Top Telly

I am again indebted to HarpyMarx ( for this list from The Guardian of their Top 50 TV Dramas. Like many others I love a list as long as it is not patently absurd, and this one, although one might disagree with it, is certainly not that. Here is the list…
1. The Sopranos
2. Brideshead Revisited
3. Our Friends in the North
4. Mad Men
5. A Very Peculiar Practice
6. Talking Heads
7. The Singing Detective
8. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
9. State of Play
10. Boys From the Blackstuff
11. The West Wing
12. Twin Peaks
13. Queer as Folk
14. The Wire
15. Six Feet Under
16. How Do You Want Me?
17. Smiley’s People
18. House of Cards
19. Prime Suspect
20. Bodies
21. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
22. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
23. Cracker
24. Pennies From Heaven
25. Battlestar Galactica
26. Coronation Street
27. The Jewel in the Crown
28. The Monocled Mutineer
29. Clocking Off
30. Inspector Morse
31. This Life
32. Band of Brothers
33. Hill Street Blues
34. The Prisoner
35. St Elsewhere
36. The L Word
37. The Shield
38. Brookside
39. 24
40. The Twilight Zone
41. Pride and Prejudice
42. Red Riding
43. Oz
44. The Street
45. The X-Files
46. Bleak House
47. The Sweeney
48. EastEnders
49. Shameless
50. Grange Hill


Wonderful Allison Janney as CJ

The Guardian explained the way in which the list was compiled…

To reach their verdict, the writers compiled a longlist. There was no period restriction, but the dramas had to be series (or serials) rather than one-offs. They marked the titles out of 20 and we averaged the scores, discounting any series that failed to attract at least four voters on the ­basis that these were the hobby horses of fanatics – not the greatest TV of all time. At this stage, A Very British Coup, Edge of Darkness and Tenko went by the wayside.

‘The writers’ (who numbered 7) were in fact the paper’s TV critics, and any comment on the list would therefore start from an analysis of the critical, political and cultural position these people would be likely to occupy. Rather than doing that however, I immediately started to look at their list and consider my own. I soon came to the conclusion that my knowledge was far too limited to make any such assessment. In the first place I have not watched enough! I have not seen 2 of their top 5 (The Sopranos and Mad Men), and could only claim a more than passing acquaintance with about 19 of the whole list. Secondly, and more importantly, I realise that I have not given sufficient thought to the issue of what makes for good television drama to be able to start to assess the matter. I do know that a starting point for this would be to question the possibility of such a list given the different aims that are encompassed by the makers of television drama. An instant example which springs to mind is that the critical position from which the judgements behind this list fall are those of sociological and aesthetic importance. I would certainly not want to dismiss these, but they do account for the bias of the list against, for instance, a lot of British mystery drama whose primary concern is entertainment.

Having decided against producing my own version of the list I did however want to sate my hunger for list-making so decided on an alternative – my favourite TV dramas. This is a very different kettle of fish as the only claim I am making is that these are the TV dramas which most move, fascinate, entertain, involve me; the ones I can happily go back to time after time. I also thought that it would be interesting to revisit this list in, say, 5 years and see if my tastes have changed, or what has either been added or fallen into disfavour. So here goes……

  • The West Wing
  • Rome
  • The Wire
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Midsomer Murders
  • Poirot
  • Very Peculiar Practice
  • House of Cards
  • Take Me Home
  • Marple
  • Two Thousand Acres of Sky
Polly Walker as Attia, James Purefoy as Mark Antony

This makes for a top 12, more by accident than design. The list is in no particular order though the top 5 are clear winners in terms of my devotion to and love of the series (and Friday Night Lights is based on just Series One – I am unable to access the other series to my massive chagrin!). Of these six – Rome, Friday Night Lights, Midsomer, Marple, 2000 Acres and Poirot – do not appear on The Guardian list, and I have to say that  this is exactly as I would expect; no doubt my own prejudices are reflected in my choices, but it is disappointing when one finds one’s estimate of other’s biases to be so accurate! This is doubly so when I make no claims beyond subjective preference for my list, while the original presumably makes some claims for objectivity in its title of ‘Best Television Dramas’.

Friday Night Lights Season 1


I will be interested to see if someone who knows my tastes can point out something that I have completely missed – it would not surprise me in the least!

3 thoughts on “Top Telly

  1. ellenandjim

    Nick, I too have not seen enough TV — though when working on my draft for my books I read a few very good books on TV programs and art and really have thought about how it differs from cinema and am impressed by their choice of the series , the mini-series and the seasonal type program. These are natural to the TV setting and part of our enjoyment is the recurrence.

    I also haven’t seen enough British TV which is superior to the US because so much more of it is not made for profit, with profit primarily in mind and most US is, with little control of advertisers.

    It’s funny you concur with A Very Peculiar Practice and House of Cards. Yes they are great Andrew Davies’ mini-series. I think more of the first each time I visit GMU nowadays and see the campus has grown worse, more and more prohibited, forbidden, exploitation everywhere visible. It’s late and I’d have to give it thought. I would have Brideshead Revisited, I’d add the Talking Heads series by Alan Bennet (you forgot that or don’t like it as much as I), My Dear Laundrette (wasn’t it called?), superb. Prime Suspect. I love so many of the costume drama mini-series I wouldn’t know where to stop

  2. ellenandjim

    Error: My Beautiful Laundrette. That’s the title I was trying to remember. It was a great great TV film. 1980s sometime. Not a series. Ellen

  3. nick2209

    Many thanks Ellen. 5 or 10 years ago Brideshead would have been a certainty, and I still love the early episodes, but I have come to realise that I find the latter parts of both adaptation and original highly unsatisfactory. I just can’t get along with or believe in all that Catholic guilt; it is really the reason I find Waugh as a whole so unsatisfactory. I do love him in full comic mode – Book One of the War Trilogy for instance – but the politics and religion are just too off-putting for me now. I am less prepared to make allowances. In the adaptation I tend to end up having a lot of counter-intuitive sympathy for Hooper!

    Talking Heads is definitely not for me – I am not an Alan Bennett fan to start with, and it is not my type of television. I have to admit I have never managed to finish one!

    Yes My Beautiful Laundrette was a one-off film which are excluded here. As are comic series – they are excluded from both The Guardian and my lists. I am not sure that The Guardian would see them as equivalent, but if I was making a list of my favourite TV series per se a lot would be comedies. I think this is something television does uniquely well – and all the work I am thinking of is original.

    I have never seen Prime Suspect, and although I have much enjoyed many costume dramas and adaptations none of them is strong enough to make my list (except Rome which is not generally thought of as among the former for some reason – interesting as to why not?). Of course you could argue that Poirot/Marple are both costume dramas and adaptations – they are – but once again this is not what is generally meant by the term. Hmmm – needs a whole separate blog really!

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