1. ‘The Story of Film’ (More4)
We’ll overlook the soporific intonation and slight dropping-off in quality of the final few episodes. Because the first half of Mark Cousins’s monumental undertaking was simply magnificent, keynote television to rank alongside ‘Civilisation’ or ‘The Ascent of Man’. It looked like our dreams, indeed.
2. ‘Appropriate Adult’ (ITV1)
Dominic West rightly took many of the plaudits, but this astonishing docudrama about the Cromwell Street murders was a true team effort, from ITV for commissioning it, writer Neil McKay for walking the ethical tightrope so adeptly, director Julian Jarrold for shooting without flourish, and Emily Watson (as trainee social worker Janet Leach) and Monica Dolan (as Rose West) for their own equally memorable turns.
3. Chase sequences (various channels)
It’s been a virtuoso year for people running after each other in TV drama, elevating good series to excellent (‘The Walking Dead’) and excellent series to outstanding (‘The Killing’). But the guided tour through east London as seen in ‘The Shadow Line’ was the best, offering a visceral thrill otherwise absent from an opaque and ambiguous show.
4. ‘Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge’ (www.fostersfunny.co.uk)
Soon to arrive on Sky Atlantic, this series of online shorts brought Steve Coogan’s untouchable comic creation – toiling desperately on digital radio with Tim Key’s ‘Sidekick Simon’ – back into the public eye in time for a memoir and paved the way for ‘The Fast Show’ and Vic and Bob to follow suit. It was also bloody funny. Lovely stuff.
5. Van Alden from ‘Boardwalk Empire’ (Sky Atlantic)
In sustaining a faltering first series almost single-handedly, Michael Shannon’s lantern-jawed FBI agent ensured the rest of the cast stepped up for the much-improved second run of the Prohibition-era drama. Chilling and comical, Van Alden was a diabolical God-botherer to rank alongside Harry Powell in ‘Night of the Hunter’.
... and the worst of 2011: Matthew Crawley’s twinge in ‘Downton Abbey’ (ITV1)
Narrowly pipping the scorched earth policy of ‘scripted reality’ is this, the single most dimwitted plot development in the past ten years of British TV drama. Quite apart from being so far-fetched, the miraculous recovery of Dan Stevens’ paraplegic reduced his disability to mere plot device and sent a much-loved show soaring over the shark, deep into the realms of self-parody.