most exciting new series on the BBC in a long while. With excellent performances, great directing and excellent design, The Musketeers quickly became one of the best shows to watch on TV during the relatively quiet period of January and February. In the final few episodes, it proved that it was really a show to keep an eye on. I’m looking forward to seeing where D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis go next in their many adventures, as surely any future run of one of the strongest series of 2014 can only lead to more great things.
Does anyone still watch New Tricks? I don’t think so. It’s a pity, really, that so many never got to see this top-quality new series, whose success was down to Nicholas Lyndhurst’s multi-layered character of Danny, a kind of pseudo-Sherlock who quickly proved that he wasn’t an imitation. With stronger cases, gentle humour and genuinely poignant character moments, it was a definitive weeknight drama.
Orange is the New Black
For the record, this is the show I devoured the quickest out of everything else I have written about in this list (both series in 5 days for the curious). Orange is the New Black’s second season was what catapulted it into the public eye and what helped establish it as one of 2014’s hottest returning shows. It’s easy to break down Orange is the New Black and pick out the factors that have won round audiences worldwide: the characters.
Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Orange is the New Black sees New York yuppie Piper Chapman (played with extraordinarily raw emotion by Taylor Schilling) incarcerated for transporting drugs money for ex-flame Alex Vause (That ‘70s Show’s Laura Prepon). Once there ‘Chapman’ encounters the colourful roster of characters including the volatile ‘Crazy Eyes’, moody ‘Nicky’, lovelorn Morello and ballsy matriarch Red. Orange is the New Black’s success lands squarely on the shoulders of the characters, each of them running the whole gamut of emotions and it’s incredible how invested you become in the prison inmates. Some are much more sympathetic than others, namely psychopathic zealot ‘Pennsatucky’ and the manipulative ‘Vee’ but, by and large, you care for the women inside Litchfield Federal Penitentiary.
Moreover, the acting is some of the best I’ve seen on television this year as the actors are asked a lot of. Fights break out over beds or morsels of food and the actresses involved have to act their socks off. That’s probably the best thing about Orange is the New Black: its deeply devoted cast who breathe life into the characters and make you care about them.
I was thrilled to see that Our Girl would be returning for a full-length series. I’ve often considered myself dismissive of the armed forces, but the seamlessly-paced five-part drama was an eye-opening experience. I can recommend it, especially, to anyone considering joining the army: it’ll certainly make your mind up either way.
With the narrative climax situated at the end of the penultimate episode, the finale took time to slow down and breathe, communicating the pivotal revelations in an understated yet immensely satisfying manner. If you haven’t seen it yet, do. It’ll break your heart.
At first glance, Penny Dreadful seems a typically cliched attempt at historical fantasy, something like a Sherlock Holmes or an Edward Hyde. Given a chance, it is far more than that. Funnily enough, the show is an amalgamation of a number of fictional stories from Britain’s Victorian age. Elements can be taken from Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Grey – all horrors from the same era. And unlike a number of shows, they work wonders together.
Alone, lead writer John Logan has created a picturesque display of a realistic drama set in Victorian times, and has also succeeded to blend the fantasy horror, without ruining the flow of the show. In addition, the actors and actresses involved in the show provide memorable performances, Eva Green being the one who stands out the most. Not only that, however, but thanks to an excellent line-up of directors, the setting has been easily brought to life and it’s almost as if a theatre has been laid before us.
Not only was it one of the finest series’ of 2014, the third series of BBC’s Sherlock was, for me, undoubtedly the best so far. The writers exhibited a range of feelings and ideas, placing delicate but charming focus on the subtle humanisation of Sherlock and his integration into the lives of two ostensibly ordinary people.
Charles Augustus Magnussen was one of the best, most repulsive antagonists in Sherlock so far. Admirably, the finale was a low-key affair, capitalising on – as I like to see – the development of the human condition. There’s no denying that Sherlock is a success of a series. Such a success, in fact, that it has become a major televisual event. Bring on Christmas!
Few words can bestow True Detective with the praise it deserves. Exceptional performances from both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, along with superb directing from Cary Fukunaga, meant this concisely written masterpiece that emerged from the intriguing mind of Nic Pizzolatto certainly left its mark. It’s a ‘crime drama’ on paper, but in reality the show is a deep exploration on the very nature of human existence. The ongoing commentary from McConaughey’s jaded and cynical Rust, coupled with the melancholy tale of Harrelson’s conflicted Marty, who struggles to contend with the trials and tribulations of his failing marriage, allow the show to explore places not many have attempted in such depth.
The underlying case the pair have to solve is never really more than a platform for which to examine and analyse the fundamentals of life itself – 19 or 90 years old, there’s something in here that will resonate with the viewer. Bleak at times perhaps, True Detective ultimately ends up being rewarding in its tense and brooding dénouement. Fear not, there’s light at the end of this dark tunnel. One of the best TV shows this year? Without a doubt. One of the best TV shows ever? Absolutely.
The Walking Dead
2014 saw season four of The Walking Dead conclude and season five begin – and despite a few hiccups along the way, it’s been a stellar year for the megahit zombie show. The second half of season four split the group up into multiple chunks – allowing the show to slow down and give some slightly more peripheral characters like Beth the spotlight for a while. The mystery of Terminus was done very well indeed, culminating in a fairly horrific reveal that the seemingly pleasant folk of the sanctuary were in fact cannibals.
Season five opened with a blistering, high-octane season premiere and kept going until the Termites’ visceral, bloody end in episode three, delivering a couple of the most outright thrilling episodes in the show’s history. And while season five perhaps slowed up a little from there – splitting the characters up again gave a couple of episodes a slightly languid and unsatisfying feel – the rest of season five still delivered plenty of shocks and revelations, swiftly concluding the ‘cure’ arc plot and allowing Beth to flourish into one of the show’s most interesting characters. The mid-season finale may have disappointed in places – but the final scenes provided one of the show’s most shocking gut-punches yet, leaving the show on a thoroughly bleak and depressing note for 2014 (so, business as usual for The Walking Dead).
With whispers of a move to a brand new sanctuary (which maybe won’t be infested with people who eat human flesh this time) in the second half of season five and season six already commissioned, the future’s looking very bright for the biggest show in America.