Subscriber OnlyCulture

Patrick Freyne’s TV of 2021: More Sally Rooney ridey stuff and a return to Middle Earth

Small-screen highlights in case telly remains as important as it was last year

Here are the big telly events of the coming year (as far as I can tell from my holiday bunker):

The Lord of the Rings (Amazon)

Amazon's upcoming Lord of the Rings series is a prequel to the prequel, that takes us back to Middle Earth's "Second Age". If you recognise this reference, I know when you got your first girlfriend. The answer is: "Hopefully soon." I can say this because I too am of "the people". Yes, I am genetically a nerd and am weirdly excited for this new production even though it seems to be based on material from JRR Tolkien's oddball Middle Earth history book The Silmarillion which, as you know, nobody has ever finished reading, even JRR. On the other hand, you might be one of those people who, like Hugo Dyson, cried "Oh God, not another elf!" as you were reading/watching the first iteration and far preferred JRR when he was an oil magnate in Dallas. Well, I'm sorry, in this world of remakes and reboots and sequels, film-makers will never be finished with Lord of the Rings. You'll be on your deathbed and they'll be announcing a new 12-hour series based on some scribbles JRR did on a bar mat once or something he muttered in anger to a waiter. "Oh God, not another elf!" you'll gasp as you expire.

Conversations with Friends (BBC)

This follow-up to Lenny Abrahamson's excellent adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People will appear on BBC at some point. I think we all know what these "conversations" with "friends" are going to be like. Ridey. They're going to be ridey. So it's going to be very difficult for us all when we run out of Sally Rooney books. I will of course be happy to supply my fan fiction, Normal People II: Ooh Matron! and Carry on Conversing to the programme makers. These are set in a sexy hospital and a sexy holiday camp, and some people (my wife) argue that they are missing the subtlety of the original books. I prefer to describe them as "more direct".

Station Eleven (HBO Max)

Dystopias are basically just literary realism now. With this in mind I’m still looking forward to Patrick Somerville’s adaptation of Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, a work of slice-of-life fiction about a troupe of players and musicians wandering a post-apocalyptic, flu-devastated America putting on shows and protecting themselves from local demagogues. “Too real,” says you. I loved the book when I read it but now I think Mandel was a bit optimistic when she predicted there would be live performances a mere 20 years after a pandemic.


Unflappable current-affairs show hosts (everywhere)

This year the hosts of current-affairs shows have had to deal with wannabe despots, potential Brexit food shortages and global pandemics. What bizarre manipulations of the Overton window will next year bring? Unapologetic fascism? Vampires? Robot bees? I for one am looking forward to another year of unflappable professionals calmly saying things like "The robot bees have learned how to pick locks, more as we get it," or "What would you say to people who think that a terrifying autocracy is a bad thing, Your Eminence?" or "So, what you're saying is that some of the humans will be left alive as a food source. But what about EU food standards, Mr Dracula?"

The North Water (BBC)

An adaptation of an Ian McGuire novel, the North Water is about a murderous harpooning enthusiast on a 1950s whaling boat and it features Colin Farrell. I mean, we've all wondered what might happen if we gave Colin a harpoon gun. Yes, they had me with, "the Farreller on a whaling boat with a harpoon gun".

My Name is Lizzie (Channel 4)

This features the brilliant Irish actor Niamh Algar (who is currently being excellent in Raised by Wolves) as the undercover police officer at the centre of the now hugely controversial investigation into the murder of Rachel Nickell in 1992. That alone is reason to be enthusiastic.

My family Zoom meet-up (Zoom)

Given how chat shows have recently become indistinguishable from Zoom calls, I have started hosting my weekly family Zoom meet-up with more pizzazz. I tap cards on a desk and introduce everyone. I’ve even got an applause button and a house band. So do tune in for such striking bons mots as “Please stop this, I’m not a ‘special guest’, I’m your mother” and “There’s three in the will, Patrick”.

More superheroes (Disney+)

As you know, Disney+ are basically holding the concept of childhood hostage for a monthly subscription fee. The entertainment future is a white rodent glove stamping on your childhood memories forever. It has snaffled up every popular franchise and it’s now the custodian of the Marvel universe too. In the new year there’s a surreal sitcommy thing called WandaVision, a buddy series called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (basically Jake and the Fatman with masks) and a series about Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend and Thor’s magic brother, Loki, aka Tom Hiddleston. Essentially, you can make any sort of story you want nowadays as long as it’s filtered through the medium of superheroes. It’s inescapable. I’m telling you, soon our newscasters will have capes and masks.

The Book of Boba Fett (Disney+)

It was inevitable that there would be a spin-off of the spin-off that is the Star Wars space-western, The Mandalorian. The new project is about the original Mandalorian-in-chief Boba Fett and it's apparently coming out in December. Boba Fett became a fan favourite back when The Empire Strikes Back was first screened in 1980, not because of a magnetic performance or an interesting character arc or even an exciting action sequence, but because he had a cool costume. That's it. That's basically his character. He has a nice hat. For some, that is the moment when cinema died and demonic fanservice took over. I'll nonetheless be watching because I'm part of the problem. Sadly, The Book of Boba Fett is unlikely to feature fan-favourite Baby Yoda because that charismatic newcomer will have surely moved on to new things by then, possibly taking up the role of Queen Elizabeth II in the next series of The Crown or becoming the new James Bond or replacing Timothée Chalamet in Dune. He has a lot of range.

Untitled Paul McCartney documentary series

Speaking of cultural infantilisation, at some point in 2021 there's going to be a six-part documentary series about ageing teeny-bopper Paul McCartney. The fact we're still obsessed with music of the 1960s is a tacit admission that western culture has just given up. It's as if the people of the 1960s were obsessed with Edwardian shadow puppetry. Yes kids, the baby boomers will only let you have pop culture back when you've prised it from their cold dead hands. It's unclear where this documentary series is going to air as yet but it features Gandalfian production guru Rick Rubin going through old master tapes with McCartney . In fairness, McCartney was objectively and undeniably the best Beatle and when all has been said, why not just resay it. Sure, it's something to do as the clock runs down on our civilisation.