The best of 2011: TV

Time Out's TV team nominates its favourite shows of 2011

While the more discerning (read: snobbish) among us may have welcomed the decline of traditional reality shows, 2011 has brought something even worse in its stead: structured reality. Fortunately, a good year for drama has offered refuge from 'TOWIE', 'Made in Chelsea' et al, with 'Appropriate Adult' (ITV1), 'Top Boy' (C4) and 'The Shadow  Line' (BBC2) ensuring all the terrestrial (and how archaic that word now sounds) broadcasters had something to crow about. But, in a truly astonishing year for big news stories, only Channel 4 News shone consistently: a fairly brutal licence fee agreement could herald another difficult year for the BBC, although at least the phone hacking scandal forestalled the NewsCorp hegemony many feared.

The Time Out team have chosen their personal highlights (and one low point) below.

Gabriel Tate, TV editor

  • The Story of Film - Mark Cousins

    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.

  • Appropriate Adult

    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.

  • The Shadow Line

    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.

  • Mid Morning Matters

    4. ‘Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge’ (

    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.

  • Broadwalk Empire Series 2 on Sky Atlantic

    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’.

  • Downtown Abbey

    ... 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.

Phil Harrison, deputy TV editor

  • Appropriate Adult - Dominic West

    1. Dominic West in ‘Appropriate Adult’ (ITV1)

    The bravest commission of 2011 contained the performance of the year too, as Dominic West got under the skin of his namesake Fred to an unsettling degree. A performance that dared to humanise West without even beginning to mitigate his actions. As if such a thing were possible.

  • Poor Kids

    2. ‘Poor Kids’ (BBC1)

    One of the most heartbreaking hours of TV of this or any other year but desperately pertinent just now. Jezza Neumann’s wonderfully compassionate film made its point by implication. Namely, that in a comparatively prosperous country, no child should go without meals, suffer breathing problems because of a damp flat or have to even engage with the levels of hopelessness on display here.

  • Fresh Meat

    3. JP’s redemption in ‘Fresh Meat’ (C4)

    The key to this consistently hilarious student sitcom was its big heart. So when the brilliantly cast Jack Whitehall’s ‘posh lob-on’ JP finally grew a pair and told Happy Shopper Flashman Ralph where to go, it was a surprisingly stirring moment amid the casual cruelty. Roll on next term…

  • All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

    4. ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, episode one (BBC2)

    The latest of Adam Curtis’s psychedelic odysseys into the hidden currents guiding human ‘progress’ was a mixed bag. But the first episode, in which he wittily dissected western capitalist complacency via the doctrine of beserk neo-conprogenitor Ayn Rand was a reminder of how uniquely startling his work can be.

  • Top Boy

    5. ‘Top Boy’ (C4)

    In August we got a real-life taste of the anomie at large on Britain’s estates. Ronan Bennett’s Hackney drama took the urban temperature too. A debt to ‘The Wire’ was hard to ignore but it featured memorable performances from pros and amateurs alike and deserves great credit for never once making drug dealing look like anything other than a tiring, dangerous, poorly remunerated drudge.

  • ... and the worst of 2011: ‘William and Kate: The Movie’ (C5)

    One of the most cynical and shameless pieces of telemovie fluff ever created. Indeed it seemed to wear its continuity errors, stupefying performances and flat direction as a badge of perverse pride. Rarely has contempt for an audience been so openly displayed. That’s not to say its audaciously orchestrated and brilliantly sustained incompetence isn’t worth dipping into, mind…