TV shows I watched in 2020 – an incomplete list

This list is vaguely in the order of when I watched things or when I started watching them. Almost half of them are on Netflix, others are on All 4 or NowTV. There’s a few I watched on a proper tv channel. I actually streamed The Good Fight on the RTE player and it wasn’t terrible.

1. Sex Education (Series 1 & 2)
2. Big Mouth (Series 1 – 3)
I started watching both of these on my tablet on the plane back from Spain at the start of the year. They’re both a bit saucy and maybe not completely suitable to watch in a public place, but it was a late flight and I was tucked in against the window. Unlike the time I watched the first episode of You’re The Worst on another flight. It was on Aer Lingus’s in-flight entertainment list and I wanted to have a look to see what they’d cut. The answer was nothing. They had cut nothing. I was sitting in the aisle and I had to turn if off during Jimmy and Gretchen’s first sex scene out of sheer embarrassment.
Sex Education is sweet and fun and Gillian Anderson is wonderful in it. Big Mouth is surreal and subversive and deeply weird. I loved them both.

3. This Life (Series 1)
This kicked off a year of rewatching tv from the 90s. I wrote a bit about what it was like watching something after a 15 year gap here. I enjoyed it immensely, for the nostalgia factor and because it’s great telly.

4. ER (Series 1 – 9)
Anther rewatch that I’m really enjoying, and I still have 6 more seasons to go. I saw lot of it the first time round and it’s really interesting to revisit a much loved show. It’s still very good, especially the first handful of series when I think they were really doing something new. We’re now up to series 9 and it’s getting a little bit ropey – Rocket had had his first run-in with the helicopter. I’ll say no more.

5. Unorthodox
I watched this around the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s ridiculously good, and a good distraction from unpleasant world events.

6. Collateral
There’s a bit too much going on in this BBC drama and not all of it added up. It wasn’t terrible.

7. Press
This confused me. The set-up is tabloid v’s broadsheet but everyone keeps switching sides, and the overall message seemed to be the press are terrible.

8. New Girl (Series 1 – 7)
I’d seen the first couple of series but it was lovely to revisit and to watch to the very end. It’s a very charming show, and it’s also really funny. The characters are ridiculous and I love them all.

9. Chernobyl
I watched this around Easter time when everything was pretty grim. It kinda helped. It reminded me that things could be worse. I learnt a lot about something that I thought I knew about but didn’t really. I didn’t know the level to which the government lied about what happened. I thought it was a great series.

10. Succession
I tried watching Succession a couple of years ago and gave up after two episodes. I hated all the characters and I just didn’t have time for them. (That baseball game in the first episode is so horrible.) In lockdown, I gave it a second chance and it was either the pandemic or the numerous awards and accolades it has collected since then, but it clicked for me the second time around and I enjoyed it immensely. I still think they’re all terrible people but now I enjoying watching them be terrible to each other. I also enjoy seeing the similarities between it and Peep Show. With Succession, you don’t need to hear the inner monologue, you just see it on their faces.

11. Run
This was a bit of a disappointment. It started rather beautifully with two college sweethearts abandoning their old lives and getting back together on a whim, after not seeing each other for 10+ years. They run away together by train and there’s some lovely scenes in the first couple of episodes where they’re working out where they stand with each and how much they want to disclose about their current life. Then they get off the train and the whole thing goes off the rails. There’s a big bag of cash and an accidental murder. Phoebe Waller-Bridge turns up as a taxidermist who sings karaoke, and there’s a mysterious man we never meet but who loves mac & cheese. It’s gets strange and confusing. It’s a shame. The other snag for me is that Domhnall Gleeson plays a motivational speaker, and an Irish man. Are there any Irish motivational speakers? I don’t think as a people we have the right temperament for it.

12. Normal People
This show made me miss everything. It made me miss college. It made me miss parties and pubs and wandering through Trinity on a sunny day. It even made me a little bit sentimental about the Leaving Cert. When I read the book, I read it in short bursts. It felt too intense and I needed to take frequent breaks from the characters because being inside their heads felt claustrophobic. For me, the tv show did a great job of capturing that same feeling.

13. I May Destroy You
In a throwback to the way we used to watch television, I missed the first episode of this series and instead of trying to find it online, I just watched from episode 2. This might be why the show always felt slightly off kilter to me, but I also think that might be what they were going for. I feel like it broke a lot of tv rules, especially for a half-hour show which are usually sitcoms, and instead this was pitch dark. It also jumped around time-lines and switched protagonists a lot. Some of the scenes had a dreamlike or fantasy quality even when they weren’t. It used social media really well, and it played with addressing the audience directly without breaking the fourth wall. It was sublime. I read a lot about the show when I finished because I wanted to know more. It left room for me to interpret things for myself and decide what I felt had happened and I loved that.

14. Schitt’s Creek (Series 6)
The final series of Schitt’s Creek was so nice. I loved being reunited with the Roses during lockdown, and it was such a happy reunion. Seeing them win all those Emmys later in the year was also very nice!

15. The Umbrella Academy (Series 2)
I love this ridiculous show about a dysfunctional family of superheroes. It just makes me happy. I also love a bit of time travel and setting the series in 1963 really worked for me.

16. What We Do In the Shadows (Series 2)
This vampire comedy was as wonderful as the first series. I really enjoyed Guillermo learning to value himself and his unique talents, and all the petty grudges between the vampires. It’s just really, really funny.

17. Mrs America
I loved this show about the feminist activists in America in the 1970s and their work to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. It was about a period of American history I didn’t know much about and I thought it was told really well, particularly as they covered big chunks of time. I liked the story and the characters. It also felt very relevant, especially in relation to politics in America this year.

18. Jane The Virgin (Series 4 & 5)
I finished this wonderful series this year and I miss the Villanueva women terribly. It took me about a year to finish the first series and then it clicked for me and I watched the second series in a matter of weeks. It is an unusual show; it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s part telenovela, part magic realism. There’s a narrator who drops clues about what’s going to happen next. There’s lots of fantasy sequences and a few song and dance numbers. There’s a lot to romance and love triangles. It has the most ridiculous soap plots – like the central premise of a woman who gets pregnant before she has sex – but it also has such heart and such wonderful characters that you really feel for them when they are entangled with criminal masterminds or evil twins.

19. Homeland (Series 8)
I have watched Homeland since the beginning. It has had its ups and downs. I’ve almost given up on it many times but I keep coming back because I love Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin. And I am so glad I did because they did a really good final series and gave those characters a great ending and I was so glad.

20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’m only a couple of series in to this rewatch, which was prompted by Emily Nussbaum’s tweets about her own rewatch. I remember so much of this show so clearly, particularly the terrible monster costumes. I love it, though some episodes make me really wish I could go read a recap on Television Without Pity after watching. I feel that way about ER as well sometimes. Recaps made every show better, I miss the snark.

21. I Hate Suzie
One of my favourite things I watched this year. It had this really dark centre that showed all the shit women put up with, but then dressed it up with jokes and songs and dream-sequences and fabulous clothes. (Personally I was very taken by Suzie’s fringed dressing gown.) In a way, that’s what being a woman in a patriarchal society is like – pretty shit but we do our best to dress it up and get on with things. I loved the characters, I loved the writing, I loved the visual style of it. I want to watch it again.

22. The Deceived
This murder mystery is written by Lisa McGee and set in Cambridge and Donegal. It’s pretty good, though I didn’t really like the vague supernatural aspects of it. I did like that almost everyone in it was a bit of a baddie, or at least telling a few fibs.

23. Misfits (Series 1 & 2)
Another very enjoyable rewatch. It’s such a ridiculous premise – a bunch of teenagers suddenly get superpowers, while they’re doing community service – but it’s done so well. They have so much fun with it that it’s just really enjoyable. There are three more series but we stopped after two, before it starts taking itself a bit too seriously and is a lot less fun.

24. The Good Fight (Series 4)
I love this show so much. I started watching the new series the day after Joe Biden was officially declared the winner of the US Election, and I think that was the perfect time to see the weird and wonderful series opener. This series is slightly shorter than usual but includes eccentric bosses and a good old-fashioned conspiracy. It also has it’s usual episodes inspired by real-life events.

25. The Undoing
This was all a bit of a mess really. Far too many red herrings and too many scenes that were maybe memories or maybe imaginings. Some of the clothes were fun and I enjoy Donald Sutherland but if you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t bother.

26. Stath Lets Flats (Series 1 & 2)
This is a very sweet show. There is something of Kimmy Schmidt about Stath, if Kimmy was a Greek estate agent. He and his sister Sophie are just too pure for this world. I’m delighted that there’s going to be a third series, I can’t wait.

27. Glow (Series 1 – 3)
I rewatched this after it was announced that the previously commissioned fourth series had been cancelled. So it was a bittersweet rewatch but I did get to watch it with my sister who hadn’t seen it before and that was nice. It’s a wonderful show and I love how it branches out and goes deeper with each series. I’m still so disappointed that we don’t get to see what happens next. Are the series four scripts anywhere on the internet?

28. His Dark Materials (Series 2)
This show feels Christmassy to me. Partly because it’s on at the tail-end of the year but mostly because it’s on Sunday evening, which is when I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a tiny child which is another snowy series based on a book with a Christian allegory at its heart that also makes me think of Christmas. It’s also an enjoyable adaptation.

Nine reasons why I haven’t posted anything in months

1. I’ve been writing off-line things.

2. I have big ideas for big things I want to write about but I get intimidated by the subject matter.

3. I’ve been watching television instead.

4. And reading books.

5. And going on holiday.

6. I have a full time job that involves sitting in front of a computer screen all day. Most days I don’t want to do that all evening as well.

7. It’s really easy to get out of the habit of writing, and really hard to get back into it.

8. Writing is hard.

9. I can’t remember how to write or why I even want to.

…but I think I’m slowly remembering again.

Why I give blood

Last week I went to the blood donor clinic. You have to wait three months between each blood donation, but it’s probably been about 12 months since I’d last donated. Last time I went it was really busy and I left without even signing in. The time before that my iron was too low and I was told to go see my doctor and wait six months before donating again. I’m not great at giving blood regularly and I definitely haven’t given as much as I could. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years and last week was my 19th donation. (I think I get a prize for my 20th which is exciting!) But despite my patchy record, one of the nurses we looked at my chart asked me why I’d donated so much and why I kept coming back. I didn’t really want to tell him that I just did it for the free biscuits – though that is a big part of it – so I told him I did it because I know lots of people who can’t donate and it’s easy for me, so I do it.

That’s just one of the reasons. There are lots of others:

  1. Free biscuits. I can’t lie, they are part of why I go there. When I started there used to be free mini-rolls. Now it’s custard creams and blue ribbon wafer bars, but they’re still free!
  2. There’s a great view from the canteen in the Blood Donor Clinic on D’Olier Street. It looks down over O’Connell Bridge and you have to hang out there after you donate and enjoy the view.
  3. It’s a really easy way to do something good. There are so many reasons why people can’t give blood, varying from where they’d lived or the medication they’re on, to whether they’ve just had a baby or a tattoo. I feel like if I’m able to give blood, I should. I have no problems with needles and generally don’t have any problems after donating. I can’t say never because I nearly fainted in the canteen once. Thankfully the nurse behind the counter spotted me losing conciseness and had me lying on the ground with my legs raised before I actually fell out of the chair! They even have a pillow in the canteen for just this reason, which makes it seem almost normal and helped me feel less of a tit!
  4. The lovely staff. Everyone is really nice to you in the blood donor clinic. They thank you so many times for coming in, even when your blood is rejected! And my blood has been rejected many times. Mostly for low iron and once because I’d just had the mumps vaccine and it’s one of the few live vaccines that you can’t donate after.
  5. Giving blood is a sneaky way to get my iron checked. You are not supposed to give blood for this reason and it’s probably not even a particularly accurate way to test it because I think it only gives a tiny snapshot. I’m prone to low iron so I do find it useful to get a quickie look at my iron levels every now and again.

I give blood because it makes me feel good. It’s easy, it doesn’t hurt and it costs me nothing. I just hang out in the clinic for an hour, where everyone is really nice to me and gives me free biscuits. I do it because someone else needs that blood more than I do. While I’m munching on my free biscuits and enjoying the view, someone else is fighting for their life. Why wouldn’t I give blood if it can help? It’s so easy to make more that I don’t even feel like I’ve lost anything afterwards.

There’s a lot of scary things happening in the world at the moment – Trump, terrorism, Brexit – and it’s easy to feel helpless. Giving blood makes me feel less helpless.

If you’re interested in donating, for the first or fifth or fourteenth time – visit giveblood.ie to find out if you are able to give blood and where your nearest clinic is.

Theatre in 2012

I saw a lot of theatre this year, through college in the first half of the year and volunteering at the festivals in the autumn, but I still feel like there’s a lot that I missed. This is not a list of the ‘best of Irish theatre’ in 2012. This is a list of my personal favourites from the year.

Silent, Pat Kinevane and Fishamble
I’ve already written about some of the things I love about Silent but this 90-minute one-man play really is a complete tour de force. The LA Times described it as “Krapp’s Last Tape performed by Madonna” which is a pretty accurate description! A lot of the joy in this piece is found in Pat Kinevane’s performance. His portrayal of homeless McGoldrick, who once had splendid things, is so enthusiastic and full of fun. You don’t expect a story of homelessness and helplessness to be so funny, and this surprise adds another layer of joy to the piece.

Silent was Fishamble’s original Show in a Bag and the minimalist approach to set and props serve the story well. The story is engaging and well-told and touching without being sentimental. I saw it for the first time in the Town Hall Theatre in Galway early last year. Immediately after the show, I was eager to see it again and wanted to bring so many people to see it with me. I haven’t managed to do that yet. I missed it in the Peacock during the summer and in Smock Alley a couple of weeks ago, but I’m hoping to see it again before the year is out. The show is off to Australia this month but will be back touring Ireland in March.

Tiny Plays for Ireland, Fishamble
This is another Fishamble production and it was a fantastically ambitious project that was wonderfully executed. It started this time last year when Fishamble sent out a call in September 2011 for “tiny plays”, no more than 600 words. The response was huge and Fishamble received over 1,700 entries. The final production – twenty-five tiny plays in the space of an hour, on the same set with the same actors – was done so beautifully and so simply that it actually did create a snap-shot of the Ireland. With a clever use of costume and a few wigs, the cast manage to play teenagers, married couples and elder statesmen convincingly. Seeing the quick changes and multiple characters was part of the enjoyment of the production. There was a wonderful mix of comedy and heart-break in the production as a whole, and sometimes even in the same short play.

Because of the huge numbers of entries received and the high quality of the writing, Fishamble put together a second collection of plays and Tiny Plays 2 opens in the Project Arts Centre in March. It’s something worth seeing even if you are not a regular theatre goer or know someone who you want to encourage into the theatre! The little snippets mean that if you don’t like what’s going on onstage right now, there’ll be something different along in a minute. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

The Mothers Arms, Little John Nee
I saw this show last January in the Town Hall Theatre. It was the first play we went to see as part of our reviewing class and so it was the first thing I had to review for that class. It was a tricky review to write because I really loved the show but found it difficult to find words to describe what happened on stage or why I enjoyed it so much.

I went in to the show knowing nothing at all about Little John Nee and came out a life-long fan. It was a joyous piece of theatre set in a the public house of the title, somewhere in the wilds of Donegal and involved lots of music and a far amount of silliness. Little John Nee is another wonderful performer and a joy to watch as he switched between seven or eight different characters. I laughed my head off and had a wonderful evening. I have yet to see his follow-up show Sparkplug but I am keeping an eye out for it and reccommend you do the same. (It is also nominated for an Irish Theatre Award for great Sound Design.)

Alice in Funderland, thisispopbaby and the Abbey Theatre
I’ll keep this brief because I’ve already written loads about Alice on this blog but it really was one of my favourite things of 2012. I often think of it when I’m sitting in the Abbey before a show, wishing there were twinkling glitter balls on the ceiling. (I’m very partial to a bit of disco ball action.) It was unlike anything else I’ve seen on the Irish stage. It really had more in common with a West End musical in the brash, brightness of the production and the slick song and dance routines. But at the same time there was a very Irish sense of humour running through and some truly beautiful songs.

Boys of Foley Street, ANU Productions
I didn’t find Boys of Foley Street quite as harrowing as last year’s Laundry, perhaps I’d been working in the Lab for two days before I saw the show so I had some idea of what to expect. However it was a visceral and heart-breaking piece of theatre, with fantastic performances.

The time spent in the flat was particularly terrifying. Much of the piece took place out on the street, so suddenly finding yourself trapped in the small flat was a bit of a shock. Seeing the hidden, private lives of people trapped by drugs and poverty made me feel helpless. The performers so in your face that you felt trapped. It was completely immersive and left me feeling sakend and disjointed.

The final piece of ANU’s Foley Street project Vardo Corner will be in Gypsy Rose’s caravan, which I imagine will have a similar terrifying claustrophobia to it!

A Doll House, Pan Pan
This was the first production I saw in the newly renovated Smock Alley main stage. I thought the round, almost Shakespearean sitting suited it beautifully. I’d read A Doll’s House for the first time last year so it was fresh in my mind. Though it’s one of those plays that I’d been aware of for years. I really enjoyed Judith Roddy’s Nora – her manic energy and childish glee in the early scenes of the play were wonderful to watch and captured Nora’s character beautiful. Pan Pan manage to be both playful and academic in their interruption of classic texts and this was no exception. The nanny takes on the role of academic analysing the play but also plays games with Nora instead of her small children.

Pan Pan have a gift for putting their own unique and memorable stamp on classical plays. For example when I think of Hamlet, I think of a Great Dane called Toby and their production of Everyone is King Lear in Their Own Home means that when I see King Lear at the Abbey next month, I’ll probably walk out with a song about “a little mouse with clogs on” stuck in head. And I will probably always hear some of the lines from A Doll’s House in the Batman voice. In a glorious twist, Torvald goes to neighbour’s costume party as Batman and when he has his confrontation with Nora, he is still in full Batman mode. No matter how familiar you are with a text, PanPan force you to see it in a fresh way. But despite this playfulness, they also have a devotion to and respect for the text. And this was seen in the climax of the play when the actors lay in separate pools of light, on opposite sides of the stage and said their lines slowly and carefully, so that all the meaning had time to sink in and we could see their relationship slowly folding itself up and disappearing. It was beautifully done.

That’s my short (and very late) wrap up of my favourite 2012 theatre. I’ve been lucky enough to see some wonderful work already this year and I will be writing about that here soon.