2014 has been another excellent year in TV-land, with a combination of new arrivals and old favourites finding a new lease of life. Over the next three days I’ll be highlighting my ten personal favourites from my viewing year, starting today with numbers ten through to seven.
10. Doctor Who: Capaldi the curmudgeon
Fans waited with bated breath to see what Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor would be like. We knew he would be older but, even so, few were prepared for how curmudgeonly and downright callous this latest incarnation would turn out to be. Opinion was divided on both his character and the quality of the stories in his debut season. Personally I was delighted with the move away from rock-star chumminess and very much enjoyed both Capaldi’s Doctor and the overall quality and variety of season eight’s stories, which were much less arc-heavy and more obviously designed to simultaneously delight and scare younger viewers.
Best of all, though, were Jenna Coleman’s stand-out performances as the Doctor’s companion, Clara. If she isn’t at the front of the queue when it comes to awards season, there’s something seriously wrong. Given the lion’s share of the emotional heft from week to week, Coleman delivered in spades, culminating in a tearful farewell to her boyfriend Danny in a finale which paid tribute to fallen soldiers the day before Remembrance Sunday in the centenary year of the start of World War I.
Oddly enough, the best of several strong episodes from this season was the one in which Clara featured the least, the mystery yarn Mummy on the Orient Express. With Coleman now confirmed to be continuing with Capaldi for the whole of season nine, this is arguably the best Doctor/companion pairing the series has had since the days of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and the late Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith.
9. The Newsroom: Sorkin goes out swinging
Aaron Sorkin’s news-based drama returned for a truncated third and final season of six episodes but he did not go quietly into that good night. In wrapping up the show, he tackled the rights of journalists to protect their sources, a hugely controversial rape victim storyline and the threat of new media to traditional news-gathering standards and values.
As with the previous two seasons, the show walked a difficult line between informing viewers and preaching to them and delivered moments of mediocrity in among sequences of punch-the-air brilliance that gave Sorkin’s detractors plenty of ammunition to fire back at him. But when The Newsroom was good, it was very good. Ultimately its biggest failing was that it never matched the consistent heights of Sorkin’s crowning TV glory, The West Wing. But it really tried – and when it succeeded it produced moments as magnificent as Sloan Sabbith’s on-air take-down of a puffed-up new media ‘pioneer’ in the penultimate episode.
8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Cop comedy capers
It’s not often that a sitcom with a large ensemble cast has such a positive and immediate impact the way the officers of New York’s 99th precinct did, garnering two Golden Globe awards before the series was more than a dozen episodes old.
The show is nominally built around long-serving Saturday Night Live alumnus Andy Samberg but every principal character is sharply defined and underwent significant development during season one, from the initially desk-bound Terry Jeffords and the gay, largely emotionless Captain Raymond Holt to administrator Gina Linetti and uptight detective Amy Santiago. The series hit the ground running right from the off, with every episode effortlessly blending comedy and character. No gimmicks, just lots of fun.
7. The Blacklist: Spader’s tour de force
For a show that gave the initial impression of being little more than a less cannibalistic version of Hannibal, The Blacklist moved on to my personal must-watch list within its first couple of episodes.
At turns serious and knowingly tongue-in-cheek, presenting us with comic-book villains of the week mixed with some pretty gory violence and not afraid to kill off a member of its principal cast, it’s held together by James Spader’s scenery-chewing turn as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington. He doesn’t call for fava beans and a nice chianti – his tastes are far more expensive – but he’d give Dr Lecter a run for his money while he and his FBI sidekick Elizabeth Keen engage in missions of espionage, intrigue and revenge with the kind of energy and style last seen in the first two seasons of Alias.
Tomorrow: Numbers six to four.