Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2013: 20 to 11

It's hotting up! Read the penultimate instalment in our critics' definitive list of the year's best programmes


20 Fresh Meat C4
As you’d expect from the creators of Peep Show, this university comedy is a cut above – and the third series was the slickest to date. Jack Whitehall was born to play JP, the show’s fabulously self-centred posho (he’d prefer “ledge”). Plain-speaking punk Vod – surely the coolest character on TV – revealed her vulnerable side when her mother came to stay, making her badly behaved daughter look like a herbal-tea-quaffing nun. Also vying for the best gags was resident oddball Howard who fell head over heels for their new housemate, culminating in the most delectably awkward first date in the history of awkward first dates. CW


19 Orange Is The New Black Netflix
The Washington Post called it “the best TV show about prison ever made”. Based on a true story, the online-only series follows naïve, middle-class Piper Kerman (Taylor Schilling) as she embarks on a 15-month sentence for smuggling drugs ten years earlier. With its brilliant ensemble cast of strong, funny and racially diverse women, Orange contradicts the usual “women behind bars” stereotypes. Yes, there are tough lesbians, desperate drug addicts and the odd knife-wielding nutcase, but the characters are complicated, with often heart-wrenching backstories that leave you rooting for them. A game-changer. EA

18 Utopia C4
Dennis Kelly’s conspiracy thriller had a haunting mood and looked absolutely gorgeous – in a blank, washed-out kind of way. The plot about some kind of rogue biological weapons programme hunting secrets hidden in a cult comic sometimes flagged, but the performances kept us riveted. As podgy hitman Arby, Neil Maskell made the words “Where is Jessica Hyde?” into a menacing mantra, and Oliver Woolford’s fugitive 11-year-old was completely believable. Utopia was, at its best, utterly terrifying. DBu

17 The Wipers Times BBC2
The bromance of the year! An extraordinary true story about First World War bravery and the importance of laughing together in the face of adversity, The Wipers Times was the tale of the satirical newspaper edited and printed on the sly by Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (Ben Chaplin and Julian Rhind-Tutt), who enraged their superiors by riffing on the bleak absurdity of life in the trenches. The two leads sparkled with the thrill of a game being afoot, and with the special love felt by men who have realised they share a sense of humour. JS

16 It’s Kevin BBC2
Were you part of the club? Kevin Eldon’s sketch show was a huge favourite among comedy nerds, and among the nation’s top performers, most of whom had a guest role in it. But, dispiritingly when good new sketch shows are so hard to come by, nobody tuned in to see Eldon lovingly turning the format inside-out. He brought his impeccable timing and faint air of menace to a pile of brilliant, weird ideas, led by him imagining Hitler talking with the voice of Beatles producer George Martin: “Where did it all go wrong? I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of people say it was when the Japanese became involved…” JS

15 Southcliffe C4
Another drama about murder rocking a small coastal town, but compared to Broadchurch this was a strange, fierce animal of a show. The killing in question, a Hungerford-style gun rampage, was just the vehicle for an unremittingly frank study of macho pride, memory and above all, grief. Writer Tony Grisoni and fearless American director Sean Durkin employed an eerie austerity of storytelling, mixing up timelines and sketching out telling moments, a bold approach that took the cast (Rory Kinnear, Shirley Henderson, Sean Harris) to places most dramas cannot touch. JS

14 Borgen BBC4
Danish coalition politics proved as riveting as ever as Scandinavia’s answer to The West Wing graced our screens for a third and last time. There were some surprises: our heroine Birgitte Nyborg had been usurped and acquired a British boyfriend best known for Monarch of the Glen; Kasper took a razor to his luxuriant thatch; and weak news editor Torben exhibited his saucy side. Essentially, though, the Bafta-winning formula remained the same. Sidse Babett Knudsen was mesmerising, steely and smiley by turns, as Birgitte battled to recoup her political clout. It was also highly educational. We’re now experts on Denmark’s policy on pork and prostitutes. CW

13 An Adventure In Space and Time BBC4
Taking its title from a tagline printed on every 1960s RT billing for Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’s account of the show’s origins was meticulously and lovingly mounted, celebrating the team of outsiders who, 50 years ago, shook up the fusty Corporation and gave birth to a TV phenomenon. Doubly poignant, An Adventure was the last drama made at BBC TV Centre and showed how Doctor Who captivated, then cast aside, its original star William Hartnell. So much more than a startling looky-likey, David Bradley brought a terrier’s bite, a twinkle and immense pathos to Hartnell and the character he created. He deserves a Bafta. PM

12 The Fall BBC2
Unlike most thrillers, this creepy Belfast-based drama introduced us to the killer from the outset, allowing for a careful examination of his meticulous murder methods that disturbed and intrigued. A handsome family man who tucked his daughter up in bed before slipping out to strangle high-flying young brunettes, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) was one of the most skin-crawlingly sinister villains of recent years. Hot on his trail was DS Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), a fiercely intelligent and coolly glamorous investigator drafted in from London to solve the case. The brilliantly constructed back and forth between the two characters spooked even the hardiest viewers. EA

11 Last Tango In Halifax BBC1
The scope widened in series two of the Bafta-winning romantic drama, with as much screen time devoted to family strife as to pensionable lovers Alan and Celia’s late-blooming courtship. Not that this is in any way a problem – in fact we now care just as much for the younger adults as we do for the recently reunited sweethearts. The key is the wit and wisdom that runs through Sally Wainwright’s scripts, all subtly performed by such stars as Sarah Lancashire and the peerless Nicola Walker, the latter of whom was a picture of anguish for most of the run. DBr

40 to 31 — 30 to 21 — 10 to 1

Voted for and written by critics from Radio Times magazine, 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.