Sunday, November 29, 2015

Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2015)

Welcome, dearest blog reader, to the eighth annual Keith Telly Topping & His Very Top TV Tip Awards for, in Keith Telly Topping's own opinion, the best and worst TV shows of the past year. In what is rapidly becoming an annual observation, you will probably notice that there are about twice as many highs listed here as there are lows. This imbalance is not, necessarily, a reflection of the actual ratio of good telly to bad during 2015. Rather it's because, generally, we tend to remember all the good stuff and attempt to forget about the distressing rubbish.

Before we go any further, this blogger would like to apologise to all dear blog readers who may have caught sight of an earlier, highly work-in-progress, version of this particular bloggerisationisms which, accidentally, went live for about thirty minutes on the morning of Sunday 29 November. Sorry. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping pushed the wrong button, by mistake.

Anyway, without further ado ...

Thirty One Extra-Primo-Rad Highlights Of Television In 2015:-

1. Wolf Hall
'My husband used to say "put Thomas Cromwell in a dungeon and by evening he'll be sitting on cushions with gaolers owing him money!"' Critics were almost unanimous in their unstinting praise of BBC's adaptation of the first two novels of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy with particular reference to the feature-film quality costumes, sets and direction, as well as the performances of Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn. And, this particular critic isn't going to disagree with the consensus of a majority, and all that. (There were some reports of an unspecified number of viewers - with nothing better to do with their time, seemingly - whinging about the occasional strong language. A spokeswoman for King Henry VIII was unavailable for comment at the time. Because she'd had her head chopped off.) A rich, deep, complex story of politics, faith, scheming and murder told across six episodes and featuring over one hundred characters, featuring thrilling turns from the likes of Mark Gatiss, Bernard Hill, Anton Lesser (superb, as a tortured, principled. and ultimately doomed Thomas More), Jonathan Pryce and Damian Lewis (he's 'Enery The Eighth, he is, he is). And, the dialogue was fantastic: 'Do you think I've promoted you for your charm and your presence? I keep you because you are a serpent.' Wolf Hall was a perfect reminder - in a year when the BBC was constantly being kicked from all sides by sick twats with a politically motivated agenda - of what Auntie stands for; of what it is capable of when left alone to get on with the job; of what it gives to the nation and to the world. A sequel, to be based on Mantel's forthcoming third novel, The Mirror & The Light, is reportedly planned. That is, if there's still a BBC left to produce it, of course.
2. River
'All murderers are punished eventually. Unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.' This blogger often whinges to anyone that will listen - and, indeed, anyone that won't - that there is simply nowhere near enough of From The North favourite Nicola Walker on his telly box. Imagine, therefore, this blogger's utter joy at getting not one but two weekly doses of the divine Nic late in the year in both Abi Morgan's supernatural crime drama River and ITV's dark thriller Unforgotten. River was the better of the two, a six-episode dissection of the grief process and about how life often comes to pieces in ones hands like so much wet cardboard when we are brushed by unexpected death. Surly Swedish police detective John River (Stellan Skarsgård) attempts to uncover the reasons behind the cold blooded murder of his late partner, Stevie Stevenson (Walker). River was, on the surface, a straight - and very attractive - mixture of Wallander and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) but there was so much more to it that just an exercise to genre cross-pollination. John River spent his evenings drinking alone and staring glumly out of the window, as pretty much all Swedish policemen tend to do. But, he also lived with the visions of the recently dead - 'manifests', he calls them. And, the not-so-recently dead in the case of the excellent Eddie Marsan's Lambeth Poisoner, Thomas Cream, who spends much of his time taunting River about his mental instability. More than just crime drama, River explored themes of personal tragedy, inner demons, loss and grief. Skarsgård delivered a powerhouse central performance: sad and introspective in one scene, sardonic, witty and manically energetic in the next. With his craggy face and his crumpled demeanour, the detective prowled the streets of East London like a wounded tiger, pawing at thin air as he investigated his prey. The series was beautifully written by Morgan, stylishly directed, and superbly acted by all concerned. Aside from the two leads, the supporting players also shone, not just stalwarts such as Marsan, Lesley Manville, Jim Norton, Sorcha Cusack and Michael Maloney, but newer faces like Adeel Akhtar as River's endlessly patient sidekick, Ira, and Georgina Rich as his psychiatrist with her own complex agenda for wishing to keep River on the job. With its illegal immigration subplot, the drama proved timely and prophetic too. Creepy yet ultimately uplifting, River stands alongside Wolf Hall as one of the year's best home-grown TV dramas. If it was a Scandinavian series, like its lead actor, the box-set bores at the Gruniad and the Independent would be falling over themselves to heap praise upon it and coming on the floor about how 'rilly brill'yant' it was. The fact that it was British-made should not mean we overlook its quality. Plus, it had the best use of a Tina Charles song in a TV programme since, ooh, probably an episode of The Basil Brush Show in 1977.
3. Hannibal
'You've just found religion. There is nothing more dangerous than that.' It was probably inevitable that Hannibal was never destined for a lengthy, multi-series run. Too bloody, too intense, too horrific. It was bold, outré exercise in story-telling from Bryan Fuller and his team and we should, perhaps, be grateful that we managed to get thirty nine episodes out of it before NBC finally pulled the plug. This was their design. The series, of course, was based on characters and elements appearing in the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris and focused on the relationship between FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Doctor Hannibal Lecter (the astonishingly good Mads Mikkelsen), a part-time forensic psychiatrist and full-time totally mad serial killer. In this year's third and final series, the storyline finally reached Red Dragon itself with Richard Armitage turning up as beautifully nuanced Francis Dolarhyde. The earlier episodes dealt with Hannibal's exile in Florence and featured, in the on-screen partnership between Mikkelsen and From The North fave Gillian Anderson, some of the years most poetically mature, lyrical and impressively realised scenes witnessed anywhere on TV in any drama. God, those two were great together. Even when he chopped her leg off and ate it. 'Please let it be a fairy tale.' With its fantastic ensemble cast (Larry Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Raúl Esparza, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Eddie Izzard), Hannibal was always more than merely about Graham and Lecter and the games they played with each other. It had elements of melodrama, fictitious narrative and even, almost unbelievably given the subject matter, sharp comedy. Lots of it was very funny, trust me. It ended, as most TV shows ultimately end, with a lot of its initial audience having given up but, the ones who stayed to the bitter end, rivetted and disappointed in equal measure that they weren't getting any more. This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but a bloody big bang. Fuller, reportedly, still hasn't given up hope of mounting a continuation in some form or other. One thing is for certain, if there ever are any more stories to be told, a small but dedicated audience will walk through Hell to be there.
4. Only Connect
Further proof, if any were needed. that unlike much of the rest of the TV industry, there are people working within the BBC who do not regard their audience as brain-dead troglodytes that will watch any old shat which is put down in front of them. Only Connect, hosted by the divine Victoria Coren Mitchell - heavily pregnant when the latest series was filmed and making occasional jokes about how television production schedules seem to elongate the human reproductive process - only moved to BBC2 from BBC4 last year. But it has already made its mark on the quiz show scene alongside its - conceptual - big brother, University Challenge as part of BBC2's Monday night line-up for 'people with brains in their heads.' Quite unexpectedly, it has also become a mainstream hit. It has such a dedicated following, in fact, that viewers were not at all pleased when it was shifted from its traditional 8:30 slot to an hour earlier to make way for Nigella Lawson's latest cookery-as-porn series. Launched on BBC4 in 2008, Only Connect, which invites two teams to choose questions hidden behind Egyptian hieroglyphs and solve a wall containing groups of connected items using lateral thinking, now delights an audience of nearly three million viewers weekly. 'The BBC has consistently said to us "Don't make it any easier". Our USP is to be the toughest, brainiest quiz on television and we like to think it works because of that,' said Chris Stuart, the executive producer. Alan Tyler, the BBC's Executive Editor of Entertainment Commissioning, added: 'There's something quintessentially British about Only Connect. It's a tough application process to get selected.' Coren Mitchell, who is often the final arbiter on whether a fiendishly difficult question should be allowed, since she has to explain the answer, is a crucial element of the programme's success, of course. 'The series celebrates knowledge. Victoria gave it personality,' added Tyler. 'And, a knowing wink so people don't take it too seriously.' And, that's why we love it.
5. Gotham
'Please don't think too badly of me. We are who we are.' This time last year, when it scraped into From The North's top thirty shows of 2014, Gotham was a wiry new kid on the block, just twelve episodes old but already showing signs of some emergent greatness. A year on and it is, quite possibly, the best drama on US network TV right now. Certainly, it's the one with the best ensemble cast. Developed by Bruno Heller (the man behind them much-missed The Mentalist), Gotham is, of course, based on the early lives of characters appearing in DC Comics' Batman franchise, primarily James Gordon and Bruce Wayne. It is also used to tell the origin stories of several Batman villains including The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Scarecrow, Hugo Strange, Two-Face and Mister Freeze among others. Having spent much of its first series exploring the mafia-like criminal hierarchy of Gotham City, in season two, Jim Gordon deals with criminal activities which are secretly orchestrated by the industrialist Theo Galavan and his mad-as-toast sister, Tabitha as part of a plot to control Gotham and gain revenge on the Wayne family. For historically murky reasons. The drama is blessed with dozens of brilliant performances; Sean Pertwee's tough, assertive Alfred, Donald Logue's cynical, world-weary, dryly witty Harvey Bullock, Camren Bicondova's charmingly streetwise Selina, Robin Lord Taylor's deliciously crazy-as-a-box-of-frogs Penguin and Cory Michael Smith's schizoid proto-Riddler being merely the most obviously mentionable. Ben MacKenzie is great as Gordon and the young Bruce Wayne (played with innocence but a touch of growing teenage faux-naïf hardness by David Mazouz) and his journey to a Dark Knight future is both intriguing and compelling. Throw in the likes of Michael Chiklis, Morena Baccarin, James Frain and Erin Richards going so far over-the-top she's down the other side, splendid direction, jet black humour and someone working in the music department with an obsession for British punk, post-punk and indie and you've got a winner on all sorts of levels! Last year, this blogger noted 'it's early days yet but so far, it's looking very good. One worth sticking with, this, I'd suggest. Let's put it this way, Smallville, it isn't.' Keith Telly Topping likes to take considerable credit in being, for once, in on the ground-floor of what is fast developing into something very special indeed.
6. The Eichmann Show
'Isn't it inherently ridiculous to try one man for the murder of six million people?' Full of good actors and good intentions, the docudrama The Eichmann Show about the televising of the 1961 war crimes trial of Nazi shithead Adolf Eichmann, was just what you'd except from a drama covering such horrific subject matter. Compelling, humane, thoughtful, at times awkward but, ultimately, life-affirming, viewing. Martin Freeman was, as one would expect, utterly convincing as the beleaguered producer Milton Fruchtman, constantly firefighting practical, commercial and ethical problems before and during the four-month trial. Anthony LaPaglia was great, too, as the formerly blacklisted director, Leo Hurwitz, with fine support from the likes of Nicholas Woodeson and Justin Salinger playing characters who had both survived the extermination camps. It was also a television show about a television show which led, quite unexpectedly, to some wry examples of industry humour amid the grimness: 'You don't think one represents our dark past and the other our glittering future?' a character asks Hurwitz after they lose audience share to coverage of Yuri Gagarin's first spaceflight. The real drama of this story took place not in the camera-control room, however, but in the courtroom. Wisely, the director Paul Andrew Williams did not attempt any creaky re-enactments but included, instead, the original 1961 footage, giving a new generation the opportunity to stare into the inexpressive eyes of the sheer banality of evil. No dramatised scene could have the same devastating impact as this archive footage, but solid supporting performances from the likes of Rebecca Front helped add depth to our understanding of camp survivors in Israel. She played Mrs Landau, the brusque B&B landlady who helped Hurwitz appreciate the importance of his work. If you saw Williams' Murdered By My Boyfriend last year, his adept handling of material like this will come as no surprise. There were other programmes on TV on the night that The Eichmann Show was broadcast and, some of them were very good. But one felt that to switch over to simple entertainment formats after watching this would be too trite, too dismissive. The Eichmann Show made us remember how easily hatred can engulf whole nations not just individuals. How Eichmann was not a monster but, merely, a very wretched, soulless little man with the death of millions on a conscience that he appeared not to possess. It is a message which continues to demands deep reflection for all of us.
7. Spiral
'You've become a feared judge. Congratulations.' The EMMY award-winning fifth series of Engrenages appears to have somewhat divided the opinion of long-term fans of the French thriller (the girl in the Gruniad who writes the - excellent - weekly episode blogs seemed less than impressed with the finale, for instance). This blogger, on the other hand, thought it was a terrific twelve episode exploration of the process of change, in all its forms. Spiral, in series five, went to some dark places that even this drama, with its long record of shocking its audience, might have previously considered un pont trop loin. They killed off one of their most popular characters (Grégory Fitoussi's Pierre Clément) mid-series for a kick-off. The production spent most of the episodes doing some very odd things with other well-established, and well-loved, characters: Laure's pregnancy, Judge Roban's out-of-character harshness (which results in tragedy), Joséphine flirting with being an honest, righteous lawyer for once, perhaps inspired by her dead lover until she is seduced back to The Dark Side by the loathsome Eric Edelman ('Joséphine, you are going against your true nature'). Even Gilou spent half the series trying to get Laure to agree to settle down with him and raise babies together. Which, would be another series entirely. A - very watchable - sitcom, possibly. Herville, the unlikeliest of heroes, rode to the rescue when refusing to throw Gilou under a bus on trumped-up disciplinary charges. His meeting with the sinister Lenoir and Foucart seemed a straightforward, mutual ass-covering affair as they offered him the bait of the Armed Response Unit command which he gallantly, and completely unexpectedly, turned down with the memorable line: 'Getting promoted for shafting another officer? I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror in the mornings.' Sudden changes of character motivation are not something one normally associates with Spiral. It was all very strange. And, never less than fascinating to watch. The main bulk of the action - aside from the usual inter-departmental politics and back-stabbing - was carried by a very grizzly multiple murder plot involving violent immigrant street gangs. Perhaps - perhaps - the ending was a bit left-field but, as usual with Spiral, one simply cannot wait to see where they go from here. The sixth series is, reported currently in production.
8. The Secret Life Of Books: The Faerie Queen/Saints & Sinners: Britain's Millennium Of Monasteries
Anyone who was forced to read Edmund Spenser's epically shit-weird 1590 poem The Faerie Queene during their further education (as this blogger was) might take issue with From The North fave Professor Janina Ramirez's declaration that it is 'one of the most exciting works of literature ever written.' Err ... beg t'differ with you there, Prof! Still, Janina made a decent stab at proving her point in an excellent Secret Life Of Books documentary which was full of readings, textual analysis and pretty outdoor shots of the countryside, detailing the personal and political issues which may have influenced Spenser's work. Janina, of course, was behind one of this blogger's favourite ever BBC4 factual series, Chivalry & Betrayal: The Hundred Years' War, one of our top shows list of 2013. Her main contribution to television this year was another three-part wander through the Middle Ages, Saints & Sinners: Britain's Millennium of Monasteries which was, as expected, fascinating, deep and gorgeous to look at. Even if the director seemed to have a weird obsession with random shots of Janina's shapely calves. Not that this blogger minded those, you understand. Not in the slightest.
9. Digging For Britain/The Celts: Blood, Iron & Sacrifice With Alice Roberts & Neil Oliver
Channel Four's decision in 2012 to cancel the long-running Time Team left a gaping hole in the lives of the couple of million regular viewers who had become armchair archaeologist/historians over the twenty years of Time Team's production. So, in stepped BBC4 with Digging For Britain, in which Time Team regulars Matt Williams and the Goddess of Punk Archaeology Doctor Alice Roberts highlighted the latest archaeological discoveries from around the country in handy geographical chunks and crossing a variety of historical periods. Of course, Alice has become one of the Beeb's go-to-girls for factual formats with an academic element and, the pairing of her with another From The North fave and telly icon for the Twenty First Century. Scottish Neil Oliver (and his lovely hair). in The Celts: Blood, Iron & Sacrifice hardly took a brain surgeon to work out its likely fanbase. Both series work across all three Reitchian columns - informing, educating and entertaining - and are visually stunning and always easy on the eye. This, dear blog reader, is what yer actual Keith Telly Topping pays his licence for. Well, that and the fact that, if he doesn't, this blogger will end up a'fore the beak.
10. Doctor Who
'What Clara said, about not taking revenge, do you know why she said that?' 'She was saving you.' 'I was lost a long time ago. She was saving you. I'll do my best, but I strongly advise you to keep out of my way. You'll find that it's a very small universe when I'm angry with you.' Do you know what, dear blog reader? This blogger thought the latest series of Doctor Who was great. As usual. All of it. Yes, even Sleep No More. Well, except to say that if anyone can come up with a finer couple of minutes writing, acting and directing in a TV drama anywhere in the world than Peter Capaldi's 'Do you know what thinking is?' speech at the end of The Zygon Inversion then this blogger would enjoy being pointed in the direction of it. Because, that was great. By any definition of what the word 'great' means. Oh, and Capaldi's one man tour de force in Heaven Sent was even better than great.
11. Qi/Qi XL
Another regular in From The North's annual top telly round-up, Qi remains, on its day - and, its day comes around more often than it doesn't - the sharpest, wittiest and most intelligent comedy on TV. If you can manage to avoid the odd appearances by odious, unfunny lanky streak of worthless rancid piss Jack Whitehall as a guest, of course. The announcement, late in the year, that Stephen Fry will be leaving the production after the current, M, series gained much media attention. This blogger is a big fan of Stephen's replacement, Sandi Toksvig, but there is always a huge risk that replacing a vital part of a well-loved series' make-up might put at least a part of the audience off (it's something the BBC will be facing twice next year, not only with Qi but, also, with Top Gear). Nevertheless, there isn't much wrong with the BBC's public service broadcasting credentials whilst it continues to broadcast formats such as Qi. It's funny, it's just a bit saucy, the Tories hate it and, dangerously, you might just learn something from it. Four excellent reasons to watch. Five, if you count the recent episode where Alan Davies actually said something funny for about the first time in three years.
12. Raised By Wolves
'If I hadn't vomited my guts up on cheap cider night-after-night and been punched, hard, in the tit by a Goth in a mosh pit, I wouldn't be the woman I am today.' Patchy, but occasionally brilliant beyond words, the journalist Caitlin Moran's semi-autobiographical co-written sitcom about herself and her sister's teenage years in Wolverhampton was originally broadcast as a one-off pilot by Channel Four in late 2013. This year, it was given a full series. The show stars the young Helen Monks and Alexa Davies as the oldest sisters in a large family of siblings raised by an unconventional single mother, Della, wonderfully played by Rebekah Staton. 'We're not Northern twats,' says Della at one point. 'We're not Southern twats. We're Midlands twats!' It also benefits from the presence of the great Philip Jackson and, by and large, contains at least three laugh-out-loud moments per episode. Christopher Stevens of the Daily Scum Mail described the comedy as: 'Smug, self-important, clichéd, this sitcom's a real howler.' So, that's one very good reason to watch and enjoy it, then. Well-liked by those in the media who don't work for scummish right-wing, Hitler-supporting louse-rags and with decent viewing figures for a minority channel, a second series has been commissioned and is currently in production. And, if it keeps including dialogue exchanges like the one between Yoko and Della in episode one, then this blogger will certainly be happy to watch it. 'I don't think I want to be a woman, mum,' says Yoko after her traumatic first visit with her older sisters to what they called The Aisle Of Shame in Boots. 'Nobody does, love,' replies her mother, the genuine empathy. 'But, the men are too chickenshit to handle it. So here we are.' Now, that's comedy.
13. Stargazing Live
Now into its fifth year, the BBC's annual exploration of the night sky continues to, yet again, demonstrate the Beeb's matchless Reithian credentials. Nowhere else on the planet - or, indeed, in the known cosmos - and certainly not in the commercial-first culture which so stains the national broadcasting systems of so many other countries, would a format such as this not only be made, but also be a major critical and commercial success. The series, of course, is presented from Jodrell Bank by 'The People's Scientist', Professor yer actual Brian Cox (no, the other one) and often-smug-but-usually-funny comedian and amateur astronomer Dara Ó Briain his very self with support from the likes of Liz Bonnin, astronomer Mark Thompson, Dallas Campbell, Lucie Green and members of The Sky At Night team. Its sister programme, Back To Earth often involves guests of the stature of Gene Cernan, Carolyn Porco and, this year, the second man on the moon yer actual Buzz Aldrin his very self. When Stargazing Live returned in 2015 it was not in is usual January slot, instead, it was held between 18 and 20 March to coincide with the latest total solar eclipse. And, they got some stunning shots of it, too. In November the BBC announced that two special episodes of Stargazing Live will be shown in December, with Dara and Coxy, covering the launch of Expedition Forty Six to the International Space Station with British astronaut Tim Peake on board. Simultaneously it was confirmed that a sixth season of Stargazing Live will be broadcast in January.
14. Poldark
'Why do you think I married you?' 'I don't rightly know.' 'To satisfy an appetite? To save myself from being alone? Because it was the right thing to do? I had few expectations, at best you'd be a distraction. I was mistaken. You redeemed me. I am your humble servant and I love you.' It didn't require the imagination of a genius to work out that a remake of the BBC's classic 1970s adaptation of Winston Graham's novels featuring Being Human's Aidan Turner - often with his shirt off - was going to be a huge ratings winner. No shit?! Nevertheless, the fact that the second Beeb version of Poldark managed not to offend fans of the original was something of a bonus. In the late Eighteenth Century, Captain Ross Poldark returns to his Cornish tin mines after spending three years in the army. On his return, having fought in the American War of Independence, he finds his father dead, his estate in ruins and his beloved, Elizabeth, naughtily engaged to his cousin, Francis. He rescues a young peasant girl, Demelza, from an unjust whipping, and takes her on as a kitchen maid as he attempts to regain control of the mines sought after by a rival, the greedy and arrogant George Warleggan. Equal parts yer basic twenty four carat bodice-ripper, mixed with sharp historical social drama and some sly anti-war comment, Poldark managed to tick lots of boxes for lots of different viewing groups and attracted a massive Sunday night audience. Just like its 1975 predecessor, in fact. With a splendid cast including Eleanor Tomlinson, Ruby Bentall, Jack Farthing, Phil Davis and the late Warren Clarke, plus a welcome cameo from the first Poldark's Robin Ellis, jaw-dropping location filming in the Lizard Peninsular which originally inspired Graham's novels and plenty of Turner looking all magnificently brooding, Byronesque and pant-dampeningly sexy (particularly in the shirtless scenes!) Poldark worked on just about every level imaginable. And one or two unexpected ones (it managed to be quite funny in places, for instance, which no one was expecting). A second series, needless to say, is coming soon. Turner believes it will also co-incided with a possible media backlash, critics having been, almost to a man (and woman), won over by the first series' sheer quality and joie de vivre. He might be right but, if he keeps getting his kit off, one doubts that the viewers will be overly bothered by what some louse of no importance in the Daily Scum Mail thinks.
15. Doctor Foster
'There have been other women, yes.' Mike Bartlett's tense drama of Middle Class mores, betrayal and the power of revenge was the BBC's biggest new drama hit in two years even outstripping the first series' figures of the likes of Poldark, Call The Midwife and Sherlock. The reason for its success were several though, it mainly boiled down to Suranne Jones putting in the kind of performance which usually ends with the need to buy a can of Brasso™ to polish the BAFTA which will inevitably follow. God, she was good in this. For those of us who spotted Suranne's emergent greatness in Corrie years ago, it was the culmination of a decade of brilliant performances by this talented and watchable actress. The broadsheet critics, of course, loved it. Well, it was about, and for, their people wasn't it? Lucy Mangan in the Gruniad called it 'a gripping portrait of a marriage slowly being poisoned.' The Torygraph said it was 'an edgy nail-biter, sparkily written,' despite a soundtrack which the reviewer considered 'overbearing.' After the final episode, Catherine Blyth wrote a damned strange piece, How one woman's absurd revenge showed the grim truth about modern Britain which concluded: 'To be loved a woman must be pitied, meek and helpful. She cannot expect to be both happy and admired. It seems like a credible reflection of our misogynistic world - in which any woman who puts her neck out, or ventures a strong opinion, can expect to be trolled or threatened. What a grimly convincing parable.' The Daily Scum Mail noted that Twitter was filled with praise for the drama but also disappointment that Foster's cheating husband didn't get 'his comeuppance' - possibly these strange people were hoping he'd get his 'nads ripped off and stuffed down his throat till he choked, on-screen. And, that was 'news' because, again, Twitter is now The Sole Arbiter of The Worth Of All Things, it would seem. Doctor Foster will return for a second series. And, Middle Class Britain will have something else to whinge about on Twitter for six weeks, no doubt.
16. Marvel's Agent Carter
'Just so we're clear, this is pressed into your brachial artery. It may be dull, but I'm determined. Keep smiling. Once you start to bleed, you'll lose consciousness in fifteen seconds. You'll die in ninety unless someone comes to your aid. Now, given your recent behaviour, how likely do you think that is to happen? To prevent this not entirely unfortunate event from occurring, I suggest you find a new place to eat. Do we understand each other?' If Suranne Jones put up in perhaps the best performance by an actress on British TV this year, then ex-Guildhall School of Drama graduate Hayley Atwell followed in the footsteps of Anna Freal and became America's new British golden girl. The series features the Marvel Comics character Peggy Carter, with Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America film series, as she balances her life as an - undervalued - secret agent with that of a single woman in 1940s New York. Mercifully, the showrunners used several different influences besides Marvel in developing the series, including Raiders Of The Lost Ark, LA Confidential and the noir works of the author James Ellroy. Focusing on the character of Peggy Carter as a person first and an action hero second is what makes Marvel's Agent Carter such stylish and - importantly - human drama with bursts of excitement and a constant sharp wit which is impossible not to be captivated by. Good supporting performances from James D'Arcy, Enver Gjokaj and Shea Whigham are an added bonuses, but it's Atwell who is at the heart of everything that's good about the series; pretty, funny and a force of nature when she's beating up Nazis and Communists! Told, over eight episodes, as a kind of tele-novella, the - longer - second series of Marvel's Agent Carter will relocate the characters to Los Angeles when it returns early in 2016. To say that it is much-anticipated is a massive understatement.
17. Black Roses: The Killer Of Sophie Lancaster
'Do they find offence, at the studs in my lips, or the rings in my ear? Are they morally outraged by what we wear?' Black Roses told the shocking and scarcely believable story of how, in August 2007, a quiet, twenty-year-old vegetarian pacifist was kicked to death by a gang of sick teenage thugs in a park in Bacup, Lancashire. What was Sophie Lancaster's grave offence to cause this horrific attack? Her appearance. Both she and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, who was also beaten but survived, were Goths. In March 2011 BBC Radio 4 broadcast the play Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster consisting of poems by Simon Armitage telling the story of Sophie's life, combined with the personal recollections of her mother, Sylvia. It was later adapted for the theatre and then BBC4 made this haunting, affecting adaptation of Armitage's drama with Rachel Austin and Julie Hesmondhalgh, in her first major TV appearance since leaving Coronation Street, reprising their stage roles as Sophie and Sylvia respectively. As the Torygraph's reviewer eloquently noted: 'The Oxford English Dictionary defines "elegy" as "a song or poem of lamentation, especially for the dead." Lamentation is certainly a word to fit the visceral poetic impact of Black Roses, a searingly beautiful elegy to a real life horribly cut short and a gut-wrenching illustration of the horrors of mindless violence' and concluded that it was: 'A stunning and unforgettable memorial.' Played with a perfectly-judged mixture of clipped naturalism and nerve-raw emotion by Hesmondhalgh, Sylvia's recollections of her daughter's journey from the cradle to the appallingly untimely and needless grave, was, at times, almost unbearable to watch. If anybody ever tells you that television is an ephemeral, throwaway medium show them, please, this harrowing, lyrical piece of art.
18. Premium Bond
In which two of this blogger's favourite media figures, Mark Gatiss and Matthew Sweet, successfully deconstruct the mystique of the James Bond franchise, discuss which one of them was best and all whilst drinking a pair of rather tasty looking Vespa Martinis, shaken, not stirred. Broadcast on the day of Spectre's release (which was also this blogger's birthday, as it happened!) Premier Bond was, if you will, the ultimate pub discussion with your mate. Like Sweet's glorious Culture Show on Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary and Gatiss's beautiful three-part A History Of Horror, this was fanzine telly for the fanboys-now-own-the-media generation (this blogger likes to consider himself to be at least on the fringes of this phenomena). And, not for nothing, but Keith Telly Topping shares Mark's admiration for Tom Mankiewicz's script for Diamonds Are Forever, a beautifully constructed movie which manages to slay a few long overdue-for-slaying sacred cows whilst also making Bond often appear quite foolish to others without, ever, making him anything less than deadly. This blogger had said this before but it bears repeating, dear blog reader: I've always seen Diamonds and Live & Let Die - like Mark, the first two which I saw at the cinema - as kind-of part one and part two of the same movie; different Bonds, obviously, but the same writer, the same director, and both with that wonderfully sleazy view of early 1970s America. When Keith Telly Topping first got to LA, in 1998, he was massively disappointed to discover that every city didn't have a Fillet O Soul chain. And, as far as this blogger is concerned every Bond film should have the hero walking over crocodiles to escape certain death! Now, if only we could get Matthew and Mark to persuade the Bond producers to start making their movies just a bit shorter for those of us who can't manage to sit through two and a half hours without our bladders screaming out for mercy.
19. Humans
'What if she's not pretty? Can we change her if she's not pretty?' Written by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley and based on the award-winning Swedish science fiction drama Real Humans, this eight-part drama explored the themes of artificial intelligence and robotics, focusing on the social, cultural and psychological impact of the invention of anthropomorphic androids called synths, A co-production between AMC, Channel Four and Kudos, Humans was more than just a cult hit, it managed to cut across genre boundaries and find parts of its audience in people who would normally turn their noses up at anything even resembling 'all that sci-fi nonsense.' Accompanied by a genuinely innovative marketing campaign, Humans was Channel Four's highest-rated drama since 1992's The Camomile Lawn. It gained much critical acclaim, being described as 'one of 2015's dramatic hits,' by the Gruniad. A dystopian and sometimes disturbing experience - like another Channel Four drama, Black Mirror - the 'synth' actors won special praise for their beautifully nuanced performances (notably Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington). Also containing some of this blogger's favourite actors (Tom Goodman-Hill, Colin Morgan, Katherine Parkinson, Danny Webb, Rebecca Front), Humans was an unexpected treat and has, unsurprisingly, been recommissioned for a second series.
20. Code Of A Killer
'Inside everybody there is a secret code.' Michael Crompton's two-part ITV drama told the true story of Alec Jeffreys' discovery of DNA fingerprinting and its introductory use by Detective David Baker in catching the double murderer Colin Pitchfork. Who, with a name like that, really only had one career option open to him, didn't he? Beautifully directed by James Strong, Code of A Killer was raised above standard genre fair by a pair of perfectly balanced performances from the two leads, John Simm and David Threlfall. Well, to be fair, they are two of the best actors Britain has produced in the last couple of decades so you'd expect nothing else, really. The first part was criticised by some for an apparent dramatic sluggishness and an over reliance on crime-show clichés in the portrayal of the two main characters, although others enjoyed its slow and steady layering of plot and characterisation. Julia Raeside in the Gruniad was in the former camp and whinged: 'There are obligatory scenes in which Jeffreys misses a school play and receives a phone call from his wife pronouncing, "Your dinner's in the dog."' Alex Hardy in The Times, however, considered 'fact-based drama managed to balance tragedy with optimism,' adding that it 'inevitably contained elements of soap.' The Daily Scum Mail loved it the mostest, baby, praising it because, some berk of no importance felt 'unlike so many detective dramas, Code Of A Killer managed to avoid mortuary porn. There was no naked body on a morgue slab. In fact, we never saw the victims - just Threlfall's face as he stared down at the corpses, his mouth twisting in anger and disgust. That was so much more chilling.' For this blogger, it was the scenes between the two main characters that dominated the second episode which really raised Code Of A Killer into something worth talking about. Two superb actors at the top of their game. What's not to love?
21. Clangers
For a lot of men and women 'of a certain age' in Britain, 15 June 2015 was as important a day in their lives as the day Thatch got the boot, the day Elvis died, the day Gazza cried or the day Toto Coleo did 'I Eat Cannibals' on Top Of The Pops. Because, that was the day when Clangers returned to TV for the first time since 1974 in all their pink-knitted glory. And, the sheer relief that was felt across the land when we all watched the first episode and found that it didn't cheapen the memory of the Oliver Postgate/Peter Firman original, could have moved mountains. The Clangers remake was sweet and charming and full of childlike wonder. Just like the original, in fact. It was aided by Michael Palin's good-natured, soft-focus narration (Bill Shatner has, apparently, got the gig when the episodes are broadcast in America - the mind positively boggles!) And, those familiar whistling voices were as comforting as warm soup - from the Soup Dragon's soup mines, obviously - on a bone-chilling winter day. Anyone who watched that first episode, The Lost Notes and was not, instantly, six years old all over again and free from the worries or mortgages, jobs or relationships is, frankly, a lost cause. Every once in a while, a TV show that one loved as a child will be, if you will, 'reimagined'. One or two of them work; Doctor Who, is the most obvious example. This year, Thunderbirds also got a Twenty First Century makeover and was ... okay. Not great, but decent enough. Clangers Mk II, on the other hand, was great. As Tiny Clanger said to Mother Clanger: 'Boo poo-boo, boo-poo booo.' And, I think we can all get behind that, dear blog reader, can we not?
22. The BBC At War
Although the title could have been an effective summation of 2015 as a whole for the corporation, in fact, it refers in this particular case to a superb two-part documentary made by Jonathan Dimbleby for BBC4 about how Auntie covered, coped with and became a vital source of information, disinformation and hope to millions during the Second World II. It was an enthralling series exploring how the BBC fought not only Hitler and his goose-stepping bully-boy thugs (including, of course, let us never forget the Daily Scum Mail - big fans of Herr Hitler, they were) but also Churchill's government to become the institution that it is today. Although, for how much longer it will be is a debate we're all currently still involved in. In 1939 the corporation was not the symbol of national identity that it is today. As war was declared there was a concerted effort by self-interest press barons, generals and government to, firmly, put the BBC in its place. There was even talk of a shutdown - indeed, the fledgling television service did close down for the duration in case Alexandra Palace's transmitters were used as a landmark for bombing by the Luftwaffe. Instead, after Chamberlain's 'we are at war' address on 3 September, the BBC cancelled a scheduled radio series about death and played 'a programme of light dance music' instead. For the next six years, the BBC would be constantly involved in a running battle with the government and the civil service over what it could and could not report. Aware of the potential for it to be used as a propaganda tool, in the same way that German broadcast media was by Doctor Goebbles, John Reith did his best to run a middle course and, eventually, the BBC came to a, sometimes uneasy, alliance in which it did, undeniably, take an 'official' line at times. For example, in over-stressing good news stories - North Africa, for instance - whilst minimising the military defeats in Crete, Greece and Singapore. But, of course, its usefulness as a line of communication to the various resistance movements in France, the Netherlands and Poland should never be overlooked. The BBC's most egregious act of self-censorship, Dimbles the Younger said, was to leave out any allusion to the Jews when his father, Richard, entered and reported from Bergen-Belsen. Nevertheless, the immediacy and hushed dignity of Dimbleby senior's many dispatches from the front as the BBC's premier war correspondent, are still memorable. So was JB Priestley hailing the pleasure steamers off to Dunkirk and visiting American Edward Murrow commentating sonorously from the roof of Broadcasting House in the midst of the Blitz. Dimbles the Younger's essay took in Priestley's controversial and politically sensitive Postscript series which so worried the cabinet that they tired to put a stop to it and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas's live broadcasts from Anzio and from onboard a Lancaster during a thousand bomber raid over Germany. Dimbles travelled from Scapa Flow to North Africa in the footsteps of the BBC reporters - including his father - as they established the corporation's right to be a trusted source of news and give their listeners a flavour of the war that was being fought in their name. In many ways the BBC's role during the Second World War was the trailblazer which led to the kind of television war coverage we see now - the good and the bad. Churchill once referred to the Beeb as 'the enemy within the gates' though, as Dimbleby noted, even Churchill did, eventually, come to trust and admire the BBC for its contribution to the war effort and for, like him, being prepared to stand up to bullies and say 'to hell with that, this is still a free country.' As anti-Auntie rhetoric assails the broadcaster once more seventy years later, this impressively researched documentary could and should detonate itself into the debate about the licence fee.
23. The Hunt
A year wouldn't be a year without a David Attenborough-narrated natural history programme featuring in yer actual Keith Telly Topping's best TV of the year list. The Hunt follows in the traditions of the dozens of similar examples which have gone before, in this case taking 'an intimate and detailed look at the remarkable strategies employed by hunters to catch their prey and the hunted to escape.' The action - narrated brilliantly by Sir Dave his very self - takes place in the plains, deserts and grasslands that make up half of the dry land on our planet. They also offer little cover for those struggling to survive there. But if there's no cover for the hunted, there's equally no cover for the hunters either. As Dangerous Dave explained, in such an exposed landscape 'sixty per cent of hunts end in failure' – and those that end in success often come down to strategy rather than strength. Scenes around the watering-hole, filmed during the hottest part of the day when the animals know that the lions will be too tired to attack, 'could have come straight from The Lion King.' Even the cheetahs looked like cuddly toys – albeit cuddly toys that can run like the wind, rip you to pieces with their bear teeth and have you for dinner filleted and served with a plate of chips. As the Indi's reviewer asked: 'When nature is this good, who needs Disney?'
24. Cyberbully
'Knock, knock.' 'Who's there?' A docu-drama style thriller which starred Maisie Williams as a typical teenage girl, Casey, who lives her life online and is, ostensibly, accused of cyberbullying by an anonymous culprit. It takes place in one location - Casey's bedroom - and is told in real-time across an hour. Cyberbully received rave reviews not only from critics and viewers but also from various online groups dedicated to highlighting the growing problem of psychological bullying. The Spectator suggested that Channel Four's one-off play was 'very well made, deftly shifting our sympathies throughout (with the aid of Maisie Williams's dazzling central performance) and full of genuine menace.' In the Gruniad, Filipa Jodelka described Williams's acting as 'a tour-de-force,' although noting that unlike its billing the play should not be viewed 'as a realistic depiction of cyberbullying at all, but as a kind of millennial ghost-in-the-machine spine-chiller instead, replete with traditional horror devices (Faustian pacts, anonymous ghouls, tests of morality), mild peril and creepy strings.' The Independent's reviewer said that it 'was that rare programme that felt authentic enough to persuade teens, while also engaging older viewers.' The topical, newsworthy nature of the drama - well-written by David Lobatto and Ben Chanan the latter of whom also directed the piece with impressive claustrophobic minimalism - gained it plenty of coverage. But, really, Cyberbully could just as easily have been set in any era and concerned any form mental torture inflicted on one individual by another in an effort to control their actions. The simplicity of its telling, along with Maisie's star-making turn as a teenage girl in danger of losing everything but, emerging empowered and with her life, once again, in her own hands, was what made it stand out. Magnificent.
25. Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death
'Applause is the beginning of abuse.' The best single documentary of the year, by a street and a half, was Richard Curson Smith's ninety minute biography of the late Ted Hughes as part of the BBC's Poetry Season. The tragedies in Ted Hughes' life or, as the unsympathetic observer - and there are more than a few - might define them, the tragedies that he brought on others, overshadowed his reputation as both a man and as a, superb, poet. Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death took a clear-eyed and dispassionate look at how the personal and the professional coalesced in his work, sometimes causing collateral damage and sometimes self-inflicted wounds. The first in-depth TV study of the poet gained massively from the presence of Frieda, the artist daughter of Ted and Sylvia Plath. Frieda was an intelligent, thoughtful commentator: empathetic about both of her parents and their flaws, her odd moments of visible grief countered by good humour and a philosophical outlook on life. Her view of her father was endorsed by others - critics, lovers and friends - that throughout his life Ted Hughes was seeking a muse in the women her knew, the White Goddess, inspired by his hero Robert Graves' attraction to myth. It was a journey in which the passions and preoccupations which informed Ted's unique poetic voice - harsh nature, mythology, death - became increasingly infused with a more personal tone culminating in the searing power of his final volume, Birthday Letters - his only account of his life with Plath and her horribly untimely suicide in 1963. Nine months after it was published, he too was dead. Commentators who knew Ted and/or Sylvia included Ruth Fainlight, Edward Lucie-Smith, Melvyn Bragg, Al Alvarez and Elaine Feinstein, though the bulk of the story was told by Ted's most recent biographer, Jonathan Bate and the poet Simon Armitage, whose section on Hughes's home town of Mytholmroyd, with a lowering ridge of dark mountain encircling it, was especially illuminating. Hughes's contradictions, of course, a well known: the practical rural Yorkshireman who, dumping a dead badger in his daughter's lap, taught her to skin it, and the fan of the occult who timed his book launches by the alignment of the planets. He drew Plath into this world: in a fury, after he left her for another woman, she reportedly made a fire of his writings, nail clippings and dandruff. Sexually, he was both a predator and prey - 'taking candy from a baby' was how Assia Wevill described her seduction of him away from his wife. Later, the couple were 'like black panthers hissing at one another,' the critic Al Alvarez claimed. Feeling 'lonely and hated', Assia gassed herself just as Sylvia did six years earlier, with the added tragedy of also killing their daughter, Shura. Later, Frieda found both of her parents work on her school syllabus, posing questions that few children will ever have to face. The programme was absorbing, beguiling, non-judgmental and avoided prurience and blame. Ultimately, it passed the acid test: broadly speaking, it deepened our understanding of what formed Ted as a poet. Both he and Plath were fascinating and vulnerable people though he, arguably, had thicker skin than she did. But of perhaps most interest was Frieda Hughes's impatience with the more shrill and full-of-their-own-importance feminist critics who have rushed to judge someone that she believed they didn't know (on behalf of two tragic women whom they, likewise, didn't know). She confirmed what both Feinstein and Bate had pointed out earlier: that Ted could be a very kind man. Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death told its story straight and with little obvious overdramatisation. Then it paused, perhaps in compassion, and left the verdicts on Hughes's life to the viewer. In that, it did him a kindness which he was, too often, denied by others with less charity in their hearts.
26. Lucy Worsley's One Hundred Years Of The WI/Lucy Worlsey's Reins Of Power/A Very British Romance With Lucy Worsley
From The North fave Doctor Lucy had a really busy year in 2015, producing three more attractive, intelligent, witty series for BBC4 - along with a couple of side projects with Len Goodman and David Starkey of, shall we say, more varying quality. None of these had the broad appeal and stand-out moments of her 2013 masterpiece, A Very British Murder, but they were all the sort of things that this blogger pays his licence fee to watch. The best of the trio, A Very British Romance, was, like A Very British Murder, based on Lucy's literary tastes - a love of the romance novel. And, that certainly shows in the warmth and enthusiasm with which the series was presented. Doctor Worlsey is, undeniably, something of a divisive figure - occasionally mocked by ignorant lice because of her speech impediment and disliked by those who one might consider intellectually challenged (particularly if the subject of their ire happens to be a woman). This blogger, and he knows, many other From The North regulars, are big fans. Not only because Lucy appears to be a clever, funny and likeable lady but, also, because she makes terrific TV shows.
27. The Blacklist
'Lawyers find and exploit loopholes. It's what makes them so loathsome.' It may have struggled somewhat, dramatically and conceptually, through the second half of its second series early in the year, but The Blacklist came back fighting and, in its current third run, produced quality drama, surprises, lots of action and an equal amount of fun. The show, despite an impressive ensemble cast, still works primarily because of the electric on-screen relationship between James Spader and Megan Boone. Yes, the plots are sometimes (dare one suggest often) far-fetched and, yes, the drama does sometimes fall back on standard generic clichés - with the whole 'two-and-a-bit-explosions-per-episode' things present and correct. But, it's also got a nice sense of its own place on the fringes of the theatre of the absurd. It's Spader's show, of course, and those moments when, in the middle of some fiendishly over-complicated scheme, Raymond Reddington will suddenly go off-on-one, riffing about times past, women known (some well!), friends made, meals eaten and bad-guys, you know, shot in the knees, is when The Blacklist turns itself from a basic procedural post-Millennial conspiracy thriller into something else entirely. Something really rather special. For two years running, this blogger had praised the show but wondered, aloud, if at some stage the writers were about to back themselves up a cul-de-sac and get stuck. I was starting to get worried a little bit with the whole 'murder of some random guy that Liz gets blamed for' subplot in the second series. But, the way they pulled off a '... and, with one bound' conceit was as audacious as it was dramatically satisfying. With The Blacklist one always senses that best is yet to come. Or, maybe the worst. Time will tell.
28. Unforgotten
'I want to find who took his life. And, I want to punish them.' The second Nicola Walker vehicle in this year's best shows list and one that proves ITV do have the ability to produce quality drama if they really put their minds to it. Created and written by Chris Lang, the drama focused on a number of people whose lives were rocked when the bones belonging to a young man who died thirty nine years ago were discovered below a demolished house and of the police investigation into his apparent murder. Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar were great as the two lead coppers, Bernard Hill was rather terrific - as you'd expect - as a priest with a shady past and Trevor Eve went so-far-over-the-top he was down-the-other-side-and-half-way-to-the-coast as an Alan Sugar-like violent former wide boy-turned-TV personality and government advisor. The impressive cast also contained Tom Courtenay, Gemma Jones, Peter Egan, Frances Tomelty, Cherie Lunghi, Hannah Gordon and Claire Goose among others. The early episodes got positive reviews pretty much across the board - the Torygraph's mauling being the one notable exception - although the Daily Scum Mail hated the conclusion (which, this blogger rather enjoyed). Albeit, that was a reviewer who, six weeks earlier, couldn't even get the name of the series right, calling it Unforgiven in a lengthy piece on Walker's other great drama performance of the year, River. 'There may be a few rough patches in the script, but the acting carries you right over them,' noted the Gruniad's review. 'Everybody’s good, but especially Walker. If anybody deserves to be playing two cops on two different shows on two different channels, it's her.' What he said. ITV have recently announced that a second series will be produced next year.
29. Top Gear
If not for the events of 4 March 2015, then the twenty second series of Top Gear might have passed into broadcasting history as just another example of three middle-aged blokes with bad haircuts 'cocking about in fast cars'; hugely popular with lots of other middle-aged blokes, including this one (and, a fair number of other - 'normal' people too, including a decent audience share of none blokes), but hated and whinged about by Middle Class hippy Communists with an agenda who write for, and read, the Gruniad Morning Star. And by those who write for and read the Daily Scum Mail (on general principle). However, the moment that yer man Clarkson decided, for whatever reason, to biff some chap you'd never heard of in the mush for, allegedly, not cooking him a steak (or something, the story seemed to change with every re-telling) in a hotel in North Yorkshire which couldn't believe its luck in terms of the publicity it got, history changed in an instant. The show was 'placed on hiatus' seven episodes into its supposed ten episode run. (Given that the incident itself is, according to media reports, currently the subject of protracted legal action, this blogger intends to say nothing further about the specifics of it. Other than, there have been plenty of occasions in Keith Telly Topping's life where he's felt like punching someone in the gob. Mercifully, for all concerned, he never actually has. A necessary point to make, I feel.) BBC management ran around like people with their hair on fire, there was an internal investigation to go with the - very public - media circus which surrounded the whole malarkey. Over a hundred thousand daft glakes with nothing better to do with their time signed one of those utterly worthless Internet petitions (not a single one of which has ever achieved anything except ridicule for those who sign them) demanding - demanding - that the BBC reinstate Jezza, like, this instant. If not sooner. The BBC, of course, did no such thing. It was the biggest story in Great Britain for about a month when, frankly, the majority of the media should have been writing and broadcasting about stuff that mattered rather than this nonsense. The Gruniad was particularly guilty in this regard with hardly a day going by without at least five new Clarkson and/or Top Gear-related stories appearing on its website. As a minor footnote, this blogger, twice, refused to go on his local - BBC - radio station to 'discuss the Jeremy Clarkson situation' on the grounds that anybody within the BBC talking about the issue before the internal inquiry had ended was being potentially prejudicial and, even if it wasn't that, it was still monstrously disloyal. The fiasco ended with Clarkson 'not having his contract renewed' by the Beeb (a clever little bit of legal sleight-of-hand which meant he wasn't 'sacked' per se and, therefore, was free to return at some future date, which he did later in the year in episodes of Have I Got News For You and Qi). Colleagues Hamster and Cap'n Slowly along with executive producer and co-creator Andy Wilman said that if Jezza was going, they were going too. The BBC - some of whose little fiefdoms, like parts of local radio for instance, which had loudly cheered having finally 'got rid of Clarkson' - then got hit with the full shitty backlash of the Tories winning the last general erection and suddenly found themselves saddled with paying pensioners licence fees and having to cut services to the bone left, right and centre. One imagines, therefore, that the fifty-to-one hundred million smackers which Top Gear used to annually bring into the BBC via Worldwide's international exploitation of the brand is now looking like The Lost Moon Of Poosh to a lot of very worried - and soon-to-be-extremely-unemployed - presenters at BBC Radio Rutland and the like. The former Top Gear team, meanwhile, signed up with Amazon to do a 'new show' (yeah, 'new', of course) online for a reported one hundred and sixty million notes. The whingers in the Gruniad found themselves choking on their muesli at the thought of that. Meanwhile, there was the problem of what to do with a couple of films made for two of the three abandoned episodes (including the one that they were shooting at the time of the, ahem, 'fracas'). So, Hammond and May were persuaded to come back - accompanied by a very literal 'elephant in the room' - to present a ninety minute special featuring those. Without the show's usual studio audience, as well as Clarkson, the episode felt ... strange, bittersweet, oddly touching, rather sad and ... in places, bloody brilliant telly. Everything, in other words, that Top Gear has been for the last thirteen years since Clarkson and Wilman revived a tired old format and give it a pint of lager and a size ten boot up the arse. Top Gear, of course, is a BBC format - it has been since 1977 - and it will return next year. Along with The Stig there will be Chris Evans - a fine broadcaster and a car enthusiast of many years standing but, nevertheless, 'the man who followed Clarkson' in the same way that Brian Clough was 'the man who followed Don Revie' at Leeds United. The format, it is claimed, will be different to what has gone before. Whether the audience who enjoyed three middle-aged blokes with dodgy barnets 'cocking around in fast cars' will be there to watch a middle-aged ginger geezer with a dodgy barnet (and, possibly some other people) 'cocking about in fast cars', or whether they will, instead, have gone to Amazon Prime for a new dose of The Old is a question which will only be answered with the passage of time. Although, if the rumours are true and Suzi Perry is to be part of Evans' new format, then this blogger might be persuaded to give it more than an episode or two!
30. The Great British Bake Off
Fifteen million viewers can't all be wrong. Well, they can, but in this particular case we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Personally, there is nothing this blogger enjoys more than a nice bit of cake, even though he knows that it's really bad for him. The Great British Bake Off in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen.
31. London Spy
'Ocassionally, it's right to be afraid.' A last minute addition to the list, and, seemingly, a good one. Tom Rob Smith's espionage drama, featuring Ben Wishart and Jim Broadbent, managed to get the Daily Scum Mail's reviewer into trouble when his whinges about the, brief, post-watershed gay sex scene in the opening episode was, perhaps rightly, criticised by people who aren't right-wing lice for bordering on homophobia. (You know, in the way that Texas borders on Mexico.) That aside, London Spy was just what you'd expect from a BBC2 9pm drama; loved by the broadsheets, ignored by the tabloids and with an impressively large opening audience (pushing three-and-a-half million) which shrank by a third between weeks one and two. For what it's worth, after three episodes, this blogger is still riveted, if only to see whether the pace picks up over the next two weeks. It's gorgeous to look at, though, treating London almost as a character in itself. As with one or two other shows on this list, time will tell whether this blogger has been merely seduced by some pretty visuals but not much depth, or not. But, that's the beauty of television, the stuff that stays with you will stay with you forever.
Also mentioned in dispatches: Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, Benidorm, The Last Leg, Fortitude, Reinventing The Royals, Foyle's War, Walking The Nile, University Challenge, The Undateables, Glasgow Girls, Death In Paradise, Last Tango In Halifax, The Sky At Night, Girls, Horizon, Suspects, The Legacy, Life Of A Mountain: A Year On Scafell Pike, Sound Of Song, Murder In The First, NCIS, Now You See It, Call The Midwife, Father Brown, Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch, The Hidden Killers Of The Tudor Home, Voyager: To The Final Frontier, The Big Bang Theory, Surviving The Holocaust: Freddie Knoller's War, Ascension, Holocaust: Night Will Fall, The Culture Show, David Starkey's Magna Carta, Touched By Auschwitz, The Holocaust: A Story To Remember, Attenborough's Paradise Birds, Kraftwerk: Pop Art, The Secret World Of Lewis Carroll, The Walking Dead, Young War Widows, Alaska: Earth's Frozen Kingodm, The Mentalist, Thirty Degrees In February, House Of Fools, Wor Geet Canny Robson Green's More Tales From Northumberland, EastEnders, How We Got To Now With Steven Johnson, Reginald D Hunter's Songs Of the South, Africa's Fishing Leopards, Critical, Arthur & George, Moone Boy, Malaysia 370: What Happened?, Storyville: India's DaughterWould I Lie To You?, An Island Parish: Falklands, New TricksMasterChef/MasterChef: The Professionals, Suffragettes Forever!, In & Out Of The Kitchen, Quelle Catastrophe!, Ordinary Lives, Coalition, Casualty, Killing Jesus, The Ark, Drills, Dentures & Dentistry: An Oral History, Back In Time For Dinner, Dara & Ed's Great Big Adventure, Inside Number Nine, Vera, Britain's Jihadi Brides, Mad Men, Biggest Band Break-Ups & Make-Ups, Game Of Thrones, Secret Britain, Sex & The Church, Safe House, Ballot Monkeys, The Quizeum, W1A, Madam Secretary, Tales From The Tour Bus, Gallipoli: When Murdoch Went To War, The Secrets Of Sports Direct, Inspector George Gently, Peter Kay's Car Share, Anzac Girls, The C Word, Home Fires, The Enfield Haunting, The Stranger On The Bridge, No Offence, Sappho: Love & Life On Lesbos, Murder In Successville, Shark, Tony Robinson's D-Day To Victory, Britain's Greatest Generation, Wellington: The Iron Duke Unmasked, The Affair, Fighting For King & Empire, 1864, Grayson Perry's Dream House, Churchill's Toyshop, Armada: Twelve Days To Save England, Churchill: When Britain Said No, Rev, Dementiaville, The Lions Of Sabi Sands, Through The Wormhole With Morgan Freeman, The Met: Policing London, How To Be A Bohemian, Jordskott, Bob Monkhouse: The Million Joke Man, Stonemouth, Chris Packham's Natural Selection, The Tribe, TFI Friday, Hoff The Record, The Saboteurs, Black Work, Mountain Lions: Big Cats In High Places, Cordon, Odyssey, Rock n Roll America, A Song For Jenny, Fake Or Fortune?, The Autistic Gardener, Coast, The Legacy, The Outcast, Yonderland, Veep, Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners, Meet The Penguins, Life In Squares, Witnesses, Prince Philip: The Plot To Make A King, Ripper Street, Tut, Atomic: Living In Dread & Promise, Brushing Up On ..., The Last Man On Earth, Suits, Aquarius, Who Do You Think You Are?, Atlantic: The Wildest Ocean On Earth, The Scandalous Lady W, Terror On Everest: Surviving The Nepal Earthquake, Return Of the Giant Killers: Africa's Lion Kings, Nightingale, Stephen Fry In Central America, Resistance, The Trials Of Jimmy Rose, Canals: The Making Of A Nation, Kolkutta With Sue Perkins, The Ascent Of Woman, Cradle To Grave, Strictly Come Dancing, The Story Of The Jam, Lady Chatterly's Lover, West Meets East, Gogglebox, Beck, An Inspector Calls, This Is England '90, Six Degrees Of Separation, The Go-Between, The Art Of The Impossible: MC Escher & Me, Countdown To Life: The Extraordinary Making Of You, Midwinter Of the Spirit, Detectorists, Cider With Rosie, KKK: The Fight For White Supremacy, The Face Of Britain By Simon Schama, Oak Tree: Nature's Greatest Survivor, Music For Misfits: The Story Of Indie, From Darkness, Lewis, Alan Johnson: First Class Post, You, Me & The Apocalypse, Harvest 2015, Great Continental Railway Journeys, Arne Dahl, Fargo, Saving The Cyber Sex Girls, The Last Kingdom, Psychedelia Britannia, Cuffs, Supergirl, Simply Nigella, Let Us Entertain You, Colour: The Spectrum of Science, Have I Got News For You, Great Continental Railway Journeys, Railway Walks With Julia Bradbury, The Bridge.

Now, We Move To Those That Weren't Any Bloody Good At All:-

1. BBQ Champ
With the BBC facing a potentially radical, entirely politically-motivated, overhaul of its services and funding as part of the charter review process, during the last week of July when announcing ITVs annual profits, the commercial network's chief executive, that odious, pisqueak gnome Adam Crozier, sensed another opportunity to stick the boot in on ITV's biggest rival and sneered that the corporation 'needs to be more distinctive.' This, dear blog reader, from the boss of ITV fer Christ's sake, a network whose idea of 'distinctiveness' is to find a wretched, vacuous lowest-common-denominator format which plebs from the council estates will happily watch, stick the word 'celebrity' in front of it, and then fill it with people you've never heard of from The Only Way Is Essex. Or, Colin Baker. Interestingly, these comments came in a week in which ITV's two newest 'distinctive' offerings to the nation were Flockstars and BBQ Champ. Perhaps the odious pipsqueak gnome Crozier - whose previous jobs included him incompetently ruining the Football Association and the Post Office - had his irony meter on the blink at the time. Perhaps we'll never care.
     BBQ Champ might well be the most slovenly and disgraceful example of brainless television commissioning in the history of the medium. As Ben Travis for the Evening Standard noted: 'The show might as well be called The Great British BBQ-Off for all that it poaches from the BBC's winning culinary formula.' Not only was it shockingly unoriginal, though, it was also truly appalling and, worst of all, was presented by that bloody awful full-of-her-own-importance Klass woman who really seems to think she's it. Which, she isn't. Overnight ratings figures began in the mid-two millions (Klass appears to be properly ratings toxic in the same way that Christine Bleakley was a couple of years ago) and, by episode three had dropped so low that they weren't even registering in ITV's top thirty shows of the week. Thus suggesting that the general viewing public, for all of their many faults, can still spot a grilled shite sandwich (with a side order of chips) when they're presented with one. An ITV spokesman told the Mirra: 'BBQ Champ was a high quality show commissioned for the summer, which got Brits enthusiastic about barbecuing. There are no current plans for another series.' It was, and did, none of those things or anything even remotely like them, though the announcement of its axing was celebrated with parties, bunting and dancing in the streets. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
2. Harry Hill's Stars In Their Eyes
Another dismal ratings flop from ITV. And, another example of the network that once produced World In Action, The Avengers, The World At War and Coronation Street proving that no one working there seems capable of coming up with an even vaguely original idea. Or, even an unoriginal idea which is any good. A revival of the hoary old - but, to be fair, in its day quite entertaining - Matthew Kelly vehicle featuring Hill, who used to be funny about half-a-decade ago before he started to believe his own hype, the new version of Stars In Their Eyes was a laughable failure on just about every level. Fans of the original were critical of the reboot, claiming - not without some justification - that Hill had made the show about himself rather than the contestants. Hill apologists (and, there are a few) attempted to claim that the revival was 'a post-modern parody' of the original, with its 'knowing' ridicule of talent show clichés such as terrible performances being overpraised by the host. That didn't cut much ice with the viewers who, again, seemed able to spot a pile of stinking diarrhoea when they see one with flies buzzing around it. Once again, it was the Mirra that got the scoop on Harry being shovelled out of the door and into the gutter along with all the other turds. An alleged 'source' allegedly said: 'There are no plans to bring it back. Bosses liked it but it just didn't resonate with the viewers.' And, there it that one sentence, dear blog reader, you have an example of everything you need to know about the state of ITV in 2015.
3. Flockstars
What can one say about Flockstars that hasn't already been said, and thoroughly mocked? Well, how about wondering if the person, presumably at a jolly high level of management, at ITV, who thought that getting a bunch of worthless z-listers like Lesley Joseph, Wendi Peters, Tony Blackburn and Fazer (no, me neither) to try and master the art of sheep herding was a good idea is still in a job. You can just imagine the planning meeting at which that suggestion was made. 'Are you on drugs, mate? What the Hell have you been smoking?' 'No, seriously! Sheep! It'll be a ratings winning, I guarantee it.' Needless to say, it wasn't, being broadcast back-to-back with BBQ Champ and providing possibly the least appealing couple of hours 'entertainment' in the entire history of the medium. 'Embarrassing,' according to the Torygraph. 'Not even Alan Partridge would have come up with this reality TV flop.' The Alan Partridge/Monkey Tennis thing gave reviewers a field day, with the Mirra also pointing out the ridiculousness of Flockstars conceit and execution. As did the Gruniad. Needless to say, in the event the programme wasn't even as interesting as the wretched reviews made it sound. It was just, if you'll excuse an obvious pun, baaaaad. (Hey, I'm working with limited material here.) The ratings were roughly on a par with BBQ Champ (and, slightly below Stars In Their Eyes which is the ultimate slap in the face, I'd've said) and, ITV appeared to want to get the whole fiasco over and done with as soon as possible and just forget the entire wretched business. Will there be another series? What do you think?
4. Weighing Up The Enemy
Merely the worst in a number of TV formats from 2015 which sought to provide 'entertainment' for viewers by, essentially, laughing at fatties. Presented by smug, oily Doctor Christian Jessen, the Channel Four programme featured head-to-heads between dieters 'competing to lose the most weight by finding motivation in not wanting to lose to their rival, and having to pay out for it.' Yes, contestants had to put up their own cash as a forfeit for losing. This obscenity, dear blog reader, in the Nineteenth Century would probably have been regarded as excellent freak show material and been hugely popular. 'Watch the fatties, ladies and gentlemen. Poke 'em with a stick and see if they squeal.' This blogger was under the impression that we had, as a society, progressed somewhat since then.  It would seem not. 'Why oh why must we add an element of competition to everything?' asked the Gruniad reviewer in abject horror. 'This wasn't University Challenge, in which brains are pitted against brains. It wasn't even The X Factor, in which we work through the clouds of our prejudices and lust to vote for people singing (or close enough). It wasn't The Apprentice, where you can get guilt-free laughs at berks. This was a diet competition, it felt icky and exploitative, and I have no doubt it will be renewed for a second series before this first run is over.' No news on whether that has happened at present but, yes, all of that just about sums it up for this blogger - who has struggled with a weight problems since his teens. Maybe that's why Weighing Up The Enemy struck such a raw nerve with me, although I like to think that even if I was rake-thin I'd still be grossly offended by this hideous, cruel, sick garbage. Is it really so very wrong to hope that whoever came up with this shameful piece of sneering twattery catches a nasty wasting disease of some description? Probably it is, but I hope it anyway.
5. The Kyle Files
Worthless horseshit for people who can't afford real brains, The Kyle Files sees Jeremy Kyle 'investigate high-profile issues that impact on people’s lives across Britain today, from legal highs to knife crime, and from underage drinking to plastic surgery.' Or, in other words, it sees 'that offensive, full-of-his-own-importance sneering plank off The Jeremy Kyle Show leave the safety of the studio and what The Times columnist Martin Samuel once described as the "tragic, self-serving procession of freaks, misfits, sad sacks and hopelessly damaged human beings, a collection of angry, tearful and broken people, whose inexperience of talking through painful, contentious, volatile issues leaves them unprepared and inadequate for a confrontation of this nature" and get out into the real world.' For Kyle, it was not a pleasant experience. Because, no one can stand the git, basically. Making his début as a late-night investigative journalist (well, investigative pushy busybody with a camera crew, if we're being strictly accurate), one episode saw Kyle getting pepper-sprayed in the boat by a bouncer whilst doing a supposedly 'in-depth' exposé on underage drinking in Magaluf. Which was, admittedly, funny. I mean, no, it was really funny. If the rest of the series had included at least one pepper-spraying of Kyle per episode, The Kyle Files might have qualified as one of the TV highlights of the year. Sadly, it didn't. Instead, we just got lots of Kyle - as usual, smug, irritating and desperately full-of-his-own-importance - strutting about like he owns the place and pontificating on all manner of issues none of which, as far as this blogger can see, have anything to do with him. As the reviewer in the Birmingham Mail noted: '[Kyle] fancies himself as a Twenty First Century Roger Cook. Except, he's not exposing people smugglers, Bosnian war criminals or the Russian black market in weapons grade plutonium. Instead, he's raiding a pet shop with the police. Jeremy stood there, proudly declaring: "This, my friend, is a pet shop. There are snakes and rabbits and things." Investigative journalism at its finest, surely?' Jeez, when the Birmingham Mail is - very successfully, let it be noted - taking the piss out of you and the majority of the national press are ignoring your existence, that's probably the time to go back to the day job, Jezza.
6. Celebrity Big Brother
Do you actually need any reasons why Channel Five's Celebrity Big Brother is such a depressing indictment of modern society, dear blog reader? Quite apart from the fact that almost none of those taking part can, actually, be classified as 'celebrities' using any standard definition of what the word 'celebrity' means. The 2015 procession of has-beens, never-weres and non-entities included Alexander O'Neal, Calum Best, Kavana (no me neither), Keith Chegwin and Perez Hilton. The singer Jeremy Jackson and 'wacky' former Corrie actor Ken Morley were ejected from the house within the first week for various doings (in Morley's case making some very unfortunate comments about race which will, probably, make him unemployable for the rest of his life), Katie Price was parachuted into the gaff to provide someone else for Katie Hopkins to bitch at and the whole thing was just depressing and sad. And, an average of three million people prostituted themselves on a nightly basis to watch the damn thing. As President Bartlet asks in an episode of The Wing Wing: 'Tell me, Toby. These people don't vote, do they?' Dignity, as usual, waved a little white flag and left the building. This is Britain in 2015, dear blog reader. Horrifying, isn't it?
7. Frank Sinatra: Our Way
The BBC's bizarre decision to celebrate the centenary of Ol' Blue Eyes' birth by letting a bunch of pub singers acts loose on his classics was, if such a thing is possible, even worse than expected. Frank Sinatra: Our Way was so extraordinarily bad it was almost brilliant. Almost, but not quite. I mean, what better way to celebrate the life of one of the world's greatest ever singers? A man who sold over one hundred and fifty million records and won eleven Grammy Awards? Let's hire some rejected singers from The Voice and assemble some judges not even good enough to be rejected from The Voice. Then put it on BBC1 on primetime on a Saturday night and expect people to watch it. Curiously, few did. Frank Sinatra: Our Way was also a further downward step towards a large bowl of rancid diarrhoea at the bottom of the ladder in the career of Alexander Armstrong. To think, this guy actually used to be quite funny in his double act with Ben Miller. 2015 was the year in which, step by gradual step, he staggered towards becoming a national joke. Presented by Armstrong and Rochelle Humes (no, me neither), we were confronted with a judging panel comprised of Rufus Hound, Mica Paris, Dave Stewart and Leo Green. 'These guys are just commentators. The real jury will judge', explained Armstrong. So, what's the point of having them there, then? In fact, what's the point ... full stop? All of the contestants wanted to perform Sinatra's classics, if you will, their way. Some thought it was Stars In Their Eyes – donning velvet suits, slicking their hair back and crooning 'All The Way' as if their life depended on it. Others performed completely different arrangements that were unrecognisable from Frankie, including a barbershop quartet and a Katie Melua-esque string adaptation. The result was a completely directionless mess that didn't know what it was or what it wanted to be. One trusts that whoever dreamed up this utter waste of time spent the next few weeks cleaning the netties at Broadcasting House as punishment.
8. Backchat With Odious Risible Lanky Streak Of Worthless Rancid Piss Jack Whitehall & His Dad
Just who keeps giving this horrible, unfunny, full-of-his-own-importance glake - and his dad - his own TV show? Is it just me? Seriously, I'm starting to wonder if this blogger is guilty of persecuting odious risible lanky streak of worthless rancid piss Jack Whitehall for some imagined series of hellish crimes committed when everybody else on the planet was sitting watching him on telly saying 'he seems all right to me? I don't know what Keith Telly Topping's getting so het-up about.' This awful worthless individual ruins everything that he appears in (the relief that this blogger felt during the summer when the line-ups for the current series of Qi were announced and he wasn't on any of them was immense). Seriously, cut it out, TV executives, you're making yourselves look like foolish fools by giving this man work.
9. Get Your Act Together
Hosted by Stephen Mulhern, so you knew it was going to be rubbish up-front, Get Your Shit Together was yet another of ITV's brilliantly unoriginal ideas, taking a basic talent show format, shoving some z-list-and-below 'celebrities' in it and expecting millions to watch. Millions, needless to say, did no such thing. The show featured alleged celebrities learning various different acts such as juggling, impressions and escapology and then performing them on a live stage. Yes, it was every single bit as God-awful as that description makes it sound. Having witnessed the likes of Danielle Lloyd, Gaby Roslin, Nigel Havers, Rufus Hound (again), Sinitta, Phil Tufnell, bloody Ann Widdecombe, Jedward, Ruth Madoc and James Bolam look like total planks through several weeks with almost no one watching, the Sunday night series was eventually won by Ray Quinn. No, me neither. The Gruniad described it as 'the most humiliating celebrity talent show ever ... I can't really overstate how terrible this is. If it wasn't depressing enough to spend your precious last evening before returning to work watching one of the Loose Women systematically fail at plate-spinning, the realisation that it'll be followed up by Christine Hamilton and Lionel Blair trading clunky non-mots from the stalls like an even less realistic version of Statler and Waldorf is probably enough to send you over the edge.' And, that was one of the nicer reviews. Having failed to find any sort of audience, the programme was, mercifully axed after one series. Although, sadly, not with an actual axe. Because that might've been worth watching.
10. Banished
In which bitter old Red Jimmy McGovern spent six weeks taking miserablism to a whole new level. If this blogger wants to be assaulted by misery, dear blog reader, he'll put on a Smiths LP. At least you get an occasional laugh from Morrissey's lyrics and some good tunes. Of course, with regard to Banished, the Gruniad just loved it, so they did. Loads of brown-tongued arse-licking rimming going down there, dear blog reader. Big surprise. Stalinists, eh? They're a reet laugh, are they not?
11. Eternal Glory
What idiot first thought that putting former sporting personalities into entertainment formats was a ratings winner? A Question Of Sport passed its sell-by date about two decades ago yet, still they come. Who can stand on one leg for longer, James Cracknell or Gail Emms? Is Liz McColgan better at fending off rapidly fired tennis balls than Shane Williams? In the wretched Eternal Glory, eight retired sports people who, seeming, can't find a proper job, went to Croatia for an entirely contrived series of challenges. The hook, such as is was; a sports scientist had conceived challenges which levelled the playing field. Also, everyone lived together in a tense Reality Villa. So, this was Superstars meets Big Brother, basically. Two dreadfully worn-out telly formats for the price of one. Superstars, of course, was presented by David Vine, a Grandstand anchor who also commentated on World Cups, Olympics, Ski Sunday and Wimbledon. Eternal Glory was presented by Richard Bacon, whose last TV gig was The Big Painting Challenge with Una Stubbs. A necessary difference, one feels. Eternal Glory was, really, only worth watching on the off-chance that Bacon got accidentally speared by a javelin. And, that didn't happen either. Matt Le Tissier, whom this blogger used to have a bit of respect for, had a look on his face throughout which screamed 'never again. After this, even sitting next to Paul Merson on Soccer Saturday will be a piece of piss.' The Sun hated it, the Mirra hated it, the Daily Lies claimed it left Gail Emms 'an emotional wreck', the viewers took one look and decided they knew a fiasco when presented with one.
12. Play To The Whistle
What idiot first thought that putting former sporting personalities into entertainment formats was a ratings winner, part the second? 'Comedy and sport do not mix,' wrote the Gruniad's Stuart Heritage. 'That's why the average episode of A Question Of Sport makes you feel like you're suffering a bout of carbon monoxide poisoning. It's why Freddie Flintoff makes Jacamo adverts and not stand-up specials. It's why, whenever Jimmy Greaves would turn to camera and say "It's a funny old game", he'd do it in such a genuinely mournful way that foreigners would be forgiven for thinking he was actually saying "The universe is cold and random" or "All is naught but pain and dust."' A sort of thoroughly rotten mash-up between A Question Of Sport, They Think It's All Over, A League Of Their Own and Play School, Play To The Whistle was ITV's latest 'original' idea. That is, not in the slightest bit original or anything even remotely like it. Hosted by witless Holly Willoughby, the format featured two teams, one captained by actor and presenter Bradley Walsh - who is capable of so much more than this rubbish - and the other by Frank Lampard. Who, in TV terms anyway, really isn't. The presence of Romesh Ranganathan, Seann Walsh and, err, Jimmy Bullard, gives those who've never seen the show three perfects reasons not to. It's made by Hungry Bear Media and the executive producer is Dan Baldwin, Willoughby's husband. Despite the sport theme, ITV claimed that they were not targeting sports fans specifically but 'producing the show for the whole family audience.' The family audience, predictably, didn't turn up and the sports fans that did, took one look at this tripe and decided that they'd join the family audience elsewhere. The Torygraph's review got it spot on: 'Play To The Whistle is harmless enough, in the same way that a car alarm going off outside your bedroom window is harmless enough: upsetting and grating but probably not actually going to kill you. It makes A League Of Their Own look like Mastermind, but of course it is important to remember that you don’t have to watch it. Fewer than two and half million people have been doing so this series, a moderate effort given the lead-in it has.' Despite wretched viewing figures, a second series has, apparently, been commissioned; which kind of shows how desperate ITV are at the moment to fill up space between episodes of Britain's Got Talent and 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).
13. The Delivery Man
ITV and sitcoms. It's seldom a good mix, is it? A couple of years ago ITV tried to reintroduce comedy to its primetime schedules by commissioning the double-header of Vicious and The Job Lot at 9pm. This move proved to be disastrous due, primarily, to the fact that Vicious was an old-fashioned flatshare comedy which really didn't work on any level and quickly lost much of its initial audience and The Job Lot, whilst far from being a complete disaster, never found an audience to lose in the first place. However it seems that ITV haven't learned from their mistakes. In a year of colossal ratings disasters for ITV, the Darren Boyd sitcom The Delivery Man proved to be possibly the biggest - the sixth and final episode had an overnight audience of 1.3 million punters. That's 1.3 million for a 9pm show on ITV. If that didn't cause odious pipsqueak gnome Adam Crozier to choke on his breakfast croissant the next morning, then nothing will. Not that The Delivery Man was the worst TV show of the year or even, necessarily, the worst sitcom format that ITV have ever commissioned. Such an epitaph would give it a notoriety that it scarcely deserves. Set in a maternity ward, The Delivery Man was a comedy which had any inherent potential it might have had to it strangled, if you will, at birth by leaden scripts full of obvious conceits, ham-fisted delivery and, the curse of every ITV sitcom including the one or two good ones they've produced over the years, an advert break twelve minutes in just as you're starting to think it might improve. The presence of the terminally unfunny professional Northern berk Paddy McGuinness in the cast didn't help either. The central gag at the heart of The Delivery Man was the fact that midwifery is a female-centric profession so, seeing a man in that profession is, erm, comical in and of itself. Yep, dear blog reader, that's it. That's 'the funny'. Cancelled by ITV almost before the first episode had finished, a report on the comedy website Chortle in July suggested, implausibly, that Netflix might be interested in a continuation of the show via an 'edgier' second series. Why Netfix would even consider doing that is a question, perhaps, worth asking.
14. Prized Apart
Proof that ITV - despite the many examples it produced this year - didn't have a monopoly on crap formats. Prized Apart was 'an adventure game show' presented by Emma Willis and Reggie Yates from BBC1. And, if those facts didn't put you off watching it before it started, five minutes of the actual show itself certainly did. Ten men and women competed for the chance to win one hundred grand, supervised by Yates and, where necessary, a safety team, contestants participated in assorted 'adventure tasks' located in Morocco. Meanwhile, their family members, accompanied by Willis, watched the events in a studio, like this was The Voice. It was, predictably, awful in just about every way imaginable. The Mirra described it as 'a flop' and 'an overcomplicated mess' whilst drawing attention to the environmental issue of flying contestants to and from Morocco every week on,what they claimed, was 'a private jet.' In actual fact, the BBC stated that all travel was booked with scheduled airlines. The Metro had similar concerns, highlighting the global footprint involved in the contestants' travel, and called the show 'a waste of taxpayers money.' So, a bit like parliament in other words. In August, just a week after the final episode had gone out, it was announced that the series had been cancelled. 'We are proud of Prized Apart and would like to thank everyone involved for their ambition and hard work,' lied a BBC spokeswoman.
15. If Katie Hopkins Ruled The World
Produced by Mentorn Media for TLC and presented by the newspaper columnist, professional wind-up merchant and colossal attention seeker, although as the Independent noted, If Kate Hopkins Ruled The World 'wasn't really a talk show and Hopkins wasn't really the host.' Instead, 'she acted as a sort of panellist-with-airs while Balls Of Steel presenter Mark Dolan did all the link-reading grunt work and kept the "debate" on track. There were no one-on-one interviews and, instead, each episode involved guests suggesting various rules for life under a Hopkins-ocracy, which the live studio audience then votes on.' It was, predictably, risible. And loud and ... strangely nowhere near as controversial as it liked to think it was going to be. Such was Hopkins' reputation - lower than rattlesnakes' piss - that producers were rumoured to have struggled to book any proper 'celebrity' guests. Thus, for example, the opening episode's trio was plucked straight from the z-list; the Daily Scum Mail columnist Liz Jones - who also knows what it's like to feel the scorn of a nation - Gemma Collins, a The Only Way Is Essex-type person and the mullet-haired comedian Paul Foot. Why anyone with an ounce of dignity or self-respect would wish to appear on such a conceit as this is anyone's guess (though, obviously, that's Jones and Collins' presence explained). It took about a quarter of an hour in the opening episode for Hopkins to remember that she hadn't been hired for her pleasant manner as she launched an unprovoked, parsimonious and niggardly attack on Jones's looks and then got into a row with a large woman in the audience about whether overweight people should be charged more for air travel. Hopkins' line of argument? 'You're a raging, angry fat person in a pink jacket!' Ten out of ten for observation there, Katie. A few less than that for tact. You really are a class act, aren't you? It was, predictably, horrifying - a deep, dark and miserable mirror held up to all of the worst aspects of human nature in Britain in the Twenty First Century. A 'highlight' - and, this blogger uses that word quite wrongly - occurred in the third episode when Hopkins had just done ten minutes ranting on ... something or other, Dolan took her across his knee and playfully smacked her arse which will, perhaps, in years to come guarantee If Katie Hopkins Ruled The World a cult following among the BDSM community. In the Torygraph's one-star review, Japser Rees described the format as 'a mixed bag: part game show, part tabloid talk show, part gaseous deposit of horse droppings.' You felt he was being rather too kind. If Katie Hopkins did rule the world, dear blog reader, people would build spaceships and leave.
16. Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages
This blogger intends to use, essentially, the same review of this noxious piece of phlegm as he did last year. Because, dear blog reader, nothing has changed between series one of More 4's Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages and series two. In what is, probably, the most offensively shite TV conceit ever dreamed up in the damaged mind of a TV executive, full-of-her-own-importance Penelope Keith (remember her?) swans around some Home Counties villages like she sodding owns the gaff. These stereotypical population centres - with their cosy cottages, thatched roofs and loud-voiced eccentrics - represent, Keith claims, 'the true England.' Whatever the Hell that means. Actually, we all know exactly what that means; the dying representatives of some mythical 'Golden Age England' which probably never existed outside the pages of a certain, class-conscious strand of British literature. As someone who grew up on a council estate in the North of England, please allow this blogger to note that there are many examples of 'the true England' and almost none of them are kind of places that someone like Penelope Keith would be seen dead in. Also, allow this blogger another moment of utter revulsion at the sheer nastiness of poxy and ignorant nonsense conceits like this and all that they stand for. Naff off back to the 1950s you bloody offensive woman and take your twatty Daily Scum Mail attitudes with you. This blogger hopes that whoever came up this spectacularly rancid exercise in twee 'Little Englander' UKiP-voting bollocks gets home this evening to find that travellers have moved in next door to them. Who play their bongos loudly. And, have really mean dogs that bark all night.
Also no bloody good at all: Good Morning Britain, Planet's Got Talent, Shut Ins: Britain's Fattest People, Take Me Out, Birds Of A Feather, Jimmy & Jamie's Friday Night Feast, Bodyshockers: Nips, Tucks & Tattoos, Vicious, Benefits: Too Fat To Work, Crims, Bring Back Borstal, Cockroaches, Angry White & Proud, He Left Me For My Mother & Other Betrayals, My Granny The Expert, My Big Benefits Family, Paul O'Grady's Animal Orphans, Cats Do The Funniest Things, Up The Women, Cucumber, Ross Kemp: Extreme World, The Holidaymakers, South Side Story, Got Hitched, Got Ditched, Bad Builders Banged To Rights, Alex Polizzi: The Fixer, Inside The Commons, Count Arthur Strong, Mel & Sue, Stella, Asylum, The Gift, The Musketeers, The Casual Vacancy, Super Cute Animals, I Survived A Zombie Apocalypse, The Romanians Are Coming, Loose Women, Now You See It, Meet The Ukippers, One Thousand Heartbeats, Immigration Street, Pompidou, Off Their Rockers, Bargain Fever Britain, The Benefit's Estate, Wild Things, The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop, Teens, Celebrity MasterChef, The Truth About Fat, Micheal McIntyre's Easter At The Coliseum, Ice Rink On The Estate, Slow Train Through Africa With Griff Rhys Jones, Britain's Got Toilets, Atlantis, Weekend Escapes With Warwick Davis, For The Love Of Cars, Phil & Kirstie's Love It Or List It, Twenty Four Hours In The Past, Big Giant Swords, Russell Howard's Stand Up Central, Posh Pawnbrokers, Born Naughty?, Man & Beast With Martin Clunes, Big Box Little Box, Channel Four's Comedy Gala, Undercover, Don't Blame The Council, Child Genius, Not Safe For Work, Insane Fight Club II, The John Bishop Show, King Of The Nerds, Hair, Hive Minds, Partners In Crime, Taskmaster, Nature Nuts With Julian Clary, Very British Brothel, Kirstie's Fill Your House With Crap, The Wonder Of Britain, Very British Problems, Rebound, Time Crashers, Fried, Danny & The Human Zoo, Britain As Seen On TV, The Hotel Inspector Returns, Jamie's Sugar Rush, Boy Meets Girl, Piers Morgan's Life Stories, Britain's Biggest Adventures With Bear Grylls, Richard Hammond's Jungle Quest, Marley's Ghosts, Through The Keyhole, Naked & Afraid, The Kennedys, Karl Pilkington: The Moaning Of Life 2, Trollied, Bull, The Great Pottery Throw Down.

And, Finally, A Handful Of Curiosities Of The Year:-

1. Broadchurch
This blogs' favourite British drama of 2013 returned for its, much-anticipated, second series early in the year and ... completely divided the country down the middle. This effective schizophrenia was also reflected the drama itself; half of it - mainly the plotlines surrounded the trial of Joe Miller for murdering Danny Latimer last time around - were pretty decent. Not, perhaps, as gripping as the first series had been, but well constructed by Chris Chibnall and beautifully played by the - now expanded - cast. On the other hand, the second major plot strand - Alec Hardy's past involvement in the notorious Sandbrooke case and his protection of Eve Myles's character from her psychotic ex-boyfriend - frankly, bored the tits off many viewers. There were bizarre plot twists which didn't so much stretch credulity as put credulity of a Medieval rack and snap it in two. And yet ... for all that, even at its worst (around episodes three and four when a lot of long-term viewers were on the verge of giving up) about every ten minutes something would happen - a nicely directed sequence, a good bit of dialogue, Arthur Darvill acting his little cotton socks off - to remind viewers why the first series of Broadchurch had been such a hit. The early episodes were shaky, let's be fair, but the series did, undeniably, get better as it went along and the finale almost, almost-but-not-quite, made up for some of the missteps that had gone before. The performances of David Tennant and Olivia Colman were,of course, terrific, as you'd expect. The climax of the court case also drew much praise. 'Yes, [Joe] got off, but writer Chris Chibnall and his fabulous cast fashioned a quite brilliant climax where justice of a sort was done,' noted Radio Times. Ending, for the second year running, on an unexpected cliffhanger, a third series is due into production next year. History shows that there have been examples of dramas which have had a huge impact, taken a backwards step in their second series - perhaps, because of too-high expectations - but recovered their poise for a third run. Let's all hope that Broadchurch remembers, in series three, to do all the things it's been so good at and ignore those that it isn't.
2. True Detective
Seldom, if ever, in TV history has the second series of a drama proved to be such a massive and crushing disappointment after the triumph of the first. Except, possibly, Heroes. True Detective's second year, as with Broadchurch's, was not a complete disaster, indeed, it had much to recommend it but, compared to how astoundingly great the first series was (top of this blog's 2014 'best of' list, for one), it might as well have been. Series two of True Detective was largely disliked by critics and viewers alike, a far cry from its EMMY award-winning first year. This blogger, for example, thought there was too much plot, that the drama was far too scattergun in its approach and that it had too many characters. And, yer actual Keith Telly Topping was not alone in that regard. It appeared to many to be an attempt to do a sort of James Ellroy-style gritty urban drama which didn't, quite, get it right despite looking the part. It wasn't an entire disaster and the massive gunfight at end of episode four might well have been five of the best minutes of TV this year, produced by anyone. And, like Broadchurch it did get better as it went along if you stuck with it,the last episode in particular being grimy satisfying. But, it was, nevertheless, a complete contrast with the first series which had such a tight focus. Again, if they do a third series which is, apparently, still the subject of some debate - we can but hope that writer Nic Pizzolatto remember what it is he did that made the first series so stunning.
3. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Close, very close, but no cigar. A seven-part historical fantasy drama adapted by the usually excellent Peter Harness (Wallander, Doctor Who) from Susanna Clarke's best-selling novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was, possibly, another case - like the second series' of Broadchurch and True Detective - of too-high expectations before, during and after the fact. Mike Hale of The New York Times perhaps hit the nail most squarely on the head when he described Jonathan Strange as 'a largely unremarkable mini-series. That's not to put down this BBC production, but to warn those who enjoyed the best-selling book to temper their expectations. Even at close to seven hours of screen time, the show has compressed and rejiggered the novel enormously to achieve something resembling a coherent, conventional narrative.' The drama enjoyed a great cast - Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Marc Warren, Charlotte Riley, Samuel West, Paul Kaye, Brian Pettifer, Clive Mantle et al - it was nicely directed by Toby Haynes and Harness's scripts did, just about, manage to condense the sprawling narrative of Clarke's epic novel into something watchable. But, the public, seemingly, just weren't interested. Four-and-a-half-million overnight viewers watched the opening Sunday's episode and the final, consolidated audience, taking into account timeshifting, was in the mid-six millions. Which are pretty good figures for a drama in 2015 (those are, roughly, the sort of numbers that Doctor Who gets for most episodes, for example). That was down to beneath two million on overnights by episode four and that's where it stayed. That's not a pretty good figure or anything even remotely like it. Now, of course, ratings are not - in any way - the Sole Arbiter Of The Worth Of All Things, any more than half-a-dozen twonks on Twitter whinging about stuff that most 'normal' people couldn't give a monkey's chuff about is, but they're not nothing either, as some of the more spectacular ratings disasters in this year's Worst Show list prove. If a drama flops so very disastrously as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell did then one has to ask some fundamental questions about it. You can't simply lay it all at the door of the viewing public being brain-dead morons or the victims of cruel medical experiments who'd sooner be watching Big Brother instead of a piece of imaginative, challenging drama. Even if that's true. Maybe Jonathan Strange would have been better off on BBC2? 'A brilliant adaptation', said the Torygraph. An 'excellent series' opined the Gruniad. And yet, more people preferred to watch Z-List Celebrity Squares on ITV over Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. A dark thought which struck this blogger during the opening episode was, perhaps, true; maybe it was just that little bit too clever for its own good. But, if that is an accurate reflection of those viewers that watched the first episode and then decided it was just that bit too strange, too much like hard work for them, then it's a truly depressing indictment of the modern television punters. What's even more depressing it there weren't, necessarily, wrong.
4. The Interceptor
You kind of knew The Interceptor was in trouble when, during the pre-publicity, the drama's creator, Tony Saint, said that it was going to be 'the BBC's attempt to emulate classic shows like The Professionals.' Eh? Were you taking the piss, Tony? Another routine gritty inner-city police drama, no better though, admittedly, no worse than dozens of other examples of the genre, The Interceptor was helped by some decent acting (Paul Kaye cropped up again in this one, as did Trevor Eve in his newly patented stock gangster businessman role, Dexter Fletcher and ... Jo Joyner. Okay, they weren't all decent). Sam McCurdy's twitchy, fast-cutting cinematography worked well too. But the scripts, from the man who, remember, wrote the terrific The Long Walk To Finchley, stank. I mean, they were leaden, overburdened with trite melodrama and full of some of the most horribly 'real-people-don't-talk-like-that' dialogue exchanges heard on TV anywhere this year. Hated by the critics, the series received an almost universal, and well-deserved, damned good kicking. 'The Interceptor thinks it's The Wire, but let's call it The Dire,' wrote the Daily Mirra's critic. 'Dire car chases, dire fights, dire villains, dire plots. This attempt at a gritty crime drama is a clichéd mess with appalling dialogue.' Uh-huh. Pretty much. 'It is insanely dull,' added the Gruniad. 'Good actors flinging their all at a thing that is stubbornly refusing to take flight.' 'It was crammed with TV drama clichés – the sort of low-grade guff that drives viewers away from terrestrial TV and into the arms of Sky and Netflix,' noted the Torygraph Michael Hogan rather snootily in his one-out-of-five review - because not everything produced by Sky or Netflix is an unsurpassed masterpiece or anything remotely like it. But, in the case of The Interceptor's deficiencies, Hogan was being entirely accurately. 'The show so bad it makes the rest of the Beeb look good,' sneered some waste-of-space of no importance at the Daily Scum Mail, whilst Sally Newell of the Independent wrote that The Interceptor was 'like EastEnders on an adrenalin rush,' and was a 'contrived cop show [which] lacks heart.' It did. It lacked a brain as well - much like The Professionals, the series it was supposed to be so like. Also like The Professionals, however, it was saved from complete and total disaster, as the Gruniad noted, by the actors giving their all for the cause. Not very good, then, but a bit more watchable than you'd suspect. Just like The Professionals, in fact.
Another few show this blogger thinks do not deserve to be in either list but, rather, somewhere in-between: Wayward Pines, Thunderbirds Are Go, Alexander Armstrong: In The Land Of The Midnight Sun, Jekyll & Hyde.

3 comments:

Mark said...

If there was a funnier sitcom out there this year than Raised By Wolves, then I didn't see it. Sublime, and I want more. MORE!

Unknown said...

Wait. What was wrong with Cucumber?

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping said...

... Apart from the fact that I didn't think it was very good? Not a lot.