1. Top of the Lake. What do you get when you mix my favourite director ever, stunning New Zealand scenery, a bunch of Kiwi rednecks, Peggy off Mad Men and Scandi-style crime plot? Only the flawless Top of the Lake. Jane “The Piano” Campion made this 7-part thriller because she knows that all the best stories are now told via the medium of television, not film. Though she is the most successful female director ever (apart from Kathryn Bigelow, but Campion remains the only female Palme D’or winner – let’s just pause here to think what it says about film industry in terms of gender equality), she still finds the process of securing finance needed to make even her “cheap”, art-house films dispiriting. Like David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad)*before her, Campion found TV producers far more willing to take risks, than Hollywood studio bosses. And so, inspired by TV dramas, particularly Deadwood and The Killing, she resolved to create her own mini- series as “a very long film”. Though it has touches of The Killing as well as Twin Peaks, it is startlingly original. As befits the artist who had put a grand piano on a beach, Campion created an unique, eerie world of rough men and damaged women, surrounded by the magnificent natural beauty we know so well from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Elisabeth Moss does a sterling job as detective Robin Griffin, the fulcrum of the story, and she even managed to make me forget Peggy Olson’s 60. outfits, no mean feat, as fans of Mad Men among you will surely agree. Holly Hunter only has a small gig, but it is a really memorable one. The story is unpredictable, and the slower pace of TV series allows us to get to know the characters’ back stories, and for plenty of red herrings, a formula patented by the Danes. And a commune for middle-aged women, seeking shelter on the very edge of the world, is a kind of eccentric idea that has made her my favourite director AND screenwriter. For this is the era of writers, not directors, when even Guillermo del Toro has started to make films for 14-year-olds.
2. Game of Thrones. Speaking of 14-year-olds – do you also feel like you are inside an adolescent boy’s head, watching GoT? I was slightly concerned that I did enjoy it, despite all the gore and excruciatingly long sex scenes. It is nothing to do with any residual Catholic guilt – the nuns at my school did a splendid job of turning me into an avowed atheist and liberal, proud to be everything they despise – it is more to do with snobbery, frankly. For one, fantasy is the most patriarchal of all genres. And as a sophisticated woman of advanced years, I shouldn’t perhaps enjoy being inside a mind of a young male so much. Then again, Tyrion Lannister is not so young, and he is a hedonist, an atheist and an aesthete… And so, halfway through the first season, it dawned on me – I am the Imp, only female, of average height, and living in the real world. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, is a very good-looking representative of my favourite people (he is Danish), so I think I’ll be OK watching the third season, except: I heard that all the “goodies” die (I haven’t read the books), so maybe I will enjoy it through the tears. Though I don’t think I’d watch it if Tyrion got killed off (don’t tell me), so they’d better not do that.
3. Right, I was meant to write about The Newsroom. As someone worshipping at the altar of Aaron Sorkin’s writing (I watched all of The West Wing, twice), I’d be happy to see his shopping lists made into a TV show, so obviously had to watch The Newsroom. I approached with caution, though, having been warned by my favourite TV critic, AA Gill, that The West Wing it ain’t. And as usual, Mr Gill was right – to a certain extent. Yes, the female characters are not great (nothing to do with acting, which is top-notch) – I mean, I’ve never been to the US, and never worked in TV, so maybe some American women working in the media do act like that, but I have never met anyone as neurotic as Mackenzie in real life. But even if it doesn’t quite soar to the same heights as The West Wing, it is still worth watching. Sorkin’s forte has always been “diagnostic medicine” – he is Dr Gregory House of screenwriters – and his diagnosis of what’s wrong with American media, and, more broadly, America and the world today, is, as always, pretty damn accurate.
4. Parade’s End. This BBC series is an adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s novel, that nobody ever reads today. One of the best, most heartening things about having a public service broadcaster is that we can rely on it to occasionally exhume some long-forgotten, verbose beast of a novel, and turn it into a beauty, with Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch acting their tits off for our edification. I’m afraid I might go on about my love for Rebecca and Benedict for hours (” in Parade’s End, (…) he tore up the screen with only two days’ preparation”-Caitlin Moran in The Times), so suffice it to say, if you enjoy BBC dramas and somehow missed it (tut,tut), you should rectify this mistake, pronto.
5. Thinking about people stupidly wasting their time watching reality shows and such, instead of top-quality TV, leads me neatly to The Hour, another excellent BBC drama (written for the BBC by the formidable Abi Morgan), which, it pains me to say, was horribly underrated and therefore rashly terminated by the powers that be after just two seasons. Now that Abi Morgan won the coveted Emmy award for her screenplay, those powers that be might just come to their senses, and commission the third series. Caitlin Moran (are you beginning to see a pattern here? Yes, I do love and respect Caitlin Moran) wrote about The Hour: “within 20 minutes it had pushed my heart up into my throat, and made me shout, “Mummy’s dead, she got eaten by a wolf, go away”, even as the kids rattled at the locked bedroom door. I realised that it might be my favourite TV show of all time. Of aaaaaaaall time. There. I’ve said it.” And I agree – it was probably the best thing BBC made last year. And nobody in the whole history of a pencil skirt looked better wearing it, than Romola Garai (apart from Marylin Monroe). She is another major girl crush. The story, the fashion, the acting – The Hour had it all, and it deserves to be resurrected far more than many other shows with bigger audience figures.
* again, men, writing about mainly other men – hence the title of this enjoyable analysis of the Golden Era of Television we are lucky to witness. (This excellent article lets you sample the book’s delights) Pray, more Lena Dunhams shall emerge soon – to that end, I’m looking forward to Caitlin Moran’s upcoming TV series on Channel4, albeit with some trepidation. A blooming good writer she certainly is, but a) she wrote it with her sister b) it IS Channel4, which is made by “(…)the folk who regularly ask people to exhibit their suppurating bits, scour the nation for freak-show couplings and encourage the unloved to humiliate themselves for a snigger.” – AA Gill in the Sunday Times
- NEW WAVE: Caitlin Moran: The Mayonnaise To My Feminist Chips (irvingflashman.wordpress.com)