Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2014: 30 to 21

The countdown of our critics' favourites continues... has your top pick appeared yet?

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30 The Fall BBC2
The first season of this serial-killer drama wasn’t for everyone. Dead young women arranged into grisly tableaux aren’t generally what people want to see when they settle down for a post-dinner cuppa and a bit of telly. But those who could stomach it were drawn in by the slow burn of the chase, as DSI Stella Gibson (a silk-clad, silky-voiced Gillian Anderson) closed in on killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). This year, the focus shifted away from the lifeless bodies of Spector’s prey and towards the psychological harm he is equally adept at inflicting – and not just on his victims. This time he found ways to torture Stella from afar, revealing the cracks in our heroine’s glossy veneerHS

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29 Gogglebox C4
Often the simplest ideas are the best. Gogglebox has become a part of the national conversation just by watching people reacting spontaneously as they watch the telly. Britain in all its silly, comic glory was laid bare and, in the case of posh, bibulous guest house owners Steph and Dom Parker, stars were bornBD

28 Harry & Paul’s Story of the 2s BBC2
Some people got a bit carried away and said this was even better than Harry Enfield’s 1989 masterpiece, Norbert Smith: a Life. Steady on. But it was the best example yet of Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s resurgence as satirists who have the happy air of not caring a jot what anyone thinks, whom they upset or whether every impression quite works. Spoofing the entire half-century output of BBC2 led to many lovingly crafted jewels and included several things you suspect H&P actually like, but ripped the piss out of anyway. Linking the scattered bits was Enfield in a Comedy Award-winning turn as a sweeping, Schamanic presenter. That he was wandering round a deserted TV Centre underlined the sad subtext of golden eras having passed. JS

27 Kris: Dying to Live BBC3
You might not expect a documentary about a 27-year old with terminal breast cancer to make for uplifting viewing, but the beauty of this film was that it told the story of Kris’ illness without allowing it to define her. Yes, we saw her shuffle in and out of hospital, sometimes in good spirits, sometimes exhausted and pain-stricken, but it never felt morose. This was the story of a vivacious, thoughtful young woman determined to turn her colossal bad luck into a force for good. It did, however, leave us sobbing. EA

26 Orange Is the New Black Netflix
This nice-blonde-lady-in-prison dramedy stormed right to the top of many of TV-dom’s best-of lists last year, so expectations for season two were high. But it was like Piper (Taylor Schilling) and co had never been away. There were beat-downs, rivalries, and sexual conquests aplenty – though the show also revealed a softer side, filling in the pasts and personal lives of both inmates and staff. Even the reptilian Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) tugged a little on our heartstrings. Fans will feel like they’re doing time right along with Piper – they have a six-month sentence to serve until the third season, due for release in June. HS

25 Remember Me BBC1
Supernatural chills are few and far between on TV these days, having once been a staple of the December schedules via the traditional ghost story for Christmas. This three-parter had the air of one of those classic spine-tinglers, thanks to imagery that could have come straight out of Whistle and I’ll Come to You and a suitably off-kilter lead performance from a scarily playing-against-type Michael Palin. Motifs like the creaking rocking chair and creepy piano playing were nothing new, but this drama cast its spell with a real sense of style. DBr

24 Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle BBC2
Back after a three-year hiatus, the cleverest stand-up on TV had refined his tantric anti-comedy about comedy still further, flipping riffs this way and that for minutes on end like some sort of hilarity jazz trumpeter. Childish vandalism of a road sign to Shilbottle; UKIP; or Lee’s own feelings of utter uselessness at being a middle-aged, vasectomised father of two drinking real ale every night: he can now work any subject up into comic nirvana by remorselessly observing not the detail of a thing, but the essence. And he made his new antagonist Chris Morris corpse. Twice. JS

23 House of Cards Netflix
It’s odd that a remake of a 24-year-old British miniseries heralds the future of television, but just ask any bleary-eyed, binge-watching House of Cards fan. Produced (at massive expense) for Netflix, the second series of this pulp political thriller proved that shows don’t have to be broadcast every week to be an event. Kevin Spacey remained sensuous and reptilian as Frank Underwood, while the plot benefited from moving beyond the BBC original. This was less The West Wing than modern-day gothic horror, but that only made it more compulsive. JH

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22 Marvellous BBC2
2014 was a terrific year for Toby Jones (Detectorists, filming the Dad’s Army movie…). In this warm hug of a drama, he played affable beacon of positivity Neil Baldwin. Diagnosed as a boy with learning difficulties, Baldwin became a registered clown, university welcomer and kit man for Stoke City FC. Dramatised by Peter Bowker, Neil’s extraordinary story was all the better for being true, while the integration of Baldwin himself was the icing on the cake. Life is an adventure for Neil, never a problem. It’s an attitude we could all learn from. MB

21 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Sky Atlantic
The British satirist left The Daily Show and immediately, rather unsportingly, created a new vehicle that made Jon Stewart look like yesterday’s news. Oliver’s daring move was to give up virtually all of each episode to one topic, replacing throwaway gags with carefully marshalled deconstructions of non-obvious topics like Fifa corruption and America’s scarily lax maintenance of its nuclear arsenal. This was comedy to punch the air to: the superbly honed gags had urgent, significant political points behind them. HBO’s daring move was to release the long segments on YouTube, quickly turning Oliver into an online sensation as people shared the link and simply said: “This.” JS

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

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The Countdown

40 – 31

30 – 21

20 – 11

10 – 1


How much of this year’s television can you remember? Take our Big TV Quiz 2014 and find out!

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