- Film & TV
- 24 Oct 19
In honour of this special edition, we shortlist the most important television shows to have aired in Hot Press' lifetime.
Hot Press is celebrating its 1,000th issue (you may have noticed). That adds up to more than 40 years at the cutting edge of journalism. A great deal has changed in that time, particularly in television. What then are the programmes that have weathered the decades and changed the medium? Here's our countdown of the 10 most important TV series across our 1,000-not-out history. They are presented in no particular order - reflecting the diversity of the shows and also the fact we simply can't make up our minds which we love the most.
1: The Late Late Show
You are laughing and grumbling about "Tubs" and his megabucks salary. But, really, you shouldn't. Hot Press first rolled off the presses when Ireland still had the Church's figurative crozier at its neck. We played our part in removing the crucifix from public life and ushering the country into the modern world. But credit, too, must go to Gay Byrne's Late Late Show, which became the nation's unofficial debating chamber where the issues of the day could be discussed.
In a repressed and repressive society such as pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, this proved a crucial forum. People were practically passing out in the aisles when Byrne held a contraceptive up to the cameras in one episode. In another, Annie Murphy spoke of her affair with Bishop Eamonn Casey. Catholic Ireland was always going to come tumbling down anyway - but The Late Late Show did its best in holding to account the hidebound hypocrites who toiled to keep us in the dark ages.
2: Love / Hate
Stuart Carolan's gangster epic was a long way from perfect and declined sharply in quality in later seasons. But it nonetheless represented RTÉ's most convincing bid yet at prestige drama. It looked great, and the cast of Tom Vauaghan-Lawlor, Ruth Negga, Charlie Murphy, Aidan Gillen and others were glamorous yet very Irish. And it told a story we'd been craving to hear: that of warring gangsters going at it in modern Dublin. It has also proved hugely influential, with series such as the forthcoming Dublin Murders and Virgin Media's Darklands very much following in its wake.
While Hot Press was chronicling U2's ironic years and the rise and fall of grunge, on television the Generation X era was playing out very differently. Watched today, Friends can seem smug, glib, not always funny (actually that's what it often felt like back then too). But it nonetheless captured the zeitgeist and spoke to the universal truth that, in your twenties, your pals can seem more important than your family. It's a passing phase - but Friends spun it into comedic precious metals. No wonder millennials and Gen Z-ers can't get enough.
4: Life On Earth
Hot Press was not two years old when, in January 1979, David Attenborough materialised in our living rooms plummily narrating the adventures of a family of iguana in the Galapagos. Thus began the BBC's Life On Earth - and with it a new era of natural history television. The Trials Of Life, Blue Planet, Planet Earth and others would follow, and with them an increasing awareness of the fragility and preciousness of the natural world. A direct line can be drawn between Life On Earth and Extinction Rebellion - in hindsight, Attenborough's rhapsodic chronicling of life on the planet marked the dawning of a global environmental consciousness.
Unlike Friends, early Seinfeld really does not hold up at all and is quite difficult to sit through (that canned laughter!). But the sitcom "about nothing" nonetheless has taken its place as the most revolutionary chuckle-fest in TV history. It was cynical, sardonic, knowing - in on the joke that actually there was no joke, just real life in all its absurdity. From Curb Your Enthusiasm (its star Larry David had produced Seinfeld) onwards, every "anti-comedy" that followed bore traces of its DNA.
6: The Simpsons
Aka the series that moulded the perspective and sense of humour of at least two generations of Irish people. From roughly 1993 on, anyone aged 25 and under visited Springfield on a near daily basis, thanks to multiple showings on RTÉ Two, Sky One and Channel 4. The result: a country where every predicament and controversy is ultimately just a Simpsons meme waiting to be minted.
7: Twin Peaks
Life in early '90s Ireland was surreal at the best of times. We'd only just started catching our breath after the moving statues saga, the Haughey era, Eamon Dunphy's pen throwing meltdown when Ireland drew with Egypt in the 1990 World Cup etc. So we flocked, initially at least, to David Lynch's brain-meltingly bizarre whodunnit. A remote town in a dank and rainy part of the world is shocked by a terrible tragedy. That could have been Ireland at any point in the previous 50 years. Instead it was Agent Dale Cooper en route to Twin Peaks in America's Pacific Northwest to investigate the killing of Laura Palmer.
8: Breaking Bad
So much "prestige" TV to praise, so little time or space. We could have opted for The Sopranos or Mad Men. But the life and times of Walter White looms above them all. This was a morality tale that also served as a window into the fraught condition of middle class life, as struggling teacher White (Bryan Cranston) throws his hands in the air and reinvents himself as a terrifying crystal meth dealer. With each year, the shadow cast by Breaking Bad grows longer. Would anyone care about a Mad Men or Sopranos movie? A bit, maybe. But not too much. Contrast that with the excitement over the new Breaking Bad sequel that has arrived on Netflix.
9: Game of Thrones
Yes, the ending was rubbish and nobody can defend the portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen as a "mad queen". But come on, in its prime Game Of Thrones hooked and reeled us like nothing else.
10: Stranger Things
This remix of Stephen King's greatest hits earns its place not because it is a moderately engaging slab of pulp - but because it represents TV's future. Netflix, Amazon and their cheque books of power have remade the home entertainment landscape. In this age of the binge-watch, Stranger Things is supreme overlord of all it surveys. Decades from now, it may well be looked back upon as representing the moment TV changed forever.