Britishland’s Radio Times has published a Top 100 list of TV shows (from the beginning, i.e. early 1950s, until yesterday).
I read through the whole thing (so you don’t have to), and apart from the inexplicable inclusion of American shows (e.g. Hill Street Blues and M*A*S*H*) on the list, it’s not bad. Of course, I haven’t seen all of them — give me a break, we didn’t even have TV in South Africa till I turned 21 — but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the ones I have.
What the hell, it’s the weekend, right?
- Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again — actually, the John Cleese Collection — all classics, all brilliant.
- Not The Nine O’Clock News : what SNL’s Weekly Update tried to be, and failed (unless Norm McDonald was the host) — and speaking of Rowan Atkinson:
- Blackadder : historical satire at its very finest, helped by an unbelievable supporting cast (Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Miriam Margolies, etc.).
- The Royle Family : most Brits of my acquaintance absolutely hated this show about working-class losers; I loved it.
- The Duchess of Duke Street : excellent fin-de-siècle series set in the late 1880s until post-WWI, with the wonderful Gemma Jones as the “Duchess”. One of my prized DVD collections.
- The Singing Detective : unbearable to watch, but so good you can’t stop. Forget everything you ever knew about Michael Gambon: this is his finest performance. Ignore the silly U.S. remake. Also in my collection.
- After Life : funny, dark, poignant and sensitive; Ricky Gervais’s best work. I think I’ve watched this series half a dozen times, and counting.
Cops ‘n Robbers
- The Sweeney : long before NYPD Blue‘s Andy Sipowicz, there was the gritty Jack Regan.
- Inspector Morse : wherein the gritty working-class Jack Regan turns into the calm, analytic and cultured Morse, both having been played by the same actor.
- Cracker : tortured and flawed genius solving crimes; Robbie Coltrane in a non-comic tour de force. I have the set, but there’s a warning attached: do not watch the postscript episode (set in Hong Kong), because not only is it terrible, it was an afterthought, cobbled together at the last minute, and none of the loose ends from the final series were tied up.
Never watched any of them. I did watch one episode of Doctor Who, and it was awful.
- The World At War (I have this series on DVD): probably the greatest WWII documentary ever — it’s hard to argue about Hitler’s behavior, for example, when you have Traudl Junge (his actual secretary) describing it.
- Civilisation : when I grow up, I want to be as educated as Sir Kenneth Clark. I also have this series on DVD.
Missing from this Top 100 compilation (inexplicably, and shamefully):
- Foyle’s War : period drama with the brilliant Michael Kitchen (in Kim’s DVD collection)
- The Young Ones : anarchic comedy with Rik Mayall
- The Goon Show (radio): the groundbreaking show that defined anarchic comedy thereafter, all from the fevered imagination of Spike Milligan
- Life On Mars : detective show in the 70s, from the perspective of a 1990s transplant. Maybe the good old days weren’t so good.
- Waiting For God : shenanigans at a retirement home with dark, biting comedy (in Kim’s DVD collection)
- Absolutely Fabulous : Jennifer Saunders’s hysterical over-the-top empty-headedness vs. Joanne Lumley’s feline degeneracy.
- The Darling Buds Of May : gentle bucolic comedy, with a fine cast (in Kim’s DVD collection).
- The Avengers : Patrick McNee’s bowler hat and Diana Rigg in skin-tight pants suits, ’nuff said.
- The Persuaders : Roger Moore and Tony Curtis; who’d have thought they’d be a great pairing?
- Doc Martin : they left Martin Clunes’s show off the list? Seriously?
All the above omissions should have been slotted in ahead of the American transplants; not that the Yank shows are bad — they aren’t — but they were essentially rebroadcasts.
If you haven’t seen any of the above shows, try to do so. You won’t be sorry.