Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2012: 30 to 21

The rundown continues: the year's best programmes, as voted for by our critics...

30. Getting On BBC4
The definition of a slow-burn hit, this diffident black comedy picked up another armful of admirers with its third series – at this rate it’ll sweep the 2017 Baftas. Life on the geriatric NHS ward staffed by nurses Den (Joanna Scanlan) and Kim (Jo Brand) and plagued by sniffy consultant Pippa (Vicki Pepperdine) was much the same. It was slightly worsened by increased outsourcing and management-speak but was still a case of making do, looking for small victories and, in the moments that give the series its tender heart, remembering that easing patients’ pain is the point. Scanlan, Brand and Pepperdine’s acting and writing was more assured then ever, with nicely woven story arcs never taking away the best thing about the series: it lets its realistic, ragged characters breathe. JS


29. 24 Hours in A&E C4
There’s something immensely comforting about watching experts in chosen professions going about their work (witness Inside Claridge’s), and series two of the RTS Award-winning documentary continued to gain plaudits and regular audiences of over 2 million. We saw a remarkable cross-section of society passing through King’s College A&E, from the cyclist blithely telling his parents about his brain injury to the father reassuring his traumatised daughter who’d been badly burnt when her nightie caught fire. And through it all ran the hospital’s doctors and nurses: patient, committed, and (though they’d surely deny it) undeniably heroic. GC

28. Roger and Val Have Just Got In BBC2
People who just didn’t get it weren’t won over in the slightest by series two of the Kilcoyne sisters’ micro-comedy. Those who appreciated the virtuoso performances of Alfred Molina and Dawn French, as a breezily eccentric middle-aged couple with a terrible shared grief, got their reward. We knew that behind their fussing and affectionate bickering was the pain of having lost a child – so when a typically funny and bittersweet storyline about Roger’s previously unknown adult son ended with his grandson arriving and running gaily down the hallway, it meant a lot. It was the perfect way to end a nigh-on perfect mix of comedy and drama. JS

27. Moone Boy Sky1
In a year that saw Sky dominating the comedy world with its nurturing hand and bottomless resources, this lovable, easily distracted sitcom stood out. An offspring from the fertile Little Crackers, the six-part Irish sitcom about a young boy growing up in Boyle in 1989 darted about like a toddler on sweets. Contemporary hits, cartoons and insane cutaways were all employed to hilarious effect, and the switch from sweet to rude was never a queasy one. The IT Crowd and Bridesmaids star Chris O’Dowd co-wrote and co-starred as “Mert’n” Moone’s grown-up, imaginary friend. MB

26. Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile ITV1
Amid all the rumours, the arrests, the inquiries and the resignations, it’s easy to forget that the whole sordid story of Jimmy Savile’s sickening years of abuse was first brought to light by a single TV documentary, a case of investigative journalism at its best. Child protection expert Mark Williams-Thomas and ITV have to be commended for persevering to give the victims their voice when other broadcasters wouldn’t. All the subsequent headlines and acres of newspaper columns devoted to the Savile case owe a huge debt to the brave team at Exposure. DC

25. Tales of Television Centre BBC4
The likes of David Attenborough, Esther Rantzen, Barry Norman, Pan’s People and Sarah Greene got dewy-eyed and spilt saucy anecdotes about the BBC’s “temple of entertainment” for this documentary. Forget, if you can, the current demons circling TVC. Brilliantly, lovingly authored by Richard Marson (who resisted all requests for an arch commentary, but let the celebs and rare clips weave their own tale), this was a powerful dose of nostalgia. It rammed home the vast cultural impact of one peculiar 1950s edifice. Remind us, why is the BBC abandoning it? PM

24. Stella Sky1
Ruth Jones’s first solo project as writer and star was, at first glance, basically the Welsh half of Gavin & Stacey: in the small valley town of Pontyberry, the people were caring, unpretentious, slightly mad and joyfully dirty-minded. Lots of laughs there thanks to Jones’s familiar, warm writing and an unfamiliar but excellent cast – on top of that, having a long series of 60-minute episodes allowed the drama to develop, as crumpled divorcee Stella (Jones herself) juggled romance, single motherhood and impending grandmotherhood. It was a pleasure to drop in on her once a week. JS

23. Parade’s End BBC2
Unashamedly highbrow and all the more delicious for it, this adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s quartet of novels brought together Tom Stoppard’s heady dialogue with Benedict Cumberbatch’s star pulling power. Yet it was the viper wit of Rebecca Hall as Sylvia Tietjens that made Parade’s End truly remarkable. Her reference to Valentine Wannop as “that scrub-faced ladies’ champion of the regular bowel movement” must rank as one of the putdowns of the year, while her warning to “Keep off the grass” – when Valentine’s advances towards her husband become intolerable – shivered with all the gravitas of crumbling Empire. JG

22. Call the Midwife BBC1
Who’d have thought it? A drama about nuns, childbirth and crippling poverty was a Sunday-night favourite. When it first aired in January, we took the story of newly qualified midwife Jenny (Jessica Raine) into our hearts in unprecedented numbers. Gruesome and heartwarming in equal measure, Call the Midwife’s weekly tales of troubled girls, poor families and battered wives helped it to become an instant hit. Its cosier characters took the edge off the gritty moments: as Chummy, Miranda Hart proved she could do serious (though not without falling off her bike a few times), while Judy Parfitt shone as ageing eccentric Sister Monica Joan. EWA

21. Peep Show C4
After 2010’s slightly flabby and directionless seventh series, it was great to see Peep Show get back to its best this year. The storylines were tighter, the writing wittier and the series blessed with pitch-perfect performances from the entire cast. From Jez’s meltdown at the psychiatrist’s to Mark using a biography of Napoleon as makeshift lavatory paper, Peep Show series 8 was a memorable one even by the show’s own high standards. TC


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.