Review 2010s:
Television.



TV  If anything the 2010s were the year when I receded further from watching television as a linear broadcast model to a streaming affair.  Much of my watching, especially in the bottom half of the decade has been through iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV and notably YouTube, which thanks to its ability to deliver content covering very specific interests and from abroad makes it unbeatable and addictive.  About the only "live" television I've watched recently has been political, debates and hearings on both sides of the atlantic, through BBC Parliament and C-Span.  That explains why so many of the programmes I've chosen did not necessarily debut through an aerial, cable or satellite dish.

The Virtual Revolution

The decade opened with a series that offered opposing views on the potential for the internet.  Led by Aleks Krotoski. The Virtual Revolution offered great optimism as it traced the history of online culture until that point, revealing the origins of social media and how it had shaped revolutions in the decade before.  The original version of the website include the programme's entire source material, interviews and linking shots so viewers could mash-up their own version.  A year later, Adam Curtis's All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace proposed that on the contrary, amongst many other things, humanity has become a slave to technology and a gestalt content editor.  In truth, as the ensuing decade showed, we've become something in between.

The Hour

Twenty-eleven was a big year for future Doctor Who Romola Garai with The Crimson Petal and White and The Hour putting her at the forefront of the BBC drama, a Golden Globe nomination the result of the latter.  Like Party Animals and the like before it, this was British television attempting to offer something other than the same old tired genres, succeeding brilliantly but not finding enough viewers interested in watching this kind of drama to justify its existence.  At which point the very viewers who failed to watch it then complained about seeing the same old tired genres.  My continuing suspicion is that this would have been perfect for the 9 o'clock drama slot on BBC One.  Writer Abi Morgan has apparently been shopping around a sequel since 2018.  Good luck with that.

The London Olympics

With everything which has happened since, was this the last occasion the nation was united about anything?  Yes, the 2016 Olympics were popular, but a lot of that happened at weird times of the day, whereas the London Games were all in prime time, so much so that the final night's presentation of the swimming contest fell over onto the red button channel.  This was probably the last time I committed myself totally to a live sporting event, somehow contriving to watch all but two of the British gold medals won live and only because those two, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott in the canoe double and Luke Campbell the boxing bantamweight because they clashed with gold hopes elsewhere.

The Night of the Doctor

Doctor Who's second decade since the revival has had variable fortunes and to be honest not really been able to live up to the peak of the 50th anniversary, for which the Capaldi years often felt like a long hangover from the aftershow party.  But for fans of a wilderness years vintage, nothing will quite match turning to the iPlayer or YouTube at lunch time on the 14th November to be greeted with a new television episode for the Eighth Doctor in which we finally discovered the circumstances of his regeneration and that they didn't lead directly into Rose.  You can see the extent of my subsequent fangasm in the review I spent that afternoon writing (posted here), not quite able to get over the now hilariously out of date Big Finish references (Tamsin but not Liv or Bliss?) (poor Liv and Bliss).

BBC Genome

The project to scan to turn the Radio Times into a massive database containing broadcast details for every BBC channel and programme in the past century seemed like a myth and impossible and yet in 2014 here it was available to the public for the first time.  Initially it just seemed like an excellent way to see easily what was being broadcast at the time of your birth (Nationwide) but has since had a profound effect on how we think about broadcasting, especially in an archive sense, wondering why some shows have become forgotten while others emerge on streaming services over and over again.  Links back to the BBC website, to clips and full programme are also allowing us to see glimpses of that history, beginning fittingly with a talk by The Time Machine author HG WellsSoon to be updated with details since 2009 and a new look that more closely resembles the BBC's old programme pages.

Agent Carter

MARVEL on television was full stream ahead in 2015, with Daredevil on Netflix, another series of Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter which despite a slightly muddled second series, is still one of the best examples of how the recently disbanded MARVEL Television could experiment with formats and tones which the films didn't quite have the confidence to attempt ... yet.  But it was also a victim of the fractured nature of how these series are licenced, with FOX Television on Sky snapping it up when Channel 4 passed, despite it being part of the wider narrative of that year's SHIELD, with a flashback cameo from Hayley Atwell in that series to boot.  Now that MARVEL Studios have taken over the television wing everything will all be in one convenient place.  Plus.

Fleabag

Yes, yes, I know, booorinnng.  But even by 2019 standards, 2016 was a terrible, terrible year and Fleabag was one of the bright spots.  Although the elements weren't completely new - Clandestine Bandersnatch broke the fourth wall just as conspiratorially if more homicidally as The Hollow Crown's Richard III in the same year, Pheobe Waller-Bridge's title character implicated us in her behaviour whilst also drawing us into her tragedy.  Having subsequently read the text of the original play, it's possible to see how skillfully she opened it out to the a full six episodes, adding dimension to supporting characters who were otherwise just voices off stage.

The Good Place

The Good Place is special.  Like All Along The Watch Tower or The Red Wedding, at the close of the its first season it upends the viewers expectations of the kind of show they're watching by apparently throwing out its entire premise.  The effect is rather like if the characters in FRIENDS got to the end of the first season and were seen to wake up in suspended animation chambers and we discovered they were actually on a deep space mission and the sitcom New York we'd been watching was a simulation.  Ross and Rachel were already married, Chandler and Joey were fuck buddies and Phoebe was the Captain.  Or something.  The Good Place should be seen as one of the pinnacles of its form.  God knows how they're framing it in academia.

Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema

The decade opened with The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Mark Cousins's meandering event series covering the history of cinema for Sight and Sound readers which arguably led to the flourish of online film essays from the likes of Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter1 making accessible the film studies classes I spent nearly ten grand attending in the mid-noughties.  Imagine my surprise at the close of the 2010s when Kermode pops up providing what amounts to a pretty coherent investigation of different film genres, the topic of my MA dissertation, even if (I don't think) he ever used the words semantic or syntactic.  More episodes coming next year apparently.  Good.

Prince Andrew and the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview

Watching the recent restoration of Monty Python's Flying Circus reveals how much of the television landscape, which they spent half the series saturising, consisted of lengthy interviews of the kind which most people would expect to find on podcasts now.  But what this special Newsnight (and the various interviews during the election campaign) demonstrated is that with a forensic, well researched interviewer like Emily Maitlis and a fascinating subject, there are still acres of drama in watching two people sat in a room talking.  Andrew did not need to give this interview.  Afterwards he was apparently punching the air due to what he thought was a success.  The time in between was utterly riveting and the best drama on television this year (that isn't Watchmen).

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