Your top 2017 TV catch-up guide
If the dearth of decent TV on over Christmas has left you lost for entertainment, fear not — there’s no better time than the holidays to catch-up on the great shows you missed first time round in 2017.
It has been an extraordinary year for TV. The best dramas are no longer to be found in cinemas, as writers and film-makers can enjoy greater freedom to develop their ideas on the small screen.
In Big Little Lies, Nicole Kidman gave one of her finest performances to date, while Elisabeth Moss's haunted demeanour in The Handmaid's Tale was career-defining.
Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper returned, eventually, in Twin Peaks, and Maggie Gyllenhaal brought humanity to porn drama The Deuce.
There were laughs, too, and fine documentaries. And the good news is that the best of the year's television is available in one form or another to rewatch. Here's your guide to catching up on 2017.
The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood wasn't to know that the TV adaptation of her dystopian feminist drama would be broadcast in a year dominated by the Trump presidency and serial revelations about sexual violence in and around Hollywood.
But, really, there's something timeless about the way her near-future story examines the power relationships between the sexes, with the fictional Gilead standing in for all manner of regimes that invoke religious teaching to keep women subjugated.
As a TV drama it's decidedly low-key - a beige-coloured nightmare in which Elisabeth Moss's handmaid Offred struggles to escape sexual slavery in the house of a half-charming government official (Joseph Fiennes). It's pretty grim, with the emphasis on the grim.
Stranger Things 2
The geek jury is out on whether the second season of the Duffer brothers' loving tribute to Eighties teen movies maintained the standard of the first, but it remains a very digestible piece of television, not least because it refuses to take itself too seriously.
The horror element has been upped somewhat with a cute, unidentifiable, Gremlin-type monster with a fondness for nougat developing into an Alien-like plague of wild beasts at the service of, well, some angry smoke in an underground tunnel.
The best bits are the relationships between the kids. Sadly, the alien Eleven is given her own plotline involving some really unconvincing plastic punks - and a terrible stand-alone episode - but the mix of vintage music and adolescent brio keeps the show on the road.
Season three might need some new ideas, though.
Many former employees of the BBC have noted that John Morton's comedy of office life within the corporation - with all of its jargon, pointless meetings and idiot consultants - is too true.
It's equally true that a broadcaster that encourages such self-mockery (including an episode in which real-life Director-General Tony Hall gets locked inside a Tardis) must be in rude health.
The Beeb jokes are fun, but the truth of the series is that it could apply to office life anywhere, and its fantastic dialogue is constructed with musical precision.
The cast, headed by Hugh Bonneville's half-competent everyman Ian Fletcher, are uniformly excellent, but there's also something heroic about Sarah Parish's performance as Anna Rampton, a woman promoted just beyond the level of her capabilities.
Parish's dialogue seems to consist mainly of the words 'yes', 'no' and 'exactly', though not necessarily in that order, while eternal intern Will Humphries (Hugh Skinner) exists on a diet of 'yeah', 'no', 'c**p'.
The A word
The second series of Peter Bowker's warm-hearted Cumbrian drama recently concluded on BBC One. It has been praised for the sensitive way it handles autism, and while the challenges faced by seven-year-old Joe (Max Vento) and his parents Alison (Morven Christie) and Paul (Lee Ingleby) are at the core of the story. Bowker never preaches, preferring instead to highlight the emotional insecurities of all his characters.
The strains in the relationship of Alison and Paul are at the core, but Christopher Eccleston steals the show as Maurice, Joe's old-school grandad, whose no-nonsense approach to life masks his own emotional reticence.
The third series of the comedy written by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, finds their fictional alter-egos in the midst of financial difficulties.
The first series was based on their accidental relationship, and by now they're deep in the intimate absurdities of mid-marriage.
It's beautifully observed, and if the characters seem more woundingly articulate than is usual in a sitcom, that's what makes them feel realistic.
Horgan and Delaney are always funny, but they're not afraid to add a bit of darkness. An appearance by Carrie Fisher, as Rob's mother Mia, towards the end, adds to the pathos.
Twin Peaks: The return
Sky On Demand/DVD
When the revival of Twin Peaks after 25 years was announced, the president of US network Showtime promised it would offer "the pure heroin vision" of the show's creator David Lynch.
If anything, that was an understatement. Twin Peaks: The Return was a nervous breakdown and a full-blown attack on the conventions of TV drama.
Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost eschewed nostalgia, replacing the soapy texture of the original with an abrasive narrative that fell apart as often as it cohered. Kyle MacLachlan, played three versions of his character, with the return of Agent Cooper delayed until the end.
The original Twin Peaks once seemed shocking, but its quirks have been absorbed into the mainstream. The Return is an attack on the senses and a mystery.
Blue Planet II
The subtext of the BBC's unimpeachable undersea documentary was an argument about the pollution of the seas with plastic.
The broader point, not unrelated, was an extraordinary celebration of marine life. The filming is never less than amazing and the show is educational in the best traditions of the BBC.
The ingenuity is extraordinary - suction cameras were mounted on orcas to capture images of them herding herring together to feast on them; low-light cameras captured the glow of the sea on the wings of mobula rays. David Attenborough presides, as ever, with heavenly grace.
Big Little Lies
Sky On Demand/Now TV/DVD
David E Kelley's seven-episode adaptation of Liane Moriarty's novel forensically unpicks the lives of three mothers in an upscale neighbourhood of Monterey, California. The story is a murder mystery but - as in The Affair - it's not clear who died until the end. It is, as the New York Review of Books noted, Sex and the City in Hell.
The characters are all slightly monstrous, but Nicole Kidman's performance as Celeste is extraordinary. Celeste has put her law career aside to raise her sons and to keep her abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) happy. Reese Witherspoon plays Madeline, a woman not quite content with her lot and channelling her frustrations into a community theatre project. Laura Dern is the fierce alpha mother and Silicon Valley CEO who picks on Jane (Shailene Woodley), a newcomer with an abusive back story.
Though the pilot of Motherland was a success, there must have been doubts as to whether the subject matter - school-age-child parenting - could extend to a full series. Ultimately it works by locating absurdity in the juvenile relationships of the adults and ignoring the kids.
The central character is Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin), a working mum who can't quite match the high-gloss exterior of the alpha mums, headed by Amanda (Lucy Punch). Both are odious in their own way.
The only truly likeable character is Liz (Diane Morgan), and the only false note is Kevin (Paul Ready), the token man. Parents will recognise the set-ups - the school fundraiser, the party (with the useless animal entertainer), the swimming pool.
Independent News Service