Arts review of 2011 - Television: You've no idea how much we liked watching
Mr Drew of Passmores school was my hero, in a year in which the reality show got a bit more real
Sunday 18 December 2011
Documentary of the Year
Adam Curtis's latest cut-and-paste polemic All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace left me typically mesmerised while Terry Pratchett's euthanasia documentary Choosing To Die was unforgettably poignant, if lacking in intellectual rigour.
But nothing provided more food for thought than January's Scenes from a Teenage Killing: a 12-month study of intra-youth violence and its victims. It destroyed myths, exposed ills, and was as poetically non-judgemental as it was, finally, profoundly miserable.
Drama of the Year
A dead heat here. The Crimson Petal and the White cocked a snook at the prettified period drama with its thoroughly pestilent, thrillingly visceral portrait of Victorian mores, while Peter Kosminsky's superlative The Promise entered the labyrinthine milieu of the Arab-Israeli conflict and emerged, against all odds, with a piece that met the demands of both fiction and history. That it brought this geo-political dunce to water and made him drink was an achievement, indeed.
Comedy of the Year
In a far from vintage 12 months – and the less said about Sky 1's original comedy drive, the better – the reappearance of some old hands was something to treasure. The Comic Strip's The Hunt for Tony Blair cast the ex-PM as a serial killer in a 1950s noir pastiche while, gloriously, lifting lines from his memoirs verbatim. Unlike our Tone, its blend of silliness and satire was beyond reproach.
Reality Show of the Year
With "constructed reality" all the rage, these days, one series offered a resounding reminder of the genre's origins in bona fide human experience. My Transsexual Summer brought seven transgender people together in a house, did not roll out the red carpet, did not make them complete tasks, did not make them hate each other, and instead made for an unfeasibly endearing and shamefully enlightening portrait of a still all-too-marginalised group.
Import of the Year
HBO's Game of Thrones was a lustily enjoyable fantasy epic, even as it swung from Lord of the Rings gravitas to Xena: Warrior Princess camp. But, come the autumn, its parade of beheadings and disembowelments was soundly trumped by the emotional eviscerations of Australia's The Slap. This beautifully-mounted adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas's controversial bestseller was truly manna for misanthropes, its central child abuse dispute rendered morally irresolvable thanks to the array of unsympathetic – but all too empathetic – characters on both sides.
Face of the Year
Sofie Grabol as The Killing's detective/goddess Sarah Lund. Imaginably, the cult but not entirely-unconventional Danish crime thriller would have been far less of a phenomenon without her saucer-eyed, quietly unravelling heroine. Just don't mention the knitwear.
Hero of the Year
Mr Drew. The deputy head-teacher of Passmores school, Harlow and star turn of fly-on-the-wall doc Educating Essex proved himself a man of preternatural patience and infinite jest. The call-up from Gove's wonks can't come soon enough.
Villain of the Year
Ricky Gervais. Not for Life's Too Short, mind you, but for the hive of humourlessness that was the comic's Twitter stream. Here we found a man on the verge of a narcissistic breakdown, whether castigating critics for envying his success – ie daring to express an opinion – or retweeting every last scrap of praise like his ego depended on it. An object lesson in the noxious effects of social media, which made David Brent look positively unassuming.
Fresh Meat, a university comedy-drama that was rather too university am-dram for its own good.
Malign influence of the year
Mad Men, the popularity of whose retro-chic aesthetic inspired poor quality, mid-century repros on both sides of the Atlantic: in the US, Pan-Am, a dire mile-high soap with all the sophistication of a bag of Ryanair peanuts, and in the UK, the admittedly more entertaining The Hour, a creaky, lightweight thriller nominally about the BBC in the 1950s but which effectively played out as Poirot in pencil skirts.
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