Here we are again kids with a countdown of my 25 favourite TV Shows of 2012 starting off with the ones that didn’t quite make the top 10.
25. Starlings (Sky One, May-Jun)
2012 definitely was the year that Sky came good on their promise of making plenty of original comedy and drama with Starlings being a combination of the both. The programme was classic Sunday night viewing and was written by Steve ‘Phoenix Nights’ Edge and Matt ‘Peep Show’ King who also both starred as extended members of the Starling family. The Derbyshire brood were headed up by Brendan Coyle and Lesley Sharp who weren’t well off but were constantly happy with their lovely family. While Starlings wasn’t original in the slightest it was still well-observed, warm and witty with characters that you actually cared about and liked. Personally I found it perfect uncomplicated viewing for a Sunday night as it combined picturesque Derbyshire scenery with a great ensemble cast and I feel that an already announced second series will be even more well-received than the first.
24. Monroe (ITV1, Oct-Dec)
Though I wasn’t overly keen on the first series of Peter Bowker’s medical drama I did still think it showed promise and indeed that materialised in the much-improved second series. James Nesbitt’s neurologist was still as snide as ever but this time was allowed to demonstrate more of a sensitive side while other characters at the hospital were allowed their own separate storylines. The new characters played by Neil Pearson and Tracey Ann Oberman also added depth to Nesbitt’s protagonist which altogether meant that Monroe the show turned into a very accessible mainstream medical drama. Despite the great writing and acting the one problem was that nobody watched it so unfortunately Monroe was cancelled after its second and arguably best series which in my eyes is a shame.
23. Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life (Sky Atlantic, Jun)
Back to Sky now as Sky Atlantic created two new specials involving Steve Coogan’s classic comic character with the highlight for me being Partridge’s guide to Norwich’s hotspots. Welcome to the Places of My Life had some hilarious scenes such as Partridge taking us around City Hall and also him trying to work on a market stall. New writers Neil and Rob Gibbons injected some life into the Partridge character and as always combined the hilarity with more serious concerns that the character had such as a mysterious NHS letter that kept popping up. Though the recent Partridge specials weren’t as great as the BBC series there is still something instantly likeable about the character and whenever Coogan plays him the results are usually hilarious.
22. Inside Men (BBC1, Feb-Mar)
One of the early examples of a great year of BBC drama this four-part heist series saw Stephen Mackintosh, Warren Brown and Ashley Walters play three employees at a cash depot who initially are seen as victims of a mass robbery but as the story plays out we see that all three had a part in the crime. Tony Bagsallop’s script did include a number of plausable twists with Mackintosh in particular impressing as the seemingly straight-laced boss of the unit driven to do something completely out of character. While the ending may not have been completely satisfying this was still a drama with plenty of action but which had genuine characters at the heart of it.
21. Twenty Twelve (BBC2, Jan-Feb, Jun-Jul)
Series Two of this brilliant mockumentary, focusing on the planning of London 2012, inevitably bought events to a close as Hugh Bonneville’s Ian struggled to keep his team under check. Though this series, which was split into two chunks, wasn’t as funny as the first series it still had its moments and the love story between Ian and Olivia Coleman’s Sally played out nicely in the final episode. Ian’s speech in this finale was great as was the cliffhanger ending and I feel it’s a shame that we’re not going to see these well-crafted characters again. If any character is crying out for a spin-off then its Jessica Hynes’ Siobhan as I could easily see a new comedy based around her PR agency Perfect Curve.
20. Walking and Talking (Sky Atlantic, Jun-Jul)
After creating a short film as part of Sky’s Little Crackers strand Kathy Burke’s autobiographical take on her teenage years was given its own series in Walking and Talking. The title of the series essentially tells you exactly what it was about as the young Kath and her friend Mary walk around their town talking about music, boys and life in general. Burke’s script was warm and believable while the performances from the young cast, particularly Ami Metcalf as Kath, were incredibly compelling while Burke herself also provided comic asides as a God-fearing nun. While it may not have been exactly ground-breaking there was something instantly likeable about this entire series and Sky’s announcement to renew the show was definitely the right way to go.
19. Last Tango in Halifax (BBC1, Nov-Dec)
While a lot of BBC drama was hard-hitting and compelling there was also room for something a little bit more gentle though Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax wasn’t exactly lightweight fare. The story saw Derek Jacobi’s Alan and Anne Reid’s Celia reunite after almost sixty years and fall almost completely in love the only problem was their two extended families whose dramas impacted on their relationship. Wainwright’s strength has always been in presenting formidable female characters and in addition to Celia we had her daughter Caroline, played by Sarah Lancashire, and Nicola Walker as Alan’s daughter Gillian both of whom had their dramas. Wainwright succeeded in creating high drama from Caroline’s lesbian relationship and the history of how Gillian’s husband died and combined it with a love story which gave a modern interpretation of senior citizens and how they’re not quite dead yet.
18. Murder (BBC2, Aug)
2012 was the year that Scandinavian TV continued to thrive with Borgen, The Bridge and The Killing’s final series all airing on BBC4 and the success of these series meant that Scandinavian directors and writers began to come to our shores to create fresh dramas for us. The first such example was Murder, directed by Killing alumni Birger Larsen, which saw a murder investigation play out over a number of days and centred on four characters namely the supposed killer, the victim’s sister, the investigating police officer and the defence barrister. Combining straight-to-camera performances, flashbacks and witness testimonies this was a great new format for a drama and one that I hope to be repeated in the near future. The performances from Karla Crome, Joe Dempsie, Robert Pugh and Stephen Dillane were all great while the script kept you guessing till the last frame where the actual murder scene was shown in detail. It’s hard for one-off dramas to make any sort of impact but Murder has stayed with me for the past four months and therefore I hold out hope that more of The Killing’s writers and directors will make TV in this country now that that show has come to an end.
17. A Touch of Cloth (Sky One, Aug)
Though I’m a fan of well-crafted drama and subtle humour every now and then you need a bit of silliness and who better to provide this than Charlie Brooker whose spoof cop show A Touch of Cloth was cleverly written and had plenty of jokes sprinkled across its two parts. As a former Guardian TV critic Brooker is obviously aware of all the clichés of the British crime drama and here he used them all from a brilliant yet damaged Detective in Jack Cloth, played by John Hannah, and his sexy sidekick Anne Oldman whose name provided plenty of jokes in and of itself. Along the way we saw photos of Piers Morgan make people throw up, a sexy pathologist and an extended Todd Carty cameo before the final reveal and the hilarious mock preview of the next episode. Though some of Brooker’s gags didn’t work his Airplane style script meant that if there wasn’t one joke you liked then there’d be two more along in a minute and as in every great spoof all of the actors played it straight. With two more Cloth instalments on the way it seems that Brooker certainly struck the right chords with the audience and once again it shows that Sky will give certain writers free reign when it comes to creating new comedies.
16. Parade’s End (BBC2, Aug-Sept)
Period drama provided some of the biggest drama hits of the year with both Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey getting record viewing figures while The Paradise also won a legion of fans and is returning for a second series. Personally though the best period drama of the year was the one nobody saw primarily because it was on BBC2 on a Friday night which is a shame as the adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End was a joy to watch from beginning to end. Set in the run-up and then during World War I it starred Benedict Cumberbatch as the brilliant yet reserved Christopher who married Rebecca Hall’s Sylvia out of loyalty but then was drawn to young suffragette Valentine Wannop. This love triangle was the driving force of the drama however the subplots and supporting cast also added some depth with Stephen Graham, Anne-Marie Duff, Roger Allam, Miranda Richardson and Rufus Sewell all excelling in their roles while the direction was top notch. Though I’m not a big fan of costume drama when it’s done like this it’s impossible to resist and Hall in particular was fantastic as the ghastly yet damaged Sylvia.
15. Everyday (Channel 4, Nov)
Sometimes a drama comes along that you weren’t expecting to be anything special and completely shocks you and that certainly happened with Everyday. Despite being directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Shirley Henderson and John Simm this drama about how the loss of a jailed father can impact on a family was dominated by four siblings making their acting debuts. Winterbottom cast the Kirk children when they were young and filmed them over five years as they began to grow up and their reactions to their on-screen father’s incarceration changed somewhat while at home they also started to act out. Everyday really got to me and Winterbottom’s realist directorial style meant that you really believed in the characters throughout especially the young kids whose expressions were on the whole completely natural. This was a unique programme in so much as it was a prison drama without much of the prison and mainly focused on a family unit struggling to survive without a strong male role model and I have to say I would recommend everyone to go to 4OD and check it out as you won’t be disappointed.
14. Grandma’s House (BBC2, Apr-May)
After a strong start in 2010, Simon Amstell returned with a second series of his semi-autobiographical sitcom and used the main criticism of the first series as the running joke here namely that Amstell couldn’t act. Simon’s story saw him get cast in his beloved Ben Theodore’s production of The Tempest while at the same time continuing to despair over his family’s different dramas. This series also saw Grandma struggle to cope with granddad’s death, Auntie Liz separate from her husband and mum try to decide whether or not to marry the dreadful Clive. While the humour wasn’t up everybody’s street I really enjoyed the relationship between Simon and his strong female relatives while Rebecca Front and Samantha Spiro’s performance as Tanya and Liz were a joy and James Smith stole a few scenes as Clive who was confined to the loft for the majority of the series. Recently it has been announced that Amstell won’t be making a third series of the programme and in a way I think this is the right decision as it ended on a really bleak note which I feel suits a sitcom such as this.
13. Scott and Bailey (ITV1, Mar-May)
While I was a big fan of ITV’s cop show in 2011 I found the plot involving Surannne Jones’ Rachel Bailey and Rupert Graves’ smarmy businessman a little too unbelievable. Thankfully Graves was heard about but never seen in series two but instead the series focused on the relationship between Rachel and Lesley Sharp’s Janet Scott while their boss, played by the amazing Amelia Bullmore, also got a bit more time in the spotlight. What I loved about Scott and Bailey was that it showed a work relationship between two women of different ages something that happens every day in the real world but is something that never really happens on TV. While the weekly cases were always full of drama it was Janet’s marriage breakdown and Rachel’s family trauma that really captivated and the cliffhanger in which the latter prepared to meet her mother really set up for what I’m sure will be a strong third series.
12. The Thick of It (BBC2, Sept-Nov)
The final series of Armando Ianucci’s satirical series was mixed at best as he attempted to mock the coalition government by presenting Roger Allam’s minister as someone who resented the fact that he had to run his ideas past someone from the inbetweener party. Personally I found it an odd decision to restrict the brilliant Malcolm Tucker to appear only in half the episodes as we followed the opposition who were now led by the completely inept Nicola Murray. Luckily the series went back to its best with the Inquiry episode an hour long satire of the Levenson hearings which here looked into the leaking of information between both parties. I personally felt the ending lacked a little something but overall this was a good end to what has consistently been one of the best British comedies of the past ten years.
11. Moone Boy (Sky One, Sept-Oct)
We end this section with another series that, like Walking and Talking, started life as one of Sky’s Little Crackers and in this case Moone Boy was partly focused on Chris O’Dowd’s childhood experiences in small town Ireland. The alteration made between the pilot and the series was the introduction of O’Dowd as young Martin Moone’s imaginary friend Sean. For me though the imaginary friend story sort of petered out and instead I felt the programme’s focus on the Moone family, complete with three intimidating sisters, was its major plus and as the series wore on O’Dowd was used sparingly. Moone Boy was warm, believable and more than anything else funny with the observational gags being mixed with some more surreal moments such as the final episode in which Max’s school was essentially destroyed. It appeared as if Sky already had faith in the show before it aired as it commissioned a second series before we’d even seen a minute of episode one. After watching all six episodes I can more than agree with their decision as Moone Boy proves that comedy can both be gentle and very very funny.
Only ten programmes to go but what will be my number one British TV show of 2012? Tune in soon to find out.