Hannah Dunleavy’s a sucker for TV drama. Here she counts down her favourite 10 from 2014.
10: Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
When Terence Winter announced Season Five was not just going to be the series’ last, but also just eight episodes long, oh I was livid. When I saw it was going to leap forward SEVEN years to 1930, I thought about smashing up my TV, which is very old, so probably isn’t quite the dramatic gesture it sounds.
As it turned out, it wasn’t the complete disaster I was expecting. It was patchy and the not-so-great leap forward gave Michael Stuhlbarg’s Arnold Rothstein a thoroughly undeserved off-screen death.
So why is it here? Because, even at its worse, Boardwalk Empire is better than most stuff on TV. An out-of-control Eli Thompson and a hen-pecked Nelson Van Alden made for one of the funniest (and most unlikely) comedy pairings in recent TV history (“Why must it always be pandemonium with you?”), and every time either Stephen Graham or Michael K Williams was on screen, I couldn’t tear myself away.
A treat for the eyes, if not always for the logic centre of the brain.
9: Orphan Black (BBC America)
Orphan Black flies though storylines like shit off a shovel, building an ever more complex, and frankly unnecessary, mythology. On the other hand, it’s a tight mix of action, drama and horror and contains more laugh-out-loud moments than many comedies.
And, if its (male) creators say they didn’t set out to create a feminist agenda, there’s no doubt the show poses some interesting questions about who really has domain over a woman’s body and, more importantly, her reproductive organs.
But, all of this aside, Orphan Black is really about Tatiana Maslany. A Twitter storm erupted earlier this year when she was snubbed at the Emmys, and the Golden Globes have also failed to recognise her tremendous talents (playing up to six characters in any one episode, all with unique looks and personality). Put simply, there is nobody, n-o-b-o-d-y, working as hard or as brilliantly, in any medium, right now.
8: Jamaica Inn (BBC)
The Daily Mail-fuelled brouhaha that surrounded the BBC’s adaptation of Daphne’s Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, in which 2,000-odd viewers complained they couldn’t hear what was going on, saw the blame passed from sound engineers to technicians, before landing squarely at the feet of actor Sean Harris. All of which detracted from the fact the two-part drama was one of the best costume dramas the Beeb’s made for quite a while.
OK, so I’m biased, I love the book (a female character who has no interest in finding a husband? More of that please). I also love watching Harris. And I’m registered hard of hearing, so forgive me if I’m not filled with sympathy if you didn’t catch every word. Sometimes you just have to try a bit harder. You’ll find it’s worth it.
7: Game of Thrones (HBO)
There was a point in Series Four, when I thought I might stop watching – yep, that Jaime and Cersei scene. And it’s not because I was upset they’d “ruined” him; for the record, my favourite version of the Kingslayer was 2.0: Jaime chained to a post, covered in crap, shouting hilarious insults at whoever would listen.
While many characters are now being held in what appears to be an airport holding pattern, which is clearly not a problem of the series’ own making, in the end, GoT boiled down to another horrible wedding (although I’m sure I’ve been to worse) and two massive fights, each featuring a Clegane brother and each worthy of its own sick bucket.
So what kept me going, other than a desire to see where Aidan Gillen’s accent would land next? There’s still a few not-thoroughly-unredeemable characters left, including the ever-wonderful Peter Dinklage, and there was the Viper, who swaggered into Series Four like a smouldering pot of something completely yummy, proving there really is NOTHING more attractive than a man who’s comfortable with his own sexuality. And then he did this.
SPOILER ALERT – don’t watch this if you haven’t seen series 4 yet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0htqxWSlDY
6: The Leftovers (HBO)
Based on a 2011 book, in which 140 million people, 2% of the world’s population, disappear in the blink of an eye, no series divided the internet this year like The Leftovers. Much of the ire results from its stewardship by Damon Lindelof, with many Lost fans (I’m not one) still not over its ending, and many more hoping there would be a central mystery to solve with the his latest outing. Cards on the table, I couldn’t give a shiny shit what made those people disappear – in fact, if they ever explain it, I’m out.
Instead, The Leftovers is an incredibly unsettling, fraught and (in one episode) horrifically violent drama about what happens when people are forced to go back to their mundane jobs and their weekly shop having witnessed what can only be described as the divine. Much like its “spiritual” predecessor Carnivale, the seemingly apocalyptic nature of events opens up all sorts of possibilities – does Paterson Joseph really have the power to heal? Is Scott Glenn actually mentally ill? (What other series would have those two in the same cast?)
The Leftovers also has some superb female characters – including three-times bereaved Nora, one of the most likeable women to grace the small screen in many a year. And, it boasts a stand-alone episode with Christopher Ecclestone, worthy of The Twilight Zone in its glory days.
Try it, you might like it, but don’t come looking for answers.
The countdown continues in tomorrow’s Standard Issue.
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.