The last 12 months have been some of the strongest for TV in years – and thank goodness, really, because we don’t know what we’d have done without it.
When lockdown hit at the start of the year – after a Christmas which many of us spent away from our loved ones, don’t forget – we needed picking up.
And in a year full of challenges, TV has provided us with moments of joy when we needed it most.
We’ve had the return of some of the most acclaimed dramas in living memory to enjoy since then, as well as police procedurals that gripped the nation and more binge-worthy reality shows, capable of transporting us from our sofas to sun-kissed locations.
While pubs, restaurants and cinemas have opened up (hopefully for good now), there are dozens of shows which have provided us with more than enough reason to stay indoors in 2021.
These are our picks of the best TV shows of the year.
Martin Compston was front and centre of the trailers and marketing ahead of Vigil’s launch back in August (was it only back in August it was on our screens?), but he lasted just minutes before he was bumped off in the opening scenes of episode one.
Then, it was up to Suranne Jones to cross-examine a host of shifty characters (Paterson Joseph as Cdr. Neil Newsome and Adam James as the wonderfully slimy Cdr. Mark Prentice were both standout performances) and discover the truth behind his murder.
The plot was at times as intentionally murky and unnavigable as the North Sea, but it was immersive from the off. Like Line of Duty, there were similar themes of institutionalised corruption and ineptitude at play, with excellent performances thrown in the mix.
Vigil is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
19. What We Do in the Shadows
You might have been forgiven for thinking the premise of What We Do In The Shadows would have run dry after three seasons, but things kept going from strength for the quirky vampire comedy in 2021.
Matt Berry continued to deliver his finest performance since Toast of London, with Kayvan Novak and Natasia Demetrio proving themselves as two of the best performers in comedy. If you’re in, you’re in with this bloodthirsty hit – and the good news is, it’s coming back for season four next year.
What We Do In The Shadows is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
18. Angela Black
Right from the gnarly, nasty opening of Angela Black, the ITV series fronted by the ever impressive Joanne Frogatt got under our skin and stayed there.
The drama was a sensitively handled look at the all-encompassing emotional pain of domestic abuse. The series followed Angela, a woman with a seemingly idyllic home life and charismatic husband, who patched her wounds and maintained a facade in a bid to keep her family together, all while striving to discover the truth. Gripping from start to finish.
Angela Black is available to stream on ITV Hub
17. Impeachment: American Crime Story
It went a little under the radar in the UK, aside from a few controversies surrounding Sarah Paulson’s decision to wear a ‘fat suit’ to play character Linda Tripp making headlines, but Impeachment marked one of the strongest iterations of the American Crime Stories yet.
The third season told the story around the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and the ever-impressive Beanie Feldstein delivered what could be her strongest performance yet as Monica Lewinsky, with the series taking a sensitively handled look at one of the most fascinating times in US politics.
Impeachment: American Crime Story is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
16. Clarkson’s Farm
Who knew watching Jeremy Clarkson herd sheep would be so compelling?
The Grand Tour star went rural in his latest series, taking to farming in his own inimitable way, in a series which became one of the surprise hits of the year.
There was an oddball bromance with local farmer Kaleb Cooper to look out for, as well as some of the most unusual takes on the ancient art of farming ever seen. It was also oddly emotional in parts too, as the presenter forms emotional bonds with the animals he rears – before he eats them for his Sunday dinner, of course.
Clarkson’s Farm is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
15. Only Murders In The Building
Steve Martin and Martin Short made the unlikely decision to team up with Selena Gomez, who starred in her first major TV role since Wizards of Waverly Place, in this quirky whodunnit, which subverted expectations at every turn.
They star as true crime aficionados turned amateur detectives in this quirky series, which took a lot of people by surprise earlier this year. There was murder mystery blended with odd couple (odd trio?) comedy, and just like the relationship between the comics and their much younger co-star Selena, its unexpected dynamic never jarred for a moment.
Only Murders in the Building is available to watch on Disney+
The team at World Productions have been on fire this last 12 months, bringing us series six of Line of DUty earlier this year, as well as The Pembrokeshire Murders, Vigil and Showtrial – a drama with far more to say than your average Sunday night legal drama.
The gripping series begins as a female student is reported missing. It’s not long before the maddeningly brattish daughter of a wealthy property developer, Talitha Campbell (Céline Buckens, outstanding), is held under suspicion after unexpected ties to the suspected victim are revealed.
It was another excellent addition to the BBC’s dramatic output this year, and by this point, it seems the makers of Line of Duty can do no wrong.
Showtrial is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
A quirky, inimitable and sensitive take on modern relationships, Rose Matafeo wrote and starred in this sharply observed comedy about a young woman accidentally falling in love with an A-list actor (played by Nikesh Patel). It’s a deserved step up for Rose, whose previous special Horndog marked her out as one to watch.
The pitch-perfect ending sets up a second series – and after HBO Max renewed it back in July, we’re waiting with bated breath for a new run in 2022.
Starstruck is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
12. Back to life
There aren’t many shows out there that can move to tears and make you crack up with laughter – often within the same scene. Back to Life is one of those shows, and series two picked up where the unmissable first run left off.
After serving a sentence of 18 years in prison for a terrible crime she committed in her teenage years, the programme follows Mira Matteson as she attempts to recalibrate to life in a small town. If you haven’t seen it yet, we implore you to go back and enjoy. Daisy Haggard’s comedy drama creation gets in your head, and doesn’t leave in a hurry.
Back to Life is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
Crime dramas don’t come much more suave than Lupin, which returned earlier year after a long time away. And not a moment too soon.
The second collection of episodes focused less on the world of heists and more on the father son relationship at the heart of the drama. Paris, as ever, looked stunning on screen, and Omar Sy is a captivating screen presence throughout. Safe to say we’re excited for season three.
Lupin is available to stream on Netflix
10. Framing Britney Spears
It wasn’t just Britney’s redemptive story that made Framing Britney Spears a heartbreaking watch at the start of the year.
The eye-opening retrospective – which came as part of The New York Times presents TV series – of the singer’s early career and subsequent ‘breakdown’ that lead to the ongoing conservatorship held by her father Jamie Spears was a revealing look at celebrity culture as a whole, taking an often uncomfortable look at the dark side of fame and the way it commodifies young stars.
It stunned viewers by looking back at some of the singer’s disturbing earlier interviews as a teen star. It also didn’t shy away from following the mother-of-two’s mental health issues, making it one of the most impactful pieces of TV of the year.
Framing Britney Spears is available to watch on NOW
9. Ted Lasso
When a show’s concept is as inspired as Ted Lasso’s, it makes you wonder why no-one did it before. Picking up from a hit first series, the inspired second run of the fish-out-of-water comedy focused on Ted, an American way out of his depth coaching a British Premier League football team.
Jason Sudeikis is perfect in the role, which has helped the show become a real, old-school word of mouth hit. Wholesome and brilliantly done, there’s really not much to like.
Ted Lasso is available to watch on Apple TV+
8. Line of Duty
The biggest mystery in police procedurals was finally answered, as H’s identity was finally revealed in the sixth (and possibly final) series of Jed Mercurio’s endlessly compelling drama.
After years of keeping fans in suspense, Detective Superintendent Ian Buckells (Nigel Boyle) was unmasked as the big bad at the heart of corruption with Martin Compton, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar (not to mention Jesus, Mary and the wee donkey) finally getting their man.
The outcome divided opinion – and Jed Mercurio had a few things to say about the reaction – but the series provided more blockbuster TV moments than most could ever dream of. We just hope there’ll be more episodes in the future, with more bent coppers in our lives in years to come.
Line of Duty is available to stream on BBC iPlayer
Not many shows as big as Disney Plus’s WandaVision are brave enough to base entire plot arcs around metaphysical quandaries. But WandaVision certainly was.
The final episode of the multifaceted and hugely ambitious series saw Paul Bettany’s Vision tackle his adversary – counterpart White Vision – by applying the logic of the Ship of Theseus thought experiment.
It was just one element of the show that featured some of the best writing we’ve seen for a long time on a major TV series (anything that features lines like ‘What is grief, if not love persevering?’ is worth persevering with, in our book). Plus, we could listen to Kathryn Hahn performing Agatha All Along on a loop forever.
WandaVision is available to watch on Disney+
6. Drag Race UK season 2
Could this have been the most life-affirming, uplifting series of the show to date? The second run of Drag Race UK might have been delayed by the pandemic, but it didn’t stop it making a huge impact on fans.
Whether it was introducing new Drag Race royalty in the form of Bimini Bon Boulash, featuring iconic quotes (the nipples truly are the eyes of the face, after all), or bringing us one of the strongest ever final three in the form of winner Lawrence Chaney, Bimini and Tayce, the show’s UK iteration really excelled in 2021 and helped us get over our lockdown blues week after week.
Drag Race UK is available to watch on BBC iPlayer
It felt like 2021 was the year Disney+ really arrived. As well as all the Marvel series it treated us too, gripping drama Dopesick marked one of the most acclaimed series on the platform to date, with viewers calling it the ‘best drama of the year’ after just a few episodes.
Featuring a killer cast, including Michael Keaton, Will Poulter and Kaitlyn Dever, the show tells the story of the American opioid crisis in the 1990s, which left thousands addicted to prescription painkiller OxyContin. It shined a light on one of the most shocking moments in recent US cultural history, and marked the streaming platform’s coming of age.
Dopesick is available to watch on Disney+
4. Squid Game
Word of mouth hits don’t happen all that often anymore. But Squid Game became the most talked about show of the year all over the world, and all without the usual marketing campaign or A-list cast familiar to western viewers to entice them. Like an episode of Black Mirror on steroids, and with more bloodlust than we can remember seeing for years on telly, it transcended language barriers to become the biggest show in Netflix history.
It was visually striking (and responsible for the simplest, but best Halloween costumes of the year) and with character development that added emotional heft to the unforgettable set-pieces. It more than deserved its place as a cultural phenomenon – and while still feel hoodwinked by that twist ending, we’re holding out hope for a second series.
Squid Game is available to watch on Netflix
3. Mare of Easttown
One of the first big hits among critics and viewers alike earlier this year, this HBO limited series starred Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a detective who is investigating the murder of one young girl and the disappearance of another with audiences joining the quest to find out whodunnit.
Shock horror, Kate Winslet is fantastic. She delivered an endlessly compelling performance in her first major TV role here – we just hope it’s not her last.
Mare of Easttown is available to watch on Now
Jeremy Strong might not quite grasp the appeal of Succession, but just about everybody else did in 2021.
The actor said recently that he takes his character Kendall Roy ‘as seriously as I take my own life’ recently. He might think he’s acting in a Shakespearean tragedy rather than one of the most biting, bitter comedies of recent years, but the critical acclaim the show has received for its third season makes it just about the best received programme out there – and for good reason.
Universally excellent performances, whipsmart writing and grit lurking beneath the glossy surface make it one of the most compelling new series in recent years. We don’t know what we’d do without it.
Succession is available to watch on Now
1. It’s A Sin
We didn’t have to wait long to see the TV event of the year play out on our screens, with the masterful Russell T Davies drama It’s a Sin arriving back in January.
An incredible 18.2million tuned in to see the story of Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Jill (Lydia West), and the friendship circle of the Pink Palace play out at the start of the year.
The beautifully realised, and often harrowing drama followed a circle of queer friends who live in London during the HIV and Aids crisis in the 1980s. Not only did the drama spark a cultural moment, but it had an incredible real-life impact, too, with the Terrence Higgins Trust charity also announced the show caused a 600% surge in HIV testing.
It was a timely reminder of the power great TV can have, and without doubt one of the most breathtaking moments of the year.
It’s a Sin is available to air on All4
Credit: Original article published here.