From I'm A Celebrity to Des and The Crown – my picks of the best and worst TV of 2020

2020. Well that was a right old laugh, wasn’t it.

The year EastEnders had to be taken off air, the Question Time audience vanished and an episode of Little Mix: The Search was replaced by a Government graph predicting 4,000 Covid deaths a day.

It wasn’t all good news, though.

Channel 4 gave Steph McGovern a second chance, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness thought they could improve Total Wipeout, and I’m A Celebrity relocated to a cold, damp Welsh castle where the contestants sat around a fire telling each other they were “amazing” for three very long weeks.

Somehow or other, great television was still possible.

Captain Sir Tom walked into our hearts, Bill Bailey danced for joy, and so did I when Scotland actually qualified for a football tournament for the first time in 22 years.

Here, I celebrate the best and worst of it.

Dumbest quiz show answers: Celebrity Mastermind, John Humphrys: “The 2019 book No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference is a collection of speeches made by which climate-change activist?”

Amanda Henderson: “Sharon.”

Tipping Point, Ben Shephard: “In 1954 Roger Bannister became the first man to run which distance in under four minutes?”

Carter: “Marathon.”

The Chase, Bradley Walsh: “What caused the cancellation of six Wimbledon championships in the 1940s?”

Virinder: “Food poisoning.”

Ben Shephard: “Who was the US President on January 1, 2000?”

Tom: “George Washington.”

Bombshell of the year

THIS Morning, February 7, Phillip Schofield revealed “I’ve been coming to terms with the fact . . .  I’m gay”, while viewers were still reeling from the news that grizzly bears don’t have bidets.

Astrologer of the year: The Mirror’s Russell Grant who, late last year, made this prediction: “Travel is on the cards, for Cancerians, in the spring and as much as you enjoy your home life you will appreciate this change of scene.”

Yeah? And how was your lockdown?

Best documentaries: The Tiger King, Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez, The Life And Times Of Captain Sir Tom, Sunderland ’Til I Die, Citizens Of Boomtown, McMillion$, Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience (Care Worker), Murder In The Outback, Welcome To Chechnya, Return To Real Kashmir, Hospital Special: Fighting Covid, Once Upon A Time In Iraq, Storyville: Hurt Locker Hero, The Mole: Infiltrating North Korea, Finding Jack Charlton and The Lawman.

Worst documentaries: The Goop Lab, Me And My Penis, Miriam Margolyes’ Almost Australian (she went wokeabout), The Unbelievable Story Of Carl Beech, which glossed over Tom Watson’s role in this sordid business, and Channel 4’s deeply sinister The School That Tried To End Racism, where two academic BS merchants, Dr Nicola Rollock and Professor Rhiannon Turner, tried to brainwash innocent schoolchildren into thinking they had “unconscious bias”. A pox on everyone involved.

Best fly-on-the-wall celebrity series: ITV’s Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King.

Worst fly-on-the-wall celebrity series: A dead heat between ITVBe’s Gemma Collins: Diva On Lockdown, Gemma Collins; Diva Forever & Ever and Gemma Collins: Diva For Christmas.

Best-suited dating show contestants: Love Island Australia’s Millie Fuller and Grant Crapp, whose children would undoubtedly have been Fuller-Crapp.

Worst EastEnders storyline: Just to give its less-than-epic boat disaster context, the Queen Vic was awarded the “2020 Pub Of The Year” title, six months after hosting a fatal gun siege.

An honourable mention, too, for Peter Beale arriving back in Walford with his seventh head and a foot taller.

Clumsiest title: Channel 4’s Bring Back The Bush: Where Did Our Pubic Hair Go? Which really should’ve been called Muffragettes.

Worst Celebrity Series

ITV’s Don’t Rock The Boat, in which Craig Charles took a prime-time dump in a bucket.

No, really, he did.

Worst Guess

THE Masked Singer, Jonathan Ross weighing up the woman in the flower costume: “I think it could be Natalie Cole in there.”

May she rest in peace.

TV Name Of The Year

THE researcher on 5Star’s 25 Myths About Lesbians, Ophelia Cave.

Worst comedy shows: Awaiting execution on death row: The Mash Report, Have I Got News For You, Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, The Last Leg, King Gary, Hitmen, starring Mel & Sue, Mo Gilligan’s All Star Happy Hour, Jonathan Ross’s Comedy Club, The Vicar Of Dibley In Lockdown, Sara Pascoe’s Out Of Her Mind and Comedy Against Living Miserably, where Nish Kumar wondered if: “Periods of depression are linked to my career?”

Yes, directly.

Best comedy shows: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mister Winner, Would I Lie To You, Graham Norton’s Eurovision commentary, Harry Hill’s World Of Television and BBC2’s Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing.

Best schedule clash: Me And My Penis/30 Inches Tall And Turning 18.

Best celebrity series: Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, where Foxy finally gave Katie Price the bollocking we’ve all been longing to deliver: “Just zip it. You might even enjoy the silence. We fing will.”

Best dramas: The Windermere Children, White House Farm, Quiz, Normal People, if only for the acting, Cobra Kai, The Undoing, with Nicole Kidman, Des, with David Tennant, and BBC2’s brilliant takedown of London working culture Industry.

Worst dramas: Split, series two of Liar (but he’s dead!), the annoying family on Us, Noughts + Crosses, BBC1’s ludicrously left-wing Roadkill, with Hugh Laurie, and The Salisbury Poisonings, where BBC1 somehow managed to turn a real-life story about Russian spies, assassinations and political intrigue into an episode of Casualty.

Best actor: There were great performances from: Matthew Macfadyen and Michael “Tarrant” Sheen (Quiz), Ken Leung as Eric Tao (Industry), Paul “Connell” Mescal (Normal People) and Tobias “Prince Philip” Menzies (The Crown).

But the one that continues to haunt me is David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen in Des.

Best actress: Deserved mentions for Dolly Wells (Dracula), Marisa Abela and Myha’la Herrold (Industry), Daisy “Marianne” Edgar-Jones (Normal People) and Leila Farzad, as Naomi, the long-suffering manager in I Hate Suzie.

Emma Corrin’s spookily accurate Princess Diana, though, almost saved series four of The Crown single-handedly.

Optimist of the year: BBC2, I’ll Get This, April, Jermaine Jenas to Sara Pascoe: “I’ll be waiting for the comedian in you to come out.” He’s still waiting.

Outstanding individual performance by an actor: Anti-woke provocateur Laurence Fox, who was cancelled by every luvvie in the country following his January appearance on Question Time where, ironically, he described Britain as “the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe”.

Strangely enough, the TV industry took a much more relaxed approach about Maxine Peake, who shared anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about George Floyd’s death, and Miriam Margolyes, who told The Last Leg she wanted Boris Johnson to die of coronavirus.

Worst competition: The Steph Show, host: “Can you guess where I’ve hidden my carrot?” No. But I’ve got a suggestion . . .

Worst reboot: BBC1’s Total Wipeout: Freddie & Paddy Takeover. Unforgiven.

Most worrying Springwatch development: Steve Backshall: “Some of the river rats round here have to be seen to be believed. I mean, honestly, they look like Gillian’s beavers. They’re absolutely massive.”

Medical emergency of the year: E4, The Sex Clinic, Essex girl Harriette: “I want advice on how to get wet.” Move to Preston and don’t buy an umbrella.

Worst show: The Goop Lab, BBC2’s I’ll Get This (the Bullingdon Club for left-wing comedians), Too Hot To Handle, Celebrity Snoop Dogs, Maura Higgins: You’re Joking Me, Me And My Penis, Gemma Collins: Diva On Lockdown, Little Mix: The Search, The Sex Clinic and ITV’s Don’t Rock The Boat, can all thank their lucky stars, ’cos nothing, not even Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer, was worse than The Steph Show and Steph’s Packed Lunch.

Two shows which, in the immortal words of Sir Les Patterson: “Could bore an a***hole in a wooden horse.”

Best show: I’ll accept pleas on behalf of McMillion$ and Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance, but head and shoulders above everything this year, I thought, was BBC2’s documentary series Once Upon A Time In Iraq, where lieutenant-colonel Nate Sassaman, translator Waleed Nesyif and half a dozen other talking heads made simple, brutal, darkly funny sense of the turmoil that followed the 2003 invasion.

The Alan Whicker Award

BBC2’s Almost Australian, Bondi Beach – three wet old men wearing swimming trunks and rubber hats appear.

Miriam Margolyes: “Have you been swimming?”


Advert Partnership Of The Year

ANUSOL haemorrhoid cream with a voiceover from Miriam Margolyes: “Itchy, sore, pain in the posterior? Sound familiar?”

You do.

Not a single word is wasted. It’s as good as television gets.

Best live TV moment of 2020: Yes, Bill Bailey winning Strictly was joyful, but it’s my column and my rules.

So the winner is Sky Sports, November 12, Ian Crocker: “YEEEES! One. Big. Yes. A happy ending for Scotland, for a change. The time has come. The time truly has come.” See you at Wembley.

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