TV: Big stuff happened this year - analogue telly was switched off in my part of the world, and the digital switchover went smoothly enough.
One casualty of the analogue switch-off was the demise of good old 888 - in other words, the mighty Ceefax. Here was BBC Scotland's Ceefax on its last night in June 2011. Digital text just ain't got the same magic :(
We finally took the plunge in October and got a flat-screen LED smart TV. Just last week I also realised that you could wire up the PC to the TV via an HDMI cable and watch videos/streamed broadcasts on the big screen - so that will definitely change our viewing habits in 2012.
But as for the traditional way of watching TV, will the programmes be any better than over the past year? I should hope so. TV dumbed-down more than ever this past year with the relentless rise of "constructed reality" shows like The Only Way is Essex, Made In Chelsea, Desperate Scousewives; featuring talentless fake-tanned-fake-haired wannabe airheads who seem to view celebrity as a right and not a privilege, and is a guaranteed ticket to the celeb-reality-show party. Currently on that VIP list: a certain Mark Wright. Yes he's a good looking boy, but what does he actually do?
OK so I moan and groan about dumbed-down trashy telly, then in the next breath go on to say that my most fave TV show of the past year was Louie Spence's Showbusiness. Full of contradictions, I am. My other 'guilty' pleasures (although in my world there's nothing to be guilty of):- Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Top of The Pops 1976, The Hotel, The Apprentice, Showboaters, Seven Dwarves.
The X Factor may have been on a slide, happily trounced by a dominant Strictly Come Dancing, but the XF monster still dominated the tabloids and every magazine on the stands. Just one more thing: why all those months, all that bother, only for the eventual winner to be given the dreariest of dreary cover versions to sing? They could learn from other countries who actually give their winners a decent original song.
We said goodbye to Swedish Idol this year - its final winner was Amanda Fondell, although my favourite contestant was her fellow finalist Robin Stjernberg. Not being ageist here, but the problem with this year's series was that all the contestants were too young, and there was certainly no-one of the calibre of, say, Tove/Amanda J/Linnea/Agnes or Darin/Erik/Danny/Sebastian.
The second series of Så mycket bättre also came and went, but turned out to be a disappointment for me. Too many dreary song choices, Laleh-mania left me cold, and the artists weren't interesting enough. And then TV4 pulled the plug on viewers outside Sweden watching any of their shows. Thanks for that TV4, you are my Killjoys of The Year.
The next big international TV phenomenon, The Voice, is on the way and the best thing about it is that Simon Cowell has nothing to do with it - it was born in the Netherlands, and comes from the John De Mol stable. Which was the home of that other TV phenomenon - Big Brother. Which is still running by the way, not that anyone really cares anymore. Back to The Voice: the various forthcoming international series have some fabulous mentor choices. We get Jessie J and Will.i.am. Enough said.
In 2011, the best TV didn't come from this country. It came from Denmark - Forbrydelsen a.k.a. The Killing; and Iceland - Naeturvaktin a.k.a. The Night Shift. Both of which screened on BBC4, the best of all the BBC channels. The future of this channel is currently under threat, and it would be very sad if the axe fell. Just shut down BBC3 instead please: since the demise of Liquid News (and that wasn't yesterday) that channel has had no redeeming features whatsoever.
Those of us in the STV a.k.a. "not available in Scotland" area finally got the chance to catch up with the Downton Abbey phenomenon as series 1 was finally screened immediately followed by series 2. We're not ashamed to say that EuropeCrazy is totally hooked on Downton - roll on series 3 next year!!
The biggest TV story in Scotland was the demise of The Hour. It was addictive teatime TV nonsense which did well in its slot, but the powers that be decided to move it to a Tuesday night 8pm slot - clashing with that equally addictive local soap River City - and it only lasted 4 weeks before the axe spectacularly fell.
Talking of River City, it continued to be just a bit too gloomy over the past year, and had too many stupid storylines. But we continue to watch the show as it heads into its 10th year. Just one request though - can we have a bit more of the Glaswegian humour which the city is famous for??
Not that you expect reality from soaps though. Prime offender this year: Coronation Street. For every decent storyline there were at least 10 rubbish ones. A bit less time spent in soap prison/soap hospital next year would be nice :) Meanwhile some things never change: EastEnders (which I stopped watching when Dirty Den died the first time) still wins every soap award going, and Emmerdale remains completely underrated.
I continue to love American TV drama - One Tree Hill, Grey's Anatomy, Parenthood, Fairly Legal, Dexter and the brilliant Harry's Law. I didn't stick with Blue Bloods, Glee or Boardwalk Empire though. One thing's for sure, I'll be casting my eyes across the Atlantic to see what goodies U.S. TV brings us next year.
And in the meantime, I have a lot of box sets to work my way through.....
By the way, the October-December bonanza edition of The Square-Eyed Couch Potato will be published on here before the end of January.
SPORT: Only one sporting event mattered to me this year. The Tour de France was fantastic from beginning to end. (Shame about the winner though). Mark Cavendish's green jersey was a terrific achievement and well-deserved. Otherwise, only in Scotland, the best small-minded country in the world, the issues around football moved from the back page to the front page. Only in this country could you have an ongoing political debate about sectarian and bigoted songs at football matches. My own view is that they should let them keep the songs for the football, and focus on tackling the bigotry and sectarianism outside the football grounds. But that just sounds like a bit too much work for our pampered politicians, particularly a government whose whole outlook is rooted in Braveheart. That's another story....
MUSIC: I spent most of the year digitising my music collection and uploading it to iTunes and filling my iPod. 2011 was all about rediscovering old, lost, forgotten favourite music which inevitably was a million times better than the new music which was on offer this year. Not that you should measure the quality of current music by what's on the radio or in the charts, but if you were just basing it on that then 2011 could be summed up by a song sung by Rihanna, with music by David Guetta, with lyrics about being on the floor in the club with your hands in the air accompanied by a rap by Pitbull and Flo Rida. The saddest thing about this year was the total international dominance of the same 5 or 6 artists in every chart across Europe.
There is a glimmer of hope that the dire r'n'b/urban/grime/autotuned/electro-dance trend of the last 2/3 years may finally be on the slide. On the down side, it looks as if things are going in the opposite direction towards "the new boring". Which probably explains the (to me) inexplicable success of Ed Sheeran over the past year. Never mind the new boring, he's the new Blunt. Enough said. And as for Adele, yes she has a good voice, but her music does nothing for me I'm afraid. I want the return of real pop music, the kind which some may describe as cheesy; I want the return of real dance music, the kind which excited me in the 90s and early 2000s; I want the return of decent guitar bands. Not much to ask for, is it?!?!?!?!
Of course, 2011 brought a well-earned rest for my most favourite artist of all, Salem Al Fakir, who didn't release any new solo material. After the past four non-stop years, three albums and endless touring he deserved a break! Things may have been quieter but that didn't mean a Salem-free year though. His music stayed in the public consciousness - whether it was a contestant waltzing to "Keep On Walking" on Let’s Dance, or Amanda Persson singing the song on the final series of "Idol", or "I’m So Happy" playing out as the theme song to the hugely successful "Solsidan". There were three terrific collaborations - he co-wrote Eric Saade's "Rocket Science", sang on J-Son's "Remedy" and was also guest vocalist on Avicii's "Silhouettes" which has been doing the rounds on the internet for the last few months and surely must get an official release in 2012! Please please!
Salem played orchestral shows at the beginning of the year and his only Swedish summer concert was a sell-out orchestral show at the legendary Dalhalla in August, with special guests Oskar Linnros and September. A big highlight of my year was the opportunity to watch his Helsinki live show which was broadcast live on the web. Salem's other musical project was related to the book "Vad är musik?" which he wrote with his friend Pontus de Wolfe. The guys spent the second half of the year promoting the book and they became a recording act named Earpony, releasing "Jag e frågan du e svaret". Salem also appeared in SVT's "Dom Kallar Oss Artister" at the beginning of the year where he performed a cover of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" with some familiar friends. The song was released under the artist name "Sally and the Segols".
Salem may not have won any Swedish Grammys in what was a very tough year competition-wise, but he did win one very important award - Sweden's best-dressed man - at the Ellegalan. Talking of awards, Salem will present the 2012 P3 Guldgalan in a couple of weeks. My wish for 2012 is some new material from Salem the solo artist: one thing's for sure, whatever he does next will be well worth the wait.
Something which I always look forward to is Eurovision season. The waiting and the anticipation is better than the outcome. So it was this year. Eurovision ended with one of its most forgettable, insignificant yet inevitable winners in years - "Running Scared" by Ell and Nikki representing Azerbaijan. I still have my reservations about that particular country staging 2012's extravaganza....http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/azerbaijan
The people of Sweden chose Eric Saade to represent them at Eurovision - which in retrospect was probably the right decision, given his good showing at the contest, however it was not my first choice and I might have appreciated the song more without the stupid breaking-glass routine/'faffing about' (© Len Goodman).
However, Melodifestivalen seems to be going through a turbulent time. Which direction should the contest go in? Should it continue to modernise or should it continue to keep the schlager-fans happy? Should it do both? It may be Sweden's biggest TV show of the year, but the event which once filled the Swedish singles charts doesn't have such a significant impact on music sales anymore - check out this excellent analysis by my good friend and top blogger Damian at http://swedishstereo.blogspot.com/2011/09/best-selling-singles-of-mf-2011.html
Finally, before I go, the usual thanks to all my blogging friends - your friendship and support has been so special during a personally difficult year. I'd like to wish all the readers of EuropeCrazy a very happy and healthy 2012 and you are very welcome to join me in celebrating the fifth birthday of this blog in March!
Love and best wishes to you all,