Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Hello and happy new year one and all! Welcome back to The Ephemeric, and let me be the first to introduce you to 2017, a year that will surely be an improvement on the last one. Yes, it is indeed a new year and that can only mean one thing, it's time to break out The Hot List.
So welcome The Ephemeric's 2017 Hot List, your ultimate guide to the year ahead. In this first entry we will be looking at the hottest things happening in the world of television over the next 12 months, with a particular eye cast over the brand new shows hitting the airwaves in 2017.
2016 continued many of the trends we had been seeing in recent years. The big three of HBO, FX, and Netflix dominated the critical plaudits and awards, while the other streaming networks Amazon and Hulu continued to catch up to the other major players in terms of the quality and ambition of their original programming.
Going forward, all signs had been pointing towards an increased prominence in the industry for these companies, and worrying times for the more traditional networks. However, recent political upheaval in the US and UK has thrown into doubt the viability for new media companies like Netflix, with information equality laws now potentially on the chopping block. I don't like to talk politics on the Hot List, but it will be interesting to see how things pan out as the old establishment continues to up its online streaming game.
In terms of the content, we've had a couple of years in a row now where the big show of the moment has been an entirely new series. Seemingly gone are the days of the ongoing epic like Breaking Bad or Curb Your Enthusiasm coming along and scooping up all the plaudits year after year. Now it's True Detective one year, Mr Robot the next, then maybe Stranger Things or The Crown. Increasingly the fashion seems to be moving towards the limited series, or the new idea in town. Whether this is some "shiny new toy" effect or speaks to an increasing taste for short, complete story telling is up for discussion. It could simply be that the quality of the shows on television really is improving year after year. The coming year sees the exciting return of some major favourites, which could put that theory to the test.
So without further ado here are the top 10 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2017:
10. Sherlock - BBC
After a long three year hiatus, Sherlock is back. It returns to the airwaves with its star Benedict Cumberbatch amongst the hottest actors in the world, with co-star Martin Freeman's star very much also on the rise after a strong turn in Fargo.
Still, major doubts remain about whether the show's writers can regain the magic of the first two seasons. The plots seem to be veering increasingly far away from the mysteries and capers that one expects from Sherlock, and more towards an over-the-top action romp that more befits James Bond.
The first episode of the new season was a new low, resembling absolutely nothing of its source material. Forced melodrama, overly self-referential dialogue, and a plot focused entirely on the muddled backstory of an original character (rather than the titular Holmes) was a stunningly poor way to return to the series, and give the impression of an adaptation that is altogether just a little bit too far up itself. Fingers crossed the remaining episodes mark a return to form.
Start Date: 1st January 2017
9. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 - Netflix
Finally making a comeback after all these years is a firm favourite of the 90s kids: Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
The award winning cult classic MST3K was one of those shows that you either never heard of, or you've heard of it and pity those who haven't. The premise is simple: they put on a really bad sci-fi or horror movie, and make jokes about it as it plays out. The result was something that was far funnier than it had any right to be, especially if you're the type who enjoys watching these cheesy movies and laughing at them.
So imagine the joy of fans everywhere when series creator Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter to bring the show back as an online webseries, eventually securing a Netflix distribution deal. Initially asking for $2 million, they raised $5.8 million, becoming the most crowdfunded television series of all time. Now we wait. The new episodes started filming last year, and were announced at last year's Comic Con to be available for viewing sometime in early 2017, although the smart money says it won't be until the summer.
Release Date: Summer 2017
8. Westworld - HBO
It had been a long time in production, but from the stellar cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, to the writing of the award winning Jonathan Nolan, the first season of Westworld was well worth the wait.
Now season two is on the way, and promises to depict what had been the climax of the original Michael Crichton cult classic; the robots are out for revenge.
HBO have a new smash hit on their hands that will certainly feature prominently in next year's awards circuits. But most significantly, Westworld scratches a specific itch in mysterious, addictive sci-fi that hasn't been seen arguably since Lost aired all those years ago. Many shows have tried to hit that sweet spot, but Westworld is the first that has succeeded.
Release Date: TBA 2017
7. His Dark Materials - BBC (New TV Show)
For those not familiar with the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, try to picture something with the magic and adventure of Harry Potter, but fewer pantomime villains, more philosophical deconstructions of Man's need for spirituality and a scathing critique of the abusive nature of religious dogma. Intellectual fare for a children's book then, but what made the books so special was the way they were able to convey such complex meaning without sacrificing any of the fun, excitement and engaging characters that make kids want to read. For that, it remains widely considered among the absolute pinnacles of children's literature.
It's not surprising, then, that the series has thus far proved notoriously difficult to adapt. The attempted film version was appalling, while the National Theatre's excellent stage production only succeeded by dividing it into two separate plays of 3 hours each.
For the past several years it has been considered to be unfilmable, but the BBC are betting that it could work as a miniseries instead. This would offer the necessary running time to fully flesh out the detail of the original text, but can the BBC really provide the budget to bring such an ambitious project to life? We have our doubts that this one will even see 2017, but fingers crossed.
Release Date: TBA 2017
6. The Crown - Netflix
Another of 2016's debutants returning for season 2. Netflix's The Crown has broken all kinds of records for being among the most ambitious and expensive productions in television, and that high aspiration has paid off, with the series collecting a number of plaudits.
Word has it that each successive season will jump to another decade as the story follows the royal family through the years of Elizabeth's reign, with the core cast changing periodically as required. If true, this would place season 2 in the 1960s.
Whatever direction Peter Morgan chooses to take this show, we are excited to keep watching if he can maintain the current level of quality. The Crown returns in November of this year.
Release Date: November 2017
5. American Gods - Starz (New TV Show)
This one is promising. American Gods is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman (author of Stardust, Coraline, among others), and produced by Bryan Fuller, a man with an enviable track record of smart, wonderful television.
The plot is classic Gaiman weirdness: gods are real and live among humans, and a conflict is shaping up between the old gods of mythology and the new gods of money and technology. The cast has a wonderful depth to it, most notably Ian McShane, but also Emily Browning and Pablo Schreiber, with Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, and Peter Stormare in smaller roles, but then the choice of relative unknown Ricky Whittle for the main role is a strange one considering the quality of talent elsewhere. Still, with this production team and source material, we are very hopeful.
America Gods is now expected to debut in April of 2017.
Release Date: April 2017
4. Curb Your Enthusiasm - HBO
Legendary comedian Larry David has dominated television comedy for decades, first with Seinfeld, the iconic "show about nothing" much of which had been loosely based on David's own experiences, then Curb Your Enthusiasm, which took the format to the next level with a semi-fictionalised version of the comedian himself in the central role.
At its best, Curb was just about the funniest thing on television; as clever as Seinfeld, but with more modern production sensibilities, and the creative freedom offered by a premium network like HBO.
At long last, Curb is coming back to television in 2017. It's been six years now since the show was last on air, and many had begun to doubt whether the show would ever return. David had remained on the fence when asked in recent years, citing a need of genuine inspiration, a reluctance to write new episodes just for the sake of it. Fortunately for the rest of us, that inspiration appears to have finally struck. We can't wait to see what he has cooked up in that crazy mind of his.
Release Date: TBA 2017
3. Star Trek: Discovery - CBS (New TV Show)
Science fiction fans all over the world rejoice! Star Trek is finally making a return to its spiritual home of television with a new series Star Trek: Discovery. The movies have been fine, but Star Trek's distinct brand of cerebral sci-fi has always worked better in an episodic format, with less pressure to go broad and dial up the sex and action.
Discovery is an entirely new series, with a new setting and cast. Little has been revealed so far in terms of story, but the rumour is that the show works as a prequel series, set around the same time of the original crew (and rebooted movies). Earlier rumours had suggested that the show might follow an anthology format, with a new setting every season, but that is as yet unconfirmed.
Little of the cast has been confirmed, but we do know that the main protagonist will be played by Sonequa Martin-Green, best known from The Walking Dead, and The Good Wife, while other core cast members will include Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, and Michelle Yeoh.
Probably the most exciting news had been the attachment of legendary show-runner Bryan Fuller at the helm of the series, but recent developments seem to suggest he is taking a step back into a more detached role. Trouble behind the scenes? We'll have to wait and see.
Release Date: May 2017
2. Fargo - FX
Far too often you get a hit new TV show with a great debut season, which then goes on to suffer from second-season syndrome and lose the magic. Fargo is not an example of this. Fargo's second season was every bit as much a triumph as the first.
Unsurprisingly, the televised adaptation of the classic Coen Brothers film has been confirmed for a third season. It's confirmed to be set in the present day, and looks to be bringing in a strong cast with Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jim Gaffigan. The return to the present day setting also leaves open the possibility of returning characters from earlier seasons.
If the first two seasons are anything to go by, whatever they come up with will be brilliant. A start date is pencilled in for Spring 2017. We look forward to it.
Release Date: Spring 2017
1. Stranger Things - Netflix
One of 2016's runaway success stories, Stranger Things is coming back for a second season. The Netflix adventure/horror series won over a huge fanbase with its pitch perfect blend of nostalgia and childlike fun. This time, however, it comes with the additional weight of expectation that success brings.
Aside from the episode titles, little is known of what season 2 will herald. It is confirmed to be set about a year after the events of season 1, and will focus on the first season's main characters as they attempt to return to a life of normalcy, whilst exploring more of the mythology behind the world the writers have built. Getting too deep into the dirt is always a risk with these types of shows, but if the first season's superb writing is anything to go by, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.
Season 2 of Stranger Things is due for release in fall 2017, and it is The Ephemeric's most hotly anticipated TV series for the year. Time to get excited!
Release Date: Fall 2017
So there you have it folks: 2017 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!