Sunday, 29 December 2013

TV Highlights of 2013

So, what's been good on the box in 2013. Well here is my opinion, categorised into genre but in no particular order...


Strictly Come Dancing, 

Yes ok, Brucie's well past retirement, Tess is a fembot and the majority of the judges get on your wick, but this is still the highlight of autumn/winter. Enlivened by Claudia Winkleman on Sundays and as Bruce's stand in occassionally, this year saw some great dancers and general eye candy thanks to the likes of Susanna Reid (above) shaking her tail feather and Sophie Ellis Bextor, the epitome of classy beauty

The Great British Bake Off, 

Possibly the nicest and therefore most enjoyable of all reality TV, TGBBO is just good relaxing tele. This year did have some controversy creeping into the genteel baking tent, thanks to some uber jealous female viewers hating Ruby Tandoh (above) and taking to Twitter to slag her off, where she gave as good as she got. Good for her! She didn't win, that went to the lovely Frances, and good for her too.

Only Connect, BBC4

The cosy cerebral half hour I enjoy of a Monday evening is tempered by the fact that the absolute fox that is Victoria Coren-Mitchell is at the helm and at her deadpan best.

Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe,

The deliciously sarcastic and spot on Brooker - my hero - casts his critical eye over TV, the news, social media, video games and film

Fire In The Night: 
The Piper Alpha Disaster, BBC2

Genuinely jaw dropping and heart rending documentary concerning the infamous oil rig disaster.

Educating Yorkshire, Channel 4

Heartwarming, life affirming documentary following the day to day lives of teachers and pupils of a Yorkshire comprehensive. I was in holiday in Yorkshire at the time of the first transmission and the buzz around there was incredible; they were all so proud and couldn't wait to see it.


Man Down, Channel 4

I've been a fan of Greg Davies ever since his role in the hit and miss comic troupe We Are Klang. Since then, alongside a brilliant solo stand up career, he's slowly been proving himself as a sitcom star thanks to The Inbetweeners and Cuckoo. Man Down is his first self penned sitcom and its a hilarious joy.

Toast of London, Channel 4

Inspired lunacy from the genius that is Matt Berry. One of the most inventive and laugh out loud comedies of recent years. It was a pleasure to be in Toast's London for half an hour each week.

VEEP, Sky Atlantic

Series two came to Sky Atlantic in Oct and capitalised on everything that made series one so fun and successful. Far more than just the US Thick of It, Veep is something in its own right, with a superb cast of players and an assured British team of writers and directors (all who cut their teeth on The Thick of It) behind the camera.

Hello Ladies, Sky Atlantic

Following his debut stand up tour of the same name, Stephen Merchant stepped out of Ricky's shadow and went stateside, pleasantly surprising us all with a genuinely funny and astute new sitcom with a wonderful soundtrack.

Bluestone 42, BBC3

Somewhat inevitably this sitcom following the lives of a bomb disposal team in Afghanistan was met with much criticism decrying it was in 'bad taste', often from idiots who hadn't even deigned to watch it (seriously, check out one idiot who reviewed the entire 3 hours of the first series just from watching a 90 second trailer) It's a shame because if they watched it they'd have seen a worthy successor to M*A*S*H, albeit with a uniquely sarcastic British flavour. Very very funny but also occasionally dramatic, its a fitting representation of the kind of spirit ensembles have when facing danger and high pressure environments on a daily basis.

A Touch Of Cloth, Sky One

The second Touch Of Cloth proved to be more of the same thanks to Charlie Brooker's never ending stream of inanity and bad taste. Think Police Squad, in Britain...with more nob gags.

London Irish, Channel 4

Despite some iffy moments (that guy in the centre stretched out is an irritating prick; bad character, poorly played) this new sitcom about Irish students in London had a good gag rate and much promise

Fresh Meat, Channel 4

Now in its 3rd series, the cast may have aged but the show hasn't dated. If you can suspend your disbelief that these aren't in their late 20s and are in fact just 2nd year Uni students, as well as suspending your innate hatred of the talentless twat Jack Whitehall, then this is a riotous comedy from the pen of Peep Show creators and The Thick Of It writers Bain and Armstrong.

Count Arthur Strong, BBC2

It took a lot of flak (idiots) but this is the sweetest sitcom I've seen for some time. Steve Delaney's Count is the best drawn character comedy I've seen since Coogan and Rory Kinnear gave sterling support. Proper fun for all the family sitcom.

Hebburn, BBC2

The other sweetest sitcom I've seen in some time, Hebburn has all the familial warmth that idiots say Gavin and Stacey had - it didn't. This has Vic Reeves/Jim Moir, Gavin and Stacey had James Corden. Nuff said.

The Ambassadors, BBC2

More of a comedy drama really, this all too brief (just three episodes) series hit its stride almost immediately. Robert Webb proved he can do straight(ish) acting whilst David Mitchell proved he's a lucky lucky man. In real life he's married to Victoria Coren, and in this he has to pretend he's married to Keeley Hawes. The poor guy. Not.


Mad Dogs, Sky One

The increasingly bitter, bloody and jet black comedy returned this year for a final series and a two part conclusion with The Best Male Ensemble Ever Gathered on British Tele (Max Beesley, John Simm, Marc Warren and Philip Glenister) One criticism, the stupid surreal wtf ending to the finale tonight. Anyone able to explain?

Borgen, BBC4

My favourite Danish export returned for its final series and had me gripped every Saturday, I don't really want to say any more, I'm in denial that it has actually ended and won't be coming back. Intelligent aspirational drama, like what we don't do alas.

The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic

Speaking of intelligent and aspirational drama, the yanks can do it too with HBO's excellent The Newsroom returning for a tighter, more dramatic and more funny second season. I LOVE this, my favourite HBO export.

Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic

My second favourite HBO export, we returned to the boardwalk for a thrilling fourth season this year with Stephen Graham's short tempered Al Capone discovering cocaine, losing a brother and gaining more purchase in the criminal underworld. Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is the strong unassuming centre of the drama, one whom you underestimate at your peril.

Peaky Blinders, BBC2

BBC2 also went a bit HBO this year with their Birmingham 1919 based criminal drama Peaky Blinders, concerning the violent escapades of the gang of the same name. Dodgy accents aside this was a lavish piece of work.

The Village, BBC1

Peter Moffat's answer to the decade/generation stretching classic German drama Heimat was a true Sunday night highlight, the antidote to dull Downton in that it focused squarely on the lives of the ordinary working classes, particularly the family headed by John Simm's desperately tragic alcoholic farmer and his wife Maxine Peake. The last TV work of the great Antonia Bird, who sadly died in Oct.

The Mill, Channel 4

The Mill followed a similar path to The Village and aired in the same Sunday slot too; telling the real life inspired story of Northern mill workers. It was that rarest of things in current tele, politically aware drama. It also entertained, educated and made you realise just how bloody lucky you are. 

Scott and Bailey, ITV

ITV's answer to Cagney and Lacey (ish) returned for a third series. I love this Manchester based, highly realistic police procedural, but the real star remains Amelia Bullmore as the titular partnership's sharp tongued boss. 

What Remains, BBC1

Gripping Sunday night drama based in part on the real life story which was told in the documentary film Dreams of a Life. David Threlfall's retiring detective couldn't give up the investigation into how a young girl fell through the cracks of society and died alone and undiscovered for two years. Only a melodramatic final episode (slightly) tarnished the otherwise excellent series.

Top of the Lake, BBC2

New Zealand is the other end of the world and Jane Campion;s quirky, dark drama made it feel just like that! Brilliant and gripping it filled a gap for those longing for their Scandi noir on Saturday evenings.

The Fall, BBC2

Another gripping crime drama, this one set in Northern Ireland with Gillian Anderson's cold and aloof detective hunting a serial killer who may be under her very nose. Again, the curse of the underwhelming or irritating final episodes struck here, but this was still top drawer stuff.

Broadchurch, ITV

Probably THE highlight of 2013 tele, Broadchurch disproved the myth that event TV no longer existed, The whole country was talking about this, the most enthralling small community murder story since Twin Peaks. Olivia Colman acted everyone off the screen and to our joy we got a final episode that tied up everything perfectly.

Southcliffe, Channel 4

Like Broadchurch, Southcliffe was another small coastal community beset by violent tragedy, in this case an almost Hungerford style massacre which saw the village crank and loner kill his invalid mother before going on a rampage, casually strolling through the town taking potshots at whoever passed by. Sean Harris has cornered the market in playing deeply unnerving damaged individuals and the stories closest thing to a hero was played by Rory Kinnear, a world away from Count Arthur Strong, and my personal favourite tele actor of 2013.

Field of Blood: 
The Dead Hour, BBC1

Denise Mina's second Paddy Meehan mystery was adapted for the BBC this year and once again impressed. The atmosphere of a Glasgow newsroom in the 80s was convincing, the cast uniformly excellent and the mystery gripping.

The Great Train Robbery, BBC1

Splendid dramatisation of the events of 1963, brilliantly performed with an excellent production design and eye for detail. For more info see my review from earlier this month.

Lucan, ITV

Rory Kinnear showed his range once more as the infamous Lucky lucan in Jeff Pope's chilling dramatisation that offered up some interesting theories. See my review from earlier this month for more info.

Burton and Taylor, BBC4

The last of the BBC4 biopics focused on the last time the tempestuous on/off lovers worked together. Well played by Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter, from a script by Billy Ivory, this was quite a gem. 

Truckers, BBC1

Also from Billy Ivory, Truckers returned him to similar ground he'd previously explored with his 1990s hit Common as Muck. Taking one individual character from the ensemble to look at their story each week (The Boys From The Blackstuff approach) Ivory delivered some rough hew, earthy humoured indifatigable odes to working class life.

Dancing on the Edge, BBC2

Stephen Poliakoff's new one as ever divided the audiences, but I for one really enjoyed it. I loved the look, I loved the music and I love the fact that he never plays by modern TV's rules and rushes the narrative; things are played out at the speed he wants to play them and the audience has a chance to bask in the story. If that means some critics call it slow and uneventful, then so be it. This was also the last role of Mel Smith, RIP.

Doctor Who -  50th Celebrations,

And lastly it has to be Doctor Who. It was everywhere this year, from Capaldi's reveal as the next Doctor in the summer right through to November, the anniversary month, when it felt like every other programme was linked to Who; a Culture Show special, a beautiful dramatised re-enacment of the show's history in An Adventure in Space and Time, several specials on BBC3 (mostly crap but well meaning) a thing about the science of Who with D:Ream science geek Prof Brian Cox and of course, the anniversary special itself; a thing of beauty which united Smith, Tennant, Hurt and - to our surprise - Tom Baker! It was the perfect year for Who fans.

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