Friday, 16 December 2016

My Top 25 TV Shows of 2016 (Part 1, 25 to 11)

I watch too much TV. Here's my rundown of what I thought was the best of 2016 (part one, from the outsiders, through numbers 25 to 11)

I should probably mention the Peoples History of Pop, cos I was on it (only TV appearance of the year I think, must try harder).

Things That Are NOT in this year's Top Twenty Five:

Not Marcella - started good, got silly. Not Line Of Duty 3 - started very good, got silly. Not Paranoid, got silly quick. Definitely not The Fall 3 - started silly, we gave up. Not Walking Dead, which started dark and got boring, not The A Word, which boded well but turned into therapy and exposition instead of drama, nor Humans 2 which got lost in too many soapy plot strands, burying the good ideas underneath. And not Class. (Readers from the future won't remember Class. Good.)

And very sadly not the final series of Fresh Meat, Peep Show, Raised by Wolves, Still Game or Friday Night Dinner, which all suffered from Sequelitis and failed to achieve the standard of their earlier brilliant runs. We also finally finished Mad Men, which fizzled out.

Notable Absence: 

There was no Doctor Who all year (apart from a Christmas episode, which I've not seen yet). This is the least Doctor Who there has been since 2004. It feels like the 1990s again. The comics have been good, mind (I should really have read more of them). In fact they've been the best quality Doctor Who comic strips since Dave Gibbons was drawing them 35 years ago. So there's that.


They'll never make the Top 25, but we wouldn't miss our Monday night's University Challenge and Only ConnectStrictly (when I'm not gigging), Have I Got News For YouWould I Lie To YouThe Apprentice (though not the strongest series) and I lose count of how many episode of Bob's Burgers we've watched, yet still have left to see. Netflix threw up some oldie treats including The Dick Van Dyke show from 1961 onwards, and innumerable random episodes of shows from Chewing The Fat, through The Mighty Boosh, to Heather's new faves Gilmore GirlsSuits and The Good Wife.

Worthy of Mention:

Top Of The Pops 1981/2. This year BBC4 moved to showing two Top Of The Popses a week, which is a bit too much, but necessary due to the missing Savile and DLT shows (they've also been editing out Jonathan King's contributions, about which opinions will remain divided). The show's going through a good phase (after the dire 1980), especially the New Romantic peak of 1982. One thing it really serves to illustrate is how short pop careers were, even for the biggest names. ABC basically had 1982 and that was it. Likewise XTC's chart career comes and goes during these series, as pretty well do those of Adam Ant, Toyah, Haircut 100, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Human League, Soft Cell and a dozen others who were ubiquitous at the time. Still one of the best history shows on TV, and we were there.

Bubbling Under:

Period Dramas. It was a bumper year for period dramas of all sorts, and not everything can make the Top 25, so runners up include War And Peace, Rillington Place, Victoria, The Secret Agent, Tutankhamun, the final series of Mr Selfridge and Jericho. All showed a really high quality of writing, acting and production. Also two good series that I missed episodes of, Ordinary Lies and The Missing 2, might have made it if I'd seen all of them.


25 - Dickensian - The most novel idea of all the period dramas and, without the budget of some of the bigger hitters, pulled off a witty conceit in watchable and entertaining style.

24 - Sitcom Season - In particular the restagings of lost episodes of Til Death Us Do Part, Steptoe & Son and Hancock, which showed how good writing can survive the years intact. (Of course my own Sitcom Trials season this summer knocked spots off the lot of them, but modesty forbids.)

23 - Kimmy Schmidt 2 - Not as strong as the first series, but still some of the best comedy writing on TV

22 - Stag - A quiet hidden gem that many may have overlooked, a comedy drama thriller three-parter which twisted and turned delightfully. By Jim Field Smith who, I learn, was in the sketch group Dutch Elm Conservatoire 10 years ago.

21 - Flowers - A wonderfully dark and original comedy by Footlights graduate Will Sharpe which hopefully will be his breakthrough to bigger things.

20 - Upstart Crow - A marmite comedy, loathed by many for its old fashioned studio audience populism, and for being by Ben Elton. But we liked it. Call it reheated Blackadder, what's not to like about that?

19 - Lady Dynamite - A treat from Netflix, that's probably bigger among Americans and comedians than it is with most here. Mixes its light and dark well, and how we've lived this long without discovering Maria Bamford I don't know. 

18 - Fleabag - Another strong character in a semi-autobiographical comedy drama, of which there's a lot about in this end of my chart. You can't move for damaged psyches and suicide attempts round here.

17 - National Treasure - Keeping it light, this was Robbie Coltrane in the Operation Yewtree-esque drama that definitely wasn't about any one person. Stylish direction, very Channel 4.

16 - Plebs 3 - Another Footlighterser made good, Tom Basden proved he'd not lost it with the third strong season. Drops a bit from previous years, through some cast changes, and by letting his co-writer write one episode on his own (probably to remind us who the funny one is. Which reminds me, I've not even mentioned the dire Red Dwarf series among the "Nots" earlier. Probably won't bother.)

15 - The Hollow Crown - Simply the best TV productions of Shakespeare I've seen. And, given the nature of the show I wrote and performed all year, I saw a lot. Benedict Cumberbatch in Dominic Cooke's Richard III was great telly.

14 - Veep season 4 - We may be a season behind everyone else, watching it on DVD as we are, but so what. This season has some of the funniest comedy writing and acting I've seen this year. Such confidence from Armando Iannucci's team, including so many familiar names from The Thick Of It, make you proud of British TV comedy. That gets made in America.

13 - Murder In Successville 2 - In our house we still use the phrase "Don't listen to that buffed-up piss spoon." What more praise can a show get?

12 - Better Call Saul 2 - Couldn't quite maintain the knockout standard of season one, and sometimes its subtlety and elegance can be perceived as going a bit slow, but one of the best written and best looking dramas of the year.

11 - Dreamland - So nearly made the Top Ten, as the delightful find of the year. No-one's ever plugged it to us, I don't know anyone else who's ever seen it, but this Australian comedy (known there as Utopia) with an ensemble cast led by Celia Pacquola and Rob Sitch, from a couple of years ago and very much in the style of W1A, is a treat I'd recommend to everyone. 

The Top Ten is to follow...

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.

Socks Do Shakespeare 2017 TOUR
Feb 15 - Buxton Pavilion Arts Centre Studio 
Feb 17 & 18 6.50pm - Kayal, Leicester Comedy Fest
March 9 - Aberystwyth Arts Centre
March 15 & 16 - Dram! Glasgow Com Fest
March 23 - The Bill Murray, London
Apr 6 - Victoria Theatre Halifax
Apr 8 - Rondo Bath 
Apr 13 - Hexham Queen's Hall 
Apr 22 - Swindon Arts 
Apr 27 - Stroud Subscription Rooms 
Apr 28 - Merlin Theatre Frome 
Apr 29 - Perth Concert Hall 
May 1 - Chiddingstone Castle Kent 
May 5 - Artrix Bromsgrove
May 6 - Stafford Gatehouse
May 13 (4.30pm) & May 14 (5.30pm) Komedia Brighton
May 19 - Carriageworks Leeds
May 26 - Aberdeen May Fest
June 2 - Eden Ct Inverness
June 15 - Crescent Arts, Belfast
June 17 - Dalkey Festival, Dublin
June 24 - Ludlow Fringe

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