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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Ripper Street Has Been Saved! By Amazon Prime Instant Video

Time for Ripper Street fans to dust off the bowler hats, fire up a cheroot and do the happy dance: Ripper Street is coming back from the dead. Yes, really!

BBC
BBC

The recently axed drama is being revived by Amazon’s brand, spanking new service, Amazon Prime Instant Video. It will re-run the first two series/seasons followed by an all-new third.

Lead actors Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn are confirmed for Series/Season 3, which starts filming in May. Fingers crossed, the rest of the fantastic cast will also be back. Step away from the razor, Artherton…

Flynn, who broke the news live on-air that Ripper Street had been axed, thanked fans with a heartfelt message on his Facebook page:

Dear friends, I’m sorry you have been kept in suspense for so long, but I’m afraid my hands have been somewhat tied whilst all the small details have been ironed out..but I’m delighted to say I can now officially share with you that Ripper St is going to a third series! And we start filming in May. … Its wonderful news, and I want to thank you all for being such a huge part in getting the show back after what felt like a premature death. So congratulations all of you! I know everyone involved is keen to make it even better than the 1st two series, and I really do believe we can do that…thank you again and catch you soon with another important post! A happy heart full day to you all, Jerome. X

Rumours of an Amazon/LOVEFiLM deal to save Ripper Street have been circulating for a while, and programme makers Tiger Aspect confirmed back in December that they were in talks to relaunch the drama.

Announcing the deal, Jason Ropell, Head of Amazon Instant Video International Content Acquisition, said: “We’re delighted to have secured not only the highly popular first two seasons of Ripper Street for our Prime Instant Video customers, but we can also confirm today that we will making season three, news that we know will delight the millions of fans of this brilliant British drama.”

Pantomime villain BBC drama boss Ben Stephenson said: “This deal gives fans another series of the show they love at excellent value to the licence fee-payer, ensuring that the BBC can also commission an entirely new, yet-to-be-announced drama series.”

Never heard of Amazon Prime Instant Video? You’re not alone. It is being launched today, with this most serendipitous news. From the horse’s mouth:

Amazon has announced that it is combining two of the most popular subscription services in the UK, Amazon Prime and LOVEFiLM, to become Prime Instant Video from Wednesday (26th February). Amazon Prime offers members unlimited One-Day Delivery on over 7 million items and access to 500,000 Kindle books to borrow. LOVEFiLM Instant includes unlimited streaming of more than 15,000 popular movies and TV episodes. When the two programmes combine, Prime will be offered at the low price of £79 a year – a 35% savings for all the benefits of the two previously separate services. As a special offer customers can lock in a full year of Prime at £49 until 26 February. Current Prime members can enjoy unlimited streaming at their current price until their renewal date. Customers who are not already members can start a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime by visiting http://www.amazon.co.uk/prime.

Excited, much? Stay tuned for updates. @TVClaw

Ripper Street Not Dead Yet?

Great news for Ripper Street fans: the drama could be back for a third series after all. But don’t put away your widow’s (t)weeds just yet…

BBC
BBC

According to The Guardian, Ripper Street production company Tiger Aspect is in talks with Amazon streaming service LOVEFiLM to secure a third series of the drama.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, LOVEFiLM would stump up most of the budget for Ripper Street Series/Season 3 in return for premiering it online in the UK. It would then air on BBC One shortly afterwards.

Should that actually happen, and should a third outing for Reid and the gang do well, then LOVEFilM would also have an option to commission a Series/Season 4.

Such a deal would be ground-breaking in the UK, but there is a precedent across the pond: cult fave (and subject of much lively fan agit-prop) Arrested Development was resurrected thanks to a co-production deal between Netflix and NBC.

A Tiger Aspect spokesman said, “The creative team have great vision and high ambition for future series of Ripper Street. It would of course be marvellous to find a route to make these plans reality.”

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC is looking at partnerships that could enable Ripper Street to return but at better value to licence fee payers.”

So there you have it. H Division could ride again. Stay tuned for updates!

Ripper Street is Cancelled

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?

 

Ripper Street Is Cancelled

In news that will have even the most hard-hearted doxies, coiners and bludgers weeping into their hankies, it seems the time has come for Artherton to turn off the lights, lock up 72 Leman Street and post the keys back through the letterbox: The BBC has cancelled Ripper Street. (Sob!)

BBC
BBC

According to Jerome Flynn falling ratings were cited by the BBC axe wielder who cut off the bawdy drama in its prime. 

Flynn made the shock announcement during an interview on Simon Lederman’s BBC London show. Appearing on the show to promote Big Band Aid, Flynn stunned both Lederman and fans when he said, “sadly to say, and this might be the first mention of it publicly, but we found out this week that Ripper Street, that the third series of Ripper Street isn’t going [to happen] … We’re all in shock.”

He added, “It was up against I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and that’s been cited as one of the reasons in terms of viewing figures. … We’re all in absolute shock because it is a wonderful job and … it’s kind of unfinished work so we’re all hoping it will turn around. … It’s one of my most favourite jobs.”

Flynn said that the writers had mapped out some great storylines for Series 3. Shame we won’t get to see them.

As reported by MSN UK, a BBC spokeswoman confirmed the news, saying: “We are very proud of Ripper Street which has enjoyed two highly ambitious series on BBC One. However, the second series didn’t bring the audience we hoped and in order to make room for creative renewal and new ideas it won’t be returning.”

So there you have it. Schedule a creative, thought-provoking, tightly written ensemble drama with some of the best actors around up against a bunch of has-beens sitting around scratching their arses and occasionally eating arses, and what happens? More people watch the has-beens than the drama and so the drama is killed off.

That’s the way the TV industry works, kids. If Ripper Street had not been moved from its original Sunday night slot and been scheduled up against a ratings behemoth Series 2 may have attracted more viewers and thus survived. It may not have, of course, but now we’ll never know.

Welcome Back, Jerome Flynn

Ripper Street Gets a Second Series

The Game of Thrones Cast: Don’t I Know You From Somewhere?

Chickens And Big Bad World: Time To Bring Back The Live Studio Audience?

Chickens is like the unfunny bastard child of Horrible Histories

In the week when Beyoncé dropped a cool £1,500 in her local Nando’s, Sky kept the poultry theme going with the premiere of Chickens, the “brand new World War I comedy” (yes, you read that right) from Inbetweeners stars Joe Thomas and Simon Bird plus their old Cantabs buddy Jonny Sweet.

Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately Chickens was a clunker. Visually, it was Ripper Street goes to Cranford but without any violence, heaving bosoms or humour

Seriously: why was Sweet dressed as Captain Homer Jackson?

The jokes weren’t funny. The “humorous” graffiti daubed on the trio’s house wasn’t big or clever, and the anachronistic in-on-it nods to the audience — “It’s World War I you idiot” — were simply tedious.

Watch Horrible Histories instead. It’s much, much funnier.

Comedy Central
Comedy Central

The same night TVClaw watched the premiere of fellow Inbetweener Blake Harrison’s new show, Big Bad World.

It’s got a better cast and had a much more promising opener, but still hits some bum notes. (And not just the shock of seeing Caroline Quentin playing the mother of a bona fide grown up. Gary’s off making babies with the hot chick on Doc Martin, but Dorothy’s mother to a 35-year-0ld. Go figure.)

Lots of TV shows — most famously Seinfeld — got off to clunky starts and low ratings, but gradually found their rhythm and voice. It all got us thinking:  would Chickens and Big Bad World have benefited from being filmed in front of live studio audiences?

Lack of pace and poor timing from the actors is often minimised by hearing someone in the audience just getting the joke or groaning at how bad it is. Can you imagine The Young Ones or Black Adder without people cracking up in the background?

More importantly, if you’re performing crap jokes badly, in front of people who aren’t laughing, you know you have a problem to fix before the show airs.

The knowing, to-camera smiles and tics done so brilliantly in The Office don’t work for every show, so let’s stop pretending they do and bring back the audience.

It’s got to be cheaper than unleashing Bird et al. on the Cranford set and hoping for the best.

The Game of Thrones Cast: Don’t I Know You From Somewhere?

HBO
HBO

As the magnificent Game of Thrones Series/Season 3 cracks on apace, viewers could be forgiven for thinking that some of the faces look a bit familiar.

The Game of Thrones supporting cast is, quite frankly, awesome, despite the lack of Timothy Dalton and Christopher Eccleston.

The latest appearance to have TVClaw spilling wine on the floor was Stannis Baratheon’s wife, Lady Macbeth Selyse.

Creepy Selyse is played by Tara Fitzgerald who, back in the early to mid-’90s, cornered the market in period drama heroines with starring roles in The Woman in White, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Camomile Lawn.

She also co-starred as the small but determined heroine in films with Hugh Grant and Ewan McGregor before heading back to the small screen post-2000 as Dr Eve Lockhart in Waking the Dead and its spin-off series, The Body Farm.

So, who else looks familiar? Check out the TVClaw “Who He?” Game of Thrones rundown and feel free to add your own celeb spots in the Comments section.

But please: NO SPOILERS.

Keen-eyed viewers will have most recently seen Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully (Clive Russell), Bronn (Jerome Flynn), Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), Hodor (Hodor! Kristian Nairnand Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) in Series/Season 1 of Ripper Street.

In fact, the Game of ThronesRipper Street bonds are so deep that when the luxuriant ginger beard of Tormund Giantsbane first hoved into view, TVClaw initially thought it was Artherton (David Wilmot). But alas, it wasn’t.*

Meanwhile, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Ser Barristan featured in recent nautical drama Titanic: Blood and Steel

Davos was then joined underwater in a Cold War-era Russian submarine in Doctor Who by Lady Catelyn’s brother Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies).

Long ago, Edmure was the man to whom a blood-soaked Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) uttered the immortal line, “et tu, Brute?” in Rome.

Viewers with long memories may remember Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) as the celeb-baiting spoof interviewer Dennis Pennis. Remember when he squirted Tom Cruise with water?

How about Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover)? Remember him from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Or The Empire Strikes Back?

Before he was smithing in Game of Thrones, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) was hunted by Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) in The Fades, a short-lived supernatural thriller on the BBC.

Margaery’s Gorgon of a grandmother, Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), originally found fame as Emma Peel in The Avengers.  (No, not that one, this one.) She was also — briefly — Mrs James Bond.

Before he was King in the North, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) was in the Birdsong trenches with his uncle Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle).

Karl (Burn Gorman), the treacherous Nights Watchman who killed Kraster, was known in a previous life as the libidinous Owen Harper in Torchwood.

Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish (Aidan Gillen) cut his scheming teeth in Baltimore, playing conniving local politico Tommy Carcetti in The Wire.

You may have recognised wildling Osha (Natalia Tena) as Tonks from the Harry Potter films, but did you spot Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) as the kid from Love, Actually or the classic Doctor Who two-parter, ‘Family of Blood’? (Which also starred Viserys Targaryen, a.k.a. Harry Lloyd.)

LATE ADDITION: Watching Hot Fuzz last night I spotted The Hound (Rory McCann) as the homicidal supermarket trolley boy who just says “Yarp” a lot. Plus Walder Frey (David Bradley) as the incomprehensible, heavily armed local with a sea mine in his shed.

*Giantsbane is played by excellent Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju. Who features heavily in this ginger beard “appreciation blog.” 

In the UK: Game of Thrones airs Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic
In the US: Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO

Ripper Street Series/Season 2 premieres on BBC1 and BBC America in early 2014

Twitter: @TVClaw