The Best of 2011
We at TV @ The Digital Fix like our television. Obviously, or we wouldn't be writing about it. There are certain shows that we are really passionate about, and some that we think deserve recognition. So here, for your delight, is our list of our favourite shows from 2011.
Nick Bryan: Denmark’s most successful export since the pop band Aqua, The Killing (or Forbrydelsen if you’re so inclined) returned for a second series on BBC4 this year. And after Sarah Lund popped up both on a Radio Times cover shoot and cameoing in the Ab Fab Christmas special (seriously, she did), this was definitely the year that this show went from cult buzz to big hit.
The second run was half the length of the first, and dared to tackle a different kind of “Killing”. It perhaps didn’t have the same raw emotional hit, but it was no less engaging, well-paced and at times gasp-inducing. If you like a good mystery, sad to say it, but the received wisdom is correct. This is one of the best straight dramas in years, subtitles be damned.
The third and final series is showing in Denmark in September 2012, and they can’t translate it fast enough for me.
Nick Bryan: A new series for this year, Channel 4’s Fresh Meat was a comedy-drama about the troubled lives of university freshers, all struggling with different types of naivety. Created by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain of Peep Show fame, these try hard attempts at adulthood were ideal fodder for their brand of comedy.
It wasn’t perfectly smooth sailing, the balance between comedy and drama kept swinging wildly back and forth, often mid-scene. But it was an interesting show with engaging characters, and did also bring us Jack Whitehall’s JP, who could become one of the great sitcom monsters of our time.
So all told, one of the big series of 2011 for me, and I’m pleased to say it has already been renewed for a second run.
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle
Nick Bryan: This year saw a second series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, the BBC’s attempt at creating a raw stand-up show to showcase the unique talents of... well, Stewart Lee. All of that was contained in the title, really.
For this second year, wisely, Lee stripped the show back even further, breaking the stand-up only with short interview sequences between himself and producer (not to mention hugely famous comedy writer) Armando Iannucci. These work a lot better than the patchy sketches of series 1, and this perfected formula made Comedy Vehicle one of the funniest things on television.
The style might be an acquired taste for some, but this is definitely a brilliant example of it. No word on a third series yet, but since Lee and his Vehicle won both Best Male Television Comic and Best Comedy Entertainment Programme at the recent British Comedy Awards, hopefully the odds are good.
Him & Her
I'm sick of hearing people utter the phrase "all these channels and nothing on". If you insist on parking your arse on the sofa and fixing a gormless gaze at the giant moving picture frame mounted to your wall, then try tuning into BBC3 on once in a while.
In 2010 we were introduced to Him & Her and this year we were treated to a second series of this observational and brutally honest comedy about a couple in their twenties.
As well as being Superbly written, Him & Her is perhaps the most the most accurate portrayal of a real life 21st century relationship to ever grace our screens. Forget finding Mr Darcy or Edward Cullen for that fairytale ending, this is the reality in its full hideous beauty. So successful has the second series been, that we have a third outing to look forward to in 2012. If you hurry you can still catch my favourite TV show of 2011 on iPlayer.
Rebecca Brodeur: The Hour makes my list for top shows of 2011 because it was unexpected. I had very few expectations going in, had only heard that it was a ‘British version of Mad Men, but not in advertising’ and it was an incredibly pleasant surprise to see a well-acted, interesting show that covered a period I’ve only known through history books and from a political and media angle, rather the normal 50s view of Britain we see on TV.
It’s short and sweet, and may not be perfect, but displays all the traits I love about a good BBC production.
Eli Lower: For Doctor Who, 2011 was an 'interesting' year. We had a split in the middle after Steven Moffat went power mad and decided to show that now he was showrunner he could do what he liked, and the development of the show into a Space-Time Sitcom. There was family drama between The Ponds, and for several episodes at a time it became the River Song/Melody Pond show (the main threads of which I am still not convinced have all been answered, but that's just Moffat all over, the evil puppet master).
2011 also saw Neil Gaiman take up the writer's reins for an episode (The Doctor's Wife) and creator of Being Human Toby Whithouse do the same later on in the series with The God Complex. It was good, honest, mental, timey-wimey escapism, and now that Matt Smith has finally found the kind of Doctor he is we can be sure that any episodes coming in the future can only get better.
Eli Lower: In the space of two series', Downton Abbey has become a sort of cult hit, and 2011 only saw its popularity increase, with a peak viewership of 12.73 million. In Series 2, which began in September, the drama of the previous series was stepped up further, with the introduction of the First World War as a major theme, including the Battle of the Somme and the Spanish 'flu Epidemic.
The handsome half of the major will-they won't-they couple, Matthew Crawley, fought, got paralysed, became unparalysed, got engaged to Miss Lavinia Swire (Matthew/Mary fans cried), broke off the engagement, got engaged to Lavinia again, and then had to deal with the death of his fiancé after the 'flu swept through the family. The series ended on a sombre note, but most of the problems were then resolved in a two-hour Christmas Special which attracted 8.9 million viewers and set up an excellent starting point for the third series in 2012. Although, with all that's happened already, it poses the question — where can it go from here?
Amy Jones: It's a rare thing when the whole of Twitter is united by one opinion. But for an hour on Wednesday nights for a couple of months, almost every single person was tweeting about Frozen Planet, how much they loved it and how good it was.
Frozen Planet gripped the nation with its utterly astounding shots of polar bears, penguins, arctic caterpillars, volcanos, melting waterfalls and owls surviving in one of the most hostile places on Earth. It was beautiful, gripping, interesting and utterly unmissable. Even with the ridiculous polar-bear birth controversy it's one of the best shows on TV for a good long while. Long live David Attenborough.
Amy Jones: Ah, Merlin. Even though I've spent the past series complaining that you're a bit rubbish, I still adore you.
What is it that I find so appealing? Your cheesy dialogue? Bad CGI? Over-the-top bromance between Arthur and Merlin? Even more over-the-top romance between Arthur and Gwen? Your sneakily smirking bad guy, your ridiculously noble Knights, your wriggly and icky magical creatures? Truth be told, I have no idea. I just know that even when you're in the biggest slump you've had for four series, I still prefer you to almost anything else on TV.
Dean Love: Breaking Bad looks to be one of those shows that, much like The Wire, won't be appreciated fully until it's over. Already dropped by two different channels in the UK, it's struggling to make itself known over here outside of DVD sales. Which is a shame as it's possibly the best TV show currently being made.
Season 4 of the drama sees former high school teacher Walt and high school drop-out Jesse in a tough situation. They're cooking up meth for drugs kingpin Gus in less than comfortable circumstances. While the season starts fairly slowly, the languid pacing only makes things seem even more spectacular when the finally kick off, with Walk and Gus going head-to-head, trying to outsmart each other and challenging the viewer to keep up. It all ends wonderfully, tying together a bunch of previous plot threads into a properly shocking finale which comes with a nasty sting in the tale.
This year is going the be the show's last, so here's hoping it delivers a worthy finale and perhaps makes a few more people sit up and pay attention to one of the greatest pieces of TV ever created.
These are just our favourites, so tell us — what did you think was the best TV of 2011?