When people know you’re a TV obsessive who has an opinion on anything to do with television it’s only natural that they ask what’s worth watching. This site and my social media account is here to point you in direction of what is worth your time, but when I’m asked the question by relatives I struggle. They often remind me that the general viewing public is still interested in the outcome of Britain’s Got Talent or Ninja Warrior rather than the thought-provoking dramas I’m always drawn to. Too often I find myself desperate to recommend gritty and backing off at the last second.
If you’re a fan of light-hearted like shows Death in Paradise or Midsomer Murders I shan’t judge you, I don’t have to watch them. I’m not entirely sure why I’m drawn to the darker things I like. This year I have been on the verge of tears whilst watching television more than any other time I can remember. I appreciate that for most TV is there as an escape from the doldrums of everyday life, for others, it’s there it’s just viewed as background noise. For me, it’s always been a great window to a world I’d never see and the best television in my view is that can make me laugh, cry and feel real emotion.
The three recent examples that had me feeling all sort of emotions were Chernobyl on Sky Atlantic, Mum on BBC Two and The Virtues on Channel 4. All three aren’t just some of the best television I’ve seen this year, but they are true contenders for my favourite TV ever. There are moving and emotional and focus on the human condition. I can’t praise them enough, but they are hard sells to those relatives who don’t necessarily want to be confronted with middle-aged relationships, child rape and people’s faces melting off! Perhaps understandably!
Let’s take The Virtues. On the face of it, the story of Joe, (Stephen Graham) a man who feels at a loss when his ex-wife takes his son to live in Australia. He’s a lost soul with a tortured past who I instantly felt for and wanted to hug. Joe’s past is explored in excruciating detail by writers Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne but the whole thing has a humour running through it that comes from the humanity of these characters. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s quite possible that the has ruined future drama series for me. Its naturalistic dialogue and down to earth performances felt nothing else I’d ever seen. The conversations seemed so natural it was hard to imagine the two writers constructing them. At times The Virtues felt more like a documentary than a drama. There wasn’t a single second where I didn’t root for these characters. I’d laugh when they did and get angry at the injustice they suffered. I don’t want to give too much away as I’m hoping you’ll feel inclined to seek it out on All4. I can completely understand The Virtues isn’t an easy watch. But if like me, you like to see humanity reflected back at you by television this is the best example I can think of. Raw, unflinching and drama at its most powerful, The Virtues will stick with me for a long long time.
Then there’s a Mum. The final series of one of the most underrated comedies on television has had me in tears on numerous occasion. The most memorable and moving of these came in episode 4 of series three. It’s a quiet scene between a son and his mother. Jason (Sam Swainsbury) has always been a bit of a daft character. Fans of the show hadn’t appreciated him meddling in his widowed mum’s (Lesley Mannville) relationship with friend Michael (Peter Mullan). The scene sees him sat on the end of his mum’s bed and break down in tears. He tells his mum how he feels it is his job to look after her now that his dad has died. It’s an utterly heartbreaking scene that broke me. This character, who had wrongly dismissed as slightly empty-headed, bared his soul, revealing he hadn’t come to terms with losing his father. It was one of the best representations of grief I’d ever seen. Jason can’t cope with seeing his mum with Michael because he can’t accept that his mum might want to explore happiness now that his dad has passed. The scene is made even more powerful by the fact that Cathy (Lesley Mannville) manages to keep her composure whilst consoling her son. She reassures him that it isn’t his job to look after her and that she misses his father everyday. As I hung on every carefully chosen word, tears rolled down my face. That’s the brilliant power of television and that’s why I love it so much.
Finally Chernobyl, a show slightly easier to recommend because most are aware of the horrific story from 1986. The scripts from Craig Mazin are extraordinary. He juxtaposes the stomach-churning stories of the wider population and the scientists working to get to the bottom of the cause of the explosion against the stubbornness of the Soviet regime as party members are unwilling to admit that such a thing could happen on Soviet soil Where Mum and The Virtues feel so real, Chernobyl feels like a grisly work of science fiction. The fact that this happened in my lifetime is incredibly hard to believe. There are many heartbreaking moments in the series, from people volunteering to go into the building in order to pump out water, 400 miners who are drafted in to dig under the plant to install a heat exchanger or the thousands of men who were drafted to throw radioactive waste back into the reactor so that it could be sealed. All of these scenes play out to the soundtrack of the increasingly higher tick of a Geiger counter as these brave people knowingly head into lethal situations.
There are also moments where I found myself recoiling. There is a brutal but brilliant scene where two men are tasked with shooting the abandoned radioactive family pets that roam the deserted streets. There’s a sequence where they are forced to kill a dog her and her litter of puppies which was particularly distressing and another where we see a man’s face melt. It all sounds gruesome and much of the series was, but it was also gripping. It’s now the highest rated TV show on IMDB and rightfully so.
TV at its very best should make you think, laugh and cry. It should educate, entertain and inform. What’s the point of this article? I wanted to write about these three incredible shows that affected me emotionally and urge you to give them a go. If you do, and they touch you too then that’s fantastic and if you find them too much to bear that’s fine too. We’re living in a great age of television and it just happens that these three great shows aired at the same time.