It’s time for the Top 10!
It’s the third installment of our Top 20, and we’re now headed into the real business end of things. Pretty much every show in this top 10 is a very fine one indeed, once again showcasing the high standard we’ve had this year.
So what the does the top 10 hold? Read on…
10 Killing Eve
One of the most common complaints from TV audiences is the way in which familiar themes are recycled until they become cliches; in detective drama, how many times have we seen the maverick cop haunted by his or her demons, the serial killer driven by psycho-sexual frenzy, the blase pathologist wrist-deep in intestines? It’s no wonder spoofs like A Touch of Cloth have so much easy material to work with. Against this background of the unimaginative and overly familiar, Killing Eve came as a refreshing blast of fresh air. For a start, it was played from a mainly female perspective, with not only the two main protagonists but also one of their bosses a woman; secondly, the dialogue had a strong female influence, with rapier asides supplied in seemingly inexhaustible manner by brilliant writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge; and thirdly, it had a refreshingly inventive approach to setting, action, plot, costume and even background music. But all of that might have come to nothing if not for the superb performances of Sandra Oh as frustrated intelligence officer Eve, and Jodie Comer as psycho assassin Villanelle. If Killing Eve did nothing else – and it’s hard to imagine how it might improve on the first series – it should buck up the idea of TV production companies, and make them seek out and develop more original and unpredictable serial dramas.
FOR ALL OUR REVIEWS OF KILLING EVE CLICK HERE
9 Sharp Objects
Another adaptation, this time of superstar crime novelist Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, this was the harrowing, stifling tale of a traumatised, alcoholic journalist sent back to her Missouri hometown to report on the disappearance – and later murder – of a local teenage girl. Almost immediately on her return, Camille (a spell-bindingly good Amy Adams, effortlessly transferring her stellar cinema-screen form to the small screen) re-entered into a simmering relationship with her terrifyingly manipulative mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), that was so toxic it was no wonder Camille had left town a decade or so earlier. Now a case of two murdered girls, her investigation was now beginning to expose and open old wounds (literally), and for Camille it turned not just into a fight for survival in a nightmarish town where you were scorned if you didn’t conform to what was expected of you as a woman, but also a way to finally process and bury her past. The way she did this was, like the rest of the series, extreme in the, well, extreme.
And then there was her sinister, hard-to-read half-sister, Amma, who became one of crime drama’s scariest and most unpredictable characters of the year.
A Southern Gothic take on a classic fairytale of the darkest kind, Sharp Objects, ultimately, was a story about love; how we give and receive it, and at what lengths we will go in order to do so.
FOR ALL OUR REVIEWS OF SHARP OBJECTS CLICK HERE
8 A Very English Scandal
Good political sex scandals emerge only very infrequently, and despite shenanigans among the Brexiteers, we can’t see Jacob Rees-Mogg being found in a vice den any time soon. So unless Boris turns out to be the Croydon Cat Killer, we must cherish Russell T Davies’ A Very English Scandal, a tragicomedy masterpiece tracing Jeremy Thorpe’s fall from grace in the 1970s.
The former Doctor Who showrunner was greatly aided by a career-defining performance from Four Weddings poster boy Hugh Grant, finally showcasing the depth and variety we always thought he might be capable of. Astonishingly, he almost morphed into the flawed Liberal leader as he was tried at the Old Bailey for his part in a conspiracy to murder his lover, model Norman Scott (another tour de force from Ben Whishaw, surely now one of this country’s finest and most consistent actors), while he walked his dog Rinka, on Exmoor.
This series saw the rise and rise of Grant from pretty romcom leading man to a character actor of extraordinary skill. In fact, the whole enterprise was so well-executed that if Unforgotten 3 and A Very English Scandal got in the ring to contest the top spot this year, your humble reviewer wouldn’t like to be the referee.
TO READ OUR REVIEWS OF A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL CLICK HERE
7 The ABC Murders
The second Sarah Phelps Agatha Christie adaptation in our top 20, this was the one that everyone was waiting for – her take on Christie’s legendary, Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. If you thought you were going to get a straightforward Poirot and a repeat of the David Suchet incarnation, you were very much mistaken. There was to be no twirling of the moustache here, mon ami. Once again Phelps bolstered the story with plenty of socio-economic context (The ABC Murders was, after all, based in a 1930s London rife with fetid, fascist bile) and presented the great detective as a tired, weather-beaten man, persecuted by all around him, and no longer sure of his place in the world. Often feeling more like a contemporary Nordic Noir, Phelps’s reimagining once again retained the essence of Christie’s genius, imbuing it with darker, swirling undercurrents, motivations and redemptions, and an origin story so mindblowing it took us all by surprise. And, in John Malkovich, a new Poirot was born, flawed and fit for a modern age that has too many uncomfortable parallels to the fractured 1930s.
FOR ALL OUR REVIEWS OF THE ABC MURDERS CLICKER HERE
6 Save Me
Written by and starring Lennie James, Save Me was a British crime drama the likes of which we had not seen before, and with a first episode so good it could have been the best we had ever seen. James played Nelson ‘Nelly’ Rowe, a south London lothario who was the king of his hi-rise, his local community and his local pub. Everyone knew him, and they either loved or loathed him – but mostly they loved him. He was the alpharist alpha male and a wannabe big fish in a small pond, cruising through life without a care in the world. With a script crackling with urban energy and authenticism, this flawed hero’s life took a turn for the peripeteiac when he found out that the daughter he had abandoned years ago had been kidnapped. Like Orpheus, Nelly began a one-man crusade to find her and strode deep into the London underworld, edging towards an abyss so dark and terrifying it was often difficult to go with him on his journey. With a superb ensemble cast that included the consistently brilliant Stephen Graham and studies of masculinity underpinning the whole series, we soon found out that the title of the show did not refer to Nelly’s daughter, but to Nelly himself – it was a call for help, and his odyssey was a prickly path to redemption and new-found purpose. It was extraordinary, flawed and, at times, very hard to watch (check out the twist), but Save Me proved that British crime drama could still be original, inventive and relevant.
FOR ALL OUR REVIEWS OF SAVE ME CLICK HERE
FOR PART ONE OF OUR TOP 20 – 20-16 CLICK HERE
FOR PART TWO OF OUR TOP 20 – 15-11 CLICK HERE