Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2014)

Welcome, dearest blog reader, to the seventh annual Keith Telly Topping & His Very Top TV Tip Awards for, in his own - completely unrespected - opinion, the best and worst TV shows of the year. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you may notice (if you're observant like that) there are about twice as many highs listed here as there are lows. This imbalance is not, necessarily, any sort of reflection on the actual ratio of good television to bad during this past year. Rather it's because, generally, we tend to try and remember all the good stuff and forget about the crass, banal rubbish. So, without further ado ...
Thirty Extra-Primo-Rad highlights of television in 2014:-

1. True Detective
'I consider myself a realist, but in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist. I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself - we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labour under the illusion of having a self, that accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody ... I think the honourable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction - one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.'
     True Detective arrived as if out of nowhere early in the year and, in just eight episodes, ripped-up and re-wrote a lot of accepted rules of serial drama. Starring Matthew McConaughey - in his best role in years - and Woody Harrelson - in his best role, possibly, ever - with Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts and Tory Kittles, it used multiple timelines to trace the story of two Louisiana homicide detectives' hunt for a sadistic serial killer of children across seventeen years. 'This place is like somebody's memory of a town. And, the memory is fading. It's like there was never anything here but jungle.' Intelligent, rich, deep, multi-layered and with a stunning T Bone Burnett-assembled soundtrack, this jet-black American Gothic drama benefited from superb direction from Cary Joji Fukunaga - in particular, the six-minute plus single take featured at the end of the fourth episode rightly received much critical praise - and outstanding performances. And, with a sense of occupying its own pocket universe full of characters spouting poetic, neo-naturalistic dialogue with Southern accents so thick you could cut the grass with them. (Rust Cohle on the gullibility to people in searching for answers in religion: 'Been that way since one monkey looked at the sun and told the other monkey, "He said for you to give me your fucking share." People, they're so God damn frail they'd rather put a coin in the wishing well than buy dinner.') In addition to being influenced by classic pulp crime fiction, True Detective also incorporated themes from the supernatural horror genre, notably direct references to Robert W Chambers' 1895 book The King In Yellow and dialogue directly quoted from and inspired by the works of the cult horror novelist Thomas Ligotti. In McConaughey's Rust Cohle, scriptwriter Nic Pizzolatto created an authentic TV icon for the Twenty First Century - a talented yet troubled Asperger's-like genius in a world of crass mediocrity and moral sickness. Contrastingly, there was Harrelson's Marty Hart, a flawed family man with an angry violent streak whose inflexible Christian morality (at least, in areas not concerning his own libido) was as much of a weakness as a strength. Pizzolatto's conceit of having each series as a stand-alone story with a different cast was also brave and just a bit dangerous in this modern world of TV as the business of familiarity and compromise. Whether the second series, currently in production and scheduled for 2015 to feature Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams will be a patch on the extraordinary first run will be interesting to see. The best TV show of the year? By miles.
    'So, what's the point of getting outta bed in the morning?' 'I tell myself I bear witness. But the real answer is that it's obviously my programming. And I lack the constitution for suicide!'
2. Sherlock
'Don't appal me when I'm high!' Whether it was the greatest comeback since Lazarus (or, since The Reichenbach Fall, anyway), Sherlock's third series kick-started 2014 just twenty one hours into the new year and had the entire country - plus, most of China - talking about it all over again. Twelve million plus punters watched The Empty Hearse where they, eventually, got an explanation of how Sherlock Holmes didn't die at the end of the previous series (and, two extra ones just to be contrary). Although, as John Watson pointed out within the episode, the important story wasn't so much in how he did it, as why. Marriage followed and some loud-mouthed waste-of-space bell-ends on the Interweb whinged, loudly, to anyone that would listen (and, indeed, anyone that wouldn't) at the allegedly 'frivolous' nature of The Sign Of Three (actually, a beautifully structured comedy of the absurd which poked fun at more than a few sacred cows and, deliciously, irked the po-faced purists till they looked like they would explode with impotent fury. Which was funny to behold). And then, there was His Last Vow, a deep, dark, labyrinthine engine of destruction which pushed Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's creation in another direction entirely and scopped a shed load of EMMYs into the bargain. The developing international superstardom of yer men Cumberbatch and Freeman continues to make scheduling of future series problematic but both have stated their long-term commitment to Sherlock and the 'three-episodes-every-two-years' format appears, for the foreseeable future anyway, to still be a workable one. Filming for the fourth series (which is to include a one-off additional 'special' that will, perhaps, see Mary Watson's sad demise ... or maybe not) begins early in 2015. Yes, this blogger knows the waiting is hard, dear blog reader, but that's what makes Sherlock such 'event TV' every time it appears.
3. House Of Cards
'One heartbeat away from the Presidency and not a vote cast in my name. Democracy is so over-rated!' Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. And some, like Frank Underwood, steal greatness through a cunning melange of lying, manipulating and bribing their way to the very top. Far darker than the first series - although, ironically, often funnier in a kind of bleak and disturbing way - House Of Cards second year took some brave and borderline wilful dramatic decisions - like, the wholly unexpected murder of Zoe Barnes, pushed into front of a subway train in the opening episode - to achieve its thematic crux of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. With Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as the MacBeth-like Underwoods stealing every scene they're in, all of the dramatic tricks used so effectively in the first series returned; notably Spacey's fourth-wall breaking soliloquies to the audience, drawn straight from Jacobean theatre and so beloved by critics. With a third series currently filming, the question of how long the audience's tolerance for someone holding ultimate power with such a lack of a moral compass is debatable (hell, they put up with George Bush for eight years in real life, be fair). But for the moment, short of starting a nuclear holocaust, Frank's future can only be ruined by a whore on the run. One of the best dramas on telly anywhere in the world? You may well think that, dear blog reader. yer actual Keith Telly Topping couldn't possibly comment.
4. The Life Of Rock With Brian Pern
This cheeky, clever and sharp as a Jimmy Page solo three-part BBC4 comedy sent up, quite brilliantly, exactly the kind of thoughtful and worthy music documentaries which BBC4 specialises in (all done, of course, with a lot of affection) in its story of the earnest, up-himself titular prog-rocker (played wonderfully by co-creator Simon Day). Pern himself was, of course, based lock, stock and two smoking sledgehammers on Peter Gabriel (who proved that he's a good sport by appearing in the final episode). But, despite the presence of Day, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Smiley, Vic and Bob, Annie Nightingale, Jools Holland, Noel Edmonds (who even used the 'f' word) et al, the best thing about the series - by a distance - was the always excellent Michael Kitchen's deliciously foul-mouthed manager, John Farrow, who got all the wittiest lines: 'I am there to protect the interest of the artists. And, very often, the artists from themselves. It is my job to say "no" when they want to tour some ridiculous country where people can't even afford yoghurt let alone concert tickets. Or they want to put on some pretentious rock opera starring the cast of Sherlock!' This blogger loved the way The Life Of Rock With Brian Pern parodied the conventions of all those - usually excellent, but sometimes overly 'pipe and slippers' - rock documentaries so absolutely mercilessly. As in, for example, the way that dear old Rick Wakeman keeps on popping up saying 'I played piano on that' like a catch-phrase. Because that's what he does in BBC4 rock documentaries! And, then you've got lovely Nigel Havers using the very naughty 'c' word with a completely straight face. I mean, that's worth the TV licence fee alone, surely? And, let's be honest, kindly name this blogger one other programme that featured the previously untold story of Rick Parifft out of The Quo beating up Leo Sayer for suggesting that he had 'a fat nan.' You can't, can you? Later in the year came a sequel, Brian Pern: A Life In Rock, which promoted Brian and co to BBC2 and will hopefully manage to be every bit as funny, as ludicrous and as casually offensive as the first series. Despite featuring odious, lanky streak of worthless piss Jack Whitehall in it.
5. Doctor Who
'Once upon a time. The end! Dad skills!' This blogger thought it was great. Next ...
6. Human Universe
Is mankind alone, or are there aliens out there, either waiting to be discovered, or on their way to find Earth? The People's Scientist Professor Brian Cox (no, the other one) spent Human Universe asking such questions and what he discovered may raise a few eyebrows. He began by exploring the human race's efforts to find neighbours in outer space, including the launch of two golden discs containing a greeting from Earth in the 1970s on Voyager; they are still travelling and are now the most distant man-made objects from the planet. Brian also met members of SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, who have been monitoring radio signals for fifty years without any success thus far, before discussing the ingredients needed to make an intelligent civilisation with astrophysicist Doctor Frank Drake. Brian observed that if, among the billions of habitable planets, we are not alone, the implications will, obviously, be huge. But then again, he suggested, if we are unique – the only place life got through the many bottlenecks to become multicellular, then intelligent, then eventually create civilisation – then that's, perhaps, even more staggering. 'One of these statements is true.' The opening episode set the tone perfectly as Foxy Coxy charted humanity's story from apes to the birth of civilisation and ultimately to the stars. Beginning in Ethiopia, he discovered how the universe played a key role in the ascent from apeman to spaceman by driving the expansion of our brains. But, big brains alone did not get humanity into space. To reveal what did, Brian headed out of Africa, to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, where he unpicked the next part of our story - the birth of civilisation - and then on to Kazakhstan, where he witnessed the return of astronauts from space and explained what took us from civilisation to the stars. A series that asked some big questions - why are we here? Are we alone? What is our future? - Human Universe continued Brian's track record of producing brilliant, watchable, thoughtful, intelligent, soulful television. A perfect antidote to those who believe that TV has nothing to teach us about ourselves. You don't get this from Britain's Got Talent.
7. Hinterland
This Anglo-Welsh drama - Y Gwyll - was made on a tight budget taking two and a half years to raise the funds of its production costs (a reported £4.2 million, which included business funding from the Welsh Government). The drama was mainly filmed in Aberystwyth and the surrounding Ceredigion region on the West coast and was shot in both Welsh and English. The Welsh version was broadcast (in eight parts) on S4C in October 2013, with the bilingual version (in four parts) broadcast on BBC1 Wales in January 2014 and on BBC4 later in the year. The most obvious comparison was to the Scandi Noir genre and, specifically, The Killing following the story of the gloomy, haunted DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) and his murder squad detectives investigating a series of crimes in the isolated villages and harsh, weather-beaten marshy landscapes of the region. Needless to say, Mathias, who possessed the perfect glowering intensity for a detective (especially a Welsh one), had a back-story of his own full of demons and regrets. Mathias had recently relocated to Aberystwyth from the Met for unspecified reasons; there was a young daughter somewhere, presumably back in London. The opening story, which involved historic abuse at a now defunct children's home, was centred on a spot called The Devil's Bridge, a ravine cut into ancient woodlands. Those landscapes in and of themselves were, it was clear from the outset, to be a major character in the drama. Troubled detectives and the legacy of abuse are, of course, two-a-penny in any detective dramas of late (think Waking The Dead, for example) yet this particular series felt as though such plotlines had grown organically out of the setting. Unlike, say, Shetland, which - though well written and acted - created the impression of having been parachuted into its backdrop. Hinterland did not appear to be over-researched on the police-procedural front either, making a virtue out of a necessity as, according to the show's co-writer, Ed Thomas, the Welsh language doesn't lend itself to standard police jargon. Harrington and Mali Harries, as Mathias's DI, Mared Rhys, with her nice line in expressive deadpan, were certainly intriguing enough to tempt a regular audience back to Aberystwyth's twisting B-roads. A second series will be broadcast in 2015.
8. The Bridge
One of a roster of Scandinavian drama series – since dubbed 'Nordic Noir' – which have captured the imagination of British audiences in the past two years. Well, of a section of British audiences, anyway (Gruniad Morning Star readers, basically). The second series started thirteen months after the end of the acclaimed first series. Martin Rodhe and Mette had separated and Martin had taken up residence at a hotel, while continually having paranoid visions of his son, August's killer, Jens Hansen. Saga Norén, meanwhile, has recently acquired a new boyfriend, Jakob, who has moved in with her. As previously, she displays symptoms consistent with Asperger's syndrome, above-average intelligence, poor social skills and difficulty with empathising others, something which her relationship is a clear effort to change. When a coaster rams into the Øresund Bridge, Saga finds the ship deserted except for five people – three Swedish and two Danish – chained up below deck and Saga arranges to have Martin, who she has barely seen since the events of the previous year, assigned to the case. After the victims on the coaster die from pneumonic plague, a viral video appears in which four disguised eco-terrorists claim responsibility for the incident. They embark on further attacks, including blowing up a petrol tanker and distributing poisoned food. As the police close in on the group, they are all found dead in a shipping container, thus raising the question of whether there are other terrorist cells or a larger group. Throughout the series, Saga struggles to adjust to sharing her living space with Jakob, and to being in a relationship. Martin, in an attempt to get over the death of August, begins visiting Hansen in prison. He appears satisfied when he sees that his visits have made an impression and Jens begins to feel remorse for his crime. At the same time, Martin's young son, Nikolaj, comes down with a mysterious illness. Saga notices the close attachment that Nikolaj's nanny, Anna-Dea has with him and discovers evidence that Anna-Dea has been poisoning him, revealing that she suffers from Münchausen By Proxy. Martin becomes curious about Saga's familiarity with the condition, and upon probing into the suicide of his colleague's sister, discovers that her mother suffered from the same psychological condition. Towards the end of the season, Martin's wife, Mette, admits that she no longer loves him. A distraught Martin blames Jens, and begins to suffer renewed symptoms of paranoia. When Saga hears that Jens has died in prison, apparently from suicide, she suspects that Martin of having poisoned him. After she finds evidence to support this theory, the series ends with Martin being arrested. Creator Hans Rosenfeldt, revealed in January that he is writing series three, with a return of most of the main characters. Filming was due to start in September with an expected broadcast date in Scandinavia starting in Autumn 2015. In June it was widely reported that Kim Bodnia would not appear in the third series. Initially it was reported that Bodnia had left after becoming unhappy with the way his character was evolving. Bodnia and Sofia Helin later clarified that Bodina's had not not been written into the script and that series three would focus on Saga coping with losing her only friend. The subject of not particularly good remakes from the US and an Anglo-French version (Sky's The Tunnel), The Bridge's second series, whilst not quite reaching the levels of widespread acclaim that its opening run did, nevertheless increased its audience both in Denmark and Sweden and in Britain.
9. Line Of Duty
The second series of Jed Mercurio's highly-regarded police drama featured Keeley Hawes, cast as Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton and Jessica Raine as Detective Constable Georgia Trotman, joining original cast members Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar for a six-part serial. Though, in the case of Raine, she didn't make it beyond the end of the first episode. Series two received even better reviews than its predecessor, despite fractionally lower viewing figures on BBC2. The series focused on an incident in which a police convoy escorting a civilian under the witness protection scheme was attacked; the witness was hospitalised and all of the police officers were killed, except for Denton, who organised the operation at short notice. AC12's subsequent investigation into Denton uncovered a complex, labyrinthine conspiracy with hidden motives and much use of subtext. One of Line Of Duty's most praiseworthy aspects was its obvious respect for the audience's ability to make connections for themselves, pick up on inferences and stray lines of dialogue to draw - usually correct - conclusions without being beaten over the head with exposition. Which is worthy of acknowledgement alone in relation to an utterly gripping and emotional six hours of television. Six weeks of lies and betrayals finally came to an end with the - rather unexpected - revelation that Denton was guilty as charged. Except it wasn't as simple as that. For while Denton did take the money and did help to set up the ambush, it wasn't because she was corrupt. Instead, a subtle, downbeat and at times unbearably tense episode peeled back the layers to show how one simple mistake on her behalf - the decision to try to save teenage Carly Kirk, a decision probably made because of Carly's comment about her mother - led to the death of four officers and a life sentence. Yes, she was guilty. Innocent people died. But one couldn't help ending Line Of Duty feeling broadly sympathetic towards her. Further series have already been commissioned.
10. Peaky Blinders
'Perhaps you could tell The Chosen One what he's been chosen for.' Described as 'Britain's Broadwalk Empire' (which makes sense in historic terms if not, necessarily, dramatic ones), the second series of the gritty historic gangster drama Peaky Blinders was set two years after the first and saw the Shelby family expanding their empire to both the South and the North while maintaining a stronghold in their Birmingham heartland. The show has been celebrated for its stylish cinematography and charismatic performances - especially Cillian Murphy's downright dangerous Tommy ('What do you do?' 'I do bad things. But then you already know that!') - as well as for casting an eye over a part of Britain and a part of British history rarely explored by television. Reviews for the second season have remained very positive, with Ellen Jones of the Independent commenting that 'Peaky Blinders can now boast several more big-name actors to supplement the sterling work of Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory and Sam Neill', referring to second season additions Tom Hardy and Noah Taylor. The series also provided one of the best 'silly season' TV stories of the year as the Mirra - obviously not using phone-hacking in any way shape or form, oh no, very hot water - reported that a half-time screening of a trailer for the series had been banned over fears it would be 'too violent.' Football fans attending Birmingham City's Championship game with Leeds United were set to get a sneak preview of season two but the trailer was allegedly 'pulled by the club, after liaising with the BBC', because it was thought some of the footage's content may be inappropriate for younger fans and children in the stands. Like the man said: 'I've heard very bad, bad, bad things about you Birmingham people!'
11. Only Connect
2014 was the year that Only Connect earned a promotion from BBC4 to BBC2, expanding its audience two-fold and causing Victoria Coren Mitchell to open the episode on the new channel with the comment: 'I and the rest of the Only Connect team are hugely excited about our Icarus-like flight towards the sun of mainstream broadcasting. If our wings start melting, I'll just flap harder!' Some in the media wondered whether the smartest quiz show on British TV could survive in its new environment but, they needn't have worried with Victoria achieving that 'neat balance between mild self-satire and an unashamed pride in the show's own cleverness.' Proof, if any were needed, that despite what sneering arseholes with shit-for-brains who disdain intelligence may try to convince you, 'knowing stuff' is not a bad thing. Now part of the BBC2 Monday night line-up that also includes University Challenge, Only Connect with its Reithian credentials, justifies the BBC's continued existence on its own.
12. Horizon: Cat Watch 2014
Fast becoming an annual TV fixture, Cat Watch made the audience question who the real evolutionary winners are: us Homo sapiens who have toiled for millennia to achieve mastery over our own environment, or the domesticated pussy who never seem to toil at pretty much anything? For those who enjoyed the hugely successful 2013 Horizon programme The Secret Life Of The Cat, this was more of the same – popular science programming conceived with pet owners in mind. Presenter Liz Bonnin and her team persuaded a few hundred of Britain's eight and a half million felines to wear specially designed collars which tracked their movements over a period of some months. City cat Diggy and farm cat Growler among many others gave answers to questions like, 'What are the whiskers for?' and 'Why does my cat wake me up at 4am every morning meowing to be let outside?' Proof, if proof were needed, that our culture's admiration for and quasi-worship of the cat has reached Ancient Egyptian proportions was provided by Cat HQ. Although the scientific analysis was fascinating, the programme still brimmed with obvious 'awww' factor. Viewers were treated to lots of gratuitous shots of kittens snoozing beside their mothers. A schmaltzy soundtrack and incessant mewing in the background was a clear ploy to tug at the heartstrings, too, but of course it worked like a charm. This was an entertaining and educational watch which never left one feeling bogged down by the science. The average cat owner can now look at their pet with a better knowledge of why they love jumping up on high cupboards and hiding in shielded spaces. Ultimately we were told that all cats are predators to the core; it’s just that the domesticated ones are better at cuddling.
13. Remember Me
For a brief period at the start of Remember Me it seemed as if a whole hour might pass in British peak time drama viewing without a single murder being committed. It began with Michael Palin, in his first 'straight' role for some years, playing an elderly and prickly Yorkshireman in impressively method-like style – so fully realised was the performance, with its jerks and grimaces, that it didn't allow any opportunity for thoughts of Palin's imperishable turn in The Four Yorkshiremen sketch to intrude on proceedings, eee baaa gum. Keen to escape his solitude, Tom (Palin) faked an accident to get into a care home. At that stage it looked like an intriguing study of the isolating effects of old age, but that was when the body went flying out of the window. Thereafter Remember Me was all ghoulish jiggery-pokery and ghostly noises, a proper supernatural thriller of the kind British TV used to make by the dozen. 'This is my first lead role in a TV drama series since GBH. It's also a return to Yorkshire, where I was born, brought up and learned my acting in amateur dramatics,' said Palin. 'I was attracted to Remember Me not only by the Northern setting, but also by a good, strong, challenging role, something I could really get what remains of my teeth into. I've always loved ghost stories, so playing the lead in one is a very exciting prospect.' Written by Gwyneth Hughes, the three-part mystery was made by Mammoth Screen and featured strong support from Jodie Comer, Mark Addy, Julia Sawalha, Mina Anwar and Sheila Hancock, Remember Me was somewhat sniffed-at by the critics (the Torygraph's Terry Ramsey described it as: 'corny') all of which merely goes to prove that most TV reviewers (this blogger very much included) talk through their arse for the majority of the time.
14. Hannibal
'Don't psychoanalyse me. You won't like me when I'm psychoanalysed.' The second series of Hannibal began with the neat role-reversal plot of having Will Graham banged up for Hannibal Lecter's grim and naughty crimes with the early episodes of the series focusing on Alana Bloom's desperate efforts to prove Will was mad-as-toast when on his, alleged, murderous spree whilst Will (and Hannibal his very self) sought to prove exactly the opposite, for their own - very different - reasons. A magnificent cast - Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Laurence Fishburne, Gillian Anderson, Eddie Izzard, Lara Jean Chorostecki - were given much fascinating material to work with in Bryan Fuller's psychologically dense American Gothica landscape. Almost unbelievably, too, given the subject matter, Hannibal is often very funny (in a dark and grim way, obviously). And, it knows it as well, that's what's so good about it. Also, by opening the series with a scene in which Hannibal attacks Jack Crawford followed by the caption 'eleven weeks earlier', the viewer is effectively given a dramatic road map to follow to what they know will be a signposted conclusion. Though, when it eventually came, it was far more complicated, unusual and bloody than those opening scenes might have suggested as Hannibal ended its second series with a thrilling, impressive and audacious series of events. Next year's third series will have a lot of loose threads to tie up (will Alana survive? Is Abigail really dead? Where is Hannibal going with Bedelia Du Maurier? Is she his next victim? If she is, does she know that and is she going willingly? How can Will and Jack - whom, we presume will survive Hannibal's knife - deal with the emotional and legal fall out of their actions?) The evidence thus far is that the production team are capable for giving us even more surprises. Whether they'll manage to come up with a better line of dialogue than 'Peter, is your social worker in that horse?' is a tougher question to answer.
15. Life Story
Another magical production from the BBC's acclaimed Natural History Unit, the six-part Life Story reveals the challenges faced by individual animals at different stages of their lives, introduced and narrated by David Attenborough. And, almost sixty years on from Zoo Quest, Dangerous Dave remains, by far, the best natural history presenter in the world, largely because of his empathic, fascinated worldview. More importantly, Attenborough manages to avoid the major stumbling block to much modern TV explorations of the natural world, a tendency towards anthropomorphism (something that often proves cloying in the otherwise excellent Springwatch, for instance). Attenborough admitted at the launch of the series that most of the great sights of the natural world have been filmed already (usually by programmes that he's fronted). Here, the cheetahs were filmed in such close-up that it could only have been done by someone sitting practically next to them with a camera. Life Story is thus proving ground-breaking in another way entirely - when it needs to show an arctic fox or a barnacle gosling going cliff-diving (a terrifying, awesome spectacle), it will show viewers the same things that they've already seen many, many times. But, it will be better than before. That takes some doing.
16. The Fall
'Stroppy Stella, angry and misunderstood, lashing out against the world of men.' Despite horrible sour-faced Alison Graham's constant whinging about it in the Radio Times, the first series of The Fall was one of BBC2's most watched dramas in years. And, one of its best. It was, perhaps, inevitable, that the second run would struggle to maintain the momentum and shocking visual punch of those outrageous first five episodes. Struggle, perhaps, but certainly not fail. Alan Cubitt's script developed nicely, this time around focusing not so much on the contrast between Gillian Anderson's Stella Gibson and Jamie Dornan's cold, calculating, sick Paul Spector but, rather, the things they share in common. A love of game-playing being the most obvious. Yes, The Fall is every bit as dark and disturbing and, at times, uncomfortable viewing as its critics never stop whinging about. But it's also dramatically satisfying in exploring the nature of human frailty whether that's in relation to Stella's flaws as much as Spector's warped psychopathy. Plus, you know, not for nothing but that Gillian Anderson is a pretty damned fantastic actress when given material like this to work with. Does it 'dehumanise' women by wallowing in its own alleged misogyny as some critics argue? This blogger's maleness works against him in attempting to answer that with anything approaching the balance such a question properly deserves although the fact that most of The Fall's most strident naysayers appear to be men (the odious Graham being an notable exception) and, its audience profile being sixty one per cent female according to a recent survey, merely demonstrates the complexity of the issues that The Fall deals with and the murky waters that it swims in. 'He's not a monster, he's just a man.' The scene in episode five where Stella is watching camera-phone footage of Spector's silent psychological torture of Rose Stagg and then, as tears form in her eyes, Spector himself suddenly steps in front of the camera and asks: 'Why the fuck are you watching this? You sick shit, what the fuck is wrong with you?' begs the obvious question of to whom, exactly, he is addressing? Himself? Stella, in the knowledge that sooner or later he will be caught? Or, even more chillingly, the viewer? It was extraordinary and disturbing television and deserved far more reasoned debate than the likes of that odious Graham woman have been able to bring to the table. A third series, at this moment, seems highly unlikely but I really wouldn't bet against it.
17. The Great British Bake Off
I don't watch it myself, dear blog reader but, that appears to make yer actual Keith Telly Topping unique in the British general public. This year, with its promotion from BBC2 to BBC1, saw The Great British Bake Off turn from a national obsession into ... an even bigger national obsession. For the 'Baked Alaska challenge', Iain Watters' ice cream melted for reasons which were not entirely clear, although the editing of the show appeared to suggest that it may have been caused by another contestant's actions. Watters threw his ice cream into the bin in frustration and left the tent like a big stroppy drama queen. He returned shortly after, and as he had no cake for judging (he produced his bin instead, and the incident was labelled 'bingate' by the tabloids), he was eliminated from the competition provoking anger from some viewers with nothing better to do with their time. This led to a week of ludicrous over-the-top stories of blame and counter blame in the newspapers and a bumper audience for the next episode. A number of viewers also whinged to the BBC feedback show Points Of View about the 'constant smutty remarks' and 'increasingly filthy-minded' hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, with the Nazi-supporting Daily Scum Mail sensing an issue it could get its readers enraged by writing that the 'smutty' innuendos made the show 'no longer fit for family entertainment.' So, no quite obvious sick ant-BBC agenda at work there, then. Previous winner John Whaite sprang to the show's defence, arguing that innuendo is part of what has made the series such a success, while the Paul Hollywood described such scripted interjections as 'banter' in the spirit of the Carry On films and is a part of British culture, a view seemingly shared by many others. The final - won by Nancy Birtwhistle - gained an overnight viewing figure of 12.29 million, at the time the highest viewing figure for a non-sporting event of the year on UK TV. Twelve million people, of course, can be wrong. But, in this case, they weren't.
18. Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This
David Threlfall, the actor famous for playing deadbeat dad Frank Gallagher in Shameless, took the title role in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, ITV's feature-length biopic drama about the king of variety television. Cooper's act often involved him conversing with imaginary off-stage interlocutors, but it was the people who really were watching and waiting behind the scenes that this film mainly concerned. His long-suffering agent Miff Ferrie (Gregor Fisher), the wife who 'gave as good as she got', Dove (Amanda Redman) and Tommy's mistress of seventeen years Mary Kay (Helen McCrory). All the performances were properly excellent, but there was something in the interactions between Redman and Threlfall, which captured a feisty, sweary, yet loving marriage particularly well. When ITV revealed plans for this biopic, a representative of the Tommy Cooper Society expressed concerns that it would tarnish his memory, by delving into his episodes of alcoholism and violence. They needn't have worried. The script, by Men Behaving Badly creator Simon Nye, was hardly revisionism and the closest it got to addressing any of the alleged domestic violence in Cooper's story was a close-up of Tommy's clenched fist, which then cut to Mary, on a train the next day, wearing dark glasses. His death in 1984, live on TV, by contrast was depicted in minute-by-minute detail. This might seem a contradiction, until one considers how much the manner of Cooper's passing has added to his cult appeal. As admiring performers often say, he died doing what he loved best. In the course of its two hours, the drama hit all the right notes both off-stage in Tommy's life (tucking something into his driver's pocket, saying 'Have a drink on me'; it turns out to be a teabag. Or, Cooper's famous trick for getting out of giving tips) and on ('I bought a wooden leg for Christmas. It's a stocking filler'). It resisted the temptation to glamorise or sensationalise his many weaknesses – Cooper always rejected the idea that he was a Hancock-style tortured clown and evidence suggests he was no more depressive or insecure than the average performer in the notoriously high-pressure field of comedy. Most satisfying of all was the fact that although Ferrie suggested Cooper's inability to be 'off' when not performing might be one of the things that exhausted him, the film suggested that the funny in Tommy's case came as naturally to him as breathing does to the rest of us. But Threlfall's performance was a pitch-perfect reproductions of Cooper's acts. Funny in the parts between being charming, so you could see why Dove and Mary loved him so much. Threlfall made it all look as effortless as Cooper did himself. 'Me and the wife just got home and she says "I'm homesick." I said "You're already home." She says "I know. I'm sick of it!"'
19. Long Shadows
The idea of 'lions led by donkeys' has come to underpin our image about the First World War – a bunch of bone-headed generals sending waves of brave young Tommies over the top to their death and, in the words of songwriter Eric Bogle, a whole generation 'lying butchered and damned' as a result. But there's a catch. The phrase, much scorned by the rat-faced loathsome wretched odious nasty slavver-merchant, George Formby lookalike (and tit) Gove of late, was attributed by the then-historian (and, later Tory cabinet minister) Alan Clark in his book The Donkeys to a German general, said to have been describing the British Army. Except, as the presenter of Long Shadows, Professor David Reynolds, points out Clark later admitted that he had simply made it up. In this insightful three-part documentary, the historian and writer Reynolds took a long and microscopic look at the legacy of the First World War, focusing in particular on the ways in which people's perception of the conflict have evolved over the past century. He began by comparing the British and German sense of what the war signified to each nation at the time immediately following its conclusion, including how the British felt it was, in another infamous phrase (this one definitely attributed, to HG Wells as it happens) 'the war to end all wars'. However, Reynolds argued, persuasively, that the eventual outbreak of the Second World War altered perceptions of its predecessor once again - suddenly it seemed as though the costly conflict was ineffective, and simply paved the way for a second round of hostilities. In the year of the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of this horrific conflict one could barely move for documentaries and dramas commemorating it and those who fought and died in it. Some of them were very good. Many were touching A few were even ground-breaking and told us more than mere dry facts. Long Shadows was different. It was history presented as tragedy and, thus, worked not merely on a historic level but an emotional one too.
20. Northern Soul: Living For The Weekend
Another of those wonderful BBC4 Friday night music documentaries, this was a look at the rise, fall and then re-birth of the music and dance sub-culture which grew out of the Mod movement and took place across the North of England at venues like Manchester's Twisted Wheel, The Golden Torch in Stoke, The Blackpool Mecca and The Wigan Casino, during the mid-to-late 1970s. Archive footage and vivid first-hand accounts revealed the dynamic culture of fashions, dance moves and musical obsessions that were all fuelled by a unique style of black American soul music based on heavy beats. Worth it, not just for the wonderful music but also for the wonderful footage from Tony Palmer's well-remembered This England documentary of geezers and ladies throwing some serious shapes at The Wigan Casino circa 1977. With contributions from Richard Searling, Ian Levine (it's okay, just don't get onto the subject of missing Doctor Who episodes and you'll be all right), Colin Curtis, Kev Roberts, Ian Dewhirst, Russ Winstanley, Pete Waterman, Peter Stringfellow, Tony Blackburn, Marc Almond, Lisa Stansfield and many other important names involved the scene. Eye-opening for a new generation and genuinely touching to those of us who lived through it (even if, in this blogger's case, if was nights not in Wigan or Blackpool but at the Allendale Road Youth Club).
21. Endeavour
Once again, proof that innovation can turn up in the most unexpected places as the second series of the Inspector Morse prequel produced four perfectly constructed little mini-movies featuring more clever plotting and ingenious dramatic devises than many series can manage across a far larger canvas. The second episode, in particular - Nocturne - was a bit pure dead mental. A straight - conceptual - cross between Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Legend Of Hell House, Heavenly Creatures, The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher and a bit of the 1966 World Cup thrown in for good measure. And, there's a sentence that this blogger never thought he'd ever find himself writing. Series two begins in 1966 with young Constable Morse returning to active duty at Cowley Police Station, after spending several months on light duty. As a result of the shooting, Morse begins to suffer from delayed stress and paranoia, as well as an increase in alcohol consumption. At the same time, Jim Strange enters into Freemasonry with many of Oxford's elite, and Fred Thursday's daughter, Joan, begins to take an interest in Endeavour. In the final episode expresses interest in going abroad with his girlfriend, the nurse Monica and becoming a teacher. Meanwhile, Morse and Thursday investigate corruption within the police and at the Town Hall. At the end of the investigation, corrupt officers try to kill Morse, and Thursday at Blenheim Vale, a derelict former wayward boys home, where paedophilia and physical abuse was commonly used on the boys who stayed there by a group of politicians and senior police officers. Writer Russell Lewis devised a powerful thriller with the grandeur of The Shadow Line or State Of Play, and just like both of those dramas, the shocking levels of corruption in Neverland bled into other strands of everyday life. Endeavour always feels contemporary despite the lack of smartphones and computers and this episode was as classic example. Nevertheless, the series has managed to remain a period drama without ever coming across as anachronistic. It offered viewers a quartet of compelling stories shot in an incredibly cinematic style that elevates it from run-of-the-mill police procedurals ending with a gripping, sordid, startling and magnificent end to the series. A third series is currently in production.
22. Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal
In this terrific docudrama, the author Ben Macintyre tried to discover the man behind the myth as he examined the life of the Soviet double agent Kim Philby, arguing that the key to Philby success as a spy lay in his friendship with MI6 colleague Nicholas Elliott. Macintyre revealed an extraordinary story of espionage, murder and betrayal and visited locations including London, Istanbul, Washington DC, Beirut and Moscow. Featuring dramatic reconstructions of key events to produced an irresistible tale of double dealing and intrigue. MacIntyre's most original contribution to Philby's story was to bring Elliott into the foreground, where he already seems like a tragic dupe. Given EM Forster's famous choice between betraying your country or your friend, Philby cynically opted for both. With plenty of terrific set-pieces to accompany those telling details, MacIntyre also carried out the duties of a modern TV historian with good grace - whether that meant delivering his script from the shadows or performing both parts in key conversations, complete with theatrical expressions of surprise.
23. The Missing
Exploring the emotional fallout of a child's abduction not only on the family of the child but also on the wider community, this gripping relationship thriller from harry and Jack Williams is told over a number of time frames and in the locale of two countries. Hope can be a crueller master than despair, especially in crime dramas. Eight years since the abduction of his son in France, Tony Hughes (Jimmy Nesbitt in his best performance in years - probably since Jekyll) is depicted as still grasping at every wisp of evidence regarding the boy's fate, no matter how illusory or tenuous. The true mark of quality in a drama series like this one isn't so much the central characters – although Nesbitt, Tchéky Karyo and Fraces O'Connor are all reliably good – it's ones who stop by only for an episode or two. The Missing is full of such well-drawn, well-acted incidental players, all of whom contain a minor mystery of their own. In one particularly good episode, for example, it was Sieg (Johan Leysrn), eventually found tending bar in a neon-lit, Brussels dive, where a fat bloke crooned Jacques Brel songs from the stage. Seig's cheerful amorality offset the pair's desperation a treat. 'You want money?' asked Tony, against Baptiste's better judgement. 'Like a fish needs water, my friend,' came the reply. With its obvious echoes of the Madelaine McCann disappearance and, later in the series, dark hints about paedophile rings at the highest echelons of society (something that runs like an electric current through a lot of British drama over the last couple of years), The Missing had the duel luck to be not only hauntingly, compellingly brilliant television but also, amid its emotional rip-roaring rollercoaster, to reflect areas of current public concern. A mini-masterpiece.
24. The Blacklist
Last year, it just scraped into Keith Telly Topping's top thirty of 2013 on the strength of the first ten episodes. This blogger said then that '[it's] early days, but the signs are good'. Keith Telly Topping therefore takes great credit in being one of the first to note the clear potential that The Blacklist had to offer. A solid, densely-plotted weekly crime show which had the bonus of being built around a genuine TV star - James Spader - is, as has been noted, the kind of thing that US non-cable networks have to be able to pull off to survive. And with Spader at his very best, NBC have managed it here. Yet, that assessment misses out much that is good about The Blacklist - the terrific Megan Boone, for instance, and the sold support she and Spader get from the likes of Diego Klattenhoff and Harry Lennix; also the show's run of guest stars - Alan Alda, Mary Louise Parker, Jennifer Ehle, Linus Roache - and the way in which, as the series has progressed, the mysteries of Reddington's and Liz's lives (and their prior connections to each other), and his interest in her, are revealed slowly. Agonisingly slowly, with many false alleys and cul de sacs along the way. Twists are introduced involving other characters, too and the procedural elements of the show are very well observed. There's an over-arching element to the premise as well that makes it intriguing without making it overly complicated (a flaw that, ultimately, proved fatal to, say Flash Forward). The two part first series finale, Berlin posed as many questions as it answers and the second series - eight episodes old at the time of writing - is continuing earlier trends of a gradual, Lost-like drip of backstory that some find frustrating but this blogger really rather admires. But, you always sense with The Blacklist that the best is yet to come.
25. Gotham
A US crime thriller based on the early years of the characters from the Batman comics and centring on brave young detective James Gordon. Eager to prove himself the one decent cop in a department that is corrupt and rotten to the core, Jim is partnered with brash, cynical, seen-it-all and probably on-the-take veteran Harvey Bullock and, on their first day working together, the pair get lumbered with Gotham City's most high profile case - the murder of billionaire couple Thomas and Martha Wayne. Gordon meets the sole survivor at the scene of the crime - the Waynes' twelve-year-old son, Bruce. Moved by the boy's loss, the rookie detective vows to catch the killer. While navigating the shady world of Gotham's criminal justice system, Gordon crosses paths with gang boss Fish Mooney, mob kingpin Carmine Falcone and a whole bunch of characters who will eventually become iconic comic-book villains including a teenage Selina Kyle (who will grow up to be Catwoman), pending Penguin Oswald Cobblepot and the future Riddler, Edward Nygma. With Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee (who is properly terrific as Alfred), Robin Lord Taylor (the best on-screen realisation of The Penguin ever), Camren Bicondova and David Mazouz. The first ten episodes are quietly impressive - sort of Tim Burton's Goodfellas if you like. It's made by Bruno Heller, the guy who did Rome and The Mentalist so, it's got some pedigree, featuring a superb soundtrack from some on the production team who are clearly big fans of British punk and indie music and, for the most part, managing to straddle the thin dividing line between knowingly informed and darkly introspective. As we said last year with The Blacklist, it's early days yet but so far, it's looking very good. One worth sticking with, this, I'd suggest. Let's put it this way, Smallville, it isn't.
26. Architects Of The Divine: The First Gothic Age
Medieval historian Doctor Janina Ramirez - whom we're all big fans of here at From The North - looks back to a time when British craftsmen and their patrons created a new form of architecture. The art and architecture of France would dominate England for much of the medieval age. Yet British stone masons and builders would make Gothic architecture their own, inventing a national style for the first time - Perpendicular Gothic - and giving Britain a patriotic backdrop to suit its new ambitions of chivalry and power. From a grand debut at Gloucester Cathedral to commemorate a murdered king to its final glorious flowering at King's College Chapel in Cambridge, the Perpendicular age was Britain's finest. As with Janina's previous BBC4 series (Illuminations: The Private Lives Of Medieval Kings and Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years' War) this was fascinating, impressive stuff bringing a rather neglected - albeit, very sexy - period of history to life without the aid of dramatic reconstructions. This is what this blogger pays his licence fee for, dear blog reader!
27. Qi XL
Incoming BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw's comment that 'ten o'clock is a place where BBC2 should show its knickers a bit', Danny Cohen's stupidly idiotic Gruniad Morning Star-inspired Soviet-style diktat that all BBC panel shows would, from now on, feature a token female in every episode (even though many of them already did) and the fact that the first five episodes of the latest series of Qi XL all went out in different time slots (and, at least one, on a different day) all appear to show the level of utter contempt with which BBC2's most important comedy format is currently held by some within the corporation. Which is especially depressing when considering that Qi is one of the few BBC shows which still fulfil, to the letter, all three of the BBC's Reithian objectives. When, a couple of years ago, some smug waste-of-space Have I Got News For You joke writer gave the equally smug and full-of-herself Kristy Young a line about Qi being 'mind-numbingly boring' it was wonderful to see Victoria Coren Mitchell defend the show with the comment: 'It's one of the few BBC programmes that isn't for idiots ... It's the last programme on television where they assume the viewer might be able to spell.' Now into its twelfth series, it would be nice to see the BBC giving Qi a bit more vocal support, albeit, the production hasn't exactly helped itself by featuring odious, unfunny, worthless lanky streak of rank-and-rotten piss Jack Whitehall not once but twice in 2014 in what we can only presume to be a crass attempt at appearing more 'with it' to the 'young people' whom the BBC seems so desperate to attract. Stop that nonsense instantly, please, he's rubbish. Nevertheless, Qi remains even on its worst day (ie. whenever odious, lanky, worthless streak of rank -and-rotten piss Jack Whitehall is on) one of the funniest, smartest and sharpest comedies on telly anywhere in the world and one from which, dangerously, you might just learn something. Plus, the Daily Scum Mail hates it so, you know, on general principle its continued existence remains vital to an ordered world.
28. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
A follow-up to Carl Sagan's immortal 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, this series was developed to bring back the foundation of science to network television at the height of other scientific-based television series and films. The show is presented by the award-winning astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who, as a young college student along with most of those interested in science of a certain age, was inspired by Sagan. Among the executive producers are Seth MacFarlane, whose clout and financial investment were instrumental in bringing the show to broadcast television and Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow and a co-creator of the original series. The series loosely follows the same thirteen-episode format and storytelling approach that the original Cosmos used, including elements such as the 'Ship of the Imagination' and the 'Cosmic Calendar', but it features information updated since the 1980 series along with extensive computer-generated graphics and animation footage augmenting the narration. In Tyson, it has a personable, genial host whose enthusiasm for his subject is truly infectious. It is, in short, the kind of thing that everybody should be watching and the fact that it had acquired (rather unexpectedly) a dedicated and vocal following not only in America but around the world really does rather restore ones faith in the general viewing public, even if only briefly. That the mini-series has been criticised by some Christians on the religious right for some of the views expressed by the show is merely one more reason to love it. Christian fundamentalists were reportedly upset that the scientific theories covered in the show 'squashed' the creation story of a probably mythical deity and said, basically, that creationism is not science and shouldn't be regarded as such. Good. Can't ever get too much of that. Hope it thoroughly spoiled their day.
29. House Of Fools
The best thing that Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have done in a decade (and, that comes from a big fan of Shooting Stars), this surreal BBC2 sitcom was a necessary reminder to all of the bores like Russell Kane (very popular with students) who are busy perpetuating the mendacity that the only comedy innovation currently taking place in Britain can be found on the soon to be chucked in the bin BBC3. And, that's a good thing, because the television industry's occasional obsession with the youth audience (arguably, the very people that shouldn't be watching television but should, instead, be out drinking alcopops and having very disappointing sex before they're too old to enjoy it) can be really annoying at times. The fact that two veterans like Vic and Bob could come up with something as provocative, as left-field and as just plain daft as this should be rubbed in the face of every Lee Nelson, Dappy Laughs and odious lanky streak of piss Jack Whitehall as an example of what good comedy actually is.
30. Michael Mosley: Infested! Living with Parasites
Continuing BBC4's Natural History Season, Doctor Michael Mosley turned his body into a living laboratory by deliberately infecting himself with some of the most extraordinary, powerful and surprising parasites of them all. Almost every animal on Earth has its own parasites – and humans are no exception. These strange creatures will feed on him and even make his body their home. Michael infected himself with the infamous tapeworm by swallowing live cysts sourced from infected meat in Kenya. Tapeworms have evolved over millions of years to the particular environment of the human gut. By swallowing a tiny camera – the pill-cam - the tapeworms' stomach churning growth inside Michael's body could be seen close up. As with the good doctor's previous award-winning series, Pain, Pus & Poison: The Search For Modern Medicines, Infested! benefited from Michael's dry humour and clever way of juxtaposing apparently unconnected ideas (a trick he does better than anyone on TV since James Burke). Like much of BBC4's non factual output, this demonstrates why we need BBC4. Because, programmes like this simply wouldn't find a place anywhere else.
Also mentioned in dispatches: Fargo, Happy Valley, Dolphins: Spy In The Pod, The 7:39, Stargazing Live, The Sacred Wonders Of Britain, Death In Paradise, Hidden Kingdoms, Call The Midwife, Britain's Great War, Playhouse Presents: Nixon's The One, Inside Number Nine, The Last Leg, Salamander, Babylon, The Sky At Night, Danny Baker's Rockin' Decades, Fleming, Horizon, Thirty Seven Days, Suits, Shetland, Oh Do Shut Up Dear! Mary Beard On The Public Voice Of Women, The Widower, Turks & Caicos, MasterChef: The Professionals, W1A, Rev, The Trip To Italy, The Crimson Field, Rule Britannia! Music, Mischief And Morals In The Eighteenth Century, Ian Hislop's Olden Days: The Power Of The Past in Britain, Have I Got News For You, Game Of Thrones, Life & Death Row, All About Two, Generation War, Vera, Prey, The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain, The Story Of Women And Art, Wallander, Dylan Thomas: A Poet In New York, From There To Here, Mr Sloane, Harry & Paul's Story Of The Twos, Amber, Shopgirls: The True Story Of Life Behind The Counter, The Honourable Woman, Tales From The Royal Wardrobe With Lucy Worsley, Would I Lie To You?, Seven Wonders Of The Commonwealth, Monty Python Live: One Down, Five to Go, The Stuarts, One Born Every Minute, Gomorrah, Walter, Playhouse Presents: Psychobitches, The Village, Girls, The Great War: The People's Story, A Touch of Cloth, The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill, Fifty Ways To Kill Your Mammy, Crimes Of Passion, Houdini, Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath, Tyrant, Cilla, The Leftovers, The Strain, Our Girl, Oh! You Pretty Things: The Story Of Music And Fashion, Marvellous, Grantchester, Lewis, Anarchy In Manchester, The Code, The Great Fire, The Knick, Detectorists, Afghanistan: The Lion's Last Roar?, The Flash, Spider House, Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, Secrets From The Sky, Frankenstein & The Vampyre: A Dark And Stormy Night, Walking Through History, Great Continental Railway Journeys, Teenage Tommies, The Mekong River With Sue Perkins, Dancing Cheek To Cheek: An Intimate History Of Dance, Jamie Baulch: Looking For My Birth Mum, Secrets Of The Castle With Ruth, Peter And Tom, Tomorrow's Worlds: The Unearthly History Of Science Fiction, Orange Is The New Black, Looking.

And now, we move to those that weren't any bloody good at all:-

1. ITV's World Cup Coverage
Whilst, for once, the BBC's coverage of a major football event wasn't entirely perfect during the 2014 World Cup - particularly in relation to Phil Neville's co-commentary stint during the England versus Italy game - it remained a street-and-a-half (and then, another street) ahead of ITV's woeful, wretched, cliché driven, one-dimensional ideas on 'what the public want.' The public, seemingly, didn't get that memo. This was spectacularly summed up by a statement - seemingly a serious one - released by ITV shortly after the competition began in which some clown of a spokesperson claimed that odious greed bucket, horrorshow (and drag) Adrian Chiles gives their coverage, 'the man-in-the-street angle that the BBC lacks.' Which presumably explains why, whenever the Beeb and ITV both cover a match simultaneously, nine-out-of-ten punters prefer to watch Gary Lineker and co - you know, professionals - rather than a complete waste-of-space sacked breakfast TV flop the likes of Chiles. Like, for instance, the World Cup final itself which was watched by a peak audience of 16.7 million viewers on BBC1 at 10.30pm on Sunday evening. A mere 3.8 million viewers were watching at roughly the same time on ITV. So much for the man in the street, then. One incident summed up ITV's World Cup and it was an unintentionally hilarious one; it occurred ten minutes before the end of the opening game between Brazil and Croatia in São Paolo when an angry demonstration of disgruntled and rather stroppy locals kicked-off outside the media centre in Rio and, according to horrorshow (and drag) Chiles (who looked like he'd just shat in his own pants), some of those taking part began throwing rocks at the ITV studio. They must've been regulars viewers of Daybreak, clearly. 'We were all sitting up here and then suddenly sharp, clattering sounds started greeting our ears and that was them pelting the glass of our studio and other studios around here. We did try to explain to them none of this is our fault at ITV Sport,' whinged Chiles. Yes it is. You employed Andy Townsend in the first place.
2. Tumble
Shrill, annoying Welsh thing Alex Jones hosted Tumble - an alleged 'celebrity' contest in which 'famous faces' (ie. not really very famous at all) performed gymnastics and circus routines for a judging panel including Nadia Comaneci and Louis Smith. So, in other words, it was this year's Pro-Celebrity Drowning. Braving the training - and the over-tight spandex costumes - were world super-middleweight boxing champion Carl Froch, singers Sarah Harding and Amelle Berrabah (no, me neither), EastEnders actor John Partridge, former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, ex-Steps member Ian H Watkins, one-time Dynasty actress Emma Samms, Wolfblood star Bobby Lockwood, Loose Women anchor Andrea McLean and former The Only Way Is Essex type person Lucy Mecklenburgh. So again, just to clarify, what we had here was lots of z-listers absolutely desperate to get their boat-races on TV to the point where they would risk ridicule and possibly spine-threatening injury for one more sniff at the prime time cake. If this ludicrously crass lowest common denominator diarrhoea had been on ITV, dear blog reader, like Pro-Celebrity Drowning, then this blogger would have be laughing his knob off at the sheer rubbishness of it but, it would only be what we've come to expect. The fact that it was on yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved Beeb (and BBC1 at that) just made this blogger angry. And sad. And, more than a little bit depressed. Just when you think you've seen the very worst that TV can possibly offer, along comes something to truly dismay you. Ratings, predictably, began averagely and then, if you will, tumbled faster and better than any of the z-listers featured but, despite this, immediately after the final, Radio Time predicted that the show would return for a second series. Late in the year, however, came the gloriously welcome news that the BBC thought otherwise and had shovelled Tumble where it belongs, in the gutter along with all the other turds. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
3. Benefits Street
2014 was the year in which the television industry decided, seemingly to man (and woman), to demonise the working classes. Benefits Street was merely the worst example of this trend which saw ordinary people in this country stigmatised as conniving, seditious, lazy, criminal and racist pond scum. Which, hell some of them may well be but it's a bit of an over-large brush to tar millions of Britons with. Benefits Street 'documented' - its says here - the lives of several residents of James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham, where newspapers including the Daily Scum Mail and the Gruniad Morning Star reported that ninety per cent of the residents claim benefits. It showed benefits claimants committing crimes, including a demonstration of how to shoplift and portrayed a situation in which people were dependent on welfare payments and lack the motivation to seek employment. The show was controversial, with the police, Channel Four and the media regulator Ofcom all receiving hundreds of complaints. There were, reportedly, Twitter death threats made against some of the residents of the street, many of who seemed, instantly, to regret their agreement to appear in the show in the first place. Channel Four was also accused of making 'poverty porn' and many of those taking part later claimed that they had been lied to by the documentary makers as to the nature of Benefits Street. The producers defended the series, arguing that the reaction to it demonstrated the importance of making such a documentary. The fact that Benefits Street was a TV programme of which Iain Duncan Smith approved tells you everything you need to know about just how wretched, humiliating and debasing the whole thing was. Tragically, another series is planned and currently in production. Although quite why anybody with an ounce of dignity or common sense in their body would agree to appear in it is another question entirely. Mind you, one could say the same thing about Big Brother.
4. Fearne And ... McBusted
Quite possibly the worst TV programme of this - or indeed any other - year. This blogger could tell you that this ITV2 two-part abomination saw odious, risible, thin-skinned, full-of-her-own-importance Cotton - who really appears to think she's it, dear blog reader - meeting the pop group McBusted as they prepared for a sell-out, forty one-date arena tour of the UK and Ireland. We could note that daft waste-of-space plank Cotton took 'a behind-the-scenes look' at the band's gigs and discussed each member's life away from the music scene. As if anybody with more than three brain-cells to rub together actually gives a steaming pile of stinking diarrhoea about any of that nonsense. We could also tell you that they also invited wretched famous-for-nothing Cotton to take part in what was described as their favourite game - 'tattoo roulette' - which saw the loser add to their own personal tattoo collection. But, this blogger is not going to, dear blog reader. Instead, I'll say this: If you even considered, for a second, watching this trivial, banal, frig-awful exercise in celebrity-by-non-entity drivel which demonstrated everything - and I mean every single Goddamn thing - that is wrong with television, and indeed with British society, in the Twenty First Century, then you have no business reading this blog (or, for that matter, breathing). And yer actual Keith Telly Topping would very much like you to go as far away as possible. Thanks awfully for your kind cooperation in this regard. And, if you happen to be the person that commissioned Fearne And ... in the first place, yer actual Keith Telly Topping trusts that your mother is very proud of you. Because, no one else is.
5. I Wanna Marry Harry
Definitive proof that Americans are so ridiculously gullible they will believe anything. This series had a premise similar to the equally wretched Joe Millionaire and followed twelve waste-of-space American women (all with cheese for brains) who were led to believe (and, even more amazingly, actually did believe) that they were competing for the affections of Prince Harry. Yes, it's true, the producers of this programme managed to find twelve people who thought that the man fourth-in-line to the British throne would, willingly, agree to take part in a US reality TV show. Because, obviously, Prince Harry has nothing better to do with his time (like, you know, fight in Afghanistan for one thing). No, this blogger has difficulty believing that such people exist as well but then, these are Americans we're talking about. However, in (if you will) reality - or, at least, as close to reality as they could manage - the bachelor turned out to be Matthew Hicks, a Prince Harry look-alike. No shit?! In June, it was announced the show was being pulled in the US by FOX due to disastrously low ratings after only four episodes had been broadcast. Of course, over here, ITV2 shamelessly showed the entire thing. Which says so much about ITV2, and the sort of people who watch it, frankly. The Torygraph headlined its review of the first episode Fodder For The Braindead and commented 'the floundering Harry lookalike wasn't a wild or weird enough character to carry the show, entertainment derived solely from the foolish bachelorettes.' 'A moronic confusion of dire dates and piss-poor parties ­culminating in a jaw-droppingly ridiculous finale,' noted the Mirra's Kevin O'Sullivan, going on to suggest that the show had 'plumbed new depths or banality.' The series was filmed in the summer of 2013 and, nine months afterwards Hicks and the winner, one Kimberley Birch, were reported to be still in touch. 'We genuinely like each other and have spoken regularly from the moment we stopped filming,' claimed Birch seemingly not all that upset that she hadn't become the Queen's granddaughter-in-law. Close, Kim, but no cigar.
6. Birds of A Feather
It was tripe in 1990s when it was on the BBC so, quite what made ITV think it'd be any less tripesque in the Twenty First Century was a question only they could answer. When it débuted in 1989, one recalls that it felt very much of its time, as Essex culture – an oxymoron, surely? – was a huge source of humour, with jokes about white stilettos and Ford Capris guaranteeing laughs all over the country. These days, we have interminable reality show The Only Way Is Essex to confirm all those stereotypes – and that makes Sharon, Tracey and Dorien feel, at best, quaintly old-fashioned and, at worst, tired, dated and utterly unnecessary in 2014. Evidently, the BBC agreed, as it turned down the opportunity to reprise the show some fifteen years after it was axed and instead left ITV to it. The series picked up pretty much exactly where it left off, only with clumsy popular culture references peppering every sentence. God, it was awful. Unsurprisingly popular mind you, considering that there are parts of the country where they seem to think this is a documentary.
7. Celebrity Squares
Warwick Davis hosted a revival of the game show originally presented by Bob Monkhouse. Because, seemingly, nobody has any original ideas in television these days. The concept is, of course, based on Noughts and Crosses with a giant grid of nine boxes. The contestants say whether they agree or disagree with the general-knowledge answers given by the occasionally 'famous' faces inside each box. If they are correct they claim that square, and the first to get three in a line wins the round and the money. And, the money's the important thing, obviously. How else does one explain the fact that Tim Vine and Joe Wilkinson signed up to be the resident comedians taking their place on the grid each week other than the size of the cheque, joined in the first episode edition by unfunny, full-of-his-own-importance lard bucket (and drag) James Corden, Catherine Tyldesley (who?), Jamelia (no, me neither), Tom Rosenthal, Charlotte Hawkins, Mick Miller and Sara Pascoe. Thankfully, just to again restore, briefly, ones faith in the general public, it turned out to be one of ITV's biggest flops of the year.
8. Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages
In what is, probably, the most offensively shite TV conceit of the year, full-of-her-own-importance Penelope Keith (remember her?) swans around some Home Counties villages like she owns the gaff. These stereotypical population centres - with their cosy cottages, thatched roofs and loud-voiced eccentrics - represent, Keith claims, 'the true England.' Whatever the Hell that means. Actually, we all know exactly what that means; the dying representatives of some mythical 'Golden Age England' which probably never existed outside the pages of a certain, class-conscious strand of British literature. As someone who grew up on a council estate in the North of England, please allow this blogger to note that there are many examples of 'the true England' and almost none of them are kind of places that someone like Penelope Keith would be seen dead in. Also, allow this blogger a moment of utter revulsion at the sheer nastiness of poxy and ignorant nonsense conceits like this and all that it stands for. Naff off back to the 1950s you bloody offensive woman and take your twatty Daily Scum Mail attitudes with you. This blogger hopes that whoever dreamed up this spectacularly rancid exercise in twee 'Little Englander' UKiP-voting bollocks gets home this evening to find that travellers have moved in next door to them. With really mean dogs that bark all night.
9. When Odious Lard Bucket (And Drag) Corden Met Alleged Tax Avoider (And Drag) Barlow
A thoroughly odious arselick example of pro-celebrity ego-stroking featuring the least funny man in the world 'getting up close and personal with the man behind the music of his youth.' Or an alleged tax avoiding millionaire Tory, if you prefer. Offensive on just about every level, one is rather reminded of something the Reverend Richard Coles said during one of his appearances on Qi. Recalling a phone-in complaints show that he used to present for 5Live, he remembered a lady called Marjorie ringing in to say 'I am appalled by everything' and then slamming down the phone. When odious lard bucket (and drag) Corden met alleged tax avoider (and drag) Barlow, dear blog reader, this blogger knew exactly how Marjorie felt.
10. The Guess List
Rob Brydon - who is capable of so much more than risible tripe such as this - took the helm for this ghastly game show which, completely without apology, played like an updated version of Blankety Blank. Two contestants on the left, two tiers of z-list celebrity helpers - one of whom was unfunny lard bucket (and drag) James Corden - on the right and the host flitting from one side to the other as he tried, in vain, to keep it all together, quizzing the alleged 'famous' faces on possible answers to everyday questions. Yep, it was Blankety Blank, basically. Only with about a fifth of the personality and a tenth of the entertainment value. The opening episode's line-up of 'famous faces' apart from the odious Corden included Jennifer Saunders, Emilia Fox, Louis Smith and Simon Callow. Shame on the lot of you for prostituting yourself on nonsense like this.
11. The Nightmare Neighbour Next Door
A documentary using eyewitness testimony and footage from camcorders, CCTV and phones to examine traumatic, shocking, humorous and occasionally bizarre experiences of people who have become involved in disputes with neighbours. The programme also revealed how long-fought battles results in Asbos, evictions and sometimes violence with kids gettin' sparked an aal-sorts with the blood and the snots and the punching and heeds-gettin' kicked in and that. It was, sad to report, exactly the sort of programme that you'd expect from a channel run by a soft-core pornographer.
12. Twatting About On Ice
'You'll miss it when it's gone,' someone confidently predicted to this blogger at the start of the year as the final series of Twatting About On Ice began. Wrong. This blogger hasn't. Not even close.
13. Splash!
The second series of Pro-Celebrity Drowning proved far less popular than the first once the novelty of seeing Jo Brand in a swimsuit wore off. Concern was shown for Tom Daley's role in the show by the head of British Swimming David Sparkes, who claimed that Daley is 'in danger of putting his media work before his sporting career' and possibly hampering his chances of a gold medal at the Rio Olympics. One of the z-list contestants, Tina Malone, made negative comments in an interview with Liverpool radio station Juice FM several days before her appearance on the show. She called this and other reality shows 'garbage' as well as claiming that 'It’s the big fat cheques that make me happy' in reference to the fact she appears in such TV shows purely for the financial reward. Because, let's face it, there's little other reason for anyone to put themselves through the torture of squeezing into a swimming costume and then doing belly flops for the entertaining of ... well, no one, really. On 15 February, the the delight of millions, ITV extremely cancelled the show, thus putting a temporary pause on young Tom's media activities. Oh well, back to the day job, then. You know, the thing you're actually good at, Tom. Tragically, Gabby Logan and gormless berk Vernon Kay also managed to find themselves alternative employment elsewhere. No justice.
14. Edge Of Heaven
A sitcom - featuring no jokes - set in a guest house in Margate, and starring nobody you've ever heard of Edge of Heaven achieved some of the worst ratings in ITV's history with the first episode setting a record for lowest ever rated début on the channel. 'The sad thing is everyone at ITV loved it,' claimed producer Beryl Virtue. One or two people even believed her. 'But, unfortunately the ratings meant we couldn't continue for a second series.' Wikipedia noted that: 'The show has received reviews described as "dire."' And, that was one of the more flattering ones.
15. The Taste
A culinary competition in which contestants tried to impress Nigella Lawson (she has her knockers) fresh from her widely-reported courtroom cocaine confessions, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre with a single spoonful of food. The judges began by sampling the cooking of twenty five hopefuls, including amateurs and professionals from some of Britain's best restaurants, who were required to demonstrate their talents in one mouthful to earn a place on the show. The unoriginality of the format, and Lawson flouncing around like the Queen of Sheba were, in fact, the very least of its many problems, something that viewers picked up on remarkably quickly. And left in their droves.
Also complete and utter pants: Take Me Out, Big Brother, 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), Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is EssexStella, Alan Davies: Apres Ski, Two Hundred Nips & Tucks And I Want More!, The Jump, Duck Quacks Don't Echo, The Big British Immigration Row, Sexting Teacher, The Brits, Holiday Hit Squad, Martin Amis' England, Sex Sent Me To The ER, The Big Allotment Challenge, Twin Towns, Sweat The Small Stuff, Game Face, Trying Again, Trollied, Live At The Electric, 24: Live Another Day, Good Morning Britain, Monks, The Charlotte Crosby Experience, The Food Inspectors, The Complainers, David Beckham Into The Unknown, Born In The Wild, The Secret Life Of Students, Common, Britain's Poshest Nannies, In The Club, Seventy Stone & Almost Dead, Virtually Famous, Big School, Countdown To Murder: Killer Schoolgirl, Hot Tub Britain, Chasing Shadows, Citizen Khan, Through The Keyhole, Extreme Brat Camp, Puppy Love, It Was Alright In The 1970s, Skint, Naked & Afraid and absolutely anything featuring odious, unfunny lanky streak of worthless piss Jack Whitehall.