The BBC at 100: 100 of its best shows.

by | Oct 29, 2022 | All, Opinions

This year the BBC turns 100. Fundamental to Britain and funded by licence fee payers, the BBC has garnered a worldwide reputation for quality. For this special post highlighting the highlights of the corporation’s massive contribution to television, I’ve decided to talk about 100 shows that have aired across the BBC in my lifetime. I was born in 1983 meaning that loved dramas like Boys from the Blackstuff and comedies like The Good Life, Hancock’s Half Hour and Porridge have missed the cut. There are a few blind spots in my viewing too. I’ve never seen the original run of House of Cards, Yes Minister, or the much-loved Our Friends in the North. All of those deserve to be on the list but if I’m being completely selfish here (which I am), none of those had an impact on me. I’ve also never seen The Singing Detective (I know) and another notable missing comedy is Red Dwarf which I never connected with as well as sketch shows like Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show both huge cultural hits that haven’t aged well. I’m not really big on big genre pieces meaning BBC Three hits Being Human and In the Flesh didn’t make the cut either though I appreciate their value. All this is to say this is my list. It’s personal, it’s not the definitive list of the best BBC shows of the last century, but it’s my favourites. With that said, here we go…

1) Top of the Pops  BBC One (1964) It’s hard to put into words the importance of Top of the Pops. It was, until its cancellation in 2006, THE show to watch if you were a teen obsessed with the charts like I was. I remember watching Top of the Pops somewhat religiously in 1993. Airing on a Thursday night, it was THE show to watch as a teen. I remember vividly the first Spice Girls, Oasis, and Blur performances I saw and the genuine excitement that I felt as the countdown ran down. I am a huge music fan, and my love of the TOTP has a lot to do with that. It was always a talking point at school, it introduced you to different genres and that was true whether you grew up in the eighties like me, or the seventies and early 00s. It’s hard to imagine how it would work today, with people curating their own playlists on Spotify rather than looking at the charts as a marker of what’s popular, but I do feel sorry for people who didn’t grow up with Top of the Pops.

2) Only Fools & Horses BBC One (1981) There’s a reason why Only Fools & Horses is consistently named as one of the best British comedies of all time. It was a series that struck a chord with the nation because they loved to see brothers Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter and his brother Rodney trying to better themselves. The simple conceit of two brothers living with an elderly relative (Grandad to begin with and Uncle Albert following the death of Leonard Pearce) who work on a market stall but wish for a better life was instantly relatable. What I always loved about the show was its warmth. For every falling through the bar or chandelier crashing to the floor, there was a deeply moving moment. Rodney leaving Del when he marries Cassandra and Del realising he doesn’t have his best friend anymore. Del stopping a lift in Nelson Mandela House so that Rodney will open up about his feelings when Cassandra loses their first baby. To the incredibly satisfying finale (let’s pretend the final trilogy doesn’t exist eh) where they quite literally walk off in the sunset after achieving their lifetime goal. Only Fools & Horses is an incredibly special show. It feels entirely British. David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst are electric together. Utterly believable as a pair of brothers who love and despair each other in equal measure. The show really got into its groove in 1989 when the BBC gave John Sullivan the freedom to expand his stories by giving the show a 50-minute runtime. He had proven what he could do with more time in specials like Dates and The Frog’s Legacy and everything from series 6 onward is peak Only Fools. Del going full ‘Yuppie’, entering Rodney into an art competition which he wins but has to pretend he’s 14 years old. The 1989 Christmas Special, ‘The Jolly Boy’s Outing’ is another classic. The series is endlessly rewatchable with a cast of side characters who feel so real. The excitement generated by a Christmas Special often made my Christmas. The show received record-breaking ratings that few shows have been able to manage either before or since. I don’t think there has been a universally loved British comedy since Only Fools & Horses and the fact it is still referenced and brought up in the conversation around the best comedies of all time I can’t see it disappearing from the British conciseness any time soon, if at all.

3) Blackadder BBC Two (1983) I didn’t see this classic Ben Elton and Richard Curtis historical comedy when it originally aired. It wasn’t even my first encounter with the brilliance of Rowan Atkinson, that came with Mr Bean on ITV, but Blackadder is his true masterpiece which still stands as one of the best British comedies of all time. Zany, historical and eventually incredibly moving, Blackadder is the kind of comedy that would resonate with audiences today and has more to say about Britain and our history than almost any other comedy before or since.

4) Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV BBC Two (1985) This sketch show was groundbreaking in so many ways. Victoria Wood was the first woman to lead her own sketch comedy show which included songs, mock documentaries, and its own soap in Acorn Antiques. It turned the likable stand-up into a household name because it allowed her to showcase all of her talents as well as writing for a cast of talented actors she had grown to know and love. Her long-time partnership with Julie Walters began when the pair met in their 20s and they had trialed their comedic chops in ITV’s short-lived Wood and Walters but As Seen on TV shows  Victoria Wood as a confident storyteller and performer writing about what she knows, which of course is instantly relatable to millions at home. It formed her long-time working relationships with Celia Imrie, Susie Blake and Duncan Preston, with ample amounts of Julie Walters. From the heartbreaking documentaries which included  Victoria portraying a young girl attempting to swim to the channel, to the off-the-wall comedy of Acorn Antiques, As Seen on TV has something for everyone and it’s no wonder Victoria Wood and her cast became much-loved stars.

5) Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days BBC One (1989) The only celebrity travelogue you really need to see. The success of Palin’s first series has spawned an entire genre with every celebrity being given trips on planes, trains, canal boats and any manner of transport and spins on the idea but Around The World in 80 Days is the original. The show was inspired by Phileas Fogg, Palin was given the same deadline, and not allowed to use aircraft. He followed Phileas Fogg’s route as closely as possible. Along the way, Palin encountered several setbacks partly because he travelled with a five-person film crew, who are collectively named after Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s manservant. The series stands as an incredible achievement, exploring parts of the world often not seen on camera before. Palin, who up to that point was known for his comedic work, proved an engaging presenter and the huge success of the show gave him a new career with 1992’s Pole to Pole and 1997’s Full Circle also proving massive hits.

6) One Foot in the Grave BBC One (1990) Comedy writer David Renwick got his start writing sketches for the Two Ronnies. His mastermind sketch where Ronnie Corbett gives the answer to the next question is one of the best in all of sketch comedy and shows how differently Renwick’s mind worked. His own sitcom, One Foot in the Grave would be something very different too. Somewhat ahead of its time, Victor Meldrew is made redundant early when it is found that a computer can do his job far more efficiently. The series would do everything from slapstick humour to questions about life and death to dipping its toe in science fiction. Renwick was a master at wrong-footing the audience and putting his curmudgeonly lead into the most ridiculous of situations for the most logical of reasons. The best episodes of One Foot in the Grave were often the simplest. In The Trial, Victor is stuck in all day waiting to hear if he’ll be called for Jury service. The episode consists of him wandering aimlessly around his house and talking to himself. At one point he finds a new mole on his stomach and convinces himself he has cancer. On another, he is trying to write a letter to his brother but after writing, “it has been all go at this end”, he abandons the idea because he can’t think of anything else to say! It is simple observational humour and Richard Wilson commands the screen as Victor completely on his own. On the surface, Victor Meldrew, the cantankerous old man, who bellows at everyone for everything might be grating, but Renwick and Wilson give him a heart of gold and more often than not you’re on Victor’s side. You also feel a great deal of sympathy for his long-suffering wife Margrett. Richard Wilson and Annette Crosbie have instant chemistry as a married couple and the show is one of the best BBC comedies of all time.

7) Have I Got News For You? BBC Two/One (1990) The original lineup of Ian Hislop, Paul Merton and host Angus Deayton was what made Have I Got News for You so enjoyable. Often, the joy, albeit quite uncomfortable at times, was watching host Deayton being picked on by Merton and Hislop. The unlikely trio made for exciting and biting television with the show able to satirise, puncture and examine the week’s events often better than actual news programmes. There was an anarchic side to the early days of the show, where the politicians who appeared as guests on Hislop or Merton’s teams would be held to account for the things they’d done and said in a way that they couldn’t  on News at 10. Because the show was transmitted so close to recording, it always felt fresh and biting, but when Deayton’s personal life received the same treatment on the show, it was clear he’d have to go. Still very much relevant, Have I Got News For You is perhaps showing its age, but it’s here because it ushered in a new era of panel show. It was a place where politicians would go to show they had a sense of humour but also somewhere they’d go to be held accountable. Perhaps the less we say about the show’s impact on one bumbling politician’s career the better for now.

8) Noel’s House Party BBC One (1991) It’s quite difficult to explain the effect Noel’s House Party had in the ’90s. Ant & Dec have spoken regularly about how much the show influenced what would become Saturday Night Takeaway. I suppose you could equate it to the Saturday night staples we have now like The X Factor or Strictly but those cater to a certain audience and if you’re not interested in good or bad singers and dancers you won’t tune in. Noel’s House Party was THE show of the ’90s. It was the show that everyone was watching. For one segment, NTV, Noel would snap his fingers and surprise people in their living room. Ant & Dec do a version of this now, but this felt revolutionary at the time. I clearly had no clue how it worked as I’d get butterflies in my stomach every time Noel would sit in his chair and announce he was about to go live to someone’s house. I genuinely thought it could be mine! House Party was just that. A massive weekly party where celebrities would drop in, ringing Noel’s doorbell, and as a viewer, it felt like you were part of something BIG. Anything could happen, it was appointment viewing. I’ll even stick up for Mr Blobby. It’s impossible to explain now how BIG Blobby was. Initially used as part of the ‘Gotcha’ segments to prank unsuspecting celebrities, he took on a life of his own and I’m man enough here to say I loved him and, I’ll go one step further and say, I still find him funny now! Once Ant & Dec finish Takeaway I don’t think we’ll see another true Saturday Night Entertainment show. Broadcasters aren’t interested in general entertainment but I’m grateful that I grew up with everyone who watched Noel’s House Party – we’ll never see another like it.

9) Absolutely Fabulous BBC Two/One (1992) The seeds for what would eventually become Absolutely Fabulous can be found in a sketch for the French and Saunders show. In the sketch, French plays a straight-laced daughter trying to study, when her mother (Saunders already embodying what would later become Edina Monsoon) bursts into her room showing off her latest fashions with French playing the disinterested daughter who is told to “look at mama”. The sketch would be turned into Absolutely Fabulous, a sitcom that would be huge across the world, spawn a film and make Saunders and co-star Joanna Lumley icons. The show, which went on into the ’00s felt cutting edge when it launched in 1992. Set in the world of fashion and PR, the show leaned heavily on the fashion world and the fact that London was the place to be. Saunders surrounded herself with a wonderful female cast strangely all with names that began with J. Joanna Lumley, who before this had been known for her work on The New Avengers and Sapphire & Steel, was given an entirely new career when Saunders invited her to play former model and party girl Patsy Stone. Julia Sawalha was perfect as Saffy, Edina’s sensible daughter who has spent her entire life playing the adult to balance out the childish nature of her mother. Comedy veteran June Whitfield was predictably brilliant as Edina’s ‘mother’ – a character who confuses a pack of condoms for gloves, “there are no fingers in these gloves!”  Lastly, Jane Horrocks as Edina’s clueless assistant Bubbles who has a brilliant other-worldly quality. Absolutely Fabulous achieved the rare feat of breaking America, something few British comedies ever manage, with Edina and Patsy guest starring on Roseanne. I don’t think it’s unfair to say the show was at its best in the initial ’90s run. The Last Shout, which aired in 1996 was written as a farewell to the show and would have been a perfect conclusion. I suppose I can’t begrudge Saunders and co for wanting to revisit the characters.

10) Shooting Stars BBC Two (1993) I don’t think I quite got Shooting Stars when it first aired, although I enjoyed the surreal humour, the biting attacks on the guests didn’t really hit until I was older. What’s surprising about Shooting Stars is that the BBC allowed Vic and Bob to mercilessly mock most of their invited guests and get the best of them on most occasions. The best episodes of Shooting Stars often featured guests who didn’t know what they’d signed up for and were totally bemused by the whole set up, Larry Hagman springs to mind. The series also had so many unique elements that strangely worked in the context of the game show such as Matt Lucas’s George Dawes and the classic Dove from Above. Although the show was revived twice in the 21st century, it’s the original 1990s run which will stick with the most due to its anarchic style and refreshingly honest interactions between the hosts and their guests.

11) The Day Today BBC Two (1994) I’m running out of synonyms for groundbreaking so can we just accept that a lot of the shows on the list will come under that umbrella? Like a few others on the list, this show began life on the radio before transferring to television.  One of the first creations of Armando Iannucci (he will appear several times too) and Chris Morris, each episode of The Day Today is presented as a mock news programme, and the episodes rely on a combination of ludicrous fictitious news stories, covered with a serious, pseudo-professional attitude. Each episode revolved around one or two major stories, which were pursued throughout the programme, along with a host of other stories usually only briefly referred to. Cleverly the show would also dip into other channels from time to time, with clips of fictitious upcoming BBC programmes. For all its silliness, The Day Today took itself incredibly seriously and could easily be mistaken for a real news programme if you weren’t paying attention. It is also the show responsible for the creation of one of Britain’s most versatile, and quotable comedy characters, Alan Partridge. The Day Today puts Alan in the role of an inept and over-enthusiastic sports reporter. Steve Coogan portraying the character he would turn into a household name with perfection from the very start. The Day Today may have only lasted for one series on the BBC, but it holds up really well, perhaps even better in a world of rolling news.

12) The Fast Show BBC Two (1994) Redefining the sketch show for the 1990s, Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson’s compendium of catchphrase-spouting characters was a breath-of-fresh-air. Boiling down the sketches to their rawest elements, The Fast Show marked itself out as fresh whilst most of the characters are still remembered today. I remember phrases such as ‘Suits You! and ‘You Ain’t Seen Me Right?’ being quoted round the school playground for those of us old enough to stay up and watch the programme. Countering the juvenile humour on display elsewhere, there was also the warmth of the sketches featuring Ted and Ralph, which were so popular that they gained their own 1998 special. Over its original run, The Fast Show proved to be innovative, and influential and most of all it was very, very funny.

13) Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge BBC Two (1994) It’s difficult to believe Steve Coogan was in his late 20’s when he starred in Knowing Me Knowing You. By the time the mock chat show made to air he had had a fair amount of time to feel comfortable in the skin of regional broadcaster Alan “Aha!” Partridge. By the time Knowing Me, Knowing You made it to television, he had portrayed him on The Day Today and its radio version (On the Hour) as well as the radio version of Knowing Me Knowing You. All this time with Partridge had given Coogan and his collaborators Armando Iannucci and Patrick Marber confidence that they knew who Alan was. Knowing Me, Knowing You, is essentially a chat show hosted by someone who is only interested in being famous and being taken seriously by his guests and studio band and far less engaged with his guests. Right from the start, it’s clear Alan isn’t exactly comfortable in his role as host. Coogan, the comic who is years younger than his alter ego, completely disappears with Alan Partridge feeling worryingly real. You see and feel his despair when things go wrong or a guest lets him down. We now refer to this as ‘cringe comedy’ but it wasn’t a term used in 1994 even though, looking back, Knowing Me, Knowing You might be the first example of this.

14) The Mrs Merton Show BBC Two (1995) Caroline Aherne had already proven herself a talent on The Fast Show. Her judgemental cashier and half of married couple Roy & Renee are particular standouts. The Mrs Merton Show would see the 31-year-old blonde disappear behind a grey wig, dress, and tight stockings. The character of Mrs Merton – the gentle old lady with a love for her audience and son Malcolm, gave Caroline Aherne license to be more biting, scathing, and often rude than she could be if she weren’t hiding behind the character. Unlike Knowing Me, Knowing You where the guests were character actors working from a script, Mrs Merton would interview real celebrities with a small team of writers (including her long-time collaborator Craig Cash) dreaming up questions that would stump the guests and give Caroline the chance to revel in watching them squirm. At least initially, the guests believed Merton to be a proper interviewer. The likes of Russell Grant, Kriss Akabusi, and Debbie McGee were all seemingly unaware of what they’ve quite stumbled into. The brilliance of the show is watching Caroline as Mrs Merton reacting to a guest’s response to a question. The show required her to stay in character throughout even when Boxer Chris Eubank doesn’t appear to get the joke and sits in silence. “You’re going to punch me aren’t you?” She asks him, breaking character only very loosely. Merton proved a huge hit for the BBC and made Caroline Aherne a star, but she’d walk away from the show after four years to focus on writing a very different comedy with Craig Cash.

15) Never Mind the Buzzcocks BBC Two (1996) The anarchic music quiz felt like something different and fresh in 1996. Launching, when British music and Britpop were riding high, it captured the mood of the nation quickly. Host Mark Lamarr pulled no punches, taking pleasure in taking down the unsuspecting pop stars who would be booked on teams originally helmed by Phill Jupitus and Sean Hughes. At a time where TV quiz shows could come across as ‘stuffy’ or overly serious, Buzzcocks had a great play-along element. Guess the Intro, guessing which long-forgotten talent was stood in a lineup ready to be ridiculed and filling in the missing lyrics in the final round. It’s hopefully not too controversial to say I enjoyed the Simon Amstell era from 2006. He took particular delight in calling out the ridiculousness that comes with fame. Like the best shows, Buzzcocks felt dangerous, as if something could happen at any moment. An episode where ‘Ordinary Boy’ Preston walks off in a huff after Amstell reads excerpts from his wife’s recently published autobiography is the best example of this. Peston’s departure forces Bill Bailey into the audience to find someone who looks like Preston to fill his empty seat on the panel. When Amstell left the show and it began to rely on guest presenters a lot of the charm and camaraderie felt like it faded away. Such is the power of the Buzzcocks brand that is still airing in a new incarnation on Sky. Try as it might, that version will never be able to capture the glory years.

16) I’m Alan Partridge BBC Two (1997) The rise of Alan Partridge is miraculous. A radio show that led to a TV show, another radio show, another TV show, and now a sitcom built around him. Coogan is wonderful in this first series of I’m Alan Partridge. It’s a near-perfect first series (I wasn’t a fan of the way it ended) that fleshes out the character even more. This was Alan the man. Dejected and rudderless after The Head of BBC Television refuses to give him a second series of his chatshow. During the majority of Knowing Me, Knowing You Alan was on the verge of losing control but in I’m Alan Partridge he’s on the verge of a breakdown. Living in a Travel Tavern, deep down he knows his television days are behind him and that he’s clinging on to what little ‘celebrity’ he has left. Although he does carry a dictaphone when ideas for television shows pop into his head. The show also cleverly leans on the success of his chat show with Alan booked to present a corporate video (that ends with him being crushed under a cow) and stalked by an obsessive fan (which ends with him across fields in the darkness). With guest appearances from pivotal Partridge contributors Chris Morris, Arthur Matthews, and Graham Linehan the series proved that Partridge the character could handle anything and that Coogan had created an icon.

17) Jonathan Creek BBC One (1997) David Renwick spent the majority of his time on One Foot in the Grave dreaming up scenarios that Victor Meldrew would find himself in and then working out how to get him out of them. Given that, it’s perhaps not too surprising that his next series would take mystery-solving to a new level. In his trademark duffel coat, Jonathan Creek isn’t the traditional TV detective.  Alan Davies, a virtual unknown at the time, plays Creek as an almost otherworldly type of character with a unique way of looking at things. Creek isn’t an investigator but a creative consultant to a stage magician who solves the mysteries he’s presented with by applying his skills for logical deduction and his understanding of illusions. There’s plenty of humour, particularly between Jonathan and Caroline Quentin’s hapless journalist Maddy who exploits Jonathan’s skills to get herself front and centre when something mysterious occurs. The brilliance of the series is the complicated nature of the mysteries Jonathan is called on to help solve. They range from brilliant locked room mysteries to finding out how did a man with crippling arthritis in both hands manage to shoot himself? How did a honeymoon couple vanish from their hotel suite? Renwick has cited his love for Columbo as an inspiration for the series, this is most evident in the closing moments when Jonathan gathers everyone to unravel the puzzle. Renwick’s mysteries, and more importantly, their resolutions are genius. All several steps ahead of the audience and always using logic. It was impossible not to get drawn into the show and see if you get there before Jonathan – you never could, or at least, I never could.

18) The Lakes BBC One (1997) I’ll forgive you if you’ve never seen this, but THIS is the show that introduced me to the power of television drama. Jimmy McGovern had already huge success with his take on the crime drama with ITV’s Cracker, and The Lakes, though not talked about as often, is another of his greatest achievements. Focused on Danny (John Simm with such a convincing Liverpudlian accent that assumed he was there until I saw him in Life on Mars) who runs away from home. He meets Emma on a bus and follows her to her tight-knit community in the Lake District. Quickly finding work at the local hotel restaurant, which is staffed by an array of young people looking to escape the claustrophobia of The Lakes. The first of the four episodes clocks in at just over an hour and a half but McGovern uses every minute well. Simm is perfect as Danny. On the surface, he shares a lot of DNA with Cracker’s Eddie ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald – a heavy drinker and compulsive gambler. His relationship with Emma progresses quickly with them married and expecting a baby much to the disgust of her parents Bernie and Peter. It’s when Danny abandons his post looking after boats on the lake that things really take a turn. Four children from the local primary decide to take a boat out on their lunch break and all but one drowns. Grief ricochets through the community who know all the children and their families well. As the outsider, Danny is the pariah and he struggles with his own feelings of guilt. The Lakes is by no means an easy watch, the depiction of the deaths of these young children and how that affects their broken families is difficult to watch, but handled realistically and with humanity. Outside of the tragedy, there are stories of infidelity and guilt. The show gave a platform to actors who would go on to have huge careers. John Simm was a virtual unknown when The Lakes began but his star continued to rise.  Actors like Robert Pugh as the trusted vicar who is having an affair with Emma’s mother. Kevin Doyle as the schoolteacher who is so preoccupied with catching his wife cheating on him that he doesn’t spot the children are missing. To this day, it’s one of the most powerful dramas the BBC have ever produced. It didn’t fit into any genre box. There wasn’t a big mystery at the centre, the drama came from the realities of everyday life. It’s the kind of drama I’ve always loved but one few broadcasters make anymore.

19) Goodness Gracious Me BBC Two (1998) Goodness Gracious Me began life on Radio 4 where it gained a strong following. It ran on radio before moving to television in early 1998. Its four central performers Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Kulvinder Ghir and
Nina Wadia, all of whom played multiple characters and wrote for the series, became stars overnight. Television is getting better at representation but Goodness Gracious Me truly broke new ground. The team could lampoon British culture from a very unique position. The classic ‘Go for an English’ sketch is the perfect illustration of this. It’s a Friday night and the thing to do on a Friday Night in Mumbai is to ‘go for an English’. The group behaves obnoxiously to the waiter, ask what the blandest thing on the menu is, mocking his name, ordering 12 bread rolls and ‘the fancy stuff’ (butter) and 24 plates of chips! It’s a brilliant sketch that resonates today. Goodness Gracious Me took playful shots at every facet of British culture from religion to pop music. Its musical parodies including turning ‘Common People’ into ‘I wanna live like Hindi People’ and Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover being tweaked to ’50 Ways to Leave your Mother’ were particular highlights. The recurring characters were brilliant too. The man who insists that just about everything comes from India or was invented by Indians (often to the chagrin of his more knowledgeable son), including William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, most English words: (veranda, shampoo, conditioner), the British Royal Family (all except Prince Charles, who he claims to be African, because of the size of his ears. The Coopers (Kapoors) and Robinsons (Rabindranaths) – Two snobbish nouveau riche couples who claim to be entirely English with no Indian blood whatsoever, but often give themselves away by using each other’s real names and to the clueless dater who always manages to upset his guests uttering ‘Cheque please.’ In an era where Sketch comedy was as common as the traditional sitcom Goodness Gracious Me stood out. It always had something interesting, thought-provoking and silly to say.

20) Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends BBC Two (1998) Quriky documentary maker Louis Theroux began his career taking a sideways look at America’s subcultures as part of Michael Moore’s TV nation. With his non-threatening manner, friendly personality, and posh British accent, it’s no wonder the Americans took to him. Knowing the kind of documentaries Theroux makes now, Weird Weekends feels like a strange outlier. Over years, Theroux has moulded himself as a kind and compassionate filmmaker who tackles issues prevalent in society like alcoholism, the rise of the far-right and America’s devastating opioid epidemic. If you’re more familiar with Theroux as the gentleman who is unafraid of tackling difficult subjects, Weird Weekends may come as a bit of a shock, but it’s no less fun. Here Theroux is playing more of a character. Slotting his prim and proper self into America’s fringes – Pro and amateur wrestling, the porn industry, survivalists and Gangster Rap to name a few of the best. There’s a sense of fun with Theroux just stopping short of winking at the camera at points. There are also moments of brilliance. His attempt to rap in a battle on a radio station which resulted in the ‘my money doesn’t jiggle jiggle’ song that is currently finding a new life on social media and his time in a pro-wrestling training camp immediately spring to mind. . Above all, Weird Weekends is fun. It might be tongue in cheek but it never feels like Theroux or the show is poking fun at those he’s spending time with. I love Louis Theroux, he has gotten better with age and grown into his style but I find Weird Weekends endlessly rewatchable and a slice of a particular time that gave some interesting and unusual people the chance to tell their stories.

21) The Royle Family BBC Two/BBC One (1998) The Royle Family must’ve been jarring for anyone tuned into it on the first night in 1998. The first three series of The Royle Family have more in common with documentary than they do a traditional sitcom. Focusing on The Royle Family – bone idol patriarch Jim Royle, who spends the majority of the episodes moaning about the state of television, the country or other people. His wife Barabra, who loves her family, their daughter Denise, who is possibly even lazier than her father, her kid brother Anthony and Denise’s gormless but loving soon-to-be husband Dave. This was a comedy truly unlike anything that had come before. It did away with the laugh track, and dared its audience to stick with it during long tracking shots filled with silence as Royle’s paused their conversations to watch the telly or enjoy a chocolate bar. It was a risky move for the BBC but Caroline Aherne and co-writers Craig Cash and Henry Normal were insistent that this was how the show had to be. They were clearly right as it proved a massive hit. I found it completely hypnotic. The idea of capturing one family’s life as they sat, talked, bickered, and put the world to rights all while watching television and drinking endless cups of tea was such a simple idea it was difficult to imagine it hadn’t been done before. I had my issues with the direction the show took following the brilliant Queen of Sheba in 2006 but those first three series and specials of The Royle Family are utterly perfect. Finding hilarity in the mundane, it made you feel as if you were watching your own family reflected back at you. A work of utter genius that redefined what was possible within the comedy genre and almost made the long-used studio audience laughter feel outdated overnight.

22) dinnerladies BBC One (1998) Ironically, when Victoria Wood saw The Royle Family she said how brilliant it was and how it made her first and only sitcom feel dated even before it aired. Where The Royle Family did away with the joke and punch line followed by the raucous laughter of a giddy studio audience, Wood’s comedy would be heavily reliant on the style of comedy that had been on the BBC for years. This being Victoria Wood the joke rate was quick involving clever wordplay and misunderstandings. It did share one thing with The Royle Family – the series takes place all in one place – a factory canteen. The space is used really well and Wood was keen that despite the static setting, the show felt alive. Scenes go by with characters buttering endless amounts of bread and there are customers and deliveries coming and going. It is well documented that Wood poured everything into the scripts for dinnerlaides. The cast would record in front of a live audience twice so that Wood could cut bits she didn’t think worked, often re-writing whole scenes to make it the best she could. Victoria Wood also gave her cast the funniest lines playing the straight-laced canteen manager Brenda. Using trusted talents like Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston, Anne Reid, and an unrecognisable Julie Walters helped too as she could write to their strengths. Her new cast – Andrew Dunn, Shobna Gulati Thelma Barlow and Maxine Peake slotted in effortlessly and completed an incredible cast. dinnerladies may feel from a bygone era, but it’s perfect. It is so densely packed with jokes that you’ll always find ones you missed the first time when you come to rewatch. dinnerladies worked on many levels. It captured a slice of ordinary British life, it put characters like Andrew Dunn’s Tony and Duncan Preston’s Stan into a woman’s world and it added a new dimension to Victoria Wood and Julie Walters’s working relationship (Walters clearly loved playing Bren’s glamorous mother Petula who would waltz into the canteen and briefly steal the show with a crazy anecdote and waltz out again). It’s a love letter to the overlooked worker. No one really notices the dinnerladies until they need twelve rounds of white or crispy bacon but they’re always there, always working.

23) Paddington Green BBC One (1998) If there was one genre that rose to prominence in the ’90s it was the docusoap. Reality TV, as we know it to be now didn’t really exist. In truth, I could have put any number of shows from this period on the list as I lapped them all up. I fell for Jane MacDonald’s charms on The Cruise. I gasped at Maureen as she screamed at her husband as he clung on for dear life in Driving School. I enjoyed watching Jeremy and the two Paparazzi photographers who were desperate for shots of any famous person who was flying into Heathrow in Airport. I liked the claustrophobic, high-tension environment of ‘The Hotel’ with its firey Welsh chef who would throw expletive-filled tantrums (all bleeped of course) when things went wrong in his kitchen. Ultimately though, I had to choose Paddington Green because, unlike the others, it didn’t have an agenda and didn’t try and make stars of those taking part. The conceit was simple: a series that captures the lives of some of the interesting residents of the Paddington area of London. It’s a format programme makers have replicated countless times since, but Paddington Green did it first. The memorable characters here were, Harry – a wig-maker who was also working on a face cream in the basement of his shop. Young girls Dominique and Lia who were seeking fame and fortune after getting into the Sylvia Young Theatre School and most memorably, Jackie, a transsexual woman in her late twenties who worked as a prostitute. I don’t think the series got enough credit for the way it handled Jackie’s story and how it gave her a platform. Reality TV has been part of our lives now for so long that we can see through all its tricks but Paddington Green felt raw and real in a way that a lot of the shows that would come after didn’t. Pointing a camera at someone and following their lives can be all you need for insightful television and Paddington Green proved that.

24) The League of Gentlemen BBC One (1998) Stemming from their Radio 4 show, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gattis and Reece Shearsmith’s dark comedy felt unique when compared to other comedies of the time. This odd hybrid of sketch show and sitcom instantly engaged me with its mixture of macabre humour and utterly memorable characters. Like with other shows in the list, I would regularly quote lines from this show and endless hours were spent shouting ‘Hello Dave’ at my brother. One of the elements of The League of Gentlemen which I enjoyed the most was its ability to adapt from a loser narrative in the first two series, to the third series which featured distinct episodes focusing on individual characters. The League of Gentleman will stick with me as it was such a uniquely strange show that appealed to my offbeat sensibilities and demonstrates how sometimes, when the BBC takes risks on new talent, they do pay off.

25) Castaway 2000 BBC One (2000) The fact that Castaway 2000 even happened is still quite miraculous. Big Brother is often cited as the first social experiment or the first reality TV show but it’s fairer to say Castaway did it first and the show still stands as a remarkable achievement. The show followed a year-long effort by thirty-six men, women, and children from the British public as they attempted to build a community on a Scottish island in the Outer Hebrides. There were no vote off’s and no cash prize for the person who lasted the longest it was a simple social experiment to see what people can achieve when they form a new community. The castaways were forced to be self-sufficient and build their community from scratch.  They had to grow their own vegetables, kill their own animals and become a community for the year. It’s difficult to stress how different Castaway was. Those who applied weren’t chosen by casting agents looking for personalities who would stir the pot within the group or for people who could have a lucrative pop career once their time on the island was done. The castaways were there because they wanted to experience it. Roger and Rosemary Stephenson took their young children to live within the community for the year. So did single mothers, Monica Cooney and Trish Prater. The show welcomed anyone of any age or work ethic. Tanya Cheadle, a 26-year-old television producer, did much of the filming as it was believed that having too many camera operators would undermine any sense of isolation. Smaller cameras were later provided to castaways, and a fixed camera was installed in a “diary room”. Producers would come and collect the footage every two weeks. For the most part, the fact that Castaway was a TV show was very much secondary to those on the island. They were all too busy living their lives to worry about how they were perceived by the viewing public. It’s the kind of show that could have only really succeeded in the formative days of reality television.

26) Child of Our Time BBC One (2000) Castaway wasn’t the only big social experiment the BBC started to usher in a new millennium. Child of Our Time fronted by Professor (now Lord) Robert Winston, drew inspiration from Michael Apted’s ‘Up’ series and followed the lives of 25 babies born in the year 2000. The show would return to both test the development of the children and document how their family life and surroundings shaped them every year. A true social science experiment, its aim was to build up a coherent and scientifically accurate picture of how the genes and the environment of growing children interact to make a fully formed adult. At the start of the series Eve’s parents, Tim and Caroline Scarborough, are Evangelical Christians who tried for years to conceive a baby through IVF but were unsuccessful. Eve was unplanned and conceived naturally. Her parents were delighted but Caroline had post-natal depression. Midway through the series, Caroline is diagnosed with cancer and the series delicately tackles Caroline’s death at a young age and how that shapes Eve’s life. By 2014 Tim had remarried, giving Eve and her younger sister Holly two stepsisters. In the 2017 series Eve and her father describe how she came out as a lesbian aged 14, and by the end of the series in 2020, Eve is a student midwife. Eve is just one of the children, turned teens, turned adults that the series profiled and if you were watching from the start you were treated to a truly unique television experience because you to had grown up with these people and in most cases gone through the highs and lows that every family experienced. Airing before our obsession with reality and ‘structured factual’ television began, Child of Our Time served as an important and educational social experiment that only got more compelling the more you learned about the people involved.

27) Clocking Off BBC One (2000) A lot of drama in the early 00’s focused on everyday people. Choosing to focus on characters working menial jobs and their difficult lives outside of work. Paul Abbott’s Clocking Off focused on colleagues who worked in a textile factory in Manchester and the show would give the spotlight to different characters each episode. In the second episode of the first series, Yvonne (Sarah Lancashire) comes home from a fancy dress party to her family home ablaze. Worse, her three children are trapped inside. She manages to get two of them free but her middle daughter Adele (Tina O’Brien) is still trapped and begging for help at her bedroom window. Help comes from new neighbour Jim (Christopher Eccleston) who risks his life to bring Adele out of the house before it is entirely engulfed by the fire. He offers Yvonne and the kids his spare room and they spend an awkward week together. A bachelor, Jim has never lived with kids, especially “hormonal teenage girls,” and things escalate quickly when he learns there was more to the fire than he first thought. Eccelston and Lancashire are brilliant together and Abbott’s script is peppered with lots of humour. Clocking Off was a great showcase for great actors with John Simm stealing the first episode as a man who comes home to a terrified family who tells him he has been missing for over a year. Lesley Sharp (who had been very much a background character until her episode towards the end of the first series) delivers a powerful performance when he loses her father suddenly. Clocking Off stands a brilliant British drama that told uniquely British stories that TV is so often lacking in the age of BIG blockbuster shows.

28) Marion and Geoff BBC Two (2000) Rob Brydon had quite a year in 2000 starring in two critically acclaimed comedies. The first was Human Remains, a series he co-wrote with Julia Davis with the pair playing multiple characters in its six episodes. The second, Marion Geoff, co-written with Hugo Blick, would see Brydon fly solo as taxi driver Keith Barrett.  Keith is going through a messy divorce from his wife, Marion, who, though Keith failed to realise it, has had a long-standing affair with her colleague, Geoff.  Each episode lasts about ten minutes with Brydon confined to his taxi to deliver a monologue that is filmed by a fixed camera in his cab. The role demands a lot of Brydon, given the fact he’s the only person on screen but those who had seen Human Remains knew what an immense talent he was. You feel sorry for Keith. He’s forever the optimist, he misses his two young sons, and even though he tells himself he’s happy for Marion and Geoff there’s an undertone of sadness that runs through the performance. It’s a sweet-natured comedy that looks at what happens to someone when they lose the most important person in life. Watching Marion and Geoff it was clear that Rob Brydon would go on to be a massive star but I still think the series is one of his greatest accomplishments.

29) The Office BBC Two (2001) The Office wasn’t the first series to attempt the faux documentary style. Victoria Wood had used it with great success in As Seen on TV and a few years before The Office Chris Langham’s People Like Us lampooned the fly-on-the-wall documentary better than just about anyone up to that point. What The Office did, was take the mockumentary (as it became known) and perfect it. Anyone tuning in in 2001 would have thought they were watching a documentary about a slough-based paper merchant. In interviews about the series, Ricky Gervais would say that he (and co-writer Stephen Merchant) used the neverending trend in docusoap as the basis for their sitcom. Every detail of The Office felt authentic. From the drab title sequence to the panning shots of bored office workers working away in a soulless building accompanied by the low hum of the photocopier. Aesthetically, The Office got everything right. At a time when programme makers were desperate for the next docusoap, it was perfectly reasonable to believe they’d want to go behind the scenes of the dreary Wernham Hogg. What creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were able to latch onto was the fact that the people involved in these shows were slowly getting their own slice of fame. Maureen from Driving School, who passed her driving test on the seventh try, released her own version of ‘Driving in my Car’ and Jane MacDonald released an album off the back of The Cruise. So, it was no surprise that Regional Manager David Brent (Gervais in his first comedic role) saw the film crew’s arrival as his ticket to stardom and out of the office. Cringe-comedy hadn’t really existed before The Office. Basil Fawlty was a loveable idiot who paid for his ignorance, Del Boy was a loveable rouge and Victor Meldrew would find often himself in awful situations having upset the wrong person. David Brent was different. Aware of the cameras and continually aware of the image he hoped to convey to those watching at home. Gervais delivers one of the best comedic performances of all time with Brent. He has the ability to make your toes curl but also shows his vulnerable side when he’s redundant by his new boss who can see through his facade.  In interviews during and after The Office Gervais and Merchant have said that the show was essentially about the love story between Dawn (Lucy Davis) and Tim (Martin Freeman). Their mutual attraction is caught by the cameras as they sneak glances of each other, but Tim knows that he couldn’t act on his feelings while Dawn is with her useless boyfriend Lee. It stands as one of the most realistic depictions of romance. As a viewer, you agonise as much over them as much as you do when Brent is performing his awful dance for comic relief. It’s also one of the few shows on the list that ended perfectly and never felt the need to return. The tender kiss shared by Dawn and Tim in part two of the perfect Christmas Special is one of the most moving moments in all of comedy. Groundbreaking (sorry!) in so many ways, The Office isn’t just one of the BBC shows ever, it’s one of the best television shows of all time.

30) Spooks BBC One (2002) If the ’90s were all about the nation watching big tentpole shows like Noel’s House Party and Only Fools and Horses, the next decade we see the rise of the boxset. A boxset, for those born after 2010, was a DVD boxset, mostly of BIG budget US dramas with big cliff-hanger endings to each episode that made it impossible to just watch one. Spooks, which arrived on the BBC in 2002, seemed to be the corporation’s response to the boxset trend. BIG, slick, and dangerous, Spooks followed the work of the spies working to protect the country as part of Mi5 (the show would be titled Mi-5 when it was shown in the US). Right from the start, the series drew in big viewing figures. The brilliantly put together promotional campaign drawing in nine million viewers for its first night, but that success brought with it near-instant controversy the following week when, in a shocking turn of events, the character of Helen, played by Lisa Faulkner, was killed off in brutal fashion. Of the younger members of the cast, Faulkner was the biggest name, with Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, and  David Oyelowo still rising stars at the time. The brutal nature of the death of Helen in such distressing circumstances so soon was a literal warning shot for the rest of the series. Like 24, this might have been a series playing in a genre pool that was famous for gloss and high adventure, but in a post 9/11 world, audiences were geared and ready for a more brutal sense of loss with their thrillers, even if the violence in both shows would attract much criticism. To stick with the spy theme, Spooks broke with tradition and did away with the closing titles meaning episodes would just end on a cliffhanger. Lisa Faulkner’s death set the tone that no one on the show was safe. Matthew McFadyen’s lead would depart at the end of the third to be replaced by Rupert-Penry Jones who would be replaced by Richard Armitage when he was killed off in dramatic fashion. The show had its finger on the pulse of the country even shooting a two-part terror attack story that aired just after the 7/7 bombings in London. Lasting ten years, and followed by a big-screen movie, Spooks always felt unpredictable and exciting. It also proved that British drama was more than capable of competing with the big boys in the US.

31) Top Gear BBC Two/BBC One (2002) I’ll admit I’m not a petrolhead but I loved the original BBC run of Top Gear. It was a car show that wasn’t a car show. The chemistry between Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May is pivotal to the show’s success. When they set out to prove you could drive to the North Pole in 2007, they proved the show had legs outside of reviewing the latest Peugeot or Ferrari. Their road trips pushed their cars, their friendship, and their bodies to the limit but were funnier and more surprising than most comedies of the time.

32) State of Play BBC One (2003) When Paul Abbott sat down to write what would become his award-winning political drama he had no idea what the story was or where it was going. He wrote the first episode without planning things in advance. He was prompted to write the series after BBC Head of Drama Jane Tranter asked him whether he would consider writing a piece “bigger” than anything he had written so far in his career. The show would push Abbott somewhat out of his comfort zone, having created the light comedy drama Linda Green and Clocking Off for the channel. He would go on to dramatise his chaotic upbringing for Channel 4 in Shameless the following year, but State of Play is Abbott’s true masterpiece. The tightly plotted series revolves around a newspaper’s investigation into the death of a political researcher, and centres on the relationship between the leading journalist, Cal McCaffrey (John Simm), and his old friend, Stephen Collins, (David Morrissey)  who is a Member of Parliament and the murdered woman’s employer. While investigating the murder of fifteen-year-old teenager Kelvin Stagg in what appears to be a drug-related killing, journalist Cal McCaffrey of The Herald and his colleagues Della Smith (Kelly Macdonald) and Cameron Foster (Bill Nighy), find a connection with the coincidental death of Sonia Baker, a young researcher for MP Stephen Collins. As their investigation progresses, they uncover not only a connection between the deaths but a conspiracy with links to oil industry-backed corruption of high-ranking British government ministers. The lines blur further because Cal and Stephen are old friends and Cal takes him in when Stephen is thrown out of the family home, but it’s clear they’re keeping secrets from each other. Morrissey and Simm are electric together as is Bill Nighy, but the series also made stars of less well-known faces like Kelly MacDonald and James McAvoy (he’d go on to star in Abbott’s Shameless). State of Play is full of twists and genuinely shocking moments and works as a political thriller and also as an examination of the uneasy relationships between politicians and the news media. State of Play is a must.

33) Early Doors BBC Two (2003) Though not officially, The Royle Family ended in 2003. The BBC didn’t axe it, Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne just stopped writing it and Aherne would move to Australia to work on a new comedy. Craig Cash teamed up with Phil Mealey to write the follow-up, Early Doors which, was perhaps not as universally loved as The Royle Family but Early Doors was still a work of genius which earned legions of loyal fans. It used the same non-laugh track approach and moved the action from the living room to ‘the Grapes’, a pub full of loveable locals. Throughout the Royle Family they’d talk about their local – The Feathers and The Pear Tree (though we knew not to go there because the landlord never cleans his pumps). I felt as if Craig Cash and Phil Mealey had this in the back of their minds when they created Early Doors. Where we rarely left the Royle Family home, in Early Doors we never left The Grapes. A character may arrive and regale the pub with stories about their day, but we didn’t get to see it or follow them home when Ken, the landlord (John Henshaw) called time. The humour was observational and revolved around the nonsense we all end up speaking when we’re around the same people for a long time. A conversation about who in the pub ‘likes circuses’ goes on far longer than it should. The characters here, like The Royle Family before them, feel achingly real. That’s part of its charm. Ken, the pub’s long-suffering landlord puts up with his locals. In truth, they’re one big deeply dysfunctional family. That’s on top of Ken’s actual family who lives with him above the pub. His mother Joan (Rita May) shares some DNA with Liz Smith’s Nana from the Royle Family, always moaning about how difficult her life is despite not really having anything to worry about. It’s clear she loves her ‘Kenny’ and only wants the best for him. Ken’s adoptive daughter Melanie (Christine Bottomley) is clearly the most important person in his life, which makes the plot of the second series where she reconnects with her ‘real dad’ all the more heartbreaking. Ken’s will they won’t they with barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson) is handled with a delicate touch. A slow burn that builds and builds with the whole pub willing their relationship to succeed. The characters in the pub are great too. Writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey also star as Joe and Duffy – friends since childhood they are the ‘lads’ of the pub. Over the course of the series, Duffy goes through the divorce, bringing down the mood of the place and playing Cliff Richard’s Miss You Nights on the jukebox. It felt as if Craig Cash put a lot of ‘Dave’ into Joe. Both characters ran mobile discos (the final episode sees Joe provide the soundtrack to Melanie’s 21st Birthday which includes a surprisingly moving performance of Angles from Robbie Williams) and Joe feels like Dave as he would be outside the Royle household. The cast is stacked with characters that could happily feature in their own comedy and the fact they all appear in the one show feels like a happy accident. Mark Benton and Lorraine Cheshire are brilliant as the dopey married couple Eddie and Joan. Lisa Millet is great as Debbie, who pops in for a moan and natter never forgetting to order a coke and packet of crisps for her two kids who are waiting for her in the car. My personal favourites were inept coppers Phil and Nige who would be served in Ken’s kitchen while they were on duty. From cheating on the pub quiz to getting high on some drugs they’d confiscated. they never failed to stun Ken and leave me in fits. Never outstaying their welcome because, “crime can’t crack itself” Phil & Nige were classic comedy characters. Early Doors finished after two series but Craig Cash and Phil Mealy would work again when Caroline Aherne resurrected The Royle Family for a special in 2006. Early Doors is a typically British sitcom. Full of jokes and brilliantly ridiculous observations that you’d expect to hear on a night out. “To the Regiment, I wish I was there!”

34) QI BBC Two/BBC One/BBC Two (2003) For years TV producer John Lloyd had been amusing friends with facts he’d discovered reading through all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. These were often facts that are generally believed to be true but in fact are misconceptions. Whenever John would tell someone these they’d respond with the same phrase, “oh, that’s quite interesting.” And so Quite Interesting or QI (for short) was born. A whole show devoted to putting long-held misconceptions right and teaching us something useless and brilliant along the way. Bravely or stupidly, It was the BBC’s idea that each series of QI start with a letter of the alphabet meaning John Lloyd and his assembled team of QI ‘elves” had to have facts that could fit around a theme that began with the letter A. QI is a panel show in the same way Buzzcocks is but its aim is to educate and inform. The only consistent people on the show were host Stephen Fry (he wasn’t the first choice for the role but was brought on to allow the team to film their pilot) and Alan Davies who plays dunce but proves himself as the series progresses. In its early days, the brilliance of QI came from the somewhat unlikely chemistry that quickly developed between Fry and Davies. Fry, who became a national treasure as a result of becoming the nation’s favourite educator takes a gentle ribbing from Davies and the other comics who appear on the panel for his upbringing in a private school and prestigious university. When he happens to mention his prep school tailors, the panel of Davies, Jimmy Carr Bill Bailey and Sean Lock are immediately amused. With Lock saying “you had a tailor for a suit you were when you’re 5!?” Bill Bailey ends up impersonating the tailor saying, “would sir like to wear a cravat on the cross-country run?” Stephen Fry takes it all in his stride and it feels like an exchange you’d see nowhere else on television. Such is the madness of QI that it makes you question whether you really know anything at all. When a panel is asked how old they are they all hesitate. “That’s the madness of this programme I know how old I am!” says a crazed Jimmy Carr. In truth, although it felt like a trick question, it was referring to how old we all are given how much our skin, hair, and body changes over time. I haven’t seen every episode of QI, but it’s a show that I love when I do watch it. You are guaranteed to come away learning something quite interesting. Is it a credit to John Lloyd and his elves that the series is still going strong with the most recent series covering all things T. It’s true that the show, like Top Gear, can feel a bit ubiquitous, given how frequently it is repeated on Dave, but is it still another example of brave commissioning from the BBC and I have every confidence they’ll get to Z.

35) Blackpool BBC One (2004) In many ways, Blackpool might well be the bravest show on the list. A mix of crime drama and musical that on paper shouldn’t have worked. The characters sing along to backing tracks to artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, The Clash, and Gabrielle. It could have been cheesy or daft but the finished product is anything but. Blackpool is the story of Ripley Holden (David Morrissey), an arcade owner with big dreams of turning the town into the casino capital of the North West. He’s a character whose big ambition is matched by a larger-than-life personality. His world starts to crumble when a body is discovered on his property. His ego takes a bruising and amid a murder investigation, his family fragments and his past comes back to haunt him. Morrissey is incredible in the role, reveling in Ripley’s sourpuss complexity, crafting that fine line between arrogance and fragility. Ripley is an anti-hero in the same way Tony Soprano was, a man doing terrible things with greed at the heart of every decision he makes. A then virtually unknown David Tennant is at his mischievous best as the Dastardly D.I Peter Carlisle who fixates on Ripley and will stop at nothing to bring him down. The musical numbers only enhance the drama and apart from anything else it adds a great sense of fun. At a moment of tension between Carlise and Holden, the introduction of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots were made for walking only adds to the tension. All of the sequences are beautifully directed, funny and heartwarming and for a show that had no right to be as good as it was Blackpool serves as an example of the good that can come from taking risks.

36) Strictly Come Dancing BBC One (2004) For twenty series, BBC One’s sequin-soaked extravaganza has beamed its way into our homes throughout the autumn months, culminating just before Christmas. Launching the same year as its only rival The X Factor, it outlasted Simon Cowell’s juggernaut because it was a show more interested in getting the best out of its contestants and helping them on their journey than humiliating them. Year after year, it’s clear that the celebrity contestants genuinely seemed to like each other, cheering their competitors on from the sidelines. In an era of talent shows that had either Simon Cowell himself or a poor imitation of him on the panel, most of the criticism the dancers were given felt constructive rather than personal. It doesn’t matter if you are particularly aware of the celebrities that are announced each year, Strictly has a clever way of reeling you in. It’s the one reality format that may outlive us all!

37) Nighty Night BBC Three (2004) There are some pitches I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for when the commissioners heard a new idea for the first time. Naked Attraction for example. You can dress that up (I’m aware of the ironic phrasing here) as educational series with body positivity at the heart, but at the end of the day, it’s naked people in a box! Channel 4’s Sex Box is another example (perhaps I’m a prude with a fear of being put into a box clothed or otherwise) but Nighty Night is certainly the best example of a scripted show I wish I’d seen pitched. The blackest of black comedies, Julia Davis’s Nighty Night is in a class of its own. Davis stars as narcissistic sociopath Jill Tyrell who uses her husband’s cancer diagnosis as a reason to start a new life. She manipulates new neighbour Cathy (Rebecca Front), who suffers from MS, and her husband Don (Angus Deayton), a doctor and the man with whom Jill becomes increasingly obsessed. She joins a dating agency to find another man, and when she hears her husband is improving she admits him to a hospice and tells all her friends he has died. See what I mean about wanting to be there when this was pitched!? Kevin Eldon is wonderful as Jill’s bewildered husband Terry whose recovery from cancer is probably the worst thing that could have happened to him. If Gervais and Merchant perfected cringe-comedy then Nighty Night pushed it to its very limits. Jill was a horrific character. “You know my views on asthma, take a deep breath and get over it.” She lacked the redeeming human qualities that David Brent had when he allowed us to see the man behind all the bluster. Jill was awful and capable of just about anything in her pursuit to get what she felt she deserved. Difficult to watch at times, Nighty Night is incredibly brazen and brave. It’s the sort of show I can’t imagine getting past the pitch if it were floated today.

38) Hustle BBC One (2004) As Spooks continued to go from strength to strength, its production company set its next big glossy drama at the BBC. Hustle, focused on a group of charming, suave, and very successful grifters. Led by the charismatic Michael ‘Mickey’ Stone, (Adrian Lester) the group would only con those they felt deserved to learn a lesson. The other members of the group, fixer Ash (Robert Glenister), vixen Stacey (Jamie Murray), and wide-eyed cheeky chappy Danny (Marc Warren). Together they were a band of crooks you grew to love and root for. The nature of the cons meant the core cast had to play different characters allowing them to infiltrate whatever world their ‘mark’ was a part of. Hustle had fun playing with the audience. In its early days, it would slow the action down or pause it and have one of the group break the fourth wall to explain the intricacies of the con they were trying to pull off. Ultimately, however much they explained, the show would trick the audience with the cons never quite going as expected. Like Spooks before it, Hustle made London look stunning – a place to be. Also similar to Spooks, Hustle coped well whenever the core cast moved on to pursue other projects. Promoting Marc Warren’s Danny to the group’s overconfident leader in series 4 and then having Adrian Lester return when Jamie Murray and Warren moved from the show in 2008. Hustle was fun, it took the business of the con seriously but it was playful and unpredictable.

39) Doctor Who BBC One (2004) I should say before we go any further that I am not the right person to be writing a long piece on Doctor Who. I didn’t grow up with it, and I wasn’t in the country when the revival went stratospheric. That said, it would be completely wrong for me to do a list like this and ignore Doctor Who and Whoverse just because it didn’t resonate with me. Resurrecting the show was by no means a safe bet, but bringing in lifelong fan Russell T Davies was a very good start. He was able to tap into what made the special for him and translate that for an audience who hadn’t grown up with the show. The fact that the show has only grown in popularity and given fans across the world so much pleasure is proof that this BBC brand will, like Strictly, last longer than most of us.

40) The Apprentice BBC Two/BBC One (2005) We don’t need to spend any time on the origins of The Apprentice. Let’s just say that the original US series has a lot to answer for. Our version, which saw candidates competing to impress Sir (now Lord) Alan Sugar to win a job working alongside him is the one we’re talking about here. Here, the candidates are watched over by Sir Alan’s aides Nick Hewer and Margret Mountford, and would be set to tasks designed to allow them to showcase their business acumen. More often than not, the tasks would show how inexperienced these self-professed businessmen and women were. The tasks are designed to push people out of their comfort zone. Selling on home shopping channels, leading tour groups, and creating ad campaigns for a product the ofter half of your team designed without you being able to see it first. To be successful you have to be assertive but not overbearing, confident, and able to turn your hand to all aspects of business. At the start of the process, it’s virtually impossible to pick out who will survive. As the years have gone on, the claims by the ambitious entrepreneurs have boarded on the delusional and the candidates in Lord Sugar’s boardroom have got bolder and louder over the years. What began as a job within Sugar’s empire has since turned into an investment from Lord Sugar to be 50/50 business partners. It’s a winning format that I can’t see myself ever tiring of. It will always be cringe-inducing to see an adult dressed as a crab to promote a new product or a focus group tearing down a team’s latest idea. What has always fascinated me about the show is how fixated the candidates get on a particular idea. As an audience member, you can see it’s bad, but they get locked onto an idea and can’t shift from it. Nothing made me laugh more than Nick Hewer’s side eyes to the camera whenever a candidate said something particularly boastful or downright stupid. When designing something for the French market, one of the team members asks, “Are the French eco-friendly? Do the French go camping? Do the French love their children?” It’s an exchange you’d only hear on The Apprentice and it’s as brilliant as it is awful.

41) Bodies BBC Three/BBC Two (2005) The name Jed Mercurio is now synonymous with BIG tense dramas full of twists and turns where no character is safe. In my opinion (and I love Line of Duty), his 2005 medical drama Bodies is still his greatest achievement. A lot of Jed’s trademark ability to build tension can be found here albeit within the high-stakes world of gynecological surgery inside a hospital that is full of people trying to carve their way to the top. Graphic, bloody, and unafraid of showing the pressures placed on the NHS, the series followed new registrar Rob Lake (Max Beesley) as he realises that his consultant Roger Hurley (Patrick Baladi) is a dangerously incompetent surgeon with a high patient-mortality rate who is retained only because his research brings money into the hospital. Hurley is such a fascinating character because he’s a man who talks the talk, hailed as the saviour of the hospital and the new ward, but when he gets his gown on, he’s immediately out of depth. His patients suffer horrific and life-altering injuries or die on his table as his registrar looks on. As Rob Lake, Max Beesley has a lot on his shoulders. He’s constantly under stress, getting to grips with hospital politics and working out who is on whose side. Doctor Maria Orten (Susan Lynch) has known for a long time of Hurley’s incompetence and is keen for Rob to join her in her fight to have him struck off. Nurse Sister Rix (Neve McIntosh) knows of Hurley’s ways but has chosen to keep quiet for the sake of her job. Rix soon becomes romantically involved with Lake, who as the series progresses becomes more and more concerned by Hurley’s belief in his abilities as the surgeon who can save the hospital. It’s a show about the politics of work. Do you risk your career by turning in your boss or do you turn a blind eye and focus on climbing the career ladder? The dialogue here is thick and fast. The humour is dark and the depictions of life as a doctor are stark and bleak. If you’ve never seen it, please seek out Bodies if only for me.

42) Extras BBC Two (2005) There is a special feature on the series one DVD of Extras which refers to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s follow-up to The Office as ‘The difficult second album.’ No one was more aware of how their next show would be compared to what they had achieved before than Gervais and Merchant. Their eagerly awaited follow-up is a very different show than The Office. It occasionally leans on the uncomfortable social faux pars but on the whole, it’s a more hopeful show about people stuck at a certain spot and aspiring for more. In truth, the series about ‘extras’ who work behind the scenes on TV and movie sets came from the number of celeb fans who reached out to Gervais and Merchant after the success of The Office. The format of Extras Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) and best friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) appearing on a new set every episode allowed big names like Ben Stiller, Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet, Robert De Niro and Ian McKellen to pop in and gave Gervais and Merchant the opportunity write parts for the stars that would play with their pubic personas. Ross Kemp’s hard man image takes a knock when he meets Vinny Jones and Daniel Radcliffe is portrayed as a horny teenager desperate to impress all the women on the set despite never having had sex. It spoke to the respect these people had for Gervais and Merchant that they were so keen to have their personas played with. The heart of the show – the friendship between Andy and Maggie is full of warmth and it was refreshing to see a genuinely platonic friendship between a man and a woman. Andy spends the majority of the first series trying to get the big stars he meets to give him the bigger role in the show or film he feels deserving of. He’s also floating a script about an awful boss and his workplace (a great wink at the audience) and is over the moon when a series is greenlit with the BBC’s comedy department. It’s the big break he’s been longing for but one that proves that the grass is not always greener as the executives turn his idea into a broad studio comedy filled with larger-than-life characters and annoying catchphrases.  As Andy’s star rises the more miserable he is. He’s a celebrity but part of the group he doesn’t want to be associated with. Maggie can’t understand why he can’t just enjoy it and their friendship suffers with Andy either dismissing her or hanging out with his best mate Jonathan Ross or belittling her problems in favour of moaning about his privilege. The Christmas special (the final episode), features a truly moving moment. Andy finds himself in the Big Brother house, whilst Maggie is having to work a cleaning job to keep herself afloat. In the Big Brother house, Andy finally realises the ridiculousness that comes with celebrity and delivers a tearful apology addressed to Maggie before leaving the house and avoiding the media circus desperate for his attention. Extras proved that Gervais and Merchant were far from one trick ponies and the friendship between Andy and Maggie is something we rarely see on television.

43) Dragons’ Den BBC Two/BBC One (2005) Business shows made a real impact in the early 2000s. Channel 4 had had success with Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares the year before which saw the hot-headed chef parachuted into failing restaurants in hopes he can turn them around. Based on a Japanese format, Dragons’ Den gives new entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their business plans to a panel of successful businessmen and women who will invest their own money into an idea if they believe the idea has legs and that they’ll get a return on their investment. To be successful in the Den you need to convey your idea well, be knowledgeable about your sector, know the size of your market, set a sensible valuation for your company, and KNOW YOUR FIGURES!! Dragons’ Den works because it’s stripped back and doesn’t rely on gimmicks. An entrepreneur stands in front of the Dragons sometimes with props, sometimes not, and pitches their idea. Often asking for vast sums for a tiny percentage of investment opportunity. This will either turn the Dragons off straight away or, if they think the idea has legs and they can help propel it forward, it’ll lead to a negotiation that often ends in the entrepreneur giving away more of their business than they’d originally hoped to secure not just the much-needed investment but also access to the doors that each Dragon can open within the various industries. Still going strong, and promoted from BBC Two to BBC One, Dragons’ Den has never wavered from its winning formula. Some contestants have gone on to reach the market with their products despite being turned down by the dragons and have met with a range of success. While other investments have made entrepreneurs wealthy and successful. Reggae Reggae Sauce, a barbecue sauce that incorporates Jamaican jerk spice, Trunki, travel luggage designed for children and Hornit, a bicycle horn reaching a volume of 140 decibels all making it to market and selling well. With success stories like that, it’s no wonder people keep coming through those lift doors with the hope that the Dragons can help them change their lives. At the time of writing, Peter Jones is the only Dragon to be a permanent fixture in the Den, but with every new Dragon, the show evolves.

44) Mock the Week BBC Two (2005) This satirical news comedy panel show was recently axed by the BBC. Hosted by Dara Ó Briain, the show saw six comedians divided into two teams and performing on a faux gameshow, in which the quiz aspect of answering questions relating to major and regional news items, all taken from the week prior to each episode’s filming, is sidelined to focus on satirical, topical discussions on news items, stand-up routines, and the use of improvisational comedy. Producer, Dan Paterson who’s known for his work on the completely improvised Whose Line is It Anyway, brings a lot of what makes that show special, allowing the performers to showcase their different styles of comedy through rounds that rely on their improvisational skills. It gives the show an edge over other satirical comedies like Have I Got News for You. Mock the Week has provided a platform for new comedians and given them their big break. James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan, Rob Beckett, Maisie Adam and Katherine Ryan amongst others all made their first mainstream television appearance on the show.

45)The Thick of It BBC Two (2005) Armando Iannucci’s political satire somehow feels more relevant now than it did when it began. This gloriously contemporary update of Yes Minister highlights the struggles and conflicts between politicians, party spin doctors, advisers, civil servants, and the media. Beginning with Hugh Abbot MP (Chris Langham), who immediately finds himself out of his depth when he’s given the job of Secretary of State for Social Affairs. On the way to announce his ‘snooper force’ to the media, Abbott and his team are forced to do an about-face when feisty spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (the glorious Peter Capaldi) orders him to pull the plug. In the car on the way to the venue they furiously brainstorm fresh ideas that they can safely announce. National spare room database, Pet ASBO’s, the idea that everybody would be asked to carry their own plastic bags by law. In the end, they decide that they’ll use the press conference as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the department so far. Abbott describes it as a ‘complete fu*king disaster” but it’s a win in the long run as it generates no publicity in the media. The first episode sets the tone of the series perfectly with Hugh and his team lurching from one faux pas and mitigated disaster to another. The standout, and one of the best comedy creations in recent memory, is Peter Capaldi as the truly terrifying Malcolm Tucker. Apparently loosely based on Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, Tucker observes the various government departments like a predatory eagle and occasionally swoops down to pluck one of the ministers from the obscurity of the backbenches as a sacrifice for the greater public credibility of the Prime Minister. Following Chris Langham’s departure, long-time Iannucci collaborator Rebecca Front stars as Nicola Murray. Murray was just as frightened by Tucker and just as unsure of herself. By its final series in 2012, the world had broadened out with the government and opposition switching places following a hung election and there is therefore a coalition government with a smaller third party. Peter Mannion (a brilliantly grumpy Roger Allam), has been made the Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Citizenship but has to contend with Fergus Williams, (Geoffrey Streatfeild) his junior partner in the coalition. Throughout its run, The Thick of It had its finger on the goings-on in Westminster and beyond but in the years since it has taken on a life of its own as British politics begins to behave in a way that feels like Armando Iannucci and his team are pulling the strings. The success of its US remake Veep stands as further proof of its brilliance. The worrying thing is, I don’t think The Thick of It will ever feel dated, it’ll probably continue to resonate the more those in power let us down.

46) Tribe BBC Two (2005) Shows about hidden communities and indigenous tribes weren’t a new concept when explorer Bruce Parry’s series began but the series did feel very different. In each episode, Parry would fully immerse himself in the tribes. Living, eating and hunting with them. In a lot of cases, it was the first time the tribespeople would have met someone like Bruce. In a memorable episode, Parry is coerced into drinking a potion that is known for its hallucinogenic properties. He passes out, vomits profusely, and sees visions. For the majority of the time, Bruce films himself which gives the series authenticity and an edge. The show never looks down on the people he is staying with and it’s fascinating to see how they welcome the explorer as one of their own.

47) The Street BBC One (2006) In lots of ways, Jimmy McGovern’s The Street borrows a bit from Clocking Off. Where Paul Abbott’s show would focus on the story of one employee each week, The Street tells the story of one family on a street. Like Clocking Off before it, the format allows big names to take centre stage and blend into the background or disappear entirely when they’re not needed. Attracting names such Bob Hoskins, Timothy Spall (the only cast member to appear in all three series), Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham and Jane Horrocks. It also allowed McGovern to work with and mentor new writers who would bring their stories to him. The stories were varied and deeply human. From Neil Dudgeon’s school teacher who is accused of flashing the younger sister of one of his pupils to Timothy Spall’s taxi driver Eddie bringing home an asylum seeker to live with his family, you never knew what you were going to get. Stephen Graham is brilliant as alcoholic Shay who discovers he has a 16-year-old son with Down’s Syndrome as is Christine Bottomley as Yvonne, a woman stuck in a controlling and abusive relationship with her husband Sean (Lee Ingleby). The Street was pure kitchen sink drama. Great scripts performed by great talent. The kind of show that tackled issues that will never date.

48) Planet Earth/Planet Earth II BBC One (2006 & 2016) The BBC’s Natural History Unit is envied across the world. No other broadcaster can produce shows like Planet Earth, Dynasties and Frozen Planet. In truth, I could have picked any of the Attenborough-fronted shows on the list. Each is packed with stunning imagery and fascinating facts. Each of these shows lifts the lid on hidden worlds, creatures we’ve never seen before all whilst drumming home the importance of preserving habitats and how what we are doing to the planet impacts the myriad of species we share it with. In truth, nothing I write here will be able to truly capture the essence of what makes these shows so incredible. So I’m going to cheat here.

49) Pulling BBC Three (2006) Sharon Horgan co-wrote Pulling with Denis Kelly and it’s remarkable how much of what we know to be her trademark and humour is in her first sitcom. The anti-romantic comedy happened because Horgan couldn’t get her big break. In an interview at the time,who she said, “There was nothing out there for me; I had to give myself a break! Peep Show has very funny female characters but they’re generally girlfriends or incidental women who are just helping the story along. Kelly agreed adding, “we wanted to make sure the comedy was with the women. Even with comedies that are about women, it’s often the blokes who get the funnies. In Pulling we even err too much the other way and make the men too two-dimensional. But it was important for the women to get the funny lines.”  The three women at the centre of Pulling, Donna (Sharon Horgan) Louise (Rebekah Staton) and Karen (Tanya Franks) are all deeply flawed but they’re certainly hilarious. Karen, the drunk, promiscuous primary school teacher who wakes up in a heap as her young class arrives. Louise, the warmest of the three, but also the most nieve, constantly finds herself in bizarre situations. My personal favourite occurs when she starts to date a man who she later finds out was a serial flasher. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the man feels so guilty about his past that he can’t stop telling everyone that he was a flasher and that he wants to put his past behind him. Donna (Sharon Horgan), at times the most grounded of the three, is going through a crisis. She breaks up with fiance Karl (Cavan Clerkin) at the beginning of the series because she is sure can do better, only to find she’s wrong and wants her dull but predictable boyfriend back. Everyone here is brilliant. Horgan is particularly good. An episode that revolves around Donna having her kebab stolen during a night out is a particular highlight. I don’t feel as if Pulling was appreciated at the time which perhaps explains the bizarre decision to cancel it after the second series, giving Horgan and Kelly an extra ‘special’ to tie up loose ends. Pulling makes it clear what talents Horgan and Kelly are and it’s no surprise the pair have enjoyed a long career. Horgan’s Bad Sisters is one of the best shows of 2022 and Kelly’s Utopia and The Third Day stand as two of the most unique dramas ever made.

50) Life on Mars BBC One (2006) As I write about these shows, it’s clear that the BBC does take gambles. Whether that’s giving someone like Louis Theroux who hadn’t done a great deal of television his own series or backing Julia Davis and her jet-black comedy. The idea behind Life on Mars still sounds bonkers. Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a policeman working in Manchester when he is brutally hit by a car. When he wakes up he’s been transported to 1973. The opening titles explain, “My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened it feels like I’ve landed on a different and maybe if I can figure out the reason I can get home”. It’s an idea that sounded laughable but that was executed perfectly. The very first episode is one of the best first episodes of any series before or since. As a viewer, you’re as bewildered as Sam is to see he’s been transferred to the drab Hyde Police Station with its smoked-stained walls and 70’s technology. Outside of the intriguing mystery, it’s the chemistry between Tyler and his DCI, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) that makes the show really pop. Sam describes Hunt as an “overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding”, to which Hunt responds, “You make that sound like a bad thing”. The pair bounce off each other perfectly. John Simm and Philip Glenister had worked together briefly on Clocking Off and State of Play and clearly enjoy working together. Glenister is at his very best as Gene Hunt. Brash, crass, and powerful, he’s a great creation. The show juggles a lot of plates. There’s a central mystery of what’s going on with Sam Tyler which runs along a crime of the week for Hunt and Tyler to solve. There are no dull moments in Life on Mars. When the story of the week subsides, Sam will be watching the television in his dingy flat and get messages from people at his bedside urging him to wake up. Then there’s his relationship with Annie (Liz White), the only woman on Hunt’s team who is constantly objectified and belittled by the men around her. The show revels in pointing out the cultural changes in policing and societal attitudes between 1973 and 2006. Tyler is always shocked by Hunt’s way of breaking down doors and asking questions later. When Tyler first arrives in the office Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) says he looks “as white as a ginger’s bird arse” and when Tyler asks where his PC terminal is a clueless Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) assumes he wants to speak to a constable. Life on Mars has no right to be as clever, funny, and compelling as it is. I shouldn’t work at all but every aspect of it does.

51) Gavin and Stacey BBC Three/ BBC One (2007) Gavin & Stacey was the rarest of comedies because it was a runaway hit from the very start. Even the best and most beloved comedies take time to find their feet. Gavin & Stacey arrived fully formed. The show wasn’t destined to be a success. The brainchild of actors of Ruth Jones and James Corden who had met while working on ITV’s Fat Friends, the pair had never written before. The idea came to James Corden after attending the wedding of a close friend. The friend was marrying a girl from Wales and it was the first time both families had met. All of the people in the room, giving toasts, dancing, and celebrating the new couple were complete strangers brought together because these two people had found each other and fallen in love. Corden told Jones and they set about writing what become their award-winning comedy giving themselves side parts that would turn them into household names. Gavin & Stacey is as much about the people who orbit the new couple as it is about the couple themselves. Gavin & Stacey have been talking on the phone for months but meet for the first time in Piccadilly Circus. Gavin (Matthew Horne) brings childhood friend Smithy (James Corden) for moral support with Stacey (Joanna Page) dragging along Nessa (Ruth Jones) who has no interest in going to London. There’s confidence in that episode. It’s clear Corden and Jones know the story and their characters inside out. From Stacey’s uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) to Gavin’s parents (Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb) every character here arrives fully formed. Gavin & Stacey works as a romantic comedy but it also examines how difficult new relationships are with Stacey wanting to go back to Barry and Gavin wanting to stay in Essex. It’s warm, surreal, and relatable in a way few comedies tend to be.

52) Not Going Out BBC One (2007) The majority of the comedies I’ve picked for the list are here but they’ve changed the way the traditional sitcom was viewed. The Royle Family with its long pauses and no laughter track. The Office with its mock film crew and the stressful and chaotic corridors of Westminster in The Thick of It. Lee Mack’s Not Going Out reminds you that sometimes comedies can be joke machines and it’s OK to be funny rather than trying to subvert the genre.  The show, which saw Mack play a fictionalized version of himself and his relationship with his best friend’s sister Lucy (Sally Bretton) would grow an impressive ensemble cast that would see Katy Wix, Miranda Hart, Timothy West and Hugh Dennis all play key roles,  but it began as very different show. In the first series, it is Kate (Megan Dodds), Lee’s feisty American landlady, with whom he frequently has conflict but has an otherwise close relationship that is his sparing partner.  It wasn’t until the second series that the show took a more recognizable form when Sally Bretton’s Lucy moves in and the pair begin their long will they/won’t they story. The joke rate in Not Going Out is higher than almost any comedy before it. Lee Mack, who had spent a long time on the standup circuit, casts collaborator Tim Vine as his best mate Tim and a lot of their scenes play off how different the two are: Tim being the upper-class fool and Lee painted as the lazy northerner. Not Going Out works as a ‘story of the week’ sitcom. There’s no overarching narrative or big character development here, that would get in the way of the laughs. Lee doesn’t have a job that lasts longer than one episode which allows Mack and his team to place their hapless lead in any comedic scenario they can dream up. Plots range from, Lee and Tim forming a band and competing in a battle of the bands competition, Lee’s long lost daughter turning up, to Lee stalking Lucy’s new boyfriend and believing him to be part of the mafia. Not Going Out is a comedy where anything can happen. The show was cancelled by the BBC in 2009, whilst the third series was still airing, but the decision was reversed due to a combination of strong DVD sales and an online petition. It has been airing ever since but has changed over the years with Tim Vine and Miranda Hart leaving their roles and the show zooming forward in time to follow Lee and Lucy as parents to three children. Their new domestic setup allows Mack to tell stories from his home life. Not Going Out won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but serves as a reminder that the old-fashioned studio sitcom can still feel relevant and funny.

53) Would I Lie to You? BBC One (2007) Panel shows are a uniquely British format. That was until very recently when the CW in the US ordered their own version of this classic show. Part of the reason an American network took a chance on a panel show is because of the amount of YouTube accounts where people from across the world react to clips from our show. Whether it be David Mitchell’s rants or the crazy tales Bob Mortimer tells (which will enviably end up being true regardless of how ridiculous they sound), Would I Lie To You has clearly found fans outside of the UK. The fact that the format is so simple helps too. All a guest has to do is convince the other team that a statement they’ve never seen before is true. It’s a format that still feels fresh despite being on since 2007. The current lineup of host Rob Brydon and Team Captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack has been going since 2009, but it was  Angus Deayton who hosted the first two series. The current trio has fantastic chemistry and clearly love doing the show. They know each other so well that half the time they already know if something is true or not but it’s fun to see them trying to play the game and working out ways to explain the scenarios the team behind the scenes dreams up. There are so many moments that have stuck with me. The time Kevin Bridges ‘bought a horse’, Bob Mortimer ‘popping an egg’ in a bath after Chris Rea recommended it and the time  Lee Mack told a stunned Brydon and Mitchell that he was forced to forgo attending Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding as the date clashed with a recording of the show. Brydon, Mack, and Mitchell make the show. Their own styles of comedy mesh perfectly. There are times during an episode when Lee Mack will say something and David Mitchell will nearly explode with laughter and that’s part of the joy of the show. Often, when shows like this have been on for this long, they become stale and lose their appeal, but Brydon Mack and Mitchell have so much fun and that’s utterly infectious.

54) Outnumbered BBC One (2007) The term “family comedy” usually sends shivers down my spine. Kids or children in comedies are always written as obnoxious smart alecs. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkins’ show was different. The adults (Claire Skinner and Hugh Dennis) would be given a script to work from but the children (Tyger Drew-Honey, Daniel Roche, and Ramona Marquez)  were only given the outline and had free reign to respond in a way that felt natural. To this day, Outnumbered remains the most natural, properly charming family sitcom to ever air. In the first episode, five-year-old Karen comes to her dad after overhearing her parents arguing. She asks him what a hypocrite is followed by ‘what’s a twat’? Hugh Dennis as Pete is clearly taken aback and Claire Skinner as Sue, who is typing away at the computer, nearly breaks character when Karen said she also overheard something about mid-life and punk. The fact that they genuinely never knew what the kids were going to throw at them gave the show a genuine authenticity that family comedies never have. It captured family life brilliantly. From eldest son Jake’s first day at Secondary School to the family coming to terms with Sue’s father’s dementia. All with a sense of reality and truth that made this normally insufferable genre of comedy utterly endearing.

55) Ashes to Ashes BBC One (2008) As much I loved Life on Mars, its finale didn’t really provide the answers it promised. While there was never a third series of Life on Mars, but, creators Matthew Graham, and  Ashley Pharoah were given the chance to progress  Gene’s story in the follow-up Ashes to Ashes. Using another iconic Bowie track for its title, Ashes to Ashes move Gene, Chris and Ray to London to work alongside Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) a police officer with the London Metropolitan Police, who is shot in 2008 and inexplicably regains consciousness in 1981. Cleverly, Alex is immediately more aware of her new surroundings as she has been studying records of the events seen in the series Life on Mars through reports made by Sam Tyler (John Simm) after he regained consciousness in the present. Upon waking in the past she is surprised to meet the returning characters of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), all of whom she has learned about from her research. This was a smart move, as it puts Drake several steps ahead of Sam and means the series doesn’t end up repeating the same beats as Life on Mars. Like Sam, Alex gets messages through the television from her daughter Molly who appears in an episode of Grange Hill and talks about how worried she is for her mum. As well as the weekly crime, Alex is determined not to make the same mistakes as Sam Tyler and fight her way back to Molly whilst trying to understand the world she’s found herself in. The new decade gives Hunt, Carling and Skelton a fresh look. The dowdy 70’s fashions are swapped in favour of a smarter suit, with Hunt and Carling Skelton resembling Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice. Gone too is Gene’s gold Ford Cortina replaced here with a striking red Audi Quattro. The 80’s soundtrack includes Visage, Ultravox, Heaven 17, and Haircut 100. Hunt is only slightly less bullish here and Alex (very much against her better judgment) finds herself falling for him. The third and final series is incredibly moving, exploring the reason behind who Gene Hunt and his team are and what they represent. It would be easy to write Ashes to Ashes off as the BBC trying to keep one of their biggest and most surprising hits going after John Simm left, but by the end, Ashes is very much its own thing and its conclusion is one of the best and most satisfying endings a drama could have.

56) The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing BBC One (2008) By 2008, it felt like everyone had appeared on a talent show to perform a ballad. Leona Lewis had won The X Factor two years prior and the BBC was running talent shows to find the next big musical star with the help of Andrew Lloyd Webber. By the time fresh-faced choirmaster Gareth Malone turned up at Lancaster School, an all-boys school in Leicester, I felt as if every possible singing show format had been explored. I was wrong. Malone was an immediately engaging presence who just wanted the boys, more at home on the football or rugby pitch, to experience the joy that singing as a group in a choir can bring. His mission, to form a choir that can perform as part of the Schools Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall is met with disinterest. Very few boys are keen to audition, but Gareth’s enthusiasm was infectious both to the boys at the school and to the audience at home. There’s something special that happens when Gaeth takes a boy who doesn’t think he can hold a note and turns him into a singer. As a teacher, he can relate to these boys and wants them to feel the same affection for his craft that he does. The finale at the Royal Albert Hall is utterly joyous, by that point you know the boys so well and you’ve been with Gareth as he’d had to deal with the daily bureaucracy of being a teacher and coping with staff politics. Gareth and the boys are so warm throughout and the show lacks any feeling that it was manufactured for television. The success of Boys Don’t Sing would lead to The Unsung Town and then to the incredibly moving Military Wives Choir who would score a number one hit.

57) Criminal Justice BBC One (2008) Ben Coulter’s (Ben Whishaw) last-minute decision to take his father’s black cab out for a night on the town sets off a chain of events that will change his life forever. At a traffic light, a young woman (Ruth Negga) gets into the cab. Despite telling her he does not take fares, she insists on going to the seaside. While there, she offers Ben ecstasy, which he accepts. The pair go back to her house, and after sleeping together, Ben falls asleep and wakes downstairs. He goes upstairs to find the girl dead, with a stab wound to the chest. Police stop Ben after he crashes the taxi in shock. They later find he matches a description given by a neighbour. They also find a knife in his pocket. He is arrested on suspicion of murder. He is later charged and refused bail. Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice is a deep dive into the legal system with Ben pushed from pillar to post as he tries to clear his name. The late Pete Postlethwaite is wonderful as Ben’s cellmate Hooch who tries to guide and protect Ben whilst wrestling with his own demons. The script keeps you on your toes as you’re never sure how innocent Ben is. Conn O’Neil is brilliant as Ben’s solicitor. He’s the only person who is really fighting to see Ben free and his name cleared. Ben Whishaw is mesmerising as Ben, a man caught up in a terrifying situation with no way out. The show proved such a critical favourite that it has been subsequently remade in several countries. Most notably the acclaimed HBO mini-series The Night Of in 2016 and a recent remake in India. The second series which focused on Maxine Peake’s Juliet who stabs her abusive husband was just as compelling.

58) Getting On BBC Four (2009) Another show perhaps unappreciated in its time, another dark comedy, another risky commission, another to receive an HBO remake, Getting On, written by its three leads, Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vikki Pepperdine took an honest, but comedic look at life working as a nurse, sister, and Doctor on a geriatric ward in an NHS hospital. Drawing from her early experiences working as a nurse in a psychiatric ward, Brand plays nurse Kim Wilde who has been away from the profession for 12 years raising her children. Upon her return, she finds an NHS she doesn’t recognise. She struggles to adjust to all the new protocols. When she finds feces on a chair and goes to throw it away, her boss, Ward Sister Den Flickster (Joanna Scanlan) informs her she can’t discard it before filling out a critical incident form, She has to explain where it was, who found it  and where it ranks on the Bristol stool chart. When Doctor Pippa Moore (Vikki Pepperdine) comes to the ward she immediately asks if the deposit (can I see poo?) is one for her faecal collection. The three women are very different. Kim is the most empathetic toward the patients, but also the one who finds herself in trouble most often for not following the correct protocols. Den is caring but is clearly worn down by a job she has fallen out of love with and Doctor Moore has her heart in the right place but is more interested in climbing the career ladder than she is in integrating herself with her colleagues. Given the setting, the humour is often dark. When a coma patient is given her own room, Den sees it as an opportunity to move her office into the same room to give herself more room. There’s also a lot of pathos. When Kim allows a patient’s daughter to stay past visiting time, Den scolds her for breaking the rules but they’re forced to do an about-face when Pippa tells them the patient is close to death and the daughter needs to be by her bedside. The daughter is now home in Scotland and Den is forced to call her and ask her to come back to London. Over the course of the three series, all the women go on a journey. Kim juggles nursing with training to be a doctor. Pippa goes through a divorce and Den’s relationship with male matron Hillary (Ricky Grover) goes through a rocky patch when announces he’s gay. You’ll know almost immediately if Getting On is for you or not, but it does what it does with humour, humanity, and warmth.

59) Occupation BBC One (2009) By 2009, British Forces had been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan for close to ten years. Peter Bowker’s harrowing mini-series follows three British Army soldiers from the 2003 invasion of Basra until 2007. Each of the men, played by James Nesbitt, Stephen Graham and Warren Brown is inspired to return to Basra for deeply personal reasons. One returns for love, one for monetary gain, and one for his belief in the mission to rebuild the country. James Nesbitt plays Sergeant Mike Swift, a married British Army medic in Iraq, who rescues a little girl who has been injured in an ambush. In the process, he meets and falls in love with Aliyah (Lubna Azabal), an Iraqi doctor. Back home in the UK Mike is a family man but can’t get Aliyah and her mission for her country off his mind. His return to Basra is motivated more by love than a desire to return to combat. Mike’s former corporal Danny (a brilliantly brutal Stephen Graham) struggles to adapt when he’s back home. He doesn’t feel people at home understand what life has been like for him. His return to Basra, to become a  private security contractor  – or ‘risk management operative alongside Warren Brown’s Lee Hibbs sees him embroiled in the country’s underbelly. His morals twisted the pursuit of making as much money as he can. Danny may have plenty of money, but he knows that accumulating it has left him irrevocably corrupted. Peter Bowker does a brilliant job of explaining what motivates the three men and also how the war and their time as soldiers has changed them. At just three episodes, Occupation is one of the shortest shows on the list, but it packs a lot into those three hours leaving a big impact.

60) Psychoville BBC Two (2009) Although Psychoville was viewed as ‘the next League of Gentlemen’ due to the involvement of Reece Shearmith and Steve Pemberton playing multiple characters, this heavily-plotted piece was in many ways a lot more accomplished than the chronicles of the residents of Royston Vasey. Although it included the duo’s dark humour, the storytelling was unique and the strange characters from Dawn French’s midwife to the eerie ‘Silent Singer’ are instantly memorable. I personally think that series’ high point was the ambitious one-take episode in which the duo is reunited with Mark Gatiss for a thirty-minute installment that appeared to contain no camera cuts. Although the stories went in some weird and wonderful directions, I felt every decision worked and the series climaxed with a fantastic denouement that tied all the threads together perfectly.

61) Accused BBC One (2010) There’s a reason why Jimmy McGovern’s name keeps popping up here. His 2010 series Accused was another example of McGovern’s gift of putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Each episode of Accused opens with a character sitting in the dock in court waiting to hear their fate then flashes back to show how they found themselves there. It’s a clever premise as when you first meet each person you can’t imagine how they’d end up in court. From hairdresser Mo (Anne-Marie Duff) who finds herself in a dangerous position when local gangs target her shop to 17-year-old Stephen (Robert Sheehan) who is suffering from mental health issues following the death of his mother, Accused shows that anyone is capable of anything when pushed into or corner or forced to defend themselves or their families. These people aren’t villains or criminals and McGovern’s scripts (often co-written with other writers Alice Nutter, Danny Brocklehurst, and Shaun Duggan) take their time fleshing out the characters to the point that the audience is always on their side when they are forced to do something they know is wrong. At only ten episodes, Accused had plenty of life in it, but McGovern would touch on similar themes by looking at how a decent man handles prison in 2021’s Time.

62) The Great British Bake-Off BBC Two/BBC One (2010) No one was more surprised than me when The Great British Bake-Off became a massive hit and then a cultural phenomenon. Launching rather quietly in 2010, the show which sets amateur bakers tasks under a big white tent in the green English countryside wasn’t an immediate hit, but those who saw it were so passionate about it that it became a true word-of-mouth hit. Like Strictly before it, Bake-Off championed the nice person. Hosts Mel & Sue weren’t just hosts, they would chip in and help the bakers in moments of stress which made a refreshing change. In other shows of this type, the host would be there offering a shoulder to cry on (see Dermot O’Leary on The X Factor) or causing them more stress (Gordon Ramsay in Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares or Lord Sugar in The Apprentice). The Bake-Off felt more down-to-earth and genuine than any competition show before it. It championed trying your best, learning from your mistakes, and improving next time. The Bake-off tent is a place of positivity. Admittedly, it can be stressful when Mel & Sue tell you you only have ten minutes left before Paul and Mary return to judge and your souffle hasn’t risen or your jelly hasn’t had long enough in the fridge, but there’s a charm to Bake-Off that made it an incredibly rewarding viewing experience. As a viewer, you found yourself so invested in each of the bakers, and even though all they win is a trophy you desperately want them to win it. There’s also a sense that everyone in the tent is in the same boat and they have true friendships too. Yes, people are voted off each week, but they get hugs and told how well they’ve done. Perhaps by accident, or entirely by design, The Great British Bake Off is one of the most charming shows to air on the BBC and one truly deserving of its massive fan base.

63) Him & Her BBC Three (2010) Some of the best British comedies have a feeling of claustrophobia about them. They are the ones that trap their characters in a situation. Whether it be the confines of a journey to work in Peter Kay’s Car Share, the bunkers of war in the final series of Blackadder, or, in the case of Him & Her a flat. Steve (Russell Tovey) and Becky (Sarah Solemani) a young couple who love nothing more than lazing in bed, watching Morse and having sex. Their life would be pretty perfect if weren’t for all their ‘friends’ who congregate at their flat all the time. There’s Becky’s narcissistic sister Laura (Kerry Howard), her boyfriend Paul (Ricky Champ) her friend Shelly (Camille Coduri) and oddball neighbour Dan (Joe Wilkinson). All of the ‘action’ as it were, takes place in Becky and Steve’s flat. It wasn’t until the final series, which was set entirely at Laura and Paul’s wedding that we saw the characters in a new setting. Like The Royle Family before it, the scripts from Stefan Golaszewski take comedy from the characters and the things they say rather than the situations they find themselves in. Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani ground the series and the performances from Howard. Wilkinson and Champ have you laughing one second and pressing your teeth together the next. The final series, set at the wedding of Laura and Paul is an utter masterpiece and was the perfect way to say goodbye to characters we’d become really fond of. Though the characters can be crude, it’s a show will real heart and affection for its characters and their world. PS: It’s not the only show from writer Stefan Golaszewski to appear on this list.

64) Luther BBC Three (2010) Watching the first episode of this crime drama from Neil Cross you’d be forgiven for writing it off as just another crime drama. Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther is a maverick cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He can turn over his desk in a moment of anger, he’s separated from his long-suffering wife and even though he’s a loose cannon his bosses still trust him to crack the case. So far, so cliched, but at its heart, Luther is something very different. It’s gritty, violent, jump-out-of-skin scary and all too often it’s completely bonkers. The crimes here are more often than not the stuff of nightmares. Murderers who wait under the bed of their unsuspecting victims or stalk them in taxi cabs. Very rarely does the action feel grounded in reality but it really doesn’t matter. Over the course of its five series, DCI John Luther has become more of a superhero than a detective. Virtually unstoppable and always fighting with the dark side of society, the series is best enjoyed if you sit back and let it wash over you. Elba’s performance is always strong and his onscreen chemistry with nemesis/partner-in-crime Ruth Wilson as the equally enticing Alice Morgan and when the pair are together the show is at its very best. Luther is full of horror, suspense, and action that is almost unrivaled by any other show of the genre. If you watch it before bed you’re bound to be checking inside the wardrobes and under your bed before you turn out the light.

65) Sherlock BBC One (2010) Though my feelings changed on Sherlock by the time it ended, I had to include it here. The brainchild of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, Sherlock was instantly intriguing. A modern take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock worked as a ‘consulting’ detective assisted by his beleaguered flatmate Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), who has returned from military service in Afghanistan with the Royal Army Medical Corps. The mysteries were tightly plotted, using every second of their ninety-minute running time. Given that Moffat and Gatiss come from comedy backgrounds, their scripts are full of humour as Holmes and Watson butt heads. Cumberbatch is brilliant as the superior Sherlock. Well aware of his own brilliance, he has little time for others or their opinions. Sherlock isn’t an easy role to play, he could easily come across as unlikeable but somehow, Cumberbatch makes him human – albeit a strange one. Martin Freeman, who perfected playing the every man in The Office, is great as Watson. Annoyed by, and in awe of Sherlock in equal measure, the pair have a strained working relationship but one that yields incredible results. The first two series of Sherlock were near perfect with the pair solving the unsolvable in clever and intricate ways. But I’ll admit it lost me when it veered away from this format to focus on John’s relationship with Mary (Amanda Abbington) or Sherlock’s sister Eurus (Sian Brooke). It’s unfair for me to say that series never really recovered after the truly thrilling ending to 2012’s The Reichenbach Fall which saw Sherlock appearing to fall to his death. As Watson mourns him at his grave, we see Sherlock survive and how will John react when he finds out his friend is still alive? 2014’s The Empty Hearse, offered a few possibilities as to how Sherlock “could have” survived the fall but nothing definitive which, for such a clever show, felt like a big mistake. As Sherlock’s massive popularity grew, it felt as if Moffat and Gatiss somewhat lost sight of what the show was. They enjoyed playing with the audience more and more and stories became increasingly more convoluted. By the end, it didn’t really resemble the show it was when it began, and somewhere along the line, Moffat Gatiss’ scripts had become as insufferable as Sherlock, but without the charm. That said, when Sherlock worked it was one of the most exciting and cleverest dramas on television without lead performances from Cumberbatch and Freeman that have quite rightly propelled the pair to worldwide stardom.

66) Rev. BBC Two (2010) Part traditional sitcom, part exploration of religion in the 21st century; James Wood and Tom Hollander’s Rev. was a hidden gem in the schedules that never truly received the recognition it deserved. Hollander starred as Rev. Adam Smallborne; an Anglican priest who moved from a small rural parish to an inner city church in East London. Throughout three series, he struggled to do right by his parishioners, his wife and those he felt he was there to help. Although, ,as with traditional sitcoms, events didn’t always go his way and he often fell afoul of his superior Archdeacon Robert, portrayed by the excellent Simon McBurney. McBurney was part of a talented ensemble which also included Olivia Colman as his faithful wife Alex and Miles Jupp as sycophantic lay reader Nigel. The third series was especially daring as it saw Adam re-enact scenes from the New Testament before being confronted by a Christ-like tracksuit-clad Liam Neeson. Funny and thought-provoking in equal measure, Rev. was a sitcom that deserves to be remembered more than it was as it demonstrated both the traditional and modern elements of BBC comedy.

67) Exile BBC One (2011) Another three-parter, this drama created by Paul Abbott but written by Danny Brocklehurst, was one of the highlights of 2011. After losing his job, a stressed and beaten down journalist Tom (John Simm) is forced to move back home. His decision will see him back in his childhood home where his sister, Nancy (Olivia Colman), is caring for their widowed father, Samuel (Jim Broadbent) a former newspaper journalist who has Alzheimer’s disease. Tom left home as a teen because Samuel severely beat him when he caught Tom rummaging through his files. The only thing Tom found of note in the files at the time was a series of photographic negatives with the name “Metzler” on them. When Tom returns home he learns that Metzler (Timothy West) is now the leader of the local council. Keen to find out what Samuel had been hiding, Tom discovers a bank account with £150,000 in it, deposited monthly in £1,000 increments, from the 1990s up to 2002, by a J. Cleaver. He also finds a taped interview between Samuel and another man, in which Samuel is told the information he has will bring the both of them down. When Tom peels back the label on the tape he finds another label underneath, which reads Metzler. Exile juggles a lot of plates but handles them well. It functions as a mystery – as Tom digs into his father’s past as well as a family drama that sees Tom forced to care for his aging father when Nancy takes a well-earned break. Samuel’s Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his memories and has made him softer and more vulnerable. Jim Broadbent delivers a heartbreaking performance as someone with the disease. His brief moments of lucidity show the man he once was is still there, but he’s fading away. At this point, I’m running out of adjectives to describe any performance from John Simm but, predictably, he’s brilliant here. Determined to solve the mystery, but also using it as a distraction from being back home and not having found a life of his own outside his work. Olivia Colman is particularly good in Exile. This was her first dramatic role and it proved she could do more than her work in comedy had given the chance to show. Having seen Exile, I wasn’t surprised she was able to go to the depths required to play Ellie Miller in Broadchurch two years later.

68) Our War BBC Three (2011) Sometimes a TV show comes along that changes your view on something. This was certainly the case with this three-part BBC Three series that used footage of the conflict in Iraq alongside candid and heartfelt commentary from those on the ground. 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 Defense, filmed by soldiers on the frontline, it was a thought-provoking, unflinching and unapologetic look at the conflict which gave you new a new appreciation for those putting their lives at risk.

69) The Shadow Line BBC Two (2011) Hugo Blick’s intricate thriller was one of the highlights of its year thanks to a stacked cast, a plot that kept you guessing till the end and some clever narrative cues that forewarned the audience of a character’s death. The show revolved around the murder of drug kingpin Harvey Wratten and followed the investigation from both the police investigation as well as those in Wratten’s organisation who had been left behind. Blick subverted expectations by focusing on the corruption of the police whilst also make us care for the drug dealers, primarily thanks to Christopher Eccleston’s sympathetic dealer who was caring for his wife, portrayed by Lesley Sharp, who was suffering from early onset dementia. On the side of the law was Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Jonah Gabriel, who had returned to work after being shot by a mysterious assailant, and was piecing his past together whilst trying to solve Wratten’s murder. However, the most memorable performance came from Stephen Rea as the sinister Gatehouse, who lurked in the shadows whilst dressed in a memorable hat and trench coat ensemble. It’s a shame that The Shadow Line hasn’t stayed in the memory as much as its contemporaries as it’s a drama that deserves to be seen and I would highly recommend it to anyone who missed it the first time around.

70) Silk BBC One (2011) Silk writer Peter Moffat had already drawn on his law background for his shortlived Channel 4 legal drama North Square. Having written about lawyers in Criminal Justice, he would tackle the subject again for his next BBC project, Silk. In an interview about the show, Moffat said, “I wanted Silk to be full of politics and intrigue. From my experience at the Bar, I felt life in chambers had all of those components, with big stories and lots of courtroom drama—but I wanted to make it as much about barristers and their life in chambers as about the trials” He succeeded, with the drama lifting the lid on the life of barristers in a way no drama had before. Focusing on Martha Costello (Maxine Peake) and her ambition to become Queen’s Counsel as well as on her rival, Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones). Martha achieves her ambition at the end of Series One, leaving Clive disappointed. The chambers’ senior clerk, Billy Lamb (Neil Stuke), is a key figure (and one rarely seen in legal dramas before Silk) he pulls the strings, deciding who gets what case and who represents who. There’s a friendly and not-so-friendly rivalry between Costello and Reader who are always fighting to be noticed by Billy and be given the more high-profile cases. Each episode follows the pair working on a case as well as all the background of the inner workings of the chambers. Billy’s diagnosis of prostate cancer was also delicately handled. Prostrate cancer isn’t often depicted on television and it was fascinating to see this proud man dealing with this new life. Legal dramas can often feel stuffy but Silk never did. It provided a fascinating window to a world we’d not been allowed into before.

71) Line of Duty BBC Two/BBC One (2012) It’s hard to believe now, but the first series of Line of Duty arrived quietly before the London Olympics without a lot of promotion or expectation. The series followed an anti-corruption led by Ted Hastings (Jesus, Mary Joseph and the wee donkey Adrian Dunbar) who were working to bring down corrupt copper Tony Gates (Lennie James). That first series drew enough critical buzz for the BBC to commit to a second series in 2014 which put a new dodgy copper (Keeley Hawes’ Lindsay Denton) in the spotlight. The second series also lays the groundwork of a shady group of clandestine police officers working to assist a dangerous OCG (Organised Crime Group) whose reach went to the very top. Dot Cottan (Craig Parkinson) who we first meet as part of Gates’ team, is a key figure with AC-12 unmasking him as the mysterious figure known as ‘The Caddie’. Cotton’s rise through the ranks is fascinating and it’s genuinely exciting working out whether or not he will be exposed. Line of Duty’s formula of having AC-12 embedding themselves with corrupt coppers worked brilliantly with Jed Mercurio’s scripts never making it plain whether Lindsay Denton, Tony Gates, or Roz Huntley (Thandiwe Newton) were really corrupt or not. By the time the second series launched on BBC Two, Netflix was starting to dominate the conversation and with it a new term: binging. Line of Duty proved that people would still tune into a weekly drama if the drama was good enough, and if you missed even the first moment of an episode you’d be left out of the conversation. Like Spooks before it, it was a drama where no character, however important, was safe. When Georgia (Jessica Raine) is introduced in the first episode of series two as Steve’s new policing partner it’s safe to assume she’s going to be his new love interest. However, in the closing moments of the episode, in a scene that still feels shocking after countless viewings, she is thrown out of a window by a man in a balaclava. When actor Daniel Mays was put front and centre in the promotion for the third series, again, we assumed he and his team, would be the ones investigated by AC-12, but again he met his end by the end of the opening episode of the series. Even for a series that had conditioned its audience to expect the next twist, it was still able to shock. I have mixed feelings about how the series came to end and how Mercurio chose to resolve the conspiracy that he had so expertly built over the six series, but Line of Duty was an incredible show. Thrilling and unpredictable it’s no wonder that audiences were so captivated nor that broadcasters keep churning out copycats in the hopes that can capture some of its magic again.

72) Last Tango in Halifax BBC One (2012) Acclaimed writer Sally Wainwright used her mum’s story of finding love in later life as the backbone for what would become one of her most celebrated dramas. In an era where crime dramas dominated Last Tango felt like a breath of fresh air. Family dramas are so few and far between these days, which is why Last Tango In Halifax was so special. The story focuses on school sweethearts Celia (Anne Reid) and Alan (Derek Jacobi) who — after several decades — find each other on social media courtesy of their families, and ultimately fall in love, but that’s just the start. How does their new romance affect those closest to them? Celia’s daughter Caroline immediately clashes with Alan’s daughter Gillian and their conflict and eventual reconciliation is one of the best elements of the series with Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire proving the perfect match for one another. Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi are utterly believable as Alan and Cecilia and like all of Wainwright’s shows it exudes warmth and humanity mixing light and dark effortlessly with great dialogue, you just want to spend more and more time with the characters.

73) Peaky Blinders BBC Two/ BBC One (2013) It may be a show that has all the trappings of a gangster drama, but Peaky Blinders isn’t really about gangland violence but more about the struggle to the top of the food chain of the Shelby family and the attempted redemption of one Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). Series creator Steven Knight’s epic about the Peaky Blinders from his hometown of Birmingham is a sophisticated and moving family saga that skillfully mixes low violence with high ideals. Tommy Shelby is not an evil man but he does evil things; that’s one of the central messages of the show, that Tommy may do terrible things but it isn’t because he is terrible but rather because he doesn’t know any other way to improve the lives of himself and his family. A central component of Tommy’s character is a desire to be legitimate, to not rely on being an “old fashioned back street razor gang” as Michael Gray (Finn Cole) so aptly puts it. He doesn’t, unlike his brothers Arthur (Paul Anderson), John (Joe Cole) and Finn (Harry Kirton) enjoy being a Peaky Blinder – he is because he has to be so that he can change his circumstances. The first two series focus on the Shelby’s attempts to grab power in opposition to both Billy Kimber (Charlie Creed-Miles) and to Sam Neil’s magnificently malevolent Major Campbell, in which Shelby is ultimately successful. The first two series present an interesting inverted dichotomy; whilst it seems that Shelby and Campbell are opposites because one is a criminal and the other is a police officer, yet they are also opposites because Shelby is ultimately a good man who does bad things because he has to whereas Campbell is a bad man who often does bad things because he wants to. This gives the relationship between the two a heightened resonance for the audience. Across its run, whether Shelby faces Italian mobsters, Russian Oligarchs or British fascists it is his determination to once and for all quit his life of crime and yet still get sucked back into it and it is this tension between what Tommy wants to do and what he is forced to do that ultimately drives the series and makes it so compelling. Peaky Blinders deserves to be here because it is a characterful masterclass in writing and characterisation that is unrivalled on British television.

74) The Wrong Mans BBC Two (2013) This action comedy co-written by and starring James Corden and Mathew Baynton took a deeply silly stab at the BIG American blockbuster dramas that fuelled the initial phase of boxset culture. Using the templates of shows with heightened atmospheres like 24, CSI, and Prison Break and transplanting them onto the lives of two ordinary employees of Berkshire County Council.  Baynton heads the cast as Sam, a drippy, Town planning and noise guidance advisor for the council who is the only witness of a horrific car crash. He hears a mobile phone ringing and answers it to be told, “if you’re not here by 5 o’clock we will kill your wife.”  Corden plays Phil, who delivers post in the office. In a desperate attempt to make friends, he organises an office Karting event. Sam is the only member of the office to go and the pair are forced together when an over-excitable Phil overhears a mobile phone message from the mysterious villains and promptly insists, this is “their moment”, claiming it’s down to the pair of them to save the virtual damsel in distress. The Wrong Mans works as both a silly buddy trip where the pair get themselves tied up in knots the deeper they go into the mystery and a surprisingly thrilling mystery. Baynton and Corden’s friendship shines through and the direction from Jim Field Smith takes the action aspect very seriously.

75) Inside No.9 BBC Two (2014) Inside No.9 was recently commissioned for two more series. The news will take Reece Sheasmith and Steve Pemberton’s brilliantly original comedy/horror/ kitchen sink/farce/anything else they can think of anthology to its ninth series. For any other show approaching its ninth series, the cracks would be starting to show. TV shows aren’t meant to run and run, but Shearmsith and Pemberton seem to be able to keep coming up with intriguing and unusual stories for Inside No.9. By its very nature, there will be episodes that are more to your taste than others. its range of tone and subjects won’t translate to everyone at all times, but if you don’t take to one episode it’s likely you’ll fall in love with the next. The silent episode, only the second episode of the first series, A Quiet Night In was the first hint that we had something special but the tone always shifts. Take The 12 Days of Christine which is genuinely heartbreaking. Or Zanzibar, a hotel-based farce spoken entirely in spoof Shakespearian. In Diddle Diddle Dumpling a man becomes obsessed with a stray shoe. 2018’s live Halloween special could have been the moment Inside No.9 ate itself but they mastered every detail to perfection. Inside No.9 refuses to fit into a box and revels in mixing genres and delivering something new with each instalment. When it excels it’s one of the best things committed to the small screen. The variation and depth of the material should be respected, admired, and applauded.

76) The Missing BBC One (2014) With Line of Duty and The Missing the BBC found two hits that they could bring back with new casts. The first series of the Missing follows father Tony Hughes’ (James Nesbitt) desperate search for his five-year-old son Oliver who vanishes from a busy bar in France during a family holiday. The story straddles two timelines. One in 2006 with Oliver’s parents desperate attempts to find her son and the second in 2013 where the couple have separated but are struggling to come to terms with their loss. The two timelines are used really well. It’s a clever and deliberate device to drip feed bits of information to the audience, and in some cases let the audience fill in the gaps themselves. The Missing takes its time to reveal itself and demands and rewards your concentration and patience. The only connective tissue between the two series is the brilliant French detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) who is the lead detective in Oliver’s case. Baptiste is a fascinating character, calm measured but scarred by his involvement with Oliver’s case. The first series of The Missing feel huge in scale and ambition. The deeper you get into its eight episodes the more twisted it becomes with an atmosphere more reminiscent of a Scandi Noir than a BBC primetime drama. The second series, which aired in 2016 begins in 2003.  Alice Webster is abducted in Germany, where her father is stationed on a British Army base. In 2014, just before Christmas, a barefoot and traumatised Alice re-appears in the same town, suffering from acute appendicitis. She claims that she was held captive with a French girl, Sophie Giroux, who went missing around the same time. In lots of ways, the second series (which starred David Morrissey, Keeley Hawes, Laura Fraser. Roger Allam and Lia Williams) felt even more ambitious and daring than the first. Baptiste is drafted in when Alice mentions she was held captive with Sophie Giroux a case he was in charge of. He works alongside Alice’s family to get more information from the deeply traumatised girl but soon worries Alice may not be who she says she is. The second series of The Missing cleverly differs from the first by flipping its premise on its head. How does a family cope when the person they lost returns and is a different person after the awful time they’ve lived through? The Missing was densely plotted with each of its series delivering satisfying conclusions. It’s fascinating that Baptiste, the two series from the same team, that carried on Julien’s story didn’t quite resonate in quite the same way.

77) Life and Death Row BBC Three (2014) BBC Three’s documentary strand was a strange beast. In the mid-2000’s the channel filled its schedule with reality formats with attention-grabbing titles like Snog, Marry Avoid, Freaky Eaters and Young, Dumb and Living off Mum. It was easy to dismiss a lot of their documentary and reality formats as fodder but the channel did have a lot of gems. The aforementioned Our War, a series following Junior Doctors in their first year on the job and Life and Death Row – a compelling series that spoke to criminals facing lethal injection in the US. Those featured gave candid interviews about the crime that had led to their place on Death Row but the show also talks to the families of their victims and looks at how their lives have been forever changed. A compelling watch that forced the viewer to examine their own moral compass, Life and Death Row was an example of BBC Three educating its younger audience on a serious subject.

78) Happy Valley BBC One (2014) Within its first moments you could tell Happy Valley was special. The opening scenes see police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) go into a newsagent and ask if they have a fire extinguisher. She needs it because a local youth has soaked himself in petrol and was threatening to set himself on fire. She takes this in her stride, regaling the youth with her backstory. “I’m Catherine by the way, I’m 47. I’m divorced. I live with me sister, who’s a recovering heroin addict. I’ve two grown-up children, one dead, one who doesn’t speak to me and a grandson so.” From that moment on, we loved Catherine and would follow her for whatever the journey would be. Set in Sowerby bridge in West Yorkshire, the Sally Wainwright-penned drama follows Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), who struggles to come to terms with the fact that old adversary Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton)— the young man she holds responsible for her daughter’s death eight years prior — has been released from prison. Simultaneously, she investigates the disappearance of a young woman — but little does Catherine know that both events are connected. The series showcases Wainwright at her very best. We’ve long known to expect the unexpected with a Sally Wainwright script but the story here: part Fargo part Scott & Bailey offered so much scope. Lancashire’s performance is a knockout. The series feels particularly British. It bounces humour with moments of darkness and shocking violence. The characters and the world feel so real it’s hard not to find yourself swept up in the emotion of the piece. While criminality is the backdrop against which the narrative takes place — not to mention the fact that it also provides for much of the conflict which arises throughout — Happy Valley is so much more than your average crime drama because it’s not really a crime drama, but rather it’s the story of a woman who’s been left somewhat damaged by the heartache she’s suffered, and she’s determined to ensure that the man responsible for said heartache doesn’t inflict the same sort of suffering on her beloved grandson. Wainwright’s spectacular scripts leave us on the edge of our seats — as does her superb use of dialogue — and her ability to create strong characters who feel incredibly authentic is never more on display than it is here. Happy Valley remains one of the greatest shows to ever grace our screens.

79) W1A BBC Two (2014) W1A creator John Morton had been making spoof documentaries for a lot of his career. People Like Us, which transferred from radio 4 to BBC Two in 1999 followed investigative journalist Roy Mallard (Chris Langham) as he met ordinary people (all played by actors) in everyday jobs. You never saw Roy but heard him in voice-over. If you weren’t listening closely, you could easily mistake an episode of People Like Us as a proper documentary that followed the Police one week, a Managing Director another, and a School Teacher the next. People like Us excelled in every area of spoof with Roy’s dry voiceover only slightly giving the game away. “This is a modern landscape we all recognise. It could be almost anywhere in the country, perhaps anywhere in Europe. But in fact, though, it’s not, it’s here in Nottingham.”  Morton would return to spoof documentaries with 2011’s Twenty Twelve, a show that followed the trials of the management of the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission (ODC), the body tasked to organise the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Over the series, the ODC have to overcome logistical difficulties, production errors, infrastructure problems and troublesome contributors. Hugh Bonneville’s  Ian Fletcher, the Head of Deliverance, is in overall charge of the ODC, and is generally efficient but often has to clean up a PR disaster after the other managers make a mistake. W1A would reunite with Morton with Bonneville’s Fletcher who, after the miraculous success of the Olympics is hired by the BBC as their Head of Values. His task is to clarify, define, or redefine the core purpose of the BBC across all its functions and to position it confidently for the future. The series also reunites Ian with Twenty Twelve’s hopeless PR guru Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) who is brought in to shape new ideas for the corporation. The BBC isn’t portrayed in the most flattering of lights here, none of the meetings Ian has with the Department Heads yield any change. Monica Dolan’s “I’m not being funny here,” Senior Communications Officer objects to almost anything Ian puts forward whereas Jason Watkins’ Director of Strategic Governance only appears to be able to communicate in buzz words. Away from Ian Fletcher, the show follows David Wilkes (Rufus Jones) Entertainment Format Producer – a role that sees him fretting when Claire Balding pulls out of hosting his latest big format idea – Britain’s Tiniest Village. Hugh Skinner is brilliantly awkward as Ian’s assistant Will, who spends the majority of the series in the wrong place or in his own mind. W1A pokes fun at the BBC in a way that no other show has before. The characters are all cleverly drawn and the cast brings them to life with a frightening sense of realism. David Tennant’s voice-over tops the whole thing off perfectly, it’s ironic that one of the BBC’s best recent comedies happens to be about the BBC.

80) Detectorists BBC Four (2017) I don’t tend to watch a lot of shows that could be labeled quaint, but MacKenzie Crook’s brilliantly gentle comedy is an exception. Tucked away on BBC4 and offering a comforting hug to those who discovered it, Detectorists was never really about metal detecting – it was about friendship. Hapless though Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook) were, the important thing is they were nice. We willed them to be better with women. We hoped they would find their pot of gold. Through stunning shots of the English countryside, Detectorists brought a warm glow even if the weather conditions were drizzly. Lance and Andy nattering about nonsense was the heart of the show of course but no show is complete without a nemesis and in the ridiculous form of the Antiquisearchers’ (or Simon & Garfunkel to be more precise) they definitely didn’t meet their match. So much comic gold was mined when the pairs squared up against each other. Let’s also not forget the oddball characters that made up the Danebury Metal Detecting Club and their awkward, mostly pointless meetings. It all added to a small world with a big heart. This should go down as an all-time classic comedy, one that gave our flawed antiheroes the ending they deserved.

81) Peter Kay’s Car Share BBC One (2015) Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Take The Royle Family, it’s a simple sitcom about a family who watches TV and chats about their day. It’s hard to imagine Peter Kay’s Car Share existing without The Royle Family before it. At the centre of Peter Kay, Paul Coleman, Tim Reid, and Sian Gibson’s BBC masterpiece is another brilliantly simple idea. Two people on a worked organised car share scheme. The action, as it were, takes place entirely inside the car on the journey to and from the Supermarket the pair work for. John (Peter Kay) is in management and his ‘car share buddy’ Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) is in promotions. Kayleigh’s bouncy lust for life personality can rub John up the wrong way but over the course of the brilliant first series the pair strike up a friendship and a genuine affection for one another. Peter Kay gives a career-best performance here. This is Kay at his most natural. A relaxed and human performance that can have you tearing up and crying with laughter. His chemistry with Sian Gibson (a friend of Kay’s since their time as students) is key to the huge success of the show. The pair’s affection for each other leaps off the screen. The journeys include conversations on ‘dogging’, funeral arrangements and which is Now That’s What I Call Music album is best. (Kayleigh’s is Now 48). Speaking of pop music, let’s hear it for the show’s third main character – Forever FM. The local radio station it’s ok to listen to. Its upbeat music and oddball adverts matches the show’s feel-good tone perfectly. While your ears digest the cheese your eyes are distracted by ridiculous road signs and billboards. Ugly city landscapes are turned into comedy art. The attention to detail isn’t just in the script. There are so many classic moments from John’s loudspeaker call to his boss to Kayleigh’s neighbour going dogging. The standout might just be Reece Shearsmith’s appearance as a smelly fishmonger with anger issues. His scenes are full of such joy and the three of them together is comedy gold. Who doesn’t need a whiffy rendition of ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper?’ British comedy often puts focus on characters we love to hate, but Car Share shines a spotlight on two lovely people who are a pleasure to spend time with.

82) Don’t Take My Baby BBC Thee (2015) Shown as part of BBC Three’s ‘defying the label’ strand, Jack Thorne’s drama based on real-life stories shone a light on the difficulties faced by young disabled people as they become parents. Anna (Ruth Madeley) suffers from a muscle-wasting disease whilst her boyfriend Tom (Adam Long) is slowly going blind. The drama follows them as they struggle to look after themselves and their baby daughter, all the time trying to prove to those around them that they can manage just as well as able-bodied parents. Writer Jack Thorne has long campaigned for more disabled stories to be shown on screen. Don’t Take My Baby was the first drama to really confront the realities of how difficult everyday things can be when you have a disability. It didn’t sugar-coat the experience, it showed them as they were. Ruth Madeley (in her first starring role) delivers a heartbreaking performance. Anna just wants to be a mum without the intervention of social workers or her parents. Don’t Take My Baby isn’t an easy watch but a deeply personal and important one.

83) Exodus: Our Journey to Europe BBC Two (2015) The migrant crisis has been dominating the news cycles across Europe for years. It’s an incredibly delicate and deeply divisive topic that everyone has an opinion on. Exodus: Our Journey to Europe didn’t have an agenda – its only focus was capturing the truth of the perilous journeys migrants take to get to safety. Cameras follow men and women getting on boats to reach Europe only to discover they weren’t welcome. The stories featuring children were particularly moving. The BBC has always had a gift of producing programmes on subjects we feel we might already be informed on and presenting them in a way that alters your mindset. Exodus is the best recent example of that.

84) Fleabag BBC Three (2016) Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy about a woman navigating life in London and dealing with the sudden death of her best friend arrived on BBC Three in 2016 with little fanfare. This initial series was met with acclaim, but it wasn’t until series 2 appeared three years later that it truly became a cultural phenomenon. The protagonist, known to us simply as Fleabag, is endearingly witty, messy and complicated. She regularly breaks the fourth wall and delivers asides to camera, letting us know her most intimate thoughts and turning us into a surrogate best friend in the absence of her own. In addition to writing the sharp and at times emotionally devastating dialogue, Waller-Bridge gives a fantastic central performance, and there’s an equally strong supporting cast including Sian Clifford as Fleabag’s uptight sister and Olivia Colman as their passive-aggressive stepmother. Many thought that the first series was perfect as a standalone story and so there was no need for any more. However, as soon as series 2 emerged, with a painfully awkward family dinner and a ‘hot priest’ played by Andrew Scott, it exceeded expectations and arguably went on to surpass what had come before, ultimately winning multiple Emmys and prompting a sell-out West End run of the one-woman show that started it all.

85) Louis Theroux: A Different Brain/Drinking to Oblivion BBC Two (2016) I could have chosen any of Louis Theroux’s documentaries for the list. Since his return to the BBC in 2007 he has made some great shows. Gambling in Las Vegas from 2007 showed the true scale of gambling addiction and how Las Vegas with its plush casinos and bright lights can be a dangerous place where people lose their life savings over the course of the weekend. 2015’s Transgender Kids looked at the process of children who felt they were born in the wrong bodies and wanted to use puberty blockers to prevent puberty from turning them into people they didn’t want to be. 2012’s Extreme Love looked at people and families affected by Dementia and Autism and his time with the Westboro Baptist Church for three documentaries was always as infuriating as it was fascinating. But Theroux’s 2016 documentaries, Drinking to Oblivion and A Different Brain stand out in his impressive catalogue. Both were made in the UK. Up until this point, he’d only ever focused on America, and although the topics were often universal you could detach yourself somewhat because America is so far away. Both of these felt rawer, even when compared to his darkest documentaries and there was a feeling that Louis himself was different with his contributors. He has always had a human approach with whoever he’s talking to, but here, I had the feeling that the stories hit him harder. When alcoholic Joe says he’s going to leave the hospital to get a bottle of vodka Louis urges him to stay. When Louis first meets Joe on the wards of London’s King’s College Hospital he is four days into a detox. His voice breaking, Joe explains he’s scared of life at the moment. His legs are weak and his hands are shaking uncontrollably. His alcoholism fuelled by a painful breakup and losing out on a job in the very hospital he’s now confined to. Louis meets lots of people in the documentary whose once normal lives have been taken over by “Britain’s favourite drug” but Joe is so young, so full of promise and, perhaps I’m projecting my own feelings here but, it felt as if Louis saw a bit of himself in him. In A Different Brain, Louis meets people who live with a brain injury that has changed them as people. Dan. who lives in a rehab unit in Liverpool miles from his family was hit by a transit van and lost a quarter of his brain. Staff are concerned that Dan’s over-friendly nature could get him in trouble but away from the staff, Dan tells Louis that he knows he won’t get better and that he feels trapped in the unit. The documentary also sees Louis travel to Cornwall to meet married couple, Rob and Amanda. After two years in rehab, Amanda had re-joined Rob and their two young sons in their new home which has an annex for Amanda and her carers. Amanda, a veterinary nurse, had sustained a traumatic brain injury after falling from a horse. When asked how the injury has changed his wife, Rob says it has ‘taken away all of her cuddly bits’. The Amanda that returns home is quick-tempered, sharp with her sons and not really interested in being with her family at all. It’s heartbreaking and difficult to watch, but Louis handles it with a gentle touch, even though, he really feels Rob. Theroux’s documentaries are always fun, informative, often life-affirming and deeply human. These two stand out because they feel strangely more personal.

86) This Country BBC Three (2017) It’s incredibly rare that a new comedy arrives as an instant hit, particularly if that comedy comes from complete unknowns. That was the case with this mockumentary about rural British life, created by siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper, which quietly arrived on BBC Three in 2017. This Country feels completely unique. In addition to creating the series, the Coopers star as cousins and best mates Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, who live in the sort of slow-moving Cotswolds village where young people are frequently bored out of their minds, and buses to the outside world are few and far between. Kurtan occupies himself by obsessing over pointless tasks, like tracking down a boy from school whom Kerry claims he has made up, and at one point there’s an entire episode devoted to the two of them squabbling over shelves in the oven. This Country built a world that perfectly captures the idiosyncrasies of life in the English countryside – from scarecrow festivals and steam fairs to the eccentric but entirely believable characters that populate the village, including the meek local vicar (Paul Chahidi), scary amateur tattoo artist Big Mandy (Ashley McGuire) and Kerry’s braggart dad, played by the Coopers’ own father. This Country ended on its own terms with its brilliant third series. It also turned the Coopers into huge stars, not bad for two unknowns who wrote their comedy as a means of getting out of the world they’d go on to base their show on.

87) Mum BBC Two (2017) Stefan Golaszewski’s follow-up to Him and Her managed to be low-key, laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly moving. The first two series of Mum are set entirely within the home of Cathy (Lesley Manville), whose husband has recently passed away. Mum is significantly less grotty and more heart-warming than its predecessor, largely thanks to the likeability of Cathy and Michael (Peter Mullan) as well as their touching, understated love story at the centre of it all. It becomes apparent early on that Michael is quietly besotted with Cathy, and probably has been for a while, but has no idea how to approach this given that she is newly bereaved and her late husband was his best friend. Selfless Cathy is taken for granted by almost everyone around her and has the patience of a saint when dealing with her often insufferable family. She’s frequently the most intelligent person in the room, but nobody apart from Michael realises it, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not be moved by the way he looks at her. With stellar performances from Manville and Mullan, it’s easy to get invested in their slow-burning relationship, full of little glances and in-jokes, and there are moments as heart-wrenching as you’d get in any drama, without seeming overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative. The show is sharply written and especially well-observed when it comes to matters such as ageism, masculinity and class. The latter comes to the forefront mostly when the deliciously monstrous Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson) is on screen, thinking she’s above others because her ex-husband was incredibly rich. Pauline casts her eye over Cathy’s perfectly lovely home as if it’s a hovel and considers it her duty to ‘improve’ her partner Derek (Ross Boatman), Cathy’s hapless brother, by introducing him to the finer things in life, like the theatre and Radio 4. Meanwhile, it’s a combination of hilarious and heartbreaking to watch the initially rather self-assured Derek become increasingly insecure throughout the show, as he desperately tries to meet Pauline’s demands. One of Mum’s key strengths is the way it manages to humanise people who could have easily just been one-dimensional sitcom characters. Kelly (Lisa McGrillis) is introduced as the ditzy and quite irritating new girlfriend of Cathy’s gormless son Jason (Sam Swainsbury), but it isn’t long before we get to meet her unbearable mother and learn about a bad past relationship, helping us to better understand her. Cathy’s elderly in-laws Reg and Maureen (Karl Johnson and Marlene Sidaway) are constantly sniping at each other, but occasional little moments – usually when nobody else is around – betray how much they still care about each other. Even Pauline is shown to have vulnerabilities, having lost all of her ‘friends’ when they sided with her ex-husband after the divorce, and it’s difficult to not feel sorry for selfish Jason (who becomes more of an antagonist as the show goes on) when he breaks down and cries over his dad while explaining that he feels like he shouldn’t because he’s a man. Striking a masterful balance between astute comedy that will make you laugh and poignant drama that will make you cry. It is one of the best British sitcoms in recent years and a gem that those who found themselves drawn in are unlikely to ever forget.

88) Broken BBC One (2017) Jimmy McGovern has written about his catholic upbringing before. His first feature film was entitled, Priest and centered around a homosexual Catholic priest who finds out during confessional that a young girl is being sexually abused by her father, and has to decide how to deal with both that secret and his own. The film wasn’t that well received with many US cinemas refusing to show it. McGovern was incredibly proud of Priest and disappointed it wasn’t more widely seen, perhaps because of this, Broken was born. The series, which only ran for six episodes, starred Sean Bean as Father Michael. Michael is a Catholic priest presiding over a Northern urban parish who is Modern, maverick, and reassuringly flawed; his role calls for him to be a confidant, counsellor,  and confessor to a congregation struggling to reconcile its beliefs with the challenges of daily life. Bean is fantastic as the priest who fights his inner demons whilst trying to be the best priest he can be. As with all of McGovern’s work, the series doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of modern life. The series begins with single mother Christina (Anna Friel) who is pushed to her limits when her mother dies suddenly. Christina’s story, like all of the stories here, is dealt with with great skill. Though his characters are facing some of the darkest times of their lives McGovern’s scripts are always full of humour when things get really bleak. Broken is McGovern’s masterpiece of the 21st century helmed by a stunning performance from Bean.

89) Three Girls BBC One (2017) This three-parter is gritty, real and often difficult to watch. It’s the story of the Rochdale sex abuse scandal which shocked and appalled when it broke in 2012. The ‘Three Girls’ of the title portrayed by Molly Windsor, Ria Zmitrowicz and Liv Hill are subjected to the worst kind of abuse at the hands of men they trust. Isolated from their families and let down by the systems designed to help them the girls are lost. It’s a drama that will make you angry. In a strange way, it was the attitude of the police and subsequently the social workers that angered me the most. Of course, the men were heinous monsters, but the police and social work teams are there to be the girls’ saviours and they were dismissive, unhelpful, and downright useless in the times the girls were quite clearly in serious danger. You always imagine that we have nets to catch the vulnerable when these awful things happen but Nicole Taylor’s script doesn’t paint these people as angels but shows the reality of people too focused on their work to see what was actually in front of them. The performances from the young cast at the centre are achingly brilliant. They’ll make you cry and curse that this was allowed to happen to them. It’s brutal but I’ve always believed that the best television dramas are the ones that stick with you I’ve thought a lot about Three Girls since it finished. Whilst I appreciate the subject matter is a hard one to tackle, I urge everyone to watch this and just celebrate the great and good that the BBC do.

90) A Very English Scandal BBC One (2018) Another true life story told over three episodes, A Very English Scandal looked at the infamous Jeremy Thorpe scandal, and starred Hugh Grant as the Liberal Party MP, with Ben Whishaw as his lover, Norman Scott. Penned by Russell T Davies, the series was smart, witty, and emotional — often all at the same time. Whishaw and Grant embodied their respective characters, and deliver stunning performances throughout. Everything about this series is sublime, including the score — composed by Murray Gold — which complements the unique tone of the show beautifully. Told sensitively, it presents both parties involved in the scandal well. It’s a truly bonkers story that has to be seen to be believed.

91) Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing BBC Two (2018) I have no interest in fishing but it really doesn’t matter. In truth, Gone Fishing has become one of my favourite TV shows in recent memory. Brilliantly simple, the show follows friends Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer as they attempt to catch fish of various types and sizes in beautiful locations in the UK. Paul is the keener fisherman of the two but nothing can match Bob’s enthusiasm when he manages to catch an impressive fish.  Along the way, their discussions range from their favourite current pop songs to who can run faster. Both experiencing a health scare to do with their hearts, the show will focus on the importance of men’s health and Bob’s job (while Paul enjoys the peace of fishing without Bob wittering on) is to cook ‘heart healthy food’. I can’t get across here what a joyous viewing experience Gone Fishing is. It’s so much fun, so silly, and so comforting. It’s a rare beast that will appeal to almost anyone, long may it continue.

92) Giri/Haji BBC Two (2019) From its virtually silent opening sequence where someone is stabbed in London and then someone is shot in a brutal drive-by shooting in Japan, it’s clear Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame) is something different. Set in both Japan and the UK, the noir crime drama has a look and feel not often seen on British television. It’s the story of detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) who is sent to London in search of his younger brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka) – a low-level mobster, who Mori believes is dead, but whose DNA has been found at the British crime scene. On one hand, Mori is no different to most TV cops. He’s overworked, haunted, and with a family who needs his attention. His in-laws live with him, his teenage daughter is being expelled from school and he’s got a murky past that we are given snippets of but he’s immediately compelling. In London, Mori puts out feelers among the Japanese community in his search for leads. A half-Japanese man, Rodney (Will Sharpe), proves a useful conduit, but Mori discovers he is also a rent boy with a complex and dangerous life, in which he soon becomes embroiled. Mori’s refresher course is being run by Detective Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly Macdonald) who will find herself pulled into Mori’s story more and more as she and Rodney become Mori’s unlikely surrogate family. The series from Joe Barton, broke new ground, being a primetime drama on the BBC that contained so much dialogue in another language With the notable exception of a handful of highly successful Scandi-noir shows, it’s hard to shake the feeling that sections of the viewing public are still resistant to subtitled drama – but there’s no shortage of Japanese dialogue on show in Giri/Haji, which unquestionably adds a certain authenticity to proceedings. As a thriller, it’s intriguing and dangerous but as a character study, it’s fascinating. The stoic Kenzo, troubled Yuto, and heartbroken Sarah are all nuanced, complex, and ultimately likable characters, with stars Takehiro Hira and Kelly Macdonald having instant chemistry. A real revelation is Aoi Okuyama as Mori’s daughter Taki who joins her father to both complicate his life and make things far more interesting for him. There’s a lot going on in Giri/Haji but it’s an intoxicating experience and your appreciation for the story, the characters and the world they inhabit grows with each densely packed episode.  Its ending features one of the most visually interesting sequences I’ve ever seen and one I won’t spoil for you, but it starts as it ends, bold, brave, and a beast all of its own.

93) Race Across the World BBC Two (2019) There is something strangely nostalgic about Race Across the World. It feels as if it has come from a different era of reality TV, closer in tone and scale to Castaway 2000 than the likes of Love Island or First Dates which have been dominating the space for far too long. This BIG competition series challenges teams of two to get from one end of the world to the other without using technology or air travel. They are given a budget (equivalent to a one-way plane ticket to their final destination), which they have to spend wisely but they can top that up by working along the way. They can go on the same routes as the other teams if they believe it to be the fastest but they have to be the first to each checkpoint to gain a time advantage over their competitors. In the first series, the race started in London and finished in Singapore with the second starting from Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City and finishing in the most southerly city in the world, Ushuaia in Argentina. Like all the best reality formats, there is high drama, tension and moments of elation. What makes the show special is following the journeys of the pairings. Series 2 saw siblings Dom and Lizzie competing – close in childhood they’d drifted apart in adulthood and were hoping the race would help them reconnect. It was heartwarming to see how their sibling dynamic changed throughout the race. One supporting the other when things didn’t go to plan and Lizzie’s panic when Dom unexpectedly collapses. It’s a show that brings out the best in people. The best example of the show can both mend relationships and change someone’s output on life can be seen in the father-and-son pairing of Darron and Alex. Darron had spent much of Alex’s childhood busy with work and their father-son bond had suffered. Alex begins the race slightly annoyed by his dad’s enthusiasm for the process but slowly begins to enjoy the race, the new places they visit and by the end, he’s motivating his dad to get to the next checkpoint before the others. Alex transforms across the series from someone who doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning choosing to spend some of their budget on a hotel so he can get a few home comforts, to someone who revels in travelling, roughing it, and getting stuck in. The winners of the race win £20,000 but for Darron, it was clearly about more than the money, he rebuilt his relationship with his son and Alex had an experience that money couldn’t buy. It was a pleasure to watch.

94) Normal People BBC Three/BBC One (2020) It’s possible that Normal People helped make the horrors of 2020 just a bit easier, at least when you were watching and you could lose yourself in this beautiful love story rather than focus on press conferences and rules. Subtle, tender, complicated and very often uncomfortable, this beautiful adaptation of Sally’s Rooney’s award-winning novel was pretty much flawless and did well to satisfy the extremely high expectations that preceded its release. The story delves into the complicated on-again-off-again relationship between two young Irish lovers set over a period of time from secondary school to college. Marianne and Connell, mesmerizingly played by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, are from completely different worlds – she is the rich outcast with a complicated relationship with her family, and he the popular athlete struggling to find his voice; they find an instant attraction with each other as well as an intellectual bond that goes much deeper than just sex. Over the course of its 12 half-hour episodes, Normal People unravels a touching coming-of-age love story that is affected by age, power, class and insecurities. There is certainly nothing normal about the fantastic writing, acting, and setting of this moving drama.

95) Once Upon a Time in Iraq BBC Two (2020) This documentary about the Iraq War was one of the most moving, thought-provoking and eye-opening pieces of documentary filmmaking you’ll ever see. Told by Iraqis who lived through the horrors of war and by American soldiers who fought on the ground, it puts a human face on a conflict you feel you understood. From the young Iraqis who talk fondly of life under Sadam to the soldiers who find themselves conflicted and not understanding the war they are fighting. The talking heads are damaged by their part in the war, whether they were on active duty, a reporter covering it for the news, or a local who found them suddenly living in a warzone. Behind every warm face is a story of devastation and heartbreak. Told with honesty and care, it’s one of the most important documentaries of recent times that shines an uncomfortable light on a piece of modern history we need to learn from.

96) I May Destroy You BBC Three/BBC One (2020) I May Destroy You stands as one of the most daring shows the BBC has ever made. Creator and star Michaela Coel turned big money from Netflix opting to tell her deeply personal story with the BBC and HBO. The show follows Arabella, an up-and-coming writer struggling to meet her latest deadline, who is sexually assaulted whilst on a night out with friends. Over the course of the series, Arabella attempts to piece together exactly what happened with the help of her friends Terry and Kwame (played brilliantly by Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu respectively), who are each secretly dealing with their own trauma. But this is no ordinary series, and I May Destroy You appears to push back against the conventions of British drama; there are flashbacks and tangents as well as ambiguity and a beautifully intricate social commentary woven into the narrative, but the series never loses sight of the central theme of consent, which itself is dealt with sensitively. Every episode is as unpredictable as the last, with the only constant being the quality and creativity of Coel’s vision.  Its final episode is experimental and powerful. It manages to maintain a compelling display of the balance between boldness and nuance that Coel achieves throughout the twelve episodes.  There is a sense of unease that runs through the show but there is also so much joy and humour to be found in a story that is unlike anything else you will have seen.

97) In My Skin BBC Three (2020) If you’ve made it this far in the list, you’ll no doubt be spotting the same words cropping up. I keep using, important, personal, and difficult. These words clearly apply to a lot of my favourite shows and they can certainly be applied to this next one. This heartbreaking series from Kayleigh Llewellyn, based on her own teenage years, revolves around Welsh teenager Bethan Gwyndaff (an incredible breakthrough performance from Gabrielle Creevy) who is hiding her chaotic home life from her friends, classmates and teachers. With a bipolar mum who frequently has to spend time in psychiatric wards and an irresponsible, alcoholic dad, 16-year-old Beth is torn in countless directions, forced to juggle regular teenage activities with a myriad of adult responsibilities, and mostly having to prioritise the latter for the sake of her mum’s safety. Llewellyn’s writing really nails the nastiness that kids are capable of (so it’s perfectly understandable why Beth wouldn’t want her classmates knowing about her mentally ill mum), as well as the relentlessness of caring for an unwell parent. Among the brutal moments, hints of hope are all the more uplifting, such as when Beth shows a talent for writing at school and forms an intense bond with another girl. The lead performance from Gabrielle Creevy is simply remarkable. She’s so adept at lying to her friends that you believe her even though you know the truth and when that facade drops, Creevy becomes her mum’s carer and protector and reveals an entirely new side to the character. Originally devised as a single series, the idea of a second didn’t feel necessary. I should have known better, I felt the same when the second series of The Missing and Happy Valley were announced and they were both better than what had come before. The second series is wonderful with Bethan finding love and coming clean about her home life for the first time in her life. The news hits her friends hard and just it seems like Bethan’s life might be heading in the right direction, things spiral again. The final episode and particularly the final conversation between mother and daughter is beautiful, heartfelt, and deeply moving. In My Skin wasn’t a show that got a lot of attention at the time, but those who discovered it fell under its spell from the off. It’s a gem and further proof that whether it’s online or as a proper TV channel, BBC Three is still capable of producing powerful dramas that speak to a young audience and more.

98) Time BBC One (2021) Time is an incredibly visceral, raw look at life in prison told from the point of view of a first-time prisoner, Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) as he adjusts to life inside after a fatal traffic accident. Meanwhile respected, honest prison guard Eric McNally (Stephen Graham) has to juggle his responsibilities with the compromising position he’s put in when it becomes known to one inmate that his own son is in a nearby prison. Bean’s Mark is meek, softly-spoken man who owns what he did but is still haunted by his crime, and finds himself out of his depth in prison, where he’s quickly identified as an easy target. Stephen Graham gives exactly the kind of turn we’ve come to expect from him, and that’s no bad thing. Even when playing someone decent, or at least well-meaning, he still feels like a coiled spring ready to lash out. Aneurin Barnard is a stand-out as Bernard, Mark’s unpredictable cellmate. Initially, it seems like he’s going to be the villain, but is quickly shown to be incredibly vulnerable, and just as much a victim of the system as Mark. The moment where we see his scars is a genuinely shocking moment. The actual antagonist as played by James-Nelson Joyce is terrifyingly believable, picking on Mark for a perceived slight, and systematically taking away any remaining shred of dignity he has left. Like most of McGovern’s work, the drama is often overwhelmingly bleak, but he manages to find the humanity in his characters. The loudmouth inmate in the opening scenes is shown to be contrite and good-natured after surviving a horrific assault – explaining what happened in grisly detail to a group of visiting young offenders to deter them from a life of crime. McGovern manages to convey the mundanity of the everyday routine in prison brilliantly, which makes the suddenness of the violence all the more shocking. Told over just three hours, Time uses its own Time well with both Bean and Graham’s stories going in very directions. McGovern’s work always has more to say about the systems that his dramas are set in. Here, he paints a prison system that is designed to fail those unlucky enough to find themselves in the system. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to learn here and every second of Time is well worth yours.

99) The Responder BBC One (2022) There are only a handful of first-time writers on the list.  Daisy May and brother Charlie had no experience in TV before This Country took off and the now prolific Sharon Horgan wrote Pulling to give herself the break the industry hadn’t provided her to that point. Like all of those examples, The Responder, from new writer Tony Schumacher, exudes confidence. I’ve praised Martin Freeman’s performances a lot here, but his raw performance as police responder Chris Carson might be, no is, his very best. As a response officer, his job is to provide frontline response to a wide range of incidents, including complex and sometimes confrontational situations. Over the course of the opening episode, Chris deals with an ongoing dispute between neighbours, the death of an elderly woman in her home, and picking up Marco (Josh Finan) a lad known to police as a petty criminal. It’s a show that feels refreshingly unique. When Chris goes to declare the elderly woman dead it doesn’t spark off a massive investigation into the cause, when he visits the rowing neighbours he doesn’t discover that one has murdered the other in a fit of rage. The brilliance here is that it shines a light on the mundane, but vital work that Chris is doing. There’s an inner tension that Chris struggles to keep just below the surface. When we first meet him he’s having therapy, slowly pouring his heart out to his therapist (a brilliantly understated performance from Elizabeth Berrington) telling her how he longs to be ‘a better Bobbie’ but that he can’t shake his demons. Freeman does extraordinary work across the five episodes that make up the first series. Everything he does throughout the series is for the better of those has the misfortune to come into contact with. First-timers Josh Finan as petty thief Marco and Emily Fairn as addict Casey give staggeringly authentic performances almost as if they were people plucked from the streets of Liverpool rather than actors playing roles. Adelayo Adedayo is beautifully tender and measured as Rachel, who ends up being partnered with Chris. She immediately feels uncomfortable with his methods but as the pair grow closer a bond forms that will become crucial when the truth about her own home life is revealed. The Responder feels closer to an episode of the BBC documentary series Ambulance than it does a scripted piece of drama. A true rollercoaster that feels authentic at every turn, The Responder is special for so many reasons.

100) This is Going to Hurt BBC One (2022) A story set in an Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward may not sound glamourous because, well, it isn’t but casting the boyishly good-looking Ben Whishaw as the lead certainly helps the often blood-splattered scenery. Adapted by Doctor turned writer, turned comic, turned screenwriter Adam Kay, Whishaw plays the real Adam. Adam is our guide and the tool by which he engages with the audience is to literally break the fourth wall and talk to the camera. Not huge monologues via narration just quick asides almost to assure himself as much as the audience. The dark humour is so typically British. From the cynicism of a training course where patients now have to be called clients to Kinder Eggs in very surprising places. It’s that balance between sarcasm and tragedy we can all relate to. It’s in the syncing of the beauty of new life with the exposed guts of everyday pain. For this doesn’t just take place in hospital. We also follow Kay into even messier areas of his personal life, a personal life in bits thanks to long working days and a busy mind. This is also about what he takes home and that’s what really hurts the most. A struggling relationship, awful parents and a rotting baby in the fridge do not make for a perfect home life. The work/life balance is also explored elsewhere and the show exposes the fundamental flaws at the heart of the NHS. Long hours, understaffed wards and buildings in need of repair. Adam can and does take his frustrations out on student Shruti (Ambika Mod). Shruti has also been worn down by a system that is constantly demanding more of her but Adam is too frantic or too stuck in his own mind to notice her struggling to keep afloat. Kay is unafraid to make himself occasionally the villain of his own story. If Adam were to stop and take a minute, he could really help Shruti but at times, it feels as if he actively puts her down when she is clearly looking for a life raft. The two stories at the heart of This Is Going Hurt are written and acted with depth and humanity. Not too long ago, in the midst of a global pandemic, we were clapping for the NHS, but Kay’s story doesn’t shy away from showing how difficult an organisation it can be to work for and how much it demands from its staff.

So there you have it. Hopefully, you agree with my list. It’s not important that you do. We’ll also differ on these sorts of things but if nothing else, I hope I have demonstrated the sheer breadth of programming the BBC has delivered in my nearly 40 years. I won’t be around when the BBC turns 200 and I’m already jealous of the next person who gets to make a list then.

Luke

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

29/10/2022

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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The Last of Us to return for second season

The Last of Us to return for second season

Critically acclaimed drama The Last of Us has been renewed for a second season. The series from co-creators Craig Mazin (Emmy Award-winning creator of Sky & HBO’s...

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