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Best TV shows of the year 2020, 20-11: Quiz, His Dark Materials and more

Our countdown of the year's very best small-screen entertainment continues.

LEFTBANK PICTURES FOR
ITV

QUIZ
MATTHEW MACFADYEN,SIAN CLIFFORD,MICHAEL SHEEN  AND HELEN MCCRORY STAR.

EPISODE 2

Pictured:
MATTHEW MACFADYEN as Charles Ingram,SIAN CLIFFORD as Diana Ingram and MICHAEL SHEEN as Chris Tarrant.


This image is the copyright of Leftbank Pictures and is only to be used in relation to QUIZ.

Feel as though you’ve missed out on some small-screen gems this year, and hunting for some recommendations? Or just want to see if your favourite show made it onto our list? Then join us now as the countdown of RadioTimes.com’s top 50 TV shows of the year continues.

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Over five days, we’re revealing our top picks as selected by our editorial team. Today (29th December), we continue with 20-11 – featuring some of the year’s most inventive and impactful small-screen entertainment.

Be sure to join us again tomorrow as we reveal which shows have made the top 10, including the show that’s landed this year’s much-coveted no. 1 spot.

20. Life

Peter Davison plays Henry in Life

Available on BBC iPlayer

Writer Mike Bartlett has managed to sneak one of his Doctor Foster characters into his new drama Life, installing Anna “Belle” Baker (Victoria Hamilton) in a flat in a subdivided house in Manchester where she’s busy trying to keep her life together, drinking a lot, and feeling very lonely. The building’s residents are all about to face life-changing decisions and challenges; and as you might expect, their stories weave together and ultimately collide.

In particular, Gail (Alison Steadman) and Henry (Peter Davison) are at a turning point in their long marriage as Gail finds herself suddenly questioning everything about their relationship. Even if some of the twists are a little ridiculous, the soapy drama ends up being very moving and utterly absorbing. – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor

19. I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

I'm A Celebrity
ITV

Available on ITV Hub

It was all change on this year’s I’m A Celebrity as we said goodbye to the jungle and hello to a potentially haunted castle in Wales. It threw up an essential question: how important is Australia to the success of I’m A Celeb? It turns out, not at all.

In this 20th series, we laughed, cried and gagged at this year’s fantastic line-up who took on some seriously gruesome Trials. We went to Jordan North’s Happy Place while he was covered in snakes and fell about in hysterics as Shane Richie and Jessica Plummer attempted to down a blend of cockroaches.

In short, we forgot about the lack of jungle within seconds. ITV have already announced they will be thinking outside the bubble for next year’s series, pandemic or not. We don’t think we’ve said “hwyl fawr” to Wales just yet. – Helen Daly, Assistant Editor

18. Sitting in Limbo

Sitting in Limbo
BBC

Available on BBC iPlayer

First aired on BBC One just two weeks on from the killing of George Floyd, Sitting in Limbo went out against a backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests and widespread discussion about the need to root out systemic racism, lending another level of painful poignancy to this Windrush drama.

It told the horrific true story of Anthony Bryan, a UK resident for 50 years who fell victim to the UK Home Office’s environment policy on immigration and was mistakenly classified as an illegal immigrant, leaving his life in tatters.

Playing Bryan, the superb Patrick Robinson led a top-notch cast in this stunning one-off drama from novelist and screenwriter Stephen S Thompson – an impeccable, painful and, tragically, authentic 90 minutes of television. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

17. Gangs of London

Joe Cole in Gangs of London
Sky

Available on NOW TV, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon

There was no other drama on television quite like Gangs of London in 2020, though aficionados of series co-creator Gareth Evans’ superb The Raid movies would have had an idea of what to expect.

Brilliantly outrageous and unashamedly larger-than-life, this frantic, frenetic thriller charted the power struggles of feuding international gangs, with Evans and fellow director Corin Hardy and Xavier Gens delivering set-piece after set-piece packed with eye-popping, axe-swinging action.

Amongst a strong cast that included Joe Cole as Sean Wallace, heir to a criminal empire, and Michelle Fairley as Marian Wallace, widow to Colm Meaney’s deceased crime lord (and Sean’s father) Finn, the breakout star of the series was Sope Dirisu as undercover copper Elliot Finch – with heaps of charisma and physical presence, he was the perfect leading man at the heart of the chaos. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

16. His Dark Materials

Dafne and Amir

Available on BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon

There was a lot of apprehension amongst fans of Phillip Pullman’s beloved trilogy before the first series of His Dark Materials last year, but it’s safe to say the show lived up to the hype. The demand this time round, then, was simply for more of the same, and viewers have been treated to all that and more.

The sense of wonder has only grown as the show’s scope has increased to include new locations like the perfectly realised world of Cittagazze, while the chemistry between leads Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson has been a joy to behold.  The departures from the source material also continue to be both intriguing and fully in keeping with the spirit of Pullman’s work. – Patrick Cremona, Writer-Researcher

15. The Boys

The Boys season 2
Amazon

Available on Amazon Prime Video

Amazon’s superhero satire got more timely than ever in season two, delving into the rise of White Supremacists, the whitewashing of gay rights and feminism and the insidious influence of violence as our gang of reprobates tried their best to take down Homelander (Antony Starr) and the other evil Supes.

Constantly pulling the rug out from under the viewers with surprise twists and turns and showing off some impressive action sequences, The Boys was must-watch TV in 2020. Assuming you managed to get past the Love Sausage, the exploding whale and all the breast milk. – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor

14. Quiz

LEFTBANK PICTURES FOR ITV QUIZ MATTHEW MACFADYEN,SIAN CLIFFORD,MICHAEL SHEEN AND HELEN MCCRORY STAR. Pictured: MATTHEW MACFADYEN as Charles Ingram. This image is the copyright of Leftbank Pictures and is only to be used in relation to QUIZ.

Available on ITV Hub, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon

This short-but-sweet drama is only three episodes long, but that’s exactly the right length of time to tell the story of the “Coughing Major” cheating scandal and Charles Ingram’s infamous 2001 victory on the quiz show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’.

Matthew Macfadyen leads the cast as Ingram himself, alongside Fleabag’s Sian Clifford as his quiz-obsessed wife Diana – and Michael Sheen is predictably perfect as Chris Tarrant. The drama deftly guides us through the backstory and the intrigue and the fallout, without ever firmly coming down on either side of the question: did Ingram cheat or not? Ultimately, you can make your own mind up. – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor

13. Sex Education

Sex Education
Netflix

Available on Netflix

Season two of Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy-drama Sex Education landed on Netflix this year, and what a season it was – with Asa Butterfield returning as awkward teen Otis alongside Gillian Anderson, who plays his sex therapist mother Jean Milburn.

The show follows Otis who after inadvertently helping the school bully with his sexual problems, sets up his own sex advice business with the help of best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and confident social outcast Maeve (Emma Mackey). Hilarious, heart-warming and, at points, utterly cringeworthy, Sex Education perfectly encapsulates the anxieties of growing up, with season two serving us some of the best TV of the year.  – Lauren Morris, Writer-Researcher

12. Adult Material

Adult Material
Channel 4

Available on All 4, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon

Years in the making, this darkly funny series about the porn industry does not disappoint. Lucy Kirkwood’s eye-opening scripts don’t hold any punches as we follow British porn performer Jolene Dollar (Hayley Squires), whose on-screen introduction is heralded by the sounds of a (fake) orgasm.

Jolene is an industry star, with the house, pink convertible, and private school bills to prove it. However, when a teenage first-time porn performer, Amy (Siena Kelly), arrives on-set, something happens that causes Jolene to question her own past experiences. And by the time we reach the final minutes of episode one, we’re dealt a shock body blow. – Flora Carr, Drama Writer

11. Save Me Too

Save Me Too – Nelly (Lennie James) and Grace (Olive Gray)
Sky UK Ltd

Available on NOW TV, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon

Though it fell just short of its exemplary predecessor, with story threads for Stephen Graham’s Melon and Suranne Jones’ Claire feeling a little less substantial this time around, Save Me Too was still unquestionably one of the finest dramas to air in 2020, otherwise replicating everything that fans responded to about the first series – right down to Nelly’s yellow puffa jacket – while also taking the story in new and unexpected directions.

As our deeply flawed protagonist, James (who also serves as writer/creator on the series) once again delivered a powerhouse performance – there’s a charm and unpredictability to Nelly Rowe, but also a palpable sense of buried torment. Even in the quieter scenes, there’s a thrilling danger to James’ portrayal, the feeling that Nelly might erupt at any moment, that the pain bubbling just below the surface might suddenly be let loose.

His quest to protect his ward Grace (Olive Gray) ended up costing Nelly almost everything – his freedom, and his renewed relationship, such as it was, with previously-missing daughter Jody (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) – but also delivered a kind of catharsis for the tortured loner. James has said he’s not certain if Save Me will return for a third outing, but I pray it does – I can’t wait to find out what happens to Nelly, and the rest of the Palm Tree’s punters, next. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

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