2017 on TV

Benjie Goodhart / 20 December 2017

Our TV critic’s rundown of the best, worst and weirdest TV of 2017.

TV family of the year: The Kellys. Dad Robert was being interviewed about South Korea live on the BBC News when first one, then the other, of his infant children marched into the room and started happily crashing about in the background. Enter Robert’s wife, ducking down in an utterly futile attempt to stay off camera, before performing a Ninja-like extraction of the children. Throughout, Robert Kelly maintained an impressive sang froid. TV gold.

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Beauty Contest winner: Beauty pageants are meant to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. But when something comes along as consistently beautiful, in every frame, as Blue Planet II, it’s time to get out the crown and the sash – we have a winner.

Discover more about the locations of Blue Planet II

If you can accept a regenerating, time-travelling humanoid alien with two hearts, you can accept a Doctor with Ovaries.

Storm in a teacup award: Doctor Who casting a woman. Scandalous. They’ll be letting women be real doctors next, and then we’re all going to hell in a heavily-perfumed, badly-driven handcart. Come on, world, this is 2017. If you can accept a regenerating, time-travelling humanoid alien with two hearts, you can accept a Doctor with Ovaries.

Travel Show of the Year: From Russia to Iran, with Levison Wood. An absurdly beautiful and haunting part of the world, this was also a hotbed of eccentrics. The first episode alone featured hard-drinking uniformed Cossacks, deeply unsubtle secret service agents, a minder with gold teeth, a heavily-armed traditional mountain man, and the world’s scariest border crossing.

Nurse, the Screens Award: It’s time for the X Factor to be quietly euthanised. Increasingly desperate, and rapidly becoming a parody of itself, it haemorrhaged audience numbers like a haemophiliac pig. See also: The Apprentice.

Jeremy Paxman Award for most incisive question: Amanda Holden, guest-presenting on This Morning, asking astronaut Tim Peake if he’d brought back any moon rock. From his trip to… er… the International Space Station. (FYI, Amanda, the last time a human being was on the moon was 45 years ago.)

Documentary series of the year: Three Wives, One Husband. The four-part series about polygamous Mormons living inside a giant rock in the middle of the Utah desert could have been a malicious, ill-intentioned, smallminded hatchet job. Instead, it was an utterly compelling and sympathetic look at a (very) alternative lifestyle. Three wives, 15 kids, and no alcohol? Not for me, thanks…

The Buster Keaton Award for Silent Comedy: Huw Edwards who, thanks to a technical glitch, was broadcast sitting in complete silence in the BBC News anchor’s chair for fully four minutes before he started to speak.

Comedy of the Year: Car Share. Peter Kay’s delightful, warm and affectionate love story is perfect, but for one thing: Where the heck is our happy ending????

Best dramatic performance: The Moorside was a brilliant, bleak and joyless drama about the disappearance, and subsequent discovery of, Shannon Matthews. The superb Sheridan Smith took top-billing, but Gemma Whelan’s quietly pathetic and desperate turn as Karen Matthews was the standout performance of the year.

Best Slaying of an Elephant in the Room: Ant and Dec, in the opening scene of I’m a Celebrity… when everyone was desperate to see how they would deal with Ant’s stint in rehab. Dec announcing his co-host, ‘Holly Willoughby’, and then explaining they’d not known if Ant was going to make it, was brave, funny and utterly winning. Speaking of I’m a Celebrity…

The Dermot O’Leary Award for nicest person on the telly: Toff, who turned out to be the most positive, upbeat, charming, bright, tough and marvellous campmate in the show’s history. A role model for youngsters if ever there was one.

Most Poignant Coincidence (1): The cameras filming a documentary about London firefighters one balmy June evening, when a call came in from a tower block in West London. The footage on Inside London Fire Brigade was devastating.

Most Poignant Coincidence (2): Forgive a little bit of self-indulgence. In January my beloved father died. A fortnight later, I found myself reviewing The Trouble with Dad, David Baddiel’s funny, tragic and searingly honest documentary about his father, who was suffering from dementia. A wonderful documentary, it dealt in part with Baddiel’s complex relationship with his difficult father over the years, and was a timely reminder, were one ever needed, of how lucky I was that life’s lottery had given me such a wonderful dad.

Read Benjie's review of The Trouble with Dad

The Life After Miriam Award: The very idea of making a second series of The Real Marigold Hotel without Miriam Margolyes, the standout turn from series one, seemed absurd. But thanks to the charm of a cast including Paul Nicholas, Dennis Taylor, Sheila Ferguson and Amanda Barrie, the show was an unqualified triumph.

Read Benjie's review of The Real Hotel Marigold on Tour 2

The Most Unsubtle Harbinger of Doom Award: The ITV drama The Good Karma Hospital contained the line “Your wife is in perfect health. Everything is pointing to a normal, uncomplicated delivery.” Things were never going to go well after that.

Best drama: The Handmaid’s Tale. Proper, intelligent, grown up literary drama that managed to combine the timeliness and political clout of a documentary with the thrills of a whodunit, and pulled together by an extraordinary performance from Elisabeth Moss. Exceptional.

Read Benjie's review of The Handmaid's Tale

Best Complete Hogwash: Doctor Foster was, in many ways, almost unwatchably silly. The outrageous swings of fortune and utterly implausible actions of almost all of its characters, though, didn’t matter in the end, because it was all so… so utterly delicious.

Worst ending: The Replacement, a three-part thriller starring Morvern Christie and Vicky McClure, gave us two excellent episodes, before a final one that felt like it had been written by a nervous teenager who had taken too long on the first half of the exam, and had to cram everything into the last five minutes. Genuinely shockingly amateurish.

The Hide Behind the Sofa Award for sheer awkwardness: I still can’t watch Warren Beatty reading out the wrong winner at the Oscars, and the terrible aftermath that followed, without wanting the ground to open up and swallow me, Beatty, Hollywood and pretty much anyone else who witnessed this howler of all howlers in front of the watching world.

Best single documentary: Sue Bourne’s A Time to Live, a profoundly moving look at death – and life – through the eyes of a range of people with terminal illnesses. A beautiful film about a serious subject made possible by the candidness and honesty of some extraordinary individuals.

Read Benjie's review of A Time To Live

Biggest Relief of the Year: Bake Off. Let’s face it, most of us had been sharpening our knives, with every intention of carving apart the show like a Victoria Sponge at a kids’ party. But they only went and got it right. Even better than that – they actually improved it. Whodda thunk?

Most Bonkers Idea for a Show: ITV, the channel that brought us Flockstars and competitive barbecuing in recent years, has a monopoly on utterly off-the-wall ideas. So it was that they gave us Gone to Pot, a show in which Pat from EastEnders, Bobby George, Biggins and others drove around America on a hallucinogenic bus trying out marijuana given to them by nuns. Even better – it was ruddy marvellous. Speaking of Bobby George…

Read Benjie's review of Gone to Pot

Revelation I could have done without: Bobby, on Gone to Pot, explaining that he has one of his toes embalmed in vodka and kept behind his bar at home. I think I’ll just have a water, thanks Bob.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you, and may 2018 bring us as much brilliant, bonkers and bizarre telly as 2017 did.

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