Friday, November 29, 2019

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2019)

Welcome, dear blog reader, to the twelfth annual Keith Telly Topping & His Very Top TV Tip Awards lists. Celebrating, in Keith Telly Topping's own opinion, the very best and very worst TV shows broadcast (or, in some cases, streamed online) in the UK during the past year. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you may notice - if you're observant - that there are about twice as many 'highs' listed here as there are 'lows'. This imbalance is not, as we always note at this juncture, any sort of reflection on the actual ratio of good telly-to-bad during 2019. Rather it is because, generally speaking, we tend to remember the good stuff and attempt - only sometimes successfully - to forget all of the distressing, horrific faeces.
As previously noted, each year when this blogger compiles these lists, he gets (almost without fail) a handful of e-mails and/or Facebook comments from dear blog readers saying something along the lines of 'very good, yer actual Keith Telly Topping. But, you missed off [insert own favourite here] you silly sausage, you.' Therefore, please note, since answering such comments is always a right flamin' pain in the dong, this blogger has not missed anything. These lists represent what yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been watching and enjoying (or vastly disliking) during the previous year. If a programme is not featured, it is either because this blogger did not see it. Or that he did, but didn't consider it worthy of inclusion on any of the lists below. If you disagree, then by all means start your own blog and do your own annual awards. That, after all, is what the Interweb is for.
Therefore, without any further ado ...

Forty Six Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights Of Television In 2019:-

1. Doom Patrol
'More TV superheroes? Just what the world needs. Be honest, have you hung yourself yet? Or, what if I told you this was actually a story about super-zeroes? Losers, achingly pathetic meta-human goose eggs. How about it? Ready to feel better about your own miserable lives for the next hour or so?' It had an audience of less people than could comfortably fit into a small telephone box and was broadcast on one of the more obscure streaming services (DC Universe) before, eventually, getting picked up for wider distribution by HBO Max. Yet the critical reaction from those who did manage to stumble across Doom Patrol - by whatever means - could not have been more enthusiastic. Based, heavily, on Grant Morrison's acclaimed run on the titular comic series in the late 1980s, Doom Patrol follows the unlikely heroes of the eponymous team who all received their powers through tragic circumstances. Most of the team were treated by The Chief (Timothy Dalton), who gave them residence in his mansion to help protect them from the outside world. They include: Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), the dominant personality of a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder; former actress Rita Farr (April Bowlby), who struggles to prevent her body from turning to a gelatinous state; test pilot Larry Trainor (Matt Bower), who has an entity of negative energy living inside him and Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), whose brain was placed in a robotic body following a car crash. The team is later joined by cybernetically-enhanced vigilante Vic Stone (Jovian Wade). In the series opener, The Chief is abducted by the malevolent Mister Nobody (Alan Tudyk), sending The Doom Patrol on a journey to rescue their mentor. If that description sounds bat-shit crazy, dear blog reader, that's because it is. It's also brilliant. Incorporating such comic book fan-favourites as Willoughby Kipling (the terrific Mark Sheppard), The Cult Of The Unwritten Book, Danny The Street, The Beard Hunter, Dorothy Spinner and Flex Mentallo, the series takes Morrison's deliciously dadaesque view of superheroes as, effectively, cursed social misfits and runs with it, cheerfully knocking down the fourth wall at various points and making the audience themselves a part of the ensuing madness. All this, plus a vengeful rat, a cockroach with delusions of grandeur as a doomsday prophet and a donkey with an arse that contains a pocket universe. At least in part due to the extraordinary word-of-mouth buzz generated by the four people that watched it (this blogger included), in July, Doom Patrol was renewed for a second series. So, find it and watch it. That is an order.
2. Peaky Blinders
'Since my resurrection I'm considered to be a God in The Holy Land. Someone has made an image of me out of rock, embedded in the sand so I am told and I am planning to make a pilgrimage to stand in my own shadow.' The fifth series of Steven Knight's acclaimed period gangster drama - the first to transfer from BBC2 to BBC1 - had taken eighteen months to arrive when it began in the late summer. But, as the Shelby family adjusted to life in the immediate aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, it was as though they had never been away. Major new characters were introduced - notably the psychotic Glasgow gang boss Jimmy McCavern (Brian Gleeson) and that terrible real-life scoundrel, Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley (Sam Claflin) into whose dangerous web Tommy Shelby (the always superb Cillian Murphy) willingly walks with plans to end his naughty fascist ways. Broadly speaking, the series met with predictable critical favour (although one worthless cheb of no importance at the Torygraph took issue with the finale; no one with an ounce of common sense in their head actually agreed with him). And, also, equally predictable viewer delight - especially when fan-favourite Alfie Solomon (Tom Hardy) turned up, seemingly from beyond the grave, in the last episode. And, speaking of those beyond the grave, Tommy spending most of the series having intense conversations with the ghost of his dead wife, Grace (Annabelle Wallis) pushed Peaky Blinders to the borders of Telefantasy, somewhere that even the series' most broad-minded fan probably never expected it to venture. Two further series are planned, of course and Knight has even been making noises recently about extending the story beyond his original intended conclusion, the outbreak of the Second World War.
3. Game Of Thrones
'No one is very happy, which means it's a good compromise, I suppose.' It was inevitable that it was going to happen. Indeed, Keith Telly Topping takes no pleasure in reminding dear blog readers that he actually predicted what would happen on this very blog three years ago ('Will it, in short, be an ending that, actually, makes sense and satisfies everyone? No chance. But, millions will be there to watch it unfold'). The final six episodes of Game Of Thrones were never going to satisfy everyone. And, sure enough, they didn't. The fact that a - small, but extremely vocal - portion of the drama's audience, seemingly, could not accept the realpolitik of the ending that David Benioff and Dan Weiss came up with and demanded (demanded) that HBO go back and change it was, with hindsight, both predictable and not a little hilarious. That many national newspapers chose to focus a huge amount of column inches on these loud-mouthed over-entitled individuals and, seemingly, could not write a single article about Game Of Thrones' final series without shoehorning in as many references to 'fan anger', threatened boycotts, online petitions and - mostly manufactured - 'controversy' as possible was also predictable. For a while it was utterly impossible to read anything about the final series of Game Of Thrones without encountering a claim that the final series was 'unpopular with fans'. What all of them? Because, this blogger never got that particular memo. Yeah, we get it - some people you've never heard of on the Interweb didn't like the series. What else is new? It was almost as though a section of the media had never really understood the massive success of the adult fantasy drama based on the novels of George RR Martin and had been waiting for years for an opportunity to stir up the shite and see what happened. What actually happened, of course, was that the final six episodes of Game Of Thrones included two of the series very best (the gloriously redemptive A Knight Of Seven Kingdoms and the utter chaos of The Long Night). And, then it won a shitload of EMMYs including Outstanding Drama Series (plus a deserved Supporting Actor recognition for Peter Dinklage). So, when all is said and done, it almost certainly wasn't anywhere near as bad as some whinging bores on the Interweb and in the media made out. In fact, this blogger thought it was great, dear blog reader. Especially as the majority of the characters he had any investment in ended the series alive and either serving the new King of the Six Kingdoms on his Small Council, setting off on a voyage of discovery (to Americos, one imagines) or about to start a, hopefully loving, domestic same-sex relationship with his big hairy best mate North of The Wall. That was an ending of which this blogger wholly approved. The message of the final series of Game Of Thrones was, ultimately, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Applicable not only to would-be Queens - both with and without dragons - but also to fans of TV shows who start to believe it is being made for them, personally and get all uppity and discombobulated when it doesn't go just precisely the way they'd imagined it would. 'I didn't like the final series of a TV show I used to like, so I want you to remake it.' Oh, grow the fek up. Congratulations, therefore, to the Gruniad Morning Star's Stuart Heritage who described Game Of Thrones as having 'the worst fans in the world. Their sense of ownership of the show is horrifying. It exceeds that of even the creators themselves, which is genuinely confusing.' Henry VIII was probably the original obsessive TV fan - someone who loved women so much he ended up cutting their heads off. When you 'love' a TV series so much you want them to stop making it (and then start making it again, based on your fan-fiction scripts), that's probably the time to start using your remote control a bit more wisely than you have been.
4. Killing Eve
'Never trust people on their looks. I can see scary people a mile away - it's the good people you have to worry about.' Despite the loss of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, author of the acclaimed first series, the BBC America spy thriller's second year received, rightly, further critical acclaim. Chitra Ramaswamy wrote in the Gruniad Morning Star that the show 'uproots the tired old sexist tropes of spy thrillers then repots them as feminist in-jokes, patriarchal piss-takes, tasteless murders and blooms of Sapphic chemistry.' Describing how Villanelle (Jodie Cromer) 'does what she always does - exploit society's misogyny by imitating a victim of it,' Emily Nussbaum noted in The New Yorker that the potent idea which underpins the show is that 'femininity is itself a sort of sociopathy, whose performance, if you truly nail it, might be the source of ultimate power.' Angelica Jade Bastién added in Vulture that the second series - with new showrunner Emerald Fennell - 'trades in the precise mordant wit of Waller-Bridge for something more garish and horrifying,' further describing the 'wild consumption' of food and clothing 'that builds into the closest thing the show has come to a genuine sex scene' between Villanelle and the titular Eve (Sandra Oh). Bastién also perceived that 'Killing Eve is deeply indebted to film noir, a genre whose backbone is the ways people lose their soul in the face of desire - but it is a noir operating at the tenor of a fairy tale.' In September 2019, the Gruniad Morning Star ranked Killing Eve on its list of the one hundred best TV formats of the Twenty First Century, stating that 'few shows in TV history have scythed onto the screen with as much elan.' The conclusion to the second series - a witty reversal of the previous year's climax - was both shocking and amusing at the same time. A third series - with another new writer, Suzanne Heathcote - is, currently, in production. As to whom will be getting stabbed in the stomach at the climax of the next one, place your bets now.
5. Line Of Duty
'We're AC-12, we do this to other units week in, week out, so don't try telling me how it works. We're witnesses, not suspects. Now stop making a tit of yourself.' Having written 2018's biggest popular UK drama hit, Bodyguard, Jed Mercurio returned to his acclaimed police procedural drama for a fifth series. One which saw Hastings, Arnott and Kate investigating further dodgy shenanigans involving corruption and nefarious undercover doings. The series benefited from a superb role for Stephen Graham and a thoroughly nasty one for Anna Maxwell-Martin as an ambitious senior investigating officer with her eyes targeted firmly on Ted Hastings. Of course, the audience knew - or, believed they did - that there was no way an honourable, decent, near-Olympian copper like Ted could be a wrong'un. And, so it was (eventually) proved, to the relief of everyone. Again, the central trio of Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure and Martin Compston carried all of the plot twists off with a casual aplomb and - with an average audience of over twelve million per episode - everyone seemed to love it. Everyone, that is except real-life copper, Cressida Dick - a classic example of 'the Peter Principle' if ever there was one - who, seemingly, hadn't got enough to do in her actual job (whatever that entails, besides incompetent attempts to cover up the manslaughter of innocent Brazilians) without wanting to get a new gig as a whinging TV Critic. Leave that to the professionals, sweetheart and maybe try solving some of the reported fifty murders which occurred on your patch in 2018. God save us all, dear blog reader, from armchair critics (this blogger very much included). Particularly those armed with their own truncheon. Mercurio's spirited response to this abject nonsense - slapping down The Odious Dick in a most satisfying way - was, of course, perfect. 'Plausibility is a spectrum,' noted the Independent. 'Bodyguard became ridiculous but Line Of Duty stays just the right side and as usual there is more plot in an hour than in whole series of other programmes. As well as being gripping entertainment, Line Of Duty has become an effective examination of the relationship between the state and the individual. The shadowy government forces are elected; the organised crime gangs are fuelled by the drug trade. The police are there to save us from ourselves but can only do it if they are subjected to constant scrutiny. It's exhausting work, policing the police.' Exhausting? Yes. Gripping? Definitely. Worthwhile? But, of course.
6. Spiral
'If we go down, we go down together.' Broadcast early in the year in its native France and in the autumn in the UK on BBC4, the seventh series of From The North's beloved Engrenages began with the majority of the regular cast scattered, broken and, in the case of Pierre Clément, still dead. Tintin was gone, a tortured Laure, still suffering from post-natal depression, institutionalised, Judge Roban was finally manoeuvred into a forthcoming retirement whilst Joséphine was banged-up on remand for that hit-and-run of the man who raped her. Only Gilou (Thierry Godard) seemed to have found some peace, promoted to Laure's old job of leading the criminal investigation team. But, the shocking murder of their former boss, Herville, in the opening episode brings Laure (Caroline Proust) rapidly back into the the fold. And, inevitably, into another highly complex and labyrinthine plot over twelve beautifully structured episodes. The - achingly sad - finale suggested (as several previous series conclusions had) an ending of sorts; happily for fans of the gritty Euro noir, filming had already begun on an eighth series before the seventh had even been shown in the UK. 'Spiral is brilliant,' noted the Standard's Alistair McKay in a highly indignant 'why aren't more people watching this superb show?' piece. Yet it remains, for its small - if committed - audience addictive and, oftentimes, awe-inspiring. C'est magnifique? Mai oui.
7. True Detective
'Scientists now theorise an infinite number of dimensions outside our own. Einstein said: "Past, present and future are all a stubbornly persistent illusion." Are you waking up to that illusion? Now, while things falls apart are you starting to see them clearly? And at the end of all things are you awakening to what you withheld? Did you confuse reacting with feeling? Did you mistake compulsion for freedom?' After 2015's much criticised - and very flawed but occasionally interesting - second series, Nic Pizzolatto's anthology crime drama finally remembered what it did so well that made the first series such a huge international hit in 2014. 'Driven by Mahershala Ali's mesmerizing [sic] performance, True Detective's third season finds fresh perspective by exploring real world events - though it loses some of the series' intriguing strangeness along the way,' noted the Rotten Tomatoes website. The story took place in the Missouri Ozarks over three decades (told in an impressively non-linear way), as partner detectives - Ali and Stephen Dorff - investigated a macabre crime involving two missing children. The central pairing recalled (but, crucially, did not attempt to directly ape) the Matthew McConaughey/Woody Harrelson partnership from series one with Ali's performance, in particular, drawing widespread praise. 'This was the best True Detective yet and the first to merit a complete re-watch,' declared the Irish Independent. In actual fact, it was neither of those things (both credits going to the extraordinary debut series) but it was, this blogger is happy to report, very, very good. Pizzolatto claims he has 'exciting plans' for further series; hopefully HBO will give him the opportunity to develop them.
8. Good Omens
'It wasn't all bad, being a demon. You didn't have to buy petrol for one thing. The only time Crowley had bought petrol was once, in 1967, to get the free James Bond bullet-hole-in-the-windscreen transfers, which he rather fancied at the time.' In various stages of development (as either a movie or a TV series) for decades, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett's much-loved 1990 fantasy novel finally entered production. And, thanks to the inspired casting of David Tennant and Michael Sheen in the central roles as the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale respectively, it worked. Better than that, it even worked - superbly - in spite of some plank thinking it was a good idea to have Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall in the cast. Not that the inclusions of the likes of Daniel Mays, Nina Sosanya, Doon Mackichan, Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, Brian Cox (no, the other one), Bill Paterson and, best of all, Frances McDormand (as the voice of God) didn't help, considerably, in covering the rancid stink which infested the screen every time Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall appeared. Complete with some glorious cameos (David Morrissey, Pemberton and Gatiss, Johnny Vegas, Derek Jacobi and Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Satan) Good Omens managed what many considered to be the impossible and retained the source novel's sprawling anarchy of wit and strangeness whilst, thanks to Gaiman's own script adaptations, followed a tight, broadly linear, narrative. It was funny, inventive, touching, often completely over-the-top and provided the single funniest moment of TV-related news all year; an online diktat of disapproval - issued by some American right-wing Christian nutters - criticised the drama's 'irreverent treatment of topics relating to Satanism,' the depiction of Adam and Eve as non-Caucasian and, hilariously, giving God a female voice (so, they're racist and misanthropic as well as barmy). Better yet, it demanded (demanded) that Netflix should cancel Good Omens forthwith (if not sooner) otherwise the racist, misanthropic, American right-wing Christian nutters would all be ... well, jolly cross. Probably. The petition reportedly received more than twenty thousand signatures from people objecting to the show's content, all of them, seemingly, unaware that Good Omens was actually made by Amazon in co-production with the BBC and also that, as a six-part mini-series with no continuation planned, no cancellation was necessary anyway. Gaiman loved the stupidity of a pressure group not even knowing to whom to send their ludicrous whinging whilst both Amazon and Netflix milked the ensuing publicity for all it was worth. 'Normal' people just sighed, rolled their eyes and stood up and saluted the utter shite that some bigots chose to care about. And then, went back to watching one of the best TV dramas of the year. 'Funny if we both get it wrong, eh?'
9. Luther
'When I was handcuffed in the back with an itchy wig and nothing to do except chew things over, it occurred to me that George Cornelius must know you well enough to be acquainted with your weaknesses.' 'Which are what?' 'Other people.' Every time that a series of Luther ends - usually with an apocalyptic episode with a truly staggering body count - creator Neil Cross and star Idris Elba will both claim that that's it for TV (although they might make a film .. if they can get the funding). And yet, every couple of years, a new series Luther enters production for the BBC. This year, it was the fifth and, as with the previous four, it was grisly, unremittingly harsh, disturbing and utterly brilliant. Elba was on terrific form as the titular detective, with the usual superb support from the likes of Ruth Wilson, Paul McGann, Dermot Crowley, Michael Smiley, Patrick Malahide and Hermione Norris in an outrageous four-parter. The plot concerned a series of seemingly indiscriminate killings which are, actually, the work of a serial killer. An average audience of nine million viewers were glued to the series - broadcast on BBC1 over the first four days of the year - despite its often horrific visual conceits and occasional downright daft plot twists (come on, this is Luther after all, those are part of the fun). The finale ended on a satisfyingly morally ambiguous note with the death of two major regular characters and the future of John Luther himself in serious doubt. Once again, Elba's most recent statements have suggested that any continuation of the story will be on the big screen (if they can get the funding). But then, we've heard that one before.
10. Chernobyl
'Every lie we tell incurs a debt of truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.' A mini-series produced by HBO in association with Sky, created by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, Chernobyl revolved around the infamous nuclear disaster of April 1986 and the clean-up efforts - and blame apportioning - which followed. A meticulous recreation of 1980s Ukraine, it featured a large and impressive ensemble cast led by Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Paul Ritter and Emily Watson. The series received widespread critical acclaim. Reviewers from The Atlantic, the Washington Post and the BBC all observed parallels to contemporary society by focusing on the power of information and disinformation and how dishonest leaders can make mistakes beyond their comprehension. Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic described the series as a 'grim disquisition on the toll of devaluing the truth'; Hank Stuever of the Washington Post praised it for showcasing 'what happens when lying is standard and authority is abused.' Meera Syal praised Chernobyl as 'a fiercely intelligent exposition of the human cost of state censorship.' The series was also well-received by some critics and audiences in Russia (though it was heavily criticised by others). Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Culture Minister, whose father was one of the Chernobyl liquidators, called the series 'masterfully made' and 'filmed with great respect for ordinary people.' The Communist Party of Russia, however, called for a libel lawsuit against Chernobyl's writer, director and producers, describing the show as 'disgusting.' They being the Russian version of the dodgier end of Game Of Thrones fandom, clearly. Marianna Prysiazhniuk of Vice Media noted that multiple Russian media outlets had described the series as one-sided, incomplete, or 'anti-Russian propaganda' (some of which may have a grain of truth in it, though some undoubtedly does not). Argumenty i Fakty dismissed the show as 'a caricature and not the truth.' In the Torygraph, Gabriel Tate described the series as 'one of the finest TV dramas ever made,' whilst the Gruniad Morning Star's Rebecca Nicholson added that it was 'horrifying, masterly television that sears on to your brain.' Meanwhile, that bastion of truthful and accurate reportage the Sun, ever quick on the case, informed their readers in an excited tweet: 'Sky Atlantic's Chernobyl is based on a terrifying true story.' No shit? And, whilst some critics legitimately questioned the historical liberties taken for dramatic purposes (notably the actual number of cancers caused by the radiation leakage), the majority of viewers were gripped by Chernobyl's horrifying portrayal of out of control chaos. Viewed as a documentary, it may have left something to be desired; as a drama, it was stunning.
11. The Planets
'We don't know how many planets like Earth there are out there amongst the stars, there are places where the ingredients of solar systems have assembled themselves into structures that can dream of other worlds. But, we have to take the possibility very seriously that there might be few. And that would make Earth - and us - extremely rare and precious.' A BBC/PBS co-production documentary series about the Solar System presented by Professor Brian Cox in the UK version (though Star Trek's Zachary Quinto fronted the US broadcast - because, who wants a real scientist telling Americans about the wonders of Outer Space when Spock can do it instead?) The five-episode series looked at each planet in detail, examining scientific theories and hypotheses about the formation and evolution of the Solar System gained by unmanned missions to the planets. Cox presented segments to camera from various scenic locations along with extensive computer-generated imagery and footage from space missions. The series was created as a partnership between BBC Studios and the Open University and, dangerously, viewers who watched it might, just, have actually learned something. That'll never catch on. 'The wonder of Cox's arguments, which take in the staggering, incomprehensible vastness of time and space, provides the kind of television that made this particular viewer stop and say "whoa" every few seconds,' claimed some smear of no importance at the Gruniad Morning Star. 'Through its enormous scope, its look at an existence so mind-blowingly far beyond people, what The Planets really highlights is how brilliant people can be. In the 1950s, astronomers thought Venus so similar to Earth that they believed they might find signs of life; it wasn't until Venera 13 penetrated its "highly reflective clouds" that people could see a photograph of its lifeless surface. Spacecraft are invented and built at the peak of human understanding, with the full knowledge that if they achieve their purpose, they will break and die in the line of duty. Whoa, indeed.' 'The kind of dramatic scenes you'd witness in a sci-fi movie,' claimed the Independent, adding that Foxy Coxy's 'signature quality' is 'inspiring in the viewer his [own] sense of awe, wonder and thirst for knowledge.' If there was a better moment on TV all year than Brian's impassioned speech on the fragility and impermanence of life in the series' opening episode then this blogger didn't see it: 'In a strange twist of fate, at the end of the life of the Sun, the Solar System's last ocean-world will wake up to its own biological possibilities.' Breathtaking stuff. If you ever quibble about paying your licence fee, dear blog reader, then that two minutes made such arguments redundant.
12. Doctor Who
'Other armed forces are available if you can answer a couple of questions to help me redirect your call!' 'We're on our own!' We only got one new episode of Doctor Who this year and that was over before the end of 1 January! Nevertheless, it was a jolly good one - Resolution, in which Wor Reet Champion Jodie Whittaker and her pals faced off against a Dalek for the first time. Of course, 2019 being, effectively a 'gap year' for the BBC's popular long-running family SF drama brought much whinging from the darker corners of the series' more self-entitled fandom groups (the fact that the previous series ended in December 2018 and the next one will begin in January 2020 means that it isn't a gap year or anything even remotely like it, it's only a two month longer gap than that between the 2017 and 2018 series). Then, of course, there are those small - but very vocal - Nimby minority of whinging whingers who object to Chris Chibnall's take on the show and who object to the casting of a female Doctor and a couple of companions of colour as part of the TARDIS crew (Bradley Walsh, remarkably, seems to have escaped the wrath of most of the gammon end of fandom's righteous bombast. Where do you think those Game Of Thrones petition-signers learned their most valuable lessons from?) People whose idea of a fun night is making up dodgy - and spiteful - rumours of impending production and casting changes on Interweb forums (all of them subsequently discredited, of course). Plus ça change, plus c'est la même. These are attitudes which this blogger simply doesn't understand. It's okay guys, you've still got your Tom Baker blu-rays to watch - what, exactly, is the problem? Doctor Who will return for a new series on New Year's Day 2020 with some fascinating guest stars. This blogger - who watched his first episode of the show in 1968 and can still get every bit as excited about a new episode now as he did as a five year old when Patrick Troughton was the The Doctor - simply cannot wait. 'When you said "places to go" where were you thinking?' 'I was thinking ... everywhere!'
13. Catch-22
'Some of you will not be coming back ... If, in you final moments you see death, think not of death. Think of the living and know this; that your sacrifice will not have been in vain.' A mini-series based on Joseph Heller's (for years considered to be unfilmable - especially after the 1970 Mike Nichols movie adaptation) satirical anti-war novel set during World War II. It premiered in May on Hulu in the United States and a few weeks later on Channel Four. The series starred Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and George Clooney, who was also an executive producer alongside Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, David Michôd, Richard Brown, Steve Golin and Ellen Kuras. It was written by Davies and Michôd and directed by Clooney, Heslov and Kuras. 'A dizzying, daring triumph,' according to the Gruniad's Adrian Horton (although just a few weeks later, another reviewer at the same newspaper was declaring 'lovely to look at, with a fine cast ... but there's a catch') whilst the BBC's resident slapheed the risible Will Gompterz suggested that 'fans of the book might be disappointed by how much of the complexity and texture of Heller's time-shifting, fractured creation has been flattened out by a production team opting for a traditional chronological narrative told from a single perspective.' Never one to use four words where twenty four will do instead, our Will. The Independent's Ed Cumming didn't like it either although, broadly speaking, the series' reception was much higher in America where its themes seemed to chime with a particular Twenty First Century aesthetic ('way better than it should be,' according to Esquire, for example). The Financial Times considered, importantly, that the series captured both the humour and the horror of Heller's novel. 'Christopher Abbott as Yossarian has a look of the young Marlon Brando, brooding in a white vest against a mostly khaki backdrop of dust and parched grass. As he cools off in the Tyrrhenian Sea ... the lingering camerawork evokes a cologne advertisement more than a respite from horror. Beyond mere aesthetics, though, he’s impressive. Hugh Laurie, whose long evolution from Bertie Wooster never fails to amaze, is the languid Major de Coverley, like Yoyo seeing clearly the fatuity of army life, but because more privileged, more able to endure it. In a tale full of paradoxes, the style is both glossy and visceral, which feels exactly right.' Ultimately, perhaps it was GQ's review which best captured the risk and reward of Catch-22: 'A gamble that, mostly, paid off.' This blogger, if you're wondering, thought it was great.
14. Storyville: The Farthest - Voyager's Intersteller Journey
'Some of us never grew up!' First broadcast on BBC4 in December 2018 but repeated, in extended form, during the summer, Emer Reynolds' fascinating documentary told a familiar and yet still utterly staggering story. How NASA managed to build something that, forty years after its launch, is quite literally reaching to the stars. Now twelve billion miles away from Earth, two tiny spaceship have left our solar system behind and entered the void of deep space. They are the first human-made object ever to do so. Slowly dying within their hearts are plutonium generators which will beat for perhaps another decade or so before the lights on Voyager I and Voyager II finally go out. But these little crafts will then travel on for millions of years, each carrying a Gold Record bearing recordings and images of life on Earth. The story of the Voyager mission is an epic of human achievement, personal drama and almost miraculous success. Launched sixteen days apart in 1977, the twin Voyager probes have defied all the odds, survived countless near misses and, over four decades later, continue to beam revolutionary information across unimaginable distances back to Earth on a daily basis. With less computing power than a modern hearing aid, they have unlocked many of the secrets of our solar system. The Farthest told the story of these magnificent machines, the magnificent men and women who devised and built them and the magnificent vision which propelled them farther than anyone could ever have hoped. What possibly affects one most about the documentary was the human story of a team so dedicated to the project that they sacrificed professional advancement, many even delaying their own retirements for decades, because there was no one else who could do the job. '[An] awe-inspiring and life-affirming space odyssey,' according to The Arts Desk, 'exquisite [and] exemplary ... witty [and] fascinating,' added the Gruniad, whilst the Radio Times review said: 'Emer Reynolds's fascinating documentary includes many of the stunning images they captured of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, yet for all its visual potency, the film's real strength lies in the enthusiasm of the NASA scientists who designed and shepherded the probes.' Including contributions from such noted luminaries as Ed Stone, Carolyn Proco, Candy Hansen, Tom Krimigis, John Casani, Linda Spilker, Larry Soderblom, Andrew Ingersoll, Linda Morabito and Jon Lomberg (the co-designer of the 'Golden Record'), The Farthest stood as a testament to the energy, enthusiasm and expertise of the (huge) Voyager team. And, perhaps especially, as a tribute to the vision of the late Carl Sagan - represented in the film with a plethora of, often previously unseen, archive footage.
15. Fosse/Verdon
'People aren't going to the movies anymore to escape, they're going to find something true.' Two of the finest acting performances of the year on TV came from Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams as the titular husband-and-wife team, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Developed by Steven Levenson and Thomas Kail, the series, which told the story of the couple's troubled personal and professional relationship, was based on the biography Fosse by Sam Wasson. Norbert Leo Butz and Margaret Qualley also featured as Paddy Chayefsky and Ann Reinking, respectively. Williams won an EMMY for her outstanding take on an American icon (Rockwell was nominated, but lost out to Jharrel Jerome). In addition to Alex Lacamoire's original music, the soundtrack also featured the cast singing and performing popular songs and routines from Fosse and Verdon's various careers, including 'Big Spender' from Sweet Charity, 'Mein Herr' from Cabaret and 'Corner Of The Sky' from Pippin. The Independent sneered that the drama 'hits all the right notes, but they're in the wrong order.' But, they were wrong. Bigly wrong as a wrong thing with big wrong oblong knobs on it. The Gruniad was also rather sniffy and disingenuous. As is frequently their way. In America, it was a very different story with critics usually falling over themselves to praise the series' period detail, acting and dazzling recreation of some famous routines (Vanity Fair's review is a fine example). For once, this blogger agrees with those damned yankies (they've got 'heart', apparently).
16. American Gods
'A storyteller does not concern themselves with the truth. Stories are truer than the truth. These are not literal constructs as much as imaginative creations.' Beset by one behind-the-scenes production disaster after another (the loss of the original showrunners, the loss of important cast members - notably From The North favourite Gillian Anderson, et cetera), the second series of Starz' adaptation of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed fantasy novel should have been Godawful. That it actually worked on any level was remarkable in and of itself. That, whilst never quite scaling the heights of the first series, it nevertheless held onto the majority of its audience was even more unexpected. Jesse Alexander adapted the second series, serving as showrunner after Bryan Fuller and Michael Green departed. Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley, Pablo Schreiber and Ian McShane all returned, as well as Orlando Jones, Mousa Kraish, Omid Abtahi and Demore Barnes, who were promoted to series regulars. In September 2018, it was reported that Alexander had been sacked as showrunner by Starz and Fremantle. The series was, at that time, six weeks behind schedule and was forced to go on hiatus due to having an unfinished script for the finale; Alexander had reportedly submitted multiple drafts, but they were all rejected. Cast members were said to be 'unhappy' with the scripts and they were often rewritten on set, including Ian McShane improvising much of Mister Wednesday's dialogue. Starz was said to be unhappy with Alexander's direction of the material, which was more 'conventional' than Fuller and Green's 'atmospheric, hypnotic tone.' (The irony, of course, being that the reason Fuller and Green had left in the first place was the network's insistence on them cutting production costs.) With no showrunner in place, director Chris Byrne and producer Lisa Kussner were left in charge for the final few weeks of production. Despite some post hoc ergo propter hoc-influenced negative reviews (alongside one or two more positive ones), the series ratings stayed broadly in line with those of the first year and American Gods was renewed for the third series in March with Charles Eglee announced as the new showrunner. Meanwhile, Gaiman, whilst continuing to have some day-to-day involvement in the series, is reported to be working on the (highly anticipated) adaptation of his comic masterpiece, The Sandman for Netflix.
17. David Bowie: Finding Fame
The third part of Francis Whately's acclaimed trilogy of documentaries on the career of the late David Bowie (following 2013's Five Years and 2017's The Last Five Years), this time focusing on the story of how David Jones from Bromley became David Bowie. And then, how David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust from Mars and how Ziggy played guitar, became a phenomena, then retired. It was a long and strange (often self-deprecating) story of banging ones head, repeatedly, against a brick wall until you get Hunky Dory out of it. 'The verdict on David Bowie's first demo for the BBC with his mid-1960s combo The Lower Third was disastrous,' noted the Gruniad. '"The singer," went the report, "is a Cockney type but not outstanding enough." You can almost hear the author wiping his lorgnette disdainfully on his smoking jacket. The band's underwhelming Kinks and Who knock-offs were woeful enough, but it was their misbegotten version of ... 'Chim Chim Cher-ee' that tipped BBC bosses over the edge. The cover, the report charged, "kills the song completely."' From his school days at Bromley Technical, playing saxophone in The Kon-Rads and wanting to be a pop star David, of course, spent an entire decade dragging himself along all the many fringes of the London music scene, through numerous different faces and phases. Playing at being - and the list is not exhaustive - Tony Newley, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Scott Walker, Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy and many others. And, though it all, David Jones's record of abject failure was almost unsurpassed in an era when any number of ten-a-penny wannabes were grabbing their fifteen minutes in the limelight. Poor David couldn't even manage fifteen seconds; thirteen flop singles - with one novelty hit in the middle of the run - and three flop LPs across no less than seven different record labels. The gnomes might've been laughing but no one else was. If it hadn't been for his own, singular determination and the support of a series of early champions - not least, his manager, Ken Pitt - he'd have done what anyone sensible would in similar circumstances, given it all up and gone back to a well-paid job in advertising. Containing often revealing interviews with some of the important people in David's life, Finding Fame gave us a glimpse of the man behind the - many - masks. Literal and metaphorical. A hypnotic, multilayered work which was never self-indulgent, any talent-show wannabe who expects instant fame and fortune after spending a couple of episodes on The X-Factor should be forced to watch what a real superstar has to go through to reach the mountain top.
18. Years & Years
'It's our fault. This is the world we built. Congratulations.' After his hugely disappointing last TV format (2015's Cucumber), Russell Davies's return to our screens needed to be something special. Years & Years pretty much satisfied that criteria. The six-part series followed the Manchester-based Lyons family: Daniel (Russell Tovey) is getting married to Ralph (Dino Fetscher), Stephen (Rory Kinnear) and Celeste (T'Nia Miller) worry about their children, Rosie (Ruth Madeley) is looking for a new partner and Edith (Jessica Hynes) is engaged in one humanitarian cause after another. Presiding over them all is the imperious Muriel (Ann Reid). All of their lives converge on one night in 2019 and the story then accelerates into the future, following the lives of the Lyons over the next fifteen years as Britain is ripped apart by unstable political, economic and technological advances and the rise of Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson), a charismatic and controversial businesswoman-turned-populist-politician. By turns hilarious and utterly chilling, the series appeared to be Davies's comment on current political and social developments in both the UK and the US (although Davies himself denied this). It received widespread critical praise ('fast, furious and frequently devastating,' the Gruniad; 'far too often, worryingly enough, Years & Years is less like a glimpse into some grotesque and terrifying near-future, but more like a routine evening news and weather report,' the Independent; 'Black Mirror with a heart', The Verge; 'TV with both heart and mind', the Torygraph), though sadly it failed to gain any sort of audience to match its word-of-mouth notoriety. Which was both disappointing and predictable in an age of TV for the hard-of-thinking. As the Gruniad suggested, Davies's cross-pollination of genres (kitchen sink drama, near-future SF and state-of-the-nation polemic) may have been off-putting to some viewers whilst The Huffington Post bemoaned the 'travesty' of the series' lack of fanfare ('millions have missed out on enjoying one of 2019's most superb dramas - and one people would no doubt be raving about if it had appeared on Netflix'). Big Rusty himself was, seemingly, sanguine about the low ratings, saying that Years & Years was always intended to be a one-series drama. He will no doubt, have taken heart from Rotten Tomatoes' overview which stated that the series 'scathingly critiques the present with a nihilistic projection of the future, leavening the devastating satire with a buoyant sense of humour and characters who are easy to become invested in.' So, someone got it, at least.
19. World On Fire
'Every war's different. Until it's the same.' Peter Bowker's series about the lives of ordinary people from Britain, Poland, France, Germany and the USA before and during World War II. The - superb - cast included Julia Brown, Blake Harrison, Ewan Mitchell, Sean Bean, Lesley Manville, Helen Hunt and Arthur Darvill amongst many others. 'In a TV world where too often we are encouraged to see the Nazis as warm and cuddly real people with emotions, it's refreshing that they are here relegated back to pure baddies, strafing cafes, shooting surrendering fathers and generally being Nazi-ish about things,' said the Independent. The Gruniad praised the series, suggesting that Bowker's drama 'is a beautifully turned ensemble piece ... and far from standard wartime fare.' A reasonable-sized Sunday night success on BBC1 (with consolidated audiences of around six million), a second series has already been commissioned.
20. In The Long Run
'Good old Walter, he's going places.' The second series of Idris Elba's autobiographical sitcom was, if anything, even better than the first. Set in London in the 1980s, In The Long Run concerns the Easmon family. Amid the tower blocks, life for Walter and Agnes (Madeline Appiah) is all about quiet routine. They arrived from Sierra Leone thirteen years ago and are happy earning enough to pay the bills with a bit left over to send back home. Walter works alongside his mate Bagpipes (Bill Bailey) at the local factory while Evelyn patrols the estate selling make-up door-to-door. Their British born son, Kobna and his mate Scott hang out on the estate playing football and doing their best to dodge the local thugs. Much brilliant comedy was had in the opening episode where Walter was elected as a union representative at the factory and found himself thrown into the deep end when he was forced to tackle some slippery negotiations with management. Subject to a distressingly sneering review from some wipe of no importance at the Torygraph which damned the series with faint praise ('warm-hearted' but 'dated', which is a bad thing, apparently) and, effectively, suggested that In The Long Run was little more than Love Thy Neighbour: The Next Generation, In The Long Run is a somewhat old-fashioned conceit, this blogger will happily concede. It's a sitcom about family life; how very 1970s. It is also - and this is really important - funny with Elba and Bailey, in particular, on fine form. 'An entertaining brew of culture clash, social commentary and belly laughs,' noted someone at The Arts Desk who had, seemingly, understood what the production was trying to achieve. That was something no one ever said about Love Thy Neighbour.
21. Endeavour
'Six months and you've not darkened my transept, except on official business. Or perhaps you've lost your faith?' 'There was never much to lose.' The sixth series of what was, once, 'the Inspector Morse prequel' but is now very much a quality format in its own right began on ITV in February. In July 1969, eight months after the series five finale, Endeavour Morse is back in uniform and sporting a somewhat dubious moustache. Bright (the terrific Anton Lesser), now assigned to Traffic Division, is appearing in a road safety film and is known to local children as 'The Pelican Man'. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) has been demoted to Detective Inspector and now works at Castle Gate Police Station, where he is subsequently joined by Morse and Strange (Sean Rigby). Castle Gate is run by former adversaries DCI Box and DS Jago who frequently abuse their authority and mistreat both suspects and younger officers and take credit for Morse's hard work. Thursday, Morse and Bright eventually discover that Box and Jago are - not entirely surprisingly - involved in corruption. Like its fellow ITV crime drama Vera (which also had an excellent series in 2019), Endeavour seldom seems to crop up in many critics lists of 'must see-telly.' Yet, on an average Sunday night early in the year, audiences of seven, eight or nine million for these shows are not uncommon. And not even remotely undeservedly either. This form is something British TV does so well and so effortlessly that it's hardly surprising the rest of world's TV industries looks at Britain with awe whilst the box-set bores at the Gruniad and the Indi are too busy cock-slurping the latest Scandi-noir or 'gritty HBO drama' to even notice what is right under their noses. Sometimes, the most surprising things are. But, only if you actually look for them. And, not for nothing but the Supermarionationesque episode (Apollo) was fantastic and, for once, did draw thoroughly deserved widespread praise.
22. Raiders Of The Lost Past With Janina Ramirez
'It was an era that saw adventurers set out to explore the remotest corners of the globe.' From The North favourite Janina Ramirez's latest BBC4 three-part series had a fascinating premise: The summer of 1939 saw a golden age of exploration and archaeology coming to an end. It had been an era of adventurers setting out to explore the remotest corners of the globe, hoping to unlock clues to our forgotten past. During that last summer of peace, whilst the world stood on the precipice of a war which threatened to end civilisation itself, three extraordinary treasures were discovered that would radically change our understanding of the origins and diversity of human culture, bringing us closer to the worlds of our ancestors. Janina went on the trail of these remarkable archaeologists, from the English woman who discovered The Sutton Hoo Hoard in her back garden and the German archaeologist who hoped to use his discovery of The Lion Man to further the goals of The Third Reich to the glamorous American husband-and-wife team who headed into the Mexican jungle in search of The Olmec Heads. 'Glorious TV to see you through The End Times,' said the Gruniad. 'The glories of the deep past are Doctor Ramirez's subject in this series and they certainly merit awe and wonder,' sniffed the Torygraph. As with all of Janina's previous BBC4 series' - Illuminations, Chivalry & Betrayal, England's Reformation - this was beautifully presented, thoughtful, articulate and fascinating telly with just the right note of humour. Simply brilliant.
23. The Brokenwood Mysteries
'Do you want to know who did it?' 'Reckon I'll figure it out!' As noted in last year's 'Best Of' list, The Brokenwood Mysteries is a show which rather sneaked under the radar of many British viewers - this blogger very much included. It's a New Zealand crime drama unable to make up its mind whether it wants to be Midsomer Murders or Twin Peaks. So, it ends up as a bit of both, simultaneously. Having picked up a cult following in several territories (France, for example), it finally arrived in the UK on the obscure Drama channel a couple of years ago. This year's sixth series has been the best so far, with the central detective trio of Neill Rea, Nic Sampson and the excellent Fern Sutherland on particularly fine form. Engaging, quirky, with a keen sense of its own ridiculous little faux naïf world (concerning, as it does, a small town full of eccentrics which appears to be the murder capital of the Southern Hemisphere), Brokenwood's charms are gentle, yet can be very rewarding. Seek it out at your earliest convenience, dear blog reader. And tell them this blogger sent you.
24. His Dark Materials
'Who will stand with me?' This BBC/HBO adaptation was a beautiful, brooding vision of Phillip Pullman's universe, scripted by Jack Thorne (and, reportedly, the most expensive drama production in the BBC's history). One which retains the mix of childish wonder and darkness that make the source novels so beguiling to readers. Set in an alternative world where all humans have animal companions which are the manifestation of the human soul, the series follows Lyra (Dafne Keen) an orphan living with the scholars at Jordan College. As in Pullman's novel, Lyra discovers a dangerous secret which involves Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) and Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson). In her search for her missing friend, Lyra also uncovers a series of kidnappings and its link to the mysterious substance called Dust. With a cast that also included the likes of James Cosmo, Will Keen, Georgina Campbell, Andrew Scott, Omid Djalili and the voices of Helen McCrory and David Suchet, His Dark Materials instantly gained positive (if, somewhat cautious) feedback from the majority of critics. Broadly speaking, American critics were more reserved and dubious than their British counterparts (odd, that, because it's usually the other way around). Except for some plank at The Spectator who just had to be different, didn't he? Dan Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: 'This His Dark Materials nails much of what makes the books pop and both the special effects and a star-studded cast led by Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson are in fine form. What never fully worked for me ... is the necessary feeling of narrative and thematic momentum. It's vastly better than the movie [2007's The Golden Compass], but neither fun nor smart enough to quite succeed.' Caroline Framke of Variety added: 'Despite the rich complexities of the novel's world of daemons, power-hungry players and warring faiths, HBO's His Dark Materials feels like it could have been plucked from most any other fantasy epic out there.' Ben Lawrence of the Torygraph called the opening episode 'a fine piece of drama, capturing the strangeness and childlike wonder of the books, but also their rigour and bite. This is intelligent populism writ large.' Huw Fullerton of the Radio Times was equally positive: 'While there is a slight element of table-setting in the series' first hour the appeal of the actors and setting are beguiling enough to pull you through all the exposition and explanation.' Fullerton praised Wilson for her performance, saying she 'nearly walks away with the whole series.' The first episode of the eight-part series drew a massive overnight audience of 7.2 million viewers, the largest for a drama series debut since 2014 (the consolidated, Seven Day Plus audience added a further two-and-a-half-million punters). Before the series even premiered, His Dark Materials had already been renewed for a second series.
25. Year Of The Rabbit
'... Now, who wants to see how we fish opium out of sailor's arseholes?' Set in London in 1887, this bawdy comedy follows 'a group of Victorian detectives including Detective Inspector Rabbit (Matt Berry), a hardened booze-hound who has seen it all and his new, hapless, by-the-books partner. While investigating a local murder, the chief of police's lewd-but-insightful adoptive daughter becomes the country's first female officer. Together, the trio must fight crime while rubbing shoulders with street gangs, crooked politicians, Bulgarian princes, spiritualists, music hall stars and The Elephant Man.' Blessed with a superb cast (aside from Berry, there's Alun Armstrong, Freddie Fox, Susan Wokoma, Paul Kaye, Keeley Hawes and Sally Phillips), whilst Year Of The Rabbit wasn't a huge commercial hit, it did at least pick up some critical praise from the likes of the Independent (' like The Sweeney meets Ripper Street!') and the Gruniad. Berry, of course, as in Toast Of London et al, dominated the screen whenever he was on it, given deliciously over-the-top dialogue by series writers Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley (whose previous work included From The North favourite Black Books). Though there is, as yet, no news on any potential second series, Channel Four's lack of anything even remotely resembling a format as funny as this (Famous & Fighting Crime - see below - doesn't really count), one sincerely hopes the series does return. It certainly deserves to.
26. The Cockfields
'Would anybody like a mini-Magnum?' Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan headed this rather attractive Royle Family-style sitcom for the GOLD channel with a cast that also included Sue Johnston, Bobby Ball, Nigel Havers and Kim Cattrall. Wilkinson wrote The Cockfields with David Earl and also starred as Simon, who is taking his new girlfriend Donna back home to the Isle of Wight to meet his - rather odd - family for the first time. With hilarious consequences. Described by various reviewers as 'a real gem', 'well-observed, gently addictive', 'sparkling', 'crammed with lines so true to life, it sometimes felt like a documentary' and 'cringe-inducingly funny', the Spectator's James Walton added that 'the quality of the cast - both individually and as a highly convincing ensemble - makes even the most familiar material feel authentic. There's also a nice line in Alan Bennett-style dialogue. "Ray went into Totland this morning, Donna and got you a block of lard," Sue informs her proudly. "We noticed when we came to visit that you didn't have any!"' It may be, as some worthless louse at the Daily Scum Mail claimed 'The Royle Family given a Middle Class makeover,' but it contained more jokes in its first five minutes than an entire series of any other of this year's crop of fresh sitcom disasters. A necessary difference, one feels.
27. Gotham
'Remember when we stood here, Jim, all those years ago? Don Falcone wanted you to shoot me. You refused. Now don't you wish you done it?' The shortened fifth and final series of the Batman prequel (a huge From The North favourite) managed the almost-impossible in tying-up nearly one hundred episodes worth of plotlines neatly and to most viewers' satisfaction by the time of the flash-forward-ten-years finale. Given the quality of the superb ensemble cast (Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Cameron Monaghan, Morena Baccarin, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Siddig, Crystal Reed, Peyton List, Benedict Samuel) it was hardly surprising that even if the script quality may have taken a smallish dip in trying to shoehorn so much into so little screen-time, the whole thing still felt eminently watchable. Admittedly, sometimes Gotham's characterisations and occasional deus ex machina plots threatened to render it gauche beside, for example, Game Of Thrones groundbreaking and urbane recontextualisation of classic myths and positively anaemic compared to the sophisticated metaphors of something like Killing Eve. Nevertheless, there was always much to admire here. 'Gotham concludes in a glorious free-for-all that takes full advantage of the series' dense roster of colorful [sic] villains, making for an extended climax that is both daffy and thrilling,' noted Rotten Tomatoes and they were absolutely spot on. Gotham will be missed.
28. The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story
'Like most of them, she'd been a prostitute.' Liza Williams' documentary series opened in 1975 detailing the first three years of the investigation into the crimes committed by The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe. The location of Sutcliffe's first two murders in Chapeltown - then well known as Leeds's red light district - led the police to deduce that prostitution was the connection between the attacks. But also to them coming up with an - as it turned out, completely incorrect - theory about the killer's probable motivation. After the second murder in January 1976, the police announced that they were hunting 'a prostitute killer,' which had significant implications for how the investigation proceeded. Speaking to the children of some of the initial murder victims and to police officers who worked on the investigation, as well as journalists who covered the murders, Williams explored the difference between the way in which the women were characterised by the investigation (and, as a consequence, by both the media and the general public) and how they are remembered by those who knew and loved them. Meeting Tracy Browne, a survivor of one of Sutcliffe's earlier attacks, as well as the daughter of another surviving victim, Liza found how their vital eyewitness evidence was ignored because neither were prostitutes and did not, as a result, fit the victim profile that the police had decided upon. Williams' clearly had her own agenda to push - not entirely without merit, let it be noted. At times the series did veer perilously close to a diatribe again the entire male population. And again, not without a degree of justification. She - correctly - identified significant errors in the police's assumptions (most notably the over-reliance of the infamous 'Wearside Jack' hoax tape), though there were a couple of occasions where her wider social points lacked a bit of, arguably vital, context. For example, a clip was played of a football match from 1980 in which sections of the crowd were heard singing a song, seemingly in celebration of the Ripper's ghastly crimes. Williams, in voice-over, said that she had heard stories about this occurring but had been shocked to actually find the footage. What she didn't add - presumably because she didn't know - was that the match was being played at Roker Park and the song was being sung by Sunderland supporters as a deliberate taunt towards the visiting Leeds United fans in much the same way as, for instance, during the 1985 Miner's Strike, Yorkshire and North Eastern football supporters were often taunted by rival fans in the Midlands with a song which claimed 'We've got more Scabs than you.' Despite the fact that the vast majority of those on the receiving end of this blizzarding sarcasm had little or no connection to the mining industry. It wasn't big and it wasn't clever (then or now and, in places, variations of this sort of thing still goes on) but to read more into it than, simply, the exploitation of a current news story to further some long-held tribal rivalry is unwise. Nevertheless, A Very British Crime Story was a harsh, unremitting and thoroughly impressive piece of documentary story-telling in which Liza made a number of important points which cannot be argued with. Sympathetic without being cloying, A Very British Crime Story's most impressive achievement was that it was, at last, able to give a voice to those who had never previously been afforded the courtesy of one, Sutcliffe's many victims. And that was long-overdue.
29. I Am The Night
'All my life people looked at me, teachers, strangers. I found out I was adopted. That's why I left.' A six-episode series created by Sam Sheridan, directed by his wife, Patty Jenkins and starring Chris Pine and India Eisley. It was inspired by the memoir One Day She'll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings Of Fauna Hodel, documenting the author's connection to her grandfather, George Hodel, a prime suspect in the infamous Black Dahlia murder mystery of the 1940s. 'Chris Pine inhabits I Am The Night with the roguish gravitas befitting a noir,' noted a Rotten Tomatoes review, 'even if this entry into the pulp genre is more straightforward and languidly paced than some viewers would like.' On the Vulture website, Kenny Herzog voiced his frustration at the series' apparent blending of fact and fiction something which bothered this blogger not in the slightest. The Hollywood Reporter felt the series had 'lots of period atmosphere' but 'little sense of narrative purpose or identity.' Rolling Stain described the drama as 'a True Detective knock-off' which, despite 'a terrific lead performance' from Pine featured a story which was 'much too slow to get going and doesn't deliver enough pay-off to merit the wait.' Although it only turned up in the UK on the relatively obscure Alibi channel, it nevertheless picked up a small but devoted following. And, for what it's worth, this blogger thought it was great - enjoying the slowly unfolding narrative and being particularly impressed by Pine and a fine supporting role for Connie Nielsen.
30. Succession
'He can be scary, vindictive, paranoid, violent ... Wait, I'm not actually saying that. Yet.' Technically speaking, Jesse Armstrong's tough family comedy-drama was a 2018 production, debuting on HBO in August although in the UK, its first series run extended into the early weeks of the new year and its victory in the BAFTAs (as Best International Programme) in May more than justifies its inclusion on this year's list. The series centres on the Roy family, the dysfunctional owners of a global media and hospitality empire who are fighting for control of the company amidst uncertainty about the health of the family's patriarch, Logan Roy. Whose resemblance to anyone named Murdoch is, one trusts, entirely coincidental. The series features Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox (no, the other one), Kieran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Natalie Gold, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Ruck, Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong, and Rob Yang. 'Despite the strength of its ensemble cast, Succession is a feat of writing above all,' said the Independent's reviewer. 'Although it is ostensibly a business show, you won't learn much about the minutiae of media deals by watching it. Its key dynamic, between father and children, means that it is limited in the amount that can actually happen without risking the magic. The writers, led by the creator Jesse Armstrong, who also gave us Peep Show, weave just-about-plausible and sympathetic characters from a web of insults and backstabbing and tight editing and camerawork ratchets up tension from a slow-moving plot.' 'A comedy that gets less funny as it goes along,' wrote the Gruniad's Rhik Samadder in a glowing review. 'Why do I, like so many others, currently love Succession more than any other show on TV?' He is, of course, correct, he is far from alone in lionising the show in print. IndieWire called it 'the best show on TV,' the NME agreed and so did the Torygraph - albeit, in a particularly sneering article entitled For Once, The Chattering Classes Are Right - Succession Is The Greatest TV Drama You Haven't Seen; it's 2019 fer Christ's sake, who still uses the term 'the chattering classes' apart from risible old Tories? The second series, which began in August, cemented the series' growing reputation with Cox's performance, in particular, drawing widespread praise. 'If you only watch one TV show this year, make it Succession' suggested the Australian news.com website. This blogger thinks that's a daft idea, frankly dear blog reader, you need to be watching far more telly than that. But, yes, you should be watching Succession if you're not doing so already.
31. Temple
'Do me a favour. Could you meet me at Temple Tube Station?' Temple was a Sky adaptation of the Norwegian drama Valkyrien with a cast led by Mark Strong, Carice Van Houten and Daniel Mays. In a labyrinth of abandoned service tunnels near Temple Underground Station, Daniel, a surgeon, runs an illegal medical clinic to treat criminals and other desperate patients who cannot seek help from regular medical facilities. Daniel sets up the clinic to find a cure for his wife, Beth (Catherine McCormack), who is suffering from a terminal illness. The series focuses on the secrecy, exits and issues of trust as the clinic treats its desperate patients as well as Daniel's need for money to fund his research. 'Blackly comic, gloriously Gothic and ... very addictive,' according to the i, 'utterly bonkers - yet somehow brilliant,' in the opinion of the Torygraph and 'Strong (who also co-produced) is in his element here, switching between a demeanour of august probity and a kind of necromantic outlandishness,' according to The Arts Desk, Temple quickly became a minor word-of-mouth hit.
32. Euphoria
'I'd like each of you to get up and tell us a five minute story about your summer.' An American teen drama created by Sam Levinson and - loosely - based on a 2012 Israeli series which follows a group of high school students through their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love and trauma. If that description makes Euphoria sound about as interesting as Dawson's Creek, then fear not. It's better than Dawson's Creek. Ben Travers of IndieWire praised the drama's 'authenticity' and how the HBO show 'grounds itself in stark reality.' He also lauded Zendaya Coleman's central performance and narration. Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter also praised Zendaya and the handling of the subject matter. Pilot Vireut of the New York Observer described the show as being 'visually stunning,' as well as enjoying the ensemble performance, but criticised some of the writing as 'shaky, filled with clunky lines' and recommended that the show 'keep its focus narrow' in future. Meanwhile, the series garnered criticism from the Parents Television Council after it was reported that one of the episodes contained 'close to thirty penises [flashing] onscreen.' Broadcast on Sky in the UK - those thirty pricks included - the Gruniad's Martha Hayes wrote a broadly supportive piece about the, allegedly 'controversial' and 'shocking' drama. Euphoria 'makes previous shows in the genre, such as Skins and Sex Education, look like wholesome Disney larks,' according to Metro's Jane Mulkerrins. The Torygraph's Adam White believed there was 'a lot to like' in the series, praising its 'strong acting' and 'pop-video, heroin-chic sheen.' Yet he questioned its veracity as 'as a grand, expensive statement on Gen-Z apathy,' finding 'little joy' in its nihilism and 'constant barrage of anxiety, self-loathing and hopelessness.' Writing in The Times, James Jackson also expressed admiration for its 'sleek, stylish elan' while finding its 'affectless' tone somewhat 'dated. Perhaps it will shock its audience into thinking,' he continued. A second series has already been commissioned, to the delight of many - mostly young - fans who have been raving about the show on social media. And to the sour face-scowling of some tight-arsed right-wing scumbags who don't like anybody being exposed to The Sex. Ever. So, that's at least one jolly good reason to celebrate Euphoria's continued existence, then.
33. Revolutions: The Ideas That Changed The World
'It takes more than one mind to change the world.' Another example of BBC4's uncanny ability to produce something genuinely fascinating and entertaining at the same time, Revolutions was a series, co-produced by PBS, in which Jim Al-Khalili explored the story of six inventions: The Aeroplane, The Car, The Rocket, The Smartphone, The Telescope and The Robot. All are familiar from our everyday lives, yet hidden within the backstories of each are thousands of years of thought, struggle, sacrifice, determination and insight. The series was littered with visionaries. We peered into their original notebooks and sketches, used state-of-the-art experiments, dramatic reconstruction and CGI to shed new light on the discoveries of well-known icons, like Galileo and Da Vinci, lesser known female pioneers such as Ada Lovelace and Bertha Benz and others, like the medieval scholar, Ibn al-Haytham, whom most viewers will probably have never have heard of. Each episode explored little-known stories like the beginnings of robotics two thousand years ago or the Hollywood starlet and inventor Hedy Lamarr who, while trying to defeat the Nazis, made today's mobile network possible. The result was a thoroughly entertaining science-led James Burke-style journey through history, full of unintended consequences and connections. Mostly, though, it celebrated the achievements of the some of the greatest minds in human history.
34. Gentleman Jack
'Nature played a challenging trick on me, didn't she? Putting a bold spirit like mine in this vessel, in which I'm obliged to wear frills and petticoats? Well, I refuse to be cowed by it.' Sally Wainwright's story of Victorian non-conformity starring the excellent Suranne Jones as the landowner and industrialist Anne Lister was a big hit for both co-production partners the BBC and HBO. The series was based on the collected diaries of Lister, which were written largely in code, documenting a lifetime of lesbian relationships. With a stellar cast that included Sophie Rundle, Joe Armstrong, Amelia Bullmore, Rosie Cavaliero, Gemma Whelan, Gemma Jones, Timothy West, Stephanie Cole, Peter Davison and Shaun Dooley, the series pulled in regular audiences around the six million mark and drew much critical praise. The Hollywood Reporter described Gentleman Jack as a 'funny, smart and touching story' which at times has the main character talking directly to the camera to explain her inner thoughts, allowing aspects of Lister's diary to be used. The Gruniad's review said: 'Suranne Jones rocks Halifax as the first modern lesbian, Anne Lister's diary [becomes] a thrilling coal-town romp that flirts with parody, so maybe it's Queer Brontë.' Variety pointed out the drama's uniqueness: 'Wainwright makes an intriguing choice that sets up a decidedly adult romance about devotion, trust and partnership that is rare for TV in general, let alone for lesbian characters in a period piece.' There was much praise, too, for the series use of the folk duo's Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow's titular song as the main theme and of the soundtrack generally. 'A true TV marvel - romantic, raw and totally radical' according to the Gruniad and described as 'a triumph of wiry wit,' by the Torygraph, a second series has already been commissioned and is, currently, in production. If From The North favourite Jones doesn't, at the very least, cop a BAFTA nomination for her deliciously dangerous performance in the title role then this blogger is resigning from the human race in protest.
35. Star Trek: Discovery
'Any words of wisdom?' 'Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.' It took a while to get going but, by its second series Discovery had confirmed the suspicions of the better episodes of its first year - yes, this really is, indeed, the best new Star Trek series since Deep Space Nine. Various behind-the-scenes changes in production personal conspired to subtly abandon some of the series' more arty, high-concept first series conceits and, instead, focus on characterisation and an attempt to marry up the franchise's early continuity. For the most part this worked extraordinarily well. And, the characters are really good. The series 'found its feet in a fiercely confident manner,' said a Radio Times review. Set roughly a decade before the events of the original Star Trek series and following the crew of the USS Discovery as they investigate seven mysterious signals, the second series included new versions of such popular Trek franchise characters as Mister Spock, Captain Pike and Number One. 'The second season of Discovery successfully - if stubbornly - cleans up the problematic storylines of Trek-past while still effectively dramatising new takes on the lore,' said the Rotten Tomatoes website. A somewhat convoluted time jump plot in the series finale means that where Discovery goes next is into the far future. A third series is currently in production and will be broadcast next year.
36. MotherFatherSon
'Never tell me what you think I want to hear.' Richard Gere - in his first major television role since he was a guest on an episode of Kojak in 1976! - Helen McCrory, Billy Howle, Ciarán Hinds, Sarah Lancashire and Elena Anaya starred in this fine BBC2 drama. Written by Tom Rob Smith it concerned a fractured family at the heart of politics and power being pulled together under catastrophic circumstances. 'When Helen McCrory launched into a monologue about a dead seal I nearly lost hope, but the family saga has won me over with its pure, jaw-dropping emotion,' wrote the Gruniad's Sarah Hughes. 'Once you start to see MotherFatherSon as the sort of thing the almighty forefathers of melodrama Douglas Sirk, Irving Rapper or Vincente Minnelli might have created, everything falls into place. For they are all about passion and tears, about struggles and strong feelings and the sort of clashes where everyone collectively loses their minds.' There was a rather chilling loveless sex scene that also got another Gruniad writer, Ellen E Jones, somewhat over-excited. The Independent and the Torygraph were less enamoured but, pretty much everyone who came into contact with the series agreed that Helen McCrory is one Hell of an actress.
37. Traitors
'She's a clever little thing.' 'She's actually quite tall!' Created by Bathsheba Doran and broadcast by Channel Four and Netflix, Traitors was set in 1945 and followed a young woman (Emma Appleton) recruited by the American Office of Strategic Services to identify a Soviet spy in the London Cabinet Office. The rest of the cast included Luke Treadaway, Michael Stuhlbarg, From The North favourite Keeley Hawes and Jamie Blackley. The Gruniad's reviewer loved it ('[a] snappy, sexy spy drama where the women have all the fun') though the Torygraph declared it to be 'wobbly, claustrophobic and not that thrilling.' This blogger, for once in his life, found himself more in agreement with the Middle Class hippy Communists. Which, trust yer actual Keith Telly Topping was as distressing to him as he is sure it is to you. Perhaps the Den Of Geek website best summed up the show when it described Traitors as a 'satisfying, grown-up spy thriller.' Exactly.
38. Flack
'I thought there was no such thing as bad publicity?' 'Have a conversation with Kevin Spacey. He can fill you in!' A six-part sitcom created by Oliver Lansley produced by Hat Trick and originally broadcast in the UK on W, Flack concerned Robyn (Anna Paquin), an American PR executive living in London, who must constantly devise how to make the best of bad situations. Robyn specialises in clearing up the monumental messes caused by her hapless and selfish clients. Although utterly in command of her job and contemptuous of her colleagues, her personal life is spiralling out of control. With a cast that included Sophie Okonedo, Marc Warren, The West Wing's Bradley Whitford, Alan Davies, Amanda Abbington and Katherine Kelly, some arsehole of no importance at GQ magazine claimed that Flack 'might be one of the worst TV shows ever made.' It wasn't that or anything even remotely like it; in fact it was genuinely funny and, in a round-about way, a perfect reflection of our times. The show managed to cover everything from serial harassers and closeted athletes, to lazy comedians embracing transphobia rather than clever one-liners and generic sitcom cliches. It also had 'characters with deliberately jagged edges - the kind of people who flirt with self-improvement before spiralling into a self-loathing that they insist is inevitable,' noted Variety. 'These so-called "anti-heroes" have traditionally been grizzled men, but Flack is the latest show to let women assume the role, most particularly with Robyn (executive producer Anna Paquin), an ace publicist whose mother's suicide and addiction issues have hollowed her out.'
39. Soft Cell: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
'If we don't stop, one of us is probably going to die!' Guy Evans's impressive (and fantastically rude) Soft Cell documentary was broadcast on BBC4. Marc Almond and Dave Ball were always a duo that yer actual Keith Telly Topping had a lot of time and, both came over in the programme as thoughtful, articulate, funny and genuinely nice chaps. 2018 marked the fortieth anniversary of Soft Cell. To celebrate this landmark, Marc and Dave reunited for an emotional, sold-out concert at London's O2 Arena last September. With unprecedented access to the pair, this film followed the build-up to that gig and provided an intimate retrospective portrait. The film covered Marc's formative years growing up in Southport and Dave's in Blackpool and how the two met as art students at Leeds Polytechnic in the late 1970s. Soft Cell were always more interested in using their chart success to subvert the mainstream than in becoming pop stars per se, as shown in relation to Marc's groundbreaking, androgynous debut on Top Of The Pops. It was the beginning of a controversial career which deliberately defied and flouted convention. Soft Cell were influenced as much by punk as by Northern Soul and Kraftwerk and refused to be pigeonholed by anyone, bringing a punk ethos to synth-pop whilst busting more than a few taboos along the way. BBC4 does this sort of music retrospective beautifully and this is one of their finest examples of recent years. 'A decent tribute to one of synth-pop's greatest, a reminder of their admirably headstrong intransigence and fantastic music,' wrote The Arts Desk. 'If anything, the Spartan weirdness of those early records grows more poignant ... with the passing of time,' added the Evening Standard in a glowing review. 'Almond, an arty kid from Southport with a penchant for Jacques Brel, seems now to represent a folk memory of an outsider kid that is so specific to its time and place that it has become universal. There's a lovely clip of him singing in Russian during a lull in Soft Cell's career. The lyrics flash up in translation. "My patterned handkerchief is accidentally torn," he croons, heartbroken and amused, as always.'
40. Great British Car Journeys
Peter Davison and Christopher Timothy driving around Cornwall in a Morgan. What's not to love? This delightful Channel Four format saw the former All Creatures Great & Small colleagues share their love of motors and the British countryside with viewers. And, why ever not? Together, the pair embarked on a series of journeys around Britain, exploring beautiful areas and experiencing a number of classic vehicles from the golden age of motoring. Warm, gentle and beautiful to look at, this was the kind of relaxing, 'slow' television which is becoming increasingly popular with older viewers. Those who are, perhaps, jaded by the constant diet of the hurly-burly pace of the Twenty First Century and who, every now and then, simply like to look at something undemanding and charming and safe. This blogger, who hasn't, yet, got his free bus pass, nevertheless very much falls into this category. Not every TV programme needs to be a groundbreaking format which is, you know, down wid da kidz with the hippin' and the hoppin' and the baseball cap on backwards and all that. Older people watch TV too, you know.
41. Morecambe & Wise In America
A long-cherished project for its creator - and life-long Eric and Ernie fan - Jonathan Ross, this fascinating three-part documentary series for GOLD told the story of the duo's attempts to break America during the 1960s. Over the course of five years, Morecambe and Wise made multiple trips to New York to appear on the USA's biggest variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show with, broadly speaking, successful results. In doing so, they - briefly - became part of the British pop culture invasion of America, were first drawn to the possibilities of longer-format work in movies and, got their first taste of colour TV. The, for the most part untold, story of their attempt to make it in the States was documented, including footage that had never been shown on British television before. From a rather hesitant start in which the American audience were genuinely unsure of what to make of Eric and Ernie, they soon established themselves as one of Sullivan's favourite acts and made multiple appearances on the top-rated show between 1963 and 1968. It helped that Sullivan (a committed Anglophile) liked them personally as well as professionally. They also worked in colour for the first time in America, inspiring them to do the same in Britain and prompting their move from ITV to the BBC. The series included interviews with many artists who worked with the pair, including Glenda Jackson, Dame Diana Rigg, Hannah Gordon and Nicholas Parsons. And, we heard from famous fans including Penn & Teller, Shappi Khorsandi, Steve Punt and Stephen K Amos; also featured were Eric Morecambe's family - his wife Joan, son Gary and daughter Gail, in most cases watching routines that they had never seen before. 'Such a funny way to make a living. But thank God they did. And Jonathan Ross has the grace and sense to stay out of the material's way,' wrote the Gruniad's Lucy Mangan. Spot on.
42. Rock Island Line: The Song That Made Britain Rock
This excellent BBC4 Billy Bragg-fronted documentary on how one song - 'Rock Island Line' - kick-started the skiffle craze in 1950s Britain and gave birth to the great British rock and/or roll bands of the following decade was both illuminating and genuinely moving. In January 1956, a new pop phenomenon appeared in the UK charts: a British artist (Lonnie Donegan) playing a guitar and singing an American folk song previously popularised by Leadbelly. Donegan’s rough-and-ready style was at odds with the polished crooners who then dominated the charts. 'Rock Island Line' sounded like nothing else on the radio and it inspired a generation of British youths to pick up guitars, washboards and tea-chests and begin a journey that would take them to the top of the American charts. Though the lyrics were more of an expression of rhythm and energy than anything poetic, it was, Billy noted 'one of the most important songs in the history of British pop music.'
43. Would I Lie To You?
'This is the most erotic conversation I've ever witnessed.' 'Yes, but you are married to David!' A long-time From The North favourite and a regular feature in these annual 'Best Of' lists, Would I Lie To You makes it yet again this year if only for the episode where they had From The North favourite Victoria Coren Mitchell turning up on the same team as her husband. It was like watching the most Middle Class domestic imaginable! The other episodes during the current - thirteenth - series were mostly great too (especially the one featuring Bob Mortimer) but, the Mitchell/Coren-Mitchell one was definitely something special. Particularly the round concerning the chap who had, allegedly, laughed so much at one of Victoria's quips on Only Connect that he'd passed out. When asked by Lee Mack how she felt to have told a funny story which ended with someone being hospitalised her reply of 'maybe you'll find out one day' may be the single funniest line in history of television.
44. Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
'He didn't look like anybody's notion of someone who would tear apart young girls.' A documentary which premiered on Netflix in January, on the thirtieth anniversary of Bundy's execution and during a period where interest in the case was at its height due to the then-forthcoming release of the movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile. Created and directed by Joe Berlinger (as, indeed, was the movie), this four-part documentary was sourced from over one hundred hours of interviews and archival footage of the notorious serial killer, as well as interviews with Bundy's family, friends, surviving victims and some of the law enforcement officers who worked on his case. Of course, any conceit of this kind runs the risk of, effectively, turning a dreadful monster like Bundy into the 'hero' of his own, self-created, drama (a charge which could certainly be levelled at the movie). In parts fascinating and genuinely revealing, in others frustratingly vague the documentary, it is fair to say, received mixed reviews. For example, on Rotten Tomatoes, the site's consensus was: 'Laced with troubling irony, Conversations With A Killer skirts introspection, making it just as illusive as its subject.' The disturbing subject-matter was also sometimes difficult to stomach. As IGN noted, the series 'serves as a painful reminder that when dealing with a subject this infamous, it is all the more difficult to bring something new to the table.' Nevertheless, as Berlinger told the Los Angeles Times: 'It's a story that has been told many times, so my bar was high. But I listened to the tapes and I thought there was an amazing opportunity to go inside the mind of a killer and tell a story, with a little distance and with some freshness, because we had this perspective from Bundy himself.' And, therein lies a justification for making the series in the first place.
45. Dave Gorman: Terms & Conditions Apply
'Welcome back to the world's best channel!' The Dave channel's original comedy formats have, on the whole, ranged from the flawed-but-interesting (Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier) to the hideously unfunny and full-of-their-own-importance (Taskmaster, HypotheticalComedians Giving Lectures - all of which, criminally, waste their main assets, their hosts and feature a parade of not-even-remotely-funny people who really seem to think they're it). The one major exception to this general parade of banal indifference was Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish, a huge From The North favourite across its five series. That show ended in late 2017, reportedly because Gorman felt he could not justify devoting one hundred-hours-a-week-plus to devising, writing, performing and PowerPointing each episode whilst maintaining a family life (and indeed, his own sanity). Hence, a change of format was needed; Terms & Conditions Apply is, broadly-speaking, Modern Life Is Goodish-lite with approximately half of each show given over to three weekly guests. The downside to this was that most - though, to be fair, not all - of these guests were exactly the same buffoonish unfunny twonks who stink up Dave's other comedy shows. And their contributions here were, frequently, about as much fun as an afternoon at the genital torturers. Fortunately, however, Terms & Conditions contained one genuinely world class comedy element - Dave Gorman himself, proving that he remains one of the most inventive, clever and lugubriously witty stand-ups working today. So, despite the presence of such lightweight non-entities as Phil Wang, Jessica Knappett and Sophie Duker (no, me neither), at least half of every episode was always worth its weight in comedy gold thanks to Gorman's presence.
46. Qi/Only Connect
Because, obviously, it just wouldn't be a From The North 'Best Of The Year' list without yer actual Keith Telly Topping mentioning not only two of his favourite TV formats but, also, what remain at the time of writing two of a dying breed of shows that actually treat their audience as though they have a brain in their head. Beautifully Reithian, on many levels, both Qi and Only Connect demonstrate an age old truism about knowledge; some people have it, some don't but appreciate it and find pleasure in trying to acquire it. And then, dear blog reader, there are people who feel they have knowledge trust upon them - those that occupy the letters page of the Daily Scum Mail, basically. 'nuff said.
Also mentioned in dispatches: Guilt, Giri/Hari, Fleabag, Watchmen, VeraThe Blacklist, Billy Connolly: Made In Scotland, Brexit: The Uncivil War, A Year Of British Murder, Danny Dyer's Right Royal Family, Les Misérables, Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil, Baptiste, The Umbrella Academy, The Grand Tour, Shetland, This Time With Alan Partridge, Leaving Neverland, Home, The Murder Of Jill Dando, Derry Girls, The Virtues, The Handmaid's Tale, This Way Up, Have I Got News For YouThe Capture, Top Boy, Catherine The Great, Dublin Murders, The Accident, Seven Worlds, One Planet, Dickinson, Better Things, The Marvelous [sic] Mrs Maisel, Veronica Mars, The Repair Shop, Brassic, Stranger Things, War Of The Worlds, Big Little Lies, The Loudest Voice, The Crown, Pose, A Discovery Of Witches, Vic & Bob's Big Night Out, The Sinner, Elton John: Uncensored.

Then, dear blog reader, there were ... Those That Weren't Any Bloody Good At All:-

1. The Jeremy Kyle Show
For most of the fourteen years of its thoroughly sordid and sorry existence, The Jeremy Kyle Show rattled along regularly offending the sensibilities of anyone with a functioning moral compass but, otherwise, providing little more than the punchlines to jokes of the 'these people don't vote, do they?' variety. True, occasionally, this distressing and wretched tabloid talk show would hit the headlines - like the occasion in 2007 when a Manchester District Judge was sentencing a man who had headbutted his love rival while appearing on the show and said: '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.' He also described it 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 want. 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.' An ITV spokeswoman responded in defence, weaselling that 'we take the safety and well-being of studio guests extremely seriously.' One or two people even believed her. All of that changed on 9 May this year when Hampshire Police found a man dead at an address in Portsmouth. He was subsequently confirmed to be sixty three-year-old Steve Dymond who had been a guest on an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show which had been filmed a week before his death but had not yet been shown (and, indeed, never was). Dymond took part in the show's lie-detector test, which determined he was being 'unfaithful' to his partner after he had denied doing so. Let us leave aside, for a second, the way in which the programme was, seemingly, happy to rely on such a ludicrous pseudo-science as the polygraph as one of the main planks of 'entertainment' in their belittling the (admittedly willing) victims of Kyle's special brand of 'hospitality.' Dymond's death was suspected to be a suicide. A few days later, it was reported that ITV had suspended the recording and broadcasting of the series. As a result of this incident, several individuals called for the show to be permanently taken off the air, including former ITV executive chairman Michael Grade, the MPs Damian Collins, Charles Walker and Julie Elliott and psychiatrist Simon Wessely. On 15 May, ITV's chief executive Carolyn McCall said that the programme was being shovelled into the nearest sewer in the hope that everyone would forget it had ever existed. In June, it was announced that Kyle himself - a thoroughly nasty piece of work if ever there was one -had 'declined' to appear before a committee of MPs investigating reality television. Although several ITV senior executives did not have that option and, as a consequence, spent a very uncomfortable - if, highly amusing - few hours getting the sort of bullying hectoring from the select committee that Kyle had, regularly, given out to those foolish enough to agree to appear on his show. The irony of Kyle's spectacular, pusillanimous cowardice in not joining his bosses in being publicly eviscerated when he had spent more than a decade doing exactly that to others was, trust this blogger, lost on no one. Numerous column inches were devoted to debating the awful Kyle and his awful show, most highly critical although, the Sun spent several days producing a series of horrifying articles all of which seemed designed to smear the name of the late Dymond and bemoan ITV's decision to cancel the show. Like this one. And this one. And this one. None of which, obviously, had anything whatsoever to do with the fact that Sun Bingo was the sponsor of The Jeremy Kyle Show. Clearly, these two aspects of this extremely tragic turn of events had no connection whatsoever. Interestingly, in the face a subsequent highly critical Commons report (which had gained access to previously unbroadcast - and very damning - behind-the-scenes footage), the Sun radically changed its previously supportive stance towards Kyle. Hell hath no fury like a British tabloid newspaper forced to amend its opinion. ITV - damned for 'a corporate failure' in its treatment of some guests - confirmed that it would not be reviving the format. And, that was the end of Kyle's shit, dear blog reader. Good riddance then, to bad, spiteful, obscenely offensive rubbish.
2. Jade: The Reality Star That Changed Britain
'Goody's transformation by the media from vilified hate figure on Big Brother to "authentic" heroine brought her fame and wealth - and is a parable of our times,' claimed the Gruniad Morning Star's Lucy Mangan in a four-star review of this worthless exercise in Stalinist-style rewriting of history. This blogger has written on several previous occasions about the strange phenomena of Goody and her transformation from 'the most hated woman in Britain' into a quasi replacement figure for the late Princess Diana by the same tabloid lice who had once mocked and spat upon her - here and here - so there's little point in going over the same old ground. Suffice to say that Goody was a ludicrous figure who, seemingly for the sole reason that she contracted (and, subsequently died from) cancer at a tragically young age, was made into our new Queen of Hearts by the self-same tabloid wastrel scum that had once celebrated her bone ignorance and expressed faux outrage at her sick televised racist outbursts. Rob Coldstream's two-part documentary promised to tell 'a bigger story of class, politics and cultural change in Britain at a time when reality TV became the biggest and most polarising form of entertainment in the country.' Actually, much as it tried to do that - and gained an overdose of fawning praise from most of the broadsheets - it just ended up being part of the same circus that it set out to reflect. A truly shocking - and sad (in all senses of the word) - indictment of the Twenty First Century's obsession with the process of people becoming famous for being famous. But then, as Goody's late publicist, the convicted sex-offender Max Clifford would probably have claimed: 'She'd have wanted it this way.'
3. Emily Atack: Adulting
From The North readers who watch as much telly as this blogger may, like him, have been somewhat smacked around the mush with a wet haddock during the summer by a constant stream of trailers for Watch's Emily Atack vehicle, Adulting. In which the former Inbetweeners, Twatting About On Ice and I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want)-type individual (nice girl, bit thick) claimed she wished to 'find out what it takes to be an adult.' Whatever it is, Em, on the evidence of the subsequent rotten series, you really don't have it. The first episode got a thorough pants-down hiding of a review from the Gruniad Morning Star's Chitra Ramaswamy who wrote: 'It is worth issuing a warning that, if you find the concept of "adulting" - which essentially means the completion of such quotidian tasks as working, laundry and taking care of oneself; what the rest of us call "living" - as infantilising and sexist as I do, you might want to bugger off and do some quiet, unscripted adulting of your own.' However, it was not so much the contents of the series, in and of themselves, which interested this blogger so much as a line in the same trailer in which the twenty nine year old Atack describes her current 'obsession' with 'adulting' as 'a quarter-life crisis.' Which rather suggests that Atack - twenty nine, remember - believes she will live until the age of one hundred and sixteen, at least. An interesting life-goal for someone who, elsewhere in the same series, admitted that she drinks too much. If you're planning on breaking the current record for this country's oldest confirmed 'supercentenarians' (held, at the time of writing by Charlotte Hughes from Hartlepool who died in 1993 a couple of months before her one hundred and sixteenth birthday), Em, you might want to think about cutting down on the alcopops and look after your liver a bit more. Mind you, dear blog reader, Emily's - much more famous and talented - cousin, yer actual Sir Paul McCartney (MBE), appears to be having his own go at living forever. So, maybe it runs in the genes.
4. Judge Romesh
2019, dear blog reader, was the year in which Romesh Ranganathan was in serious danger of turning into the new Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall. In so much as, for a while, barely a week seemed to go by without a new Romesh Ranganathan vehicle appearing on one channel or another. To be fair, some of these vehicles were better than others - the Sky sitcom The Reluctant Landlord and the BBC2 format The Ranganation being two of more worthwhile conceits. But Ranganathan - whom this blogger actually has quite a bit of time for in most of his endeavours - really blotted his copybook twice; once by replacing the previously mentioned Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall as a regular on the wretched A League Of Their Own (see below) and, secondly, with this horrific piece of turgid tripe. Judge Romesh, made by Dave, features Ranganathan 'settling disputes in a fictional civil court. The show is unscripted and the claimant and defendant are generally members of the public, though some cases are between celebrities.' So, in other words, it's basically an alleged 'comedy' version of Judge Judy. Only nowhere near as funny as the show it is, supposedly, parodying. Which, for an alleged 'comedy' is a serious drawback.
5. I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want)
With an even more z-list than usual line-up (Adele Roberts, Myles Stephenson, Andrew Maxwell and Roman Kemp all struggling to meet even the most basic - and desperate - definition of what constitutes a 'celebrity'), the sense of abject depression around the 2019 series of I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) was total. As was the revelation that this worthless bunch of not so much fallen stars as has-beens, never-weres and 'sorry, who are you, exactly?' were being paid a whopping 1.4 million knicker for their various appearances according to the Sun. Though, to be fair, the vague possibility of Gobshite Ian Wright or Horrible Kate Garraway getting eaten by some jungle critter or other was, at least, one valid reason to make watching the damn thing worthwhile. I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) remains one of the most watched television programmes on British TV. Not that this is, necessarily, an indication of superior quality in and of itself. In 1965 Herman's Hermits sold more records, worldwide, than The Be-Atles and The Rolling Stones put together. Which only proves one thing - you can fool all of the people some of time ...
6. A League Of Their Own
Still going. And, still absolute horseshite.
7. Japan With Sue Perkins
Some years ago this blog whinged - at great length to anyone that would listen (and, indeed, anyone that wouldn't) - about the number of terminally awful travelogue series that ITV seemed to specialise in at that time. Especially those which managed to shoehorn Caroline Quentin into one format or another, regardless of how suitable, largely because they had her under contract but didn't seem able to find anything else for her to do. A decade on, post-Bake Off and it's more-or-less the same story with the BBC and Sue Perkins. And, despite Perkins' genuine ability around a pithy quip (that's when she isn't making her regulation one-per-episode snide and tastelessly smug comments about Jeremy Clarkson on every single Qi appearance, guaranteed to make all of the Gruniad Morning Star readers in the studio audience titter and say 'oh, Sue, you're so witty'), formats such as this one - and, previous similar televised trips of the Mekong Delta and Kolkata - demonstrate a depressing paucity of imagination. Some suit at the Beeb saying: 'We can't think of anything else to do with her so, let's pack Sue Perkins off to Japan, that'll be good for a laugh,' seems to be the entire reason for the existence of this patronising and, frankly, pointless exercise. If you need a documentary series fronted by Sue Perkins to tell you that Japan is a fascinating place which is well worth a visit (if you can afford the flight) then, to be honest, you're probably not the sort of person they'd particularly wish to see in downtown Tokyo.
8. Love Island
Another format that, like The Jeremy Kyle Show, has an unfortunate habit of leaving a trail of bodies behind it. But, apparently, even the tragic deaths of Mike Thalassitis (who took his own life in March) and series two contestant Sophie Gradon the previous year was not enough for ITV to consider binning ITV2's biggest money-spinner. One imagines, they got a particular kick out of a couple of former contestants appearing before a House of Commons Select Committee and defending the low pay and humiliating tasks in the name of 'making me a reality TV star.' And, regardless of how one feels about the format of a show in which a bunch of pretty young things are dumped in a villa in Mallorca to see if they end up shagging like bunnies or not in the name of 'entertainment' (this blogger, he will confess, is not a fan), there's still something horribly 'this is the Twenty First Century we've created' about the success of Love Island. This year's series saw the usual, mostly media-created, 'controversies' - complaints to Ofcom about the alleged bullying of one contestant and another being thrown off the island for a suspiciously unspecific 'breaking of the rules'. In July, the latest Love Island series was won by Amber Gill and Greg O'Shea guaranteeing both an instant passport to at least a few years of appearances in other reality TV formats once the tabloids lose interest in them.
9. The Greatest Dancer
A dance competition created by Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads and produced by Syco Entertainment, this was the first BBC programme created by Wee Shughie McFee. And, as a consequence, it was greeted with massive tabloid interest albeit also with much viewer indifference and rather ordinary ratings (though, it did just about enough to win a second series commission for 2020). The Greatest Dancer saw 'previously undiscovered dance acts' perform weekly for a judging panel of Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Payne-Whatever-She's-Calling-Herself-This-Week, Oti Mabuse and Matthew Morrison (no, me neither) and a studio audience to win fifty thousand smackers and a chance to perform on Strictly Come Dancing. The hosts were Alesha Dixon (whom, viewers with a memory longer than the average goldfish my recall left the BBC for pastures more commercial in 2012 only to find, as many have before her, that the grass isn't always greener on The Other Side) and Ashley Banjo. The series was won by fourteen-year-old Ellie Fergusson from Livingston who was mentored by Mabuse. The Gruniad Morning Star, of course, managed to get a shitehawk 'racial bias' story out of the series. No one else could, seemingly, summon up enough interest to actually care about such trivia.
10. Psychopath With Piers Morgan
'Can you justify interviewing a man who murdered his four-year-old sister?' asked the Evening Standard about this horrific exercise in sick self-aggrandisement disguised as hard-hitting social commentary. The odious Morgan's various TV conceits usually, as Lucy Mangan noted, say far more about Morgan himself and his endless self-promotion than they do about his subjects. That was certainly true about his interview with convicted child-killer Paris Bennett. 'Like Morgan's previous outings, Confessions Of A Serial Killer With Piers Morgan and Killer Women With Piers Morgan, the programme evidently exists in large part to showcase the talents - to stretch the word to the very limits of its natural elasticity - and feed the ego of Morgan,' Mangan continued. 'Bennett, he slaveringly assures us at the top of the hour, is considered so dangerous: "They've insisted I interview him behind toughened glass!" So it is maybe to prove the great, dangling cojones of Morgan, too, for all those who were not convinced of their size and weight by his courageous stand against the feminisation of culture after a picture of Daniel Craig carrying his infant son in a baby sling like a giant nancy boy (I paraphrase Morgan's take on the situation, but not by much) appeared in the papers.' 'Framed from its title onwards as a trip to the zoo to see a monster, it was not about to leave viewers any room to form an opinion of their own,' added the Torygraph's Chris Harvey. According to the Daily Lies, viewers were 'left horrified' by the episode though, one suspects, at least in part they were left horrified by the odious, po-faced Morgan's towering ego and self-righteous attitude. The fact that someone at ITV - who is, presumably, paid a lot of money per year - thought commissioning this ... thing was a good idea frankly, needs a damned good spell behind toughened glass themselves.
11. Eaten By An Escalator
Channel Five probably reached the nadir of cheap, CCTV-footage-generated programming with this nasty, voyeuristic piece of what one can only suspect was intended to be 'warning TV.' The fact that, with the addition of a laugh-track, one would have had difficulty differentiating the clips from this show with those appearing on something like You've Been Framed was genuinely hard to stomach. 'No one will ever go on another escalator again after watching this programme,' someone claimed on Twitter (as gleefully reported by the Daily Scum Mail). One would hope that the same could - and probably should - equally apply to watching this sort of crass, wretched television programme.
12. Trawlermen: Celebs At Sea
Another spectacular example of 'what job can we get some desperate z-list former celebrities to do to get themselves back on telly?' from Channel Five, who seem to specialise in this sort of rubbish. So, dear blog reader, if your idea of fun and infotainment is watching former TV chef Anthony Worrell Thompson, former rugby player Ben Cohen and former Boyzone-type-individual Shane Lynch tossing about in the North Sea (steady), then you're probably having trouble with a lot of the words with more than one syllable which have previously been used on this blog. 'I must be barking mad,' claimed Worrall Thompson about appearing in the programme. Which is, one trusts, exactly what the majority of the - very small - audience were thinking at that exact moment in relation to their own viewing decisions.
13. Top Gear
With the departure of Joey-from-Friends, the BBC decided to reinvent the four-wheeler for the third time in recent memory and attempt yet another re-re-reformatting of Top Gear by employing former cricketer Freddie Flintoff (nice lad, bit thick) and professional Northern berk Paddy McGuinness. It seemed like what it was, a desperate final throw of the dice. Actually, once again, it wasn't so much a reformatting as an attempt to squeeze a sweaty new pair of feet into an already well-established (and much-loved) pair of comfortable shoes. Teaming Flintoff and McGuinness with Chris Harris was such an obvious attempt to ape the Clarkson/Hammond/May era that one is only surprised the copyright police didn't launch an immediate investigation. Only, of course, it never could. Because, having Paddy McGuinness in Jezza Clarkson's place (regardless of how one feels about the producer-biffer) is a bit like the time this blogger's beloved (though, even then unsellable) Magpies decided to get rid of their maverick French winger David Ginola and used the money they made from the sale to buy a bloke from Bradford City called Des Hamilton. Frankly, the BBC would have been better off teaming Flintoff and Harris with an inanimate lump of concrete. That would certainly have been both funnier and more likeable than the odious McGuinness. Startlingly, a few organs of the media with a sick agenda smeared an inch thick across their disgusting chops, found a smattering of comments on Twitter which claimed that Top Gear was now 'better than it had ever been' - a suspiciously Stalinist-style rewriting of history if ever there was one. 'The larky, bad-tempered chemistry that existed between Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond has been replicated in a slightly sunnier form,' claimed some agenda-soaked waste-of-space at the Gruniad Morning Star - a newspaper which, let us remember, seldom had a decent word to say about Top Gear when it was a genuinely groundbreaking (if, sometimes infuriating) TV format. Ratings for the show did, admittedly, improve slightly over the previous (Matt Le Blanc-fronted) series though at a consolidated average of around three to four million per episode they are still a long-way away from the kind of figures that were being pulled in pre-that fracas. More worryingly, the BBC have confirmed that, although the series remains one of the corporation's largest income generators, overseas sales have unquestionably dipped over the last few years. Meanwhile, there's a real car show on Amazon Prime featuring people who, actually, know what they're talking about if anyone's interested.
14. There's Something About Movies
Alan Carr, although something of an acquired taste can, undeniably, be a very funny man. Michael Sheen is one of the great actors of his generation. Mickey Flanagan, admittedly, is about as funny as a big, hairy genital wart. Nevertheless, There's Something About Movies could have worked as a kind of Never Mind The Buzzcocks for the film industry. But, it didn't. Made by the same production company as A League Of Their Own (and, that should've been a warning), There's Something About Movies suffers from exactly the same problems as that format - it is insufferably smug, nowhere near as funny as it seems to think it is, wastes much of its potential by sidelining guests in favour of the 'wacky' antics of its regulars and, ultimately, leaves a rather sour and bitter taste in the mouth. A second series replaced the truly awful Flanagan with Jennifer Saunders. But, the jokes remained one-dimensional and, frequently, obvious. Even Sheen is now starting to look bored by the whole thing.
15. Timewasters
An appallingly dumb ITV2 sitcom (as if the words 'ITV2' and 'sitcom' in the same sentence doesn't automatically require the addition of the words 'appallingly' and 'dumb'), this year's second series of Timewasters was every bit as woeful as the first in 2017. The regular cast - Daniel Lawrence Taylor, Kadiff Kirwan, Adelayo Adedayo and Samson Kayo - to be fair do give it their best shot whilst tackling scripts which favour cliches over subtlety and often feature barely a joke worthy of the name. Is it as bad as Plebs, The Keith Lemon Sketch Show, Blue Go Mad In Ibiza, Cockroaches, Dapper Laughs: On The Pull and other notoriously crass and unfunny ITV2 'comedy' shows? Possibly not (again, the energy of the cast is a point in its favour). But, a rather desperate Gruniad Morning Star preview which claimed Timewasters as some kind of undiscovered masterpiece can probably be chalked up to the author of the piece not having actually bothered to watch any of it.
16. Famous & Fighting Crime
In which Marcus Brigstocke, Sandi Bogle, Katie Piper, Jamie Laing and Penny Lancaster join The Fuzz and attempt to tackle street crime on London's streets (because, obviously, the real police can't handle that task themselves). Although, with Cressida Dick's sudden desire to quit her job at the Met and become a TV critic (see Line Of Duty above), maybe The Peelers could actually do with the z-list celebrity help? Although, the thought of Penny Lancaster shouting 'stop, in the name of The Law' at some hapless fleeing armed blagger does not, one imagines, fill the capital's criminal community with a sense of impending dread. And exclaim: 'shit, Penny Lancaster's on the case, I'm legging it and going straight from hereon in!' 'Channel Four has reached the point in its programming Venn diagram where the popularity of their fly-on-the-wall documentaries has overlapped with viewers' appetites for reality television, creating its newest show,' wrote the Irish Times' review, Jennifer Gannon. 'Which is more serious and less Alan Partridge than it sounds. This is not some sort of sub-superhero vigilante japes with Christopher Biggins encased in Lycra, it's Training Day starring someone from Eight Out Of Ten Cats.' Once again, as with many of the formats highlighted in this year's 'Worst Of' list, the overwhelming question one needs to ask when watching episodes of these shows is ... why? Why were they made? What is anyone (least of all people like Piper and Brigstocke both of whom this blogger actually had a modicum of respect for) supposed to gain from this exercise? And, most importantly, what exactly is the viewer meant to learn from Famous & Fighting Crime? Utterly and completely pointless, on so many levels.
17. How The Other Kids Live
Described as 'the most pleasant show of the year' by some plank at the Gruniad Morning Star with the critical faculties of a mollusc, this conceit was the latest example of a grand Channel Four tradition: following kids around with cameras to see what they are 'really like.' The Mirra described, in some detail, the series' highlight - a meeting between two very different nine year old girls in which one shows the other the joys of cosmetics and her new friend says that she feels like she has been 'punched in the face.' So, to be fair, did most of the viewers; punched in the face with a surfeit of twee, faintly embarrassing 'reality' that, actually, feels far more 'fake' than the average - not very good - drama.
18. Icons Of The Twentieth Century
Another pointless conceit - this one, worryingly, from BBC2 - in which various noted individuals from different fields of expertise and talent were paired off in an effort to find out which one was, like, 'the best' and all that. Why? Once again, no one knows. The series climaxed in one of those pretentious and irksome Live Final-type affairs. Which was even more weird than the rest of the series. Judging iconic people against each other in very different, disparate categories was, as numerous critics were happy to point out, all rather meaningless. Alan Turing (who, ultimately, was declared the winner) would have been a terrible polar explorer. It is a well known fact that Ernest Shackleton couldn't sing for toffee. Gandhi certainly never banged in forty goals a season for Santos. David Bowie couldn't box his way out of paper bag whilst Pablo Picasso did not delivered a speech about having had a dream. There was the - absolutely predictable and, not entirely unjust - complaint that very few women were included in the shortlist whilst other critics just whinged about the fact that we were nineteen years into the Twenty First Century before someone thought it was an idea to celebrate the previous one in this way. In truth, this was yet another example of those meaningless 'list TV' type shows which Channel Four used to specialise in a couple of decades back. But, it really was depressing to see unimaginative tripe such as this made by this blogger's beloved BBC.
19. My Famous Babysitter
In which a series of z-list individuals who aren't even famous-for-being-famous enough to get themselves a slot in the jungle on I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) were tasked with the job of babysitting a bunch of annoying brats. Or, as the company making this fiasco would have it, 'take full parental responsibility for a family of at least three children, providing an insight into the challenges of Twenty First Century family life in Britain.' Another triumph for the W channel, the 'celeb line-up' included Professor Green, Anita Rani, Rachel Riley and Georgia Toffolo. Yes, dear blog reader, someone did, indeed, get paid for dreaming up this ... nonsense. And, the Daily Mirra got a story out of it. But, otherwise, you would have to be a brain-damaged cretin (or the victim of a cruel medical experiment) to glean anything worthwhile from this steaming pile of rancid diarrhoea.
20. The World's Most Shocking Ads With Shane Ritchie
Once upon a time, Shane Ritchie used to have an acting career. These days, he's on Channel Five presenting hollow sub-It'll Be Alright On The Night clip-show tripe such as this.
21. Comedians Giving Lectures
It really should not have been possible - an alleged 'comedy' format fronted by From The North favourite Sara Pascoe which featured barely a joke worthy of the name. Sadly, Sara's contributions to the programme in question largely consisted of a few - halfway amusing - one-liners before introducing a parade of abject non-entities that constitute the detritus of British comedy which the Dave channel could afford (see, also, Taskmaster). Most of them with names like Lolly, apparently and almost all of whom are about as funny as a good, hard eye-watering knee to the nadgers. Now, admittedly, dear blog reader, comedy is an entirely subjective thing and some people may, indeed, have found this conceit - 'some of the funniest people in British comedy deliver[ing] a hilarious stand-up presentation in the guise of a lecture' according to the series' own dubious pre-publicity - worthy of the odd titter or two. This blogger was not one of them, however. Which may mean he has turned into a grumpy old sod in his declining years (hey, anything's possible). Or it may mean that he's not as easily pleased as some Dave viewers, seemingly, are. A trailer which Dave ran ad nauseam before and during the series' summed up this blogger's basic objection to Comedians Giving Lectures and pretty much everything it stands for. 'The job that I do now is a comedian,' sneered the horrifyingly smug and full-of-her-own-embiggened-importance Rachel Parris. 'Or, "so-called comedian" according to British Big Balls Fifty Seven.' For what it's worth, this blogger is with 'British Big Balls Fifty Seven' on that particular score. Despite the occasional appearance of someone with genuine comic skill (Katherine Ryan in one episode, Miles Jupp in another), Comedians Giving Lectures was a classic example of everything that is wrong with comedy in 2019. Many of these people are, apparently, 'very popular with students' (Russell Kane, for one). Which, given the truly appalling state of education in this country, is a far bigger joke than anything found in - or anywhere near - this series.
22. Summer Of Rockets
In which Stephen Poliakoff basically wrote yet another version of the same jiggery-pokery he always writes, more slow-moving old toot about the 1940s and 1950s (see also, Dancing On The Edge, Close To The Enemy). Despite a quality cast - Keeley Hawes, Toby Stephens, Linus Roache, Timothy Spall - this blogger found Summer Of Rockets to be yawn-inducing and six episodes of stodgy, sustained ennui. Do everyone a favour, try something a bit different next time, Stephen. Radical suggestion, this blogger is aware but, there you go. And, maybe, something more cheerful?
23. The Apprentice
'In the age of austerity, The Apprentice is tone-deaf trash TV' declared the NME's review. 'There are people in prison with cleaner records than The Apprentice.' This, remember, is the TV format - or at least the American original, which led to the creation of the British version fifteen years ago - that paved the way for Donald Rump to become President. It's also the series that gave the world Katie Hopkins. A show that has left a trail of resentment and ill-feeling throughout its run; Stella English, last woman standing in series six of the show, described the job she 'won' with Lord Sugar-Sweetie as 'a sham.' Saira Khan, runner-up in 2005, accused the show of 'promoting bullying in the workplace.' Vana Koutomitis, runner-up in series eleven, went so far as to describe the show's living conditions as 'psychological torture.' In 2019, there is something about The Apprentice that makes for truly alarming viewing. It is unlikely that the affection felt by viewers for past contestants like Stuart Baggs will be reciprocated for Ryan-Mark Parsons, a 'luxury-womenswear consultant' who requires 'billions to live the sort of lifestyle I want to lead.' And, one of this year's contestants, Lottie Lion, had to be publicly reprimanded for sneering 'shut up Gandhi' to another contestant, Lubna Farhan, during a WhatsApp conversation. As the NME concluded: 'When The Apprentice started, it was a show about people making money. Then it became a show about people wanting all the money. And now? You can't help thinking, if The Apprentice is going to have any future, it needs to be a show that values something more than just money.'
24. Plebs
Romani ite domum. And, effing stay there.
25. Gemma Collins: Diva Forever
The - metaphorical - child of Jade Goody et al, someone famous solely for appearing in reality-TV formats was, finally (and, after much public whinging and a stint on Twatting About On Ice) given her own format in a true triumph of quality production from ITVBe. What could possibly go wrong? When even the Daily Mirra, the Sun ('the same narrative every week - she stuffs her face and treats assistants like dirt'), the Daily Scum Mail and Digital Spy - the sort of media organs which normally lap-up this sort of malarkey - haven't got a kind word to say about your show, you know you're in trouble. Nasty, on all sorts of levels.
26. The British Tribe Next Door
'Why did no one put a stop to this?' squawked the alarmed reviewer at the Gruniad Morning Star concerning this tawdry Channel Four vehicle for another 'reality-TV star,' Wor Geet Canny Scarlett Moffatt formerly of Gogglebox (nice lass, bit thick). The Gruniad's objection was, seemingly, on the grounds of general taste and decency but, also, 'implicit racism'. Whether the latter was true is a legitimately debatable issue - Margaret Jacobsohn in the Independent, for example, argued vociferously that it wasn't. But, the zeitgeist-defining format was, certainly, patronising, cliched, lazy, exploitative and offensive. It could also, rightly, stand accused of indulging in crass poverty porn. 'While the show offers viewers an opportunity to look outside their own living room and national borders, it is wasting any potential it (arguably) might have to enlighten us or prompt reflection. It simplifies the Himba culture as an "exotic other" next to the "normal" British family - and as such [it] reinforces dangerous, racist stereotypes,' considered the Metro. That's the Metro having a go at something for dumbing-down. Wow. Truly, we are living in The End Of Days. The Daily Scum Mail, meanwhile, took some considerable glee in revealing what, they claimed, the Himba tribe themselves really thought of Little Miss Moffatt. Which included the memorable headline Why Is She Famous? Damn good question. Because she once won I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) seemingly. Moffatt, meanwhile, was the feature of a sob story in the Daily Mirra, Scarlett Moffatt's TV Career Crumbles Three Years After Winning I'm A Celebrity which detailed a catalogue of TV 'dream jobs' which she has got the push from and various other unfortunate 'controversies.' This, dear blog readers, is what happens when people who once did a perfectly adequate job serving on the tills in ASDA in Bishop Auckland start getting the notion that they're the next Tess Daley. Sometimes it really is best to stick to what you're good at.

Curiosity Of The Year:-
1. Dad's Army: The Lost Episode
Three episodes of the classic sitcom Dad's Army no longer exist in the BBC's shamefully incomplete archives. As discussed on this blog previously, along with much other material, they were junked during the 1970s before the full possibilities of commerical exploitation in a world of video, DVD, streaming and twenty four hour multi-channel repeats had been fully realised. Though it fared far better than many of its contemporary series, these missing Dad's Army episodes have become the Holy Grail for those interested in the recovery and preservation of archive TV. However, the scripts for the trio of (1969) episodes - The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker, A Stripe For Frazer and Under Fire - all do still exist and so, the decision was made by UKTV to remake them utilising replica sets and with a new (and, let it be noted, jolly impressive) cast. There were precedents for this sort of thing; BBC4 had remade long-missing episodes of Till Death Us Do Part, Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe & Son in their 2016 Lost Sitcoms season whilst the previous year saw a beautifully-made drama about the creation of Dad's Army itself, We're Doomed. With a line-up that included Kevin McNally, Robert Bathurst, Kevin Eldon, Mathew Horne and David Hayman, Dad's Army: The Lost Episodes seemed to have much going for it - although Bernard Cribbins, initially cast in the role of Private Godfrey, subsequently dropped out of the production (due to 'personal reasons') and was replaced by Timothy West. Broadly speaking, the remakes appear to have gone down rather well with the cognoscenti; the - notoriously hard-to-please - Dad's Army Appreciation Society was behind the project from the start whilst reviews of the episodes were mostly positive ('a valiant labour of love' according to the Torygraph, 'as good as the original' declared the Daily Scum Mail). To be fair, this blogger quite enjoyed the remade episodes too and, in slightly different circumstances, the series may have even featured in the year's From The North 'Best Of' list. But, there is one reason that it doesn't; a constant, nagging, feeling that this blogger had during viewing the series. That this all felt like one of teenage parties which this blogger attended during his youth where everyone would be grooving away to some tasty sounds on the stereo when someone's well-meaning-but-a-bit-clueless dad would take off whatever record was playing and replace it with one of those Top Of The Pops LPs on Pickwick Records. The sort that you bought for a quid from Woolworth's, full of note-for-note cover versions of recent chart hits. Not bad, exactly, but, a bit cardboard when compared to the originals. And, this blogger just could not shake that feeling every time Kevin Eldon shouted 'don't panic!', Kevin McNally wearily told Tom Rosenthal that he was a 'stupid boy' and David Hayman informed everyone 'we're doomed!' Some cover versions are so good they even surpass the original (The Be-Atles' version of 'Twist and Shout' arguably). Others are like Candy Flip doing 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and raise but one question. Why for the love God, why? Dad's Army: The Lost Episodes was the TV equivalent of David Parton's 1977 hit version of Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely?' Not entirely unpleasant but it didn't half make you long for the original.
Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards will return in 2020.