Patrick Freyne: The 19 biggest TV moments of 2016
It was a year of extraordinary events, shock departures, even more shocking arrivals, and loads of stuff that just wasn’t funny - who says TV isn’t just like reality?
We endured the Great Bake-off Brexit
The Great British Bake Off plus the traitorous Santa-faced bread-head Paul Hollywood moved from the BBC to Channel 4, which is, let’s face it, treason. Stolid remainers Mary Berry and Mel-and-Sue choose loyalty to the BBC where they now fight a rear-guard resistance against their erstwhile chum, whose decapitated head will soon adorn Broadcasting House, as Mary Berry once again bakes publically funded Mel-and-Sue narrated pies. God Save the Queen!
Louis CK puts on a show in the old barn
More specifically, the iconoclastic comedian cut out the middleman by creating, directing and producing 10 episodes of his play-for-today-style sit-tragedy Horace and Pete, and sticking them up week by week on his own website unannounced. Featuring Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Steve Buscemi and CK himself, there’s nothing quite like it.
Continuity Top Gear (The Grand Tour) began on Amazon Prime
The core trio left the BBC after Jeremy Clarkson assaulted an Irishman who wouldn’t get him hot meat. This sounds familiar to me from “colonialism”. Clarkson and his lushly coiffured colleagues, Compo and Clegg, were then offered obscene amounts of money to take their extended motoring-themed midlife-crisis back on the road. They promptly spent the GDP of a developing country driving around developing countries.
For some reason there were lots of programmes about the 1916 rising There were dramas/comedies on the subject on TV3 (good), RTÉ (okay) and TG4 (good) and some excellent documentaries hosted by everyone from Bob Geldof and Michael Portillo to The Rubberbandits about various aspects of Irish history and cultural nationalism. It was good. I wonder what prompted it.
UTV Ireland became Be3
It’s been two years since those fancy grifters from UTV came south to show us their newfangled moving picture device, little suspecting that the southern Irish had, in fact, not only seen television before, but had seen UTV before. Due to this miscalculation, UTV Ireland was underwhelming and has now been purchased by Virgin Media who already own TV3. This means rebranding. The “adult” TV3 (their word) gets the prime time soaps (Corrie and Emmerdale) and UTV Ireland is being rebranded to differentiate it as the “female focused” Be3 (their words). It’s basically, “lady” TV3. Like Ms Pac-Man, it will be very like TV3 except it will be wearing a big bow (this is speculation) and featuring lots of episodes of Midsomer Murders (this is true).
Pat Kenny returned to TV with Pat Kenny Tonight
The title sounds like an ultimatum only slightly less demanding than Pat Kenny Now or Pat Kenny, No! or Pat Kenny, I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This Jelly. He is accompanied by the excellent journalette and broadcastress (I’m using TV3’s internal style guide) Collette Fitzpatrick, but she does not share billing. Some suspect this is because she is a lady-person more befitting a rival show like Mrs Pat Kenny Tonight over on Be3. The first episode began with an item on food prices which showed our hero casually tossing a potato in the air. This set piece took weeks to rehearse and was eventually only achieved using a camera cut (you’ll notice that the hand that catches the potato isn’t wearing Pat’s signature “Kenny is da boss!” bracelet). The truth is, Kenny kept firing the potato at his studio guests, who, as a populist man of the people, he is honour- bound to detest. It’s good to see him back on television.
People watch television on the bus now
When they are not scrolling joylessly through Facebook and Instagram (70 per cent of those observed by my unscientific poll) they can be found watching sitcoms and dramas. Some of them (okay, I’ve seen two) even do so without headphones, happily enlivening my commute by chuckling away to their favourite shows totally oblivious to my passive-aggressive staring, groaning and yelling.
The funniest, most interesting comedies were created and fronted by women
They include Broad City, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fleabag, Catastrophe and RTÉ’s Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope. Meanwhile, the best sitcoms not fronted by women were existentially troubling yarns involve a cartoon horse (Bojack Horseman) and a cartoon mad scientist (Rick and Morty). This probably says something about the state of masculinity, but I’m far too fragile to go into it right now.
Abortion was depicted honestly on several US television programmes
Traditionally on TV, abortion plots are resolved with a convenient miscarriage (the big exception is an episode of Bea Arthur’s Maude in 1972). This year there were several uncompromisingly realistic episodes of television featuring abortions, from the reliably excellent Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the sporadically melodramatic Scandal and the weirdly brilliant Bojack Horseman. The latter’s realism was offset slightly by an abortion-themed pop song by a sexually provocative dolphin called Sextina Aquifina.
Liberal elites stayed up and watched 24-hour news painstakingly and inaccurately documented the apocalypse. Twice
Salt-of-the-earth conservatives, of course, no longer watch the MSM (mainstream media) at all but get their news by licking pheromones sweated from the huge rabid bats Steve Bannon dispatches daily from Mordor (Trump Tower/Breitbart).
Realising that watching the news was now masochistic behaviour like voting or having hope, traumatised Gen-Xers sought refuge in relaunched 1990s dramedies Gilmore Girls (Netflix) and Cold Feet (ITV)
Both were only okay.
A reality television star was given the job of looking after America’s nuclear codes
I have nothing more to say on this.
American satire realised its own irrelevance
I mean, whither satire when faced with a despotic orange babydoll in a backwards Joe Elliot wig rubbing its greasy nubbins of hate all over American civic society? Now, I love Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Both feature hilariously thorough analyses of US politics and policy. Sadly, due to the partisan nature of the media they are also just yelling cathartically, desperately and impotently into the liberal void (the Liberal Void is also, incidentally, my new nickname and blog).
In Ireland, we discovered that a man with a shopping bag on his head was the nearest thing we had to a public intellectual, and why not?
This is the country of Flann O’Brien so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Dadaist hip-hop comedian Blindboy Boatclub is now the nation’s official psychoanalyst and interpreter. I salute him.
Planet Earth II amazed us all
Sadly, Planet Earth II is not the place we’re all moving once Trump accidentally tweets a missile to China, nor is it the mirror universe where President Bartlett is overseeing his fifth term. No it’s the BBC’s hearteningly popular, epically ambitious wildlife programme, voiced by the ancient yet ageless David Attenborough, who remembers each animal from earlier in their evolution (if you believe in evolution). Sadly, while most of us marvel at the majesty of creation or the funny monkeys, others, we now know, are thinking “I’d sure like to drill that savannah!” or “I wonder is it possible to bomb a lake?” or “What’s that goddamn lion cub looking so happy about?” or “I can’t wait to eat that koala!” or “You know what I hate? TREES!”
Netflix kept experimenting
This gave us thrilling 1980s horror pastiche Stranger Things and glowingly stylised hip-hop era The Get Down. They also produced a spate of whimsical dramas about self-obsessed middle-class Americans (Love, Flaked, Easy) that most Irish people were able to instantly diagnose with “notions.”
British drama was as good at its been in decades
See the second series of the Sally Wainwright-penned morality tale and crime drama Happy Valley, and the disturbing project-Yewtree channelling psychodrama National Treasure, not to mention the cartoony horror fun of Crazyhead.
The best programmes on television in 2016 were Rectify and Happy Valley
Channel 4 cancelled Deal or No Deal
Noel Edmonds, with his head like a wookiee child, ascended to the next dimension like Michael Landon at the end of Highway to Heaven. His job here was done.