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Television in 2013 - Comfort and joy

What to look out for on the small screen this year.

There are lots of things I definitely don’t want to see on television this year. Please, no more documentaries about hoarders, or fat people. What I do want is lots of seriously involving drama, and some good comedy, to help keep out the cold. Television is important and comforting to me just now, and my sense is that other people feel the same. Thanks to the recession, it’s at the centre of our lives again like it used to be in the Eighties. We talk about it and some of us (not me) tweet about it – and it seems to me that commissioning editors should do everything they can to feed this appetite while it lasts (particularly those at the BBC, which will need the goodwill of a new generation if, in the long run, it is to hang on to the licence fee).

But perhaps they’re already on the case. On paper, 2013 looks good, particularly for drama. While the news that Heidi “Call-the-Midwife” Thomas is to adapt Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Bartonfor the BBC does not exactly fill me with joy – Thomas is addicted to sentiment – there are many things coming up that might have been commissioned especially for me. I am a fan of the crime novels that John Banville writes as Benjamin Black, so it’s good to hear that the BBC has developed Quirke, a series based on his detective, who lives in Fifties Dublin (the excellent Gabriel Byrne will star; it will be cowritten by the ubiquitous Andrew Davies).

Pleasing, too, to know that Hugo Blick (The Shadow Line) has written another thriller for BBC2, The Honourable Woman, about the daughter of a British Zionist gunrunner who inherits her father’s firm (intriguing). Most thrilling of all, BBC2 will screen an adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, though I’ll keep a rein on my enthusiasm for this one until we hear who has been cast as Thomas Cromwell. Peter Straughan, who co-wrote the recent film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is in charge of the script.

What else? Who could resist an update of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (BBC2, starring Keeley Hawes)? I also like the sound of ITV1’s Life of Crime, which follows a policewoman’s career over three decades. Hayley Atwell is the cop; brace yourself for punchy retro-sexism.

In Murder on the Home Front (ITV1), Tamzin Merchant will play Molly, the secretary of a Home Office pathologist, played by Patrick Kennedy (Bleak House, Parade’s End). If it’s true that the series is based on the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, who was assistant to the father of modern forensics, Keith Simpson – I read his memoirs avidly as a teenager – then it will be fascinating: you would not believe what people thought they could get away with while the Luftwaffe were dropping their bombs.

In The Fall (BBC1), Jamie Dornan will play a Belfast serial killer, and Gillian Anderson the detective who, seconded from the Met, must try to catch him. Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s drama boss, has talked this one up mightily – though I doubt he was exaggerating when he described Anderson’s performance as “compelling”. When isn’t she? Next year will also bring us yet another British actor in a starring role in an American series. Sky Atlantic has bought The Following, a “terrifying” drama about an escapee from death row. James Purefoy gets to play the literature professor-turnedkiller, Kevin Bacon the man whose job it is to bang him up again.

Finally, before I run out of space, a couple of superior-sounding comedies. Janice Hadlow, the controller of BBC2, has commissioned The League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith to write six dark stories – working title: Inside Number 9 – starring, among others, Tamsin Greig, Anna Chancellor and Timothy West. I hope they’re not too dark. As for Our Men, a sitcom about the lives of the British embassy staff in Tazbekistan (also BBC2), this could be just the thing to fill the considerable hole left by The Thick of It. Obviously, I do see the possibility for this to be little more than Yes-Minister-Does-the-War-on- Terror. But it stars David Mitchell as the ambassador and Robert Webb as his deputy, and one of its writers is James Wood, who brought us Rev. Sounds like a banker to me.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 07 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, 2013: the year the cuts finally bite