Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2012: 40 to 31

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


40. A Touch of Cloth Sky1
Easy to mock the cliches of crime dramas in, say, a sketch show; much harder to do it at full length. Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier managed triumphantly, writing the kind of extended, fizzing spoof that brought back happy memories of the Naked Gun films. It didn’t hurt that the cast had form in the genre – leads John Hannah and Suranne Jones have both played detectives in straight dramas and proved just as good at po-faced parody. Plus there were enough throwaway visual gags to make it a DVD banker. DBu


39. Episodes BBC2
Series two provided little respite for downtrodden British writers Sean and Beverly as they fought to keep their sitcom – and marriage – alive whilst all around them in La La Land were losing their heads. It didn’t help that Beverley (Tamsin Greig) had slept with the show’s star Matt LeBlanc (Matt LeBlanc), or that Sean (Stephen Mangan) was now sleeping with the female lead. The second season of Episodes continued to offer a smart, funny, hyper-real story of ‘normal’ people trying to make it in Hollywood. TG

38. The Killing BBC4
Nothing could surpass the impact, the torment of series one, but series two and three dispensed the same magic potion of horrible crime, political intrigue and pervasive gloom. One of very few TV dramas to genuinely make viewers bite their nails, its cold but fast-beating heart was Sarah Lund, played without a shred of vanity by Sofie Grabol. You longed to hug her and be shrugged off. And, wow, the ending! Lund was remorseless, opaque and driven to the last. PM

37. Mad Men BBC4
After a long bean-counting delay, the ad-land drama returned. Much of season five alienated long-term fans: why was there so little of Betty and Peggy, yet so much of Don’s ambitious and increasingly multi-faceted new wife Megan? But as the swinging Sixties took hold, we saw Roger dropping LSD, the tragic conclusion of Lane’s American journey, some deliberately pitiable office fighting, and the Beatles and James Bond on the soundtrack. As for Don himself, he remained essentially unknowable, and his attempts to create yet another version of himself through his marriage looked, by the end, doomed to founder. GC

36. Being Human BBC3
Fears that Being Human might not survive without two thirds of its original house-share – Mitchell the vampire (Aidan Turner) and George the werewolf (Russell Tovey) – proved unfounded as new supernatural beings rose to take their places. Series four mined comedy and pathos from the strained friendship between OCD vampire Hal (Damien Molony) and Michael Socha’s innocent young werewolf Tom (eyebrows: actor’s own) – and by making resident spook Annie (Lenora Crichlow) the heart of the household. The series did eventually give up the ghost – but immediately replaced her with a new one ahead of season five. PJ

35. A Mother’s Son ITV1
Parents who watched this psychological thriller all felt the same chill run down their spine. Hermione Norris was Rosie, a well-to-do woman whose life was turned upside down when a local schoolgirl was murdered and her son appeared to be hiding a bloodstained pair of trainers. Her dilemma over whether to ignore her basic, protective mothering instinct and turn her son over to the police was one that resonated with any mother, and it was evocatively realised over the course of a tense two hours. DC

34. Accused BBC1
Jimmy McGovern’s one-off dramas were tighter and tougher this year, kicking off with an extraordinary performance by Sean Bean as a strutting but vulnerable transvestite in a halting relationship with a married man (Stephen Graham). Even better were Anne-Marie Duff and the godlike Olivia Colman as two women trying to stand up to violent gangs. At its best, Accused delivered stories with immense power and purity, heightened further by the gimmick of not knowing who will end up in the dock or for what. JS

33. She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens BBC4
In the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, this rich three-part history lesson – the kind you never enjoyed at school – was right on the money. Timely, yes, but also incisive, compellingly written and unfussily presented: history without histrionics. Dr Helen Castor drew us in with artful storytelling and made us admire the female figureheads, from 12th-century Matilda to “Gloriana”, who challenged the status quo and showed astonishing strength in the face of continual catastrophe. MB

32. MasterChef: The Professionals BBC2
Michel Roux Jr and fellow judge Gregg Wallace oversaw four weeks of hardcore food porn, climaxing with two of the best chefs the show has ever uncovered being crowned its first joint winners. Along the way, we enjoyed a trip to Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, the usual tasty melange of breakbeat-accompanied cooking, serial-killer narration and nerve-shredding skills tests, plus extra helpings of ballotines. As Michel took to saying this series: “Bang on!” PJ

31. Toast of London C4
A mere pilot episode, but in our list because this was the show that finally harnessed and distilled the animal comic talent of Matt Berry. Previously best known as the mad boss from The IT Crowd (where Graham Linehan wrote his lines – here they were co-written by Father Ted’s other creator, Arthur Mathews), now he was fruity actor Steven Toast. Toast’s humiliations included auditioning for the part of a gay, corrupt detective in a prison visiting room (because the director had been sent down for making racist remarks on his previous job) and a howlingly funny scene where a voiceover job forced Toast to spend the whole afternoon saying one word over and over. Would Toast of London make a hit series? “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yeeee-eeeees. YES! Yes. Yes.” JS

Voted for and written by Radio Times magazine and’s critics: Alison Graham (AG), David Butcher (DBu), Tim Glanfield (TG), Paul Jones (PJ), Jack Seale (JS), Patrick Mulkern (PM), Mark Braxton (MB), Gill Crawford (GC), James Gill (JG), Claire Webb (CW), David Crawford (DC), Tom Cole (TC), Susanna Lazarus (SL), Ellie Walker-Arnott (EWA), David Brown and Emma Sturgess. Compiled by Jack Seale.

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