Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2012: 20 to 11

Which of the year's best programmes made our critics' top 20? Find out...

20. Veep Sky Atlantic
Could the Thick of It format work in America? With the masterful Julia Louis-Dreyfus showing off her comic range as irrelevant Vice President Selina Meyer, yes it could. The blow-dried hair and slick wardrobe couldn’t disguise the gaffes and professional mortification that lay behind every photo opportunity, as Armando Iannucci and his team found a new setting for their take on ruthless but trivial day-to-day politics. SL


19. Murder BBC2
A startling one-off crime drama, re-telling the story of a horrific act from several different viewpoints. Initially it was obvious who the killer was, but we became less and less sure as each character addressed us. The gimmick worked but it was the devastatingly vivid acting, writing and direction (by The Killing’s Birger Larsen, no less) that burnt Murder into the memory. The first five minutes were like a fist in the face; the final reveal of how the murder happened was horribly, thrillingly believable. JS

18. The Secret History of Our Streets BBC2
London’s chequered history was brought to life to great effect in this BBC/Open University documentary series. Rather than examining significant historical events or profiling famous figures from the past, The Secret History of Our Streets looked at the ways in which six very different areas of London have evolved since Charles Booth’s 1886 survey of social conditions in the city. But what made the series so utterly spellbinding was the way in which it combined historical data with the stories of everyday Londoners, giving us one of the most engaging TV histories of the metropolis ever broadcast. TC

17. Grandma’s House BBC2
After an assured debut in 2010, this was the year that Simon Amstell and Dan Swimer’s housebound sitcom really hit its stride. Amstell was still not the greatest actor in the world, but he was playing such an awkward version of himself it didn’t matter. He’d also surrounded himself with great characters, played by great actors (Rebecca Front, James Smith, Samantha Spiro, Linda Bassett). While being audaciously self-referential – Amstell’s ill-advised joke about Russell Watson’s brain tumour on BBC Breakfast was used as a plot device – it was ultimately warm-hearted, with deft scripting that skipped from lunacy to poignancy without missing a beat. DC

16. Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life Sky Atlantic
“If you don’t do it, Sky will!” Alan Partridge once told BBC commissioning editor Tony Hayers. And now they did… although Inner City Sumo never made it to our screens, Alan bounced back to TV in triumphant style this year with the satellite broadcaster. Welcome to the Places of My Life, Alan’s personal assessment of the Norwich area, was classic Partridge straight out of the top drawer – laced with classic anal attention-to-detail and “superb” direction from the Pear Tree Productions helmsman himself. TG

15. Doctor Who BBC1
It was a lean year for Doctor Who, and the promise of “five blockbuster episodes” may have been puff, but there were classics in the mix. The (kind of) new companion debuted by surprise, unaware she was the maddest Dalek in the asylum with her obsession for soufflé: “Eggs-ter-min-ate!” Who could resist dinosaurs and Nefertiti running riot on a spaceship, or the mystery of the black cubes and Jemma Redgrave as the new Brigadier? She must return! Then the Angels in Manhattan robbed us of the Ponds. Their timey-wimey dispersal left a hole in the Doctor’s hearts. And ours. PM

14. The Cricklewood Greats BBC4
Peter Capaldi broke from the venom of The Thick of It to deliver this affectionate one-off comedy, a spoof documentary about the output of a fictional British studio in the early 20th Century. Clearly a labour of love for Capaldi and his co-writer Tony Roche, Cricklewood Greats was a stuffed stocking spilling over with subtle gags and perfect miniature parodies. Aimed squarely at film and comedy buffs, this was possibly the most BBC4-ish show of the year and all the more delightful for it. JS

13. The Hollow Crown BBC2
How do you mount Shakespeare’s history plays on screen without a Hollywood budget? How do you turn theatrical spectacle into a TV saga without losing gravitas? The BBC’s three-part adaptation answered these questions and more by concentrating on what TV does wonderfully – conjuring up a mood. So Ben Whishaw’s self-absorbed Richard II and Tom Hiddleston’s dashing Henry V had us gripped. The artful production kept creating intense moments of confrontation and pathos, from John of Gaunt’s paeon to England (“this sceptr’d isle…this other Eden”) to Hal rousing his troops at Agincourt. More of the same, please. DBu

12. 56 Up ITV1
All human life was here in the latest instalment of director Michael Apted’s ongoing documentary series. Picking up seven years after the last update, 56 Up showed us how 13 of the diverse group of individuals first profiled for the series in 1964 were adjusting to life in middle age. Apted’s use of footage from previous films in the series brought home just how dramatically people change as life weathers and shapes them. By quietly contrasting their radically differing fortunes, personalities and aspirations, 56 Up proved to be the most moving and thought-provoking documentary of the year. TC

11. Line of Duty BBC2
Yes, it had gaping plot holes, but the sheer audacity and excitement of Jed Mercurio’s thriller more than overcame its shortcomings. Lennie James was mesmerising as lost soul Tony Gates, a deeply flawed detective who nevertheless had a moral centre, even as he betrayed everyone around him. It was bloody, brutal and never less than riveting. AG


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.