This list is drawn from votes by Guardian TV writers: each votes for their top 20 shows, with points allocated for every placing, which are tallied to create this order.
(BBC Three) For some years now, Liam Williams has been blossoming into one of the sharpest observers of niche contemporary culture. In the second season of Ladhood, though, he continued to turn his gaze inward, unpicking moments from his adolescence that were critical to his development. It might just be his best work yet.
What we said: By the end of series two, nothing has been resolved and nobody has grown as a person, just as the rules of sitcom demand. Liam doesn’t know what he is doing, but as a writer/performer, Williams really does. Read more.
(BBC Two) Jamie Roberts’ film, covering January’s failed insurrectionist coup, had one huge advantage over most documentaries; almost everyone there was filming it. From the police officers’ bodycams to gurning selfie footage from the insurrectionists, Four Hours at the Capitol could take you right inside the terrible events of 6 January. At its most intense, when we watch a mob try to beat an officer to death, it stands as some of the most claustrophobic television ever broadcast.
What we said: The underlying collective testimony furnished by Four Hours at the Capitol is that the age of Trump has not yet ended – and the true day of reckoning in the United States is still to come. Read more.
(BBC Two) Now that his days as a heart-throb leading man are over, Colin Farrell can concentrate on what he does best: intriguing character work. The North Water saw him bulk up and head out to the Arctic, where he could terrify the crew of a whaling ship to impossible ends. His best performance in years.
What we said: This is a well-executed adventure story to be watched by firelight, wrapped in a sweater as robust – if less blood-drenched – as the seamen’s own. Read more.
(Channel 4/Amazon Prime Video) With less than 24 hours to go, Channel 4 struck a deal to show tennis sensation Emma Raducanu (who had just done her A-levels in Bromley) appearing in the US Open final. And a staggering 9 million of us tuned in to watch and weep as she and the brilliant Leylah Fernandez – herself only 19 – battled it out. A gripping night of television, and a glorious slice of the future.
What we said: In a few small weeks she has improved as much as some do in years … and there is so much more to come. Read more.
(BBC Two) Written by Dennis Kelly, directed by Stephen Daldry and starring James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan, this Covid two-hander certainly didn’t want for talent. A couple are, like the rest of the country, stuck inside together. And, like the rest of the country, they’ve started to hate each other. The real anger, though, is reserved for the government. As such, especially for those who lost a loved one in the first flush of Coronavirus, it was a staggeringly hard watch.
What we said: “An absolute wonder.” Read more.
(Netflix) The story of a century-old French gentleman thief might not have screamed “blockbuster”, but that’s what Lupin was. Updated to contemporary Paris, Lupin became a sensation this year, largely due to the juggernaut charisma of star Omar Sy.
What we said: The winning combination of charismatic star and stage illusionist visuals in an iconic city setting bears comparison to the BBC’s London-set Sherlock. Where Lupin betters its English equivalent is in its effortlessly chic updating of the revered source material. Read more.
(BBC One) Emily Mortimer’s retelling of Nancy Mitford’s novel could have fallen back on all the old Sunday-night TV chocolate-box tropes. Instead, Mortimer worked hard to boost both the joy and sadness of the source material. A clatteringly good watch that deserves to go down as a classic.
What we said: The insistent intertwining of the pain with the laughter, instead of flattening the tale into a Wodehouse-with-women yarn, makes this adaptation feel like a classic in its own right. It is a treat for all. Mitfordians – please, do give it a chance. Read more.
(HBO/Sky One) Not only did The Flight Attendant start with one of the best premises of the year – an alcoholic comes to with a murdered man in her bed – but it was inventively, breathlessly told, and held together by an all-time great performance from Kaley Cuoco.
What we said: The premise is fun, the execution is slick and the action is fast and relentless (it only really pauses to let Cassie top up her blood-alcohol level or call her straight-arrow brother to assure him that she’s sober and will be home on time). Full of style and brio. Read more.
(Netflix) Destined to be overshadowed by its fellow South Korean export Squid Game, Hellbound was far greater than the sum of its parts. A drama about demons who come to Earth and drag people to the underworld, Hellbound was much brainier – and more satirical – than you would imagine. And dark. So dark.
What we said: Although the “here’s when you will die” hook is lifted straight from The Ring, tonally it has much more in common with The Leftovers and The Returned, shows that shone a light on the fragility of the human experience that reminded us that it doesn’t take much for everything to fall apart completely. Read more.
(BBC Four) If you were worrying that Scandi noir was going to be outpaced by the dubious charms of the true crime fad, relax. This series about a real-life missing girl from the 1980s managed to combine the style and drama of Wallander with the queasy complicity of contemporary crime shows.
What we said: It’s not the tortured psyches of the detective that are of most urgent interest here. Like series Mindhunter, which dramatised the founding of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, this takes the familiar “case of the week” structure from police procedural thrillers and applies it to a serious-minded study of forensic psychology. Read more.