Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2015: 20 to 11

Has your favourite show appeared yet? Our critics' countdown continues...

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20. An Inspector Calls BBC1
Could director Aisling Walsh breathe new life into a well-known play, a perennial set text in schools? Resoundingly, yes. RT readers praised a “sublime” adaptation of JB Priestley’s savage kicking of middle-class hypocrisy. Characters’ differing viewpoints were used with intelligence, while atmosphere was crafted to create maximum chills. Ken Stott, Miranda Richardson and Chloe Pirrie played members of the moneyed and complacent Birling family, alongside David Thewlis the detective probing the suicide of a woman with whom they’d all had contact. Many dramas with a big twist can feel straitjacketed by their denouement. Not this one. MB

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19. Toast of London C4
Matt Berry’s ghastly, narcissistic but strangely lovable actor has now blared his way through three series, but the inventiveness and sheer silliness of this surreal sitcom shows no sign of getting less funny. The ideas kept coming in series three, which saw the luvvie take on the “feminists” by judging a beauty competition, and then fall for the charisma of Jon Hamm: getting the Mad Men star was quite a coup, but he loves this show. Toast of London showed that old fashioned daftness still has a place – both in the hip late-night schedules of C4 and the comedy world in general. BD

18. First Dates C4
Human attraction is a wonderfully strange thing, and no TV show revealed this better than Channel 4’s fixed-rig dating show, which let us watch singletons go through the scary experience of a blind date.  Brilliantly diverse, with all ages, interests and sexual preferences covered, this year’s run saw daters tell the most fascinating, funny and truly moving personal stories as they got to know each other. Whether the date was agonisingly awkward or the sexual tension was palpable, the show never felt exploitative. Each week it restored our faith in humanity. KD

17. The Hunt BBC1
The concept didn’t make it sound like this would be a landmark nature series: a compilation of predators chasing their prey? Seen it already! Oh, no we hadn’t. This Attenborough-voiced marvel dramatised the fight for life in the wild like never before, turning it into a captivating spectator sport as well as a majestically filmed thing of beauty. And though you’d be forgiven for taking stunning photography as read in a BBC nature series, stunning it still was. JS

16. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Netflix
The sparkiest sitcom of the year: 13 short, joy-filled episodes from the creators of 30 Rock, featuring a cast of eccentrics held together by sheer positivity. Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) emerged, having been held captive by a cult leader for 15 years, to re-establish herself in New York. She refused to be beaten down by circumstance, and was surrounded by brilliantly conceived characters, including a musical but self-absorbed roommate, a desperate socialite boss, and Jon Hamm. Binge-watching’s never been more uplifting. GC

15. Humans C4
The unsettling techno-fable was Channel 4’s best rated original drama in decades. Why? Probably because it explored deep themes to do with, you know, consciousness and stuff, while keeping us locked in a thriller-ish plot about robots-with-feelings. A thoughtful script imagined a near future where “synthetic appliances” do the dirty work, but a few have been given the killer app of consciousness, blurring lines between human and machine. From there, a seductive plot unfolded, with sharp characters and running subtexts on slavery, altruism and what being fully human ought to involve. DBu

14. Better Call Saul Netflix
Breaking Bad fans were trepidatious about this Netflix spin-off/prequel, focusing on Walt and Jesse’s shady two-bit lawyer, Saul Goodman. We needn’t have worried. Like its predecessor, Better Call Saul centred around a well-intentioned, savvy underdog who was pulled towards the dark side. But, contrary to expectations, this was no lightweight cash-in — it was far more nuanced than that. Goodman (superbly played by Bob Odenkirk) was arguably Breaking Bad’s standout character, and here he was treated with the respect he deserves, his personality injected with complexity and pathos. S’all good, man. GR

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13. Unforgotten ITV
Hang on, a detective story where the detective isn’t a maverick, she sticks rigorously to the rules, doesn’t drink to excess and doesn’t get caught up in dispiriting sexual encounters with unsuitable men – she just gets on with her job and catches a killer? Yes, DCI Cassie Stuart (the admirable Nicola Walker) was determined to find whoever murdered a young runaway and buried him, leaving him to rot for decades. Chris Lang’s script was humane and devastating as we became caught up in the stories of everyone who, however accidentally, played a part in his demise. AG

12. Game of Thrones Sky Atlantic
This year’s Thrones faced a difficult task. After four seasons of more or less sticking to its source novels by George RR Martin, the series was running out of book and had to begin to carve its own path. The result? A varied and imaginative run of episodes, containing one of the best (and most terrifying) battle scenes ever committed to film when Jon Snow and his allies took on the might of the White Walkers. Next year will be the real test for the showrunners, as they go even deeper into original territory – but based on what they managed this year, we can’t wait to see what they come up with. HF

11. Detectorists BBC4
BBC4 has brought Slow TV to the sitcom. And if anything, the second series of Mackenzie Crook’s tale of Essex blokes who go metal detecting to dodge the demands of life was even slower and more lugubrious than the first. At times the comedy was so wispy it almost evaporated, but you’d gladly watch Crook and Toby Jones all day long as underachieving mates Andy and Lance, “coils to the soil” as their friendship and the new demands of parenthood played out against a backdrop of sunny fields. No comedy (or drama) captured the quirks and delusions of middle-aged men better. DBu

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

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