Saturday, November 21, 2020

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2020)

At the risk for starting this bloggerisationism sounding like Diamond Joe Quimby, this being World TV Day, welcome you are dear blog readers, to the thirteenth annual From The North TV Awards. Celebrating, in this blogger's opinion, the best (and worst) television programmes broadcast during 2020. Just think, thirteen years - you'd've probably got less than that for murder. Nevertheless, in what is becoming an annual observation, you may notice that there are about twice as many 'highs' listed here as there are 'lows'. This imbalance is not, necessarily, a reflection on the actual ratio of good telly-to-bad during the past twelve months. Rather it is because, generally speaking, we tend to remember most of the good stuff and attempt - only sometimes successfully - to forget all the distressing faeces starring Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall.
As noted previously, each year when this blogger posts these lists, he usually gets a handful of e-mails or Facebook comments from dear blog readers saying something along the lines of 'very good, yer actual Keith Telly Topping. But, you missed [insert own favourite here].' Therefore, please note, since answering such comments is a right flamin' pain in the dong, this blogger has not missed anything. These awards represent what Keith Telly Topping has been watching and enjoying (or disliking) during the last year. If a programme is not mentioned, it is either because this blogger didn't see it (no matter how much he tries, he can't watch everything - there simply aren't enough hours in the day) or, he did but didn't consider it worthy of inclusion. If you disagree, then by all means start your own blog and create your own awards. 
Of course, 2020 was a damned queer year in most aspects of life - you may, perhaps, have noticed this, dear blog reader. Television was, by no means immune to the cascade of lockdowns, postponements, delays, 'new normals' and the like. Keith Telly Topping supposes the fact that we got any decent telly to watch this year as we cowered in our gaffs and sought anything to take our minds off the horrors of the outside world was, in and of itself, a minor miracle. Thankfully, we did.
Thus, without any further ado ...

From The North's Fifty Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights Of Television In 2020:-

1. A West Wing Special To Benefit When We All Vote
'Sam, you're going to run for President one day. Don't be scared. Checkmate.' Though it came to an end in 2006, The West Wing - the greatest TV show in the history of the medium ... that doesn't have the words 'Doctor' and 'Who' in the title - never really ended in many people's hearts. Fans of the award-winning US political drama have longed for some form of revival almost from the day that the final episode was broadcast (the entire Barack Obama presidency being, effectively, The West Wing series eight notwithstanding). This remains true for this blogger who once wrote a couple of books about the show. It was with considerable anticipation from the masses, therefore, that in August, it was announced Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney (plus, many of the supporting cast) would reprise their roles, for one night only. For a stage version of the well-remembered 2001 episode Hartsfield's Landing, intended to raise awareness and support for When We All Vote, a non-profit organisation founded to increase participation in US erections. 'Yes, we've gotten the band back together!' Brad Whitford told the audience at the beginning of the broadcast. Production took place at Los Angeles' Orpheum Theatre and the episode was broadcast on 15 October on HBO Max. The role of Leo McGarry was played by Sterling Brown, John Spencer having, of course, sadly died in 2005. Emily Procter read the stage directions and Marlee Matlin and Elisabeth Moss also made appearances. The production included additional material written by creator Aaron Sorkin and Eli Attie, was directed by Thomas Schlamme and act-breaks featured guest appearances from When We All Vote co-founders Michelle Obama and Lin-Manuel Miranda, plus Bill Clinton and Samuel L Jackson. Perceptions that this might have been a case of didactic 'preaching to the converted' notwithstanding, reception was hugely positive from critics and viewers alike. CNN characterising the special as approximating 'the experience of watching a stage play, only with a best-seat-in-the-house view,' including 'shooting the performers from behind and revealing the rows of empty seats,' what they considered as 'a poignant reminder of what's been lost on the theatrical front since the pandemic began.' The AV Club wrote it 'always stays on the right side of being a Very Special Episode.' IndieWire considered '[as] a reimagining of a strong television episode, the new version of Hartsfield's Landing plays out beautifully.' The Hollywood Reporter added it was '[a] solid recreation of a solid episode for a solid cause.' Deadline said in a headline that the production was A Sobering Reminder Of When Presidents Were Presidential, At Least On TV. From this blogger's viewpoint, watching this was both a welcome experience and a sad one. Welcome, obviously, because this was The West Wing and it was, frankly, stunning - indeed, the only way it could, possibly, have been any better would've been if Josh and Donna had got their kit(s) off and done The Sex right there on the stage for all to see. (That may, admittedly, be the 'shipper-fan lurking within this blogger having, briefly, taken over the review. Sorry 'bout that.) But it was also sad because it was an, at times, awkward reminder of an era - not that long ago, either - when television made this kind of challenging, thoughtful, sincere, outspoken drama effortlessly. And now it doesn't very much, if at all. The world has become a colder, harsher, more nasty and less inclusive place, dear blog reader (and this was before Coronavirus came along and made the situation many times worse). And - this is the real tragedy - we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, responsible for the critical and commercial conditions in which such a lack of ambition, empathy and, frankly, decency exists.
It's worth considering this, dear blog reader; when Hartsfield's Landing was first broadcast, America's president at the time was George W Bush and pretty much everybody who hadn't voted for him (and everyone outside America) considered that he was, without any shadow of a doubt the worst president that had ever, or would ever, be. There couldn't possibly be anyone worse than Dubbya out there, that wasn't even open to question. Almost two decades on and A West Wing Special To Benefit When We All Vote was a necessary reminder of a truism which the original series included as a specific plot point on more than one occasion: Be very careful what you wish for, it might just come true. 
   Of course, the subsequent events of early November - recounts and vexatious lawsuits notwithstanding - made the episode even more of a 'special event' with hindsight. One wonders if the Sun will be claiming It Was The West Wing Wot Won It!? Correlation is not causation, dear blog reader, but if just one person voted in the US presidential erection who wouldn't have because they watched this production then that, alone, entirely justified its existence.
2. I Hate Suzie
'I'm a terrible mother. A terrible wife. A slightly-above-average actress ...' Rowdy Billie Piper's return to TV in this Sky Atlantic drama was lauded by critics. Billie portrayed the titular Suzie Pickles - a former child-star-turned-actress whose life and career were turned upside down by a compromising phone hack. It found Piper reunited with The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl writer Lucy Prebble. The Gruniad Morning Star gave it a rave review, describing Piper's character as 'nude, lewd and joyously off-the-rails in this scabrously [sic] funny drama. Beneath it all, Prebble holds the reins firmly in her fist and Piper keeps us - just - on the side of an endlessly charismatic but volatile, self-indulgent character.' I Hate Suzie, they continued, 'nails the arrested development and consequent issues - poor impulse control, irresponsibility and generally exhausting high-maintenance-ness - of a celebrity upon whom fame was visited so early.' The Torygraph were similarly impressed, calling the drama a 'glorious, fizzing monument to the creativity of Piper and Prebble' and a 'remarkable portrait of one woman's descent.' More than one reviewer alleged that Piper's own experience of becoming famous as a teenager would, no doubt, have 'informed' her role. Indeed, the Independent suggested that Piper was, effectively, 'playing a thinly-disguised version of herself.' They continued: 'Much of I Hate Suzie is filmed in a frenetic, fast-cut style that reflects Suzie's descent into this contemporary nightmare. Piper has a rare gift for eliciting sympathy, even as Pickles keeps making new mistakes in her effort to disguise the old ones. What emerges is a black-comedy-horror about female friendship, modern fame and the impossibility of true privacy in a world where everyone has an online video camera.' The Evening Standard declared that Piper 'gives a raw, soul-baring performance ... with plenty of dry wit.' The Times said: 'Most people would agree that Piper is an outstanding actress, playing Suzie with excruciating honesty. It is gratifying to see Piper in a TV role where she can open her legs, show her class and use to the max her mesmerically expressive face. This was bold and intelligently acted television. And surely an instant cure for any fool who actively wants to be "a celebrity."' The NME claimed I Hate Suzie would become 'your new favourite TV show.' 'She's a nightmare,' Prebble, who co-created the drama with Piper, told the magazine about the titular character. 'We really weren't interested in making her likeable in inverted commas, or even particularly relatable, because that's something that's been pushed down our throats when creating characters for a long time, especially when it comes to women.' Ultimately, this was a case of a gifted actress reminding audiences (who, frankly, shouldn't have needed any reminding) with a pugnacious swagger just how good she is. And, just how morally bankrupt what passes for 'celebrity culture' can be. As The Times headline aptly observed: 'Billie Piper Shines In A Stupid, Soulless World.'
3. The Salisbury Poisonings
'You and your family are now at the centre of an international incident.' At the time The Salisbury Poisonings was in production, in late 2019, who would have predicted that, by the time it was broadcast on BBC1 - in June 2020 - a drama about a public health crisis would be so apocalyptically relevant. A three-part drama - created by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn and starring Anne-Marie Duff, Rafe Spall, Darren Boyd and Annabel Scholey - it portrayed events surrounding the Novichok poisoning crisis in Salisbury. In March 2018, emergency services attended to Sergei and Yulia Skripal who have been found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury. A national emergency was soon precipitated when it was discovered that Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence officer who'd been an agent for MI6 during the 1990s. And, that he and his daughter had been poisoned with a potent nerve agent which was smeared on the door handle of their home. The drama also dealt with the incidental exposure of several others, including a police officer and a couple who had found a perfume bottle containing the nerve agent. The drama focused on the Director of Public Health in Wiltshire, Tracy Daszkiewicz and the emergency services as they attempted to locate the source and prevent further casualties. The Gruniad praised the script and direction as being 'admirably restrained' and compared the calm actions of its characters facing a 'new normal' to the reactions of the general public during the on-going pandemic. 'It's an extraordinary story, which Salisbury is still recovering from,' noted BBC News's Steven McIntosh. 'But the dramatisation isn't some kind of James Bond-style spy thriller. The Skripals are only seen briefly at the beginning of the first episode and the Russian suspects are not shown at all. Instead, it focuses on the response of the local community and health officials.' Of course, not everyone liked it. Despite the real-life infected police officer, Nick Bailey, being an advisor on the production and helping Rafe Spall with his performance, Bailey's parents had a ruddy good whinge in a letter to a local newspaper that the series was 'inappropriately premature.' Which was immediately picked up and used as a stick to beat the BBC with by some jack-booted louse at the Daily Scum Mail. Who, clearly, didn't have any sick agenda smeared, an inch thick, across their disgusting faces. Oh no, very hot water. The fact that real-world events gave The Salisbury Poisonings a currency it would not, otherwise, have had makes the claim that it was 'inappropriately premature' even more ludicrous than it was in the first place. As a drama, the series worked 'as a narrative on a number of different levels,' noted its director, Saul Dibb. 'It's partly a domestic drama, partly a thriller and partly a very prescient virus horror, of this invisible enemy that can kill lots of people.' Maybe the latter aspect was why audiences of between nine and ten million watched the three episodes - broadcast on successive nights - and were kept on tenterhooks by its relevance to their own, current, lives. Either that or, due to lockdown, they couldn't go down the pub instead. Is it so wrong this blogger choses to believe it was the former? It's a much-used truism, dear blog reader, but it bears repeating - in good times and in bad the viewing public usually gets the television programmes they need. Whether they want, or even deserve, them or not.
4. Normal People
'What's Marianne like in her natural habitat?' An Irish drama by Element Pictures for the BBC and Hulu and based on the novel by Sally Rooney, the series followed the relationship between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), as they navigated the journey to adulthood from school to undergraduate years at Trinity College. Normal People received praise for the performances and writing, being nominated for four EMMYs. Initially released on iPlayer, Normal People reportedly gave the BBC its best-ever week on the streaming site (26 April to 3 May), receiving over sixteen million programme requests across the twelve episodes beating the previous record for the first series of Killing Eve. Linda Holmes of NPR described Normal People as 'a lovely series, not just to binge, but perhaps to dole out to yourself a couple of episodes at a time,' whilst CNN added it was 'perfectly [understanding of] the desires we place on communication technologies and the ways they nearly always come up short' and 'irresistible in abnormal times.' Caroline Framke of Variety wrote: 'With its trifecta of elegant writing, directing and acting, Normal People is just as bleak and uncompromising as Rooney's novel - a feat and one that takes several episodes to fully absorb ... As Marianne and Connell's relationship grows deeper, Normal People becomes as immersive as the book that inspired it, making you both crave and dread knowing - or perhaps more accurately, experiencing - what happens next.' The production received particular praise for its realistic portrayal of intimate content though - perhaps inevitably - the nudity sparked a debate on Irish radio, with callers to Joe Duffy's Liveline claiming it was 'inappropriate.' Once again providing ample evidence that some people are just scum. Their Love Will Tear You Apart said the New York Times headline. 'Achingly powerful,' added the Globe & Mail. One would expect the Gruniad to get down on all-fours and drool over the drama's bits, of course - and, unsurprisingly, it did; 'a small-screen triumph' - but the fact that the Daily Scum Mail was also, broadly positive was somewhat less expected. Although, they still couldn't resist counting the sex scenes. 'It clearly struck an emotional chord with viewers of all ages,' wrote the Torygraph. Perhaps the most apt review of this wonderful piece of work came from the Hindu Times's Navmi Krishna who called Normal People 'A masterclass in understanding the different facets of intimacy.' That about covers it.
5. I May Destroy You
'Is there any reason you haven't told him about the assault?' 'He's an Italian drug-lord.' The formidably talented Michaela Coel, who won two BAFTAs for her autobiographical sitcom Chewing Gum, miraculously turned her own rape trauma into this genre-defying triumph. Exploring issues of sexual consent from multiple viewpoints, you might expect I May Destroy You to be grim but it was, actually, anything but. It's not often that a series comes along which is so utterly idiosyncratic that it defies both categorisation and any obvious reference points. But, such was the case with this extraordinarily raw and intimate drama. It told the story of Arabella, a successful writer working on a follow-up to her zeitgeist-y millennial bestseller, whose life was changed when her drink was spiked whilst on a night out. As a study in the effects of sexual assault, it was astonishing - but it would also be an injustice to categorise this as a one-issue drama. Rather it explored the intersections of race, class and gender in metropolitan society with both freewheeling energy and assurance, while also, more generally, nailing the vertigo-inducing Dionysian experience of being a young adult with exhilarating authenticity. 'It's a vibrant comedy-drama about friendship and family, social media and messy millennial angst, driven along by dark humour and exhilarating energy,' according to the Torygraph. 'Astonishingly bold and assured, it deserves to be an award-garlanded phenomenon.' 'Moving and, despite the subject matter, at times very funny,' wrote IndieWire. 'It's tricky to call an actor mesmerising, for fear of making her power seem magical rather than the result of craft. But Coel here is magnetic and memorable and you won't be able to take your eyes off her,' added NPR. The Detroit News review said the series was 'fascinating... taking a dark subject and turning it every which way. It can be shocking, it can be fun (which is also somewhat shocking), it can hurt and maybe even heal. No matter what, it's an unsettling revelation.' I May Destroy You 'isn't just powerful television,' wrote the Boston Globe. 'It's a groundbreaking model of how to honour the complexities of sexual trauma on TV without succumbing to lecture or exploitation.' 'Could this be the best drama of the year?' asked the Gruniad. One of them, certainly.
6. Doctor Who
'Everything you think you know is a lie.' Containing half-a-dozen genuinely superb episodes - like Spyfall in which Lenny Henry provided the most plausible justification for his existence since around 1983 and Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror which proved what this blogger had always believed, that AC/DC were much better than Scorpions - Chibnall and Jodie's second series of Doctor Who was more patchy than their first. But the highs were infinitely higher. Of course, some people - the usual suspects, basically - hated it and everything it stood for with a passion and weren't shy of telling anyone that wished to listen (and, indeed, anyone that didn't). This blogger thought it was great, dear blog reader. Quality guest casts (Stephen Fry, Robert Glenister, Jo Martin and Sacha Dhawan as the latest - bat-shit crazy - incarnation of The Master), surprise returns (Barrowman in Fugitive Of The Judoon) and Maxine Alderton's stunning recreation of the maddest Mad Hatter's Tea Party of all time, the Shelleys and Byron at Lake Geneva (The Haunting Of Villa Diodati). And, then there was the two-part finale which made The Cybermen terrifying again and sent fandom into a collective cardiac arrest and sailed them right up a creek only to, in both cases, neglect to supply any paddles. It was manic, it was outré, it was challenging, it was the Doctor Who equivalent of Lou Reed following Transformer with Metal Machine Music - brave and perhaps wilfully foolhardy, but thrilling to watch all the same. Jodie, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh will return at Christmas (as will The Daleks) for an episode which was, thankfully, completed before the world started its own adaptation of The Invisible Enemy. Production on the next series did, eventually, commence in October. Whether a few - overly hysterical - tabloid stories that the series wouldn't appear until 2022 were accurate was always less certain although it has been confirmed there will be fewer episodes than usual due to Covid-restrictions. The avuncular Bradley and Tosin are scheduled to leave in the forthcoming festival special so, when series fourteen does, eventually, rock up The Doctor and Yaz will have some new TARDIS fam [sic] to find.
7. The Go-Go's
'People used to cross the street when they saw me. I felt powerful for the first time!' This blogger saw The Go-Go's supporting Madness and The Specials at a club in Sunderland in April 1980. In front of an audience composed almost entirely of Mods and Skinheads (who, even though they both liked the two headliners hated each other and, at various points between sets, enjoyed punching anyone within easy reach), a female five-piece from Los Angeles went down, predictably, like a sack of diarrhoea. This blogger thought they were adorable; nothing particularly special musically at that stage in their development but he particularly enjoyed a moment when one of the numbskulls in the crowd shouted 'Get yer tits out.' 'We're nice girls, we don't do that,' replied Belinda Carlisle. 'Yeah,' added Jane Wiedlin. 'So, go fuck yourself!' The place promptly erupted in an avalanche of beer bottles, hockle and incandescent fury. God, it was great! Alison Ellwood's superb documentary about the band - 'candid and absorbing' according to Forbes - was a timely reminder that women in the rock and/or roll business face massive disadvantages. Due to their lack of a collective penis, mainly. A story of triumph against some disappointingly sexist odds - including coke binges, heroin addiction, performing drunk on Saturday Night Live, heart surgery, bipolarity, break-ups, reunions, more break-ups - The Go-Go's mixed interviews with Carlisle, Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock, plus management, former members and friends (including Lee Thompson and Lynval Golding) with archive footage. They gave Rolling Stain magazine a, long-overdue, fisting for their outrageous 1982 cover-shoot of the group in their vests and panties although the constant whinging about the fact that they haven't been nominated for the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame yet quickly wore tiresome. You're in a very select group, ladies - neither have The Specials or Madness. Or The Jam or The Smiths. Or Kraftwerk for that matter. They bitched about each other with glee but, as Schock perceptively noted at one point, sisters fight with each other all the time. And, at the climax, they recorded their first new song in nearly two decades, a sharp little jangly rocker 'Club Zero'. Ellwood - as with her previous documentaries about The Eagles and the Laurel Canyon scene - drew together the various strands of the story with wit, economy and knowing exactly which bits to leave on the cutting room floor. Schock and Valentine suing their bandmates over royalties being the most obvious example of something, perhaps wisely, left with their lips being, as it were, sealed. What we ended up with was genuinely touching and a terrific excuse to dig out ones well-worn copy of Beauty & The Beat. And, not for nothing, but they're still - all of them - fine-lookin' ladies. It appears the love affair which began for this blogger in Sunderland in 1980 hasn't ended just yet.
8. Kermode & Mayo's Home Entertainment Service
The timing of BBC4's Kermode & Mayo's Home Entertainment Service simply could not have been better. Or, more welcome. The duo of film critic Mark Kermode and broadcaster Simon Mayo have been regulars on Radio 5Live for years and have spun-off their much-acclaimed flagship movie review slots onto TV on various occasions (as segments of The Culture Show, for example, as well as Kermode's Uncut vlog and his acclaimed documentary on his favourite movie, The Exorcist, The Fear Of God). In April, BBC4 hastily commissioned a six-part series to cover film and television available to stream during the pandemic as Kermode and Mayo helped viewers navigate the 'wonderful, yet confusing,' world of Twenty First Century home entertainment. In doing so it became, during those first few terrifying weeks of lockdown, essential viewing as their audience sought ways to watch new movies with all of the cinemas now closed. Affable and knowledgable, as always, Mark and Simon gently guided viewers into the bewildering world of live steaming, obscure TV channels (something of a revelation for Kermode whose TV viewing had, previously, extended to Doctor Who, UFO and not much else) and box-set bingeing via iPlayer. It managed to conduct a series of interviews with filmmakers via Zoom despite the two hosts never being, physically, in the same location. And, in both cases, giving us a close-up of the - intriguing - contents of their bookcases. Which, quickly, set a - much parodied - trend of virtually everyone being interviewed on British TV from their own gaffs, on any subject, managing to strategically place their laptop so as to highlight their own delusions of literacy. A piece in GQ celebrated the programme as 'comforting the nation' during lockdown. A Yorkshire Post article on the importance of BBC4 highlighted Kermode & Mayo's Home Entertainment Service as an example of the kind of conceit which was 'a feast for the senses.' A similar view was held by the Express & Star which included the show in its list of favourite BBC4 productions. Episodes of the series quickly started showing up on You Tube increasing the audience; particularly useful in the case of the opening episode in which Kermode's review of Life On Mars and his perceptive highlighting of the fantasy drama's similarities to Powell and Pressburger's A Matter Of Life & Death (1946) might, just, be the five best minutes of TV produced by anyone this year. The Sofa Correspondents segment got viewers to send in videos of what they had been watching. It was everything that the BBC, in theory, aims to be - entertaining, informative and educational. And importantly, inclusive, opinionated and rich in witty humour. Mark and Simon in a nutshell, in fact.
9. Staged
'You have nothing of culinary value.' 'I have two carrots!' A six-part comedy filmed using video-conferencing technology, Staged starred Michael Sheen and David Tennant playing over-the-top fictionalised versions of themselves trying to rehearse Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters In Search Of An Author, during lockdown. Like Kermode & Mayo's Home Entertainment Service here was a format which was not only created because of Coronavirus, but also one which probably couldn't have existed (or, if it had, wouldn't have worked) without the world being shut in its own homes. In a glowing review the Independent described Staged as 'a welcome distraction, an eminently watchable portrait of two artists as petulant, egotistical children.' It was, but it was more than that; it was an exaggerated, yet often subtly underplayed, reflection of public fears and the public's need for distraction. It was on such apparent contradictions that Staged triumphed. Anna Leszkiewicz, in New Statesman, said it was 'charming: absurdly silly in a quiet, understated way.' The i, described it as 'compelling "lockdown" television' and compared it, favourably, with the recent Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon vehicle The Trip. Metro enjoyed Sheen and Tennant sharing 'a warmth and willingness to take the mickey out of each other that felt entirely unforced.' The Stage added: 'Tennant and Sheen are excellent, perennially, even when performing as themselves to their own laptops. Here, joined by [Simon] Evans and by their real-life spouses - Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg - they are on top form, crackling with snide chemistry.' Featuring guest appearances by Samuel L Jackson and Judi Dench, Staged was a little diamond - two of this blogger's favourite actors taking the piss out of not only themselves but, also, out of a world on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 'It's all a bit meta, but that's the joy of it,' opined some glake at the Gruniad having, seemingly, only just realised that was the point. 'It depends on you knowing that Tennant and Sheen are friends in real life, so that you can fully enjoy the (one presumes) unscripted banter between them.' A second series has, recently, been commissioned and, given that it doesn't look like Covid is going anywhere fast, let us reflect again that, even out of bad there must come some good.
10. I'll Be Gone In The Dark
'The great tragedy, to me, of this case is that it's not better know.' A six-part documentary revolving around the late author and blogger Michelle McNamara as she wrote a book about The Golden State Killer. But, this account of McNamara's investigation of the serial rapist and murderer was much more than a mere true-crime series. Yes, it detailed the string of heinous acts committed in the 1970s and 1980s across California by a man who evaded detection for decades. But it also chronicled McNamara's obsession with the case while forcing viewers to consider the roots of our own fixations on the notion of true-crime. Under director Liz Garbus, there were moments in I'll Be Gone In The Dark of shiver-inducing, almost Lynchian horror. But, just as McNamara did, the series always treated the victims as multidimensional humans deserving sensitivity and respect. The story of The Golden State Killer was a daunting one. Over the course of more than a decade, an unnamed monster raped many women and killed at least thirteen. The series dissected McNamara's investigative work and, then, her untimely passing. With her book two-thirds completed, McNamara died in 2016 at the age of forty six due to an accidental prescription drug overdose in conjunction with atherosclerosis. Crime writer Paul Haynes, journalist Billy Jensen and McNamara's husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, helped to complete the book following her death. In April 2018 - after the book had become a best-seller and HBO had purchased the rights - Sacramento Sheriff's Department announced the arrest of a suspect in case: seventy two-year-old Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer. The department credited McNamara's dedication for raising public awareness of the case, though it added that her work had not, directly, generated any specific information which led to DeAngelo's arrest. 'The show bringing sensitivity to true-crime TV,' claimed the Gruniad. 'This is both a satisfying story of justice restored and a moving tribute to one woman's refusal to give up on forgotten victims,' wrote New Statesman. 'A compelling, flawed story of obsession - and its flaws are part of what make it so intriguing,' added the Arizona Republic. 'Sensitive, unusual, uplifting, revelatory and deeply moving,' said Den Of Geek. 'This isn't just another true-crime docu-series. It's a game-changer,' gushed the SlashFilm website. I'll Be Gone In The Dark in fact worked on several levels; in one way it was as a fairly straight documentary about a notorious serial killer - not at all dissimilar to Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes which made 2019's From The North 'Best Of' list. But it was about much more. And, in the story of McNamara's determination to bring a case which had, perhaps, slipped from the public conscience (in a way that Bundy's atrocities never did), it painted a picture of a woman who simply couldn't believe someone was going to get away with such appalling wickedness. This blogger is an agnostic and has no fixed views on whether there is any form of an afterlife, dear blog reader. Probably not. But he is sure that, just for a moment, we can all imagine a scenario where McNamara, on some level of existence, was aware of DeAngelo's arrest and subsequent conviction.
11. Roadkill
'It's not the lie, it's the cover-up.' Huge Laurie starring in an urbane David Hare political thriller - reason enough to watch Roadkill even without the many other things it had going for it. The four-parter, directed by Line Of Duty's Michael Keillor, starred Huge as a minister in a cast which also included Saskia Reeves, Iain De Caestecker and the terrific-as-always Helen McCrory. Critics warmly reviewed the series which saw Laurie's character, Peter Laurence, battling to stop both his public and private lives falling apart against a backdrop of plotting and intrigue. The Torygraph described Laurie as 'great, just as he was in The Night Manager. It's a charismatic performance and he gets under the skin of Laurence.' The Daily Scum Mail lavished praise on both the performances and Hare's writing. 'With any actor less likeable than Hugh, this story would be unbearably cynical. Sir David expertly shows us the man's charming façade as well as his cold, hard core.' They added: 'Helen McCrory is at her best playing PM Dawn Ellison as part-Margaret Thatcher, part-Peaky Blinder.' The Gruniad noted the thriller's universal appeal at a time of real-life political turmoil amidst a pandemic and with Brexit looming. 'It is good to be reminded of the enduring truths - that power corrupts, that charisma tells us nothing of a man (or woman), that political ambition is rarely purely a craving to serve the public. In a good light, on a good day, it makes their multiple manifestations look more manageable,' they wrote. 'It is too mannered and expositional to be realistic (in this way it reminded me of Bodyguard), but it is welcome immersive escapism and not nearly as earnest and improbable as Hare's last big TV offering, Collateral, which was like being subjected to weekly political sermons via water cannon,' added The Times. 'This was mostly down to the excellent Hugh Laurie as a "man of the people Tory", especially when he was in scenes with the equally splendid McCrory.' Meanwhile, some disgraceful wipe alleging to be 'a journalist' at the Daily Scum Express actually got paid for writing a piece entitled Is Roadkill Based On A True Story? She then proceeded to write ten paragraphs on this subject where one word - 'no' - would've done. 'The BBC calls the series a "fictional thriller" which indicates it was not inspired by a real-life event or character,' concluded Katie Palmer, breathlessly. So, again, that'd be a 'no' then? 
12. Chris Packham: Forever Punk
'I can't tell you my life was saved by punk rock, we'll never know ... But, I would say that there's a very good chance that's the case.' From The North favourite Chris Packham, environmentalist, author and broadcaster revealed how, as a teenager with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, loud, abrasive pop music may have saved his sanity. By giving him a purpose and a philosophy, he was able to harness his creativity, which led to him becoming a photographer, then a TV presenter with a determination to champion wildlife. More than forty years on, as Chris went to Buckingham Palace to receive a CBE for his services to the environment, he asked himself if he has, over the years, turned into the type of 'establishment' figure that his seventeen-year-old self would have probably spat at. In this highly personal BBC film, Chris set out to question both himself and other former punks who, like him, rocked against racism, fought for gay rights and clashed (ahem) with their parents causing untold grief, to discover if the values they all believed in still hold today. Along the way, Chris met some at the heart of the movement, including Jordan Mooney, the artist Jamie Reid, The Clash's first drummer Terry Chimes - now a chiropractor, the Reverend Richard Coles and Tom Robinson. He also met Joe Talbot, the singer of indie band Idles at the 100 Club and even hooked up with his own teenage garage band, The Titanic Survivors, whom he left in 1978. They have since reformed and are still playing some of the songs that Chris wrote in Southampton pubs. Chris concluded that the spirit of punk lives on, not just in music but in the rebellious spirit of the current teenage generation and is still at the heart of many modern-day protest movements. Forever Punk was properly touching and, for a certain generation - including this blogger - an at times uncomfortable reminder of our own naïve-but-cherished teenage years. Keith Telly Topping is a couple of years younger than Chris but his own punk epiphany - watching The Jam playing 'All Around The World' on Marc Bolan's ITV show - affected everything that came afterwards, up to and including this blog. 'You were the most beautiful punk rocker,' remembered Jenny Packham, who at the time loathed the din of Never Mind The Bollocks emanating from her brother's bedroom. 'There's a moment in Chris Packham's new BBC documentary in which he squeezes into his badge-studded and battered 1970s leather jacket and looks truly, deeply content,' noted the NME, approvingly. The Gruniad called it 'uplifting.' In an interview with The Big Issue to publicise the documentary, Chris claimed that 'Punk is coming back to save the planet.' Do you know what, dear blog reader, under normal circumstances this blogger may have considered such a statement to be laughably faux naïf. But, if anything can save humanity from the metaphorical fetid swamp we face in these conflicted, frightening times, a bit of righteous punk outrage might be just what we all need. No future? Not if Chris Packham CBE's got anything to do with it. 
13. Dracula
'I'm undead, I'm not unreasonable!' Back in January, what seems now like a lifetime ago when Coronavirus was still item number eight on the Six O'Clock News - something which was happening far away in China and the world hadn't, yet, begun its real-life adaptation of Survivors - Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's adaptation of Dracula hit the screens. Development on Dracula began as far back as 2017 and the series was commissioned by the BBC - in a co-production with Netflix - the following year with Danish actor Claes Bang cast as the title character. According to the writers Dracula himself, in their version, was 'the hero of his own story' - the central focus of the narrative and main character, rather than a shadowy villain for more traditional heroes to hack to pieces at the climax. As with their previous Sherlock (and, even more specifically, Moffat's 2007 series Jekyll), they aimed to make their version both faithful and faithless to the source text at the same time, taking details from the original novel, adding 'a lot of new stuff' and ignoring passages which didn't fit their narrative. Aided by the delicious sparring of the foppish, Byronesque Bang and Dolly Wells's Van Helsing, the series - broadcast over three consecutive nights from New Year's Day - was both a critical and a decent-sized commercial success (UK audiences were in the six million viewers range). It was, simultaneously, both Gothically authentic and terrifyingly disrespectful to various sacred cows. The Gruniad called it 'a diabolic luxury' and 'a joyous belter' while the Sun found the occasional comic one-liners loaned 'fun to the grisly scenes' and described it as 'triumphant.' 'Camp and bonkers,' added the Torygraph. 'However untethered the ending, this was a bold, witty retelling that took risks and bubbled with ideas, something not to be taken for granted,' was Den Of Geek's view. Of course, plenty of the purists were righteously irked by this 'doing things differently' malarkey and weren't shy of saying so. Loudly. Which goes to prove, dear blog reader, that vampires are not the only things which suck.
14. The Great
'It must be an enormous responsibility and honour to lead a country of such importance.' 'It's actually not that hard!' This satirical comedy-drama was loosely - extremely loosely - based on the rise and rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of All The Russias. You know, liked horses. Allegedly. Played by Helen Mirren in another, far less funny, production. Anyway, the series starred the delightful Elle Fanning as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as her mad-as-a-raddish husband, Peter II. Hulu described The Great as an 'anti-historical.' According to the LA Times' Robert Lloyd, the creator, Tony McNamara had 'jotted down some names, relationships and a few historical bullet points, torn up the paper and [then] started writing.' Principal photography for the pilot commenced in November 2018 in York, with other filming locations including Leicestershire, Lincoln and Hever Castle in Kent along with Caserta in Italy. 'Gorgeous, if gratuitous, The Great can't quite live up to its namesake, but delicious performances from Fanning and Hoult and a wicked sense of humour make it a pretty good watch,' was the Rotten Tomatoes overview. 'Reality is rarely as funny as this sparkling period satire, set ... amid a sneaky coup d'état that plays out like a Scooby Gang caper (with wigs),' added the Boston Globe. Other reviewers were equally impressed including Allison Shoemaker ('it's the emotional honesty of The Great that allows the comedy to land so viciously'), Newsday ('an engaging historical satire'), Reason Online ('Historically bonkers, but so witty it will make your brain melt') and The Sunday Times ('Despite the modern twist, this wasn't history dumbed down - it was too vicious, too interested in cracking jokes about Descartes for that'). 'Gleeful [and] garish,' wrote the Gruniad in a mealy-mouthed and not particularly impressed review which made those sound like bad things. As it happens, they were anything but.
15. Killing Eve
'You have to know we are different from these people.' It was, perhaps, inevitable given the horribly obvious nature of the British media's 'arse-lick-'em-up-and-then-slap-'em-down-hard' attitude to any form of success that the third series of Killing Eve was going to see the first bunch of negative critique the acclaimed drama had received thus far. One Anita Singh in the Torygraph claimed that 'the novelty has worn off' and that Killing Eve was 'no longer TV's must-watch.' That fact that some arrogant smear of no consequence considers liking any TV show to be 'a novelty' tells you everything that you need to know about Anita Singh of the Torygraph, dear blog reader. There were a few other whinging arsewipes giving it some serious 'oh, the disappointment,' too, particularly one cheb delighting in the name Cumming at the Independent. 'Once fresh and thrilling, Killing Eve has grown stale and predictable,' he sneered. He was wrong, of course - and with a name like that, you'd think he'd avoid, at all costs, any appearance of being an utter wanker. According to the Mirra's Sara Wallis, however, the new series was 'fresh, funny and as fashion-conscious as ever.' And she was entirely correct in this assertion. Under new head-writer Suzanne Heathcote, Wallis continued, the show contained 'plenty of shocking deaths, new characters and jaw-dropping, creative murders.' Six months after the events of series two, Villanelle has settled in Spain and is about to get married. Her wedding is interrupted by the arrival of Dasha, who trained Villanelle as her protégé. Dasha asks Villanelle to return to work for The Twelve with Villanelle's price for coming back being to be promoted to Keeper, which would make her more powerful than both Dasha and Konstantin. Meanwhile, Eve had left MI6 and is now working at a restaurant in New Malden as she tries to adjust to civilian life, divorce and recently acquired stab wounds. Kenny has also quit his mother's department and now works as an investigative journalist. Eve agrees to meet Kenny for a drink, but finds his office deserted. Then ... to quote South Park, 'Ohmigod ...' You know the rest. Whether this series was quite as outstanding, as beautifully textured, as thrillingly adventurous and different as its two predecessors is legitimately debatable, but that's a bit like saying Richard III might not be quite as good as Hamlet or King Lear. The additions of Steve Pemberton, Harriet Walter and Gemma Whelan to the already impressive cast was, certainly, a case of not resting on ones Stan Laurels. Thankfully the majority of the drama's audience in both the UK and the US ignored such self-important, snobbish tripe as Singh and Cumming's explosions of verbal diarrhoea and Killing Eve maintained its audience numbers and interest. A fourth series had, of course, been commissioned already. Sadly, as with so much else in 2020, production has been delayed by the pandemic. Where they go next from the first climax which didn't involve knives will be interesting to see.
16. Des
'Are we talking about one body or two?' 'Fifteen or sixteen.' A three-part drama about the notorious serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen starring national heartthrob David Tennant (cast completely against type). 'There is an almost visible miasma enveloping every scene, across three nights this week. Of evil, of sadness, of bleak loss and of awful, unwanted knowledge,' opined the GruniadDen Of Geek said the 'nuanced' ITV series had been both 'considered' and 'responsible.' The Independent praised David's 'skin-crawling' performance and Des became the broadcaster's largest rated drama launch of the year. In displaying the sheer mundane banality of evil in Nilsen's appalling 'killing for company', the drama managed to avoid a tradition pitfall of films and TV shows about murderers; running the risk of making the protagonist appear, in any way, sympathetic. It was Nilsen's sheer ordinariness and lack of horns (the man was a section manager at the Job Centre, after all) which allowed him to get away with his crimes for so long (over five years). With Tennant utterly outstanding and fine support from the likes of Daniel Mays, Jason Watkins and Ron Cook, Des shone a necessary spotlight on the way in which, all psychology aside, some people are just wicked fekkers. 'Shunning true-crime tropes, Des instead guides audiences through Nilsen's crimes via the lens of DCI Peter Jay, the man who led the investigation into the killings,' wrote the Radio Times. 'Played convincingly by Daniel Mays, viewers witness how even a seasoned officer was broken down not only by the ugliness of Nilsen's atrocities but how police bureaucracy failed the victims' families.' Spot on.
17. Doom Patrol
'It's every man, woman and brick for themselves now!' The winner of From The North's 2019 award for the best TV show in the world, bar none, production on Doom Patrol's second series was - as with so much else this year - a casualty of The Plague. Planned for ten episodes, shooting on the series finale had to be abandoned in April due to circumstances beyond everyone's control. At least what we did get was brilliant - including two further legendary Grant Morrison plots from the comic series that Doom Patrol is an adaptation of - the Doctor Tyme/Red Jack two-parter and Dorothy and The Candlemaker. Now, we just need them to - somehow - adapt The Brotherhood Of Dada/Painting That Ate Paris and this blogger will be a jolly happy fanboy. There were numerous superb moments (the series' habit of creating title sequences for spin-offs that don't exist but which we'd love to see being some of the best). Diane Guerrero, April Bowlby, Matt Bomer, Brendan Fraser, Joivan Wade and Timothy Dalton returned as the misfit heroes. It was naughty and subversive (the introduction of The SeX-Men, Rita's portal-opening orgasms), frequently hilarious (Rita and Vic's Avengers-style pairing, every scene involving Cliff) and often genuinely touching (Larry and Cliff's interactions with their families, Caulder's attempts to give Dorothy a 'normal' life). 'As entertaining as the first, but with more emotional depth, Doom Patrol's second season explores darker corners without sacrificing any of its wonderful weirdness,' noted Rotten Tomatoes. 'The series blends deep, introspective character drama with absurd superhero humour in a way that's unlike anything else on TV. [Series two] continues that high standard, even without the benefit of Alan Tudyk's Mister Nobody,' wrote IGN. 'The addition of Abigail Shapiro's Dorothy Spinner and delightful new villains like Doctor Tyme and Red Jack are more than enough to keep the fun going.' 'Doom Patrol leans into the drama while still acknowledging that it exists in a bizarre and off-kilter comic-book world,' added Vulture. 'Ultimately, Doom Patrol is all about repression and trauma as well as how to cope ... [Series two] focuses on all of that (especially the foul-mouthed Robotman) through the lens of Chief's great betrayal and the aftermath.' 'Doom Patrol has already proved that the stellar season one wasn't a fluke and that its deft combination of weirdness and human pathos continues to be one of the best things on TV,' was the view of The Mary Sue website. Ending on an - unplanned - cliffhanger, some of the best news of a year in which glad tidings were in desperately short supply arrived in September when HBO announced Doom Patrol had been renewed for a third series. Not even a worldwide pandemic, it seems, can prevent Crazy Jane, Rita, Larry, Cliff and Vic from realising their potential with a colourful braggadocio and plenty of verve. Or, if not that then, at least, having another extended run on-stage at The Theatre Of The Absurd.
18. Derren Brown: Twenty Years Of Mind Control
'You are live on Channel Four so please swear as much as you like! I have never met them, it's live and there's A Plague, what could possibly go wrong?' A combination of documentary, clip-show, live jiggery-pokery, prestidigitation and cunning audience manipulation. This celebration of the (deliciously self-deprecating) self-styled 'national treasure' demonstrated all of the techniques which Dazzling Dezza has used since he first appeared on our screens in 2000; misdirection, cold-reading, auto-suggestion, showmanship, creating 'a health-and-safety nightmare' and effortless charm. Of course, inevitably some abject plank at the Gruniad felt compelled to have a right stroppy whinge about it. So, on general principle then, that's merely one more worthwhile reason to love Twenty Years Of Mind Control. Given that anything the Gruniad Morning Star disapproves of must have some merit to it. 
19. Charlie Brooker's Antiviral Wipe
'It's like the world has reached into my head and stolen some of my nightmare fuel!' Shortly before the broadcast of this one-off, Charlie Brooker appeared on Newsnight talking to Emily Maitlis about the problem with watching too much TV news. 'It's like eating fruit, isn't it?' he suggested. 'It's good for you up to a point, but then it gives you the shits.' Brooker returned to our screens for the first time since his BAFTA-winning 2016 Wipe to take a look at life under lockdown. As well as coverage of the crisis itself, Charlie also explored - in his trademark 'You want cynical? I'll give you cynical!' manner - what the public have been watching to while away the hours. Guest contributors joining him, from a safe distance, included the ever-insightful Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) and Barry Shitpeas (Al Campbell). Charlie also roped in his wife, Konnie Huq, making good use of her time as a Blue Peter presenter ('She can make the most of any old shit, which is why she married me') and his children popped-up during a sequence about conference calls brilliantly parodying Professor Robert Kelly's moment of glory. 'As a one-off, Antiviral Wipe packs its most effective punch,' claimed the Gruniad. 'It feels urgent and necessary, even as it despairs. Plus, it provides some much-needed catharsis by simply allowing the absolute topsy-turvy carnage of the world be funny.' The Independent added: 'Brooker seamlessly weaves our current woes with the corruptions and exceptionalist nonsense of the Brexit campaign, balancing poo-jokes with a simmering and necessary rage.' Meanwhile, the Torygraph didn't like it, which was a sure sign that Charlie was hitting most of the right targets.
20. Perry Mason
'Certain matters require discretion and finesse, that's the kind of thing you're good at. Wear your best suit.' Compared, in a superb review by Mark Kermode on Kermode & Mayo's Home Entertainment Service, with Alan Parker's Angel Heart (something also picked up by a review at the Den Of Geek website) the hard-boiled reboot of Perry Mason starring Matthew Rhys appeared in June soaked in a mood of minimalist suspense. Based, very loosely, on the character created by Erle Stanley Gardner and played by Raymond Burr on TV for twenty years, the series focused on the origin story of the famed defence lawyer. In 1932, Los Angeles is prospering while the rest of the US is recovering from the grip of the Great Depression. Down-at-heal gumshoe Perry Mason is struggling with lingering trauma from The Great War and from his recent divorce. He is hired for a sensational child kidnapping trial and his investigation portends major consequences for Mason, for his client and for the city itself. In development since 2016, it was initially intended that Robert Downey Jnr would play the title character. By 2018, Downey had dropped out due to movie commitments and Rhys was cast, alongside the likes of Tatiana Maslany and John Lithgow. The most watched HBO drama for two years, IndieWire said that the series was 'built with confidence, patience and a voice calibrated for today's audiences,' adding: 'Perry Mason stands as an astounding visual feat for its specific framings as well as its overall world-building. There are striking images of a pitch-black profile and lavish outdoor shots of real Los Angeles locations. In some shows, intimate conversations between two people can clash with the grander scenes. Mason has the intuition (and the budget) to not just balance visual opulence with smaller, private moments, but to blend them.' He concluded that it was 'one of the most beautiful series ever made.' 'Intense, stunning and gruesome,' according to the Gruniad, the Independent called it 'grim, brooding and made for grown-ups.' Well, that'll never catch-on, clearly.
21. Two Weeks To Live
'I'm not a little girl any more!' Produced for Sky and starring Maisie Williams in her first major post-Game Of Thrones role as Kim, a misfit raised in almost total isolation living off-the-grid in rural Scotland by her overprotective, survivalist mother. Venturing to a local pub, Kim is shown a fake video depicting a nuclear apocalypse and suggesting that everybody has but two weeks to live. Believing that end times are near, she sets off to experience as much of her cherished bucket-list as possible, including her understandable desire to kill the man who murdered her father. With sympathetic support from Mawaan Rizwan and grand villainously comic turns from the likes of Jason Flemyng and Sean Pertwee, Two Weeks To Live was one of the most trailed dramas in the history of British telly - for a good three weeks it was almost impossible to watch anything without seeing the trailer for it. The Gruniad considered that Williams 'excels in her fish-out-of-water role, flitting between hapless and determined, worldly and childlike.' The NME described the drama as 'genuinely funny.' 'Although the series is ostensibly about Kim, Fleabag star Sian Clifford steals every frame as Kim's crossbow-wielding, no-nonsense mum, Tina,' added the Radio Times. 'There's a lot of hokum and fun (some of which tries too hard) with [a] cartoon-y plot, a touch of Killing Eve and a zippy script by Gaby Hull,' noted the Irish Times. Some initial reviews were a little underwhelmed but the series quickly picked up a decent word-of-mouth buzz, as exemplified by the Sun suddenly getting excited by it. Not perfect, admittedly; Two Weeks To Live can be considered somewhat gauche beside I Hate Suzie's urbane recontextualisation of traditional comedy-drama tropes and rather anaemic compared to the sophisticated metaphors of Killing Eve. Nevertheless there was much to admire here. A second series has yet to be confirmed but, if there is any common sense knocking around at Sky - open to question, but we'll give 'em the benefit of the doubt - then it should be a given.
22. The Undoing
'It is what rich, entitled people do when threatened. They conceal the ugly truths to protect themselves.' Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Undoing premiered on HBO and Sky Atlantic in October. Its main selling point was its extraordinary cast - including Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. The miniseries was written by David E Kelley and directed by Susanne Bier so, quality was pretty much assured. Grace Fraser is a successful therapist who lives in New York with her husband Jonathan, an oncologist and their son, who attends the elite Reardon School. Grace helps some of the other Reardon parents plan an auction event, where she meets the enigmatic Elena. Grace continues to encounter Elena over the next few days: once in a gym bathroom, where a naked Elena approaches Grace and remarks on her 'kindness' and, later, at the auction itself, where Grace finds Elena crying in private and consoles her. As she leaves, Elena kisses Grace in the elevator. That's not a euphemism, incidentally. The next day, Elena's bludgeoned corpse is discovered. The police question Grace and her friends and Grace attempts to reach Jonathan, who is supposedly at a medical conference in Cleveland, but finds that he has left his phone behind. Unable to trace her husband's whereabouts, Grace becomes increasingly paranoid and experiences visions of Elena's murder-scene. 'It appears to be about deceit and the way it can create serious delusions beyond our control,' said The Australian. 'Guided by Susanne Bier's taut direction, the twists keep coming and nothing is quite what it seems,' suggested the San Jose Mercury News. 'Kidman at the centre of it all delivers one of the best and most nuanced roles of her career,' added NPR. 'The first episode really is terrific, just less so than Big Little Lies. It's worth seeing for the Kidman-Grant acting duel and Donald Sutherland as Kidman's infinitely arrogant and judgmental father,' wrote TV For Grownups' Tim Appelo. The Metro's Keith Watson said The Undoing had 'an uncanny knack of digging its fingers under your skin. That's because, above all, it's a show which, though you might hate yourself for it, leaves you with the nagging need to know which of these rich folks is the rottenest of them all.' 'The series remains a highly entertaining watch with a compelling mystery that viewers will be compelled to see through to the end,' claimed the Radio Times. Then there was the opinion of From The North's Keith Telly Topping who considered that you would have to be a brain-damaged moron (or, the victim of a cruel medical experiment) not to find something worthwhile about The Undoing; not least in the performances of Kidman, Grant, Sutherland, a grand two-episode cameo by From The North favourite Janel Moloney and the claustrophobic atmosphere. And, if that recommendation doesn't have you at the very least intrigued, dear blog reader, then maybe the Gruniad's description of the series as 'truly gripping' will do the trick? Occasionally, the Gruniad do get it right. Remember, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. 
23. What's The Matter With Tony Slattery?
'Mental illness is a highly democratic disease. It can hit anyone.' A Cambridge contemporary - and Footlights colleague - of Stephen Fry, Huge Laurie and Emma Thompson, Tony Slattery's appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway? made him a comedy and improv star in the 1980s. But then, his life fell apart; in the mid-1990s, after leaving Whose Line, Slattery suffered what he described as 'a midlife crisis' - triggered by cocaine and alcohol addiction. Slattery claims that he does not remember how much he spent on Charlie during that period but 'would not be surprised' if media reports that it was four grand per week were accurate. As he approaches sixty, Tony has recently returned to stand-up for the first time in two decades, with a show which explored his past and his mental health issues. Diagnosed with depression, he and his partner of thirty years Mark Hutchinson have always been convinced there was more to it than that. Clare Richards' extraordinary Horizon documentary examined a diagnosis of bipolarity with specialist Professor Guy Goodwin. In the programme - which also included an appearance by Slattery's old friend and fellow bipolar sufferer Fry - Slattery met with consultant psychiatrist Professor Ciaran Mulholland who suggested that Slattery continues to suffer from the effects of the trauma of childhood abuse. Goodwin concluded that Slattery was on the bipolar spectrum, but that his main challenge is his alcohol dependence. Like so many people with complex mental health issues, Tony was never going to be easy to diagnose. Bipolar disorder is characterised by severe, disabling highs and lows over which the sufferer has little or no control. 'No-one in their right mind chooses to be depressed,' Slattery told Fry at one point. But, the programme ended positively with Slattery reducing his alcohol intake and being able to accept that he can take steps to improve his mental health. 'A moving study,' according to the Gruniad, What's The Matter With Tony Slattery? 'doesn't provide any easy answers - and is all the better for it,' considered GQ. The Evening Standard called it 'a sensitive portrait of comic's struggles after blinking out of the public eye.' It was 'tough to watch the brightest of stars so dimmed,' added the Torygraph. The Times' summed up the impact of the documentary saying that it was about 'how a comedian's tragedy was redeemed by love.' That was the salient point; the programme was, ultimately life-affirming and brought a flood of public empathy and praise for Slattery's bravery in making so naked a portrayal of his illness. Tony himself was reportedly moved by the public reaction saying in an interview on the Today programme that it was 'a privilege' to speak to experts about such issues which, he noted, are 'widespread, regardless of class or upbringing or money. There was denial,' he added. 'I thought, "look, some things happened a quarter of a century ago, I'm sixty now, [it was] when I was eight, what is the point?"' A subsequently announced publishing deal provided an elegant postscript to the story. 'In this celebrity culture people can become billionaires overnight for nothing,' Tony told the Daily Scum Express. 'But in lockdown I decided to put my fat arse on my seat and actually write something. Because if people from Love Island can do it, then so can I!'
24. Qi/Would I Lie To You?
Let's face it, a year (even this year) simply wouldn't be a year without these two perennial favourites making an appearance in From The North's annual 'Best Of' list. For no other reason than the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' principle. Although, again, production on both comedy favourites was, badly, affected by this Coronavirus malarkey. In the case of Qi, the show was nine episodes into production on its R series when lockdown occurred. Two further episodes were then filmed without a studio audience and proved to be, sadly, disastrous (the fact that one of them featured both the annoying Holly Walsh and scowly-faced misery-guts Bridget Christie didn't help matters, admittedly). It was something which few of us had previously considered but, in truth, it's always been the audience which makes Qi. (Another long-running BBC comedy format, Have I Got News For You, had a similarly awkward transition from a live-in-the-studio production to being filmed using Zoom during March and April. That didn't work very well either.) According to a report in August, some further R series Qi episodes were to be recorded with a 'virtual' audience. At least the first nine episodes were, mostly, up to the usual standard and, in particular, this blogger was delighted to see the righteous Benjamin Zephaniah making his Qi debut. Would I Lie To You? got the last few episodes of its thirteenth series out of the way early in the year before The Plague hit town but, thereafter there was silence on when the show would return. Finally, came the welcome news - via Reddit - that another batch of episodes had been filmed (importantly with audiences) in October, though there has been no announcement yet when they will be broadcast. And yes, dear blog reader, series regular, From The North favourite and national treasure Bob Mortimer will feature in one episodes (as will another much-loved contributor, Miles Jupp). Thankfully, Dave's virtual wall-to-wall repeats of both shows have kept audiences entertained as they contemplated the inherently ludicrous nature of existence. 
25. Only Connect
'I gained a stone in weight during lockdown. What achievement are you most proud of?' Like Qi and Would I Lie To?, Only Connect has been a regular feature in From The North's annual 'Best Of' lists for the last decade. Because, it's bloody brilliant as well as aesthetically pleasing. According to its host, 'the show the BBC calls "a cost-effective content-provision for focused-demographic-sectors,"' Only Connect is an example of the Beeb doing its Reithian thing, informing, educating and entertaining all at the same time. A quiz show with fiendishly difficult questions to which, if you manage (as this blogger usually does) to get one correct connection before either of the teams each episode, you feel like an intellectual. And, presented by the divine Goddess Victoria Coren Mitchell, it is never smug or arrogant in its stressing that using ones intellect is not - whatever various monobrowed tabloid lice may suggest to the contrary - a bad thing. Indeed, Only Connect is a warm and inclusive conceit and, most importantly, it's great fun. And, as long as it exists, there will be a welcome place for it both on the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House tellybox and here on From The North. This year, as usual, saw the BBC continually messing around with the scheduled start time for Only Connect on Monday evenings. When Victoria had a bit of a whinge about this on Twitter, Nigella Lawson (she has he knockers) replied, apologising since it was a new series of Nigella: Cook, Eat, Repeat which had caused the change. This led to a brief, but extremely beautiful, Interweb love-in between the pair of From The North favourites. Television, dear blog reader. Is there anything it can't achieve?
26. The Third Day
'Something appalling happened here. And, it's raging inside.' Created by Felix Barrett and Dennis Kelly for HBO and Sky Atlantic, The Third Day chronicled the individual journeys of a man and woman who arrived on an isolated island at different times. The production was split into three interconnected elements. The first, Summer, directed by Marc Munden, followed Sam (Jude Law), who is drawn to a mysterious island where he encounters locals set on preserving their traditions at any cost. The second part, Autumn, was broadcast as a twelve-hour live 'event.' Described by the producers a 'major immersive theatre event,' the segment was shown in one continuous take and was intended to allow followers of The Third Day to 'inhabit the story as it happens.' The third part, Winter, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, followed Helen (Naomie Harris), who came to the island seeking answers, but whose arrival precipitated a fractious battle to decide its fate. The impressive cast also included Katherine Waterston, Paddy Considine and Emily Watson. The Third Day 'falls prey to nagging predictability just as it wows with evocative atmospherics and excellent turns from Law, Harris, Watson and Considine,' considered IndieWire. 'The fear [was] it might pull a Lost and amount to nothing. But by the third episode it's clear that's not the case,' wrote the Detroit News. Other reviewers complained about occasional 'narrative missteps' and 'under-development' but, for all its meandering plotlines and occasional The Wicker Man riffs, as The Times noted, 'If nothing else, the series is an unusually intense exercise in unease.' 'I couldn't stop watching it,' suggested Camilla Long. 'An enthralling, mesmerising experiment between TV and theatre,' said the Observer. 'Every episode is so atmospheric and well-written that it deserves to be savoured,' added Entertainment Voice. 'Wildly ambitious and mesmerising,' wrote The Stage. It was, indeed, all of those things. It was also visually spellbinding, superbly acted and - proving that complexity is not crime if you can take your audience with you - a qualified commerical success for the broadcasters on both sides of the Atlantic. And that, dear blog reader, in a TV drama climate in which many executives seem to believe that if you can't provide an explosion every thirty seconds audiences will lose interest, is something worth celebrating.
27. Star Trek: Picard/Star Trek: Discovery
'I came here to find safety. But one is never safe from the past.' Keith Telly Topping wasn't sure what to expect from Picard to begin with (except that it would, in all likelihood, be an epic nostalgia-fest for old Next Generation fans like this blogger; which it was, admittedly, but in a good way). What this blogger liked most about it was that it was a continuous narrative, a heroes journey and a character piece all rolled into one. But, it also included examples of explosive set-piece violence about once per episode. And, let's face it, dear blog reader, one can never have too much of that. Anchored by the incomparable Patrick Stewart with his usual bijoux timing, Picard departed from standard Starfleet protocol with a slower, serialised story - which wasn't popular with all Trekkers, indeed some were downright horrified by such shenanigans. But, like all great Star Trek (notably this blogger's beloved Deep Space Nine) it tackled timely themes with grace and made for an exciting push further into the Final Frontier.
'How much did you leave behind?' 'Nine hundred and thirty years.' As for Discovery, which started its third series late in the year, as previously noted this blogger liked it from the start though it did take a few episodes to work out what it wanted to be (the entire first episode being, effectively, a pilot for a series we never got, notwithstanding). This blogger adored last year's second series, however; yer actual proper Star Trek, that was. The early episodes of the third series were also great but, again, it had reformatted itself into a completely different series (third time in three years so, to be fair, it's consistent at least). Effectively, this is what Voyager should've been, but wasn't. There are many things wrong with the world, dear blog reader, but at least the Star Trek franchise seems to have remembered what it did that made it's productions so all-pervasive in the first place.
28. Schitt's Creek
'I was just hugging my kids.' 'Why?' Given the year we've had, 'comfort TV' has never felt more essential - and, indeed, many examples of the type appear in this year's From The North 'Best Of' list. It's fitting, then, that this charming Canadian sitcom - celebrated for its inclusive and 'normalised' portrayal of LGBTQ characters - made a record-breaking sweep at the EMMYs for its sixth and final series. Awards went to both the show's cast and to its writer, Daniel Levy. Gaining global appeal after landing on Netflix, the highly binge-watchable show follows the impossibly rich Rose family who discover that, after losing their wealth, they have to relocate to a small Canadian town which they once bought 'as a joke birthday present.' Former video-store chain owner Johnny (Eugene Levy), soap-star matriarch Moira (Catherine O'Hara) and their children, hipster David (Daniel Levy) and socialite Alexis (Annie Murphy) have to face humiliating hardships and figure out what it really means to be a family. Bridget Read of Vogue wrote that while the series 'started off with typical fish out of water scenarios,' it has 'fully come into its own, with a whole cast of Twin Peaks-meets-Christopher-Guest-universe characters that are as equally endearing.' New York Magazine said the show 'takes a few episodes to get into its groove, but once it does, you'll never want to leave.' The series has featured on annual 'Best Of' lists published by the likes of Esquire, Glamour, The New Yorker and Variety and, in the UK, the Standard. Schitt's Creek is likely to be the funniest TV show you've never seen, dear blog reader. So, if you were looking for a single reason to buy a Netflix subscription, this is probably it.
29. Quiz
'When I'm at home I guess wrong eighty per cent of the time.' Based on James Graham's play and the book Bad Show: The Quiz, The Cough, The Millionaire Major, Quiz told the infamous story of how Charles Ingram, a former Royal Engineers officer, won the million knicker jackpot on ITV's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in 2001. Followed, quickly, by a criminal trial in which he and his wife - and, some bloke they knew with a nasty cough - were convicted of deception and publicly disgraced. It was directed by Stephen Frears and consisted of three episodes broadcast over successive evenings in April to huge audiences. The cast included Matthew Macfadyen, Sian Clifford, Helen McCrory and a truly extraordinary performance by Michael Sheen as Millionaire's then host, Chris Tarrant. Chris showed himself to be a good sport, reportedly enjoying the portrayal ('he's far prettier than I ever was, so I'm flattered'). His son, Toby, said the first publicity photo of Sheen as his father was 'brilliant.' He joked on Twitter: 'If there's a scene where he passes out on the sofa watching TV with a glass of whisky and mumbling to himself then it will be like I'm twelve years old all over again.' 'The earnestness with which this is all treated may reflect accurately what goes into the genesis of a show, but to see it played straight (Mark Bonnar's intensity as creator Paul Smith seems to have come from a different kind of drama) is deeply off-putting, even if it does make you realise why TV people are generally so hated,' sneered some waste-of-space at the Gruniad. With exactly the sort of atypical 'aren't we so clever?' full-of-their-own-importance arrogance that gives hippy Communists, in their pot-stinking bivouacs, with their multiple Mumford & Sons CDs, an - entirely deserved - bad name. Other reviewers, thankfully, were far less cocksplash-esque: 'As compelling as the show that first inspired it,' said Variety. Ocean's Eleven Meets Middle-Class Wiltshire added Radio Times who also noted that 'beneath its hilarious exterior, ITV's series about Who Wants To Be A Millionaire's coughing scandal smuggles in some prescient lessons about fake news and press harassment.' A Brilliant, Big-Hearted Romp Through One Of The Great British Scandals Of The Century suggested the Independent whilst the Torygraph critiqued Quiz as 'a belter of a drama that's almost too outlandish to be true.' 'Is it too late to ask for a Tarrant-centric spin-off when he travels around the country solving murders in a van?' wondered Metro. Sheen's beautifully nuanced take on Tarrant was a major attraction, of course - albeit, to the shock of millions, an ITV continuity announcer claimed before the final episode that Martin Sheen would be playing Chris Tarrant in the forthcoming episode. We may never be able to watch Apocalypse Now again without having that image stuck in our heads, dear blog reader. Michael, of course, first carved out a career in portraying real-life people - from David Frost to Tony Blair via Brian Clough and Kenneth Williams - and his uncanny impression of Tarrant made for compelling viewing. The Gruniad's misery-guts review did, at least, contain one sliver of accuracy; TV dramas about TV shows can go in one of two ways. They can be brilliant or they can get so wrapped up in self-mythologising that they run the risk of masturbating to death on their own marvelousness whilst forgetting there are viewers who don't work in the TV industry and couldn't give a stuff what an executive producer does to justify their existence (and, their eye-watering salaries). Thankfully, this was an example of the former even if it still gave the impression that everyone in the industry views all aspects of life through TV-related eyes. As, for example, when Aisling Bea's Claudia Rosencrantz - an ITV executive at the time before she turned the Living Channel into an obscene wall-to-wall Jade Goody shrine - stated at the beginning of the last episode: 'I love an ITV court room drama.' 'Quiz [was] so engrossing, funny and pacy I forgot about Coronavirus for three hours,' claimed the Daily Mirra. In 2020, dear blog reader, that was as much as anyone could ask from an evening's television viewing.
30. Devs
'If you came for answers ask me what you don't know.' Ex Machina director Alex Garland made a return to cerebral SF for his first venture onto TV. FX's Devs bore all the director's usual trademarks, including striking futuristic visuals and a foreboding score and asked some Big Questions about humanity's place amid technology's limitless possibilities (albeit, with occasional examples of disappointing mumbo-jumbo dialogue). Garland regular Sonoya Mizuno starred as Lily, a software engineer at Amaya, a quantum computing firm in Silicon Valley. When her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) disappeared a day after taking up a position in the company's vacuum-sealed research division, Lily enlisted the help of cybersecurity specialist and ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha) to discover the truth about the eccentric company CEO, Forest (Parks & Recreation's Nick Offerman) whom she believes to be responsible. A hauntingly beautiful meditation on humanity, Devs' slow unfurling may have tested some viewers' patience, but fans of Garland will have found much to appreciate. Brian Tallerico described the series as 'stunningly ambitious' and stated: 'It's ultimately an unforgettable and rewarding experience' concluding it was 'one of the best new shows in a long time.' CNN added that it was 'a mind-blowing concept that doesn't entirely come together at the close, but which remains unsettling and provocative throughout.' The New York Times characterised Devs as 'showcases what Garland does well - ideas and atmosphere - while amplifying his weaknesses in character and plot. As the techies say, it scales - for better and for worse.' The newspaper interviewed theoretical physicist Sean Carroll about the sweeping statements on humanity and determinism by the creators of both Devs and Westworld. When asked which he preferred, Carroll responded, 'I was very impressed with how [Devs' creators] were doing something very different. I thought it was a well-done show. It was slow and contemplative, but that's a perfectly good change of pace from what we ordinarily see in action movies.' Premiering in the UK on BBC2 in April, the series drew a positive reaction from the Gruniad, the Independent and the Radio Times. 'Bold and intelligent' said the latter. An apt summation of an extraordinarily different drama.
31. What We Do In The Shadows
'The problems with living with other vampires are the vampires I have chosen to stay with.' This blogger once wrote a book about British horror movies (now back in print, if you're at all interested). In his review of Hammer's Dracula AD 1972 Keith Telly Topping wrote: 'Exploitation cinema is always at its finest when polemic and dogma meet head-on and, instead of producing the expected gestalt of social-comment, ends up with a mélange of clashing and fractious statements. Dracula AD 1972's like that. It so desperately wants to be a serious, po-faced observation on important youth culture issues. Instead, by the sheer banality of its construction, the film comes over as Carry On Biting, full of unexpected laughs at, literally, every turn.' Which is as good a place to start when discussing What We Do In The Shadows' twilight, demi-monde world as anywhere. Set in Staten Island, What We Do In The Shadows - which began in 2019 - follows the lives of 'traditional' vampires, Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja, Colin, an 'energy' vampire and Guillermo, Nandor's familiar. The series revolves around the centuries-old vampires interacting, usually disastrously, with the modern world. Featuring From The North favourite Matt Berry (as a former porn actor-turned-vampire who enjoys making topiary sculptures of vulvas), it's really funny. Seriously, if you've never seen it, dear blog reader, you need some of this in your life. 'It may well be the funniest show on TV,' considered Starburst. 'It's like The Munsters of our time, but more subversive for a cable audience,' added the Boston Globe. On Rotten Tomatoes, the consensus was: 'What We Do In the Shadows loses no steam in a smashing second season that savvily expands its supernatural horizons while doubling down on the fast flying fun.' Once upon a time, the idea of tackling a genre with sacred cows as both sacred and bovine as the vampire story with jokes would've been ridiculous; but, as this spiritual heir to Once Bitten, The Lost Boys, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel proves, there's little that is funnier to sink ones teeth into.
32. Westworld
'I was born into this world and my first memories of it are painful.' The third series of the Dystopian SF drama (subtitled The New World) premiered in March with a complete reformatting following the shattering conclusion to 2018's series. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson and Ed Harris all returned whilst Aaron Paul and Vincent Cassel were added to the cast. The story took place in 2058, three months after the events of the series two, with Dolores having escaped Westworld along with a few processing cores, including Bernard's. In Los Angeles, Dolores develops a relationship with Caleb and learns how artificial beings and lower-class humans are treated in the real world. Meanwhile, Maeve finds herself in another part of the park, one based on Fascist Italy during World War II. William, who also left Westworld, is now haunted by visions of his daughter, Emily. And of Dolores. Initially receiving very positive reviews, reception became more mixed during the second half of the series. Reviewers praised the performances, visuals and change in tone but whinged about the complexities of the story and the somewhat meandering pacing, as well as a perceived lack of thematic depth. CNN wrote that 'the show has become increasingly incomprehensible, at least for anyone not willing to put in the work trying to remember all the assorted connections, further complicated by the fact that dying in Westworld is often not a permanent state of affairs, amid the questions about who's truly human and who actually isn't.' Entertainment Weekly said: 'After spending three seasons struggling through maddeningly complicated time-loops, it's time the writers let Dolores, Maeve and Bernard control-alt-delete themselves' while another review added that the series had 'lost its way.' Reviewing the finale IndieWire considered that the series had 'made a point of stripping away the rest of Westworld's building blocks: The park? Left behind. The maze? Gone. But the moral questions meant to keep you invested in the characters largely disappear, too. Season three doesn't bother developing its characters because it refuses to let them question the nature of their own reality.'
Other critics were somewhat kinder - 'this is a zanier, sillier Westworld and much more entertaining for it,' said The Atlantic. 'A fun, engaging thrill ride across a rich, dystopian landscape that should bring some former fans back into the fold,' added the NME. 'It's a thrilling, chilling notion that speaks to our contemporary fears about data-mining by huge corporations,' wrote the Herald. 'Part of me finds its unwavering pretentiousness just a little more ridiculous than I suspect it is intended to be,' suggested the Gruniad. 'But even at its most pompous and silly, Westworld remains a thrill-a-second and ironically, given that it loves a Big Question, it's best enjoyed when not thinking too deeply about the answer.' And, believe Keith Telly Topping, dear blog reader, if there is anyone that knows all about being 'pompous and silly,' it's the Gruniad. For what it's worth, this blogger loved it; as he noted at the time, the production already had Keith Telly Topping's attention long before Evan Rachel Wood straddled a motorbike in the opening episode whilst wearing the shortest skirt in TV history. Plus, the tool-stiffeningly violent gunfight at the end of the episode was worth the entry fee on its own. This blogger is a simple man, dear blog reader, with simple tastes. And, there are times where that's not a bad thing. 
33. Code 404
'Jesus!' 'No. But we both came back from the dead!' A crime comedy-drama produced by Kudos, Code 404 premiered in April on Sky One and starred Stephen Graham and Daniel Mays with Anna Maxwell Martin, Rosie Cavaliero and Tracy Ann Oberman. Detective John Major (Mays) is killed after a failed sting operation, but the Met brings him back as part of an experimental artificial intelligence project. Major immediately goes on the hunt for his killer, dragging his still-shocked partner, Roy Carver along for the ride. 'This comedy only just about works,' claimed some twonk at the Independent. Thankfully, the reviewer at the Evening Standard got the joke, writing: 'This silly mix of Hot Fuzz and Robocop is a comedy that doesn't need decoding.' Precisely. 'The script, by Daniel Peak - Horrible Histories and Not Going Out - was wacky and in these troubled times it pressed all the right buttons.' The sight of some of this country's leading dramatic actors - notably Graham - cheerfully camping it up in a comedy was a sight to see, dear blog reader. 'The boffins have created a Six Million Dollar Dickhead,' noted the Chortle website. 'As the rebooted John Major, Daniel Mays is a brash, cocky alpha-male, rushing into one stupid or foolhardy action after another. "Monitor him for abnormal behaviour," officers are told of their new work-in-progress colleague. That might be tough.' The Art Desk was also highly positive. So was the Torygraph. This blogger thought it was a right good laugh, dear blog reader. In a year where such things have been in, sadly, short supply.
34. The Vow
A documentary revolving around the NXIVM cult and its leader, Keith Raniere, the series premiered in August on HBO and two months later on Sky. The Vow follows members who joined the 'self-improvement group' - whose leader, Raniere, was subsequently convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy, among other crimes - and reveals the emotional toll on the victims. Former members Sarah Edmondson, Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, Nippy Ames, Barbara Bouchey, Susan Dones and Toni Natalie appear prominently in the series, alongside the journalist Frank Parlato who did initial reporting on the criminal activities of NXIVM and the New York Times reporter Barry Meier. Catherine Oxenberg also appears as she attempts to rescue her daughter, India, from membership of the cult. A recently commissioned second series will focus on Raniere's trial and a continued look inside his inner circle - including the former Smallville actress Allison Mack, currently awaiting sentencing for her own (possibly lengthy) spell in The Slammer. Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer did not, initially, set out to make a documentary about the cult, but after Noujaim took a NXIVM course after being recruited by the Seagrams heiress Sara Bronfman, they began to hear rumours of abuse within the organisation. Production initially focused on Edmondson, Vicente, Piesse, Ames and Oxenberg as a way to document their escapes from NXIVM as they were fearful of being sued by the notoriously litigeous leaders. Rotten Tomatoesconsensus was: 'Though The Vow's scope at times exceeds its reach, its empathetic approach to unpacking NXIVM's manipulations and the consequences therein make for necessary, difficult viewing.' A number of reviews praised The Vow's intimate exploration, measured pace and extensive footage, though some criticised its occasionally abstract storytelling. The Gruniad wrote that 'as a portrait of manipulation and, in particular, the masking of female abuse through self-effacement, the series is darkly compelling, unnerving in a way that's hard to shake,' but he conceded '[it] deceptively muddies the timeline of the group's development.' Variety said that 'The Vow pushes back against its slack pace to become television that compels - both for the access it has and for what it does with that access.' Vanity Fair was more critical: 'The Vow meanders through the downward arc of a cult's fall, but gives us little sense of its history.' The AV Club attributed the 'wasted nine hours' and 'selective content' to the filmmakers' desire to 'get ahead of the curve with their own narrative' and compared The Vow unfavourably with another documentary on the same subject, Seduced: Inside The NXIVM Cult, by Cecilia Peck and Inbal Lessner. Maureen Ryan of the New York Times, in an otherwise positive review described The Vow as 'only scratch[ing] the surface.' 'What makes The Vow addictive is the filmmakers' obvious depiction of an all-too-common vulnerability in the modern age, which is a lack of satisfaction, a starvation for community and a profound need to lead a life of purpose and meaning,' said Salon.Com. 'The Vow does a service to its subjects by humanising their plight-and to its audience by helping us understand,' added Time. The extent of the group's abuse, as detailed in court, in the New York Times exposé and several memoirs was, indeed, nauseating. But the most horrifying details overshadowed a far more deceptive road-to-ruin for many of those involved. Hence, the value of The Vow in taking its time to tell the full, scarcely believable story.
35. The Nest
'It's an extraordinary ask, isn't it? To bear a child for someone.' A drama starring Peaky Blinders' Sophie Rundle and Line Of Duty's Martin Compston as a married couple unable to conceive with Mirren Mack as the eighteen-year-old who offers to be their surrogate. Broadcast began in March and, over the following five Sunday nights picked up audiences in the seven-to-eight million range for BBC1. 'For quite a lot of the first episode I wasn't wholly sure whether I was watching a thriller at all, or whether it was all supposed to be more about Middle-Class hypocrisy, or underclass desperation, or parenthood, or fertility, or what,' sneered some ring-piece at The Times who wouldn't know quality if it gave them a haircut. Other reviews were kinder. 'Nicole Taylor is the writer behind the BAFTA success Three Girls and it shows: in this, she's given us not just a twisty, whose-motive-is-it-anyway thriller but also, so far, a pointed exploration of the rights and wrongs of surrogacy,' said the Observer. 'There is plenty going on in this sophisticated melodrama and its complexity is delicious,' added the What She Said website. 'Some of the show's plotlines and future reveals are obvious right from the get-go, but perhaps that's the point - we're watching a desperate couple walking into what appears to be a trap of their own making,' opined Radio Times. 'It all makes for a gripping exploration of a highly charged subject, the plot bubbling with danger as clues are dropped,' wrote Metro. The writing and the acting were first class, of course - one would expect nothing else from Taylor, Rundle and Compston - whilst the intensity of Mack's performance was compelling to watch, skirting the sometimes shifting border country between earnest and unhinged. The plot was complex, the relationships deeper than normal for this type of drama and it included a thoroughly sharp moral critique of the consequences of economic inequality. All this, plus some spectacular Scottish locations (filmed mostly around Glasgow and East Kilbride). The Scotsman considered that it deserved a second series. There is yet to be any official confirmation as to whether The Nest will return though Taylor is reported to be keen on a continuation.
36. Save Me Too
'This is not the end of it.' Written by and starring The Walking Dead and Line Of Duty's Lennie James, Sky Atlantic's Save Me was one of 2018's best shows. The crime drama, set in South London with a cast including Suranne Jones, Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch and Stephen Graham, was such a critical success, that a second series commission arrived hot on the finale's heels. Lesley Manville and Ade Edmondson joined the cast this time around (the latter in his best performances in anything in two decades at least). The subject matter was, of course, distressing but seldom, if ever, gratuitous. The focus remained on parents grieving for a lost daughter and what to do with that grief when the news cycle and the police have moved on to other things. Save Me Too delved deeper and took even those viewers familiar with series one on a journey they probably didn't expect. 'A gripping thriller with emotional heft,' said the Gruniad. And, again, this is one of those occasions where the broken clock was correct.
37. Alan Bennett's Talking Heads
'Nobody normally gets killed round here.' This remake of Alan Bennett's acclaimed monologue series featured an all-new cast and two fresh monologues - An Ordinary Woman and The Shrine. Originally broadcast in 1988 and 1998 and featuring a host of talent including Thora Hird, Maggie Smith and Patricia Routledge, the new Talking Heads starred Jodie Comer, Maxine Peake, Martin Freeman, Lesley Manville, Kristen Scott Thomas, Sarah Lancashire and many more. Standout episodes included Comer as the aspiring actress Lesley in Her Big Chance (previously played by Julie Walters) and Tamsin Greig as Rosemary in Nights In The Gardens Of Spain (which Penelope Wilton once portrayed). Perfectly suited to production under lockdown (one actor, one camera, one - pre-existing - Elstree set), Talking Heads was, as some prick at the Gruniad sneered, 'as gloriously miserable as ever' (in an appallingly offensive example of hippy Communist twattery which sought - and failed - to parody Bennett's oeuvre. For merriment and japery, presumably). Yes, it was - and that's why it worked; in 1988, 1998 and 2020. Because some things are consistent and misery happens to be one of them. But, importantly, misery also loves company and Talking Heads was a really good companion for lockdown. 'These maudlin, piercing, funny/sad vignettes are best savoured, not splurged. Bennett's world is an uncomfortable place to linger,' wrote Screen Daily. There was a lot of misery about relating to Talking Heads; 'miserable' was a word which also cropped up in Metro's review ('Great-but-miserable stories that are as powerful now as they were thirty years ago'). And, in The Stage's review ('Magnificent misery'). And, in the Independent's review ('with its heady mix of misery, claustrophobia and barbed-wire wryness, Alan Bennett's Talking Heads is perfect for revival as we negotiate the long, strange summer of Covid-19'). And, probably, in just about every other review of the series. This blogger isn't saying that all TV critics have a limited imagination, dear blog reader, but, when it comes to Alan Bennett ... Nevertheless, misery can be good. The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Glengarry Glen Ross ... Turf Moor on a wet Wednesday night in January. You get the general idea? Talking Heads was The Queen Is Dead of misery, if you like, rather than the 'Burnley 0, West Bromwich Albion 0 with four minutes of injury time to go' variety. Another Gruniad review (marginally less sneering than the previous one, though only marginally) described it as 'still a masterclass in storytelling.' And, a miserable one at that.
38. Blood Of The Clans
'For centuries, the Scottish Highlands have been a law unto themselves. Two kingdoms, one king.' Long-term From The North favourite Scottish Neil Oliver (and his lovely hair) presented this ostentatious drama-documentary series telling the tales of Scotland's most epic and bloody conflicts and the characters who made their mark in a memorable era of the country's history. Reviews were good with positive comments from the Herald ('Even if Oliver's style was not to your taste, you were guaranteed to come away having learned something'), the i ('a compelling tale') and the National Scot ('You know that bloody scene near the start of the first episode of Games Of Thrones where Sean Bean chops off the head of a Night's Watch deserter with a sword on a hillside while his men stand and watch and nobody looks like they've had a shower or a shave or a haircut or even moisturised for about a decade beforehand? Now imagine that, but with Neil Oliver popping up from time to time to witness the dramatised action and comment on it'). And, even from the Daily Scum Mail ('the presenter himself avoided the temptation to dress up. Instead he wore a crumpled cotton jacket and a straggling neckerchief, looking as though he'd slept in his clothes as he whispered to us from shadowy corridors or the corner of a tavern. His clan chieftains, meanwhile, were all silky moustaches and flowing locks. It was as though ... Crosby, Stills and Nash had gone to war with Jethro Tull'). There was also a really angry and discombobulated explosion of bile from a website called Highland Historian, the author of which does not appear to like Oliver at all. Ooo, pure dead vexed about Neil (and his lovely hair) and all his doings, so this chap was. Bad experience with a Hawkwind LP at an early age, was it? No matter, this blogger thought Blood Of The Clans was highly entertaining and so, seemingly, did the majority of the audience.
39. Vera/Endeavour
A three-episode seventh series of Endeavour - Russell Lewis's Inspector Morse prequel - was broadcast in February, taking Endeavour Morse into a new decade as he and the Oxford CID team investigated the discovery of a body on a canal path on New Year's Day 1970. Shaun Evans not only returned as the lead, but also directed one episode. Like its fellow ITV crime drama Vera - enjoying its tenth series with the excellent Brenda Blethyn - Endeavour seldom seems to crop up in many critics lists of 'must see-telly.' Yet, on an average Sunday night early in the year - pre-lockdown, remember - audiences of eight or nine million for these fine dramas are not uncommon. And, not even remotely undeservedly either. This type of show is something that British telly does so well and so effortlessly that it's hardly surprising the rest of world's TV industries looks at Britain with awe whilst all the box-set bores at the broadsheets are too busy cock-slurping Netflix, the latest Scandi-noir they've just discovered on BBC4 or some - probably illegally downloaded - 'gritty HBO drama' to even notice what's right under their noses. Sometimes, dear blog reader, the most surprising things are there. But, only if you actually go looking for them. Plus, this blogger loves doing the location-spotting thing whenever a new episode of Vera rocks up, given that most of it is filmed within a ten mile radius of the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House. Even if they do, sometimes, screw it up by having a character turn right in front of St Nicholas's Cathedral and then find themselves, not on Mosley Street but, instead, half-a-city away on Clayton Street West. Careless! Both Vera and Endeavour were, as expected, commissioned for further series; the former has been spotted out and about in Gatesheed filming in a socially-distanced way, so we should probably expect those episodes to be broadcast early next year. The latter, however, has been subject to an enforced hiatus. It's an ill-wind, dear blog reader, that blows nobody any good.
40. Dare Me
'There's something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.' Dare Me, the show run by Gina Fattore and novelist Megan Abbott, was a potent, trenchant exploration of spiky female friendship, the emotional complications of small-town America and the glory and pitfalls of heeding desire above all else. Told through a distinctly noir lens, Dare Me concerns the overheated lives of a group of cheerleaders whose carefully constructed equilibrium was disrupted by the arrival of a new coach in the form of Colette French (a beguiling Willa Fitzgerald). This was especially true for the controlling firecracker, head cheerleader Beth Cassidy (Marlo Kelly) and the yearning Addy Hanlon (Herizen Guardiola), whose story anchored the series. The show boasted fine-tuned writing and superb performances from Kelly and Guardiola that further illuminated the complex dynamics of race and sisterhood which underpinned the drama. 'Visceral, if at times vapid, Dare Me's slow-burning thriller pairs nicely with its moody atmospherics to create a deft exploration of the interiority of teen life,' declared Rotten Tomatoes.
41. Hunters
'You know what the best revenge is? Revenge.' The recent Oscar-winner Jojo Rabbit showed how difficult it can be to handle the Holocaust on-screen - thus, all credit to this Amazon series written by David Weil and executive produced by modern horror maestro Jordan Peele, for somehow managing to walk a tricky tightrope between providing stylised, suspenseful entertainment and honouring the unimaginable crimes against humanity which occurred in Auschwitz and Dachau. Set in 1970s America, it tells the story of a group of Jewish vigilantes, led by Al Pacino giving his finest performance in years, who are on a mission to hunt down surviving Nazis who have inveigled their way into the American establishment. As much as anything else, it makes for a stinging - and, horribly au currante - parable about how neo-fascism is never far away from us even in our liberal democracies. Its release came at a time where the rise of anti-Semitism, white supremacy and other forms of scummish, hateful bigotry had significantly increased throughout the world. Weil, however, felt 'casual' forms of anti-Semitism had taken place throughout his life. 'I think as a young Jewish kid growing up on Long Island, there are feelings of wanting to be powerful,' he told the Digital Spy website. 'You rarely see Jews depicted as superheroes; as having might and strength. They're often nebbishes or Woody Allen or very intellectual. But to have power to reclaim your place and get justice for your ancestors is definitely a wish-fulfilment. And that's what Hunters became.' Hunters received very mixed reviews, with praise for its premise, messages, action sequences and performances, but some suspiciously agenda-soaked criticism for its historical inaccuracies and, specifically, its conclusion. The Boston Globe summarised the show as 'audacious, tonally complex, not always in control of its message, visually arresting and, particularly in its grim flashbacks to the brutalities and the courage in the death camps, moving.' On the other hand, some smear at the Detroit News - who would have done great things if he'd been part of Comrade Corbyn's Labour shadow cabinet, no doubt - labelled it 'uneven, awkward, often dull' and 'sort of yucky.' Reviews debated Hunters' revenge fantasy premise and Nazi subject matter, specifically, as 3AW's noted, 'the oft-raised issue about exploiting one of the most horrific man-made events in history for our entertainment. Can the show be seen as an indirect tribute to the work of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal? Or is it just bad taste? Can it be both?' This blogger is with Weil in believing that it can. Writing in the Gruniad, the Jewish writer Charles Bramesco praised the drama's 'shameless, gory, Nazi-killing catharsis' and added that 'the show does its viewership the service of assembling a squad of Nazi-hunters who hate their marks with every fibre of their souls and letting the folks at home share in the vicarious thrill of getting bloody justice. That the show goes so far over the top must, surely, be the point.' The fact that the main Gruniad review published a week earlier was an offensively pusillanimous example of liberal queasiness - which included the disgraceful claim that Hunters 'fetishises the horrors of the Holocaust' - is, once again, reason enough why you should probably seek out Hunters if you haven't already done so.
42. Gangs Of London
'We're born into a certain world. It's chosen for us. Some might think it's brutal. I say it's glorious.' Gareth Evans came to public attention with the 2011 action movie The Raid. In April, he made his TV debut with this Sky Atlantic/HBO co-production. Gangs Of London took place in a capital torn apart by international criminal gangs. For twenty years, Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney) was the most powerful crime boss in the city. Billions of pounds flowed through his organisation each year. But now he's dead and nobody knows who ordered his murder. With rivals everywhere, it's up to his impulsive, borderline-psychotic son, Sean (Joe Cole), with the help of the Dumani family headed by Ed (Lucian Msamati), to take his father's place. If the situation wasn't already dangerous enough, Sean's assumption of power causes ructions on the streets with the Albanian Mafia as well as Kurdish freedom fighters, Pakistani drug cartels and Welsh travellers. In the middle of this is Elliot (Sope Dirisu), who appears to be a low-level employee of the Wallace family and a prime opportunist but who is, secretly, undercover Old Bill. GQ described it as 'a strong early contender to be the best show of the summer.' 'The highly choreographed action scenes are nothing short of stunning, but series creators and action-movie veterans Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery know that it's the characters that really do the heavy lifting,' added the Sydney Morning Herald who also called the show 'like Succession for psychos.' 'Joe Cole gives a memorable performance as he channels his inner Al Pacino with a calm and calculated menace, while Sope Dirisu delivers the action chops,' considered IGN. 'The violence and head-splattering gore are relentless and it's perfectly choreographed fight scenes could be mistaken for a much darker version of Swan Lake. This one is not for the faint-hearted,' said the Two Minute Telly website. Aided by fine performances from the likes of Michelle Fairley and Valene Kane, it managed to avoid a few of the expected clichés of gangster-drama whilst cheerfully embracing many others. Gangs Of London was loud, flashy, a bit schizophrenic and very violent. 
43. McMillion$
'This story has got everything. Revenge. Drugs. Greed ... Ronald McDonald!' At the beginning of this century, dear blog reader, a scam enabled numerous people to fraudulently win millions of dollars from the McDonald's Monopoly®™ promotion. How that happened - and how an FBI investigation determined those responsible - is at the core of this fascinating HBO documentary series filled with 'you have got to be kidding me'-type moments. McMillion$ goes deeper than that, however, revealing the long-term pain and guilt which affected many of those involved in the scheme as well as their families, all because of what may sound, at first, like a relatively harmless - and victimless - con. Using in-depth interviews with those involved in every aspect of the crime, McMillion$ offered an insider's view into one of the most notorious fraud cases of recent decades. 'Like something out of a movie, McMillion$ effectively - if not always artfully - captures the chaos of this once-in-a-lifetime, very real con and the colourful cast of characters at its centre,' noted Rotten Tomatoes. 'Compassion, not chaos, is the key to McMillion$ success' added IndieWire. The storytellers carefully shifted tones, sucking viewers into an outlandish story before driving home its substantive impact. 'Arguably about one episode too long, it nonetheless drilled down with panache into the semi-fascinating lives of a staple of American fiction' wrote the Observer. The - delicious - central allegory of a story concerning rapacious greed and McDonald's couldn't be faulted, of course. Irony? It's something your mum does with your shirts after washing, dear blog reader.
44. A Greek Odyssey With Bettany Hughes
'Even here in the hot tub, it's clear that the Greek tradition of "Philoxenia" - welcoming strangers as friends - is still going strong.' Historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes has been a great favourite of From The North since her groundbreaking Channel Four series The Ancient World in the early 2000s. Like fellow From The North favourites Janina Ramirez, Lucy Worsley and Alice Roberts, Bettany is the coolest history supply teacher we never had, full of enthusiasm, cheeky humour and fascinating atom bombs of information. Now a regular on Five, her latest series A Greek Odyssey was set against the backdrop of the beautifully picturesque Mediterranean as Bettany embarked on a journey to reacquaint herself (and us) with the Greek Islands and their vast mythology. From the islands themselves to deep beneath the sea, Bettany unpacked their history as she discovered shipwrecks of Roman ships and took an in-depth look at the legend of the Minotaur. 'For thirty years I've had a love affair with the Greek islands,' she told Nicole Russell. '[I loved] the journey of Odysseus - the legendary Greek warrior who fought in The Trojan War and who then had to make a ten year journey home facing all kinds of adventures and challenges along the way; monsters, shipwrecks and women determined to seduce him. I've longed to follow in his path.' 'Bettany sees the tradition of a warm Greek welcome is very much alive today on Chios, fifth largest of the islands, situated in the Northern Aegean Sea,' wrote the reviewer at News Letter. They were referring to the bit where she went swimming whilst still telling her story to camera. Impressive multitasking. Then again, she is a Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, it's hardly surprising she can do two things at once. All this, plus 'thigh flashing Spartan girls'. What more could anyone ask?
45. The Shipman Files: A Very British Crime Story
'All the old people liked him.' Chris Wilson's three-part documentary on Britain's most prolific serial killer, Doctor Harold Shipman, was a worthy sequel to its predecessor in BBC4's A Very British Crime strand, Liza Williams' 2019 The Yorkshire Ripper Files. Like Williams' series, Wilson had his own specific agenda to push (in Williams' case it was uncaring 1970s attitudes towards sex workers; Wilson's focus was on society's appallingly dismissive view of the elderly). Aside from wanting to know quite how Shipman managed to get away with murdering an estimated two hundred and fifty victims under his care and discussing numerous opportunities to have stopped his homicidal spree sooner (convicted of forging prescriptions for pain-killers in the 1970s, for unknown reasons the GMC chose not to withdraw his medical licence), most of Wilson's ire was directed at media perceptions of his victims. The vast majority were pensioners and Wilson saw Shipman's activities as part of a wider issue - the lack of value we tend to place on those who have, it is felt, 'had a good innings.' Wilson particularly highlighted media depictions of Shipman as 'Doctor Death', killing old women by the score and contrasted it with the revelation made during Dame Janet Smith's inquiry into his shameful doings that a handful of Shipman's earliest victims, during his time at Pontefract Hospital, may have been young children. Murdering the old was one thing, as far as the media was concerned Wilson suggested, but kids? That was something else entirely. Using archive footage from a - genuinely disturbing - World In Action episode from 1983 in which Shipman had appeared discussing treatment of the elderly and the mentally ill Wilson raged, not without justification, at the the prevailing prejudices that older lives don't really matter. 'They were old, they would have died anyway,' was the phrase which was the most chilling and yet, tragically, the most authentic-sounding. Reporter Nicci Gerrard, who covered Shipman's trial, noted: 'There was no real sense of these being full and rich lives. It was a silent massacre.' As the son of one of Shipman's victims said of his mother who was, initially, thought to have died peacefully at home aged eighty one, they believed she'd had 'a 'millionaire's death' (that is painless and following a full life, well-lived). And, of course, the irony was that it was Shipman's greed which got him caught - forging a will for one of his patients, Kathleen Grundy, which raised the suspicions of her family. If he hadn't done that, Wilson suggests, there's a more than decent possibility he could have carried on with his awful deeds for many years afterwards (he was, after all, only fifty three when he was apprehended by the police). Although well-reviewed for the most part (notably in the Torygraph), sadly, Wilson's impassioned essay found a few detractors. Like the Irish Times ('repetitive and rather unfocused. He had the documentary maker's terrible habit of putting himself the centre of the story, starting numerous sections with, "I wanted to find out about ..."') and the i (who, snivellingly, described it as 'a lacklustre film that fails to compete with Netflix's true-crime docs' as though that is, in itself, a TV crime). Both of these reviewers, seemingly, objected to Wilson continuing to raise the same questions and provide the same conclusions about how Shipman got away with it for so long, a disappointingly tasteless use of TV reviewing lacking both a moral compass and, frankly, a heart. Some horrific louse of no importance at the Daily Lies, meanwhile, found half-a-dozen malcontents on Twitter whinging about a surfeit of crime documentaries and drama on television that week in an article which claimed BBC Viewers Demand Change To Schedules As Chilling Harold Shipman Documentary Airs. 'Demand', please note, not 'ask politely' which might have been a more effective tactic. All of which goes to prove, dear blog reader, that serial killers are not the only worthless lice currently inhabiting the planet and using up valuable resources.
46. Springwatch
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 series of the BBC's popular natural history format, starting in late May, did not come from a central base as it always had in the past. Instead each presenter appeared from a location near their home, respecting guidelines on social distancing. Chris Packham - joined by his zoologist step-daughter Megan McCubbin - was in the New Forest, Iolo Williams in Montgomeryshire and Gillian Burke in Cornwall. Although she sent a video message from her home in South Africa, Michaela Strachan was unable to return to the UK to participate. Steve Backshall was guest presenter during the first week, from his home on the Thames, with Gordon Buchanan presenting from Loch Lomond National Park in week two and Ellie Harrison in the Golden Valley, near Stroud, in week three. The first Thursday episode started - at 8pm - with the presenters joining the national 'Clap For Our Carers.' Except, that was, for Gillian due to her proximity to some wild beavers at the time. Hopefully, the beavers appreciated this. The Gruniad (predictably) loved it. The Independent loved it ('a green jewel in the BBC's crown'). Even the Daily Scum Mail loved it (though they couldn't resist a nasty, agenda-soaked dig about viewers, allegedly, 'preferring' the lockdown format based on a handful of such comments on Twitter - which is, of course, The Sole Arbiter Of The Worth Of All Things these days). The nation also loved it - a, necessary, oasis of calm for an hour each night where we could relax and be assured that whatever the human race is doing to screw-up the planet, nature will somehow find a way to survive. Packham kicked-off the opening episode with a ruminative, emotionally-charged intro, referencing the 'extraordinary Spring of 2020,' saying that while everyone was having to adapt to 'unprecedented times,' the natural world offered 'solace' and 'therapy'. He isn't a national treasure for nothing, you know? 'There's never been a more important time for us to take the time to appreciate the wildlife outside our window,' Packham told viewers. Autumnwatch followed in October (with a returned Strachan) - again, exactly at a time when what we all really needed was a damned good dose of therapy.
47. Mrs America
Created and co-written by Davhi Waller this drama detailed the political movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and the unexpected backlash led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in the 1970s. It featured a large - and very impressive - ensemble cast led by Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Elizabeth Banks, Margo Martindale, John Slattery and Sarah Paulson. It would be more than enough to recommend Mrs America for the performances alone. Blanchett as Schlafly was the headliner, but the series was brimming with unbelievably great work from Byrne as Gloria Steinem, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm and a quite stunning turn from Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan. That line-up had been the source of some pre-broadcast concern about the show; there was an idea that, perhaps, Mrs America unfairly centred on Schlafly instead of the more progressive women of her era, or that in telling a story about her, it would seek to excuse her obnoxious behaviour. But, thankfully it didn't. Over its full series, Mrs America instead situated Schlafly inside a wider web of her enemies and allies, focusing on other women to illustrate exactly how damaging and heartless Schlafly's gender-politics became. She was the villain of the piece and the series made no excuses for that or for her. But while it sketched a hostile portrait of Schlafly, Mrs America also managed to pull off an adept demonstration of the power and limitations of second-wave feminism. James Poniewozik, writing in the New York Times, called it 'breathtaking' and 'a meticulously created and observed mural that finds the germ of contemporary America in the striving of righteously mad women.' He also praised the cast, singling out Blanchett's tour de force ('Her final scene, wordless and devastating, might as well end with Blanchett being handed an EMMY onscreen'), Ullman ('tsunamic as Friedan, the outspoken Feminine Mystique author now raging for relevance in the current wave of feminism') and Martindale ('a tornado in a hat, a piquantly funny force of personality'). Judy Berman of Time suggested Waller's history as a writer for Mad Men and Halt & Catch Fire was 'evident in Mrs America's vivid, complex depiction of our country's recent past ... This degree of moral, political and philosophical complexity is what differentiates Mrs America from so many other recent dramatisations of women's movements past.' Berman also considered that the series 'does the feminist movement justice by refusing to sanitise it.' The Hollywood Reporter called the series 'a tremendously executed balancing act' and added 'there's no denying that Mrs America makes history come alive, in thoughtful and achingly real detail.' Predictably, the series also came under fire from scumbag conservative groups over the allegedly 'inaccurate' depiction of Schlafly declaring it to be 'Hollywood liberal propaganda.' Which was funny considering what an objectionably confrontational and downright nasty piece of work Schlafly was. As Caryn James wrote in her review for BBC Culture: 'Schlafly's cultural conservatism included working against abortion rights and same-sex marriage, issues that have become political lightning rods again in the Trump era. The series pointedly reminds us that Schlafly’s blinkered version of the US never really went away.' As alleged 'liberal propaganda', of course, the Gruniad lapped it up. So, intriguingly, did that bastion of liberalism, the Torygraph. So did the Scum Mail Group-owned Metro (which observed: 'Given television's acknowledged liberal bias, you'd justifiably expect a hatchet job' before deciding that was, actually, far from the truth). Truly, dear blog reader, we are living in a strange, topsy-turvy upside-town world.
48. Britain By Balloon
'An aerial trip over Britain,' Five's Britain By Balloon did exactly what it said on the tin. And, it was the perfect antidote to those long Sunday nights in April and May when the entire country was banged-up in their gaffs and, frankly, by that stage were climbing the bloody walls. 'We may be staying away from beauty spots, but this programme offers a way to experience them from your own home,' noted the Daily Scum Mail which was rather rubbing people's noses in their own enforced isolation. Nevertheless this was simple, undemanding, calming and - not for nothing - beautiful 'slow television' of the kind we've highlighted in a couple of previous From The North 'Best Of' lists (here and here, for example) which has become increasingly popular with older viewers. Those who are, perhaps, somewhat jaded by the constant diet of noise and shouting on television these days and who, every now and then, simply like to look at something quiet, pretty and, more important this year than any other, safe. This blogger, who hasn't yet received his free bus pass, nevertheless falls into this category. Not every TV programme needs to have a format which is loud and flashy and down wid da kidz with the hippin' and the hoppin' and the baseball cap on backwards. Older people watch TV too, you know? And, so do balloonists for that matter.
49. We Hunt Together
'Every decision we make is proceeded with so many thousands of tiny factors that are completely beyond our control.' A new take on the classic cat-and-mouse crime story, We Hunt Together explored the dangerous power of emotional manipulation and the intoxication of sexual attraction which can lead to dire consequences. Hermione Corfield played Freddy who is charming, highly intelligent and, most importantly, a complete and total bloody psychopath. Dipo Ola was Baba, the opposite of Freddy - a former child soldier, damaged yet compassionate. However, his chance encounter with Freddy awakens his predisposition for mayhem and the pair's lust for one another creates a deadly cocktail of manic ultaviolence. From The North favourite Eve Myles and Babou Ceesay, meanwhile, played Detective Sergeant Lola Franks and Detective Inspector Jackson Mendy who are thrown together to work on a high-profile murder case. Their unconventional relationship and differing opinions cause conflict during the investigation and this, coupled with Lola's inability to deal with her own demons, has the potential to push them to breaking point. The Hollywood Reporter, in an otherwise rather sniffy review, nevertheless was fulsome in its praise of director Carl Tibbetts' 'gorgeously haunted London.' What's On TV described the series a 'gripping,' whilst the Torygraph was impressed with the 'classy cast.' This blogger thought it was highly impressive with its brooding atmosphere of damaged menace. Made by BBC Studios and broadcast on the, somewhat obscure, Alibi Channel (and Showtime in the US), the series also guest-starred Kris Marshall and was quickly renewed for a second series.
50. Match Of The Day Top Ten/Sky Cricket Lockdown Vodcast
As the Coronavirus pandemic began to really bite and country-wide lockdown became a terrifying reality, one of the first things to go was organised sport. Through those darks days of March, April and May, with football and cricket both being something we used to watch, Sky Sports (and, to a lesser extent, the BBC) tried to work out what to do to keep those, like this blogger, suffering from Cold Turkey withdrawal symptoms entertained. The concept of turning previously established (but little-watched) online vodcast chats into actual TV programmes arrived in the nick of time to save the sanity of the sport-deprived. Thus, we got Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright deciding - via Zoom - what were the greatest ever Premiership matches on one side and the likes of Ian Ward, Rob Key, Nasser Hussain and David Lloyd making up their best test elevens from the last two decades on the other. The slight downside was that both Match Of The Day Top Ten and Sky Cricket Lockdown Vodcast continued an annoying recent trend of, effectively, suggesting that cricket only began in 1990 when Sky obtained the broadcasting rights and football (1966 and all that, aside) didn't kick-off till 1992 when the Premier League began. Nevertheless, both of these formats were welcome dollops of entertaining raiding of the archives and, most importantly, fun at a time when their audiences really needed some. These were like the best pub arguments you've ever taken part in, only this time featuring people who, for the most part, actually knew what they were talking about. Match Of The Day even managed the almost impossible task of making Ian Wright into a vaguely likeable human being (something that two decades of previous appearances across various channels had, wholly, failed to achieve). Thankfully, of course, the summer brought some easing of the squeezing and football and cricket (and F1, cycling, athletics, tennis and, even, Christ help us, snooker and darts) did, eventually, resume. Albeit all of them inside their own - socially isolated - bubbles. And we could, at last, watch some sport that wasn't a previously well-remembered (or, occasionally, half-forgotten) repeat. Which, apart from helping the mental health of the nation immeasurably, also reminded us about why sport is so vital as both a participation event and as a viewing spectacle. That came when - during the first England versus West Indies test - Michael Atherton, whilst sardonically reading out various tweets he'd received celebrating the resumption of club cricket that weekend, was prompted to inform viewers that one 'Hugh Jardon' had just taken six-for-nine for Cockermouth. Which made the summer, frankly. Bowling googlies on a sticky wicket, one imagines. Whilst the slip-cordon stood with their legs apart waiting for a tickle. Nah, lissun.
Also mentioned in dispatches: Cold Feet, The Windermere Children, Britain's Favourite Walks, Tony Robinson's History Of Britain, In Search of Dracula With Mark Gatiss, Stumptown, Evil, Avenue Five, Tunes For Tyrants, Wild Animal Babies, The Deuce, This Country, Belsen: Our Story, Defending Jacob, Cheer, Inside Number Nine, Little America, Bojack Horseman, Frankie Boyle's Tour Of Scotland, Unorthodox, Better Call Saul, The Blacklist, Grayson's Art Club, Dead To Me, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, Home Before Dark, Giri/Haji, Brassic, On The Record, The Pale Horse, Flesh & Blood, White House Farm, Feel Good, Sex Education, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Pen15, Sitting In Limbo, In My SkinArt Of Persia, The Luminaries, Cobra, Semi-Detached, Empire Of The Tsars, In The Long Run, Little Birds, Condor, Barkskins, Lovecraft Country, Race To Perfection, Albion, Everything: The Real Thing Story, George V: The Tyrant King, World War Weird, Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia, An American's Aristocrat's Guide To Great Estates, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Ghosts, Watchmen, Life, Tin Star, Honour, Out Of Her Mind, Has Covid Stolen My Future?, Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council, Adult Material, Industry, His Dark Materials, The Mandalorian, The Virus: What Went Wrong?, Small Axe, Strictly Come Dancing.
The opening episodes of The Queen's Gambit and the latest series of The Crown arrived at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House just as this bloggerisationism was in the process of being completed. Both will, likely, feature in 2021's From The North awards. Meanwhile ... 

Thirty Programmes Which Were, Frankly, Neither Use Nor Flamin' Ornament:-

1. Jack Whitehall's Father's Day/Jack Whitehall's Sporting Nation
We've been here before, of course, dear blog reader. Many, many times previously. But, the question needs to be asked again. Just who, exactly, is it that keeps giving this odious, worthless, lanky streak of rancid, obnoxious piss, this waste of oxygen a portion of this blogger's hard-earned licence fee to make television programmes which have no worth and even less likeability? This blogger is, frankly, flummoxed and would love an answer to that question, dear blog reader. Because whomsoever it is desperately needs a damned good talking to. As to what Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall needs, this blogger will refrain from further comment for fear of crossing the boundaries of acceptable criticism, taste and decency. Except to note that we have laws in this country which ought, in theory, to protect people from such cruel and unusual punishment as programmes featuring Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall. In the year that comedy geniuses like Terry Jones and Tim Brooke-Taylor sadly left us, the outrage that Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall is alive and getting paid as well is the final, necessary, proof that There Is No God.
2. The Masked Singer
The Masked Singer originated in South Korea - as King Of Mask Singer (it loses a lot in translation) - and was developed by the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation. The British version began in January with a judging panel of Jonathan Ross, Davina McCall, Ken Jeong and Rita Ora. Who tried to guess the identities of a series of z-listers, out-of-work performers and various other desperate souls who couldn't find themselves a proper job who were all doing karaoke-style renditions of pop classics. All whilst wearing oversized masks and looking either completely ridiculous or genuinely terrifying. Sometimes both. Among those behind the masks were the likes of CeeLo Green, Denise Van Outen, Skin (no, me neither), Kelis, former footballer Teddy Sheringham and EastEnders' Patsy Palmer along with one or two people that this blogger used to, actually, have a bit of respect for. Like, for instance, Nicola Roberts, Jason Manford and the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, though the latter only lasted one episode. Still why, Alan? Why for the love God, why? Wasn't being in Ed Millimollimandi's shadow cabinet enough excitement for one lifetime? Nicola eventually won the 'coveted' title though, sadly, that didn't mean she was likely to have an actual hit single this side of the next Girls Aloud reunion. So, no change there, then. Perhaps the nadir of this strange malarkey was reached in episode three with someone whom we later discovered to be The Darkness singer Justin Hawkins warbling his way, unsteadily, through 'True Colours'. Ten-out-of-ten for comedy value, certainly but, really, is this what passes for light entertainment in 2020? Well, seemingly, it is because the series (broadcast before The Plague hit town, remember) achieved quite decent-sized audiences for ITV (the final was watched by over seven million punters) even though it gave the Torygraph the excuse to use the word 'preposterous' in a reviewing context. Which, let's face it, is never a chore for any TV reviewer. A second series was commissioned before the first one had even finished. This entered production - in a socially distanced bubble - in September. It was also announced that Mo Gilligan (no, me neither) would replace Jeong on the panel. None of this, however, prevented The Masked Singer from being a singularly rotten idea, presented with ITV's usual hysterically overblown sense of pompousness and noise (Ross, in particular, spent the entire series bellowing gormless inanities to camera after every performance) and, ultimately, being a perfect example of The Emperor's New Clothes. The Masked Singer was much like life, dear blog reader. Life, that is, as described by Macbeth - full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
3. Total Wipeout: Freddie & Paddy Takeover
So, to sum up, former England cricket legend Andrew Flintoff (nice lad, bit thick) and odious professional Northern berk Paddy McGuinness, after broadcasting careers of varying degrees of shite, found themselves as the BBC's latest inheritors of the Top Gear presentation gig (along with the third one that no one can remember the name of). Despite the BBC's extremely dubious efforts to convince everyone that the once-popular motoring show is now more popular than ever (it isn't, as previously discussed), their latest wheeze was to revive a format once fronted by one of their Top Gear predecessors, Richard Hamster. And then, to shoehorn this couple of guffawing pastinaceous planks into it in the hope that people will forget what Oscar Wilde once said about sarcasm. Too late. In doing so they gave the Torygraph reviewer the perfect opportunity to say what everyone else was thinking: Top Gear Duo's Banter Was A Load Of Big Red Balls. He probably gave himself the day off after he came up with that line, to be fair. 'Total Wipeout is a simple, entertaining game show, but this highlights package is trampled on by the inane wittering of Freddie and Paddy,' he added. 'The first episode aired on 8 August 2020 and received negative reviews,' Wikipedia noted and, if you look up the phrase 'that's rather understating the matter' on Google, dear blog reader, you'll find this right at the top of the list. Hardly anyone had a kind word to say about it and the whole futile exercise was, rightly, lambasted, by just about every critic with access to a PC and some vitriol to spare. 'Is the future of TV Freddie and Paddy shouting over old shows?' asked the Gruniad before adding, helpfully, 'let's hope not.' Indeed. BBC Slammed For 'Ruining' Iconic Total Wipeout With Paddy McGuinness was the Daily Star's headline. Jesus, that was bad news for the production - when an organ of the media as traditionally 'lowest-common-denominator' as the Daily Lies cannot summon up any enthusiasm for your show, you know you're in trouble. After What Paddy McGuinness Has Done To Brill Total Wipeout, Take Me Out And Shoot Me added the Sun's Ally Ross. Which had the serendipitous brilliance of being both an incisive piece of critique and, also, a jolly good idea at the same time. This blogger has never made any secret of his utter loathing for McGuinness, a one-trick pony whose one-trick is about as funny as finding out you've got cancer of the buttocks. (Even his co-star described him as 'a liability' in an interview with the Metro.) But, Freddie Flintoff seems to be a jolly likeable chap; he was a great cricketer, he's a fun interview subject with a decent ability to deliver pithy one-liners and his BBC documentary, Living With Bulimia, was a touching, brave and absolutely worthwhile conceit which gained widespread praise. Sadly, his career as a comedy broadcaster has seen Preston's finest take one misstep after another (starting with the woeful A League Of Our Own which you may be horrified to discover is still running, dear blog reader). Given the BBC's seeming desperation to make everyone forget that Top Gear existed before 2019, perhaps we should be expecting the Freddie and Paddy takeover of Toy Stories or Cars Of The People next year?
4. Harry Hill's World Of TV
In the 1994 The Simpsons' episode Bart Gets Famous, Bart's brief flirtation with fame as The 'I Didn't Do It' Kid becomes a subject of ridicule on a radio talk-show. Discussing the subject of 'one-trick ponies', one of the hosts notes: 'Boy, did that get old fast!' Which, when you think about it, is a fairly accurate summation of Harry Hill's entire schtick. TV Burp was, admittedly, pretty good when it started, but that was over a decade ago and, everything Hazza has done since then - a whole series of formats for a variety of different broadcasters - have been about as funny as a big hairy wart suddenly appearing on one's chap-end. 'It's been eight years since Harry Hill ended his run of TV Burp on ITV,' lamented the i's reviewer. 'It was splendidly stupid, funny and most likely the basis on which the comedian's new series, Harry Hill's World of TV, this time on BBC2, was commissioned. Unfortunately, it didn't hold a candle to the original.' She went on to describe the show as 'a decidedly unfunny trip through soap history.' 'Its ambience was hampered by being a lockdown clip-show so it didn't have the guest interaction that gave TV Burp its manic energy,' added The Times. Perhaps inevitably, some plank at the Gruniad Morning Star claimed they had rather enjoyed it. But, sadly, this was just another example of the diminishing returns in Hill's rapidly dwindling career. Was it as thoroughly wretched as Hill's notorious 2015 revival of Stars In Their Eyes? No, it wasn't - to be fair, not a single programme on this year's 'Worst Of' list (not even one featuring Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall) was that horrific. But, World Of TV still wasn't very good. And, when you're coming off the back of half-a-dozen previous duds like Harry is, that's not a good place to be in.
5. Rich Kids Go Skint
Each year, as regular as clockwork, From The North's annual 'Worst Of' lists always seem to include at least one example of a strand of factual telly which is, seemingly, beloved by executives and producers who can't afford an original idea - 'life-swap telly.' In which someone from a particular lifestyle is given the opportunity - for a brief time and, presumably, for plenty of money - to experience 'how the other half lives.' This, in the past, has led to such gross disasters as 2009's offensive horror The Duchess On The Estate, the same year's crass, ignorant Mel B vehicle Seven Days On The Breadline and 2011's genuine curiosity Geordie Finishing School For Girls among many others. Quite why executives and producers so love this type of programme is unknown since very few of them ever get any sort of audience to speak of. Largely because most viewers can spot a pile of hypocritical diarrhoea a mile away. Any hint of realpolitik aside, it's possibly because they're relatively cheap to make. Most of these formats involve a process known as 'poverty tourism' - as with last year's horrorshow The British Tribe Next Door, for instance. In which people from, let's be charitable and say 'fortunate' backgrounds pretend to be stinking dirt-poor for a week in a living embodiment of the lyrics of Pulp's 'Common People'. 'It's a prime-time TV bait formula: a person from one background - "rich" - is thrust into the lives of a family from another background - "poor" - and entertainment ensues,' as described by the Evening Standard. It's also patronising and offensive on just about every level. Rich Kids Go Skint was the latest example featuring a handful of the titular 'rich kids' (not the post-punk band of the 1970s in case you were wondering) who were paired up with families 'not as wealthy as them' and were, usually, required to do basic everyday tasks such as food shopping, cooking dinner and washing up. All of this giving them - it was claimed - 'an understanding of how living with a small amount of money can be incredibly hard for the families.' No shit? Seriously, if you need a TV show to convince you that it's not much fun being poor, you're probably already a lost cause to humanity. Four series of this bloody disgrace have been produced so far and broadcast on the 5Star channel. The most recent was right at the back end of 2019 - so late, in fact, that it avoided making last year's From The North list. But, it's never too late to hand out a well-deserved pants-down punishment beating to something as repellent as this. And, to name-and-shame those responsible. The executive producers of Rich Kids Go Skint are Asif Hasan and Nick Parnes, the producer is Roger Oldham and the editors are Gruff Lovgreen and Ian Golf. All of whose families, one assumes, are pure-dead proud of them. An early episode was criticised by the Daily Mirra - Rich Kids Go Skint Brat Blasts Single Mum's 'Bad Decisions' As She's Forced To Swap Hefty Allowance For Three Pounds-A-Day Budget. 'Blasts' being tabloidese for 'criticises' ... only with less syllables. Of course the 'brat' involved - a teenager named Jodie - was not 'forced' to do this or anything even remotely like it; rather, she was hired by a TV production company (and, presumably, well-paid) to do this and to get her whinging boat-race on telly into the bargain. The Sun was, similarly, unimpressed with another 'rich kid', Andrea, for saying he 'hopefully wouldn't be going to a council house.' Particularly not as his parents had lumbered him with a girl's name. One presumes the pay-cheque was some compensation for Andrea having to rough it for a week (if not for the naming fiasco). In the most recent series, it was the Daily Scum Mail's turn to get all righteously indignant about the antics of another one of these over-entitled lice. A tip for the tabloids; maybe, just maybe if you stopped writing articles about this horrible format, people might stop watching it and they would stop making it (let's face it, it hasn't got much of an audience anyway if it's broadcast on 5Star). 'Some genuinely sweet moments unfold. But most are awful,' concluded the Standard. 'Where do they find these people?' Now, here's an idea for TV executives; if the next series of Rich Kids Go Skint featured a reunited Glen Matlock, Steve New, Rusty Egan and Midge Ure having to live in abject poverty in a rat-infested slum for six months, that might actually be worth watching.
6. Little Mix: The Search
How ironic it was, dear blog reader, that 2020 should have seen not only Alison Ellwood's fascinating and - genuinely touching - documentary about a group of five women who made their mark in the harsh world of the music business (see above) but, also, this disgraceful abomination. Little Mix: The Search was a reality competition which began on BBC1 - that's BBC1, for Christ's sake - in September. In which the titular girl-group - Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards and Jesy Nelson - judged a winning act who would join them as support on their Confetti Tour scheduled for next year ... Unless we haven't emerged from lockdown by then, obviously. Which would be a terrible tragedy as that would render this entire balderdash as pointless. Or, let's qualify that, even more pointless than it already was. That was the extent of what this production - paid for by my (and your) licence fee money, remember - wished to achieve, dear blog reader. Whilst The Go-Go's served as an inspirational example of young women who could write their own songs, play their own instruments and create their own destiny this risible ... thing amounted to an eight-episode advert for the manufactured group (who, let's remember, themselves first emerged from a show-with-a-voting-element, The X-Factor in 2011). In case you think this blogger is guilty of an element of snobbery here, let it be noted that manufactured pop groups are not a problem for him - The Monkees were a manufactured pop group and they were sodding brilliant (and, they once toured with The Jimi Hendrix Experience as their support act. You can be certain that match-up wasn't decided by a phone-in vote). Also manufactured, in their own way, were The Sex Pistols. This blogger always rather admired The Spice Girls and reckons Girls Aloud's Ten is one of fifty finest singles compilations made by anyone. But this lot, who do not appear to have an over-abundance of brain-cells, are symptomatic of everything that is wrong with music, television and indeed society in general in the Twenty First Century. As famous for their 'product endorsements' (clothing, perfume) as for anything as dangerous as making a half-way decent record. Once upon a time, dear blog reader, you actually needed a modicum of talent to achieve much in the pop world - or, failing that, a Malcolm Gladwell-style ten thousand hours of practice and a decent idea of what you're hoping to achieve. There's nothing at all wrong with looking pretty and wishing to make as much money as possible - that's as rock and roll as it comes; from Elvis to Olly, from The Beatles to Boyzone, from The Supremes to The Bangles, from Oasis to ... No Way Sis. What is offensive - and vaguely sinister - is when that's all the ambition you have. At the same time as they were appearing in The Search, meanwhile, Little Mix were also involved in a series of - again, entirely self-promotional - adverts for Compare The Market Dot Com. In which they were acted off-screen by a couple of CGI meerkats. Simples. That - and archly horrific rubbish such as Little Mix: The Search - seems to be the 2020 version of going on a six month package tour of cinemas and town halls a few decades ago. Proof that, in so many ways, society has actually regressed with the passage of time. The 'highlight' of Little Mix: The Search - some laughably piss-poor overnight ratings figures, notwithstanding - occurred on 31 October when an episode of the series was hastily postponed due to Boris Johnson's announcement of a reintroduction of lockdown in England. Which proves that what ones mother always used to tell us was true; every cloud does have a silver lining. One of this blogger's fiends on Facebook noted that night's episode of Strictly was going ahead but 'it seems, Little Mix are expendable.' If only wishing made it so, dear blog reader.
7. Rolling In It
Presented by Stephen Mulhern - so that's a big flashing neon warning sign before we've even made it to the end of the first sentence - Rolling In It is a game-of-chance which sees three contestants play alongside some of their favourite z-list celebrities in a bid to go home with a big cash prize. 'But they will need to have luck on their side because everything could change at the roll of a coin,' announced the pre-publicity. Three teams - made up of the player and their z-list celebrity partner - 'have to roll a coin down a moving conveyor belt towards slots which are labelled with large cash sums to win, though also "Bankrupt" slots which mean the player loses everything. As the game progresses, the money values get larger and as a result, so do the penalties.' If anyone lost the will to live whilst reading that description, dear blog reader, don't worry, you are not alone. 'ITV's new game show borrows from the seaside arcade game Roll A Win and is just as tedious,' said the reviewer in the i. Rolling In It Viewers Brand Stephen Mulhern's Game Show Most "Brutal Show Ever" claimed the Metro. 'A repetitive game show just like all the others,' added the Newsbreak website. That says it all, dear blog reader. Unoriginal, tedious and instantly forgettable.
8. Make Me Famous
'A reality TV fable without much of a moral,' according to the Independent, Make Me Famous was a sombre BBC3 - yes it does still exist, apparently - drama created and written by Reggie Yates. Billy (Tom Brittany) appears on a constructed reality series titled Love Or Lust. When he impresses the producers of the series, he believes his life is set to change forever. A year after the show has been broadcast, many of Billy's co-stars are doing well in their newly-forged 'celebrity' careers, but Billy struggles to balance the fame, social media and the assumptions people have made about him, which result in him having self-confidence issues. Noble in intent, it may have been and it featured one horribly realistic sequence (Billy attempting suicide due to online hate, which was filmed a day before the death of real-life Love Island-type individual Caroline Flack, who committed suicide whilst awaiting trial for assault due to, it was claimed, broadly the same reason). There was, nevertheless, something really rather skewwhiff and tacky about that particular tragedy being used as a specific selling point in Make Me Famous's pre-publicity. There is also, sad to say, something genuinely hypocritical about a man like Yates, who started as a child actor before making his name fronting kids shows with Fearne Cotton on CBeebies, having a go at TV for ruining people's lives. Think how many young viewers were traumatised by the sight of you and Cotton swanning around like you owned the gaff in Mighty Truck Of Stuff and Only In America, mate. They're mostly still in therapy. In fact, the worst trauma that Yates himself has suffered in his media career was when he made some dreadful, borderline anti-Semetic, remarks on a podcast and had to grovellingly apologise and resign from hosting Top Of The Pops. Mind you, this blogger will cut the man who voiced Rastamouse some slack at least. Nevertheless, Make Me Famous never seemed quite able to decide if it was casting a jaundiced eye into the mirror of reality TV or merely reflecting back viewers' own pre-conceived ideas about the state of 'celebrity' in the Twenty First Century. In any sort of decent, more tolerant world those unfortunate people whose lives are blighted by their own unwise desperation for fifteen minutes in the spotlight would escape the unremitting glare of media intrusion. And, therefore, there'd also be no need whatsoever for Reggie Yates. So, yeah, let's do that, then.
9. The First Team
An alleged 'comedy', created by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, best known for their work on The Inbetweeners - and, if that wasn't enough to put you off before this series even started, dear blog reader, then don't say you weren't warned. The First Team followed Mattie (Jake Short), Benji (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah) and Jack (Jack McMullen), young players at a fictional Premier League club. The show received almost entirely negative notices from the cognoscenti, being described as 'a football sitcom fit for relegation,' with particularly harsh criticism from the Gruniad ('there's only so long you can watch bored footballers playing FIFA') and Radio Times ('it's hard to shake the view that most film and TV based on the sport tends to be a bit naff, with few managing to capture the on-pitch drama and absurdity off it'). Over The Moon? Not With This Second Division Comedy added the Torygraph. 'The squad are ignorant, vain, self-obsessed, incompetent boors,' noted the reviewer of the Church Times (who, to be fair, didn't seem bothered by this and added 'it's very funny indeed' - which it wasn't). This blogger loves football, dear blog reader. He also loves comedy. But, put them together on television and the combination seldom, if ever, works - the, thankfully almost completely forgotten, ITV sitcom Feet First (1979) being a classic example of why. Because it was crap, basically. There are some thing that just don't belong together - chips and custard, for example. Or Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall and any TV series with an ounce of dignity or self-respect. 'There was no rhythm and far too many characters - more than twenty names on the cast list for the first episode and that's before you count real-life celebrities such as Jurgen Klopp,' said the Daily Scum Mail. 'The First Team just isn't ready for the big time. Back to the training ground.' A good idea. In fact, now would seem to be a good time for The First Team to spend a season out on loan. Not in The Championship, obviously, that's still way above their level. What about the BetVictor Isthmian League?
10. Rob & Romesh Versus ...
For the second year running Romesh Ranganathan features in From The North's 'Worst Of' list which - as noted in 2019 - is sad because this blogger really does have quite a bit of time for Romesh and his comedy. Tragically, he keeps on picking some right proper bollocks to appear in (It's Not Rocket Science, The Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan, Judge Romesh and, of course, most disgraceful of the lot, A League Of Their Own). This turgid Sky vehicle pairs him with the terminally-unfunny buck-toothed specimen Rob Beckett and sees the couple 'travel around the world taking on challenges.' No one actually asked them to do this, of course, but they do it anyway. For our entertainment, allegedly. And, for their wallets. 'Rob is the giggling excitable one, while Romesh, aided by a sleepy right eye which conveys a sense of harsh judgmentalism [sic], adds a blast of deadpan scepticism,' noted The Arts Desk. Tragically, the British Comedy Guide website claimed that 'another series is in development.' Is it too much to hope, dear blog reader, that this pandemic gets worse and kills us all so we never have to see it?
11. After Life
The latest vanity project for From The North ... whatever the opposite of 'favourite' is, Ricky Gervais. That's all you need to know, really dear blog reader. It's got that cheeky ragamuffin scallywag Ricky Gervais in it. It's, therefore, self-indulgent, very mean-spirited and not even half as funny as it thinks it is. And you should probably avoid watching it as you would avoid stepping in a dog-turd in the middle of the road. 'Gervais can do so much better than this bafflingly popular mess,' claimed the Independent. This blogger begs to differ.
12. Z-List Celebrity Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly
And, speaking of dog turds, the z-list 'celebrities' (with dogs) in this particular case being Denise Van Outen, Russell Watson and Michael Owen. The latter's Staffordshire bull terrier, Ronnie, had apparently 'gone berserk' and 'has attacked dogs in the past.' That's nothing - his malingering little shit of an owner once spent four years being paid a fortune to lie on the treatment table at this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies. So, the fact that the dog is a bit of a wrong 'un too is, frankly, not that much of a surprise. This blogger is aware that not everything on television has to be I, Claudius, World In Action or Twin Peaks: The Return. There is room for the frivolous, the bland, the lightweight, the 'never-mind-just-switch-your-brain-off-and-watch-some-pretty-pictures' varieties of TV programming. This blogger is neither immune nor averse to all four of these. However, Michael Grade's infamous statement about the value of content when he was ITV executive chairman had then and still has much merit to it. Grade said that the broadcaster had to get out of the habit of copycat programmes which failed to innovate. 'We have been very quick to copy other people's formats,' Grade told the Gruniad in 2007. 'We've stuck the word "celebrity" on the front of a copied format and pretended that's good enough. It's creatively bankrupt to be honest.' What went for ITV more than a decade ago, it would seem, goes doubly for Channel Five in 2020. Except in this case, it's not even someone else's format they're ripping off and sticking the word 'celebrity' in front of it's one of their own. Which, frankly, is reason enough to loathe this particular conceit on general principle even before you discover that Michael Owen is involved in it. At that point, a trip to the vet was the least the people who devised this tripe deserved.
13. I'll Get This
The format of this rigmarole sees five depressingly z-list 'celebrities' going out for dinner together with each placing their bank card on table at the beginning of the evening. They then play a series of games between courses, the winner of each game getting to take back their own card. The z-list 'celebrity' whose card remains at the end has to pays the bill for the whole table. Admittedly, the prospect of some hateful twonk so desperate to get their mush on telly that they'll even pay their own money to do so does have some novelty value. But most of those who appeared on this were either one of those 'everybody look at me, me, me, me, me' planks who stink up the majority of Dave's original comedy output (Rachel Parris, Ed Gamble, Phil Wang, Desiree Burch, Rob Becket) or they're, you know, Eamonn Holmes. 'nuff said. If this woeful, niggardly spectacle had been on Dave, Channel Four, or Five one could, perhaps, be excused for simply seeing it as another sad example of celebrity-by-non-entity and write it off as 'only to be expected' from those particular networks. That fact that it's on this blogger's beloved BBC is just depressing on so many levels. 'Creaky game show I'll Get This sounds as if it came from the "notes to self" on Alan Partridge's dictaphone, along with pitches for Dogs On The Dole or Monkey Tennis,' wrote the i despairingly. Wang and Gamble might've got saddled with the bill for their particular meals, dear blog reader, but it's the licence fee payers who, ultimately, financed for this fiasco. We - and dignity - are the real losers here. It reminded this blogger of those many - in most other aspects of life, quite sensible - people who consider alcoholic wife-beating Scouse junkie John Lennon's 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' as a profound and beautiful statement of hope and good cheer in an insane world. It isn't. It's an appallingly twee and risible song full of horrible, sickly-sweet Hallmark Christmas Card sentiment. And then, just when you think it can't, possibly, get any worse, Yoko Bloody Ono starts singing. That is what I'll Get This was like.
14. Hitmen
If there was ever a textbook example of the truisms 'stick to what you're good at' and 'never believe your own hype' then Hitmen fits the bill better than most. Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are, of course, a pair of reasonably funny ladies who first made a name for themselves as presenters of a couple of Channel Four magazine shows which developed a cult following. And, then they got rocketed into The Premier League thanks to a programme about cakes. Nowt wrong with that, of course, long-running careers have been founded on far less. But, since Bake Off got burgled by Channel Four and Mel and Sue did what, at the time, seemed to be the honourable and decent thing and declined to go with it and stay at the BBC, in one fellswoop they appear to have developed the King Midas In Reverse thing. Everything they've touched has turned to shat in their hands. Poor Mel's got herself stuck presenting rubbish like Eurovision: You Decide and Let It Shine as the BBC tried to work out what to do with her whilst Perkins has, if possible, done even worse for herself; Don't Scare The Hare, the horrible, up-it's-own-arse Insert Name Here and her series of depressingly banal 'look at me, I'm Sue Perkins in a foreign country' travelogue shows, for example. Not only that, but her previous attempt at reinventing herself as a comedy actress - 2016's woeful sitcom Heading Out, kyboshed from on-high almost instantly due to lack of interest from pretty much everyone - proves that in whatever area her talent lies (and she certainly has some), acting isn't it. Sky One's Hitmen, in which the pair play two incompetent professional assassins, was almost entirely laugh-free. 'I had a soft spot for Mel and Sue long before they became synonymous with dough-based innuendos. So when I heard they were reuniting for a Sky sitcom about a couple of hapless "hitwomen", I wanted it to be brilliant,' wrote the Radio Times' reviewer. But, she decided, it wasn't. 'You get the feeling you’d have more of a laugh just sitting in a room with Mel and Sue and a couple of cinzanos.' Other reviews were similarly of the 'could do better than this crap' variety. The sad thing is, this blogger genuinely doesn't think that they could these days.
15. Breeders
God, but Martin Freeman has made some desperately rotten career choices since they stopped making Sherlock hasn't he? Sky's Breeders - a kind of 'if-possible-even-worse' cheaper version of the BBC's (equally sneering) Motherland - continues Twenty First Century TV's obnoxious trend of suggesting that the only people who have ever experienced the 'trials' of parenthood are twatty Middle Class hippy Communists. Gurning, as they do, into their breakfast muesli about how 'difficult' their completely perfect suburban lives have become since their kids came along. And, how doing anything so 'ordinary' as child-rearing is too much like hard work. This blogger hates these kind of punchable conceits, dear blog reader - and he hates, with a righteous passion, the people who make them. The product of the arrogance of the bourgeoisie who, seemingly, believe their lives are the only ones which actually matter and that the world begins and ends within a three mile radius of downtown Islington. 'I can't work out who Breeders is for,' said New Statesman. 'I can't think that most parents will warm to it, however little sleep they've had. But on the other hand, it doesn't make the non-parent want to cheer either.' Despite a decent cast (Alun Armstrong, for God's sake, alongside Daisy Haggard and Freeman), this nasty full-of-its-own-importance ... thing should be shovelled into the nearest puddle of diarrhoea and left to sink. Tragically, the pandemic delayed - but couldn't actually stop - production of a second series.
16. The Sister
A psychological thriller directed by Niall MacCormick and adapted by Luther's Neil Cross from his own novel, Burial, the four-part series starred Russell Tovey, Bertie Carvel, Amrita Acharia and Nina Toussaint-White and was broadcast on ITV in October. It seemed to have a lot going for it - a decent source text and a terrific cast. But, everything went pear-shaped thereafter; a severe limitation in a series with a denouement as risible as this. Whilst the Gruniad described the drama 'supernaturally-tinged dose of nail-bitery, doled out in suspenseful chunks' and the Independent thought that although the drama was full of 'horror-movie cliché[s]' of 'dark, rainy nights in shadowy woods with ghoulish dialogue' that made it 'ideal for near-Halloween viewing' most people who aren't Middle Class hippy Communists thought it was a load of old toss. The Sister Ending Branded 'Too Stupid For Words' Amid Second Murder And Ghost Twist frothed the Daily Mirra. Whenever a tabloid uses the word 'branded' that usually means they've found about four people on Twitter who didn't like something very much. This wasn't four people. The Sister Viewers Fume They've "Wasted Four Hours" After Each Episode Gets "More Stupid Than The Last" alleged the Sun. Whenever a tabloid uses the word 'fume', that usually means they've found six impotently furious Twitter users cheering themselves up by telling the world how much they loathed something (like, someone daring to show some intelligence on University Challenge, for instance). This wasn't six people. 'The Sister has been airing each night this week and while the show boasts an impressive cast and seemingly gripping storyline, it seems viewers at home were left feeling unimpressed by the drama,' claimed the excellently-named Francesca Shillcock in Hello! magazine. Whenever Hello! writes a negative review - about pretty much anything - it usually means they've found a dozen people on Twitter whinging like whingy-whingers. This wasn't a dozen people. The Sister Final Episode Has Viewers Beside Themselves At 'Mad' Twists judged the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Whenever the Chronicle features an article about fans being 'beside themselves' it usually involves the latest on-going at this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies. This wasn't. Basically, everyone (and their dog) seemed to have sat through The Sister got to the end and thought 'well, that's four hours of my life I'll never get back.' The ending - a piss-poor example of deus ex machina, not so much ambiguous as downright encrypted - required the Digital Spy website to write a piece which attempted (unsuccessfully) to explain it. '[A] half-baked dramatisation of [an] esteemed novel' was The Art Desk's view. 'The convenient coincidence that Holly's best friend Jackie happens to be one of the police officers who investigated her sister’s death is just another credibility-bump in a road already rendered impassable with them.' It's awful, dear blog reader, when something written by someone you really admire and starring some actors you've always enjoyed turns out to be a turd. It happens, thankfully, far less often than one might imagine. But, it happened with The Sister and that's, genuinely, sad. 
17. The Greatest Dancer
Appearing in From The North's 'Worst Of' list for a second year running, The Greatest Dancer was - as the name suggests - a dance competition created by Wee Shughie McFee, the sour-faced Scottish chef off Crossroads and produced by Syco Entertainment. This was, in fact, the first BBC programme to be created by Wee Shughie McFee. And, as a consequence, it was greeted with massive tabloid interest when it started - albeit, also, with much viewer indifference and very ordinary ratings. The Greatest Dancer saw 'previously undiscovered dance acts' avariciously perform for a judging panel of Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Payne-Thingy, 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 may recall flounced out of the BBC in a geet stroppy huff 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 Jordan Banjo. The second series was won by the duo Michael and Jowita who were mentored by Mabuse. The Gruniad, predictably, managed to get a 'racial bias' story out of the series. No one else could, seemingly, summon up enough interest to actually care about such trivia. Ratings stayed, firmly, in the basement in a Saturday night 'battle of the non-entities' shite-off with The Masked Singer. In April, the BBC - to the joy of millions who needed something to cheer them up whilst under lockdown - announced that were 'no plans for any further series' of The Greatest Dancer. Because, it was rubbish and no one was watching it, basically.
18. Sandylands
An alleged 'sitcom' - with an over-abundance of 'sit' but almost no discernible 'com' - created and written by Martin Collins and Alex Finch, Sandylands, seemingly, couldn't find any real TV networks to summon up much interest in it. So it was broadcast on GOLD in March to an audience of virtually no one. The series revolved around the allegedly 'offbeat' (for which read, 'extremely unfunny and, mostly, very irksome') inhabitants of the titular seaside resort. It starred Natalie Dew, Harriet Webb, David Walliams, Sophie Thompson, Simon Bird, Bronwyn James, Hamza Jeetooa, Darren Strange, Janet Pince and Radha Sthanakiya. And, shockingly, Hugh Bonneville, Craig Parkinson and Sanjeev Bhaskar. All of whom should be ashamed of themselves for appearing in turgid nonsense such as this. Walliams and Bird - a pair of planks who are always capable of being very annoying indeed - play their stock 'wacky' characters with their usual lack of anything approaching subtlety or warmth. Sandylands did get a couple of half-way decent reviews from those with, it would appear, a higher tolerance threshold for tripe than this blogger; the i described the series 'camp and gaudy with plenty of oo-er humour', which may be accurate but that's hardly a signifier of any quality. But, most people just ignored it, seemingly in the hope that it would go away. Tragically, a second series has been commissioned for 2021. If you happen to stumble across this piffle whilst browsing through your TV channels in the hope of finding something to take your mind off the impending extinction of mankind, dear blog reader, don't say you weren't warned.
19. We LOVE Gavin & Stacey
No, we sodding-well do not. Not even a tiny little bit. And, whomsoever thinks that we do can bugger off and drown in a muddy ditch. Slowly.
20. Lodgers For Codgers
'There must be, somewhere deep in the bowels of one of our palaces of learning, a place where producers and their interns go to learn the art of retro-engineering: how to yoke two disparate ideas together via a concept superficially cogent or convincing enough to pass commissioning muster,' said the Gruniad reviewing the opening episode of this fresh Hell from Channel Four. 'On the walls are expensively framed portrait photographs of previous star graduates. "Celebrities plus skin-crawling tasks involving animals' anatomies," reads the citation beneath one such luminary. "Answer: survival show - 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)." "Fibrillating erotic fantasy plus childcare - Tom Hardy Reads CBeebies Bedtime Stories." And so on.' Describing this latest format as being 'as basic as it sound,' the review continued: 'There's no insight, analysis or rigour here. The lodgers and codgers are only together for a week ... which isn't long enough for even the most specious emotional journey to take place. It's an hour that won't do you any harm or any good.' Take a tip, dear blog reader, always be suspicious of any TV series with a rhyming title (cf: Wives With Knives, Kenny Versus Spenny, Crime Time, Treasure Hunt et cetera). We do have a housing crisis in the country. Is it, therefore, too much to hope that the overpaid waste-of-space rascal who came up with the idea for this disgrace ended 2020 furloughed, evicted from their gaff and living in the gutter thus freeing up at least one drum for someone more deserving than he (or she) to get onto the property ladder?
21. Fare Dodgers: At War With The Law
Anyone who recalls Eddie Izzard's memorable confessions of his teenage fare-dodging life-of-crime as 'The Fifty Pee Kid' ('this was not Don Corleone, this was Don Crap!') will have observed the sanctimonious, judgemental tone of Fare Dodger: At War With The Law with a kind of jaundiced 'oh, who the Hell cares?' resignation at the messed-up state of the world. Mind you, this was shown on Channel Five so the numbers actually viewing this series would've, in all likelihood, not have managed to fill a smallish tube carriage. At 6am on a Sunday morning. A thorough search on the Interweb by this blogger found but one review of the show (actually, to be fair, quite a positive one in the Standard). And, only a handful of viewer comments (see here and here), most of which, apparently, had their sympathies firmly with the criminals. Fly-on-the-wall occupational us-versus-them telly is not new, of course - who remembers The Clampers, for example? The BBC used to specialise in this sort of thing (The Call Centre, Driving School, A Life Of Grime, Airport, Parking Mad et al). All of them, no doubt, worthy. All of them a bit full-of-their-own-importance. All of them pedantic and as dull as a long afternoon at work when you've forgotten to take your sandwiches with you. All of them about as close to 'entertainment' as getting busted for neglecting to pay two quid for a train ticket. So, remember dear blog reader - skulduggery of this kind is just flat out wrong. Therefore, please, for the love of God next time you're using public transport, do the decent thing and pay your fare. That way, there'll be no need for anyone to make TV shows such as this ever again.
22. William Shatner's Weird Or What?
Series title, or just a gobsmackingly obvious question? You decide, dear blog reader.
23. The Russell Howard Hour
Russell Howard used to be a funny man once upon a time - a decade ago when he was Mad Frankie Boyle's lugubrious straight-man on Mock The Week, perhaps. But, now? Nah, not so much. In a year that had people crying out for something - anything - to laugh at, the much-hyped fourth series of Howard's Sky topical stand-up series fell as flat as a slug underneath a ten tonne lorry and was just as funny. From the slug's point of view, obviously.
24. Alexander Armstrong In The Land Of The Midnight Sun
So, it would appear that Ben Miller got all the talent in the Armstrong & Miller Show divorce settlement, then? Thus leaving poor, flabbergasted Alexander stuck with an, if you will, pointless career (sorry) as a quiz-show host, a producer of appalling karaoke-style CDs and, in the present case, the latest inheritor of Caroline Quentin's old job (and, Sue Perkins' current job); to wit, the maker of perfectly dreadful travelogue telly for the hard-of-thinking. The series was actually made (and first broadcast) in 2015 but it hadn't previously registered on this blogger's radar. This, along with ITV's strange decision to shoehorn a repeat run into a primetime slot mid-summer (and mid-lockdown), more than justifies its presence in this year's list. 'Armstrong was a likeable - if not particularly rigorous - presenter,' claimed the Independent quite wrongly. 'He did a good job of conveying the otherness of the scenes he was looking at to the viewer: "This is impeccably remote," he said. "The closest I've seen to a lunar landscape." His style was akin to an enthusiastic distant relation at Christmas - game to get stuck into proceedings, but not needing to be centre of attention. "It's like walking into a humbug," he said on entering some Icelandic caves, making sure those impeccable landscapes were the stars of the show, rather than him.' This blogger, for what it's worth, thought the whole thing was a right load of old self-aggrandising toot.
25. The Chop: Britain's Top Woodworker
It was one of the year's most hilarious TV car-crashes, dear blog reader - something so funny it almost (and, if only for a brief moment) took everyone's mind off The Plague. A televised contest for carpenters (no, really) was pulled from Sky schedules after only one episode had been shown - and, after several weeks of being trailed more often than the daily government Coronavirus broadcasts - over concerns about one of its participant's facial tattoos. Darren Lumsden was accused (albeit, not by anyone of whom you've actually heard) of having 'a Nazi symbol' on his face after the Sky History channel posted a clip online. The channel initially claimed that the tattoos had 'no political or ideological meaning whatsoever.' However it then withdrew that statement almost as quickly as it had made it and suggested that it would not broadcast the programme until it had investigated their 'nature and meaning.' Whether they should, instead, have been investigating how a format a pointless as The Chop: Britain's Top Woodworker - hosted by Lee Mack and Rick Edwards, both of whom, frankly, should be ashamed of themselves - got greenlit in the first place is another matter entirely. The series would have seen ten contestants compete over nine weeks of carpentry challenges. Why? Christ only knows. In the promotional clip, Lumsden was seen with the number eighty eight inked on his cheek. As 'H' is the eighth letter of the alphabet, the number can be used by white supremacists as numerical code for 'Heil Hitler.' Or, 'Hello Handsome' if they prefer. In an initial statement, Sky History claimed that his tattoos denoted 'significant events in his life and have no political or ideological meaning whatsoever.' It additionally stated that the number referred to 1988, the year of Lumsden's father's death. One or two people even believed them although the opinion of others consisted of, you know, 'Oh, Chinny Reck-On.' However viewers with access to social media also 'raised concerns' about some of his other markings, claiming they included 'other numerals that could be associated with white supremacist slogans.' Which, obviously, if true was not the sort of thing any network wants to be associated with. Apart from FOX News, of course. Subsequently, a week later, The Chop was given, if you will, the chop meaning, presumably, the nine unbroadcast episodes will, now, never be seen. What an absolute tragedy. Whatever the truth about the markings symbolism, however, what cannot be denied is that some arsehole at Sky HQ thought making a programme with as flaky a raison d'être as the premise for this was ever going to be a ratings winner. One wonders if he (or she) is still in a job. And, if so, how.
26. Dummy
Would anyone care to watch an alleged 'comedy' in which Anna Kendrick plays a not-even-thinly-veiled version of Community creator Dan Harmon's girlfriend? What if she discovers that the writer has an inflatable sex doll, it comes to life and she has a road-trip with it? On this, the pair spout not particularly funny pseudo-feminist dialogue and make some deeply uncomfortable comments about sexuality and gender? Anyone? A wildly misjudged fiasco - and a negation of anything remotely resembling dignity - from writer Cody Heller and the streaming service Quibi, Dummy may actually be the most distasteful thing to ever try lecturing its audience whilst actively offending most viewers with its outdated, decrepit would-be satire. Quite an achievement. 
27. I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV (Even During A Plague) ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want)
Plus ça change, plus c'est la mệme chose. I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity was exactly like the Coronavirus in so many ways, dear blog reader. We just couldn't get rid of the damn thing. Not even lockdown could stop it. Possibly they should have taken soon-to-be-former-President Rump's advice and injected the format with bleach to see if that finished it off. It was a case of the irresistible force up against the immovable object. Due to pandemic-enforced travel restrictions, ITV confirmed in August that this year's series would not be held in Australia as usual and, instead, would be switched to 'a top secret rural UK location.' This was soon revealed to be Gwrych Castle in Conwy - so, not really that secret, then. With a - slightly less z-list than usual - line-up, including a couple of people whom this blogger used to have some respect for (Mo Farah, Victoria Derbyshire) the series was, predictably, horrifyingly popular. Helped, of course, by its usual - wholly-media-created - annual controversy. According to James Clerk Maxwell's Third Law of Thermodynamics which deals with the unstoppable march of entropy, dear blog reader, the universe is gradually slowing and will, eventually, collapse inwards upon itself thus rendering all past, present and future human endeavour, ultimately pointless. Just something for you to think about if you're looking for a reason not to watch another episode of I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV (Even During A Plague) ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want).
28. Don't Rock The Boat
Sickening. I mean, literally. Honestly. Definitively. And, about as attractive as a puddle of puke too.
29. Ant & Dec's Thirty Greatest Moments
Let Keith Telly Topping be very clear about this up front, dear blog reader, he has nothing whatsoever against Wor Geet Canny Ant and/or Dec - indeed he quite enjoys their 'cheeky-chappy-doon-th'-Bigg-Market' antics. In small doses. This complaint is entirely about scheduling. The fact that Channel Five, with a lingering predictability, chose to show this hastily cobbled-together two hour long clip-show poppycock on a Saturday night in November opposite The Royal British Legion Festival Of Remembrance on the BBC just sums up everything that's wrong with television's priorities. 'Never mind people who died for your freedoms, young people, we've got loads of clips of Ant and/or Dec for you to watch whilst you drink your alcopops.' Or, as we say up here in the Ant and/or Dec part of the world, dear blog reader, 'are ye ganna be watchin' this Ant and Dec clip-show thing on Sat'da, Geordie?' 'Wey, nah. They didn't come t'see me when ah was bad.'  
30. The Goop Lap
Stiff, boring, ludicrous and fronted by a media 'personality' free from any actual personality to speak of. Yes, dear blog reader, Netflix's The Goop Lab featured all of these things and more besides. A platform for Gwyneth Paltrow to promote the wretched eponymous lifestyle website and its - at best-questionable, at worst-damned-irresponsible - pseudoscience, 2020 saw the actor's brand gain this atrocity of a TV show. Still, potential side-effects were a tiny price to pay for the spectacle of Paltrow blankly smiling through interminable segments of what amounted to infomercials free from the unwanted 'info' part of that particular equation. This is the Twenty First Century in all of its foul, unmitigated horror, dear blog reader. As previously noted, by and large the general public tends to get the TV they deserve. Someone must have done something truly, spectacularly wicked to have deserved this crap.
And, finally, Four Television Curiosities Of The Year:-

1. Prodigal Son
'Everything I know [about him] has been coloured by your resentment.' 'Well, that and all the people he killed!' For all of its obvious borrowed The Silence Of The Lambs riffs, Prodigal Son benefitted from some outstanding performances; Michael Sheen going so far over-the-top-he-was-down-the-other-side most obviously, but also a nice solid role for the always-excellent Lou Diamond Phillips and a twitchy-but-fascinatingly-nuanced turn from Tom Payne - previously best known for The Walking Dead. Nevertheless, it's not all praise; Prodigal Son was almost - but, thankfully, not quite - fatally ruined by a couple of significant flaws. Firstly, the fact that by-and-large every episode in the first half of the series appeared to be a variation on a single theme. Which, by about episode twelve was starting to really grate this blogger's cheese something fierce. Fortunately, they brought in a couple of marginally different plotlines to some of the later episodes proving that Manhunter and The Silence Of The Lambs were not to be the only serial-killer movies the creators - Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver - had watched. (They've also seen Se7en, Zodiac and American Psycho, it would appear.) A far more serious flaw was the presence of the Christ-awful Bellamy Young, one of this blogger's least-favourite actresses currently engaged in unworthy employment. Someone whose over-emoted pouty facial expressions and mugging usually conspire to stink up everything that has been touched by her unwelcome presence (the wretched Scandal, most notably). To be honest, she's not much better than average in Prodigal Son either. Though, trust this blogger, considering how low an opinion he had of her prior to watching Prodigal Son - and the groan of despair which escaped his lips when she showed up in the pilot episode as what was going to be, obviously, a major character - that's, actually, something approaching praise. Mercifully, overall, the good usually outweighed the bad and Prodigal Son been renewed for a second series. Something of a curio, then. Hopefully, next year, they'll have watched a few more serial-killer films for a bit of additional inspiration.
2. Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels
'All mankind needs to be the monster he truly is is being told he can.' John Logan's dark period fantasy drama had a lot going for it - notably, its simply gorgeous visual appeal - but was hamstrung from the beginning by a lack of cohesion, far too many characters and a seeming inability to decide exactly what it wanted to be. A failure then, albeit, not an entirely unrewarding one. Because, come on, Natalie Dormer in a leather dress - what's not to love? So, definitely one to watch on a Friday night with a few mates, some beers and a curry.
3. Coronavirus Daily Update
Well, this blogger didn't think much of the two leads, for a kick-off ...
4. America's Choice 2020
A new soap opera on CNN, broadcast over several days in early November. The characters weren't very believable - one over-the-top cartoonesque supervillain in particular - and some of the plotlines stretched credulity up to and, indeed, well-beyond breaking point. Nevertheless it was one of those programmes that, in spite of oneself, you just couldn't drag your eyes away from. The bloke who played Wolf Blitzer was terrific although, come on, what sort of name for a TV character is that? Couldn't they have called him something normal, like Ken? Defiantly modernist in approach, the multi-part series finale - Georgia On My Mind/By The Time I Get To PhoenixPhiladelphia Freedom - was pitched somewhere between a revenge tragedy and a somnambulist nightmare adroitly capped by a pseudo-realist aesthetic. Or something. And the conclusion? This blogger thought that was great.
Did you know, dear blog reader, that by 2023 there will be approximately 1.74 billion TV households worldwide? The variety of platforms and forms of broadcast are ever changing, but the importance of television to inform, educate and entertain remains essential. From The North's TV Awards may return in 2021. If we haven't all succumbed to The Plague by then, obviously.