CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Top 20 shows you can STILL watch this Christmas
22nd December 2018

What do you mean you missed it? From exotic assassins to beefy bodyguards, 2018 was the year the small screen went big… our TV critic CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reveals his top 20 shows you can STILL watch this Christmas

  • BBC iPlayer and All4 have a stack of free box sets to watch this Christmas 
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV offer streaming video for a small fee
  • This has been possibly the best year in TV history –  here’s my top 20, on demand

Fed up with Christmas telly already? Oh boy, me too. I’ve had my fill of celebrity chefs in festive pullovers and unfunny comedians in Santa hats.

But if you and your family are wondering what to watch, there are so many outstanding shows from the past 12 months still available with a couple of clicks on your remote control.

BBC iPlayer is serving up a stack of box sets free over Christmas, and Channel 4’s All 4 free service has a wealth of wonderful series on tap.

Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV offer streaming video for about the cost of a bottle of vino, too — so you’ll never have to watch the All-Star Dancing In The Kitchen Christmas Celebrity Special ever again. I’ll raise a glass of sherry to that.

Even if you don’t have a smart TV, there are ways to watch on-demand telly — if you need some pointers, collar a young relative to give you a quick lesson. There’s so much to enjoy.

This has been possibly the best year in TV history for outstanding scripts and stellar casts. It’s a genuine Golden Age. Here’s my pick of 2018’s telly, on demand. Go ahead and binge. After all, it’s Christmas!


Free online and via a smart TV

A Very English Scandal

‘Bunnies can (and will) go to France’ — it’s a curiously oblique phrase to destroy a political career. But the Jeremy Thorpe murder trial was crammed with odd soundbites that became national catchphrases, and this three-hour retelling by Russell T. Davies relishes all of them.

Hugh Grant gives the performance of a lifetime as Thorpe, the Liberal Party leader who would rather kill his ex-lover Norman Scott (the brilliant Ben Whishaw) than admit to his own homosexuality in public.


Violence, sex and lashings of glamour are ladled into this eight-part thriller, to draw us into an analysis of how companies in tax havens allow organised crime to operate across international borders.

You might think you’re watching endless shots of James Norton diving bare-chested from a yacht off Antibes, but really you’re being educated in the machinations of drug smuggling and money laundering in the 21st century. Based on a non-fiction book by journalist Misha Glenny, this is the show to watch if you really want to understand what’s going on.


It garnered mixed reviews, and its storylines about Syrian refugees and lesbian vicars are not for everyone.

But this four-parter merits watching simply for its cast: Carey Mulligan as Inspector Kip Glaspie, John Simm as a struggling Labour MP, Billie Piper as his ex-wife who likes a very spicy topping on her pizza, Nicola Walker as the gay cleric — all acting their socks off with a script by Left-wing playwright David Hare.


My favourite serial of the year. From the opening shot, this was breathtaking — the camera swooped over a debauched pool party at a billionaire’s mansion, as Pink Floyd’s Money boomed out, until it homed in on the drug-crazed heir to an oil fortune stabbing himself to death in the chest with a toasting fork.

Across the next ten episodes, the true story of how the grandson of the world’s richest miser was kidnapped and tortured by Italian bandits became progressively more surreal — and emotionally engrossing. Donald Sutherland is John Paul Getty, Anna Chancellor his lover, Harris Dickinson the teenage hostage and Hilary Swank his desperate mother… but the prize goes to Brendan Fraser as Getty’s slow-talking Texan fixer.


This knife-edge action drama is another with a stunning opening sequence. Nothing can prepare you for the first 20 minutes, as off-duty copper Richard Madden confronts a suicide bomber.

Keeley Hawes is a frisky Home Secretary with one eye on Downing Street and the other on the bedroom, in a six-part, high-tension story from Line Of Duty writer Jed Mercurio. But you’ll need an A-level in crochet to unravel the plot.

Killing Eve

Talk about dressed to kill. Jodie Comer is psychopathic assassin Villanelle, popping up all over Europe to murder targets in exchange for oodles of money, which she spends on designer clothes.

Sandra Oh is the British secret agent who becomes obsessed with catching her… which Villanelle finds sexily flattering. The characters are sometimes puerile, but what does that matter, with a killer so flamboyantly mad that she sits through a psychologist’s assessment wearing a gigantic pink tutu?

Mrs Wilson

perfect period detail is entwined with an improbable true story in this three-part suburban spy story set in the Forties and Sixties.

Ruth Wilson plays her own grandmother, Alison, who discovers after her novelist husband Alec (Iain Glen) dies that he had another secret life… and another… and another.

It’s a disorientating tale in which you can never decide who to believe — half the characters are working for secret intelligence and the rest have been lying to themselves for decades.


Sir David Attenborough narrates five stories that each focus on a family of animals — starting with an epic of betrayal and ambition set in the jungle kingdom of a chimpanzee tribe.

It’s impossible to watch the story of the wily king of the chimps without thinking of Shakespearean tragedy. Subsequent episodes about penguins, painted wolves, tigers and lions are equally compelling.


From £5.99 a month


When out-of-work actress Ruth (Alison Brie) signs up for a cable show called Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, her former best friend Betty spies a chance to don a Spandex swimsuit and wreak revenge on Ruth for sleeping with her husband.

It’s soap, its silly, it’s melodrama, it’s melancholy… and it’s set in the Eighties, with a raucous MTV-era soundtrack. Marc Maron is brilliant as the cynical, coke-snorting horror flick director who turns a bunch of TV extras into a wrestling troupe fit for Vegas.

Making A Murderer

THIS gripping true-crime documentary traces the convoluted legal process in America in a case that reeks of police corruption and miscarriages of justice.

Making A Murderer, which first aired in 2015, returned for a second series: a creepy scrap metal merchant and his slow-witted nephew have apparently been framed for the murder of a photographer in Wisconsin. It’s 20 episodes, all seriously addictive.

The Crown, series two

The epitome of Golden Age television that deserves to be watched again and again, this ravishing costume drama charts the life and long reign of Queen Elizabeth II, surely the defining figure in modern British history.

Claire Foy as the Queen and Matt Smith  as Prince Philip in The Crown on Netflix

A deeply detailed, sometimes irreverent script by Peter Morgan reveals the inner lives of the Royal Family as well as the political skulduggery and sexual scandals.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith are breathtakingly good as the Queen and her often disaffected husband, Prince Philip — they have to be, or they risk being outshone by a cast that includes Victoria Hamilton as the Queen Mum, Pip Torrens as the conniving private secretary, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and a host more.

Next year promises to bring a third season, with Olivia Colman as the Queen, Helena Bonham Carter as her sister and, among many more, Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles. The greatest TV series ever made? You’d be hard pushed to name anything better.

The Haunting Of Hill House

From Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 chiller novel, which has inspired writers such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, this tale has been filmed twice before — in 1963 with Claire Bloom, and in 1999 with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

This time the cast includes Michiel Huisman, Timothy Hutton and Carla Gugino. A team of paranormal investigators descends on a gloomy mansion, hoping to find scientific proof of the existence of the spirit world. Instead, they discover that the house seems to feed off their own psyches and secrets. Blood-curdling.


From £7.99 a month with a Now TV subscription

Patrick Melrose

Benedict Cumberbatch reminded us what a great actor he is with this five-part portrayal of an aristocratic junkie and child abuse survivor in freefall, following the death of his wicked father.

The first hour of excess and drug-drenched self-hatred is eye-popping, but Cumberbatch constantly makes us see the humanity under all that depravity. This is a pitiless examination of how a childhood without love becomes a lifetime of spiritual pain.

Benedict Cumberbatch reminded us what a great actor he is with his portrayal of an aristocratic junkie in Patrick Melrose 

Get Shorty

Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, so loosely that almost nothing survives but the title, this hilarious satire on Hollywood stretches over 20 episodes and stars Chris O’Dowd as a hitman who wants a bit more glamour and job security than his current employment can offer, so he becomes a movie producer. The trouble is, gang warfare in Nevada is positively civilised compared with financing a film in Los Angeles.


Free online and via a smart TV

Night And Day

Channel 4’s strand of foreign language dramas, under the Walter Presents banner, hit new highs with the 13-part Spanish thriller Nit i Dia, starring Clara Segura as a pathologist who realises, as she dissects a murdered corpse, that she had a one-night stand with the dead man weeks earlier.

Derry Girls

For a bunch of teenage girls in Northern Ireland, obsessed with boys, parties and the embarrassments of adolescence, the violence of the Troubles is just an afterthought. Who cares about a car bomb when your sister has stolen your secret diary and is reading extracts aloud to the class? These six half-hour episodes are crying out to be gobbled up in one sitting.


From £5.99 a month, or free with the £79-a-year subscription for free deliveries

Comrade Detective

My favourite surprise find of the year, this is a gritty cop drama made in Romania to look as if it was filmed in the Ceausescu era before the Iron Curtain fell. It’s full of sardonic Communist slogans, delivered with a subversive cynicism.

‘At times like this,’ growls the maverick policeman Gregor (voiced by Channing Tatum), ‘I ask myself, “What would Lenin do?”’ — before beating a suspect to a pulp.

If you loved the time-travel cop drama Ashes To Ashes, I promise you will be instantly hooked on Comrade Detective.

Although filmed with Romanian actors, there are no subtitles but the dubbing is done by a host of Hollywood A-listers. The standout star is Kim Basinger as a man-eating American ambassador.

The Grand Tour

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, doing what they did on Top Gear for donkey’s years, only with a bigger budget now they have moved to Amazon. A much bigger budget. Easily the most expensive car show ever.

Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May train withSpecial Forces in Jordan. The Grand Tour will launch exclusively for Amazon Prime customers this Autumn

The Man In The High Castle

The third series of this unsettling drama, based on the award-winning sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick, arrived with little fanfare this autumn. It imagines an America after the Nazis won the war (by nuking Washington). With Rufus Sewell as a fascist police chief and Alexa Davalos as a double agent, the story swirls in psychedelic circles for 30 episodes without ever really going anywhere. But once you’re hooked, it’s hard to stop watching.

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel

After its launch last year, this comedy-drama about a Fifties housewife who decides to become a stand-up comic made a triumphant return.

This is one of those highly acclaimed critical successes that epitomise today’s era of superlative TV. Honestly, why would you pay to go to the movies and miss out on this? Rachel Brosnahan is a joy as Midge, the divorcee who exacts revenge on her unfaithful ex-husband by taking to the comedy stage and doing what he always dreamt of doing, but far better. 

Rachel Brosnahan as Midge in The Marvellous Mrs Maisel. She plays a divorcee who exacts revenge on her unfaithful ex-husband by taking to the comedy stage


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