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Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2018: 30 to 21

More of our writers' favourite shows of the year... has your top pick appeared yet?

Published: Thursday, 27th December 2018 at 6:00 am

30 Fifty-Four Hours: the Gladbeck Hostage Crisis, BBC4

A thoroughly enthralling German drama that followed the extraordinary real events precipitated by a botched bank raid in a small town in 1988. What followed unfolded live on television as the robbers took hostages on a terrifying odyssey, their every step dogged by a hungry media. As police wrung their hands and tried to pass the buck, innocent lives were lost in a morass of confusion and ineptitude as chances for rescue slipped through the authorities’ fingers. AG


29 Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds, C4

A charming, properly heart-warming series that expanded on a brief experiment last year, as a group of lively and inquisitive four-year-olds were let loose on some of the elderly residents of Britain’s largest care home in Nottingham. There was a scientific gloss – researchers and experts measured the residents’ responses to taking part in activities with the children – but really it was just lovely to watch inter-generational friendships blossom and grow, such as that between widower Ken and enchanting little Lily. AG

28 Maniac, Netflix

Emma Stone and Jonah Hill were mesmerising as two lost souls on an experimental drug trial that produced vivid shared dreams, casting them as a variety of different characters (including, but not limited to, an 80s couple attempting to rescue a pet lemur from a fur dealer, a pair of 1940s con artist magicians, an elf on a quest in a fantasy realm and a wartime nuclear scientist) in a visually gorgeous series that was by turns funny, sweet, heart-rending and surreal. PJ

27 Michael Palin in North Korea, C5

There’s an argument that TV crews shouldn’t visit North Korea, as they’ll only see a sanitised version of life there that helps promote the regime. What they won’t see is widespread famine and fear. And yet Michael Palin’s two-part journey around the country showed us how even a sanitised version of North Korea is so strange and troubling, it’s better than nothing. His visit to a gleaming new “international airport” with no passengers or planes was so bizarrely comical it was, well, Pythonesque. DB

26 BoJack Horseman, Netflix

Will Arnett’s depressed, washed-up equine actor BoJack was finally finding some success in a new TV show – but in what might have been the Netflix comedy’s most nuanced series yet, his self-destructive attitudes found new ways to bring his life crashing down around him. Spoofing recent Hollywood scandals and showcasing several high-concept one-off episodes (including one told poorly through someone’s memory, and another with only one voice actor), the series was as relentlessly bleak and darkly funny as ever. HF

25 Press, BBC2

It’s fair to say Press wasn't an always entirely realistic depiction of journalism, but it captured much of the essence of tabloid and broadsheets through sharp screenwriting from Mike Bartlett and some very good performances. Most noteworthy on-screen was Ben Chaplin’s portrayal of Duncan Allen, an amoral tabloid editor who would stop at nothing to deliver for his audience. In an age of fake news and a struggling mainstream press, this was a timely drama well worth your attention. TG

24 The Good Place, Netflix

This comedy of ethics – which began when Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) died, waking up in a non-denominational heaven equivalent lacks the focus of the first two series this year, but that was easily compensated for by the skilled cast (Bell just received a Golden Globe nod, and Ted Danson continued to delight) and the nimble writing, while the ever-present threat of another abrupt volte-face in the story keeping us on our toes. HS

23 The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Amazon Prime

It's right that this joyful, smart comedy is staggering under the weight of all the awards it’s won. Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, played by House of Cards’ Rachel Brosnahan, is a Jewish housewife in 1950s New York who in series one discovered she had a talent for stand-up comedy. Series two was just as brilliant as the first, seeing Midge gain confidence as she zinged up her routines, took a trip to Paris and spent two months on a summer holiday with her family, all the while trying to make it in a man’s world. A heart-bursting pleasure. KD

22 Atlanta,Fox

This downbeat comedy about a 20-something Princeton dropout struggling to make a living as the manager of his up-and-coming rapper cousin has rightfully earned its creator and star, Donald Glover, a whole load of plaudits, including a best actor/best director double at the 2017 Emmys. Smart but not smug, pointed but not preachy, Atlanta smoothly delivers social commentary as well as laughs; its second series – dubbed “Robbin’ Season” – did that rare thing in TV, managing to be more assured yet no less original than its debut run. HS

21 Mum, BBC2

The second series of this exquisitely bittersweet family sitcom piled on the agonies of uncertainty for Lesley Manville’s titular character Cathy. The two will-they-won’t-they storylines established in the first series continued: would Michael, the best friend of Cathy’s late husband, ever get to reveal his feelings for her, and would Cathy ever tell her son’s inane girlfriend Kelly to just, please, shut up? While those agonies could feel unbearable at times, writer Stefan Golaszewski maintained a charming levity and the cast was superb, with Peter Mullan’s deadpan Michael a particular delight. DC


Words: Alison Graham, Paul Jones, David Butcher, Tim Glanfield, Huw Fullerton, Kasia Delgado, Hannah Shaddock, David Crawford


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