The Best of 2011:Dramas, Documentary and reality 2011 had it all.

by | Dec 23, 2011 | All, Reviews

What were the best programmes of 2011? I’ve compiled a list of what I think was the best of the best in 2011. Feel free to agree/disagree and note me down as a genius.

Hugh’s Fish Fight (January 2011, Channel 4)

This enlightening and shocking there-parter from Hugh-Fearnly-Whitingstall was alarming and informative in equal measure. It dealt with the incredible amount of discard in our seas. It made for distressing viewing but often that’s what needed with subjects like this. It was dicussed in the House of Commons and the campaign to end discard the received 13,000 signatures, the day after the final episode there were over 320,000 signatures. 

Human Planet (January 2011, BBC1)

We’ve all seen programmes on nature and the environment but in all my years of being glued to the talking box I’ve never seen anything quite like the breath taking images we were treated to in this series. The programme documenting parts of life never seen before, like a tribe who happily take fresh meat from a feeding Lion, a man who walks along the sea bed fishing with a spear and feats of Human Endurance that were enough to put anyone to shame.

Buy the DVD

Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (January/Feb 2011, CHANNEL 4)

Spawned from a Cutting edge documentary that was shown in the summer of 2010, this 5-parter became one of the most talked about series of 2011. It gave viewers a glimpse into the secluded and segregated world of modern day gypsies. The whole nation was gripped by the lavish and over the top nature of the weddings shown. You just couldn’t turn it off. Such was the public’s fascination for the world of Gypsy weddings that Paddy Doherty even went on to Win the first series of Five’s Celebrity Big Brother. BUY THE DVD

Friday Night Dinner (February 2011, Channel 4)

This simple new  comedy was seen by some as marmite television you either loved it or.. well you know the rest of that. I loved it! A simple premise, sometimes immature humour but the right kind that anyone with a family could relate to. Simon Bird was great stepping shadow of the Inbetweeners and Tamsin Grieg’s Mum character was worryingly familiar. The entire thing was inoffensive (which is rare in modern comedy) and felt strangely real. The series will return in 2012.

Silk (March 2011, BBC1)

The first drama to make the list, this fast paced legal drama starring Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones was a breath of fresh air. It was smart and engrossing and showed the world of barristers that I personally had never seen before. The characters were well rounded and believable and I particularly loved Maxine Peake as no nonsense barrister Martha Costello. The series is back in 2012 for a second series and I can’t wait. Series 1 on DVD

When Teenage Met Old Age (March 2011, BBC2)

You may have missed this. It was a three-parter on BBC2 on Monday Evenings. It took three teenagers and sent them off to a nursing home to be reacquainted with the elderly generation. The meeting and the clashing of the two generatons made for both warm and frustrating viewing but by the end of the series both groups were better for the experience and it showcased both young and old in non cliché and favorable light.

The Hotel (April 2011, CHANNEL 4)

This was a documentary and reality series done in the same style of One Born Every Minute where cameras are placed in a Hotel. This wasn’t like the 1997 fly on the wall series from BBC1. This was a funny and often emotional series that offered an interesting view of modern Britain. It returns in a brand new Hotel in 2012. Watch one of my Favourite Clips

Exile (May 2011, BBC1)

This three-part conspiracy thriller starring John Simm as a Journalist who returns home to care for his elderly father with Alzheimer’s disease has to be one of my favourite dramas of the year. A fantastic piece of writing coupled with great casting which included  Jim Broadbent and Olivia Coleman made this an intriguing, shocking and surprisingly heart warming piece of TV. BUY THE DVD

24hrs in A&E (May 2011, CHANNEL 4)

Filmed in the same style as the Hotel this might just be one of the best documentary series in recent years. It was heartbreaking and exhilarating all in equal measure. This was reality TV at its most real. Although medical documentaries aren’t anything new this series delivered something new and special to the genre. It was a credit to the doctors and medical staff it showcased and a tribute to the patients. It again served as an interesting view of modern Britain and showed a side of the A&E wards never before seen. I’m delighted that there will be a new series in 2012.

Our War: 10 Years in Afghanistan (June 2011, BBC3)

Sometimes a TV show comes along that changes your view on something. This was certainly the case with this three-part BBC3 series that showed footage of the conflict in Iraq alongside candid and heartfelt commentary from those on the ground. If I’m honest I don’t turn on BBC3 for intelligent and thought provoking television but this was the exception to the rule. It was a portrayal of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq as we’d never seen it before. With raw and shocking real video from the Ministry of Defensive. There were a lot of programmes in 2011 that dealt with the same subject but this was the one that showed it in its realest form with no sugarcoating. It was one of the most engrossing series of the year. 


Scott and Bailey (June 2011, ITV1)

Scott and Bailey was another case of brilliant scripts paired with perfect casting. Surrane Jones & Lesley Sharp worked brilliantly together as police partners in this surprising 6-part drama from Sally Wainwright. The scripts were interesting because there was a lot going on in Scott and Bailey’s private lives which played nicely against the backdrop of a weekly crime stories. It felt effortless, was humerous and enjoyable and I’m very much looking to the second series in the spring of 2012. SERIES 1 ON DVD

Luther: Series 2 (June 2011, BBC1)

One of the best series of 2010, and one of the best new crime dramas returned in the summer. Idris Elba returned as John Luther in four episodes. Luther is crime drama at its best. Occasionally it can wonder off into slightly madcap territory but on the whole the second series lived up to expectations with the final episode being a particular highlight. Luther will return for a third series.  BUY THE DVD

The Hour (August 2011, BBC2)

I’m not normally a fan of period pieces but this stylish conspicuity thriller set against a fictional 1950’s news programme really felt like something I’d never seen attempted before. There was little to fault in Abi Morgan’s scripts and the series did a wonderful job at depicting the BBC of the 1950’s. As each episode progressed I felt more and more sucked in. The characters were engaging and the setting authentic and exciting. The series will return in 2012 which is rare for a BBC2 drama. BUY THE DVD

Appropriate Adult (September 2011, ITV)

This Fred and Rose West biopic was not just one of the best dramas of 2011 but quite possibly one of the best TV dramas of recent years. From Dominic West’s initial opening monologue you knew you were in for a treat. I don’t think I moved from my seat in the entire 90mins of both episodes. It may’ve been a story we were all familiar with but we’d never seen it told in such a masterful and unapologetic manner. It was nail biting, informative and impossible to ignore. There weren’t a great many of dramas on ITV in 2011 that could’ve elicited the  same reaction but it was proof that the channel can still deliver fantastic drama.BUY THE DVD

Educating Essex (September 2011, Channel 4)

Another 24hrs in A&E type series this time set in an Essex secondary school. It was an illuminating and honest portrayal of modern British Schooling. Sometimes difficult to watch it was a real eye opener onto what teachers and staff in today’s schools have to cope with. The teachers and pupils both came across genuinely and it became a must-see. 

An Idiot Abroad: The Bucket List (October 2011, Sky1)

Despite saying he’d never put himself at the mercy of Ricky and Stephen again, Karl Pilkington returned for a second travelogue in 2011. This time the premise was that he’d experience things people wish to do they die. But Karl’s Bucket List was continually sabotaged  by  Gervais and Merchant who missed an opportunity to make their friend’s trip abroad the most uncomfortable as possible. Of course this made for another wonderful series particularly Karl’s trip to a desert Island which saw him building a hut of leaves in the pouring rain. BUY THE DVD

Frozen Planet (October 2011, BBC1) 

Much like Human Planet this David Attenborough series was of course tantalizing television. The 7-part series showed a side of the poles as we’d never seen it before. Polar Bears, Penguins, Whales and Dolphins and of course the incredible behind the scenes features that showed the incredible lengths the BBC go to to get the best shots for us. Programmes like Frozen Planet is what makes British TV the best in the worldGet the DVD

The Jury (November 2011, ITV)

After a ten year absence Writer Peter Morgan decided to revive his crime drama that centres on the 12 members of the jury on high profile retrial. Sharp scripts and great casting made this another great drama. ITV’s plan to air this across a week in November which happen to coincide with conclusion to the Michael Jackson trial was perfect timing. Julie Walters was her usual reliable self and an ensemble cast and a myriad of interwoven storylines and twists and turns this was one of the standout series of the year. Read our original Review.  Buy the DVD

All in all 2011 has been a year with a lot of decent TV for us to revel in. The major disappointments have included Show Me The Funny (An ITV reality series that never raised any interest let alone a laugh) and Life’s Too Short (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s new mockumentary series that left too familiar to both with)

Have I missed anything out?? Let me know your picks for the best of 2011 below by adding a comment or get in touch through Twitter.

Here’s hoping 2012 will be another year of new and exciting TV. A Big Thank You to everyone who has visited the site this year!

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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