Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2018: 40 to 31

Part one of our annual critics' vote for the finest programmes of the past 12 months

Programme Name: The Mighty Redcar - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows: Madison  - (C) 72 Films Ltd - Photographer: Daniel Dewsbury

TL

40 Wild Wild Country, Netflix

The farther you were sucked into this six-part documentary, the more surreal, disquieting and utterly implausible it got. Indian guru Osho attempts to build a utopian city in the Oregon wilderness during the early 80s, but events soon spiral out of control when his right-hand woman, Sheela, starts employing ever-more devious tactics to deal with disgruntled locals. Brilliantly compiled from extensive source material and more compulsive than any soap opera, it was the surprise “cult” hit of the year. GR

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39 Better Call Saul, Netflix

The Breaking Bad prequel crept into silky overdrive in series four, steadily connecting the dots between hustler Jimmy McGill and criminally connected lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). But creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, who call the shots like the most experienced film directors, gave equal weight to all their characters. And if there was one standout scene it belonged to Rhea Seehorn as Jimmy’s long-suffering but loyal girlfriend Kim, whose bottled frustration exploded in the face of his nemesis, Howard. Stunning. MB

38 Informer, BBC2

Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani were barely known as writers before Informer. The series landed without much hype and never caused a Bodyguard-style stir, but delivered everything you want from a gritty urban thriller. The east London setting was believable, the dialogue was believable, the plot was – OK, it was far-fetched, but with Paddy Considine as a cop-with-a-past recruiting Raza (terrific newcomer Nabhaan Rizwan) to rumble a terror cell, the story zinged along. Let’s hope a second series gets the green light soon. DB

37 Strike BBC1

JK Rowling’s slightly shambolic detective returned for his toughest case yet in this incredibly entertaining adaptation of 2015 novel Career of Evil. After being sent a severed leg in the post and framed for a murder, Strike (Tom Burke) had to take a look through his old rogues’ gallery to see which former foe was behind the assault, while sidekick Robin (Holliday Grainger) discovered new faults in her relationship when she got too involved with the new case. Watch closely, and you might have spotted the murderer before them… HF

36 People Just Do Nothing, BBC2

Brentford’s best Grime music fantasists continued to gather round egotistical Grindah in this fifth and final series, the gap between their ideas about themselves and the reality of their lives as wide and as funny as ever. But the mockumentary continued to explore the emotional fragility and hopelessness of their situation with skill and sensitivity. It teemed with wonderful characters – whether it was poor Beats and his unrequited love for our star, or the fabulous chancer Chabuddy G. A film is now on the cards. BD

35 Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, Netflix

A word-of-mouth sensation, this hour of stand-up from Australian comic Hannah Gadsby wasn’t really stand-up at all. It started off funny but became deadly serious and joke-free, as Gadsby gave an eviscerating account of being a lesbian in Tasmania – where being gay was a crime until 1997 – and the violence she suffered. She delivered a devastating critique of misogyny, homophobia and the idea of comedy itself, declaring that she was going to stop using her trauma as a punchline and be honest about what happened, however uncomfortable the audience might find it. A hard-to-swallow performance that left a lump in your throat. KD

34 The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Netflix

This stylish, blood-soaked new Netflix incarnation of the teenage witch was a far cry from the Melissa Joan Hart 90s version, leaning into the dark, occult overtones of witchcraft for a story that was part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, part Riverdale (Netflix’s teen thriller from the same creative team). This time around, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) was a spunky spellcaster about to pledge her soul to the devil in exchange for power and immortality – but would she leave her mortal life behind to join the Dark Lord? HF

33 Peter Kay’s Car Share, BBC1

Being on this list on the strength of only one proper episode tells you how beloved Kay’s confined sitcom is, and how deflated we were when it supposedly ended in 2017 with a stubbornly downbeat finale. That problem was fixed completely by the new, extra, proper ending, which at last saw co-workers John (Kay) and Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) fall in love. An improvised bonus instalment showed off the natural, unscriptable chemistry between Kay and Gibson – which is what made us fall in love with the show in the first place. JS

32 Lee and Dean, C4

Best mates Lee (Miles Chapman) and Dean (Mark O’Sullivan) were builders who swanned around their native Stevenage in a white van. Dean had less luck with romancing the customers than womanising Lee in this sharply executed, semi-improvised comedy – and that’s because he was desperately in love with his mate. Our stars pulled this intriguing and original premise off superbly: the laddish banter was funny in itself but, thanks to some deft plotting, the pathos was brought into sharp, sometimes heartbreaking relief. BD

31 The Mighty Redcar, BBC2

A wonderful factual series that throbbed with life, hope and kindness as we followed a handful of teens-with-dreams in the small north-east seaside town of Redcar. Though long blighted by unemployment after the closure of the steelworks, Redcar was still a much loved home to these young people, who faced conflicting pressures as they tried to make their way in the world. There was a great soundtrack and it was a stroke of genius to feature local lass Madison Cooper as narrator. AG

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Words: Gary Rose, Mark Braxton, David Butcher, Huw Fullerton, Ben Dowell, Kasia Delgado, Jack Seale, Alison Graham