‘Sherlock’ – let’s get that out the way shall we? It’s great, and if one were to strike out the mediocre middle instalment, its parts one and two have a claim to be the best TV experience of the year. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great Holmes and Martin Freeman a good contemporary Watson. He is perhaps just a little too genially cherubic to be the haunted Afghan war veteran that the show wants him to be, but he tries hard to move away from ‘The Office’ and Tim and that should count in his credit. Most importantly the plots (for episodes 1 and 3 at least) were perfectly pitched: convoluted enough to satisfy without becoming meaninglessly detached from reality (early- rather than late-period ‘Jonathan Creek’). This is easily a show that could slot into the ‘future’ category as its return next year has to be one of the highlights of 2011.
‘The Trip’. This was as welcome a surprise as ‘Sherlock’. Tantamount to a TV spin-off of Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Cock and Bull Story’, it cast Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan as “Rob Brydon” and “Steve Coogan” and sent them on a restaurant tour of the Lake District. As with the earlier film this was an opportunity for Brydon and Coogan to improvise on their public personas as well as launch on a self-indulgent run of impersonations. However, what could have been a smug luvvie-in is saved in particular by Coogan’s willingness to play straight to the spikiest, most awkward perceptions of himself as a pretentious and insecure snob with ideas massively above his achievements (the fact that it aired at the same time as his one masterpiece creation Alan Partridge saw a rebirth on a sponsored internet show adds some irony to this). It also becomes a study in irritation as audience sympathy veers from the irrepressible Brydon to the uptight Coogan the more the former falls back on impersonations of Al Pacino, Ronnie Corbett and Anthony Hopkins. A real gem of comedy.
‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ – If ‘The Trip’ was a finely polished diamond, HTTM was a brash, ugly carbuncle. Snatching up the men-behaving-badly gauntlet thrown down by last year’s The Hangover, HTTM goes on to joyously defile the legacy of films such as ‘Big’, ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘17 Again’ by sending its cast of middle-aged losers back to their heyday in a sleazy mid-1980s ski resort. There’s no way to dress this up as anything other than stupid and puerile but it has the advantage of being very funny, featuring a particularly genius running gag performed with brio by Crispin Glover – we know that in the present he has lost one of arms, we just don’t know how… Steve Lavington
‘Rev’ is another show that has no right to be as good as it is. But the BBC’s sitcom about the life of an inner city vicar managed to be funny and thought provoking and even unexpectedly moving. It forced you to consider the role that faith or a life of service could have in a modern liberal society, even as it presented you with such subtle
comic scenarios as a vicar conducting a lengthy internal monologue about shagging.
The season finale, in which Tom Hollander’s Rev. Adam Smallbone had to hit a distinctly unholy rock bottom before remembering why he wanted the job in the first place, was the most perfectly played piece of TV I’ve seen all year, and I came embarrassingly close to weeping at its understated final moments. It made me want to seek out my inner London
vicar and make friends. And I’m an atheist. That’s how good it is. Jonn Elledge
Recent years have seen a gradual diminishing in Shiny Shelf’s coverage of ‘Doctor Who’. This shouldn’t be taken as an indication of flagging enthusiasm for the series. (In fact, if anything the opposite is true). It is, rather, down to the fact that rather too many of us are paid to write official things connected with the show or its spin offs or merchandise rather too often for us to be considered strictly impartial. (Yes, we know that newspapers regard even attempting objectivity or declaring conflicts of interests as a kind of insane naivety practised only by the weak, but here at Shiny we like to have the odd bash at integrity once in a while. ) However, it is Christmas and you’ll indulge an old fan for a moment?
This year we got a new Doctor in Matt Smith and the series got a new boss in Steven Moffat. Smith established himself as the Doctor with terrifying speed and made doing so look easy while starring in a batch of episodes that are, thanks to Moffat’s assured leadership, an entirely reasonable choice for the programme’s best ever year. (There are other candidates including 1966, 1970 and 2008, but 2010 is as good a pick as any.) The highlights were too many to mention, but ‘Amy’s Choice’ ,’Vincent and the Doctor’ and ‘The Lodger’ found new ways to be ‘Doctor Who’, no mean feat in a fifty year old series, while precredits sequence of ‘The Pandorica Opens’ was the most magically insane and wonderful thing in the series’ history. Well, for a whole week, when Moffat trumped himself.
Smith’s Doctor also guest starred in Russell T Davies’ ‘Death of the Doctor’ episode of ’The Sarah Jane Adventures’. This return for the recently departed RTD could, coming soon after the finale of his triumphant period as ‘Doctor Who’ showrunner could easily have been the televisual equivalent of departing your own wedding reception in a flurry of crying and congratulations only to have to sneak back in twenty minutes later because you’ve forgotten your keys. Fortunately, it was as triumph with Smith forming a remarkable partnership with Sladen’s Sarah Jane and Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, Dame Katy returning the part after an astonishing thirty seven years and change and doing so with gusto and great joy. There were these gorgeous evil alien muppet vultures too – and a really sexy evil UNIT Captain for a villain, while Davies joined the very small band of writers to have written for three Doctors. Full marks.
Smith and Moffat return tonight, while Smith and Davies are being repeated on BBC One and HD today and will doubtless be on the BBC iplayer by the time you read this. If you’re reading this site chances are that you wouldn’t miss the former for the world, but I’d really urge you to catch the latter as well if it’s passed you by.
Oh, and, incidentally… a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.