Pat Stacey: The problem with The Guardian's 100 best TV shows of the 21st century
Everybody loves a good “100 best” list to argue over, even if such things are ultimately meaningless and ephemeral. Taste is entirely subjective and changes more often than the weather.
Just look at the 25th anniversary backlash against Friends, once the most popular television series in the world and still a powerful audience magnet today.
The internet has been awash in recent weeks with articles by journalists competing to tell us that Friends was always awful, yet in the same breath saying how they watched and loved it first time around.
A lot of this stuff — and especially the bend-over-backwards efforts to find homophobia in a series where none exists — is nothing more than self-serving, revisionist posturing by journos eager to let the world know how “woke” they are.
The most egregious example is undoubtedly Scaachi Koul’s much commented-upon but ineptly argued Buzzfeed piece, which tells us more about the writer’s high opinion of herself than her low opinion of the thing she’s supposedly writing about.
This anti-Friends herd movement could be the reason why the series isn’t, despite its huge cultural impact, named among The Guardian newspaper’s 100 best TV shows of the 21st century so far — a list that includes a handful of series which, like Friends, began in the mid-to late-1990s but were still running beyond 2000.
Predictably, it’s dominated by dramas and comedies. Just as predictably, it’s the American heavy-hitters — The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones et al — that fill most of the top 10 slots. Otherwise, there’s a roughly 50-50 split between British and American shows.
You can argue till the cows come home with the choices and placings; as I said earlier, taste is subjective. What’s harder to accept, however, is the near-total absence from the list of anything produced by the ITV network in the last 20 years.
Just two ITV shows make the cut: I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! scrapes in at 100th place, and Downton Abbey clocks in 50 places above it.
It’s ironic that a list skewing in favour of BBC and Channel 4 should appear at the same time as an ITV drama series that counts as one of the finest of the year.
A Confession tells the true story of how rule-bending detective Stephen Fulcher effectively burned his own career in order to bring multiple murderer Christopher Halliwell, who was convicted of the killings of two women but may have murdered many more, to justice.
Showing on Virgin Media One and ITV on Mondays, it has everything you could want from a great drama. Jeff Pope’s screenplay is superb. The performances by a large cast, headed by Martin Freeman as Fulcher, Joe Absolom as Halliwell, and Siobhan Finneran and Imelda Staunton as the mothers of his victims, are utterly believable.
I’ll be gobsmacked if A Confession isn’t in the running for several BAFTAs and an international Emmy.
To suggest a network which is still capable of producing quality drama like this, and which in the past made The Naked Civil Servant, Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, Cracker, Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, Hillsborough and many more, has turned out only one drama series since 2000 that’s worthy of consideration is utter nonsense.
How about The Second Coming, Broadchurch, Appropriate Adult, Bloody Sunday, Little Boy Blue (also written by Jeff Pope) or even the immaculate Poirot, which was still running in 2016 and is an epic feat of adaptation, taking in 33 novels and more than 50 short stories?
I’d give any one of those a place ahead of the soapy Downton Abbey, not to mention ahead of several of the other entries in the list, any day.
ITV has a reputation as a purveyor of safe, middle-of-the-road crime dramas, which it is. But A Confession shows that it’s capable of producing quality drama to equal any broadcaster’s. Cultural snobbery has a way of making people forget that.
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