Netflix continued to make inroads, but the traditional channels also offered some excellent viewing in 2017, writes Des O’Driscoll
1. Dancing with the Stars
The first big TV rumour of the year was the talk that as soon as Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, he’d remove Hughie Maughan as a rival for the title of Man With World’s Maddest Tan. And so it came to pass. Just two days after the biggest crowds in the history of the world cheered Trump’s crowning in Washington, Hughie was voted off RTÉ’s dance show. Coincidence? Not if you believe the second big TV rumour that many of the premium line calls used to oust Hughie were traced back to Russia. Overall, however, while Kerry uber-male Aidan O’Mahony eventually won the first series, there was a particularly Irish outpouring of love for Des Cahill.
2. All is not as it seems
Apple Tree Yard on the BBC was pitched a tale of female empowerment and the sexual reawakening of a middle-aged woman. What actually emerged was a gripping thriller that also served as an unsettling exploration of the aftermath of rape.
Another excellent three-parter from the Beeb came wrapped as a tale of office maternity leave. Vicky McClure shone in The Replacement as the wolf in architect’s clothing.
3. Licence to investigate
European public broadcasters chipped in for a PR campaign to remind us how important they are, and here in Ireland, RTÉ Investigates provided several examples of why at least some of the licence fee is money well spent. In February, the show highlighted the amount of time children with scoliosis had to wait for assessment and treatment, as their bodies suffered even more damage. Resulting public outrage forced the Government and the HSE into helping the children.
The health service was back in the spotlight in November when the same show exposed the behaviour of some hospital consultants who are taking huge sums from the public purse while largely focusing on their private practice. We all gripe about the national broadcaster, but no other media organisation in the country would devote such resources to such difficult investigatons on behalf of the public.
4. End of innocence
Big Week On The Farm on RTÉ was a hugely entertaining series for all the family that set out to bridge the knowledge gap between farm and fork, abbatoir and eater. But might it have backfired? The show’s ‘where meat comes from’ features probably sparked a spike in youth vegetariansim not seen since Morrissey was in his pomp. And any awkward moments around what happens the cute little lambs were easily surpassed as parents searched for age-appropriate answers to questions about the functions of a ‘teaser bull’.
5. A nation sheds its tears
Ireland’s most watched TV programme was, as usual, the Late Late Toy Show, with an estimated audience of 1.3 million. Apparently those viewers shed so many tears following the segment with the Burke family from Midleton, flood warnings were issued for the Shannon basin. Returned army daddy bursting out of the box to surprise the kids was a nice idea, but it was the sight of eight-year-old Adam clinging on with pure love that ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the country.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale
A journo in this paper described the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel as the “TV equivalent of eating All-Bran”. While the Netflix series wasn’t exactly cheery viewing, watching it after news broadcasts that featured ISIS and rise of the religious right in the US made it felt strangely zeitgeisty. For people in this country, it also wasn’t a huge leap to imagine the Aunt Lydia character in charge in Bessborough or similar institution from our recent past.
7. Blue Planet
David Attenborough has always been careful not to preach, but over the course of the Blue Planet II series, he felt obliged to highlight the armageddon already under way due to plastic and other pollutants. The 91-yar-old still managed to present a glass-half-full message that we can still choose to preserve some of the magnificence he’s spent most of his life on air showing us. We might not have the same choices by the time they get around to Blue Planet III. Ireland also lost an onscreen champion of the natural world with the passing of Dick Warner.
8. Stream Dreams
Netflix is still sending chills through traditional networks with its massive resources and tempting offerings. The streaming service has splurged on a few duds, but it has also hit the mark this year with the likes of Ozark, Mindhunter, The Crown 2, Godless, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Stranger Things 2. Get bingeing!
9. Splitting votes
Thankfully, it’s not yet illegal for people to actually have different opinions. For some, Better Call Saul is an engaging prequel to Breaking Bad; for others, it’s an ideal cure for insomnia. Fargo either rose to new heights on the backs of performances by British duo David Thewlis and Ewan McGregor, or the quirky midwest schtick was wearing rather thin. Either way, it won’t be returning to our screens for a few years at least.
The Deuce arrived on our shores with glowing reviews, and the mouthwatering prospect of David The Wire Simon back on form for the tale of the early porn industry in New York in the mid-1970s. For many of us, though, no matter how much we rooted for it, the series never quite delivered, despite the brilliant performance of Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Taboo with Tom Hardy also induced Marmite feelings among the viewing populace, and even those who loved it couldn’t deny how bonkers it all was.
Agreeing to differ? It might even catch on.
10. Honourable mentions
Vincent Browne, who retired from TV3 in the summer after a decade of head-in-hands expressions of exasperation that often summed up the feelings of a nation. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip To Spain. The children of Prof Robert Kelly who gatecrashed his live interview on CNN. Game of Thrones’ dragon action and early anxiety about what we’ll do without the show. And finally, all those Russians who voted for the Irish showjumpers as team of the year.