Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2017: 20 to 11

The votes have been counted and the results are in... here's our critics' countdown of the year's best telly

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20 Game of Thrones Sky Atlantic

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There’s a whole other season of the world’s biggest box-set drama to come before it ends, probably in 2019; nevertheless, the truncated seventh run had an accelerated, end-times feel to it. With the storytelling concertina’d down into a run of exhilarating set pieces, this was Thrones at its most spectacular, if not its most subtle. For long-term fans raised on death and glory, it was a feast.

19 Unforgotten ITV

This year’s cold case, investigated by the duo played with such measured passion by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, thrummed with smothered sadness. One of the most thoughtful crime dramas on TV told an even more devastating story than it had in its debut season, culminating in a finale where the answer to the puzzle had the air of a classic whodunnit reveal, but with an emotional power that was all Unforgotten’s own.

18 Stranger Things Netflix

More of the same from the 80s-styled creature feature, as it returned with bigger monsters, but with its plucky charm intact. Its central cast of funny, feisty boys and girls grew into their roles, while David Harbour cemented his unlikely Dad-bod sex symbol status as the no-frills police chief, and Winona Ryder kept going as TV’s unluckiest mum. Proper escapist entertainment was all too rare in 2017, so ST2 was just what we needed.

17 Brian Pern: A Tribute BBC4

A suitably sincere eulogy for the legendary, nay, mythical prog god, following his tragic death in a Segway accident. Simon Day’s spoof wrung every obvious joke and plenty of non-obvious ones out of rockumentary obituary clichés, with the usual impressive roster of celebs joining Day’s old collaborators (Nigel Havers, Paul Whitehouse, Christopher Eccleston, Michael Kitchen) in remembering a man who was, of course, not actually dead…

16 Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me BBC2

The best celebrity documentaries see a public figure leverage their profile to meaningfully advance a cause in a way that ordinary programmes couldn’t. The long-serving Autumnwatch presenter did exactly that by opening up about how Asperger’s has profoundly affected him, even if it’s not been at all visible to most people following him at home. As well as breaking down stigmas around autism, Packham turned his autobiography into beautiful, poetic TV.

15 The A Word BBC1

Our affection for the extended family portrayed in Peter Bowker’s drama – revolving around, but dramatically not completely dominated by, Max Vento as a young boy with autism – intensified as season two let us get to know them better. This is the sort of series every weekly viewing schedule needs: not flashy, not highly conceptual, not about the worst of humanity, just honest and complex and acted whole-heartedly.

14 This Country BBC3

The year’s best new comedy enticed us up to an unremarkable Cotswolds village, where two slacker cousins were living painfully small lives. Writer/stars Daisy and Charlie Cooper – siblings, in real life – displayed a gift for creating mockumentary monsters who spout quotable lines (“I got enemies in South Cerney, I got enemies in North Cerney…”) and have an endless supply of hopeless ambitions. They’ll be back in 2018.

13 Poldark BBC1

Mostly business as usual for Ross and friends: torrid romance, rugged philanthropy, heinous skulduggery and plenty of pensive clifftop gallops. The Cornish period saga is deepening the relationships between its characters as it progresses, though, and this time around its political subtexts became more explicit. But just as the question of who’d be the new MP for Truro threatened to take over, a simmering love triangle got our hearts racing again.

12 The Great British Bake Off C4

In the end, Bake Off’s big changes felt small, which is just what Channel 4 wanted. By C4 standards, huge ratings followed once the United Kingdom had, collectively, taken about three minutes to decide that Prue Leith was an easy replacement for Mary Berry, Sandi Toksvig was an obvious fit, and Noel Fielding’s puppyish antics were endearing, not irritating. Twelve of the nicest, funniest, smartest amateur bakers the show’s ever had didn’t hurt either.

11 The Handmaid’s Tale C4

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When it was commissioned, nobody knew how politically acute this version of Margaret Atwood’s novel would be by the time it aired. Just as serious debates about authoritarianism and institutional sexism raged, here was a drama set in an eerily relevant dystopia. While Handmaid’s Tale made the nightmare horribly real, an immense lead performance by Elisabeth Moss and the script’s ability to strike hopeful and even humorous notes ensured that watching wasn’t a trial.

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