Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2015: 30 to 21

Another ten of the year's best... as voted for by our writers

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30. Man Down C4
Rik Mayall’s deranged dad character was one of the joys of Man Down’s first series. How would it work without him? He left an unfillable hole, but Greg Davies skirted around it to deliver a second series as absurdly, tastelessly enjoyable as the first. Man-child Dan was if anything more oafish and disaster-prone, his misadventures more far-fetched, but now with the added peril of a mad aunt played by Stephanie Cole. Davies’s scripts were never afraid to push daft ideas almost [italics] to breaking point, but he and a superb cast cartwheeled through the comic minefield. DBu

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29. Inside No 9 BBC2
The 12 Days of Christine, episode two of this twisty, darkly comic anthology’s second series, was one of 2015’s best single half-hours of television. A fragmented puzzle starring she-who-can-do-no-wrong, the superb Sheridan Smith, it told of a young woman’s life in snapshots. It wasn’t the reveal that amazed, it was the clever assembly of material, and the fact that such a brief acquaintance with these characters could be so eye-wipingly brilliant. Not that other episodes were slouches: especially the 17th-century witch’s tale and the crisis-line micro-drama. MB

28. The Secret Life Of… C4
The Secret Life of Four, Five and Six Year Olds was revealing, shocking and hugely entertaining. It was, in effect, a nature documentary, but you could forget about macaque monkeys, flirty frogs or hungry polar bears. This obs-doc followed tiny humans as they bickered, fought, forged friendships and stole chocolate cake in a camera-rigged nursery. These children were laying the foundations for their adult personalities: master schmoozer, captivating public speaker, shoulder to cry on, blushing wallflower – it all started around the sand pit. We were lucky enough to have a front-row seat. EWA

27. Last Tango in Halifax BBC1
Sally Wainwright’s clever, confident love story returned, with thorns among the roses as Alan (Derek Jacobi) kept a huge secret from Celia (Anne Reid). But Celia had more than enough to think about as she turned her back on her daughter Caroline’s wedding to her beloved Kate. Then there was crushing sadness to come as Wainwright, never a writer to plump up the cushions to make us comfortable, made us confront sudden death. AG

26. Broadchurch ITV
The backlash began just minutes into the first episode of Chris Chibnall’s follow-up to his terrific 2013 whodunit. Obviously series two could never hope to live up to its sibling. The element of surprise had gone. But come on, it was good, despite courtroom scenes that upset legal eagles. (Allowing witnesses to sit through a trial? Never!) And it was so nice to see again the jagged yet affectionate partnership between the damaged DI Alec Hardy and DS Ellie Miller (David Tennant and Olivia Colman). AG

25. Peep Show C4
It all ended this year, in true Peep Show style, with both a bang and a whimper. Never before has a programme’s grand finale combined a kidnapping, urine-drinking, Delia Smith, and a jibe about overpriced coffee with such effortless pizzazz. Our heroes ended up alone, but together, and a fate any less dysfunctional wouldn’t have rung true. Such was the joy of Peep Show: though Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb) lived a life none of us would hope to emulate, from the bleakness emerged moments of familiarity. Who didn’t recognise Mark’s constant struggle – Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and sea bream, or Octopussy and a Twirl? HS

24. The Catch C4
This was a brilliant, cruelly neglected fixed-rig documentary series, possibly the best of the year, that let us hop on board Cornish trawlers and put to sea with their crews to observe the incredibly tough, cold, dirty and highly dangerous job of catching fish. Who could blame the men for swearing to the point where C4 simply gave up bleeping the bad language? This was life in the raw and it was superb. AG 

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23. Mr Robot Amazon Prime
In the States it was a sleeper hit: the previously cheeseball USA Network quietly upended its own brand by airing the edgiest, freshest TV drama in years. By the time it landed here on Amazon – who fought off big bids from British TV channels – it was hot property. It didn’t disappoint. Pitched between Dexter, American Psycho, Wargames and another cult film that can’t be named for fear of spoilers, Mr Robot followed a drug-addicted, socially disastrous cyber-vigilante as he and a hacking collective fought an evil multinational. As thrilling as its hurtling plot was its worldview: corporate monsters have never been portrayed with such calm, casual contempt. JS

22. Outlander Amazon Prime
It’s 1945, and nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and her husband Frank are in the Highlands. Visiting a mystical standing stone circle, Claire is whirled back in time to 1743. She falls for clansman Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan, radiotimes.com’s TV Champion of 2015) and they take turns to rescue each other, mainly from Frank’s sociopathic forebear, who has very dark designs on Jamie. Sex and violence (sometimes at the same time) were entwined in this addictive time-travel saga with the story of Scotland pre-Culloden. The scenery was gorgeous, the characters compelling, but this was not Brigadoon – no room for tartan whimsy here. GC

21. Marvel’s Jessica Jones Netflix
If, a few months ago, someone had told you that 2015’s most acclaimed superhero would be a traumatised alcoholic detective called Jessica, you’d have laughed them out of the comic-book store. But, following the rave reviews and fan appreciation for this, Netflix’s second collaboration with Marvel (after the also excellent Daredevil), and more lukewarm reviews for films like Fantastic Four, it seems the future of truly original superhero stories is on the smaller screen. Krysten Ritter was stellar in the central role as super-strong PI Jessica Jones, while David Tennant’s mind-controlling supercreep Kilgrave erased any happy memories of his Tenth Doctor. HF

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Voted for and written by critics from Radio Times magazine and RadioTimes.com: Alison Graham (AG), David Butcher (DBu), Tim Glanfield, Paul Jones, Jack Seale (JS), Mark Braxton (MB), Patrick Mulkern (PM), Gill Crawford (GC), James Gill (JG), Claire Webb (CW), Ben Dowell (BD), David Crawford (DC), Susanna Lazarus, Ellie Walker-Arnott (EWA), David Brown, Jonathan Holmes (JH), Hannah Shaddock (HS), Ellie Austin, Huw Fullerton (HF), Gary Rose (GR), Kasia Delgado (KD) and Sarah Doran (SD). Compiled by Jack Seale.

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