Best TV Drama 2011

Very happy to report the Golden Age of Television continues. HBO goes from strength to strength both in extending series and funding new commissions, AMC and FX continue to nip at their heels and that extra £10 million BBC Two threw behind new drama seems to have paid off handsomely. The best of the bunch:

The Shadow Line
The Shadow Line – BBC
By all accounts writer/director/producer Hugo Blick hid himself away in a room for four months to ‘think about’ the script for this show, drawing lines and character names on a large white board to make sense of it all. Glad he did as it worked magnificently. It also introduced a fantastic array of characters, at least one of whom was so incredible that I’m hoping he gets his own spinoff. Best drama of the year hands down.

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones – HBO
…well I say the best drama of the year: this was possibly even better. Because of the grandiose hype I almost avoided it altogether, mistaking it for another medieval yawn fest (in fact that turned out to be Camelot) How wrong I was: this was as deep a political thriller as graced our screens this year.

Yes there were sword-wielding knights, ice-born zombies and even dragons but what really propelled this series and made it a perfect HBO stable mate to The Wire, Deadwood et al. was it’s unsentimental view of human nature, shown here to be utterly selfish, depraved and ultimately intolerant to any show of kindness or sentimentality whatsoever.

The Killing
Forbrydelsen – DR
OK, OK I know this is technically three years old but the list is based on UK viewing schedules so this gets included even though it took ages to get to us from Denmark. Unfolding over twenty episodes that each matched a day of a murder investigation it took in racial tensions, local politics and class divisions all against the backdrop of a very, very grey Copenhagen. An absolute triumph.

The Booth at the End
The Booth at the End – FX
This was sometimes a little difficult to watch given that it began life as a series of webisodes no more than three minutes each but to stick with it was to be pulled in and mesmerized as each of the ten visitors of the mysterious man who sits at the Booth at the End ask for their hearts’ desires and are told their dreams can come true…for a price.

Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire – HBO
Boardwalk started out a little flat with the much hyped Scorcese-directed opener but quickly got up to speed and maintained the quality until the rather excellent finale of season one then upped the tempo and ripped all the way through season two. Buscemi was a natural fit for the lead role, while the sets and costumes were beyond sumptuous.

Luther – BBC
If you could suspend disbelief long enough to imagine the possibility of three serial killers stalking East London at more or less the same time this was a pretty fine piece of drama. Only four episodes this time around (the writers ran out of serial killers?) season two nonetheless continued to explore John Luther’s conflicted relationship with Alice, his continued mourning for his wife and his fearless commitment to the job. Elba has spoken of how he sees the Luther character as a modern day Columbo. I think he might be onto something.

Treme – HBO
Sometimes this show moved so slowly it was like watching molasses roll uphill, still it was a well crafted world and all of the characters within it were a lot of fun to hang out with. The second season really seemed to find its footing and even though it was way more music-heavy that season one (if that is even possible) it managed to integrate all of the performances seemlessly into the storyline.

Rubicon – AMC
Hardly a surprise this was cancelled after just one series (and before it even aired in the UK) as the main protagonist was really quite unlikeable, the plotting was deeeeeeeeeep and everyone was so miserable throughout. I thought it ticked along nicely, however: the stories were compelling and the guy that played Thruxton Spangler (what a name) had the greatest / coolest voice I’ve ever heard.

Braquo – CANAL+
As good as TV drama has been in the last few years I have been pining somewhat for another glimpse of The Shield. Stepping in to fill the dirty cops who get the job done void is the superb Braquo, starring the long lost Jean Hughes Anglade and some other guy who appears to be the French Ethan Hawke. Need less to say Vic Mackey would approve.

Justified – FX
Staying with all things Shield, Justified season two delivered in spades and even outclassed the superb first series. Timothy Olyphant and Margo Martindale were sensational throughout but the really outstanding turn was by Walton Goggins who managed to combine intense sincerity with an almost stoned zen-like delivery every time he was onscreen.

The Jury
The Jury – ITV
ITV maintained its batting average of one great drama a year with this five part mini series. Slightly soapy at times and compromised by a schlocky denouement it nonetheless wove an interesting trial, the backstories of the jury and Julie Walters & Roger Allam’s in-court fight together superbly.

Worth a Look

  • The Hour
  • Hidden
  • The Field of Blood
  • Top Boy
  • Life’s Too Short
  • Entourage (final season started very poorly then picked up nicely)
  • Blue Bloods (slightly twee but Walberg was superb each week)
  • Modern Family
  • Community
  • Spy