Saluting the undersung British TV shows of 2012
As the 2010s draw to a close, James looks back at some TV gems from 2012 that deserved more love...
Who can forget 2012, when the Olympic Opening Ceremony defied expectations and united the UK behind something that wasn’t, on the whole, risible. Although that bit with the Spice Girls being driven around on minis and not actually singing anything was pretty weak. Elsewhere, two viewers of Stargazing Live discovered an exoplanet that was subsequently named Threapleton Holmes B in their honour, and Anne Robinson finally said Goodbye to herself, exiting The Weakest Link after more than a decade.
Oh, and ITV aired a documentary titled Exposure: The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile which, it’s fair to say, made an immediate impression on pop-culture.
But amidst all that, what WEREN’T you watching?
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 2012.
The UK’s children’s TV programmes are consistently underrated, and Wolfblood continues that noble tradition of being far better than many would allow for a kids’ show. A fantasy drama Den Of Geek once labelled “Buffy for the CBBC generation“, Wolfblood‘s message of inclusivity and friendship shone out through its many reinventions, amid a lot of fun superpowered action. It’s worth a look for all fans of supernatural teen shows. We know you’re out there.
Adapted from Ford Maddox Ford’s novels, scripted by the great Tom Stoppard (returning to TV after 30 years!) and starring Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch, this pre-WW1 drama was called “one of the finest things the BBC has ever made” by TV critic Grace Dent, and we can assume she’s seen enough to know. Here’s why we loved it.
Ah! La France! Elle n’est pas réputée pour la bonne télé – mais ce remake d’un film de 2004 où les morts sont ressuscités est fantastique. It’s French language but don’t let that put you off. Rather than going the zombie route, this show deals with the existential horror of the dead returning to life, with a story that’s smart, disturbing and hard to look away from. Read more about it here.
Sharon Horgan stars in this sitcom co-written with Holly Walsh. It aired on BBC Three, but don’t let that put you off – the larger-than-life characters juxtaposed against Horgan’s ostensibly normal lead and a compelling question at the heart of the plot meant the show could have gone on longer than it did. Regrettably, we never got a chance to find out.
Set in 1889, six months after the infamous Jack the Ripper murders, Ripper Street explores the landscape of Victorian-era Whitechapel, a place overrun with crime and exploitation and now overshadowed by a demoralised police force. So few people cottoned on to Ripper Street that it was cancelled by the BBC until being saved by Amazon, where you can find it now.
Red Dwarf X
Back To Earth might have brought Red Dwarf back to the screen after a ten year absence, but it was Series X that brought it back in the way we remembered: frequently hilarious, laugh-track intact, and packed with the kind of ambitious plots only Red Dwarf can get away with. It may not quite live up to vintage Dwarf, but it’s far better than its predecessors and relatively overlooked outside the fandom.
Toast Of London
Surely, in pitching this to Den of Geek we’re preaching to the converted, but the Matt Berry-fronted Toast Of London is as brilliant a sitcom as the decade has produced, following the adventures of bumbling, pompous, failure of an actor Steven Toast. The pilot, which dropped in 2012, sees the show arrive instantly hilarious and fully-formed.
A Touch Of Cloth
Despite being co-created and co-written by media darling Charlie Brooker and starring the brilliant John Hannah, police procedural parody A Touch Of Cloth never quite got the recognition of Brooker’s other TV shows – not because it was bad, but because it was Sky-exclusive. There are only six episodes total spread over three series and they’re all dense with the inimitable mixture of genius and puerility that only Brooker seems able – or perhaps willing – to deliver.
Wizards Vs Aliens
Another entry from CBBC, Wizards Vs. Aliens is as openly wacky as the name suggests, and let’s face it – with a high concept like that, subtle isn’t exactly where you want to aim. Co-created by Russell T. Davies, one of the UK’s finest TV producers, it’s bound to delight both young and old fans of Davies’ Doctor Who.
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy
Half-filmed, half-animated and all-mad, Noel Fielding’s surreal comedy was at times Dali-esque, and while it initially (and not unreasonably) confused viewers, there’s plenty to enjoy for anyone looking for some truly original comedy. And hey, the best thing about watching series one is that you’re primed to watch series two, which is a lot better and pokes considerable fun at the impenetrability and self-indulgence of that first series…