Saluting the undersung British TV shows of 2010
As the decade draws to a close, in the first of a 10-part series, James looks back at some lesser-celebrated British TV gems from 2010...
Here’s the scene. It’s 2010. David Tennant makes his final regular appearance as The Doctor. Jonathan Ross leaves the BBC. All over the country, analogue TV transmitters are being switched off for the final time. Semi-improvised TV comedy The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, sets audiences alight and no-one but no-one is missing the chance to talk about the new BBC TV show Sherlock and its magnetic star, Benedict Cumberbatch.
But you probably remember all that. Here’s some stuff you might have forgotten about. In the first of a 10-part series revisiting some of the best undersung British and non-US TV shows of the decade, here are a few favourites that arrived in 2010.
Starring and co-written by Tom Hollander, Rev was a sitcom about a Church of England priest. So far, so quaint, but Rev wasn’t set in the idealised country village England of bake sales and church roof funds. Instead, it was set in London’s inner-city where the situations and characters were – shall we say – somewhat more complex. Co-starring (and not for the first time in this series of articles) the incomparable Olivia Colman, Rev. as a show was gentle but not patronising – just like a good clergy member should be.
In between eviscerating celebrities on pop shows and emerging as both one of Britain’s best stand-up comedians, Simon Amstell wrote a sitcom loosely based on his own life. In it, he played “Simon” – a between-jobs TV presenter forcibly and repeatedly grounded by interactions with his idiosyncratic family members. After honing his wit on the music industry’s finest (ahem.) Amstell turned his acerbic tongue inwards, drawing out his own vanities and insecurities, revealing for the first time a level of introspection that continues to define him. Well-observed and wickedly funny, its two-series run is rarely discussed but worth of a rewatch.
Roger & Val Have Just Got In
If you’ve never see this show then the words “Alfred Molina and Dawn French” should be more than enough to convince you. Always set in the 30 minutes after Roger and Val arrive home, they examine the tensions, foibles and interactions of middle-aged married life. Carried, largely, but its fantastic actors, it’s hard not to get emotionally involved from the outset – something the show uses to brilliant effect in its later stages.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret
If you’ve never seen Todd Margaret, you’re not alone. Criminally overlooked, the British-American co-production’s first series starred David Cross, Sharon Horgan, Blake Harrison, Will Arnett, Sara Pascoe, Jon Hamm, Amber Tamblyn, Mark Heap and Spike Jonze (Spike Jonze!), all of whom were involved in the world of hapless US energy drink salesman Todd Margaret, who arrives in the UK attempting to establish a foothold in the European market. As the name suggests, his attempts to get a life and impress his bosses go… poorly. Brutally funny and frequently outrageous, it’s the very definition of underrated.
Beginning life as a video-podcast series, Carpool – fronted by Robert Llewellyn – came to TV in 2010 through a deal with UKTV’s Dave. Although it ran for just one series, it presaged the explosion of comedians-interviewing-comedians podcasts and ridesharing apps, not to mention Jerry Seinfeld’s considerably more successful Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Admittedly, the online version was better than Dave’s truncated, edited outings – but Llewellyn’s rambling, amiable interview technique is sorely missed on TV too.
Wonders Of The Solar System
Few broadcasters can stand alongside the likes of Attenborough when it comes to exploring the natural world, but Brian Cox surely comes close. After producing several groundbreaking Panorama episodes looking at the big questions of physics, Cox’s multi-part documentary on the Solar System cemented him as a broadcaster with mass appeal. Despite easily-parodied delivery and cinematography, the (literal) rock star poise of Wonders Of The Solar System helped make physics cool again, and remains a fantastic overview of science’s understanding of our corner of the galaxy.
Him & Her
Room for another sitcom? Why not. Russel Tovey and Sarah Solemani star as Becky and Steve in this look at millennial relationships that had considerably wider appeal than the average BBC3 sitcom. Veering from crude to touching within individual scenes and anchored by superb performances from the leads, Him & Her should have had a bigger audience than it did – if only it had aired on the right channel, it would’ve been spoken about in the same breath as many more recent sitcom greats.
Just to prove that not EVERYTHING has to be funny, Jimmy McGovern’s 2010 series Accused is too easily forgotten despite a roster of talent that’d make Hollywood’s eyes pop. Its anthology-esque, character-focussed setup sees a new person on trial each episode, and examines how they became “the accused” like a sort of legalese Black Mirror. We’re just going to throw out names now to show you what sort of pedigree it has: Christopher Eccleston, Mackenzie Crook, Peter Capaldi, Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Sean Bean, Olivia Colman (again), Juliet Stevenson. The list goes on.
This Is Jinsy
Set on the fictional British island of Jinsy, this surreal and eccentric comedy was broadcast on Sky Atlantic, of all places, ensuring that almost no-one had the chance to watch it. Regardless, its cast includes tonnes of favourites – David Tennant, Jennifer Saunders, Harry Hill and Alice Lowe – but largely succeeds on the strength of creators Chris Bran and Justin Chubb, whose singular comic vision powers every scene. A must for fans of shows like The League Of Gentlemen.
(No, not at all British, but welcome on this non-US list in the spirit of international cooperation). An early member of the Scandinoir wave, Borgen told the story of Brigitte Nyborg, a Danish centrist who unexpectedly becomes Prime Minister of the country. Exceptional characters and tight, West Wing-style drama mixed with a strange political prescience made this essential viewing – it’s just a shame that its lack of unsolved murders (or perhaps, jumpers) meant it was never the hit that The Killing was. Revisit it now and you’ll understand why Newsweek called it “the best TV show you’ve never seen”.