Thursday, 31 December 2015

My comic strip review of 2015

Yes, it's that time again. I'm looking back at the year gone by, and once more it's all me me me. (Elsewhere on the blog I've looked back at the telly I've watched, and the comics the kids have made in the Comic Art Masterclasses, and I'm sure I've mentioned Hev enough. If not, she's been working on her book all year and being generally brilliant). When I started doing an illustrated review of the year, in 2010, I did it on a side of A4, at Mum's house, on New Year's eve and just rattled it off for a bit of fun. I've somehow managed to tie up the best part of a day and a half on it this year, the fool that I am. And if it's a bit hard to see as a full page, here it is blow by blow.

The comics I'm referring to here are the scripts for the Beano Annual 2017, for which I've written all the Bash Street Kids, Bananaman and Gnasher stories, and the Dandy Annual 2017 for which I've written and drawn the all-character Strictly and Bake-Off parodies, and sundry bits and bobs across the year; The Socks' "Goes To Hollywood" 80 page graphic novel, which finally came out in December, just 7 years after the first volume; the Magna Carta comics for Barking and Lincoln, published by Art Reach; and the work for Bible Society, which continues into 2016 with some very interesting stuff on my desk waiting to be looked at. I've even included a Christmas card commission, and the promo cartoons for the Socks' Minging Detectives show into this montage. It's stuff like this that can make a page take all day.

The Comic Art Masterclasses are detailed throughout this blog and looked back on in detail. The half-hearted reference to 127 Days probably doesn't work. I haven't seen the movie, I know it involves rock climbing, let's gloss over the attempted homage there shall we?

These stats are what my cartoon-of-the-year usually centres round. The dreadful damage I do to the environment with all my flying, which I did a lot less of this year despite the trips to Amman and Geneva, and my many nights away from home (I've not included the Edinburgh month or domestic visits in this total, which between them meant 3 months not sleeping in my own bed). You want the year-by-year comparison table? You got it.

School days   
Flights (return)   
Socks shows   
Caric gigs       
Nights away   
Socks vids       

The Socks had another busy year, though to be honest it wasn't as busy as others because we lined up a shorter spring tour. And, though I love lots of Minging Detectives, it left us with fewer knockout songs and drop dead brilliant routines that will go into the permanent repertoire, and was never quite as satisfying as its three immediate predecessors. Not every show can be Socks In Space, though I remain delighted by the Socks' ability to divide a room with their Isis song, "Hello Muddah, Intifada". At no point in the last year was it never not "too soon". The 9 unseen videos referred to, by the way, were part of a series of commissioned videos that are currently on hold. You may get to see them in the new year (and we get paid for them!). Oh yeah, the graphic novel. It's 80 pages, full colour, great value, and available now!

I don't mention The Sitcom Trials much on this blog, because it has a blog of its own, but it did indeed have its busiest year since 2013, and is planning a busier one next year.

Hev saw me artworking that final panel and asked "who's that supposed to be?" We can conclude from that that I am neither as young nor as slim as my self-portrait suggests. All the more reason, I would say, for producing an illustrated review of my year, than relying on photos, all of which seem to involve a plumper, more wrinkled-bloke wearing the same clothes as me (including my new glasses, for which I finally got my eyes tested this year) and stepping in front of the camera just at the wrong moment.

Happy New Year when it comes

Kev F Sutherland, December 31st 2015

here are my similarly styled reviews of...


Scottish Falsetto Socks On Tour

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Comics by kids, the best of 2015

Another bumper year of visits to schools has passed and taken me further afield than possibly any previous year, thanks both to Authors Abroad and their international trips, and the various Literary Festivals with whom I got in touch for the first time a year ago and who were kind enough to have me visit. In all my classes, which ranged this year from the usual school visits, to home parties, ad hoc set-ups in local halls and marquees, I've worked with kids (and occasionally adults) to produce a comic that we run off on the photocopier and they take away in their hands. In fact this year some projects were even more ambitious, so let's start by looking at one of those.

Magna Carta Monstrosity - Barking week. Thanks to Helen Chamberlain at Art Reach, I worked this week on two Magna Carta based projects, where I went into schools and youth clubs in, in this instance Barking (and earlier Lincoln). As well as giving me usual "how to" class on the subject of comics, had them tailor their work towards the subject of Magna Carta. Some of the end results were random and surreal, but all were brilliant. I then wrote and drew a linking story to go with them all, and the finished works were printed as an 8 page full colour A4 comic, distributed in the two towns to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Magna Carta. If anyone fancies doing the same for Shakespeare's anniversary next year, I'm up for it.

Rainbow Burping Unicorns / My Name Is Jeff - Here, from January, we see two recurring themes from the year. Firstly we've been stiff with unicorns (remind me to add up just how many of this year's comics ended up with unicorns in their names), and secondly I lose count of how many comics, mostly from secondary school kids but not exclusively, draw on Vines and other teenage memes for their subjects. I know I'm old, that's why I will never understand why, in 2014-15, "my name is Jeff" was even a thing. But it was. See also "Deez Nuts". No, me neither.

Ellie's Slumber Pants - Some of my travels are captured here, with a flying visit to Denny near Falkirk as well as a couple of days in Malvern. Another thing I started doing this year was adding a multiplicity of colours to the kids' covers once I got them home. I then mail these back to the teachers as a touch of after-care service which, I think, they appreciate. A couple of years ago I was leaving these things totally in black and white,  and five years ago I was only keeping an occasional record of them here in the diary, not that they were that much to look at back then. I'm saying I've got better at this kind of thing.

11 Ninja Screwdrivers Go Scuba Diving For Unicorns - these aren't even the best comics from March, but they were in the biggest montage. See also Bart Simpson Doodling On A Poodle Eating Noodles and various other entries in possibly the busiest month for schools this year.

Vampire Afro Sheep - and more of those unicorns.  This batch from April includes the visit to Hexham, one of the many far-flung literary festivals I attended this year. And by golly Hexham is far flung. Great to have an excuse to go there, and be paid for it. You can see also some of the 5000 odd caricatures I've drawn this year, and me posing cheesily by a flipchart, which I have also done a lot.

Bolidloces And The Three Hairs - Here from May we see a nice example of the mis-spelled title that happens every now and again. Usually it's a year three pupil who has a brave stab at writing out some words they've not yet learned how to spell. Today it was a year 7 pupil trying to spell Baldilocks and getting Bolidloces, and who am I to judge? What I'm more judgemental about is Molly The Walking Cheese Grater, which was one of those cyber-bullying situations I end up contributing to, however unwittingly. Again it's usually year 8 or 9 who'll write a title that is in fact an insulting in-joke about a fellow pupil, in this case it was a Year 5.

Attack Of The 50ft Baby - All the world is here in this selection from June. From the Al Mustafa comic, produced in an after-school class at an Islamic Youth Centre in Bradford; to a mention of Minecraft - the obsession of kids across the country; to some cover designs that I'm justifiably pleased with (have I given you an idea of how quickly I turn these things around? They're usually done while the 2-hour class is in full swing, and if I'm lucky I get break time to put a bit more detail); to another bloody Vine, this time it's "Deez Nuts", which I'd not heard of before, and was new to them, hence its transliteration to They's Nuts.

Pug Dog Doing A Poo - The shopping centre classes. Thanks to DC Thomson and Intu shopping centres, I did the most unusual series of classes in unlikely settings as part of the Beano Takeover, everywhere from Braehead in Glasgow to the Trafford Centre. None of these comics got printed out and taken home, but we managed to produce the covers, and lots of kids went home happy. Fewer unicorns, more toilets. Make of that what you will.

Obama Finds A Sausage Unicorn - Again with the unicorns, these are mostly from the classes I did in August across libraries in Edinburgh. For the third year running I've balanced my nightly comedy show with days dotting between libraries. It makes the peas taste funny but it keeps them on the knife.

Anaconda Pig - And in September I hit the festivals trail starting with Nairn and going as far as the Isle Of Wight. Sally Sausage etc is the work of adults, while Anaconda Pig is one of my favourite cover designs of the year. Don't ask me why, somethings just come out right in the few minutes you have to draw them.

Migros vs CoOp - the Swiss comics. Thanks to Authors Abroad I found myself teaching at the second most expensive school in the world (did I mention it cost €100,000 a year? Did I mention the teachers aren't allowed to tell you who the kids actually are for security reasons? Did I make the "I should have charged more" gag? Okay, moving on) and they made comics just like any other kids. Great fun.

Deranged Suicidal Beavers - The Amman comics. I spent a week in Amman in Jordan, again thanks to Authors Abroad, teaching the kids at the American Community School how to write and draw comics, and what a splendid time that was. Of course I saw next to nothing of the city on my whistle-stop visit, but it was enough to be a highpoint of the year. I also took the opportunity to create a series of themed and linked covers for the six comics they produced, like anyone but me will ever notice.

Voldemort Vs Aliens - And in November I did more classes. From literary festivals on the Mull Of Kintyre and Manchester to schools in rural Oxfordshire, they came up with the goods.

The Comic Art Masterclass calendar - 13 pages of the best of 2015's comics, collected up into a calendar, and on sale now. A delightful year worth celebrating, with more miles covered than ever before, and some very interesting and varied projects under my belt. I look forward to a surprising and eventful year to come.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. View the promo video here

Monday, 21 December 2015

Socks Shakespeare Show - What to call it?
  (above, a clip of Well Did You Evah, from Romeo and Juliet. Click to play)

I'm thinking the Socks 2016 show will be Shakespeare based. So I asked Facebook what we could call it. Here are just some of the suggestions that came in.  

Brian Gorman Breaking Bard?
Stewart Perkins Shakespeare in Glove
Dave Williams Sockbeth
Craig Hill Socksphere!
Kevin Nowbaveh Sockspear
Fats Harvis Socks-Pair
Peter Buckley Hill Tights Andronicus
Steven Higgins Pair-icles of socks
Gary Lynch Prose Before Hose
André Vincent Argyle's well that ends well
Ashley Frieze Toe Be or Not Toe Be
Ian Hewett Clothello
Stocking Lear
Too cheap, perchance to seam
Much Ado About Knitting
Scott Tucker Much Ado About Darning
Steve Tracey Much Ado About Stockings
Loves Sock Lost
Two socks, both alike in dignity
Anthony D Lee A midsummer's tight seam
Cliff Chapman Tights, Arse, Androgynous
Wool Shakespeare
Out, Out, Darned Sock!
Benjamin Francis Elliott Et Tu, Boots?
Peter Clack / Fiona Reay The Taming Of The Shoe
Rosemary McIntosh Shysock
Ewan Spence All The World's A Sock
Is This A Sock (I See Before Me)
Let Slip the Socks Of War
Sockspeare's Sister
Two Gentle Socks Of Verona
Kenneth Peter Shinn Two Gentlesocks Of Merino, more like!
Ashley Frieze Two gentlemen of verruca
Shaun Clarkson Two Gentlesocks With Veruccas 
David Spence Twelfth Tight
Colin Noble Merry Socks of Windsor?
Neil Davies A midsummer tights dream
Dave Shelton The Sockish Play?
Oscar Harding Beware The Dyes of March
Richard K Herring Trollius and a sock puppet
Oscar Harding Egads! Forsewth!
Ian Robinson Hamknit
Alan Woollcombe Henry IV, purl 1
As You Crochet It
A yarn! A yarn! My kingdom for a yarn!
All the Wool's a Stage, by Wooliam Shakespeare
Love's Ladders Lost
Declan Hill Is this a ladder I see before me?
Stuart Robinson Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your socks
Stu Munro Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Darned
Jonathan T Jester Falsettostaff and Guildernstein are back?
Davy Francis Toemeo and Juliet?
Craig Graham A hose by any other name...

I've got a few favourites in that list, especially as the sort of subtitle that'll be fun to use in promotion. As for that main title? Stay tuned for confirmation after Christmas.

Scottish Falsetto Socks On Tour

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Little Drummer Boy - new video from the Socks

Brand new from the Socks, and quite a rarity this season, a video (click pic to play). They've revisited Little Drummer Boy, a throwaway instant classic they dreamt up way back in Christmas 08 when they were doing Winter Wonderland in Edinburgh every night throughout August and filling the days with hosts of random videos.

It's a testament to how quiet we've been on the video front (or busy with other work is how I'd prefer to describe it) that the entire month of November has passed without them making one. I don't think they've left this long between videos since they started. In fact it's been so long since the camera came out of its case that I just discovered I've left the mains cable behind at the last gig I recorded, in Manchester at the end of October.

I don't suppose anyone at the Kings Arms Salford has spotted a stray video mains cable..? (Gets searching on Amazon).

Scottish Falsetto Socks On Tour

Friday, 18 December 2015

Doctor Who 2015 - the Dave Gibbons connection (my reviews)

This season of Doctor Who didn't make my Top Ten TV of the Year, the first time it's failed to do so since I started keeping count. Yet it wasn't that bad at all. Usually, the day after an episode's been on, I manage to post something on Gallifrey Base (fan site, don't ask). So, what were my immediate responses to this year's series of Doctor Who, as posted on GB at the time? Well, I have found that Dave Gibbons' artwork seemed to crop up a lot in my reviews, which I hadn't realised till I looked back, a full twelve months. Beginning with...

Last Christmas (which was on, er, last Christmas)

8/10. Brilliant though.

I only drop a few points cos it's all about the tricksy second-guessing, which might make it disappointing on a second viewing.

Was totally taken in by Old Clara, and thought that would be a good and original way to part with a companion. There were a few sniffles in our Christmas house-full during that scene. So we loved the "end of Rose" end of Last Christmas.

And, as opposed to last year when I ranted furiously about how much I hated The Time Of The Doctor, that's all I need to say about Last Christmas.

We had some sniffles during the Old Clara scene, for all the right reasons.

I was very glad we got that far, because we had a rocky start. I turn Doctor Who on at 6.15, and the cry goes out to pause it because someone's not finished adding up the scores from a Christmas quiz. Only then did I realise I'd not pointed out in advance that, in our household, you watch Doctor Who live, when everyone else in the country is watching it. (I wasn't in 'our household' in fact, I'm at me mum's, but it's obviously the first time my sister and the kids have been here at the same time as us on Christmas Day, since pausing a TV became "a thing".)

Am I the first person to mention 'For The Man Who Has Everything' ? (see the front cover, above)

Long before Inception, way back in 1984, Alan Moore wrote the Superman story 'For The Man Who Has Everything' where a cabbage-like alien attaches itself to people and immediately they go into a dream-state. The story is told in such a way that you don't know whether you're in the dream or not. It involves missed opportunities from earlier in their lives, long-dead family and friends, and wish-fulfillment.

It also takes place in a snowy base at the North Pole.

Yes, Steven Moffat read it. He's the same age as me.

The Magician's Apprentice

7/10 I do miss caring and being emotionally engaged with the characters.

Ever since 2010, central characters have kept dying and being brought to life - I lose track who's had more fake deaths, is it Clara or Rory? Either way, it's been done so you don't believe it for a second. Moffat's even blown up the bleeding Tardis more than once already, so I wish he'd stop thinking anyone will care.

The boy Davros twist was great, didn't see that coming. The rest was, as someone has said, tricks & sketches in search of a plot.

It must have raced by though, cos after 45 minutes we both said "is that it?"

Re: "The Magician's Apprentice" Influences, Sources, References and Similarities

The Doctor hides away for ages - The Snowmen, Bells Of St Wossname, Time Of The Doctor

Doctor has a choice over Davros's fate - Genesis of the Daleks

Character turns round to reveal different face - The Beast Below

Rubbish 2010 Daleks get conveniently ret-conned - every series since 2011

It's not the first time central characters have died and therefore you don't care when they do. - Every series since 2010.

Re: "The Witch's Familiar" Ratings, Audience Share

Strictly got 7.68 million, up against the exact same rugby. 4 million people turned off when Doctor Who started.

Under the Lake

Haven't read this whole thread but how many times have the words good old fashioned and spooky cropped up? Also unpretentious.

Not every episode can break new ground, but it's good to be plain entertaining and not disappointing. Plus I bet looooooaaaads of kids were scared plopless.

Before the Flood

8/10 Loved it, watched at 7.30 in the morning after a gig last night. Happy to have just enjoyed it before I start over-analysing it.

When Capaldi exits the Tardis in the 1980 village, he does it shoulder-first with his back to us. Was I the only person who thought that was a homage to Pertwee's entrance in Spearhead From Space?

The seeing-yourself-in-the-past as featured before in Father's Day and The Hungry Earth, was first featured (to my memory) in the 1982 comic strip Chrono-Cops by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (above), which featured many of the tropes they would go on to use in Watchmen.

The Girl Who Died

8/10 for Jamie Mathieson's fun romp, 7/10 for Moffat's portentous pretentious surrounding story arc thing. A curates egg.

The Woman Who Lived

7/10 I was so looking forward to Catherine Tregenna's script, after her Torchwood stories, but this was a proper dog's breakfast.

Parts of it were very entertaining, but too much of it was like a Sylvester McCoy story, and not in a good way. A big daft monster turns up, and blows fire WHY? then does nothing else of any use. Then there's an interstellar battle that takes place OUT OF SHOT?

A great shame, I had high hopes.

Oh yeah, and Maisie Williams was woefully miscast. If it wasn't for Game of Thrones, which I've never seen, she would never have got this gig through an audition. Would she?

The Zygon Invasion

2/10 Worst score I've given to an episode since Time Of The Doctor, but it was worse even than that.

How much exposition? This was a radio play, almost a textbook demonstration of how not to "Show Don't Tell".

Most hackneyed dialogue ever.

Worst use of Rebecca Front in anything ever.

Worst use of overseas locations since The Two Doctors with Colin Baker (which had, now I remember it, dodgy looking aliens that were funnier than they were meant to be.)

I despair. Really annoyingly and disappointingly bad.

Could be worse. Could be a two parter.

The Zygon Inversion

7/10 Much better than part 1.

Moffat sprinkled a bit of fairy dust on it and rescued the exposition-heavy plodding story with a couple of his trademarks.

He may have done the Person-In-A-Virtual-World-Possibly-Inside-Their-Own-Head trope before in Silence In The Library and Asylum of the Daleks (and the Amy-having-a-baby arc throughout series 6) but it worked marvellously here.

But my god if I hear that "Question" trope one more time! (Ask your self this question / The question is / The question you're asking yourself / Question: etc etc). Can he possibly write a script without the word "Question" in it? That is the question.

So overall the two-parter was a less-fun replay of The Sontaran Stratagem, with more Shakespearian speeches, fewer snappy dramatic twists, and no real laughs (what I wouldn't have given for an equivalent of "back of the neck" somewhere in the mix), but by 2015's standards it was a crowd-pleaser. (The crowd being a lot smaller these days, those that remain will inevitably be easier to please).

Oh yeah, and that man-turning-into-Zygon in the shop. Padding much?

Re: What did the kids and the "Not We" think of "The Zygon Inversion"?

I asked my Mum what she'd thought and she says she's given up on Doctor Who. She's one of the 5 million who turn over after Strictly's finished.

Sleep No More

Ha ha very funny.

It was getting 6/10 for being a cliche-filled all-maguffin-and-exposition and full-of-holes load of melodramatic nonsense. Then...

Final 30 seconds = 9/10. So, on average, I'll round it up to 8/10.

So it was all a dream. I'm one of the many people who's just had to put a biro line through every clever criticism he was about to make.

(Fear The Raven is the only episode that escaped comment of any sort. My memory is that I didn't like it)

Heaven Sent

This was clearly one for the fanboys, as the responses on this site show. So I guess I was in the minority wondering what any kid would make of it all.

When it ended my wife texted "Source Code, he's doing Source Code"

Which is rather kinder than my suggestion that he was doing Groundhog Day.

And, oh god, the bloody Time Lords are back next week. I've never liked them.

Re: "Heaven Sent" Influences, Sources, References and Similarities

Source Code. He's doing Source Code.*

(* That's a quote from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre's Socks In Space, but apt I thought).

Also Groundhog Day.

And Sherlock, when he's been shot and disappears inside his own head to have imaginary conversations that'll help him solve it all.

Also this from Doctor Who comic 1980, drawn by Dave Gibbons:

Discovered by Lance Parkin, via Facebook

Hell Bent

7/10 I have had enough of this season's deluge of exposition, and making stuff up as they go along.

All that nonsense in the Matrix, the endless references to some sort of Hybrid, about which nobody cares.

The "Hybrid" is exactly as interesting as "The Doctor's name". Nobody cares what it is, so nobody cares that we'll never find out. Oh, except a few rabid fanboys. You know, the sort of people who'd fixate on a throwaway line in a TV movie from 1996 about a character being half human on his mother's side and think "that'd make an interesting thing to keep banging on about twenty years later when everyone else has forgotten about it and nobody cared anyway." Do. Not. Care.

My wife teared up at the Clara bits, so something must have worked. But I found it emotionally unengaging on the whole, and disappointing as a series closer.

Oh yes. And we had the "Question" routine done again. Question: why does Moffat have to have a routine about a "Question" in every script. It's not a catchphrase, it's just repeating a thing you did before.

Where did he get the Gibson SG from?

And anybody who doesn't know what a Gibson SG is, imagine how everyone feels who doesn't know who The Sisterhood of Karn are, or why "I'm half human on my mother's side" is a thing.

And seeing yourself reflected in broken bits of mirror after the line "Who does he think he is". Ha ha, very clever. But for the benefit of a tiny tiny tiny minority of people. Too self indulgent and not sufficiently entertaining.

Has anyone mentioned that the line "hell bent or heaven sent" comes from Pump It Up by Elvis Costello?

So there you have it. Three stories inspired by Dave Gibbons comic strips from the 1980s, lots of stuff I didn't like, but reviews averaging above 7/10. I feel guilty for not putting in in my TV of the year now. I'm sure 2016's series will do the trick.

Scottish Falsetto Socks On Tour

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries and art centres - email for details, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. View the promo video here

My Top Ten TV Shows of 2015

At a dinner party back in January we became aware of a present day syndrome by which, when four or more people are gathered together, no two of them will have seen the same TV shows. Round that table of a dozen people, those who'd seen Game Of Thrones hadn't seen The Missing or Cilla; the Breaking Bad viewers hadn't heard of Plebs; for every Veep, Rev, W1A and Inside No 9 we'd be raving about there'd be someone championing Bojack Horseman or The Bridge. But never the twain would meet. So it is that my favourite TV of the year will differ from anybody and everybody's who reads it. I hope, along the way, I introduce you to some great TV shows you might have missed.

The Staples. 

No, it's not a programme, it's a category. Those programmes that we watch, we enjoy, we wouldn't miss, but which aren't novel enough or on a big enough roll to be TV Of The Year. Doctor Who has had a variable year with no bit of it quite strong enough to make the chart (it's been so fanboy-oriented and family-unfriendly as to remind one, unfavourably, of 1980 when fun favourite Tom Baker was saddled with a dour and unlikeable final series which made his life miserable and the viewers with it. I wish Peter Capaldi could be given one season of scripts as good as Christopher Eccleston had); Strictly, The Apprentice, Pointless, and The Walking Dead are almost guilty pleasures these days; Mad Men we're only halfway through, and earlier seasons have been better; and Top Of The Pops 1980 was a pretty dire year production-wise which made the variability in music all the more outstanding (some weeks have my favourite music of all time, but interspersed with embarrassing interviews that qualify them for worst TV of their decade. A fitting accompaniment to Tom Baker's last year on Doctor Who). Bob's Burgers is brilliant too, and Veep which we're watching on DVD, but not quite great enough for this year's Top "10".

Honourable mentions

Honourable mentions go to No Offence, Paul Abbott's cop drama which had lots of high points; Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell which managed to get some cracking television out of what was obviously an even more impressive novel; and Wolf Hall, which made most newspapers TV of the year and was indeed the sort of thing British TV does astonishingly well. We enjoyed Danny Brocklehurst's Ordinary Lives, but it faded from the memory quickly; W1A had an excellent second series as did Inside No9; and the Javone Prince comedy sketch show, which will probably be even better when it gets the second series it deserves. We also stuck with Odyssey, which started well before it became a protracted soap opera, and Humans, which had marvellous moments then tailed off. See also The TV That Made Me, a silly clip show presented by Brian Conley, which was as lightweight as TV comes but was our early evening staple throughout this year's Edinburgh. 

So, the actual Top "10" TV of 2015. Beginning with...

10 and a half - BBC 4 Music Documentaries

Bubbling under the chart were a host of excellent documentaries, mostly on BBC4 (and therefore largely about pop music, by and for the benefit of 50 somethings). You'd think we now knew all we need to know about 10CC, The Bay City Rollers, Blondie and the like, but so often these docs have interviews that manage to dredge up a story you've not heard, and film clips you've not seen, that they keep being rewarding viewing. I am the target audience and, though I'm sure there are subjects that you can also make documentaries about, I'm a sucker for them, as long as they keep coming. The worst of these was a dreadful series by Dominic Sandbrook which we gave up on after one episode. The best of the bunch tie for 11th place.
- Reginald D Hunter's Songs Of The South explained the Southern States to me like no other programme has, through its musical history.
- Neil Brand's Sound of Song explained the development of 20th century music through the developments in sound technology. Without which none of the other documentaries that are the staple of BBC4's Friday night would exist, after all.

10 = Murder In Successville + Over The Garden Wall

Loving a programme then discovering no-one else has seen it is an increasingly prevalent phenomenon. (Long gone are the days when BBC2's programme Did You See..? could be answered with a Yes by more than a quarter of the available audience). These two are gems, one from the ill-fated BBC Three, and one from Cartoon Network, that we stumbled upon by accident and are so glad we did. One is improv comedy in an original format by the best new British comedy talent, and the other is a surreal cartoon for kids about two brothers lost in a wood with a pet frog and twists galore. If you can get to see either you will be that bit happier.

9 - Banished

Banished by Jimmy McGovern, which I learn while researching this paragraph hasn't been given a second series, was an outstanding piece of TV drama. Essentially, when you Tweet "best TV writing of the year" after you've watched the last episode, it has to qualify for your TV of the year. Sadly not on BBC2's drama controller's list though. (NB: Could pressure from a well-connected BBC drama controller explain why Banished doesn't appear in any major newspapers' TV of the year? Must Google that.)

8 - Orange Is The New Black

This is a hard programme to include in your top ten when you've just given up on series 3. But such are the vagaries of Netflix, of which we became new customers this spring. Series 1 is an incredible and original piece of television, juggling more characters in one programme than any other I can think of. Series 2 got a bit shark-jumpy towards the end as it haemorrhaged cast members. Then series 3 is a feeble parody of the show that used to be Orange Is The New Black. And we've seen all 36 episodes in the space of 6 months. Some people have managed to run this gamut in a long weekend. Whatever, parts of it remain excellent.

7 - Comedians biographical sitcoms

Emma Kennedy's The Kennedys, Danny Baker's Cradle To Grave, Caitlin Moran's Raised By Wolves, Lenny Henry's Danny and The Human Zoo, Chris O'Dowd's Moone Boy and Josh Widdecombe's Josh. Did you have a childhood? Quick, phone the telly. That's what they make sitcoms out of this year. Moone Boy wasn't as strong as the first 2 series but still excellent; Lenny Henry's had a stupid name and changed names & details for no obvious reason but was fun; and Josh is a very funny sitcom that it was worth shoehorning in here. But the three genuine comedy biopiccoms (if that's the word) were highlights of the year. Emma's the funniest, Danny's the geekiest, and the Moran sister's the one-on-earliest-in-the-year which is always unfair, it was grand.

6 = Fargo season 2 + Better Call Saul. 

Did I mention Tweeting "best TV writing of the year" when a show's just finished? Well Saul got that treatment already - very different from Breaking Bad but equally original - and Fargo's not even finished at time of writing, but it is standing head and shoulders above the pack. Great ideas being pulled from the ether, storytelling tricks abounding, and best of all a show having to compete with its own amazing first season despite having a totally different cast and setting. 

5 - Doctor Foster 

Doctor Foster by Mike Bartlett. I not only tweeted Best TV writing of the year after this one, I also made a note of it on a Stickie on my laptop so I wouldn't forget. Truly kept you gripped, and twisted and swerved throughout its story. 

4 = John Finniemore's Double Acts & Souvenir Programme + Peter Kay's Car Share 

John Finniemore's shows are both on the radio, but since they whupped the ass of any other British pure comedy writing on telly, they made the chart. Finniemore's sketch show is the best radio sketch show since The Day Today 25 years ago, and the six episode series Double Acts gave us the best self-contained comedy one-act plays I can remember since Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, also a quarter of a century ago. And joining them in this slot is the most charming and low key TV comedy of the year (for those of us who didn't warm to Detectorists and have missed Catastrophe) Peter Kay's Car Share. He really is the most coothy writer and performer since Victoria Wood.

3 - The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 

The Guardian has named this their TV show of the year and it's easy to see why. Tina Fey and her fellow writers are at the top of their game. And although the programme lost a little edge towards the end of this first series, its energy and originality made it an unquestionable star of the year.

2 - Cucumber and Banana 

Cucumber and Banana by Russell T Davies (didn't see the third part, Tofu, sorry). I realise now I may have Tweeted "Best TV Writing of the year" a few times too many to be fair to everyone this year, but by God did you see episode 6? Masterful. Also variable, there were a couple of episodes towards the end where I felt it had gone on a bit long, but to have a writer who can make great episodes as great as the great episodes RTD did, variability is a small price to pay. And Banana, which was largely by new writers, was by the best crop of new writers on any British series this year, giving them a freer creative rein than any other show I can think of.

1 - You Me & The Apocalypse

As far as I know, Hev and I are the only people we know who saw this, hidden away as it was on Sky. A high budget international production, filmed everywhere from Italy to what genuinely appeared to be American desert to what was definitely a school in East London that I've taught at, it featured possibly the best writing of the year, by certainly the best new find of the year - I hadn't heard of Ian Hollands before, had you? He doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry, and he created, co-wrote and show-ran this 10 week extravaganza. Neither comedy for drama and the best of both, YM&TA is hard to describe, but involves the end of the world, messiahs, bunkers, Vatican emmissaries, Slough bank managers, and stars Matthew Baynton, Pauline Quirke, her out of the US Office, Rob Lowe, him out of Plebs, Diana Rigg, so many people. Watch it on Sky Go, you really won't be disappointed.

Scottish Falsetto Socks On Tour 
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