I always think that Top Ten lists at the end of the year are arbitrary – they favour things that were shown in the second half of the year and why ten? Anyway, I decided to make a list of my top ‘episodes’ of 2011 and see how many I would get. Ten. Yep, the metric system is so ingrained that I couldn’t avoid it, as hard as I tried.
So this is another arbitrary list. It consists of the top hours (or half hours or other length) of individual pieces of tv that I have seen this year. While there may have been more consistent series aired this year, these are the standout episodes I remember. They have to have been aired in 2011 on UK television (with one exception). And they’re episodes that I can still remember without having to look up summaries for and that bear re-watching. I’ve noticed that April-June was either a great time for television or how my memory best works. I also realise that I’m writing this before the end of the year but I’ve seen the Christmas schedules and I don’t think anything will knock these episodes off their perch. And even if there is some good Christmas TV, I won’t know if it has stood the test of time till next June.
In no particular order then, but beginning with non-fiction:
1. Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (Channel 4) June 2011
This Jon Snow documentary investigation into Sri Lanka’s civil war was relegated to a late-night time slot. Despite the harrowing images, this should have had a primetime slot. Critical of both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government, it showed the full-blooded atrocities that have occurred and been occurring during the war.
It was most damning, however, of the role of the United Nations. The UN basically ran away from Sri Lanka and left Sri Lankans alone to kill each other. Why do we have an international huminatarian body if they just abandon a country during a civil war just because the Government told them they couldn’t guarantee their safety? Their departure from Sri Lanka meant there were no neutral international observers to witness the murders. And no way to bring people to justice.
Of course, the civilians were the worst affected by all of this. Targetted shells on medical spaces – having obtained the locations of these places from the Red Cross. Rape. Indiscriminate murder. Nowhere for civilians to hide or find safety. Ritual executions. The works.
It was shocking. And as I’ve already said, a shame that it was shown late at night. A further shame that the international press hardly seemed to take up this story after it was aired. I’m not sure if the programme helped or not – I guess it’s still too early to say. But this is why we have journalists and journalism. To report stories like this.
2. Our War (BBC3), Episode 1 “Ambush”, June 2011
Whatever your political opinions about the war in Afghanistan, this documentary, produced for the ten-year anniversary of troops going in, using the video footage taken by British troops themselves was another gut-wrenching piece of television.
Tracing back the events that led to the death of a young soldier in Helmand province during an attack on and then ambush by Taliban soldiers, it also talked to his surviving platoon members and family. I remember the letter(s) that his family read out from their son, and how obvious it was how young and naive so many of these soldiers were. And his team leader who now teaches history in a boys’ school and is obviously still racked with guilt.
3. Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill (Channel 4) September 2011
Because this documentary showed that Obama and the US always intended to shoot Osama Bin Laden, and had no intention whatsoever to bring him to trial. Because it showed how US Navy Seals went in to Pakistan without being 100% sure that the person in that Abottobad was Osama Bin Laden. Because it showed us everything we always knew about American Foreign Policy.
4. The Shadow Line (BBC2), Episode 2, May 2011
Great cast. Great music. Dodgy ending. But this second episode convinced me to keep on watching and had me hooked.
The mysterious and chilling ‘Gatehouse’ played by Stephen Rea. Looking for the driver called Andy Dixon. Chiwetel Ejiofor chasing after said Andy Dixon through London. Christopher Eccleston and Rafe Spall. Brilliant.
5. Doctor Who (BBC1), “A Good Man Goes to War”, June 2011
Not the best Doctor Who episode by a long-shot and I’m not much of a Doctor Who geek or regular viewer, but this was a good half-season ender to tide us over the summer. And can be watched again and again.
The episode where we finally found out who River Song was. And who Melody Pond was. Where Madame Kovarian pulled the ganger trick again and the Doctor was helpless. It had old and new characters returning. Headless monks. A cleric army. Sword fighting. And a bit of poetry.
6. The Killing (BBC4), Series 1, Episode 18, March 2011
Ok, I didn’t watch this when it was first aired. but when it was repeated in September. The 18th episode in a 20 episode series, this really wound up the tension. Sarah Lund was getting more and more erratic. Troels Hartmann was also fighting for his political life. Theis and Pernille Larsen were planning to move into the new house. And then Lund and Meyer visit an abandoned warehouse… Like The Shadow Line, great use of music and musical cues, great cast and unlike The Shadow Line, a good ending.
7. Glee (E4), “Prom Queen”, May 2011
I’m reminded often that some of my viewing habits reflect a teenage girl. I just can’t shake my love for American high school dramas. Glee was a bit rubbish in series 2 really (and worse now in series 3), but when it gets the songs right it doesn’t matter. Featuring the return of Jesse St James and a great duet on Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ (sorry, sometimes I like MOR stuff), my other guilty pleasure ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and a cover of one of my favourite songs – Black Kids’ ‘I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend’. My first introduction to Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’. The plot was extraneous and a bit rubbish. But I still remember the songs.
8. Community, Season 2, Episode 21, “Paradigms of Human Memory”, April 2011
I don’t know why Community is relegated to the ‘Viva’ channel in the UK. I don’t get why E4 or some other channel didn’t pick it up before. It’s witty and its pop-culture tone would do well with British audiences. I’ve noticed that aeroplane companies have picked it up for their on demand screens.
This episode, towards the end of season 2, was one of my favourites and I’ve watched it a couple of times. A ‘clip show’ that used clips that hadn’t been seen before. Chang all greased up and searching for Annie’s Boobs. The fan-video spoof of Annie and Jeff. The Glee parody. Perfect.
9. The Big C (More4), Episode 13, “Taking the Plunge”, April 2011
Oh man, I was crying my eyes out during this episode. A ‘comedy’ about a middle-aged woman with cancer. Laura Linney played Cathy, the cancer-struck woman, who refused to tell her husband or teenage son about the diagnosis. Ok, this got annoying quick, but the final episode of the series saw her finally tell her son, Adam. But what really got me was when he found her storage/garage key and opened it to find …. *spoiler*….
10. Game of Thrones, Episode 10, “Fire and Blood”, June 2011
“I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria. I am the dragon’s daughter, and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming”
- Honourable mention to Appropriate Adult (ITV1), September 2011
Who knew Dominic West had it in him? Great acting by him, and Emily Watson was solid as ever. The dramatisation of the story of the social worker who looked after Fred West during his arrest for the murder of his daughter, and many other young women. It was good tv but I never want to have to watch it again.