Editor’s Entertainment Choices 2012 – Top TV Shows & Movies

Brilliant Cast of Showtime's Homeland at the Emmy's 2012

There’s certainly ‘No Business Like Show Business’ and in 2012 we have reviewed quite a number of excellent TV shows and movies which can be found in our Entertainment category. It’s useless really to try and compare the very different and diverse series and stories as each should be allowed to stand on their own merits. Subjects presented and the different timelines used, historical or contemporary are so very different it would also be a fruitless exercise. We don’t want to spoil them for you so do consider this before you read on.

I like many shows for a multiplicity of reasons, the core one being that they are entertaining, the main one being that they are well-written, giving many fine actors something meaty to work with. You will find that those we have talked about have that in common, a truly high standard of script writing. Raising the bar in that regard began a decade ago with The West Wing, a true pioneer for excellence in television series in so many ways. Creator Aaron Sorkin helped inspire a whole new generation of writers who have now raised the bar very high indeed, most especially on television with the splendid series Homeland. Does Brody go from hell hole to traitor and then hero? And what about Carrie now that she’s back from despair and vindicated.

This show is truly in a class of its own, with its three main actors Clare Danes (Carrie), Damien Lewis (Brody) and Mandy Pantinkin (Saul) mesmerizing with their power packed performances backed up by an outstanding ensemble cast. The early episode in the second series where Clare Danes breaks ‘Brody’ was truly superb. The interaction between their two characters was so convincing it quite literally took everyone’s breath away.

Then top of the pops in 2012 was the mighty one off series from the UK, the truly superb Parade’s End, which was all about societal values and personal principles vs love, which came to a masterly conclusion. It had been adapted from four novels by Ford Maddox Ford (1873-1939) with its television script crafted by arguably one of Britain’s greatest playwrights Tom Stoppard.

His artful drawing of the three complex main characters in this dramatic event was remarkable. He’s created a sensational script that when combined with thoughtful casting aided the Director in her task of keeping this drama taught and amazingly real. He wrote this terrific tale of destruction and regeneration following his own life threatening wartime experiences.

Benedict Cumberbatch brought his lead character Christopher Tiejens to life in a forceful way and mesmerizing way. Set in the dying moments of the ‘halcyon days’ of the Edwardian era, this subtly drawn BBC 2 television series in five parts garnered a huge legion of fans over five weeks, which will only continue to grow as it is shown outside England and then finally as it arrives on iTunes.

Cumberbatch, whose quirky name is offset by his long lanky frame, aquamarine eyes and fair English skin, which I am advised causes many women academics in England to swoon also stars in BBC1’s Sherlock. Must be something to do with that bespoke tailored coat that he wears?

Sherlock burst on our screens in 2011 as shrewd, sexy, savvy and every definitely new age. He has the perfect side kick in Martin Freeman, soon to be seen on the silver screen in The Hobbit.

He’s definitely cute and steals most of his scenes with Holmes in modern day London, which looks very appealing. They both light up the screen providing viewers with a terrific treat, that has so far only been served up in small doses. We still have to wait another year before Series 3 emerges and we find out if Sherlock is dead after his dramatic fall from a rooftop of London. This is due to Freeman being involved with The Hobbit and Cumberbatch being tied up with the Star Trek sequel. They are both in great demand.

Surprise American dramas of the year were The Newsroom after a slightly rocky start. It has its main protagonist newscaster Will McAvoy following a Quixotic Quest and garnering a whole new legion of fans.

Perception was perhaps the most pleasant surprise. Its main protagonist is helping the FBI as a consultant however with a twist. He has a mental health condition, one that he micromanages with fluctuating success. McCormack brings a great deal of pathos, commitment and competence to what is a very a smart curmudgeon role, which seems tailor made just for him.

This enticing new show is at a very different pace to the spy oriented, government agent challenged all action series of shows we are now generally used to.

Featuring Eric McCormack as Dr Daniel Pierce a neuroscientist, it holds a lot of promise and many people will look forward to its return second season because he’s an actor that is not only engaging but also as this reveals, extremely sensitive in this role.

Then there is Elementary, an American take on Sherlock Holmes and his side kick Watson, who in an about face is played very well indeed by Charlie’s angel Lucy Liu.

It is proving to be very enjoyable as it twists and turns along its way and is achieving a new golden standard for stories that carry on where Conan Doyle left off.

The episodes are stand-alone and although there are ‘historical references’ on the whole they are indeed unique.

The character development is genius, Holmes and Watson are both solid and modern but also true to Conan Doyle’s canon.

It’s hard to fault English born US residing Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock.

Martha Costello Queen's Counsel and Billy Lamb, Senior Clerk of Shoe Lane Chambers

He’s quite brilliant in the role, which is a joy to behold in many ways. He has a subtle nuance of style that is commendable and gives the character a great deal of depth.

Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is very different to Benedict Cumberbatch’s, but just as impressive and they both take on the character in superb style.

Silk is an excellent English television show about a bevvy of barristers featuring Maxine Peake in a stunning performance, with Spooks hero Rupert Penry-Jones as her slippery side kick and the very capable Neil Stuke as her clerk.

It was impressive in its Season 2 when it proved that being a QC and at the Bar is no barrier to success.

It is also heading for a Season 3 and it’s hard to wait.

Maxine Peake is a certainly a powerhouse performer.

The Brits love a good story and BBC1’s new series The Paradise proved in its first season that the art of shopping is a serious business.  It’s a new and refreshing change from all the other shows on television as its about something we can really all relate to, retail therapy.

Downton Abbey Season 3 began with a bang with a wedding and once again lived up to all the hype that has surrounded it over the past two years and this year’s Christmas Eve special will be sure to round off the year in a spectacular fashion. The people involved are all so very impressive as is the house.

The main element that all the shows we have talked about to date have in common is that they have revelled in the time that producing a television series allows them to tell their stories well.

A one off television miniseries Hemmingway and Gellhorn starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen certainly showed that passion is where the action is. It had a great story to tell and brilliant actors telling it. Kidman was truly outstanding. Somehow though it seemed to me to be hampered by the network not giving the writers enough time to flush the story out fully, which was really sad as Owen is also a very fine actor and it should have been really great.

The producers and Directors just galloped it to its close when it would have been far better to have two or even three more episodes to tell the tale well and winningly.

The very stylish and extremely popular numbers such as Covert Affairs, Castle, White Collar, The Mentalist, The Paradise, Revenge, The Borgias, Game of Thrones, and Person of Interest have all garnered a great following, like the longer termed action shows NCIS, NCIS LA and Criminal Minds.

Covert Affairs in Season 3 2012 has grown into something quite beyond what might have been expected during its first season. As everyone has settled into their roles the producers and writers have upped the ante and had the very able actor Piper Perabo flush out the depth of her character Annie Walker gradually, so that when the season came to a close for the Christmas break 2012 we were left in no doubt she’s becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Covert Affairs filmed its third series around the globe and lots of the action in different European cities will be sure to spark another intensive American European tourist trade. Some of them come up wonderfully on the small screen, especially Amsterdam with its glorious canals and fabulous 17th century canal houses.

It featured splendidly in a recent episode with Annie and her two attractive, and proving very popular heroes Auggie and Eyal, played respectively by Christopher Gorham and Oded Fehr. Gorham is her blind CIA handler and Eyal her spy friend colleague and friend in Mossad.

Eyal has sacrificed his life on more than one occasion to save Annie from being tortured and killed. In the last episode of the year she and Auggie turn the tables and end up saving him with a wild plan that works, at least for the time being. You could almost hear the audience around the world hold its breath when he came out alive after yet another dangerous situation.

Covert Affairs ended its half season cliff-hanger on an interesting perplexity as Annie Walker goes for a meeting with an ex CIA official who gives her a document to read that seems to indicate that perhaps her bosses Joan and Arthur are not really what they seem? Or am I misreading it. Darn it, will just have to wait to find out.

Castle, while seemingly offering a lighthearted approach to law enforcement now and then comes up with a serious episode that works well too and gains it more fans as it flows along. When Kate Beckett came back to broker a deal for her life at the beginning of Season 3 it was riveting.

Its certainly the top show for at least one of our team, because it is always entertaining and another show that is most certainly in a class of its own. Fillion and Katic are both very engaging and have great chemistry on screen.

Sigourney Weaver, Sandy Tosvig and Brian Cox on Graham Norton's Red Couch

For sheer entertainment The Graham Norton Show comedy chat show on UK TV has achieved a dramatic rise in status this year with Graham, the show’s resident funny man host proving that his slightly offbeat interview style gives great results in show that is a celebrity blast.

Some guests are featured in a most unlikely grouping and while occasionally that doesn’t work, on the majority it can have hilarious results. Ageing comedian Joan Rivers recently between Jake Gillenhall and looking very out of place car gurus James May and Jeremy Clarkson proved to be very funny indeed.

Graham is such a successful showman and interviewer because he manages to ensure that all his guests relax and enjoy themselves and this means that the audience has fun to.

On the movie front Skyfall that gives our hero a whole new resurrection has proved winner for the James Bond franchise and with Daniel Craig as 007 it has now seemingly moved into an action thriller in a league of its own.

There has been some brilliant films this year about changes in culture including The Sessions, A Separation and Shame, the latter with a riveting performance from Michael Fassbender.

Then there was the quirky offbeat brilliant adaption of the book by John le Carré Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a spy spoof with penultimate acting performances that only the Brits would dare to deliver.

One of the most delightful was Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt in the very quirky and often moving Salmon Fishing on the Yemen, which I personally enjoyed immensely.

MacGregor is an actor of great breadth and depth and I anxiously await the role that will have him reach even more heights in terms of his career. Blunt just goes from strength to strength and perhaps we still haven’t seen her best.

Wes Anderson, Director of Moonrise Kingdom

During the year there were many gems about ageing on the international scene, including the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and starting soon Paramount pictures QUARTET will add to that scene I am sure. It is all about past glories making for masterful beginnings.

Featuring some of the most famous actors of the 20th century who are now like their counterparts, all ageing rapidly, it’s another likely be cherished for a long time.

Another I am most looking forward to seeing and reviewing is Hyde Park on Hudson with Bill Murray. Murray ‘IS’ Franklin D. Roosevelt the producers point out and his performance is being acclaimed far and wide with him receiving a nomination for a Golden Globe.

Lincoln an American story starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the legendary president is a tour de force acting role that will surely see him nominated for an Oscar. He was indeed Spielberg’s perfect casting.

Les Miserables is a movie production of a stage musical taken to film that has already gained award nominations for Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

If I have to choose my favourite movie of the year out of what I have seen to date then for a myriad of reasons it would have to be Moonrise Kingdom, which explored the experiences of love and life in the most delightful way Humour and pathos collided in a mesmerizing scene that made you feel as if you were being drawn into the pages of a book, although its reality is far more than we usually find on screen.

It is hard to think of a time in my life span when we have been more spoiled in terms of content and acting performances on the television or movie screens. On the whole the worry is that it all may lead to us all having far too many ‘great expectations’.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

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