Welcome, then, 2016, and with it, another bi-yearly, sharp, short dose of Sherlock. 2014’s offering was pretty awful, a huge drop on the quality of the first two seasons, the reason for which I went into great depth about here, here and here.
This year we got a one-off special, The Abominable Bride, which was billed as a period piece set in the original 19th century world of Sherlock Holmes. It was instead our 21st century Sherlock dreaming up a 160-year-old version of himself in order to try and work out how Moriarty could be back from the dead, as he appeared to be at the end of series three.
Fargo is a rare-thing in television; a spin-off that is original. Not only original in fact, but arguably an improvement on the thing it was spun-off from.
The series, adapted from the 1996 Coen brothers film of the same name, follows the currently in vogue anthology format (see also: True Detective) where each series is different from the last, featuring different characters and locations.
Sort of anyway, because season one took place in 2006, and season two in 1979, with younger versions of some of the season one characters featured in the second. Lou Solverson in season two becomes Molly’s dad and diner owner in the first season, for instance, while ‘the Indian’ Hanzee Dent gets some plastic surgery and becomes season one’s mob boss Moses Tripoli.
Black Mirror is not, according to its creator Charlie Brooker, anti-technology. It’s concerned, rather, with technology’s potential to worsen human weaknesses. “I think that’s what Black Mirror is saying,” Brooker said in an interview to promote series two of the show. “What if the pace of change [of technology] is out of control, and we haven’t evolved to deal with it yet in the same way that we as basic apes haven’t really evolved to take responsibility for nuclear weapons?”
In White Christmas, a feature long episode that follows the previous two series, that theme is certainly visible. Utilising a format that seems particularly Christmassy, the film began with Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) and Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) – workers, seemingly, in an isolated location – sitting down to tell each other stories in a cold cabin.
Like most of Black Mirror, Matt’s story dealt with a society more connected than ever thanks to technology, and yet one in which isolation and loneliness remains, and if anything is made worse by that technology. In this world, everyone has gadgets implanted into their eyes, presumably at birth, that opens up a world of possibilities and problems.
Episode two took us back to the present day with a sort of ‘where are they now?’ catch-up with all the characters. It was a table-setting episode more than anything, and a little slow as a result, but there were a few outstanding moments and, if nothing else, the aesthetic on Utopia is so unique and beautiful to look at that even a quiet episode is seared in yellow onto your eyeballs afterwards.
In the episode’s first third, most of the characters had retreated to the humdrum lives of people not caught-up in a massive conspiracy. Ian was back at his IT job, a disconcertingly older looking Grant was confined to a flat – unable to leave because he’s supposed to be dead – and Becky, suffering from Deels Syndrome, has been forced to join up with Donaldson, the self-interested scientist with a stock of the drug that helps manage the disease (Donaldson is played by a new actor, which is a shame, because Simon McBurney was great last series).
Utopia returns at a time most appropriate. Suspicion of the establishment is at an all time high. Parliament, it seems, is an unregulated hotbed of paedophilia, fraud and cover-ups. Newspaper editors are hacking your phone, BBC children’s entertainers are touching up your kids and the government is giving them all knighthoods. The world of the conspiracy theorist has come crashing into the world of the sceptic.
Episode one of this second series played up to this conspiratorial climate, mixing real-life events with the show’s confusing world of rabbit-holes and rabbits. It began at the beginning, as Jessica’s father, brilliant but slightly nihilistic scientist Philip Carvel, was recruited by the nascent organisation that controlled the world of series one.
37 Days was a bit like an Open University docudrama, the type of thing that normally airs at 3am on BBC Two, but with a bigger budget and more recognisable actors. There were individual moments of captivating drama but they were continually broken up by pointed and unsubtle history lessons.
The first part of this three-part drama, airing over three consecutive days, followed the lead up to WWI – from 37 days before the war to 13. The episode focused mainly on the British Foreign Office’s attempts to read the situation in Europe, and the German high command’s instigating of the conflict.
The most recent episode of Jonathan Creek was an awful abomination with one of the most ludicrous endings I’ve ever seen in a mystery programme. This episode never reached those lows but it was still a long way short of what this show used to be.
The Letters of Septamus Noone had Jonathan investigating two mysteries: the first, the death of a woman involved in a play Jonathan and his wife Polly went to see, and the second the mysterious goings on around the death of Polly’s father.