There have been zombies before – Lord knows, there have been zombies – but it wasn’t until The Walking Dead that people started really taking them seriously. Set in an increasingly savage post-apocalyptic society, Rick Grimes and his not-particularly-merry band of survivors find themselves grappling not only with the undead – sorry,walkers – but also the un-undead. It’s as much a show about survivalism and ethics as it is about gore and cool make-up – and it’s done with characters we truly care about. Witness the recent furore over Glenn, or Negan, and you’ll realise this zombie business really is no laughing matter.
Forty-five episodes of bite-sized genius showcases the Pythons at their riffiest, daftest, most out-there best. A bold blueprint for British sketch comedies for years to come, its deliberately outsized Britishness is embroidered by Terry Gilliam’s surrealist animations – a little like Dali once did for Luis Buñuel, only with more giant feet and mutant chickens. The gang take turns to poke fun at the nations’ bureaucrats, toffs, gameshow hosts and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (among others). Its upside worldview reaches its logical conclusion when the village idiot turns out to be the smartest character in the show.
Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and the others who brought the world’s most famous time-traveller into existence knew what they were doing when they turned the need to replace the lead into one of the canniest ways to reboot and refresh the show. And so it has kept going – albeit with that 16-year blip – for more than 50 years. Evolving from the days of cardboard sets and plastic monsters (which, let’s be honest, were a big part of the show’s charm) to the much more polished, but still incredibly fun version of today. Generations have grown up watching the series, delighting at the idiosyncratic main character and running scared from the various creatures he outwits. It’s a series that prioritises brains over brawn, and shoots you off to the far corners of the universe. What’s not to love?
Dark, comical and really rather wonderful, it’s little wonder that Six Feet Under flowed from the same pen that gave us the equally incredible American Beauty. Alan Ball’s HBO series about a dysfunctional Pasadena family who run an independent funeral home was a wonderful meditation on life, love and grief. Headed up by Peter Krause as prodigal elder son Nate Fisher and featuring Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose and Rachel Griffiths, the cast, like every facet of this compelling production, oozed class.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. Yeah, you knew we were going to lead with that. But if we’re describing the feeling of watching the show about a struggling Texas high-school American football team, it might need to be amended to “watery eyes, full hearts, sometimes lost, but we loved the team anyway”. Peter Berg’s knowing adaptation of the H. G. Bissinger book and the 2004 movie he drew from it, broadened the scope of the world and wrangled memorable characters that live and breathe. In coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and wife Tami (Connie Britton), we got one of the best examples of married couple on TV. And, most importantly, you don’t need to worship at the church of the gridiron to appreciate it.
The later Christmas specials may have been about as funny as an Oxfam ad but for most of its run, Only Fools And Horseswas a sitcom that made you proud to be British. Del Boy and Rodney Trotter’s doomed attempts to become millionaires kept the nation smiling for over 20 years and, even with constant repeats, they still manage to raise a giggle today. No matter how many times you watch the best bits (the chandelier scene, the yuppie bar fall, the Batman And Robin run), they never fail to make us laugh.
When Norwich city council recently announced that they were to pedestrianise their city centre, thousands took to Twitter to express mock displeasure, protesting in unison that “traders need access to Dixons”, to the bafflement of councillors. That’s the power of I’m Alan Partridge, which in two series has become part of cultural lexicon, providing an endless well of absurd quotes to repeat in any given scenario. ‘Partridge-esque’ is now a clearly-defined adjective. Petty, bitter, entirely lacking in self-awareness, the ultimate little Englander,Steve Coogan’s Partridge is one of the most exceptional and keenly-observed comedy characters ever conceived; this sitcom remains his greatest manifestation. It’s a TV show which has been described as, and I quote, “lovely stuff”. Not my words – the word of Shakin’ Stevens.
Political satire used to be a mere wry quip here, a raised eyebrow there (the iconic Yes Minister aside). Then The Thick Of It stormed in and told everybody: “fuckity bye”. With Peter Capaldi’s fire-breathing fixer Malcolm Tucker at its centre, Armando Iannucci’s foul-mouthed comedy remains one of the sharpest, fastest-witted comedies ever, skewering Britain’s political class via a tornado of creative cursing. Bizarrely, and to the general bemusement of its creators and fans, life has unwisely decided to imitate art – Michael Gove announced plans to have children design apps mere days after the ‘Silicon Playgrounds’ episode, while George Osborne’s 2012 budget was widely described as an “omnishambles”.
Part of the genius of Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it’s impossible to tell where the real Larry David ends and the fictional David begins. After all, this is a man who used to go out on stage for stand-up shows, peer at the audience and then walk off if he didn’t like the look of the crowd. Every episode sees him getting into ass-puckeringly awkward scrapes with waiters, doctors, salesmen and other celebrities, from Ben Stiller to Martin Scorsese. The combination of David’s lack of social skills with the right-on political correctness of LA’s denizens makes for edgy, hilarious viewing.
From tiny acorns, a gigantic franchise was born. And you don’t spin all those movies, follow-up series and reboots out of nothing. But for all its limited budget, Shacting and occasionally silly aliens, the Trekuniverse would be nothing without the parent show. Gene Roddenberry and his team cannily brought together big ideas and intergalactic vistas, then injected a healthy, adventurous spirit into the proceedings. It’s pulpy, it’s fascinating, and it’s probably partly responsible for the mobile phone you may be reading this on. That is impact.