There is no reason for a decline in a television series other than a misguided belief that an unwinding story of any depth can survive on annual renewal: market forces. The great series are self contained with a beginning, middle and end, and those that aspire to reaching the heady heights of The Sopranos/Mad Men/The Wire need to be mindful of these self imposed constraints. Case in point Homeland: a sharp focused season one followed by a second season that drifted into an uninspiring and frankly dull third season. Such a promising start has been repeated by a number of pretenders to the throne. Homeland started out trying to be The Sopranos and seems to have swerved into Prison Break territory. That in itself is not a major Issue: I enjoyed the first season of Prison Break and watched the follow up seasons embracing the silliness, and a show like 24 did exactly what it said on the tin. This year, by and large, there have been so rather good shows to enjoy.
A current high concept show that doesn’t take itself seriously yet retains an all important stamp of quality is The Blacklist, in which James Spader plays a cross between Hannibal Lecter and a James Bond villain with extreme gusto making the show enjoyable and unpretentious.
Some of the best television is actually going on under the Radar: The Tunnel, a French English co production, is excellent and characterised by a high concept but with real characterisation. Hello Ladies, Veep and Louie are all first rate and highlight the dearth of British comedy. Louie in particular is a fine piece of work that requires thought and consideration as it is so finely tuned that it takes the notion of Situation Comedy into strange and interesting territory.
The BBC has a gem that is sadly being decommissioned: Ripper Street, this along with the last season of Luther, Peaky Blinders and the forthcoming season of Sherlock show that there is a healthy drama stream at the Beeb,
Suits and The Good Wife showed that uncomplicated dramatic television can work without overblown complexity and the I await the return of the superb Nurse Jackie with great anticipation.
Mad Men season five split critics. I thought it was sublime and walked the line between mundanity and profundity (successfully to my mind). Top Boy was able to present a realistic London underworld free of cliche and was also able to make us feel something other than despair. Hit And Miss was a talking point for many and it's Transexual lead character was noticed rather more than the well executed drama contained in this gritty thriller.
For me though absorbing The Fall, which made the supposedly dark Broadchurch seem like The Generation game, was my television highlight of this year. It realised a central conceit superbly, the performances were uniformly excellent and in creating a mood and a protagonist I felt it was unsurpassed.