As 2021 looms ever closer (yes, we’re very much counting the days till 2020 is over), the countdown of RadioTimes.com’s top 50 TV shows of the year continues.
Over five days, we’re revealing our top picks as selected by our editorial team. Today (28th December), we continue with 30-21 – featuring some of the year’s most inventive and compelling new TV, as well some familiar favourites given a new twist.
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.
- Best TV shows of the year 2020, 40-31: Doctor Who, Tiger King and more
- Best TV shows of the year 2020, 50-41: Dracula, Inside no. 9 and more
30. The Undoing
Available on NOW TV and Sky Go
Take the showrunner of Big Little Lies, the director of The Night Manager and add two of the biggest Hollywood stars and it’s no surprise that The Undoing was one of the most talked about new dramas of 2020.
Following the story of Grace and Jonathan Fraser (played by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant) as their seemingly perfect and privileged life in the upper echelons of Manhattan high society is torn apart when Jonathan is accused of murder, The Undoing is a glossy psychological thriller that keeps the audience guessing to the very end with plenty of twists and turn along the way. – Tim Glanfield, Editorial Director
29. After Life
Available on Netflix
The first season of Ricky Gervais’s smart and touching meditation on love and loss was so good – and, seemingly, so perfectly self-contained – that some questioned whether a second season was even necessary. But the man himself argued that there was still a “rich vein” to be mined as his character Tony continued to mourn the loss of wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) and struggled to adjust to a world without her.
Though it might’ve unavoidably lacked the freshness of the first, the second season of After Life did nevertheless prove a worthy successor to the show’s 2019 debut, finding new avenues to explore by not only charting grieving Tony’s progress (and his relapses) but by venturing further out into the town of Tambury to make more use of the show’s superb supporting cast, from Penelope Wilton’s kind, stalwart Anne to Tony Way’s hapless but amiable Lenny.
Can he do it again with a third season of After Life? It’s another tough ask of Gervais – but by now, we’ve learnt to stop underestimating him. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor
Available on BBC iPlayer and Sky Go
The first series of this sitcom by the Horrible Histories team was a hit, and you could feel that renewed confidence when the spectral residents of Button House returned.
As Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) tried their best to turn their crumbling pile into a premier wedding venue, their spooky houseguests caused even more havoc, while flashbacks to their lives (and deaths) added new depth to the ensemble.
All that, topped off by a cheery Christmas special, made for a perfect piece of vaguely phantasmagorical comedy. Happily, this series has a long way to go before it gives up the…well, you get the idea. – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor
27. Better Call Saul
Available on Netflix
In its early days, Better Call Saul seemed like nothing more than an entertaining and light-hearted Breaking Bad spin-off, but as the series has progressed it’s slowly become every bit as gritty (and arguably as good) as its predecessor.
The most recent season was the best yet, with an intoxicating new villain in Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) and some of the most tense TV moments for quite some time, including an utterly nerve-shredding confrontation in the penultimate episode.
Bob Odenkirk is as compelling as ever in the lead role as Jimmy continues his descent into his alter-ego, but the beating heart remains Rhea Seehorn, whose wonderful portrayal of Kim Wexler continues to be the show’s moral centre. – Patrick Cremona, Writer-Researcher
26. The Windermere Children
Available to buy on Amazon
One-off drama The Windermere Children aired on the BBC to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, and the show was powerful enough to do justice to that anniversary.
It dramatises the little-known story of when, in the summer of 1945, hundreds of exhausted child Holocaust survivors were brought to the Lake District with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the nightmares in their heads. A group of talented young actors, mainly Polish, take us through their journey as they adjust to their new home – and at the end of the show we meet the real “Windermere children” (now very elderly) and find out where life took them, which is an intensely moving finale to a memorable drama. – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor
25. This Country
Available on Sky Go, BBC iPlayer and to buy on Amazon
Over three series, this exceptional mockumentary from siblings Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper has achieved something that only the best sitcoms can manage: be at once uproariously funny but also tender, touching and profound.
Chronicling the day-to-day lives of cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe and the various eccentric characters living in their quiet Cotswolds village, the series has a real surfeit of heart and the main character’s relationship with the kindly Vicar (Paul Chahidi) is achingly sweet (although it finds itself in trouble in this final series after he reveals plans to move to a new parish).
All six episodes in the new series were every bit as good as we’ve come to expect, and this is a show which will certainly be missed. – Patrick Cremona, Writer-Researcher
24. Strictly Come Dancing
Available on BBC iPlayer
As we approached a summer of pandemic restrictions and social distancing, many wondered how a close-contact show like Strictly Come Dancing could go ahead?
It seemed to be touch-and-go at one point, but the BBC didn’t give up on their mega hit and managed to bring the Ballroom to life once more, but with a couple of subtle changes. There wasn’t an audience for the majority of it, Tess and Claudia were kept apart and the line-up was smaller.
Did any of it matter? Not in the slightest. Strictly Come Dancing 2020 proved itself to be a saviour of the year, bringing much-needed sparkle to what’s been a grim 12 months. Hats off to the BBC for going above and beyond to ensure Strictly could go ahead with glamour and flare. – Helen Daly, Assistant Editor
23. The Last Dance
Available on Netflix
This tremendous 10-part sports documentary became something of a phenomenon in the early part of lockdown, with new episodes released every week for a spell in April and May.
The series chronicled the career of basketball icon Michael Jordan by homing in on his final season at the Chicago Bulls while also looking back at the key moments from throughout his illustrious career – from his early promise as a young player to his brief dalliance with professional baseball.
With a range of candid interviews and some electrifying archive footage, there’s a real raw energy to this series which ensured it appealed to both hardcore basketball fans and those with little prior knowledge of the sport. – Patrick Cremona, Writer-Researcher
22. I Hate Suzie
Billie Piper was on absolute fire in Sky’s I Hate Suzie, a sometimes difficult-to-watch portrayal of former child star Suzie Pickles (Piper) that pulled no punches and took a series of unexpected turns across its six episodes, frequently wrongfooting the audience in brilliant and imaginative ways.
Somehow managing to pull of being a ruthless satire of contemporary celebrity, a painfully human drama and a sometimes surreal comedy all at once, the show – co-created by its star and her Secret Diary of a Call Girl collaborator Lucy Prebble – was every bit as unpredictable and wild as its lead character, with Piper’s fearless, magnetic performance anchoring the whole thing beautifully. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor
21. The Great British Bake Off
Available on All 4
Socially-distanced or not, Bake Off remains the perfect wind down of an evening with a cup of a tea – although you might want get a sweet treat because the bakes on the show are sure to have you salivating (or not, if they get “freezer juice” on them…).
Hosted by comedians Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas, and judged by Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, the show sees 12 amateur bakers battling it out in the infamous tent in a bid to win the much-coveted glass cake stand. Each week, they take on three challenges – Signature, Technical and Showstopper – before one baker is crowned Star Baker and another is sent packing.
With lots of baking puns along the way, and some incredible bakes to feast your eyes on, Bake Off is always guaranteed to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside and was a much-needed tonic in 2020. – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor
Find something to watch now with our TV Guide.