Hannah Dunleavy continues her countdown of 2014’s best telly.
5: The Knick (Cinemax)
Generally, medical dramas make me a bit queasy. And, after that scene in Closer when he perved all over Natalie Portman, see also Clive Owen. And yet, a few seconds into The Knick, I was hooked.
Based in The Knickerbocker hospital in New York in 1910, it shows a city riddled with disease, inequality and stacked odds, and an operating theatre that’d make you fancy your chances outside.
It’s Steven Soderbergh, so it floats between wonderfully woozy and painfully sharp, and features a cocaine withdrawal plot so overwhelming, it’s impossible to watch it without getting a sweat on.
While it’s clearly ploughing its own furrow style-wise (using, for example, anachronistic music), The Knick reminds me of (yes, I’m bringing it up – again) Deadwood. Any sense of community is notional. Everyone serves their own agenda.
It’s not surprising, then, that the best episode (the seventh) comes when the characters are forced to work as a team and reveal surprising sides of themselves. It also features a glorious scene where Cleary pulls the ambulance through the street while Sister Harriet (sets off Best TV Nun Ever klaxon) wards off a baying crowd like Van Helsing, if he swore like a trooper. That’s proper great TV.
4: Happy Valley
The UK makes too many police dramas. I try not to watch them because it makes me part of the problem. But, after a few weeks of “but why aren’t you watching Happy Valley?” I thought, “I’ll give it one episode, and if it hasn’t got me by then, I’m off.”
It had me before the credits, when Sarah Lancashire strolls towards a guy covered in petrol: “I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m 47, I’m divorced. I live with my sister, who’s a recovering heroin addict. I have two grown-up children. One dead and one who doesn’t speak to me. And a grandson! It’s complicated. Let’s talk about you.”
I immediately watched four hours of it. Massive, massive hypocrite.
Happy Valley rattled the Daily Mail by virtue of being on BBC1 and about its use of violence towards women – but no problems with Game of Thrones? No? Laura Macdougall discusses the issue of women detectives and violent crime against women much more effectively than I could here.
There will be a second series of Happy Valley. I have no idea if I’ll watch it. What I would watch is more great stuff with Sarah Lancashire in, or more great stuff written by Sally Wainwright. I really hope that’s in the pipeline too.
3: Mad Men CONTAINS SPOILERS
The women Don Draper doesn’t have sex with are the most interesting in his life. As a woman who Don Draper doesn’t have sex with, I would say that, right? It’s also categorically true. Shorn of these relationships, Season 7 Don was a sorry sack of a man and it was only after his reconciliations with daughter Sally and protégé Peggy, that the adman of old began to peek from behind the piss-stained curtain. He remains on the outs with Joan, so there’s still a lot to play for.
Don and Peggy’s reunion is the sort of lovely that makes you want to hug your TV – it’s here if you want to watch it again.
If you ever make them a couple Weiner, I will burn all the televisions.
Season 7.2 arrives next year, when I will be obsessing at length for Standard Issue. You’re welcome to join me.
2: Orange is the New Black (Netflix) CONTAINS SPOILERS
I don’t often cry when sad things have actually happened, let alone when they’re made-up, but I was proper tear-stained of cheek at the end of this. That the freeing of a bank robber, by a stalker, so she could kill herself, was such an emotional victory against the system says everything about how well the prison series is written and acted.
Technically, it shouldn’t even be in this list, as Orange is the New Black is, at heart, a comedy. And all hail a programme with a pub band called Sideboob and a newsletter called The Big House Bugle. But the sheer depth of its talent pool means any character can be lifted out, given a backstory and chunk of screen time, and it’ll be drama-rific. (Series 2 did wonders with Rael Stone’s Morello and Samira Wiley’s Poussey.)
Of course, the real strength of the cast is its diversity – representing women of all sizes, shapes, ages, ethnicities, religions, sexualities and social backgrounds. They’re also the most right-on cast since The Wire and, although their success has bought them spots on the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, it’s also enabled many (Diane Guerrero in particular) to make some pertinent points about the way women and immigration are perceived. Well done those women.
1: True Detective (HBO)
Two men, festering with a heady mix of pride, insecurity and drink, bonded by a potentially misplaced sense of loyalty, crash their way through an investigation over a period of nearly 20 years, seeing things that will eventually turns their souls to dust? YES FUCKING PLEASE! It’s got Woody Harrelson in it? *faceplantsonfloor
So, True Detective had no relatable female characters at all. Who cares? And what about the ending? Who cares? If you get to the closing episode and your primary concern is the identity of the Yellow King, you’ve been watching it wrong.
Come for the mystery, stay for the McConologues. Because these eight hours of outright splendidness were all about those rambling interviews and the incessant in-car jabbering. And that one massive lie and the associated flashback Pink Floyd T-shirt scene. And a six-minute single take tracking shot, which is the surely the ballsiest thing ever pulled-off on TV (Jesus, that sounds filthy). It’s here, if you want to watch it again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_HuFuKiq8U
Even the opening credits were a joy to behold. So much so, I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to the sound of The Handsome Family’s Far From Any Road, in which I start banging my hands together in anticipation of something amazing about to happen. Or Woody Harrelson. Thank you TV Jesus.
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.