Tuesday, December 14, 2021

"It's A Very Extraordinary Scene To Those Who Don't Understand ..."

One of this blogger's favourite musician/songwriter/actor/video director/multi-millionaires, Michael Nesmith, has died aged seventy eight. He rose to fame initially as a member of The Monkees (the TV series and the band), but went on to have a long and influential career in music, television and movie production. Mike died from heart failure on Friday at his home in Carmel Valley. 'With Infinite Love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes,' his family wrote in a statement posted on Nesmith's website. 'We ask that you respect our privacy at this time and we thank you for the love and light that all of you have shown him and us.'
Along with his surviving bandmate, Micky Dolenz, Nesmith recently completed a Monkees' farewell tour. 'I'm heartbroken,' Dolenz said, in a statement. 'I've lost a dear friend and partner. I'm so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best – singing, laughing and doing shtick. I'll miss it all so much. Especially the shtick.'
Robert Michael Nesmith was born in Houston, Texes in 1942. He was an only child; his parents, Warren and Bette, divorced when he was four, Mike and his mother moving soon afterwards to Dallas to be closer to her family. Bette took temporary jobs ranging from clerical work to graphic design, eventually attaining the position of executive secretary at Texas Bank & Trust. When Nesmith was thirteen, his mother invented the typewriter correction fluid known commercially as Liquid Paper. Over the next twenty five years, she built the Liquid Paper Corporation into an international company, which she eventually sold to Gillette in 1979 for forty eight million bucks. She died a few months later at which point Mike inherited her vast fortune to go with the other vast fortune he subsequently built for himself through his songwriting and various smart business dealings post-Monkees. (It's probably worth, at this point, dispelling one popular urban myth. Mike Nesmith's mother did not invent Tipp-Ex®™, a 'fact' which has become a staple of a thousand somewhat under-researched pub trivia quizzes. Tipp-Ex is another form of correction fluid which was created and produced by a completely separete company; it was invented by West German Wolfgang Dabisch, who filed a patent in 1958 and remains a registered trademark. It's a minor point but it's worth setting the record straight.) Bette is reported to have made an uncredited cameo appearance in an early Monkees episode, Dance, Monkee, Dance as her son's dancing partner.
Mike attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas, where he participated in choral and drama activities, but enlisted in the US Air Force in 1960 before graduating. He completed basic training in San Antonio and was trained as an aircraft mechanic at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. He was honorably discharged in 1962. A talented self-taught guitarist, Mike started writing and performing music after his stint in the Air Force and found some success as a songwriter for acts such as The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (who recorded his song 'Mary, Mary' a year before The Monkees). He played solo and in a series of folk, country and rock and/or roll bands. He also enrolled in San Antonio College, where he met bassist John London and they began a musical collaboration, performing a mixture of standard folk songs and a few Nesmith's originals. The duo moved to Los Angeles and began singing in folk clubs around the city including a Monday evening residency at The Troubadour, a West Hollywood nightclub that featured new artists. Randy Sparks from The New Christy Minstrels offered Nesmith a publishing deal for his songs and he began his recording career in 1963, releasing a single ('Wandering') on the independent Highness label. He followed this in 1965 with a one-off single on Edan Records ('Just A Little Love') followed by 'The New Recruit' under the name Michael Blessing on Colpix Records.
In late 1965, a friend pointed Mike to a magazine advert seeking 'four insane boys' to play in a Beatles-inspired pop band on a new TV show. He rode his motorcycle to the audition and wore a woollen hat to keep his hair out of his eyes; producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider remembered the 'wool hat guy' and called Nesmith back. Part of Mike's ad-libbed screen test featured in the first Monkees episode, Royal Flush. With Nesmith alongside Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork, The Monkees were an immediate sensation both as a - genuinely innovative and groundbreaking - sitcom and, via their spin-off records, as a proper twenty four carat beat combo. Although some press controversy was stirred up (particularly in the UK) which attempted to portray the quartet as a 'manufactured' band (which, to be fair, they were) who didn't even play on their own records (which was only true for a few months and, anyway, the same 'crime' also applied to The Beach Boys during this period), The Monkees was genuinely ahead of its time. Packed with avant-garde film techniques (The Monkees collectively never met a fourth wall they wouldn't gleefully break) and musical sequences which are the direct ancestors of today's pop videos. Nesmith himself later helped develop the format which eventually morphed into MTV.
Nesmith was the only one of his bandmates who had much prior recording experience (although Dolenz had released singles, Jones was a veteran of musical theatre and Tork a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist from the same LA club circuit that Nesmith came through). Nesmith immediately clashed with the music publisher Don Kirshner - who had been hired to oversee the show's music - over creative control of the band, once even putting his fist through a wall and reportedly telling Kirshner 'that could have been your head!' Mike eventually won the battle - The Monkees was making too much money for Screen Gems to argue with one of the stars; Kirshner was fired and went on to work with another fictional band, The Archies (who, as cartoons, were considerably less likely to argue with him over their material). One of the first series' episodes of The Monkees, I've Got A Little Song Here, even parodied the trials of the working songwriter when Mike writes 'I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog' (actually, a Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart song from The Monkees first sessions) which becomes a hit for a 'proud and just a little bit 'umble' girl singer but sees Mike fleeced out of his royalties by an unscrupulous publisher who was, clearly, not based on Kirshner. Oh no, very hot water.
Although prevented by Kirshner from contributing musically to the first two Monkees LPs, Mike did get to produce some brilliant country-flavoured songs to both The Monkees ('Papa Genes Blues' and 'Sweet Young Thing') and More Of The Monkees ('Mary, Mary' and 'The Kind Of Girl I Could Love'). Once control of the band's sound had been wrestled from Kirshner's hands, Nesmith became, effectively, the band's musical director, contributing the b-side to their third single (the magnificent 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere') and writing some stupendous songs for their third and fourth LPs, the band's two masterpieces, Headquarters (their Rubber Soul) and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd (their Revolver) both released in 1967 on which they proved that they were every bit as good a band as the majority of their detractors believed they weren't. On the former, Mike wrote 'You Told Me', 'You Just May Be The One' and 'Sunny Girlfriend', for the latter, 'Daily, Nightly' (the first song on a pop record to feature a Moog synthesizer), 'What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?' and 'Don't Call On Me' (as well as providing vocals for three other songs on the LP, 'Salesman', 'The Door Into Summer' and 'Love Is Only Sleeping').
Mike also wrote four songs on 1968's strange, but occasionally brilliant The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (including the terrific 'Tapioca Tundra'), one of his best songs, the slyly political 'Circle Sky' for the band's weird-as-shit Jack Nicholson-scripted movie, Head (also 1968) and, another of his finest works, 'Listen To The Band', as the closing song to their 1969 TV special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee. 'Circle Sky', in particular, is a work of considerable interest, with its 'Bo Diddley' riff and extremely direct lyrics about Viet'nam. Sadly, on the Head soundtrack LP, Nesmith chose to include a rather muddy studio take with the vocals buried deep in the mix rather than the crackling live version performed by The Monkees in the movie. (A much more satisfying alternative studio take, in which you can actually make out what he's singing, can be found on several Monkees compilations - notably Missing Links Vol III - whilst the live version is available on recent extended reissues of the Head soundtrack.) During late 1967, one of Nesmith's most beautiful pre-Monkees songs, 'Different Drum', was a massive US hit for the LA band The Stone Poneys, featuring teenage vocalist Linda Ronstadt. They also recorded another of his songs, 'Some Of Shelley's Blues' as a, less successful, follow-up.
As part of a promotional deal, Gretsch built a one-off, natural-finish, twelve-string electric guitar for Nesmith when he was performing with The Monkees. He earlier played another customised Gretsch twelve-string (best heard on the classic arpeggio opening riff to 1967's 'Pleasant Valley Sunday'). Nesmith used this guitar for his appearances on the television series, as well as The Monkees' live appearances in 1966 and 1967 (check out, for instance, the version of his regular solo slot, Bo Diddley's 'You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover' featured in The Monkees episode, the documentary-style Monkees On Tour. Beginning in 1968, Nesmith used a white six-string Gibson SG for his live appearances. He used that guitar in Head and, for the final original Monkees tour in early 1969. In a post on his Facebook page in 2011, Nesmith reported that, sadly, both guitars were stolen in the early 1970s.
The TV series was cancelled in 1968 after two series and Nesmith left in 1970, following Tork's departure the previous year. Nesmith's last contractual Monkees commitment was a commercial for Kool-Aid and Nerf balls in April 1970 (the spot ends with Nesmith frowning and saying, 'Enerf's enerf!') After the release of their 1969 LP The Monkees Present Nesmith asked to be released from his contract, despite it costing him: 'I had three years left ... at one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.' He remained financially restricted until 1980, when he received his inheritance from his late mother's estate. In a 1980 interview with Playboy, he said of that time: 'I had to start telling little tales to the tax man while they were putting tags on the furniture.'
Next Nesmith formed his own group, The First National Band - which included his old friend John London and pedal steel player Red Rhodes; the collective made three fine LPs and had a modest chart hit with 'Joanne' in 1970. While Nesmith never matched his Monkees-era musical successes his First National Band records are hihgly regarded today as pioneering examples of country-rock. That trio of LPs - Magnetic South (1970), Loose Salute (1971) and Nevada Fighter - featured a number of songs which Mike had written and demoed when still with The Monkees, most of which have, subsequently, been released on Rhino records extensive Monkees CD reissue programme ('Calico Girlfriend', 'Nine Times Blue', 'Little Red Rider', 'The Crippled Lion', 'Listen To The Band' and 'Propinquity'). His next group, a psych-rock outfit The Second National Band, featured José Feliciano on percussion and Mike also released music under his own name, including an acclaimed LP of country ballads, the ironically titled And The Hits Just Keep On Comin' (1972).
As the 1970s went along, Nesmith turned more towards production, founding the Pacific Arts Corporation to manage his music and television projects including, in 1979, a show called PopClips, which combined music videos with commentary from a 'veejay', which later became one of the models for MTV. Nesmith recorded a number of LPs for his own label and had a moderate worldwide hit in 1977 with 'Rio'. A few years later, he won the first video of the year GRAMMY for Elephant Parts, a TV special with a similar format to PopClips: music videos, parody commercials and comedy sketches. In 1983, Nesmith produced the music video for the Lionel Richie single 'All Night Long'. Four years later, he produced the video for Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel'. Another notable Pacific Arts production was Alex Cox's cult movie Repo Man, which starred Emilio Estevez as a young punk and Harry Dean Stanton as the titular character in pursuit of a 1964 Chevy Malibu with a possibly-alien secret locked in its trunk. Pacific Arts became a pioneer in the field of home video, before a legal dispute with PBS forced Nesmith to shut it down in the early 1990s; there was a blizzard of lawsuits and countersuits over the home video rights to properties like Masterpiece Theatre and Ken Burns' The Civil War and a jury eventually sided with Nesmith, awarding him more than forty million dollars in punitive damages. 'It's like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo,' he told BBC News at the time. 'You're happy to get your stereo back, but it's sad to find out your grandmother is a thief!'
Nesmith continued to record and perform - even, occasionally, showing up onstage with The Monkees, after a Thirtieth-Anniversary revival catapulted them back into the public consciousness. This blogger was fortunate enough to be at the first gig on that 1997 tour, at Newcastle Arena. It was, with one sole 1986 exception, the first time that Mike, Micky, Peter and Davy had shared a stage since 1968. Always the most reserved and hard-to-interview of the four, Mike was dogged for years by rumours that he didn't get along with his bandmates, or that he wanted to distance himself from the entire phenomenon. Glenn Baker's 1986 biography of the band, Monkeemania: The True Story Of The Monkees, was particularly mean-spirited and hostile towards Mike (much as Shout! was in relation to Paul McCartney) suggesting that, perhaps, Baker had an unfortunate experience with a Mike Nesmith poster at an early age. But, as the band approached its fortieth anniversary, Nesmith began to lighten up in relation to his past. 'The Monkees reside in my life like a little nugget, a gem I enjoy,' he told Uncut magazine with, seemingly, genuine sincerity, in 2016. 'The struggles, the victories are long gone. What has continued has been the remnant light of it.'
Following Davy's horribly untimely death in 2012 Nesmith reunited with Dolenz and Tork to perform concerts throughout the United States during the following two years. Backed with a seven-piece band that included Nesmith's son, Christian, the trio performed songs from across the The Monkees discography. They also produced an exceptionally decent 2016 CD, Good Times! featuring songs written for the band by fans like Noel Gallaghger, Paul Weller, Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard. When asked why he had decided to return to the band, Nesmith stated, 'I never really left. It is a part of my youth that is always active in my thoughts and part of my overall work as an artist. It stays in a special place.' After Peter's death in 2019, Nesmith and Dolenz elected to perform as a duo, in recent months undertaking The Monkees Farewell Tour, which was originally planned for 2020 but was delayed by Covid.
In 1998, Nesmith published his first novel, The Long Sandy Hair Of Neftoon Zamora. It was developed originally as an online project and was later published by St Martin's Press. A second novel, The America Gene, was published in 2009. In 2017, he released a memoir and companion 'soundtrack' CD Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff. Mike was married three times. He met his first wife, Phyllis Ann Barbour, in 1964, whilst they were both at San Antonio College. Together, they had three children: Christian, born in 1965; Jonathan (1968) and Jessica (1970). Nesmith and Phyllis divorced in 1972. Nesmith also had a son, Jason, born in August 1968 to Nurit Wilde, whom he met whilst working on The Monkees. In 1976, he married his second wife, Kathryn Bild. In 2000, he married Victoria Kennedy, but the marriage ended in divorce in 2011. He is survived by his children.

Monday, December 06, 2021

All Is Creation. All Is Change. All Is Flux. All Is Metamorphosis

'I can feel it all. I can feel the universe breaking.'
Unsurprisingly, dear blog reader, this blogger thought Flux was bloody great. Mostly. There were a couple of stray dangling plot threads which slightly flummoxed Keith Telly Topping and kept him awake, tossing, on Sunday night (which will be dealt with later in this bloggerisationism update you'll be happy to know). But, overall, that was a proper old-fashioned Doctor Who six-parter, that was. And one which didn't feature, as many Mister Pertwee and Big Mad Tom six-parters of Yore did, three-and-a-half episodes of escape-capture-escape-run-up-and-down-a-few-corridors-capture-escape malarkey. Neither, to be fair, did it include any Venusian aikido, jelly babies or a tin dog. So, you know, you win some, you lose some. ...
Flux, then? Well, firstly the cast was - pretty much uniformly - marvellous. I mean, anything on TV featuring a bunch of From The North favourites like Barbara Flynn, Craig Parkinson, Kevin McNally and Jemma Redgrave is, seemingly, doing most things right.
Plus, obviously Jodie, Mandip and large-toothed Cheeky-Chappie Scouse funster The Bish his very self (with his lethal wok) giving it the works across all six episodes. A story with this sort of oft-shifting focus and a series of scripts which dealt with a lot of complexity needed complete sincerity in the performances for the episodes to work and Flux certainly achieved that, if nothing else.
Indeed it achieved far more. In his, as usual excellent, review of the finale, The Vanquishers, in the Gruniad Morning Star, Martin Belam made a couple of observations which dovetail nicely with this blogger's own views on certain aspects of Flux's construction and conclusion. Other reviews are available although some of them missed the point entirely. Like this one, for instance. Den Of Geek, on the other hand, seemingly rather liked it. Although, they too had questions they wanted answering.
Firstly Balem's overview: '"What an awfully big adventure," said Kevin McNally's Professor Jericho as he faced certain death at the hands of either a Sontaran or the Flux, or possibly both simultaneously. And in fairness to executive producers Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens, in pre-publicity they promised that Doctor Who: Flux was going to be an awfully big adventure. It was.' Spot on, that man.
Secondly, a fine summation of one of this blogger's favourite bits of the finale: 'One of the most powerful scenes was about the life on board the TARDIS we presumably won't ever see, as imprisoned together on the Sontaran ship, it slowly dawned on The Doctor that Karvanista used to be her companion and that she had broken his heart. They must have gone through many scenarios just like that which she can't remember. There's a spin-off waiting for Jo Martin (The Fugitive Doctor) and Craige Els' adorably grumpy space-dog character as her companion out there somewhere.' Once again, it would appear, he knows about that which he speak, this kid.
Unlike Martin who seemingly felt the series' ending may have had an aspect of The Unearned to it ('the climax of the Big Bad arc was essentially that an even Bigger Bad rocked up, said they were displeased with failure and bumped off Swarm and Azure with very little fanfare') this blogger didn't have any problems whatsoever with the, quite literal, deus ex machina appearance of Time. Killing The Doctor's enemies for no adequately-explained reason whilst she saved her friends (old and new) and what was left of the universe. Or, indeed, with The Doctor then putting aside her quest for her hidden memories and mysterious past lives ... or has she? Time will tell. It usually does.
Balem concluded his piece thus: 'Whether this episode is a storytelling success depends on what comes next. If the following three specials pick up the loose threads as we head towards this Doctor's regeneration, it may have worked as a springboard for those stories. If they don't and the end of the divisive Timeless Child arc is "The Doctor hides a fob watch inside the TARDIS and we never mention it again," that is rather more "OK, so what was the point of all that?"' I think that's a) damning a story which had vast ambition to it with somewhat faint praise and b) expecting disappointment where, up till now, none exists. The point of The Doctor's entire timeline from 1963 to date is one of constant - and often logic-defying - change. He was, once, an aged (probable) human from a civilisation in the far-future with a Time Machine that he invited but couldn't work properly (and, which his granddaughter named). Or, he stole it and ran away from his people. Or, he's an alien from a race which observes rather than interferes with time and takes a dim view of those that do want to go off exploring. Or, he works for a sinister group (or two) within that race which want him to interfere. He can only have one life (although he can 'rejuvenate' himself). Or, he can have thirteen lives. Or, twenty six. Or, maybe, everything we always thought we knew was wrong and he/she had been around since the dawn of time and has lived thousands of lives. Or, whatever Big Rusty decides will be the next complete change of direction in 2023. 'Change, my dear. And, it seems not a moment too soon.'
Ultimately, Flux was a critical nexus of post-2005 Doctor Who in all its many facets; Sontarans, Cybermen, Daleks, Ood, Weeping Angels, UNIT, scarecrows, Gallifreyan mind-melds, reversed polarities, temporal extractions, pseudo-historical and defiantly postmodernist futuristic adventure knitted together with many threads that, occasionally, threatened to become unravelled but held together to the end. It had some faux-naïf aspects to it (Bel and Vinder's story, for instance, was great up to the last episode, then it was all wrapped up a bit too neatly in just a couple of scenes) but it was elevated by its own certainty of purpose, creativity and generosity of spirit. Some people won't like it, of course (no shit? You think Keith Telly Topping?) and will almost certainly say so, loudly, to anyone that will listen (and, indeed, anyone that won't) on the Interweb. But, they're wrong. To repeat something this blogger wrote in the recent From The North 2021 TV Awards bloggerisationisms update, 'Wheel turns, civilisations rise ... but Doctor Who just keeps on going.'
Okay, to those couple of naughty dangly plot-threads, dear blog reader. Firstly, Claire Brown (the terrific Annabel Scholey). Did this blogger miss something important during the six episodes with regard to Claire's timeline or did it not make any flaming sense whatsoever? In the opening episode, she meets The Doctor and Yaz - from their point of view for the first time - yet she knows them ('Have we met?', 'Not yet ... in the past'). Then, she walks into an encounter with a Weeping Angel and ends up back in the 1960s with a 'with-it' haircut, Rubber Soul-style suede jacket, miniskirt and reddy-purple tights. Groovy. There, she runs into The Doctor again (in 1967) whilst doing psychic experiments with Professor Jericho. She subsequently watches the Professor, Yaz, Dan and Little Peggy (hang on, we'll be coming to her in a minute) get trapped in the early 1900s by the Angels scheming shenanigans. Left - presumably alone - in Medderton (that everyone in the village disappears on the night of 21 November is an fixed point in time, seemingly. Claire found it on the Interweb so it must be true), sometime later that year she reunites with the Professor, The Doctor and friends and joins them in Joseph Williamson's multi-dimensional time-tunnels, does considerable mental damage to the Sontarans saucy plans of universal domination before using a time-ring to escape. At which point Yaz indicates that The Doctor will be able to get Claire 'back to 2021.' Which they do (seemingly, having stopped off on the way so she can have her hair done to look more contemporary). Where, presumably, she will then meet The Doctor and Yaz again at Hallow'een near Anfield and the hole in the street where Dan's house used to be, have her run-in with The Weeping Angel and end up back in 1965 all over again.
In short, dear blog reader, isn't Claire (one of the best new Doctor Who characters in a decade or more and a potential companion of considerable promise) now simply stuck in a Chronic Hysteresis-style time-loop shuffling endlessly between 2021 and the Mid-Sixties? Or, did this blogger miss a line of dialogue somewhere which suggested a way that the loop would be broken by the events of the final episode?
And then there's Peggy (Poppy Polivnicki). Thrown back from 1967 to 1901 along with the Professor, Dan and Yaz she simply disappears at the end of Village Of The Angels and, again unless this blogger missed a line somewhere in episodes five or six, is never mentioned again. We know, from Mrs Hayward (Peggy's own aged self in the 1960s) that she will not be getting back to her own period for 'a very long time' and there's nothing in the story to suggest that she was part of The Doctor's 'I'll drop you here and you there and you there' TARDIS taxi service at the end of the series. But Peggy was ten years old in 1967. Stuck back in the 1900s one presumes that whilst the Professor, Dan and Yaz were wandering the world for three years trying to gain clues to get them back to The Doctor, Peggy was in England being looked after by ... someone? Who? In Survivors Of The Flux, we reach 1904 before the trio were able to access Williamson's labyrinth. Claire later shows up again but Peggy is, seemingly, forgotten about. So, have they all just pissed off and left a thirteen year old stuck half-a-century out-of-time without so much as a by-your-leave? It would certainly appear so. Again, unless this blogger missed a bit of exposition somewhere. All of which would be jolly irresponsible surrogate parenting if you ask me, dear blog reader.
So, that's about the size of it. A couple of knotty issues related to time notwithstanding (this is Doctor Who dear blog reader, it's always about time), it all worked out fine in the end. Mostly. The Doctor met her adoptive mum (who turned out to be One Bad Mother), exiled The Big Snake to a little rock in space, saw off The Sinister Siblings (well, she had a bit of help there, admittedly), let The Sontarans, Cybermen and Daleks have an 'uge, fek-off, punch-up whilst standing back with a smile on her face (always good for a laugh), dropped The Division into a well-deserved relegation from the Premiership to the Isthmian League, gave Dan something to do after he got bombed out on a second date with Diana and, last but by no means least, saved what was left of the universe. Again. Not bad for six week's work, frankly.
Next, dear blog reader, we all get to wait a few weeks until New Year's Day and a meeting with more sodding Daleks, seemingly. It would appear that, for all The Doctor's many abilities, she just can't get rid of those guys.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"I Can See He Is Not In Your Good Books, Said The Messenger. If He Were I Would Burn My Library"

Needless to say, dear blog reader, yer actual Keith Telly Topping thought last Sunday's Doctor Who episode, Village Of The Angels was proper excellent. So, that's four good'uns in a row, this is becoming habit-forming Mister Chibnall. It was particularly nice to see the always watchable Kevin McNally back on a series he last graced with his presence in 1984. Well, that's if anyone in The Twin Dilemma could, honestly, be said to have graced anything with anything.
What else has this blogger been watching on the Stately Telly Topping Manor Former Plague House widescreen tellybox, you're probably wondering? And, if you aren't, fear not dear blog reader as Keith Telly Topping is going to tell you anyway. He's like that. You may have noticed. 
There has been considerable irk and not a small amount of righteous, incandescent fury at the situation vis-a-viz Star Trek: Discovery and its home in the UK. You may have heard that the From The North favourite's British fans have been 'left livid' after the global release of the new - fourth - series of Discovery was pulled mere days before its planned launch. And, there's nowt so much a sight to see as righteously furious Star Trek fans. It had been due to be shown outside North America on Netflix from last Friday. However, Netflix then lost the global rights to Paramount, which will now put the show on its own streaming service. Viewers outside the US and Canada, however, must wait until Paramount Plus launches in twenty countries (including the UK) sometime next year. The exception to this, of course, are those handful of UK viewers who have very kind beast fiends in the US who send them over episodes in the post or, those of us like this blogger who get sent preview copies for review purposes. This blogger is in such a fortunate position and is extremely grateful to all concerned for this. And he was, therefore, able to watch the series' opening episode - Kobayashi Maru - earlier this week. Needless to say, he thought it was great.
This blogger also recently caught up with the third series of another From The North favourite, Doom Patrol which this blogger binge-watched all ten episodes over a two-day period. He thought that was great too; it was especially nice to see the series round up the majority of the comic's most important characters which it hadn't already introduced - The Brotherhood/Sisterhood Of Dada, Garguax The Decimator, The Dead Boy Detectives (and Crystal Palace) and, most brilliantly, Brain and Monsieur Mallah. Plus, a fabulously bat-shit crazy Madame Rouge played by Michelle Gomez going so far over the top she's down the other side. This blogger was delighted to learn that the series has recently been commissioned for a fourth series to be broadcast next year.
Speaking of comics which this blogger adored being turned into TV series, on 25 September Netflix released a first look teaser trailer of the highly anticipated adaptation of The Sandman on YouTube. Ooo. Sexy. Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar, Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian, Charles Dance as Roderick Burgess, Asim Chaudhry as Abel and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Cain, Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, Joely Richardson as Ethel Cripps, David Thewlis as Doctor Destiny, Stephen Fry as Fiddler's Green, Patton Oswalt as the voice of Matthew the Raven. This is gonna be large. Probably. 
Wor Geet Canny Sir Ridley Scott has confirmed he is turning two of his most famous SF movies, Blade Runner and Alien, into live-action TV series. Speaking on Monday ahead of the release of his new film House Of Gucci - the trailer of which this blogger saw on both of his recent visits to the cinema to watch No Time To Die and Last Night In Soho - Sir Ridley told Radio 4's Today programme he had already 'written the pilot for Blade Runner' as well as 'the bible' for a ten-episode series. The original Blade Runner movie, set in a dystopian future Los Angeles in 2019, was released in 1982, starring Harrison Ford. You knew that, right? Its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, was released in 2017, starring Ryan Gosling alongside Ford. An anime series called Blade Runner: Black Lotus premiered earlier this month on the Adult Swim channel. Sir Ridley said: 'We're already presenting Blade Runner as a TV show, which will probably be the first ten hours. And then Alien is a similar thing. Alien is now being written for pilot.' The 1979 Alien film starred Sigourney Weaver and was followed by three sequels - one of them utterly brilliant, the others ... not so much - as well as prequels and crossover Alien Versus Predator movies. Last year, FX channel boss John Landgraf described the new project as 'the first Alien story set on Earth.' He said: 'By blending both the timeless horror of the first Alien film with the non-stop action of the second [Aliens], it's going to be a scary thrill ride that will blow people back in their seats.'
Th highlight of this week's episode of From The North favourite Only Connect was Keith Telly Topping's usual 'getting the answer to one question before either of the teams' thing. Which also coincided with The Goddess That Is Victoria Coren Mitchell scoffing a Mars Bar®™ live to give the teams a clue. Movies and chocolate, two of this blogger's favourite things combined in one question. Three if you count The Divine Victoria herself, obviously. 
To more serious matters. Police in Kenya have launched an investigation after a BBC staff member was found dead in Nairobi. Kate Mitchell who worked for BBC Media Action in a number of African countries, died on Friday. BBC Media Action is the corporation's international charity and its projects focus on using media and communication to address inequality around the world. It is not thought Mitchell's death at a hotel in the city was connected to her work for the organisation. And, while the exact circumstances of her death remain unclear, police told local media they were investigating it 'as a murder' and 'exploring' possible motives. 'The suspected culprit ... jumped off the eighth floor of the hotel through the room's window after sensing that the hotel security might be after him,' Nairobi regional police commander Augustine Nthumbi told reporters. Mitchell, who grew up in Whitley Bay, most recently worked for BBC Media Action's office in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. 'We are all shocked and horrified by this terrible news,' Media Action CEO Caroline Nursey said in a statement. 'Kate was a much-loved member of staff, who worked as a Senior Project Manager and had been with us for fourteen years. She was well known across our whole organisation, especially by our teams in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zambia, and London. We send our deepest condolences to her family and her many friends around the world,' she added. Her brother, Peter, said: 'Kate was a deeply beloved daughter, sister and friend and we are only beginning to realise the magnitude of her loss. The circumstances surrounding her death are still being investigated and we would ask you to ignore speculation in parts of the press and on social media. We ask everyone to respect our family's privacy as we grieve Kate's loss.'

Women have, reportedly, been banned from appearing in television dramas in Afghanistan under new rules imposed by the Taliban government. Who are, obviously, not mad as Mad Jack McMad and, in no way, all have very small penises and compensate for that shortage in the Maleness department with a policy of crass and disgusting misogyny. Oh no, very hot water. Female journalists and presenters have also been ordered to wear headscarves on screen, although the guidelines do not say which type of covering to use. Reporters say some of the rules are 'vague' and 'subject to interpretation.' The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August and many fear they are gradually imposing harsh restrictions. The militant Islamist group, which took control following the departure of US and allied forces, almost immediately instructed girls and young women to stay home from school. During their previous rule in the 1990s, women were barred from education and the workplace.
Next, dear blog reader, a public service announcement for all From The North's many dear blog readers who share this blogger's love of The Be-Atles (a popular beat combo of the 1960s, you might've heard of them). Keith Telly Topping is now in his late fifties (you might've noticed that too) and has known The Be-Atles music for most of his life, ever since being bought the 'Yellow Submarine' single for his third birthday in October 1966. This blogger genuinely can't remember when he heard most Be-Atles songs for the first time; some would've been contemporaneously, others were later, in the early-to-mid-seventies via compilation LPs like The Blue Album and Love Songs and finally, around 1976 when the coolest teacher at our school - Mick Lovell - did this blogger a few cassettes to fill in all the gaps. Remember, kids, Home Taping Is Killing Music. Allegedly. Anyway, it remains - even all these years later - a real thrill to see someone else experience this glorious music for the first time. For the last few months a young Australian writer/musician called Caroline has been listening to The Be-Atles LPs in chronological order and posting her reactions to them on her YouTube channel which you can find here. Currently, she's got as far as Revolver (she's on a three-week schedule so Sgt Pepper's should be coming up shortly). As a musician herself, it's fascinating to see Caroline arriving at, for example, A Hard Day's Night or Beatles For Sale or Rubber Soul completely fresh and unspoiled, without any preconceptions or perceived wisdom built up over decades of conditioning and fan dogma about what's good and what isn't. (The sole exception to that was 'Run For You Life' which she was warned, in advance, might not be to her tastes lyrically from a Twenty First Century standpoint. Hard to argue with that, really!) If you find yourself with a couple of hours to spare one rainy Sunday afternoon, dear blog reader, I urge you to check out Caroline's reaction videos in order - they're usually about as long as the LPs themselves although they're getting longer, Revolver clocking in around forty five minutes. It's refreshing to hear someone else's take on music that you know as well as your own heartbeat and, shockingly (and stunningly), you might find yourself hearing something through someone else's ears which will surprise you.
And finally, dear blog reader, after this blogger's rather needy and - with hindsight, a bit pathetic - plea when posting the recent Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2021) bloggerisationism update for publicity, well, it worked. The comedy and broadcasting legend that is yer actual Alfie Joey (close personal fiend of this blogger dontcha know) certainly fell for it. Bless yer cotton socks, Alf, you're a giant amongst men.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2021)

Given that this week includes World Telvision Day welcome, dear blog reader, to the fourteenth annual From The North TV Awards. Celebrating, in Keith Telly Topping's opinion, the best and worst TV shows broadcast during the past year. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you may notice that there are close to twice as many 'highs' listed here as there are 'lows'. This imbalance is not, necessarily, a reflection of the actual ratio of good-telly-to-bad during 2021. Rather it is because, generally speaking, we tend to remember the good stuff and attempt - only sometimes successfully - to forget about all the depressing, laughter-free and 'unsurprisingly inadequate' faeces broadcast on Dave.
As noted previously, each year when this blogger posts these lists, he usually gets a few e-mails from dear blog readers saying something like 'very good, Keith Telly Topping. But, you missed off [insert own favourite].' Therefore, please note, since answering such comments is always 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, in thirty one cases, vastly disliking) during the past twelve months. If a programme is not mentioned, it is either because he didn't see it (try as he might, this blogger can't watch everything - there aren't enough hours in the day for that) or he did, but didn't consider the show(s) in question worthy of inclusion on any of the lists below. If you disagree, as is your right in a free and democratic society, then by all means you have this blogger's permission to start your own blog and create your own awards lists.
One additional request. Usually, each year, this blogger is able to announce the existence of yet another annual From The North TV Awards update via social media. However, as you may have heard, a combination of some hacking malarkey on this blogger's Facebook page and Facebook's curious disinclination to allow themselves to be contacted over such shenanigans and help put matters to right has, sadly, made normal service impossible. Therefore, if any dear blog readers have read - and enjoyed - this bloggerisation update and would like to advertise its existence to others via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, The Dark Web or, indeed, writing the website address on a Post-It Note®™ and sticking it in a public place, such a kindness would be greatly appreciated by Keith Telly Topping.
Thus, without any further mucking around or similar delaying tactics ...

Fifty Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights Of Television In 2021:-

1. Mare Of Easttown
Both stunning and believable as a small-town Pennsylvania detective, Kate Winslet has made an unglamorous return to TV, a decade on from her last small-screen appearance in Mildred Pierce. And it marked what may well be a career-best for the actress who has come a long way since From The North 1990s favourite, Dark Season. Set in the hometown region where screenwriter Brad Ingelsby grew up, the seven-episode HBO crime series was, essentially, an old-fashioned whodunnit located within a close-knit blue collar community. One that was weighed down by traumatic events, past and present. The story followed the titular detective, Mare Sheehan, as she investigated the murder of one local girl and the disappearance of another while trying to cope with her own bereavement and divorce. Her personal troubles also include a son lost to suicide and a custody battle with her ex-heroin addict former daughter-in-law over Mare's grandson. Disappearing into the hard-boiled role, complete with an unbroken Delaware county accent, Winslet showed the audience a woman who would do anything to protect her family and who does not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. Alex Abad-Santos of Vox described Winslet's performance as 'mesmerising,' adding that 'she allows us to see the ugliness Mare is capable of and how obsessive, perhaps even abusive, she can be when she's threatened.' The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz noted Winslet's 'eloquent command of the role is obvious from the outset.' Ben Travers of IndieWire wrote, 'Winslet's immersed performance could carry a far lesser work by itself,' while adding that her dialect is 'convincing and her physical work is flawless.' Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times declared, 'Winslet adds to a long list of magnificent, disappear-into-the-character performances ... [with] one of the most resonant of her career.' Caryn James of the BBC Culture website wrote, 'Winslet's ... fierce, ordinary heroine is gloriously real' and described the series as 'a superb and starry crime thriller.' There were red herrings aplenty and jaw-dropping moments that lesser shows would have chosen to end the series on, but aside from the central Twin Peaks-style murder mystery (hidden double lives, strange goings-on in them-there woods), the success of Mare was also a testament to Ingelsby's writing, allowing time for viewers to get to know the characters (many ostensibly peripheral), as Mare and her tough-as-nails mother (Jean Smart) flitted in and out of their neighbours' lives; chatting with a beer around a dinner table, or chasing down every detail to find justice and help a town in turmoil heal. Though intended as a stand-alone series, Winslet stated in August that she would 'love to return' as Mare and that for any potential second series, Ingelsby 'has shared some very cool ideas. We will see what happens. I also have to figure out if I can do it. Can I go through it again?' The winner of four EMMYs, including entirely justified recognition of Winslet's performance, Mare Of Easttown was, if dear blog readers will excuse this blogger a moment of tmesis-based hyperbole, mag-bloody-nificent.
2. Line Of Duty
'No one makes mugs of AC-12.' Jesus, Mary, Joseph and The Wee Donkey but the return of From The North favourite Line Of Duty only went and attracted the largest overnight audience in the BBC police drama's history. The opening episode of series six was watched by almost ten million overnight viewers (with another five million subsequently viewing it on iPlayer). That surpassed the show's previous record for the finale of series five in 2019. Critics heaped praised on the first episode, with the Gruniad Morning Star's Lucy Mangan describing it as 'just as good, if not better, than ever. If it can hold to its successful formula without tipping into parody, if it can find its way back from the H debacle and if it can weave its customarily masterful narrative spell without tying itself or us in knots - then we'll all be sucking diesel.' The Torygraph's usually scowling waste-of-space, That Awful Singh Woman Singh, concurred. 'On this early evidence, this year's offering has more in common with the show's early years,' she wrote. 'The opening scenes were reminiscent of series two (the Keeley Hawes season, possibly the best of them all) as a call came into the station with some urgent information ... Much of its success hangs on the performances of its guest stars like ... Hawes and [Stephen] Graham and the superb Lennie James in series one. It's too early to say if Kelly Macdonald will be among the greats; she has clearly been told to play Davidson as enigmatic. Mercurio ... looks to have given Macdonald an intriguing backstory.' Another From The North ... whatever the opposite of favourite is, some bloke delighting in the name Cumming, writing in the Independent, said: 'After the more outlandish conspiratorial shenanigans of series five, the first episode of series six returns to what Line Of Duty does best: dodgy coppers, tense action and characters who communicate almost exclusively in acronyms. With her signature mix of sweetness and guile, Macdonald is smart casting for a role that will no doubt toy with our sympathies.' But, Carol Midgley, in The Times, proved she doesn't know what the fek she's taking about: 'As a fan girl, it grieves me to sound like a disappointed bride on her wedding night,' she began, before sounding exactly like a disappointed bride on her wedding night. The Evening Standard's Katie Rosseinsky was more keen: 'Opening with a nerve-shredding set piece, an enigmatic central character and a fusillade of acronyms and police-speak (who or what is a chis? What's the PNC? Is 1A on the matrix good or bad? I have precisely no idea and that's part of the fun), this had all the hallmarks of a classic Line Of Duty opener, but never felt like a case of bent coppers-by-numbers. In the best way, it recalled the first episode of the show's superlative second series: could Macdonald's intriguing, softly-spoken Davidson become an anti-hero to rival Keeley Hawes' Lindsay Denton?' This blogger, for what it's worth, thought it was great. The ambiguous ending left open the possibility of further series should Jed Mercurio have stories that he still wants to tell whilst drawing a line under the journey of the three main characters thus far.
3. Spiral
From The North favourite Engrenages ended not with a whimper but an 'uge détonation when the eighth and final series was broadcast on BBC4 in January. Long-term fans were given what was, perhaps, the most unexpected - but, wholly, welcome - happy ending on TV since The Bridge. There was a fine summation of the finale by the Gruniad Morning Star's regular Spiral reviewer, James Donaghy and, in the same media organ, a decent - if more than a bit flagorneur - piece on the series as a whole by Graeme Virtue. 'How do you sum up Spiral, a show that - over the course of eighty six episodes - evolved from a buzzy breakout hit to a long-in-the-tooth warhorse?' asked the latter. That it was, you know, brilliant maybe? Or is that too simplistic for the Gruniad Morning Star? Why use four words when you can use mille cinq cents instead? Anyway, as Laure and Gilou strolled off, hand-in-hand into an uncertain (but, hopefully, non-jail-specific) future, this blogger wished to convey From The North's sincerest merci beaucoup to the producers and (superb) cast for the best gritty and extremely violent Gallic crime and legal drama of ... ever.
4. The Investigation (Efterforskningen)
'Fifty homicides are committed in Denmark every year. It's the lowest number ever. But it doesn't feel that way ... because we hear about all of them.' 'Maybe it's because the more civilised we become the greater is our need to stare into the darkness.' There is, probably, something rotten in the state of Denmark, dear blog reader. But, it's certainly not their ability to produce some great TV series. Writer-director Tobias Lindholm has made a string of accomplished, morally complex dramas which few in Britain has seen (but, which those of us who have, adored). He was one of the co-writers of From The North favourite Borgen the award-winning series about coalition politics. With Thomas Vinterkorn, he co-wrote The Hunt in 2012, which starred Mads Mikkelsen as a school teacher wrongly accused of sexual abuse. Then he made his solo movie debut, A Hijacking. Two of the stars of Borgen - Pilou Asbæk and Søren Malling - played a cook on a cargo ship and the shipping company's chief executive, who were pushed to their limits when the vessel was taken by Somali pirates. In 2015, Lindholm reunited with both actors for his Afghanistan drama A War, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. This year, the three of them were at it again. The Investigation was a six-part true-crime drama about the highly-publicised and distressing 2017 murder of the Swedish investigative journalist Kim Wall, whose dismembered body was found in the waters around Copenhagen after she went to interview the Danish entrepreneur-inventor Peter Madsen on board his submarine. In a clever move, Madsen himself was not depicted (or even, actually, named) in the series, the drama focusing instead on the meticulous police investigation to discover what happened to cause Wall's death and the grief process of her parents, Ingrid and Joachim (both of whom were heavily involved in the production). With a cast and crew that had many links to previous acclaimed Scandinavian series like The Killing, The Bridge and the under-rated Those Who Kill (Den Som Dræber) it was never going to be any less than gripping telly. But, having devoured all six episodes of The Investigation on iPlayer back-to-back, this blogger was mesmerised by this beautifully shot, slow moving, intricately plotted and immaculately acted piece of art. 'A radical take on the true-crime genre,' according to the Independent, The Investigation was, in every way, worthy of continuing Denmark's icy-grip on discerning British viewers' consciousness.
5. The Queen's Gambit
It arrived at the back-end of last year, fractionally too late for inclusion in the From The North 2020 'Best Of' list but Scott Frank and Allan Scott's fascinating coming-of-age, chess-as-a-metaphor-for-pretty-much-everything saga deserves a place in 2021's awards. In Anya Taylor-Joy's performance as the fictional prodigy Beth Harmon, Netflix found they had a star-making success story on their hands. The Queen's Gambit received numerous accolades; it won eleven Primetime EMMY Awards, including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, becoming the first show on a streaming service to win the category. It also won two Golden Globes and Taylor-Joy scooped a Screen Actors Guild Award. Critical acclaim was immediate and massive. In a column where she argued 'so many lives would be different if we'd had The Queen's Gambit fifty years ago,' social commentator Mary McNamara said, 'I loved The Queen's Gambit so much, I watched the final episode three times.' Sara Miller of The New Yorker recounted having experienced a sense of loss in her own association with the novel after seeing its depiction on-screen because she could not relate to the main character: 'Anya Taylor-Joy is way too good-looking to play Beth Harmon,' she claimed, somewhat dubiously. Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly described the lead actress as excelling 'in the quiet moments, her eyelids narrowing as she decimates an opponent, her whole body physicalising angry desperation when the game turns against her.' Variety's Caroline Framke added: 'The Queen's Gambit manages to personalise the game and its players thanks to clever storytelling and, in Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it.' Rolling Stain said: 'An aesthetically beautiful project with several superb performances, all in service to a story that starts to feel padded long before the end comes.' Critics also frequently discussed the series' prominent theme of substance abuse. Phoebe Wong noted that 'unlike other works which study the self-destructive aspects of perfectionist obsession, mental health and substance abuse issues extend beyond the protagonist to other characters' in her review for the Tufts Daily (no, me neither). 'Impressive in its own right, The Queen's Gambit adopts a fresh perspective by delving into chess' intersections with substance abuse and gender discrimination.' Esquire stated: 'The result is a pretty scary depiction of the stress of competitive chess in the 1960s.' The Washington Post's Monica Hesse considered the series 'revisionist history' but, also, 'a wonderful future' in that the heroine's 'uncluttered path to success' is 'uninterrupted by sexism' and has men 'refreshingly' looking out for the main female character. Carina Chocano of The New York Times Magazine also believed the show - again and again - foils audience expectations: the janitor does not molest Beth, her adoptive father leaves her alone and her adoptive mother, Alma, does not hold her back, a departure Chocano attributed to the 'fantasy-like' quality of the series. Responding to these reviews, Fred Mazelis of the World Socialist website wrote 'the claims that the series is appreciated because it is "fantasy" are disingenuous, to say the least. The show has struck a chord precisely because it is not seen as utopian fiction.' The series also received praise from the chess community for its realistic portrayal of the game and players. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade said that The Queen's Gambit 'completely nailed the chess accuracy.' In an article about the series in The Times, British chess champion David Howell felt that the chess scenes were 'well choreographed and realistic,' while British women's champion Jovanka Houska said: 'I think it's a fantastic TV series ... [i]t conveys the emotion of chess really well.' Houska stated that she related to Beth being one of the few women in a tournament and noted that sexism was worse at the 'hobby' level, especially for young girls. International Master Dorsa Derakhshani described the show as 'very, very accurate.'
A mildly amusing postscript: In the final episode of The Queen's Gambit, the women's world champion Nona Gaprindashvili was mentioned as having 'never faced men,' despite the real-life Gaprindashvili frequently playing against male opponents. In response, Gaprindashvili whinged 'it's dishonouring to have misinformation spread about someone's achievements' and sued Netflix for defamation, seeking a load of wonga for having had her feelings hurt. Or something. Let us once again, dear blog reader, stand up and salute the trivial bollocks that some people chose to care about.
6. Doctor Who
'Being with The Doctor, you don't get to choose when it stops. Whether you leave her or she leaves you.' Following on swiftly from 2020's thoroughly enjoyable batch of episodes, the New Year's Day Doctor Who episode, Revolution Of The Daleks was a timely - if unnecessary - reminder of just how good Jodie Whittaker's Doctor had become over the previous two series; taking a brilliantly convoluted pan-continental (and, indeed, pan-galactic) storyline full of sly realpolitik intrigue and lots of good jokes (a Mike Ashley reference!) it proved to be a fine departure for the always-excellent Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole, who got their deserved happy ending. And, it allowed old Barrowman to camp it up in a grand manner without ever once threatening to get his knob out on-set. Well, okay, maybe once. 'Revolution Of The Daleks isn't going to go on many lists of favourite Doctor Who episodes,' claimed Starburst. 'But it has a lot going for it - it's a fast-paced, crowd-pleasing Dalek shoot-'em-up; it confidently and satisfyingly draws together elements from across the show's recent continuity and it's one of the better companion exit stories we've seen in a long while.' 'What the episode does is try and tackle questions raised by The Doctor always being the centre of the series' universe and what it takes to overcome her gravitational pull,' added Den of Geek. 'Even if you don't care to chew over those metatextual issues on New Year's Day, however, Revolution Of The Daleks is still an enjoyable hour-and-change of telly and one that ultimately chooses to (mostly) wipe the slate clean ready for adventures yet to come.' This blogger, of course, thought it was great - Chibnall showing an unexpected dark-side to his corner of the Doctor Who universe and, despite some criticisms that the episode lacked 'emotional weight', it produced many positive notices from critics and fans alike. Due to on-going Covid-type malarkey, the thirteenth series of the BBC's popular, long-running family SF drama was reduced to six episodes (an inter-connected story subtitled Flux), scheduled for late October and it returned with a - superb - opening three episode, The Halloween Apocalypse, War Of The Sontarans and Once, Upon Time. Joining The Doctor and Yaz in the TARDIS was Dan, played by large-toothed cheeky-chappie Scouse funster, John Bishop. And his Sontaran-disabling wok. Shortly before the series returned, however, there was the duel announcements that Jodie would be leaving the role following three extended specials to be broadcast in 2022 and, then, that Russell Davies would be returning to the franchise as showrunner for Doctor Who's sixtieth anniversary in 2023. Wheel turns, civilisations rise ... but Doctor Who just keeps on going. And, thanks to all the black, white and technocolour guardians of the tellybox universe for that.
7. Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent)
For so long Spiral stood alone but French TV is currently having a bit of a moment, with a number of series becoming international talking points. Chief among them being this stiletto-sharp comedy-drama about a Paris talent agency, whose fourth series premiered on Netflix in January after broadcasting in France late last year. Dix Pour Cent's central conceit is that each episode features a particular client, a real-life star playing themselves - and, for the first time the latest run looked beyond France's borders for its cameos, with an appearance by Hollywood's Sigourney Weaver. Other than that, however, it was deliciously acerbic business as usual and has made its central quartet of harassed media manipulators - Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Grégory Montel and Liliane Rovère - into genuine star material; as the BBC's arts editor Will Gompertz noted it 'maintains the same rarefied heights of excellence of the previous three [series], as our bold and increasingly beleaguered agents do battle with the corporate ogre that is StarMédia, an array of recalcitrant actors, and - mostly - each other.' Though this was widely purported to be the final series, fans will be glad to know that there has been a stay of execution: a fifth series and a stand-alone film have recently been confirmed. Which is good news for a series described by the Gruniad as 'a comedy gem.' Proof that, like a broken clock, even Middle Class hippy Communists at the Gruniad can be right up to twice a day.
8. Exterminate All The Brutes
An internationally co-produced documentary series revolving around colonisation and genocide, directed and narrated by Raoul Peck. The series consisted of four episodes and premiered in the US in April and the UK on Sky Documentaries in May. It took its name from Sven Lindqvist's book, a phrase that Lindqvist in turn borrowed from Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness. In the premiere, The Disturbing Confidence Of Ignorance, Peck set out to illuminate the intertwined currents of bigotry running through history. Focusing on America's legacy as a colonial power, Peck explored how race first became institutionalised, the Nazi programme of 'elimination' and its antecedents in the West and the looting of the African continent. In Who The Fuck Is Columbus?, Peck revisited the stories of the first voyages of discovery, The Alamo and The Trail Of Tears from an indigenous perspective, showing how official history is always shaped by the winning side and solidified by myth and popular culture. Killing At A Distance Or How I Thoroughly Enjoyed The Outing, saw Peck looking at human migration, trade and weaponry and how European nations used industrialised steel to conduct warfare from ever-greater distances. The endless cycle of militarisation throughout the centuries - from George Washington's efforts to American arms manufacturing, to The Monroe Doctrine and, finally, to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - formed part of them same straight line. The Bright Colours Of Fascism ended the series, exploring the challenge of reconciling America's true history with its ideals of freedom and democracy, pointing to the struggle for native representation and the legacy of slavery in institutionalised racism today. 'It's far from easy viewing, but Exterminate All The Brutes might be close to essential,' wrote The Age. 'The past is never dead and it's not even the past. Peck is determined that we don't forget that,' added Vox. 'It's astounding that Exterminate All The Brutes even exists.' 'At once epic in scope and intimate in focus, held together by the strength of Peck's vision,' wrote The Ringer. 'One series alone can't rewrite history, but it can attempt to serve as a rallying cry.' 'The show is a relentless attack on racism, genocide, colonialism and the extractive nature of imperialist and post-imperialist forms of capitalism,' was the opinion of The Nation. Amongst the other critics lining up to heap praise of Peck's documentary were New Yorker ('It is literally a film in Peck's voice and that strength and that audacity, also gives rise to its artistic peculiarities'), CNN ('While Peck's unorthodox approach might not win many converts, the project's existence is, if not quite a miracle, its own kind of victory'), East Bay Express ('It's a whirlwind of meaning about how the world got this way, a moral and philosophical appeal to reason, wrapped up in a documentary best viewed unhurriedly, in order to let it all sink in') and The Hollywood Reporter ('a daring, imaginative and defiantly challenging artwork - one that often feels like it belongs as much in a museum as on TV'). This was extraordinary, brave, at times highly uncomfortable television - a remarkable and important creation.
9. Staged
'Do you think I'm funny?' Dear blog readers with memories longer than the average goldfish may recall that this blogger was particularly harsh on certain TV critics during From The North's Best & Worst TV Of 2020 bloggerisation. Most notably over a couple of reviews of the third series of what had previously been a critical favourite, Killing Eve and what this blogger described as '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.' One of those who copped this blogger's particular ire and righteous fury was That Awful Singh Woman at the Torygraph. Her idiotic claims that 'the novelty has worn off' and that Killing Eve was 'no longer TV's must-watch' caused this blogger to blow his shit and, angrily, observe 'the fact that some arrogant smear of no consequence considers liking any TV show to be "a novelty" tells you everything you need to know about Anita Singh of the Torygraph.' Well, the odious Torygraph reviewer - who is rapidly turning into this blogger's most loathed TV critic of all time (taking the place of previous From The North bête noire, That Awful Graham Woman at the Radio Times) - was at it again in 2021. The opening episode of the second series of From The North favourite Staged was her target as That Awful Singh Woman sneeringly criticised the 'meta' aspects of the series, saying 'Staged is at its best when [David Tennant and Michael Sheen] are being funny, rather than debating whether or not they're funny.' This blogger thinks, actually, that is a matter for the audience to decide, not some arrogant arsewipe at the Torygraph's media desk. To be scrupulously fair, That Awful Singh Woman was not alone in her use of the 'arse-lick-'em-up-and-then-slap-'em-down-hard' thing in relation to Staged. One Rupert Hawksley (no, me neither) - who, seemingly, couldn't get a job at the newspaper actually designed for Middle Class hippy Communists, the Gruniad, so he had to go and work for the Indi instead - called the first episode 'stale and indulgent ... Perhaps Staged was always this smug and we just didn't notice, so grateful were we to have something new to watch, but the tone is now horribly out of step with the national mood.' Once again, pal, the national mood was/is not something which gets decided by some joyless fek-faced goitre spewing out their phlegm in the (distantly) fourth biggest-selling national broadsheet. Or, someone who has the gall to describe anything as 'smug' when writing in a newspaper for whom that word could almost have been specifically created.
These are both, of course, classic examples of the 'arse-lick-'em-up-and-then-slap-'em-down-hard' principle. And, in the case of the latter, it was also a textbook demonstration of something this blogger's old mate Paul Cornell - now, of course, an acclaimed TV writer himself - once talked about in relation to certain Doctor Who fans. 'If you try to show a fan a point,' Paul observed, wearily, 'chances are, they'll miss it.' If ever there was a finer example of that in relation to TV critique, it's describing Staged as 'smug.' Self-deprecating? Yeah. Arch? Possibly, this blogger might give you that. Ridiculous? Deliberately so and all the more delicious for it. But 'smug'? Most other critics who expressed an opinion about series two of Staged managed, thankfully, to avoid the temptation to use the 'arse-lick-'em-up-and-then-slap-'em-down-hard' thing, as the Rotten Tomatoes website summation proves. TV critics, dear blog reader, they're a right bunch of contrary waste-of-space twonks at the best of times. This blogger very much included. Here endeth today's lesson.
10. Unforgotten
'If we can do this right, if we can ignore who they are and do it by the book, then all the questions might go away. And, I might be able to sleep at night.' Such is the glut of crime dramas on telly these days that it's difficult for any new show in the genre to truly stand out, but this exceptional effort made it look easy - proving that what you really need to elevate your procedural police series is not high concepts or over-clever twists, but just beautiful and humane writing and superb acting. Through three previous series, creator Chris Lang used the premise of Cassie Stuart (From The North Goddess Nicola Walker) and Sunny Khan (the excellent Sanjeev Bhaskar) investigating years-old but newly-unearthed murders as a way to tell powerful stories of guilt, shame, regret and, just occasionally, redemption. This year's fourth series, focusing on the discovery of a body with links to four former friends who were all once trainee police officers, was no less powerful and was a massive hit for ITV with each of the six episodes pulling in over nine million punters. Meanwhile the real highlight of the show remained the incredible performance of Dame Nicola, one of the most natural and organic actors around - this blogger is struggling to think if she has ever put in what he considers to be a below-par performance in anything and he's coming up blank. She's not a From The North favourite for nothing, dear blog reader. Extraordinary for being so ordinary, Cassie was not a tortured detective type but rather an exceptional, sympathetic professional trying to do her best in difficult circumstances - and, without giving away any spoilers for those who didn't watch the episodes, this series made viewers value her more than ever. Beautifully written (Walker's near-to-tears victim monologues having long been series highlights) and with a pair of thunderous performances from the leads, this was an unforgettable instalment of an unmissable show. 'Unforgotten makes the case for decency,' wrote the New York Times. Indecently, a remake is, reportedly, in development for ABC in the United States. Because, as we've noted many time in the past on this blog, no one in US TV seems to have any original ideas any more. Meanwhile, a fifth series of the proper Unforgotten will be broadcast in 2022.
11. Arena: Delia - The Myth & The Legendary Tapes
Carolina Catz's extraordinary docudrama about the late Delia Derbyshire got its TV debut early this year in the BBC2's Arena strand. It explored the life and creative output of Coventry-born Derbyshire - electronic musician, sound pioneer, female outsider and twenty four carat genius. From 1962 until 1973, she worked at the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, where she created the iconic Doctor Who theme tune, which remained uncredited to her during her lifetime. Delia introduced avant-garde electronica and musique concrete to a generation through the medium of a teatime family TV drama (devoted fans of her work include techno pioneers Orbital, Aphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers). Sound was both a refuge for Delia and a haunting manifestation of something darker. She was three years old during the Coventry blitz listening to the sounds of the air-raid sirens against a backdrop of the devastation of her hometown. She later described the all-clear klaxons as her first experience of electronic music. This was a story where sound encapsulated pain and violence and positioned Delia as tapping into a heightened realm, where her femininity and creativity were unshackled, amplified and, ultimately, set gloriously free. This essence in her music invited aggression and control, often unconsciously, from those around her. Her technical brilliance, intuition and integrity was a threat which spoke to the gender politics of the age. Delia's story was told through two archives: the first, a collection of over two hundred and fifty reels audiotape recordings found in her attic after her death; the other, her school books, paintings and keepsakes. The combined archive, which now resides at Manchester's John Rylands Library, is an incredible resource. Delia's poetic collages and atmospheric soundscapes reveal themselves as intriguing expressions of her inner life. The docudrama began with Delia herself (portrayed by Catz) as a time traveller and imagined a visitation where her objects and sounds from her past brought her visions to life. Her struggle with alcoholism, frustrations at her contributions being downplayed in a predominantly male workplace environment as well as her life on the fringes of relationships were all explored in the film - themes which were frequently absorbed into sound, texture and harmonies. The docudrama replaced a biopic style with something far more lyrical and ethereal. It was a playful, quasi-psychedelic mix utilising interviews with her collaborators and dramatisations while honouring the composer's own questing spirit. This was a life story - outré and challenging - told through sound, using both Delia's own music alongside a soundtrack constructed from samples chosen with musician and performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti (formerly of Throbbing Gristle, another lifelong fan) from Delia's attic tapes. It explored the fantasy of a collaboration, an exchange of ideas across eras between two fascinating musicians. It celebrated independence and imagination and looked at how, when that energy is evoked by women and creates a spark, the pattern seen throughout history is that it is often dismissed or under-appreciated. 'A loving, almost dreamy paean to the woman who started her career as an assistant in the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop and became a pioneer of electronic music as we know it today,' wrote The Times. 'This could have been a sombre, straight documentary, but it feels fitting that it is playful and, for much of it, a lot of fun,' added the Gruniad. 'Even a scene in which Derbyshire wrestles with her demons has her conversing with paintings of Ada Lovelace and Mary Wollstonecraft.' 'Boldly original, beautifully evocative,' was Radio Times's view. 'She was too in advance of her time,' Delia's long-time collaborator Brian Hodgson said in the programme. It was a fitting epitaph for a woman who fulfilled her ambition of creating sounds which had only existed in her own head.
12. The Valhalla Murders (Brot)
Described by more than one critic as, 'essentially, The Bridge Lite' that was damning this fine Icelandic noir with grossly insufficient praise. Broadcast in the UK on BBC4 in the final days of 2020, Brot was a splendidly glacial (in every sense of the word) drama about a pair of Reykjavik detectives - played by Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Björn Thors - investigating conspiracy, child abuse and other dodgy-doings at the heart of government. The drama was the brainchild of Þorður Pálsson and was, apparently, inspired by a genuine story from the late 1940s. 'The Valhalla Murders is enthralling stuff, the contrasting grit and gleam of the interiors and exteriors - and even of the actors themselves - weaving a visual spell of its own,' noted the Sydney Morning Herald. 'You might need to put the central heating up while watching this eight-part Icelandic thriller; it has the potential to make your core temperature drop a couple of point,' added the Financial Times. What was just as interesting as the whodunnit was the professional gender politics and home-life pressures that Filippusdóttir's Kata had to navigate. The Valhalla Murders worked, for a large part, because of its unique locale, witty scripts and wall-to-wall fine performances. 'This drama doesn't set out to reinvent a genre,' noted the Globe & Mail's reviewer. 'What keeps you compelled, with as much force as the mystery, is the attention paid to minor characters.' Kalt fallegt for all From The North dear blog reader's in Reykjavík.
13. It's A Sin
From The Normal Heart to Angels In America, there have been a number of landmark works about the US AIDs crisis of the early-to-mid 1980s, but very little depicting the scourge of the pandemic elsewhere - which was what made Russell Davies' six-part exploration of what was happening in the UK at the time so welcome. A co-production with HBO, it was a masterful blend of comedy, tragedy and contemporary pop hits, which perhaps showcased Davies' unique brilliance as a writer better than any show he's done previously (Queer As Folk and some daft kids about a time-travelling madman in a box, notwithstanding): that is, his particular ability to combine the immense warmth and homeliness of a classic British drama and/or comedy with a righteous anger that gradually, then suddenly unfurls itself in the lives of his characters. A fine young ensemble cast included Olly Alexander, Callum Scott Howells and Omari Douglas as a trio of gay men, moving to the big city with no idea what was in store, whilst they were supported by a fine selection of more experienced names, the best of all being Neil Patrick Harris as an impish Savile Row tailor along with the likes of From The North favourites Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Shaun Dooley. And, if It's A Sin's depiction of how the victims of a pandemic were turned into pariahs by the media and public indifference would have cut deeply at any time, right at that moment it acquired a resonance which was even more gut-wrenching. The show's subject matter was, reportedly, a difficult sell to broadcasters; the BBC and ITV declined to develop the series and Channel Four only took it on after their commissioning editor of drama, Lee Mason, fought for it. The show received widespread critical acclaim for its emotional scenes, writing and depiction of AIDS (Scarlett Russell of The Times called it 'the most talked-about show of the moment'); the cast performances were also met with widely positive reviews (particularly Keeley Hawes: 'an acting tour de force as a mother whose grief and denial turns her vicious' according to the Radio Times). Elton John described the show as a 'triumph of creativity and humanity,' adding that it was a 'moving testament to a pivotal and important moment in LGBTQ history. The cast are sublime.' Similarly, Ian McKellen also praised the series and called Davies 'the most imaginative of writers for television.' It's A Sin's soundtrack included numerous artists from the 1980s including - obviously - The Pet Shop Boys, The Teardrop Explodes, Bronski Beat, Joy Division, Kate Bush, Kelly Marie, Blondie, Erasure and Culture Club. NME noted that the series uses 'a faultless selection of queer anthems and eighties smash hits that take on a new resonance.' The drama has been credited with re-raising HIV awareness and creating an upsurge in testing. All episodes were released to the broadcaster's online streaming service All Four; after a few weeks, it had been viewed more than six-and-a-half million times making it the most binge-watched show to stream on the platform. Indeed, the only sour-note surrounding this heartfelt and emotionally precise series was a hateful piece of thinly-disguised bigotry by James Delingpole of The Spectator in criticising Davies' casting of gay actors for gay roles as 'blatant hypocrisy.' It is, perhaps, worth repeating at this point something which this blog has discussed at length in the past. There are many good people in the world; there are also some bad people; most of us are somewhere in the middle just trying to get through life without hurting anyone - notably ourselves - too badly. And then, dear blog reader, there are some people who are just, simply, scum.
14. We Are Lady Parts
'Do you want to waterboard me about it?' Nida Manzoor's highly-regarded - and very funny - comedy about a female Muslim punk band was a riotous achievement, mixing singalong rock anthems ('Bashir With The Good Beard') and a culture-clash story which was both tender and huge fun. This brilliant sitcom was both hilarious and gently (and, sometimes, not-so-gently) subversive. Manzoor overthrew many stereotypes about Muslim women by giving viewers flawed and amusing characters who are very much in charge of their own destinies. Each scene was infused with such warmth and authenticity that it was impossible not to be impressed. Originally a Channel Four pilot as long ago as 2018, the full series finally arrived in May of this year. It featured Anjana Vasan, Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamedc and Faith Omole as the eponymous Parts and Lucie Shorthouse as their manager. On Rotten Tomatoes the critical consensus was: 'Infectious energy, great songs and a magnetic cast come together.' Radhika Seth of Vogue described the series as a 'riotous comedy that's unlike anything you've seen before' and added that it 'hinges on a quintet of note-perfect performances.' The Financial Times said that 'progressive representations highlight a truth about being a modern-day Muslim: you can be both God-fearing and weed-smoking; disorderly and devotional. Far from a clash, these things reflect a cultural mish-mash of the tangled and contradictory parts of ourselves that make us delightfully, bafflingly human.' The review continued the series 'is among a wave of shows casting off stereotypes and at ease with complexity ... The well-worn trope of oppressed Muslim women is nowhere to be seen among these tattooed, anarchic rebels who are, nevertheless, practising Muslims. When they're not prostrating in prayer, they are ripping through provocative punk anthems such as 'Aint No One's Gonna Honour-Kill My Sister But Me'.' The Observer's Barbara Ellen said the sitcom was 'unhinged, unashamedly and entertainingly so - new comedy turned up to eleven.' Plus, the songs were great! Manzoor's scripts were knowing and clever. By the end of the first episode, a whole litany of Muslim stereotypes had already been poked fun at with a pointy stick. What was especially interesting was how refreshingly good-humoured it all was. As more than one critic has pointed out, We Are Lady Parts does something that many, in theory far more 'diverse' shows, have not. It delivers on the potential of representation. And, it actually was funny. Not in an 'in-joke' sort-of way, but in the classic slapstick style of people falling over and wry observations about the complexities of modern womanhood. Says a fifty eight year old white, straight Northern unmarried male who belongs to no oppressed minorities whatsoever (unless being A Ginger counts).
15. Can't Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History Of The Modern World
In this sprawling six-part series for BBC iPlayer, Adam Curtis reflected on how in the age of the individual, fundamental power structures governing us all haven't gone away. Curtis, the creator of previous From The North favourites as diverse as Pandora's Box, The Century Of Self, The Power Of Nightmares and All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace traced the different forces that have 'led to now.' Featuring, as all of Curtis's documentary work tends to, off-beat archival footage of figures in politics and culture, the montage of film essays focused on the loosely interconnected stories of historical revolutionaries. Telling the individual tales of Jiang Qing, Afeni Shakur, Edward Limonov and Michael X, Curtis set out the - persuasive if, at times more than a bit convoluted - argument that it was all of us - self-expressing individuals, politicians and technocrats - who, together, made these strange times that we're currently living through. In other words, it's our fault. All of it - the rise of the new right, the fragmentation of society, Trump, Brexit, racism, the works. We made it happen; either directly or, by our inaction, indirectly. It's sobering stuff. Curtis doesn't provide any answers, either - like most of us, he hasn't got any - but through his typical dazzling, yet untraditional collage format, Curtis does at least offer us an explanation of the dynamics of our times. And, gently wag a finger at viewers whilst trying to establish why the critics of now-extremely-former President Rump and Brexit were unable to offer any alternative vision for the future.
The Gruniad Morning Star called Can't Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History Of The Modern World 'dazzling' and 'a dense, ambitious triumph.' Though, to paraphrase the late Mandy Rice Davies, 'well, they would, wouldn't they?' Sarah Carson of the i described the series as 'terrifying' and 'a masterpiece' whilst the Independent added it was a 'fascinating and disorienting' series that 'aims to show how radical movements, emerging after the Second World War, were neutralised and co-opted by an establishment determined to maintain the status quo.' Somewhat typical of the Indi, that - always seeking to maintain The Status Quo. This blogger has long believed Britain's fourth largest-selling broadsheet was, collectively, soft on ponytails and fifty years of imaginative use of demin. On the other hand, James Walton of The Spectator believed the series was merely a variation on Curtis's usual theme of 'how hopeless - in both senses - human beings are,' deriding Can't Get You Out Of My Head as 'incoherent and conspiracy-fuelled.' Max Power in the Torygraph - who, seemingly, took time out from leading Sunderland's second failure to get out of the third tier of English football before transfering to Wigan - found the series 'completely implausible.' So, to sum up, then, if you work for a broadly left-leaning media organ - and enjoy a healthy slice of Vegan quiche - then you're likely to wildly applaud Curtis's vision. If, on the other hand, you're on the right of the political spectrum, then you are ... vile filth, basically. No one likes you and you will never get invited to any of the Cool Kidz parties. Which sounds about right. In an equally sceptical, if somewhat less agenda-soaked review for Sight & Sound, Hannah McGill wrote: 'Curtis practices journalism absent the qualities that give it credibility: specificity, corroboration. Instead, he serves up a soup of interesting, oddball historical anecdotes, accompanied by a voiceover favouring giant, blurry assertions about how "we" interact with "those in power" during the "strange days" in which we live. Who are "we"? English speakers? Men? People who watch Adam Curtis documentaries?' A fair question. Like the Torygraph's (actually quite amusing) description of the series as a 'never-ending Radiohead video' there's more than a touch of perception in McGill's piece, Can't Get You Out Of My Head Gets Lost In Its Own Thoughts. Curtis's work is challenging, dense, often so complex as to be almost impenetrable. You have to completely immerse yourself in it and, even then, you may still not get to the heart of what Curtis is trying to articulate. But, viewers with a brain in their skull in this attention-span-of-seven-seconds world owe it to themselves to, at least, give it a go. Plus, anyone who can get away with an episode title like Shooting & Fucking Are The Same Thing deserves a bit of indulgence. Even from Gas Power and all of the other gasbags at the Torygraph.
16. The Brokenwood Mysteries
As noted in previous years' From The North 'Best Of' lists, The Brokenwood Mysteries is a show which, initially at least, sneaked under the radar of many British viewers - this blogger included. It's a New Zealand crime drama unable to make up its mind whether it wants to be Midsomer Murders or Twin Peaks. So, it ends up as a bit of both, simultaneously. And, that's a good thing. 'With its "gentle" approach to murders, twisty mysteries and warm, witty and relatively uncomplicated regulars, it's easy to see why Brokenwood has gained such a global following,' noted the Stuff website. It arrived in the UK on the relatively obscure Drama channel a couple of years ago and 2021's seventh series has been the best so far, with the central detective duo of Nill Rea and Fern Sutherland on particularly fine form. The series even survived its first change of main cast with the departure of Nic Sampson after a couple of episodes and his replacement by Jarod Rawiri. Engaging, quirky, with a keen sense of its own ridiculous faux-naïf world (concerning, as it does, a small town full of eccentrics which appears to be the murder capital of the Southern Hemisphere), Brokenwood's charms are gentle, yet can be very rewarding.
17. Wellington Paranormal
A bit like buses, you wait for ages for a superb New Zealand TV series to appear and then two turn up at once. And, if The Brokenwood Mysteries is like some unholy mash-up of Midsomer Murders and Twins Peak then Wellington Paranormal appears to have been made by people who've only ever seen two other TV shows, Cops and The X-Files! Created by Taika Waititi and Flight of The Conchords' Jemaine Clement and starring Karen O'Leary, Mike Minogue and Maaka Pohatu, once again, the series took a while to make it over to the UK, finally showing up on Sky Comedy early this year. And, it's terrific, with the leads (O'Leary, in particular) delivering their lines in a dry, near po-faced fly-on-the-wall documentary style as they investigate cases of a young girl projectile vomiting in Cuba Mall, crop circles, the She Wolf of Kurimarama Street, zombie police officers et cetera. 'A deft blend of monster-of-the-week frights and low-key humour, Wellington Paranormal is a droll delight,' according to Rotten Tomatoes. The series has also been described as 'refreshingly silly and never pretentious', 'imminently watchable thanks to its considerable B-movie charm' and 'silly, fun and occasionally astute, even when it isn't trying.' Three series have now been produced together with a sixteen-episode digital web series and public service campaign by New Zealand Police to inform the public on health, safety and best practices during the pandemic, Important COVID-19 Messages from Wellington Paranormal. The broadcaster and presenter Clarke Gayford's appearance on a Wellington Paranormal video in April 2021 encouraging people who were looking after young children during the pandemic drew some criticism from those with an agenda due to his relationship with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. National Party Member of Parliament Brett Hudson (who is, clearly, not scum. Oh, no, very hot water) alleged during an Epidemic Response Committee meeting in that the video risked 'politicising' the New Zealand Police. In response, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster defended Gayford's participation on the grounds that he is a well-known television personality who had participated in the television series. All such nonsense aside, this blogger urges dear blog readers to check out Wellington Paranormal anywhere you can find it. The Copy Cops episode, in particular, is worth half-an-hour of anyone's time.
18. Vera/Endeavour
With filming hampered by Covid restrictions both of ITV's Sunday night crime drama blockbusters suffered from reduced episode-counts in 2021. Only two episodes of Vera's eleventh series were broadcast in August and September with further stories from the same recording block held back until next year. Once again, the series highlights Brenda Blethyn's pitch-perfect portrayal of Ann Cleeves' titular Detective Chief Inspector, featured intricate plotting (notably in Colette Kane's Recovery) and, most importantly, provided North East viewers like this blogger with two hours of location spotting (the opening episode's use of Tynemouth's Collingwood Monument being this year's most obvious example). Vera never has and probably will never be a critical favourite - you'll struggle to find so much as a word spoken about it in many of the broadsheets and, when the Torygraph did honour the series with a review of this year's opening episode, it was every bit as sneering as you'd expect from That Awful Singh Woman: 'Vera investigates the murder of a local builder. By the time she's solved it, you'll feel becalmed and ready for bed.' Vera, nevertheless, remained a popular format with normal people, both episodes pulling in overnight audiences of over seven million.
The eighth series of the Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour, set in 1971, followed in Vera's Sunday evening slot with three terrific episodes - especially, the opener Striker which tackled racism in early-70s football and the rise of the IRA and the finale, Terminus, a long-overdue horror-inflected haunted house-style mystery. One featuring 'some great jump scares and effective use of light and shadow in a mystery that blends period-appropriate Hammer stylings with a touch of Agatha Christie,' according to the Den Of Geek review. As ever, Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Shaun Rigby, Sara Vickers and Abigail Thaw were on terrific form and the sense of time and location was beautifully preserved throughout. There have been rumours that this would be the final series, the drama now having reached the same number of episodes - thirty three - as its two predecessors Inspector Morse and Lewis. But, as yet, ITV have made no comment on the series future (or, lack of it).
19. Vigil
A much-anticipated six-part thriller filmed in Scotland from the makers of Bodyguard and Line Of Duty and featuring From The North favourite Suranne Jones. What could possibly go wrong? Remarkably little as it turned out. Created by Strike's Tom Edge, it was the story of the mysterious disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler and a death on board a Trident nuclear submarine which brought the police into conflict with the Navy and the security services. Besides Jones it starred Rose Leslie, Shaun Evans, Anjli Mohindra, Martin Compston and Paterson Joseph. Episode one attracted an audience of over ten million viewers across its first seven days, making Vigil the BBC's most watched new drama of the year. In fact, ratings across all six episodes were massive. The Gruniad Morning Star described the series as 'solid, old-fashioned entertainment.' The Independent praised the cast and Edge's script. In the Evening Standard, Katie Rosseinsky said: 'scenes set in the depths of the sub are visually striking, lit up in reds and blues. Add in some jump scares, a handful of near-catastrophes and a couple of cliffhangers and you have all the makings of a taut mystery with intriguingly murky depths. Sunday nights are stressful again - I wouldn't have it any other way.' Empire magazine described Vigil as '[a] relentless conspiracy drama bursting with performers who know how to keep their cards close to their chests. British TV doesn't get more thrilling than this.' Hugo Rifkind in The Times added '[s]etting a whodunnit on a submarine' was 'a masterstroke.' Suzi Feay of the Financial Times said that 'The submarine setting has the welcome effect of pressure-cooking some fairly standard ingredients into a tasty concoction.' Of course, big surprise, the Torygraph hated it, That Awful Singh Woman describing the series as 'so bad it could be Russian propaganda' (something which seems not to have particularly bothered an average of over twelve million punters, weekly) whilst her colleague British Sea Power decalared that 'the story was nonsense.' Which it wasn't, or anything even remotely like it, Wind Power. For what it's worth, dear blog reader, this blogger thought Vigil was great.
20. A Perfect Planet
A five-part BBC series presented by David Attenborough, the first episode premiered in January. Filming took place over four years, across thirty one countries, with crew navigating difficulties in extreme temperatures and remote locations. The editing process was also badly affected by the pandemic. The series covered volcanoes, the Sun, weather and oceans, with the final episode focusing on human impact on the environment. Humans, was described by Attenborough as 'the most important story of our times': it showed the result of three weeks' filming on a Navy ship. Assistant producer Emily Franke aimed to 'show viewers the impact of our fishing practices.' A Perfect Planet was one of the most popular programmes on iPlayer in the first week of 2021, which saw the largest viewing figures in the platform's history. The Times found scenes 'stunning' and 'breathtaking', though filled with 'torture and suffering.' The Torygraph praised the 'quality of the photography' and Attenborough's narration as 'intelligent,' enjoying the depictions of how the crew gathered footage. The Gruniad also highlighted this latter aspect. The Independent found the visuals 'as awesome in scale and majesty as anything that has gone before' and lauded the series' theme as 'clever and novel.' The New Scientist, praised the series as a 'great blend of Natural History and Earth Science,' lauding the content about weather and climate change as 'perhaps the series' most dramatic scenes.' 'Terribly informative and all that, but, hello, any chance of something to coo over?' whinged the Herald's reviewer for whom, seemingly, Climate Change is someone else's problem. 'By half-an-hour in I was starting to wonder. Then the otters arrived. And the bears and normal service was resumed.' This was, of course, exactly what you'd expect from Attenborough and his colleagues in Bristol's Natural History Unit; concerned in its raison d'être, epic in scope, camera poetry in its visual impact, profound in its conclusions and not afraid to voice some harsh, possibly unwelcome, truths. It was, in a nutshell, beautiful. The final episode was, as Michael Hogan's Torygraph's review said, 'a sobering hour about the fragility of our world but it ended on an optimistic note. Environmental equilibrium can be recovered if we act fast.' If. Good word, that, dear blog reader.
21. The Pursuit Of Love
Lily James and Emily Beecham played best friends Linda Radlett and Fanny Logan on the hunt for husbands in this three-part dramatisation of Nancy Mitford's classic novel. Emily Mortimer's raucous adaptation of Mitford's tale of romance, friendship and scandal proved the perfect vehicle for James's Linda to shine. As audiences followed her from her stuffy family home of Alconleigh to Paris and war-torn London, Mortimer's script deftly examined the consequences of hedonistically following ones passions and loving unwisely. The cast also included Andrew Scott (deliciously over-the-top as Lord Merlin), Dominic West, Dolly Wells, Freddie Fox and Mortimer herself in the role of Beecham's runaway mother. In the Radio Times, Eleanor Bley Griffiths wrote 'Each episode was a joy and a pleasure to watch - and when it comes to Sunday night TV, you can't ask for more than that.' Well, you can, actually, but if you do you run the risk of being seen as greedy. The Torygraph praised the drama overall but, inevitably, criticised the casting of James: 'It is enjoyable, and the first episode is quite the best. But its leading lady is all wrong, despite looking the part.' Because, this is That Awful Singh Woman talking and, seemingly, she is unable to get through a sentence without twisting her sour face into a gurn over something. Slow Train Cumming in the Independent was more complimentary about Our Lil's talents: 'Free to pout and strut and grumble like a teenager, James relaxes more into her role than she did on her last outing, as a lovestruck archaeologist in The Dig.' Or, indeed, in those ruddy annoying Sky Mobile adverts that seem to be on about every thirty seconds. The Gruniad, of course, loved it the mostest, baby: 'The insistent intertwining of the pain with the laughter, instead of flattening the tale into a Wodehouse-with-women yarn, makes this adaptation feel like a classic in its own right. It is a treat for all,' slurped Lucy Mangan. 'Mitfordians - please, do give it a chance.' The Financial Times also gave a positive review as did The Arts Desk ('extravagantly entertaining'). The series' mixture of a period-accurate soundtrack with more adventurous fare (the superb use of New Order's 'Ceremony' in one scene, for instance) also drew much comment. John Cale, The Who, T-Rex and Nina Simone, what's not to love? The Pursuit Of Love Is A Scathing Satire Of The British Upper Classes claimed the reviewer in The New Yorker. Of course, it wasn't that, any more than the Sun's dubious allegation than Pursuit Of Love Fans Horrified As Dominic West Threatens To Spank Lily James While Playing Her Dad had a great deal of accuracy in it. On the other hand, Richard Roeper's assertion that it was 'a cheeky series, Lily James effortlessly returns to the past as an awful woman obsessively, cluelessly pursuing a mate,' was absolutely on the money.
22. Framing Britney Spears
It's rare that a piece of television comes along which feels quite as important as this New York Times-produced documentary about the pop icon and her apparent mistreatment over her two-decade long career from all sides: the press and paparazzi, the music industry, her own family and associates and everyone who has readily consumed her very public suffering as 'entertainment.' When it premiered in February, it was the catalyst for a much wider discussion about the collective, abject sexism directed at young women in the public eye - a conversation that has continued with Spears' peer Demi Lovato's YouTube series Dancing With The Devil. Framing Britney Spears was by no means perfect - notably, it was rather too lenient towards the so-called 'Free Britney' movement, which professed to be 'helping' her get out of her father's legal conservatorship but arguably was as unthinkingly rapacious towards her as all the other toxic parties in her life. But, the documentary's impact has been undeniable. Shortly after the documentary was broadcast in February, a probate judge dismissed objections by Jamie Spears regarding the co-conservatorship arrangement. The documentary garnered widespread international media coverage, bringing a renowned interest into Spears's legal battle and her sexist treatment by the media. Several z-list celebrities and television personalities received considerable backlash for their past remarks about Spears or interview questions directed at her over the years, including Justin Timberlake, Diane Sawyer, Sarah Silverman, Joel McHale, Ivo Niehe, John O'Hurley and Perez Hilton. Daniel D'Addario of Variety stated: 'This film provides a sort of pocket portrait of a person for whom freedom has been denied and for whom that denial comes as no surprise. Before [Spears's] father, the culture that idolised her had kept her a captive, too.' Reviewing the documentary for The Times, Ed Potton suggested it was 'not an easy watch' due in no small part to the aggressively negative portrayal of Spears's father. The Gruniad noted the way the documentary emphasised the consequences of sexism. For Fiona Sturges of the Independent, it was 'a deeply sad story' which was 'lacking in journalistic rigour.' The NME's Nick Levine described it as 'a heartbreakingly human story that still lacks a happy ending.' A month after it was broadcast, Spears wrote about her feelings concerning the documentary on Instagram. While she admitted she did not watch it in full, she said from the parts she did see 'I was embarrassed by the light they put me in ... I cried for two weeks.' Spears specified in an later Instagram post that she 'didn't like the way the documentaries bring up humiliating moments from the past.' In September, Spears announced her engagement to her boyfriend, Sam Asghari whilst Judge Penny suspended Jamie Spears as conservator of his daughter's estate, with accountant John Zabel replacing him on a temporary basis until November when Penny terminated the conservatorship altogether.
23. Fever Pitch: The Rise Of The Premier League
Today's reading shall be from The Gospel According to Sir Alex. 'And lo, many were there assembled and it was seven minutes into injury time when the winner was scored. And there was, thence, a great wailing and kicking of teeth.' Once upon a time, dear blog reader, football was just a game. Then Sky poured a shitload of money into it and everything went to Hell in a handcart. Or, to put it another way, it became the global phenomena we know and (sometimes) still love. A world where greed is often good. Where a repressive human-rights abusing totalitarian regime is (genuinely) still preferable as the owners of a club with a proud, one hundred and thirty year history and passionate fanbase to a man who believes zero-hour contracts for the poor saps he employs to sell his dodgy sports gear are better than a living wage and yet was still considered to be a 'fit and proper person' to own them by the people who decide these things. A world where Odious Ashley Cole claimed that he 'almost crashed his car' when he found out that he'd only been offered sixty grand a week to play for The Arse. A world where the dreams of fans seeing their side have a decent cup run or a Terry Jacks-style season in the sun in the league are of distant secondary consideration to those who think the European Super League is the future of football (well, for the twelve clubs that were going to be involved in it. Everyone else could go fek themselves, seemingly). England caps, Omega watches and Bentley Continentals for goalposts. Indelible image, isn't it? Anyway, BBC2's Fever Pitch: The Rise Of The Premier League told the story of how we got to where we are from those who lived it and those who made the beautiful game a billion pound business. Lots of goals, glamour and glory. And not a great deal about the power, the corruption and the lies. The creation and development of the Premier League was told through the stories of people like Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Vinnie Jones, Wor Geet Canny Alan Shearer, Paul Merson, Ian Wright, Sir Les Ferdinand and Gary Neville. And, much of it was great. Bafflingly great at times because you know there's something sour and rotten at heart of the reason for the Premier League's very existence. But, nevertheless, The Dream Factory was in full-on mode when Cantona went all Rimbaud on us and said with his usual Gallic flair: 'All I know is I could express myself. I don't want to know more. It's like in love - I don't want to know why I love my wife.' Skill. Every football supporter in the land nodded, sagely, stroked their collective chin and said 'we know exactly what you mean, Eric.' Then they went back to moaning, loudly, to anyone that would listen (and, indeed, anyone that wouldn't) about ticket prices, lack of investment, how much The Scum spend on the prawn sandwiches for their corporate boxes and the fact that, even if only briefly, Sam Allardyce was once, actually, England manager. This is how we get through life, dear blog reader. It's dirty job but someone's got to do it. Reviews for the programme, inevitably, fell into a game of two halves, Brian; they either tended towards a cautiously 'Over the Moon' from the broadsheets (see here, here and here) or, alternatively, an even more cautious, 'Sick as a Parrot' view from the terraces (here, here, here and here). These reviews highlight all the self-evident problems associated with the Premier League and Sky TV's effective control over most aspects of it - that (one glorious day in July 1966, aside) football in England began in 1992 and everything before that doesn't really count. That, as The Smiths once said 'money changes everything', unless you're, for one season only, Leicester City. That you should be very careful what you wish for, football fans, because it might just come true. Twice over. Yes, this blogger does support Newcastle United. And, it's a life sentence. That avoiding relegation is the only thing that matters in football these days. All true. And, if cynicism was reason Fever Pitch: The Rise Of The Premier League would be number one in From The North's 'Worst Of' list for 2021. But ... this blogger is also a lover of The Beautiful Game. Yes this was a PR exercise, yes it glossed over lots of things that it shouldn't have, yes it was a hagiography to all things Manchester United. But, if only for another chance to see Shearer's volley against Everton or Peter Beardsley waltzing through the Aston Villa defence ('Paul McGrath could've stopped him ... if he'd had a machine gun!') one more time, this often felt like watching The Netherlands at the 1974 World Cup. Sexy totaalvoetbal. No one, least of all Keith Telly Topping, ever said that deciding what TV makes the viewer happy was either easy or that it made sense. Much like supporting a football team, in fact.
24. The Serpent
Beginning on New Year's Day, The Serpent - starring Tahar Rahim, Jenna Coleman and Ellie Bamber - was an international crime drama based on the real-life case of the globetrotting jet-set playboy, serial killer and conman Charles Sobhraj. Ripper Street writer Richard Warlow scripted this eight-part BBC drama about the hunt for Sobhraj, Interpol's most wanted man in the 1970s for the robbery and murder of multiple Western travellers across South Asia. Tom Shankland directed with considerable flair. Rebecca Nicholson, writing in the Gruniad Morning Star, found the time-hopping plotting unnecessary and confusing and wondered whether the programme had much to say, while simultaneously admiring the atmosphere and the 'routinely outstanding cast.' The Observer's reviewer, who praised Rahim and Coleman's acting, said The Serpent was a 'skilful retelling' of the Sobhraj story and one that both paid homage to his victims, while revealing the cultural shortcomings of a Middle Class hippy Communist generation which spawned these events. That Rahim underplayed Sobhraj's charm was 'a good thing' the review stated. However, Rahim's absence of charisma made it hard to understand how Sobhraj gained a hold over people according to the Radio Times. In the Independent, Something's Cumming found the pace slow and Rahim's acting staying 'mostly' on the right side of the fine line between inscrutable and dull. The Spectator called it 'the best BBC drama series in ages,' admiring the period detail, casting and absence of 'unnecessary politics' as well as noting that it might be especially painful for people who could have found themselves in similar scenarios to those that Charles Sobhraj exploited. By mid-series The Serpent gathered 'considerable momentum' according to Trevor Johnson in Sight & Sound saying, that the series featured an 'alluring anti-hero' and an excellent score, but was somewhat let down by the 'shallow characterisation' of its Thai characters. Rahul Desai of Film Companion called The Serpent 'a refreshing restoration of balance' adding that it 'reduces Charles Sobhraj from an image to an individual, a portrait to a person - and most importantly, from a human to a reptile.' Andrew Anthony, who interviewed Sobhraj twice, claimed that while the series captured his 'enigmatic detachment and quiet menace,' it missed the opportunity to show his 'more troubling qualities' of wit, charm and 'a kind of playful sense of self-mythologising.' Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, the inability of Billy Howle to pronounce his few Dutch lines of dialogue with a semblance of accuracy was much commented upon. In Dutch, obviously. A ratings hit and a further notch on Coleman's increasingly impressive CV (she was superb as Marie-Andrée Leclerc, Sobhraj's enigmatic girlfriend), The Serpent was, but for a slight decrease in the tension over the last couple of episodes, a genuine cracker.
25. Brian Cox's Adventures In Space & Time
From The North favourite Professor Brian Cox (no, the other one) looked back on a decade of discovery asking the biggest question of all - 'what's next?' Presenting from the Royal Institution in London, Cox drew on material from Wonders Of The Universe, Forces Of Nature and The Planets amongst others. The four episode titles gave one an idea of the scope and limitless ambition of Coxy's vision - Space: How Far Can We Go? Aliens: Are We Alone? What Is Gravity? and What Is Time? To which the short answers are 'as far as technology - and our imaginations - will allow us. Unless we come across any chest-bursting Xenomorphs. In which case, not quite that far', 'no, there are Xenomorphs out there. And, they're not to be messed with', 'it's that thing which made apples fall on Isaac Newton's head' and 'it's a relative concept, ask The Doctor, she'll fill you in on the important details.' The longer answers were provided by Coxy in his usual enthusiastic, almost-breathless-with-wonder-but-still-articulate style. '[It] makes you want to punch the air and shout "Science!"' claimed the i. 'It was utterly charming to watch a beaming Cox, watching his younger self (with varying lengths of haircut) be astonished and awed by what he discovered.' 'Watching Brian Cox do his thing is always a pleasure - he has the ability to explain complex scientific concepts in such a way that even single-celled organisms like myself can understand them,' noted Saga. 'So while this series is, in essence, a rehash of stuff he's filmed in the past, it is still fresh and exciting and stimulating. It is also almost as far removed as you can get from The Masked Dancer, allowing me to feel at least some self-respect at the end of my week's telly.' Even the Daily Scum Mail had some nice things to say about the series ('there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy Prof Brian at his boyish best'). One scene, in particular summed up the reasons why Adventurs In Space & Time workedso beautifully. In a Texas bar Brian floated, weightless with excitement, as he met one of his heroes - Apollo 16's Charlie Duke, the youngest astronaut to walk on the Moon. How was it possible, Brian asked Charlie, that when computers were still not even powerful enough to run a digital watch, the Americans could stage a string of successful lunar missions? Charlie gave a wonderfully straight answer: 'Four hundred thousand people and an unlimited budget, you can do a lot.' The episode ended with extraordinary New Horizon images beamed back from Pluto. Parts of the surface are smooth as a skating rink, Brian explained, because of the subterranean ocean of water is warmed by radioactive elements despite the fact that light from the Sun takes five-and-a-half hours to reach the distant dwarf planet (as compared to the seven minutes it takes to reach us here on Earth). Mind. Blown. Brian Cox, dear blog reader, The People's Scientist. He reaches the parts that other professors of particle physicists can't. Because they've never been in the TARDIS! Remember, it's Brian's universe, we just live in it.
26. Danny Boy
BBC2's feature-length drama was broadcast in May and told the story of the real-life soldier and decorated veteran Brian Wood, accused of war crimes in Iraq by, subsequently discredited, human rights lawyer Phil Shiner. Ordeal By Innocence's Anthony Boyle played Wood, with the magnificent Toby Jones as Shiner, from a screenplay written by Robert Jones. Alex Ferns was Gavin, Brian's father and Leah McNamara featured as Brian's wife. 'It was a thoughtful, non-melodramatic meditation on what we expect of soldiers in the heat of battle and on the tightrope of maintaining decency in war,' considered The Times. Atypically, the Gruniad loved it (well, it featured a campaigning, albeit utterly dishonest, human rights lawyer, why wouldn't they? 'Good Lord, Toby Jones is tremendous, isn't he?' wrote Ellen Jones - no relation, one trusts - not in the least bit inaccurately). Meanwhile, wax was exploding in ears at the Torygraph. And, at the Daily Scum Mail. Blimey, it must've been a 'two buckets of exploded wax' day at Rothermere Towers when Christopher Stevens sat down to write that stream of bile. Thankfully, most critics that aren't hateful right-wing bags of rancid puss took a more nuanced view to a complex and well-told story. 'Danny Boy doesn't offer any definitive answers, but rather rams home how much we still need to grapple with,' noted the Evening Standard. 'As the deeply scarred Wood, Boyle carries the emotional weight of the character without ever becoming a mere cipher for the horrors of war,' added Screen International. For those interested in the the real-life story, at the end of the Al-Sweady Inquiry in 2014, which Wood was a part of, Sir Thayne Forbes said that some of the claims made against his regiment (and the others serving in the Battle of Danny Boy) had been 'the product of deliberate lies.' Shiner was subsequently struck off the roll of solicitors due to misconduct during the inquiry and falsification of certain cases. For once, the drama wasn't as dramatic as the shameful real-world process that it depicted. That it even got close is a tribute to all involved.
27. This Way Up
A Channel Four sitcom about Áine (From The North favourite Aisling Bea), who lives in London and is recovering from a nervous breakdown. Sounds thigh-slappingly hilarious, right? Actually ... She teaches English as a second language and, in this year's second series, has a relationship with a pupil's single father. Sharon Horgan (whom this blogger vacillates over, sometimes considering her very funny indeed and sometimes about as amusing as bucket of offal) plays Áine's older sister, Shona, a bisexual woman who lives with her male partner and is attracted to a female colleague. The rest of the cast includes Tobias Menzies, Indira Varma, Kadiff Kirwan, Sorcha Cusack and Lou Sanders (who is, as usual, really bloody annoying just as in everything she does). Rotten Tomatoes described the show as 'devastating, hilarious and surprisingly light. This Way Up captures the complexities of mental health with an empathetic - if at times wandering - eye.' Which is a pretty accurate summation. Bustle compared the series positively with Fleabag - again, a decent comparison in that both were critical darlings, possibly a smidgen over-rated (and, in both cases, with audiences far lower than their supporters would like you to believe) but, nevertheless, indicative of some real talent at their heart(s). It also gained comparisons with Back To Life and Catastrophe in a review from the Gruniad that had its tongue rammed so far up This Way Up's collective crack there was no room for anyone else to get in there. In the case of the laugh-free zone that was Catastrophe (also featuring Horgan), the comparison only holds so far as both involve comedy of the absurd. Except that in This Way Up, it usually works. The Torygraph called This Way Up 'one of the best new shows of the year.' The Atlantic praised the comedy, describing it as 'small in scope, infinitely charming and intermittently devastating.' Ultimately, the series works almost entirely because of its star and creator. 'So finely tuned is Bea's characterisation that you root for Áine and laugh with her, even as you keep a wary eye on her skidding and sliding into yet another Very Bad Time,' according to the Observer.
28. Cruel Summer
'She's not a sociopath, she's a teenage girl.' An American thriller created by Bert Royal, the series follows two teenage girls and the repercussions on everyone's lives after one of them disappears. The series premiered on Freeform in April and was quickly renewed for a second run. Set in the fictional Texas town of Skylin, each episode focuses on the same day over the course of three years: 1993, 1994 and 1995. Kate Wallis is a popular girl who one day disappears without a trace at the hands of her school's new vice principal, Martin Harris. Jeanette Turner is an awkward outsider who seemingly takes over Kate's life after she goes missing. Found alive one year later, Kate accuses Jeanette of witnessing her abduction but not reporting it, which results in Jeanette becoming 'the most despised person in America.' Through multiple lawsuits and fractured families, friendships and relationships, everyone scrambles to pick sides as the story unfolds in Rashomon style as told from different perspectives. Olivia Holt and Chiara Aurelia were superb as the central duo whilst the rest of the cast - mostly character actors that you'll never previously have heard of, plus Harley Quinn Smith - are reliable and solid. 'Cruel Summer manages to overcome its convoluted storytelling because it finds interesting, grounded ways to explore the impact of society's expectations of these young girls and how their town and own families contribute to the pressure they face,' noted The AV Club's review. 'This intriguing mystery series feels a little choppy at first, but once you get used to the fact that it's dealing out the story in slices of three different summers ... the conceit proves highly effective,' wrote the Sydney Morning Herald. 'Both Holt and Aurelia's acting keeps things moving, as does the series' technical production,' added IndieWire. 'This is a delicious slice of fun akin to a great beach read.' The series took a while to turn up in the UK before finding a home on Amazon Prime. 'Cruel Summer understands the hot, shifting sands of teen psychology,' wrote the Observer's Barbara Ellen. 'As teen noir goes, this could prove addictive.' It's another example of what is becoming one of the Twenty First Century's most important TV rules and one that From The North is always keen to highlight - despite what some sour-faced whingers may try to convince you, there is a lot of good stuff out there, dear blog reader. But, sometimes, you have do a bit of work yourselves and actually go looking for it.
29. Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing
A gloriously bonkers factual entertainment featuring friends, comedians and From The North favourites Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse. The show focuses on Mortimer and Whitehouse reflecting on life after their shared major heart problems of the last decade, while on a series of fishing trips to various locations around Britain. The series was first broadcast on BBC2 in 2018 and has been recommissioned every year since with a fourth series shown this August and September. The show's origins lay in Mortimer's triple heart bypass surgery in 2016. Whitehouse, like Mortimer, had heart problems and was talking to Mortimer's wife, Lisa, about Bob's recovery from his operation; he discovered that Mortimer wasn't going out anymore so Whitehouse invited him to go fishing. Mortimer enjoyed it; describing it later he said 'There comes a moment when you realise that you've said nothing for an hour-and-a-half. I haven't worried about the past, or future.' This brought Mortimer out of his depressive trough and Whitehouse had the idea for the show. They thought there may be the chance to make a humorous and informative one-off which went beyond 'two old blokes going fishing.' Whitehouse described the pitch as having the real-life jeopardy of their medical conditions, two old friends who've had a reprieve and the timeless wonder of the English countryside. The BBC couldn't commission a series fast enough! In a review in the Independent, the show's continued and perhaps unexpected popularity, was highlighted. 'It's hard to explain the curious alchemy of Gone Fishing, which is rarely laugh-out-loud funny but has a soothing, unforced pace that draws you in. The production helps, using plenty of drone shots to show the country's rivers in stately majesty, but the programme relies on the performances of its leads, two of our most gifted comic performers.' 'It's like The Trip on statins,' added some smear of no importance at the Gruniad. 'Still perfection,' was the opinion of the i whilst the Daily Mirra considered it 'the most beautiful and uplifting half-hour of the week ... Cool kids would probably dismiss it as two old blokes going fishing and one of them falling over but, as Bob says, "Sometimes the simple things are what works."' However, amidst the silliness there were - as the Mirra noted - more than occasional serious moments. Mortality was on Paul's mind in one particular episode. When Bob talked about watching telly to kill time, Paul hit him with a philosophical reply: 'You're watching something to pass the time? You've got no time to pass.' Then, there was the view of the Torygraph's I've Got The Power (by Snap): 'Their gift for surreal comedy has weathered the decades, as demonstrated when they plunged into a two-handed riff about filo pastry ("most healthy of the major pastries," reckoned Mortimer). Space was also found for fireside psychoanalysis. "You're the classic avoider," Mortimer told Whitehouse after his friend explained that, in order to feel alive, he had to fill his days with chores and activities.' And you should probably agree with I've Got The Power (by Snap), dear blog reader. Or he will attack. And you don't want that. This blogger adores Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, a majestic example of the recent trend of 'gentle' television which manages to avoid turning into Last Of The Summer Wine because ... it's got Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse in it.
30. Ridley Road
A four-part BBC thriller, adapted from Jo Bloom's 2014 novel by Sarah Solemani. It was the story of the fight against fascism in 1960s London and, as such, ticked many of the required boxes in this blogger's wish-list for a drama; interesting period setting, strong source material and, well, to quote Indiana Jones, 'Nazis, I hate those guys.' Like this blogger's favourite movie of 2021, Last Night In Soho, it focused on the less-than-glamorous, seedy and dangerous side of Swingin' London. According to Solemani, the novel revealed 'a darker side of Sixties London and the staggering contribution the Jewish community made in the battle against racism.' Newcomer Aggi O'Casey was joined by From The North favourites Eddie Marsan and Rory Kinnear, Samantha Spiro, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Will Keen, Tamzin Outhwaite and Rita Tushingham in a genuinely impressive cast. The series, directed by Lucy Mulcahy, was filmed in several evocatively period-correct locations - Ashton Under Lyne, Bolton, Liverpool and at Broughton Hall near Skipton - standing in for 1960s Hackney. Ridley Road received positive critique from the Jewish Chronicle (despite finding fault with the portrayal of Jewish characters by non-Jewish actors), the Times Of Israel and the Gruniad and, not unexpectedly, a good hard kicking from some agenda-soaked louse at the Daily Scum Mail. So, pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the newspaper that had such a high regard for Herr Hitler, then.
31. The White Lotus
An American satirical comedy-drama created, written and directed by Mike White which premiered on HBO in July and, in the UK, on Sky Atlantic the following month. Filmed in Hawaii, it featured an ensemble cast which included Murray Bartlett, Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Lacy, Natasha Rothwell and Steve Zahn. The first series, consisting of six episodes, concerned the lives of the staff and guests at the titular tropical resort. Following its critical acclaim and viewership numbers, the format was renewed as an anthology series, which will tell the story of a different group of travellers during their stay at another White Lotus property. 'It has jokes but is also deadly serious,' noted the Daily Scum Mail seemingly in shock that a) such a thing was possible and b) that they, actually, liked something. 'The characters are all sublimely well drawn, especially Jennifer Coolidge's fuzzy, lonely alcoholic and Murray Bartlett as the passive-aggressive hotel manager.' 'It is a self-made hell in paradise: delicious,' added The Times. 'Like a wasp in a strawberry daiquiri, menace seems to be lurking beneath the surface of everything here: think Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None with added tiki torches, aloha nachos and Xanax,' was The New Statesman's view whilst the Evening Standard considered 'Dreadful rich people make for brilliant TV, but it is rare to see their privileges and prejudices skewered with such relentless precision. White's characters can be monstrous, but they are so carefully wrought that they also feel painfully human.' On the other hand, 'JB' a Rotten Tomatoes commentator suggested: 'This show sucks.' So, The White Louts's true worth almost certainly lies somewhere between those two extremes. But, probably a wee bit closer to the views expressed in the Standard than those of Mister and/or Ms JB. Just a wild stab in the dark.
32. Dark Matter: A History Of The Afrofuture
The arc of black history shares an uncanny resemblance to the plot points of classic SF including 'alien' abduction, enslavement and rebellion. It's this unlikely relationship which provides the inspiration for the concept of Afrofuturism, a broad cultural trend which encompasses works by artists as diverse as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Grace Jones, Solange Knowles and Sun Ra. In this superb BBC4 film, viewers met artists across three continents who each, in their own way, explore the Afrofuture to look at the horrors of the black past. The Afrofuture is, perhaps, most commonly associated with the avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra. Born in America's Deep South, Ra underwent an interplanetary conversion, claiming to have been teleported to Saturn (who he breathed when he got there, he doesn't reveal). As with funk pioneer, former President George Clinton, who claims a similar close encounter with extraterrestrials, Ra's identification with an alien presence can be read as more than simple escapism. It's also a biting satire on the alienating experience of being black in America. For Ra, space is also an alternate destiny for black people, as the title of his 1973 Afrofuturist feature film Space Is The Place suggests. Reaching beyond these fictional Afronauts was the conceptual artist Tavares Strachan. His performance piece, Star City, Training In Six Parts, saw Strachan visit the Russian space centre to undergo the same tortuous training as Cosmonauts. Strachan likens one of the exercises, which measures our capacity to withstand disorientation and gravitational stress, to his impoverished upbringing in The Bahamas. The film concludes with an exploration of the idea of double consciousness. Coined in the early Twentieth Century by WEB Du Bois, the African-American sociologist, this describes how black people in Western societies see themselves twice over. Firstly, through their own experiences but also how they're perceived within a dominant white culture. Curator and writer Ekow Eshun traced uses of the Afrofuture idea in the documentary through Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man and painter Kerry James Marshall's image of the same title, right up to the Black Lives Matter movement. 'This compelling documentary looks at how black artists from Beyoncé to Sun Ra have processed their history by alighting on science fiction's language ... and on images of the Atlantic Ocean,' stated the Torygraph. 'Featuring contributions from artists and writers, its jumble of arresting visual images is a work of art in itself.' 'Afrofuturism saw black artists, writers and musicians turn alienation into empowering new myths,' added the Financial Times. A genuinely fascinating artefact.
33. Too Close
From The North favourite Emily Watson starred in this psychological three-part ITV thriller. Based on the novel by Natalie Daniels (the pseudonym of actor-writer Clara Salaman, who also wrote the screenplay) and directed with considerable flair by former actress Susan Tully, it was about a forensic psychiatrist treating a patient (Denise Gough) who had committed a heinous crime that, she claims, she doesn't remember. The two women become locked in a dark struggle of influence and manipulation. Too Close was filmed in London and Kent, with many of the scenes between Watson and Gough shot inside Holloway Prison. It was broadcast across three successive evenings in April and drew decent-sized audiences. Critical reception to the series was positive. The Gruniad noted: 'Too Close, ITV's latest offering ... will stay with you for the right reasons.' The Standard and the Independent were also supportive (the latter suggesting that the series 'rakes over a full suite of Middle-Class anxieties, from sex and class to parenting and race'). The Wall Street Journal praised Tully's direction and the performances of Watson and Gough. Near enough every aspect to the thriller genre was implemented at some stage, but with considerable flair and just the right degree of subversion where necessary. Beside betrayal, grief, fear and distress, the story also tackled the tricky subject of failure, both on a personal level, but perhaps even more about when neither the closest relations or the system are there when we need them the most but, more often than not, just make things worse. In that context, the title was not only appropriate, it was also an accurate series summation.
34. The Beast Must Die
A BritBox thriller based on the acclaimed novel by Cecil Day-Lewis, adapted by Gaby Chiappe. It centred on a mother's grief for her son who was killed in vehicle accident. She then takes matters into her own hands by posing as a novelist to ingratiate herself into the family of the man whom she believed to be responsible for her son's death. The cast included Cush Jumbo, Nathaniel Parker, Maeve Dermody, Douggie McMeekin, Mia Tomlinson, Geraldine James and Jared Harris. 'Brace yourselves, caulkheads, this view of your pleasant seagirt home is far from complimentary,' wrote the Financial Times' Suzi Feay. No, dear blog reader, this blogger has no idea what she was talking about either but, he thinks, she quite liked it. The series 'balances harsh judgement with empathy, an apt approach for these divided times,' added the San Francisco Chronicle. Other critics were no less effusive, the Gruniad stating: 'It sets the bar pleasingly high, with a stellar cast giving uniformly great performances.' 'Geraldine James has fun playing George's sister, an absolute horror who really shouldn't be such a crashing snob given that her own family home is filled with hideous objets d'art,' added the Torygraph whilst even The Sunday Times' resident faceache, Camilla Long, in an otherwise critical review, felt compelled to add: 'What can I say about this absolute overstuffed mess of a bleak thriller, except I came to kind of enjoy it?' As back-handed compliments go, that's a pretty good one. As more than one critic noted, The Beast Must Die was patchy and flawed, but was saved from mediocrity 'thanks to powerhouse performances and a closing image that is as beautiful as it is haunting.' Unlike Paul Annett's 1974 chiller of the same name, however, this did not include a short break for the audience to decide which of the characters is a werewolf. Which was a pity, frankly - this blogger would've rather enjoyed such a conceit. But in every other respect, The Beast Must Die was worthy of the comparison.
35. Bloodlands
A second series has already been ordered of the BBC's Belfast-set crime drama, which starred From The North favourites Jimmy Nesbitt and Michael Smiley. The thriller, from writer Chris Brandon, revolved around a cold case that held personal significance for Nesbitt's detective and dug up buried secrets for him and for the people of Belfast. Susan Lynch, Ian McElhinney and Lisa Dwan were also among the cast. Abby Robinson, reviewing for the Digital Spy website, described the opening episode as 'heavily plot-driven, which comes at the expense of character developments.' whilst the Gruniad said the drama was 'enjoyably dense with enough black humour to let it breathe.' In the Irish Times, Horse Power claimed the first episode was 'grim - and a seriously bad advertisement for a weekend break in Belfast.' The Radio Times's called it 'an unpredictable thriller with all the hallmarks of a Jed Mercurio drama ... Bloodlands is a detective drama with ever-changing pace, excellent performances from its stellar cast, scenic Belfast backdrops and a multi-layered plot that'll leave you counting down the days until the next episode airs.' 'This slow-burning but not overlong mystery contains no wild, subversive stylistic flourishes; it's just a chilly, thoughtful, well-written and superbly acted story that connects specific, personal grief with the larger understanding,' added Time magazine. Bloodlands glacial atmosphere and brooding menace took a while to used to, but the longer it went on, the more viewers were drawn into its cold, dark heart. And, of course, Nesbitt was as magnetic as usual.
36. Resident Alien
Far funnier than its farcical premise should allow, this comedy-drama based on a Dark Horse comic provided viewers with some much-needed escapism and became Syfy's highest-rated new drama in recent years. Alan Tudyk starred as Harry Vanderspeegle - real name, utterly unpronounceable - an alien who, after crash-landing in the mountains outside Patience, Colorado, killed and took the physical form of the first man he encountered. After a stint alone in a fishing cabin learning English by watching Law & Order repeats, the audience learns that Harry's secret mission on Earth is to destroy humanity. But, tragically, he's lost his detonation device, so he needs to assimilate into his new home to buy enough time to recover it. Tudyk brilliantly reveals the alien's flawed personality, flicking between comedy and menace with ease, as we follow Harry posing unconvincingly as the town's doctor. Things, however, are going to plan until Harry gets embroiled in solving a local murder, bringing him closer to the townsfolk and, especially, his workmate Asta (Sara Tomko), while he also discovers a love of pizza. As time goes on, Harry begins to wrestle with the moral dilemma of his mission. Resident Alien sounds daft. And, in fact, it is - this is a series in which Tudyk's former Firefly co-star Nathan Fillion voices an octopus in a restaurant tank, with whom Harry has a telepathic conversation. Terry O'Quinn plays an 'alien experiencer' who hosts a popular podcast. Corey Reynolds is Mike, the town's sheriff, who asks people to call him 'Big Black' (a few, nervously, comply). It's got ludicrous plots and proves a perfect showcase for Tudyk's comedic skills. Resident Alien, as the Gruniad noted, 'knows what it is doing and does it with admirable sincerity. It deploys well-worn tropes without cynicism and plays with others without winking exhaustingly at its audience.' 'Turning a concept as old as My Favourite Martian into something fresh and funny isn't easy, but Resident Alien somehow manages that, fuelled by its dark, offbeat tone and Alan Tudyk's otherworldly skill playing the title character,' added CNN. In March, the series was renewed.
37. Loki
Following the success of the wonderful, oddball WandaVision (see below), this latest (and much-anticipated) Marvel series on Disney+ once again delivered, with a chaotic, time-hopping misadventure focused on Tom Hiddleston's so-far-over-the-top-he's-down-the-other-side God of Mischief. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, trickster Prince of Asgard Loki, escapes imprisonment through a time portal, only to find himself in the clutches of The Minutemen, an elite team of soldiers working for The Time Variance Authority to track down any pesky disruptions of the flow of time. Occupying a drab 1950s retro-futuristic style office, the TVA's bureaucrats govern what they call 'the sacred timeline' and 'prune' anyone who messes with reality. Loki comes to the attention of senior agent Mobius (Owen Wilson), who arranges a reprieve from Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), persuading her to allow him to recruit the not-even-remotely-trustworthy Loki to help repair the issues he has created in the timeline. Wunmi Mosaku, Eugene Cordero, Tara Strong, Sophia Di Martino, Sasha Lane, Jack Veal, DeObia Oparei, Richard E Grant, and Jonathan Majors also feature in this attractive, frequently hilarious six-parter created by Michael Waldron. Reviewers highlighted the relationship between Hiddleston's Loki and Wilson's Mobius. The various design elements of Loki, particularly the production design from Kasra Farahani and the cinematography from Autumn Durald Arkapaw, were also praised. TVLine's Matt Webb Mitovitch felt Hiddleston 'effortlessly slips back' into this version of Loki and explained that the banter was 'a significant upgrade from what Falcon and Winter Soldier believed it was doing.' Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter said 'after two episodes, Loki is at a tipping point. Having set everything up to an exhausting degree, things could be lined up to get really entertaining - if not zany in a Rick and Morty way, perhaps fun in some of the timeline rupture-of-the-week ways [of] The CW's Legends Of Tomorrow ... Or Loki might just be a lot of Hiddleston and Wilson talking, which might still be engaging for six episodes.' RogerEbert.com, called Loki 'an exciting and genuinely inspired addition to Marvel storytelling, one that spins off and rockets its complicated villain into original territory with the help of time travel' adding the series was 'bound to be a sci-fi gem.' In her review for the final episode, Caroline Siede at The AV Club website felt the series had been 'both unpredictable and weirdly straightforward; bold in its game-changing moves yet inconsequential in so many of its narrative choices.' 'The show's creator, Michael Waldron, and director, Kate Herron, have laid out a rather elegant framework for their plans,' added the Independent's Clarisse Loughrey whilst Detroit News raved 'the breezy attitude seems right for the show's scant six episodes ... He may be the God of Mischief and a mass murderer but Loki knows how to show you a good time.' As many critics have said, it is Hiddleston and Wilson that make Loki so compelling, witty and, just occasionally, dangerous. A second series has, of course, been commissioned (no shit?) and is currently in development.
38. Annika
Nick Walker's drama was based on his Radio 4 serial Annika Stranded. Produced for the Alibi channel, the first episode was broadcast August. Annika Strandhed is a Detective Inspector, recently transferred to the Glasgow Marine Homicide Unit. She brings with her a troublesome teenage daughter (Silvie Furneaux) and the relationship between Annika and her daughter is the basis for a sub-plot across all the episodes. The title role was played by From The North favourite Nicola Walker (no relation to the writer) in her first post-Unforgotten role whilst another blog favourite, Paul McGann, had a role as a child therapist. Annika has broken records to become Alibi's most-watched drama for at least seven years. The Gruniad's review stated: 'She's a daffy Norwegian supercop with a dodgy accent. But Walker's droll dialogue and womansplaining should keep you waterside for the long haul.' The Radio Times added: 'Not everything works in the first episode of the crime drama - but the central case is gripping enough.' The Killing Times website also reviewed the first episode: 'It's great to have Walker back on our screens and although Annika feels a bit light ... it's still worth a watch.' It's hard to reconcile the i's dubious claim that the series resembled, in any way, 'Agatha Christie meets Trainspotting' though.
39. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?
This blogger has always regarded them-there Bee Gees as hugely under-rated. Which, considering they're, what, something like the eighth biggest selling act in the history of popular music may sound like an odd statement to make. Nevertheless, it's true. Not so much via the disco stuff - this blogger is fine with all that, it's great pop music, after all - but certainly with those early, singer/songwriter, proto-Beatles records they made in the late 1960s. Frank Marshall's documentary demonstrated exactly why The Brothers Gibb were so important and why they loom so large in this blogger's legend. With the passing of his younger brothers Maurice and Robin, it's now left to Barry to tell a story that goes from The Isle Of Man, via Manchester and Queensland, to London, Florida and Los Angeles. 'A fitting tribute to their unending love for each other,' noted critic Robert Daniels. '[It] doesn't delve too deeply into The Bee Gees' inter-group beefs, but we do learn a lot,' added the NME. Noel Gallagher, one of several top-tier talking heads, said he was 'blown away' when he first heard The Bee Gees music and observed: 'When you've got brothers singing, it's like an instrument nobody else can buy.' And, he should know. Often, musical documentaries are as much about what isn't said as what is (case in point, last year's acclaimed From The North favourite The Go-Go's). There's remarkably little in How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? about the period when Robin left for a solo career, for example. Perhaps that's inevitable given the clear rawness with which Barry speaks about his late brother's passing. 'The Bee Gees brought worldwide pleasure, but sole survivor Barry says he'd "rather have [his brothers] all back here and have no hits at all,"' noted Andrew Collins in the Radio Times. Hence, perhaps, the title - one of the band's biggest hits in the US from 1971 though it did nothing in the UK at a time where the trio were having something of a career downturn. 'An interesting, grown-up musical profile,' said the Gruniad, as though surprised that such a thing were possible. This was a great tribute to a culturally important act who started a joke which started the whole world singing. As a fan, it made this blogger happy and sad at the same time. As a TV critic, it fulfilled everything you'd want from a career retrospective and the story of three boys who grew up to experience everything from night fever to tragedy.
40. Midnight Mass
An American horror series created and directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Zach Gilford, Kate Siegel, Hamish Linklater, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli and Henry Thomas. The plot centred on an isolated island community which experienced supernaturally spooky doings after the arrival of a charismatic priest. It was released on Netflix in September. Flanagan described Midnight Mass as a passion project, one that was 'deeply personal' and dealt intimately with Flanagan's upbringing in the Catholic Church and his eventual sobriety and atheism. Production was originally scheduled to commence in March 2020, but was delayed due to the pandemic. Critics praised Flanagan's direction, the performances and the series' 'unique' approach to the vampire genre. Kristen Baldwin of Entertainment Weekly wrote that it 'isn't perfect, but it is a keenly affecting, beautifully acted reflection on death, faith, guilt, addiction and the power of free will.' Judy Berman of Time gave it a very positive review (One Hell Of A Hallow'een Binge), calling it Flanagan's 'best series to date' and praising the performances of Gilford, Siegel and, especially, Linklater. Vulture described Linklater's performance 'phenomenal' and believed he elevated the series to 'moments of greatness,' adding: 'he speaks as if he's discovering his way through every sentence and wants you to come with him.' Rolling Stain considered that 'the three-layers-deep work that Linklater is doing over these seven episodes is extraordinary.' They also praised Flanagan's directing, stating 'It's the way that [he] carefully sets everything into place in anticipation of a bigger-picture nightmare that makes the pay-offs so satisfying.' The Chicago Sun-Times called the series 'the best Stephen King story Stephen King never wrote' and stated, 'even though this is an original work from Flanagan, it feels like a high-level adaptation of a particularly haunting King novel.' The scripting and pace drew more mixed responses, with occasional criticism directed at a perceived overabundance of monologues. Jack Seale of the Gruniad, for example, praised Flanagan's filmmaking, but whinged about the series' 'bloated dialogue' stating that 'When the end comes at last, there is a lot of fire and viscera, but no rapture.' This blogger bets Jack gave himself the day off after he came up with that line. Ultimately, Midnight Mass worked on most levels - some of the dialogue was, admittedly, drawn from an inferior-William-Peter-Blatty-school of scary religious tropes. But, to counter this were performances of subtlety and wit and scares which managed to avoid any quiet-quiet-quiet-bang malarkey and used suspense instead.
41. WandaVision
Not many people would have predicted that Marvel's foray into TV would be quite as affecting as WandaVision. Starring Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany as her cyborg partner, Vision, the show played out as a slow-burning examination of Wanda's grief, as told through a variety of - really affecting - sitcom tropes. Each episode was meant to capture key elements of the chosen time period while showing the evolution of sitcoms over the decades. For example, the first episode pays specific homage to The Dick Van Dyke Show. Those early episodes were such joyfully accurate pastiches of the classic US comedy form, that it was almost a shame when the show devolved into more typical Marvel fare in its latter stages of the series. Nevertheless, it still counts as the MCU's most daring move yet, a piece which both offered sharp meta-commentary on the medium of television and a poignant exploration of sadness. Olsen and Bettany navigated the tonal shifts masterfully as the titular couple, though it was Kathryn Hahn who stole the show as their jarringly enthusiastic neighbour, Agnes. The series received numerous accolades, including twenty three Primetime EMMY Award nominations (winning three of them). WandaVision directly set-up the film Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (scheduled for 2022), in which Olsen will reprise her role, whilst a TV spin-off is currently in development, with Hahn returning. Critics response, needless to say, was overwhelmingly positive with praise given by media as diverse as Bitch Media, Pop Matters, Nashville Scene, Bust Magazine, Starburst, Salon, the Gruniad, What She Said, the Los Angeles Times, The Jam Report, the BBC Culture website, USA Today, Den Of Geek, Vulture, the Torygraph's Battery Power, Variety, NME and the Daily Mirra. Basically, everyone and their dog loved it. And, the few sour-faced clots that didn't - see this plank, for instance - missed the point entirely. This blogger's only, slight, reservation was with an occasional archness which rendered a couple of the later episodes as slightly too clever for their own good. But, that's a very minor complaint about a genuinely beautiful show.
42. Black Narcissus
Based on the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden (and, more directly, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1946 film adaptation, one of this blogger's favourite movies), Black Narcissus featured one of the final screen performances of From The North favourite Dame Diana Rigg, who died in September 2020. An Anglican nun (Sister Clodagh, played by From The North favourite pouty, luscious Gemma Arterton) was sent to establish a branch of her order with her fellow sisters in the Himalayas but struggled to temper her attraction to a World War I veteran they meet. The cast also included Alessandro Nivola, Aisling Franciosi (as the mad-as-a-bag-of-cats Sister Ruth), Jim Broadbent, another From The North favourite Wor Geet Canny Gina McKee and Rosie Cavaliero. It was broadcast in the US in November 2020 on F/X whilst Britain got it in the final days of last year, the first episode going out on 27 December on BBC1. Amanda Coe's script managed to maintain most of the memorable set-pieces from the novel/movie, notably the vertigo-inducing bell tower sequence (though Arterton and Franciosi's hissy cat-fight wasn't a patch on Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron going a full fifteen rounds, two-falls-or-a-submission in Powell and Pressburger's masterpiece). It received mixed (indeed, rather sniffy) reviews from US critics but seemed to go down much better in the UK. The Gruniad Morning Star called it 'erotic, gothic - and totally unconvincing.' The Torygraph described the first episode as 'the hills are alive with the sound of sexually-charged nuns.' Ho. And, indeed, hum. 'Black Narcissus 'is a beautiful production but its melancholic tone is a hard sell to keep audiences sustained over three episodes,' added IndieWire's Kristen Lopez which gets to the heart of both Black Narcissus' strengths and weaknesses. Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen's TV directing debut certainly boasted a plethora of searing imagery, many talking points and opportunities for more than a few raised eyebrows.
43. Grace
From Endeavour creator Russell Lewis came two feature-length adaptations of Peter James' crime novel series about a Brighton-based Detective Superintendent. Life On Mars' John Simm - in his finest performance in a couple of years - played the unorthodox investigator Roy Grace, who was haunted by the disappearance of his wife, in two-hour versions of Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead. The first film, which was broadcast in March, revolved around a cold case and a groom who mysteriously went missing days before his wedding and the second was shown in May, featuring a grand turn from From The North favourite Craig Parkinson. Both episodes attracted very good ratings making the possibility of further excursions into the Grace world more than likely. The Daily Scum Mail and The Times both gave the series a right pants-down hiding and the Torygraph a sort-of 'don't think too hard about it' review, but most of the rest of the critique was highly positive, notably the Gruniad gushing: 'Grace's attendance at a support group, his communing with missing-person cold cases in his bleak little office - are clunkily scripted weak points. The engine stutters, but it purrs along so smoothly the rest of the time that it hardly matters.'
44. Shadow & Bone
An American fantasy drama developed by Eric Heisserer for Netflix which premiered in April. It was based on two series of books in the 'Grishaverse' created by Leigh Bardugo: her trilogy, the first of which was 2012's Shadow & Bone and the duology that began with Six Of Crows (2015). Grisha are people who can practice the 'Small Science'. Ravka is one of few places they can live safely; there they are trained for The Second Army and divided into three orders. Etherealki summon natural elements like wind or fire, Materialki control materials such as metal and glass and Corporalki manipulate people's bodies. Ravka's Second Army is led by General Kirigan, who has spent his life searching for a Grisha who can summon light; the only person who could destroy the Shadow Fold - a region of impenetrable darkness, created hundreds of years ago. Since then, Ravka has been at war and is now on the brink of splitting in two as the West seeks independence. Yes, it all does sound a lot Game Of Thrones-meets-The Hunger Games-down-the-pub-for-a-fight. And, it occasionally suffers from the excesses of those - and similar - fantasy formats; a series of very good actors, standing in what appears to be a Medieval castle annunciating cod-Shakespearian dialogue of the 'verily, thence Meister Zangruntsplatter did venture forth into The Valleys of Thangdoddle, there to do battle with The Shaboogans and their grubby spawn' type malarkey.
Nevertheless, like Game Of Thrones, Shadow & Bone was mostly a lot of fun with a quality cast that included Jessie Mei Li, Archie Renaux, Cody Molko, Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Kit Young, Ben Barnes and Zoë Wanamaker and the likes of Kevin Eldon, Luke Pasqualino and Daisy Head cropping up in smaller roles. Writing in the Daily Star (no, not that one), Yaameen Al-Muttaqi praised the changes made from the source material, noting that 'the years added to each character's age allows the series to explore darker themes, like abuse, corruption, propaganda, manipulation, and human trafficking without breaking audience immersion or pulling punches, as is the case with too many YA adaptations.' Empire's Ben Travis noted: 'Shadow & Bone remains compelling while tasking viewers with grasping the Grisha terminology for themselves, showing rather than telling,' but pointed out similarities between the series and the Harry Potter movies, The Hunger Games and Game Of Thrones and described some elements of the series as being 'overly confusing.' He concluded that the series 'will draw you into The Fold with its absorbing world-building and engaging lead duo.' Nicole Clark of IGN wrote that 'the first season manages to capture much of the darker magic ... while being unafraid to make smart changes to certain characters' origin stories and even the sequence of events - even if the storylines from the two series of books don't always easily mesh.' Molly Freeman of Screen Rant praised it as a 'thrillingly exciting fantasy drama.' 'It flies by over the course of eight episodes of magic, espionage, violence and romance-in other words, all of the necessary ingredients to satisfy a fantasy fan,' noted Time magazine. 'Shadow & Bone succeeds where so many fantasy adaptations fail if you stay with it and understand that it requires a bit of patience,' added LA Weekly. 'It takes inventive writing and great acting to really bring a world to life like this.'
45. The Pembrokeshire Murders
This three-part ITV crime drama starred Luke Evans as Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins, who, in 2006, reopened and solved a cold case from the 1980s using new forensic DNA evidence and, most bizarrely, an episode of ITV's darts-based quiz show Bullseye. Keith Allen played John Cooper, the man in Wilkins' sights in his most eye-rolling role since Inspector Morse's The Day Of The Devil thirty years ago. The Gruniad, described the drama as 'no glory for violent, rotten crimes,' while The Times said the show was 'a case of too much cop and not enough killer.' What's That Cummings Over The Hill (Is It A Monster?) in the Independent criticised the programme for following dramatic clichés and poor script-writing. But then, nobody cares what Something Wicked This Way Cumming opines, frankly.
46. Feel Good
It takes real confidence to shift the direction of a show from one series to the next, but that was what the brilliant comedian-writer Mae Martin (star and co-creator with Joe Hampson) did with the second series of this semi-autobiographical comedy-drama broadcast on Channel Four. Where the first run set itself up as a gentle romantic comedy centred on the contrasting lives, chemistry and combustions of nascent couple Mae and George (Charlotte Ritchie), the second was much more tightly-focused on a particular theme, as Mae faced up to the shadow cast by the harassment and abuse she had suffered - most centrally, her grooming as a teenager by an older man who was now a friend. In exploring a reckoning with historic abuse, it felt timely, but in no way calculatedly so and the fact it was rooted in autobiography was evident in the nuance with which it depicted Mae's conflicting emotions. Indeed, for all the disarming charm of both its writing and its star, it felt of a piece with previous From The North favourite Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You in its very singular study of trauma and its effects. Sadly - but probably rightly - there will be no more, but Martin, a gifted comedian, surely has a big future ahead: indeed, another Netflix show is, reportedly, already in the works.
47. Finding Alice
From The North favourite Keeley Hawes starred as the titular heroine of this series, a woman who discovers a host of unsettling secrets when her partner Harry unexpectedly dies just as they finally move into their newly built dream house. Roger Goldby and Simon Nye's black comedy was broadcast on ITV early in the year and also starred a whole team of From The North favourites - Joanna Lumley, Nigel Havers, Ken Cranham, Gemma Jones - as well as Ayesha Dharker, Sharon Rooney, Rhashan Stone, Graeme Hawley and others. Eleanor Bley Griffiths in the Radio Times described Finding Alice as an 'interesting and ambitious drama,' adding that Keeley Hawes 'gives a masterful performance.' Ben Dover of The Times said the drama's 'classy acting outweighs the shopworn plot.' The Gruniad's reviewer declared 'thank God for Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley' (and, so say all of us, frankly) whilst the Torygraph, couldn't work out what the series was trying to be: 'a thriller, a comedy, or an episode of Grand Designs? Good performances and some funny lines for Joanna Lumley, but it's pitched oddly between a thriller and a romcom.' 'I've never seen six episodes of a supposed one-off that ended so hangingly, if that's a word, with Hawes getting prepped with soft music and a cold turkey baster,' said the Observer, spoilerifically. And, 'hangingly' isn't a word (though it probably should be). Dramas starring Keeley Hawes are normally about as safe a bet as you can find in TV - she is brilliant in pretty much everything and Finding Alice is no different. It was a witty, if somewhat over-long, drama about grief and poor decisions. There were a few too many subplots and the ending was, well, odd, but it did maintain the interest of the audience for most of the way.
48. Stephen
Based on the - appalling - true story of the 1993 racially-motivated murder of London teenager Stephen Lawrence, his family's fight for justice and the (at times, criminally inept) police investigation(s) which, finally, led to some competence and the convictions of two of his killers in 2012. Stephen was a direct sequel to Paul Greengrass's 1999 TV movie The Murder Of Stephen Lawrence. The series featured Steve Coogan in the role of Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, upon whose book, In Pursuit Of The Truth the drama was based. It also starred Sharlene Whyte as Doreen and Hugh Quarshie as Neville, Stephen's dignified parents. The drama was written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and his son, Joe and directed by Alrick Riley. 'In this riveting drama, Coogan stars as DCI Clive Driscoll, who finally investigates the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence fully, underlining the extra years of agony his parents had to endure,' noted the Gruniad. 'Powerful and heartbreaking' added the Independent whilst the series also drew praise from the Evening Chronicle, the Digital Spy website, the Daily Scum Mail (a newspaper which, despite its scummish right-wing utterings in other areas, it should be rmembered led calls for a full investigation into the police's failure to successfully prosecute those believed responsible for the crime for years), Metro and the Torygraph. As the latter said, this was 'a respectful reflection of the determination of Stephen Lawrence's parents to keep fighting for justice.' The case, of course, remains a cause célèbre for the appallingly casual way that - often semi-conscious - institutional racism poisoned large parts of British society for decades; its fallout included cultural changes to attitudes on racism and to the law and police practice. It also led to the partial revocation of the rules against Double Jeopardy. The murder and its after-effects have been the subject of previous acclaimed dramas and of numerous documentaries (most notably the BBC's three-part Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation in 2018). That the Cottrell-Boyces lyrical and measured drama managed to find something new to say was, in and of itself, worthy of considerable praise.
49. Blitz Spirit With From The North Favourite Lucy Worsley/Raiders Of The Lost Past With From The North Favourite Janina Ramirez/From The North Favourite Qi/From The North Favourite Would I Lie To You?/From The North Favourite Only Connect
Because, dear blog reader, this is a From The North annual 'Best Of' list and, in Keith Telly Topping's world, some things never change. Thankfully.
What can this blogger say, dear blog readers? Keith Telly Topping is a man of somewhat singular predictability. Sometimes.
50. The Trump Show: Downfall/Trump Takes On The World
As covered in some depth in last year's From The North Curiosity Of The Year now-extremely-former President Mister Rump lost the 2020 erection. A lot. It was quite funny. Actually, no, it was very funny. And, despite a series of increasingly desperate attempts to gaffer-tape himself to The Oval Office chair and carry on as if nothing untoward had happened, including an attempted coup d'état by people dressed as bison, in January he got his over-sized ass hauled onto a plane and flown back to Florida. That was funny too, especially the moment when they started playing 'YMCA' just as he walked up the steps of Air Force One - the metaphorical equivalent of an actor leaving the stage with his trousers round his ankles. As a consequence of all this and the fact that someone vaguely sensible is now President, no one - at least for the time being - needed to be a'feared of the orange-faced cretin any longer. Thus, it was time for TV companies all over the world to start making retrospectives about his disastrous and occasionally terrifying four years as The Man with his finger on The Button. The BBC led the way with these two fine mini-series. Rob Coldstream's The Trump Show: Downfall, broadcast in January (a sequel to his three-part series shown in late 2020), charted Mister Rump's final months as President as he attempted to win - and, subsequently, overturn the results of - the 2020 erection culminating in scenes of violent insurrection against the US Congress. Advisers and close observers told the story of Rump's last days in the bunker, from packed rallies - held as the coronavirus besieged America - to the sickening riots on Capitol Hill and increasingly deranged fabricated claims of erection fraud. The film provided a blow-by-blow account of the final weeks of Rump's administration - and a psychological study of Rump's final days in power. The title Downfall was, of course, an allusion to Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2004 movie Der Untergang about the last days of Adolf Hitler as paranoia and denial sent the Nazi leader mad. Or, madder than he already was, anyway. It was an entirely apt simile.
Unsurprisingly, the Torygraph found something to whinge about, describing the documentary as 'superficial and with nothing important to say.' Apart from 'get stuffed Donny, you orange clown and don't let the door hit your buttocks on the way out' obviously. Which, you know, some people might regard as quite important. Just a couple of weeks later, another three-part BBC series, Tim Stirzaker's Trump Takes On The World looked at a different aspect of now-extremely-former President Rump's reign of terror, US foreign policy - or lack of it. In his first year-and-a-half in The White House, Rump managed to fall out, spectacularly, with some of America's oldest allies as he relentlessly pursued his 'America First' agenda. From withdrawing from the Paris climate accord to cosying up to The Butcher of Grozny, Rump shattered the status quo. Which could be regard as a (very) minor point in his favour - certainly, many people were heard to chorus 'I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it, I lie-lie-lie-like it.' This blogger is here all week, dear blog reader, don't forget to tip the waiting staff. Rump, of course, even threatened the most critical of all American alliances. As former UK foreign secretary The Vile & Odious Rascal Hunt said: 'NATO was probably in the greatest peril it's ever been in its history.' With first-hand accounts from key players, the series took viewers inside crucial meetings and summits where the US president shocked - and stunned - his counterparts with his crass daftness. The Gruniad and the Independent both gave the series glowing coverage and, this time, even the Torygraph found little to whinge about. 'A glimpse inside the ruthless workings of US imperialism,' wrote someone at the Socialist Worker. How many Revolutionary Socialists does it take to change a lightbulb, dear blog readers? None, they don't want to change it they want to smash it. To paraphrase Billy Connolly on the subject of politicians, 'don't vote for them, it just encourages them.'

Also Mentioned In Dispatches: Britain's Favourite Walks, Spaceship Earth, Traces, Steve McQueen: The Lost Movie, Winter Walk, Walking Hadrian's Wall With Wor Geet Canny Robson Green, Mark Kermode's Secrets Of Cinema, Age Of The Image, Forest Field & Sky, Your Honour, A Teacher, Devils, Attenborough's Life In Colour, Finding Jack Charlton, Starstuck, Dark Son: The Hunt For A Serial Killer, Gamestop - The Wall Street Hijack, Match Of The Day Top Ten, Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein's Shadow, Killing Escobar, Succession, What We Do In The Shadows, All Creatures Great & Small, Losing Alice, Kevin Can Fuck Himself, Brand New Cherry Flavour, Scenes From A Marriage, The Chair, Servant, Hemmingway, Doctor Death, The Handmaids Tale, Alma's Not Normal, Pretend It's A City, Made For Love, Reservation Dogs, For All Mankind, The Flight Attendant, Time, 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, Only Murders In The Building, The Nevers, The CleanerThe Underground Railroad, Angela Black, Evil, Wolffe, Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail, McCartney Three Two One, The North Water, The Capote Tapes, Q: Into The Storm, Paris Police 1900, Doom Patrol, Showtrial.

Thirty Programmes (And One Advert) Which Were, Frankly, Neither Use Nor Bloody Ornament And Should, In Any Sort Of Sane World, Have Been Shovelled Into The Nearest Gutter With All The Other Effluence -

1. Mel Gedroyc: Unforgiveable
The opening episode of Dave's Mel Giedroyc: Unforgiveable was broadcast in February. And it was, as this blogger had confidently expected in advance from the avalanche of trailers, thoroughly shite. I mean, offensively shite. You would have to be a brain-damaged moron, or the victim of a cruel medical experiment not to consider it thus, dear blog reader. And, contrary to occasional appearances, this blogger is many things but he is neither of those two. As previously discussed in both the 2020 and 2019 From The North Worst Of lists - in relation to Comedians Giving Lectures, Taskmaster, Hypothetical et al - and, indeed, at the tail-end of last year - concerning Big Zuu's Big Eats (see below) - Dave's 'original' comedy output is, for the most part, a right flamin' disaster area. Loaded with the usual parade of loud, unfunny, 'very popular with students', obnoxious, full-of-their-own-importance planks masquerading as comedians. Plus, in the opening episode of this particular format, Graham Norton who looked embarrassed to be there. Ben Wicks, who is the Executive Producer at Expectation Productions (so, this fiasco is his fault), suggested that Giedroyc - whom this blogger does have a bit of time for, even if her post-Bake Off CV has been a parade of one flop format after another - would be performing 'a vital public service: deciding which of Britain's funniest and most entertaining people are the biggest wrong uns.' And, if you replace the words 'Britain's funniest and most entertaining people' with 'annoying drips like of Ed Gamble, Phil Wang and Lou Sanders' and the words 'vital public service' with 'something which no one in the public actually asked for but which we're being given anyway,' that's a slightly more accurate description of what Unforgiveable was really all about. And, one just couldn't escape it no matter how hard you tried. Watching the end of a repeat of Whitehouse & Mortimer: Gone Fishing on Dave a couple of weeks later, this blogger was wholly unprepared for the sudden, unwelcome appearance across the credits of the voice of Ms Giedroyc. She was plugging a forthcoming episode of Unforgivable. 'Join me on Tuesday where my guest will be Tom Allen, Gemma Collins and Darren Harriott' begged Mel in her perky - not entirely unappealing - 'will you come and get it like a big funky sex machine?'-style voice that we all know from Bake Off. This blogger merely had time to bellow at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House widescreen tellybox 'no thanks, Mel, I'd sooner stab me own eyes out with toasting forks' before he found the remote control. And thence, changed the channel to something less utterly worthless. Which, trust yer actual Keith Telly Topping, was every bit as much of a relief as a nice healthy dose of Bicarbonate of Soda when one needs a short-term cure for indigestion. As the Chortle website noted, Giedroyc 'has been saddled with a format that she doesn't even have much confidence in, the needlessly complex negative scoring, unnecessary gong and convoluted rounds becoming a running joke even from episode one.' 'Everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves' is a phrase, possibly the most damning imaginable for any movie or TV show, which was used by the film critic and From The North favourite Mark Kermode to describe the 2005 movie Hide & Seek, in which Robert de Niro delivered one of his most 'just give me the cheque' performances. It's also a useful phrase to describe the majority of '[allegedly] original comedy' formats which appears on the Dave channel. And, the overwhelming majority of the people who feature in them. Like Comedians Giving Lectures, Unforgiveable is unbearably obnoxious. Like Taskmaster it is, at times, buttock-squirmingly embarrassing (and not in a remotely good way). Like Big Zuu's Big Eats is it loud and shouty and almost unwatchable in its nauseating self-importance. Like Outsiders, it's stuffed with people you would not want to find yourself stuck in the woods with. And, this blogger says all of the above not as a professional comedian himself - Keith Telly Topping wouldn't know one end of a joke from another if it presented itself to him on a bed of fried rice and chips looking all delicious and sexy - but, rather, as a licence fee payer (Dave's parent company, UKTV, is wholly owned by BBC Studios). You know, one of those annoying 'little people' that pays your sodding - one presumes, grossly inflated - wages, Mel. Just sayin', like.
2. Big Zuu's Big Eats
This blogger had the extreme misfortune to catch an episode Dave's Big Zuu's Big Eats during the final days of 2020. If you haven't come across it previously, dear blog reader, count yourselves extremely fortunate indeed. This ... thing features the titular Big Zuu, who is a large chap and is a chef - probably quite a good one judging by some of the dishes he is shown cooking. He certainly seems to think so. He is, also, apparently a rapper-type-individual who is 'massive' on 'The Grime Scene.' Whatever that entails. He speaks in a language which this blogger did not, initially, recognise as English or anything even remotely like it. In this programme his - self-appointed, please note - task is to whip up meals for a several of those bloody awful, wholly unfunny planks who so stink up the majority of Dave's 'original [alleged] comedy output.' All the stuff which, they claim (incorrectly) is 'surprisingly adequate.' So, if the thought of spending an hour in the company of the likes of Phil Wang or Desiree Burch is your idea of genital torture, dear blog reader, this might not be the programme for you. But, as painfully bad as this blogger has made it sound already, there is one further element which makes Big Zuu's Big Eats virtually unwatchable. Everybody shouts. Big Zuu shouts. All the time. He shouts at his 'boyz' - Tubsey and Hyder. Tubsey and Hyder shout back at him. He shouts at his guests (who do, sad to report, include a couple of people whom this blogger used to have a bit of respect for, like Jimmy Carr and Josh Widdicombe). They all shout back at Big Zuu. Everybody shouts, dear blog reader. Often. Until you just wish they would all shut the Hell up and eat their - to repeat, usually quite good-looking - nosh. To be completely fair to Dave, Big Zuu and the rest of those taking part in this woeful exercise in celebrity-by-non-entity, the various trailers for this programme are a pretty accurate reflection of their content. Including all of the shouting. So, this blogger really can't say that he was taken unawares by any of this malarkey. Suffice to say that this blogger will, in future, be avoiding this loud, brash exercise in hideous self-aggrandisement as much as is humanly possible. For the sake of his eardrums as much as anything else. As a general rule of thumb with regard to shows on Dave, if they were originally made by the BBC - or, if they weren't but feature Dave Gorman or Jon Richardson - then, chances are, they'll be pretty good. If not, this blogger's advice is to avoid them like the plague.
3. Late Night Mash
'Like the Taliban, despite popular demand we are back.' At the risk of sounding like a stuck record (that's a Twentieth Century cultural reference for all the youngling dear blog readers out there), the Dave channel's 'surprisingly inadequate' original comedy productions really are an absolute laughter-free zone. The Mash Report was, of course, previously a BBC production, which was cancelled - in a splurge of publicity - early in 2021. The reasons for the cancellation have been debated at length elsewhere - it was a constant target for various parts of the right-wing media as an example of the BBC's alleged left-wing bias and there were suggestions that the BBC got cold feet over such an easy target with which to beat them with a stick. This blogger, frankly, doesn't buy that, the show's rating were tiny and it was, from the start, living on borrowed time because of its numbers rather than its content. Nevertheless, in November 2018, the then BBC political presenter Andrew Neil described The Mash Report on Twitter as 'self-satisfied, self-adulatory, unchallenged left-wing propaganda.' Neil, an odious, full-of-himself blustering right-wing oaf who is now, very satisfyingly, out of a job after the colossal failure of his much-trumpeted GB News venture - characterised the series as a 'pathetic imitation' of The Daily Show in the United States. And, the really annoying thing there was that the loathsome Neil actually had a point. Not the politically-motivated nonsense, Emily Baker of the i rather successfully challenged many of the allegations of imbalance made about The Mash Report, but certainly with regard to Mash's far-too-high opinion of itself. As the TV writer Gareth Roberts has noted this series is 'the worst kind of comedy - dull, self-satisfied conformity masquerading as daring and revolutionary; the humour of the clique and, sometimes, the mob. It reveals nothing new. It does not enlighten or surprise. It merely confirms and repeats.'
Late Night Mash's host, Nish Kumar, is a fine comedian but his comedy is, undeniably, supremely smug and self-important. It's not, necessarily, unfunny and in short bursts it works very well but it can, after a while, become bombastic and overwhelming. Then there's Ellie Taylor, a young woman whose comedy is offensively rude and crude. During an appearance on Qi, Taylor noted that her mother doesn't like it when she swears on television. Hopefully, Mrs Taylor will have therefore spent much of the last year - like the majority of viewers - avoiding her daughter's casual f-bombing at every given opportunity. Another regular, Rachel Parris, was the Daily Scum Mail's poster girl for lambastation on a regular basis (they took particular offence at her finest moment, the 'harassment roleplay' monologue). This blogger dislikes the Daily Scum Mail and all it stands for as much as he dislikes cancer but his opinion on the sneering and full-of-her-own-embiggened-importance Ms Parris hasn't changed since he publicly agreed with the opinion of 'British Big Balls Fifty Seven' back in 2019). In the trailer of Late Night Mash's Dave debut, which included several self-deprecating jokes about the show's new home ('Congrats on the move from the BBC to Dave. I recently got divorced and moved out of the family home into a bedsit. You get used to it'), Nish Kumar shouted 'you're stuck with us now, Dave!' You may believe that, Nish, but this blogger reckons that, in the notoriously fickle business of TV, bragging about your inability to get the chop a second time might be regarded as asking for trouble. Time - and viewing figures - will tell. They usually do.
4. British As Folk
Look, Dave, really this is not personal, but if you keep making crap shows, this blogger is going to have to keep slapping them. Hard. Hey, what can this blogger say? It's his job. Which brings us to British As Folk. This sees Darren Harriott, Fern Brady and Ivo Graham (no, me neither) swanning around Britain in an Elgrand camper van. Why? For the purposes of merriment and japery. Or something. The 'hook', such as it is, concerns these three chancers uncovering 'the real Britain, the one we don't get to see' - although their first choices in Leicester were somewhat obvious ones: the car park where Richard III's remains were found, the National Space Centre and the market, where producers at least managed to avoid mentioning its usual claim to fame: that Gary Lineker occasionally worked there on his dad's stall. Harriott is (marginally) the funniest of the trio, although he has an annoying Big Zuu's Big Eats-style habit of shouting a lot. Graham is the posh one who regularly trips over his own feet, often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to taking part in sporty-type stuff and splutters a lot in faux embarrassment - the same schtick that the late, great Tim Brooke-Taylor was doing fifty years ago. Only much better. Brady is the whiny-voiced Scottish one who contributes occasional pithy one-liners but is, otherwise, simply there to look aghast at her male companions and whinge about their behaviour. Quite right too. Listen, British As Folk is mostly inoffensive and - despite its appalling unoriginality (shows which claim to be looking for 'the real Britain' have been ten-a-penny for decades) - it's probably got its heart in the right place. But, the lack of laughs is worrying; frankly, the whole thing lacks any sort of reason to exist. Which is bad news for a show that wants to uncover 'the real Britain.' Because, it looks like 'the real Britain' saw Darren, Ivo and Fern coming and ran a mile in the opposite direction to avoid them.
5. Breeders
More hateful, twee, offensive nonsense made by, for and about Middle Class Vegan quiche-eating Gruniad Morning Star readers with children living in some of the nicer suburbs of North London. Who find normal family life too much like hard work, seemingly. As discussed - at length - in last year's From The North Worst Of list, it's genuinely hard to work out what the most offensive thing about Breeders is. How many bad career choices can Martin Freeman make before someone has a quiet word in his shell-like? What was Alun Armstrong thinking taking a role in this horseshit? Who commissioned Breeders and are they still in gainful employment? And, most importantly of all, who the Hell is watching this dreadful puddle of self-obsessed, sneering rubbish.
'The humour [is] too forced for all its attempts to show honesty and authenticity in parenting,' wrote The Australian. The Daily Scum Mail was harsher: 'The anger directed at the children is hard to stomach and also you do think: you live in a fabulously stylish house. You have good jobs. It's you who needs to grow up.' 'As parents, we've all been there? But perhaps not quite so abusively as in this ... comedy from accomplished stylists who treat scriptwriting as a branch of swearing,' added the Standard. There is something genuinely rotten at the core of Breeders; it's another example of a conceit in which everyone involved in it should be damned-well ashamed of themselves. There are times, dear blog reader, when this blogger is so appalled by something that his only option is to look to his own personal acronym, WWFPFDD. What would Freddie Parrot-Face Davies do at a time like this? Freddie, I'm pretty sure, would have given Breeders the widest of wide-berths.
6. Hitmen: Reloaded
Like Breeders, Hitmen makes a second successive appearance in From The North's annual naughty list. And, poor Mel Giedroyc makes her second appearance in this year's cascade of shame. One could almost feel sorry for her - almost - if Hitmen wasn't a heinous pustule of a comedy and about as much fun as a dose of the winter vomiting bug. Mel and Sue Perkins simply can't act. We've known this for some time, they're jolly good presenters and, stick 'em on Qi or Would I Lie To You? and they can handle their way around a pithy quip. But, in this, they're just ... rotten. 'If some of the best TV comedies of the past few years have focused on the drab ordinariness (and/or existential malaise) of outwardly badass vocations, here's a thoroughly low-key iteration of that trope,' noted The Hollywood Reporter in a significantly-less-than-five-star review. 'More disappointing is the fact that despite the winkingly archetypal movie-assassin situations that Fran and Jamie seem to be deliberately written into ... there are few subversions, let alone commentary, on the genericness of those circumstances.' Even the presence of the terrific Katherine Parkinson couldn't raise the laugh quota during the second series and, let's face it, that takes some doing.
7. I Can See Your Voice
The BBC's attempt to find a Saturday evening singing contest to fill a slot they've never successfully got a handle on led them to commission this adaptation of a South Korean format, a sort of straight mash-up of The Voice and The Masked Singer. (There are several other versions of the format internationally, including one in China where it is, apparently, something of a phenomena. Presumably, all the old Maoists think it's great.) Then, the BBC got odious professional Northern berk Paddy McGuinness to host it and staffed the judging panel with reality TV regular Alison Hammond, talent show regular Amanda Holden and Jimmy Carr (Jimmy, mate, what were you thinking? Is the tax situation really that bad?) It was, predictably, arse of the highest order, full of Second Division singers who last had a hit worthy of the name in a previous decade (Nadine Coyle, Alexandra Burke, Rockin' Ricky Wilson) or two (Heather Small, Louise Redknapp).
I Can See Your Voice's live ratings were properly appalling (averaging around two million) and even the consolidated seven day plus figures weren't all that much better (one episode did manage to break four million but none of the others got close) whilst what few reviews it had were dreadful ('a cynical singing show that's completely off-key,' according to the Gruniad). A second series has, reportedly, been confirmed. Which seems to prove an old adage - you can, it would seem, fool some of the people some of the time. This blogger resigned from the human race in protest, dear blog reader, but I don't think it did much good. I wish I could make a difference but, what can I do? I'm just one man.
8. Dating No Filter
'Some of the UK's best comedians will watch on in delight as members of the public head out on blind dates across the country in a brand-new comedy dating show, Dating No Filter, coming to Sky One from 25 February,' screamed the pre-publicity for this horrifying variant on Blind Date. 'The factual entertainment series will see pairs of singletons sent on first dates, with intertwined quick-witted commentary from comedians such as Daisy May Cooper, Joel Dommett, Josh Widdicombe, Tom Allen, Suzi Ruffell, Susan Wokoma, Tom Lucy, Rosie Jones, Judi Love, Chunkz and Yung Filly. The comedy duos will watch and weigh in on the dates, giving hysterically unfiltered observations on every awkward interaction and heart-warming moment as they root for love to conquer all! The singletons will be treated to a range of activities to try to break the ice; from axe throwing and ballroom dancing, to pole dancing and a visit to a goat farm!' The show was commissioned by Zai Bennett, Managing Director of Content at Sky and the man who, when he was boss of BBC Three cancelled this blogger's beloved Ideal so, frankly, we should have expected such crass, lowest-common-denominator bollocks from anything with his fingerprints on it. Bennett's other great contribution to British TV history, incidentally, was when he worked for ITV2, signing Kerry Katona to an exclusive deal. It really is a CV that one's mother would be so proud of, is it not?
So, where to start with Dating No Filter? Firstly, singletons? Valerie must be turning in her grave ... and she's not even dead. Secondly, Josh Widdicombe. Why, Joss? Why, for the love of God, why? The rest of the 'comedy talent' involved, one can easily understand appearing on this raddish of a show but, come on, Josh, you're a talented man, you're better than this. Needless to say, Dating No Filter was truly woeful ('rude, crude and a bit pointless' opined the Torygraph). It was neither entertaining or funny, just sad on every imaginable level. There was no dignity present, just a bunch of self-important lice guffawing like hyenas whilst watching the antics of people without shame or self-consciousness in appearing on this horrorshow. A pox on it and everyone involved in it.
9. The Masked Singer
Last year, it only narrowly avoided the unwanted accolade of From The North's least favourite show of 2020 (indeed, but for the shameful omnipresence on British TV of Bloody Jack Bloody Whitehall that year, it would've walked to the title). This year it only just made it into the top ten - though, to be fair, it had much harder competition. From Dave, chiefly. Nevertheless, don't think for a moment that ITV's The Masked Singer wasn't up to the challenge and the second series gave it right good go and was every bit as lousy as the first. Indeed, whilst it didn't have the comedy value of Alan Johnson's remarkable turn in 2020's opening episode, Glenn Hoddle as a singing grandfather clock pushed it very close. Lenny Henry (last, briefly, funny around 1983), Mel B and Morten Harket were amongst those so desperate for another sniff of telly exposure that they'd even agree to appear covered head-to-foot in a, presumably jolly hot, costume. Judges Jonathan Ross and Davina McCall continued to shout their gobs off at every given opportunity and the contest was won by a heavily pregnant Joss Stone dressed as an over-sized novelty cone of sausage and chips. I'm not making this up, dear blog reader, it really happened. In fact, you probably saw it, as the show remained bafflingly popular (over ten million punters watched the final - though the country was still under lockdown at the time). It's still not this blogger's cup of tea, dear blog reader but, in a year in which I Can See Your Voice and Dating No Filter existed, somehow The Masked Singer no longer seems to represent everything that is wrong with television - and, indeed, society - in 2021. And that fact, in and of itself, can be a source of no pleasure to anyone.
10. The Void
'Thank goodness we can go out on Saturday evenings again' sneered the Torygraph in reviewing the opening episode of this forgettable ITV game show. And, tragically, for once it's hard not to agree with That Awful Singh Woman. Which is not something this blogger enjoys doing but, when it comes to The Void, he will put up with the uncomfortable feelings it produces. Hosted by Ashley Banjo and Fleur East, The Void 'challenges contestants to perform a variety of grueling mental and physical challenges, with the added twist of a fall into "The Void" if they fail - a five hundred thousand-litre basin of water lying on the arena floor below.' So, essentially, this is a bit like The Crystal Maze, a bit like Hole In The Wall, a bit like The Cube, a bit like Total Wipeout, a bit like Gladiators. A bit, in fact, like a whole load of previous formats which usually ended with someone getting a right good soaking if they couldn't complete a given task. Needless to say, it was risible - unoriginal - rubbish.
ITV In Hot Water As Viewers Blast The Void As 'Worst Thing' The Channel Has Produced declared the Liverpool Echo. That, incidentally, isn't even remotely true - if it was it would give The Void a notoriety it, in no way whatsoever, deserves. The Void Turns A Paddling Pool Into A Metaphor For Existential Dread added the Independent. The Void Viewers Confused As Show Is 'Rip Off Of Total Wipeout And Ninja Warrior UK' was the Daily Mirra's atypical 'don't use any words with more than two syllables' take on matters. ITV executives quickly pulled the plug after one series, according to the Daily Lies Sunday. 'The cancellation is a major setback for hosts Fleur East and Ashley Banjo, who had hoped for a big hit,' they claimed. Well, them's the breaks, kids. Back to the Job Centre on Monday, it would seem.
'After some discussions, bosses have decided not to commission another series,' an alleged ITV 'insider' allegedly told the newspaper (they're not alleged, tragically, the Daily Lies Sunday does, indeed, exist). The Lies added that The Void did not perform well in the ratings despite being given a 'prime Saturday night slot.' Within weeks, its viewership had plummeted, leaving executives 'unimpressed.' And, as we all know, dear blog reader, Hell hath no fury like an unimpressed ITV executive.
11. Celebrity Catchpoint
Another week, another Paddy McGuinness vehicle to stink up BBC prime-time. How does this man continue to be given licence-fee payers money to front more bland, characterless, unfunny vomit such as this? It's a question someone really should be made to answer. 'It follows in the great tradition of prime-time turkeys, programmes so bad you wonder how they ever made it through the commissioning process,' wrote the Express & Star reviewer in abject horror at what he was watching. McGuinness 'hosts the show with the biggest balls on telly,' the BBC declared in its pre-publicity. That's the BBC, dear blog reader. The organisation which is, in theory, supposed to - and usually does, despite what the Daily Scum Mail and the Daily Scum Express may claim to the contrary - inform, educate and entertain. One supposes that this hateful exercise in giving McGuinness more of our hard-earned money could, possibly, fall under the latter category. That's if one uses the word 'entertain' quite wrongly.
Made by ITV Studios, the standard, non-celebrity, version of Catchpoint is bad enough if no worse than dozens of other shows featuring McGuinness - although if this article is anything to go by, they seem to be having trouble finding people stupid enough to go on it. Hence, perhaps, a series of 'celebrity specials' broadcast in the autumn. Again, the word 'special' in this particular case is, clearly, some new use of that word which this blogger hadn't previously come across. The 'z-listers' involved included Matt Edmondson, Mollie King, Ranj Singh, Joel Dommett, Hannah Cooper Dommett, Rickie Haywood Williams, Chloe Madeley and Melvin Odoom. So, again, that's a complete bastardisation of the actual dictionary definition of what the word 'celebrity' means, is it not? (The Reverend Richard Coles, whom this blogger does, usually, have a lot of respect for, Olympic long-jumper Greg Rutherford and former England goalkeeper Calamity James did feature, all of whom might be described as 'celebrities' and it not sound quite as ridiculous as most of the other 'no, me neither' waste-of-spaces featuring in this fiasco.) Horrifyingly, Catchpoint seems to have done averagely enough in the ratings to obtain another series. And, as a consequence, keep McGuinness in undeserved employment. No justice.
12. Twatting About On Ice
A regular feature in From The North's 'Is That Crap Still Going?' collections for as long as this blog has been in operation. The really annoying thing, though, was that ITV actually cancelled Twatting About On Ice once (in 2014, to the joy of millions - well, to the joy of this blogger, anyway). And, then they brought the bugger back four years later specifically, it would appear, to vex Keith Telly Topping and get his mad right up. Even more annoyingly, it worked. Like some sort of virus, Twatting About On Ice appears to be unkillable. This blogger hopes ITV are jolly satisfied with themselves. They've, seemingly, created a supervirus. One that could, potentially, destroy all life on the planet. Haven't you people ever seen The Satan Bug? Contagion? The Masque Of The Red Death? What about Twenty Eight Days Later? If we all end up as rabid zombie-like flesh-eaters devouring our own families, ITV, it'll be on your head.
13. Game Of Talents
An American format imported to these shores by ITV, essentially to give Vernon Kay something to justify his continued existence, Game Of Talents saw contestants 'attempt to uncover the secret talents of the public.' In announcing the news to Radio Times, ITV's Head Of Entertainment Commissioning Kate Rawcliffe (so, it was her fault) described Kay as 'the perfect host' for the programme, while Amelia Brown, Managing Director of Thames added: 'Families at home will be on the edge of their seats as they play along with him.' Families at home, seemingly, begged to differ if the overnight ratings were anything to go by. ITV's Game Of Talents Branded 'Most Judgemental Show Ever' By Viewers After Just One Episode wrote the Chronicle, an article which included the following observation: 'Remarking on the fact both BBC1 and ITV aired wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Phillip's death on Friday, one [viewer] quipped: "After both main channels showing the same thing, it's good to have normal programming on - we have I Can See Your Voice on BBC1, where you have to guess if people can sing by their appearance and Game Of Talents on ITV, where you have to guess someone's talent by their appearance."' Ultimately, Game Of Talents fell between half-a-dozen different stools. It didn't work as a variety format like Britain's Got Toilets, because the 'talents' on display are never given enough time to demonstrate their brilliance, or ineptitude. It didn't work, either, as a guessing show, because the clues given were far too easy for the majority of viewers who hadn't recently had a lobotomy on the National Health. And, it didn't work as a gentle entertainment, because the stakes were high - someone's going to play for fifty thousand smackers and that's a lot of money to almost-but-not-quite win. Plus, you know, Vernon Kay. Just to add another spanner into the works. So, all-in-all this was a mess. 'As of 16 November 2021, Game Of Talents has not been cancelled or renewed for a second season,' a Google Search informs anyone interested enough to look. Which, a bit like Game Of Talents itself, is neither one thing nor the other. Oh, and the series was sponsored by McVitie's, apparently. Now, where's a good 'is Jaffa Cake a biscuit or a cake?' joke when you really need one?
14. The Wheel
Created and hosted by Michael McIntyre ... That's all you need to know, really. 'I'm used to viewers being cynical,' McIntyre told BBC News when announcing the show. Yeah, guilty as charged, sir. And since, as a licence fee payer, I'm effing-well funding your wretched show, this blogger reserves the right to be cynical and, indeed, disgusted by The Wheel. And, even more sickened by the fact that McIntyre has, apparently, sold his format to the US and is set to coin it in, big-style. BBC Viewers Label Michael McIntyre's The Wheel 'A Fix' claimed some smear of no importance at the Daily Scum Express, citing a handful of comments on Twitter. This blogger, personally, couldn't give a stuff about such nonsense. On the other hand, he does think The Wheel is a steaming pile of compost. 'Neither challenging nor entertaining,' said the i. Which is one of the most accurate four-word reviews this blogger has ever encountered and one which he fully endorses.
15. Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek
It has been noted before that vanity projects are seldom much fun for those who aren't directly involved in having their egos stroked. Case in point, Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek in which Gordon Ramsay, Gino D'Acampo and Fred Sirieix swan around the Mediterranean like they own the σπίτι. Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek Fans Left Devastated By ITV announcement claimed the Birmingham Live website concerning the revelation that the latest spin-off of Gordon, Gino & Fred: Road Trip would consist of but two episodes rather than the usual three or more. Wales Online carried a similar story claiming that viewers were 'left gutted'. These dubious allegations - seemingly based on a few glakes whinging on Twitter - suggest that a) Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek actually has fans and b) that two episodes of Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek isn't two episodes too many. Full of 'inane banter' according to the i's Girl Power. 'Dad rock and schoolboy humour set the tone as Gordon Ramsay, Gino D'Acampo and Fred Sirieix island-hopped their way across the Aegean Sea.' All of which makes the series sound - to this lover of both Dad Rock and schoolboy humour - far more interesting than it actually was. 'Viewers with an emotional age of twelve or older may, on the other hand, have despaired of a travel documentary that emphasised rib-poking over insight.' Ooo, get her. He's not wrong, however.
The Times didn't think much of it either - despairing about a surfeit of 'overbaked bluster' - whilst the Daily Scum Mail's resident faceache Christopher Stevens tried to get a Ban This Sick Filth! exclusive out of the Ramsey's casual, if hardly unforeseen, use of a particular four letter word. There Is An F-word For Ramsay's Greek Misadventure ... It's Flop! And that Daily Scum Mail headline, dear blog reader, is funnier than anything in Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek. As Aristotle once said: 'Πολλά τα δεινά κουδέν ανθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει.' And, I think there's something in that for all of us to reflect upon.
16. Outsiders
More Dave bollocks from the network that brought you the top four in this year's From The North shower of diarrhoea. 'Here's an idea,' someone (probably) said deep within the heart of Dave HQ. 'Let's take David Mitchell, who's pretty popular with his sneering angry logic-type schtick and dump him in the woods with a handful of these comedy non-entities we've got to find gainful employment for but whom we can't place in Taskmaster, Hypothetical, Question Team or Comedians Giving Lectures this week.' 'To what end?' asked someone else in the room - probably the first bloke's boss. 'You know, the usual. Give them a bunch of stupid tasks to perform and watch them make a right arse of it.' 'But, isn't that pretty much exactly the format of Taskmaster?' 'Well, yeah, but since when has that stopped us from copycatting ourselves?' 'Genius! Here, have a pay rise.' Et cetera. So, for your self-loathing entertainment, here are the usual parade of Second Division planks - Toussaint Douglass, Jessica Knappett, Lou Sanders, Ed Gamble, Jamali Maddix and Kerry Godliman - pillocking about in the woods and, one presumes, getting - richly - paid for it.
In a Gruniad Morning Star review in which Stuart Heritage, bafflingly, praised the equally wretched Taskmaster in relation to this horrible exercise, the following observation appeared: 'Asking a comedian to chop down a tree just means that we'll watch a comedian wrestle with an axe, the same way as a vet or an accountant would. If you like watching famous people hit bits of wood with an axe upward of one hundred times, Outsiders is the show for you. In Outsiders, [Dave] has created a show entertaining enough to replace Taskmaster, but not quite good enough for Channel Four to poach. Result.' And, if you look up the phrase 'damning with the faintest of all possible praise' on Google, you'll find that one pretty near to the top of the list.
17. Too Large
A US reality format - broadcast in the UK on TLC, the channel that once gave us If Katie Hopkins Ruled The World - about, bottom line, laughing at fat people and watching them struggle with their weight and self-esteem issues. How enlightened. How grown-up. How disgraceful. 'Morbidly obese individuals fight for their lives with the help of bariatric surgeon Doctor Procter,' lied the per-publicity blurb concerning the series contents and motivation. 'Family ties and friendships are put to the test and only some will make the changes necessary to earn the bariatric surgery and change their lives.' This, dear blog reader, is what for some constitutes 'entertainment' in the second decade of the Twenty First Century. Hateful and unpleasant on every imaginable level.
18. The Stand-Up Sketch Show
From ITV2. And, if that hasn't put you off this sour and rotten format then you should also know that The Stand-Up Sketch Show features, amongst others, Russell Kane (very popular with students). Whom this blogger considers to be about as funny of cancer of the scrotum. Though, to be fair, Kane is by no means the worst act on offer in this tripe. The stand-up sections were recorded at the Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich, in front of a socially distanced - and, presumably, bored-titless - audience. 'The Stand-Up Sketch Show falls between two stools,' noted the only online review of the series that this blogger could find, at the 'Aving A Giraffe website. 'The viewer sees only a snippet from ... sets so has no time to establish a relationship to a new or, to them, unknown performer. In last night's episode we saw one joke extracted from each comedian's set and translated into a sketch with the on-stage performance as a voice-over. Russell Kane and Sean Walsh are well known to national TV audiences ... and the viewer knows what to expect.' Indeed they do. Comedy is, of course, entirely a personal thing - what is funny to one person may well be toxic and distressing to another. Jokes which makes this blogger wish to bathe in disinfectant post-episode will, no doubt, be thigh-slappingly hilarious to others. That's fine. Let's just say this blogger made it through four episodes of The Stand-Up Sketch Show and reckons he got all of three laughs out of the experience. That's an average of 0.75 laughs per episode. For this blogger, at least, that's not enough to sustain enough interest to make it to episode five. Though, it's still a better hit rate than Mel Gedroyc: Unforgiveable.
19. Take Off With Bradley & Holly
A game show presented by From The North favourite Bradley Walsh and From The North ... whatever the opposite of favourite is, Holly Willoughby and produced by Hungry Bear Media for the BBC. That's the BBC dear blog reader. Inform, educate and entertain, remember? On the show, members of the public compete to win seats on a plane to a dream holiday destination. The series was, of course, filmed before Covid and the related travel restrictions caused by the global pandemic. Which sort of rendered the entire process moribund (much like last year's 'Take Part In A Format To Be Little Mix's Support Act. Or, Maybe Not' fiasco). Take Off With Bradley & Holly Forces BBC To Make Announcement Over Social Distancing Concerns noted the Evening Chronicle. The Daily Scum Express alleged that BBC Viewers 'Switch Off' As Take Off With Bradley & Holly Branded 'Worst TV Show Ever' which may be true although one rather doubts that the Daily Scum Express bothered to ask all viewers. This blogger watched it - and disliked it - but he certainly didn't get that particular memo and, trust me dear blog reader, there are many worse TV shows than Take Off With Bradley & Holly. Eighteen of them, this year alone. The Sun pushed a similar story of 'outraged' Twitter whingery whilst the Liverpool Echo claimed that the series 'leaves viewers feeling strange.' That sounded chillingly accurate. OK! magazine also suggested that the show had been 'slammed' by viewers. 'Slammed', of course, being the same as 'criticised' only with less syllables for the hard-of-thinking. That must have been worrying to the production, when an organ of the media as singularly lowest-common-denominator as OK! can't find anything worthwhile to say about your show, you know you're in deep trouble. Bradley, mate, you're better than this crap. Willoughby mightn't be, but you are.
20. Apocalypse Wow
The worst thing you will ever see with your eyes,' according to the Gruniad, ITV2's Apocalypse Wow was a spectacularly z-list celebrity game show in which contestants try to win cash for charity by entering The Torture Dome - part BDSM club, part Fight Club. There, they must 'form the perfect team' and 'take on the terrifying superhuman bosses.' The Sun's Ally Ross, who normally arse-licks this sort of thing up, big-style, said it 'may just be the worst British TV show of all time.' Presented by AJ Odudu, it is a show that gets the z-list celebrities to partake in physical challenges against professional-physical-challenge-type-people called things like Enormo, Polecat and other names that suggest a development deadline even tighter than the series' miniscule budget. 'By the end of a long, long forty five minutes plus ad breaks, you will have seen Love Islander Chris Hughes slung out of a paddling pool full of lube by a stringy-haired strongman, stand-up comedian Darren Harriott biffed off a podium by a polystyrene wrecking ball swung by a man with a furry pedestal mat strapped to each shoulder (that's Enormo) and Gogglebox's Scarlett Moffatt fail to climb a greasy pole. Metaphor is everywhere,' the Gruniad stated, aghast at the horror of it all. 'Their endeavours are overseen by The Mistress (Donna Preston) who screams lines like "Friends! Lovers! Bastards! Are you ready for the show? Then let's chuffin' get on with it!" to try to create the febrile atmosphere someone, somewhere must have thought would be generated by this motley assortment of celebs, half-concepts and people in leather masks.' Proceedings are 'a dizzying mix of It's A (Non-Royal) Knockout, Gladiators and The Crystal Maze if the latter were bad, stupid and thrown together in the last hour of a Friday-afternoon meeting on a hot day in an unairconditioned office.' Apocalypse Wow tried about fifty things at once and failed at all of them. ITV - the network that once produced World In Action and The Avengers - may not give a flying stuff about quality, or integrity, or indeed their own viewers, but they surely must recognise that even by their own pitiful standards, Apocalypse Wow was shockingly bad and won't be mourned once its inevitable passing occurs.
21. Alan Davies: As Yet Unfunny
In the early 2000s, Alan Davies took to Twitter (he used to do that a lot and it once cost him a wallet full of bread after he was found to have defamed a former Tory MP) to describe listening to From The North favourite Mark Kermode's voice as being 'like having a cheese grater rubbed against my ears.' Which, coming from Alan Davies is a little like a kitchen implement describing another kitchen implement as being a darker shade of gray. Mark went to see a Davies stand-up show in 2017. When he spoke to Davies back-stage he said something along the lines of 'I'm sorry you don't like my voice,' Davies replied, 'meh.' And again, kettle, this pot has something to say to you. Alan Davies is still great in small doses on From The North favourite Qi, even after eighteen series (in fact, he's often brilliant when he reigns in the silliness and sticks to his trademark knowing sarkiness). But, his own format - again, on Dave who are having one Hell of year - is patchy at best and grossly self-indulgent at worst. In each episode Davies holds an unscripted roundtable discussion with four guests. Each segment begins untitled but a title is chosen at the conclusion. It also begins unfunny and, usually, stays that way. Occasionally, someone will manage to inject a bit of oomph into the proceedings - recent episodes involving Lee Mack, Bill Bailey and Joe Lycett slightly raised the bar above a laugh-free zone and provided a few moments of comedy pleasure. Others, however ... It really is a pity as, potentially, the central idea has comedy legs. It needs a far more consistent quality of guests, however. Still, credit where it's due, managing to produce something so uneven it has found a place in From The North's 2021 'Worst Of' list despite including National Treasure Bill Bailey in one episode is something of an achievement. Because, that shouldn't be possible.
22. Redknapp's Big Night Out
Harry Redknapp. Jamie Redknapp. Tom Davis. Merely six of the many reasons why you should give Redknapp's Big Night Out the sort of wide-berth that Jamie Redknapp used to give getting off the treatment table and actually playing a few games for Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur. 'Football and entertainment superstar Jamie Redknapp,' begins Sky's publicity blurb, hilariously, 'is joined by his dad, footy legend and national treasure, Harry Redknapp, plus best friend, BAFTA-winning comedian Tom Davis, in this comedy entertainment show.' Stop rolling on the floor and kicking your legs in the air like one of the robots in the 'for Mash get S.M.A.S.H®™ adverts from the 1970s', dear blog reader, this is no laughing matter. Just for context, Davis did win a BAFTA in 2016 (not undeservedly, either) but Hapless Harry is no more a 'national treasure' than his son is or ever was a 'football and entertainment superstar.' 'They invite the biggest and best names in showbusiness and sport to join them for topical football talk, exciting games and celebrity chat. Expect ... Harry's unique and entertaining anecdotes.' In fact, you should have expected a woeful mélange of tripe, more tripe and extreme tripe with a side order of tripe. Because, that's what you got. Originally titled Redknapp's Weekend Warm-Up, the series was commissioned to begin in 2020, but was replaced by the tweaked Home Fixture format amidst the coronavirus lockdown. Tragically for everyone, lockdown eventually ended and we got this turkey foisted upon us. Who Is Jamie Redknapp & What Is He Famous For? asked the otakukart website earlier this year. Good question. Guests on this Hellish mash-up of Fantasy Football League, Tellytubbies and that episode of Parkinson featuring Meg Ryan, included such twenty four carat ... things as Danny Dyer, Paddy McGuinness, Mel B and James Corden. To paraphrase the late, much-missed Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, 'have you had enough ... or do you want some more?'
23. Pooch Perfect
'Britain's hairiest hounds get a makeover on the hunt for Britain's best dog groomer. Sixteen professionals compete to see who can transform them into the smartest pooches in the land.' Apparently. Pooch Perfect was a dog grooming reality competition created by Seven Studios UK and first broadcast in Australia, hosted by big, cuddly Rebel Wilson. The format was sold in 2020 to the BBC. That's the BBC. The UK series was hosted by Sheridan Smith (again, someone this blogger admires. Usually). It was cancelled after one series. Because it was shit and no one was watching it, basically. 'A TV reality contest that isn't just bad, it's obscene,' bemoaned the Gruniad Morning Star. 'Even for a country that loves dogs as much as the UK, a show where participants put diamante necklaces on poodles seems like a step too far.' The BBC - that's he BBC - lied to the Digital Spy website: 'Pooch Perfect brought plenty of light relief to viewers during lockdown and whilst the show won't be returning for another series, we'd like to thank Sheridan, the judges, animal experts, groomers and pet owners ... for bringing such joy to our screens at a time when we needed it most.' The BBC also defended the show following concerns raised by the RSPCA's head of companion animals Doctor Samantha Gaines, who claimed that the show runs the risk of perpetuating 'the idea that dogs are ours to objectify.' Which, given that they're domestic pets, they kind of are, Sam. The BBC released a statement saying that the 'care and wellbeing of the dogs was of the utmost importance' to the programme makers, adding that there were always 'an RSPCA-approved animal welfare consultant, a grooming consultant and a vet' present on-set. In other words, 'no animals were harmed during the making of this show.' Neither, sadly, were any TV executives who commission fatuous piffle such as this.
24. The Cabins
ITV2 has, reportedly, ordered a second series of their second-most-popular dating show The Cabins for 2022. Based on an original Dutch format, (Lang Leve De Liefde), The Cabins saw 'a cast of singletons ditching the dating rule book and deleting their dating apps in an attempt to find true love.' Or, at least, cop themselves a good hard shag or two live on telly. To say that The Cabins makes Love Island look like I, Claudius might sounds like hyperbole but, actually, it has more than a degree of truth to it. The top review of the series on IMDB is frothing in its incandescent fury: 'More of the same rubbish we have seen before. I have no idea who still watches these kind of shows. Just Love Island in another setting because of lockdown. And, like the other review says, people whoring themselves out on TV for two minutes of fame. So pretty much a nothing show with nothing people doing nothing; you've been warned. Watch if you want to kill brain cells.' Quite an articulate rant, young man. It is, though, shanetoddfortythree's header, 'Just Why?', which makes it art.
25. Gordon Ramsey's Bank Balance
Gordon Ramsey's bank balance, like Gordon Ramsey's ego (and, indeed, Gordon Ramsey's propensity for swearing) is massive. And, it was significantly increased by the commissioning of this game show by the BBC - that's the BBC. It was described as a 'high-stakes, high-pressure, game show where contestants test their poise, precision, knowledge and nerve to succeed to build themselves a fortune, or see it come crashing down in an instant.' The ratings were, from the off, dreadful. And the reviews weren't much better. In August it was announced that Bank Balance had been axed by the BBC - though, sadly, not with an actual axe, because that would've been worth watching. A spokeswoman for Ramsay told the Daily Mirra that there were 'plans to launch the show Stateside.' Presumably as a pay-back for all of the crap the Americans have dumped on Britain over the years - you know, chewing gum, the hoola hoop, herpes, Little Jimmy Osmond, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Trick Or Treating at Hallow'een, The War On Terror in search on non-existent weapons of mass destruction ... It's a fair swap, this blogger reckons.
26. Viewpoint
If ever the impact of a TV series was destroyed by circumstances way beyond its control, it was this five-part ITV thriller from Rillington Place, Waking The Dead and Manhunt writer Ed Whitmore and Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer which was broadcast in April. Or, more accurately, most of it was. The final episode, however, was hastily pulled from the schedules and made available as streaming-only following a series of sexual harassment complaints made about its star, Noel Clarke. Viewpoint was the story of a police surveillance investigation in Manchester following the disappearance of a primary school teacher in the vein of movies like Stakeout and The Lives Of Others. Subject to - mostly - quite positive reviews and decent overnight ratings, Viewpoint's world came crashing down around its ears as the copies of Gruniad Morning Star hit doorsteps across the country on that cold Friday morning. Prior to the broadcast of the previous day's fourth episode, the Gruniad had already reported that Clarke was the subject of allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation by twenty women. Allegations which he, of course, denied. Ironically, at that very moment, the Gruniad's TV critic was giving the series a very positive review, stating 'Noel Clarke excels in [this] Rear Window-inspired thriller.' Bet she got a right-good hiding with the Gruniad slipper across the editor's desk for that. The finale of Viewpoint was, as a consequence, pulled from its intended broadcast and replaced by an episode of It'll Be Alright On The Night. Oh, the irony (not to mention, the ignominy). International distribution of Viewpoint was also suspended. Clarke's career, meanwhile, remains in limbo not least because of - as yet, unproven - allegations made about his conduct on the Doctor Who set a decade ago by an actress who claimed that Clarke 'made advances on me' and asked her, regularly, if she 'wanted a piece of his dark chocolate.' One presumes he wasn't referring to a bar of Bournville®™. If, of course, that particular allegation was true. Which, it is important to note, Clarke denied that it was. The BBC stated that they were shocked - and stunned - by these allegations.
Meanwhile, Sky and production company Vertigo Films have said they will no longer make further series of another Clarke vehicle, Bulletproof, BAFTA have also suspended Clarke's membership, mere weeks after giving him an Outstanding Contribution award and the Metropolitan Police said they have 'received allegations' of sexual offences from a third party. As for Viewpoint, everyone involved in it, seemingly, just wants to forget that it ever happened.
27. Bloods
Is there anyone in the world who finds That Awful Horrocks Woman with her squeaky voice and her extravagantly superficial comedy stylings a) remotely funny and/or b) anything other than ruddy annoying? Just this blogger then? Figures ...
28. Alter Ego
'Legitimately Nightmarish': Is Alter Ego The Worst TV Show Of 2021? asked the Gruniad. No, actually, it was approximately the twenty eighth worst, but this blogger is quite happy to put it here and let dear blog readers decide if he's got that one wrong. 'More than perhaps any other television format, the singing competition has found itself in a state of accelerated progress,' they added. 'In quick succession, American Idol's basic "We'll tell you if you're a good singer" premise gave way to The Voice's "We'll tell you if you're a good singer without looking at you," which in turn became The Masked Singer's "We don't care if you're a good singer or not, because you're a minor celebrity dressed up like a sentient banana." Evidently, however, progress isn't always a good thing. Now the singing competition has landed upon Alter Ego; a show so catastrophic, so legitimately nightmarish in both concept and execution, that it deserves to be drowned in concrete and hidden at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I guarantee that people will be talking about Alter Ego for decades to come. This is because the enduring global mystery of the next fifty years deserves to be "How the Hell did this charred wreckage of a series ever get made?"' Weird - But Not Weird Enough added The Atlantic. 'How could a singing competition show that features holographic contestants be this dull?' Variety suggested that the show 'falls flat.' Subject to some of the worst reviews any TV show has ever received, Alter Ego holds some kind of achievement in managing to unite all of the world's TV critics, together in perfect harmony. Just like ebony and ivory. Oh, Lord.
29. Cooking With Paris
In which Paris Hilton proved that a spell in prison taught her nothing as she joined 'the celebrity home cooking reality crowd with her own series' with guest appearances from a collection of some of the most unappealing people who've even walked across a TV screen with their nose in the air like they've just smelled shit nearby - Nikki Glaser, Kim Kardashian West, Demi Lovato, Lele Pons, Saweetie, plus Paris's mother Kathy and sister Nicky. Horrorshow, right? Oh, you don't know the half of it, dear blog reader. The series 'received negative reviews from critics' according to, you know, everyone. Jordan Julian of The Daily Beast website stated that the show is 'an over-produced miss ... [Hilton] seems to be trying to channel her clueless, perpetually bored Simple Life persona, but now we know that was just a character, it feels forced.' Writing for Variety, Daniel D'Addario said: 'Cooking With Paris is a disaster - an utterly unappealing sit that many viewers will tune out before the first episode has ended.' The Gruniad considered that: 'It all gets odder as it goes on. It's not (just) that Hilton has only four phrases at her disposal ('So good', 'So bomb', 'In-sane', 'So cute'), but that she is such a deadening presence.' 'It's lazy Netflix rubbish, this; throw a cheque at a celeb and bung it on the homepage,' added The Times. 'Hilton is forty now. I wonder if today's teenagers actually know who she is.' It added that the show was 'like Banquo's ghost at the reality TV party.' 'If you're looking for a mindless hate-watch, this show might be just what you're seeking,' wrote Arts ATL. 'Especially when Hilton says things like, "Cereal is my favorite food group," or "What's a tong?"' Thing is, dear blog reader, this blogger did seriously consider leaving this programme out of From The North's 'Worst Of' 2021 list because, well, frankly Paris Hilton seemed too easy a target for ridicule. And then, he thought 'nah, to Hell with that, she made it, she can eat it.' In life, dear blog reader, you reap what you sow. The 'joke' with this series - and I think that's what both Hilton and the producers were aiming for - is that Hilton is neither very good at cooking nor interested in getting any better. Predictably, as a consequence, Cooking With Paris's premise gets very old very quickly.
30. The Political Correction
Nigel Farage and Dehenna Davison on the - laughably wretched - GB News channel. Hateful, in every regard. At least, on the strength of the fifteen minutes of one episode this blogger suffered through before turning over to a repeat of Homes Under The Hammer (the things this blogger does so you don't have to, dear blog reader). If he'd watched twenty minutes, it might've made number one.
31. That Vinted®™ Advert.
... featuring the most slappable hipster couple in Christendom - him with his nasty beard and her with her simpering squeaky voice - wittering on about all the crap old clothes they've sold to, presumably, other slappable hipster Vegan quiche-eating Gruniad Morning Star readers. This blogger hated it, dear blog reader. Hated it, hated it, hated it - every single one of the nine hundred and forty three million six hundred and eighty seven thousand four hundred and twenty seven times it was broadcast during 2021[*].
[*] A probable approximation, just for the sake of accuracy.

From The North's Curiosities Of The Year -

1. Hollington Drive
A curiously uninvolving ITV drama which began in late September, created and written by Sophie Petzal, the series followed two sisters - Anna Maxwell Martin and From The North favourite Rachael Stirling - and their families as they grapple with the potential crimes of their children. Anna Maxwell Martin Radiates With Rage In Suburban Hell was the Gruniad's headline, the review reflecting: 'This thriller about the nightmarish disappearance of a child in suburbia gets off to a suitably gripping start - and Maxwell Martin is a perfect glum mum.' The series 'serves up the full English of Middle-Class parent terrors,' added the Independent and, let's face it, few media organs are better placed to reflect upon Middle-Class terrors of any description than the Indi. '[There is] nothing middle-of-the-road about this suburban thriller,' claimed the Torygraph, quite wrongly. 'It's the kind of domestic thriller that ITV churns out by the dozen, but casting Maxwell Martin is a smart move because she's such a good actress that she elevates the material. Had this role gone to Joanne Froggatt or Katherine Kelly or any of ITV's go-to leading ladies, perhaps it would have felt more workaday. But here you sit up and think: this'll be worth watching.' A fair assessment, although the ending was more than a shade over-complicated and credulity-stretching, requiring the Digital Spy website to try and explain it (and, only partially, succeed). Viewers were left 'seriously divided' over the ending, claimed Hello magazine in an article based on a handful of Twitter postings which was, as with all such 'this is what the people are saying' type conceits, only about as trustworthy as a banker claiming poverty. The same magazine then got all stroppy and righteously indignant in a piece entitled Hollington Drive Star Defends Drama Storyline With Candid Comment, taking a - not-even-remotely-candid - interview Maxwell Martin had made, pre-the series even being broadcast, completely out of context and then finding two or three more Twitter keyboard warriors to quote. Hollington Drive Fans Label Show 'Biggest Waste Of Time' After Crash Scene Blunder claimed the Tyla website (no, me neither). Because, 'how many plot holes did they want in one show? Oh my God, that was the biggest waste of time' was, it appears, the view of one Leah on Twitter, whilst seemingly getting herself all hot and discombobulated. It's always so impressive - and strangely comforting - when a TV drama manages to divide the nation is it not, dear blog reader?
2. Oprah With Meghan & Harry
So, to sum up - a pair of, apparently, self-entitled multi-millionaires used their celebrity status to be afforded the opportunity to whinge, loudly, to another self-entitled multi-millionaire about the treatment they had, allegedly, received from an entire family full of self-entitled multi-millionaires. And we're supposed to be, what? Shocked? Stunned? Surprised? Angered? Or, more realistically, wholly uninterested in the entire bloody lot of them. All rights and wrongs concerning the allegations contained within this televised interview aside (this blogger has no intention of getting into that fetid swamp of claim and counterclaim; Boris Johnson declined to comment when asked if he believed the Royal Family was, collectively, racist saying: 'When it comes to matters to do with the Royal Family, the right thing for Prime Ministers to say is nothing' and if avoiding the question like a coward is good enough for the PM, it's good enough for this blogger), the thing which astonishes most about this fiasco is the fascination with which this programme was received in America. Sorry, remind me, weren't you the country that fought a revolution to get rid of the monarchy in the first place? If you want them back, guys, all you have to do is ask. Then you can pay for them and their indulgent lifestyles with your taxes just like we've been doing all of our lives. Sounds like a plan. Not that Oprah With Meghan & Harry was entirely without merit. For a kick-off, his reaction to it got Piers Morgan's odious ass slung out of ITV and into the gutter along with all the other sewage. That, alone, probably helped to justify its existence.
And, that's yer whack for another year, dear blog reader. It's been emotional. Remember, if the thirty one horrorshows in the 'Worst Of' selection have made you despair of ever switching on your tellybox again, there is plenty of good stuff out there. If, as noted above, you look hard enough for it. And, on that bombshell ...