Some of the best TV you might have missed in 2017

2017 best tv you missed snowfall clique ill behaviour ronny chieng international student bablyon berlin end of the fucking world the state

One of the things that always stands out to me about year-end ‘best of’ lists is that there are usually quite a few shows that, for whatever reason, I never got the chance to see. What’s nice about that, of course, is that those lists become a set of recommendations for me to work through for the next few months.

But it did get me thinking, though – how about a list specifically to that end? Here are the shows, then, that you might have missed; ones that flew under the radar a little bit, either because of the channel they were on, the language they’re in, or the time of year they came out.

It’s obviously an incomplete list – how could it not be? – but here’s some of the best TV you might have missed in 2017…

The State

The State Channel 4 isis peter kosminsky national geographic Ony Uhiara Sam Otto Shavani Cameron Ryan McKen.jpg

The State took on a controversial and difficult subject matter in a sensitive way – but more than that, it did it at exactly the right time too. A nuanced and considered look at how people are radicalised, it was a compelling drama that drew on extensive research of real-life cases. Intense and emotional, The State explored nuanced storytelling in place of simplistic thinking – always willing to challenge audience’s preconceptions and prejudices, this was a stark and powerful drama.

Clique

Clique BBC Three bryan elsley jess brittain louise brealey synnove karlsen aisling francoisi

The first episode of Clique was a particularly tense and taut hour of television, crafted with a real precision; it was one of the most effective pieces of drama BBC Three produced in a long time. With an unrelenting intensity, gradually probing the darker aspects of the world it put forward, Clique was an effortlessly self-assured piece of television. Certainly, it’s the sort of programme that might be easy to dismiss at face value; yet another teen drama without a huge amount to offer on its own terms. But to think of it that way it to do a real disservice to the intricate, nuanced work that was going on beneath the surface – there’s a real feeling, watching Clique, that it exists in a world that goes above and beyond the young adult drama you’ve seen before.

Ronny Chieng: International Student

Ronny Chieng International Student molly daniels declan fay comedy central malaysia melbourne university comedy central

It’d be easy to miss this one – a BBC Three acquisition that was only broadcast on BBC One very late at night – but it’d be a real shame if you did. Ronny Chieng: International Student has a certain charm that you could liken to Community, perhaps, but it’s very much its own show. Witty and inventive, this series draws on the real-life university experiences of its star Ronny Chieng – the perfect straight man for his increasingly absurd surroundings. In a year with a lot of great new comedies, this is the sort of show that might not get the attention it deserves – but it is genuinely, properly funny.

Snowfall

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Part of what I like about Snowfall is that it’s slow. Not in terms of pacing, not exactly; rather, it takes a measured approach, one that really lets it dwell on the period and pay close attention to detail. In that sense, Snowfall stands out because of how well it’s able to evoke a feel for the crack epidemic in 1983 Los Angeles. It’s the perfect backdrop for a cast of characters making increasingly compromised decisions – with newcomer Damson Idris giving a standout performance, Snowfall is definitely a drama that’s worth a look.

Babylon Berlin

babylon berlin liv lisa fries

Babylon Berlin is absolutely mesmerising. I said as much in my review of the show’s first season, but it really does bear repeating. The most expensive piece of television Germany has ever produced, every penny that went into Babylon Berlin translates to the screen – it’s a gorgeous drama, perfectly evoking the aesthetic of the 1920s. It’s also home of one of the best television moments of 2017 full stop – the almost trance-like conclusion to the second episode is breathtaking, exuding confidence and inspiring awe.

Ill Behaviour

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Ill Behaviour took an absurd premise, but elevated it into something more – a dark comedy that was also a genuinely affecting drama. With a wit as quick as it was dark, this wasn’t just gallows humour; it’s a programme about repression, denial, and the lengths people go to in extreme situations. As ever, it’s a show that works because of its characters – self-destructive and neurotic, and perfectly pitched by the cast, each have a real and meaningful character arc. Ill Behaviour is packed with laughs, but it also leaves a lasting impact long after the credits roll.

The End of the F***ing World

the end of the fucking world alex lawther jessica barden charlie covell jonathan entwhistle lucy tcherniak review netflix channel 4

One of my personal favourite programmes of the year – I know that’s true of a lot of the shows on this list, but it’s particularly true of this. The End of the F***ing World is an elegant character study, focused on two isolated teenagers who live in liminal spaces; it lends its two leads, James and Alyssa, a real interiority, serving to emphasise the poignancy – and in some ways the tragedy – of the journey they undertake. Of course, it’d be remiss of me not to mention Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden, who really do make the series; an absolutely magnetic pairing, they’re fantastic actors who really embody the facades, neuroses and vulnerabilities of their characters.

Even then, of course, there are a lot of shows I’ve missed off this list that, if it could go on forever, I’d have loved to include – Guerilla, Overshadowed, or King Charles III, to name just a few. And that’s without mentioning all the excellent shows that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get the chance to see – shows like Three Girls, The Replacement or Bancroft.

If nothing else, that was one good thing about 2017 – there was a lot of really fantastic television.

Note: This was meant to be a Yahoo article which, for boring technical reasons I can’t work out, doesn’t actually display on the website anywhere – so I’ve put it here instead. Looking back on some of my choices, there’s a couple I probably would’ve changed – the fact that both The End of the F***ing World and Babylon Berlin took off massively in early 2018 because they turned up on American Netflix was validating, but does make me wish I’d taken the chance to stump for Overshadowed, which I really do love.

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BBC Three’s Overshadowed is the perfect take on anorexia in the age of social media

Overshadowed bbc three eva o'connor hildegard ryan michelle fox kay mellor rollemprodco hd high res anorexia

There’s something particularly effective about this central conceit, positioning the series almost as a monologue; the entire drama is built around and grows from Imogene, placing her right at the centre of the story. In doing so, Overshadowed grants its protagonist an essential level of interiority, immediately allowing the audience an intimate understanding of the character. 

More than that, though, there’s a level of respect too; at no point is Imogene othered or condemned, as can happen when friends or relatives are used as point of view character. It all adds up to a sensitive and compassionate account of anorexia, one that’s well worth watching.

Surprised I’d not posted this already, since it’s from early October. Really enjoyed this programme, and I’m quite pleased with the article too.

What was particularly nice about this article, actually, was that the writers and actors involved (the very cool Hildegard Ryan, Eva O’Connor and Michelle Fox) saw it and were quite nice about it. That’s one of my favourite things about writing these articles, actually – letting the people involved know that I appreciated their work. Always nice to spread some positivity.

(What is slightly less cool is that I tried to be a bit symbolic at the end, which sorta works, but is terribly awkward to imagine those involved actually reading it, particular Eva O’Connor, given what I said. Not in a bad way, just a bit… hmm.)

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Patrick Ness on his new book Release, the future of his Doctor Who spinoff Class, and more

patrick ness class release books doctor who interview class season 2 big finish the rest of us just live here

I hope that Class takes their concerns seriously – not overly seriously, but seriously. I hope it shows them as human beings, as more than one-dimensional human beings – they fight, they squabble, they love and they care and they’re brave and they’re frightened. The same kind of complexity that we always see in adults in drama – and again, that’s something I always wanted to see as a teenager, I felt like I was only seeing one kind of teen on screen.

Class is a real effort to make them fully rounded, and full of contradictions, and making their own choices – driving the action, they make the choices, it’s not a show about a bunch of young people sitting around watching adults make all the choices. They’re the ones that drive the plot forward, and it matters because they’re doing it. So, hopefully, it’s that – it’s paying a teenager the compliment of saying you’re a fully rounded human being.

So, here it is – my Patrick Ness interview! I’m extremely pleased with this piece – felt like the appropriate way to round off my experience with Class. It is, to the best of my knowledge, still the most detailed interview Patrick Ness has given about Class. This took place before the American broadcast, so it’s a little scant on details about his departure, and the cancellation of the show; someday, I’d love to chat to him about it again.

(Of course, on the above, there’s been some rumblings lately that Big Finish might be bringing Class back to our screens. Or, ears, rather. If they do, I’m going to have to pursue some interviews, because I do still rather like the fact that I’m the definitive Class interviewer, and I’d like to maintain that title…)

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Archie vs Predator: Why Riverdale’s Miss Grundy storyline didn’t work

riverdale archie vs predator miss grundy car sex scene the cw sarah habel geraldine grundy jennifer gibson statutory rape

On paper, it’s evident what this is – a predatory relationship between a teacher and a student, nothing more complicated than that. Within the show, however, this fairly straightforward detail is lost somewhat, leaving Riverdale in a far more problematic position: Archie and Miss Grundy are presented as having an illicit romance, one which is sexualised and glamorised by the narrative.

In part, it’s perhaps just a matter of visuals; it’s easy to forget that the teenagers in Riverdale really are just that, given that many of the actors look so much older. Without that in mind, the dynamic does change considerably – but it has to be remembered that Archie and his peers are 16 years old, all minors. Miss Grundy is a statutory rapist. There’s no other way of looking at it.

I actually really like Riverdale, generally speaking. It’s a huge amount of fun, and I’m disappointed that the first time I’ve written about it has been to critique it, rather than celebrating it.

But, much as I enjoy it, it does have flaws. And one of those flaws is the utterly tone-deaf and poorly handled Miss Grundy storyline, in which the show sexualises and glamorises a predatory relationship.

So, you know. Some limits.

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Why you should be watching the YA Doctor Who spin-off Class

class detained patrick ness greg austin fady elsayad jordan renzo vivian oparah sophie hopkins wayne che yip doctor who big finish

When Class was first announced, the potential was obvious: a young adult sci-fi series set in the Doctor Who world, positioning itself as a British Buffy the Vampire Slayer with aliens. Even starting from such a fantastic premise, there was something else to set this show apart – Patrick Ness. Class comes not only from the world of Doctor Who, but from the mind of acclaimed YA writer Patrick Ness, who is genuinely one of the most talented novelists working today.

This talent is obvious throughout the duration of Class, as Ness is able to imbue the show with the best of the YA genre. YA Television is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, and Ness is able to keep up with the best of it and then some – Class consistently putting a new spin on what we’ve seen before, finding a fresh take and creating fresh potential. Young Adult, after all, doesn’t mean trite or small – in many respects, this genre is on the bleeding edge of drama, consistently going further and finding ways to be new and interesting in ways the rest of television could only dream of.

While we’re all excited about Doctor Who – wasn’t it wonderful? – let’s not forget about Class!

It was an imperfect show that often frustrated me greatly, but it never failed to make me think, and I’m so glad it exists. It’s absolutely worth your while, so check it out!

I wrote this mainly because the American broadcast of the show was coming up, and I wanted to do pretty much whatever I could to make sure the show continued. I even bought the DVD, and I basically never do that these days. Unfortunately, it didn’t work – there was never any new Class after the TV show ended – but some of the cast shared this article, which was nice.

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Idris Elba’s five by five is an important introduction to new talent

idris elba bbc three five by five georgina campbell short film young talent hd kate herron

In some respects, there’s a feeling that these films aren’t exactly as groundbreaking as they seem to position themselves as; primarily, I was reminded of Channel 4’s excellent anthology series Banana, which you could argue shares the same general intent as this project, but was able to realise it much more effectively. Really, when watching five by five you wish that there had been a little more to it; each instalment feels almost like a tease, more of a pitch towards what could have been than necessarily satisfying in their own right.

And yet by the same token that feels like an entirely unfair way to categorise these short films, because at the end of the day, what they’ve achieved is manifestly more important than what they actually are. A showcase for up and coming young voices, they’re going to prove meaningful starting points for the actors and writers involved in the series – an attempt to address the paucity of diverse voices, for lack of a better word, in the production of television, if not so much in terms of telling those stories. It’s in this way that five by five makes its real steps towards exploring identity – by introducing us to these new talents.

I wrote a little bit about five by five, BBC Three’s new series of short films. I think I might write about them a little more, because I do still have some thoughts on them.

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How Clique masters tone to present a tightly wound thriller

clique bbc three jess brittain bryan elsley Robert McKillop Synnøve Karlsen

The premier episode exists in a liminal space of uncertainty, with every frame of the episode imbued with a subtle sense of discomfort. In turn, then, Clique becomes a particularly tense and taut hour of television, crafted with a real precision that positions it as one of the most effective pieces of drama BBC Three has put out in a long, long time.

Part of this discomfort is a gradual probing of the darker aspects of the world that Clique presents; from the twisted energy of the party scene to the high-pressure competition of internship applications, this is a show that focuses on delving into the depths without holding back. Indeed, there’s an unrelenting intensity to Clique that’s borne of this incremental unveiling of the darkness, carried well by nuanced characters and compelling performances.

The latest drama offering from BBC Three, Clique is a fabulous piece of television. I’m very fond of this show. And this article, come to that.

I really deliberated over this article, actually, trying to make it into something special – because Clique deserves that level of high quality writing about it! You can be the judge over how successful I was in that regard, mind you.

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Class Series Overview

class doctor who greg austin sophie hokins fady elsayad vivian oparah katherine kelly patrick ness bbc three poster hd review ranking big finish

Once again, it’s time for the customary series overview, here looking at Class.

I did my reviews of Class for Flickering Myth, rather than on my own website. You can find them all here, alongside the series rankings:

  1. For Tonight We Might Die | 9/10
  2. The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo | 8/10
  3. Nightvisiting | 9/10
  4. Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart | 9/10
  5. Brave-ish Heart | 7/10
  6. Detained | 10/10
  7. The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did | 8/10
  8. The Lost | 5/10

Every episode of Class was written by Patrick Ness, of course.

And, here’s the traditional graph. Love the graph.

class doctor who episode rankings review ratings patrick ness bbc three big finish

Often when I come to make these graphs, I start to think that some of my scores were a bit overinflated – and never moreso than on this particular occasion. I suspect quite a few of these ratings are at least two points too high – Class wasn’t that good. It was decent, it was often well executed, and it was good. I am unconvinced that it was ever great, as such.

I guess the word I want is functional, really. Which is, you know, fine – just a little disappointing.

It might be – and I suspect this is a huge part of this – that my expectations were too high. Certainly, going into the series, I was expecting – well, I was expecting it to be perfect. Something visionary and life changing, taking everything I love about Doctor Who and yet carving out something entirely new within it. I now suspect, admittedly, that this is the sort of programme that really does only exist in the mind, and there was no chance for Class to live up to that ideal – so it’s unfair to expect it to, or to compare it against that.

Undeniably, there were lots of good things. I suspect the chief strength of the series will be remembered as the acting; the six leads (yes, Jordan Rezno counts) routinely gave excellent performances, and I think they often elevated the material they were given. It was also, actually, quite well directed at times – Wayne Che Yip, who directed both Detained and The Metaphysical Engine, should absolutely be given an episode of Doctor Who to direct. (Actually, I just checked his IMDb, and he’s credited as doing two episodes of Series 10 – this might end up being the best thing that comes from Class, actually.)

And, actually, it must be said, there were a lot of interesting things being thrown up by the Rhodian/Quill storyline, particularly in terms of how it often rejected the standard Doctor Who paradigms in terms of how it presented the legitimacy of violence. Simply by virtue of being new, it had the potential to be quite compelling.

class detained patrick ness greg austin fady elsayad jordan renzo vivian oparah sophie hopkins wayne che yip doctor who big finish

It’s just that it feels, in many respects actually, that the main problem with Class is that it simply didn’t go far enough – as though it could, and should, have been a lot better.

I wrote an article a while back, extolling Patrick Ness’ virtues and talents as a writer; I’d recently read his book The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which was both excellent and felt like a clear archetype for Class to mimic. I suspect that, had Class been a lot more like The Rest of Us, it would have been a better series; in the end, it rather felt as though Class wasn’t quite to the standards of the rest of his work. I don’t know why that is, exactly – I’d guess it’s simply a result of this being Ness’ first attempt at screenwriting for television, and just not being as experienced with that medium as he is novels.

I do wonder, actually, if Class might have been more effective as a novel. It often felt as though many aspects of the show were heavily underdeveloped; a result, I suspect, of both the format of the show (eight episodes, with 2 two-part stories) and the manner in which these episodes were structured. The series was front-loaded with introductory & backstory pieces that relied on monster-of-the-week storytelling, before devoting the rest of the series to setting up the finale. Certainly, moreso than has ever been the case with Doctor Who, I suspect Class might actually have really benefitted from an American style 24 episode season – it just needed more time. Time for consequences, time for growth, and time to stay still.

Though, mind you, nothing would have solved the bloody Shadowkin. Honestly. What were those even for? Useless bloody things.

class doctor who miss quill katherine kelly hd patrick ness the metaphysical engine

At this point, there’s just one question left. And it’s not one with a particularly clear cut answer.

Where next for Class?

In story terms, it’s clear enough where the next series would go; dealing with April’s resurrection, the fallout from the genocide of the Shadowkin and the deaths of Ram and Tanya’s family, and of course the Governors and ‘the Arrival’. But in practical terms, are we likely to see it?

Probably not. Class has, to put it bluntly, not done amazingly in terms of ratings, both on its original BBC Three broadcast and during the BBC One repeats. While it’s yet to air in America, the fact that it’s been so delayed since it’s UK broadcast hardly inspires confidence that it’ll be a ratings hit. To an extent, you can’t help but feel that the handling of Class was mismanaged, from the advertising to the scheduling – but no matter what well-meaning critiques you make, the end result is going to remain the same.

(I also suspect the departure of Moffat and Capaldi is going to be something of an issue – if, as appears to be the case, the Chibnall era is to be marketed as a clean slate, Class could well be an awkward hangover that hasn’t really justified its continued existence. At most – and even then, it’s unlikely – we might see Patrick Ness write an individual episode of the main show to wrap up Class, but given how much Ness struggled with the more crowded episodes of Class anyway, I’m not convinced this is even a good idea anyway.)

However, frustrating though Class was at times, I’d still like to see a second series.

No matter what it turned out to be in the end, Class began as a show bristling with potential. It’s why Wikipedia quotes me as saying that this is a programme that can and will stand on its own – and maybe even surpass Doctor Who, one day – much as I hope that doesn’t end up my sole legacy, it is true.

There was a moment, early on, where Class felt like something genuinely new and fresh and exciting. The first few minutes of For Tonight We Might Die – the classically Who corridor sequence, before launching into a title sequence that subverts all expectations. That was the promise Class made – to be that show, that subversive, energetic, new show.

And while the promise is still unfulfilled, I think it might warrant a second series. So they can get it right next time.

Quick interjection from Alex of May 2018: Hello! I have no idea how much I agree with all of the above now, however, one of the big things I’d like to do in the future is a proper set of in-depth articles about Class. So, watch this space! Further elaboration to come.

Related:

Click here to find everything I’ve written about Classincluding an interview with Patrick Ness!

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Why Patrick Ness is perfect for Class

patrick ness class release books doctor who interview class season 2 big finish the rest of us just live here

It started around two years or so ago, with a refusal: Patrick Ness was asked to write an episode of Doctor Who, but declined, on the basis that he was writing a lot for other people, and wanted to devote more time to his own projects. Fair enough, as I’m sure all would agree. Not long after, though, the BBC re-approached Ness with a new pitch: they were planning a school-based spinoff of Doctor Who, and wanted to know if he’d be interested in running it. The answer, as you can imagine, was a resounding yes.

Which is, in fact, rather fantastic, because Patrick Ness is the perfect candidate for this series. He’s got a long and established history of writing for YA properties, and can be considered one of the foremost authors within the genre – his Chaos Walking trilogy is quite highly regarded, as is his novel A Monster Calls, a movie adaptation of which, starring Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones, will be released later this year. However, it’s one of his more recent novels that makes it really clear how apt a choice Ness was to spearhead this spinoff, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Class shared more than a few similarities with said book…

I’m indulging in a little bit of clickbait with this one, admittedly – you can’t see which book it is unless you click the link! Still, though, I imagine it’d be easy enough to guess for anyone who’s reasonably familiar with Ness’ works.

(With a degree of hindsight, having now seen Class, I think it could have done with being a little bit more like The Rest of Us Just Live Here, and actually maybe a bit more like Release as well.)

(Oh, that undoes my clickbait. Whoops.)

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Pride 2016 – Looking back on Banana

banana e4 cucumber lgbt bethany black letitia wright freddie fox russell t davies charlie covell sue perkins

However, Cucumber wasn’t the only program Davies was working on at this point; it was accompanied by sister show Banana, an anthology miniseries made up of eight half hour episodes, each focusing on new characters. Where Cucumber was about the life of one specific gay man, Banana used its anthology format to explore the youth of the wider LGBT community in Manchester.

One of the things that’s great about Banana (and I stress it’s far, far from the only thing, merely the one that’s most apt for today) is quite how much it is a celebration of LGBT diversity, and the experiences of LGBT people – not just on the screen, but behind it too.

With today being the last day of Pride 2016, it seemed apt to look back on Channel 4’s fabulous anthology program from last year – a series which did a wonderful job of celebrating the diversity of the LGBT community.

(This is probably fine, if slight, though I doubt I’d write something exactly like it today.)

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