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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Writer’s blog, Week 25, Tuesday

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Tuesday. Unless you’re one of these weird dilettantes who goes on holiday, you have to take your respite – even if it’s only geographical – where you can get it. A couple of days’ house-sitting for Mum and Dad in Northampton feels like a holiday, even though I have the same amount of work to do as if I were in London. A change of scenery is as good as a new play, sometimes. Because it’s sunny, I ate my breakfast on their patio. I could do this at home, but choose not to. I think I may be trying to make a few days’ hard work feel more holiday-like. Leave me alone.

Haven’t done a writer’s blog for a while – end of April – so there is much to update. I was at that time deeply optimistic about what had been previously coded Sitcom A but had entered the public domain via the British Comedy Guide as Wild Life. We staged a full-cast read-through in a small theatre above a pub in Turnham Green and it was a fabulous day. We couldn’t have put in any more effort – and by “we”, I mean my management company Avalon, our producer/director Sioned, and the illustrious cast, Frankie Boyle, Isy Suttie, Miles Jupp, Craig Campbell, Adam Hess and Angela Simpson.

It was not picked up.

I am disappointed by this outcome, but at least it draws a line under a project that was “in development” for two years. There’s only so much blood, sweat and tears you can put into something. During that time I was paid a one-off fee, despite all the extra rewrites and other energies expended upon it. A writer does not work by the hour, or the day, in development. (Actually, even when green-lit, a project pays a writer by the script, before residuals. This is why I sometimes wish I had the skills and training to be a plumber, where good work is paid for, and some even incur a call-out charge just to come and look at the problem. I never resent paying a plumber, as they can plumb and I cannot – despite my best DIY efforts in this vexed area!) Anyway, we move on.

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Maybe Sitcom C should now be promoted to Sitcom B (I may call it The Scottish Sitcom, actually, for luck). It has – as previously logged – been turned down by one broadcaster, but is still “in play” with another, according to the exec at the production company which originally pitched it. With each day that passes without news, I imagine the worst.

What was Sitcom B last time we spoke (the collaboration with a very funny comedian based on one of his characters) has with caution and by default been upgraded to Sitcom A, in that it looked for all the world to have the best chance of being commissioned until BBC3’s move online was announced and all bets seemed to be off. Having, again, put a lot of hours in on this, I’d like it to go further, but nobody can legislate for the channel it’s pitched at being effectively shut down. I have made a new friend, either way. And no writing experience is wasted experience.

The production company who pitched Sitcom A also make Badults (that’s how I met them), which enjoyed a return to BBC3 before the drawbridge is pulled up, two Mondays ago. Having script-edited this series, I can honestly say I think it’s twice as strong as the first, which suffered many a sling and arrow on social media, but impressed the channel enough to get a second bite of the cherry. As is now traditional, we all watched Episode 1 go out live, round at Ben’s flat. Here we are.

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From left to right: exec Gav (seen in cameo as the man with balloons in Ep1), producer Izzy, Badults Tom, Ben and Matthew, actors Ivan and Max, and script editor me. It’s a fun show to work on, and a thrill to see my name fly past in the end credits. I rather suspect its chances of a conventional third series are low, but nobody yet knows what the online BBC3 will look like, or if it will even commission anything longer than 10 minutes. (If I was fully online, I wouldn’t.) It’s very sad, and I hope David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre and Alistair Campbell are pleased with themselves.

Drama A, incidentally, is moving at a pace slower than any comedy. We had a meeting with a broadcaster three weeks ago, at which positive noise were made (positive noises cost nothing – they literally give them away), and the first script and seven detailed storylines have been delivered. Why it’s taken me 26 years to discover this, I don’t know, but getting anything commissioned on TV is like trying to get the attention of a giant, distracted baby. Some days, you just run out of gurgling noises and funny faces.

Here’s your moment of Zen. BBC2 repeated I Love 1980 last weekend (as you know, I appeared on I Love 1980, I Love 1981 and I Love 1982), but it never turned up on iPlayer or On Demand, so I was unable to watch it. I found a shit version on YouTube, as a couple of people had pointed out how young I looked on it. (It was shot in 2000.) What you didn’t say was how fat I looked on it. I fear I have misremembered this particular bit of the past.

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