Sunday, December 04, 2011

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2011)

Welcome you are, dear blog reader, to the fourth annual Keith Telly Topping And His Top TV Tip Awards For The Best And Worst TV Shows Of The Year. You may notice that there are - as per usual - about twice as many highs listed here as there are lows. That isn't, necessarily, a reflection of the ratio of good television to bad during this past year. Oh, no. Bless you, that's not even close to being true. Rather, it's because, generally, we tend to remember the good stuff and try to forget all about the rubbish. Unless, of course, it's unforgettably bad, in which case, we can't. We've got sixteen of those bad babies lined=up especially for you. But, first -

Thirty Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights of TV in 2011:-

1. Luther
Following a rather 'yeah, so what?' reaction to 2010's first series of this dark-as-night crime drama, expectations were not particularly high for the four-episode second series of Luther broadcast on BBC1 in June and July. What we got, in the event, were two of the most accomplished and remarkable two-part slabs of white-knuckle TV drama in living memory. Featuring a superb cast - led by Idris Elba and with a star-making turn by Aimee-Ffion Edwards alongside the likes of Ruth Wilson, Paul McGann, Dermot Crowley and Michael Smiley - the four episodes surfed the black and troubling underbelly of manic psychosis. And, that was just the good-guys of the piece! The opening story, in particular, was a horribly magnetic conceit, concerning a mad-as-toast serial-killer who wears a Mr Punch mask and has an interest in bringing exaggerated theatricality to the brutal crimes which he commits. The character was played, quite brilliantly, by Inspector George Gently's Lee Ingleby in a real case of gamekeeper-turned-poacher. Terrific dialogue - from [spooks] veteran Neil Cross - too: 'He's not going to hurt you Tim. You know why? Because if he does, I'm pretty certain to come over there and kill him! He's nothing. He's just a weak, little, pathetic man.' Absolutely outstanding. A genuine ratings hit in the UK - with the audience actually growing as the series went on - it even picked up a cult audience in the US on BBC America and drew critical praise from the likes of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. A third series has already been commissioned much to this blogger's satisfaction.

2. Ideal
The single worst decision made by any TV executive - possibly in the world - this year was BBC3's controller Zai Bennett's frankly moronic cancellation of Graham Duff's surreal minimalist comedy, Ideal, the great hidden gem of British comedy for most of the last decade. The decision to stop making Ideal was even worse than the decision to start making Don't Scare The Hare. Yes, it was that bad. Bennett did this at a time when the show - after seven years - was getting its highest ever ratings and highest ever media profile, as evidenced by the quality of guest stars it was attracting (Paul Weller, Kara Tointon, Sean Lock). The story of a low-scale drug dealer on a scumbag Manchester estate, and the various pyshcos and low lives that use his flat as the local community centre, Ideal had one of the best ensemble casts on television. (Johnny Vegas, Nicola Reynolds. Seymour Mace, Ryan Pope, Tom Goodman-Hill, Sinead Matthews, Alfie Joey, Ben Crompton, Andrew Lee Potts, Emma Fryer, Mick Miller, Joanna Neary, Janeane Garofalo, Duff himself.) It also possessed a sly, accomplished wit that set it apart from much of the crass wank which passes itself off as 'television comedy' these days. Ideal was, undeniably, an acquired taste but more and more people seemed to be acquiring it, which made its axing all the more difficult to bear. As Vegas himself recently noted, the fact that it was cancelled by the man who brought Kerry Katona's utterly worthless reality show to ITV2 is, perhaps, the ultimate slap in the face for a comedy that always deserved a bit more Goddamn respect.

3. The Shadow Line
Hugo Blick's hugely stylised, at times defiantly opaque, but always fascinating seven-part drama about police corruption and drug smuggling, The Shadow Line divided opinion down the middle. It featured another great ensemble cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Antony Sher, Rafe Spall, Kierston Wareing, Richard Lintern, Lesley Sharp, Bob Pugh, Malcolm Storry, David Schofield) in which no character was ever, quite, whom or what they seem. Stephen Rea gave perhaps, the best dramatic performance on TV pretty much anywhere this year as the polite and charming yet cold-eyed killer, Gatehouse. It had something of a mixed reception, it was a piece of TV you had to concentrate fully on, over seven weeks, you couldn't dip in and out of it. And, some of the dialogue was deliberately anti-realistic leading to lots of 'real people don't talk like that' comments on the Internet. From pedants. But, if you did decide to dive in with both feet, you'd be rewarded with something really very special indeed.

4. Spiral
Salut. It's not often, dear blog reader, that it takes until the third series of a TV show before yer actual Keith Telly Topping gets avec le programme. But it happened this year with the superb French crime drama Engrenages, first broadcast in 2010 and, a qualified crossover hit this year on BBC4 on Saturday nights over six weeks in April and May. Under, of course, the English title, Spiral. A twelve-episode investigation into the identity of a serial killer of prostitutes on the slash in the less touristy Parisian suburbs, Spiral had the lot - action, depth, sex, drugs, violence, a bit of politics, a great cast (Caroline Proust, Grégory Fitoussi, Philippe Duclos, Thierry Godard, Fred Bianconi, Audrey Fleurot) and a crackerjack of a climax. One of the first French TV shows to find an audience in the non-French speaking world, further series have been ordered by Canal+. Hopefully, next time, the BBC will be a bit quicker off the mark in acquiring them. Nevertheless, the last batch of episodes featured probably my favourite line of dialogue on telly this year. 'This weekend, I have cocaine and hookers,' says Laure's loyal sergeant, Gilou. 'You have your blunders.' Brilliant.

5. Doctor Who
There are those about - sad, crushed victims of society by and large - who'll try and convince you that Doctor Who hasn't had a very good year in 2011. The split-in-half sixth series had its detractors, plotwise, and was the subject of a suspiciously concerted campaign of whispers and lies from at least a couple of crassly scum tabloids who'd clearly decided that it was open season on the BBC's popular long-running family SF drama. The ratings were down (slightly - by about one per cent from the previous year) and everybody and their dog had their own theory on what was going 'wrong.' The short answer though, was that not much was. The series - which was, admittedly, more inter-connected than usual and, therefore, often required a second viewing so that you got every detail - nevertheless contained two of the finest Doctor Who episodes in decades: The Doctor's Wife and The Girl Who Waited. It also had a couple or three of the maddest - A Good Man Goes To War, Let's Kill Hitler and The Wedding Of River Song. Steven Moffat's season-long arc somewhat divided opinion (most viewers seemed to quite like it, a few mouthy malcontents on the Internet didn't and weren't shy about telling anyone that would listen. Or, indeed, anyone that wouldn't). The central trio of Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were usually on great form - particularly Darvill who spent all year acting his little cotton socks off ; Alex Kingston wore her jodphurs sensationally; The Cybermen and The Silence got a good kicking. We had rough-tough pirates, almost people, night terrors, a living TARDIS and bloody James Corden. Whom we could well have done without, frankly. A mixed year, then. Most of it really very good indeed. James Corden, not so much. Is it nearly Christmas yet?

6. Holy Flying Circus
In 1979, a quintet of young British comedy writer/performers (and the American one) made Monty Python's Life of Brian, a film which only reached the screen at all because George Harrison bought 'the most expensive cinema ticket in history.' And the debate about what is an acceptable subject for comedy and what isn't was blown wide open. This was thirty years before Frankie Boyle, remember. Holy Flying Circus was a fantastical re-imagining of the build-up to the release of the film and the controversy it caused. The real John Cleese said that he hated it simply on the strength of the script before he'd even seen the finished article. The irony of which, one trusts, was lost on no one given what he, Palin, Jones, Gilliam, Idle and Chapman had gone through thirty years previously from the Christians. In terms of characterisation, Holy Flying Circus couldn't fail because unlike many recent BBC biopics it made absolutely no pretence towards attempting to show us the men behind the persona. Rather, it just gave us a stocking full of the persona itself instead. Gleefully. The whole thing was a thoroughly entrancing mash-up of self-references, knob gags, cross-dressing, ribaldry, rudeness and utter nonsense. It was, in short, just like a ninety minute episode of the TV series it was about. Bloody excellent!

7. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
Adam Curtis's latest think-piece documentary series was more or less exactly what you'd expect from the BAFTA-winning creator of Pandora's Box, The Living Dead, The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares. It was thoughtful, deep, intense, beautiful to look at. It claimed that computers have failed to liberate humanity and, instead, have 'distorted and simplified our view of the world around us.' The opening episode set the tone: The story of two perfect worlds. One was the small group of disciples around the novelist Ayn Rand in the 1950s who saw themselves as a prototype for a future society where everyone could follow their own selfish desires. The other was the global utopia that digital entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley set out to create in the 1990s. Thereafter, the series touched on how machine ideas such as cybernetics and systems theory were applied to natural ecosystems, and how this relates to the false idea that there is a balance of nature. And to the selfish gene theory which holds that humans are machines controlled by genes and the ethnic conflict that was created by Belgian colonialism's artificial creation of a racial divide and the ensuing slaughter that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a source of raw material for computers and cell phones. It was a bit like reading Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head for the first time. You didn't, quite, get all of it first time around. But you felt like an intellectual for even trying. Adam can come round my house and do his James Burke-on-acid 'everything is connected to everything else' thing all night if he likes. I'll ever buy dinner.

8. Qi/Qi: XL
Now a Friday and a Saturday night ritual for two or three million Britons, Qi continues to provide laughs and infotainment in equal measure to the great unwashed. An almost living manifestation of the BBC's original Reithian mission statement, Qi is a panel show that gets laughs, and a comedy from which, dangerously, almost unbelievably, you might just learn something. Educating and informing is hard enough at the best of times, but doing it when you're entertaining as well - that's a trick and a half. Stephen Fry continues to walk the fine line as host between genial Cambridge don and really very cross indeed schoolmaster trying to keep a bunch of hyperactive, sugered-up fourth formers in line during the period before the bell on the last day of the school year. A BBC fixture, a national institution and a national treasure to boot. In no other country in the world - except, maybe, the Netherlands where they have their own version! - would Qi be a hit such as it is. Next year will see a tenth series. So, just sixteen to go to finish the alphabet, then.

9. Frozen Planet
The BBC's natural history department down in Bristol makes brilliant nature and wildlife documentaries on a regular basis. Many of them are successful. Some of the are very successful. But, once every so often, one will touch the public psyche in a quite unexpected way and, for a few weeks, become something of a national obsession. It happened this year with the David Attenborough-fronted Frozen Planet which became the BBC's biggest natural history hit in nearly a decade. Visually stunning, it managed the tricky feat of portraying the harshness of nature and the constant struggle of most of those within it with some hints of wry humour but without resorting to anthropomorphism. Although there were times when it resembled some sort of sick penguin snuff movie! Those poor bloody penguins - nature's really got it in for them, hasn't it? There were some attempts by, of course, the Gruniad Morning Star to stir up a bit of controversy over the last episode - an impassioned TV essay by Attenborough on the subject of climate change - which some countries buying the series decided not to show. As though that was, in some way, the BBC's fault. But even that couldn't sour the cascade of astonishing images in Frozen Planet which will live with the viewer for a long, long time. It's what HDTV was made for.

10. Waking the Dead
Probably the only reason that Waking the Dead still isn't an ongoing feature of the BBC drama department is that, in these times of severe austerity they simply couldn't afford Trevor Eve's massive wages any longer. The final Waking the Dead series of five two-parters included a couple of the show's best episodes in several years (Solidarity and the finale Waterloo) and one of their most controversial (Care). It never quite hit the dazzling heights of some of those astonishing mid-decade series when it seemed that Waking the Dead could do no wrong, but right to the end, Waking the Dead was a drama that made the viewer think. In and of itself, a triumph in these days of celebrity-by-non-entity and television that exists to stimulate not the mind, but somebody's wallet. That most of the beloved characters survived to the end of a series which had, previously, seen four regular characters die was an added bonus. And Trev and Sue Johnston (and Wil Johnson, for that matter) were great, as always. The BBC made a, cheaper, spin-off, later in the year - The Body Farm with Tara Fitzgerald reprising her role and Keith Allen as a less-expensive stand in for Eve. (Trev himself was executive producer. Smart man, that!) It wasn't as good as Waking the Dead but it did the job and will fill at least part of the sizeable hole in British crime drama left by the demise of the genre's standard bearer for the last decade.

11. Eric and Ernie
A New Year's Day treat which got BBC2 its highest ratings of the year - Top Gear aside. Peter Bowker's superb dramatic evocation of the early years of Morecambe and Wise's career within just twenty one hour of the year starting was going to take some beating as the best single drama of 2011. (In the end, only United got even close.) Everything was right about the piece, paced beautifully to take the audience on a whistle stop tour of Eric and Ernie's teenage and twentysomething years, playing dives as a back-up to strippers and living in grotty bed and breakfasts. And their big break, its catastrophic failure and the hard route back to get a second crack at the big time. Heading a superb cast were Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick who inhabited the central roles with a charm and wit that well worthy of the originals. Vic Reeves (credited under his real name, Jim Moir) was terrific was as Ernie's kindly, sensitive dad and even Victoria Wood wasn't as damned annoying as usual as Sadie, Eric's competitive, driven mother. Surreally, Ted Robbins played the impresario Jack Hylton as, effectively, the same character he plays in The Slammer! A little work of art. It's crying out for a sequel, frankly.

12. [spooks]
Like Waking the Dead, [spooks] lasted a decade, killed off more than its fair share of regular characters and was one of the BBC's most effective, often outrageous, never entirely plausible but always watchable conceits. I suppose in a drama which, as early as episode two of series one was cheerfully killing off a regular cast member (by pushing her face first into a deep fat fryer) we shouldn't have really been surprised by the final episode of [spooks]. But, the decision to kill off Ruth Evershed (the great Nicola Walker) was, sad to say, a death too far for this blogger. I reckon it was just fucking mean! It was the equivalent of Josh and Donna not getting together at the end of The West Wing. The Scooby Gang not surviving Sunnydale being sucked into Hell at the end of Buffy. Sam Tyler actually getting back to 2006 and being happy there at the end of Life on Mars. The survivors of Oceania 815 being 'really in Heaven all along' at the end of Lost. Oh, hang on ... Still, what had been, up to forty five minutes into the final episode an almost classic example of [spooks]'s brilliant ability to successfully mix tension, drama and action fell as flat as a pancake when the pretty boy Russian who couldn't act (Tom Weston-Jones) shoved a sharp piece of glass into poor Ruth's lung. 'Bad people want to kill us.' Never a truer word. There were some nice bits thereafter - the Matty Macfadyen cameo, Peter Firth's wordless 'Wall of the Fallen' sequence - and the final moment itself, with its suggestion that the only two ways out of D Section are death or, you know, death was a suitably downbeat and morose way to end a series which reminded us, often, that neither of those things were, necessarily, bad things. But ... I dunno. I just can't get past the fact that some tosser thought it was a good idea to kill Ruth! Bastard.

13. The Killing
A Danish cop show, Forbrydelsen, spanning twenty episodes - one for each day of an on-going murder investigation. It sounded ... intriguing from the start, admittedly. Especially when we discovered that it was in Danish with English subtitles which, one imagines, halved the potential audience at a stroke. And then something really very odd indeed happened. The Killing became a cult hit. Not just any old cult hit but BBC4's biggest ever cult hit when it was shown in the spring of 2011. Although subtitled, it attracted more viewers than Mad Men, scored audience appreciation figures of ninety four and has been described as 'the best series currently on TV.' The success created an interest in all things Danish, and the female detective's Faroese jumper has become something of an online fashion must-have. It made Sofie Gråbøl a star and when it was beaten for the BAFTA audience award by the reality show The Only Way Is Essex, the Gruniad Morning Star declared two days of mourning in Islighton and a Frappuccino embargo. An America remake starring Mireille Enos followed - half as long and about a quarter as good. Meanwhile a second series of the Danish original reached Britain in November, the opening episode pulling in a mind-blogging 1.2m viewers. Proof, dear blog reader, that great television can come from virtually anywhere, all you have to do is look hard for it. And, that if you deliver a product which is worthy, viewers will find it.

14. Would I Lie To You?
Call My Bluff: The Next Generation it may be. Sometimes the guests don't work, although more often than not, they do (case in point, MacKenzie Crook displaying hither-too unimagined comic timing). And, of course, it's a comedy panel show and, therefore, ripe for attack from boring old twats who used to be funny twenty years ago (like Adrian Edmondson). But Would I Like To You?, now in its fifth year, just gets better and better and better. The delicious combination of Rob Brydon's po-faced host, David Mitchell's angry logic and Lee Mack's surreal flights of fancy more often than not produce the goods and when the guests are into it (this year, off the top of my head, the episodes featuring Victoria Coren, Bill Oddie, Barry Cryer and Lorraine Kelly spring to mine), they've got a winner on their hands. Like Qi and Have I Got News For You, it'll be back next year and - if only because that pisses off some people who, frankly, deserve a bit of pissing off - long may it continue.

15. Wonders of the Universe/Stargazing Live
Two further examples of the way in which Brian Cox in gradually taking over TV (one could include, also, his magnificent appearance on Qi if it hadn't already featured). The tabloid press's obsession with 'the science professor who used to be a pop star' is understandable, he's a good looking lad from a humble background who has made his name as The People's Scientist. But, far more importantly, the way in which Cox's programmes have begun the process of making science even vaguely cool should be applauded and, if possible, rewarded. With gold or, you know, OBEs, or something. Wonders of the Universe, the sequel to 2010's mega-popular Wonders of the Solar System, dealt with massive intellectual concepts (time, gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the speed of light) and made them vaguely accessible. Not in a patronising or an over-simplistic way but just through the sheer enthusiasm with which Cox presented them to the audience. Though that didn't stop some viewers whinging about the music sound levels - something which Cox, himself, was scathing about. Stargazing Live paired Cox with Dara O Briain in a fascinating study of astronomy over three consecutive nights. Again, there were one or two snooty voices of dissent, wondering why Cox needed a 'mere comedian' as his co-presenter (ignoring Dara's own theoretic physics background at Dublin University). Most viewers, though, thought it was terrific and another series will be shown in January. Foxy Coxy, meanwhile, had just completed filming on his third series, Wonders of Life which will be shown later in 2012.

16. Code-Breakers - Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes
Undoubtedly the best single documentary of the year, BBC2's Code Breakers was the latest of numerous factual features about the famed Station X and its secret wartime exploits (within a few weeks of the broadcast of this, yet another, Channel Four's Britain's Greatest Codebreaker, a docudrama about Alan Turing would turn up). This one, though, was different. Not just in the sultry-Keeley Hawes voice-over but, rather in its subject matter - focusing on two of the unsung heroes of Bletchley. The mathematician Bill Tutte and the engineer Tommy Flowers who built Colossus, the world's first programmable computer. These are men that every schoolkid in Britain should be learning about, but they're virtually anonymous. The documentary that reveals the secret story behind one of the greatest intellectual feats of World War II, and one that gave birth to the digital age. In 1943, a twenty four-year-old maths student and a GPO engineer combined to hack into Hitler's personal super-code machine - not Enigma but an even tougher system, which he called his 'secrets writer.' Their break helped to turn the Battle of Kursk in 1943, the single battle which, more than any other, swung the war in the allies favour, powered the D-Day landings and orchestrated the end of the conflict in Europe. But it was also to be used during the Cold War - which meant both men's achievements were hushed up and never officially recognised.

17. Billy Connolly's Route 66
The highest-placed non-BBC show is, perhaps unsurprisingly given much of the output of the British commercial TV sector these days, a celebrity-fronted travelogue show. (Let's face it, it was either going to be that, or a reality format, wasn't it?) This type of format can produce surprisingly effective result (Joanna Lumley and Martin Clunes's various travels, for example). And some drivellingly, apocalyptically bad ones (step forward Caroline Quentin and Ade Edmondson and all who sail with them). And then there's Billy Connolly's Route 66. This conceit works for one reason and one reason alone. Well, technically two because the scenery is dazzling and a lot of us in this country have a little bit of love for 1950s and 60s Americana at the depth of our souls. But, overwhelmingly, the reason for the success of Route 66 is the Big Yin himself. Having made something of a name for himself with his previous travels around Australia, Canada and the like it was, perhaps inevitable that he's get to the States one day. His sheer joy at introducing viewers to the extraordinary sights and interesting people he meets is matched by a sense of humour which is never cruel or cowardly, never spiteful but always funny.

18. The Hour
Abi Morgan's sumptuous looking six-part historical set in 1956 at the time of the Suez crisis threatened to suffer the same fate which many previous TV shows about TV shows had (Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Moving Wallpaper and Taking the Flack to name but three) in being broadly liked within the industry but watched by hardly any 'normal people.' Luckily the drama, with its terrific cast including Ben Whishaw, Dominic West, Romola Garai, Tim Pigott-Smith, Burn Gorman, Anna Chancellor and Julian Rhind-Tutt managed to rise above preconceptions that it was the BBC's attempt at 'doing a British Mad Men.' In fact, as some berk of no consequence at the Gruniad (probably) observed about the first episode, it was closer to '[spooks] meets Drop The Dead Donkey.' And, somehow, it actually worked. Acting-wise, Garai was the best thing in it. In terms of the script, it started well, got a bit lost in the middle and then finished impressively, tying up most of the loose ends and never, quite, getting lost in the complexity of its telling. Audiences were decent and a second series had been ordered which will be set in 1958. Ironically, in America it was, rather, seen as 'a British Mad Men,' and well-received despite that!

19. Who Do You Think You Are?
One episode stood out head and shoulders above the rest in this year's series of the popular personal ancestry show. Some of the stories told were interesting (Len Goodman, Seb Coe, Robin Gibb). Others (notably JK Rowling) were so far up their own arseholes there was no point or pleasure in them. And then, there was Alan Carr. The camp comedian and chat show host produced a fascinating hour of telly looking at two sides of his family, his paternal grandfather's mining roots and tragically short career as a professional footballer, and his maternal grandfather's mysterious name-change which eventually led Alan to a long-hidden family secret from the first world war. It was beautifully presented and gave viewers an opportunity to perhaps reevaluate a comedian whose material certainly divides opinion. A testament, perhaps, of one of the few TV formats currently running which can get behind public personas to the real men and women lurking in there.

20. Bones
Who would have thought, six years ago, when Angel finished that its lead actor, David Boreanaz (pretty boy, does 'big and brooding' quite well but, otherwise, can't act all that much) would by the end of the decade be fronting one of the most imaginative, reliable and consistent crime drama shows anywhere in the world? Bones's sixth season was a triumph of mix-and-match storylines; individual serial-killer of the week episodes juxtaposed with the on-going season-long arc about Booth's mentor going rogue. A great ensemble cast (Emily Deschanel, Tamara Taylor, Tom Thyne, Michaela Conlin, John Francis Daley), a pregnancy arc (and, later in the year, in series seven another one, occasioned by Emily's actual pregnancy), some impressive guest-stars and a pilot for its own spin-off (the jury's-still-out The Finder). Bones had ended the previous year somewhat at a crossroads. It ended this one knowing exactly where it was heading. The year also saw some of the series best ever episodes - particularly The Bullet In The Brain and The Blackout In The Blizzard. The seventh series, which started in November, is showing equal promise, particularly the most recent episode, The Male in The Mail.

21. Have I Got News For You
About to enter its twenty second year of production and HIGNFY remains the sharpest topical satire show on TV certainly on this side of the pond and possibly - since The Daily Show seems to have been running on empty for at least a few months now - anywhere. This year's never-ending drizzle of scandals and catastrophes (the Arab Spring, Hackgate, the Eurozone Crisis, even the cold snap in January) provided meat and drink for Ian Hislop and Paul Merton and their guests to lay into with abandon. Has there been a funnier thirty minutes of TV than the episode of this show in October when Ian, Paul, Victoria Coren and Graham Linehan deconstructed the Liam Fox's 'friend' fiasco and the Thersea May immigration malarkey by playing 'Fox Or Cat'? Or, a week later, Danny Baker confessing himself to have been a big fan of Colonel Gaddafi's radio broadcasts: 'He used to say "the running dog treacherous vultures of Washington shall pay for their duplicity in the noble blood of a desert race. And now, for Tracey and all at number thirty five, here's The Beach Boys!"' As long as Have I Got News For You is still running then democracy in Great Britain remains safe for at least another week. Because, as everybody knows, there's nothing dictators can stand less than people laughing at them.

22. United
Rubbished, sight-unseen, by various special interest parties over nonsense that, actually, turned out to be not in the slightest bit relevant (and, where have we heard that before?), Chris Chibnall's agonising drama was based on the true story of Manchester United's legendary Busby Babes, the youngest side ever to win the Football League. And on the 1958 Munich air crash that claimed eight of their number. It featured one of the great drama performances of the year, David Tennant as the driven coach and surrogate father to many of the Babes, Jimmy Murphy who held the club together in the aftermath of the the tragedy. It was also, almost uniquely for a football-based drama, good on the pitch too. A lyrical, hard, unflinching look at coping with horror - Jack O'Connell's Bobby Charlton crying at the memory of his friend Duncan Edwards before going out to play the game of his life - United deserved all of the praise it got. And none of the agenda-driven crap it received from people who, frankly, should know better.

23. Hawaii Five-0
Now, here's a thing; if you're going to remake a TV show, there's one vitally important rule to remember. Remind yourself of all of the things that were good about the original and then make damn sure you keep them in the remake. That's why Doctor Who worked and The Prisoner spectacularly didn't. It's why Battlestar Galactica played with being a radical deconstruction but, when push came to shove, it remembered that people watched the original because, basically, the Cylons were cool. The original Hawaii Five-0 had four things going for it; a good cast of characters, some great locations, one of the best title-sequences and theme tunes in TV history and one memorable catch-phrase. And, so had the remake. It's also got a terrific cast with the likes of Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park and Alex O'Loughlin. Scott Cann's grumpy Danno Williams and his bitchy, pissed-off-about-everything one-liners, however, remain the best thing about it by about a million miles. Surf's up, kids. Paddle your canoes with pride.

24. MasterChef/MasterChef: The Profesionals
The year began with MasterChef getting its highest ever ratings figures for a series which tried some new ideas (a couple of them a bit too X Factor-like for the tastes of some viewers) but which, after some early teething problems rocked the shack and produced a thrilling finale and the biggest audience for a single episode the format had ever achieved. And this, despite another suspiciously concerted series of stories in a handful of tabloids that the show's ratings had 'plummeted,' which continued for at least two or three weeks and were, seemingly, based on the overnight audience figure for one single episode. See above re Doctor Who and remember the first rule of tabloids quoting TV rating figures - 'everything they think you know is wrong.' The year is set to end on an equally upbeat note with The Professionals maintaining the quality of its extraordinary 2010 series. It should, therefore, have been the perfect year for the MasterChef franchise but, in the middle of all this, some clown in BBC scheduling decided to play silly buggers with Celebrity MasterChef and run it in the afternoon with only a couple of highlights shows each week (on decidedly odd nights - Friday and Saturday - and in decidedly unfriendly early evening slots). It was, in short, a disaster and is rumoured to have severely pissed-off many of the crew. Hopefully, such rank and utter glakery won't reoccur next year and the BBC will remember that, for all the fact that its easy to parody, MasterChef remains one of their most consistent and profitable brands.

25. Our War
Justifying the existence of BBC3 on its own, Our War seemed to come out of nowhere. Three self-shot stories exploring the different ways in which a decade of conflict in Afghanistan has affected the young soldiers charged with fighting it. Many of the videos were shot by young people, from their perspectives, in their own words. Whether it was the young soldiers fighting on the frontline, the families of serving troops back home, or the young Afghans living in a war torn country. They explored what it feels like to be affected by the Afghanistan war. Animation and archive were also used to delve into almost two hundred years of British involvement in the region. It was, in short, public service broadcasting at its very best and benefited hugely from a subsequent repeat run on BBC1.

26. Scott & Bailey
The best new ITV crime drama in years, Scott & Bailey was an immediate success - possibly because of the cunning decision to cast two of the best actresses in Britain, Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp, in the title roles - but, mainly because it was bloody good. Sally Wainwright's scripts were tight, cleverly constructed and focused as much on the home lives of the two detectives as their crime solving activities. Blessed with a fine support cast, the series proved hugely popular (an average of over six million for every episode) despite some sniffy reviews from know-nothing tossers in the broadsheets. An eight-episode second series has already been commissioned.

27. Being Human
For the third year running, Toby Whithouse's astonishing gestalt of Telefantasty, flatshare comedy, soap opera and dark drama came together to produce the goods. Being Human had already made its central trio - Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow - into stars. With the addition of a fourth regular, Sinead Keenan, the third series relocated the action (to South Wales), saw the past catching up on all of the regulars (but, especially Turner's John Mitchell) and ended in a bloodbath. It was raw, visceral, sometimes funny but mostly gut-wrenching and hard. And, God, it was good! As series three progressed, the quartet had to deal with the return of various figures and events from George and Mitchell's past, more supernatural incursions - more vampires including a teenager and a pair of suburban swingers, a zombie WAG and a pair of werewolves (including, magnificently, Robson Green!) who have set themselves up as vampire hunters. And, also, the complications of their own developing relationships. Events lead up to a finale which left the household changed dramatically and forever as Aidan Turner left the show at the climax. Another series has been commissioned although Russell Tovey's also announced his departure during next year's run. Being Human may never be quite the same again. Whether it'll be better or worse for that, time will tell.

28. Mrs Brown's Boys
Controversial even before it started (scum tabloids don't like TV shows in which swear words can be heard, even if they're shown after ten o'clock, apparently). And something of an acquired taste and one which, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has to confess, he hasn't entirely, acquired himself. Nevertheless, it's hard not to admire the sheer manic ball of energy that is Brendan O'Carroll's surreal, over-the-top, laissez-faire style of production in which the audience, cameras and production crew are often seen, the main characters often break the fourth wall by talking straight to camera or break character, seemingly, whenever they feel like it. The critics hated it. The goosestepping bullyboy thugs at the Daily Scum Mail and the Daily Scum Express hated it. The Communist hippies at the Gruniad Morning Star hated it. 'Normal people' loved it - almost three million tuning in to every episode despite the graveyard slot. Hopefully, the second series will hone the more successful elements of the show and jettison some of the more outré conceits. But, Mrs Brown's Boys success is a great thing for British telly because, it proves that audiences can't be told what to like and what not to.

29. CSI
Twelve years and nearly two hundred and sixty episodes in and still no obvious sign of flagging. CSI began the year still knee deep in the Nate Haskell story arc which concluded, in May at the end of the eleventh series with death and destruction and mayhem all around. Laurence Fishburne's two and half year stint in the show came to and end and, for a replacement, the production made the inspired choice of looking up Ted Danson's number. CSI continues to be an occasionally inconsistent show, with a large ensemble cast to accommodate it can often feel a bit like a patchwork quilt. But, when the stories are good (this year, in things like Hitting For The Cycle, The Two Mrs Grissoms, Maid Man and Danson's extraordinary debut, 73 seconds) then viewers know they're in for forty minutes of beautifully constructed drama that will be well-acted. Further changes are on the horizon (Marg Helgenberger is leaving shortly) but the format, if not all of the episodes, remains reliably consistent.

30. Rev
A second series of a BBC comedy that's almost as good as the first? Well, that hasn't happened for a very, very long time (what are you thinking, dear blog reader, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? was the last time?!) But James Woods and Tom Hollander's simple-but-effective little story of one man's search for faith in a world of spiritual aridity managed it this year, in spades. Sweet, gentle, but with some very interesting things to say about the human condition, Rev revolves around a dedicates Church of England priest who becomes the vicar of an inner-city London church after leaving a small rural Suffolk parish. Unable to turn anyone away from his pastoral care, Adam Smallbone is faced with a collection of moral challenges as he balances the needs of genuine believers, people on the streets, and drug addicts. As well as the demands of social climbers who use the church to get their children into the best schools. A recurring theme in most of the drama and comedy shows on this list is the quality of the ensemble cast - in this case headed by Hollander himself with Olivia Colman, Steve Evets, Miles Jupp, Simon McBurney, Jimmy Akingbola and Ellen Thomas. Its most devoted fans include many real-life churchmen who are surprised that it's supposed to be a comedy, some feeling it's a pretty accurate reflection of the average life of a modern day vicar. If nothing else, it's about a million miles from The Vicar of Dibley and, therefore, worthwhile on that score alone.

Bubbling Under: Top Gear. Derren Brown - Enigma. Hustle. Kidnap and Ransom. How TV Ruined Your Life. Marchlands. A History of Ancient Britain. Mad Dogs. Time Team. South Riding. Silk. House. Katie - My Beautiful Friends. Junior Doctors - Your Life in Their Hands. The Crimson Petal And The White. If Walls Could Talk - The History of the Home. Arena - Produced By George Martin. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Exile. Coast. The Mentalist. Small Teen Bigger World. Torchwood: Miracle Day. British Masters. Seven Dwarves. The Great British Bake Off. Page Eight. Appropriate Adult. Digging For Britain. Downton Abbey. Fry's Planet Word. Shooting Stars. Death In Paradise. Dynamo - Magician Impossible. The Slap.

And so, we move to those that weren't, perhaps, any good at all:

1. Don't Scare The Hare
Do you actually need a reason? Seriously? Okay ... I'm game. This series was originally billed to run for nine episodes but was taken off air after just six because of poor ratings. And because it was, quite simply, the worst television programme ever made. By anyone. Including Sophie Dahl. The ratings started low and rapidly got lower. The programme helped to, effectively, end any notion that Jason Bradbury might've had of getting another gig away from The Gadget Show. Sue Perkins' voice-over sounded desperate and horrified (Miranda Hart originally had the job but left shortly before production ... and, when we saw the thing we knew why). 'The idiots playing might have enjoyed themselves but even toddlers would have found the games dull and Jason creepy,' noted the Mirra's TV critic. And he was one of the kinder voices. But, ultimately, it doesn't need too much explaining, it was just plain bad. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't recommissioned. Whether the trained chimp in the BBC who green-lit it in the first place is still in a job is unclear. if he is, there's no sodding justice in the world.

1 (joint) Daybreak
Again, you don't actually require some rationale for this, do you? This week of all weeks?

2. Red Or Black?
Seldom has a TV programme began with such high expectations and seen them fall quite so far and so fast. Seldom, for that matter, has a TV programme averaged around five million viewers across the course of a week and still been considered - rightly - to have been a colossal flop. Hubris was at the core of Red or Black?'s failure. It was made by Simon Cowell's production company, it had Ant and Dec as presenters, it was giving away millions of smackers, it featured guests of the calibre of ... err... Jedward. And David Hasselhoff. The opening episode beat Doctor Who in the overnight ratings (although not once timeshifts were taken into account). By episode five the following Thursday, more than half of the initial seven million viewers had, quite simply, had enough. All that was bad enough, and the negative publicity which occurred when the first million pound winner was discovered to have a rather violent criminal past didn't help. But what turned Red Or Black?'s flopping into a genuine fiasco was ITV's desperate - and brazen - attempts to paint it as a success. Not since Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf had been confidently telling the cameras that Iraq was winning the war as American tanks appeared in the back of shot had an official spokesman (in this case ITV's press chief James MacLeod) come out with such utterly risible mendacious bollocks disguised as 'facts'. The claim that the show had 'reached twenty four million viewers' (a figure achieved simply by adding up the numbers for all of the episodes) was cherry on the top of the cake. Cowell himself claimed that the show 'had got five million' which was 'what ITV expected.' As anybody even vaguely close to the TV industry knows, that's about half of what ITV confidently expected. Peter Fincham has confirmed that Red or Black? may return in 2012, but with some - possibly significant - changes. Some might consider this to be a case of trying to polish a turd. Although anything that leaves the towering ego of Simon Cowell a bit humbled is, frankly, a good thing. Unlike Red or Black? Which wasn't even close to being a good thing.

3. OMG! With Peaches Geldof
'Peaches Geldof is to present a new ITV2 show that will try and help solve people's real-life problems. The twenty one-year-old star, who is the daughter of activist Bob Geldof, will present the new six-part series, that will be filmed in front of a live audience,' ran the pre-publicity for this unholy - though rather amusing - fiasco. 'Geldof will be joined by professional experts who will help the show's guests with their problems. Guests will share their problems through a VT screen and the panel, Peaches and the audience will help solve them.' Why? I mean, just ... why? Anyway, a few minutes of one episode was enough for most people and this utter travesty of pointless celebrity-by-non-entity fizzled out faster than a fart in a vacuum. Why would anybody want to take part in a show like this? Why would anybody want to watch it? As an atypical example of ITV2's banal obsession with waste-of-space ... things like Saint Bob's daughter, this was, tragically, one to show future generations as a warning to them that if you start taking Peaches Geldof seriously, your civilisation is doomed.

4. High Stakes
High Stakes was a game show series hosted by Jeremy Kyle. That's about all you need to know, really. It was horrible. It was also, and very satisfyingly, a huge flop. Which, I suppose, proved that God does exist.

5. Piers Morgan's Life Stories
Odious and risible full-of-his-own-importance tosser Piers Morgan has a TV chat show. You probably know this, dear blog reader. You've probably been avoiding it for several years. I know I have. It usually features various odious and risible people who are currently starring in some ITV show or other that ITV want to push. Often, it'll be some particularly odious and risible person connected to the odious and risible Simon Cowell's network of Hell. None of this explains why odious and risible Piers Morgan and his odious and risible Life Stories is featured in yer actual Keith Telly Topping's Worst TV Shows of this particular year and not any other year, of course. No, the simple reason for odious and risible Piers Morgan's odious and risible Life Stories being in this particular list is continued in just five words which accompanied the 29 October 2011 episode of odious and risible Piers Morgan's odious and risible Life Stories. 'Tonight's episode features James Corden.' 'nuff said, dear blog reader. 'nuff said.

6. Celebrity Big Brother/Big Brother
Why didn't it just go away and die quietly when Channel Four dropped it, I hear you ask dear blog reader? Because, put simply, Richard Desmond bought a TV channel and thought he was going to get a multi-million-rated TV show for next to nowt. Unfortunately for Richard, nobody bothered to tell him that Big Brother's audiences had been dropping for several years. Which was the main reason why Channel Four cancelled it in the first place. Nevertheless, Five were rewarded with a moderately average sized audience for Celebrity Big Brother in August and September, won by Paddy Doherty. Half of whom disappeared when Big Brother started a few days later. Whether it was good, bad or indifferent didn't really matter, because hardly anybody was watching it.

7. Popstar To Operastar
Cancelled after its 2010 series and then, for some bizarre reason, revived (possibly because ITV had found something which got an even smaller audience), Popstar to Operastar continued to inflict the horrorshow that is Myleene Klass (although, this time, without her Odd Couple chum, Alan Titchmarsh) on the unsuspecting public. Christ, that woman is a bloody waste of oxygen. Among the has-beens and never-weres wheeled out on this occasion to sing for their supper were faded old glam queen Migre Ure, Erasure's Andy Bell, Cheryl from Buck's Fizz and, eventual winner Joe McElderry. Who has now won two TV reality talent shows and yet still works stacking the shelves at Morrison's in South Shields.

8. Trollied
Sky considered this rubbishy star vehicle for the really very very annoying indeed Jane Horrocks to have been something of a success - despite it losing half of its audience between episode one and episode four. Possibly it was, going purely by the numbers. But it did nothing but annoy this particular Sky subscriber during the two episodes of it that I watched. The main problem, I think is with Horrocks herself. She just gets right on my tit end, I'm afraid. I'm sure she's a very nice person and all that, but like her fellow North Country oppo, Victoria Wood, her voice (and, indeed, her comedy) simply make me want to go out and hurt small fluffy animals. And, trust me, you don't want that dear blog reader. I don't want that. And small fluffy animals certainly don't want that. Cancel Trollied, Sky, the small fluffy animals of this country demand it.

9. So You Think You Can Dance
The BBC used to have two dance shows on Saturday night. One was Strictly Come Dancing and was, and still is, rather good. The other was this, and it wasn't. 'The show focuses not only on the dancers' talent, but also showcases new works by cutting edge choreographers, crafted specifically for the dancers and the show.' Apparently. From the start, if this Simon Fuller and Nasty Nigel Lythgoe format had been any more of a dog it would've shed hairs. Sour-faced old battelaxe, and drag, Arlene Phillips, sacked from Strictly to get a bit more glamour in, sat and scowled like your least favourite auntie at a family funeral passing dismissive comments on anything and everyone whilst sticking pins in a voodoo doll of Alesha Dixon. After a couple of series of this, even the Sun stopped their pointless campaign to make the general public to rise up in fury and get Arlene her job back on Strictly. They'd finally realised what the general public had two years previously when voting for John Sergeant to stay in Strictly week after week. That nothing makes for better telly than a pissed-off with life Arlene Phillips gurning on a Saturday night at a manifest unfairness of life. Louise Redknapp sat around and giggled a lot, pointlessly. Sisco Gomez was anonymous. And Nasty Nigel made the single most ludicrous claim on television all year when telling the contestants in one episode that they were going to have to be good tonight, because 'six million people will be watching.' Only if you add together the audiences of the two episode on that night and assume that nobody who watched the first one also watched the second one, and visa versa, Nige. Even John Barrowman appearing as a guest judge couldn't save it from the boot.

10. The Marriage Ref
To be a TV flop in one country might be regarded as misfortune, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. To flop in two looks like carelessness. The Marriage Ref was a format, co-created by Jerry Seinfeld, and imported from America where, even before ITV started making their version, it had already started to wobble like a jelly on a conveyor belt. The UK version, presented by a so-far-out-of-his-depth it was painful Dermot O'Dreary, begin in June and was a miserable, righteous, hilarious failure in every way shape and form. The ratings were appalling, after three weeks it was moved to a later slot. The Marriage Ref's purpose was to look at real-life couples who claim they are very much in love, but have something quirky and ridiculous which they argue about. Like, whether going on The Marriage Ref and having this stuff discussed in front of tens of people was a good idea, or not. No tiff was too absurd for the show - from a couple who bickered about the husband's desire to stuff and display his beloved dead dog to a wife who was fed up of her husband taking his wedding ring off every time he goes out with his mates. Whilst the American show, possibly through Seinfeld's association alone, managed to get a second series, ITV dumped Dermot's version faster than you can say 'back to X Factor with your tail between your legs, young man.'

11. Candy Cabs
A comedy vehicle (if you will) for Claire Sweeney, Jodie Prenger, Jo Joyner, Lisa Millett and Melanie Hill, this pink and fluffy 'girls together' story about a female taxi firm was so lightweight it was in danger of flying off altogether. In the space of three episodes, it lost three million viewers (more than half of its initial audience) and the BBC, taking into account an additional poor critical reception, decided to dump it. Happily most of those involved in his disaster (including people like Denis Lawson, Paul Kaye and Tom Goodman-Hill) have managed to avoid the guilt by association which often comes from appearing in something as bad as this. Although, to be fair, for Ricky Whittle, it was probably his career highlight so far.

12. Caroline Quentin: A Passage Through India
'Here's a great idea,' said somebody in ITV one day. 'We've got Caroline Quentin under contract and she's not doing much since her last sitcom went tits up, how about we do what we did with Joanna Lumley and send her off on a travelogue somewhere?' The others in the office agreed that it sounded like a good idea and asked if this chap had any particular place in mind. What happened next is the subject of much speculation but, it probably involved a map and a pin. They came up with India. Despite the fact that Caroline Quentin - unlike literally hundreds of British-Asian TV personalities - has no obvious connection to India, having been born, herself, in Reigate. Quentin, it was claimed, 'had harboured a desire to visit India since she completed a school project about the country as a child in the 1960s.' As though that was any excuse for this utter trivialised waste of an hour of my life. (I didn't bother with it after one sitting, I have to confess. I have some dignity.) 'It was everything I was afraid of,' the Metro TV reviewer noted. Tragically, me too.

13. Epic Win
'To bugger up you Saturday night schedules in the pre-Doctor Who slot once in a year, might be regarded as misfortune, BBC scheduling department. To do it twice looks like somebody needs a good hard kick in the knackers.' Oh, we've already done that one, haven't we? Alexander Armstrong must have really needed the money when he agreed to do this, a panel show which sees contestants complete individual challenges such as trying to dress while bouncing a football or cycling while trying to inflate hot water bottles. Smug Mickey Flanagan and a variety of B-Listers or Z-Listers (including, one week, odious horrorshow, and drag, Ann Widdecombe) then sat about and rated their efforts whilst looking bored. Comedian Joe Lycett appeared as the announcer on the show and bellowed 'Epic Win!' at any given opportunity. Some critics compared it to ITV's You Bet! Only about a tenth as good. (And, let's face it You Bet! was hardly inventing the wheel, was it?) More an epic fail, I'd've said.

14. Comedy Rocks/Show Me The Funny
He still continues to sell-out arenas but, in terms of TV, it's been a rotten year for Jason Manford. Having lost The ONE Show gig last November, his two major vehicles in the last twelve months have been on ITV. Neither really worked and certainly neither found an audience. Show Me The Funny was a reality show on ITV involving ten comedians, in which one is voted off each week. Basically The X Factor for stand-up, it was thoroughly rotten, uninvolving and didn't get above a ten per cent audience share in any of its seven episodes. Not even the final. Comedy Rocks - now into a second series - is ITV's version of Live from The Apollo and, consequently, suffers due to the unoriginality of the format. Neither are quite as toweringly bad as some of the shows on this list, and Manford himself is usually personable enough, but two duffers in one year, sadly, earns Jase a qualification for Ze List.

15. The Biggest Loser
In this thoroughly sick and tawdry excuse for 'entertainment' seven couples embark on a weight-loss journey, undertaking a gruelling training and exercise regimen, and facing a weekly weigh-in. Because, let's face it, in the minds of TV producers everywhere who doesn't enjoy a bunch of wobble-bottoms being ritually humiliated for the sake of 'entertainment'? Davina McCall presents with all of the tact of Kenneth Williams in the Stetford End on derby day. And, she should be effing well ashamed of herself for doing so. Sick, dear blog reader. Utterly, laughably so if it wasn't so mean-spirited, venal and tawdry in every way imaginable. The person who dreamed it up, anybody who took part, and anybody who even thought for a moment about whether to watch the damn thing or not should also, frankly, be ashamed of themselves.

Bubbling Under: Outcasts. Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights. The Morgana Show. Ant & Dec's Push the Button. How To Live With Women. Love Thy Neighbour. Twatting About On Ice. Kerry Katona - The Next Chapter. OK! TV. Britain's Got Talent. Home Is Where The Heart Is. Undercover Boss. Restoration Home. Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum. 71 Degrees North. The Marvellous Mrs Beeton, with The Nauseous Sophie Dahl. Kirstie's Handmade Britain. Celebrity Antiques Road Trip. Ade In Britain. That's Britain! And absolutely anything featuring Jamie Oliver.

And then, there are these two that I can't decide which section they belong in - if either.

1. Geordie Finishing School For Girls
The opening episode of this curious BBC3 conceit neatly straddled the dividing line between the two lists in this blog. It was one of the strangest hours of my life watching something which was both exactly what I'd expected it to be (car-crash telly) and, at the same time, the polar opposite of what I expected (containing moments of quiet brilliance). Essentially, this was a perfect example of the difference between a programme idea and a programme in execution. Firstly, the negative points; chief among which is that conceptually it was a vile idea. A flatly patronising conceit dreamed up, one supposes, by some twentysomething TV executive twat in an Armani suit in an office somewhere (probably London) as an example of 'lifeswap telly.' My problems with this show, therefore, were almost entirely concerned with its reasons for being developed in the first place. The idea behind this is exactly the same as all of those 'concerned' - and usually deadly patronising - BBC3 documentaries in which a bunch of bright young things from London are packaged off to some Thai or Indonesian sweatshop to find out how the trainers which they spend one hundred and twenty notes on are made. And, hopefully, have their consciousness raised by the process. Which is all very well except this is my city we're talking about, not Bangkok! Once you get beyond the tourist chic of Newcastle to the council estate suburbs like Walker you might as well be in Africa - that seemed to be the general thrust of the show. The obvious question to ask Fi, Lucy, Steph and Fiona was why did they agreed to go on a show like this? Why did they agree to get dumped in Walker, four whole miles from the nearest Costa Coffee? Did they not realise how they we're going to come across? Steph, the big statuesque politics student, keen rower and potential Tory MP by the sound of her, said she'd never been on a 'public' bus. (Are there private buses?) In The Toon to greet them and show them a slice of The Real World were four geet dead canny Geordie lasses – Shauna, Makylea, Lyndsey and Kimberley. And keeping an eye on everything, as a kind of bequiffed moderator stroke mother figure, is Hufty, who was described by the plummy voiced narrator as 'something of a local legend when it comes to youth work in the city.' And, that was the first genuine thing about Geordie Finishing School For Girls although by no means the last. The show itself - patronisation apart - mostly rattled along in a vaguely entertaining way. The Southern girls came across as a bit caricature-like but seemed to be, fundamentally, decent enough human beings albeit it with a narrow worldview the challenging of which would do them no harm at all in the long run. Even better were the Geordie lasses, whom the Gruniad reviewer Sam Wollaston - someone else, one suspects, who's never been further North than Cardiff - nastily, patronisingly, described as looking 'as though they've stepped straight from the pages of Viz.' They did nothing of the kind you very stupid and ignorant fraction of a man, they all seemed - to me at any rate - straight-forward, decent, streetwise young ladies of the kind you find on most streets on Tyneside. They've had something the vast majority of the gobshite pond scum who write for the Gruniad Morning Star will never have in a million years, a touch of basic bloody common sense. And then there was Hufty. Who was - by a million miles - the single best thing about this whole shebang. She was fantastic - really positive and energetic and with a down-to-earth way of undercutting prejudice that was, at once, admirable and instructive. It was her determination that the Southern lasses get the full-on experience of what they're doing that drove the show forward and gave it most of its best moments. Essentially, what we were dealing with here is what's known as 'poverty tourism'; it's the lyrics of Pulp's 'Common People' made flesh - you've got ten days of roughing it, ladies, and then you're back off home, probably first class. Steph, kept on saying how 'charming' everything was - including her first 'public' bus ride - like this was Constable's The Haywain she was describing rather than the reality of a Northern council estate. 'I don't see any evidence of poverty,' she noted, sounding just like George Osborne. And yet ... as noted, there were moments of quiet brilliance in the piece. I particularly enjoyed the sequence in which the girls went to Shearer's Bar on match-day and chatted to some rather stereotypical examples of the local Alpha Males. That seemed to be the least forced, the most natural, part of the show. It appeared, though, that the purpose of the programme was to show us that life is hard when you've got no money. To be honest, you really shouldn't need a TV show to tell you that. And, if you do, then you've got far bigger problems with your worldview than whether you like the taste of pease pudding or not. As I was watching the first episode I found myself writing down four words which seem to sum up my main problem with this entire project. Who is this for? It was a TV show that seemed to have been made for consumption in the Home Counties? Again, that puts it in the same league as Blood, Sweat and Teeshirts and all of those other, faintly patronising and 'worthy', 'don't you know it's a tough world out there?' documentaries in which the channel specialises. Which, as noted, might well be true but it's a bit of a smack in the mush to discover that, to somebody from Islington, my whole world exists, in their mind at least, on the same level as Ghana or Vietnam or Malaysia. There was a bit of heart on display in the final sequences as the girls were introduced to an unwelcome fraction of The Real World in the form of Natalie, a local woman whose life had been blighted by drug addiction and prostitution. Her story was a sad one and Lucy started crying. So did Fiona. Point made, one suspects. But, there's the point - if there's one word that does sum up Geordie Finishing School For Girls beautifully it was 'pointless.' Nicely made, possibly well-intentioned by most of those involved, full of some surprising and rather humane and decent moments, it was even touching in places. But it was, ultimately, like a Cadbury's Creme Egg without the nice yummy creme in the middle; hollow and a bit tasteless. The second and third episodes were more of the same, only not quite as surprising. So, something of a curiosity, then. Not bad. Nowhere near bad. And, as noted, I, Claudius when compared to something like Geordie Shore. But nowhere near good either.

2. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
Seven million viewers can't be wrong. Well, they can, obviously.

So we turn to today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, dear blog reader. And, for once we can't say 'they don't make 'em like that any more,' because, as we just proved, they - in fact - do. Queue the horns.

1 comment:

Carl said...

Great selection, I'd like to add a vote for The Story of Film, which really opened my eyes to how many fine examples of cinema I still have to dig up and see.