The best – and worst – television for 2012

Alison Graham loathes Desperate Scousewives - but loves Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock

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Loathe it!

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The remorseless acquisitiviness, the empty sexual encounters, the endless days that hang heavy with dead time, oh I’m sick of it all. I’m not talking about myself here, but the kohl-eyed, backcombed, over-groomed denizens of television’s gawping, vacuous reality shows as they caw with boredom like imprisoned parakeets.

Desperate Scousewives, It’s All about Amy, Tamara Ecclestone: Billion $$ Girl, Made in Chelsea, Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex, Celebrity Big Brother… they all shriek into the abyss, their pouting, preening players lost souls on a painted stage. God, it’s depressing.

E4’s Desperate Scousewives (a desperate title, as there are no wives), Channel 5’s recent Tamara Ecclestone: Billion $$ Girl and the trumpeted return of MTV’s dismal, repellent Geordie Shore later this month (“Our favourite Tyneside residents spent the first series fighting, shagging and drinking” gloats the press release) did it for me. I’ve grown used to passing off my occasional fascination with such shows as “guilty pleasures”, a handy catch-all phrase that means very little when you’re confronted with such soul-sucking vacuity. It might be guilty, but it’s certainly not a pleasure.

I honestly think that a tiny piece of me died after I had sat through episode one of Desperate Scousewives. I almost retched with the emptiness of it all, the eavesdropping on lives dedicated to the pursuit of leering, grubby hedonism.

And now Celebrity Big Brother is back on Channel 5 and we are all doomed as caged “celebrities” compete for the drab humiliations involved in being laughed at by strangers, gaudy dolls parading their insecurities on live TV.

What are all these shows saying? That this is how life should be lived? You know, I think they are, however much they might protest that they are only “entertainment”. Let us go back to that Geordie Shore press release that, in just four short paragraphs, mentions the word “hangover” twice. Not in any admonishing way, but in that haw-haw-isn’t-it-great-to-get-p****d-to-oblivion kind of way. It even trumpets its negative reviews: Lorraine Kelly, The Sun – “Geordie Shore has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.”

Well, here’s a quote for your next press release: Alison Graham, Radio Times – “Geordie Shore pollutes our national well of happiness.”

Go on, it’s all yours.

Love it!

But all is not lost, not quite. I know the preceding piece is a bellow of fury at TV idiocy and its heralding of behaviour so bad it would make the Borgias blush. Yet, there are good deeds shining in our naughty world.

I’m talking, of course, of Sherlock, which begins a new run of three episodes on BBC1, New Year’s Day, starting with the Steven Moffat-scripted A Scandal in Belgravia. The classy first series rode a tidal wave of appreciation across a huge spectrum of viewers, from fans of Conan Doyle to Sherlock Holmes newcomers.

That was 18 months ago – 18 months! In the intervening period I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me “When does the new series of Sherlock start?”

I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes since I was 12, when I took my dad’s spine-cracked copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from our bookshelves and started reading. Though for years, in my head, Sherlock has been Jeremy Brett (star of those 1980/90s ITV adaptations), Benedict Cumberbatch is magnificent, a Sherlock for our times. It’s not an arch, knowing performance, as it could have been in lesser hands; he doesn’t poke fun, there are no winks of recognition to the audience. He plays it straight.

The script, too, is literate, witty and clever; full of lines that sing out with intelligence. It’s funny, too – a little dig about Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) made me guffaw. It’s a grown-up drama for people like us. And you can’t say that very often.

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This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 23 December 2011.