Friday 19 December 2014

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2014

(above) A TV set in an Ibis hotel, this year. That would be the worst TV picture of the year. Now what's the best?

As I've noted many times before, I watch a lot of telly. And I don't think I should be ashamed of it. I always have done and, for as long as it's out there, I hope I'll continue to.

2014 was the year when we got a Tivo box for our  Virgin Media cable which meant, on the plus side, we can watch Youtube clips on the big screen (pairing the laptop, or the phone, to Youtube and lining up clips is a fun revelation and has enabled Hev and I to enjoy things together that I'd formerly been watching on my own). These have included whole episodes of old TV series - most notably Colin's Sandwich from 1988, which stands the test of time so well it very nearly made this year's Top Ten.

The downside of the Tivo box, apart from the cost, is that the TV Choice menu is a lot harder to navigate, with an alphabetical listing which is next to useless compared to its predecessor, and all BBC shows coming via iPlayer, which buffers something rotten. Some shows have been impossible to watch because of the buffering. We've also lost, or been dissauded from looking for, the previously excellent On Demand "We Are Watching" collection which has, in recent years, led to us discovering The Booth At The End and Party Down, as well as box sets of such classics as The Thick Of It and Doctor Who. If hidden gems like that are still out there, Virgin have managed to hide them better than ever thanks to their hamfisted design. Boo.

So, on the actual telly, what were my favourites of 2014? Well, there's an awful lot to chose from. Bubbling Under the top ten. Honourable mentions go to:

Only Connect (always good, though now it's on BBC2, what is poor old BBC4 left with?)
Mad Men (we remain faithful, but this series has continued to go off the boil)
The Walking Dead (see Mad Men)
Alias Smith & Jones (from 1972, and neither of us had seen it since, until ITV4 started running it at teatime. Great fun)
Our Zoo (if only because it's become a pet phrase in our house. The result of a misunderstanding, "our zoo?" now means "how are you?" Oh we laughed so much the first time. Shut up.)
The Daily Show (we never miss an episode, it remains the best satire of the 21st century)
Bad Education (final series was very good)
Wonderful (showing the BBC can still do biopics)
Sherlock (which I include because I happened to see an episode on French TV and was delighted to see all the captions and floating text are translated as well as the show being dubbed. A well made bit of international telly sales)
The Mindy Project (see Mad Men. Some good episodes, but most patchy. And why so many men in the cast?)
The Office (sad to see it go, but the final season Jumped The Shark throughout. A miserable end to a great show)
Remember Me (a good ghost story with a puzzling ending)
W1A (cool, not a problem, yeah, so that's all good)
Grayson Perry - Who Are You (most memorable arts programme of the year, lots of which stayed with you)
The Apprentice (a very watchable year. "It's a world as big as our oyster!")
My Mad Fat Diary (series 2 as good as series 1)

The Top Ten (or, very cheatily, a Top 16)

10 = The Missing / Line Of Duty / Happy Valley

The three best (British) crime stories (that we watched). Happy Valley went on an episode too long, Line Of Duty had a rubbish ending, but all three were gripping, and full of excellent writing, strong acting, and original direction. The Missing's twist endings (eg "they're on a luxury yacht" and "the creepy man in the playground in Russia") caught me out big time, and the car chase in the middle episode was the best TV car chase I can remember seeing. I still don't know how it was done.

9 = Top Of The Pops 1979 / It Was Alright in the 1970s

We're watching my teenage years replayed before my eyes. And, when it's not full of truly dreadful music like Lena Martell and The Dooleys (and there was a lot of that about), and when they're not missing episodes out because of Savile and DLT (and how long will we continue showing Cliff episodes I wonder?), this has been such an exciting reminder of some of the favourte music of my life. The Police, Boomtown Rats, Elvis Costello, Gary Numan, M, Quantum Jump, Madness, Thin Lizzy, Squeeze, The Specials, XTC, Blondie, and so many novelty records, one hit wonders and forgotten gems it really is a treat. Oh and Channel 4 did two programmes that were the cringiest viewing of the year. A good reminder that now is actually better than then, despite the whole "being old" thing.

8 = Cilla / Lost Innocence Of Christopher Jeffries

ITV has taken over the role of chief biopic producer, which used to be BBC4's job, and these two were the best. Christopher Jeffries was played by Jason Watkins channeling Paul Foot and competes for BAFTA winning actor of the year with Sheridan Smith, whose Cilla was an uncanny lookalike, and an astonishing soundalike. There's an album. The writing of both of these avoided the usual biopic cliches, with LIOCJ underplaying all sensationalism to great effect, and Cilla concentrating on the stories of Bobby Willis and Brian Epstein as much as on Cilla herself. It painted a convincing picture of a 1962 that contrasted markedly with the present, both in the look and feel of the place, and also peoples expectations.  In many ways, these two plays together tell the story of how Britain has changed in the last 50 years.

7 = Friday Night Dinner / Rev / Moone Boy

A very good year for comedy, with these standing out from an impressive crowd. Rev's final episodes are right up there with Blackadder for crossing the divide between funny and profound. Moone Boy remains the best comedy to come from Ireland this century. And Friday Night Dinner is a sitcom you can watch over and over again, as we do. This year's most quotable show, from "Nice bit of squirrel" to "Hello Bambinos".

6  Inside Number 9

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's first three episodes of this series were astoundingly good comedy writing.  Unpredictable, perfectly executed, and eminently rewatchable, they are a masterclass of comedy writing, thriller writing, and just plain original writing. They deserve every prize that, you just know, someone else will get instead. (See also Psychoville and League Of Gentlemen, excellent and robbed every time).

5  Brooklyn Nine Nine

When this won all the American TV awards last year I was wary of it, expecting something cheesy and downmarket. And what did we get? Only the best written and best performed fastest moving US sitcom since The Office was good. Best casting for years.

4  Doctor Who

Not only have we just enjoyed the most consistent and impressive new series of Doctor Who since 2008, rehabilitating Steven Moffat in so many peoples eyes (after the indulgent mess that the recent series had been), but the show has been scattered around various other channels, and I even got to see some lost episodes for the first time. Unlike last year when, with the 50th anniversary, I felt a bit force-fed my Doctor Who, this year I feel like I've discovered it for myself. I've enjoyed The Enemy Of The World on DVD, Battlefield on Drama, Pyramids Of Mars on Horror, The Crimson Horror on BBC3 and Paul McGann stories on Radio4Extra. But best of all has been the new stuff. (My favourites? Mummy On The Orient Express, Black Water/Death In Heaven and Flatline. Listen was just OK).

3  Fargo

Unlike the other cop dramas, who've started intense and gripping, this was in danger of feeling a little loose and possibly losing our attention when it began. But once it kicked in, and Billy Bob Thornton's character became as engrossing and mysterious as he became, we ended up with a serial unlike anything else. Best shootout in a snowstorm? Best role given to Martin Freeman this year? Storyline most full of Biblical references and arcane subtexts? Fargo had them all. Excellent.

2  Breaking Bad (series 4 & 5)

This time last year we had managed to watch three series of Breaking Bad in a month, and finished watching the lot by February. And even though series 5 wasn't quite as good as its predecessor, and even though AMC milked every last penny by spreading series 5 over two discs in an underhand and exploitative manner, Breaking Bad casts a shadow over every TV series we watched after it. We started rewatching the whole thing after we'd finished it, because we were experiencing withdrawal symptoms (though got too busy for such nonsense after a few episodes). BB remains the most addictive TV show I can remember ever seeing. In a few years I'll enjoy watching the whole lot again.

1  Plebs

Our favourite show. There may be only 6 episodes, but every one is a gem and rewards further viewings. Binnie's Song is sung regularly in our house, and it's not unusual to greet each other with a "Salve Grumio" and an "Alright Landlord". If only every comedy could be as good as this.

For the record, here are my Telly Faves from 2013, 2011 and 2009 (I miss out even years, I have no idea why)

UPDATE: This list was assembled too early to include some of the great TV that's been on over the Christmas period, otherwise That Day We Sang and The Wrong Mans 2 would have been in with a shout.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing Pansy Potter, Bananaman, Biffo The Bear et al in The Beano, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. He's been writing and drawing comics for 25 years, he must know something.  

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