The best of the year's TV - stand out series, shows, and moments of 2017
How many have you seen?
As is now customary, 2017 was a year in which there was far too much telly. Really, even for the most devoted couch-potato, there’s just oceans of the stuff. OCEANS. Way too much for anyone to watch all of it, or anywhere close to most of it – even when your job partly entails doing just that.
So with this in mind, here follows a highly subjective review of the year that was in television. In short, this is what grabbed my attention in 2017:
There were good documentaries in Golden, The Park, The Du Plantier Case and – pick of the bunch – This is Christy, an affectionate and moving tribute to the unbreakable Mr Dignam.
Éire Fhiáin: An Cósta Thiar (Wild Ireland: The Western Coast), a two-part nature doc on TG4, was sumptuously filmed, comparable to Attenborough at his best. The same station delivered Grace Harte, a moody, atmospheric (and black ‘n’ white) noir-style thriller as gaeilge.
In comedy, Bridget & Eamonn is still sublimely silly and equally funny; Nowhere Fast was not as good, but not half-bad either.
Lucy Kennedy braved the hordes of online hard-cases/nut-jobs to actually engage with Katy Hopkins as a person, not just the tabloid caricature. In other Reality telly, Missing You was sweet, First Dates Ireland was even sweeter, while Dancing with the Stars was daft and fun.
Brendan O’Connor’s Cutting Edge was by far the best current affairs magazine programme, lording it over TV3’s Tonight Show. People just talking and being honest, intelligent and interesting: who’d have ever suspected that would work?
The Handmaid’s Tale was this year’s big “event TV”, even bleeding from the screen into real-life, with Repeal campaigners dressing up in the drama’s now-iconic robes and headdresses.
Being a bit of a cultural snob, I didn’t watch it – because I read (and loved) the book, and by all accounts the show plays fast and loose with Margaret Atwood’s source material, pulling the usual TV trick of expanding something so far past its original boundaries, it barely remains an adaptation at all. Which is very annoying. Also, the book is always better: this is just a rule of the universe. (Same reason I didn’t watch Alias Grace.)
The best telly, for me, is emergent, in the sense that it comes from itself. It is its own source and inspiration; it’s not derived from, or derivative of, anything. So, for example, the greatest “prestige” show all year was, of course, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, returning after a 25-year-absence. It’s happening again…
Having said that, Fargo (based on the great Coen Brothers film) continues to be truly excellent; Big Little Lies (based on a novel) was classy and gripping. Also good in ’17 were the serial killer drama Mindhunter and Season 3 of Narcos, which really picked up after a relatively slack Season 2. Stranger Things 2 suffered a classic case of “difficult second album syndrome”: too self-referential and lacking the sort of guileless spark that made its first series special.
Game of Thrones, meanwhile, nears its end – are you still watching? Let me know if they’re all still waiting for winter to come, would you? I zoned out about three years ago…
The fantastic Archer – the best animated show since The Simpsons slid into mediocrity about 15 years ago – took a big risk with a dream-sequence lasting the entire Season 8. Sterling, gun-shot into a coma at the end of last season, imagines a Bogart-and-Bacall style hardboiled mystery on the streets of 1940s LA. Not as out-and-out funny as normal, but beautifully imagined and even – Woodhouse! – moving at times.
Comedy genius Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm returned after a long hiatus: it was well worth the wait. On Netflix, Santa Clarita Diet was wacky, funny and worth watching if only for the presence of Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore: quite possible the two most amiable actors on the planet.
Meanwhile Motherland – produced by a comedy all-star line-up of Graham Linehan, Sharon Horgan and Holly Walsh – got good reviews across the board. Being neither a fan of Father Ted nor Catastrophe, sadly, I felt obliged to demur. (Linehan’s appearance on Alan Partridge is still hilarious though, 20 years on.)
The Late Late Toy Show once again shattered the TV ratings, like a technicoloured fever-dream from the combined minds of Willy Wonka and the major international toy-making conglomerates. No matter what anyone says, the Toy Show is critically bulletproof. It’s the Toy Show, for God’s sake. Tubridy is genuinely great in the role, and you’d want to have had a Scrooge-like heart of stone not to get all choked up when military man Graham Burke was reunited with his little children live on-air.
In Eurovision, Portugal followed up their shock Euro 16 triumph with another against-the-odds victory over the continent’s finest. As has been standard operating procedure for the last 20 years, Ireland crashed out at an early stage, Brendan Murray’s song Dying to Try not even making the final. He tried…we died.
Scaling down, geographically speaking, that other hardy annual, the Rose of Tralee, did the usual business in viewing figures, provided an immensely likeable winner in Offaly’s Jennifer Byrne…and remains blissfully immune to the snarking weasels of Twitter who can’t stand the fact that people are enjoying something they personally don’t like. Choke on it, losers!
The biggest sports moments on telly were: an ashen-faced RTE panel after Ireland’s dismal loss to Denmark in soccer; an ashen-faced bid committee after Ireland’s dismal loss to France in the vote to hold the 2023 Rugby World Cup; and the sight of 46,000 people in Croke Park for the All-Ireland ladies’ football finals. Fun fact: that’s more than attended the entire Women’s Rugby World Cup the month before. Yes, every single game added together.
The news – sorry, better capitalise that – The News continued to dominate telly like a big, tedious, cliché-spouting monster in a suit and tie. And no surprise, really, with Donald Trump’s presidency coming over like a particularly badly written satire, while issues such as Brexit and Repeal the Eighth somehow managing to be populated entirely with two-dimensional villains, on all sides.
And it was the end of an era on RTE’s Six-One news, as Team Sharon + Dobbo was put out to pasture. She’s gone to the 9pm bulletin, he switched media altogether to co-host radio’s Morning Ireland. It feels a bit like your favourite band breaking up…if you’re really into the news and not so much into music, like.
AKA the stuff that didn’t conveniently fit into any other category. The Great British Bake Off moved from BBC to Channel 4; many of us didn’t notice, being too busy having some semblance of a normal adult life.
Sky threw out two cracking dramas: fish-out-of-water cop thriller Tin Star and Dallas-for-a-new-generation potboiler Riviera. Line of Duty’s serpentine plots and breakneck speed finally resulted in the inevitable car-crash, with the latest series going from “this is exciting so I’ll suspend a certain element of disbelief” to “ah here, for Jaysus’ sake – this is just stupid now.” Thandie Newton is a goddess, though.
And last but not least, Fleadh TV on TG4 covered the two-day traditional music event in Ennis – and it was bloody fantastic. I’m not even the biggest trad fan, but these people are ridiculously talented. Bualadh bos go léir.