Saluting the undersung British TV shows of 2013

As the 2010s draw to a close, James looks back at some TV gems from 2013 that deserved more love...

Yonderland cast
Photo: Sky

Remember 2013? Prince Charles editing Countryfile. The debut of the new robot cameras after BBC News moved to Broadcasting House. Doctor Who aired its 50th anniversary episode and a lot more around it. And possibly some stuff happened on other networks too, but hey, our taxes paid for this one so let’s stick with it as we look at what else was going on…

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 2013.

An Adventure In Space And Time

Part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, but tucked away on BBC Four, this show was rightly lauded by Doctor Who fandom but somewhat ignored outside it. A one-off feature-length drama about the creation of Doctor Who – penned by Mark Gatiss no less – gives a fascinating insight into the creation of one of the world’s most enduring sci-fi franchises. Ideal viewing for TV geeks as well as sci-fi geeks.

In The Flesh

Much like its undead progeny, the zombie apocalypse is the genre that keeps on giving. This firmly post-apocalypse take is set several years after a zombie outbreak as normality restores – or as close to it as possible. In taking a social commentary angle like Romero’s original zombie films, it actually takes the idea back to its roots, and the nine-episode run is satisfyingly binge-able. Here’s why we loved it.

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Utopia

Cruelly cut down in its prime, Utopia is smart, modern sci-fi with a blistering high concept, in which a graphic novel – The Utopia Experiment – ties in, somehow, to a conspiracy that could affect the course of humanity. Unresolved story notwithstanding, it’s as original a show as UK television has produced in years. Read our spoiler-filled reviews and more here.

Yonderland

The premise of this Sky One sitcom from the makers of Horrible Histories is nothing short of glorious. A 33-year-old suburban mother falls through a portal in her cupboard and arrives in Yonderland. She’s hailed as the chosen one – only, it turns out, no-one in Yonderland knows what the chosen one has to do. It’s a fantastic all-ages show – there’s a reason Den of Geek loves it

The White Queen

Set against the historical backdrop of the English civil war, this TV miniseries was high-budget and high-drama, though its factual accuracy was criticised. Still, ignore that and there’s tonnes to enjoy. It was followed by The White Princess in 2017 and then by The Spanish Princess, which aired its first series this year and will conclude in 2020, so if you like its style there’s plenty more where that came from.

Badults

Comedy sketch group Pappy’s has never quite manage to translate their brilliantly anarchic live energy to the screen, but their sitcom Badults came closest to capturing the magic. A self-aware take on the classic sitcom format, it was everything sitcom fans claim they miss about comedy. A 2-series run began on BBC3 in 2013, just in time for the channel to be made online-only.

Top Of The Lake

Starring Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss and with guest appearances by the likes of Holly Hunter and Nicole Kidman, Top Of The Lake was a show with star power. In it, Moss’s Detective Robin Griffin investigates the murder of a pregnant 12-year-old in New Zealand. Hailed as a masterpiece, its brilliance has not been dulled with time, and would easily appear on best-of-the-decade lists if only more people had noticed it.

Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe

Charlie Brooker’s cultural footprint (possible alternative title?) is huge now thanks to the runaway success of Black Mirror on Netflix, but his Wipe shows are overlooked even by fans of his regular screen wipe column. Unpicking the news as we lived it, Weekly Wipe’s media savvy satire puts most modern satire to shame, and is sorely missed.

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The Wrong Mans

James Cordon doesn’t seem like the kind of performer it’s possible to under-appreciate, but his action-sitcom The Wrong Mans, co-created with Cordon’s Gavin & Stacy castmate Matthew Baynton, is far better than most people credit it for. A bit The Big Lebowski, a bit Wright/Pegg Cornetto Trilogy, if you didn’t give it a chance at the time, this one deserves another look.

Alternative Comedy Experience

Fans of stand-up might have missed this small, Stewart Lee-curated comedy show that took 38 weird, idiosyncratic and atypical acts stand-up acts and put them on TV for the world to see. Some have gone on to be huge, while others still work the live circuit safe in the knowledge they’ll never get back on TV. With 38 comedians across 25 episodes, its two series are not to be missed.