This year has seen an unprecedented number of streaming platforms fiercely competing to dethrone established giants and draw viewers' eyes, while traditional TV channels are creatively striving to retain their audience.


The result? A whole heap of exceptional series for us all to indulge in.

Over the next five days, will be revealing its top 50 shows of the year, as selected by our team of editorial experts. Today (26th December), we kick off with 50-41 – expect high-octane thrillers, oddball historicals, feminist detective noir and more.

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 Gallows Pole

Available on BBC iPlayer

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Off the back of groundbreaking British cinema and some of the very finest television drama in recent memory, filmmaker Shane Meadows has more than earned the right to experiment, to flex his creative muscles and try something different – all the same, his BBC Two effort The Gallows Pole was an odd confection.

A prequel to, rather than a direct adaptation of, the novel of the same name by Benjamin Myers, the series followed roguish David Hartley (Michael Socha), who returns home at the onset of the industrial revolution in 18th-century Yorkshire, inspired after a near-death experience and an encounter with a band of mystical Stag Men to launch a daring criminal enterprise.

Fusing Meadows's improvisational style with a period setting and throwing in a dash of the supernatural really shouldn't have worked, but the man knows what he's doing – The Gallows Pole was one of the most unusual but also most engaging series on television this year, as thrilling, funny, charming and heartfelt as you'd expect from the genius behind This is England and The Virtues. At just three episodes, it was an easy binge watch that left us hungry for more. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

49. Call the Midwife

Helen George as Trixie Franklin and Laura Main as Shelagh Turner in Call the Midwife standing together, smiling
BBC/Neal Street Productions/Olly Courtney

Available on BBC iPlayer

Sundays are much better with Call the Midwife, and this year the show returned with more heartwarming episodes.

In season 12, the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House were back to help with delivering more babies in Poplar, as well as treating their other patients. From mental health to cancer, sexual abuse, homophobia, teenage pregnancy and racial issues ignited by Enoch Powell’s 1960 speech, which denounced the commonwealth immigration, this season touched upon many eye-opening subjects.

Sister Veronica (Rebecca Gethings) became the newest addition to Nonnatus House, and it soon became apparent that she likes to bend the truth. Unfortunately, we said goodbye to Nurse Lucille Robinson (Leonie Elliott), who returned to Jamaica after feeling homesick.

The season culminated though with Nurse Trixie (Helen George) getting her happily ever after, as she tied the knot with Matthew Aylward (Olly Rex). Despite a lot of troubles on the day, the pair were surrounded by their nearest and dearest, as well as the Poplar locals, who pooled together to thank both Trixie and Matthew for their service within the community. Always an informative yet wholesome watch! – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor

48. Dreaming Whilst Black

Available on BBC iPlayer

It’s a magnificent feat for a single pilot episode to go on to win a BAFTA and then be commissioned for a series-long run, but Dreaming Whilst Black deserves all the accolades and more.

Has there been a comedy I’ve recommended more than this one this year? No – and for good reason. A slice of relatable hilarity among the predictable TV schedules, the series sees Adjani Salmon thrive as series creator and lead character Kwabena, who we follow as he wishes for little more than to leave his delivery driver job to pursue being a film director.

Kwabena shows that you don’t have to be completely tied to a character to be engrossed in the outcome of their story, often being slightly frustrating to watch at times, as the story is cut in with his dream scenario versus its reality.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments throughout this six-parter, but the series also expertly weaves in conversations on workplace microaggressions, the anxiety of dating and pregnancy while also standing out as one of the more refreshingly creative things you’re likely to watch all year. – Morgan Cormack, Drama Writer

47. Juice

Available on BBC iPlayer

After years spent building a following on the internet and stand-up circuit, Mawaan Rizwan finally burst onto our television screens in his debut sitcom – and it was a surreal delight. The series follows self-absorbed Jamma as he navigates a relationship with an older man (played by Russell Tovey), as well as various family crises – Rizwan takes the lead role, with real-life brother Nabhaan and mother Shahnaz co-starring.

Juice hooks you in immediately with its inventive presentation which renders the world that Jamma inhabits as frenetic and unpredictable as the man himself. Cakes, ball pits and dance routines are all used to great effect in the opening episodes, which will leave you grinning from ear to ear. As the series progresses, Rizwan balances the absurd with more dramatic subplots, which demand a second season to truly flourish. – David Craig, Senior Drama Writer

46. Strictly Come Dancing

Ellie Leach dancing with Vito Coppola on Strictly Come Dancing
BBC/Guy Levy

Available on BBC iPlayer

If all else fails, there’ll always be Strictly Come Dancing - the talent show that recently finished its 21st season, and still holds enduring appeal after all those years. It almost doesn’t matter who’s in the line-up, it’s the journey, the format, the show-stopping routines that keep us hooked night after night.

This year, a particular highlight has been watching Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin start strong and remarkably improve week after week. From his Couple’s Choice to his Charleston, Layton proved it doesn’t really matter if you have previous dance experience. A great performance is a great performance, and it’s exactly what our Saturday nights deserved. In fact, I could watch an entire show of just those two dancing - BBC, take note. – Helen Daly, Associate Editor

45. Deadloch

Kate Box as Dulcie Collins & Nina Oyama as Abby Matsuda in Deadloch
Bradley Patrick/Amazon Studios

Available on Prime Video

A dead body was found on the beach in the opening scene of Deadloch, shortly after we saw two teenage girls wandering through a forest. It might have looked like a predictable scene, but contrary to what standard crime thrillers have conditioned us to expect, it wasn’t the body of a young, teenage girl – it belonged to a man.

Having all male victims was just the first of many sexist and heteronormative crime drama tropes to be subverted in this Prime Video series, which followed strait-laced policewoman Dulcie Collins (Kate Box) and incompetent, out-of-town detective Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami) – a parody of the at-odds crime-fighting couple – as they tried to solve the case, and which offered a scathing critique of the genre.

It might have begun as a crime parody, but the show soon became a gripping thriller, with unpredictable twists and red herrings keeping you guessing right up until the very end. With hilarious performances from Box and Sami, this was without a doubt one of the best crime dramas of the year. – Molly Moss, Trends Writer

44. Hijack

Available on Apple TV+

Idris Elba fronted an all-star cast for this explosive action thriller, which charted – you've guessed it – the hijacking of a flight, with the action playing out in gripping real-time.

Hijack was a near-perfect example of popcorn entertainment, chock-full of colourful characters, superb twists and high tension, with each episode ending on a tantalising cliffhanger that left you desperate to discover what would happen next.

The stacked cast – with the likes of Eve Myles, Archie Panjabi, Ben Miles and Max Beesley co-starring – all delivered the goods, but special mention must be made of Neil Maskell's utterly magnetic performance as the wild-eyed lead terrorist.

In the chief role of corporate negotiator Sam Nelson, Elba, too, was particularly impressive – we might be used to seeing him tear up the streets of London as the super-heroic John Luther, but Hijack asked something different of him, and while he was predictably adept at the action scenes, his strongest moments came when required to display moments of real vulnerability.

It's difficult to imagine how the narrative could continue with straining credibility, but if series creators George Kay and Jim Field Smith can crack that particular nut, we'll certainly be seated for more Hijack. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

43. Boat Story

Available on BBC iPlayer

Sibling duo Harry and Jack Williams are like the Lynda La Plante or James Patterson of TV crime. They’re prolific, gifting us with a new twisty-turny thriller every year for the past decade. So you’d think, by 2023, the well might have run somewhat dry, especially given that they’ve also been working on season 2 of The Tourist, which arrives on New Year’s Day. And yet, Boat Story is quite possibly their finest, and certainly their most inventive, work yet.

The casting of Daisy Haggard and Paterson Joseph as two strangers who stumble across a shipwrecked cargo of cocaine was a genius move, with both actors delivering the uniquely off-kilter tone necessary for the show to work.

When their characters decide to sell the cargo and pocket the cash to plug some sizeable black holes in their own lives, the door opens for Tchéky Karyo as The Tailor, an impeccably dressed gangster who has cut out a tongue or two in his time. The Williams brothers have worked with Karyo before in The Missing and Baptiste, and it’s no wonder they booked him again. His performance is outstanding and deserves every award its eligible for.

But he is just one of many details that I loved about Boat Story. Everything that should have felt gimmicky – the narrator, the black-and-white flashbacks, the silent movie-esque title cards - was charming and amusing, with the Williams leaning fully into one of the central tenets of storytelling: play.

And, as ever, their knack for slowly unspooling a mystery with just the right amount of tension and speed remains unrivalled. – Abby Robinson, Drama Editor

42. The Gold

The Gold characters gathered together, looking concerned

Available on BBC iPlayer

As someone who was born long after the Brink’s-Mat robbery was committed, Neil Forsyth’s BBC drama was my first introduction to what is one of the UK’s most fascinating criminal enterprises. From the unintentional stealing of three tonnes of gold bullion worth £26 million! (in 1983!), to how the product was physically shifted under the noses of the authorities, to the ripple effects of the heist, The Gold was a fascinating watch from the word go.

Both Forsyth’s extensive and thorough research and his ability to dilute the complex subject matter of how the gold was sold to your average uninformed viewer deserve praise, as does Aneil Karia and Lawrence Gough’s slick, atmospheric direction. The lack of neon-soaked leg warmers was also a breath of fresh air, with The Gold opting to depict a 1980s aesthetic that is more grounded and recognisable to the vast majority of viewers.

There were also plenty of compelling performances, with Jack Lowden’s portrayal of professional criminal Kenneth Noye a highlight, and like all the very best storytelling, The Gold had something to say, particularly about money and class which, despite the period setting, made it as relevant a watch as ever. – Abby Robinson, Drama Editor

41. Heartstopper

Joe Locke as Charlie Spring and Kit Connor as Nick Nelson in Heartstopper season 2

Available on Netflix

The first season of Netflix’s adaptation of Alice Oseman’s diverse and dazzling Heartstopper graphic novels was something of a phenomenon - and catapulted its young talented cast to stardom.

Now, while the stars of Heartstopper find exciting new projects off the back of the series's success, the show returned for a sophomore season that proved just as heartwarming as its first, but with an all-new depth to proceedings.

Capitalising on the wish-fulfilment romanticism present in the first season, the show transports our love stories to Paris for an adorable journey of nativity, innocence and difficult coming-of-age questions. However, lead characters Nick and Charlie face some of their toughest challenges yet, tackling difficult issues such as familial mental abuse and eating disorders.

New topics are examined this season, but the strength of the performances from rising stars such as Kit Connor, Joe Locke and Yasmin Finney remain the greatest selling point of this touching young adult series. – Lewis Knight, Trends Editor

Visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what’s on.


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