In a year when old favourites like Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and Heroes have been largely rubbish with the odd spark of brilliance, what has been my top telly of 2009?
20 Genius (BBC Two)
Dave Gorman’s series, adapted from Radio 4, featured people with random inventions trying to persuade that week’s celebrity their ideas were ‘genius’. More leftfield than Dragon’s Den, it was also more eccentric, more heatwarming and more entertaining.
19 The Inbetweeners (E4)
The second series continued to be spot on (whereas its stablemate Skins flitted between being brilliant and being terrible as usual), though it’s getting very hard to believe the boys are young enough to be sixth-formers…
18 Red Riding (Channel 4)
GRITTY BAFTA was bleak, sure, but it was brilliant – and it was nowhere near as dark as its source material…
17 Never Seen Star Wars (BBC Four)
I love BBC Four. I may have mentioned this. One of the little gems on the channel this year was this series in which famous people tried experiences for the first time. The standout episode was Nigel Havers’ one as he threw himself into every challenge with gusto. It’s a bit like a reverse version of Room 101 and real feelgood telly.
16 Miranda (BBC Two)
Nothing about this should work. It’s old-school sitcom with lots of cheese thrown in and yet, it’s really funny, really warm, really all-age friendly and one of the year’s most unlikely successes.
15 The Apprentice (BBC One)
It’s lost some of its sparkle lately, but as this is Margaret Mountford’s final series, it deserves recognition for her alone. And telly shopping was back, which is always nice.
14 Being Human (BBC Three)
This horror-comedy-fantasy-drama featured the best vampires on TV all year (sorry True Blood, I liked you but just not enough to make the cut), along with a ghost and werewolf and was one of the few programmes in Danny Cohen’s new lowest-common-denominator BBC Three worth watching.
13 Beautiful People (BBC Two)
Now this is the kind of thing BBC Three should be making. The second series of this surreal, warm, eccentric, delightful comedy was just as good as the first, and Dannii Minogue’s very funny cameo proved just why she is far and away the best thing about The X Factor.
12 You Have Been Watching (Channel 4)
Lord Charlton Brooker’s new series was a bit hit and miss. When the guests worked (Victoria Coren, Frank Skinner, Grace Dent etc) it was a hoot. When they didn’t, it was a bit flat. Some of the programmes featured were hilariously jaw-dropping, others seemed a bit pointless. The quiz element was rubbish, except on the week Dame VC was on it. All in all, there’s potential for the idea to run but it needs a few tweaks, and if they recommission it, it better not be at the expense of his superior BBC Four output.
11 Gavin and Stacey (BBC One)
The third series has come in for some criticism, but it’s still retained enough of its charm for me to continue to be faithful. James Corden’s bits are showing through more than ever, though. I’m excited to see what Ruth Jones will come up with next, and hopefully she can shake him off to the land of BBC Three comedy flops instead.
10 Electric Dreams (BBC Four)
When I read the premise for this series I mocked it. Why recreate the 1900 house in the 70s, 80s and 90s? Fortunately the tongues were just in cheek enough for this to work, and seeing the children of the 00s going back to the prehistoric days of the recent past was very entertaining and enlightening. I repent. This show was a real romp.
9 The Wire (BBC Two)
It wasn’t technically a 2009 show, but that’s when BBC Two showed it in its entirety, and that’s when I watched it. The nightly stripping at 11pm was a risky move that required viewer commitment but I liked it – watching an episode in bed became a routine for me and the nightly shows thus managed to get the balance between watching a series episodically and devouring a box set. It’s not the best show in the world ever, but it is very good indeed. My favourite series were two and four, which apparently aren’t most other people’s, but I never claimed to be normal.
8 Doctor Who (BBC One)
OK, there were only three episodes this year. The End of Time Part 1 was bonkers. Enjoyable, crazy, great bonkersness but hard to judge until part two is with us next year. Planet of the Dead was alright, nothing special but a vast improvement on the 2008 Christmas special. The Waters of Mars, though, was something special. I knew it would be – I figured it’d be the Midnight of the specials, the one no-one was getting excited about which would turn out to be fabulous. Other than the not-very-kid-friendly nature of it, it was great; amazing sets, real tension, stunning performances. When RTD does this kind of thing rather than the spectacular big finishes, he really shines.
7 The Supersizers Go… (BBC Two)
Giles and Sue are very much my favourite TV marriage, and this series remains a complete riot. Rumours are that they want to do something different next rather than a third series, but I don’t know what decision has actually been made. Whether it’s more of the same or something new, anything that keeps this pairing on telly will always be worth a watch.
6. Only Connect (BBC Four)
From one Coren to another. The placing of this after Supersizers was perfect for our Lowculture chatroom Coren hour – and for a time, it was followed by Charlie Brooker – Monday nights became the best night of the whole week for a few short weeks. The quiz was as hard as ever, but as addictive as ever, and the thrill of getting a question right is still bigger than you’ll get from any other quiz show.
5 Sarah Jane Adventures (BBC One)
The two-episodes-a-week scheduling was hard to take as an adult but kids would probably have loved it. More even than the previous two series, which were also great, the standout moments were the Judoon enforcing ALL laws, and the Doctor’s episodes, which were the most blubtastic thing I’ve seen all year (alongside Up, anyway).
4 Gameswipe/Screenwipe/Newswipe (BBC Four)
Charlie Brooker really was everywhere this year, so it’s no mean feat that his three ‘Wipe’ shows maintained a high standard of quality. However, not one of them ran for anywhere near long enough. How dare he do other things with his life than make programmes and write columns non-stop?
3 Damages (BBC One)
No, the second series wasn’t as good as the first, but then the first series was the best thing ever (since Press Gang) so that would be pretty hard to beat. Perhaps there were a few too many characters and a bit too much double crossing, but it was still intelligent, amazing, intense drama and those of us that were hooked were in as deep as ever…
2 Torchwood (BBC One)
Dear Chris Chibnall. You sucked. THIS was what Torchwood should have been all along. Tense, dark, funny, sad, and lots of Rhys. There were some small faults with the final episode but overall such an amazing week of television, with the write-ups and ratings to prove its worth. Why wasn’t RTD this involved all along? Those first two series could have been so, so much more. Let’s just hope they don’t piss it all up the wall in their fourth series, assuming there is one.
1 Ashes to Ashes (BBC One)
No longer Life on Mars’s poor relation, this series really developed its own personality this year. A stunning second series which was a massive step up from the first (and I loved the first) and THAT ending – the final episode of this was possibly my favourite piece of TV all year. I hope the denouement of both series in the new year is every bit as amazing as it has the potential to be. Expectations are so high I’m worried it can’t deliver, but the endings of this second series and of Life on Mars series two suggests it could be magnificent.