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Best Telly of 2011


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TelevisionIn the year when ‘dramality’ shows took televisual blandness to new heights of tedium (nothing happened in Essex in TOWIE, nothing happened with a Geordie accent in Geordie Shore, nothing happened whilst people were a bit posh in Made in Chelsea, and nothing happened with some scousers in Desperate Scousewives), you might be forgiven for thinking TV in 2011 was a bit rubbish.

But 2011 was a year of small-screen gems. Here Chris Marks picks his highlights from 12-months of television:

This is England 88

Shane Meadow’s dark and hauntingly joyous drama, returned once again to provide the best acting, writing and direction of any television all year. The final scene with Joe Gilgun (as Woody) and Vicky McClure (as Lol) was one of the most beautiful, emotional and moving scenes ever broadcast. Meadows again turned real-life into the most entertaining and thought-provoking viewing experience with the perfect blend of subtle humour and heart-wrenching emotion. This is England 88 was perfect in every respect.


Somehow the writers of the ‘scallies-with-super-powers’ comedy-drama have not only managed to stretch what seems like a pretty thin premise for three series, but have somehow maintained it as some of the freshest and interesting stuff on the telly-box. The addition of Joe Gilgun (This is England) brought a new comic-edge to a show which is gloriously un-PC and boundlessly unpredictable.

Frozen Planet

Forget the Daily Mail getting all annoyed because the BBC filmed a few minutes of polar bear cubs in a zoo and not the arctic for crew safety reasons, Frozen Planet was another masterpiece of nature programming from the Beeb. Stunning camera work, ground-breaking visuals and another reassuring and informative narrative from Richard Attenborough made this unmissable. Not enjoying this show pretty much proves you have no soul.

Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker’s satricial three-parter made for seriously thought-provoking viewing. The vitriolic responses to some of its ideas online just go to show some of the raw nerves about out modern society that the programme touched. As the title suggests Black Mirror, was a dark reflection on who we are in 2011. It wasn’t all comfortable or enjoyable viewing, but it challenged the viewing public in ways few programmes have this year.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle

Yes some people find his humour a bit dry, and he doesn’t exactly a deliver a laugh a minute string of basic one-liners, but Stewart Lee is the best stand-up comedian on television. His brilliantly observed ‘jokes’ and debunking of the stand-up comedy format made for hilarious and rewarding viewing. The minor changes in format from the first series improved the show making Stewart Lee the funniest and most watchable TV stand-up in 2011.

The Killing

2011 saw the return of the critically-acclaimed Danish drama to BBC4, carrying on its slow-paced and claustrophobic brilliance, whilst the US remake did something that few US remakes manage to do, and did the original justice. By following the tone, look and pacing of the original the US version of The Killing made this piece of TV gold accessible to more people (largely those who can’t be bothered with subtitles).

The Hour

Wrongly dismissed by some people as the BBC trying to make a UK version of Mad Men, this excellent series went strangely overlooked by the masses. Set in the mid-fifties and around a new current-affairs show its blend of political, spy and romantic drama made for compelling viewing. Standout performances by Romola Garai and Ben Whislaw stole what was already a quality show.

Boardwalk Empire

When it comes to making programming on a grand-scale no one does it better (or grander) than HBO and with Boardwalk Empire they out-did themselves. Large scale narratives and accessible characters intercut with intimate moments forged arguably the best HBO series of recent times. Bringing the Prohibition Era to glorious life with a exemplary cast including the brilliant Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire was absolute must-see viewing.

Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die

This frank and personal documentary saw author Sir Terry Pratchett consider how he might choose to end his life. Pratchett, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, looked at maybe taking his own life before his disease takes over. The documentary looked at euthanasia from a personal perspective and, controversially, showed the final moments of someone at Switzerland’s Dignitas Clinic. This documentary examined a complex and controversial issue with a human edge giving the debate fresh perspective that has not been seen before.

What were your choices for 2011? Do you agree with Chris Marks’ picks? 

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