TV OF THE YEAR 2021 Pt 2 - Sequels + 20 to 11
My Top TV of the year list is a shorter last than it was in 2020, either because they made fewer shows or we got out of the house more (most likely both). You've already seen the Lost Its , the Just Crimes, and the Made In Bristol list. Before we get to the top end of the chart, these shows are in a subdivision of their own…
THE SEQUEL ZONE
11 - Curb Your Enthusiasm (from season 1, HBO/Sky)
We’ve been unable to see this series for years cos it was on Sky Atlantic (which is also why Game Of Thrones and Succession never trouble my end of year chart). Now it’s moved to a Sky channel we can see, we’ve watched the most recent series, and regularly watch an old episode, starting with the antiquated and low-budget series 1 and working forward. It really is some of the best TV comedy ever made.
10 - This Time With Alan Partridge 2 (BBC)
The first series was so strong, that this boded well. But, apart from the subplot with the make-up woman, it lacked a story arc which would have given it momentum, ending up as a rather disjointed sketch show, the individual episodes of which also lacked a through-story. If anything it seemed like a collection of ideas left over for its first series.
9 - Guilt 2 (BBC)
The first series of this was an outstanding bit of thriller writing, with great characters in an unpredictable and fast moving story. The follow up was an incoherent mess, sadly. Its worst crime was pretending to be set in Edinburgh while very obviously, even to a tourist like me, being filmed entirely in Glasgow.
8 - Baptiste 2 (BBC)
An improvement on its last series, which had dropped in quality from the series that spawned it, The Missing, this still struggled to keep its threads together, and it meandered between whodunnit and multi-national political thriller. One of those ones where I now find I can’t remember who actually did do what in the end.
7 - All Creatures Great & Small 2 (Channel 5)
Like a talking dog, it’s not so much that it’s done well but that it’s done at all. So it is with Channel 5’s comedy drama, which stands out as a quality bit of family entertainment, while not really being all that groundbreaking. But I worked in Grassington again this year and it’s fun to spot the locations.
6 - Superstore (1 - 5+)
A sitcom that has, I believe, finished now, but that we only discovered when it came to Netflix. We’re five series in. And, though the quality has varied a bit, when it’s at its best it’s one of the finest examples of a deceptively difficult genre to pull off - a network TV sitcom. No swearing, no big budget, mostly on one set, with an inclusive cast.
5 - Never Mind The Buzzcocks (Sky, above)
Reviving an old TV panel show sounds like the tiredest cop out, especially a show which had definitely had its time when BBC 2 pulled the plug on it. But the revamp with Greg Davies, though it has flaws (eg the line up, why the hell have two permanent blokes on one team, thus reducing the number of women further than it was always going to be?) has succeeded in being funny, without requiring any knowledge of recent pop music.
4= Inside No 9 6 (BBC)
For the second year running I've written and published my TV of the year, only for someone to remind me I've missed out Inside No 9! How do I do that? This series, the 6th, had a couple of crackers in there (Hurry Up And Wait with the actor in the caravan had a twist I didn't see coming, and the Commedia Del Arte heist movie was a splendidly ambitious piece). I even listened to the podcast, which is excellent. They constantly try and push the envelope of television and frequently manage it (if that's not a badly mixed metaphor).
4=- Goes Wrong Show 2 (BBC)
The stage shows are so funny, because of the amount of time and effort that can be put into each one, that a TV show that needs to churn out 3 hours worth of new material every year is going to struggle to keep up that quality. This couldn’t quite manage what series 1 did, but parts of it were still excellent and it is, I think, the only studio audience comedy that we still watch on TV.
3 - Fargo 4 (FX / Channel 4)
Because every series is entirely different, with the loosest of links to its predecessor, this is the most unpredictable show. Series 4 has been one of its strongest, especially episode 9’s incredible Wizard Of Oz tinged black and white story which was just stunning.
2 - Doctor Who: Flux (BBC)
The easiest writer on TV to criticise, because so much of his writing has been downright bad, Chris Chibnall has been working overtime to redeem himself with the last two series of Doctor Who. Although there was only one satisfyingly solid episode (The Weeping Angels one, the one that Chibnall didn’t write), and it was full of his cliches and tropes (Everyone enters running and shouting? Check. We jump around to random locations, each introduced with its place name in giant letters? Check. Far too many characters, none of whose motives are clear, do nothing more than stand around and talk? Check. Incredibly high death count, about not one of whom you actually care? Double check - especially an entire race of dog people who, because we only ever saw one of them and had their genocide dispensed with in a throwaway sentence, must count as the most disposable species ever to not-quite-appear in Doctor Who? Check. The Doctor explains everything in a tell-don’t-show monologue, and then in a single bound she is free? Check.) it kept the pace up so well over its 6 episodes that there wasn’t time to take a dislike to it. I mean afterwards it’s Fridge Logic Central. You’re asking “if infinite planets couldn’t slow The Flux, then why would a few fleets of Cybermen and Dalek spaceships”? And “If Sontarans have to sleep and recharge like this every few hours, why don’t they work shifts?” And “that’s not a lock, that’s a door handle” etc etc. But it had loads of great ideas in there, which will live on in the memory as having been part of better stories than they actually were: the Tardis door being in different places all the time, the map of Russia being Sontar, the Doctor being turned into an Angel, and lots more. If I was 8 years old I would have loved this.
1 - Ghosts 3 (BBC)
It topped my chart last year, and it could have again if I hadn’t shoved it into this ghetto. They truly are a marvellous team, developing some wonderful stories, and executing them brilliantly. There was, we’re told, an attempted US version of Ghosts produced this year that has already been cancelled. Not surprising. This team are unlike any comedy troupe I’ve seen since Monty Python or The Fast Show. Splendid.
THE TOP 20 - 20 to 11
20 - White House Farm (ITV) + Ridley Road (BBC)
I’ve made a sub-category of “just” crime stories. This two just reached beyond that, telling the true story of the Jamie Bamber murders, and the based-on-truth drama of the battle against 1960s fascists. These aimed high and almost succeeded .
19 - What If + Hawkeye (Disney+)
It seems unfair to judge programmes like these alongside regular shows that have a tiny fraction of their budget, but such is the way of TV today. What If was the best looking animation I think I’ve ever seen on TV, and its stories were fun if you’re a Marvel geek. But even I found I didn’t know what obscure bit of a movie from 10 years ago they were referring to each time, and the multi-universe stuff was in danger of disappearing up itself at times. Hawkeye was much more accessible fun, which could be enjoyed almost entirely without you having seen every Marvel movie, or read the Marvel comics they were based on, or read far too much about how the artist (David Aja) had his designs lifted wholesale for this without getting paid a penny. Etc etc. It would be fun to have a story this well done that wasn’t part of a cosmic soap opera that makes you feel excluded if you haven’t bought into all of it. But I seem to remember moaning about this sort of thing 40 years ago when I was growing out of love with Marvel comics the first time, so plus ca change.
18 - The Terror (AMC/BBC)
A fabulous premise, mixing period drama with horror, thriller, and a bit of magical mystery. At times it was Alien, at times it was Fargo. Sadly at times it was also a Sunday-evening historical drama with bits that weren’t as big-budget as the rest, and bits set on the North Pole that looked far too much like you were in a TV studio. But definitely wins this year’s best Polar Bear and cannibalism stories.
17 - Call My Agent / Dix Pour Cent (France 2 / Netflix)
This must be the first time a domestic French TV show has made it onto my list, and now I wonder why. This comedy drama, which is pretty lightweight and undemanding, triumphs because its characters are solid and its stories told well. The parody and satire, featuring as it does real-life French actors and directors who we’ve mostly never heard of, and the in-jokes about whom we don’t get, goes wide of the mark for this Brit viewer. It’s probably much more like Extras if you know what they’re on about. As it is, it works as a fun office drama.
16 - Time (BBC) + Help (Channel 4)
Serious drama writing, the like of which would once have found a home on Play For Today, still makes its way onto British TV against the odds. Jimmy McGovern’s Time told a good prison drama story, without having to be shaped into a franchise that would run and run like Line Of Duty. And Help by Jack Thorne, despite its stupid un-googleable one-word title, tackled last year’s cover crisis, through the lens of workers in a care home, excellently. Stephen Graham was a splendid lead in both of these, coincidentally.
15 - Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX/BBC)
Having dramatised the killing of Versace and the OJ Simpson trial, this was a hard one to pull off. It was just politics, and phone calls, and people in smoky rooms being over-dramatic, with stakes that it’s hard to get across if you’re not super-devoted to American political history. But it worked well, and wins this year’s award for keeping the make-up department busy.
14 - The Serpent (BBC & Netflix)
The tensest and most gripping based-on-a-true-story crime drama of the year, this was a very interesting success. Not least because it shows a taste of what’s to come, with the BBC having to co-produce with a company like Netflix in order to make a show of this quality. Let’s see how long it takes before the tail wags the dog. As it is, BBC got the rights to show this first, and it still felt like a British production, a filmic drama with hopefully international appeal. Creepy true story too.
13 - Starstruck (BBC)
Rose Matafeo, in a show that may have gone largely unseen, as is the nature of comedy these days, delivered the best of the recent batch of stand-ups in solo vehicles. The best, in fact, since Fleabag, will solid story writing, solid character writing, and splendid acting. This had a good initial premise, someone has a relationship with a movie star who wants a normal life, and delivered on it flawlessly.
12 - Squid Game (Netflix)
The most talked-up show of the year, I’m given to believe it’s a genre of story that’s not unfamiliar to game-players and manga readers. To the uninitiated it fell somewhere between The Prisoner and The Hunger Games, with almost comic levels of violence, and a surreal suspension of disbelief. It was helped by being watched in Korean with subtitles, adding an air of distance and mystery. In the scenes where rich guys, played by American actors, are watching the action, their acting was spectacularly poor, something that may well have been the case for the Koreans, but who would know? A shame it ended with an obvious cry out for a sequel, which will inevitably be less good, if it even happens.
11 - I Am Not Okay With This (Netflix)
Talking of sequels that never happen, this excellent miniseries based on an indie comic book (by the same guy whose book had given us The End Of The F**king World, while not really bearing much resemblance to the finished show) ends with a cliffhanger, almost literally. And while watching it we already know that, thanks to the pandemic in 2020, series 2 had been cancelled and now will never happen. So you have an open-ended unfinished show. Which is a dreadful shame, because this first series was very strong and kept you gripped throughout. Maybe the title sums up how we feel about how it ended.
So, what’s my Top Ten TV Of 2021. Brace yourselves…
Prince Of Denmark Street - Amazon - Etsy
Midsummer Nights Dream Team - Amazon - Etsy
Eurovision Colouring Vol 1 - Amazon - Lulu £10.94 - Etsy £6.99
Eurovision Colouring Vol 2 - Amazon £15.32 - Lulu £10.72 - Etsy £6.99
Doctor Who Colouring - Amazon £11.84 - Lulu £9.98 - Etsy £6.99
Punk Colouring - Amazon £15.61 - Lulu £10.98 - Etsy £6.99
70s Pop Star Colouring - Amazon £10.98 - Lulu £10.98 - Etsy £6.99
60s Pop Star Colouring - Amazon £12.69 - Lulu £10.98 - Etsy £6.99