The out with the old and in with the sort-of-new methodology of television seemed to intensify in 2010, as some of America’s most celebrated series rolled their credits for the last time, and the race was on to spearhead the next phenomenon. Big Brother was finally evicted from our screens after a decade of providing undeserving idiots with a chance to masturbate in the public eye. Sci-fi epic Lost dragged itself to a rather prosaic ending, leaving its loyal, hardcore, ‘in it for the long haul’ fan base to seek solace in the next mind-bending narrative. It was down to the ambitious likes of Flashforward and The Event to poach those left behind by Abrams, but these attempts were dull and met with a unanimous lack of enthusiasm. Just as Lost turned its loyal fans out into the cold, the finale of 24 left millions hungry for more unbounded Bauer brutality. Add this to the back-catalogue of violated songs left behind by the first season of Glee, coupled with the likes of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries continuing to warp the once-was-horror vampire genre into ‘contemporary fantasy romance’, and you’re left with a fairly disappointing year for couch potatoes. Thankfully, buried within the schedule, there was a number of series both new and old that fought the good fight.
It would be fair to say that America still produces some of the most innovative dramas, and series such as Dexter and the brilliant Breaking Bad, both returned this year to continue trying to fill the void left behind by The Wire and The Sopranos (Yes, it may have been three years, but it still stings). Far outshining all current competitors though, is AMC’s Mad Men, which returned for a fourth season this year. The drama following the exploits of Don Draper within the cutthroat 1960s world of advertising is not only the best looking thing on television, it features some of the most ingenious and cutting-edge writing on the box.
Another of AMC’s original series to bury all competition was Frank Darabont’s awesome adaptation of comic book series The Walking Dead. Crammed with grisly visuals juxtaposed against tender storylines, along with more flesh eating than you could shake a severed limb at, the short six-part first series was a brief flare of genius towards the end of the year. In true U.S. style a new creative team is currently being assembled to take the show in a more ‘accessible’ direction for a wider demographic with the follow up series, which is a damned shame.
While America may excel in the field of drama it still falls short on producing the level of comedy found on English channels, although fans did celebrate as Futurama returned to once again overshadow whatever empire is left by The Simpsons, while Seth MacFarlane failed to impress with his highly anticipated Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show. A new season of 30 Rock was a welcome return, while sitcoms such as Modern Family failed to make a dent in England; and why should they when we had the likes of Peep Show returning for an impressive seventh series. Okay, so on paper the plots are wearing a little thin by now. Jeremy continues to fall in love with the most inappropriate beauty he can find, and Mark is as socially inept as ever, but it is still the king of the Channel4 cringe-inducing comedies, even when compared to student favourite The Inbetweeners…
The third series of the sixth-form based comedy was aired in October, and it saw the show rocket from its status as a late night cult comedy to one of the country’s leading programs. Ironically as the popularity soared, the ‘how embarrassing and farfetched a situation can we get the boys into’ premise began to wear thin with longstanding fans, but the sharp-witted banter continued to hold its own weight. Another of E4’s shows to receive a massive rise in popularity was Misfits. The highly anticipated second round of super powered fun proved that the series had far outgrown the increasingly irritating Skins with which it was so often compared.
So, for 2010 at least, Britain remained the home of comedy, but one drama in particular was so unflinching, so moving, and so authentically English, that it challenged any big budget rival from the United States. No, it wasn’t ‘Weatherfield’s answer to Keanu Reeves’ Ken Barlow battling an out-of-control tram during the 50th anniversary of nana favourite, ‘goes-lovely-with-a-rich-tea-biscuit’, Coronation Street.
What really stood out from a year of English drama was Shane Meadows’s This Is England ’86. Unsurprisingly broadcast on Channel4, the four-part follow up to the 2006 movie followed the same structure as its predecessor, slipping rapidly from comfortable lighthearted niceties to utterly horrifying as it progressed. Beautiful, harrowing and memorable, the series can be forgiven for its numerous unresolved subplots as it went where no other mainstream series dared to venture. As an added bonus, just days ago it was revealed to have been granted a follow up series in the form of ‘This Is England 1990’.