Another year has come and gone, and we’re a few days into 2011, yet I have failed to come up with a top ten list of 2010. But I’m a blogger – I’m pretty sure that doing top ten lists of the year is a contractual obligation. I won’t say “better late than never”, because we all know that’s not true…
Anyway, some people say that the golden age of television is long-gone, something it would be hard to disagree with when looking at the top ratings winners of the year – a particularly dismal set of autotuned wannabes on the X Factor and a bigot being dragged across the floor in Strictly Come Dancing. But, a closer look at the schedules shows that 2010 was a vintage year for television and there were plenty of great programmes I’ve not been able to squeeze into the list. The Apprentice continued to be the perfect reality show, conflict, drama and absolute stupidity boiled down into its purest form. The final season of 24 was right up there with the best in its nine years on air and the few who stuck with FlashForward to the bitter end found that it had an answer to pretty much every question posed earlier in its run. This is England ’86 was a superb piece of television drama, Life proved that Attenborough is still the king of natural history documentaries, The IT Crowd continued to breathe life into the studio-based sitcom, Mongrels was a very funny and original comedy and both Strike Back and Thorne continued to improve Sky1’s credentials with original drama. Plus, of course, Big Brother bowed out after a decade on air, in its final weeks reminding us just why it was so loved in its hayday.
And that’s not to mention the many shows I have to admit to not having the time to see. Being usually averse to costume dramas, I gave Downton Abbey a miss, only to find everyone raving about it. Rev, The Trip and Moving On were all apparently brilliant but somehow passed me by, while I also still need to find the time to catch up with the latest seasons of Mad Men, Fringe and Dexter.
Anyway, on to the top ten…
10. The Pacific
Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ ten-part mini-series was truly epic, with production values that are closer to that of a Hollywood motion picture than a television series. Opening in December 1941, a week after the attacks on Pearl Harbour, we follow a group of young men as they wave goodbye to their families and head for the South Pacific. The battle scenes were astonishing in scale and unflinchingly brutal, portraying the savagery of war in horrific detail. Like its companion piece, Band of Brothers, each episode featured interviews with the real-life servicemen portrayed in the series, reminding us that it all really happened.
9. Pete Versus Life
On paper, this looked like a gimmick too far. Rafe Spall played the titular loser whose every move was narrated by a pair of sports commentators. At the start of the first episode, I was ready to dismiss it, with the commentators seeming to get in the way of a so-so sitcom, but it quickly improved and George Jeffries and Bert Tyler-Moore’s amusing writing, and particularly Spall’s performance, soon won me over. It will return for a second series this year.
8. An Idiot Abroad
Karl Pilkington, the put-upon sidekick of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in their podcasts and radio shows, was sent around the world ostensibly to visit the seven modern wonders, but essentially to encounter places and experiences that would make him very uncomfortable, as a typical uncurious Englishman abroad. Although at times it sounded like a vehicle to bully Pilkington, his charm wins the day, whether he’s on a small rowing boat with a jolly Indian guru or introducing some Mayans to the delicious taste of Monster Munch.
7. Wonders of the Solar System
Professor Brian Cox’s terrific series was as much a delight to armchair astronomers as it was to those coming to the subject for the first time. It was full of fascinating facts about our Sun and planetary neighbours, including some amazing images, but perhaps some of the most interesting stuff was about our own planet, as Cox travelled the globe to show the impact the solar system has on Earth and just how similar our planet can be to others. A follow-up, looking at the wonders of the entire Universe, is on its way soon.
6. Doctor Who
David Tennant’s shoes were very difficult to fill, and when Matt Smith was announced as the eleventh incarnation of the Timelord, the Internet almost exploded with scorn. Happily, the bowtie-wearing Doctor turned out to be one of the best yet, less human than his previous incarnation, more oddball and unpredictable, yet still utterly charming. Amy Pond and Rory Williams are both great new companions on the Doctor’s journey through time and space, and while a couple of episodes hit dud notes, overall Stephen Moffat has taken the show into a much more interesting and dark place after five years of Russell T Davis’ fun, fairly camp world. The crack in time worked very well as a series arc and with the promise of finding out the truth about the enigmatic River Song, 2011’s series is worth looking forward to.
5. The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkmans comic book series about a small-town Kentucky cop’s struggle against a zombie apocalypse was brought to the small screen by Frank Darabont, who achieved the rare distinction of not only being faithful to the source material, but often actually improving on it. Utterly chilling at times, in no small part due to Bear McCreary’s soundtrack, it also was completely gripping, putting the characters and their relationships at the forefront. Kirkman aimed to show us what happens after the credits roll at the end of a zombie movie and although there were disappointingly only six episodes in this first season, the good news is that another thirteen have been ordered for late 2011.
Some who stuck with the series throughout Lost’s 121-episode run were very disappointed with its conclusion. The sixth season wasn’t perfect, but for me it provided just enough closure to satisfy. The season boiled everything down to a straightforward fight between good and evil, something that has been foreshadowed since the game of backgammon in the very first episode. While there was plenty of action and adventure with a few more of the series’ trademark twists and turns, plus plenty of call-backs to previous episodes to keep my inner geek happy, what really won me over was the emotional resonance of this season – the finale had me frankly bawling like a baby at certain points. Beautifully directed, with Michael Giachinno’s stirring score constantly tugging at the heartstrings, it’ll be a long time before we see a television series like this again.
The first episode was total genius, the second was pretty good, the third was excellent (with an ending that divided viewers) and then it was over. Only three episodes long and having struggled to be produced at all, Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis’ modern-day reinterpretation of literature’s favourite detective was quietly tucked away in the Summer schedules but was a huge critical and popular success. It’s inspired mix of classic characters and up-to-date technology brought the stories into the present day while being closer to the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s books than many adaptations set in Victorian times, with Martin Freeman finally breaking out of his “Tim from The Office” shackles and the outstanding Benedict Cumberbatch becoming the most unlikely household name since Engelbert Humperdinck. There’ll be three (again, only three) more episodes in the Autumn, and I cannot wait.
The second series of the comedy-drama about superpowered teens on community service had a lot to live up to after it’s hilarious, stylish and clever debut last year, and succeeded. After a strong start, a central trilogy of episodes focusing on the identity of the mysterious Superhoodie brought the show to a whole new level of sci-fi brilliance. Howard Overman’s scripts were full of great one-liners and dramatic twists, and the cast was once again absolutely wonderful. The series ended with a Christmas special which has a killer twist to ensure that series three, coming later this year, has plenty of new ground to cover.
1. Peep Show
This year saw Peep Show reach its seventh series, more than any other Channel Four sitcom, with the recently commissioned eighth and ninth taking it past Drop the Dead Donkey in terms of length of time on air, although it has a very long way to go to before it surpasses the number of episodes Desmonds had. Most sitcoms, when reaching this level of longevity, tend to start to run out of ideas and fail to recapture the heights of earlier years, but Peep Show is as good, if not better, than ever. David Mitchell and Robert Webb inhabit their characters of Mark and Jeremy perfectly, with the incredibly good supporting cast of Matt King, Isy Suttie, Olivia Colman and Patterson Joseph being joined by Camilla Beeput as Zahra, this year’s love interest for Jez and perhaps his closest match yet. While the cast were fantastic, it’s the writing of Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and Simon Blackwell that deserves the most praise, as they found more situations for the characters to get trapped in (in one case, literally) and came up with some fantastic lines, with the inner thoughts of Mark and Jeremy being particularly funny.
There, that’s it, that’s my top ten. Probably best to think of it as being in no particular order, really, because I’ll only spend the rest of the week rearranging it otherwise.