Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Voilà! Here’s a list of the TV series I enjoyed the most in the past year. Some are new and some have been running for years. Some have been showered with awards and others are pretty obscure.

1.     Mad Men. AMC.
4th Season. Drama.
Created by Matthew Weiner. 
With: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss.

No surprises here. ‘Mad Men’, the 1960s drama about everybody’s favourite ad-man, has been my loyal companion over the past couple of years. The fourth season of the series is as beautiful, enticing and scandalous as the previous ones; however it is slightly different in tone: we finally get a glimpse into the inner workings of Don Draper’s mind. The season is also full of hope for Don – hope for a new life after divorce, hope of improving his health by cutting down on the drinking, hope for success in his new company and new romance. The choices he made now demonstrate his wish to break free from the vicious circle of past mistakes. I shan’t spoil the ending of the series, I’ll just say that I was very shocked and somewhat disappointed in Don for choosing the “easy option”.

Sally Draper had some really interesting scenes this season. Her therapy sessions and the constant struggle with her mother turn her into an unusually troubled little girl. Betty’s neurosis is the culprit, I think. As usual, Peggy was a delight to observe not only as the only female character with enough grit to make it in the male-populated world of advertising, but also because she’s finally gotten over her insecurities and is not afraid to explore the more alternative side of 1960s culture.

Matthew Weiner is responsible for creating and developing the two most enigmatic and contradictory characters of recent American television, Tony Soprano and Donald Draper. My wish is that his next work will feature a female protagonist of equal notoriety.  

Best Episode: The Suitcase.

A very dramatic episode where Peggy and Don’s bonding results in a messy night and Don showing emotion for the first time.

And another highly amusing mashup video where Don displays his ability to say “what?” in many different ways.

2.     30 Rock. NBC.
 5th season. Situational Comedy.
Created by Tina Fey. 
With: Tina Fey. Alec Baldwin.

The series has a small but dedicated audience, it’s already acquired a cult status and won many awards. This year too, both Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin have been nominated for Golden Globes. I am struggling to describe the type of humour that is unique to 30 Rock, the show is often borderline absurd and offensive. It’s critical of NBC, political Conservatism (and Liberalism), celebrity culture and American values. There are many eccentric guest appearances this season, including Jon Hamm, Queen Latifah and Matt Damon. The highlight of the series is the strange, platonic and symbiotic relationship between Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin’s characters. His Jack Donaghy is a sophisticated, charming and high-functioning corporate boss with a deep voice and a great shock of hair and her Liz Lemon is…well…the opposite.  The pair produce the most memorable quotes of the show: “Men need alcohol, Lemon. It’s the first thing civilizations make along with weapons and shelters to enjoy prostitutes…”

Best Episode:  College.

Liz Lemon learns what it’s like to be popular.

The Trip. BBC 2.
1st season. Comedy.
Created by Michael Winterbottom.
With: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon.

Here’s the setup – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play fictional versions of their real selves and tour around the North of England, visiting restaurants and staying at B&Bs. Each episode is set in a new restaurant with the two actors talking over a meal, most of the dialogue is improvised. They speak of their film and TV careers, family and fellow thespians. There is much antagonism between the two egos and it’s clear that Steve cannot stand Rob most of the time. This results in many arguments based around who can do a better impression of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Stephen Hawkin, you name it. I stumbled upon ‘The Trip’ by chance and literally cried with laughter from the very first episode.  It’s done in a mockumentary fashion, with beautiful scenic shots of the country and a dark, melancholic tinge.

Best Episode:  The Inn at Whitewell.

“She was only 16 years old.”

4.     Sherlock. BBC 1.
1st season. Crime Drama.
Created by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat. 
With: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman.

Arthur Conan-Doyle’s creation has been given two re-vamps this year: Guy Ritchie’s dire ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and this BBC adaptation. The BBC version wins by a clear margin – although the series is close to the books in spirit, the story unfolds in modern day London. Whereas, originally Sherlock Holmes could guess the person’s profession by looking at the mud on their boots, the modern Sherlock does so from scratches on the mobile phone. The acting is incomparable, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is haughty, rude, piercingly intelligent and extremely likable.  John Watson is emphatic and very human and is definitely more in touch with reality than his flatmate. Martin Freeman is to play Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming Hobbit film, a very good casting decision, I think. Due to the popularity of this series, BBC is planning to film a second season (not such a huge surprise, considering the cliff-hanger at the end of the final episode).

Best Episode:  A Study in Pink.

Our first look at Sherlock’s world of deduction.

5.     Nikita. The CW Television Network.
1st season. Action/Thriller/Drama.
Created by Craig Silverstein. 
With: Maggie Q, Shane West.

Another example of Hollywood’s lack of new ideas. ‘Nikita’ is loosely based on the Luc Besson film; also, do not confuse it with the old Canadian TV series of the same name with the platinum-blonde lady. The new Nikita is not as vulnerable and troubled as her French predecessor and much better-looking than her Canadian sibling, instead she can be described as James Bond in a skirt or a more attractive version of Mother Theresa. Maggie Q is a pleasure to watch, she is unflinching, tough and wise. Nikita becomes disillusioned with the secret government organisation that initially recruited her and is now on her path to revenge. Her opponent is Michael, played by Shane West, channeling his inner Jack Bauer; he clearly harbours some feelings for Nikita that would be considered inappropriate for enemies. Each episode has the same outline; still, they are fun to watch, the general look of the show is robust and expensive. Maggie Q showcases her linguistic abilities on several occasions, she speaks Chinese, which she picked up whilst modeling in Hong Kong, and Russian.

Best Episode:  Pilot.  

Nikita’s lipstick.

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