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  #6  
Old 09-19-2010, 03:53 AM
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Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews in Brideshead Revisited. Photograph: ITV / Rex Features

2 Brideshead Revisited(ITV, 1981)

Gilded, delicately embossed proof that costumed adaptations need *entail neither winking modernisation nor fainting fits in drawing rooms, Charles Sturridge's serialisation of Evelyn Waugh's novel remains a masterpiece its 13 hours predicated on the yellowing *notion that even the most familiar text requires time and space to reveal its treasures. The book's themes *Catholicism, loss, the *unreliable *nature of nostalgia, the death of English nobility, the battle between faith and individual freedom augured narrative headaches, yet in John Mortimer the production found a writer capable of capturing such *profundity without *sacrificing the novel's humour. The stately pace is vital to the *narrative. Highlights are manifold: the immaculate performances, Geoffrey Burgon's exquisite score, the extra*ordinary beauty of both Castle Howard and be still my trembling corset! the young Jeremy Irons. For better or worse, we'll never see its like again. SD

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Thursday 14 January 2010


We named John Mortimer above as the writer of the 1981 Brideshead Revisited *adaptation for ITV. Although he wrote a script for the production, the *version actually used was written by producer Derek Granger, associate producer Martin Thompson and *director Charles Sturridge.





3Our Friends in the North (BBC, 1996)

"Three decades, four friends and the world that shaped their lives" was the tagline for this epic drama in nine 70-minute episodes. It is as sharp and wonderful today. Tightly plotted and warmly scripted, Our Friends is a gripping lesson in social and political history, touching on crooked 60s local government, 70s London **** empires, glitzy 80s prosperity and the 90s New Labour dream. Every school history department should own the DVD box set, for among titillating scenes of go-go dancers, gangland squabbles and unplanned pregnancies a strong lesson about Britain's past mistakes resonates clearly. Most brilliantly, Our Friends stars the cream of the country's then fresh young acting talent: future Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, Bond-in-waiting Daniel Craig, the elegant Gina McKee and brooding Mark Strong. The closing scenes in 90s Tyneside *accompanied by an Oasis soundtrack are unforgettably moving. GD

4 Mad Men (AMC, 2007-)

Mad Men is, like Jane Austen, almost impossible to catch in the act of greatness. It is gorgeous to look at and *glacially slow. Almost nothing happens in any single episode the one in which Peggy was revealed to have had a baby broke through the icy surface like a shark but somehow an air of compellingly exquisite and growing tension is maintained at all times. The Mad Men are the executives who are, at the start of the 1960s, just completing their *colonisation of Madison Avenue and are poised to take over and according to your point of view remake or destroy the world through the power of advertising. Beneath the gloss, it is brutally restrained and economical. Every line, every movement, every flicker of Betty D****r's desperate eyes marks another tiny loss or gain, in understanding, power or dread. It is a masterpiece. LM

5 A Very Peculiar Practice (BBC, 1986-88)

Based on his experiences as a lecturer at the University of Warwick, Andrew Davies's portrait of a medical practice in terminal decline marked a high point in the BBC's astonishingly fertile mid-80s drama output. Set in the fictional Lowlands University a mid-apocalyptic wasteland festooned with evangelical bureaucrats, grasping Thatcherites, rapacious feminists and arsonist nuns it twinned furious satire with lurching, queasily gleeful surrealism. Flustered everydoctor Stephen Daker (Peter Davison) may have been the series' moral compass but it was AVPP's pantomime grotesques that provided the most memorable outlets for Davies' ire. Oleaginous sociopath Bob Buzzard, Machiavellian ***-bomb Rose Marie, booming dipsomaniac Jock McCannon (the incomparable Graham Crowden); here were broad-brush monsters as brilliantly realised as they were appalling. "It's a long way from anywhere," rasped Elkie Brooks on the series's fittingly oppressive theme tune. Twenty-two years after Lowlands sank beneath a final wave of capitalist lunacy, it's *difficult to disagree. SD

6Talking Heads(BBC, 1988, 1998)

Irritated by a dismissive use of the phrase "talking heads" to describe the most boring parts of the schedule, Alan Bennett set out to restore the monologue which had become associated with music hall or stand-up comedy to the heart of TV drama. Patricia Routledge as a dying office busybody in A Woman of No Importance (1982) was effectively a pilot for two later series of six, which included Maggie Smith as an incredulous vicar's wife and Thora Hird as two differently stricken widows. With rare and economic shifts of perspective, the direction focused attention on the *actor's face and voice and the author's extraordinary ear for the shading and shaping of an anecdote. Playing Sandwiches, in which David Haig portrays a park-keeper, begins on a deceptive note of Bennettian nostalgia "I was in the paper shop this dinnertime getting some liquorice allsorts" but develops into a daring attempt to enter the head of a paedophile. In an era when *senior actresses have *complained about the shortage of decent parts, Bennett provided 11 peak-time roles for older women. By 2008, when *EastEnders gave Dot *Cotton a solo *episode *indebted to *Talking Heads, it was clear how right the quietly pioneering Bennett had been to ignore television prejudice. ML

7 The Singing Detective(BBC, 1986)

A crime writer, Philip Marlow (Michael Gambon), lies in a hospital bed, overcome by a terrible skin disease and *fever. What has he done to deserve such betrayal by his own body, by the traumas of his troubled past? And by the doctors who break into popular songs of the 40s? Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones . . . While the novelist looks into his past, a psychiatrist looks into his head, and the writer's creation, a detective also called Philip Marlow, looks into a ******. Dennis Potter's semi-autobiographical work, probably his finest, pushed boundaries. And hell yes, it's complicated. There are three strands, but they don't intertwine neatly. It's so knotted and gnarled that even the characters don't know where they are or which story they're in. But somehow it doesn't matter when you're lost. It still manages to amuse, appal, surprise and delight. And it looks remarkably modern, even 24 years on. SW

8 Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit(BBC, 1990)

"My father liked to watch the *wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle," begins Jeanette Winterson's adaptation of her prize-winning novel. "It didn't matter what. She was in the white *corner and that was that. She hung out the largest sheets on the *windiest days." Winterson's upsetting yet sharply humoured tale of Jesse's (Charlotte Coleman) childhood at the hands of 70s evangelists captures perfectly the dark, musty, slender-visioned world of yesteryear Lancashire and its ferocious cast of womenfolk (Pam *Ferris, Celia Imrie, Geraldine McEwan). Huge of faith, hat and and handbag, the ladies ruminate on a vengeful, smiting God waiting to thunderclap every heathen in the parish, with all hell breaking loose when teenage Jesse is uncovered as a lesbian. Her "exorcism" at the hands of Pastor Finch, played by the always unsettling Kenneth Cranham, is terrifically jarring, as is the title *sequence, a nightmare scene involving the cast riding a fairground carousel, laughing demonically and waving at her to join their fun. GD

9 State of Play(BBC, 2003)

This densely plotted thriller kept *audiences edging closer and closer to their sets over six Sunday nights. Paul Abbott's classy script pulled together a political affair, a drugland shooting and shady oil deals into a *convincing conspiracy drama, focusing on a *reporter's efforts to get the story. The casting didn't hurt either: Bill Nighy, all tics and arch comments, on superbly twitchy form as the louche newspaper editor; John Simm, prickly and *righteous as a cynical newshound; David Morrissey, the politician who's still got a few threads of "hey, I'm a nice guy" hanging off his slick New *Labour suits; Kelly MacDonald, *another decent reporter; James McAvoy, the young gun first in the line to pat his own back; Philip Glenister as a gruff cop, in something of a prototype run for his Gene Hunt in Life on Mars. RV

10 Boys From the Blackstuff (BBC, 1982)

Sometimes TV shows work their way into your consciousness because of the stories. Sometimes it's because you get to live with them for so long that their stories become part of your life. And sometimes, it's just a single character that stands out. Alan Bleasdale's series about jobless labourers was brilliant in many ways anger had never seemed so painfully funny ("I'm desperate, Dan"), the crushing frustration of *unemployment had never been brought home with such power, the bitter ironies of the Thatcher years had never seemed so cruel but it's Bernard Hill's performance as Yosser Hughes that's stamped with indelible ink on the minds of anyone who's seen it. He's a unique character, trawling across a *rubble-strewn Liverpool in search of work with his three young children *following him like ducks in a row, head****ing anyone foolish enough to stand in his way, chanting his mantra "Gis a job" over and over. RV
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Old 09-19-2010, 03:54 AM
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The Sopranos: extraordinary new notes in American television. Photograph: Allstar/HBO/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

Younger viewers find it hard to comprehend the British television of the past: that there are people alive who grew up with as few as two channels and who routinely waited three years for a hit movie to reach TV screens. It also seems increasingly incredible that as recently as the 1980s UK TV drama was assumed to be superior to the American product, typified by formulaic, tho stylish, cop shows *including *Kojak and Starsky & Hutch or camp pantomimes such as Dallas and Dynasty.

The main reason for this is in the way American drama was made. The networks in the US had in the past through a combination of residual puritanism and terror of advertisers imposed strict rules on programme-makers: sympathetic characters, redemptive endings, patriotic values, washed-out mouths, in a bid to send viewers and supporting corporations happily to bed. But in 1983, when Home Box Office, formerly a sport-and-movies cable network, decided to make original TV dramas, this began to change. HBO commissioned dramas and comedies including *** and the City and The Larry Sanders Show in which characters were permitted to screw and swear, or to take a shit and be a shit, in the way that they do in real life.


Writer-director David Chase *spectacularly used this new licence in six seasons of stories about a family of Italian-American gangsters in New Jersey. In outline, The *Sopranos is not especially original stepping into the shoes of two *classic mafia movies, The Godfather and *Goodfellas but its *radicalism was in the application of this subject-matter to a weekly *domestic drama.


The baffled and battered husband and father had been a recurrent *figure in American popular culture (from All In the Family's Archie Bunker through The Cosby Show to Homer *Simpson) but Chase was the first to make the troubled dad frightened of his wife, mother and therapist a mass-******er. He also spoke about *** and death in the way that a *mobster would, rather than the manner that a *network script editor preferred. But this *unprecedented *realism was *fascinatingly mixed with an equally unusual surrealism, in dream *sequences and recurrent symbolism.
A subsequent HBO drama, The Wire, would later take the candour and open-ended, overlapping storylines even further, but The Sopranos was the first to hit these extraordinary new notes in American television.
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