The Danes, of course, have the right idea. Three series and then they're out....and leave them wanting more. "Forbrydelsen" for example. And the same goes for "BORGEN" (BBC4) whose third series saw Birgitte forming a new party and Katrine balancing family life with her new career as spin doctor for the New Democrats, and trying to keep up with Kasper's ever-changing hairdos. Some new arrivals too, notably evil TV1 baddie Alex Hjort, complete with that all-important scarf. Gratuitous picture time:
As I said during the last series, "Borgen" has done the impossible and made us care about politicians. Which we would probably do if Britain was more like Denmark, and a coalition actually meant something rather than a coalition covering up a dictatorship. But I digress. Shamefully, my never-ending telly backlog (only 20% space left on the Sky+ box!!) means that I haven't as yet finished series 3. And before you ask, I have still to watch the acclaimed Swedish three-parter "DON'T EVER WIPE TEARS WITHOUT GLOVES" (BBC4).
Whilst we're on the subject of Danes, let's talk about Claire Danes (!) which leads us onto another highly rated TV show which also just recently finished its third series. "HOMELAND" (Channel 4) spent much of its third season jumping the shark, and being, dare I say it, boring. That Dana storyline...yawn. And several Brody-free episodes - what were they thinking? Yet at other times it never lost its ability to be compelling and frustrating at the same time. As with Borgen, I haven't seen the final episode. Although I know how it ends, and I don't really know if I can face watching it now. It would have been a very good idea to bring the series to a natural end at this point, so the news that there will be a fourth series just puzzles me. But this is an American TV show, not a Danish one, and they'll flog a dead horse as long as the ratings are high enough.
Whilst we're on the subject of series overstaying their welcome, I was ready to quit "DOWNTON ABBEY" (ITV) after that awful Christmas 2012 special, with that ending. But I stuck around for the 4th series which managed to hold my interest, although it's now past its prime. If there is going to be a 5th series, can we have some happier storylines after what has been a pretty dark series?
A few final words on "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) which, to me, lost its soul in the race for ratings. This year's crop of celebs left me cold, with much of the dancing pretty mediocre, and worst of all, those ridiculously high marks and unnecessary praise from week 1 onwards. The panel used to be much more nasty/honest (delete as appropriate) and didn't feel the need to pander to celeb egos all the time. But these are different times, the judges are just a caricature of themselves, Brucie continues to dodder his way from one year to the next, and why all the love for Claudia Winkleman? Am I missing something? It was an all-female final this year, won by Abbey Clancy. I'm usually a fan of all things Liverpudlian but I couldn't warm to her for some reason. She wasn't the best dancer (Natalie Gumede was) but of course this is more a popularity contest than a dancing one. Which would probably explain why facial-expressions-irritant Susanna Reid made it so far, although her appeal escaped us here at EuropeCrazy HQ.
In October I caught up with "A TOUCH OF CLOTH II: UNDERCOVER CLOTH" (Sky 1) which was screened back in August. John Hannah and Suranne Jones reprised their roles as Cloth and Oldman ("Old-Man") in Charlie Brooker's played straight police parody. Police dramas are always a rich source for parody, so yet again the wordy wit and visual gags came thick and fast. It maybe wasn't quite as funny as the first one, but it's still worth watching and I'm glad to hear that there will be a third instalment. There is some life left in this show.
After “The Story of the Jews” ended, another excellent documentary series took its place in the Sunday night 9pm slot. “THE OTTOMANS – EUROPE’S MUSLIM EMPERORS” (BBC2) presented by Rageh Omaar. In this country, the period of the Ottoman Empire is not very well-known to most people so this was a very informative and highly educational series which held my interest throughout. It also helped me to understand the background to many of the continuing hostilities in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. As the presenter put it, “the West intervening in a country it doesn’t really understand”, with the most dire consequences.
"PUSSY RIOT - A PUNK PRAYER" (BBC4) was yet another compelling documentary screened in the Storyville documentary slot. On the face of it, no-one should feel threatened by a feminist collective in knitted balaclavas performing punk anthems of iffy musical merit. But in Putin's Russia, where individual freedoms are being eroded by the day, lyrics like "Mother of God...rid us of Putin" sung in the setting of a Moscow cathedral, landed three band members a prison sentence. This film featured interviews with family members and court footage of the caged women who have become a worldwide symbol of the fight for free speech in the country. In recent days they have of course been released, but you get the feeling that the story's a long way from over.
For some inexplicable reason, we're in the midst of a baby boom (a pretty irresponsible one, IMHO) despite the world recession and economic crisis. Yet one of the world's most densely populated countries is turning its back on the trend. "NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE JAPANESE" (BBC2) was a very interesting documentary which tried to find the reason why. However as it went on it began to explore an even more fascinating aspect of Japanese culture - immigration. Maybe this could be the answer to the problem? Although it's not as easy as that. It's a rigid society which lives to work, and one immigrant nurse eloquently described how difficult it can be to become part of Japanese society.
Stacey Dooley, the queen of the BBC3 documentaries-for-the-yoof, was back with “BOOZE, BARCRAWLS AND BULGARIA” a rather depressing programme revealing the horror of a holiday in Sunny Beach. Thank you Stacey, you have just saved me a trip to this hellhole.
I’m enjoying all these observational people-at-work documentaries these days, however some of them can come over as a bit depressing in their portrayal of mean-spirited, drunken Britain. “UP ALL NIGHT” (Channel 4) was another short series which included late night life in a taxi office, and perhaps reached an all-time low with “The Nightclub Toilet”. If you thought that TV was going down the toilet, then this was the absolute proof that it has!
Happily though, we also had another series which brought back the feelgood factor. “ICELAND – LIFE IN THE FREEZER CABINET” (BBC2) focused on the retail chain described as one of the happiest in Britain to work for. The big boss man is Malcolm, the company’s CEO who was no stranger to the odd faux-pas: he almost seems like a natural heir to Mark from the much-missed “The Hotel”. It was a highly entertaining series, can we have some more please?
The curtain fell for good on "SMASH" (Sky Atlantic), cancelled by its TV network in the US. Many hated season 2 but I actually enjoyed it more than season 1, although it did probably overstay its welcome by a few episodes and became a little repetitive. I guess it's a format which can't really stick around for too long, so the parallel stories of "Bombshell" and "Hit List" couldn't run for ever and got the 'Big Finish' it deserved. I thought Megan Hilty was particularly outstanding in her role as Ivy Lynn. I'm going to miss this show!
"STRANGE DAYS – COLD WAR BRITAIN” (BBC2): After his romp through the 70s, historian Dominic Sandbrook was back on our screens once again to take us through the history of the Cold War, from its post-WW2 beginnings to the present. The most irritating thing about Sandbrook’s presentation style is that he can try to come across at times as ‘I was there’ when he blatantly wasn’t. But just as with “The 70s”, this was actually a pretty good series with a fine soundtrack.
It's been a long time since Karl Pilkington was on our screens, but he made a welcome return to Sky 1 with "THE MOANING OF LIFE". This time there was no Ricky Gervais pulling the strings, but Karl exploring the world on his own in search of the answers to life's big questions. Whilst Pilkington's deadpan wit still produced a few laughs over the hour, it has to be said that this was nowhere near as laugh-out-loud funny as "An Idiot Abroad".
ITV, oh ITV, I am old enough to remember the days when you used to broadcast programmes which didn't have 'celebrities' in them. It distresses me to think that there is probably a whole generation of people now who can't remember those days. Now it's all celebrity this, celebrity that, sometimes doing it all in the name of charidee so does that make it alright? No, it doesn't actually. ITV - WHO TOLD YOU WE WANT CELEBRITIES ON EVERY BLOODY SHOW? Next thing it'll be Joey Essex reading the News at Ten. Remember where you heard it first.
A new TV game show about TV. Sound familiar? Remember "Telly Addicts" from a few years ago? Well, "SHOW ME THE TELLY" (ITV) was a similar idea. Only with ordinary people playing against, ahem, 'TV legends'. Oh, and how uncomfortable did Richard Bacon look on this show?
I end, as I started, with something originally from Scandinavia. Remakes of foreign-language dramas can be hit or miss, however “THE TUNNEL” (Sky Atlantic) has been a definite hit for me. It was a remake of “The Bridge” of course, replacing said bridge with the Channel Tunnel and British-French cop co-operation. Karl and Elise may not be Martin and Saga, but they were a very acceptable substitute. It was a direct copy of series 1 of “The Bridge” – remember the “truth terrorist”? – but it was still extremely watchable. This is due to the programme makers’ ability to interpret some of that ‘darkness’ – or as faithful travelling companion calls it, ‘Nordic bleakness’ - and transfer it to the British/French setting, a refreshing change for a British TV drama indeed. Highly recommended. I wonder if there will be a second series of "The Tunnel"? Of course the big news is that series 2 of "The Bridge" on BBC4 is only a couple of weeks away :)))