From My Brilliant Friend to Unforgotten: the 10 best TV shows of 2018

Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal - Amazon
Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe in A Very English Scandal - Amazon

10. Unforgotten (ITV)

The third run of writer Chris Lang’s superior police procedural gripped and moved in equal measure. When a long-missing girl’s skeleton was discovered under the central reservation of the M1, cold case detectives Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar doggedly traced her murder back to Millennium Eve. Former schoolmates Alex Jennings, Neil Morrissey, Kevin McNally and James Fleet became prime suspects. The killer’s eventual unmasking was one of the year’s most chilling scenes. 

9. My Brilliant Friend (Sky Atlantic)

The best subtitled drama of the year was not a moody northern European whodunit, but a glossy, almost obsessively faithful adaptation of the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels which managed to feel both literary and cinematic. Two clever young girls navigated their way through life in a tough Naples suburb - and the result was a brutal, psychologically real coming of age story. 

8. Derry Girls (Channel 4)

At first glance. this seemed like just another teenage comedy, but Lisa McGee’s Northern Ireland-set series struck a chord. Acerbic and frank, it was also an occasionally poignant story about growing up in Derry during the Troubles. Roadblocks and barbed wire were as much a part of daily life as swooning over the school’s handsome male teacher. The laughs came thick and fast before delivering an emotional wallop in the final frames. 

7. Dynasties (BBC One)

BBC - Credit: BBC
Dynasties, Emperor Credit: BBC

David Attenborough’s compelling wildlife series was another knockout. In a departure from the elegance of Planet Earth, Dynasties was unafraid to show nature’s cruel underbelly, and shone a light on the plight of five endangered species. Zoning in on family dynamics and behaviour, it threw up Shakespearean melodramas with tales from the Arctic tundra to the savanna wilderness. 

6. Patrick Melrose (Sky Atlantic)

Benedict Cumberbatch has never been better than in this bravura performance (duly Golden Globe nominated) as the titular drug-addicted aristocrat fighting the demons of his traumatic upbringing, while Hugo Weaving loomed large over proceedings as his monstrous, abusive father. Screenwriter David Nicholls lovingly distilled Edward St Aubyn’s series of semi-autobiographical novels into five hours of grim-yet-glamorous TV. The result was very funny, very sad and very good indeed. 

5. A House Through Time (BBC Two)

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, as this documentary series proved. David Olusoga met the present-day residents of a Georgian house in Liverpool and then carefully peeled back the decades to examine every one of its occupants, taking in rogues, bankrupts and those ravaged by war. A fascinating human history lesson - impeccably researched and ultimately very moving in its repatriation of forgotten lives. 

4. The Mighty Redcar (BBC Two)

“Welcome to Redcar,” says sparky teenager Madison Cooper in the opening of this spirited and soulful slice of British life. “Our steel built the world. Our fish fed families across the country. Our seaside was the place you came to on holiday. But that’s all gone now…” Rejecting the objectionable genre of poverty porn and tired old cliches of the North, Dan Dewsbury’s joyous study of a community of Teeside youths was warm, funny, engaging, and, most importantly, humane. The 80s soundtrack works a similar magic. 

3. Killing Eve (BBC Three)

Killing Eve - Credit: BBC
Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve Credit: BBC

Adapted by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Luke Jennings’s Codename Villanelle novels, this drama turned the traditional tale of cat-and-mouse on its head, producing a sparkling, stylish thriller and making a star of Jodie Comer. Sandra Oh starred as an MI5 officer recruited to a secret branch by Fiona Shaw’s unconventional agency boss with the aim of tracking down an unusual Russian assassin, played with unhinged verve by Comer. 

2. Save Me (Sky Atlantic)

Lennie James created and starred in this thriller which rapidly became Sky’s most rapidly binged box-set ever. James played Nelly, a south London chancer who embarked on a quest to track down his missing daughter from whom he was estranged. Superbly acted (by James and co-stars Suranne Jones and Stephen Graham) and psychologically real, this was a mystery which was brave enough to let the plot play second fiddle to characterisation. 

1. A Very English Scandal (BBC One)

A Very English Scandal - Credit: BBC
Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal Credit: BBC

“Bunnies can and will go to Paris!” This fact-based, three-part dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal was just sensational. Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw excelled as devilishly duplicitous Liberal MP Thorpe and his unstable ex-lover Norman Josiffe, who threatened to derail Thorpe’s ascendant career. Written by Russell T Davies and directed by Stephen Frears, it mixed period politics with glorious farce involving bungled assassination attempts, a non-existent National Insurance card and a Great Dane named Rinka. If you missed it, seek it out on Amazon Prime Video, there’s a good chap. You’re in for a treat.