Quietus Writers Choose Their Best TV Of 2012

Adey Lobb has polled the Quietus TV writters to find out what our favourite shows of last year were. Thanks to April Welsh, Austin Collings, Julian Marszalek, Joe Clay, Terry Staunton, Neil Kulkarni and Alex Niven

That only six programmes gained more than a single vote in our writers’ Top Ten lists, and Homeland and The Bridge were the only shows to receive more than two votes can only mean one thing. Well, two things. Or possibly three.

It either means there is such a great breadth of fine television being produced that fewer of us can keep up with all the good stuff. Certainly, the number of top imports shown on Sky Atlantic ensures many of us never see them (legally) until DVDs are released.

Then again, it could point to a stark lack of standout quality. A quick scan through the top few in our Top 23 – don’t ask, the result of a maths malfunction – appears to prove otherwise. For there to be no place for the BBC’s superb series of Shakespeare adaptations, in which Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Isaacs and Tom Hiddleston led casts of the highest, directed by Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock shows there was quality to spare.

Then again, perhaps it means we were all too busy with our Breaking Bad box sets. Still, whatever we were watching – and we were clearly watching a lot – 2012 was a definitely a notable year on the small screen.

The shows that won the largest audiences had one thing in common: warmth. Whether this came with a side order of slapstick (Miranda), class (Downton Abbey), melodrama (Call The Midwife), fancy footwork (Strictly Come Dancing), effing and blinding (Mrs Brown’s Boys), buns (The Great British Bake Off), romance (Last Tango In Halifax), or sporting prowess (The Olympics and Paralympics), all of this year’s big ratings winners were warm, comfortable even, comforting perhaps. Snark was out. Cynicism was out.

Even Sherlock (we encouraged our writers to choose new shows, or shows that had showed a marked improvement this year, hence The Walking Dead being included, having been boosted for Season Three by the arrival of David Morrissey as The Governor, but the consistently great Sherlock being omitted) – has warmth in its humour, if not necessarily its central character.

One series has united all who saw it, though. Homeland began as an intelligent, gripping drama that provoked moral debate through a series of nuanced characters, without ever letting up on the high octane, edge-of-the-seat action. If series two disappointed, Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody remain compelling characters, and Claire Danes and Damian Lewis continue to produce weighty performances, despite a plot that is beginning to flirt with self parody.

Our love affair with the so-called Nordic Noir genre continues. The Killing (our top show of 2011) has come to an end, after a third series that lacked just a little of the depth, heart and believability of the original run despite Sofie Gråbøl’s best efforts as Sarah Lund. But The Bridge showed that Lund does not have a monopoly on emotionally detached, socially awkward, complex, instinctive genius detectives. Saga Noren, played by Sofia Helin, was utterly compelling. If some of the lost in translation elements between Saga and her Danish counterpart Martin Rohde were lost on an audience watching with the aid of subtitles, their relationship was still unlike any TV detective duo seen before – and how about that ending?

BBC2’s lavish adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End tetralogy takes third position. While Benedict Cumberbatch anchored the show – channeling the young Churchill (or was it Harold Bishop) as government statistician Christopher Tietjens, at once stiff and detached and cripplingly, heartachingly emotionally exposed – it was Rebecca Hall’s astonishing performance as Sylvia that made the five-part series swoop and soar.

Few shows have garnered as much comment, despite its tiny audiences, as Lena Dunham’s Girls, which premiered on Sky Atlantic (after airing on HBO in the US) this autumn. Its narrow scope allows an intense focus on a small group of over-privileged, over-indulged and under-employed, white middle-class creatives in Brooklyn. The result was surprisingly melancholy skewering of a subculture, brave, full of pathos and a potential game-changer, confirming Dunham as one of the most exciting talents in television and film today.

The sweet and tender comedy of Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy is perhaps a surprise choice to complete the top five. But the gentle wit and wisdom, the quick-flowing gags, the knitwear, the relationship between a young boy and his imaginary grown up friend charmed most who caught it on Sky1.

What remains is a round-up of shows that hooked one of our scribes. Everything from a repeat of 1980’s classic art series, The Shock of the New to The Amazing World of Gumball, the glossy US political satire of Veep to Michael Winterbottom’s bleak masterpiece, Everyday. So… what did we miss?


Arriving in the UK with a huge fanfare in February, Homeland more than lived up to the hype as series one became an instant critical and ratings hit. Complex, intelligent, thoroughly enthralling and, crucially, able to shock and awe audiences by unleashing major reveals and plot twists that lesser series would save for big finales with refreshing abandon, series one was a triumph, built on towering central performances from Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. The cat-and-mouse twixt Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody was a joy to behold, while painting the CIA as dastardly, and a potential suicide bomber as sympathetic ensured the audience was morally challenged. If series two has become increasingly ludicrous – prompting more and more shouts of “AS IF” at the gogglebox – it at least retains the ability to catch viewers off guard, and the ending suggests that series three has plenty to play with, although if Carrie retains her job something is terribly wrong at the CIA… Adrian Lobb


While the second helping of The Killing took something of a dip, the year’s finest example of Nordic Noir arrived in the shape of The Bridge. A joint Danish-Swedish production, The Bridge was driven as much by the relationship between the investigating officers in the shape of randy Dane Martin Rhode and the mildly autistic Swede Saga Noren as it was the case in hand. Navigating their way through a series of increasingly brutal murders and heart-stopping plot twists, The Bridge was tautly executed as the investigating officers painfully and agonisingly made their way to one of the most shocking and downbeat conclusions ever seen on television. Julian Marszalek


Yes, it was a period drama that covered a similar era, but that is where the comparisons between Tom Stoppard’s sublime adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy and Downton Abbey end. The key difference is that Parade’s End, like its hero, Christopher Tietjens, is intellectually superior. Benedict Cumberbatch put in a brilliant, multi-layered performance as Tietjens, the repressed government statistician who falls for a petulant, high-maintenance socialite (played by Rebecca Hall). The drama deals with the British Establishment from the Edwardian era to the end of the Great War and following Stoppard’s complex story and dense, wordy dialogue required commitment and concentration. It was the thinking-person’s Downton, and as such, hardly anyone watched it. Joe Clay

4 GIRLS (Sky Atlantic)

Self-doubting, self-absorbed, sardonic pseudo fuck-ups; the cast of HBO’s Girls occupy that agonising space between adolescence and adulthood, where we’ve all been, where many of us still are, and where the existential pressure’s mounting every day but no one has a fucking clue what they’re actually meant to be doing. The show features aspiring writer/anti-heroine Hannah (Lena Dunham, the brains behind the show), who perpetuates the cycle of the exploited intern. She lacks the balls to cut the apron strings for fear she’ll have to go and work in something other than her dream job. Also there’s Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), an endearing, wide-eyed dork whose hyper-speed freak out at the hands of some accidental crack inhalation one night (she was at a warehouse party, naturally) is one of the show’s funniest moments. Marnie (Alison Williams) is living the dream and working a chic job at a chic art gallery but is cripplingly uptight and Jessa – (Jemima Kirke) Shoshanna’s flamboyant boho British cousin – is a wild child who can’t stand still. They’re all flawed but despite their anatomical similarities and the fact that they are also four in number, any comparisons with Sex In The City should be left at the door. For the Instagram generation, this is life through a twentysomething lens, but one without the aesthetically enhancing filters, and one where the sex is awkward, clumsy and graphic. It’s a warts-and-all look at the perils and listlessness of an overeducated, spoon-fed group of people, these privileged ‘creative’ urbanites – thus a tiny microcosm of a tiny demographic – who all nurse permanent wall-eyed hangovers as they coast through life enslaved to idealism, rolling out some pretty hilarious anecdotes as they go. April Welsh

5 MOONE BOY (Sky 1)

Inspired by co-writer and The IT Crowd star Chris O’Dowd’s own childhood in small town Ireland in the late ‘80s, Moone Boy is a winning blend of the familial warmth of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown novels and the absurdity of Father Ted. O’Dowd plays Sean Murphy, the grown-up imaginary friend of 12-year-old Martin Moone (David Rawle), dispensing life lessons as the lad steamrollers towards adolescence. It’s gentle comedy, certainly, but the gag-packed dialogue sparkles and the performances are uniformly brilliant, especially Rawle as the Adrian Mole-like boy philosopher and Steve Coogan as a grubby philanthropic local fish magnate. Terry Staunton

6 THE WALKING DEAD – Season 3 (FX)

Here, the dead truly do drag the living down with them. Overlook the crude and intrusive FX advert breaks, the unreasonable mid-season break, those wonky English-American accents, and Season 3 of this previously thrilling series has now also become a strangely moving experience as well; one that plays out like a combination of the fearless film adaptation of The Road, and the excellent extended-family-melodrama of the overlooked and under-appreciated Friday Night Lights TV series. As with any fallout from a major disaster – or severe breakdown in social order – a sense of dreadful futility and unique tension pervades the air of this sad awakening, this human collapse, that the characters are pitifully mired in. Gradually (and inevitably given the fatality rate of Season 1 and 2), violence has become behaviour. Negative mania: the ruthless norm. And then there’s the nagging question that underpins it all: the feeling of the world as seen from the grave; who are the real creatures of agony – the real walking dead – in this wasteland of unforgiving, hard-to-fathom experience and thankless (and possibly pointless) survival? It gets harder to tell as the seasons gain momentous bite. Austin Collings


Perhaps the mighty Adam Richman’s finest series yet. With the pressure off him, and the eating-challenges now down to erstwhile and unhinged members of the American public, Richman’s true comedic personality comes across far stronger in ‘MVF Nation’, a healthy dose of Britophile Pythonesque absurdity mixed in with the usual smorgasbord of delicious pig-outs and demented gluttony. Richman at his most relaxed and self-deprecating is one of the true endlessly watchable joys of modern TV – a generosity of spirit and warmth with people that’s impossible to fake. Just don’t watch it when you’re hungry. You’ll get hungrier. Neil Kulkarni


While the Beeb floundered and flopped at managerial level this year, its output as a whole was much better than most people gave it credit for. The myth of Aunty’s “left-wing bias” is frankly a joke of Eric Pickles-sized proportions, but then maybe there’s something inherently leftist about broadcasting cogent realism and trenchant documentaries at a time when so much cultural space is taken up by Tory pastoralism and bourgeois lifestyle fantasy. In this vein, The Year the Town Hall Shrank was a simply-put-together BBC4 series that shone the light on the political scandal that is modern-day Stoke-on-Trent, where the coalition’s austerity measures have decimated local services and transformed the hapless town council into a sort of human Rentokil. This tragic, much-needed, and profoundly angering documentary might well have done more to radicalise the public against Cameron’s neo-medieval project than a thousand Ed Miliband speeches. Alex Niven

THE FEAR (Channel 4)

What happens to a crime empire when its kingpin starts to lose control? It’s a common enough premise, but in Richard Cottan’s brutal and heartbreaking drama, overlord Richie Beckett (Peter Mullan) finds his place as Brighton’s Mr Big under threat not just from Eastern European interlopers but his own early onset Alzheimer’s. As his sons and heirs to the family business combat the might of their vicious foreign rivals, Richie’s disintegrating mind bombards him with flashbacks of a terrible secret. Mullan’s BAFTA-worthy portrayal is the heart and soul of one of the most compelling small screen thrillers in recent years. Terry Staunton


Tired of psychogeography? This frequently excellent BBC2 series was a nicely voodoo-free twist on the genre, a carefully researched work of social history rather than another Blake-and-black-magic fantasia. Six London streets were anatomised by way of interviews with residents past and present, and though the accompanying voiceover narration was irritating to the point of nausea, the grounding in oral history made for an illuminating and generous – if sometimes nostalgic – biography of the capital. By the end of the series, a depressing grand narrative had emerged. After brief moments in the Twentieth Century when it looked like London might open up to the squatters and the proletarian communities, by the start of the 2010s the forces of gentrification have pretty much reestablished the rich-poor divides social researcher Charles Booth identified in his 1890s surveys of the city. Alex Niven

GYPSY BLOOD (Channel 4)

True no-holds-barred TV is a rare find in our undaring age of prescriptive programming and commissioning. However, Gypsy Blood delivered, in spades. Filmed over two years by the photographer Leo Maguire, and deserved winner of a Grierson Documentary award, it’s a memorable picture of two warring gypsy families hell-bent on maintaining the virtues of tough tradition. At times, it feels like Sam Peckinpah or Cormac McCarthy territory; wildly macho men, out of time, settling scores the old-fashioned, ugly way. Only these men are dressed in trackie tops, or no tops, and brilliant white Reebok classics. But the bloodlines are deep-rooted, all the same. The ‘fair’ fights, a family given. To win is to honour the hard-won glory of your forefathers, who also battered fuck out of rival family members. Throughout, Maguire’s keen, well-honed eye picks out moments of delicate menace and unusual beauty: dim pink skies with all the dread and drama of a John Martin painting; animals ripped apart like broken zips; the attractive neon of the fairground. But never does it stoop to sensationalise, wallow or make light. A real stand out TV moment. Austin Collings

HIT & MISS (Sky Atlantic)

The ludicrous premise made Paul “Shameless” Abbott’s six-part drama difficult to love but those who stuck with it were fully rewarded. Chloe Sevigny played Mia, a pre-op transsexual hitman/woman going about her normal business – killing people and popping hormone tablets – when she receives a letter stating that his/her former wife is dying of cancer, he/she is father to an 11-year-old son and could he/she please come and look after them. So off she pops to a remote village where she begins her double life as a contract killer/supermum to a feral family of kids. Sevigny’s performance rarely progressed beyond the portrayal of an intense, attractive woman wearing a prosthetic penis (and what was that accent?), but the cinematography was stunning; the atmospheric locations (it was shot in the wilds outside Manchester) and gritty, authentic performances from the younger cast members gave the whole production the feel of a quality indie film. Joe Clay


With the eyes of the world on London as the city prepared for the Olympics, the biggest question mark wasn’t over whether the stadia would be ready or when Boris would make a massive tit of himself, but whether the creaking Tube system could cope with all the extra traffic. A six-part fly-on-the-wall documentary series was commissioned, taking viewers inside the system’s £10 billion refurb. What was known in the trade as the biggest upgrade of any rail network was actually a giant pain in the jacksy for anyone actually trying to use the system as engineering works threatened passengers’ timekeeping and sanity. The series’ frequent engineering interludes were often deathly dull, but as is often the case with these fly-on-the-wallers, it was the characters encountered who made it special. In this instance, the wry, world-weary and never short of an amusing sound bite staff, as opposed to the passengers, who just seemed determined to decorate the platforms with their bile – both actual and verbal. Joe Clay


Long overdue rerun of Oz critic Robert Hughes’s masterly look at modernity through its art. Taking the story of modern-art since the Impressionists as both its arc and launchpad, Hughes manages to take in architecture, technology, politics, the subconscious and commerce in eight utterly entrancing essays of sound and vision that make your brain zing as freshly as they did when you first saw it, and still leave you hungry to hear more of Hughes’s insights. Satisfyingly wide-reaching, but unafraid to proffer both harsh critique and heartfelt rhapsody Shock Of The New is something of a high-point in the history of art-programming in the UK, only really rivalled by Berger’s Ways Of Seeing and Clarke’s Civilization and better than both. On YouTube if you missed it, but the kind of telly you want to own forever… Neil Kulkarni

THE AUDIENCE (Channel 4)

Reality TV long ago ate itself and is now well into the Valiumised post-prandial nap. But, while it reached an all-time nadir in the past decade (Snog, Marry, Avoid anyone?), along came a show this year that subverted the genre’s hyper-Darwinism by affirming passé hippy shit like, y’know, altruism and communitarian reciprocity. The premise of The Audience was laughably simple and singularly instructive: an ordinary member of the public is in trouble with work/family/money/life – what is most likely to save them? A Gillian McNietzsche self-help regime? The lordly munificence of the Secret Millionaire? Real answer: get lots of other ordinary members of the public to help out collectively. The rare, enlightening, and extremely moving spectacle of a group of people with no ulterior agenda reasoning a problem through for the sake of another human being was nothing short of awe-inspiring. In the olden days, I think they called this “solidarity”. Alex Niven


Together with the psyche-nuttiness of Adventure Time and the stoner-slacker genius of Regular Show, Gumball made 2012 a golden year for Cartoon Network, uniting parents and kids in a love of Gumball the 12-yr old cat, his massively dysfunctional family and the strange cast of creatures he calls friends. Mixing 2-D primitivism with richly textured real 3-D backdrops, the breakneck wise-cracking script, ensemble oddity (Gumball’s schoolmates include a piece of toast called Anton, a balloon called Alan, a Tyrannosaurus called Tina and Carrie the depressed Emo ghost) never mask the fact that, at heart, Gumball is a touching, hilarious paean to very traditional values of friendship and family. Good for kids, potentially injurious to your laughbox. Neil Kulkarni


Compassionate, compelling, uplifting, life affirming, heartbreaking – David Weissman’s documentary tells the story of the effect of AIDS on San Francisco’s gay community in the early 1980s. Told through the recollections of friends and lovers, care-givers and activists – many of them initially reluctant, but who bravely stepped into the shaming void left by the lack of a coherent official response – what emerges are tales of astonishing bravery, resilience and community solidarity in the face of an initially undiagnosed, but devastating epidemic. An unforgettable documentary film, all the more powerful for the simplicity with which it is presented… Adrian Lobb

VEEP (Sky Atlantic)

Initial suspicions that Armando Iannucci’s Washington-based satire was merely an American reboot of The Thick Of It proved unfounded. Veep offers up a “What if…?” post-Sarah Palin scenario in which an ineffectual and out-of-her-depth senator (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) rises to the office of Vice President, desperate to make a difference in a photo-op ambassadorial role with little in the way of real political power. Like The Thick Of It, however, it’s a sharp-edged ensemble piece, with particularly meaty roles for Tony Hale as the Veep’s fawning personal aide and Timothy Simons as the whipping boy White House liaison. Terry Staunton


Despite some occasionally dodgy performances from its young leads, this BBC2 sitcom by Jason Cook and Graham Duff looks destined to become a classic of the genre. The central masterstroke is the casting of Gina McKee and Vic Reeves (credited here as Jim Moir) against type – Reeves plays the resignedly melancholy father, while the usually seraphic McKee shines as a manically domineering Geordie housewife. The result is a sublime synthesis of Viz-redolent bawdiness and Mike Leigh-style humanism that eulogises rather than patronises both its audience and its subject matter. A sort of anti-My Family, Hebburn is a grower that speaks of a brighter future for the latterly discredited entity that is Brit comedy. Alex Niven

EVERYDAY (Channel 4)

Think scripted reality is the exclusive domain of TOWIE, Geordie Shore and their ilk? Dream on. Writer-director Michael Winterbottom created this bleak masterpiece over five years, featuring an actual family of (non-actor) children, in their real-life home, ageing in real time, alongside a cast led by two of Britain’s best actors, John Simm and Shirley Henderson. The result was arguably as close to reality as scripted drama can venture. The feature-length survival story focused on a family dealing with a five-year jail term, with Simm’s character in a succession of prisons for an unspecified offence. While there were few laughs to break the tension, this was an ambitious, potentially game-changing drama, packed with stunning performances, and beautifully filmed in Alan Partridge’s beloved North Norfolk… Adrian Lobb

MAD MEN – season five (Sky Atlantic)

The fifth season of Mad Men was like one of those fireworks you’re advised never to return once it’s been lit. Though covering divorce, suicide, prostitution and the joys of LSD, Mad Men‘s look at 1966 was initially so slow-burning that when it did finally explode it did so with the all the force of a ten megaton nuclear weapon. It never failed to surprise. Be it Don Draper’s apparent cooling passion for advertising thanks to a happy marriage, Roger Sterling’s chemically-induced enlightenment, Pete’s misguided infidelity, Peggy’s departure from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the tragedy of Layne and the price paid by Joan for a partnership in the company, Mad Men continued to engage its audience in a way that so few shows do thanks to a winning combination of sharp and sensitive writing and compelling acting. Julian Marszalek


Genuine Sunday Night chills courtesy of a great adaptation of a shit James Herbert book, given weight by brilliant child-performances, the magnificent emotional lead by Suranne Jones and Douglas Henshall’s truly repellent turn as brutal schoolmaster Augustus Cribben. Redolent of Don’t Look Now and M.R James’ darkest moments of dread, ‘Crickley’ was compelling popular horror at its very best, a slow-burning masterclass in pace and concision that hooked you from the off with intelligence, intensity and some real moments of pure pants-shitting terror. In contrast to the gore and tired tropes of American horror-TV, Crickley managed to make you brick yourself without recourse to shock tactics and nary a zombie in sight. More like this please… Neil Kulkarni


The second series of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is a graphic screamfest with a social conscience and a liberal voice. Set at Briarcliff Manor – an asylum for the criminally insane run by the Catholic Church – it contains enough depravity to turn the stomach of the hardiest horror fan but is at the same time a brazen, no-hold’s-barred document of the time (the 1960s). Visceral scenes include a botched hysterectomy, a coat hanger abortion, recurring bouts of necrophilia, gay reversion therapy, barbaric brain frying ECT, as well as an ex-Nazi war criminal-cum-sadistic surgeon and a serial killer with a predilection for flaying. But it’s not all thrills, spills, blood, guts and gratuitous violence. These twisted nightmares are interwoven with sharp social commentary for a clever and damning critique of the Church as well as sensitive contemporaneous issues and prejudices like homophobia, interracial marriage and violence against women. The angel of death floats in towards the end of the show, adding a surreal, supernatural dimension and aligning all the many disparate elements and motifs of the horror canon with painstaking commitment and beauty. April Welsh


1 The Fear 2 The Bridge 3 Veep 4 Moone Boy 5 Secret State 6 Homeland 7 A Young Doctor’s Notebook 8 All In The Best Possible Taste With Grayson Perry 9 The Olympics 10 CSI


1 Parade’s End (BBC2) 2 Hit & Miss (Sky Atlantic) 3 Homeland 1 & 2 (C4) 4 The Tube (BBC2) 5 Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places in My Life (Sky Atlantic) 6 Moone Boy (Sky1) 7 Storyville: From the Land to the Sea Beyond (BBC4) 8 Those Who Kill (ITV3) 9 Cardinal Burns (E4) 10 All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry (C4)


1 Girls (Sky Atlantic) 2 The Bridge (BBC4) 3 San Francisco’s Year Zero – We Were There (BBC4) 4 Parade’s End (BBC2) 5 Homeland (C4) 6 Everyday (C4) 7 The Hollow Crown (BBC2) 8 The Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story (BBC4) 9 Borgen (BBC4) 10 Public Enemies (BBC2)


1 Coronation Street 2 Homeland 3 American Horror Story 4 The Walking Dead 5 Sherlock 6 Horror Europa With Mark Gatiss 7 Girls 8 The Killing 9 The Thick Of It 10 Peep Show


1 The Year the Town Hall Shrank 2 Hebburn 3 56 Up 4 The Audience 5 The Secret History of Our Streets 6 Crossfire Hurricane 7 Jonathan Meades on France 8 Fairport Convention: Who Knows Where the Time Goes? 9 Owen Jones on Question Time 10 BBC Olympics coverage


1 Man Vs Food Nation 2 The Amazing World Of Gumball 3 Adventure Time 4 Regular Show 5 The Secrets of Crickley Hall 6 Maury Povitch 7 The Shock Of The New (repeat) 8 Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated 9 Paranormal Witness 10 Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich In America


1 Gypsy Blood (C4) 2 The Bridge (BBC4) 3 Eastbound & Down – season 3 (FX) 4 Walking Dead – Season 3 (FX) 5 Homeland – Season 1 (C4)


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