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.
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 ReturnedYes, 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 StreetThe 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 Adder, Yonderland 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.
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?
Put down the knitting needles, step away from the herring and get your style on: The Tunnel is here. And it’s good.
Scandinavian dramas have been big TV news for the last few years, with our screens packed with legions of sour-faced people hunting murderers under perpetually cloudy skies. So news that Sky and Canal+ were developing a new drama based on (sorry, “inspired by”) Scandi import The Bridge did not exactly lift the mood at TVClaw.
However, the results of this new cultural entente cordiale are, well, impressive to say the least. Why should you be watching this thriller?
First of all, it’s an Anglo-French re-imagining, not a straight re-make, of The Bridge. So, while The Tunnel shares the same bleak windswept landscapes as its northern forebears (the unlovely industrial estates surrounding both ends of the Channel Tunnel have never looked so forlorn), it has a distinctly French sense of style and a British sense of humour. Think Les Revenants meets Being Human.
French detective Elise Wassermann may have a dour expression and quite the collection of woolly jumpers, but she also has a nifty car. Her English counterpart Karl Roebuck has a limp, but there’s no secret anguish behind it. The father of five is just recovering from a vasectomy.
The Tunnel benefits from great scripts from an Anglo-French writing team headed up by Ben Richards (Spooks, Outcasts, Party Animals), which are delivered by a killer cast.
In a casting coup fit to spark a combustion of genre fans everywhere, the two lead detectives are played by Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter) and Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones). While the age difference will undoubtedly jar if the pair decide to get it on further down the road, for now they’re a good fit, with Stannis as the more sensitive, flexible cop with a small smile always playing around his lips to Fleur’s tightly wound, hard-line, bad-ass cop.
They’re joined by the always good Joseph Mawle (who co-starred with him in Game of Thrones and her in Birdsong), Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs), Liz Smith (The Royle Family), Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons), Tobi Bakare (Silent Witness), Jeanne Balibar (Va Savoir), Thibault de Montalembert (La Sentinelle) and Angel Coulby (Merlin).
Elise is a driven female lead who may be hiding something. Very much in the mould of Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, Elise is the kind of woman who’ll work all night and then strip off at her desk for some deodorant and a clean woolly jumper. And, being a French police station, natch, her colleagues don’t bat an eyelid. Bof!
A far cry from Ally McBeal not wrecking her make-up in the office bathroom by pretending to splash water on her face.
Now, Karl’s house. It is rather très chic, non? As is his working wardrobe. Now, while there are doubtless tons of stylish coppers working hard in Kent, and yes, presumably house prices may be more reasonable close to the Chunnel, his interior design choices did seem somewhat contrived.
Thank goodness for the presence of his younger wife who just happens to be a successful interior designer. Phew.
The drama continues on The Tunnel, Wednesdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic HD.
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.
“T’inquiète pas…” should be the cue to have everyone run screaming from the room
“Don’t worry” has to be the most frequently uttered phrase in The Returned.
Scared because your child/wife/brother has returned from the dead? “T’inquiète pas.”
Tense because you want to know what it’s all about, how it will end, why the dead have returned? “T’inquiète pas,” because all would be revealed in the series finale, “The Horde.” Wouldn’t it?
Er, no. The final episode of what we now know is Series/Season 1 of The Returned ended with an epic cliff-hanger but no actual answers or revelations.
Who or what is Lucy Clarsen? Has Simon turned to the dark side? Is Adèle pregnant? Who’s in The Horde? Will Jérôme ever run out of cigarettes? Does anyone apart from the police officers and Toni have a job?
Why isn’t The Lake Pub called Le Bar Du Lac? … What the hell has been going on for the last eight weeks?
The Returned (a.k.a. Les Revenants) has been the stand-out drama series this summer. Understated, frightening and so very sad. It explores themes of grief, love and loyalty. What would you do if your loved ones came back from the dead? As themselves, not as comic book zombies or creatures of the night.
What would you do if a lonely, frightened boy asked you to protect him? Would you risk everything to keep him safe? Even if you suspected that he was a “revenant” who may have butchered your nosey neighbour?
The underlying theme of “The Horde” was that of familial love, specifically the bond linking mothers and children. Toni and Serge’s mother who apparently died of grief after one son killed the other. Claire and Julie who were willing to sacrifice everything for Camille and Victor. Sandrine mourning her lost teenager and baby. Lucy and Simon coming for Adèle’s child.
However, although “The Horde” was as tense and claustrophobic as the preceding seven episodes, it ultimately felt like just an elaborate set-up for Series/Season 2. What happened to Thomas and his officers? Will The Horde be back for Adèle? Will Toni be back behind the bar of The Lake Pub?
Now that US network ABC and international production company Fremantle Media are both reportedly prepping English-language adaptations/remakes of The Returned all may not be explained in Series 2 either. It would be hard for a US network to extend a taut French drama into 100 episodes of prime-time fare if the original gave the game away after only 16 episodes. Would anyone have watched Lost the first time around if they knew exactly how it would end?
But there is some good news. Fans of the haunting soundtrack need not mothball the xylophone just yet: Mogwai said they would consider scoring a US remake. In an interview with the NME, the Scottish rockers said, “We’d think about [it], but these things have a habit of not being so fantastic. We’re doing the second series [of Les Revenants] and are working on a new album, so that’s probably enough for now!”