TV Baftas 2022, review: a reminder of the greatness of British TV – with one sinful omission
It’s A Sin. It was also a shock. The luvvie-ish speeches and stamina-sapping duration might have been all too predictable but the British Academy Television Awards 2022 (BBC One) at least proved it can still spring surprises. The biggest was that Russell T Davies’s AIDS crisis drama, which led the field with 11 nominations, failed to take home any major awards. However, if you wanted copious references to the proposed privatisation of its broadcaster Channel 4, you were in luck.
After two years of Covid-safe virtual ceremonies – when the sole consolation was that we got a peek inside famous people’s homes - this occasion marked a return to business as usual. Best bib and tucker was dusted down. Red carpet poses were struck. Gracious loser smiles were perfected.
Compere Richard Ayoade – making his second BBC hosting appearance in three days, after helming Friday’s Have I Got News For You – self-deprecatingly styled himself as the “consistently disappointing, barely functioning owner of this nasal voice” but steered proceedings with wry aplomb. Impressively, he even crowbarred in a Samuel Beckett gag.
His surreal drollery elicited laughs without feeling the need to insult anyone. Possibly he feared a Will Smith-style slap. Ayoade aside, laughs were few and far between. Blind comic Chris McCausland and rapping chef Big Zuu were both hilarious but note to everyone else: unless it’s your job to be funny, perhaps leave it to the professionals.
The eyebrow-raising It’s A Sin washout at least cleared the way for relatively unsung rivals to get their dues. Best Miniseries went to Jimmy McGovern’s gritty prison series Time and Best Leading Actor to its craggy, careworn protagonist, Sean Bean. It’s a shame he couldn’t receive it in person. Happily his Leading Actress counterpart, the luminous Jodie Comer, could. Accepting the award for nursing home drama Help, she thanked the dementia patients and carers who’d helped her research the role.
When Best Drama went to Welsh gem In My Skin, its all-female creative team looked more startled than anyone. Let's hope its odds-defying victory encourages more viewers to seek out this outstanding series on iPlayer. Big Zuu sprang another surprise by gobbling up two gongs for his cracking but little-seen cookery show, Big Zuu’s Big Eats. “What, doublay?” he exclaimed. The Sierra Leone-born force of nature spoke amusingly about the importance of working class and racial representation, noting that young people watching might think “if these wastemen can win a BAFTA, maybe we can”.
Other shocks included Motherland beating Alma’s Not Normal, Stath Lets Flats and We Are Lady Parts to the Scripted Comedy prize. Writer Holly Walsh pointed out that all four were made by public service broadcasters. She had a point. Streaming services might throw money at prestige drama but their attempts at original comedy have been, with the odd exception, risible.
The ceremony had been somewhat upstaged by the surprise announcement, mere hours before showtime, of Ncuti Gatwa as the next star of Doctor Who. The Sex Education favourite posed with incoming “Whopremo” Russell T Davies on the red carpet and, for the third year running, was nominated for Best Male Performance in a Comedy Programme. A win and a Who-themed acceptance speech would have been the BBC’s dream result but it wasn’t to be. He was justifiably beaten by Jamie Demetriou, creator and star of the delightful Stath Lets Flats. At least Gatwa got to present a gong with Sex Ed co-star Aimee Lou Wood, who duly busted out ye olde “knock knock” joke on-stage. It was one of many awkward moments at the mic.
Strictly champions Rose Ayling Ellis and Giovanni Pernice rightly won the only public-voted prize, Must-See Moment, for their stunning, awareness-raising silent dance. It’s just a shame about those introductory VTs by Ashley and Jordan Banjo. They might have won last year for Diversity’s BLM dance but their attempts at irreverence were painfully lame.
The endearingly chaotic Sophie Willan won Female Comedy Performance and paid touching tribute to her late grandmother, who supported her unlikely rise to stardom. Actor Stephen Graham elicited “awws” by saluting and kissing his wife, actress Hannah Walters. Steve Coogan appeared, thankfully not as himself but in his Alan Partridge guise, in a skit about BAFTA’s 75th year. He told a golden mask trophy it was “one brassy lady”, snogged it for a tad too long and muttered: “I can’t get cancelled for that, can I?”
Beginning with Dennis Waterman and ending on June Brown, the emotive “Those We Have Lost” montage was a poignant rollcall of how many greats have been lost over the past year. Another moving moment involved a 79-year-old who wasn’t even in the building. Sir Billy Connolly was described as a “comedy colossus” and deservedly honoured with the Bafta Fellowship for his eclectic career, spanning stand-up, straight acting and travel documentaries.
The archive-raiding tribute compilation alone was so joyous, even Ayoade’s deadpan facade wobbled. Now based in Florida and living with Parkinson’s disease, the Big Yin was unable to attend in person but recorded a heartfelt acceptance message. “This has made me such a happy man,” said Connolly as viewers found something in their eye.
This two-hour highlights package omitted the current affairs and factual categories to focus on the fluffier end of the spectrum. This was understandable but disappointing, since some light-and-shade would have been welcome. There was a rather random pre-recorded appearance from the Duke Of Cambridge about the importance of environmental messaging. Terribly worthy but it wasn’t quite clear where this fitted in.
Many are beginning to question why broadcasters persist in giving awards shows this much primetime coverage. After all, they’re essentially industry backslapping sessions, more fun for those attending than us watching at home. With their designer frocks and preachy speeches, they feel increasingly irrelevant and disconnected from viewers’ lives. Surely they could move to digital channels or even online?
Yes, there was plenty here worth celebrating. For much of 2021, we were still in lockdown and TV played an important part in our lives, keeping us entertained, comforted and connected. With the futures of both the BBC and Channel 4 uncertain, as we were told in virtually every acceptance speech, these awards were a welcome reminder of just how great British TV can be. The only trouble was, the BAFTAs don’t make for terribly good TV themselves.