Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2013: 40 to 31

The countdown starts here... find out which of the year's best programmes made our critics' list

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Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2013: 40 to 31
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Radio Times staff

40 House of Cards Netflix
Ian Richardson played the definitive version of Francis Urquhart, the Machiavellian Tory politician from Michael Dobbs’s novels. Thus it was smart to change not only the character’s name but his political allegiance in the US remake. Democratic congressman Frank Underwood, as played by Kevin Spacey, is a less Shakespearean but more oily villain, his home-spun aw-shucksness hiding a terrifying ambition. Elsewhere, director David Fincher filled out every aspect of the original, particularly among the supporting cast. Whereas the UK programme was a one-man show, this told us the whole damn system is corrupt. JH

39 Parks and Recreation BBC4
One of the greatest TV-related injustices of recent years (up there with the mere existence of Two and a Half Men) is the fact that the brilliant Parks and Recreation took four years to make it across the Atlantic. The first season is patchy, but persevere – when at its best, the Amy Poehler-fronted sitcom is unrivalled. Poehler (Regina George’s mum in Mean Girls and Gob’s wife in Arrested Development) plays over-enthusiastic local government worker Leslie Knope, and though Michael Scott comparisons are inevitable, they don’t do Leslie justice. Catch up now, before the third series airs on BBC4 next year. HS

38 Keeping Britain Alive: the NHS in a Day BBC2
It’s only a matter of time before “Best Hospital-Based Reality-Drama” is a category at the Baftas, and Keeping Britain Alive is a classic of the emerging genre. Though the appeal of such shows is straightforward – the unfailingly dramatic coin-flip of death or survival played out before us – this doesn’t diminish the skill involved in making them. Keeping Britain Alive shaped abundant footage (it was filmed on one day in 100 hospitals across the UK) into eight affecting, coherent episodes, and the resulting portrait of the NHS was both a vital historical record and a great bit of telly. HS

37 Being Human BBC3
It’s hard to maintain a cult favourite when none of your original cast remains, but Toby Whithouse brought his much-loved vampire/werewolf/ghost drama to a fitting – and lightly ambiguous – ending. OCD vampire Hal, sweet-natured werewolf Tom and snarky ghost Alex had a new nemesis, Captain “I’m only the f***ing Devil, sweetheart” Hatch – a splendidly malevolent Phil Davis. There was a welcome return of the humour that characterised the finest early episodes, palpable chemistry between our three heroes (Damien Molony, Michael Socha and Kate Bracken), and by the end we were happy that they’d all got the ending they deserved. GC

36 Dancing on the Edge BBC2
Stephen Poliakoff’s jazz-age murder mystery brightened up our dreary February evenings with its beautifully shot tale of fame and racial prejudice – plus a lot of dreamy dresses, nice hats and toe-tapping tunes. Set in 1930s London, Dancing on the Edge followed a black jazz band, and the journalists and forward-thinking aristocrats they rubbed shoulders with, as they found fame in the hotel ballrooms of a rapidly changing world – before the band’s fortunes became entangled in a world of privilege, politics and murder. The cast was studded with rising stars such as Matthew Goode, Joanna Vanderham, Jenna Coleman, Angel Coulby, Janet Montgomery, Tom Hughes and Golden Globe nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, who really shone as Louis Lester, the leader of the band. EWA

35 The Big Bang Theory E4
E4’s biggest hitter, this science-themed sitcom proved in 2013 that the words “Season Six” needn’t induce yawns. In fact, fans are now so comfortable with the show’s assorted spods, geniuses and social outcasts that every in-character pronouncement is either funny or touching. The gag count is ridiculously high in a show that regularly collects awards (even 84-year-old comedy veteran Bob Newhart received an Emmy for a guest spot). And in ritual-obsessed Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), Big Bang boasts a comedy goliath. But the jewel in its crown? Simply an attitude: that difference is to be celebrated, not stigmatised. MB

34 Ripper Street BBC1
Just before the second season ended, the news was released that the grisly Victorian detective drama was being cancelled. Twitter went into overdrive, and plans were announced to try to resurrect it. The jury’s out: the plot lines (someone’s killed the Elephant Man!) seemed a bit forced, and DI Reid’s (Matthew Macfadyen) maudlin attempts to kick-start his love life were lacklustre. But the grubby atmosphere of Victorian London was carefully maintained, the language remained ornate, we had a great villain in the monstrous Inspector Shine (another scene-stealing performance from Joseph Mawle), and everyone suffered: police and prostitute alike, but particularly Jerome Flynn’s gnarled sergeant Drake. GC

33 Andy Murray - the Man Behind the Racquet BBC1
What transformed a sulky, snarky, north-of-the-border choker into victorious national treasure and Sports Personality of Year? It’s partly because it’s much easier to be charmed by a winner; partly because his manager Simon Fuller has given Andy’s marketing skills a thorough polish. Mostly, however, it’s because Andy himself has chosen to let down the drawbridge. Nowhere was that more obvious than in this documentary. A mollycoddling Sue Barker talked Murray through highs and lows: the bile of the early years, the teeth-grinding ice baths, the painful memories of Dunblane. It was as open as this naturally closed-off counter-puncher will ever be. JG

32 Endeavour ITV
Endeavour Morse appeals to the outsider in all of us: he doesn’t fit in among Oxford’s academics or his fellow officers, but invariably gets the better of both bunches. As the young detective constable, Shaun Evans did the unthinkable and presented Morse afresh, showing us a man uncomfortable in his environs and yet still able to crack even the most fiendish of mysteries. And let’s not forget the mellifluous Roger Allam as DI Fred Thursday, the seasoned copper who recognised Endeavour’s abilities while also trying to hone him into a better policeman. Series two will follow in 2014. DBr

31 Game of Thrones Sky Atlantic
The gritty fantasy drama just keeps getting stronger, and this year featured a marriage ceremony that rivalled even EastEnders for brutality. The "Red Wedding" was shocking not only for the bloodshed, but for the fact that it was a surprise at all. Fans of the original novels had known the twist was coming for years, but kept their mouths shut in order not to ruin it. In an age of spoilers and online trolling, this sense of community suggests a very special show indeed. JH

30 to 21 -- 20 to 11 -- 10 to 1

Voted for and written by critics from Radio Times magazine, RadioTimes.com and the Radio Times DiscoverTV app: Alison Graham (AG), David Butcher (DBu), Jane Rackham (JR), Tim Glanfield, Paul Jones, Jack Seale (JS), Patrick Mulkern (PM), Mark Braxton (MB), Gill Crawford (GC), James Gill (JG), Claire Webb (CW), David Crawford, Susanna Lazarus (SL), Ellie Walker-Arnott (EWA), David Brown (DBr), Emma Daly, Jonathan Holmes (JH), Hannah Shaddock (HS), Ellie Austin (EA) and Emma Sturgess. Compiled by Jack Seale.


 


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