2014 in TV (Part Two)
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…
The Great British Bake Off
The Great British Bake Off is neither a cult show, nor a drama, nor a fantasy series. It is, in fact, a BBC baking programme about amateur chefs who compete in a number of weekly challenges in order to win an engraved cake stand from judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. At first glance, it appears to have no right to be on this list but if you look at what The Great British Bake Off is about then, I hope, you’ll understand.
A good reality TV series makes you care for the participants. I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here… can have that effect (depending on that year’s line-up) as can The Voice or The X Factor if you’re of that leaning. However, programmes like Big Brother and The Apprentice feature two respective houses filled with arrogant, bumptious know-alls (with just a couple of sane candidates) for your pleasure. They are schadenfreude sideshows designed to be laughed at. But then there are shows like The Great British Bake Off. Despite all the baking drama front of stage, audiences get to know and love the contestants as if they were characters on a TV series. By the quarterfinal the public are referring to the contestants using their first names and by the final we’re crossing our fingers for our favourite to win. It was Nancy Birtwhistle, Luis Troyano and Richard Burr in this year’s decider and people were on tenterhooks waiting to see who won. The Great British Bake Off raked in millions of viewers each week and that in itself shows you what a great following the show has. The final of The Great British Bake Off this year had millions more viewers than the last episode of both The Apprentice and The X Factor. If that’s not testament to its popularity, I don’t know what is.
The Great British Bake Off features nice people baking; people you get to know over one series and people who you mourn when they are sent home. Like any good character drama, you watch because you care and even though these characters are real people living ordinary, normal lives, that doesn’t make a hoot of a difference.
With a massive following and huge viewing figures every series, The Great British Bake Off shows no signs of stopping and, personally, we’re all the better for it.
Speaking of food, but on a whole other, revolting level..
TV doesn’t get much darker, bloodier or bleaker than Hannibal which likely explains why the show has struggled to find a mainstream audience, despite being critically acclaimed. From the outside the show appears to be just another American procedural crime drama, but it’s actually so much more. It’s an often disturbing, visually mind-bending trip into into head of FBI profiler Will Graham, his dealings with the titular Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter and some other thoroughly nasty serial killers. This year saw some of the darkest material yet for the show as Will fought for his freedom and very sanity after being wrongly incarnated. Definitely recommended tor those looking for something a little different and with a strong stomach. You’ll never look at food in the same way again.
At the beginning of the year there was hope that 2014 would find something on level with Broadchurch. The crime drama (with its hotly-anticipated return just around the corner) set the bar high for future dramas out of both the ITV and BBC stable. Happy Valley, for me, skyrocketed over that bar and into the stratosphere, establishing itself as the best drama the BBC have produced in a long while.
Happy Valley saw iron-willed WPC Catherine Cawood, still numb from her daughter’s suicide, tackle the kidnapping of Ann Gallagher in her troubled Yorkshire town. With Sarah Lancashire, Last Tango in Halifax alumni with writer Sally Wainwright, as Cawood, Happy Valley became a word-of-mouth hit within weeks. The writing, sure direction, powerful performances and nerve-shredding resolution were what made Happy Valley such a great success much like Broadchurch. But Broadchurch was firmly in the whodunit mould (admittedly, the best whodunit in years) whereas Happy Valley treads its own path and that was what I feel kept audiences glued to their screens for six weeks – it was scarily unpredictable. And scarily good
House of Cards
Netflix has been on the rise for a long time, especially with the amount of homemade content being churned out annually. To fill the hole left by Orange is the New Black, Netflix released Marco Polo, a likeable, slightly daffy historical epic this month but neither it nor the extraordinary Orange is the New Black (more on that later) match up to House of Cards, the American interpretation of the 90s BBC series. House of Cards’ wild card is its antihero, Frank Underwood, the slimiest politician in Washington, D.C. (and, boy, are there a lot of them) but also someone we love believe it or not. Through Kevin Spacey’s incredibly charismatic performance, Underwood is someone we’re constantly rooting for – even if it never seems like the right thing.
House of Cards is, strictly, a political drama but business in the White House is peripheral to the internal politics in the Underwood household where Frank and his wintry wife, Claire hold residence. Their relationship is similar to that of Lord and Lady Macbeth although they are very much equals with neither having dominance over the other. It’s an interesting alliance to watch and often, as an audience member, I feel complicit in the Underwoods’ machinations. It’s frighteningly good, that lead writer and creator Beau Willimon can actually have you supporting someone so downright evil as Frank Underwood. Truly delicious television.
In the Flesh
Dominic Mitchell’s magnificent supernatural drama, In the Flesh started life as a three part series tucked away on BBC Three. After the first run aired, and the public discovered just how sublime it was, it was recommissioned and the second series boasted a doubled string of episodes and higher production values. Then even more people could see that In the Flesh is one of the most touching dramas the BBC has ever pumped out of its drama workshop.
Taking place in the fictional village of Roarton, In the Flesh lands us in the aftermath of the Rising, a zombie apocalypse and sees the glut of animated corpses left over from the Rising attempt to fit back into society. The zombie condition is branded PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) and sufferers swiftly reintroduced to their families. Our hero is Kieren Walker (played beautifully by Luke Newberry) and over its two series, In the Flesh follows Kieren’s struggles with his xenophobic community and himself. PDS unsubtly acts as allegory of mental health and In the Flesh’s tackling of such a sensitive subject was BAFTA-worthy (indeed, it scooped up to in the spring of this year). With a thought-provoking message, some gruesome special effects, and stunning acting from the likes of Newberry and Emily Bevan (as Kieren’s best friend, Amy), you’ll struggle to find a more thoughtful drama than In the Flesh.
Now why hasn’t it been commissioned for series three, I wonder…
Line of Duty
The storyboards for this one must have huge. The second series of Line of Duty, written by Jed Mercurio, was a tale of police corruption, the quest for justice and about not being able to trust anyone in the darkest times. Through six episodes, Mercurio led us on a merry dance, throwing endless red herrings in our direction, turning us on our heads at the close of each episode with more and more chilling revelations, and, generally, leaving the audience baffled as to whom to believe. It was an incredible experience, watching something where the morality of every character was highly ambiguous, and even now I don’t know whom I would brand a hero or a villain.
Line of Duty kicked off, much like the first, with another wave-creating incident for the relatively brand new characters. DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes in a career-defining turn) is the officer in charge of a police convoy escorting a civilian under the witness protection scheme when it is attacked. After that, Line of Duty follows the subsequent investigation and inquest into who is responsible. From episode one, Mercurio leads you on a rollercoaster: a tense, Delphic quest for the truth and it’s clear from the ruthlessness of Mercurio that nobody is safe. If you’ve yet to catch it (ahead of a further two series audaciously commissioned by the BBC) then this is certainly one to pick up on DVD.
BBC One’s crime thriller The Missing was billed as BBC’s own Broadchurch, and it delivered: critics and fans were speculating up until the final moments before the truth was revealed. James Nesbitt gave one of his finest, most tortured performances to date (there’s a contender for the next Doctor).
Some considered the ending to be underwhelming and unsatisfying, and perhaps it was – but that was the point. The Missing showed us, above all else, that not everyone gets closure. And if the only criticism of a series is that it cruelly shows the truth about the world, that must say something for the quality of writing.
To be concluded…