Everything You Should Have Watched In 2017
Messrs Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin in Stranger Things 2. Photograph courtesy of Netflix
From Stranger Things 2 to The Handmaid’s Tale – this year’s must-see TV (that wasn’t always on TV).
2017 was another tumultuous year, and the sheer range of television on offer reflected this, tackling all the big issues – gender, sexuality, race, dragons. These programmes were powerful, controversial, original; sometimes they could even be fun. But how to keep up with it all? Here are the 10 programmes you should namedrop in any decent conversation, at the water-cooler or over an umpteenth bottle of wine.
01. Game Of Thrones (HBO/Sky Atlantic)
Mr Kit Harington in Game Of Thrones. Photograph by Ms Helen Sloan/HBO
There were some grumbles this year that HBO’s fantasy series, a sprawling dynastic saga seeing various clans feud for control of the Seven Kingdoms, has lost some of its nuance and feasibility. (An interesting criticism to level at a dragon-and-witch-filled affair like GoT – the previous six series were hardly Mr Ken Loach.) It is certainly true that it is rushing to tie up its loose ends, and is looking a bit sillier for it, but who cares? This seventh season boils down to two points: ice dragons and more incest. To be clear, neither are bad things (in the context of TV, of course). When the show is on form, it still blows its rivals out of the water, in terms of sheer epic scope and its lust for surprising plot twists.
02. The State (Channel 4)
Mr Ryan McKen in The State. Photograph courtesy of Channel 4
Mr Peter Kosminsky has form in freshening up drama, be it in his acclaimed adaptation of Wolf Hall or his controversial Israeli saga The Promise. His latest series is a very calm, composed piece which follows four nice young Brits as they arrive in Syria to fight for Isis. Adult drama or blatant apologism? It looks like the former. Mr Kosminsky avoids any screaming judgment – which makes the horror all the more poignant when it comes.
03. Insecure (HBO/Sky Atlantic)
Ms Issa Rae and Mr Jay Ellis in Insecure. Photograph by Ms Anne Marie Fox/HBO
That rare thing these days – a comedy drama that looks good and sounds good, and isn’t ashamed of it. In Ms Issa Rae’s creation, a group of young-ish, mostly black thirtysomethings in Los Angeles negotiate work and love. An awful lot of TV dramas are making the worthy effort of talking about race these days: this one manages it without being too heavy-handed or didactic. The characters are all attractive, the modern R&B soundtrack is on point and it’s often very funny. Faced with all this, the title is weirdly ironic.
04. 13 Reasons Why (Netflix)
Ms Katherine Langford and Mr Dylan Minnette in 13 Reasons Why. Photograph by Ms Beth Dubber/Netflix
This year’s great moral hand-wringer came courtesy of Netflix, who adapted this young adult novel about a young girl who commits suicide – and then leaves 13 tapes for 13 so-called friends, detailing why they pushed her to do it. It is, as you might expect, morally dubious and deeply manipulative; it is also, unfortunately, slick, glossy and pacy. Watch it so that you can tut very loudly about the youth of today, but secretly enjoy every minute.
05. Mindhunter (Netflix)
Messrs Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany in Mindhunter. Photograph by Mr Merrick Morton/Netflix
Director Mr David Fincher combines with British playwright Mr Joe Penhall to concoct astylish but unsettling series about the inner workings of the FBI. In the 1970s, naive young agent Holden Ford (Mr Jonathan Groff) realises that there might be something in analysing the mind of the country’s serial killers. Cue various dances with the devil in various prison cells across the US. In typical Mr Fincher style, it’s crisp to the point of chilly, and there’s the extra thing that Ford is rather annoying. But the show is also challenging, seductive and surprisingly funny.
06. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu/Channel 4)
Mses Elisabeth Moss and Alexis Bledel in The Handmaid’s Tale. Photograph courtesy of Channel 4
Full marks to Channel 4 for scheduling this Ms Margaret Atwood adaptation on Sunday evenings: what says cosy end-of-the-weekend snuggles like a vicious dystopian drama about misogyny and fascism? Ms Elisabeth Moss excels as Offred, the handmaid who is determined to regain her past life before Gilead’s terrifying regime took over. Nod knowingly to all the Trump allusions, and suss out why all the women in your life are now wearing deep red.
07. Howards End (BBC1)
Mr Matthew MacFadyen and Ms Hayley Atwell in Howards End. Photograph by Mr Laurie Sparham/Playground Television/BBC
Not quite another costume drama – this new adaptation of Mr E M Forster is written by Mr Kenneth Lonergan, the cinema auteur behind Manchester By The Sea. In Mr Lonergan’s hands – and with fine central performances by Ms Hayley Atwell and Mr Matthew Macfadyen – this Edwardian family saga looks a lot less dusty, asking still modern questions about feminism, equality and what progress actually means.
08. Stranger Things 2 (Netflix)
Messrs Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and Finn Wolfhard and Ms Sadie Sink in Stranger Things 2. Photograph courtesy of Netflix
In which those kooky kids (and a shrieking Ms Winona Ryder) return for more high jinks, as the town of Hawkins, Indiana is taken over by yet more supernatural life. Essentially, the precis of this new season is: it’s pretty much the same as the last one. The quartet still have weird hair, weird teeth, and astonishing bravery – or perhaps just a stunning insouciance as to all the terrifying aliens floating all around them. Also, no-one of any import ever dies, but then you’d never really want them to.
09. Doctor Foster (BBC1)
Ms Suranne Jones, Mr Tom Taylor and Mr Prasanna Puwanarajah in Doctor Foster. Photograph courtesy of BBC
Is she mad? Of course she is, but the point is she has a reason to be. In the second series of this delirious domestic drama set in deepest suburban England, Ms Suranne Jones’s wine-slugging doctor gets into an even darker tussle with her ex Simon, who has returned two years after stealing all her money and bonking a much younger model. People loved or hated it, but if nothing else, it all marked a highly melodramatic chapter in today’s endless gender wars. Also, full points to their son for finally telling his dad “stop calling me ‘mate’”.
10. What The Health (Netflix)
Photograph courtesy of A.U.M. Films and Media
If you were wondering why everyone around you was turning vegan, or at least half-heartedly eating vegan brunches, this is the reason why: a pretty sensationalist documentary outlining the links between (meaty) diet and disease. Netflix also obliged by screening the dark comic satire Okja, by South Korean auteur Mr Bong Joon-ho (with a script by Mr Jon Ronson), which imagines the surreal travails of a genetically modified pig. Clearly someone at the streaming service hates the meat industry.