Patrick Freyne: I feel like Boris Johnson on child-support day

What do I mean? Well ... mumble, mumble, mumble. Plus nine other TV trends of 2021


The character actor turns to the square-jawed superhero and says: “My plan? Well ... mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble.”

You rewind and turn up the sound. Now what he says is: “MY PLAN? WELL ... MUMBLE, MUMBLE, MUMBLE, MUMBLE.”

Then an incredibly loud noise blows apart the last vestiges of our high-frequency hearing as a CGI spaceship crashes into a CGI skyscraper. We turn the volume down while blood runs from our ears.

There are many reasons for our inability to hear things on television nowadays: the sound is all mixed for large, complex speaker systems, but we have puny televisions; award-winning naturalism requires actors to forget all about enunciation; explosions are more important than stupid “words”; and, also, I spent my 20s with my ears next to a drum kit.


We turn our minds back to the action. “Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble,” says the villain with the cadences of a joke. So we laugh.

“MUMBLE!” screams the hero. “MUUUUUUUUMBLE!”

Warm-hearted telly

The best comic television has traditionally involved people like the numb sociopaths of Seinfeld, or the deranged chaos-merchants of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or the nihilistic narcissists of Difficult People. You know, awful people, like your children. This year social media was awash with newly reborn cultists proclaiming their new television saviour: Ted Lasso (Apple TV). The thing about this nurturing US football coach turned English Premier League coach is that he is decent. He’s an anti-anti-hero. If you do not like Ted Lasso, I’m sorry to tell you, you’re a bad person who will die alone. Everyone is very fragile right now, and we want warm, frictionless television about good people. Speaking of which...

The Toy Show is now for adults

The whole nation now tunes in for the moment when Ed Sheeran manifests on our earthly plane to shock a child, or the moment Ryan Tubridy turns to the camera to tell us that the child we've just seen play with a Furby is actually a Furby themselves, or that moment we realise that all of these children are better than us and start cyberbullying them. We can't get enough of The Late Late Toy Show, tasting our own delicious tears as we chomp away on a family pack of Chomps. Apparently, this programme was once for children. Now it's for traumatised adults, who watch this celebration of child commerce while using a younger relative as a human shield. "I just want to go to bed," says my nephew, a monster.
"No bed for you! Eat your Chomp. It's Toy Show time."

Fact-based British dramas stopped being so reverent

Three of my favourite recent dramas are Landscapers, The Great, and Britannia, whose creators, Will Sharpe, Tony McNamara and the Butterworth brothers, are factually and stylistically playful in their oddball depictions of recent murders, tsarist Russia and Roman Britain respectively. This is overdue after decades of dramas about History with a capital H, in which people using the correct silverware try not to wink at the camera as they say things like: "I imagine this pandemic will be over by Christmas, Lady Mary. Cough. Cough."

The rise of non-anglophone telly

Americans – the only real people – have apparently lost their aversion to foreign-language programming. The French crime series Lupin, the Spanish drama Money Heist and the horrific Korean children’s programme Squid Game have all been hugely successful. This might be because, due to the sound issues I mentioned earlier, everyone watches telly with subtitles now anyway. Or it might just be because, after binge-watching Emily in Paris, a show in which an attractive American clown person is enabled by decadent French folk, Americans believe they can speak European.

More subscription services

The streaming services are multiplying. Once it was just Netflix, but more recently Amazon has been rising in the east like the Eye of Bezos, Apple TV turned up with Ted Lasso and The Morning Show, and Disney+ revealed it was holding childhood hostages with its stash of Marvel and Star Wars "intellectual property" (every baby's first words). At the end of each month so much money is direct-debited from my account that I feel like Boris Johnson on child-support day. And, like Boris Johnson, I'm fairly sure my obligations are only going to increase as the years go by.

Dating shows

Young people have forgotten how to mate. This is where television shines as an educator, with shows in which people who have hunk heads, geometrically complicated bodies and small pants are Married at First Sight, or forgo the visual sense entirely on Love Is Blind, or are Too Hot to Handle and thus cause minor burns, or move in with Five Guys in One Week, or visit the lust archipelago known as Love Island. The latter will soon be declared some sort of international heritage site. As far as television producers are concerned, there will never be enough dating programmes.

The new Game of Thrones

Every fantasy-tinged TV series is now declared to be the new Game of Thrones. It happened with the launches of The Wheel of Time and Shadow and Bone, even though neither show had fans bending our ears about how it wasn't really a fantasy show but a "show about power". It will happen when Amazon's Lord of the Rings prequel is launched even though that is really the old Game of Thrones and it will happen when House of the Dragon airs on HBO, even though that is actually a prequel to Game of Thrones. The reality is that HBO's Succession, a programme about hereditary corporate leeches, is the real new Game of Thrones, even though the only dragon is Brian Cox and the only zombie is Jeremy Strong and the gratuitous nudity was restricted to a striking penis shot in the penultimate episode of series 3. What a penis shot it was, though – charismatic, witty, winning. In my memory it even had some dialogue, delivered well and with Jimmy Cagney's accent. "I'm a penis, see, Roman Roy's penis, and I gotta lotta spondulix and a lot to say!" When Roman's penis wins an Emmy, remember that I called it here first.

Portion control

After half a decade of binge-watching, Apple TV and Disney+ are taking us back to the ancient custom of releasing television programmes weekly, on an episode-by-episode basis. “Look at you, you swine, lapping up our delicious televisual victuals without stopping to savour. You will take what you’re given in the form it’s given and you’ll like it, you greedy piglets,” they both said in an official press release.

Sequels, prequels, reboots

The television industry of the 21st century has not yet met an ancient piece of intellectual property that it doesn’t want to sequelise, prequelise or reboot. To this end I wish to once again pitch Peekaboo. A screen is filled by two hands over a face. The hands are removed. It’s Oprah. “Peekaboo,” she says. Hands cover the face again. They are removed. It’s the Rock. “Peekaboo.” Hands cover the face again. They are removed. It’s Alf, from the sitcom Alf. “Peekaboo,” he says. Hands cover the face again. They are removed. It’s Jar Jar Binks. “Peekaboo.” Hands cover the face again. They are removed. It’s the queen. “Peekaboo,” she says. You get the gist. Each reveal is someone more famous and charismatic than the last, each moment a cliffhanger. I will happily sell this idea to a streamer for $$$$.