TV PICKS OF 2017 – Part Two – By Lisa Jewell
2017 was another bumper year for television shows – whether on mainstream channels or streaming services. We’ve picked out our high points over the past 12 months – see if you agree.
Stranger Things 2
After such a brilliant first series, you couldn’t help but wonder how the follow up would measure up. Of course, it lacked the novelty factor of meeting the characters for the first time but it measured up remarkably well. The gang were all back again (regrettably minus Barb) and we discovered that the Upside Down world was not a distant memory for these select inhabitants of Hawkins, Indiana.
Lots of Stephen King influences and references once again, some blossoming romances and excellent 80s music. The appearance of Sean Astin as Bob, the boyfriend of Winona Ryder’s character, neatly fitted and the apt Goonies reference made for pure magic. And we didn’t mind Episode 7 at all – despite all the fuss made about it.
Half comedy, half drama, this series had a strange trajectory over the past few years. It was welcomed as a cultural phenomenon when it started back in 2012, fuelling feature pieces on girls in their 20s and thrusting Lena Dunham into the spotlight. The first series was entertaining and well written but it started to languish in the next few series as viewers struggled to get to grips with characters that were clearly unlikeable quite a lot of the time.
You have to admire a show that takes risks though, particularly in creating unlikeable characters. And when it reached its fifth season, Girls just blossomed into this incredible piece of work that hit a home run, episode after episode.
The final season this year had a hard hill to climb after Season Five but it acquitted itself well with some poignant moments and a hard look at how friendships can run their course. Girls was pretty perfect in its imperfection.
The Vietnam War
A 10 part series on the Vietnam War may not sound all that exciting but you didn’t need to be a military or history aficionado to enjoy this PBS documentary. In an age of binge watching, the best way to watch this was how it was aired on RTE and BBC Four – once a week hourly chunks – as it gave time to ruminate on what happened in each episode.
The Vietnam War has previously been well covered but this documentary gave a huge sense of context to the lead up to the war. And in its choice of footage and interviewees, it gave a lot of time and space to both North and South Vietnamese citizens along with the American side of the war, greatly increasing viewers’ understanding of what was a deeply complex and divisive conflict.
Shot in the Dark
This Netflix original series was compulsive watching with its fly on the wall approach and its fascinating set of participants. The show followed three different news footage companies who go out every night on the highways and byways of LA, seeking out traffic accidents, shoot outs and fires to film and sell the footage on to TV stations.
If you ever watched the Jake Gyllenhaal film Nightcrawler, you’ll know the set up as these stringers listen in to police radio scanners and race off to find the incident (in fact, one of the crews, RMG News, were advisors on Nightcrawler).
There is a voyeuristic element of watching real life situations unfold and the heart gets pumping as you see what the guys go through every night on their quest for ‘hits’ on morning TV news. Surely more is to come from this series as it ended on a maddening cliff hanger.