This was the year I finally felt as though I’d come home. My family actually moved back from New York after five years in 2012 but it’s taken me two years to really feel as though I belong. The reason? TV.
If that sounds odd, bear with me a second. When we moved to the US in 2007 it was television that felt most alien to me. Yes, I’d watched a lot of US programmes prior to moving – I could bore along with the best about The Sopranos v The Wire and whether Oz was the greatest prison drama of them all (quick answer, yes, even now, although Orange is the New Black does make it a close run thing) – but watching at odd hours on BBC2 or C4 was very different from being able to watch all the American television I’d ever dreamed of, whenever I pleased.
And initially I really missed the programmes back home. I wanted Peep Show and The Thick of It, Life on Mars and The Line of Beauty. A great deal of American television, particularly the network shows, seemed over-produced and bland, filled with interchangeable actors with big hair and nice smiles.
Then, within a couple of months, two very different programmes changed my mind: the first, filling a Sopranos-shaped hole, was the slick, superior first series of Mad Men, the second (don’t laugh) was Gossip Girl. Somehow these two shows – the classy, clever drama and the campy teen soap filled the final days of my first pregnancy, helping me to feel at ease in my new home. Other programmes followed – comedies such as 30 Rock and Community, dramas from The Good Wife to Game of Thrones – until those five years passed and it was time to return.
And therein lay the problem: I returned to Britain and felt completely out of touch. There were whole swathes of British culture I’d completely missed out on – comedies and dramas people would mention that had completely passed me by. Eager to catch up, I series-linked endlessly but nothing grabbed my interest from much-praised Scandi dramas to the latest sitcoms and thrillers. Five years in America had turned me into the sort of person who only watched US shows. My TV was constantly tuned to Sky Atlantic while I raved to everyone about how much better things were now, in 2012, where you could basically ignore the UK and spend your time watching quality cable TV.
So what changed this year (apart from fed-up friends wishing I’d stop praising every US drama to limp on to these shores)? Partially, as had happened in America, I gradually readjusted to UK viewing but partially too this was a stellar year for British shows. While some (cough, The Fall, cough) left me completely cold, others (Happy Valley, Line of Duty, The Missing) grabbed hold and would not let me go.
I stopped caring so much about production values, about the fact that US shows will always seem that little bit slicker, and concentrated instead on the way in which Happy Valley gave us a crime show that was as much about the aftershocks felt in a community as the crime itself. I retuned my brain to the rhythms of British comedy, the gently offbeat pace of The Detectorists and the wilfully downbeat tone of shows like Rev.
Most of all I fell in love with Peaky Blinders, a drama which can at times be clunky, which walks a constant line between melodrama and outright soap, and yet which also has ambition, style and, crucially, chutzpah to spare. This was TV as it should be, occasionally over-reaching itself, but at least daring to take risks.
And as the camera panned over Cillian Murphy’s face in the brutal, beautifully paced concluding episode, I realised that the reason I enjoyed it so much was because British TV finally made sense for me again. I moved back to the UK in 2012 but 2014 was the year I came home.
You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahjphughes. She writes for The Guardian.