best tv moments of the decade

7

There’s a run of classic 1960s Avengers on TV at the moment, and right now it’s in the middle of the best of the series, when Patrick MacNee’s dapper gentleman spy John Steed was paired up with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel. Stylishly dressed, gorgeous, powerful, intelligent and sexy, but no mere eye candy - Mrs Peel was frequently the more clever of the pair and normally the more physically capable, taking down bad guys right, left and centre. Decades before the rise of the modern action heroine and the powerful female lead there was Mrs Peel, and she’s still wonderful

The Legend of Korra did a good thing

The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Nick’s original Avatar: The Last Airbender, has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time. I’ve fallen in and out of interest with the show as it has gone on, but after finishing the entire series I have to say it is an impressive piece of entertainment. It often feels like an adult series masquerading as a children’s show, and that has good and bad points. The bad: clunky dialogue, completely unnecessary body humor that can sometimes rip me right out of a scene and the occasional jarringly flat character. The good: well, actually… let me make a list.

1. Legitimately strong female characters

Aside from that fact that the two most powerful human beings in the world are both women by Season 4, female characters are just treated so well in general. The show shits on the Bechdel test so many times that you wonder why it’s so hard for other writers to get it right. In the words of George R. R. Martin, it’s because this show “considers women to be people”. These characters aren’t shoehorned into some gender role just because they are female. Women are some of the strongest, fiercest, most intelligent individuals in the world and take on so many roles both in the world of the story and in the narrative as a whole (might I add that the “damsel in distress” characters are exclusively male. To be more specific I’m thinking of Varrick and Prince Wu). Seriously, a lot of writers can learn a thing or two from this show.  

2. Morally ambiguous bad guys

The antagonists of this series each have their own ethos and can be seen as emblematic of their philosophies. While most bad dudes in kid’s shows would perhaps represent greed, fear or power, they instead represent equality (Amon), spirituality (Unalaq), freedom (Zaheer) and finding strength, or more accurately, fighting vulnerability (Kuvira). In their own minds they believe they are doing good and anyone who tries to stop them must be evil. This is an incredibly mature way of approaching antagonists that a lot of fantasy writers don’t even bother with when writing for adults, let alone for kids.

3. Korra’s growth

After having a near-death experience, Korra must go through physical therapy and begins suffering from PTSD. After acting like a hot-headed, cocky asshole for the majority of the first three seasons Korra learns the meaning of humility. The episode “Korra Alone” was probably one of the best in the series, as it chronicles her physical and psychological recovery after the conclusion of the third season (which ends with her crying, completely broken). By the end of the series Korra has matured from a brash and annoying 17 year old to a wise and forgiving 21 year old. 

4. The Final Scene

TLoK’s finale is probably the most progressive moment in TV this decade. After having rocky romantic relationships with two brothers, Korra befriends Asami - an incredibly smart inventor and heiress to a fortune. Over the course of four seasons, the two become very close; Asami is even the only one Korra is willing to communicate with while she’s in a long depressive state. Throughout the series many people had wondered who Korra would end up with, in a romantic sense. In the end she walks off hand-in-hand with Asami, heavily implying that Korra is not only a strong woman of color, she’s also not heterosexual. Even though the two don’t kiss to seal the deal (let’s be reasonable here, though. We still live in a country with tons of conservative parents who would flood Nick with complaints) this scene is juxtaposed against a wedding moments earlier. At that wedding two characters stand in the exact same pose as Korra and Asami. I think it would be silly to assume that by the final scene Korra and Asami are “just friends”. And all this is in a kid’s show!!! Sure, there are LGBT characters in plenty of adult media, but this is probably the least subtle approach to a homosexual relationship in the history of kid’s entertainment. 

EDIT: Literally everything I said about the final scene, including the juxtaposition of the wedding being significant, has been confirmed by the creators

In the end, I think the good outweighs the bad and it’s really a very enjoyable show for anyone, not just kids. But more importantly, I hope it is setting a new standard for what we can expect out of current media. And even more importantly than that, I sincerely hope this show leaves a very positive impact on the minds of today’s impressionable youth. It  tells them: no matter what your age, race, gender identity or sexual orientation, you can do great things. Also I hope it imbues in them a sense of empathy and social consciousness that the lead characters of this show typify excellently. Kudos to you, Korra. You did a good thing.

The Walking Dead:

On a commercial level, the most watched show on television became even more popular.
But artistically, in its fourth season, The Walking Dead became something far more. “The Grove” was simply the best hour in the show’s history and one of those singular episodes that will be remembered for decades, a Sophie’s Choice of the Post-Apocalypse.
At the end of the episode Melissa McBride makes one of those horrific decisions that civilization often allows us to avoid. It was a moment that was beautiful, horrible, and totally earned.

While the folks at Shondaland floundered through a 2 parter that achieved nothing that fans wanted, and further cemented the departure of Derek Shepherd as perhaps the most monstrous cockup television has seen in this decade, Caterina Scorsone had a huge challenge on her hands in playing the devastated sister of Derek. In short, she was by far the highlight of the 2 hours on Thursday night, producing her finest performance yet for the series. Amelia’s scene with Owen where she threatened to relapse was her best moment of them all as Scorsone called on all her skills to bring the suppressed grief Amelia had bottled up, to the surface. It was a scene that never should have had to have happened, but Scorsone truly made it her own.
—  spoilertv
Interview with Amanda Abbington in Saturday's Times

*this article does NOT contain spoilers (even though Andrew Billen does suggest something that might happen in His Last Vow, he quickly states that he is, in fact, lying)*

She’s a surprise hit playing Mrs Watson next to real-life partner Martin Freeman. But Sherlock fanatics weren’t keen

Sherlock, that almost dangerous TV cult, specialises in the big reveal, the surprise that poleaxes, the twist that rocks. This season, however, the most pleasant shock of them all has been Amanda Abbington. When we read that the 39-year-old best known as the head of accessories in Mr Selfridge had been cast as Dr Watson’s bride and, furthermore, that she was the long-term partner of Martin Freeman who plays him, here was a case we could all solve. A relatively unknown comic actress had been promoted to the level of her own incompetence. A crime had been committed and the motive, my dear Watson, was nepotism.

As so often, Sherlock wrong-footed us. Abbington is terrific as Mary Watson, shining brightly between the glory that is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and the reflected glory that is Freeman’s Watson. She adds emotion and humanity to a cerebral, sometimes cold, drama and her own brand of working-class intelligence and wit. Sherloc k’s showrunners, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, surely know what they have got in her. In tomorrow’s season finale, she features even more prominently than at last week’s wedding. Viewers will weep as she miscarries after being kidnapped by the sexually frustrated Mycroft and then thrill to her eleventh-hour rescue by Sherlock, in drag. That, incidentally, is not a plot spoiler. It’s a lie.

When we meet in a grand hotel convenient for Baker Street, Abbington, who turns out to be brunette rather than a Mary Pickford blonde like Mrs Watson, is not dressed in Mary’s Jane Bourvis wedding dress. She wears a black cashmere jumper, jeans and a pair of old Trickers boots, the outfit of a jobbing actor whose career, to put it mildy, has known lows as well as highs. In 2010 she won, for example, a lead role in ITV’s Married Single Other, “the next Cold Feet”, but it was cancelled. Ten years before there festered 18 months with no work at all. She has got through “seven or eight” agents — “a rough, ballpark figure,” she deadpans. She is one of those overnight sensations 20 years in the making. She looks happy, but a little relieved, like someone who has achieved a lucky escape.

“When I told everybody I was playing Mary, there was a small group of people who wanted me dead,” she says. “And the problem, I think, with Twitter and anything like that is that it’s very easy to bully people because you’re behind a computer screen. So I got, ‘She should just die. How dare she play Mary Morstan? How dare she!’”

They were not talking about the character but her? “Yes, but apparently it’s quite common, issuing blasé death threats to people.

She should just die? “Yes, she should just f-off and die.”

What was their problem? “I think they take the John and Sherlock storyline so seriously that they wouldn’t want anyone coming between them.”

There seems, I say, to be an almost subconscious desire among viewers for those two to end up in bed together. “I know, there really is. On the one hand I can sort of understand it, but on the other hand, I don’t really. They bounce off each other so well on screen that I think it’s inevitable people go, ‘Oh, they must love each other.’ But it’s like a very brotherly love. I don’t think it’s a sexual thing, at all.”

The only precedent that comes to my mind is the wilder fantasies of One Direction fans who speculate that the boy band members are sleeping with each other because that is easier to take than the thought they might have girlfriends. I wondered what she thought of all the whooping and screaming during a public screening of the first episode of season three just before Christmas.

“I’m really glad that people love it that much. But there is a tiny fanatical aspect to it. It is a very small strain of fans. The majority are lovely, but there is a small component that are insane, that, I think, are genuinely quite mad about it. You just have to keep very careful about what you say because anything can ignite that passion with them.”

Did it get to her? Was she frightened? “No because I had a feeling about who these people were and I knew it wasn’t in any way properly threatening. I imagined if I met these people in real life they wouldn’t want to kill me.”

Happily, in any case, as soon as the first episode aired, the trolling ceased. Less happily, she knows the difference between real and virtual bullying. Brought up an only child in North London by her cab driver father John, and his wife Patsy, a cleaner (“she’ll hate me for calling her that”), she had a hard time being bullied at primary school, mainly because she was short — although she would grow to a respectable 5ft 4in, just 2½in shorter than Freeman.

“I didn’t tell anyone for ages. Eventually it just got unbearable and my mum went round and banged on one of their doors and said, ‘If your child ever does anything like that to my daughter again, I won’t be responsible for my actions.’ This girl was just relentless: picking on me and shoving me, putting my PE kit in the bin, taking my packed lunches every day. It was just constant chipping away.”

Today her great protector is Freeman, who sometimes wades in on Twitter to defend the jokes on @chimpsinsocks (Abbington’s Twitter handle) and declares their author “awesome” if she is having a hard time from Sherlock nuts. They almost met twice before, once on a series, once at a party, and then, when they did, on the set of Channel 4’s controversial series Men Only in 2000, they fell in love. Neither had met anyone who could make them laugh so much. They moved in together within months and now have two children, Joe, 8, and Grace, 4. They have never married except on screen (twice beforeSherlock, actually). Grace would like it if they did, and she does not rule it out.

“We have fiery rows and they’re great. It clears the air and then you’re fine,” she says, explaining Freeman and she do not have identical world views. He, for instance, is the stricter parent. Where there is no conflict is over their careers. This is remarkable since almost as soon as they met, The Office happened sending Freeman’s career skyward while she entered 18 months without a call-back. At the now defunct drama school in Hitchin she attended — after her hopes of a career in dancing were scuppered by a groin injury — she never dreamt of stardom.

“He was actually very sweet because he’d always say, ‘Is there a part in this for my girlfriend?’ but there wasn’t. I can’t remember what the break was where it happened. I think it was probably 20 Things to do Before You’re 30 I did with Mathew Horne. I think that was where it started to happen again.”

As for how she won the Sherlock part, she owns up to the allegations of nepotism rather than resisting. “I was saying this to Mark Gatiss the other day: ‘I’ve been with Martin for 13 years. We can have a slight bit of nepotism. That’s fine. I’ve worked hard and I’ve been out of work a lot and I’ve worked a lot. A little bit of nepotism every now and again is OK.’ ”

She and Freeman were watching The Hound of the Baskervilles at Gatiss’s place and he had said he wanted to talk to them both about Mary Morstan, Watson’s fiancée. She thought he was looking for casting advice. When he said they wanted her, she wept not only at the “honour” but at knowing they would be sharing working time as a couple after 18 months in which he had been away for up to four months at a stretch in New Zealand filming The Hobbit.

“He’s been on his own for a long time and I’ve been in this family unit. just the three of us, for a long time, so the dynamic changes, it just does. And you have to sort that out and get back into some sort of equilibrium again.”

Did they know their relationship was strong enough to survive? “Yes. I mean, it was tough, and we’re never going to do that again. We’re never going to go that long apart again because it’s not good. It’s not healthy. We both said, ‘You can see why people have affairs.’ You can totally understand why you do, because you miss the person that you love. Luckily we both don’t agree with that at all. We’re both very faithful to each other.”

Freeman returned in the spring just as Amanda was entering a crisis of her own making. The Inland Revenue had asked her to declare herself bankrupt after she failed to meet a tax demand. She had put money aside to pay but had dipped into it during another lean spell. The insolvency was annulled after Martin, reputedly on millions for playing Bilbo Baggins, wrote her a cheque. She is now paying him back. (He is not as well paid as the papers think, she says.) She is terrible with money but not profligate. They eat at a Pizza Express near their home in Hertfordshire.

“I was deeply ashamed, deeply ashamed that it had got that far. It’s taught me to save and it’s taught me to think of the future and it’s taught me to be terrified of the tax man because he never goes away.

So 2013 was the year she played a leading role in Mr Selfridge and joined the best television drama of the decade. It was also the year she had her assets frozen and endured unhappy separations from the father of her children? “I know. Professionally it was amazing. Personally it was one of the hardest ever.”

Freeman, she understands, is the star now —he is off the day after we meet to film the TV version of the Coen Bros Fargo in Canada — even if she cannot quite reconcile that fact with the man who takes the rubbish out to the bin. Yet this is her moment too. This month she returns as jilted Josie in ITV’s Mr Selfridge and with a juicy plot line. Moffat and Gatiss’s whim of steel notwithstanding, she will be in more Sherlock and, she thinks, we will not have to wait another two years. What else would she like? To play Lady Macbeth, compete inStrictly and get a cameo on Doctor Who, she says, letting rip a little and at last.

“I don’t,” she says, “want to just do this and fade into obscurity again.” Something, my dear Watson, tells me that is not going to happen.