What Have I Enjoyed Watching in 2015?

This year has been a really busy one — hence the paucity of posts from TVClaw Towers. Apologies to anyone who’s missed me.

last kingdom
The Last Kingdom | Episode Two © Carnival Film & Television Ltd Photographer: Joss Barratt Alexander Dreymon (as Uhtred)

What have I enjoyed watching in the rare moments when I haven’t been working? Here’s what. And if you haven’t seen the good stuff yet, then pull up a comfy chair and get ready to watch some really, really excellent TV shows.

In no particular order, here’s what’s grabbed my attention in 2015:

Ripper Street: the perfect ending to the whole H Division saga. The very end even had a cheery little nod to Spooks. *Sob*

Game of Thrones: gory, sad, frightening. Utterly compelling.

Fortitude: clever plot twists and a knock-out cast. Some completely bonkers moments. Can’t wait for Season 2.

Penny Dreadful: utterly bananas, but Timothy Dalton + stunning production design = a must-watch in the first half of the year.

No Offence: Joanna Scanlon is terrific as potty-mouthed DI Vivienne Deering. Rocking the heels-and-leather combo she turned in one of the most memorable performances of the year. Brilliant scripts from the “Shameless” team.

Pointless: best host banter. Ever.

The Last Kingdom:  in the mood for some Anglo-Saxon Chronicles action but fed up with Vikings‘ insanely violent torture porn? Watch this instead. Clever and well-written, with a winning lead in Alexander Dreymon. A breakout role for superb Ripper Street alum David Dawson.

Man Down: still funny, but I found myself pining for Rik throughout.

Les Revenants: t’inquiete pas — it’s still brilliant.

Yonderland: talc my downstairs! The hilarious Season 2 paid homage to Star Wars and Sherlock among other things and was chock full o’ family-friendly nudges, winks and smutty asides.

30 Degrees in January: have to admit, I loved the first half but found the second half heavy-going. Too many annoying, poor decisions.

University Challenge: obviously I have no idea what Paxo’s asking most of the time, but it’s an oldie that remains a goodie. (Cough, looking at you Doctor Who, cough…)

Last Man on Earth: if I was the last man on earth I would so steal all the great art from every museum and poo in the neighbour’s pool. This makes me laugh out loud every episode. Boris Kodjoe steals every scene he’s in.

River: unbeatable combo of Nicola Walker and Stellan Skarsgard aided and abetted by most of the ex-cast from last season’s Game of Thrones and a Sixth Sense-y vibe. Is River totally batshit crazy, or is he the ghost whisperer?

Great British Bake Off: ’nuff said.

 

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Lights Out

Photo: Courtesy of The Royal British Legion
Photo: Courtesy of The Royal British Legion

“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime” — Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 1914

Today, 4 August 2o14, is the 100th anniversary of the UK entering World War I, the so-called War to End All Wars.

Can it really be 100 years since the start of World War I? For my generation, whose parents were born in the 20 years between the twin cataclysms of World Wars I and II, the Great War has always been a looming presence. It’s always been part of our shared experience. However, for our children it is ancient history. It’s no closer to them than the Boer War was to us.

It’s hard for people my age to grasp that our children have no idea what we’re talking about when we joke, “I fought in two world wars for you!” at the bus stop.

The World War I veterans are all dead now. The grand old woman who skittered along the local shopping parade in her bath chair — an ancient relic of a vanished world even then — and the scarred old man with the metal plate in his head who used to shout at us for no reason, they’re both long gone.

Tonight, as a mark of respect and reflection everyone in the UK is invited to join in with LIGHTS OUT from 10pm to 11pm. Turn off all your lights except one. Light a solitary candle in your window, whether it be a wax candle, a torch or the light from your phone.

Bring World War I alive with modern technology: download the fantastic, free LIGHTS OUT app from Turner Prize-winning conceptual artist Jeremy Deller and watch his four short films. The culmination of the work happens at 10pm tonight when the final LIGHTS OUT film will be available for just one hour.

Search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database by street name and postcode and see how your street was affected by the war. Did the women living in your house or the house next door receive one of the dreaded telegrams announcing that a cherished husband, father or son had been killed in action?

Favourite TV Shows Of 2013

This is an entirely subjective list. It’s not claiming to be a “Best of” or “Top 10 of” 2013 television shows. Instead, it’s a list of what’s tickled our fancy over at TVClaw Towers this calendar year.

BBC
BBC

So here, in no particular order, are the TVClaw Favourite TV Shows of 2013

Game of Thrones Such heartbreak, suspense, sorrow and gore. Lots and lots and lots of gore. Possibly even too much gore sometimes, but Game of Thrones continues to be one of the most compelling dramas around. Much of the credit for that has to go to the awesome cast and crew, but also to HBO for having the guts to let it be peopled by homely, hairy, snaggle-toothed bods having a bad time in inhospitable countryside, not a bunch of smooth-browed, perfectly coiffed, White Queen types who look like they’re waiting for the castle gift shop to open. However, here’s hoping producers let the actresses put their tops back on for at least part of Season 4 otherwise we really will have to start calling it Game of Tits.

The Returned Yes, the finale was a head-desking “waaarfghfgh?!” waste of an opportunity, but the rest of the season was sublime. Frightening, thought-provoking, beautifully shot and acted. And that soundtrack from Mogwai. This is how you do contemporary horror/ghost story/whatever the hell it is. Series 2 will have its work cut out to redeem itself after the disappointing end to Series 1. But we can’t wait to be scared by The Returned all over again. (Will probably give the US remake/reboot a miss though.)

Ripper Street The wailing and gnashing of teeth continues after Ripper Street‘s untimely, undeserved demise. After such a promising start it lasted barely longer than a naive curate in a molly house. Series 2 was a bit uneven and had some loose ends (where was Reid’s nice girlfriend from the orphanage?) and some frankly bonkers plot twists (The Elephant Man was murdered by Benjen Stark a bent copper!), but it was heading in the right direction. Yet again, this is was (sob) an ensemble drama that benefited from a tremendous cast, with the core trio of Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg just getting better and better each week. Ripper Street also fielded possibly the best guest star roster of any television show in years, which was enhanced by tight scripts that, while they may have had the odd plot twist too far, delivered some beautiful dialogue.

Fresh Meat It’s back! And it’s still funny! Phew.

Case Histories Why oh why must this always be a tantalisingly short three-parter? And why so good? At the risk of repeating things, it’s all about the great cast, plot and script, dummy! Jason Isaacs stars as the emotionally damaged, at times morally ambiguous Jackson Brodie. This second series had a terrific performance from Victoria Wood as a retired policewoman flirting with the illegal side of life, and another glimpse of the excellent Vod Zawe Ashton as Jackson’s assistant. Edinburgh has never looked lovelier than it does here.

The Wrong Mans Very funny six-parter from James Corden and Matthew Baynton. A stellar supporting cast put in some hilarious performances, particularly from Dougray Scott, Dawn French and Karel Roden. This comedy spy caper/murder mystery had mistaken identities, double-crossings and crossed wires galore, and revealed itself to be an Ealing Comedy for the texting generation.

Sleepy Hollow Now this could easily fall into the “Guilty Pleasure” category but you know TVClaw: we’re not easily ashamed in terms of viewing habits (especially not after once having to review the wide expanse of US reality television for a whole year). Part of the unexpectedly successful fantasy genre that currently includes Once Upon a Time and Grimm, Sleepy Hollow harks back to short-lived classics like G vs. E and Reaper. Yes, the entire premise is totally hokey and far-fetched, but it’s funny and sharp and has a winning lead in Tom Mison.

Yonderland Another tip of the hat to Matthew Baynton. This is the first non-reality family viewing programme in ages that’s funny for the under-12s and their adults. A mashup of The Muppet Show, Monty Python and The Black AdderYonderland is clever, funny and different. It’s a product of the vastly talented Horrible Histories gang who write and star in it. There are fart jokes, slapstick routines, knowing looks to camera, sarcasm and clever dialogue. And a talking stick.

The Tunnel This is why you should be watching The Tunnel. Possibly the best drama this year in a very crowded field of excellent contenders.

Southcliffe Bleak, windswept, depressing, thought-provoking. With echoes of the Hungerford Massacre this searing drama highlighted the aftermath of a fatal shooting spree in a small English town. It explained how a local boy could become a murderer and what effects his actions would have on his neighbours and acquaintances. How well do you know your neighbours? How well do you know your spouse?

 

Why I Love Cagney & Lacey

“Chris, let me tell you: cop feet weren’t meant for hooker shoes.”

Oh, Mary Beth… Cagney & Lacey, a legend at TVClaw Towers, is back. Not in remade or rebooted form (please don’t), but in weekday afternoon repeats over on BBC 2.

And it’s still awesome.

CBS
CBS

Not many classic TV series really do stand the test of time, but Cagney & Lacey does. Yes, there’s a surfeit of chunky knitwear and questionable berets (and that’s just the men), but the scripts and performances are just as sharp, witty and moving as they always were.

And it’s great to see New York City in all its grimy, smoky, wise-cracking ’80s splendour again.

Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly) and Chris Cagney (Sharon Gless) were successful detectives in Manhattan’s 14th Precinct. As a teenager I used to wait for each new episode with bated breath. I loved them. I loved their sense of humour. And I fell in love with their home town.

They worked hard and played hard, but they always looked good. Always coiffed, always made-up and always in heels, Cagney and Lacey chasing a perp through midtown whilst not letting go of their handbags was a sight to behold.

Whether it’s Chris being scraped off the windows at Bergdorf’s, the Robin Byrd lookalikes sassing the cops in the station house, or a bunch of old ladies moving their cars en masse because of alternate side parking restrictions, Cagney & Lacey was a realistic portrayal of life in the city.

I moved to New York City a decade after Cagney & Lacey had been cancelled. Rudy Giuliani and Donna Hanover were still an item, crime was down, rents were up and everyone was watching NYPD Blue. The Yankees were officially the winningest team in baseball.

Not knowing the city too well, and struggling to find an apartment bigger than a shoebox on our limited budget, we somehow stumbled into Cagney & Lacey territory when we signed the lease on a one-bedroom rental around the corner from the real-life 14th Precinct (a.k.a. Midtown South) station house.

Our side of the street was just inside the boundary of the 13th Precinct, but the other side of the street was in the 14th. For a Cagney & Lacey fan it was serendipitous. (Did I try to move to that side of the street? You bet I did. His nibs wouldn’t go for it though.)

When we bought a bed the salesman looked at our address and whistled through his teeth. “Couldn’t pay me to live over there,” he said. “Hookers everywhere.” Nowadays, like most of Manhattan, our old neighbourhood is expensive and glossy, the hookers having given way to hedge fund managers, but back in the ’90s it wasn’t so different from the Cagney & Lacey version.

Thanks to the magic of DVRs I’ve been rewatching Cagney & Lacey at my leisure, and I confess that I still get a thrill when I see them run down the block I lived on, or go into a bar I drank in. With another 100 or so episodes to go, I reckon there’s an outside chance of me spotting someone I know from the ‘hood in a scene, even if they’re just crossing the street in the background.

Cagney & Lacey airs weekday afternoons (time varies) on BBC2.

National Poetry Day: My Ten Favourite Poems

DeborahMasonJanuary

“We’re all of us poets, but we don’t all know it.”

I have always loved to read poetry, a private passion that came to me by way of my mother (a prodigious reader).

From laughing my head off to Pam Ayres on the telly, through teenage tears with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, to the famous Victorian poems forever seared into my memory at school, via the unexpectedly sexy French poems of my ‘A’ levels, after the collected works of Pablo Neruda and W.H. Auden from those films were read aloud in bed, to when my husband’s favourite poem was read aloud at our wedding… poetry has been a constant.

I even live next-door-but-one to a poet. (No frilly white shirt to mark him out as one, alas. Nowadays, they look just like you and me.)

In honour of National Poetry Day here, in no particular order, are extracts from my ten favourite poems.

If you want to read more, head down to your local library or independent bookshop: they’re full of good poetry!

DeborahMasonHashtagCollage365
100 dreaming all day long, by Deborah Mason (https://hashtagcollage365.wordpress.com/)

Alicante, Jacques Prevert
Une orange sur la table
Ta robe sur le tapis
Et toi dans mon lit
Doux présent du présent
Fraîcheur de la nuit
Chaleur de ma vie.

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven, W.B. Yeats
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

She Walks in Beauty, Like the Night, George Gordon Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

A Subaltern’s Love Song, John Betjeman
Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth, Pam Ayres
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth,
And spotted the dangers beneath
All the toffees I chewed,
And the sweet sticky food.
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.

My Last Duchess, Robert Browning
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Anthem For Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti
‘We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?’
‘Come buy,’ call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
‘Oh,’ cried Lizzie, ‘Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.’
Lizzie covered up her eyes,
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
‘Look, Lizzie, look’

And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss
But all that I’ve noticed, Except my own feet
Was a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street.
That’s nothing to tell of,
That won’t do, of course….
Just a broken-down wagon
That’s drawn by a horse.
That can’t be my story. That’s only a start.
I’ll say that a ZEBRA was pulling that cart!
And that is a story that no one can beat,
When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.

Featured image: January, by Deborah Mason (all art available to buy here)

The Best Television Soundtracks

wallpaperswide.com
wallpaperswide.com

What makes a television series great? Script, performances, directing, production values, of course. But don’t forget music. No series is great unless it’s also got great music.

From Tony Soprano crossing from Jersey to Manhattan with the Alabama 3, through the Grange Hill fork spearing a banger, to the Wooo WOOOOOO! Woo Woo Woo Woo Woooooo… (I paraphrase) of Star Trek, the theme song and opening credits can make or break a series.

But it’s not all just about the opening credits. The shows need great music throughout.

Here is the TVClaw Top 5 of television soundtracks. And I’m talking original scores, not soundtracks artfully (and expensively) cobbled together from the producers’ and writers’ favourite albums. It’s an entirely subjective list, and there may be some glaring omissions, so add your picks in Comments.

The TVClaw Top 5 Best Original Television Soundtracks

1) Battlestar Galactica (2003): Bear McCreary. BSG remains one of the best television dramas ever, and much of the credit lies with McCreary’s fantastic score (a.k.a. “the sound of poundy drums”) . The original Battlestar Galactica also had its own memorable score, which was nominated for a Grammy in 1979. It lost out to John Williams and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and hey, there’s no shame in that.

2) Star Trek (1966): It’s all about that theme song by Alexander Courage plus incidental music from Courage, George Duning, Gerald Fried, Sol Kaplan and Fred Steiner. Instantly memorable.

3) Doctor Who (1963, 2005): Ron Grainer, Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop provided the original theme song, which still survives in the opening credits despite several recent attempts to mess with it. Now that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is but a distant memory, composers Murray Gold and Ben Foster continue to create music for time travelling.

4) The Returned/Les Revenants (2012): Mogwai. It’s new and recent and it’s just great. Who knew xylophones could be the stuff of nightmares? Mogwai’s understated score makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

5) Band of Brothers (2001): Michael Kamen. This landmark HBO miniseries was Kamen’s untimely swansong and he scored a vast amount of classical movements for it. A stunning body of work.

@TVClaw

The Returned Drinking Game

Channel 4
Channel 4

“T’inquiète pas…” is French for “be very very very afraid”

Here is the TVClaw way of interacting with excellent French drama, The Returned.

It’s very simple. Every time a character says “t’inquiète pas…” (“don’t worry”), take a drink.

If they’re stroking someone’s hair as they say “t’inquiète pas…”, take two drinks.

Pretty soon, bof! You’ll know just how Jérôme and Lena feel after a heavy night at The Lake Pub.

The Returned Finale: What Just Happened?