Saluting the undersung British TV shows of 2011

As the 2010s draw to a close, James looks back at some forgotten TV gems from 2011

2011 was the year Big Brother moved to Channel 5, the year Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding garnered record audiences worldwide. The year Jeremy Clarkson suggested public sector workers should be executed on The One Show – a remark that almost cracks the top 10 worst things he’s ever said. Mrs Brown’s Boys launches on BBC One. Red Dwarf returns for its first full series since 1999. And while you were watching all that, you might have missed all this…

Continuing our 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 2011.

The Fades

BBC Three

Winning a BAFTA and starring the likes of Iain De Caestecker (Agents Of SHIELD), Natalie Dormer (Game Of Thrones) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) this six-episode BBC series was about a boy who can perceive ghosts (“Fades”) in a world where the ghosts are pissed off and trying to reclaim the Earth they were forced from. Neatly continues the tradition of 1970s BBC sci-fi while feeling thoroughly modern with it. Read more about why we love the show here.

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The Shadow Line


Would you watch a TV show starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Christopher Eccleston? Well, if you missed The Shadow Line the first time around, it’s an ideal candidate for binge-viewing (not least because it’s pretty complicated). The show revolves around a murder being investigated by two ends of society – the police and a criminal gang. It’s overflowing with talent and originality and features the most dangerous group of florists you’re ever likely to encounter.

The Sparticle Mystery


Britain’s children’s TV is sorely underrated, and the likes of The Sparticle Mystery are good examples of something that would likely have had a much bigger reception had it not been tucked away on CBBC. In it, an accident at the Large Hadron Collider transports everyone age 15 or over into an alternate reality, and the show follows a group of kids as they attempt to correct the mistake. A super-fun premise reminiscent of cult classic The Tribe.

Appropriate Adult


The crimes of Fred and Rosemary West made them some of Britain’s most notorious killers, and while the show’s decision to part-fictionalise events can be given fair criticism, the show itself is a brilliantly disturbing look at how one normal housewife could end up in the orbit of two horrific serial murderers. Simultaneously hard to watch and hard to look away, starring the magnificent Emily Watson and Dominic West.

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The Crimson Petal And The White


Based on Michel Faber’s 2002 novel, this four-part miniseries was set in Victorian Britain and concerns the usual Victorian Britain things: sex, money and revenge. Plus ça change, right? Although compared negatively to the book (aren’t they always?) the novel doesn’t have Chris O’Dowd, Gillian Anderson and Richard E. Grant bringing characters to life. Stylish and compelling, the subtle electronica of the score alone makes it a viewing experience worth having.

The Bridge

BBC Four

2011’s entry to the Scandinoir genre maintained a huge audience despite a ten-hour running time. In it, the Swedish and Danish police investigate a murder victim found bisected on the bridge that joins their two countries. Its lead character, the tortured Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) makes for an atypical yet gripping protagonist and it’s hard not to get invested in her struggles throughout this series and beyond. It was remade multiple times internationally, but the original remains the best example.

Eric And Ernie


Telling the story of one of the UK’s most beloved double-acts, this Morcambe and Wise biopic was a prime-time smash on New Year’s Day in 2011, but it’s easy to overlook in retrospect. This story of the early years of TV comedy is fascinating and dramatic on its own, but performances by some of the greats – Victoria Wood, Vic Reeves and Reece Shearsmith, for instance – make it worth revisiting.

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South Riding


Set in the fictional South Riding of 1930s Yorkshire, this three-part series is the latest adaptation of a novel that has been returned to again and again, as a film, TV series and radio drama in the past. This adaptation emphasised the economic and societal parallels with modern-day Britain as the bold, progressive Sarah Burton returns from London and meets the haunted, near-bankrupt farmer Robert Carne as they both attempt to survive the recession.

Twenty Twelve


This mockumentary-style sitcom examining the build-up to the 2012 London Olympics was hilarious and brutal, and indeed so good that it kept running past the Olympics as W1A – leading many to forget that this incarnation existed at all. The all-star cast includes Olivia Colman, which is your biggest indicator of quality, but Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes are big names too. Perfect if you want to re-live the geopolitical landscape of pre-meltdown Britain. And frankly, who doesn’t.


Sky Living

Given that it aired first on Sky Living, there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of Bedlam, and that if you have it’s because it featured former Pop Idol winner Will Young. Clearly ghosts were part of the zeitgeist (no pun intended) because the show follows Jed (Theo James) who possesses the ability to see the ghosts of the former mental hospital he and his flatmates now live in. Surprisingly creepy, it’s a decent thriller that should have had a bigger audience.

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