Family drama

If this New York-set, HBO-made series about a billionaire media mogul and his gruesome brood does not feature in many critics’ favourites of the year, I’ll eat a very expensive hat. Brian Cox is superb as Logan Roy, an ageing corporate king who ought to be handing over the business to his greedy, warring kids. Don’t bet on it. Written by Jesse Armstrong (In the Loop, Four Lions), this is wickedly funny, drop-dead stylish satire, a Bonfire of the Vanities for the morally bankrupt Noughties.

Did you know? A second series was commissioned before the first was finished.

One series, 10 episodes, 600 minutes, available on Now TV/Sky


Time-travelling adventure

Based on the bestselling books by US author Diana Gabaldon, Outlander charts the story of former combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) who, while visiting the Scottish Highlands in 1945, is transported back to 1743 through a mysterious set of standing stones. On the brink of the last Jacobite rising, she meets dashing Highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan, pictured right) and a powerful story of star-crossed lovers unfolds. The Sony Pictures Television series is filmed on location across Scotland.

Did you know? Many of the interiors are shot at Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld.

Series 1-3, 42 episodes, 2,520 minutes, available on Prime Video and DVD. Series 4 begins on November 5

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Classy 1970s spy drama

Everybody agrees that Alec Guinness’s portrayal of George Smiley is the definitive one – even his creator John le Carre. And here he is at his finest, in the BBC’s 1979 adaptation of the first of le Carre’s so-called Karla Trilogy in which the lugubrious spymaster attempts

to winkle out the mole at the heart of “the Circus”,

insider-speak for MI6. Ian Richardson, Ian Bannen and Bernard Hepton also feature, as does the great Beryl Reid as the eccentric Russia expert Connie Sachs. Best enjoyed with a large glass of whisky in a heavy crystal glass.

Did you know? The BBC only filmed the first and third novels in the trilogy, deeming the second – The Honourable Schoolboy – too expensive due to its Far East setting.

One series, seven episodes, 315 minutes, available on DVD and on Amazon Prime

The Night Of

Emmy Award-winning crime drama

A gripping and at times terrifying tour of the American criminal justice system as young Pakistani-American Nasir Khan (British actor Riz Ahmed) finds himself arrested and then tried for the murder of a wealthy young white woman

he had drug-fuelled sex with after a night out. Khan is excellent, as is John Turturro playing the eczema-afflicted,

ambulance-chasing New York lawyer who ends up representing him. Less a whodunit, more a did he do it?

Did you know? It’s based on Peter Moffat’s 2008 BBC series Criminal Justice.

One series, eight episodes, 524 minutes, available on DVD and to stream on Amazon Prime


Big-budget Norwegian political thriller

Occupied posits a highly believable near-future in which a newly elected Norwegian government stops oil production on environmental grounds. Cue turmoil in the energy markets and a European Union-backed “soft” takeover by the Russians, essentially a military occupation although it isn’t presented like that – at least not until a resistance movement starts to fight back. Caught in the middle of it all, and increasingly torn between job and country, is prime ministerial bodyguard Hans Djupvik (Eldar Skar).

Did you know? It’s based on an original idea by Norwegian crime king Jo Nesbo, who also acts as executive producer.

Two series, 18 episodes, 810 minutes, available on DVD and to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime

The Sopranos

Crime drama

David Chase’s epic look at the life and times of New Jersey’s Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is The Godfather: Part II of small-screen mob dramas. Officially, father-of-two Tony is in waste management. Unofficially, he’s in the thieving and murdering racket. As his psychiatrist tells him, that kind of duality plays havoc with one’s mental health but hey, whaddya gonna do? Never surpassed in sweep or daring, even today fans still argue about the meaning of THAT final episode.

Did you know? Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) is a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Six series, 76 episodes, 4,675 minutes, available on DVD


Comedy drama

Meet the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, as big a bunch of losers, misfits, drama queens and human Barbie dolls as ever pulled on sequined leotards and pretended to hurt each other. Set in LA in the 1980s and based on a true story, Glow is stuffed with great characters, inside and outside the ring, with comedian Marc Maron a treat as the sleazeball director trying to turn his she-wolf pack into cable television gold.

Did you know? Alison Brie’s Zoya the Destroya had a real-life counterpart in original Glow wrestling character Colonel Ninotchka.

Two series, 20 episodes, 920 minutes, available on Netflix


Crime thriller

Wherever there is a serial killer in drama there are cops trying to get into his mind. Joe Penhall’s Mindhunter, based on the work of the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, charts the origins of the science of criminal profiling as well as delivering a nerve-shredding thriller. As chalk-and- cheese agents Ford and Tench (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) take a tour of federal prisons to talk to mass murderers, there is something odd brewing back at the office. Who is watching the watchers? Don’t view alone.

Did you know? Oscar-winning Asif Kapadia was among the star directors, led by David Fincher, who worked on the series.

One series, 10 episodes, 600 minutes, available on Netflix


Spy thriller

The now quintessential take on America’s security services after 9/11 started life as the Israeli drama Prisoners of War. Claire Danes plays CIA agent Carrie Mathison, a brilliant operator who spends her life hunting terrorists, all the while battling her bipolar disorder. The action is

first-class and, while secondary characters come and go, Carrie and boss Saul (Mandy Patinkin) endure as one of the great TV double acts.

Did you know? Mandy Patinkin is Broadway’s go-to guy for Sondheim.

Seven series, 84 episodes, 5,040 minutes, available on Netflix/DVD


Political thriller

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, was this whip-smart Danish drama’s number one fan and would tweet along when it was first shown on BBC4. When star Sidse Babett Knudsen came to the Edinburgh Television Festival in 2013, guess who was there to meet her? Perhaps the tale of a doughty woman political warrior trying to unite competing factions struck a chord with the FM?

Did you know? Theresa May admitted she only watched the trailers for this year’s smash political hit Bodyguard.

Three series, 30 episodes, 1,800 minutes, available on DVD

Downton Abbey

Period drama

Never underestimate the viewing public’s appetite for a good old tale of upstairs, downstairs life. America, and a few other countries besides, went loco for this story of everyday Edwardian folk and their servants. Created by Julian Fellowes and set in the large country pile of the title, Downton, as it is known to fans, is a riot of soapy plots and larger-than-life characters. And who could forget Isis, the family’s unfortunately named labrador?

Did you know? Filming is under way on the movie.

Six series, 51 episodes, 3,120 minutes,

available on Amazon Prime

The Wire

Crime drama

Creator David Simon walked a lot of mean streets as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun and it shows in this multi-award-winning drama that has been compared to Dickens for its scope, realism and range of characters. You may need to have the subtitles on to cope with the uncompromisingly complex dialogue but it’s worth it.

Did you know? British actors Idris Elba and Dominic West got their big break in Simon’s drama.

Five series, 60 episodes, 3,600 minutes, available on Now TV/Sky

Mad Men


One might expect a study of Madison Avenue advertising types in the 1960s to have a certain style and swagger, but Matthew Weiner’s creation surpassed all expectations. Besides being painstakingly accurate in period detail, the cast of characters included the devilishly handsome and troubled Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the icily beautiful January Jones (as the first Mrs Draper) and Christina Hendricks as Joan, the office manager with bosoms as pointed as her barbs. Taking in the politics and social mores of the times, Mad Men was as much social history as television art.

Did you know? Everyone on Mad Men smoked like crazy. To have it otherwise, said Weiner, would have been ludicrous.

Seven series, 92 episodes, 5,520 minutes, available on Netflix

Line of Duty

Police procedural

If you thought Jed Mercurio’s recent Bodyguard was a nerve-shredder, prepare for the ride of your life with the blistering Line of Duty. Department AC-12 has the sticky job of investigating dirty cops, and its leading officers, played by Scot Martin Compston, Vicky McLure and Adrian Dunbar, take their jobs very seriously indeed. Ferociously paced, satisfyingly twisty, the interrogation scenes are masterclasses in tension building. Catch up quick before the new series, now filming, arrives.

Did you know? Line of Duty won a Royal Television Society award but it has yet to pick up a Bafta. Criminal.

Four series, 23 episodes, 1,380 minutes, available on Netflix (1-3) and DVD (4)

The Bridge

Crime thriller

Countless thousands mourned this year when this Scandi noir, named after the highway between Malmo and Copenhagen, flashed its badge for the last time. At its heart stands Saga Noren (Sofia Helin), a brilliant but wildly eccentric Swedish detective who burns through partners and complex cases (not to mention leather trousers). Saga always gets her man, but at what cost to her?

Did you know? Sales of The Bridge to more than 100 countries has made the Oresund Bridge globally famous.

Four series, 38 episodes, 2,280 minutes, available on Amazon Prime

The Crown

Historical drama

What’s that, you would rather walk down Sauchiehall Street with a paper crown on your head than watch a box set about the Royal family? Oh, ye of little faith in the waspish ways of Peter Morgan, who previously wrote The Queen. All royal life and gossip is here, and the small fortune spent on each episode can clearly be seen. Claire Foy is outstanding as the young woman thrust into the spotlight whether she was ready or not, but it

is Morgan’s scripts that shine brightest.

Did you know? Olivia Colman plays the Queen in the next series, with Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret.

Two series, 20 episodes, 1,200 minutes, available on Netflix


Crime drama

Some say Saga Noren is the coolest woman detective around. They can’t have met Laure Berthaud of the Paris police yet. The head of a squad of maverick detectives, Laure leads from the front and is loved and respected for it by her men. Assisting her in collaring les scoundrels is a cast of other terrific characters, including Philippe Duclos as a prosecuting judge. A twisty ride through the mad, bad and dangerous Paris the tourists don’t see.

Did you know? Spiral won the international Emmy for best foreign series in 2015.

Six series, 52 episodes, 3,840 minutes, available on DVD


Costume drama

If you’ve not already watched it you are probably under the impression that the entire four series of this drama is dedicated to the study of Aidan Turner’s ripped chest, pictured below. But, in fact, the actor’s torso only got the odd scene and viewers have to put up with what is traditionally known as plot, as adapted from the Winston Graham novels by Debbie Horsfield. And ridiculous, melodramatic plot at that. Right from its windswept and rousing opening credits, Poldark was almost indecent in its flagrant escapism. But isn’t that what Sunday evenings – or indeed any other evenings – are made for?

Did you know? Aidan Turner confessed that he chose a small horse because it would make him look bigger.

Four series, 35 episodes, 35 hours, seasons 1 and 2 currently streaming on Netflix, seasons 3 and 4 streaming on Amazon Prime, DVD box set of all four seasons available

The Affair

Steamy relationship drama

Not one to watch with the children, The Affair explores the fallout from an extramarital relationship between Noah Solloway and Alison Lockhart (Dominic West and Ruth Wilson) after she saves his child’s life at a Long Island diner.

In series one, each episode has two parts, one as remembered by Noah, the other by Alison, which results in vastly different takes on their relationship. In later series, the perspectives of the other main characters, such as betrayed spouses and children, come to the fore.

It’s very American at times and sometimes plain silly, but at its best it does encourage the viewer to think about their own relationship and attitudes.

Did you know? Despite their convincing American accents, both the leads, West and Wilson, are English.

Four series, 42 episodes (so far), 2,310 minutes, available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV


Prisoner Cell Block H with swagger

The evolution of Orange is the New Black is what makes it must-watch telly. When the show launched in 2013, it centred mainly on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a waspy New Yorker whose past with an international jet-setting, drug-dealing ex-girlfriend finally catches up with her. OITNB cleverly segues from a darkly comedic look at Piper’s experiences behind bars into a searing commentary on crime and punishment in the US. Inspired by the memoir of former prisoner-turned-author Piper Kerman, it was created for Netflix by Weeds showrunner Jenji Kohan.

Did you know? The main title theme song You’ve Got Time is written, composed and performed by Regina Spektor.

Series 1-6, 78 episodes, 4,680 minutes, available on Netflix and DVD


Feminist comedy drama

Back in 2016, writer-director Jilly Soloway, creator of the hit series Transparent, announced she was going to kickstart a revolution and make television that revolved around the “female gaze” rather than the male. The result was a series that shows better than any other what it’s like to be a woman in the full grip of a sexual obsession. Smart and funny, based on the cult, feminist semi-fictionalised memoir by Chris Kraus, it follows Chris, a filmmaker, who finds herself transplanted to a desert town because of her husband’s work, where she meets Dick (Kevin Bacon) and the lusting begins.

Did you know? The Dick referred to in the original novel was actually an academic called Dick Hebdige who threatened to sue Kraus for invasion of privacy at the time.

One series, eight series, 4 hours 16 minutes. Available to stream on Amazon Prime.


Historical nonsense

“We’re broadcasting on a frequency some people clearly won’t get,” said writer Jez Butterworth, before this slice of Romano-British history hit our screens last year. People called it the new Game of Thrones but this barmy, gore-addled tale of megalomaniac Romans, drugged-up druids and warrior women actually made the American fantasy drama seem like Little House on the Prairie. Some of the acting was wooden and the plot creaked, but there were a few gloriously hammy performances ¬ David Morrisey as a pantomimic and Kurtz-like Roman general, Zoe Wanamaker, pictured below, a

foul-mouthed and devious queen, and Mackenzie Crook channelling his inner psychedelic druid. Was it true to history? When television is as mad as this, who cares?

Did you know? Modern-day druids have objected to their religion’s portrayal as “evil, psychotic murderers”. Dennis Andrew of the Dorset Grove order said: “They were not drunken, rampaging, drug-taking dark worshippers.”

One season, nine episodes, 9 hours, available to stream on Sky and Now TV, and as DVD box set

Twin Peaks: The Return

Surreal mystery horror drama

Twin Peaks: The Return has been described, by some, as an “18-hour art film”, as if it were designed to be watched in one long, caffeine-fuelled trance session. But really it’s best watched, bit-by-bit, with time to digest between each hypnotic episode. Set 25 years after the original Twin Peaks – with many of the characters back, yet altered – it’s stranger, funnier, more politically engaged yet also more demented and iconoclastic than ever. Episode eight is about as weird as television gets, and there’s a popular fan theory that episodes 17 and 18 are meant to be watched at the same time. It’s so out there, you get the feeling that David Lynch doesn’t care whether he gets to make another season of anything ever – and that’s part of its joy.

Did you know? Gordon Cole, the character played by Lynch himself, is named after an uncredited bit-player in the 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard.

48 episodes, three series, of which Twin Peaks: The Return is the last and has a 16 hours and 25 minutes running time, available on Sky and Now TV

Brideshead Revisited

Costume drama

If the world feels like it’s too fast, then surrender to Brideshead Revisited, the classic Evelyn Waugh adaptation that now seems so drawn out it can feel like watching beautiful paint dry. Often included in lists of the greatest dramas of all time, it follows the story of penniless Charles Ryder, who falls under the spell of rich and glamorous Sebastian Flyte, and it made stars of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. Lingering and Proustian, it tells of the damage done by the gilded people of charm and wealth. Television simply doesn’t get much slower than this.

Did you know? The homo-eroticism in Waugh’s novel was kept low-key in this adaptation. “I did an analysis of all the homo-erotic references in the novel,” said its producer Derek Granger. “And when you write them up over two pages, it’s quite strong. But we decided it would be better to show nothing. It’s much more lilting, tender and emotional that way.”

One series, 11 episodes, 11 hours, available via iTunes or as DVD box set

The Singing Detective

Musical comedy thriller

Dennis Potter’s greatest series was never really bettered by himself or anyone else. No drama today attempts quite the interweaving of interior world, fantasy and real-life narrative. Writer Philip Marlow, played by Michael Gambon, is recovering from psoriasis in hospital, and in extreme pain, as the story shifts between hallucination, memories of his childhood in the Forest of Dean and young adulthood, and his attempts to rewrite one of his own old detective novels with himself as hero. The result is funny, wonderful and compassionate. Author Stephen King once described it as “the Citizen Kane of the mini-series”. A masterpiece in six episodes, it demonstrates the power of the short, conclusive narrative over today’s open-ended, many-seasoned television.

Did you know? Potter had psoriasis himself. A scene where a delusional old patient climbs into bed with Marlow, thinking that he is his wife, actually happened to the playwright during one of his many stays in hospital.

One series, 6 episodes, 7 hours 5 minutes, available as DVD box set

Stranger Things

Supernatural thriller

How to explain the binge-phenomenon that is Stranger Things? It can’t be just to do with the walkie-talkies, Dungeons and Dragons nerd culture, 12-year-olds on BMXs or any of the other nostalgia elements that make it seem like a Spielberg throwback. This remix of the 1980s by the Duffer Brothers has more than just retro appeal. It’s an escape from our contemporary fears into Cold War chill, paranoia and a world of monsters. But it’s also a narrative that seemed to perfect the binge formula, hooking us in with its threats and cliffhangers, taking us, twist by twist, from one countdown of its atmospheric credits to the next.

Did you know? Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven was partly modelled on ET. The actor has said that the Duffer Brothers told her that, in her performance, they wanted her to “resemble ET and that relationship between ET and the kids”.

Two series, 17 episodes, season 1 6hrs 43mins, season 2 7hrs 30mins, available on Netflix

The Kingdom

Horror hospital soap

Long before Lars von Trier became cinema’s enfant terrible, causing walkouts and outrage at Cannes, he made this eight-part Danish television series, a kind of ER hospital soap meets surreal ghost story, shot in eerie, handheld sepia. Von Trier took the absurdity of Twin Peaks and added a dash of his own grotesque mischief, as he created the world of Kingdom hospital where the ghost of a girl wails, consultants enact masonic rituals, malpractice is rife and an air of comic melodrama prevails. One of the most bizarre shows ever transmitted on mainstream television.

Did you know? Stephen King adapted the show for an American audience under the title, Kingdom Hospital.

Two series, eight episodes. The Kingdom I and The Kingdom II, 6 hours 33 minutes, available on DVD

The Handmaid’s Tale

Dystopian drama

It’s hard to think of a television series in recent years that has seemed more timely than the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel. Arriving in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, the first season, starring Elizabeth Moss as Offred, a handmaid whose job is to bear children for her employers, seemed to come as a warning to protect women’s rights. The second made it to our screens after #MeToo. Both were mesmerising – elegant yet visceral in their design and cinematography but brutal in their portrayal of oppression, and often torture to watch.

As The New York Times’ James Poniewozik put it in his review, “sometimes the best testament to a story’s effectiveness is that it makes you hope for it to end”. Season two is the first to deviate completely from Atwood’s book.

Did you know? Atwood herself appears in the first episode as one of the Aunts, who hits Offred on the side of the head when she refuses to shame one of the other women.

Two series, 23 episdoes. Series 1 8 hours 45 minutes, available on Now TV or Amazon prime. Also on DVD


Sci-fi psychological thriller

The frozen wastes of Fortitude have certainly seen a few big stars come and sometimes go – Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston, Sofie Grabol, Ken Stott and Dennis Quaid. Not all of them survive this remote outpost where, ever since Grabol’s character first suggested it was “the safest place on Earth”, it has seemed the exact opposite of that. Created by the Scottish screenwriter Simon Donald, this is The Killing meets the Coen brothers’ Fargo, only stranger. Murders, prehistoric monsters and gore are the order of the day in a landscape that is so irresistibly white and cinematic that it must be hiding darker things.

Did you know? The fictional town of Fortitude was inspired by the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard. The community there really is virtually crime-free.

Two seasons, 22 episodes, series 1 9 hours 48 minutes, series 2 8 hours 10 minutes, available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV and also on DVD

Top Of The Lake

Stylish and intense crime series

Written and created by Jane Campion, the Oscar-winning director of The Piano, Top of the Lake centres on troubled cop Robin Griffin (Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss) who returns to her New Zealand home from Sydney to visit her sick mother and ends up embroiled in a case involving a pregnant

12-year-old. Sublimely shot and beautifully paced, it features exemplary performances from Moss, Peter Mullan as local bad boy Matt Mitcham and Holly Hunter as mysterious guru GJ.

Did you know? For series two, subtitled China Girl, Campion returns Robin to Sydney and drops none other than Nicole Kidman, pictured below, into the cast for what is arguably a career-best performance.

Two series, 12 episodes, 687 minutes, available on DVD and on Amazon Prime

The Kettering Incident

Tasmanian mystery thriller

Though unheralded outside Australia, this moody thriller co-written by acclaimed director Cate Shortland blends the best bits from Top of the Lake, Stranger Things and The Missing into a genre you could call Tasmanian Gothic. The plot: after 15 years away, Dr Anna Macy (Elizabeth Debicki) returns to the rural town in which she grew up and from which her stepsister Gillian disappeared. They had ventured into the woods on their bikes after seeing strange lights in the sky and had become lost but only Anna was found. When another young girl disappears, Anna is thrown back into the mystery – and her own troubled past.

Did you know? Elizabeth Debicki also starred as Jed in the BBC’s hit adaption of John le Carre’s The Night Manager.

One series, eight episodes, 360 minutes, available on DVD and to stream on Amazon Prime

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Classy 1970s spy drama

Everybody agrees that Alec Guinness’s portrayal of George Smiley is the definitive one – even his creator John le Carre. And here he is at his finest, in the BBC’s 1979 adaptation of the first of le Carre’s so-called Karla Trilogy in which the lugubrious spymaster attempts

to winkle out the mole at the heart of “the Circus”,

insider-speak for MI6. Ian Richardson, Ian Bannen and Bernard Hepton also feature, as does the great Beryl Reid as the eccentric Russia expert Connie Sachs. Best enjoyed with a large glass of whisky in a heavy crystal glass.

Did you know? The BBC only filmed the first and third novels in the trilogy, deeming the second – The Honourable Schoolboy – too expensive due to its Far East setting.

One series, seven episodes, 315 minutes, available on DVD and on Amazon Prime

Battlestar Galactica

Cult space adventure

Though on the face of it Battlestar Galactica is simply a Noughties reboot of Glen Larson’s timid 1970s sci-fi series, under the surface it’s actually a complex and weighty essay on everything from gender politics and terrorism to myth-making and techno-fear, all served up as a story of defiance against the odds. Set in a distant star system, the odds in this case are the ones stacked against the humanoid survivors of a sneak attack by the Cylons, an android race created by the humans. Thanks to the various spin-offs and adjacent mini-series, it’s one to really lose yourself in.

Did you know? In a neat reversal from the original series, lead characters Starbuck and Apollo are women.

Four series, 75 episodes, 2,040 minutes, available on DVD and to stream on Amazon Prime

As chosen by Vicky Allan, Barry Didcock, Teddy Jamieson, Alison Rowat, Garry Scott and Susan Swarbrick