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How We Compiled VICE's List of the Best 21st Century British TV

Behind the process that led to our pick of the 50 best British-made TV shows since 2000 – which includes a lot of arguing and spreadsheets.

by Tshepo Mokoena; illustrated by Calum Heath
23 July 2019, 11:52am

Illustration: Calum Heath

Let's get the formalities out of the way first. I'm here to introduce you to the 50 best British TV shows of the century so far, as voted on by VICE UK staff.

Earlier this year, Fleabag’s TV departure (well, unless Phoebe Waller-Bridge changes her mind and reinvigorates her traumatised, hilarious shagger of a lead character) kicked off an internal conversation about great television. Someone on the team casually insisted that Fleabag might be the only British show capable of Golden Age of TV status, joining The Sopranos, The Wire and other shows straight men tend to love. Naturally, we all argued.

In the process of doing so, other show names arose. Quickly, we realised we ought to turn the disagreements into a more comprehensive assessment of the brilliant, ludicrous, dark and clever TV writing, direction, acting and production this country's seen since the year 2000. To do so, we put everything into an incredibly stressful Google Doc and looked at ten main criteria. Deep breath now:

  1. For cultural impact, we considered how much of a dent the show made on the collective psyche at the time of its release.
  2. Of course, not every "big" show is a good show (Downton Abbey, I’m looking directly at you) – and so recognition was counted separately. That left room for cult status, where applicable, giving weird, lower-budget or short-run series their time to shine, too.
  3. Longevity: do people still talk about the show now, with a fondness that denotes it's worth revisiting?
  4. We looked at each show's impact on television as a visual form, and how far they may have expanded our understanding of what TV can do. After all, in a market this crowded, there's meaning to be found in how much British TV contributed to, say, the handheld camera mockumentary that’s become a sort of genre of its own.
  5. It felt important to count what you could loosely dub as "social good" – basically, asking whether, and how well, a show managed to perform some sort of social function. That could rest on ethnic representation, humanising depictions of the working class, debunking stereotypes about who a "fat girl" on TV could be, and so on.
  6. Beyond the feel-good stuff, a show's bingeabiity mattered (as did how much you'd be up for re-watching it, whether in sequence or not, repeatedly).
  7. The vernacular legacy left by these shows played a role, from catchphrases to entire vocabularies that continue to circulate both online and IRL.
  8. Spin-offability: Was it franchised internationally? Did it influence other TV programmers on other channels with copycats?
  9. We also thought about whether shows functioned as career launchpads for actors, directors, writers. Without this show, would we have overlooked future household names?
  10. Finally, for the heads, production values were factored in. Not every show has to look glossy, but their worlds all had to be believable, whether scripted or unscripted.

Fifteen of us gave each nominated show a mark out of ten for each one of these criteria, then boiled down those results to a big set of mean averages. What we've ended up with is a list that leads you through some of the TV trends of the 21st century, grabbing your hand at the explosion of reality and unscripted programming, leading you through British noir contributions and lingering over the multiple strands of comedy that still tend to represent some of these islands' strongest work.

In addition to the list itself, you'll be hearing from stars, casting directors, writers and fans of some of the more noteworthy entries. If you hate lists, you'll have something to grumble about. If you love TV and your favourite isn't at the top, see the previous sentence. At the very least, you may find yourself falling down some on-demand or YouTube wormholes, looking for an old episode of something you’d forgotten you loved.

Well then – let's get on with it.

CLICK HERE TO READ VICE'S 50 BEST TV SHOWS OF THE CENTURY SO FAR.

– Tshepo Mokoena, Editorial Director, VICE.com

@tnm___

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