2014: My Top 50 TV Shows

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Now we’re talking. For almost four years now, I have been required to watch television for a job. It is a lovely job, even in the weeks when it is an uphill struggle to find anything to rave about into a camera at the Guardian offices in King’s Cross. (You surely know me well enough by now to know that I am a bad TV critic because I have too much empathy with people who make TV programmes and thus find it difficult to slag them off for dramatic effect. So be it.) I cannot lie to you: when, in November, I appeared as a talking head on Channel 5’s Most Shocking TV Moments, I was inordinately proud to be captioned for the first time ever as “Andrew Collins, TV critic”.

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Most Shocking TV Moments was not one of the Top 50 TV shows of 2014, although it wasn’t at all bad, and was important in its own way.

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I can definitely list 50 TV shows that I loved this year, which is a first for my cultural roundup of the year so far, currently a bit undernourished. That’s because I watch a lot more telly than I listen to records or read books. It’s best to get used to that, and not worry about it. Telly is in the best shape it’s been in for years and we should give thanks for that, while music’s in a parlous state and films are struggling to keep up with the small screen. You know it’s true. I’ve had a rethink since first publishing this list, which is a pointless qualitative exercise in any case, and instead of a Top 50 (or whatever the total is up now), I’m reverting to the Top 10, followed by all the rest, as, frankly, after that it’s a fairly random list of television programmes that I thoroughly enjoyed in 2014. There’s no way of measuring which was my 21st favourite and which was my 22nd favourite. (Also I caught up with two episodes of Toast after first composing the list and tried to move it up the chart, but it threw everything else out of whack and I conceded my folly!)

In its present state, it can do no harm, especially if it prompts debate or that warm feeling of “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

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1. The Leftovers, HBO/Sky Atlantic
2. Gogglebox, C4
3. Peaky Blinders, BBC2
4. Detectorists, BBC4
5. Hinterland/Y Gwyll, S4C/BBC Wales/BBC4
6. The Newsroom, HBO/Sky Atlantic
7. Game Of Thrones, HBO/Sky Atlantic
8. The Code, ABC1/BBC4
9. True Detective, HBO/Sky Atlantic
10. Gomorrah, Sky Italia/Sky Atlantic

The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies, ITV
Looking, HBO/Sky Atlantic
The Missing, BBC2
Boardwalk Empire, HBO/Sky Atlantic
Happy Valley, BBC1
Line Of Duty, BBC2
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, HBO/Sky Atlantic
The Walking Dead, AMC/Fox
Intruders, BBC America/BBC2
Mad Men, AMC/Sky Atlantic
Toast Of London, C4
Olive Kitteridge, HBO/Sky Atlantic
The Good Wife, CBS/More4
Babylon, C4
Stammer School, C4
The Mimic, C4
Marvellous, BBC1
W1A, BBC2
Boss, Starz/More4
Veep, HBO/Sky Atlantic
Penny Dreadful, Showtime/Sky Atlantic
Utopia, C4
Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, Comedy Central
The Honourable Woman, BBC2
Cilla, ITV
The Strain, Watch
Nixon’s The One, Sky Arts
The Legacy, Sky Arts
Plebs, ITV2
Scot Squad, BBC Scotland
Grayson Perry: Who Are You?, C4
The Bridge, BBC4
The Mill, C4
A Very British Renaissance, BBC2
The Village, BBC2
Uncle, C4
Suspects, Channel Five
The Great British Bake Off, BBC1
Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish, Dave
The Trip To Italy, BBC2
The Art Of Gothic, BBC4
The Life Of Rock With Brian Pern, BBC4
People Just Do Nothing, iPlayer/BBC3
Modern Family, ABC/Sky1
Rev, BBC2
Hannibal, Sky Living
Sherlock, BBC1
Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds, BBC4
Louie, Fox
The Daily Show, Comedy Central
House Of Cards, Netflix

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Glib conclusions? Thank the lord for HBO, and by definition, Sky Atlantic. Also, what a year for drama. And not just American drama. In the Top 10 we find an Australian drama, and an Italian drama, as well as one from the UK (Peaky Blinders, which I hymned at length for the Guardian’s Top 10 TV here), and more specifically one from Wales, in Welsh (which premiered on S4C, in its native language, in 2013, but expanded into countless other territories, from Denmark to the US and Canada, in 2014). Other notable British entries include The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies (which reminds us that ITV is the equal of the BBC when it wants to be), The Missing, Happy Valley, Line Of Duty and Intruders (a co-prod with BBC America).

I find it intriguing that a number of dramas in the list have been based on novels: The Leftovers, Game Of Thrones, Intruders, The Strain, The Walking Dead (a series of graphic novels). Great long-form TV drama is often referred to, with critical reverence, as “novelistic”, and this seems now to be literal. I’ve often felt that a 90-minute feature film, the usual resting place for a novel, is the wrong medium; eight hour-long parts seems so much more conducive to capturing a book’s essence. (Hey, that’s why Lord Of The Rings was made into three movies.) Anyone see The Slap, another all-too-rare Aussie import, in 2011? That was a novel; it worked on telly. I guess the weird bit – and this will be true for my favourite show of the year The Leftovers – is how to produce a second series when the source has dried up.

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Telly drama made the news in April when “Mumblegate” saw the BBC in the firing line – again – for the questionable sound quality of its latest original British drama, a three-part dramatisation of a novel, Daphe Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. This was mere weeks after I’d sat on the Bafta jury for Best International Programme with its talented writer Emma Frost (I really liked her adaptation of The White Queen in 2013). I enjoyed the first episode of Jamaica Inn, and said so in my Guardian review, but having viewed it on catch-up I think we missed out on the technical problems that bedevilled it for those who watched it live. Also, we watch so much mumbly drama in our house, we had no problem straining to hear what Sean Harris was saying. Others had a bigger problem, and a storm in a teacup brewed. Harris redressed the balance with his sweetly self-conscious acceptance speech for Southcliffe at the Baftas. But I felt sorry for Emma, because I am a writer, and there but for the grace of executive whim, go I.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the coverage of The World Cup on ITV and BBC in June and July, and you can re-read my enthusiastic but clueless reports, Braz1l, Bra2il, 3razil, Br4zil, Bra5il and 6razil here. That’s a lot of hours of television, right there.

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My own contributions to the small screen have been limited this year. I was thoroughly proud to have script-edited the second series of Badults on BBC3, and – a new gig – the second series of Drifters on E4. One of my in-development sitcoms bit the dust, but not through want of effort and lateral thinking and getting Simon Day in to help gag it up.

My talking head was on the aforementioned Most Shocking TV Moments on Channel 5, also, for the same channel, I did Greatest 80s Movies, which I didn’t see, but I assume went out? More covertly, I added my two-penn’orth to Crime Thriller Club on ITV2, as I like the kind of crime thrillers that are on that channel and quite fancied talking about them with my head. Apart from that, I’ve been busying myself writing and rewriting my dystopian thriller, which is, yeah, yeah, in development. Here’s hoping it does something slightly more meaningful than get rewritten in 2015. Reuniting with Simon Day has been a positive thing, and I’d love to think we can do something together in the near future.

Telly Addict continues, of course, which is a bit like being on the telly, isn’t it? Here’s your static moment of Zen …

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18 thoughts on “2014: My Top 50 TV Shows

  1. The Sky Atlantic component of this list makes me consider dipping my toe in Murdoch’s televisual soup, but not quite enough to leave behind the cost-free paradise of Freeview. Ah well. And I know you can’t watch everything, but for my money you’ve missed a solid-gold treat by not sticking with Fargo.

    Oh, and another of your talking head gigs, last year’s Jonathan Ross’s Top 100 Toys of All Time (or some such) got a repeat showing on 4 at the weekend. I forget how you were captioned there, sorry. It might have been “Broadcaster” but I can’t quite remember.

  2. Of the series on your list which I watched, the only one I didn’t like was Happy Valley. Since it’s now on Netflix US, I watched it in sync with Grantchester–one neurotic James Norton vs. one psychopathic James Norton. I also tried watching it in reverse order. Having watched it three ways, I can confirm that no matter how I watched it, I was unimpressed. Numbers 4, 8, and 11, though–those were all wonderful. A dystopian thriller also sounds wonderful. My fingers are crossed for that one.

  3. Thanks for the list Andrew. With few exceptions, I trust your judgement, and I appreciate a guide as to where I should go next. I am a little bemused that Gogglebox is your second favourite, while House of Cards scrapped in at no 60. For me, one is fun but forgettable, but the other has me practically wishing the months away for the next season. Maybe political drama isn’t particularly your thing, in which case, I definitely won’t recommend Madam Secretary to you….oh!
    Have a great Christmas

    • Gogglebox gave me endless pleasure, every week it was on, all year, and continues to do so. I actually think it is a miraculously simply format, made magical by the participants and the brilliant editing. It is fantastic telly. House Of Cards? It’s great. I binged on Season One, belatedly, at the beginning of this year, but have never been able to summon up the energy to watch Season Two, which has been sitting on Netflix for most of 2014. Even so, it’s in my Top 60, which means I like it. As I think I said, after the Top 10, it’s a near random list of great TV shows from this year.

      I like political drama. I loved The West Wing. I had a go at Scandal, but barely got through one episode. So it has to be political drama that I like, rather than just political drama per se.

  4. A great list again this year in terms of how comprehensive it is and the superb TV it contains. I honestly don’t know how I could have fit in all the Sky/HBO series that you include if I had access to them so I don’t feel hugely like I have missed out.

    The only shows that I really liked that you haven’t gone for would be: House of Fools,The Widower, Inside Number 9, Chasing Shadows (A triple for Reece Shearsmith there), Almost Royal and Our World War.

    • They should have been captioned! They were from Happy Valley (BBC2), Remember Me (BBC1) and Y Gwyll/Hinterland (S4C/BBC Wales).

  5. I would never have given Gogglebox the time of day if you hadn’t recommended it–it delights me and always leaves me feeling affection for my fellow humans. Detectorists was possibly my favorite show this year. I trust your opinion enough to have watched the first 3 episodes of Happy Valley, which I enjoyed, but then switched off when I saw it was going to get too violent for me–I read the recaps instead. This worked well bec. then I could really enjoy Grantchester (I know it did nothing for you) and didn’t have a James Norton problem. Hinterland and GBBO are 2 other shows that you put on my radar that I thoroughly enjoy. I also loved Looking, and the first season of the American version of “The Bridge” with Demian Bichir. Want to see The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries and Olive Kitteredge. I’ll throw in a mention for Project Runway, to which I remain loyal, as it showcases genuinely talented people and Tim Gunn evokes a Gogglebox level of affection in me.

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