A fortnight ago, I had listed my top reads of 2013 in my column. Since then, I am happy to report, I have had many readers mail me (or tweet to me) about how they bought some of the books on my list and enjoyed them very much. Some of them wrote in to ask if I could do a similar column, giving recommendations of TV shows.
Well, I thought about it and decided that I would draw up a list of my all-time favourite TV shows; but with just a teeny-tiny twist. I would only include classics of the genre, those that have survived through decades, and still make us smile with pleasure, if not laugh out loud. And for your convenience, I would divide them into easy categories.
Classic British Comedy
This is my go-to choice whenever I am in need of some cheering up. Nobody does comedy quite like the Brits, with their turn for self-deprecation, their flair for put-downs, and their take-no-prisoners attitude. My top pick in this category is Fawlty Towers, starring John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, the hotel manager who trundles from one disaster to another while his wife (Prunella Scales) looks on exasperatedly.
But given that only 12 episodes were ever made of the show, the box set ends all too soon. That’s when I fall back on Drop The Dead Donkey, the TV series said to be based on the early days of Sky News. This is laugh-out-loud funny, and quite timeless in its portrayal of a TV newsroom. Up next is Absolutely Fabulous (Ab Fab) created by my favourite British comedienne, Jennifer Saunders, and starring Saunders and Joanna Lumley, who play the truly bonkers duo, Edina and Patsy, as they blunder through the world of London PR and media in a champagne-induced haze.
Also worthy of mention: the Blackadder series, starring Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie; and the Jeeves and Wooster series, with Stephen Fry playing Jeeves to Laurie’s Wooster.
Drop The Dead Donkey
Absolutely Fabulous (Ab Fab)
Jeeves and Wooster
My addiction to this genre started with L.A. Law, which first aired in 1986, with its fabulous star cast of Corbin Bernsen, Susan Dey, Harry Hamlin, Jimmy Smits, Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker and many others. And once my appetite was whetted, there was no going back.
Since then, I have devoured all five seasons of Ally McBeal many times over, especially the ones that feature Robert Downey Jr as Calista Flockhart’s love interest. The other legal show that had an almost parallel run, The Practice, is another perennial on my list. And now that Alan Shore and Denny Crane, who first made their appearance in The Practice have moved on to starring roles in Boston Legal, I am guessing that I will be investing in that box set soon as well. (And no, it’s not a coincidence that all these shows were the handiwork of David E Kelley.)
My all-time favourite in this category is Remington Steele, which launched the career of an absurdly young Pierce Brosnan, who played the title role (a conman who is hired to be head of a detective agency by its female owner, played by Stephanie Zimbalist). Combining elements of suspense thrillers, romantic comedies, and sitcoms, this series changed the way detective dramas played out on television. Coming a close second is Moonlighting, starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd as David Addison Jr and Maddie Hayes. Maddie is a former model who is left bankrupt and forced to make a living by running the detective agency she once owned as a tax write-off along with her partner, Addison. This was probably one of the first series to combine drama and comedy – now called ‘dramedy’ – and the writing still sparkles many decades later.
I never tire of watching the timeless character created by Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot
Across the Atlantic, the detective stories that I never tire of watching are those featuring those two timeless characters created by Agatha Christie: Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Miss Marple was first played on screen by Margaret Rutherford, and then by Angela Lansbury (who went on to find fame in Murder, She Wrote) but I infinitely prefer the version played by Joan Hickson, in the BBC TV series. Again, my favourite Poirot is David Suchet, but you should watch them all (Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, Tony Randall, etc.) and make up your own mind.
Agatha Christie: Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot
Cheers is probably one of the first shows that I ever saw, and even three decades later, it never fails to amuse. But it is its spin-off, Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane, which really tops my list of favourites. The writing is laced with wit and humour, the characters are well fleshed out in their eccentricities and foibles, and the comic timing of all the actors is impeccable. This is truly a show that never ages.
But then, nor does Friends, which I have seen so often that I know all the punchlines by heart. Or even Will & Grace, starring Debra Messing and Eric McCormack, the first TV series about an openly gay character, which made the Cameron Tucker-Mitchell Pritchett pairing of Modern Family possible.
Will & Grace
There really is no contest in this category. My all-time favourite here is The West Wing, the drama series which ran for seven seasons (1999-2006), starring Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlett, and with a superb ensemble cast that included Rob Lowe, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, John Spencer and Janel Maloney. Written by the gifted Aaron Sorkin, this series gives us both an insight into American politics and a glimpse of an idealised world in which ideals matter more than realpolitik. An absolute must-watch!
Perfect drama: My all-time favourite drama series is The West Wing
The West Wing
From HT Brunch, January 19
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