What is it? A patient drama about the early years of psychological profiling
Why should you watch it? Mindhunter's second season turns its attention to the Atlanta child murders, as the FBI's nascent Behavioural Science Unit is drafted in to help find the killer behind the deaths of 13 children. While the slow-burn series is as queasily engrossing as ever, especially during the interviews with killers such as Charles Manson and David Berkowitz, it's the growing focus on leads Bill Tench and Wendy Carr that really captures the imagination as their inner lives are given a more thoughtful examination. It also looks as exquisitely composed as the first season, with David Fincher returning to direct a few episodes alongside Killing Them Softly director Andrew Dominick.
9. The Boys
What is it? This comic adaptation is a wickedly cynical take on superheroes
Why you should watch it? Formulaic superhero shows and movies have flooded our screens in recent years, yet The Boys ends up soaring thanks to its stylish subversion of the genre. Tasked with putting together a group of ragtag vigilantes to help fight the corrupt 'Supes' (the show’s name for costumed heroes) at the Vought Corporation, Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher swaggers through each episode, leaving a trail of blood, broken bones, and blasphemy in his wake. It's instantly cool, quotable, brutal – and a breath of fresh air when compared to anything that has been pumped out of the Marvel and DC factories. No wonder Amazon decided to bring it back for a second season before the first even aired.
8. The Virtues
What is it? Haunting British drama about recovering alcoholic
Why you should watch it? Stephen Graham crackled in Scorsese's The Irishman but he gave the performance of his life in Shane Meadows' semi-autobiographical drama about dealing with long-repressed abuse. Working with This is England co-writer Jack Thorne, Meadows' story centres on a recovering alcoholic forced to deal with a horrific incident after reuniting with his long-lost sister. From Meadows' artful direction through to Thorne's naturalistic script, this is British television at its best. However, the result wouldn't be half as successful without the stellar cast – Graham, Helen Behan, and Niamh Alger all deliver acting masterclasses, their improvisational style eliciting laughter as freely as the tears. Truly haunting television.
7. Tuca and Bertie
What is it? Two 30-something-year-old birds deal with their situation
Why you should watch it? From Lisa Hanawalt, who worked on Bojack Horseman, comes an animated show that's altogether something new. Tuca and Bertie are two best friends who are at a tangent: one has moved in with her boyfriend, while the other is slowly realising that life's not all party party party. Their bond, two girlfriends there for one another, is a beautiful struggle. They both deal with personal demons, with having to pay the rent, and with maybe not being that ready for adult life. But, by the end, there's some catharsis. Really, we could do with another season. Damn you, Netflix, for cancelling this equally funny and comic show.
6. When They See Us
What is it? Startling drama about the Central Park Five
Why you should watch it? Ava DuVernay's recount of the Central Park Five – the Harlem teens who were falsely accused of a brutal attack and coerced into making confessions – is suffocating, heartrending and sadly relevant. Seeing the impact the false charges have on these five innocent youths as they suffer through jail time, shown in its raw realness, makes for challenging and enlightening viewing. When They See Us showcases the injustice of the American justice system to shocking and important effect. Few other shows this year can make such a claim, making this a Netflix series a vital watch.
5. Russian Doll
What is it? A woman’s trapped in the same day… forever?
Why you should watch it? Natasha Lyonne's had quite a phenomenal year. Not only did she complete the final season of Orange is the New Black, appear in the movies Ad Astra and Honey Boy, but she also created, directed, wrote and starred in Netflix's time-loop comedy-drama about morality, mortality and mental illness, Russian Doll. This Groundhog Day-style comedy about a woman named Nadia (Lyonne) who repeatedly dies and relives the same night over and over again is, to put it bluntly, hilarious. It also introduces complex time travel concepts and delicately examines and re-treads Nadia's trauma, asking important questions about unbreakable cycles.
What is it? Angela Abar beats up racist Roarshacks
Why you should watch it? There has never been a superhero show as vital as Watchmen. Taking on Alan Moore's iconic graphic novel could have been a disaster, yet Damon Lindelof has done something incredible: produced a sequel that enhances the original work. How? The writer creates new histories – both past and present – for the characters that fans already adore, and adds new characters who are wonderfully realised. At the centre is Regina King's masked vigilante Sister Knight, real name Angela Abar. Her grounded, no-shits-given default attitude is refreshing, while her war against racism and her desire for justice are the superhero values needed in today's world. Every episode improves on the last, and every episode makes you question what came before. Watchmen will be looked back on as a television classic, there's no doubt about it.
What is it? Coffee shop owner meets a sexy priest
Why you should watch it? It's rare that a sophomore season tops the first, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s bracing, fourth-wall-breaking comedy-drama did just that. Based on Phoebe Waller-Bridge's one-woman stage show of the same name, Fleabag follows the traumas, family dramas, and sex life of its messy nameless heroine. While the first season was a success, the second, starring Andrew Scott as a boyish "sexy priest", has taken the show global – beloved in America and boosting the sales of jumpsuits and M&S gin and tonics. However, it's Waller-Bridge's no-holds-barred approach to difficult topics that has made her a household name. Although the show didn’t end with a big bang, it was still perfect.
What is it? This year's most effective horror about radiation (and popularisim)
Why should you watch it? Based on the horrifying real-life meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, this HBO series initially seems like compelling disaster fodder, as we see how just how much damage the accident caused on the unsuspecting people subjected to radiation poisoning. It very quickly becomes much more terrifying, as we look at the Soviet government's response to the unfolding disaster, and the toll it took on the people tasked with cleaning it up. The subtext to the series, of government bureaucrats burying their head to a natural disaster, might not be subtle, but its stellar cast and sense of urgency made it one of the most gripping shows of the year.
What is it?
Why you should watch it? HBO lands the number-one spot, keeping its reputation as the home of gold-standard drama. As with season one, the writing and acting is off the charts as the Roy family continued to tussle over which sibling – or outsider – should succeed tyrannical patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox, in the role of his storied career) as the CEO of media empire Waystar Royco. The action circled much the same territory as season one, but was, if anything, even more vicious and venal, and the arc of second-eldest son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) was something to behold. And while the near-perfect season one lapsed into melodrama with its misjudged finale, this season's climax was mic-drop perfection. And we haven’t even mentioned Kendall's rap…
Want more of the best shows? Then check out our list of the best TV shows of the decade.