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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Just looking

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After last week’s Sunday-night-drama-themed Telly Addict and the week before’s comedy-themed Telly Addict, here’s a more typical ragbag-of-what’s-on Telly Addict. Starting with Mob City on Fox; then HBO’s far more promising “gay GirlsLooking on Sky Atlantic; the easygoing return of Outnumbered to BBC1; a bit of Celebrity Big Brother behind closed doors on Channel 5; the assured return of The Good Wife to More4; and to Sky Arts for Harry Shearer’s rather beautiful Nixon’s The One (which I interviewed him about for The Guardian actual newspaper last week).

At the end of the day, it gets very dark

TA120I love it when an accidental plan comes together, as it did with this week’s Telly Addict. It begins with Blackout, C4’s “what-if” dramumentary about a massive power cut and the inevitable slide into anarchy and death; we follow with Peaky Blinders, BBC2’s major landmark new drama – you can tell, they’ve commissioned six whole episodes – a period gangster saga set in Birmingham in 1919 when it was very dark; I mark the satisfying denouement of What Remains on BBC1, but avoid spoilers by referring you back to the body discovered in Episode 1 in the dark loft; Bates Motel on Universal, the noirish prequel to Psycho, is also pretty dingy, its neon sign emerging from the darkness; and there my random theme collapses, in time for two stories of the Jews: The Story Of The Jews by Simon Schama on BBC2, and Robert Peston Goes Shopping, a history of British retail, also on BBC2; oh, and a lovely clip from Press Preview on Sky News last week of three professional news people corpsing like schoolchildren.

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TA102On this week’s Telly Addict, we bid farewell, or au revoir, to three dramas that came to an end last week. The Village on BBC1, whose first chapter took us from 1914 to 1920, took a bow via a lovely closing shot of the entire village gathered around the new war memorial; Endeavour on ITV, whose fourth mystery was called Home, scattered lots of delicious clues to future events which we have already seen, on Morse, and left Detective Constable Endeavour himself with the threat of a limp “in middle age”; and Boss, on More4, whose first season operated at such a high pitch of corruption and venality, it was a surprise to see the delicate visual flourish that I have chosen as my clip to illustrate what has been a terrific run. There’s also a peek through our fingers at The Apprentice on BBC1, whose launch episode drew its lowest audience since 2007, and something almost as horrible, NBC’s Hannibal, on Sky Living. I also find time to commend the accessible documentary Bankers on BBC2, which lines up plutocrats in suits and supplies fruit to throw at them.

Cheers!

TA100grabSo, we’ve reached 100 and nobody’s taken us off the air yet. This is the centennial of Telly Addict. I wrote and read out the first one in May 2011, and have done so pretty much every week (except occasional public holidays and the week I had off when the insanely ambitious Stuart Heritage siezed his opportunity) ever since, for 100 weeks in total, not including the Bake Off special I did at Christmas. That’s a lot of first episodes of a lot of TV programmes that I never watched again, assessed in a pithy and I hope lenient manner while sat at a diagonal from the camera, straining at the Autocue, and taking care to rotate my shirts so that the same one doesn’t appear more often than once every six weeks. (Don’t go back and check, nerds, as I’m more vigilant on this score now than I started out being, and anyway, a lot of those black shirts are different black shirts.)

The big celebration is just a normal Telly Addict, except with a rare clip from one of the first shows I reviewed, which I feel sure you’ve all forgotten, Exile on BBC1. From the modern day: the final moments of Broadchurch on ITV; The Politician’s Husband on BBC1; The Wright Way on BBC2; Playhouse Presents: Snodgrass on Sky Arts; Masterchef on BBC1; and a couple of quick nods to Mad Men, and Da Vinci’s Demons.

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Cheers!

Walk-on by

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I’m not on actual telly very much these days – which is partly my own doing: I have turned down a number of opportunities to be on various news couches of late, and I’ve been hard at it behind a laptop for much of the last year, concentrating on what, I hope, I do best – so I cannot resist making a fuss of this. As the Sky subscribers among you may know, as it was heavily trailed, one of the ten ten-minute films packaged up under the umbrella Common Ground, was written by me and Simon Day, its star. Based on a character we originally wrote for a feature-length comedy for C4 called Personal Training, the name of our episode was Colin – also the name of the personal trainer around whom it revolves – and it aired on Monday night on Sky Atlantic. (I am inordinately excited about having had my name flash up onscreen on the same channel that shows Girls and Boardwalk Empire.)

It is the result of two mad days’ filming in and around Clapham Common in early October last year, as blessed production company Baby Cow completed all ten films in 20 consecutive working days, with producer Ali McPhail and director Dave Lambert at the helm, and a redoubtable crew doing all the heavy lifting and keeping a cavalcade of comedians and actors supplied with coffee on parky days. That the results are already on telly is testament to the insane energy of the project, and of Sky’s commissioning process. By definition, it is a curate’s egg, as each ten-minute character piece is written by different writers, and they vary in tone and intent. I like to think of the format as “speed-piloting”. (We all want a longer commission; one or more may get lucky!)

Anyway, we must blame Dave Lambert for insisting that I do a “writer’s cameo” in Colin, which I did. For the benefit of Sky refuseniks, Virgin customers and Sky subscribers who might have been paying attention to the dialogue taking place in the foreground, on the bench, between Simon and young actor Harry Foster (as Colin’s sole, 12-year-old client), this is it. Hey, I co-wrote that dialogue, so I’d rather you were listening to it than watching a man in an all-weather Blue Harbour coat tramp past, right to left, but I was that man. It was me all along! And I think you’ll agree I walked pretty bloody convincingly. Other, trained actors were impressed.

For the record, my favourite of all the Common Ground mini-adventures so far (and there are two to go – 9pm, Sky Atlantic, Monday), has been Sunshine Simon, starring and written by Tom Davis and Eleanor Lawrence. (There’s a free clip here.) I hope that one gets a series.

And ours.

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Lewis, Louie, oh baby

TA90grabIn a packed Telly Addict this week, I attempt, within the standardised ten-minute timeframe, to review the following: the final episode of Lewis on ITV (albeit without mentioning the name of the murderer in this final two-part mystery); Louie on Fox (which I’ve allowed three weeks to “bed in” before assessing); Common Ground on Sky Atlantic (which is a series of shorts to which I have contributed – this is a diplomatic highwire act!); plus two glossy new US dramas, Nashville on More4, and Vegas on Sky Atlantic, with a quick mention of Friday Night Lights, also on Sky Atlantic and now entering what looks like a scorched-earth fourth season. Don’t say I don’t watch enough telly for you. (Incidentally, the episode of Common Ground I co-wrote with Simon Day, Colin, is on next Monday. I won’t be reviewing it.)