Saturday, 2 December 2017


Hello all,
As much as I may like to, I can never forget that I have a mental illness. I’ve spoken before on this blog about my struggles with Asperger’s and depression but sometimes I like to forget. To pretend that I’m normal, as normal can be. That’s not to say the symptoms aren’t always there, because they are.
   Those symptoms are there in those small, powerful moments. Like when my brain goes a little too fast and I stumble on a word or a sentence, and end up sounding very stupid. Or when my obsession with film and television results in me writing lists and lists of my favourite TV shows for no discernible reason, wasting an entire evening. Or that panicky moment when I worry that my last social interaction was wrong and that person will hate me forever more.
   But those moments pass and I have got better and digging myself out of those holes, by talking to my boyfriend Finn or watching something. What used to be unbearable has now become tolerable. And that’s nice, but it does give a false sense of security. Because right now, my entire life as I’ve known it is about to be ripped out from under me. And I’m terrified.
   You see, for as long as I can remember I’ve had a structured life. I’ve attended primary school, then high school, then a Bachelor’s Degree in Professional and Creative Writing, then one in Film and Television. We Aspie people like structure, well-defined rules and a guideline. I like to be able to plan for the future, to mitigate any stress as much as within human possibility. So attending schooling has been very good, a well-defined set of rules and structures. High school was four terms and holidays. My writing degree was two terms and holidays, with assignment chaos once every one and a half months. That last structure was one of my own making. I could’ve easily done the assignments over the previous several or so weeks, but invariably left it to that one chaos week because that’s what worked for me. I liked it. But life doesn’t work like that.
   My recently completed filmmaking degree was not like that. It was deadlines every week; insane with no chance for me to catch up. I had no idea what I was doing. It made me feel stupid and my marks reflected that. So did my mental health. After an especially stressful three months working as a producer on a short film, my mental health suffered. My depression-for-no-reason came back with a vengeance. I became sadder and broken all over again.
   It was the fall I could’ve, should’ve predicted, because my stupid brain had been making stupid decisions for a long time. This fall began in a writing class two years ago. It was my last unit and my brain was panicking. The unit was all about selling yourself, arguing that to be a writer was a fight to get your voice heard in a crowded industry. And it’s really hard to sell yourself when you hate yourself as much as I do most of the time. That’s not something new, I’ve always been quiet and sarcastic about my self-worth. Hell, the name of this blog is a jab at my face. The only time I can think of something to say about myself it’s an insult or a sarcastic comment. My writing is deeply, deeply personal and if I don’t like myself, why am I writing in the first place? This thought grew over the weeks, before suddenly I was hit with the realisation.
   For as long as I could remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I used to write funny stories about my elderly neighbour as a superhero. Or imagined a grand, complex sci-fi epic on my way to school where the main characters were gay and struggled with their mental illness. Writing was how I made sense of the world. It was always what I wanted to do. But I’m a lazy reader. This past year I’ve read one book (The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood), but started about six others. I wanted to read them all, but I find it hard to put in the effort because I am a bad person. But with film and TV? This year, I’ve seen 247 films and 77 TV shows (and counting). There’s something nice about knowing how long it’s going to take to the exact minute. That hasn’t always been like that, the dichotomy used to be swapped, but somewhere along the line it changed (I blame Doctor Who).
   And I realised this in that class. Why the fuck am I trying to be a writer when I watch so much? I’ve always imagined my stories in terms of how to represent them visually (I’m very good at dialogue, not complex description), so why not do film and television? It was a revelation and I texted Finn immediately saying (melodramatically) “I think I made the worst decision of my life”. When he asked me to elaborate, I said I should’ve studied film and television.
   Six months later, there I was. But I didn’t know a thing. My attempt to have a structured, logical life collapsed as everyone else in the class knew how to do shot sizes and composition, while I was struggling to set up a light. What made it worse was that I simultaneously did a second year subject at the same time, making me feel even more behind and stupid. My stress levels shot up and I panicked. It was hell and I had made yet another wrong decision.
   What’s funny is that I had always thought of myself as a bad writer, a feeling that was a combination of my intense levels of self-hatred and one teacher who hated a piece of my writing. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great piece of writing, but that atrocious mark stuck with me. Especially seeing my friends always seemed to be shooting ahead of me. Their command of language was (and remains) so much more advanced than mine. The other day, my friend Holmes was on Family Feud and invited us all around to watch this “surreal abomination”. As I said to Finn, sometimes I forget the word for soup.
   But my marks had never really shown that. For writing, they had been consistently high. My feedback had also been very strong on the majority of my pieces, but for whatever reason, my brain was convinced that I’m a bad writer. So, I made a life decision based on an intense lack of self-confidence, which ended up resulting in actual bad marks and a reason to be less confidence. My brain is majestic in its stupidity.
   But now, even the basic structure of my film course is going to be ripped away. Because I’m about to graduate.
   I don’t deal well with change, and this is the biggest change of them all. My life is now my own and that’s fucking terrifying. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether to look for a job in writing or film or television or whether to go for a nice, simple retail job because that’s what I know.
   For the last year and a bit, I’ve been volunteering at my local op shop (a Salvation Army, yes, I know) to get a bit of experience. What began as a panic attack every other day has become something I’m actually fairly good at. I know how to do retail and so I don’t panic there. I could get a job in retail (probably). But what’s scary about that, is it’s comfortable and safe and I can see my entire life plan there. Working full time in a store, until I move out and live with Finn, maybe have some kids. I could easily see myself being comfortable and happy enough there. But do I really want that? Was doing those two degrees enough of a foray into creative industries for me to be satisfied? Especially as Finn gets to live his dream of making a game (which is wonderful).
   But the alternative of opening myself up to intense stress and criticism in writing and film is enough to make me feel the panic rise in my chest, for my instinct to run or make a joke about my stupid face to set in. Part of me wants really badly to pursue my dreams but the other, bigger part of me knows that I am not strong enough to do that. And I don’t know if I’ve ever put that into words. But there it is. For my mental health, it seems irresponsible to put myself through the suffering and intense hatred of pursuing an endeavour in creative arts. Why be sad every day when I could work in a simple retail job and just bury my subtle desire to do more? I’m not saying mental health is a barrier for everyone, but maybe, just maybe, it is for me.

   Because as I begin to enter the work environment, its ability to stop me is becoming more prevalent. Regardless of what I decide to do, I need to find a paying job, probably starting in retail, before I even consider what to do about that last paragraph panic. So I’m on JobSeeker from Centerlink. And in my first attempt, my case worker asked me if there were any “barriers” to me finding work. In the issue of full disclosure, I said Asperger’s. I know everyone says they’d never pick it, but I feel it. And she said can you tell Centerlink cause then we can offer you more help. I’d never told them because I like to be more than my mental illness, just like I’m more than my sexuality. She wasn’t being mean or cruel, she was actually really nice and did want to help me as much as she could because according to her, I seemed keen for work unlike a lot of other people she sees (maybe I should think of a career in acting next). But that description of Asperger’s as a barrier has stuck with me. Niggled away. Not in a way that’s comfortable. Because a realisation like that can be kinda nice sometimes, like when my counsellor said I’ll probably never stop having this sadness or feelings of self-hatred, but can take the power out of them. My counsellor didn’t offer a cure, just said that there was a problem that could be made better. But barriers? A barrier is something you try not to hit into, but which you forget about, only really becoming notable when you’re smashing headlong into it. And I’m a bad driver.
   And then the other day, I got summoned for jury duty. It’s something I’ve always been curious about (because c’mon, cool) and because I’m a bit like Lena Dunham’s character in Girls, always looking for some kind of life experience to write about (with results almost as destructive). But mum said you can probably get off cause of your Asperger’s. There’s a sting there. I like to think I’m normal, or to pretend I’m normal. But mental health never lets you forget that you’re different. Sometimes that’s a comfort. And sometimes it’s not.
   And as I prepare for the panic of job interviews and resumes and finding a place in this world, my feelings of difference and brokenness are surely to become even more skewed and chaotic.
   Which means you can expect a blog series. Probably. Literally this whole post was about how lazy I am at writing, but the last time I did a lengthy blog series was about when I first started dating Finn and all the changes that meant to how I think about myself. And I’m sure this is going to be even more apocalyptic. So come, grab a coffee and some marshmallows and warm yourself by the fire that is my broken brain. It’ll be fun.
   Short disclaimer to those unfamiliar with my blog: I write a lot about myself, unvarnished and honest. It can get dark, very, very dark but usually I try to turn it back around to find some light. This post, not so much, because it’s all up in the air. But next time maybe.
   Also, look forward to my annual NSV Awards coming roughly the week of December 18. They’re gonna be epic.
   Until the next time.

David Gumball-Watson 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Moments In The Woods

Hello all,
Becoming an adult begins when you realise that nothing is as simple as it appears. When you realise that the Universe and the people who live in it are complex, unfathomable beings which we can only ever truly understand a small part of. That someone who appears purely good or purely bad is probably a lot more nuanced than that. They contain multitudes, just as we do.
   It’s a difficult idea, particularly in a political culture as fraught as ours is currently. With a madman in the most powerful position in the world, the rhetoric against queer people and other minorities has grown even more terrifying and insidious than it ever has before. I had foolishly thought that this was just an American problem. Yes, it was devastating to witness and my heart went out to those heartbroken by the dangers Donald Trump has wrought, but I felt safe and a distance from my Australian landscape.
   But then Malcolm Turnbull decided to initiate the plebiscite, asking the whole country what they thought of two people in love getting married. Let’s put aside for a moment how ridiculous this whole concept is (it’s a non-binding vote unless the majority is a no, it’s a public vote on a minority issue, it’s none of your goddamn business if I choose to get married or not), because even though it’s stupid and short-sighted, it’s also more than that. Much more. It’s a truly painful moment for any queer person nationwide, because suddenly our lives are open to judgement yet again.
   One of the most insidious and depressing aspects of being gay in a homophobic society is the loss of safety. It’s all those moments you catch yourself, as Panti Bliss once put it. You try not to act too gay, just in case someone was watching. The longer you’re out, the easier it becomes to put that to bed. You’re just being paranoid, you tell yourself, as you panic a little when your boyfriend gives you a quick kiss goodbye on the train. He didn’t seem panicked, so it must be fine. But then as you walk down the platform, you worry that someone on the train is yelling at him now, or worse. You feel that guilt fester, and suddenly you realise it, you feel guilty for loving him. They have made you feel guilty and you hate yourself a little bit for it, because you’ve let them in.
   And as this plebiscite debate becomes more and more prominent in the public’s mind, then the hatred and the pain will continue. And when my boyfriend, Finn, reads this, he’ll say something that inspires me to look past the pain, but not everyone has someone they can turn to. There are people out there feeling alone, feeling that secret guilt, that private pain that comes from knowing that you’re lying to everyone around you about something fundamental to you. That is the true danger of this plebiscite. Of making a touchy minority issue into a subject of public debate. Because you never know when people are listening.
   I didn’t realise how much this debate was affecting me until the other day when I was watching Into The Woods. The Stephen Sondheim musical has always had a very special place in my heart after I dragged my partner to it in early 2015, and I cried my eyes out. It’s such a beautiful, complex story and I connected with its ideas of moral grey areas, the legacy parents leave for their children and the true darkness of the world that fairytales leave out. But what truly moved me was the song ‘No One Is Alone’. It takes place at one of the darkest moments in the film, just after the main characters have all lost so much, especially the young Jack and Red Riding Hood, whose mothers are both dead. In the song, The Baker and Cinderella try to comfort them, telling them that even though the world is dark and painful right now, there is light coming. Because no one is alone in the world. At the time, the song resonated with me because I had been feeling incredibly lonely. I had no-one to talk to about my film and television obsessions, especially seeing I had tried to force Finn into watching some of my favourites and he had hated them (chronicled in the painfully awkward Dial M For Movies series). And suddenly, in the middle of the cinema as ‘No One Is Alone’ began to play, I cried. I realised that I had to find a group of people who I could talk to about movies. And I did. That night, I found a film club, which I still go to every Sunday and see movies with. I talk passionately about these weird, obscure movies without judgement and it’s wonderful.
   The other day, I managed to get a copy of the original Broadway version of Into The Woods with a number of other DVDs. I was doing my usual trailer trash (putting in the discs and seeing if they have trailers) when I got to Into The Woods. It was the last one in the pile and I decided to start it up to see what the quality was like. I watched the whole 2 and a half hour film in one sitting. The Broadway version of the play is very different than the Disney film, and superior in almost every way. The jokes land harder, the themes are explored more completely, the characters are given added, more devastating depth and the songs are performed by experienced singers (and the Wolf is a boy!). The difference was breath-taking. And when I got to ‘No One Is Alone’ I cried again. I cried because the vocal performance was gorgeous, tender and heartbreaking.
   I cried because I’ll be leaving the University I’ve been going to for 5 years very soon, and the idea terrifies me.
   I cried because there seems to be too much pain in this world.
   I cried because even though I have so many friends and people who love me, I still get overwhelmingly depressed and lonely.
   I cried because that depression is so unbearable that it feels like I may never get out of it.
   I cried because I do get out of it, but I know that there are many others who can’t get out, whose sadness overwhelms them.
   I cried because this plebiscite and homophobic rhetoric will destroy lives.
   I cried because there are so many people who will never realise that they are not alone, that somewhere in the world, there are people waiting for them.
   I saw the rest of the play in tears, an emotional release I’d been needing for weeks. At the darkest of times, pop culture can help us see a way out. Find your Into The Woods. But I like Into The Woods because it argues that no one is inherently terrible. That moral grey areas exist all the time.
   That’s the saddest thing about this whole debate. Most people aren’t terrible. People with homophobic attitudes can be lovely people in other areas of their lives. Some gay people I’ve met are truly awful. Having a specific political standpoint (that I now need to add excluding the Nazis and other white supremacy groups is extremely depressing) doesn’t mean that our entirety is terrible. Because we contain multitudes that change over time. Someone who votes ‘no’ on that poll, might vote ‘yes’ in ten years time when their own child comes out to them. It’s very easy to be homophobic and racist to a concept, to a theory. But when you see your child come out, when you see the pain in their eyes, it’s so much harder to hate.
   So, as we go into this plebiscite and the anger and pain gets worse and worse and worse, I beg of people please be kind. Try to understand one another. Think about what your words mean.
   And to any young queer people reading this, please, please know that you are not alone. Know that the hate comes from broken people, who have nothing better to do with their time than to try to bring you down. You have to try and stand and push them off. You have to weather this storm, because no storm lasts forever. There is always the sun. There are always people waiting for you to find them. And once you do, you will never be alone again. Because no one, and I mean no one, is alone.
   What piece of pop-culture keeps you sane in this crazy world?


David Gumball-Watson

Friday, 7 July 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.3 The Edge Of Destruction

Hello all,
Welcome to the third installment of Walking In Eternity! How great was the season finale of this year's Doctor Who?! I absolutely loved it, and can't wait to review it, in the far, far distant future. With a renewed interest in the First Doctor, it looks like I've chosen the perfect time to start these reviews!
   It's a bit of an untraditional story today, but I hope you like reading my thoughts on it!

1.3 The Edge Of Destruction

2 episodes. Broadcast 8th – 15th February 1964. Written by David Whitaker. Directed by Richard Martin and Frank Cox.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are trapped in a malfunctioning TARDIS. What could have caused the ship to break down? And why is everyone acting so weird? Could the ship have been invaded by an alien presence?

It’s a good old-fashioned bottle episode as Doctor Who experimentation continues...
The most important thing to remember about Doctor Who at this stage of the series’ life is that the program makers haven’t quite figured out how to do this show yet, so we see them stumbling around in the dark, offering up potential directions the series could take. While that formula would eventually see The Daleks as Doctor Who at its most typical, it’s interesting to consider what the show would’ve been like had, say, ‘The Edge Of Destruction’ been a more popular story.
   While most modern day viewers tend to dismiss this as an inconsequential bit of filler, I’ve always had a great soft spot for it. That could be because it seems to fit into that most wondrous of TV traditions, the bottle episode. As I have discussed previously, I have a huge love for this kind of what appears to be a simpler kind of episode. Basically, the idea is you shove a small number of characters into a space, isolate them and watch the tensions ratchet up to fever pitch (Doctor Who’s ‘Midnight’ is one of the most recognisable examples, and it was something Seinfeld did all the time). While these episodes are cheaper to make (only one set means no hiring of set designers and only having the main characters means no need to pay extras), they are often incredibly difficult to pull off well. At their best, they are like mini theatre pieces, with their focus on character and story over flashy attention-grabbing scenes. At their worst, they’re dull and look cheap.
   So, how does Doctor Who’s example hold up? Surprisingly well. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. This is a strangely amateur-looking production with several shots weirdly out-of-focus and/or over exposed and the walls of the TARDIS looking like cardboard wobbling on a studio set. I know this was done on the cheap, but it’s so distracting it pulls you out of the story, especially as I am now studying film. And the ending is atrocious, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
   The problem here is that there’s actually a lot to love about this story. It has a nightmarish, eerie quality about it, with elements of danger lurking around every corner. The Doctor is yet again a monstrous figure, threatening to throw Ian and Barbara out of the ship when he suspects they’ve been possessed by an alien force. Susan is acting strangely, continually trying to stab Ian with a pair of (very phallic) scissors, before murdering a couch. The clocks melt, the lights go out and the tension just increases with every moment. And all of that weirdness works, coming across as terrifying and strange, like the Doctor Who version of a Twilight Zone episode. However, while The Twilight Zone is an anthology, what makes this story so effective is its use of continuity and the bond between characters.
   There are two all-time great scenes in The Edge of Destruction, both of which I’m reminded of when people dismiss this. The first features my beloved Barbara. There are a lot of reasons to love her. She’s the heart of the TARDIS crew, but also a stone-cold badass with a great hairstyle, but somehow always comes across as a consistent likable character. She keeps her head when things get crazy, so when she starts screaming, we know it’s about to get bad. While many argue that The Aztecs is Barbara’s shining moment, I’d argue that the real reason to love Barbara occurs in this story. Throughout, she’s calm yet firm, but then finally, the levy breaks. The Doctor threatens to throw her out of the ship and she delivers a blistering, unforgettable takedown of him. She reminds him that she and Ian didn’t ask to go on this journey yet they have consistently helped him and Susan, against the cave of skulls and the Daleks. Now, he wants to throw them out of the ship? He should get on his knees and thank them! It’s a great, fist-in-the-air moment, because it relies on continuity but does so in a way that develops character, but also because it’s the telling off the Doctor needed. If this were a modern drama, this would be the climax, but here it’s treated as another moment in this effectively creepy little story. If you don’t shout GO BARBARA after this story (which also sees her figure out the reason all this is happening), then you’re missing something.
   The second, more famous scene, sees the Doctor giving a monologue about the birth of a star. It’s a beautiful moment for William Hartnell (no fluffs!) and the most recognisable moment of Doctor-ishness so far. It’s also really well-written, informative and wonderfully staged and shot (the lighting is on-point there), so it ticks a lot of boxes.
   So, The Edge Of Destruction is moody, has two legitimately great scenes and wonderful performances, so why is it so hated? Well, apart from the shoddy production value, the story’s biggest flaw is the ending. This creepy, mood-piece happened because... the fast-return switch on the console got stuck. It’s infuriating and silly, making something creepy into a technical fault. It’s an annoyingly bad ending that leaves a bitter taste (almost, but not quite, redeemed by another sweet scene between Barbara and the Doctor).
   It’s hard to know what to make of this, especially seeing there isn’t a lot of Doctor Who stories one can compare it to. The bonkers first episode of the Second Doctor story ‘The Mind Robber’ comes close, but it’s interesting to think what the series could’ve been like had these sideways in times stories been more popular. It’s a weird story, but what can I say, I’ve always liked the weird ones.

Grade: B

Next time: The TARDIS crew meet Marco Polo and face off against the terrots of ancient China!

David Gumball-Watson

Monday, 19 June 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.2 The Daleks

Hello all,
Welcome to the second of my individual Doctor Who reviews! This time, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet the Doctor's most dangerous foes, the Daleks, for the very first time! It's a really interesting and exciting story, really showing the series coming into it's own and I hope you like reading my thoughts on it!
   A small note about when these reviews will be going up: I have no set time frame for this project, mainly going by when I get a chance to watch and review the stories. However, for the foreseeable future, these reviews will come out on a Monday, so make sure to check then!

1.2 The Daleks

7 episodes. Broadcast 21st December 1963 - 1st February 1964. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in a strange, petrified forest. Venturing into a metal city, they discover a terrifying adversary, the Daleks. But what do these monsters want, and why do they speak of horribly mutated creatures?

Put simply, the metal pepper pots made Doctor Who famous.
There's a few things guaranteed to get on a Doctor Who fan's nerves. One is referring to the Doctor as Dr Who (yes, while he may have been credited as that for pretty much the entire classic series, it is not his name as no-one in the show calls him that), the other is that Daleks aren't scary because you can escape them by climbing up stairs. In the show's later years, when it went from a national pride to a laughing stock, this was the one joke that always came up. And it's nonsense. But in some ways, it makes sense, because with very few exceptions (the fourth Doctor's Genesis of the Daleks and Seven's Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind), I don't think the Daleks are as scary as they are in their very first appearance.
   It's at the end of the effective first episode that sets up a number of mysteries and includes several memorable visuals, such as the petrified forest, the still-impressive model shot of the city, the strange metal surfaces. The characters find themselves separated and Barbara gets lost. Doors close behind her, and there's the sense that she's being closed in, trapped. And then she turns. What looks like a plunger lunges towards her. And she screams. It should be the silliest thing you've ever seen, but it's not. It's terrifying. It's a mix of Jacqueline Hill as Barbara's brilliant panic-stricken acting, the unique soundscape and the escalation of mystery that makes the scene work. It's perhaps the series' finest cliff hanger and is another example of the show at its most iconic in its early moments.
   In this story, the Daleks work perfectly. From their shouting rage communicating their absolute, as the Doctor puts, "dislike for the unlike", their inhuman, sleek design and their sheer monstrous, power, they are a true force to be reckoned with. While later stories will work towards expanding them (in numbers, types and back story), their natural mysteriousness paired with their pure hatred, make them a terrifying foe.
   Character wise, everyone in this story gets something to do. The Doctor creates chaos as he lies about the TARDIS having a broken fluid link because he wants to explore the city, but in doing so, puts them all at the mercy of the Daleks. At this stage of the series, the Doctor is as much of an antagonist as the Daleks, leaving Ian to be our action hero, which he does wonderfully. This is seen especially in the moment he confronts the Thals, the Daleks' opposite species. They're beautiful pacifists, which the TARDIS crew want to change. So, Ian makes one of the head Thals stand up to him by trying to kidnap one of the Thal women. It's an odd scene, one that is potentially a bit iffy depending on where you stand politically, but the story makes it work, arguing that pacifism can only stand so long before one has to make a stand.
   Susan helps the gang by recovering some radiation medicine from the TARDIS, running into the Thals and screaming a lot. Already her mysterious, alien nature from An Unearthly Child is gone and she's a screaming, panicky teenager. This will become more and more of a problem as her tenure on the TARDIS goes on. Not true for Barbara who gets to have a lovely little relationship with an attractive Thal and help to storm the Dalek city at the climax.
   While this is a wonderfully paced, exciting story, there are moments where it drags. Episode six feels like padding until the climax, while the Thals are just not very interesting, a problem that will continue whenever they turn up in later years. It makes you want a story that was just the TARDIS crew fighting the Daleks, but alas.
   However, what makes this serial work as well as it does, actually isn't the story at all, it's in the way it's made. It always looks polished and professional (even if you do have to look past the life-sized photos of Daleks in the background) and is gifted with one of the most memorable soundscapes of the series. The alien buzzing of the Dalek ship, the silence of the petrified forest, a whirlpool that seems to scream out in terror, it's a story meant to be heard as much as it is seen.
   Almost immediately after their first appearance, the Daleks were a hit, imitated in playgrounds all over Britain. Forever afterwards, the words Doctor Who and Dalek would be inextricably linked, the popularity of one tied to that of the other. We fans wouldn't have it any other way, especially when this entertaining, terrifying slice of science fiction exists with not a stairway in sight.
Grade: A-

Next time: The crew are trapped in the TARDIS and everyone goes a bit mad in one of the strangest Doctor Who stories ever!

Love and thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.1 An Unearthly Child

Hello all,
I know it's been a long time since posting, and I am hoping to write a post about what I've been up to shortly in the future, but in the meantime, I'd like to introduce a brand new series of posts for you all!
   As many people know, my favorite TV series of all time is the beloved, long-running science fiction series Doctor Who. Through over 50 years, it has been a wonderful slice of television joy and I count myself proudly as one of the people who has a wide knowledge of both the classic and the new series. Naturally, as we've been together for over three years now, I thought it time I introduce my partner, Finn, to the great joys of the series. But where to begin? With the new stuff? The fourth Doctor? The seventh Doctor? The Third? And then, I realised that the best place to start was at the very beginning! While I have done most of the stories, I have never done them in order, from the start. It was something I was saving for my bucket list, but why not knock it out now? So, for the foreseeable future, my partner and I will be slowly working through the great Doctor Who journey, while I post my thoughts on the stories up shortly after. I am also endeavoring to include some special coverage of some of the wide variety of Doctor Who spin-off media available, such as novels, comics and audio adventures. I look forward to seeing you on this journey, as I present the TARDIS key to you and invite you to take it!

1.1 An Unearthly Child

4 episodes. Broadcast 23rd November - 14th December 1963. Written by Anthony Coburn. Directed by Warris Hussein.

Synopsis: A pair of schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, are fascinated by their student, Susan's, odd behaviour. Unable to explain why, other than pure curiosity, they decide to visit her home. But the address she provided is an old junkyard. How could this possibly be where she lives? And could it have something to do with that angry old man guarding that oddly alive police box? After the Doctor kidnaps them and transports the TARDIS to the days of cavemen, he, Ian, Barbara and Susan must make fire or face a brutal death.

Isn't it iconic?
It's hard to imagine what it would've been like sitting down to this series 54 years ago, especially not after all that has happened since. But let's paint a picture for a moment. First, some context. The day Doctor Who was first broadcast would live down in history. It was the day JFK was shot and killed. The world was suddenly a very different, scarier place. The news told the story, the world was in shock. And then, a mere half-an-hour later, the opening bars of the Doctor Who theme began. The scariest, most alien sound anyone had ever heard. The world was changing, the tune seemed to say, why not find some comfort in this strange, wonderful little show?
   To the viewers back in the 60s, this represented a new beginning, something vastly different than they'd ever seen before. Ironically, the feeling is much the same to a modern day viewer. This isn't the Doctor Who we know either. There is no fun, likable central character. The first Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, is irascible, frustrating and oh, so very, very alien. Some might go so far as to call him unlikable, but that's exactly the point. This is a man who kidnaps his granddaughter's school teachers because they stumble upon his weird bigger-on-the-inside spaceship. A man who smokes a pipe. A man who almost kills one of the cavemen with a rock. The first Doctor is both young and old, grumpy yet with a twinkle in his eye. What early Doctor Who presents, particularly in its first season, is the story of an alien traveller who, through contact with the kindness of humanity, learns to be a little less horrible. It's only at the conclusion of that character arc that we begin to see a Doctor we recognise, but it's only early days yet.
   What's even stranger than the Doctor's behavior is that he's actually not the protagonist of the series. That role is undertaken by Ian and Barbara, the aforementioned kidnapped schoolteachers. They are the protagonists of the series, through whose eyes and experiences allow us to see this strange new world. They keep the Doctor and the stories grounded, ensuring that their very human, relatable reactions ensure something scary is still enjoyable.
   The story's adventure with the cavemen is not as fondly recalled as it's iconic opening episode, but it's here that we get to see the series' great strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses out of the way first; the cave politics are even more dull than they sound there, and the long scenes of the group just talking to one another are very odd. One could say that this is just a factor of the story not aging well, but as we shall see the rest of Doctor Who's first year doesn't really fall prey to this, so it must just be an odd writing choice. There are also moments when it looks a bit ridiculous, particularly when the TARDIS team run through a jungle that is clearly a back production with an extra waving some sticks in the actors' faces. That hasn't aged well.
   But the strengths! This is Doctor Who at its most nasty with a real sense of threat that being in such a dangerous situation provides for both the characters and the audience. It's seen in the constant mention of death or the prison cell where the gang is held up, filled with skulls and bones. This is an incredibly hostile, unpleasant environment. It's also a situation that plays up Ian and Barbara's kindness, allowing the Doctor to change as well. A key scene features the two stopping to help a man that had been chasing them, but who was wounded by a creature. The Doctor wants to leave the man, going so far as to grab a rock and almost drop it on the man's head, but Ian catches him, and scolds him. They have to help him, it's the right thing to do, the human thing. It's the beginning of change for the character, and it will happen a lot throughout this first year.
   Another key strength of this story is the dynamic between the characters. After only four episodes, we have a family established, with each character fulfilling a specific role. The Doctor, the alien presence who pushes the characters into unfriendly and unfamiliar circumstances; Ian, the action man and skeptic; Barbara (my dear beloved Barbara), the heart of the group, believing in the impossible; and Susan, the annoying, childlike audience stand-in.
   Ah, Susan. She's a character I really struggle with. In her first appearance, she's a mysterious, alien presence, very much the Doctor's granddaughter. When Barbara gives her a book on the French Revolution, she memorably flips through the pages, stating "that's not right!" It's such an unforgettably odd entrance, setting up great things for her character. But after such a mysterious entrance, she becomes the go-between for her grandfather and Ian and Barbara, settling disputes, but never actively being a very engaging character. It doesn't help that she has an annoying tendency to scream, cry and whine at the smallest things, but the big problem is she's just not very interesting. But that's a problem for another story.
   So, what to make of all this? I keep returning to that first ever episode and the way it's instantly iconic and atmospheric. A policeman walks through a junkyard, past an old police box. It buzzes, as if it's alive. But it couldn't possibly be. Could it? How wonderfully alien.
   Or later in the episode, when Ian and Barbara meet the Doctor in the junkyard, worried for Susan's wellbeing. They think he's trapped her in the box, so they push past him and open the doors into a massive, open, white space. Even when you know it's coming, as any person who watches this, even if they've never seen Doctor Who must, it's still awe-inspiring and unforgettable. As the ship departs and arrives on an alien planet, still in the form of a police box, one has to wonder did the creators of this little show know how iconic they were going to be? How this series would last for 54 years and is still going strong? How despite constant changes it still manages to be the same basic show? It seems impossible, but as anyone who loves Doctor Who knows, as soon as you hear those opening bars of the theme tune, you know that anything is possible.
"If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"

— The First Doctor

Grade: B

Next up: The Doctor meets his most dastardly foes in The Daleks!

David Gumball-Watson

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The NSV Awards 2016: Television

Hello all,
Yes, I'm a lazy person who hasn't done a blog post for ages, but it would be remiss of me to miss my awards, so regardless of their lateness, I hope you enjoy my TV awards for 2016!
   I don't think this ever seen as much TV in one year as I did in 2016. With 55 new series and 19 classic, it was a smorgasbord of seriously good television. However, 2016 was also the year I realised that my current model of doing television may not be the best way to do it. Currently, I do TV shows when they come to DVD and binge them, but increasingly in the age of Peak TV, some shows never come to DVD or when they do are far behind their US counterparts. It's a sizable issue in the industry, and especially for a weird TV obsessive like me who compiles year-end lists which would be more suited to 2015 than 2016. So, in 2017, I will be changing my mode of viewing to something more manageable. Hopefully, it works out. Maybe I'll have time for even more. Who knows.
  But enough about my life goals, what about this list? In 2016, TV became even more of an escape for me, and many of the shows on this list are representative of that goal. In the age of Trump and Pulse, dark, bleak TV is beginning to lose its appeal. It's like the problem House Of Cards is going to have in 2017. Why the hell would we watch Frank Underwood and his murderous schemes when the real-life alternative is significantly scarier? The most endearing shows on this list are those that may be bleak, but are also hopeful, or which are just pure fun. This is the year I gave into fun TV.
   Like the previous few years, I also completed a number of classic series (shows that are finished but which I'm finally getting around to watching), but I have decided to make them ineligible for my list. For the record, I completed three more seasons of The Simpsons (meaning I am sadly approaching the end of the so-called golden age) and started The Venture Bros., Soap, The Wonder Years, The Powerpuff Girls, Touched By An Angel, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Sealab 2021 and finished Seinfeld and The Legend Of Korra. Of those, The Simpsons was the most likely to make the main list, as it continued to be both a funny and penetrating insight into a world with lovable characters and iconic plots. In 2017, I am planning to catch up with Mad Men, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Batman: The Animated Series, The Fairly OddParents, The Avengers and Community.
   As 2016, was such an incredible year, I would like to nominate just a few series which I think were great, but just missed out being on this list, which you can check out after number 1. So, without further ado, I present my top TV shows of 2016!

HM. Stranger Things
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 1 (Season 1 viewed)
Despite being a slice of glorious 80s-esque entertainment, Stranger Things' first season never really seemed as great as the hype that surrounded it. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to love here (the soundtrack, Winona Ryder's performance, some memorable imagery, Eleven), but I think the downsides really pulled me out of it. The decision to kill off the most relatable character left a bad taste in my mouth that was hard to shake and there was a lot of unanswered questions which on a first viewing feels like poor writing. However, there's no denying that this is entertaining, I just think it could've been so much more.

20. Class
Status: Ongoing (?)
No. Of Seasons: 1 (Season 1 viewed)
With minimal promotion (I initially missed the first two episodes simply because I didn't know it was going to be on) and a confusing target audience (it's a Doctor Who spin-off seemingly aimed at teenagers, but the gore and level of violence is shocking), Class seems destined to be forgotten. That's a real shame, because this might just be one of the most radical shows on television. Featuring a wonderfully diverse cast (including an adorable yet complicated gay couple) and brimming with brilliant ideas, it's both seriously entertaining and thought-provoking. While it could easily benefit from a lot of extra episodes (these are complex characters), when it works, it works brilliantly. The episode focussing on Ms. Quill is one of the best of the year, filled with beautiful shots and ideas, while the finale is both satisfying and making me desperate for a second season that may never come. Even if it doesn't, I'm glad the BBC took a chance on such a unique and wonderful series. Watch it!

19. Mom
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 2 viewed)
Mom is always going to be an overlooked series. It's a show that deals with three generations of recovering alcoholics from the makers of Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, backed with an irritating laugh track. But to skip over this series is to miss something exceptional. Firstly, it stars Allison Janney and Anna Faris, so there's some serious talent already. But what makes this show so good, is that it's a comedy that's not afraid to go dark, as the show's second season (which I caught up with this year) attested to. One of the characters falling off the wagon doesn't sound like the stuff of great sitcoms, but Mom transcends that by making it both heartbreaking and hilarious. I'm reminded of the scene where one of the character has to make amends for all the lies she's told. She is sorry but commends herself on telling them so well, because "doing something well is its own reward." It's a sad line, but it's hopeful, just like the show itself.

18. Orange Is The New Black
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 3 viewed)
With every passing year, Orange Is The New Black seems to grow more controversial. While I have yet to catch up on the fourth season, the third season clearly showed there was room for improvement. Piper remains one of the most annoying characters on television and the show lacked a clear endgame. But this remains a character-driven show and when it remembers that, it's unparalleled. The third season's final 10 minutes are easily the most beautiful scenes this year, showing a rare glimpse of hope, soon to be taken over by hellish new conditions. On the basis of that sequence alone, Orange Is The New Black justifies it's place on this list.

17. Fargo
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
Fargo's second season was a masterpiece. It's a complex mediation on fate and choice and features aliens and gun fights and chases. It features great performances from the likes of Ted Danson and Kirsten Dunst and Bokeem Woodbine, but it also left me feeling a little cold. It left me at an emotional remove and I'm not entirely sure why. It's a great show and you should all watch it, but it's one that has left me more bewildered than anything else. Maybe I need to re-watch it someday in the future, but for the moment, this remains in the great but odd section.

16. Hannibal
Status: Cancelled
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 3 viewed)
The cancellation of Hannibal remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of television, but after viewing the third season, I have mixed emotions about a desire for it to come back. The first half of the season gave into the show's most artful impulses, which made for some beautiful (albeit horrific) imagery, but was so dreamlike that it was often hard to keep up with what was actually happening and what was fantasy. While the second half picked it up masterfully, I understand why some viewers were turned off by it. And any wish of a fourth season was kinda neglected by the end of the final episode which puts a beautiful (albeit violent) end to the key relationship in the show, that of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. That said, the idea of a fourth season with Ellen Page as Clarice Starling, makes me want it back. Even if it never does come back, Hannibal leaves an incredible legacy as the most artfully violent, beautifully murderous show ever made.

15. Better Call Saul
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
After a strong first season (coming in at fifth in last year's list), Better Call Saul expanded its focus, making for another stellar season. The expanded focus on the trials and tribulations of Rebecca made for some of the most gut-wrenching television of the year, while giving more to Mike and Hank is always a good idea. However, the real reason to watch this show is to witness the sad yet oddly thrilling descent of Jimmy McGill, shown most clearly when he doctors one of Hank's documents in a glorious, lengthy montage set to Little Barrie's 'Why Don't You Do It'. It's thrilling and quietly sad in equal measure.

14. Parks And Recreation

Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 7 (Season 7 viewed)
I didn't really want to say goodbye to the people of Pawnee. For seven seasons, they made me laugh and cry and become swooningly romantic and wormed their way into my heart. Leslie Knope, the great feminist icon and waffle obsessive. Ron Swanson, the gruff softie and breakfast obsessive. April and Andy, the couple that should never have worked, but eventually became one of the screen's greatest pairings. And that's just the tip of the iceberg (love you Tom, Donna, Gerry, Ann, Ben, Chris). But what a sweet goodbye this ended up being. Propelling the show forward a couple of years was a genius ideas, allowing us to have Leslie and Ron's sweet fight and reconciliation, and allowing all of the characters to have a happy ending. While that can sometimes seem cheap (looking at you Glee), Parks And Recreation made it the perfect reward for all their hard work and well-earned character development. So, while I will miss them terribly, we'll always have the wonderful memories and the happiness they all brought. Especially Little Sebastian.

13. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 1 viewed)
One of the most fun shows I watched this year, Kimmy Schmidt is just a burst of happines. Which is odd considering the premise. A woman finally breaks out of an underground apocalypse cult and makes her life anew with relentless optimism and outdated pop culture references. It could easily be a dark prestige drama on HBO, but Netflix has made this one of the most uplifting and funny shows on TV, with just the right amount of underlying sadness. Unfortunately, the show was embroiled in controversy after the second season (which I've yet to see and makes me wary), but I can't wait to see more of fun characters like Titus Andromeda (his song 'Peeno Noir' is one of the funniest things you'll ever see).

12. Please Like Me
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 3 viewed)
For four seasons now, Please Like Me has been the greatest representation of queer lives and mental illness currently airing. While I'm a season behind, the show's third season was arguably the show's best since it started. With Josh in a relatively stable relationship with Arnold, the show was able to explore depression and social akwardness in a truly moving way. These characters aren't defined by their sexuality or their mental illness, but by their connection. While it ended in a devastating Christmas episode that broke my heart, no show I've seen has understood the pain of being an outsider as much as this one.

11. Jane The Virgin
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 1 viewed)
I've been hearing about Jane The Virgin for a few years now, but I was still shocked by how much I loved this show. It's a story about family and friendship and love, but with plot twists galore, making for a truly packed season. Gina Rodriguez is wonderful as the virginial Jane who never comes across as pious, but as warm and human, but the show's true secret weapon is the narrator. The Latin Lover's welcomes us back to this world, acting like a viewer, invested in the characters and shocked at the outrageous twists. He makes the show so inviting that it's frequently difficult to leave, and makes this one of the most addictive and entertaining shows on TV.

10. The Killing Season/Hitting Home
Status: Stand-Alone Documentary Series'
This pair of documentaries hosted by Sarah Ferguson was some of the most brilliant television of the year, cementing the ABC presenter as one of this country's finest journalists. What's amazing is that they're completely different. The Killing Season is an awe-inspiring autopsy of the Labor government in-fighting that led to the frustrating flip-flop between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. With access to many of the key figures (including both Rudd and Gillard), no-one comes across looking particularly well, but it does give an incredible amount of insight into the chaos of politics, which eventually led to the election of Tony Abbott.
   However, it's Hitting Home that's the real reason Sarah Ferguson should be cherished. In just two episodes, she examines the domestic abuse crisis in Australia with devastating clarity. Through interviews, we get to see the bravery and suffering victims of domestic abuse have managed to overcome. It's a series that is both infuriating (listening to the men justify their crimes is horrific, but it's also insightful) and utterly, utterly soul-destroying. While the story of one woman killed by her boyfriend is heartbreaking, the film's most unbearably sad moment is a woman telling the story of what her boyfriend did to her and having to stop, overcome by tears. She cries "how could you do this to someone you love?" In that line, we see years of hurt and the core of what makes this such a devastating epidemic, and even now, I find myself becoming overcome with emotion. No series this year was more penetrating or heartbreaking, and we should thank the stars for Sarah Ferguson's compassion and these women's bravery in coming forward to truly show that this crisis needs to be over. Essential viewing.

9. Mr. Robot
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 1 viewed)

This year, I finally got around to watching Fight Club, but I found it incredibly frustrating. It was a rant about consumerist culture and gender roles, but seemed to play into some of the ideas it was trying to fight against. It was brilliant from a stylistic point of view, but it comes across as hollow. In a lot of ways, Mr. Robot is like Fight Club: the TV series, and that's both a blessing and a curse. It, too, came across as empty ranting, especially in its first few episodes, but where Mr. Robot succeeds, is its emphasis on character. The centre of the story is a man who tries desperately to do good, to take down soulless capitalism, but who must fight against his own mind in order to do so. The moment we realise just how deeply messed up Rami Malek's character is, is absolutely devastating, in a way that Fight Club's uber-cool attitude would never provide. While I'm not sure how long the show can do this balancing act, as long as it maintains its focus on character, it makes this show brave, moving and incredibly addictive.

8. Rick And Morty
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
Rick And Morty's first season was an excellent, wonderfully clever science-fiction series that was also deeply, incredibly bleak. It's most memorable scene featured a character stating that "Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV." It established itself as the most bleakly funny series currently airing and the show's second season does nothing to challenge that opinion. If anything, it doubles down on it, with at least one moment in every episode that is so relentlessly depressing that it took my breath away. While this could make this show challenging, it also made it wonderful, especially in those moments where we can laugh through the darkness, or be amazed at the show's brilliant approach to science fiction. While other shows treat it as a background detail, Rick And Morty delves into clever concepts with wild abandon, demonstrated most memorably this season by 'Total Rickall' (an episode that introduces many memorable characters and ends on a surprisingly shocking moment of true darkness). But it's the character details and the bleak realisations about these people's fucked up lives that make the most impression, ensuring that the show's exceptional, deeply sad final moments, aptly set to Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt' are some of the most memorable I watched all year.

7. Penny Dreadful
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Season 2 viewed)
Penny Dreadful's first season was a frustrating mix of good ideas paired with terrible ones. It had a strong premise (famous literary characters such as Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray meet up and fight beasties), looked gorgeous (as any horror series set in the 18th century should), was gifted with a very good cast (the likes of Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, Josh Hartnett and especially Eva Green), but often fell prone to its own storytelling (a supposed 'twist' was signposted too strongly and left and bad taste in the mouth) and an inability to develop its characters beyond their stereotypes. In its second season something miraculous happened. It became incredibly gruesome, but also really, really fun and easy to watch. This was a horror show, yet it was easy to set back and enjoy being grossed out by it.  But then, something even more incredible happened. Penny Dreadful decided to care about its characters, revealing layers and layers of emotion to them. These are flawed, monstrous characters, yet they still crave love, even though they know they don't deserve it. It's a desire they all express at one point or another, but the variations on the idea are beautifully done, making even the most loathsome character sympathetic and vulnerable.
    It helps that the cast is truly incredible. This has always and always will be the Eva Green show. As the conflicted Vanessa Ives, she can show pain or joy with the most subtle movement, or the slightest inflection in her voice. She's a heartbreaking character but Eva Green transforms her into something so watchable. However, the actor that really astonished me was Billie Piper. She was arguably one of the first season's weaker elements, saddled with an unconvincing accent and a dull romance plot, but her rebirth triggers something in her character. Her monologue in 'Memento Moria' (the show's best episode to date, and it doesn't even feature Eva Green) solidified this show's place on this list; a well-written, devastating, angry and terrifying scene, performed by Billie Piper as if her life depended on it. While I have yet to see the show's third season, on the basis of this show's second year, I don't think I've ever seen a show pull off such an incredible recovery. It transformed from something messy to something beautiful, complex and one of the best shows on television.

6. Rectify
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 3 viewed)
No show on television was quite like Rectify. It's a crime mystery that isn't all that invested in finding out the truth about the crime. Instead, it does something far more radical, it slows down the pace and allows you to get into these character's heads, to really, truly know them. In its third season, Rectify pared down its focus even more strongly, focussing on the connections between the Holden family as Daniel makes a choice about his future, and it allowed for some of the most beautiful, subtle storytelling going around. This is a show not afraid to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate the beauty of dust dancing in the sunlight. But more than that, it's one of the most moving character studies ever made, most notably demonstrated by a devastating final exchange between Tawney and Daniel in the season finale 'The Source' which was thrilling and left tears streaming down my face. With the fourth and final season now finished, I am looking forward to it, knowing that it will undoubtedly be a bittersweet experience, but a very, very rewarding one.

5. American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson
Status: Ongoing (as anthology)
No. Of Seasons: 1 (Season 1 viewed)
As the OJ Simpson trial began two months before I was born, I had less expectations of this show than others may have. Don't get me wrong, I did do some quick research on the trial, but nothing can compare to the sheer iconic nature of the case. I was only aware of the car chase because of the Seinfeld parody and didn't have as much vehement hatred for Marcia Clark as those who waited patiently for a seemingly obvious verdict. But what's fascinating about this series is what it manages to accomplish. It manages to tell a story about race, gender, justice and celebrity in a complex, detailed way without forgetting about character. It transforms these iconic figureheads into real people, especially Marcia Clark. As portrayed by Sarah Paulson, she's a stunning character, a woman who was passionate about her job but was thrust into a harsh and unforgiving spotlight. The haunting, unforgettable 'Marcia, Marcia, Marcia' is a powerful examination of gender and the expectations on women, which will forever change the way you hear 'Kiss From A Rose'. However, The People V. O.J. Simpson's greatest achievement is the fact that it refuses to provide any answers. We can see that O.J. Simpson is (probably) responsible but the case became far more about his race and celebrity status than it was about the actual crime. It made for a haunting, unforgettably sad true crime series.

4. Steven Universe
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4 (Season 1 viewed)
Speaking of stunning character work, Steven Universe is arguably the strongest cartoon on television. On a first viewing, it's a fun, pastel coloured, summer-y series that goes by at a breeze. But the cumulative effect is stunning as the series' true colours are revealed as one of the most quietly subversive shows on TV. It challenges gender and sexuality stereotypes at every stage. Steven, the lead character, is adorable and quite unlike any other male character on TV, strong yet emotional and with a strong core of happiness. Garnet is incredible and whose entire existence only occurs because two female characters love one another. Amethyst is fun, yet hides a sadness. But it's Pearl who is the most complex character. Initially, she comes across as bossy and kind of annoying, but as the show goes on, we learn who she really is and it's deeply moving and queer positive. Even some of the side stories are centred around queer themes (as the existence of the very cool Stevonnie attests to), making this one of the most proudly and wonderfully queer shows on TV. It's subversive in a way that doesn't call attention to itself and for that it's truly inspiring.

3. Broad City
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3 (Seasons 1-2 viewed)
No show in 2016 made me laugh as much as Broad City. Abbi and Illana are two New York women. Both are pot-smokers and in their twenties and enjoying life, despite being very different. They find themselves on strange quests, like getting money for a Jay-Z concert by any means necessary or trying to work out who pooped in someone's show when the power got cut, or retrieving a letter from the creepy Garol on an isolated island. And they made me laugh till I cried, every single episode. There's so many memorable moments that it's hard to pick just one, even in the weakest episodes. However, the show's shining moment so far has to be the second season episode 'Knockoffs', which initially seems centred around a dirty joke but eventually reveals itself to be more concerned with the different ways people find sexual pleasure. But that's secondary to the sheer number of jokes this show packs in to its short twenty minute episodes. This is one the funniest, yet warmest and filthiest shows on TV. It's also one of the very best.

2. The Knick
Status: Who Knows? (But probably finished)
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Season 2 viewed)
The Knick seems destined to fall through the cracks. It's first season was celebrated as the return of Steven Soderbergh: auteur and as an uber-violent and disturbing period medical drama. Like if Grey's Anatomy was set in the early 1900s and had the violence turned up to 11. But in its second season, premiering in very late 2015 (too late for many awards lists), the show deepened, expanded and became even more bleak and beautiful.
   After overcoming his drug addiction, The Knick's second season shows Dr. Thackery working at the peak of his skills and it's often exhilarating to watch, but his is a dark and disturbing world, one where characters you like can drop dead due to inappropriate medical procedures. Nothing feels safe when you watch The Knick and that's a thrilling place to be. A lot of that has to do with Steven Soderbergh's incredible direction, complemented perfectly by Cliff Martinez's anachronistic electronic score, full of instantly iconic themes and moments.
    There's the moment where a man preaches hate while the camera circles around him, the score like a thrilling heartbeat, before the Theremin comes in, transforming a disturbing scene into one of the greatest moments of the year. The moment we learn one of the show's most likable characters has betrayed his friend in a brutal and distressing way. Or the cold, crushingly brilliant finale that somehow doubles down on the hell that had been, leaving the more likable characters broken and defeated and the hateful characters successful. And it all culminates in one of the most shocking moments of television I've ever witnessed, the death of a main character portrayed with such weight and depth that it's impossible to shake long after you've watched it. While this leaves it difficult for a third season (although Soderbergh wants to do one, there has been no news for months, and though I cling onto hope, it's fading fast), it made for a thrilling, near perfect ten episodes which should be commended for being truly like nothing else on television.

1. The Leftovers
Status: Finishing
No. Of Seasons: 2 (Seasons 1-2 viewed)
The Leftovers is one of the most controversial shows on television. People have called it misery porn, something that is too difficult and emotionally draining to watch. But I ask the question, surely you knew what you were getting into. The premise of the show is that one day, with no warning 2% of the world's population just disappeared, without a trace, leaving those that's left to deal with this unimaginable trauma in any way that they can. Of course it's sad. This is a show that is about trauma and faith and the desperate need to find hope in a situation where none looks forthcoming. But that's what makes The Leftovers such a brilliant and timely show. Because it's easily the most devastating program currently airing, but it's also one of the most hopeful and quietly profound, as these characters find a way forward. It's cast is unbelievably talented, such as Carrie Coon's Nora (a woman who lost her entire family in the Departure and slowly comes to terms with it and find a new life for herself) is the show's most exceptional character, while Paul Theroux, Ann Dowd, Amy Brennan all play beautifully rendered characters. The storytelling is simple, yet richly symbolic as each episode is filled with tragic little moments or thrillingly tense confrontations, all scored by Max Richter's impeccable, poignant music. No show made me cry more or made me believe in hope for a better future. Because if these broken, desperate people can find connections and a way to move forward, then maybe we can to.

And, some of the other shows I watched this year:
How To Get Away With Murder s1: It's first season was flawed, but Viola Davis more than made up for it with a stunning central performance. The show's second season (which I have just finished) was an incredible step-up, making it an early contender for the awards this time next year.
The 100 s1-3: I get the love for it, but too often it goes for shock over character dynamics to be truly effective. The central death of the third season was understandable but still an almost fatal mistake.
Inside Amy Schumer s1-2: Liking Amy Schumer is not the most popular thing nowadays, but her sketch show was a funny, occasionally cutting examination of gender roles and expectations.
Grey's Anatomy s11: It's eleventh season was flawed, especially in its handling of the major death at the season's conclusion. Apparently it has led to a new renaissance for the show, so that bodes well for this long-running series.
Show Me A Hero: An incredible examination of power, politics and race, it deals with similar themes to the superior The People V. O.J. Simpson, and the focus on Oscar Isaac's character was done at the expense of the more interesting minor characters. It's final scenes, set to Bruce Springsteen's 'Lift Me Up' are almost unbearably powerful though.
Catastrophe s1: This fun British comedy was entertaining (with a scene-stealing performance from Carrie Fisher) and clever, but at six half-hour episodes, also felt a little slight.
Bloodline s1: A strong Ben Mendelsohn performance and menacing tone can't save this series from a bloated length and snail's pacing.
UnREAL s1: It's a clever satire of shows like The Bachelor, but for all it's good work, it's middle-section is ludicrous, and the show never quite recovers. Constance Zimmer is mesmerising in this, though.
Orphan Black s4: The show's fourth season is it's best since the first with an increased focus on Sarah, leading the series to its final bow which should be excellent.
American Horror Story s3: I finally, finally finished Coven, which was fascinating and entertaining, but eventually fell prey to its impulse to kill off characters, only for them to come back shortly after, sapping away a lot of the tension.
Regular Show s4-5: In the show's fourth and fifth season, Mordecai and the series grew up, making for some fascinating storytelling.
The Girlfriend Experience s1: A love it or hate it experience, I happened to fall into the latter category. The potential for this to be a good show is there, yet it seems content to be vague, frustrating and pretentious. One of my most infuriating viewing experiences of the year.
The Goldbergs s1: The show that came closest to being on this list, this was a deliriously entertaining, 80s infused slice of pure, candy-coloured fun. It doesn't do anything new, but hits those tried and true notes so well that I couldn't help but love it anyway.
The Walking Dead s6: It's like an abusive lover. You want to leave, but occasionally it'll pull you back with a moment of greatness, before ripping everything good away, making you hate yourself for putting up with its shit. If I hadn't sat through six seasons, I would be giving up, but I feel like I've wasted too much time to give up now. For those considering starting it, I have one word of advice: don't.
Angie Tribeca s1: A very silly comedy series starring Rashida Jones, this endlessly quotable and bonkers series is like Flying High!: the series. Everyone I've shown this to loves it and you will too.
The Night Of: This crime series started off so well, but focussed on the wrong characters (why the straight white male with eczema, when Naz's family is so much more interesting) and made so many dumb moves. Worth it for some great insights about the justice system, but they get buried by the frustration that this could've been much better.
Scream Queens s1: Look, it's terrible, but I kind of loved it anyway. Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Billie Lourd, Jamie Lee Curtis and Glen Powell are wonderful, but it's often stupid and has too much of a fondness for its characters (kill some of them off, dammit!). Still, it's good for campy entertainment.

And, there you have it, my best TV of 2016! Hope you agreed with my choices, or found some fun new shows. I am hoping to eventually get around to doing a similar post but with anime, so expect that before the end of January. Hope you've all been good, talk soon.
David Gumball-Watson