Saturday, 28 December 2013

My Top Ten Shows of 2013

Written 23/12/13.

This year I have watched a lot of TV. This was basically my dedicated catch-up year, and I've been watching so many more US shows that I've just neglected through the years. However, British TV has been quite good this year too. To make things fair, I won't make mention of the ridiculous amounts of stuff from previous years that I've catched up on this year, and focus on things that aired in 2013 (as well as giving each season a cheeky rating out of ten stars.) 

10.) The White Queen (Starz/BBC) ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Following in the footsteps of The Tudors, our latest attempt at a medieval regal drama adapted the best-selling but controvertial set of books by Phillippa Gregory which attempted to put a feminist focus on the Wars of the Roses and examine the politics of three particular women - Elizabeth Rivers, wife of Edward IV; Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor who manipulated court to bring him to power; and Anne Neville, the wife of Richard III who helped him rise to the position of power he stood in prior to the Battle of Bosworth Field.
      The adaptation aspect of the production meant that quite a bit of the plot tended on the side of silliness, with some of the characters being possessed of real-world psychic powers and the way that the series is eminently Ricardian in its bias, instead blaming the disappearance of the Princes In The Tower as a political move suggested by Margaret Beaufort. Despite the weird way that it chooses to deiver its history, the cast of characters are all quite well developped and there isn't a dull performance among them - my favourites being Aneurin Barnard as the slimy Richard III and Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort, a character who I rooted for throughout the entire series as she played the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides against one another in order to allow her own illegitimate son to the throne.

9.) Shigeki no Kyojin (Season 1) ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

SIE SIND DAS ESSEN UND WIR SIND DIE JAEGER! Yes, it's everyone's favourite "trendy" anime series, with its fair share of depression, depression and depression with a side helping of badass teenagers and the devastation at the discovery that yes, yet another of your favourite characters has been mercilessly eaten by mindless homicidal giants. That said, SnK's worldbuilding and characterisation is absolutely second-to-none, and the fact that it's one of the few anime series I've seen which isn't deeply problematic in its attitudes to women is icing on the cake.
     Shigeki no Kyojin pretty much introduced me to the entire genre of Anime, which before had simply been, "those weird Japanese cartoons." And while they're still cartoons that are simulatenously weird and Japanese, the sheer depth with which SnK develops its post-apocalyptic world, the themes and characters within it and the mytharc behind it all, just blows me away. It's not something that I really ever get excited about, but when it is on and holds my interest it's always a fascinating and wonderful experience.

8.) Misfits (E4, Series 5) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Misfits had a really dodgy fourth series, and the show had been steadily declining since its peak in 2009-10. However, with its cast list finally set down in stone after constant shifting, the fifth season promised a large arc that would see the show through to a suitable conclusion, and for the best part that happened, with a season which was easily the best since that golden period. The characters were more thoroughly explored, the arc was well-built if a little anticlimatic at the end and it was certainly more funny than Series Four ever managed to be.
      I think the problem with Misfits was that after the second series, it began to very much drift away from its initial brief - that of a superhero-based sitcom seen through the "gritty" filter of Skins-esque TV. The powers were a factor behind our character's problems, and they added a fantastical elements to the characters' already outlandish personalities. The newer characters and their powers weren't as tailor-made, and the result was a series where the only useful or commonly-used power of the bunch was the strange one where Alex buggered people and stole their powers from them.
     However, whatever happened to it, I will miss that bit of grey superhero cheese on my TV every autumn, and I am quite honestly sorry that Misfits is at an end at all. Apparenty Howard Overman has a film written and the series is left open for more adventures in the future, but for now I wish the show and its legacy a sad goodbye.

7.) The Walking Dead (AMC, Seasons 3B and 4A) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Stuff... and things. Having caught up on The Walking Dead this year and having watched a series go from being an ethralling and atmospheric commentary on humanity to a prison-based runaround with a cartoonish villain (down to the eyepatch), I was a little apprehensive about the fourth season of AMC's post-apocalyptic drama. It seems that the production team for this show changes around so often that its tone is very rarely consistent, but the first half of the fourth season presented a show confident in its desire to both honour its comic book origins while simulatenously making its own brave decisions.
      The result was the plague storyline, which drove our characters to the limit in an interesting and game-changing way while a back-door look at the Governor at the end of the season tied up Season 3's loose end and prepared the show for a new start after an achingly long 24 episodes in the Prison. The checklist of things that needed to be done to get the series back on its feet meant that this half of the season didn't feel very consistent, but I for one am very much looking forward to the series' return in February 2014.

6.) Being Human (BBC, Series 5) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Like its strangely connected cousin Misfits, Being Human in 2013 was setting down a new cast after quite a few changes as well as recovering from a dodgey fourth season. Toby Whithouse's comedy drama had its final season reduced in length in a wonderfully symmetrical way, with a plot which led the series away from its hilariously mundane premise and into full on anti-apocalypse warfare tied in with buddy comedy. A little bit like Fawlty Towers. Except that every other guest is Satan.
     Most notable of all the episodes this year was the finale, which was one of the best finalés so far this decade, presenting a horrifying scenario in which The Devil analysed each of our characters in turn, tempted them and then set them down in a miracle scenario which may or may not be everything they've ever wanted. It was a summary of all the show's themes, from the capacity of redemption to the bare bones of what makes someone human. While it ended on an uncertain note, the show's final series did it justice in ways that not a lot of other shows can boast about in the past few years.

5.) Luther (BBC, Series 3) ★★★★★★★★☆☆

It's been two years since the last series of Neil Cross' fantastic drama, and unfortunately again this was to be the final one. Following the previous series' trick of two two-part stories forming four episodes in total, this time around we had a fantastic arc which led to quite a few dramatic moments culminating in the death of Luther's closest companion and the triumphant return of villainess Alice Morgan to lead Luther off into TV Movie territory.
     With writing as brilliant as ever and Idris Elba's acting as nuanced as I've ever seen it, the rest of the series' poignant arcs and creepy, creepy villains made Luther quite simply one of the best shows on TV this year. I've come to view Luther as something of an anti-Sherlock, in the way that it approaches so many things in ways that Sherlock, the far more popular show, could never hope to do with as much success. Luther has a range of well-written women and racial minorities, while Sherlock, written by Moffat and Gattiss, can only write bland archetypical women and demonises its single PoC character at ever turn.
     These shows need to stop ending, seriously. I hope there aren't any other final series' on this list.

4.) Cabin Pressure (BBC Radio 4, Series 4) ★★★★★★★★★☆

I'm cheating again, I know, but I really couldn't think of any other contemporary show and I've loved Cabin Pressure so much this year that it would have been criminal not to put it on the list. John Finnemore's talent for witty dialogue, flexible storytelling and powerful characterisations has been the radio show into a confident final series, one which will culminate in a one-off special at the beginning of next year. The final series saw the development of the relationship between MJN Owner Caroyln and suave pilot Herc, and the attempt by Benedict Cumberbatch's Martin to get a new (paid) job with Swiss Airways.
     This series' penultimate and ultimate episodes, Xinzhou and Yverdon-les-bains, are two of my favourite episodes in all of Cabin Pressure. Xinzhou is the quiet tale of the four main characters simply sitting in their snowed-in aircraft on a Chinese runway for a whole night, and yet it produces such fantastic comedy throughout that it's barely noticeable that it's an obvious bottle episode. Yverdon-les-bains, in which Martin gets his interview, has a lot of references back to the first episode of the show and ends on a cliffhanger which, despite being a mundane enough statement on its own - "They're going to get back to me," - is loaded with enough subtext and intrigue to sink a battleship. Or ground an airplane, in fact.

3.) In The Flesh (BBC, Series 1) ★★★★★★★★★☆

Hot on the heels of Being Human's finale, this excellent three-part series examining prejudice and love in rural Yorkshire was everything we needed, especially when funnelled through the brilliant, brilliant concept of sentient zombie-hood. The main focus was on rehabilitated zombies Kieren Walker, his former zombie-friend Amy Dyer and his secret gay lover Rick Macy, all of whom died in various circumstances which not only inform their post-mortem outlook on life but on how the prejudiced community of one small Yorkshire town. The show is heart-wrenching and thoughtfully written, and I really would reccomend you catch it somewhere, even given the fact that a new, longer series is coming next year.

2.) Game of Thrones (HBO, Season 3) ★★★★★★★★★★

What is there to say about G.R.R. Martin's epic fantasy other than, if you aren't watching it, why the hell not? It's a ridiculously well-written, well-performed and well-directed piece of television fantasy for the new decade, and the third series, adapting the first half of the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, has been the best yet. And now I'm left in an awkard position because if I spoil this series in any way, you really aren't going to get the best out of it. So I'll stop here and say this - just go and see it if you haven't. Because Game of Thrones is some smashing television and in my eyes it can only get better.

1.) Orphan Black (BBCA, Season 1) ★★★★★★★★★★

A massive surprise for me this year, as this show wasn't even on my radar. But, surprisingly enough, my favourite new show of 2013 is Orphan Black, the brilliantly acted sci-fi mystery in which Tatiana Masleny single-handedly demonstrated how ridiculous her acting talent really is. As well as convincingly portraying six (or more) very different personalities over this first season, she also had to act out each clone pretending to be all of the others, due to the show's habit of putting the clones' similarity in appearance to good use. The result is a show where I am honestly baffled when I look at the cast list - simply because I can't believe that these varied characters with all of these different emotional states are played by the same person. And a show that can do that after one season is more than worth this year's top spot.


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So that's 2013's television. I hope you've enjoyed reading this article, and I hope you've enjoyed my reviews over this past year. For news about what's coming in 2014, look for my post about that on New Year's Day.

Thanks.
P.S. I would have maybe put Season Five of Breaking Bad on here, but I'm not quite there yet, so no can dosies.

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