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06 Jan 2015 10:11
T.J. Miller of the HBO comedy series 'Silicon Valley' poses at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)
The television industry in 2014 might not have given us anything radically new, but we did see some pre-existing trends start to crystallise.
One of these trends was the continued injection of money and talent from the
film industry: whether it took the form of Matthew McConaughey’s volcanic
acting talents, the painstaking direction of Steven Soderbergh, or the storytelling
prowess of the Coen brothers.
Another trend was technology, which – for
television – was simultaneously a means of experimentation and a target of
critique. In the end, these were my favourite new shows of the year, all due to
come back for their second run this year.
TRUE DETECTIVEWhen I reviewed True
Detective last year, I predicted that it would probably be
considered one of the best new TV series of 2014.
That last act resolved too many obstacles with
implausible speed, and left too many important questions unanswered. But all of
this is relative. It’s unfortunate that True
Detective couldn’t quite stick the landing, but it was still so very good in so many ways, that it’s an obvious contender for best TV show of the
This Southern gothic horror story was sprawling, brilliantly written, and
profoundly ambitious. It featured two of the best actors ever to appear on
television, both at the absolute height of their powers. If you haven’t yet seen it, then I’m actually rather
envious: my advice is to free up a weekend and binge-watch the series in its
Currently in production, the detective series’s second season, due for
release this year, will feature a new location and a new cast: Colin
Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams. It will be screened locally on M-Net
2. THE KNICKWhen it first arrived on South African TV, The Knick seemed like a series that was
easier to admire than to love. Set in a fantastically detailed reproduction of
19th-century New York, and featuring the acting talent of Clive Owen
and the directorial acumen of Steven Soderbergh, this medical drama featured production
values that can only be described as immaculate.
However, it initially felt emotionally
cold: the characters seemed distant, and the racial politics of the series felt
stilted and artificial.
But as it progressed, The Knick rewarded viewers who had the patience to see it through.
Slowly – and almost strategically – the series began to reveal its secrets and pull
viewers into its world. But it never strayed toward the saccharine, and it
never shied away from the horrible social and medical realities of its era. The
result is an unflinchingly brutal hospital drama.
The Knick has been picked up for a second season, and it will likely be
screened on M-Net soon after its international release.
3. TRANSPARENTOne of the more important trends in television of the past two
years has been the entry of tech companies into the industry. Netflix has
charmed audiences with Orange Is The New
Black, and HBO is transforming itself into an internet streaming company. The
latest arrival is Amazon, which released a slew of original series this year.
These new productions have not been universally good: both Amazon and Netflix
are free from many of the constraints of traditional television, which in some
cases has given them the freedom to fail spectacularly. But the trend has also
produced some wonderful critical gems, such as Transparent, a family drama in which the patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor,
aka George Bluth Senior from Arrested
Development) comes out as transgendered.
It was weird, poignant, and
frequently hilarious. It can’t come to South African screens soon enough.
Cast and crew pose during Amazon’s premiere screening of the TV series ‘Transparent’ at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California.
For now, Transparent
requires an Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription, which is currently not
available in South Africa. Adventurous viewers can make use of services such as
UnoTelly to circumvent region restrictions, but it requires an additional
4. FARGOWho would have guessed, 10 months ago, that an adaptation of the
inimitable 1996 Coen brothers film would end up being one of the best new television
shows of the year? Yet this is precisely what happened.
Like its filmic ancestor,
Fargo carefully straddles the line between
the comedic and the macabre. It also features two freakishly good performances
from its leads. Martin Freeman plays a unctuous insurance salesman, whose life
changes radically when he meets a hitman, portrayed with sinister gravitas by
Billy Bob Thornton.
Their chance encounter sets off a bizarre chain of events,
and results in a great many people being killed. Fargo shares the Coen brothers’ signature obsession with the
capacity for evil in ordinary people, but it also manages to be darkly funny.
central incongruity is all the more disconcerting because the series is set in rural
and snowy Minnesota, so all the characters speak with odd accents, and it feels
like everyone ought to be friendly and polite all the time. Spoiler: they
The second season of Fargo
has been confirmed for this year, but will be set in an earlier time period
with a different cast. It will be shown in South Africa on M-Net.
5. SILICON VALLEYThere were several television shows in 2014
that dealt with computers and the technology. (AMC’s retro-chic Halt and Catch Fire was another notable
example of the trend.) But the best entrant in this mini-genre was HBO’s Silicon Valley, a perfectly realised deconstruction
of the tech industry that also managed to be the best comedy series of the year.
What Girls did for underemployed New
York hipsters, Silicon Valley does for
aspirant tech entrepreneurs. It captures the zeitgeist of a town where
billionaires are everywhere, giving out TED Talks and boasting about changing
the world – and all the while, an underclass of programmers chase after venture
capitalists and dream of being the next WhatsApp guys.
Perhaps the current tech
boom, like the one that that preceded it, will turn out to be an illusory
bubble, and will collapse in on itself. If so, we’ll probably re-watch Silicon Valley and reflect that we should
have seen it coming.
Valley’s second season will air this
year, and will be screened locally on M-Net Edge.
In this week’s Friday, we list the most
promising television shows hitting the small screen this year.
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