Not Review 2008: Television

TV I've contributed to Off The Telly's review of the year which as ever lists a range of programmes I forgot to watch. Here's my original submission:

2008 was the year when I finally realised that I was online more than watching television live. Most of anything useful drama and comedy wise is being released on dvd, and with a Lovefilm subscription I’ve been managing to catch up on a range of programmes. About the only appointment tv for me has been the odd panel game plus Doctor Who and its variants; even Heroes or Merlin have found their way to prerecord first. It’s also been a year where I’ve only seen one ITV1 series – Lost In Austen – and strayed away from Channel 4. The BBC is a treasure that has to be protected, but they need to return to reminding the audience the glories that they offer rather than threatening to prosecute them for not paying their license and giving reasons for the Daily Mail and its readership to ostracise them.

Some of the best live camera work of the year happened during the BBC’s broadcast of Prom 5, which began with an organ solo of Messian’s L'Ascension and Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, perhaps the longest example of one of these things outside of Christmas. It began with a long, slow zoom in from the outer edge of the hall to the organist's box which is exactly the kind of arresting, leisurely shot there’s simply not enough of on television these days. It’s just a man sitting at an organ which should be even less televisual than a piano solo, but this still managed to be a visual feast due to the director's willingness to show off the architecture of the pipes, organist Olivier Latry's fingering and the acoustic adjusters in the ceiling.

Ashes To Ashes was a frustrating experience. It wasn’t such a bad idea to spin-off Life on Mars, even if it had that offered one of television’s best ever conclusions and though Keeley Hawes was unpopular with some I thought she was more than a match for John Simm, and it was great to see Gene Hunt back on the beat. No, the problem was that the tension which existed between its core genres, cop show and fantasy failed to cohere with too many appearances from the clown and less clarity in the detective work, often keeping the types of story separate in each episode making it an irritating watch as your attention was cast hither and thither. By the end, I wasn’t sure if Alex Drake was in a coma – in which case was Sam Tyler?

Dawn Goes Lesbian (pictured) was something of a guilty pleasure. Journalist Dawn Porter made a series of documentaries for the constantly struggling BBC Three in which she tried out selection of alternative lifestyles. This was essentially Bruce Parry's Tribe for the Hampstead set, with London’s gay scene instead of the Babongo. Over the course of an hour we watched Porter become the very bestests of friends with a Fenella Woolgar lookalike who she ultimately spent the night with though she was keen to stress that they kept their pyjamas on. Much of the programme was issues led (there's abuse in lesbian relationships too etc). Porter was refreshingly naive but not in with Louis Theroux's irony -- she seemed genuinely honest and natural and confused.

BBC Four’s Pop, What Is It Good For? was one of the best music documentaries of the year. Paul Morley offering a list of his favourite songs of all time, explaining why and interviewing the people who made them. Morley often comes across elsewhere as a rather cynical figure. But here, faced with his heroes, you really saw his passion and the esteem in which he holds their music, even the Sugababes who he attempted to have a serious conversation with during the hub-bub back stage at last year’s Children In Need with Keisha desperate to make him believe that they have a modicum of creative control over their work. This was a musical education for those of us who might have flirted with Smash Hits but ended up with Norah Jones.

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