Watching TV for a living is probably a depressing job. Poor Harry Hill is reportedly on the verge of quitting TV Burp because he can’t handle having to watch countless hours of Emmerdale and EastEnders. Poor bugger. I’m in a different situation. I watch a shitload of TV because I enjoy it, and can mostly focus on the good stuff, but even with a whole year to prepare for the Caruso Awards, I fall behind. There’s so much to get through, and some of it is really awful. I was genuinely looking forward to watching Camelot so I could have a good laugh, but watching it is agony. Next to Torchwood: Miracle Day and Blue Bloods, it’s the worst of the year.
It’s not just the bad stuff. I’ve also not watched Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which is unforgivable. That said, part of the reason is the recent, tragic loss of Andy Whitfield, who played our noble hero. He wasn’t in Gods; his illness was the reason the prequel was created in the first place, in order to give him time to recover. Sadly that was not to be. Even though SoC is very much pro-Spartacus, the thought of watching it now is painful. Whitfield had enormous potential, and was a crucial part of the show’s success. His quiet nobility and command of the screen was memorable. He will be sorely missed.
Anyway, this weekend might — might — be the weekend that we watch all six episodes, so it should make it into this year’s awards (I’m that confident), so the real list, the top 30, should be ready to go next week. Until then, a taster. I watched enough TV over the least year that there were a few shows left over, and I thought I wouldn’t get to write about them. But this gives me a chance to hold off a little longer, and so here are the stragglers, the honorable mentions that lie just outside the main list. Nevertheless, they were genuinely good episodes, and I’m glad I get to honour them in my own small way.
35: The Event – Loyalty
The latest incoherent network LEP (Lost-Emulation-Project) spluttered along for five misfiring episodes, giving disgruntled viewers plenty of time to jump ship if need be, but early on there was a hint that there might be more to this alien invasion show than first appeared. Focusing almost solely on alien sleeper agent Simon, Loyalty used the previously exasperating flashback format the way Gods (Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof) intended; to give the viewer an insight into why a character behaves the way he does. The result is a surprisingly poignant tale of love thwarted by misplaced loyalty, as Simon leaves the love of his life for a cause that he can barely bring himself to believe in. Throw in an appearance by hardest-working-guest-star-of-2010-2011 Paula Malcomson and a well-staged FX blowout sequence involving a building being sucked into a wormhole, and you have a solidly entertaining 40 minutes of sci-fi TV.
34: Human Target – The Trouble With Harry
Not much in the disappointing second season of this DC Comics adaptation stood out, other than an amusingly Scroogelike Christmas episode (The Other Side of the Mall, featuring a terrific guest performance from John Michael Higgins) and this late season highlight. After weeks of perfunctory 70s style action nonsense, Human Target finally seemed to come alive and offer something other than cliches and repetitive arguments between the leads. Which is not to say The Trouble With Harry wasn’t riddled with the exact same cliches and arguments, but at least it did it with some verve. Getting first season showrunner Jonathan Steinberg back helped; he seemed to have a better grip on the characters than Matt Miller, who took over at the start of this season. Director Peter Lauer moves things along briskly, staging a couple of nifty action scenes that use the show’s seemingly paltry budget to great effect, and even manages to generate some tension; surprising considering the episode’s flashback format should make that difficult.
33: Glee – Furt
Glee‘s shambolic nature means that it’s next to impossible to care for any of the characters. They’re pieces in a game with no rules, and as such have no inner life to connect with. Events happen, desires are voiced, and dreams are crushed only for these things to be reversed in a short space of time; sometimes in the same scene. Nevertheless, the second season was better than the first, mostly by focusing on its strengths and giving some plotlines a real charge, especially the bullying arc that saw Kurt leave William McKinley High after being repeatedly humiliated by closeted homosexual Karofsky. This episode brings that plot to a head, and ends with Sue Sylvester, temporarily sympathetic as she contends with the reappearance of her awful Nazi-hunting mother (Carol Burnett), resigning as principal. Kurt also leaves for Dalton Academy, and his true love Blaine. Even better, Kurt and Finn’s single parents marry in a moving scene, and for once the flighty, impermanent nature of Glee didn’t matter. This is a show that is all about scenes rather than story, and the joyous marriage ceremony, uniting not just Burt and Carol but also their sons, is the best Glee scene of all.
32: Misfits – Episode Six
Season two of Howard Overman’s irreverent superhero drama was another triumph of ambition and confidence over budget constraints, showing no sign of fatigue. It’s as if he’s single-handedly proving that the British model of TV writing (one author responsible for a short season of TV in order to maintain authorial identity) is the right way. Among the numerous highlights, perhaps this shone brightest. Our anti-heroes are outed by obnoxious probation worker Shaun, and instantly become famous. It’s the worst thing that can happen to the group; their selfishness and arrogance doom them all and the saintlike Daisy after they anger Brian (aka Milkneto, at least to us). The imaginative and deadly use of his superpower (Lactokinesis) is the key to this episode’s success. The group are genuinely in danger; Nathan’s grisly fate is particularly upsetting. In the midst of this, Simon finally discovers that he was/will be Superhoodie, and Alisha reveals she loves him. And that he is doomed to die saving her; classic good news/bad news. Of course, this episode led to an enormous plothole (Simon’s discovery should have been erased by Curtis’ last-act time jump but is still in place in the next episode), and the third season of the show will see Robert Sheehan gone and a team of new writers brought in, so this might be the show’s last great gasp. Fingers crossed I’m 100% wrong.
31: The Killing – Missing
After weeks of running on the spot, AMC’s remake of Forbrydelsen finally stopped moving for an hour, and provided the increasingly frustrated audience with the most moving and propulsive episode of the season. Shorn of the melodramatic sub-plots and histrionic nonsense that infests the programme, showrunner Veena Sud delivers what amounts to a bottle episode, even though the “action” ranges across rainy Seattle. Sarah Linden’s son Jack goes missing at the start of the episode, and she must find him as soon as possible, with the help of her feckless faux-gangster partner Holder. What follows is a quiet hour of conversation that reveals a shared background of parental absence which has scarred both detectives. Ironic, really, considering that the most nuclear family unit in the show – the Larsen family – was hiding terrible secrets that may have led to the delinquency and death of Rosie. Though little “happens”, there are more character revelations, surprises, and heartstopping moments than in the rest of the season put together, bolstered by superb performances from Mirielle Enos and Joel Kinnaman. If the show had just a couple more episodes as good as this, viewers would’ve been a lot happier.
Next week, the list proper, starting with 30-21. And hopefully some Spartacus.