I should really have watched and reviewed The Suspicions of Mr Whicher over on ITV, but, being a TV reviewer, I figured I should write about the UK’s biggest TV awards show. There’s no excuse for any of you people not watching the ITV show though (or The Challenger repeat on BBC2). Shame on you if you watched this nonsense instead.
Awards shows are terrible. They are renowned for playing it safe and rewarding mediocrity and overlooking anything risky. The Wire, one of the greatest and most original and groundbreaking TV shows in history, was famously only ever nominated for two Emmy Awards, the US version of the Baftas, and never won any. Likewise, The Academy Awards are notorious for rewarding the bland, and The British Comedy Awards, despite having an anarchic and anti-establishment self-image, consistently award mainstream hits and shows by people who move in the right circles, while anything outside the comedy bubble is ignored.
Then there is the problems with the Bafta broadcast itself. First, it isn’t live, which means if you’re watching it while screwing around online – as I imagine most people are – then you probably already know the winners in advance. There’s also a problem with the 31 December 2012 cut-off date for nominees, which kicked-in so long ago that most of the best shows in the last year aren’t eligible; so Black Mirror, Complicit and Utopia all miss out.
Then there is the incredibly insulting practice of squeezing “unpopular” awards into an end of show recap in the last five minutes. This included the category with the most influential show of the year in it, The Other Side of Jimmy Savile (which didn’t win, surprisingly), as well as an award win for the BBC’s Murder, one of the best shows of the year, and a nomination for Accused, another fantastic show.
But maybe this is understandable, because they had to make room for the hilarious joke at the beginning with some Daleks being denied entry to the BBC. And then there was Graham Norton’s opening monologue. Norton is a decent enough host but his jokes were pretty terrible, although there was some good and slightly risky Operation Yewtree gags; ‘BBC Centre; the stories that building could tell…’ and ‘we want to finish [the show] before any of our nominees or presenters get unavoidably detained.’
To the awards then, presented by actors who lose all their acting ability when asked to make awful and awkward jokes before announcing nominees. Best drama is first, and it says a lot about the quality of TV last year that Ripper Street is a nominee; a show which was okay but incredibly flawed and very poor at times. Last Tango in Halifax wins, and then Channel 4’s Paralympics broadcast picks up the sports award, which is very much deserved; while problematic at times, Channel 4 fully committed to their broadcast and avoided patronising athletes, and took some risks that paid of, notably with their Last Leg comedy show.
The supporting actor category is full of talent, and Bafta picked the safe option by giving it to an actor – Simon Russell Beale – for a Shakespeare role. Personally, I’d have given it to Stephen Graham for Accused. Situation Comedy is next and, again, it speaks to the dearth of quality that Episodes gets a nomination. The Thick of It should obviously win this, for a closing series which satirised and exposed the empty cynicism of UK politics, and which perfectly wrapped up its characters and plot. But no, Bafta give it to Twenty Twelve. That show was fine, but The Thick of It, and especially its final episode, will go down in British TV comedy history.
Olivia Coleman wins best supporting actress and Graham Norton takes the entertainment programme award. And then we have Reality and Constructed Factual which is Baftas way of dressing up awful crap like Made in Chelsea, which wins the category. It devalues all other awards when these shows get nominated for Baftas. ‘Despite popular belief it takes a lot of time and effort to create a show like this’ says someone on the stage. Yeah, I’m sure it does, but it would also take a lot of time and effort to create a show literally made out of shit but that wouldn’t make it necessarily worthwhile (it would be more impressive than Made in Chelsea though).
Clare Balding wins a special award because we all think she’s a national fucking treasure since the Olympics don’t we, and then we get the customary montage of death as the room goes quiet to pay respects to deceased artists. The Great British Bake Off wins an award next, because everyone in the country loves it, even those who have never seen it, myself included, and then we hear the nominees for actress in a comedy, presented by Bruce Forsyth, the only remaining elderly light-entertainment star who can leave the house without bail conditions (see Graham, I can make them too).
Olivia Coleman wins again, and gives an adorable speech, and then we get an award for best soap, which I couldn’t give a fuck about. The best actor in a comedy award unbelievably doesn’t go to Peter Capaldi for his incredible performance in The Thick of It, instead going to Steve Coogan, playing a decade old character – Alan Partridge – for which he’s already got a sack-full of awards.
Next is a Doctor Who bit, which I’m sure was great fun for Doctor Who fans, but I’ve never really got into the show so I won’t comment. Out comes Brian Cox, and Jenna-Louise Coleman, who I thought was great in Dancing on the Edge, but I’m kind of in love with her so my opinion may not be totally impartial.
Jenna and Brian present best comedy, which is a category very lacking in quality, and the award goes to The Revolution Will Be Televised. The nominees all look really annoying. ‘Trainers,’ Norton comments on their outfits mockingly after they leave.
The Radio Times award – voted for by the public – is next, presented by Sarah Millican, doing her ordinary northerner thing. The nominees are Homeland, whose second season was very flawed, but judging by the clip shown it’s nominated for season one; Strictly Come Dancing for some reason; Game of Thrones, which is overstuffed and wheel-spinning but incredibly enjoyable all the same; The Great British Bake Off; Call the Midwife, and the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony which, lets be honest, was pretty good.
Game of Thrones wins, followed by a win for a Grayson Perry doc in the specialist factual category. ‘Telly is now our literature. We sneer at computer games now,’ he says, which is pretty dead-on. Hopefully one day video games will be treated with the respect they deserve.
The big awards come next; best actor goes to Ben Whishaw, another actor from Shakespearian drama The Hollow Crown (and again, I’d have given it to the Accused actor, in this case Sean Bean), and the best actress award goes to Sheridan Smith for her role in Mrs Biggs. Alan Carr gets the best entertainer award, or the innuendo and slapstick award as it should be known. And then there’s a special fellowship award for Michael Palin, who you’d think would already have one of these. Oh well, throw it on the pile Michael.
And that’s that. A pretty poor year in British television really. The big TV debate over the last few years has been about how our shows compare to American ones, and judging by this list of the ‘best’ TV in the UK, we are losing badly. Very few of these nominees come anywhere close to the quality of Mad Man and Breaking Bad. But on a more positive note, the first third of 2013 – the months which weren’t eligible in theses awards – has produced some great shows. So maybe next year’s ceremony will be a lot better. Maybe you’ll even be able to watch it without feeling guilty about missing an original drama over on ITV.
Notable shows that missed out: Limmy’s Show, Peep Show, Wallander, the Wonderland documentary series, Blackout, Line of Duty, Grandma’s House, Charlie Brooker’s 2012 Wipe, and Jedward’s Big Adventure.