Friday, 16 January 2015

Greatest Instalments

We've looked at cinema in 2014, so what was happening on the small screen last year?

What?  Did someone move?

Game of Thrones

Let's get it out of the way.  I was a big fan, and the shocking 'red wedding' episode ended the 2013 season on an unforgettable note. However, 2014 seemed composed mainly of whip-pans to different continents and sets, allowing increasingly indistinguishable characters to exchange a few lines of exposition before flipping to another dialogue scene with someone else, somewhere else, talking about something else.  And if there isn't a big improvement this year, I'll be watching something else.  Just tell us a story for GoT's sake!

Who would you least like to be on the wrong side of?  Frank knows...

House of Cards

This is how it's done.  Another case of that rarest of beasts: an American remake of a British series which surpasses the original. Very few programmes could make you care so much about a character as despicable as Frank Underwood, but Kevin Spacey pulls it off, despite becoming increasingly in danger of being eclipsed by Robin Wright-Penn's magnetic performance as his wife, muse and secret weapon: Claire.  We might even have forgotten to breathe throught the entire duration of the season finale - highly recommended.

Marvel: Agents of Shield

The first series saw a steady increase in quality, particularly as it led to events showcased in The Winter Soldier movie last year.  Series two has shown flashes of brilliance and introduced new characters, one of whom is played by 'the Wonder Woman who could have been': Adrianne Palicki, and another who is unfortunately dreadful (looking at you, Nick Blood - and that is actually the actor's, not his character's, name).
Unfortunately, the finale which had been built towards all year, which a friend and I were intrigued enough about to formulate our own semi-serious synopsis for, ended with a confusing and dissatisfying flub. Marvel's first serious mis-step?  Next year will tell.

Strapping Lass: A picture of Adrianne Palicki as
Shield Agent  Bobbi Morse, just because.


I'm not a huge Batman fan - but to my surprise have become a big fan of this series.  I never watched Smallville, so can't compare that origin series to this one, but Gotham is packed full of fascinating characters, chief among them Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin-to-be, with genuinely challenging and surprising plots.  A show I thought could only be formulaic has become anything but, and I think I'll be disappointed if we ever reach the day when grown-up Bruce finally reveals his flying rodent fetish.  And Sean Pertwee's Alfred deserves his own spin-off.  Bat who?

(Third) Doctor Who: The Next Generation?
Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth.

Publicity images like this actually used to put me off watching Breaking Bad,
but the leads are actually anything but conventional hard men.

Breaking Bad

I know it's been around for years, but we finally got around to watching it this year.  We were reticent, as it felt like setting off on a huge, well-trodden journey which didn't even promise picturesque scenery or pleasant company.  Despite all this, we were hooked from episode one, charged through all five series without a pause and didn't even feel the mid-way slump which we'd been cautioned about.  So is it the best television series ever?
Trying to remain as impartial about my own favourites as possible, If Breaking Bad isn't; I can't think of a more likely candidate.

Some Zombies just want to have fun


The decomposing tongue-in-cheek pretender to the undead TV series throne steadily proved to be several times more fun than the increasingly dour Walking Dead, this year. Interestingly, the two series began with startlingly similar plotlines, but then Z-Nation took a far more entertaining turn (including a shameless Sharknado take-off) with it's quirky cast leaving Walking Dead's mopey Rick and his dysfunctional hangers-on far behind.
And unlike Agents of Shield, Z-Nation's finale delivered in spades.

They were all smiling in the other shot...

Penny Dreadful

In 2009 Sean Connery starred in a film adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen , featuring famous 19th century literary characters uniting against a common foe.
Last year another former James Bond was recruited for a strikingly similar venture - on the small screen, this time, and starring Victorian fictional villains rather than heroes.  Abraham Van Helsing (played by the incomparable David Warner) features briefly, amongst a menagerie including Frankenstein(creator and creature), Dracula, Dorian Gray and a Frontiersman werewolf. The sumptuous cast includes Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Billy Piper and Josh Hartnett and although this series unfolds at it's own stately, but disturbing, pace it is one of the most beautifully shot programme I've ever seen.
Best of all, like it's dangerous cast of characters, Penny Dreadful is very dark and completely unpredictable.

Front and centre, as she should be...

The Big Bang Theory

See, this list is not all dark - although Sheldon Cooper makes me tune out and into my own scenarios which culminate in his spurting, mangled body parts strewn all over the apartment.
The other characters are where the real gold in this programme lies, particularly in the effortless masterclass of comic timing given every week by Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting as Penny. Writers, please don't be lazy and just focus on 'quirky' Sheldon - lets have more of the other cast, particularly 'the girls'.  I suspect they help my Wife feel better about living with her very own Nerd.


  1. Hi Al, did you ever see the Woman Woman pilot that had Adrianne Palicki in it? There's no real surprise it didn't get made.

  2. Hi Jamas! Yes, I'm afraid I did. On the plus side, at least they didn't take the well-trodden 'origin' path, but on the negative side they gave us a violent cynical, jaded Wonder Woman in a truly terrible story. Probably not Paliicki's fault - I'm glad she's back in comic land again...