Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2012)

Welcome you all are, dear blog reader your very selves, to the fifth annual Keith Telly Topping & His Very Top TV Tip Awards for, in his own - highly disrespected - opinion, the Best & Worst TV Shows Of The Year. The year in question being 2012, not 1974, just in case you were wondering. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you may notice that there are about twice as many highs listed here as there are lows. This statistic is not, necessarily, any sort of reflection on the actual ratio of good television to bad during this past year. Oh, deary me no. Bless yer cotton socks for such a discombobulation, not even remotely close. Rather, it's because, generally, we tend to try and remember all the good stuff and forget all about the crass, banal, risible, odious rubbish that ITV shove in front of us. Unless, of course, it's unforgettably bad, in which case, we simply can't. We've got about sixteen of those bad babies lined-up especially for you below. But, first -
Thirty Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights of TV in 2012:-

1. Sherlock
For the first fortnight (and a bit) of 2012, Britain collectively was in a passionate intellectual love affair with a man in an excellent coat (and, his diminutive chum) as ten million punters remembered why they had become obsessed with Sherlock eighteen months earlier and brought their friends along to the party. The second batch of three mini-movies of The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss his very self's imaginative updating of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories achieved massive ratings and equally amazing critical acclaim. In A Scandal In Belgravia, the divine Lara Pulver got her kit off for the nation and everybody just loved it. Except for the Daily Scum Mail who went mental. So, no change there, then. (And, once again, let us take a moment to celebrate the utter crap that some people chose to care about.) In The Hounds of Baskerville, it all ended messily in the Grimpen Minefield after a spot of dogging up on the moors and in The Reichenbach Fall, behold, verily, the miracle of the resurrection for a sad, crushed victim of sensationalist tabloid lies. Truly, this was a Sherlock Holmes defiantly for the Twenty First Century. And God, it was thrilling stuff. Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) and Gatiss have fashioned, in Sherlock, the perfect rebuttal to those who believe that modern television just can't do sweeping, epic, passionate, intricate and glorious storytelling on a grand scale and yet still be funny, and wicked, and knowing and just a bit dangerous at the same time. How long yer actual Benedict and Martin their very selves will continue to have time to play the characters of Sherlock and John now that they're both genuine, proper, bona-fide film-stars is a hard question to answer, but if the BBC can manage to persuade them to keep coming back for three episodes every couple of years for, ooo, the next decade or two, then the audience will certainly stick with it. Because, to put it bluntly, it's ruddy brilliant. Roll on series three.

2. Borgen
What a marvellously unexpected little treat Borgen was; a drama about Danish politics which started like a European take on The West Wing and ended up in a much darker and more compromised place than anyone could have expected when watching the opening episodes. Having, effectively, redone Prime Suspect as The Killing, those crazy Danes were at it again. The cosiest and least accurate description imaginable of Borgen would be 'it's a drama about Danish coalition politics.' That's a bit like saying The Killing 'is a drama centred on the troubles of a family-owned Copenhagen furniture removal company.' Or that Sherlock is 'about a sandwich shop in Baker Street.' Borgen's title means, literally, 'castle' or 'fortress', it's the Danes' slang term for their parliament. This was a tale of mainstream parties making uneasy (often unpleasant) coalitions with smaller, more extremist groups. In fact, the series had a bit of everything. It was about making (and breaking) alliances, shafting people, loving them and hating them. Often simultaneously. And, at its heart was a politician, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (played by the outstanding Sidse Babett Knudsen). Birgitte was Borgen's fulcrum; the leader of small Centrist party who, through a series of unexpected incidents either side of a general election and covering the opening two episodes, finds herself on the cusp of becoming Denmark's first female Prime Minister. But, when she gets the gig, she finds, as many have before her, that even the best jobs come with a steep price. The second series, due for a BBC4 run early next year, will hopefully maintain the quality of this beautifully nuanced, impressively intelligent and mature drama for grown-ups. Simply stunning.

3. Have I Got News For You
In a year in which just about every news story to emerge - both from and about the media - has required a sack of mockery, it was comforting to know that Have I Got News For You was always there to provide the necessary pith and sark. It's been said before but it remains true there, genuinely, isn't all that much wrong with British democracy whilst we've still got a TV show which will say the things that everybody else is secretly thinking but are too scared to articulate. As Ian Hislop works a minor miracle being the nation's (sometimes wonky, occasionally smug, but always thoughtful and knowledgable) moral compass, Paul Merton - depending on the nature of the news in question on a particular week - weaves huge tapestries of surreal flights of fancy around the most unlikely of subjects. Given a good news week and a good guest host - Damien Lewis, Jezza Clarkson and, possibly most memorably, Bill Shatner who claimed that Ilfracombe was 'laced with prostitution' and got the mayor all annoyed! - you'll be informed, educated and, massively, entertained. Have I Got News For You - it's what the BBC was invented for. Allegedly.

4. The Olympics/Paralympics
From the moment in May that the Olympic flame touched down on British soil (covered live on The ONE Show, as it happens) to the dying embers of the Paralympic closing ceremony on Channel Four, for two months or so, Britain reminded the world of what, at least in part, the Olympics is all about. Spectacle, awe, humanity, highs, lows, winners and losers, courage, determination against the odds, emotion and gravitas. London 2012 (both versions) were celebrations of both the original Olympic ideal (it is not the winning that is important but the taking part) and, also, the more Twenty First Century Olympic ideal of 'sod taking part, I wanna win.' Both events were touched, at times, with magnificence and at other times with almost comicly defiant Britishness that was charming and made the world sit up. As the opening ceremony demonstrated, what has Britain given the world? Just the industrial revolution, the NHS, the Internet and lots of cool music, TV and films. As legacies go, that's not a bad one. It wasn't all successful, of course (ask Britain's Olympic swimming squad for a kick-off, they were a bloody overpaid disgrace) but it provided many moments and numerous memories which will probably live for as long as competitive sport exists. And the broadcast coverage - on the BBC for the Olympics, and Channel Four for the Paralympics - was similarly memorable. Clare Balding became the nation's sweetheart and Adam Hills proved that, in certainly circumstances it really is okay to laugh at (and, more importantly with) those with disabilities; both of Britain's two remaining public service broadcasters gave us all a timely reminder of what a sorry state we'd be in without either. (Just look - briefly - at American TV's risible coverage of both events on NBC as realise how really lucky we are in this country to have the Beeb and C4.) It was the year of Usian, Bradley, Jessica, Mo and Nicola but it was also, memorably, the year that Britain, collectively, rediscovered how much it admires those who win, those who take part, those who don't win but try their best, and those who point their cameras at all of them and say 'look at this, isn't it great?' Except for that portion of the country which was round Morrissey's gaff  in a sulk watching Emmerdale instead.

5. The Cricklewood Greats
'As a child, I suffered from anxiety-related eczema. Such a child is not always a popular one. "Too needy" said my mother, adding that it was no wonder I had no friends. But I did have friends, they were right here in that flicking blue box that smelled of valves and unsafe wiring.' One wonders if, perhaps, there were some people who watched BBC4's The Cricklewood Greats and didn't realise that it was a spoof? I kind of hope there would be, so brilliant was Peter Capaldi's clever deconstruction not only of the British film industry but, also, of sometimes arse-numblingly pretentious BBC4 documentaries about the British film industry. Capaldi did a convincing job, talking us through the tragic stories of Cricklewood Studio's forgotten stars with an earnestness familiar from many such conceits. The mockumentary parodied, with stunning accuracy, entire movie genres (Chaplin shorts, Hammer and Amicus's entire oeuvre, the Powell and Pressburger technicolour masterpieces of post-war years, Gracie Fields Love on the Dole-style thirties feel-good movies and the Carry Ons) as well as specific movies. There were nods to Le Voyage Dans La Lune, Performance, Blow Up, Marat/Sade, The Quatermass Xperiment and Hands of the Ripper among many others. In its look at the Thumbs Up movies, The Cricklewood Greats told the story of Jenny Driscoll (played, marvellously in a Babs Windsor style, by Hustle's Kelly Adams). Of her tragic attempts to break the mold and escape typecasting and the disintegration of her career to the point where she couldn't even get the job of Olive on On The Buses. Some of the silliest and most obviously spoofy touches were also the funniest, such as the various faux film titles mentioned in passing – Woman-Saurus-Rex, Thumbs Up Uranus and, most of all, Acton Film's low-budget 1970s swansong The Devil's Chutney. Expect Mark Gatiss to be producing a three-part documentary on that one as we speak.

6. Homeland
Although it debuted in the US in late 2011, it wasn't until the early part of this year that Homeland arrived in the UK on Channel Four. When it did, it had the critics drooling. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping described it was '24 with brains' which, actually, is a pretty decent summation of this exciting, morally ambiguous espionage thriller about betrayal, obsession and guilt. Providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for the cast to spread their artistic wings (Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood, Mandy Patinkin) Homeland juxtaposes intense character arcs with shockingly visceral set-pieces and, occasional tool-stiffening violence to tell its story of intrigue and danger. The second series, which began late in the year, has disappointed some commentators - though, not this one - and it remains to be seen if the drama has the longevity of much US drama. But the signs so far are good.

7. Doctor Who
In five 2012 episodes, the BBC's popular long-running family-based SF drama reminded viewers - if any reminding were, actually, required - of what Doctor Who is, essentially, all about. Adventure, menace, discovery, trust and hope. Five great episodes (well, okay, four great episodes .. and Dinosaurs On A Spaceship) brought back The Daleks, The Weeping Angels and U.N.I.T, did a fantastic pseudo-historical SF Western and got around the tricky job of getting rid of Amy and Rory without resorting to actually killing them and upsetting three quarters of the nations. With the Christmas episode and then the series' fiftieth anniversary year to come, the future seems bright for the BBC's flagship drama. Which, for a series about time-travel is curiously comforting.

8. Qi/Qi XL
Now a confirmed Friday and a Saturday night ritual for two or three million Britons, Qi continues to provide laughs and infotainment in equal measure to the great, the good and those on council estates with a tolerance for, you know, 'learning stuff and feeling slightly better about themselves.' An almost classical definition of the BBC's original Reithian mission statement, Qi is a panel show which provided laughs, and a comedy from which, dangerously, almost unbelievably, you might just be educated. Educating and informing is hard enough at the best of times, but doing it when you're entertaining as well - that remains a trick and a half. Stephen Fry continues to walk that fine line as host between genial Oxbridge don and really very cross schoolmaster trying to keep a bunch of hyperactive, sugered-up fifth formers in line on the last day of the school year. A BBC fixture, a national institution and a national treasure to boot. In no other country in the world - except, maybe, the Netherlands and Sweden where they have their own versions, and Australia where it's massively popular - would Qi be such a hit. Can you imagine the Americans doing something like this? 'Urgh. Where's the voting element? No thanks.'

9. Line of Duty
Another quality BBC crime drama in the dark spirit of Luther, The Shadow Line, Waking the Dead et al, Line of Duty delved into the murky world of police anti-corruption with a moral ambiguity that was (at times) unpleasantly realistic and, like the previous year's The Shadow Line, dealt with various degrees of human frailty. A superb cast (Lennie James, Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Gina McKee, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar, Craig Parkinson) and Jed Mercurio's dense, multi-layered script helped to keep the audience figures high (certainly for BBC2) across five tense episodes. And, despite as rather messy (albeit, entirely realistic) ending to the drama, another series is currently in production.

10. Wallander
The third series of Peter Harness's effortlessly complex adaptations of Henning Mankell's characters was, probably, the best batch of episodes so far. It was certainly the bloodiest. An Event in Autumn brought horror frighteningly close to home for Kurt Wallander whilst The Dogs of Riga took him off to Latvia in search of a friend's killer. Best of all was the final episode, Before The Frost, an awesomely grim and nasty story of repressed memories, child abuse, murder and religious obsession. Wallander almost looked happy at one point. No, not happy. Just rather less morose than normal. Through it all, Kenneth Branagh was, as usual, fantastic in the lead role, a man haunted by ... pretty much everything. It's easy to take the piss out of Wallander, but it's also very easy to admire the series depth and darkness.

11. The Best of Men/Bert & Dickie
To tie in with forthcoming the Olympics and the Paralympics the BBC produced two wonderfully life-affirming docudramas which managed to capture both the public mood and convey the spirit of Olympian ideals. In the former, written by Lucy Gannon, the audience is told the unlikely - but true - story of the pioneering work of Doctor Ludwig Guttmann with paraplegic patients at post-war Stoke Manderville, which led to the foundation of the Paralympic Games. It starred Eddie Marsan and Rob Brydon and was both funny and moving. In the latter, William Ivory's script depicted how the scratch double skulls pairing of Dickie Burnell (Sam Hoare) and Bert Bushnell (Matt Smith) won a rowing gold for Britain at the 1948 London Games against all the odds and in a thoroughly absorbing and uplifting way. Both of these can be viewed as kind-of cut-price Chariots of Fire if you're in a cynical and meanspirited mood but, in fact, both rise above obvious generic clichés due, in no small part, to the performances, the former play's themes of self-respect and recovery and the latter's ruminations of unwelcome paternal pressure and overcoming difficulties by working together. I'm not sure if either (or both) helped to inspire just a fraction of one per cent of the British Olympic and Paralympic teams extraordinary success a few weeks later, but they deserved to.

12. Hebburn
One of the most unexpected surprises of 2012 was the BBC's discovery of a wholly original, wryly amusing and beautifully nuanced sitcom - one of very few such conceits to have emerged in, literally, a decade or more. Some commentators have suggests a similarity to The Royle Family but, really, Jason Cook's clever deconstruction of Northern family life is genuinely different and properly good. Described by Cook as 'a love letter to my mum and dad', Hebburn's strengths lie in a truly splendid cast (Chris Ramsey, Kimberley Nixon, Gina McKee, Vic Reeves, Steffan Peddie, Lisa McGrillis, Cook himself, Neil Grainger), witty scripts from Cook and Ideal's Graham Duff, and a really touching sense of proto-realism between the (numerous) belly-laughs. It's a world that this blogger recognises and, is rather glad he's part of. Maybe it's a Northern thing and yer actual Keith Telly Topping is just a sucker for a good bit of Tyneside humour, although the series' achieved more than decent ratings figures (between one and two million punters per episode) and some very good critical feedback. Second series soon, please.

13. The Hollow Crown
The BBC scheduled the screening of four of Shakespeare's most acclaimed history plays as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, a celebration of British culture coinciding with the Summer Olympics. And, in doing so, made sure that one of them was on the same day as Andy Murray was playing at Wimbledon in a match than went on and on and on until you just wanted a gun and Shakespeare got shunted back by an hour. That's no way to treat a national icon! Sam Mendes signed up as executive producer to adapt all four of Shakespeare's tetralogy in a co-production with NBC among others. The series included adaptations of Richard II, Henry IV, Parts One and Two and, in particular, a superb, dark and fractured take on Henry V with Tom Huddleston in the title role. Critically acclaimed, of course, but also, widely admired by 'the ordinary people', if Shakespeare was alive, he'd've been touched. And then, like as not, he would've been off back to Stratford to write some episodes of Hollyoaks.

14. The 70s
Not everyone appreciated Dominic Sandbrook's highly stylised and very personal look back at 'the decade which shaped the Twenty First Century.' I heard it described as 'history for the Ladybird Book generation,' and there's an element of truth in that. Some of Sandbrook's connections were less James Burke and more James May ('meanwhile, on Top of the Pops, Marc Bolan appeared with glitter on his face'). Nevertheless, there was much to admire here. The opening episode included a 1970 clip of Arthur Scargill talking - in almost Thatcherite aspirational terms - about taking what's rightfully yours whilst the second episode, centred on the winter of 1973-74 and the oil crisis, the cod war and, mostly importantly, England getting knocked out of the World Cup. So, you see, it really was Norman Hunter's fault, after all. Sandbrooke himself was a genial and chatty host although given the same subject matter (and the same access to archive clips), it would've been interesting to see what someone like Simon Schama could have done with a format like The 70s. It would, no doubt, have been a bit more cerebral, and, he'd have probably kept that clip of T Rex!

15. Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain
Once upon a time he was just 'the little smug, but sometimes funny one on Have I Got News For You who edits Private Eye.' Actually, come to think about it, Ian Hislop is still those things but he has also, in recent years, developed a really good sideline in making thoughtful, intelligent, genuinely appealing documentaries for BBC4 and, now, BBC2 about various aspects of social history, including the railways, the scouting movement, and Victorian philanthropism. Stiff Upper Lip was the latest, and the best so far.

16. Mrs Brown's Boys
Despite the number of viewers it pulled in, 2011's first series of Brendan O'Carroll's deliciously silly parody of Irish family life was still rather sneered upon by - mostly middle-class - TV critics who described it as old fashioned and unfunny. And, by the Daily Scum Express which didn't like the fact that people swore in it despite it being post-watershed. By the end of 2012, Mrs Brown's Boys had won a BAFTA, an NTA and numerous British Comedy awards, been the highest-rated British sitcom since Only Fools & Horses (six and a half million punters watched the series two finale in February) and was selling more DVDs than Johnny Depp. How'd that happen?! Well, maybe the fact that the comedy in question is, beneath the knockabout daftness, essentially good-natured and humane, that the characters are likeable and that, unlike many TV series it doesn't take itself too seriously. A hit, because of rather than in spite of, the fact that it stand out like a sore thumb in the surrounding TV landscape. There's probably a lesson in that for programme makers everywhere.

17. Strictly Come Dancing
2012 was the year when Strictly finally, after a couple of years of threatening to, got the better of its bitter Saturday and Sunday night rival, The X Factor. Whether this was down to deficiencies in the latter or the quality of the former is a vexed question (to be honest, it's probably a bit of both), but there's no doubting that Strictly's tenth series has caught the public's imagination in a way that you have to go back five or six years to find something equivalent. (You're probably back to John Sergeant dragging poor old Kristina Rihanoff around the dance floor like a sack of spuds to find the last time Strictly was the talk of the tabloids and then it was, largely, for all the wrong reasons.) The decision to replace odious greed-bucket (and drag) Alesha Dixon on the judging panel with somebody who actually has a vague clue what she's talking about (yer actual Darcy Bussell her very self) was a bonus, too. Brucie might soon be about to hang up his taps but, for the rest of the country, it seems, we're all happy to 'keep dancing' for a while yet.

18. Tales of Television Centre
Richard Marson's loving ninety minute BBC4 documentary was commissioned to commemorate the ending of the Centre's role in the Corporation's activities and the site's likely sale. It recalls the heyday of one of Britain's most iconic buildings through the memories of stars and staff who worked there. A rich variety of archive included moments from studio recordings of classic programmes and vintage behind-the-scenes footage from the home of many of the most celebrated programmes in British TV history. A little twenty four carat gem and a reminder that we all - should - love the BBC. Or course, some louse of no importance at the Daily Scum Mail found something here to whinge about. In an ever changing world, dear blog reader, it's comforting to know that some things remain reliably consistent.

19. The Great British Bake Off/MasterChef/MasterChef: The Professionals/The Hairy Bikers' Bakeation
The BBC - when it avoids silly little twee conceits (see below) - has had a spanker of a year for cookery shows. The Great British Bake Off almost overtook Top Gear as BBC2's most popular show (almost, but not quite. Which, one suspects Sue Perkins will be gurning into her frappaccino over). Davey Myers and Si King had not one but two hit shows (Bakeation was, marginally, the better of the two, though the Dieting one sold more books) whilst the MasterChef franchise continued to pull in a dedicated audience. Except for Celebrity MasterChef, of course, which seems to be dying on its arse at the moment. If one was looking for an underlying theme, you could probably do a pretty decent essay on the way in which, in tough financial times, the one thing we all have in common is that we have to eat and the nicer the food the more we (temporarily) forget about double dip recessions, tax avoidance scandals and Jimmy Savile's alleged doings. But, basically, the reason that all of these shows work is because they're good. And, they're funny and - again, dangerously in a Qi-style - you might just learn something from them. Like how to cook a nice cake. What's not to love?

20. Hustle
After eight highly successful series, Hustle finally came to end with a terrific episode - The Con Is Off - that reminded viewers about all of the good things this witty, adventurous, smart little series had going for it. Colour, imagination, cheek and never taking itself even remotely seriously. More a US TV format than a British one (as, indeed, its US counterpart Leverage has ably demonstrated) transplanted to a London which exists only in the minds of scriptwriters, Hustle always played clever inter-textual games with its audience (can you spot what movie they're making an homage to this week?) as well as tremendous doses of bluff and double bluff as to the climax of each episode. It ended at, probably, just about the right time, whilst it was still on top and whilst it was still fun. We'll miss it, but we're thankful it went before it got repetitive.

21. Hacks
Tied utterly to the moment, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin's Channel Four satire of the Scum of the World phone-hacking scandal managed, just about, to get away with parodying everyone involved in the scandal and still not get sued - quite a feat given how clear it was who, exactly, everyone was supposed to be. With a great cast (Michael Kitchen, Claire Foy, Phil Davis, Xander Armstrong, Celia Imrie, Nigel Planer) the script took no prisoners in its portrayal of billionaire tyrants, tabloid excess and utter moral disregard and yet, in a kind of round-about way actually managed to make viewers feel a bit sorry for Foy's character in particular (unlike the real-life former tabloid editor she was playing a version of). Like Hamilton and Jenkin's previous great newsroom masterpiece, Drop the Dead Donkey, Hacks works both because of and in spite of its topicality. Expect a - much publicised - repeat once a couple of forthcoming trials are over.

22. Fifty Six Up
The eighth instalment of television's longest-running (and best) reality show, Fifty Six Up reunited the nation with thirteen of the fourteen people they first met forty eight years previously in Seven Up! Although it began as a political documentary, the series has become a film of human nature and existentialism. In the director's commentary for Forty Two Up, Michael Apted commented that he did not realise the series had changed tone from political to personal until Twenty One Up, when he showed the film to American friends who encouraged him to submit it (successfully) to American film festivals. In following the lives of its subjects, the Up series can be both voyeuristic but, also, life-affirming and genuinely moving (this time around it was the relationship between Neil and Bruce that tugged at the nation's heart strings). Looks like we're with them all for the duration, now.

23. The Bridge
The Bridge was the first joint creative and financial set up between Denmark and Sweden. Hans Rosenfeldt was the main author and concept creator of the crime investigation set on the Øresund bridge. After BBC4's success with Wallander, The Killing and Borgen (and, the French crime series Spiral) it was inevitable that this grim, gritty and at times majestic drama was going to find a British home there. Where it pulled in regular audiences around the million mark. Beautifully shot, scripted and acted, this is TV drama with an artifice of naturalism, a work of depth and honesty and as emotionally resonant as you could possibly wish for. Despite the seemingly final nature of the climax, a second series has been commissioned and will, hopefully, appear next year. Rather more worryingly, a US adaptation is rumoured to be in the pipeline. Don't they have any original ideas over there these days?

24. Call The Midwife
The BBC's biggest new drama hit in a decade, Call The Midwife arrived completely out of left-field in the first weeks of the year, rather unheralded but quickly picking up a massive (and very dedicated) audience. It's not to everyone's cup of tea (if truth be told, it's not really to this blogger's. Mind you, I'm clearly not the intended audience; I don't have a functioning uterus for one thing). But, created with care and attention to period detail, the series made a star out of Jessica Raine, shocked everybody into the discovery that Miranda Hart could act in something (vaguely) serious as well as funny stuff and reminded us all why Jenny Agutter is a national treasure. Heidi Thomas's scripts (based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth) contained just the right degree of grit to off-set the occasionally twee feel-good nature of much of the action. A Sunday night sensation for the BBC, something of an (unexpected) cult hit in America and a useful reminder that not all costume drama needs, necessarily, to come from the Lord Snooty school of class obsession and snobbery, Call The Midwife is here to stay.

25. Twenty Twelve
And always amusing and, sporadically, very funny spoof fly-on-the-wall mockumentary about the organising committee for the Olympics, Twenty Twelve was tied to its moment in just the same way that Hacks was. And yet, despite its topicality, the sitcom worked as a beautiful antidote to the Ricky Gervais school of realism comedy, rejecting meanness and hurtful slyness with something altogether more subtle and charming. A splendid cast (Hugh Bonneville, Amelia Bullmore, the wonderful Olivia Colman, Jessica Hynes) managed to rise about obvious stereotypes and deliver a comedy that actually had a bit of heart to it. The final episode, in particular - broadcast just three days before the real opening ceremony - was a thing of some considerable worth and charm and it ended in just the right way, on an ambiguous note.

26. Whitechapel
After a, frankly disappointing, second series, Whitechapel got back to form with a splendidly nasty run of three two-parters for Chandler, Miles and Buchan to get their teeth into. The opening story was a particularly grizzly and enjoyably over-the-top conceit. It's still not perfect, Rupert Penry-Jones managing to convey the twitchiness of his character's OCD through slapstick rather than subtlety and, Steve Pemberton still has to battle with a character made, one hundred per cent, of pure cardboard. But, with Phil Davis on fine form, somehow they manage to get away with some daft plots and the whole thing is carried off with something of a flourish. A fourth series is currently in production.

27. A Touch of Cloth
Charlie Brooker's plain daft deconstruction of every crime drama cliché imaginable (and, quite a few that weren't) gave Sky a surprise cult hit in August. Starring John Hannah, Suranne Jones and Julian Rhind-Tutt, A Touch of Cloth was in places highly witty and sharp and, in others, just downright silly (in, thankfully, a good way). Full of daft puns ('put it on the table, Cloth') and amusing visual humour. More episodes are in production and, with no end of material to play with, I can see this one running and running for a long time.

28. Stargazing Live
For the second year in a row, yer actual Professor Brian Cox (aided by the, always excellent, Dara O Briain) walked the fine line between populism and esoterica and managed not to overbalance either way. The first episode had a theme about the moon, including a live interview with Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. The second focused on black holes, and the third on the possible existence of extra-terrestrial life. Each episode included different guests, such as impressionist and amateur astronomer, Jon Culshaw on the second night. The final episode also included a feature titled the 'Great Big Dulverton Switch Off' where every light in the Somerset town was switched off live on TV to highlight the issue of light pollution. During the series, viewers were encouraged to help locate possible exoplanets, planets orbiting stars outside the Solar System, by volunteering some time on the Planet Hunters online citizen science project. This led to the discovery of a new Neptune-sized exoplanet by two amateur astronomers, one in Peterborough, which was named Threapleton Holmes B. Public service broadcasting at its best. It also included on the great TV moments of the year: 'If you still think we didn't land on the moon then turn over to ITV because I don't want you!' said Foxy Coxy. Dara's next line ('so ... If you're still here ...') was also noteworthy. it's back in January, for the third run, just in case you were in any doubt.

29. Top Gear
Simply because its inclusion will piss off lots of people who really deserve a whole racing helmet full of pissing off. And, for Richard Hammond's Bond Cars special late in the year which was a thing of beauty. When Jezza, Hamster and Cap'n Slow are on form (as, they mostly were during the - surprisingly less controversial than usual - eighteenth series in February and March) then the world is, totally a better place. Because, let's face it, who doesn't enjoy the sight of Gruniad Morning Star readers gurning into their muesli or their quiche, after all? It's a sight to see, dear blog reader, a sight to see. Just like Top Gear when they're tear-assing their way around greenbelt Hertfordshire like they're in an episode of The Avengers. Skill.

30. Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss
The actor, writer and all round good chap followed his exceptional three-part exploration of American and British horror movies in 2010 with a new, and much-anticipated, documentary. In this Mark looked at the history of European horror cinema, from the seminal gems of German Expressionism, to the Italian trademark school of giallo thrillers. In the ninety-minute special, Mark visited the castle in Slovakia where FW Murnau shot Nosferatu in 1922, headed to Paris where he met Edith Scob, the woman in Eyes Without A Face and to Rome, where he talked with Dario Argento about Italy's distinctive brand of horror. In Madrid, he also had a rare interview with Spanish horror's pioneer director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador and the current top Spanish-language horror director Guillermo del Toro. This, dear blog reader, is the sort of thing yer actual Keith Telly Topping pays his licence fee for.

Also mentioned in dispatches: Treasure Island, Endeavour, Mad and Bad: Sixty Years of Science on TV, Public Enemies, Top of the Pops 1977, Mad Dogs, Birdsong, We'll Take Manhattan, How the Brits Rocked America, Castle, Prisoner's Wives, Inside Men, Being Human, Inspector Montalbano, New Tricks, Pramface, She Wolves: England's Early Queens, Scott & Bailey, The Syndicate, Leverage, The Sarah Millican Television Programme, Would I Lie To You?, Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, Frank Skinner on George Formby, The King & the Playwright: A Jacobean History, CSI, Playhouse Presents, Planet Earth: Live, Foxes Live: Wild In The City, Silk, Harlots, Housewives & Heroines: A Seventeenth Century History For Girls, Bones, Sebastian Bergman, Punk Britannia, Hit & Miss, Inspector George Gently, King George And Queen Mary: The Royals Who Rescued The Monarchy, Quadrophenia: Can You See The Real Me?, Blackout, The Girl Who Became Three Boys, The Riots: In Their Own Words, Who Do You Think You Are?, Parade's End, A Mother's Son, The Bletchley Circle, The Last Leg with Adam Hills, The Thick Of It, Hawaii Five-0, Only Connect, Fake or Fortune?, Nigellissima, The Paradise, Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story, Merlin, You've Been Trumped, Brazil With Michael Palin, Wartime Farm, Derren Brown: Apocalypse, Space Dive, Attenborough's Ark: Natural World Special, The Secret of Crickley Hall, Stephen Fry: Gadget Man.

And so, we move to those that weren't, perhaps, any good at all:-

1= The BBC's Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant coverage
By the common consent of just about everyone in the country - including, it should be noted, some of the BBC's biggest defenders. Like this blogger, for one - the vast majority of the single worst TV moments of 2012 could all be found during one buttock-clenchingly awful six hour broadcast on 3 June. It wasn't all the BBC's fault, of course, the day was miserable one in more ways than one and the foul weather and a series of technical difficulties (partly caused by the foul weather) didn't help matters, meaning that lots of planned events didn't happen (or were delayed) and thus a series of under-prepared talking heads had to fill in much time wittering on about nothing in particular. But then, that could also have been a description of the Olympics except for the fact that the Olympics was put together by professionals. The BBC's Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant coverage was amateurism personified. It was the subject of much media criticism and the broadcast reportedly attracted over four thousand five hundred complaints from members of the public (albeit, it also got some bafflingly high AI figures too, so clearly some people liked it). Some commentators took the view that BBC presenters on the day had concentrated far too much on interviews with celebrities and that they were insufficiently prepared to add depth or gravitas to the TV commentary of what was supposed to be, after all, a piece of pomp and circumstance. Stephen Fry was of the opinion that the coverage was 'mind-numbingly tedious,' and he wasn't far wrong. Most of media and the public's fury, however, focused on one bit in particular - Fearne Cotton and Paloma Faith discussing the latter's collection of Diamond Jubilee sick bags. Even the BBC's outgoing DG, Mark Thompson, a major apologist for most of the coverage, was forced to confess it wasn't, perhaps, the BBC's finest hour. The risible thin-skinned Cotton herself was incandescent with rage when some people dared to criticise her for her role in this fiasco on Twitter, describing those who found fault in her presentation abilities as 'bullies.' They weren't that, of course, or anything even remotely like it, they were simply licence fee payers - you know, Fearne, those annoying 'little people' who pay your vastly inflated wages. Thankfully, a fiasco such as this only comes along once every sixty years. We hope.

1= Titanic
As with Red Or Black? last year, it wasn't so much on-screen components that made Titanic into such a hugely satisfying flop, rather it was the sheer hubris behind the production. You can see ITV's thinking, 2012 being the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic so, 'let's get Downton Abbey's Lord Snooty to write a four-part drama about it, everybody and their dog will watch that.' As usual with Lord Snooty's work, the drama was class-obsessed and wallowed in its own celebration of a time when everyone - but, everyone - knew their place and most tugged their forelocks to the Big Nobs when required. The drama itself, a British-Canadian-Hungarian co-production, was more or less exactly what you'd expect; full of very good actors all struggling with a thoroughly rotten script and finally giving up and hamming it for the majority of the four episodes. But, no, what turned Titanic from an averagely disappointing production into a twenty four carat genius TV disaster was the decline of its ratings over the four episode which, if you'll excuse the obvious cliché, went down faster than the ship itself. Nine million punters watched the first episode, 4.73 million watched the last. To lose over half of your audience in four weeks, Lord Snooty, looks like carelessness.

2. The Royal Bodyguard
We all kind of suspected this one was going to stink the whole place up from the pre-series trailers (which were about as funny as a knee to the nadgers) but The Royal Bodyguard, a desperately poor David Jason vehicle with almost no redeeming features whatsoever, was yet another TV show which had its mere badness rendered almost incidental by the rate at which viewers ran away screaming from it. The sitcom's first episode, on Boxing Day 2011, pulled in an impressive 8.35 million punters. Three million of those didn't even hang around for the second week. By week five, it only just cleared two million. The series was written by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni following the moderate success of their BBC sitcom The Worst Week of My Life. The pair came up with the idea of a Johnny English-type character who had to defend the royal family, but ended up doing so in an - allegedly - 'comic' fashion. Almost unbelievably, the sitcom was actually worse than that miserably lightweight premise suggests. The Mirra's Jim Shelley spoke for many when he wrote: 'The Royal Bodyguard was, the BBC trumpeted, Sir David Jason's first Beeb comedy since Only Fools & Horses finished in 2003. This fact alone should have alerted all involved to the fatal flaw at the heart of this debacle – namely that it was relying on the viewer's fondness for Del Boy. It was a classic example of blind faith in the production's star name.'

3. This Morning
For most of the year - as, indeed, for most of the last decade - This Morning was just another one of ITV's string of not-particularly-good-but-harmelss-enough daytime magazine programmes - not as bad as Daybreak or The Jeremy Kyle Show but hardly reinventing the wheel in terms of awfulness. It was a typically lightweight piece of 'switch-your-brain-off' TV presented by Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, neither of whom appeared to have much in the way of intellectual ballast to make the thing any more than pure fluff. One suspects that fact is largely why the prime minister thought it was a good idea to go on This Morning on 8 November. Because he was expecting an easy time. Schofield had other ideas and, in the middle of the interview, whilst Willoughby sat beside him, saying nothing, twiddling with her hair and looking vaguely flustered, Schofield presented Cameron with Ze List - one he had prepared earlier, drawn from the Internet (allegedly after 'a three minute search') of five persons who, it had been alleged by various online posters, were paedophiles with a connection to the North Wales child abuse scandal. The names of several former senior Conservative politicians were said to be clearly visible on Ze List. Cameron, visibly irritated, responded by warning against 'a witch hunt.' A bit rich coming from a politician who had been happily laying into the BBC for the last few weeks over the Jimmy Savile scandal, perhaps, but that's a separate matter. Schofield was widely criticised for this action, with broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby describing his behaviour as 'cretinous', and he can probably consider himself a very lucky man indeed that subsequent events dragged the focus of the story away from him and onto the BBC's Newsnight.

4. The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo
Anybody who start through all six episodes of this nauseatingly full-of-its-own-importance and nastily twee little piece of utter nothing would have been bloody outraged that their licence fee was being used to pay the horribly smug and full-of-herself pastry chef. Now, all we need to know is which berk it is within the BBC who continues to commission such sub-The Ludicrous Ms Dahl nonsense, and how soon they're going to get the tin-tack, and we call all go back to waiting for the next series of MasterChef. Nasty Rachel, with her nasty hair and her nasty 'oh, look at me, aren't I, like, the cleverest girl in all the land' presenting style made this the sort of TV show which causes viewers to reflect on tabloid stories which end with the phrase '... before turning the gun on himself.' A total pox on this miserably tasteless fare and everybody involved in it.

5. Let's Get Gold
With the Olympic Games just around the corner, and ITV having decided not to go to all the bother of covering it, odious risible Vernon Kay hosted a competition shown over three nights in which teams from across the country 'put their sporting skills to the test for a chance to win one hundred grand.' Without even going any further into the description you just knew this is going to be an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of crap. I mean major crap, with terminal potential. But, let us add some cherries to the cake. The contestants had to impress 'four famous judges' - former England footballer and professional Twitter whinger Rio Ferdinand, former England cricketer and now national joke Andrew Flintoff, singer (allegedly) and actress (allegedly) Martine McCutcheon and Una Healy from The Saturdays (no, me neither I'm afraid). As an example of just about everything that's wrong with ITV's lowest-common-denominator idea of what will entertain the shit-for-brain lowlife scum on council estates whom, they seem to believe, makes up the majority of their audience, this was pretty much textbook. All of the key elements were there, Kay with his blokey professional Northernisms, Rio and Freddie, a couple of hasbeens who used to be good at their jobs but are now more often in the news because of making their mouth go and a couple of cuties who can, we presumed, read an autocue and walk in a straight line at the same time. The format was unoriginal as well. Frankly, ITV - the network that once broadcast World In Action - should have been fucking ashamed of themselves for putting arse-gravy like this out and expecting people to watch it. Mercifully, hardly anyone did.

6. Red Or Black?
If the first series of Red Or Black? was brought low by ITV's towering hubris then the second can only claim to have been a disaster because of its appallingly poor ratings. Given the amount of money ITV spent on the Ant and/or Dec-fronted game show, the five million average for the first series was bad enough (as noted in last year's list, they'd been confidently expecting eight million plus). Pulling in an average of but three-and-a-half-million punters for the second run must have seemed like a hard slap in the mush with a big wet kipper. Give them their due, though, ITV tried everything they could to make the reformated show work. But, frankly, if this exercise in more of everything that's wrong with Twenty First Century TV (loudness, bling, absolute greed) was any more of a dog it would have shed hairs all over your sofa. Will there be a third series? Place your bets now.

7. Being Liverpool
Fly-on-the-wall TV series' about football clubs have a strange and spotty history. Channel Five's attempts to do a Premier Passions happened to coincide with a period of managerial change at its subject club, Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws, and provided some of the most buttock-clenchingly embarrassing telly of the entire year. Former Liverpool player and now BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson criticised the programme claiming that Anfield bosses of old would be 'turning in their graves' at some of the things featured. Brendan Rodgers looked very comfortable, Luis Suarez fell over a lot (so, no change there then) and the whole thing smacked of an uncomfortable mixture of ego and more ego. In places laughably bad, in other placed just laughable, the broadcast of the show coincided with The Reds worst start to a Premier League season since ... well, since least year, actually. Like the club it had lots of money pumped into it by Americans with more credit cards than sense. Enough said.

8. Eternal Law
Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham co-created Life and Mars and Ashes To Ashes which, in and of itself, is enough to buy both of them a fair bit of goodwill from the viewing public. Sadly, they used up all of that goodwill and a bit more besides in this terribly bad six part drama about two angels sent to earth to become lawyers in York. For reasons that only God can answer (and, He's not talking). Dramas have had odder premises than this and still worked, to be fair, and Eternal Law had some good actors in it (notably Samuel West). But, the viewing public very quickly decided it wasn't for them (losing half of its audience over the course of four weeks was a bit of a give-away in that regard) and any hope of a second series was kicked into touch when ITV cancelled the show, mid-run. A DVD of the series was released a few days after the final episode and, predictably, sold but six copies (mostly to family of the cast and crew). 'Alas there will be no more Eternal Law,' West announced on Twitter. 'Not enough people watched it.' Ain't that always the way.

9. Comedy World Cup
A comedy panel game (because, of course, we haven't got enough of those already) produced by Open Mike Productions for Channel Four, this was first broadcast in September and was presented by ex-national heartthrob David Tennant. Why, David? Why, for the love of God, why?! It featured two teams of comedians, consisting of a captain and two guests and the idea was ... well, I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. It just wasn't very good, despite featuring some decent comics (and some dreadful ones, to be fair. Yes, I'm looking at you The Chuckle Brothers). The whole thing just seemed like a mish-mash of bits and pieces from other, similar shows (Mock The Week, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Eight Out Of Ten Cats, Shooting Stars) and ended up as a kind of neither-nowt-nor-summat conceit full of sound and fury, signifying nothing in particular. And, Tennant was wasted in it.

10. Superstar
Having stormed off from the BBC in a state of high kerfufflement after the massive flop that was Over The Rainbow, the gnomish, odious full-of-himself Lord Lloyd Webber took his shoe-tree of despair and his dictator's throne and buggered off to ITV to make his latest amateurish stab at TV immortality. A talent search, looking for the lead role in a new production Jesus Christ Superstar (and, therefore, a project designed primarily to fill his Very Lordship's already massive pockets still further) it had Amanda Holden presenting and Dawn French as one of the, allegedly 'expert' judges. No, seriously. That, in and of itself, was just about the most entertaining thing about it. Lloyd Webber decided which of the potential Jesuses to keep in the contest. The saved Jesuses could be seen on the so-called 'Stairway To Heaven.' Far more tacky and dreadful than any of his previous three BBC shows, it began with a laughably bad overnight rating of just over three million and, over the course of the next twelve shows, only beat that figure once (for the final, which was 3.11m). And, as usual with all Lloyd Webber programmes, its main fault, lay in the little man with the very big ego at its core.

11. Daybreak
Last year's winner for the worst TV show of that - or, indeed, any other - year and twelve months on, it can't even make the Top Ten. Some might consider that an improvement. Well, maybe, though yer actual Keith Telly Topping is not grading on a curve here. Having - spectacularly - got shot of odious grumpy greed-bucket (and drag) Chiles and his Curiously Orange horrorshow of a partner right at the end of 2011, Daybreak spent most of 2012 trying to reformat itself and make everyone forget the cosmically dreadful Heckle and Jekyll era. It never came even remotely close to working. On 12 December 2011, it was reported that Daybreak would be targeting 'hassled mums' as part of its 'refreshed focus.' Hassled mums couldn't take the hassle. Silly named Dan Lobb and horrible Kate Garraway filled in for six months as the ratings stayed in the basement and the AI figures remained resolutely 'below average.' Then, in April, the long-awaited 'dream team' of Lorraine Kelly and Aled Jones arrived. Surely now it was Daybreak's moment to shine? Nah. Not even close, really. Despite the changes to the ailing format, the first edition of the new look show drew only six hundred thousand viewers, less than half of its rival BBC Breakfast. This - continued - ratings slump eventually led to the dismissal of David Kermode as editor in October, the man brought in to sort out the Chiles and Bleakley disaster a year earlier. Bless 'em, Daybreak, despite everything, they've managed to keep a smile on pretty much everyone's mush throughout the year with the sheer thigh-slapping banality and incompetence of all their doings.

12. Take Me Out
Odious, risible, pointless Twenty First Century remake of Blind Date, hosted by 'what does he actually do to justify his existence?' professional Northerner Paddy McGuinness, Take Me Out is to quality TV programming what Gonorrhoea is to a healthy and active sex life. Now in its fourth series (I know, I resigned from the human race in protest but I don't think it did much good), recent episodes - scheduled against the BBC's  massively popular Strictly Come Dancing - have shown a very welcome decline to the point that a recent episode couldn't even manage three million punters, a figure the show once made with ease. It's almost as if, overnight, Britain has finally woken up to what a pile of flashy excrement this fiasco is. Perhaps there's hope for the nation's intellect after all. 'If you're turned off, turn off' bellows Paddy oafishly at various dramatically inappropriate moments as the host wanders around sadly in search of any Gregg's pasties going spare. Best bit of advice I've heard in a long time, frankly.

13. The Exit List
A Matt Allwright-presented game show from ITV (based on a Dutch format), what could possibly go wrong? Well, how about pretty much everything. Seldom has a TV programme been more accurately named (albeit, in that department even The Exit List was probably shaded by its Tuesday night stablemate, The Biggest Loser, at least in terms of ratings figures). A bit like The Crystal Maze, but about half as interesting, the series limped through seven vastly uninvolving episodes with rapidly declining audience figures (from a not especially large opening figure of two and a half million). The last three episodes didn't even break the two million mark. Although no official announcement of its cancellation appears to have been made, so it's just about possible we may see it again. But, if the first series is anything to go by, indifference will continue to reign.

14. Hunted
It looked so promising to begin with - the BBC's latest espionage thriller (a sort-of down market replacement for the much-lamented [spooks] and a vehicle for Aussie actress Melissa George) came from the pen of X Files writer Frank Spotnitz and the production stable of Kudos. The first couple of episodes were decent enough if, and this was a worryingly sign right from the off, dangerously over-complicated. This blogger is no fan of spoon-feeding the audience all of the answers in a drama but, just occasionally, giving them one or two might be an idea. And, as the series progressed and the dense plotting went further and further up its own arsehole, viewers quickly began to realise this wasn't going to be another [spooks] - or another Hustle for that matter - but, rather, more like one of Kudos' less celebrated and most spectacular flops, Outcasts. Five and a half million punters watched the first episode - a decent enough figure for a primetime drama in this day and age. Less than half that number watched episode six - not a decent figure or anything even remotely like it. Even some BBC executives publicly said they found the show confusing and it was little surprise when the Beeb pulled out of their co-production deal with Cinemax for a proposed second series. Cinemax and Spotnitz still insist they're going ahead with more episodes. Though, whether there will be an audience for them in Britain remains very much a question worth asking.

15. The Mad Bad Ads Show
With its basic premise of answering questions about and related to advertisements (so, essentially, it was at least partly a rip-off of Eight Out Of Ten Cats) and with the two team captains being two of the most irritating and unfunny comics currently on the circuit - Mark Watson and Micky Flanagan - things didn't look good for The Mad Bad Ads Show from Day One. I mean, has Mark Watson ever been in anything that wasn't shit? No, I'm struggling to think of anything either. Even when he's on Mock The Week, those episodes are more substandard than usual. The captains also got the chance to shoot their own commercials (though, tragically, not each other) with the studio audience voting for 'which was best.' Or, perhaps, just vote so they can get the hell out of there. It was hosted by Mark Dolan, which was but one more reason to avoid this pile of old toot like you'd avoid a stinking Harry Ramp in the High Street. Certainly, the viewers did.

Bubbling Under: One Lenny Henry, Twatting About On Ice, Operation Hospital Food with James Martin, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Upstairs Downstairs, White Heat, Love Life, The Big Quiz: Benidorm v Essex, The Matt Lucas Awards, Made In Chelsea, Geordie Shore, The Only Way is Essex, Accused, Mrs Biggs, The Audience, The Revolution Will Be Televised, Homefront, Cuckoo, Monroe, Me & Mrs Jones, I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want).

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