On the small screen, big, big drama...

Pradeep Sebastian Dec 30 2017, 21:37 IST
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The Crown

The year in television saw quite a few hit shows from the past returning. The biggest of them all was Twin Peaks, David Lynch's 90s masterpiece that revolutionised what television could do with a series. Jerry Seinfeld returned to television after a few decades of hiatus from the stage by doing a couple of stand-up shows for Netflix, looking at how Jerry became Seinfeld - the story of how the comedian got started. Larry David came back with a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm after saying he wasn't going to. Perhaps he shouldn't have changed his mind: the new season is his weakest so far, almost a caricature of what Curb at its best was. I was personally disappointed with several of the highly touted new shows - HBO's The Deuce and Big Little Lies didn't grab me, and I couldn't quite get into Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale. And I especially found David Fincher's Mindhunter boring. I liked the first season of Aziz Ansari's Master of None better than the new second season.

Here are six that appealed to me: these held my attention from the start, not needing me to work at watching them or put in extra effort to keep returning to the next episode. I want to single out just one series that for lack of space I could not include: Manhunt: Unabomber. It's totally gripping. Don't miss it.

Twin Peaks: The Return

As much as I couldn't wait to see what this 2017 revival of the iconic 90s soap opera thriller by David Lynch will look and play out like, I found - as thousands of Twin Peaks fans around the world did - it was hard going to watch. At least, those first five episodes. It was predictably weird and wonderful - well, perhaps too weird and wonderful - but even so, it didn't have the kitschy emotional wallop and the seductive narrative hook of the first Twin Peaks. Each episode was like some avant-garde video, and Lynch - unlike with the first series - directed all of them with total control. But then, after the initial episodes, something interesting began happening: you couldn't wait to see what would happen next, even though you knew you wouldn't make sense of it. And when we got to the end, we were still left puzzled. The ride was well worth it; for nothing like this has been done on television, episode after episode, a slow burn of the nightmares and dreams of various characters to the ravishing music of Angelo Badalamenti.

The Crown, Season 2

The Crown Season 1 from Netflix is one of the few series I had enjoyed completely, from its start to the season finale. Partly for Peter Morgan's deft script, a writer who has become a specialist on the royal family, first with the movie, The Queen, and now focused on young Elizabeth in The Crown, and partly for the way Claire Foy convincingly embodies her role. The only irritant is Winston Churchill, though nicely played by John Lithgow, you can't help feeling some anger for the way Churchill's racism is never explored or even touched upon. Luckily, we don't have to put up with him this time. The sets, the costumes, the cast, the music, and the plot are all up to par in this second season.

Line of Duty, Series 4

If you've somehow missed spotting this riveting BBC police procedural series, it's high time you caught up. The British, as well as the Americans, are so full of cop shows and detective shows that you don't know anymore what is really outstanding and what is simply crap. So, when I was first turned on to the first series of Line of Duty, I decided to see some 10 minutes of the pilot ­- not even the whole thing - and politely decline watching anymore. But you are hooked right away; the premise is set up so fast and you hang on to every new development in the pilot as the plot and the characters sink their teeth into you. A straightforward premise: a new task force is created to investigate corrupt (or as the British call them, 'bent') police officers, and operations that go suspiciously wrong. Jed Mercuio, who created this series, made sure that it crackles every minute with tension, suspense, action, drama and twists. Each case from Series 1 to Series 4 is complex, relentless and emotionally and viscerally satisfying with top-notch acting.

Inside Edge

I found myself totally gripped by this Amazon Original series. I have no idea how accurate it is in portraying or uncovering what goes on politically and sexually behind the Premier League, but it feels close, or at least convincing in the way it follows developments and scandals that have emerged around Indian Premier League/franchise cricket. Amazon's first Indian series has a total winner here. Match-fixing or spot-fixing is only one of the many shady things Inside Edge takes on, training a razor sharp and bold eye on how caste is still a factor, the nasty ego of many players, the drugs and partying, and how money and greed have tragically changed and harmed the game. The actors are very watchable, except for Vivek Oberoi's hammy character. Unfortunate that he's been over-written this way, having to constantly play it up, almost like a caricature of a serial power abuser. Very little varnishing here, and hard-edged all the way - just what we needed. And though the plot feels clearly fictional and over the top, I can't wait for the second season where we'll once again be spectators to "the game behind the game."

The Trip To Spain

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon once again hit the road with impressions of Michael Caine and Al Pacino as they hop from one gourmet restaurant to another sampling dishes, and trying to one up the other. Except this time, it's not England or Italy as before, but - as the spoiler title gives it away - in Spain. Directed again by Michael Winterbottom, the film, condensed from a BBC series, provides beautiful, sun-kissed vistas of picturesque Spanish towns as Brydon and Coogan compete with each other for the audience's approval of whose voice impression of Hollywood stars comes closest to the real thing. It's all very silly and inconsequential, but fun.

Howards End, the miniseries

Going by how engrossing this four-part miniseries update of both E M Forster's book and Merchant-Ivory's film has turned out to be, I should think every Forster book that was once made into a movie is ripe for a remake. If not as a movie, than as this intelligent and vibrant adaptation has demonstrated, as a TV series. A Passage to India will be wonderful to see again, with a contemporary cast, and done full justice by exploring all its themes in a six- or even eight-hour miniseries. The ensemble cast here is uniformly good, and the story - about the clash of two kinds of families, one cultured, the other philistine - proves every bit as relevant and contemporary today as it did in Forster's own time.

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