It won’t rank high on anyone’s list of favourite years, but 2020 didn’t disappoint when it came to delivering fantastic television – from eye-opening documentaries to side-splitting sitcoms and mind-blowing dramas, this year that we’d all rather forget was packed full of TV shows we can’t wait to revisit.
Over the next five days, RadioTimes.com will be revealing its top 50 shows of the year, as selected by our editorial team. Today (26th December), we kick off with 50-41 – expect scandal, horror, thrills and even some feel-good comedy antics. Be sure to join us again tomorrow and throughout the week as we disclose our full list, including the show that’s landed this year’s much-coveted no. 1 spot.
50. The Trial of Christine Keeler
Available on BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon
Starring Sophie Cookson and James Norton, this six-part drama tackles a story that captivated Britain in the 1960s for a new audience as the scandalous Profumo affair unfolds on screen. Centring on a young English model Christine Keeler (Cookson), the intriguing show explores her affair with the then Secretary of State for War John Profumo, and a national scandal that contributed to the downfall of a government.
Set against a backdrop of Cold War espionage and spies, Amanda Coe’s superb script highlights the plight of Keeler stuck at the centre of a media storm while a male-dominated political class look to protect their own interests. – Tim Glanfield, Editorial Director
49. Inside No. 9
Available on BBC iPlayer and Sky Go
Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s offbeat anthology series started this year off right back in February, offering a sextet of slightly creepy tales with a twist and a host of interesting guest stars including David Morrissey, Jenna Coleman and Maxine Peake.
Whether you preferred the football-themed referee story, the layers upon layers of a battle between magicians or just the advent calendar framing device of a sweet kitchen-sink drama, there was something for everybody in this latest collection of tales – though fans of the duo’s earlier series Psychoville were in for a particular treat.
Five series in, and we’re still desperate to see what’s Inside No. 9. – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor
48. The Pale Horse
Available to buy on Amazon
Ever since 2015’s And Then There Were None wowed audiences, writer Sarah Phelps has been serving up vibrant, no-holds-barred takes on Agatha Christie’s original stories that capture the spirit if not the letter of the source material and do so with a great deal of style, subverting our assumptions and misapprehensions about the period in the process. (Yes, people did have sex and swear in the early 1960s.)
Her latest (and possibly last) offering, a new screen version of 1961 novel The Pale Horse, once again explored the idea of quaint ‘Britishness’ hiding a terrifying brutality, with good manners and societal graces covering a sordid underworld of blood, sex and lies.
With a superb Rufus Sewell and Kaya Scodelario leading a top-flight cast, this whodunnit with trappings of British folk horror was spellbinding – no pun intended. If The Pale Horse is to be Phelps’s last foray into the worlds of Christie – and I sincerely hope it isn’t – then it’s a suitably impressive note on which to go out. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor
47. The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty
Exploring the rise of Rupert Murdoch’s extraordinary and far-reaching media empire and the political influence that has come with it, this fascinating three-part BBC documentary features many famous voices including Nigel Farage, Piers Morgan and Steve Bannon to name but a few.
The intriguing series looks not just at Murdoch himself, the publications and media outlets he controls and the highs and lows of his businesses throughout the years, but also his family and children – and asks questions about who will succeed him and his business empire in the future. – Tim Glanfield, Editorial Director
46. Ted Lasso
Available on Apple TV+
Apple TV+ got off to an uneven start when it launched itself into the streaming market in late 2019, with series mostly ranging from the divisive (The Morning Show) to the abysmal (See) the utterly forgettable (For All Mankind). This year, though, saw the service on a much surer footing, first with the solid crime drama Defending Jacob and later with the feel-good comedy Ted Lasso.
The perfect antidote to a rotten year, this Jason Sudeikis vehicle quickly proved the cynics wrong – many had asked, perhaps justifiably, whether a character originally devised by Sudeikis for a series of NBC Sports skits could carry a series – with its warmth, winning humour and unrelenting optimism. Best of all, you didn’t even have to be a football fanatic to enjoy it. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor
45. Raised by Wolves
Available on NOW TV and Sky Go
Executive produced by Ridley Scott (with the first two episodes also helmed by the acclaimed filmmaker) this big budget HBO sci-fi centres on the story of two androids who embark on the task of raising human children on a remote planet after a great war wipes out the inhabitants of Earth. However, very quickly the rational ways of the androids are challenged by the strong beliefs and religious differences that exist between the remaining humans – making the task of continuing human life much more of a complex challenge than was first thought.
A complex adventure that keeps the viewer engaged, the show is as you might expect from the network that brought you Westworld and Game of Thrones beautifully shot and draws you into its enchanting universe. – Tim Glanfield, Editorial Director
44. Charlie Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe
After four years off our screens, Charlie Brooker returned to ridicule the horrific year that was 2020 in his Antiviral Wipe – a one-off special looking back at coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
With appearances from Diane Morgan’s brilliantly idiotic persona Philomena Cunk and Al Campbell’s Barry Shitpeas, Brooker brought back a number of the BBC Two series’ hallmarks whilst directing his trademark brand of satire, sarcasm and silliness towards the politicians of today. While the idea of reliving this mortifying year is enough to make you swear off TV for good, Charlie Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe was a cathartic lookback on the pandemic and a much-needed tonic for these chaotic times. – Lauren Morris, Writer-Researcher
Available on Netflix, Sky Go and BBC iPlayer
A blood-sucking vampire terrorising towns across the ages doesn’t immediately jump out as the cheeriest way to start a year, but when that year is 2020 and the story is Dracula, it fits. Claes Bang took on the lead role as the deviously handsome and charming vampire in this revamp (no pun intended) penned by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss – the result was a match made in heaven (or rather, hell).
Slick, fast-paced and genuinely scary, 2020’s Dracula offered us three episodes each with a different setting and set about refreshing the classic Bram Stoker tale. Sure, we saw Whitby, but this was present-day Whitby. That wasn’t the only change… Van Helsing was a nun! Dracula had a phone! The modern spin on almost every aspect of the horror tale offered a fresh perspective on a well-known story, and it really worked. – Helen Daly, Assistant Editor
42. What We Do in the Shadows
Available on BBC iPlayer and Sky Go
While I’m allocated around 100 words to describe why What We Do in the Shadows is one of the best TV shows in 2020, I only really need two – Jackie Daytona.
Yes, Matt Berry’s Regular Human Bartender and average American Yankee Doodle Dandy was a real highlight from the vampire houseshare sitcom, in a series that also gave us a guest role for Mark Hamill, a zombie Haley Joel Osment and the rise of Guillermo the Vampire Slayer.
It was a brilliant, funny return to Staten Island – and after the year we’ve had, who wouldn’t fancy a trip to Lucky Brew’s Bar and Grill in Arizoniaaaaa? – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor
Available on Netflix
One of the standout original dramas from Netflix in the last few years, Ozark has rightfully won a global army of fans for its moody feel and gripping storylines. And as a third season arrived in the summer, the show went from strength to strength, turning the screw in the Byrd family’s attempts to survive their new life in Missouri as both locals and far-flung foes begin to close in on them.
Jason Bateman continues to excel as his character is drawn yet further into the dark underworld of a Mexican drug cartel, but it is Laura Linney’s journey as Wendy that really lights up this season as intrigue is layered upon intrigue in the Ozarks. – Tim Glanfield, Editorial Director
Find something to watch now with our TV Guide.