Saturday, December 05, 2009

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2009)

Welcome, dear blog reader, to the second annual Keith Telly Topping & His Top TV Tip Awards For The Best And Worst TV Shows Of The Year. You may notice that there are - as with last year's list - twice as many highs as there are lows. That isn't, necessarily, a reflection of the ratio of good television to bad this past year, rather it's because, generally, we tend to remember the good stuff and try to forget all about the bad. Unless, of course, it's unforgetably bad.

Cut the waffle, queue the list.

Thirty Extra-Primo-Good Highlights of TV in 2009:-

1. Torchwood: Children of Earth.
Who would ever have thought it? A Doctor Who spin-off which had, previously, been little more than an interesting - and occasionally amusing, let it be said - diversion suddenly getting real dramatic teeth. And, over five days in July, riveting the entire nation with its tale of political duplicity and right-versus-need. Magnificent performances from the regulars and the guests (Peter Capaldi, Nick Farrell), controversial scripts, unexpected character deaths and an ending that - whilst entirely realistic - was something of a negation of many of the principles that television viewers believe they are party to. Quite extraordinary and, by far and away, the drama serial of the year. What are you waiting for, BBC? Make more.

2. You Have Been Watching.
The idea looked pretty dreadful on paper; take the legend that is Charlie Brooker and his patented cynical lambasting of crap TV and make that into a game-show format. Yet somehow, after a couple of so-so episodes and, with the help of a few terrific guests, it worked like a charm. Highlight: Charlie telling his viewers that, if they haven't seen Casualty before, he won't spoil it for them. Because, 'that's the writers job!'

3. On Tour With The Queen.
Completely out of left field, Kwame Kwei-Armah delivered this quite beautiful and unexpectedly sympathetic travelogue following the tour of the Commonwealth which the, then newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth, made in 1953-54. As a piece of reportage on a rapidly changing world (one in which the Commonwealth's purpose was examined and, ultimately, praised) it was extraordinary enough. But, as a TV travel show in and of itself, it had everything which the last three Michael Palin series' for the BBC haven't – a smart criteria, drama, wit and purpose. All presented with enthusiasm and dignity by the excellent Kwame. Give this chap his own show, he's an absolute natural.

4. James May's Toy Story.
In which big grown-up kid James May encouraged ordinary people to discover the fun in life which toys can bring. The Plastercine and Scalextric episodes, alone, guaranteed the show a kind of TV immortality thanks to their triumphant demonstration of what staggering feats can be achieved when folks simply pull together and put their minds to something. The sheer sense of magnificence at the end of the latter episode, when a World Record was broken at Brooklands, was something that even a professional misanthrope would have difficulty not to crack a smile at. Remember, there are two further episodes due to be shown around Christmas, including the highly-publicised Lego one. Proof, if any were needed, that Cap'n Slow is rapidly overtaking his more high-profile Top Gear pals in the solo presentation stakes.

5. Lie To Me.
The best new drama series to come out of the US since ... Lost, possibly. Maybe The West Wing, it's that good. Lie To Me's success is two-fold. A star-vehicle for the brilliant Tim Roth to become the latest Brit to make a big splash in Hollywood whilst, at the same time, being essentially an ensemble show in the same vein as things like Bones and CSI. Great premise, clever and witty scripts and put together like a Hollywood version of one of Derren Brown's stage shows. Brilliant.

6. Coast.
The BBC's flagship geographical history series waded into uncharted territory this year, with trips across the sea to our neighbours in France, Norway and the Faeroe Islands. Yet it still manages to feel the most quintessentially 'British' show on television. Scottish Neil Oliver and his team continue in their quest to make the seaside look beautiful. Series five has already been commissioned. So, there clearly is a God.

7. Lost.
Who would have believed, in the middle of Lost's third series a couple of years back, that the decision to set a specific end-date would have such a brilliant effect on the internal drama of the show? From the point at which the writers knew where (and when) they were heading towards, the series has just continued to get better and better, jettisoning many popular cast members – often with a seeming callous disregard for the audiences collective feelings - in the name of progress. Series five (or The Michael Emerson Show as it rapidly became) effectively moved most of the important pieces into place for 2010's finale. And, revealed what we always secretly knew - that Boring Jack Shepherd wasn't the real star of this show, James Ford is! If you've stuck with it this far, the pay off is coming. And on the evidence of this year, it is going to be great.

8. Masterchef/Celebrity Masterchef/The Professionals.
Quite how a conceit which features such a crassly exploitative format as Masterchef got so very good so quickly is still something of a mystery. But, the fact remains that the Gregg Wallace-John Torode fronted cookery knock-out competition - in either its general public, celebrity, or 'professional' guise - was one of television's genuine 'must see' events of 2009. Ironically, in many ways it was Masterchef The Professionals (without Torode, but with Michel Roux as Wallace's oppo) that really captured the public's imagination late in the year; particularly the last week of episodes and the final itself. The Masterchef franchise now seems firmly established as one of the BBC's most important formats and the idea of switching the show(s) to BBC1 from next year is a welcome one.

9. Qi: XL
The decision by the BBC to provide extended Saturday night repeats of series six of Qi was genuinely inspired. In allowing an extra fifteen minutes for each episodes, they gave some of the guests (most notably Johnny Vegas and Ben Miller) the space to breathe outside of Qi's usual competative quick-fire format. Besides, fifteen more minutes of Stephen Fry a week is always welcome. The seventh series of Qi, which began recently, did so without XL accompanying it although rumours abound that the extended versions will be back later in the series.

10. Occupation.
Peter Bowker's harrowing evocation of the shock and awe of the Iraq war brought one of the performances of the year - from Jimmy Nesbitt - and a whole raft of awards and critical praise. Hard, often depressing yet, ultimately, a life affirming slice of yer actual, proper TV drama. Outstanding.

11. Doctor Who.
At the time of writing there have, of course, been merely two new episodes of the BBC's flagship SF show broadcast in 2009; the lightweight-but-fun Planet of the Dead at Easter and the astonishingly grim Waters of Mars in November. An apocalyptic two-parter is still to come at Christmas (and if you don't know what's happening in that then you've probably been living on another planet for most of this year). But, for the moment, Doctor Who's inclusion on this list is, almost entirely, down to the last fifteen minutes of Waters of Mars and the brave decision to send The Doctor to a very dark place indeed. The point - made by Russell Davies, in the accompanying episode of Doctor Who Confidential - that The Doctor's hopelessly flawed actions on Mars probably mirrored how The Master started on his own bridal path to insanity was a fascinating one given the reported plot for the coming two-parter. There are some days when, no matter what you try to do, and however good your intentions may be, nothing seems to go right. The End of Time is coming. Can't wait, personally.

12. Mock The Week.
Controversial, dangerous, sometimes wildly overstepping the boundaries of taste and decency but usually doing so with the knowledge that - by and large - the people it is pissing off are exactly the people you'd want it to piss off. The publicity engendered by Mad Frankie Boyle's comments on Rebecca Adlington's sex life and Emily Maitlis's witless and ignorantly po-faced confrontation with Mark Thompson on the subject of pussies on Newsnight provided some juicy headlines, of course. But a comedy as diamond sharp, satirical and hard-hitting as this one really doesn't need the manufactured fury of a Daily Mail-created scandal to make a point. And to be something that you really need to have as a regular part of your life. Plus, of course, any show which uses The Jam for its theme tune is doing something right.

13. Waking The Dead.
In what may be its final hurrah the BBC's premiere crime drama spent the year surprising the audience. From Stella's unexpected death in the opening story to Grace's cancer revelation in the season finale, it was one twist of the knife after another and the sense of a team falling apart. If our final image of the show is to be that of Mad Ruth Gemmill going pavement-diving from the top of a towerblock whilst Peter Boyd looks, helplessly, on then Waking the Dead will end its life being exactly what it has always been the last eight years. The best crime drama on British TV since Between the Lines.

14. Top Gear.
Despite all the criticism from hippies and Communist scum, Top Gear remains peerless entertainment, aiming a casual toot of the horn (and a rear-bumper to the groin) of any passing naysayer. This year the stunts got bigger than ever (caravanning with airships, races across Europe), the controversies got more hilarious than usual (the Gruniad's ludicrous complaints about the amount of resources used whenever the MOD loaned the production some chaps for 'a bit of a lark') and the ratings stayed pretty much the same. Usain Bolt and Michael Sheen went round the track like lightning, The Stig became a national hero and Clarkson asked 'how had can it be?' on twelve separate occasions. And of course, without it, what the hell else would they show all day on Dave?

15. Whitechapel.
A pointed reminder that ITV can produce popular, entertaining and 'a bit bonkers' crime drama if they put their minds to it. A surprise hit in the early weeks of the year mainly because, excellent cast aside, it seemed such an obvious conceit that no one could work out how they'd have anything interesting to say in it. What Whitechapel lacked in originality, however, it more than made up for with atmosphere and pace. And, in its presentation of the sheer banality of evil, it managed to say something quite significant that other, perhaps more weighty and thoughtful, dramas of a similar nature would probably have missed. A sequel will be produced next year, which is great news.

16. Collision.
A pointed reminder that ITV can produce popular, entertaining and 'a bit bonkers' crime drama if they put their minds to it. Slight return. Collision brought together a scriptwriter of proven talent – Anthony Horowitz – and one of the most remarkable casts that any British TV series has assembled in years for a white knuckle ride into the complicated realms of chaos theory. A classy, morally ambiguous, dramatically satisfying tale in which no one was innocent but, astonishingly, few were actually all that guilty either. Except for that bastard wasp, of course. A genuine reflection of the complexities of interweaving lives with a series of beautiful performances (the highlight, unquestionably being Douggie Henshall's confrontation with Ben Crompton's character in episode four). Here was something which, like Torchwood, gave viewers not, necessarily, the resolution that they wanted, but one that they needed. Whether they deserved it, or not.

17. Bones.
It's almost got to the stage these days, where Bones's continuing success just isn't surprising anymore. We've reached the point where most viewers have forgotten just how low expectations were for the show when it began. This year, its pulling power in terms of guest stars has reached a zenith and it has started to flex some real dramatic muscle in areas a long way from home when this series began as a basic CSI lookalike. The building storyline about Booth's head injury which climaxed in the damned queer 'it was all a dream, or was it?' season finale has continued in the current, fifth season. Bones is sharp, witty, slyly caustic about cynicism in all its forms, acted by one of the best ensemble groups on TV and, just when you think it can't improve any more, Stephen Fry turns up once in a while in a chef's hat to prove you wrong!

18. Extreme Fishing With Robson Green.
Silliest title of any show in this list it may have been but, Extreme Fishing proved once again, as with Coast and Time Team and their ilk that any format which is presented with genuine enthusiasm has the potential to win over its audience on the strength of personality alone. No matter how obscure or weird the subject matter may be. So, here we have – essentially – a travelogue in which Wor Robson (using his highly practiced 'canny, sound bloke from doon the Bigg Market' routine) goes off around the globe, rod in hand, and has tons of fun doing so. And, miraculously, so does his audience.

19. Nature's Great Events/Natural World/Yellowstone/Life.
It has been an outstanding year for the output of the BBC's natural history unit in Bristol. Much like any other year, in fact. From the astonishing cinematography of the Salmon Run episode of Nature's Great Events, the bit with the arctic fox diving into the deep snow to catch a mouse in Yellowstone to just about everything that David Attenborough gets his (metaphorical) hands on, 2009 has brought viewers moments that will live with them for the rest of their lives. To repeat, much like every other year, in fact.

20. Unforgiven.
A pointed reminder that ITV can produce popular, entertaining and 'a bit bonkers' crime drama if they put their minds to it. Part three. In which Suranne Jones give one of the year's most outstanding dramatic performances as a woman crushed by the horrors of her past and trying to cope with an uncertain future. It was a brave, wildly experimental genre-crossing drama (part psychological thriller, part telefantasy, part straightforward family soap). A classy, thoughtful and, at times, uncomfortable piece of television and an example of how, for all of our sometimes cynical view of modern TV, if the product is impressive, the viewers will come.

21. The Diary of Anne Frank.
Deborah Moggach's life-affirming adaptation of the true story – strip-scheduled across five nights by the BBC – brought to life, for a new generation, the appalling tragedy of anti-Semitic dogma. Ellie Kendrick led the cast – and won every plaudit under the sun for her performance – but, for this viewer at least, the real star of this show was Tamsin Greig, playing hugely against type, as Anne's rather aloof and arch mother, Edith.

22. Miranda.
It didn't look promising on paper and, if one believed many of the previews of the opening episode (including this author's as it happens) it was yet another failure by the BBC to produce a comedy that actually had a single worthy thing about it. Just goes to show that we all talk crap at times. Miranda Hart's stylised, in many ways rather old fashioned sitcom about the inadequacies of her life seemed to strike a chord with many viewers who've become rather tired of sitcoms about twentysomethings on the pull. This one (about desperate thirtysomethings on the pull!) revels in physical comedy, sight gags, audience interaction – all of the things that most comedy writers will tell you we left behind in the 1980s. And it's funny too – something that many sitcoms can rarely manage these days. If you want proof of that, watch an episode of Miranda immediately before an episode of the next sitcom idea the BBC came up with, Big Top, and you'll have a pointed lesson in necessary differences. I love this woman's humour – like Miranda Hart herself, it's big, awkward, in your face and shouting. Again, more of this please BBC.

23. The Supersizers Eat ...
The delightful pairing of Giles Coren and Sue Perkins had worked so well in the first series of Supersizers that the BBC had to bring them back for more. TV's oddest couple experienced life, and grub, from eras as diverse as Roman Britain, the French Revolution and the Roaring Twenties right up to the pair dressed like refugees form a T'Pau video in an episode set around the 1980s that was, comfortably, one of the TV highlights of the year. Coren has said that he and Perkins are reluctant to do a third series ('Sue and I can't just keep sitting at tables, pulling faces and making smart remarks about the food' – oh, whyever not? It's so entertaining!) but the duo are likely to do further projects with each other on the BBC. Hurrah.

24. Dollhouse.
One from the Pushing Daisies book of TV truisms. In Dollhouse, Joss Whedon tried to do something a bit different – something a shade more morally ambiguous - than TV is traditionally used to. In which 'the good guys' are actually really rather nasty quasi-fascist organisation, the nominal 'hero' is a screwed-up obsessive, the compulsory 'wise-cracking, smart-alec' character is a mental rapist and the nominal heroine is a fantasy who, to all intents and purposes, doesn't really exist. FOX took a chance on it and, after a few shaky episodes at the start, the series got very good, very quickly, moving into some areas of deep psychology that few other shows would dare to touch for fear of alienating their viewers. Perhaps typically, Dollhouse got almost no audience at all. Despite this – perhaps feeling guilty because they'd short changed Whedon the last time he created a drama for them – the network unexpectedly recommissioned the show for a second season. Which has, so far, been little short of brilliant. But, still, nobody watched it and so FOX recently cut their losses and cancelled it. So, all of this is a bit academic now. But, if you do get the chance to catch up on this insane, provocative, sometimes silly but, usually, astonishingly effective drama, take it. You might never see another one quite like it.

25. The Lion Cub From Harrods.
Something that could only have been made – and only have been a ratings winner – in Great Britain. This Channel 4 documentary told the madcap story of a pair of Aussie chaps who, in the late 1960s, bought a lion cub from Harrods which they kept in their flat on the King's Road. I know this sounds like the plot of some wacky Swingin' London movie starring Tuesday Weld but. amazingly, it really did happen. The story moved to Africa where the now rapidly growing lion, Christian, was reintegrated into the wild by George Adamson and was then brought up-to-date as the tale became an Internet sensation in recent years. A charming, beautiful and touching piece of feel-good TV.

26. Last Chance To See.
Twenty years after his late-friend Douglas Adams brought the subject of endangered species to a wider public audience, Stephen Fry accompanied Adams' collaborator, Mark Carwardine, on a six-part odyssey around the world. And, of course, it was glorious stuff – moving, sometimes breathtaking, occasionally tragic but always fascinating. However, there is one particular moment for which the series will be remembered above all else; the bit in episode five where a kakapo (a flightless green parrot native to New Zealand) called Sirocco decided to try and mate with Mark's head. TV comedy just doesn't come any better than that.

27. The Thick of It.
The third series of Armando Ianucci's delicious political satire took the viewer every further into the murky, cynical and labyrinthine world of Malcolm Tucker, the King of Spin. Having taken 2008 off to make a film adaptation (the mostly successful In The Loop), the return of Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Paul Higgins et al was a welcome one. And, the addition of the great Rebecca Front to the cast added to its rapidly flexing comedy muscles. Let us hope that next year's change of government doesn't see the end of one of British TV's finest ever comedies of the absurd.

28. [Spooks].
It was show of the year on yer Keith Telly Topping's list in 2008 but things have been far tougher for [Spooks] this time around. The ratings for the show's eighth season have been distinctly average (under the four million mark for one recent episode) and the general word-of-mouth consensus has been of the 'not as good as it used to be' variety. I think that's nonsense, personally. The return of Nicola Walker's Ruth has given the show back its sarky edge, Jo's death was brilliant unsignposted and the running storyline about naughty CIA shenanigans (even in a post-Obama world) provides just the right, sinister, degree of real-world instability. Poor Lucas, having his chain yanked by that bitchy American woman – did he really survive years of waterboarding in Siberia for that? Dark rumours - possibly unsubstantiated - abound that this could be [Spooks] final year. If it is, then let's hope it goes down all guns blazing with Harry and his team triumphant in the face of overwhelming odds. As usual.

29. Breaking The Mould.
BBC4's Under The Skin strand had many triumphs but this glorious little drama about the discovery of penicillin starring Dominic West, Joe Armstrong and Dennis Lawson was the undoubted highlight.

30. Margaret.
One of the finest drama performances of the year came in this bio-pic concerning the machinations behind the ousting of Margaret Thatcher from No. 10. Whilst Lindsay Duncan's extraordinary, deliciously nuanced take on the Iron Lady who wasn't for turning drew many deserved plaudits the best thing on offer was undoubtedly John Sessions as Geoffrey Howe, a man who'd been used as a doormat just that once too often. In a quite brilliant cast (the great Michael Cochran as a bolshy, foul-mouthed Alan Clark, for example) Sessions was so far removed from his usual overt luvvie-persona as to be virtually unrecognisable. And, it included one of the funniest sequences of TV in 2009 as Ian McDermidd's Denis watches the famed moment when John Sargeant was confidently telling the viewing nation that Mrs Thatcher would likely be staying in her room in Brussels just as she could be seen coming out of the front door. 'She's behind you, you pinko prat!' Priceless.

Bubbling under: Being Human. Red Riding. Desperate Romantics. Hustle. CSI. Ideal. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Pushing Daisies. Liz Smith's Summer Cruise. Harry Hill's TV Burp. Law & Order UK. Who Do You Think You Are? Leverage. Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. Primeval. Five Minutes In Heaven. Location, Location, Location. Ashes To Ashes. House. Flight of the Conchords. Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra. Empire of Cricket. Kingdom. Psychoville. New Tricks. Spanish Flu: The Forgotten Fallen. Skins. Framed. Joanna Lumley: Catwoman. Strictly Come Dancing. Derren Brown: The Events. FlashForward. True Blood. The Armstrong & Miller Show. Andrew Marr's The Making of Modern Britain.

Fifteen Major (by which we mean Brigadier-General) Lowlights of TV in 2009:-

1.
Demons.
You couldn’t even describe it as 'this year's Bonekickers' since, for all of its many, many faults, at least Bonekickers was quite funny in its incompetence. Demons was so bad that it not only got itself cancelled after one series but, effectively, changed ITV's attitude towards early evening family drama single-handedly which means that it, indirectly, brought down Primeval too. If, in twenty years time, you happen to be watching some UK Gold type digital channel and you spot Demons on there, remember dear blog reader, avoid it at all costs. It is not so much car-crash-TV as a multi-vehicle pile-up involving several petrol tankers, a nuclear waste transporter and with much horrible burning and death. Although, in Philip Glenister's dreadful American accent it did - at least - have one of TV's undiscovered comedy gems of the last, ooh, two decades at least.

2.
The Colour of Money.
A mind-numbingly dreadful game show, presented by the oily Chris Tarrant and 'Top TV Sports Babe' (according to the Sun, anyway) Millie Clode. What could possibly go wrong? How about 'everything'? Cancelled after just seven episodes because of shockingly bad ratings and because, frankly, nobody could make head-nor-tale of the bafflingly complex rules. It comes as a pretty wretched statement of fact when the News of the World (the News of the World, fer Christ's sake!) calls your show 'exactly the kind of cynical crowd-pleasing guff we've come to despise ITV for.' Welcome to the party, guys ... Pull up a chair and sing us a song.

3.
Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder.
Wretched, slovenly, crass, lazily scripted and – for the most part – desperately unfunny. Murray's attempt to leave his Pub Landlord staple (and, possibly, his audience) behind and develop a character-based sketch show was ultimately doomed because the characters themselves were so universally, poor. Whether the accusations that the show was also dangerously homophobic due to the inclusion of the gay Nazi Uberbombfuhrer Schwul are accurate, I'll leave up to individual reader's choice. Personally, I wasn't offended so much by the character's stereotypical orientation and stupid Larry Grayson-style mannerisms as his lack of saying anything even remotely amusing. Silly costumes and over-the-top cod-accents never work in isolation, Al. They need something else to go with them. Jokes, basically. Back to the drawing board, I think.

4.
Horne & Corden.
Quite popular it may have been – certainly in BBC3 terms – but Mathew Horne and James Corden's thoroughly poor sketch-show did something almost no TV comedy ever manages – it united virtually every TV critic under the sun in a common (evangelical) cause. Over-hyped and under-performing, the comedy here was every bit as lazy, crude and lowest-common-denominator as Al Murray's. Perhaps everything that was wrong with Horne & Cordon was best summed up by The Stage's Henry Venning who speculated that over-exposure and hubris had led the duo to believe they could simply turn up and make people laugh. 'The whole thing is terrible and they deserve everything they get. They are actors, not comedians. Corden has a bit of comic persona, but Horne hasn't any so he was stuck in this awful straight-man role. What really annoys me is this attitude that they've had a hit sitcom so writing a sketch show should be easy. What happened to quality control? Didn't anyone think, "We need to get in some writers"?' Corden, infamously, went off the deep end at such criticism and sulkily noted 'We'd hate for people to get sick of us but we're already in a sketch show, and a film. We might be starting to get on people's nerves.' Pretty much, yeah. The BBC's reaction was that, basically, 'this show is very popular with students.' That was hard to argue with. And, given the current appalling state of education in this country, it says so much on so many levels.

5.
Big Brother.
Christ, is this bollocks still on?

6.
Totally Saturday.
Axed after a single series, this disastrous vehicle for Graham Norton proved, once and for all, that the variety show is, if not dead, then certainly coughing up blood and on life-support. Charlie Brooker, infamously, considered that it 'made John Barrowman's Tonight's The Night look half-way decent' (which, if you look 'back-handed Tonight's The Night compliments' up on Google you'll find that's pretty near the top). Norton is a clever, witty man and a very good TV presenter – as his chat show, recently moved to BBC1, ably demonstrates. What Totally Saturday ably demonstrated, however, was that you cannot just stick any old presenter in any old format and expect it to work. It's to be hoped that somebody at the BBC got a damned good shoeing for this.

7.
The Duchess On The Estate/7 Days on the Breadline.
More thoroughly offensive, patronising, 'location swap' television from ITV who seem to think that it's really clever to take a bunch of high-profile celebrities from their pampered lifestyles and, for a week or two, stick 'em on a rough estate somewhere in the grim North so that they can give the locals the benefit of their no-doubt deep wisdom. Before they're whisked off by helicopter back to their mansions. There's something dark and very unsettling about the knowledge that someone, somewhere thinks this will be either educational or entertaining. Or, possibly, both. For once, interestingly, Sarah Ferguson swanking around some Manchester craphole like the Queen of Sheba wasn't the most obviously nasty example of this degrading strand of reality television. Rather it was the sight of Mel B, looking for all the world like Jimmy Savile in her designer shell-suit and bling-bling jewelry, muttering about how much nicer Los Angeles is to Leeds. No shit, Sherlock? Still, it does the soul a bit of good to know that both programmes achieved astonishingly poor ratings. It seems that the people of Britain (both North and South) don't particularly enjoy seeing rich people pretending to be poor for a week. A lesson that TV will, hopefully, absorb and digest.

8.
The Jeremy Kyle Show.
You don't, really, need an actual reason for the inclusion of this one, do you? Okay … Manchester District Judge, Alan Berg, whilst sentencing a man who had head-butted his love rival while appearing on the show, was reported in the Manchester Evening News as saying: 'I have had the misfortune, very recently, of watching The Jeremy Kyle Show. It seems to me that the purpose of this show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil.' And that it was 'a plain disgrace which goes under the guise of entertainment.' Berg described the show as 'human bear-baiting' and added that 'it should not surprise anyone that these people, some of whom have limited intellects, become aggressive with each other. This type of incident is exactly what the producers wanted. These self-righteous individuals should be in the dock with you. They pretend there is some kind of virtue in putting out a show like this.' Yeah, what he said, basically.

9.
Hole In The Wall.
Last year, Hole in the Wall was one of the biggest jokes on British TV but, in its own off-beat way, it acquired a genuine cult following. Harry Hill's constant referencing of the show and its host, Dale Winton, on TV Burp assured it a kind of TV-immortality. Like Crossroads in the 1970s, it was so bad, it was often brilliant. Brainless, admittedly, but rather beloved by viewers for exactly that reason. Despite low ratings, the BBC recommissioned it. But Winton, it seemed, had rather had enough of being the butt of everyone's jokes (and so had one of the team captains, Darren Gough). So, for the second series, Anton Du Beke took over hollering 'BRING ON THE WALL' and Austin Healy and Joe Swash got the gig of trying to look good in tight silver lyrca. And, all of a sudden, even Harry was struggling to find something to laugh at. Now, it's no longer so bad it's brilliant. It's just bad.

10.
Young, Dumb & Living Off Mum.
'It's a reality show where twats aged seventeen to twenty five live in a house together and have big, stupid rows which I narrate. And then, amazingly, the feckless idiot parents get to vote for the least annoying one and whoever is left, by default, wins the show.' Robert Webb's view of BBC3's conceptual version to Pro-Celebrity Dwarf-Tossing. And, of course, he's dead right – it is quite entertaining in a sort of abstract way watching these hapless, moronic kids trying to fend for themselves in a social experiment that even the Victorians might have dismissed as too cruel. No, the real reason that the show is on this list is that somebody at BBC3 actually got paid to dream up this sick and nasty little excuse for a format and then present it, as entertainment for BBC3's 'key demographic' – i.e. exactly the sort of people who are featured in the show. Perhaps they enjoy watching the parents – most of whom are in absolute denial about the rotten job they've done bringing up baby – squirming in their seats. There's a degree of self-loathing involved in this show all the way to its rotten core. From those participating and from those watching. The Year of The Sex Olympics has arrived, bang on queue. We are all prostitutes now.

11.
The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin.
Why?! Why for the love of God, WHY? Just leave it alone. Jesus, the Americans will be remaking The Italian Job next. D'oh.

12.
Live From Studio Five.
I'm saying nothing here. I'll leave it to the experts: Let's kick off with Michael Parkinson, somebody who knows a thing or two about producing good, bad and cringeworthy TV, who described Live From Studio Five thus: 'If there was a category for worst ever show, it would win hands down.' The Mirror's reviewer Jim Shelley, meanwhile, described it as being 'excruciatingly awful, amateurish and virtually pointless.' Comedian Dom Joly has nicknamed the three presenters 'Tits, Teeth and Mouth.' And then, of course, there's Charlie Brooker who opined that 'here is a TV show which makes any and all previous accusations of "dumbing down" seem like misplaced phoney-war hysteria. A show with a running order Heat magazine would consider frighteningly lightweight. A show which, incredibly, boasts Melinda Messenger as its intellectual touchstone!' It's so bad that it's actually, quite scary to think there are around two or three hundred thousand people who regularly watch this abomination walking the streets. Commissioned by Five's Richard Wolfe, incidentally, if you were wondering who to blame.

13.
Big Top.
You just knew this one was going to be a disaster when, on the day of its first episode's broadcast the female lead went on The Paul O'Grady Show and confidentially predicted that the sitcom would be 'slaughtered by the critics.' The interesting thing is that Amanda Holden seemed to think that she would be the main recipient of the critics wrath. No, no, no, no. Amanda, trust me love you're not even close to being the worst thing about Big Top. I mean, don't get carried away, you're still pretty dreadful in it. But there are far worse things on offer here. Like the fact that the scripts are about as wretched as any sitcom I've ever sat though. Or the fact that that there's almost no design to the thing - just a bunch of comic actors standing around in rows throwing not particularly funny one-liners at each other with almost no movement – actual or conceptual. There's also no pace, no atmosphere and, on the strength of the first two episodes at least, precious few actual jokes. Some of the actors, like Tony Robinson, because he's been doing this for thirty year and is, you know, good, manage to at least inject a bit of personality into even the most dreadful, unfunny dialogue. Others, like Amanda, in what appears to be something close to resignation, simply don't. One of the great face comedians of his generation, John Thompson, appears virtually unrecognisable, under a ton of clown make-up. Ruth Madoc is still playing Gladys Pugh from Hi-de-Hi because that's the only accent she can do. Oh God, it's bad! I mean, really bad by any definition of what 'really bad' actually is.

14.
Clever Versus Stupid.
Conceptually vile, in execution flaccid and dull. A classic example of some bright spark in the planning department basing a TV show on an 'it sounded good on paper' twenty-words-or-less idea scribbled down an the back of a napkin after a three-whisky lunch and then watching as it spectacularly blows up in his face. 'It's such a fine line between clever and stupid,' observed the character of David St Hubbins in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. This show actually seems to go out of its way to prove otherwise and that the real idiots are the supposedly very clever people who dream this nonsense up in the first place.

15.
ABC's Life on Mars.
Sixteen and three quarter episodes of really very good (and surprising) TV absolutely ruined by an ending that's not so much silly as downright ruddy daft. We were all worried when it was announced that the Americans were remaking Life on Mars but, by a strange process of luck and good judgement they managed to get it, for the most part, right. It was different, but it was entertaining and rather moving in places, well-acted and sticking, mostly, to the themes of the Kudos original whilst having a new bunch of genre clichés to play with. Gil Grissom from CSI gets knocked down and wakes up in an episode of Kojak. Like it. And then, exactly thirty six minutes into the final episode, it all went horribly pear-shaped! A necessary reminder to us all, never get too invested in a TV show. It'll only bring heartbreak in the end!

Bubbling Under: Minder. Monday Monday. All The Small Things. Mumbai Calling. Hope Springs. The Kevin Bishop Show. The Life of Riley. As Seen on TV. The TNT Show. Paris Hilton's British Best Friend. Jam and Jerusalem. Ladette to Lady. Tonight's The Night. Fearne And ... Trinny & Susannah Meet Their Match. Farmer Wants A Wife. And, absolutely anything featuring Jamie Oliver, Katie Price or Peter Andre.

And remember, dear blog reader, there is no such thing as a good or bad 'type' of television, despite what dogmatic viewers may attempt to convince you. There are only two types of TV. Good and bad. And, it's ultimately, up to the individual into which category they fit any show. See you all again next year for the 2010 awards.

3 comments:

rob said...

Excellent list KT. No Misfits or Moses Jones though? Also did you catch FM on ITV2? Very good stuff!

Mietek said...

With a few exceptions, most notably Mumbai Calling ( which is incredibly Asian and funny) being on the wrong list, I would not have written my own list any other way. Can I ask why you sparred X Factor from the indignity of the booby prize list?

Any roads, great list and keep saving us from the dreck. Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah , Christmas and for those who don't care one way or the other, Happy Festivus.

Keith Telly Topping said...

Was Moses Jones this year? Yeah, actually, it would've been January, wouldn't it as it was on opposite Whitechapel. That would've been close to a place in the Bubbling Under. Misfits, I find a but ... meh. Not bad, mind, but it ain't in Being Human's league, let alone Torchwood's.

I thought Mumbai Calling was *desperate*. Almost as bad as the very worst of the sitcoms that are on the bad list.

As for X Factor this is no way on earth that it can be characterised as 'bad television', no matter what criteria one uses about what 'bad television' actually is. People might not *like* it, that's perfectly valid, but it ticks all of the boxes for everything that constitutes a TV success story. It was very close to going on the Bubbling Under list for 'good' telly, actually. It's only the fact that I prefer - and am more familiar with - Strictly to it that kept it off.

Like I said at the end, we have to get away from this insane idea that types of television can be fitted, neatly, into good or bad categories - 'all drama, good. All soaps and reality shows, bad.' It doesn't work like that. Big Brother used to be a great TV show. I never liked it, particularly, but I wasn't blind to its positives just as I wasn't blind to its flaws. Now, it's bad television because it's started to repeat itself and found that, ultimately, it has nowhere else to go. The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent will end the year as the two most watched TV shows on UK TV. There IS a reason for that - and it isn't a third of the British population are morons. It's that they work. Neither are shows I'd go out of my way to watch but neither are they 'bad' or anything even remotely like it.

Dancing On Ice, on the other hand ...!

xxx