Culture

VICE's 50 Best British TV Shows of the Century So Far: 30-21

Here are numbers 30 to 21 of the only TV ranking list that matters.

by VICE Staff
23 July 2019, 12:27pm

Okay, this is really happening. You've made it to the official midway point of VICE's humble take on the greatest television shows the UK has pumped out since the year 2000. Things are getting serious now. Expect to see some cult favourites just about squeeze their way into the top 25, and some nailed-on dead certs absolutely fail to.

If you're not mad enough by now to tweet "fucking stupid and wrong you dumb hipster idiots" at @VICEUK, don't worry – there's plenty more time for that.

Read our editor's letter here to find out how we decided what ranked where, and click here to read all of the articles from this series.

50-41: Here we go...

40-31: Enjoying the ride?

Black Mirror VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Graham Bartholomew via Netflix

30. 'Black Mirror' (2011 – 2014, Channel 4; 2016 – present, Netflix)

It's bizarre to think that, less than a decade ago, Charlie Brooker was best known for writing sarky Guardian columns and talking about clips of other people's TV shows late at night, and now he's the creator of an Emmy-winning anthology whose most recent series features a major pop star (Miley Cyrus) and the man even your nan has a crush on (Fleabag’s Andrew Scott).

Black Mirror has spanned big themes over its five seasons – grief, euthanasia, mental health, race – while also taking in some of the creepiest technology seen on TV, from an implant for monitoring your kids to, er, murderous robot dogs. Such is the beauty of the show that it's even managed to incorporate its criticism along the way; when journalist Daniel Mallory Ortberg stingingly described the show as "what if phones, but too much", Brooker used it as the jumping-off point for "Playtest", about a games tester sneaking a snap of some new tech.

Yes, it felt more "British" back on Channel 4, but for prescient scares it's still rarely beaten. — Hannah J Davies

Read our interview with 'Black Mirror' show-runners Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker here.

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Simon James / WireImage

29. 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace' (2004, Channel 4)

Darkplace is for nerds. I say this as a barely reformed version of one: Darkplace – when you are an 18-year-old sixth former with no haircut and a more than passing knowledge of what Warhammer is – is the funniest show on Earth.

It's also a talent trove: pre-IT Crowd Richard Ayoade as the pornographer-cum-anti-actor Dean Learner (the spin-off chat show, Man to Man With..., was an equally under-appreciated gem); Matt Berry, before he did the voiceover for every advert on telly, snarling his way through his lines ("Is this a crock of shit?"); Alice Lowe as the wide-eyed psychic straight woman. Also, it makes absolutely no sense to me that Matthew Holness – the titular Marenghi, the sub-Stephen King leather-jacket-and-an-ego 1980s horror writer at the centre of the show – fresh off the back of a Perrier Award and a scene-stealing turn as the IT guy in The Office, didn't become a similar pillar of early-2000s British comedy.

Watch Darkplace back now to see one of the most perfect six-episode runs in UK comedy history. Watch it back again to watch a severed head getting murdered with a spade. — Joel Golby

Chewing Gum VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

28. 'Chewing Gum' (2015 – 2017, E4)

British television had never seen anyone like Tracey Gordon until Chewing Gum came along.

As the show's writer and star, Michaela Coel devised her hyperactive, rubber-faced comedic creation in her last year at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, before taking it – as a one-woman play – to the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick and, finally, to Channel 4 and onto international acclaim thanks to Netflix pick-up.

Gordon's character perfectly balances the sweet naiveté of a Christian perpetual virgin with the filthy-minded ravenousness of someone desperate to get laid – and Coel’s stellar performance of her off-the-wall antics in and out of her London estate forms the backbone of this BAFTA-winning sitcom. — Zing Tsjeng

Derry Girls VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

27. 'Derry Girls' (2018 – present, Channel 4)

You’d have to be as adept a writer as Northern Ireland's Lisa McGee to pull huge comedic kernels from the Troubles. Her Derry Girls series – made by London-based company Hat Trick Productions; so, again, it counts – follows four ridiculous Londonderry schoolgirls (and their token English friend, a boy in an all-girls' school) as they clatter through all your usual teen fare, backgrounded by the looming reality of 1990s Catholic and Protestant animus.

You get horniness, annoying teachers, even more annoying (yet endearing) family members and total weirdos from school who won't leave you alone. For that, Derry Girls tells a universally recognisable story, just through a tightly specific lens. It’s also the sort of show with layered writing so sparkly that it makes you want to pause it on-demand to explain, to your long-suffering housemate or partner, just why that last gag was so good. Roll on season three. — Tshepo Mokoena

Geordie Shore VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Ewa

26. 'Geordie Shore' (2011 – present, MTV UK)

There are – and I say this with a strong degree of certainty – few things funnier than watching someone piss the bed on television. Some would disagree, citing the decline of civilisation and other things I'm past caring about. I simply call it art.

Bladder malfunctions, fist-fights and some of the most confusing under-duvet jackrabbit sex ever televised are all part of the beauty of Geordie Shore, which began on MTV in the UK in 2011, inspired by the US MTV show Jersey Shore. Since it started, at least one new series of Geordie Shore has aired every year, and its 19th series just ended, as strong as it's ever been. — Lauren O'Neill

Read Charlotte Crosby's recollection of her 'Geordie Shore' years here.

Line of Duty VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Collection Christophel © 2012 Ed Miller / World Productions

25. 'Line of Duty' (2012 – present, BBC Two and BBC One)

Line of Duty concerns the efforts of a squad of police officers committed to tackling corruption in the force, making it the crime drama of choice for left-leaning young people who hate the police. For all its car chases and bouts of machine gun fire, Line of Duty is at its most thrilling at its most boring: four people sitting in a drab interview room icily quoting regulations at each other and reading out the Miranda rights like they’re casting a hex. It presents a nuanced view of corruption as something to which anyone may be susceptible, given the right pressures.

One of the show's greatest strengths is corrupt officer Lindsay Denton (played by Keeley Hawes), who is – to my mind – one of the most compelling British TV characters of all time. By turns pathetic and imperious, she's an anti-hero you’ll find yourself cheering on, even when you know she’s lying through her teeth. — James Greig

Read about the stratospheric rise of 'Line of Duty' here.

Limmy's Show VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Awakening Photo Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

24. 'Limmy's Show' (2010 – 2012, BBC Two Scotland)

By the dim light of a TV set, a man grips a telephone. He tells the person on the other end that he’s been affected by some of the issues in tonight's programme. "Awh, I'm sorry to hear that, sweetheart. Bye for now," the voice says.

Commissioning the existential nightmare that is Limmy’s Show remains one of BBC Scotland's most risky pay-offs. Brian Limond's sketches highlight our tragic attempts to be more than we are – Jacqueline McCafferty begging us to believe she's naw a junkie, or Dee Dee jumping on a bus to "fockin' Yoker" just to see what's there – to elevate ourselves into a space where meaning exists.

With a seasick pace and mood that swings from mania to depression – and all the mixed states in between (Limond has dealt with suicidal thoughts since he was a teenager) – it's a restless and sometimes uncomfortable watch. Observational comedy repeats itself enough ("You know what I hate…?" "Have you ever noticed…?") that you believe an answer will come when Limmy draws your ear close, only – more often than not – to tell you nae bother. — Hannah Ewens

We gave Limmy some scenarios and he improvised short stories on the spot. Read them here.

The X Factor VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: Chris Bull / Alamy Stock Photo

23. 'The X Factor' (2004 – present, ITV)

You could say The X Factor is one of the worst TV shows to have existed since 2000, but in the grand tradition of crap British telly, it is also one of the greatest – or at least it was until Gary Barlow called Tulisa "fag ash breath" in 2012 and set off a kind of curse (no one remembers any X Factor after 2012).

The talent show – which came after Pop Stars, Pop Idol, Fame Academy, etc, but out-monstered them all – gave us a very specific brand of TV. It gave us mums from Bolton growling through "Proud Mary" while stomping across the stage in a black dress with a slit up the leg. It gave us lads with rigidly sprayed quiffs and desert boots trembling through acoustic versions of "No Diggity". It gave us "rock chicks" with back-combed hair and stiff River Island leathers screaming a "modern" version of a "Bon Jovi classic". These are all familiar images to you now, but only because of The X Factor.

The X Factor worked because there was a chance – a small, glimmering chance – that the contestants might actually make it. Some did. One Direction are billionaires with partied-too-hard faces and multiple houses. Little Mix are more commercially successful than The Spice Girls ever were. Leona Lewis was in, like, CATS, and Olly Murs had a good-in before he forgot how to present then did those tweets about the gun shots.

In other words, during its golden age, The X Factor was a successful institution. Like all institutions, it eventually collapsed in on itself, ut for a while there, it reigned. — Daisy Jones

This Is England VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

22. 'This Is England' (2010 – 2015, Channel 4)

Watchable film-to-TV-adaptations are among the rarest items on Earth, so This Is England matching – and at times even surpassing – the charm, realism and heart-in-mouth moments of its cinematic predecessor is quite the achievement. Set four years after the dramatic conclusion of the original film, initial follow-up series This Is England ‘86 drops viewers in among the subculture of late-80s scooter-boys, the story's once-skinhead gang all sporting new jobs and new hair.

But more than bringing an old gang back together, this – and follow-up series This Is England ‘88 and This Is England ‘90 – are some of the greatest non-documentary documents of a specific time and place within British culture. Shane Meadows' knack for nailing cultural bric-a-brac meant he deftly captured the style, sound and and hardships of a generation of working class young adults up north in the late-80s and very early-90s. — Ryan Bassil

Read an interview with 'This Is England' star Stephen Graham here.

The Only Way Is Essex VICE 50 Best British TV Shows
Photo: ITV

21. 'The Only Way Is Essex' (2010 – present, ITV2 and ITVBe)

In 2010, via a flurry of back-garden hot tub bubbles and disobedient eyelash extensions, The Only Way Is Essex phenomenon was born. Whether you like it or not, the show changed British culture forever.

TOWIE is one of the most influential reality shows in British history, for reasons that can be traced to its famous disclaimer, read by Essexite and TV personality Denise Van Outen before every episode: "This programme contains flash cars, big watches and false boobs. The tans you see might be fake, but the people are all real, though some of what they do has been set up purely for your entertainment."

In blending real people and situations with a glossy, post-Laguna Beach edit, TOWIE blazed a trail for the Instagramification of reality TV aesthetics on this side of the pond. Without it, we probably wouldn't have other massive hits like Made In Chelsea or, dare I say it, the behemoth that is Love Island. If that wasn’t enough dialogue-changing impact, lest we forget that TOWIE also brought us Gemma "I'm 34" Collins, and all she hath wrought since. — Lauren O'Neill

Read our definitive ode to Gemma Collins here.

20-11: Time to get serious.

10-1: The Champions League.

Click here to read all of the articles from this series.