PA­TRICK FREYNE

And with an en­nui-filled wave of my cig­a­rette holder, I present the best TV shows of 2017, so far

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TheHand­maid’s Tale Chan­nel 4

Based on a book ( My Plan for Amer­ica by Mike Pence), The

Hand­maid’s Tale imag­ines things that were done to women around the world and through­out his­tory be­ing car­ried out in a dystopian 21st-cen­tury Amer­ica. Of­fred (the bril­liant El­iz­a­beth Moss) is a hand­maiden, a forced sur­ro­gate and slave for a high­rank­ing mem­ber of the new regime, Fred (hence “of-Fred”), and the hor­rific new real­i­ties she ex­pe­ri­ences are in­ter­cut with flash­backs to her life in the present day.

Okay, The Hand­maid’s Tale is ac­tu­ally adapted from Mar­garet At­wood’s ex­cel­lent 1980s novel of the same name (At­wood has a cameo) and was al­ways likely to be great, but given the fact that its broad­cast co­in­cides with a misog­y­nis­tic new Amer­i­can lead­er­ship that want to curb re­pro­duc­tive rights, it has been cursed with a chill­ing time­li­ness.

Spring­watch BBC2

A beau­ti­fully filmed daily ex­posé of what ab­so­lute bas­tards an­i­mals are. The BBC puts its li­cence fee to good use, as Michaela Stra­chan and Chris Pack­ham and as­sorted boffins use hid­den cam­eras and sci­en­tific ex­per­tise to stitch up can­ni­bal­is­tic birdies, freeload­ing pine martins and shame­less furry sex pests who gen­er­ally spend their days wreck­ing the gaff and hav­ing ab­so­lutely no re­spect for any­one or any­thing.

Frankly this would be pruri­ent tabloid-ma­te­rial if it wasn’t so im­por­tant for us to know what ab­so­lute shitheels owls are. My only quib­ble is that there should be a bit where in each episode the pre­sen­ters con­front the delin­quent crit­ters with their ter­ri­ble be­hav­iour. So that we could, for ex­am­ple, see a badger hold its head in its paws in shame, as Pack­ham says: “And here you are, hav­ing a shit in a field, you big fluffy mup­pet.”

Le­gion Fox UK

My favourite crap su­per­hero is The Red Bee, a DC char­ac­ter who fought crime dressed as a bee and didn’t have any su­per­pow­ers, ex­cept for a bee, named Michael, who he kept in a pouch. You couldn’t make it up. Un­less you are the cre­ators of The Red Bee, in which case you did make it up. Well done.

My point is, there are end­less num­bers of mi­nor su­per­heroes and I in­creas­ingly greet the news of tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tions with an en­nui-filled wave of my cig­a­rette holder. But Le­gion cre­ator Noah Haw­ley fully em­braces the comic-book weirdness, rather than, as some have done, try­ing to mine the idea of a man in a rub­ber suit for kitchen-sink re­al­ism or bar­gain-base­ment post­mod­ernism.

Haw­ley’s hero is the institutionalised, men­tally ill, telekinet­i­cally pow­er­ful David Haller (his dad is Pro­fes­sor X but he doesn’t make a thing of it) and this con­ceit gives Haw­ley an ex­cuse to move from exquisitely filmed pos­si­ble hal­lu­ci­na­tions to op­er­at­i­cally chore­ographed set pieces. It’s a David Cro­nen­berg/ Wes An­der­son/Jack Kirby-evok­ing mon­ster mash that some­how stays dra­mat­i­cally co­her­ent, wit­tily self-aware and emo­tion­ally po­tent as it ex­plores the na­ture of the self. Like Haw­ley’s other great TV pro­gramme Fargo,

Le­gion isn’t quite like any­thing else. Roll on his adap­ta­tion of The

Red Bee (his next mini-se­ries is ac­tu­ally a ver­sion of Kurt Von­negut’s Cat’s Cra­dle).

Daniel and Ma­jella’s B&B Road­trip RTÉ1

And so, we join the fa­ther of our na­tion, Daniel O’Don­nell, a twinkly-eyed elfin be­ing of ethe­real calm and nice V-necks, and his no-non­sense con­sort Ma­jella, an eye-rolling reser­voir of in­fi­nite pa­tience and good slacks, on their se­cond tour of Ire­land’s most holy sites: B&Bs. They’re all built on ley lines, I’m told. Any­way, this pro­gramme is so in­trin­si­cally Ir­ish that those not ha­bit­u­ated to our cul­ture can’t even see it.

“Your tele­vi­sion is bro­ken,” they say. “It’s just all these weird shapes and wavy lines!” Ha! Those “weird shapes” are Daniel and Ma­jella and those wavy lines we just call “rain”. You don’t get it be­cause you haven’t spent enough time in God’s Coun­try (the Mid­lands) and pos­si­bly be­cause you had the English sta­tions grow­ing up. Some tea, Daniel, you lovely lump?

Master of None Net­flix

In the cur­rent sea­son, Aziz An­sari’s warm-hearted, stylis­ti­cally in­ven­tive ex­plo­ration of love, fam­ily and food takes a few tan­gents to tell stand­alone Alt­manesque sto­ries about race and sex­ual pref­er­ence and Italy and dat­ing. An­sari is ba­si­cally Louis CK, but with hope. If you don’t like Master of None, you prob­a­bly have no soul. In which case you might like . . .

Rick and Morty Net­flix and Fox UK

Dan Har­mon and Justin Roi­land’s an­i­mated high-con­cept sci-fi show about an amoral mad sci­en­tist and his hap­less fam­ily makes a pretty solid case for “life” ex­ist­ing in a soul­less uni­verse spi­ralling mean­ing­lessly to­wards en­tropy. Who knew ni­hilism could be funny? So far this year, it’s come back for one soli­tary episode that re­solves the plot points from sea­son two in a de­press­ing yet hi­lar­i­ous man­ner (the rest of the se­ries re­sumes later in the sum­mer).

Bro­ken BBC1

Jimmy Mc­Gov­ern brings us an emo­tion­ally drain­ing drama about poverty and faith and sur­viv­ing abuse. It fea­tures, among others, Sean Bean as a trou­bled but com­pas­sion­ate priest and Anna Friel as an emo­tion­ally bruised mother driven to des­per­a­tion by a cruel wel­fare sys­tem. Suf­fice it to say, it is not a laugh riot but a heart­break­ing in­dict­ment of the Tory party’s war on the poor. I’m sur­prised that in the in­ter­ests of bal­ance the BBC wasn’t forced to cre­ate an­other pro­gramme, pos­si­bly helmed by Ju­lian Fel­lowes, in which the desti­tute wel­come penury with clog-danc­ing, hat-doff­ing glee.

Glow Net­flix

At the out­set of Glow, our POV pro­tag­o­nist Ruth (Ali­son Brie), a fail­ing ac­tor, bemoans the lack of good roles for women in an au­di­tion se­quence. Glow has at least 14 great roles for women. This fic­tion­alised ac­count of the real 1980s wrestling phe­nom­e­non Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling is a char­ac­ter­ful, feel­good com­edy drama in which our plucky hero­ines and their be­nignly sleazy sven­gali (Marc Maron) at­tempt to put on a show in grandpa’s barn (or, as it turns out, the pro­ducer’s mother’s ball­room). There’s be­trayal, drug use, a re­fresh­ingly un­fussy abor­tion plot, wrestling trivia, se­cret chil­dren, more drug use, sweet wrestling moves, friend­ships, a charis­matic in­fant and un­ex­pected tri­umphs against ad­ver­sity – much like a good wrestling match.

Or­phan Black New episodes of the fi­nal se­ries are cur­rently up­loaded weekly to Net­flix

The grip­ping and in­ven­tive

Or­phan Black also has a lot of good roles for women, although Ta­tiana Maslany has hoarded most of them for her­self as part of a ne­far­i­ous one-woman cast­ing mo­nop­oly, or pos­si­ble tax-scam. She plays at least 11 phys­i­cally iden­ti­cal but tem­per­a­men­tally dis­tinct clones at the cen­tre of a vast and grip­ping neo-Dar­winian con­spir­acy. Frankly, it’s eas­ier for me to be­lieve that they’re real

Chill­ing time­li­ness: El­iz­a­beth Moss as Of­fred in The Hand­maid’s Tale

clones than that Maslany is that good. Cloning for the pur­poses of tele­vi­sion drama is the sort of thing the fail­ing MSM would cover up, as you know.

Search Party All4

Young people! Look at the cut of them with their ever-to-hand smart phones and their low-paid in­tern­ships and their pop-up bur­rito bars and their deep un­hap­pi­ness and their am­a­teur in­ves­ti­ga­tions into miss­ing per­sons and their dis­turb­ing af­fairs with trou­bled mid­dleaged detectives. Search Party ini­tially ap­pears to satir­i­cally an­no­tate the lives of en­ti­tled New York­ers be­fore veer­ing into some­thing darker and more trou­bling, as its an­ti­heroine, Dory (Alia Shawkat), ob­sesses over a mys­tery that may or may not be any of her busi­ness. The best US shows nowa­days shoe­horn se­ri­ous con­cerns into in­ven­tive comedic for­mats (ev­ery­thing from Bo­jack Horse

man to At­lanta). Search Party goes fur­ther than most in its jour­ney from laugh-out-loud com­edy to up­set­ting reve­la­tions. It’s a gen­uinely sur­pris­ing show and you could binge it all on one slow Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race Net­flix

In this year’s joy­ful fi­nale of the ninth sea­son of Drag Race, con­tes­tant Shea Couleé an­tic­i­pates “an era of sick­en­ing black drag queens run­ning this world.” Sigh. If only. Still, due to my own mis­read­ing of quan­tum physics (okay, The Se­cret), I would like to think that there’s a par­al­lel uni­verse in which Ru Paul is telling a cer­tain blonde, wigged, pout­ing re­al­ity TV mon­ster to “sashay away” and invit­ing the rest of us to “prance” for­ever in her fab­u­lous im­pe­rial pres­ence. Now why don’t you all just “sashay away” and let me con­tem­plate that utopia for a while.

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