The 20 best TV shows of 2019

Our poll of RadioTimes.com and Radio Times TV critics reveals our favourite shows of the past 12 months

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Each year RadioTimes.com and Radio Times writers vote for their favourite TV shows of the past 12 months. 2019 is no exception, and so with the votes counted and the arguments over, we can now reveal the 20 best shows of the year…

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20. Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders V Ep 6

Peaky Blinders has become one of the BBC’s most reliable dramas, with Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and his loyal followers winning a legion of fans over the course of five series. In his fifth outing, Shelby found a new enemy in the shape of slimy MP and leader of the British Union of Fascists Oswald Mosely (played with relish by the excellent Sam Claflin), and was also forced to deal with new threats from North of the border.

While it perhaps lacked the sheer exhiliaration of series 4, which saw the Shelbys come face to face with the Italian-American Mafia, the series was expertly scripted, tremendously acted (with the exception of some, erm, slightly dodgy Scottish accents) and culimiated in a breathtaking – and violent – climax. Patrick Cremona

19. Motherland

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Sharon Horgan’s comedy about school-gate politics, play dates and lycra-clad yummy mummies is both hilarious and bitingly, painfully familiar. Line of Duty’s Anna Maxwell Martin leads the cast as Julia, a harried mother-of-two at the end of her tether as she attempts to juggle her freelance work alongside parenting – and trying not to lose other people’s children during trick-or-treating.

 Series two saw the introduction of Tanya Moodie, whose character Meg enjoys a high-flying business career and a double life as a secret party girl who goes on nightly drunken escapades. The series also ended on a cliff-hanger, as Julia’s mother collapsed during a testing Sports Day and her daughter rashly promised to let her live with the family – a decision she immediately regretted. Flora Carr

18. The Good Place

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The early showings from The Good Place in 2019 were solid if unspectacular – the lead cast (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Mandy Jacinto and Ted Danson) and concept remained supremely watchable, even if the spark of the first two seasons was somewhat lacking. But with its final two episodes of the year, TV’s most philosophical sitcom was back on top form, delivering a climax to the first half of its final season that was hilarious, supremely imaginative and also incredibly affecting – if you didn’t well up at Chidi’s written reminder to himself that “Eleanor is the answer”, then you probably belong in the Bad Place with Shawn (Michael Evan Jackson) and his cronies. Morgan Jeffery

17. A Confession

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BAFTA-winning writer/producer Jeff Pope has become ITV’s go-to for true crime and while there’s always the fear that any such project could end up feeling like crass exploitation, Pope got the balance absolutely right with A Confession. This was a thoughtful, powerful and decidedly unflashy piece, charting the investigation sparked by the disappearance of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan that ultimately cost lead detective Steve Fulcher (here played by Martin Freeman) his job. It delivered no easy answers, but plenty to debate and discuss, with Freeman, Joe Absolom and Imelda Staunton leading a terrific ensemble cast. Morgan Jeffery

16. Russian Doll

Russian Doll

The sheer number of original series that Netflix produces can be overwhelming (and mostly a bit naff), so it’s always nice when something excellent unexpectedly arrives and stands out from the pack. Russian Doll sees tough New Yorker Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) trapped on the night of her 36th birthday party which begins again every time she dies (it happens a lot). Breaking the loop will require some deep introspection and help from a man who finds himself in a similar predicament. Sharply written, slickly shot and superbly acted with a star-making turn from Lyonne, Russian Doll is the complete package and perfect binge-watch material. David Craig

15. Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

For those who questioned where Big Little Lies could go following its acclaimed Emmy-winning first run, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon (who star in and developed the show) had two words for the critics: Meryl Streep. The Oscar-winning actress joined the already-starry cast, playing the overbearing and occasionally deranged mother-in-law to Kidman’s character, Celeste, and who comes to live in the idyllic Monterey following the violent death of her son and Celeste’s (abusive) husband.

From her scream of grief and rage at the dinner table, to her caustic exchanges with Witherspoon’s Madeline, Streep could easily have run away with the entire series if it weren’t for that fact that the whole cast is just so damn good. Laura Dern, who plays working mother Renata, inspired a thousand memes with her shriek, “I will not not be rich!,” while Shailene Woodley beautifully portrays a young woman reclaiming her sexuality following a brutal rape. Her joyful dance on a deserted stretch of sand to Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Mystery of Love’ is one of the series’ most enduring scenes. Flora Carr

14. Mindhunter

Mindhunter season 2
Netflix

The deliciously dark Mindhunter follows FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench as they fight to establish criminal psychology and profiling as standard practise in the late 70s and 80s.

Delving deep into the darkest and most gruesome murders in American history, the masterfully stylised series features eerily compelling turns from Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper and Damon Herriman as Charles Manson as Ford and Tench become forced to think like the serial killers they are so desperate to ensnare. Kimberley Bond

13. The Virtues

Stephen Graham in the Virtues (C4)

Shane Meadows re-teaming with his This is England collaborators – Channel 4, actor Stephen Graham, co-writer Jack Thorne – was always going to produce something pretty special, but The Virtues utterly surpassed all expectations. Made in Meadows’ trademark naturalistic style and dealing with themes including child abuse, alcoholism and families torn apart, this was a bleak but utterly engrossing watch, with phenomenal performances from Graham, Helen Behan and Niamh Algar. Morgan Jeffery

12. Giri/Haji

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In a year full of top-notch BBC crime dramas, Joe Barton’s Giri/Haji stood out for its fresh approach to storytelling, masterful character work and arresting visuals. A sprawling epic set between Tokyo and London, it’s Japanese influence can be felt strongly – not least because much of the dialogue is in the language. A scene in the final episode, meanwhile, is my choice for the most unexpected and breath-taking piece of television of the year. Patrick Cremona

11. Stranger Things

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Netflix

Netflix’s nostalgia-fuelled sci-fi drama following a gang of misfit kids as they take on otherworldly monsters returned for a third outing this year. The risk of diminishing returns was present and looming, but the Duffer Brothers actually delivered the strongest season of the show since its debut back in 2016. The stakes were high as ever with an exciting new Body Snatchers plot, but Stranger Things 3 never lost sight of its overriding sense of fun. David Harbour and Winona Ryder were on fire as bickering lovers Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper, while the young ensemble was as charming as ever with welcome new additions in Priah Ferguson and Maya Hawke. David Craig

10. The Crown

The Crown

Swapping out the entire cast of The Crown with older actors was always going to be a gamble – but Netflix pulled it off, bringing its royal drama back after a two-year break and putting Olivia Colman on the throne in place of Claire Foy. Season three begins in 1964 and takes us all the way to 1977; along the way we have tales of Soviet spies, broken hearts, royal affairs, men on the moon, tragedy in Wales, the death of Churchill and the arrival of two more Prime Ministers. Tobias Menzies puts in an excellent performance as Prince Philip, while Josh O’Connor and Erin Doherty are stars of the show Charles and Anne. Bring on season four. Eleanor Bley Griffiths

9. This Time with Alan Partridge

(BBC)

Alan Partridge is back on the BBC – and not local radio, he’s bounced back to the big time with his very own early evening magazine show (nothing like The One Show).

A triumphant return to our screens from one of the most celebrated cult comedy characters of the last few decades, Steve Coogan’s Partridge is joined for this new series by a co-host Jennie Gresham (played by the fabulous Susannah Fielding) as we see Norwich’s most famous get an accidental big break…

Filled with classic Partridge that will please old fans and enough new elements to excite a younger audience, this is comedy out of the very top drawer – worthy of its top ten status. Tim Glanfield

8. Watchmen

Tim Blake Nelson and Regina King in Watchmen (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

Writing a sequel to one of the most acclaimed graphic novels of all time is a daunting task, but Damon Lindelof rose to the occasion and achieved something truly incredible. His nine-part saga is a faithful follow-up to Alan Moore’s original story, tackling sensitive and lofty real-world themes through an exploration of American vigilantism. HBO assembled a fantastic roster of talent to realize Lindelof’s vision, with Regina King, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson and Jeremy Irons all giving stunning performances, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a beautifully moody soundtrack that fits like a glove. Watchmen is a remarkable series that deserves far more attention than it got. David Craig

7. Years and Years

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As dramas come, Years and Years simply shouldn’t have worked. It seemed impossible writer Russell T Davies could deliver a nihilistic dystopian series documenting the next 15 years of humanity and pack it with heart-warming hilarity. But that’s exactly what he did. The prophetic high-concept six-parter gifted audiences both laughs and tears, and – at the end of its first episode – one of the most shocking cliffhangers in TV history. Thomas Ling

6. RuPaul’s Drag Race

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BBC / World of Wonde / Guy Levy

How this was broadcast on the BBC, we’ll never know. From “unique as f***” Baga Chipz, to Gothy Kendoll’s cry of “anything’s a dildo if you try!”, the UK’s fantastically filthy take on the drag race talent show was far from family-friendly. It was, however, outrageously hilarious and a mother-tucking triumph for LGBTQ+ representation. With a second series in the works, we can only say one thing: Shantay, you stay, Drag Race UK. Hopefully for many years to come. Thomas Ling

5. Line of Duty

Line of Duty (BBC)

Who is H? It’s a question that has dogged Jed Mercurio’s acclaimed police-corruption drama for the last couple of series, and this year the storyline was turbocharged as AC-12 hunted for the bent copper in their midst.

Featuring endless twists, double bluffs and reversals this year of Line of Duty was the drama at its height, with Stephen Graham putting in an incredible performance as UCO-turned-OCG-turned-vigilante-hitman John Corbett alongside a career-best performance from Adrian Dunbar as suspected turncoat Ted Hastings. Roll on series six… Huw Fullerton

4. His Dark Materials

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Expectations for the BBC adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s beloved fantasy trilogy were remarkably high, and for the most part they’ve been well and truly met. With glorious visuals, terrific performances and a stirring score, the first series has captured a sense of child-like wonder and adventure in a way that few shows can manage. Although some viewers may have one or two minor reservations about the lack of dæmons and a few deviations from Northern Lights’ plot, few could argue that this isn’t family entrainment at its scintillating best. Patrick Cremona

3. Succession

Succession

Just when you thought the Roy family couldn’t become anymore dysfunctional and screwed up, a second season of this brilliant dark comedy drama about a media baron and his children came crashing into our lives.

From the pen of Jesse Armstrong (one half of the Peep Show writing team) this superbly sharp and twisted show takes the viewer inside the world of a giant media conglomerate, giving us a glimpse of patriarch Logan Roy, his family, inner circle and the lengths they will all go to in order to gain and maintain power against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world.

This is one box set you will not be able to avoid bingeing. Tim Glanfield

2. Fleabag

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy about a messy, witty, outrageous, grieving woman obsessed with sex gained an even larger and more ardent fanbase (and increased M&S sales of canned gin and tonics) with its second instalment. The series saw the introduction of Andrew Scott’s sinfully handsome ‘Hot Priest,’ whose affair with our eponymous heroine broke our hearts while simultaneously renewing our faith in love.

There was also a fox, a pencil-shaped haircut, a familiar (naked) golden statue, and a moment of sibling affection that had sisters across the country reaching for their phones to message one another, as Claire (Sian Clifford) revealed that the only person she’d go to an airport for was Fleabag. Just one of many perfect scenes, in a pretty perfect series. Flora Carr

1. Chernobyl

HBO's critically-acclaimed Chernobyl

One of the most talked about TV shows of the year, this miniseries is a gripping and at times hard to watch drama that brings alive the events and aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. An outstanding piece of television, the overall production, script and performances of the likes of Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Paul Ritter and Jessie Buckley garnered the series popular acclaim plus 19 Emmy nominations – and it’s more than a worthy winner of our 2019 critics’ poll. Tim Glanfield

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The 2019 RadioTimes.com and Radio Times critics panel was:

Tim Glanfield, Paul Jones, Morgan Jeffery, David Butcher, Alexia Skinitis, Helen Hackworthy, Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Huw Fullerton, Thomas Ling, Kimberley Bond, Flora Carr,  Mark Braxton, David Crawford, Frances Taylor, Patrick Cremona, David Craig, David Brown