Analysis: TV Critics

They're loved and loathed by programme-makers and viewers alike. Steve Clarke picks out some of the best
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The Independent Online

The canny Scot's acerbic approach leaves the rest of the red-top pack of TV scribblers trailing. Well informed and an acute trend-spotter, he also is deft at getting to the heart of the matter. His comments on the US remake of The Office were vintage Ross: "The problem is Britain celebrates sarcasm, ugliness and failure. Americans celebrate optimism, good teeth and success. And never the twain shall meet." So what if Ross gave a favourable review to Ross Kemp's (the boss's husband)indifferent ITV SAS drama?

Knows his market and his telly.

Nancy Banks-Smith

Doyenne of the broadsheet bunch, the consensus in TV land is that the veteran Banks-Smith is bang on form again, following a spell where she became too obscure for even The Guardian's pointy-headed readership. Literate, literary and lateral, Banks-Smith's witty critiques have entertained Guardian readers since 1969. The self-proclaimed "old cow" is subversive without being condescending, and she does great one-liners. Of BBC import Kath & Kim, she wrote: "[It] is an Australian sitcom, which began life as a sketch and still looks like a cartoon." Ouch.

A A Gill

Like him or loathe him, no Sunday newspaper addict or TV producer can afford to ignore the verdict of A A Gill. Connoisseurs of Gill's sermons delivered from the pulpit of the Culture section claim he's mellowed. Even Gill's detractors acknowledge that the ego-tripping is elegantly worded. He famously denounced the Channel Islands in a review of ITV1's Island at War drama. "What have the Channel Islands ever done for us?" he asked. "A couple of really expensive potatoes, a few flowers and fatty milk." He's pretty good on the programmes too.

Stephen Pile

Pile's weekend reviews in the Saturday Telegraph's Arts and Books section are essential reading for anyone who wants to enjoy a well-informed, crisply written and perceptive TV reviewer devoid of malice or self-indulgence. Measured and lucid, this veteran of assessing the week's programmes avoids being grumpy despite being a man of middle years. Pile possesses real enthusiasm for good TV and shows no signs of being jaded. His put downs are economical, sometimes to the extent where it's necessary to read between the lines. Isn't it about time someone gave Pile a daily column?

Peter Paterson

In common with most Daily Mail columnists, Paterson is low on youth appeal and tends to hark back, John Major-style, to a mythical England of quaint village pubs. No prizes for guessing where he stands on Big Brother (" appalling, unspeakable"). Paterson longs for the days of the pre-reality era when he reckons channel commissioners were less obsessed with the minutiae of British life. His immaculately crafted, lucid reviews are often generous in their praise, and he is a consistent supporter of well-made drama and documentaries, and not only those of a traditional bent.

Kathryn Flett

If it's zeitgeist TV criticism you're after, look no further than Flett. Observer woman incarnate, her column is arguably as trendy as Fleet Street TV reviewing gets. She may veer towards the predictable - this year's summer sensations, Extras and Lost, were lapped up in the Flett household - but her effervescent prose is always worth dipping into. And who will ever forget her defence of Michael Jackson, following ITV1's Martin Bashir documentary? If Kathryn Flett didn't exist, Radio 4's late lamented Sunday Supplement would have to make her up.

Andrew Billen

Better known as The Times' star interviewer, Billen's TV weekly crits in the New Statesman provide a masterclass of deeply researched, scholarly writing. His columns, unusually devoted to a single programme, are refreshingly devoid of cheap jibes and he has a knack of picking programmes ignored by other reviewers. Whereas many so-called TV critics use the topics and issues covered by programmes as a springboard for articulating their own prejudices, Billen writes about television - seriously.

Alison Graham

It's easy to miss Graham's plain-speaking reviews in the clutter of reviews and previews that litter the BBC organ, but anyone expecting puff pieces for the corporation's own shows should think again. Refreshingly unfashionable, Graham hates much about modern TV (Big Brother, storylines involving rape in soaps and shows that intrude too closely into people's personal lives). She is not afraid to criticise BBC sacred cows. One of the first reviewers to rumble ITV1's Celebrity Love Island she damned it as "torpid, sleazy, dreary, queasy nonsense". Quite.

Jaci Stephen

The days are long gone when Stephen, making a name for herself on the Evening Standard, introduced a novel feature into her reviews by writing about the shortcomings of the TV company's hospitality or their PR, as well as her verdict on their shows. Stephen writes irreverent, witty reviews that at their best possess a mischievous edge. Allegedly sacked from ITV1's This Morning after she wrote a rave review of Five's rival The Terry and Gaby Show, her preoccupation with sex is no bad thing either.

Joe Joseph

Entertaining and thoughtful reviewer, whose nicely understated pieces feature a good line in irony and who rarely, if ever, falls victim to the hype of the TV PR machine. His tone is not unlike a latter-day Keith Waterhouse. While many of his peers mislaid their critical faculties over Channel 4's Lost, Joseph kept a sense of proportion dubbing the series the latest example of "tease TV".

"Lost," he reckoned, "will end up raising more questions than it answers, like The X-Files and Twin Peaks."

Thomas Sutcliffe

Droll, knowing and authoritative, The Independent's veteran TV reviewer is highly regarded by programme-makers. His jaded tones can articulate what many of his readers are likely to be thinking. When other critics were hailing BBC1's modern updating of The Canterbury Tales, Sutcliffe broke rank. "The BBC's Canterbury Tales isn't Chaucer, it's Chaucer Flavouring," he complained. At other times, however, he cannot resist a show's appeal, even when he knows better. "The Apprentice is half a satire of the crude melodrama of the business world, half a celebration of its energies, but I've signed up for the full subscription."