Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2014: 20 to 11

We're almost there... which shows are in our coveted top 20?

20 Grayson Perry: Who Are You? C4
The term “national treasure” is much abused, but in the case of Grayson Perry it’s perfect – he’s someone we should all be proud of and his talents deserve to be treasured. This innovative three-parter, in which he interviewed a range of people who were all exploring their identity, then created artworks around these interviews, brought all his skills to bear. It showed his myriad artistic gifts (potter, sculptor, fabric designer, miniaturist…), his humanity, humour, curiosity and prowess as an interviewer, although he struggled to find the heart of Teflon-coated Chris Huhne. An eye-opening and frequently moving documentaryGC


19 Game of Thrones Sky Atlantic
Thrones had a tougher job this year, having to diverge more and more from the complex novels it’s based on. It carried off the change with aplomb. New scenes, storylines and set pieces kept the audience on their toes: the introduction and swift dispatch of a fan-favourite character showed the series is still every bit as ruthless as it was in series one. It’s emotionally unsafe to have a favourite characterHF

18 The Bridge BBC4
Series two of the Scandi Noir drama ramped up the death toll (38 people were shot, infected with a deadly virus or dissolved in acid). But it was far from overkill. We were left wrung out and despairing that Saga and Martin (the magnificent Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia) would ever find the killer(s). The plot was thrilling but the constantly shifting platonic relationship between the two detectives is what made this so absorbing. Especially when, amid the confusion of a multi-layered plot, writer Hans Rosenfeldt occasionally opened a window onto their souls. And that eerie theme music was still to die for. Not literallyJR

17 The Great British Bake Off BBC1
Business as usual as the nation’s favourite cookery contest transferred to BBC1. Well, apart from even higher ratings, and a tabloid hoo-hah when Iain chucked his baked Alaska in the bin and stormed off the set. GBBO is still the nicest, funniest treat reality TV has brought us. Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were effortlessly cheekier than ever, and Mary Berry emerged as a style icon: whatever she wore was sold out on M&S’s website by 9pm each Wednesday nightJS

16 Peaky Blinders BBC2
Not easy to follow a first series that more or less re-wrote the book on period dramas, but Steven Knight’s tale of Birmingham bad guys managed. We were still based in the monochrome streets of Small Heath but the canvas enlarged to include London clubland and – in the wonderfully orchestrated climax – the Epsom Derby. Angelic-looking mob boss Tommy came up against brilliant foes (Tom Hardy, scary as ever) but somehow survived it allDBu

15 Life Story BBC1
The Beeb’s peerless natural history film-makers just keep on finding gems. Arranged around the journey from birth to death, the latest Attenborough-voiced wonder was full of cruelty, beauty and very human strife, filmed exquisitely and scored with a cinematic soundtrack. The TV year’s not complete without a landmark wildlife doc: this was 2014’s jewelJS

14 Fargo C4
The news that US network FX was to make a Martin Freeman-fronted adaptation of the cult Coen brothers movie raised one big question among Fargonians (to give them their scientific name): why? Fears were eased by the announcement that the Coens were on board as exec producers, and erased altogether by the time the credits rolled on the snow-laden first episode. Freeman excelled as the twitchy, exasperated Lester Nygaard, though he rightly shared plaudits with Billy Bob Thornton as toothy maniac Lorne Malvo, and Allison Tolman, whose quietly persistent police officer Molly Solverson emerged as the heart of a defiantly bleak seriesHS

13 Rev BBC2
The third and possibly final series of BBC2’s clerical sitcom took no easy routes. The trials of an inner-city vicar included inter-faith unity, dwindling congregations and ex-con parishioners. But, anchored by brilliant actors including Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman and Simon McBurney, it mined laughs and tears from the clash of altruistic intention with a selfish world. Rev was a comedy that mattered: whatever your faith, or lack of it, you cared for these people. If this truly is the end of Rev, it’s been both powerful and glorious. AmenMB

12 The Missing BBC1
In the draft script for episode one of The Missing, hounding journalist Malik Suri is talking to his publisher about the Oliver Hughes case: “The book is more than just Oliver Hughes,” he says. “It’s about obsession itself…” You can see why the line was dropped: it showed The Missing’s winning hand too early. The first earthquake – a young British boy’s disappearance while on holiday in France – was disturbing enough, but each episode brought a fresh tremor, forcing the characters’ secrets and lies to the surface. Viewers were shaken too: were parents Tony and Emily all they seemed? What drove Ian Garrett’s twisted secret? And, most importantly of all, who took Ollie? Obsessive viewing indeedJG

11 W1A BBC2
Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), the Olympic Head of Deliverance who was the hapless star of BBC2’s mockumentary Twenty Twelve, returned in 2014 as the BBC’s new Head of Values. It looked like a media in-joke – the BBC satirising the BBC – but the writing was so sharp and Bonneville, Jessica Hynes (as airhead brand consultant Siobhan), Sarah Parish and Jason Watkins so believable, it could have been set in any large, inefficient corporation filled with buzzwords. In this one, though, Alan Yentob arm-wrestled Salman Rushdie. So that’s all good. DC

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


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!