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The Top 25 British Shows of 2013

We’re back once again with our annual look back at my favourite 25 British programmes of the past 12 months.

25. The Big Reunion (ITV2, Jan)
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We start with my guilty pleasure choice and a programme that I really got into despite my better judgement. The Big Reunion saw a lot of pop groups from my adolescence, including Five and B*witched, reuniting for a very special concert. The best moments from the show were the band members attempting to heal old wounds as we heard some shocking stories about life on the road and how their respective break-ups recurred. The last episode, which was basically the concert itself, was extremely emotional as we heard some of the groups’ greatest hits.

24. The Hotel (Channel 4, Jan)
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The second series of the programme focusing directly on The Grovesnor, saw the hotel being sold after manager Mark failed to revive the flagging business. The charm of The Hotel was in its very British nature and the relationships Mark shared with colleagues Alison and Christian. It’s clear that Mark was a natural born entertainer but his mismanagement of The Grovesnor was what eventually ran it into the ground. I’d personally like to see the series return with Mark now head of events and a new manager in charge of The Grovesnor.

23. Hebburn (BBC2, Nov)
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Jason Cook’s Geordie sitcom returned for a stronger second run as all of the actors appeared to have formed a more natural chemistry with one another. The series’ major storyline was Sarah’s pregnancy and Jack secretly writing a book on how much of a nightmare his wife was now she was pregnant. I do feel that the programme is a natural successor to The Royle Family as it’s warm and feels realistic while at the same time being incredibly funny. Praise must go to Cook’s writing and the performances from Jim Moir, Gina McKee and Pat Dunn.

22. The Escape Artist (BBC1, Nov)
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Although it was cheesy in places, David Wolstencroft’s thriller was involving nonetheless. Controversially I think that The Escape Artist featured David Tenant’s best performance of the year as we saw him star as successful lawyer Will Burton. Burton’s downfall occurred when he failed to shake the hand of known murderer Liam Foyle and soon he’d lost his wife and his job. Brilliantly plotted and tense throughout, The Escape Artist featured some of the best performances of the year most notably from Toby Kebbell’s chilling turn as the evil Foyle.

21. Ambassadors (BBC2, Oct)
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With Peep Show’s final series looming, Ambassadors seemed to suggest that Mitchell and Webb were heading in a more serious direction as they got older. The programme saw Mitchell’s Keith arrive as the new ambassador in a fictional Asian country where he met Webb’s more cynical assistant Neil. The natural chemistry between the pair, aided by a well-paced script, made this series incredibly involving and at some points fairly topical. As the programme didn’t achieve high ratings it’s unclear whether it will return but I for one hope it does as it really proved the diversity of both David Mitchell and in particular Robert Webb.

20. Last Tango in Halifax (BBC1, Nov)
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I can’t be the only one who thought that the second series of Last Tango was a lot darker than the first. After getting Alan and Celia together in series one, Sally Wainwright turned the focus on their daughters Caroline and Gillian. Both revealed dark secrets, with Gillian in particular coming clean about what happened to her husband all those years ago. As Gillian, Nicola Walker was fantastic and it was her performance which often lifted the slower episodes of the series. Thankfully the series had a happy ending of sorts, with a Christmas Eve wedding for Alan and Celia, however you get the impression that this won’t last.

19. Iceland Foods – Life In the Freezer Cabinet (BBC2, Oct)
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I did feel that we were almost overwhelmed by the amount of observational documentaries in 2013 but I personally found BBC2′s Iceland Foods series to be incredibly involving. Centring around the freezer store’s CEO Malcolm Walker this show gave us a fascinating insight into why the shop has proved popular over the years and why its staff are so incredibly loyal. Ultimately this shed a light on a few British eccentrics and I was particularly gripped by how some of Iceland’s more intriguing dishes are created.

18. Luther (BBC1, Jul)
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With Idris Elba heading off to bigger and better things in Hollywood, his larger-than-life cop person John Luther was given a final chance to shine this year in another ridiculously overblown series. Part of the charm of Luther is its ludicrous nature and this series featured both a public hanging and a man hiding under a bed. Thankfully the performances from both Elba and Warren Brown were fantastic and it was great to have Ruth Wilson back, albeit briefly, as the magnificently evil Alice.

17. 24 Hours in A&E (C4, Mar)
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As regular readers know, I’m a massive fan of Channel 4′s fly-on-the-wall hospital series although even I will admit that it was slightly overexposed this year. Channel 4 aired almost twenty-six episodes of the programme over three series meaning that the stories covered in the episode weren’t always as involving as they once were. That being said there was plenty to like in a lot of the episodes including the one in which three sisters were forced to say goodbye to their dear old mum.

16. Endeavour (ITV, Apr)
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After a successful pilot episode, the Inspector Morse prequel got its first full series and singled itself out as the classiest crime series around. Each episode was well-crafted by creator Russell Lewis who perfectly paced out each mystery to play out over the two hour runtime. But the series’ best element has to be the brilliant chemistry between Shaun Evans’ damaged Morse and Roger Allam’s worldly-wise Fred Thursday. The Morse and Thursday dynamic was compelling throughout and I’m glad that there is a second full series on the way.

15. The Field of Blood (BBC1, Aug)
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David Kane’s period crime drama moved into the future with Jayd Johnson’s reporter Paddy being forced to deal with computers and a female boss. The second series of what was originally a sleeper hit more than delivered on the promise of its original thanks to another brilliant script, a fantastic central performance from Johnson and outstanding supporting turns from David Morrissey and Ford Kiernan.

14. Yonderland (Sky One, Nov)
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Sky’s original programming output was a little disappointing this year however the new sitcom from the Horrible Histories team was definitely the exception to the rule. Yonderland was a mixture of Monty Python, Labyrinth and Time Bandits as it included multiple characters, puppets and bizarre situations. Yonderland was incredibly silly, very funny but also had a compelling central character in Martha Howe-Douglas’ harassed housewife who had to balance her family and the responsibility of saving Yonderland from a number of devious villains.

13. Don’t Call Me Crazy (BBC3, Jul)
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BBC3 continued to deliver eye-opening documentaries that appealed to their demographic this year with a look behind the scenes at the McGuinness Mental Health Unit in Manchester. This three-part series was a heart-warming and sometimes shocking look at the reasons that young people are committed as well the courageous steps they take to try and get themselves better. Thought-provoking and moving, this proved why BBC3 is such a good channel to have around and how brilliant they are at producing factual programming based around the struggles of today’s youth.

12. Southcliffe (C4, Aug)
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There was a lot of drama this year based on tragedies in small towns and Tony Grisoni’s miniseries was definitely one of them. Sean Harris gave a brilliant portrayal of Stephen Morton, a local man who goes on a rampage and kills many of the town’s citizens. Rory Kinnear was equally great as the news reporter returning to a home town that brought up some bad memories and whose lasting effect on him was a bad one. Brutal to watch but brilliantly constructed, Grisoni’s drama was a story of two men who were both damaged and showed their anger in very different ways.

11. Scott and Bailey (ITV, Mar)
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Sally Wainwright features on the list once again as her brilliant cop show returned for a third series. This time we saw Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp’s titular duo fall out with each other after several personal disagreements. However the series’ main case, involving a couple with bodies buried under their house, brought them back together for a memorable final instalment which included another brilliant performance from the unstoppable Nicola Walker.

10. What Remains (BBC1, Aug)
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We enter the top ten with Tony Basgallop’s four-part mystery series about the search for the killer of a woman that nobody realised was missing in the first place. Basgallop’s drama was full of characters who all had secrets to hide whether it be alcoholism, crumbling relationships or harbouring fugitives. However the star of the show was David Threlfall’s close-to-retirement copper Len who became obsessed with solving the case mainly because he saw plenty of parallels between himself and the deceased. Although the final episode was a little baggy, this was an involving and gripping drama that provided plenty of believable characters and included a fantastic central turn.

9. Peaky Blinders (BBC2, Sept)
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When I first watched Stephen Knight’s Black Country gangster saga I assumed, because of its audacious production values, that it had some American money behind it but I was completely wrong. Not only was Peaky Blinders great to look at but it had well-crafted characters which had a strong basis in history. Knight’s titular gang were completely compelling as was the central performance from the enigmatic Cillian Murphy. This was a really different sort of drama from the ones we’re used to from the BBC and I hope it’s the sign of better things to come.

8. Him and Her – The Wedding (BBC3, Nov)
him and her The Top 25 British Shows of 2013
It wouldn’t be an end of the year list without the inclusion of Him and Her but unfortunately this is the final time it will appear for the time being. The brilliant final series did something better as Steve and Becky ventured out of the flat for the first time as all of the action was centred around Laura and Paul’s wedding. Stefan Golaszewski brilliantly based every episode around one element of the ceremony, with my favourite one being the instalment the focused solely on the awkward speeches. Featuring both big laughs and some rather sweet moments, Him and Her – The Wedding proved why this cult sitcom was so special to people and I for one hope we at least get a one-off episode at some point in the future.

7. In the Flesh (BBC3, Mar)
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This year BBC3 took a punt on a first time writer’s script about zombies being integrated back into society and thankfully the risk paid off. Dominic Mitchell’s fantastic three-part series told the story of the small Yorkshire town of Roarton which was forced to welcome back members of the community who had previously risen from the grave and tried to attack them. Mitchell’s series dealt with themes of segregation and homophobia while at the same time being true to the genre which it was spoofing. Filled with plenty of identifiable characters the series survived thanks to the courage of its convictions as well as a brilliant central turn from newcomer Luke Newberry as sensitive zombie Kieren.

6. The Wrong Mans (BBC2, Sept)
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2013 wasn’t a great year for comedy and it was the sitcoms that felt a bit different that stood out from the pack. James Corden and Matthew Baynton’s comedy thriller was definitely the best the year had to offer as it was laugh-out-loud funny and visually different at the same time. Featuring MI5 spies, Russian mobsters and corrupt government officials; the stars of the show were two downtrodden local government employees who were both looking for something new in their lives. Corden and Baynton’s chemistry made the show what it was and the story played out beautifully over six hilarious episodes.

5. Educating Yorkshire (C4, Sept)
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Channel 4′s observational documentary output has been a bit iffy this year with such offerings as The Fried Chicken Shop and The Nightclub Toilet demonstrating that not every building is that interesting. However they redeemed themselves with this follow-up to the equally impressive Educating Essex, which once again focused on the good work teachers do in this country. Over eight episodes we watched the staff and pupils of Thornhill Community College attempt to survive the daily school grind with surprising consequences. Who can forget Mr Mitchell’s brilliant speeches or Mr Steer almost killing himself to help some low-achieving girls pass their maths GCSE. But the crowning achievement was Mr Burton’s idea to help stammering Musharaf with his English speaking exam and in the process hearing him speak clearly for the first time. This programme really demonstrated how dedicated this country’s teachers are despite all they have to put up with from the current government.

4. Fresh Meat (C4, Oct)
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Another brilliant series of this almost faultless comedy drama which saw the university students complete their second year with more relationship and academic dramas. From the Professor’s continued obsession with Oregon to Vod’s marriage to a Brazilian immigrant every character was given their chance to shine. Josie and Kingsley proved that they ultimately weren’t meant to be together whilst I really enjoyed Howard’s sweet pursuit of new housemate Candice. Best of all though was the episode in which Vod’s mum came to stay and proved to be completely horrible. This episode really proved that Vod’s family were her housemates and that I think is the beauty of the show. No fourth series had been announced at time of publication but if the programme doesn’t return I think this series is the perfect end to one of the best programmes in recent memory.

3. My Mad Fat Diary (E4, Jan)
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My Mad Fat Diary isn’t a programme that should appeal to a man in his early thirties, especially as it deals with a teenage girls issues with her mental health and weight. But there was something about Tom Bidwell’s adaptation of Rae Earl’s memoirs that had universal appeal for anybody who’s ever felt like an outcast. The fantastic performance from Sharon Rooney coupled with Bidwell’s use of light and shade throughout his script perfectly demonstrated why this was one of the best TV series of the year. As somebody who grew up during the late 1990s I also appreciated the period setting and in particular the use of plenty of familiar Britpop classics.

2. Broadchurch (ITV, Mar)
broadchurch cast The Top 25 British Shows of 2013
The drama that everybody was talking about during 2013 only takes the silver medal here but that’s not to say that I didn’t find Chris Chibnall’s mystery saga as gripping as everybody else does. I agree with everybody else’s opinions that the script was perfect, the characterisation was spot-on and the performances from the ensemble cast were outstanding. Special mention must go to Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan as the grieving parents forced to deal with their child’s murder and Olivia Coleman as the put-upon detective who struggled to solve the murder of a boy who was so close to her own family. I like most people am sceptical of the upcoming second series but if it’s anything as good as the first then I know I won’t be disappointed.

1. Utopia (C4, Jan)
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As my number one choice I’ve plumped for something completely different and I feel that that phrase perfectly describes Dennis Kelly’s unique drama. As soon as Neil Maskell’s ominous criminal uttered the immortal words ‘Where is Jessica Hyde?’ I was completely hooked on this brilliant series. What started as the hunt for a comic book led into a government conspiracy as well as a plan to give a whole cross-section of a society a deadly disease. I don’t know where Kelly came up with all of these ideas but I enjoyed everyone and I loved the fact that he never compromised on giving us believable characters at the same time. Just like with Broadchurch, I’m not sure if a second series was a great idea but I’m more than happy to see where Kelly will take his characters next.

And it will also be interesting to see if Utopia maintains its spot at the top of the list next year, but you’ll have to wait till then to find out.

About MattD

TV Blogger and Podcaster. One third of the Custard TV podcast team. As well as running TV Bites I also write columns and reviews for Unreality TV and Chunk.ie. You can follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites

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