Top 25 British TV Shows of 2009

So here we are with another year’s worth of TV gems.

25. Whitechapel (ITV1 Jan-Feb)
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This is kind of a guilty pleasure choice for me as it was purely nonsense but at the same time extremely watchable. The three-part drama saw the odd couple team of Phil Davis and Rupert Penry-Jones as two detectives who had to solve a modern-day copycat of Jack the Ripper. Although the eventual reveal was a bit of an anti-climax the kind of moody atmosphere and the chemistry between Jones and Davis was winning. Best of all was a supporting performance from The League of Gentlemen/Psychoville star Steve Pemberton as a Ripperologist.

24. Misfits (E4 Nov-Dec)
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Misfits could’ve gone either way – it was billed as Heroes meets Skins but in a way it was smarter than either of those programmes. Featuring five young offenders who are changed by a thunderstorm and all develop super-powers the show never feels that silly and instead fits the power to represent the character – the weird one can turn invisible, the slutty one can touch any man and make them fall for her and also it has a gloomy tone and a realistic script. Misfits is the kind of show that E4 only produce every so often which is a shame.

23. Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (BBC2 Feb-Mar)
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Not a very high concept show but mainly just a Stewart Lee stand-up gig with sketches thrown in for good measure. Lee is very funny and sardonic and this was an antidote to a lot of the rubbish sitcoms that the BBC throw at us. Although the sketches were hit and miss overall this was a success which begs the question why don’t the BBC give more stand-ups their own show?

22. Miranda (BBC2 Nov-Dec)
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Something like Miranda really shouldn’t work in the 21st century, the jokes are so old fashioned and there’s a lot of physical humour. But it’s thanks to loveable star/creator Miranda Hart that we do care as she encounters so many pitfalls throughout her day and addresses the audience directly. Part of it makes you think of a simpler time were comedy didn’t have to be self-referential and deprecating and this was just, on the most part, good, clean fun.

21. The Family (C4 Nov-Dec)
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After the very dull first series of The Family I was surprised that Channel 4 wanted to bring it back again. Luckily they picked a much more exciting and diverse family in The Grewals. Featuring three generations of a Sikh family we saw the ups and downs of their lives as Kaki the daughter gave birth and the Sonny eldest son got married to Shay against her mother’s wishes. Best of all though was the relationship between mother and father Arvinder and Sarbjit who have been married for years and years and bicker like cats and dogs but still love each other. Overall this programme reflected a real family in modern Britain and was thoroughly entertaining.

20. The Unloved (C4 May)
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Samantha Morton’s directorial debut was heartfelt and raw and based on her own experiences growing up in a care home. We followed Lucy’s journey from her abusive father to her care home where she experienced the ups and downs of life there and formed a bond with her older roommate Lauren who herself was having a secret affair with one of the much older carers. Morton’s directorial style allowed us to feel the emotions of the main characters and at the heart of this programme was an astonishingly mature performance by 12 year old Molly Windsor as Lucy a girl who just wanted to be with her mother again not realising the rejection that was around the corner. This was gritty drama at its best, highlighting an area of society that a lot of us forget about.

19. Margaret (BBC2 Feb)
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2008 saw The Long Road to Finchley a one-off drama that followed the young Margaret Thatcher’s life before she became prime minister. This year we got Margaret Thatcher in power as played by Lindsay Duncan. Duncan’s Thatcher was incredibly strong yet vulnerable at the same time, however I found her a little too glamorous. The cast had strong support notably from John Sessions as Douglas Hulme who in only a few scenes manage to capture a man at the end of his tether meanwhile Ian McDiarmind was astounding as the put-upon Dennis Thatcher. Although not exactly ground-breaking, Margaret showed that we can still produce classy and thoughtful drama productions.

18. Small Island (BBC1 Dec)
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Because it was aired just before Christmas, Small Island didn’t really get much recognition in terms of praise which is a shame. With stonking performances from Naomie Harris, David Olawyeo and especially Ashley Walters this dealt with the first lot of Caribbean people to come over during the war and settle in England. Harris’ Hortense was the star of the show a very haughty women with ideas above her station while Walters charmed as the soldier who had relationships with both of the women in the cast. Beautifully shot and acted, Small Island was a little dramatic treat for those who watched it.

17. Not Going Out (BBC1 Jan-Mar, Dec)
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The last, and in terms of laughs, best series of Lee Mack’s joke-a-thon sitcom in which he joins together with best mate Tim Vine to create one of the best comedy partnerships in 21st century sitcom. Although it may feel a little bit old school at times and didn’t have much in the way of plot, the show still managed to be consistently funny week in and week out. Mack and Vine were great as was Miranda Hart as the typically lazy cleaner Barbara. Even though this was getting about four million viewers on a Friday night, the BBC felt it had run its course, which is a damn shame because it was one of the only funny things on.

16. Getting On (BBC4 Jul)
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Why this never got a showing on the main BBC channels I will never know. Getting On was both a season on BBC4 and this sitcom shown as part of it. Set in a dementia ward in a hospital it starred Jo Brand and Joanna Scanlan as two put upon nurses who were trying to deal with day to day procedure in a hospital most of which baffled them. It wasn’t very high on production values but it was incredibly high on incredibly black humour. The two women worked together beautifully in this show and I’m just praying for a second series that gets transported to one of the major channels just like The Thick of It did.

15. Terry Pratchett living with Alzheimer’s (BBC2 Feb-Mar)
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Sometimes hard to watch but always fascinating, Terry Pratchett recorded this two part documentary about him being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and if there was anything he could possibly do to cure it. As Pratchett is one of my idols this was very hard for me as you could see at times he was starting to deteriorate. One scene that sticks out in my mind is when Pratchett stumbles during a fan convention while reading out a section from his new book and suddenly loses his memory which ignites some tears in the eyes of his fans. The author still has his sense of humour which fans of the Discworld will know all about and if he manages to raise awareness for this horrible disease then all the better for it and this programme was completely compelling and eye-opening at the same time.

14. Outnumbered: Christmas Special (BBC1 Dec)
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If we’d had a full series of Outnumbered it may have been number two in the list for a third year in the row. As it is we only had a Christmas special so it lingers mid-list. This year we saw the Brockman household trying to recover after a robbery while at the same time we saw middle child Ben destroying most of his Christmas gifts. Once again Ramona Marquez was the star of the show as Karen whose one-liners eclipse the older members of the cast hands-down. We are promised a full series this year so maybe Outnumbered will be top of the comedy pile once again.

13. Freefall (BBC2 Jul)
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It was only a matter of time before the recession was dramatised and we got it here in Freefall. Focusing on a banker, a mortgage broker and a security guard who was tricked into a mortgage we saw how the recession affects different people and we saw the lives of these three men one a womanising divorcee, one a playboy and one a family man. The drama was shot in a very bleak style and at some points was quite jarring it also featured performances from three great actors – Aiden Gillen, Dominic Cooper and Joseph Mawle and also had a good script and a great supporting performance from Anna Maxwell Martin. Hell, even the appearance of one of Girl’s Aloud (Sarah Harding) didn’t do anything to ruin this fine bit of TV drama.

12. Pulling (BBC3 May)
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Another one-off comedy special but this is higher than Outnumbered because, after only two series, we have to bid adieu to Donna, Karen and Louise who are deemed ‘not right’ for the BBC3 audience. The final episode saw all three women in relationships for the first time Donna was with a prickish financier, Karen was being dominated by a sexist pig and Louise had met a really boring guy on holiday who’d saved her life. But the returns of Karl and Billy spelt change in the relationships of Karen and Donna with a very ambiguous ending meaning that Horgan wanted to continue on with the show. It’s a shame we’ve left this very dirty, very funny and very original show behind and here’s hoping that another channel might pick it up.

11. Peep Show (C4 Sept-Oct)
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As we know Peep Show always features somewhere on the list as it is Britain’s most consistently funny programme. This series saw Mark and Jez deal with one of them becoming a father while at the same time both of them trying to win over new women and Mark dealing with being made redundant. Six series in and the show has lost none of its charm and is still squirm-inducingly hilarious this was proved in every great episode and the end scenes where Sophie, who was in labour, drove herself to the hospital because Mark hadn’t learnt to drive had me in stitches. Roll on Series seven.

10. Holloway (ITV1 Mar-Apr)
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ITV1 aren’t really known for producing great documentaries. Odd then that one of the documentaries of the year was on the third channel. Film-maker James Cohen became the first person to have access to the entirety of the all woman Holloway prison. He captured the day-to-day life from the woman who had just been imprisoned to the women that had been there for a while and the ones who kept coming back in. It judged our preconceptions of prisoners and prisons and saw that most of the time the women were just bored but a lot of the preferred prison to the real world. This was harrowing, realistic and surprisingly sweet and funny at times, Cohen showed himself as a great documentary maker and gave us an in depth look at something we had never been able to see before.

9. Criminal Justice (BBC1 Oct)
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Last year’s number one returned with a second series with different characters but the same creator. This year we got Maxine Peake as middle-class housewife Juliet who had seemingly stabbed her husband in cold blood after years of spousal abuse. The five night programme again gave us the process of Peake’s arrest, imprisonment and trial but this time it wasn’t a straight whodunnit but more of a why did she do it. We had more implications of what it means to be a mother in prison and also to give birth while under arrest however the whole thing didn’t feel as good and as realistic as season one. However when you have cast that includes Peake, Dennis Lawson, Sophie Okenedo, Matthew MacFayden and Eddie Marsen it still ranks up as one of the dramas of the year.

8. Unforgivern (ITV1 Jan)
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Another great drama this time from perennial favourite Sally Wainwright this time focused on four different stories all based around an event in the past. Suranne Jones played Ruth a woman who had been released from prison after 15 years, when as a teenager she killed two police officers. We followed Jones’ rehabilitation at the same time as we saw her younger sister, who had been adopted, get into a car crash and her adoptive parents be contacted by Ruth. Peter Davidson and Siobhan Finneran also starred as the couple who moved into the house where the incident had taken place and there was also the son of one of the police officers who wanted to get revenge for what happened to his father. This was then a drama about retribution, relationships and judgement as the final episode showed us exactly what happened the day that Ruth was arrested. A great ensemble cast was lead by Jones who acted her socks off, if she doesn’t get a BAFTA nod then there’s something wrong. Let’s just hope that Wainwright returns soon because ITV could really do with a decent drama.

7. The Street (BBC1 Jul-Aug)
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Another programme that is getting its final series is The Street, Jimmy McGovern’s portrait of modern British life which gave us another six stories. We saw Bob Hoskins’ landlord threatened by a local gangster, Anna Friel’s single mum forced to work as a hooker to support her children, Jonas Armstrong’s soldier return home with a war wound, Joseph Mawle’s racist chef have his preconceptions challenged and Stephen Graham’s alcoholic bookie sober up after discovering he had a son with learning difficulties. Timothy Spall also returned in the final episode as cab driver Eddie who had affair with another driver and then later saw the death of his wife. McGovern rightly quit after the BBC shut down the studios which produced the programme because it wasn’t financially viable. But when studios produce drama as good as this you should do everything in your power to stop them shutting down surely? Anyway it’ll be a shame to see The Street go as it is one of the best UK dramas of all time.

6. Psychoville (BBC2 Jun-Jul)
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Two thirds of The League of Gentlemen – Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith, returned with another gothic comedy with a difference. Psychoville introduced us to five seemingly disparate characters – blind billionaire Oscar Lomax, midwife Joy, murder obsessed David, pantomime dwarf Robert and children’s clown Mr. Jelly. Each week we were given more clues to the identity of these people who each got poison pen letters saying – I know what you did. After each episode certain websites were set up enabling fans to try and guess what would happen the next week. The episodes were well written and as well as featuring Pemberton and Sheersmith in multiple roles we also had Dawn French as Joy, Eileen Atkins, Janet McTeer, Adrian Scarborough and Christopher Biggins as himself. The best episode of the lot was the one that just featured mother and son killers Maureen and David who were about to embark on another murder of a man (played by Mark Gattis). The episode was a tribute to Hitchcock’s Rope and only featured two cuts in the entire thing most of it being incredibly tense and funny in equal measure. Thankfully Psychoville is returning for another series to hopefully answer some questions that have been left over from series one.

5. The Thick of It (BBC2 Oct-Dec)
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Fans of The Thick of It have always been aware of its brilliance but it had been hidden away on BB4 for too long. Thankfully terrestrial audiences were given a look at Peter Capaldi’s maniacal Malcolm Tucker for the first time as the department for Social Affairs and Citizenship got a new minister in Rebecca Front’s ditzy Nicola Murray. The rest of the gang returned – Glenn, Ollie and Terri for another eight episodes of satirical genius and spot on one-liners. Although Joanna Scanlan did shine as Terri, this is always going to be Malcolm Tucker’s show and in the final two episodes where he was laid off we saw a side to Tucker we had never seen before which just shows the depth that Peter Capaldi can bring to a character. Although The Thick of It made it onto the big screen in 2009, this run proved that it is still most at home on the small screen.

4. Occupation (BBC1 Jun)
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It was shown in the middle of June over three nights and starred the bloke from the Yellow Pages ads. Despite that though Occupation was a brilliant drama and the best that the BBC has produced in 2009. It follows three men as they return from a tour of Iraq and try to settle back at home however one has fallen in love with a nurse, one misses the action too much and one struggles to cope with the monotony of being an ex-soldier. Slowly they are all tempted back to Iraq where events transpire so that all of them are eventually back in the line of fire. Although James Nesbitt was admirable as the family man who had found a new love this was Stephen Graham’s show as Danny the soldier who missed the army life too much and founded a private protection company he was able to display a cavalcade of emotions. This is powerful stuff that rivals the American dramas – The Hurt Locker and Generation Kill for its realism.

3. Gavin and Stacey (BBC1 Nov-Dec)
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It seems we’re saying goodbye to a lot of programmes in 2009 – The Street, Pulling and Not Going Out have all said goodbye and now Gavin and Stacey is no longer Occurin. Where this differs from the other shows leaving us is that creators James Corden and Ruth Jones wanted to end it. You could see that they were struggling to create ways for the Barry and Bilericay clans to meet up every week but Jones and Corden still inject so much realistic humour into their brilliantly carved characters that it doesn’t really matter. From Gavin and Stacey having a baby through to Pete and Dawn’s vow renewal and Nessa’s Wedding we were captivated by all these characters and waited with baited breath to see if Smithy would try and break up Nessa and Dave. Witty, warm and a modern classic it’s a shame that Gavin and Stacey are going but I have a feeling we many see a Christmas special in a couple of years. One question that was never answered though was, ‘what happened on that fishing trip?’

2. Life (BBC1 Oct-Dec)
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It’s a shame I couldn’t find any clips to illustrate the brilliance of this series as again Attenbrogouh narrated us through more extraordinary clips of wildlife and animal behaviour. The best parts of the programme involve working out how the scenes were shot as its incredible sometimes how much these cameramen can capture. While not up there with something as vast as Planet Earth we still are shown stunning scenes of how animals survive and give birth and really this is almost worth the license fee alone. Almost.

1. Red Riding (C4 Mar)
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Three films, three separate years, three separate directors and the drama and programme of 2009. Set during the 1970s and 1980s we followed three men who were trying to get to the truth of the kidnap and murders of young girls and trying to find The Yorkshire Ripper while at the same time trying to uncover all the corruption that lurked in the Yorkshire Police Department. Andrew Garfield’s journalist, Paddy Considine’s out-of-town copper and Mark Addy’s lawyer were the three men who were trying to seek the truth while David Morrisey and Warren Clarke’s policemen were trying to cover it up. Incredibly bleak but expertly written and tensely plotted every scene was captivating and leading up to a truly startling revealed. The cast was full of Britain’s best acting talent and also included Sean Bean, Peter Mullan, Maxine Peake, Rebecca Hall, Daniel Mays, Joseph Mawle, John Henshaw and Eddie Marsden. Almost too good for the small screen but so expertly crafted it wouldn’t work on the big screen this is great TV at its finest and the worthy winner of the top spot in 2009.

OK that’s your lot now it’s time to look forward to 2010

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