UK Politics

Borgen, Homeland and other TV political series in 2013

TV programmes such as Borgen, Homeland and House of Cards thrust politicians into the spotlight throughout 2013. Here are five lessons learned from fictional political series this year (beware - there are some plot spoilers).

1. Many countries spy on one another

As Edward Snowden tested real-life relations between the US and Russia, ITV's import The Americans focused on a nervy Washington DC in 1981.

Image caption Damian Lewis returned for series three of Homeland - we saw him in Washington, Caracas and Tehran

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) seemed the perfect couple but doubled as Soviet spies, deep undercover and facing torn loyalties after so long in American suburbia. Permanently on edge, they warded off attention and bullets, not least from the FBI agent living over the road.

Still, they had comfortable surroundings; Homeland saw ex-Congressman and Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) now addicted to heroin and held by squatters in a Caracas skyscraper. Rescued and rehabilitated, he was sent undercover to Tehran, where the CIA had blackmailed an intelligence officer.

The US and Iran made real-life progress in some areas in 2013; on Sundays on Channel 4, however, they seemed as far apart as ever.

2. Danish politics punches above its weight

Questions have been asked about whether Homeland should have gone on for so long. No such quandaries for BBC Four's Danish drama Borgen, however, which concluded after just three series.

Image caption Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt was seen taking a "selfie" at Nelson Mandela's memorial service

Ex-Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen) had become a jet-setting business speaker, but was lured back to coalition politics after feeling frustration from the sidelines.

The country's real leader hit the headlines by posing in Johannesburg with the US president and UK PM. Borgen's heavyweight plots did at least suggest there was "more to Danish foreign policy than taking selfies with Barack and Dave at Nelson Mandela's memorial service", The Guardian remarked.

But would Helle Thorning-Schmidt have made as many front pages without her fictional counterpart's profile?

3. Never underestimate council staff

Mild-mannered town-planning adviser Sam Pinkett (played by Mathew Baynton) was heading to work at Berkshire County Council when he answered a discarded mobile phone.

Image caption James Corden and Mathew Baynton played council workers inadvertently caught up in a kidnap plot

A case of mistaken identity left him having to outsmart kidnappers, secret agents and police in BBC Two's The Wrong Mans, with postroom employee and partner-in-crime Phil Bourne (James Corden) in tow.

The pair were variously framed for murder, shot and mistaken for strippers, before uncovering a scandal involving the local MP and a high-speed rail project.

Things looked hairy as the series ended (another is promised), but Sam and Phil's ability to engineer ingenious escapes from relentless mishaps should offer hope to bored office workers everywhere.

4. It's possible for the underdog to triumph

Being second-best, or even further down the pecking order, can be frustrating. US Vice-President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) constantly asked if the president had called in Sky Atlantic's Veep (usually he hadn't).

Image caption The Politician's Husband saw rivalry around the breakfast table played out in the public spotlight

And when a retired Scottish cheeseburger tycoon ran for office, Bob Servant Independent (with Brian Cox on BBC Four) showed the challenges of operating outside a party machine.

But there was hope as The Politician's Husband demonstrated scheming, vitriol and abuse from Freya Gardner and Aiden Hoynes (Emily Watson and David Tennant) - and that was just within their marriage.

Having sacrificed her Westminster career so her spouse could shine, Gardner's star rose throughout BBC Two's series until, as it concluded, Hoynes' humiliation was complete.

5. Politics can change our viewing habits

Francis Urquhart became Frank Underwood as 1990 BBC series House of Cards was resurrected in the US.

But the simultaneous release of all 13 episodes gained more publicity than the remake itself - no need to wait a week for the next. "The audience wants control; if they want to binge then we should let them binge," said its star, Kevin Spacey.

Profits leapt as streaming service Netflix passed 40 million subscribers, while House of Cards became the first online-only Emmy winner. Britain's Bafta has now changed its eligibility criteria, so will the series collect an award in May?

You might very well think that; we couldn't possibly comment.

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