11 Best TV Series of 2021
We have been glued to our TV screens this year with some of the best drama on British Television. It's also been a good year for streaming platforms with some surprising new shows. Here are some of our Entertainment Writer's personal favourites from this year.
Line of Duty
Series 6, BBC One
We begin with one of the most viewed dramas on British Television. Series 6 of Jed Mecurio’s addictive cop thriller, Line of Duty. 12.8 million of us were glued to our screens to watch the recent season as it was finally revealed who was behind the overarching conspiracy that had been plaguing AC-12 since the first series began. Kelly Macdonald was one of the most interesting guest stars to date. DCI Joanne Davidson (Macdonald) and her team, as well as former AC-12 officer DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) were being investigated by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and DI Steve Arnott (Martin Compston). Nothing was as it seemed in the most heart-stopping, action-packed series to date. The resolution of this series might not have been what some fans were hoping for with it being possibly the last Line of Duty, but as Hastings would say ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the wee donkey’ this is one of the most exciting shows on telly. We are desperately hoping the gang return for a seventh series.
True Crime dramas about murderers and serial killers seem to be all the rage at the moment. The Serpent is based on the true-life story of Charles Sobhraj (played by Tahar Rahim), a serial killer who murdered young backpackers and tourists in Southeast Asia. Set in the 1970’s it mixes the dark allure of true crime, with the sexy, sun-splashed escapism of the hippie tourist trail. This was a huge hit for the BBC earlier this year, the series also starred Jenna Coleman as Sobhraj’s accomplice/girlfriend Marie, who together with Sobhraj, drugged and robbed their victims, stealing passports and identities to travel the world selling stolen gems. Hot on their heels is Dutch diplomat, Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) who begins investigating the murders uncovering clues leading to The Serpent.
Series 4, ITV
Unforgotten I would say is one of the best series on British television, as it is not reliant on the high drama and race against time tension that you normally see in police thrillers, such as Line of Duty. DCI Cassie Stuart and DI Sunny Khan, played brilliantly by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar, rely on a meticulous, methodical unravelling of their cold cases with forensic attention to detail. There have been some amazing stories told over the three previous series and series 4 in my opinion is one of the most beautifully written and emotional so far, as Cassie Stuart confronts her personal demons as well as solving a cold case involving former police officers.
It’s A Sin
From Angels in America to more recently Pose, there have been loads of landmark dramas concerning the US Aids crisis of the 1980s. However, Russel T Davies’s six-part series explores what was going on in Britain at the time, with a blend of comedy and tragedy and with some classic pop hits thrown in for good measure. The young cast includes Years and Years singer Olly Alexander, Lydia West, Callum Scott Howells, and Omari Douglas (one of the favourites to take the Doctor Who role in 2023, a series which is also going to have Russel T Davies return as showrunner). It’s a Sin looks at what it was like being young and gay in the big city with no idea what is to come. It also cuts deep, exploring how the victims of the crisis were turned into outcasts. This is a truly moving account of the impact of AIDS.
The White Lotus
One of the year’s most watchable and most savage criticism of wealth and privilege. Starring Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Jennifer Coolidge and many more. Set at a Hawaiian resort where the food is divine and the service is first class, we follow the various activities of the guests and the employees over the course of a week as they relax and rejuvenate in paradise. With each day that comes, a darker complexity emerges in these picture-perfect travellers, the hotel’s cheerful employees and the idyllic locality itself.
Sex Education: Season 3
Another one of Netflix’s biggest and most popular shows returned for a new series, more sex-positive and boundary-pushing than ever before. This show continues to explore themes of gender and sexuality in a really sensitive light. Sex Education follows the misadventures of the students of Moordale Secondary School after a chlamydia scandal means a new headteacher is hired in the hope of improving the school’s reputation. She goes up against the students who are navigating their own discoveries of sexuality and exploring the various ways we express ourselves. Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson, who play son Otis Milburn and therapist mother Dr. Jean Miburn, lead a cast of fresh young faces in this comedy-drama which looks at sexual identities, family dynamics, and so much more. I am really looking forward to season 4.
Suranne Jones starred in one of the most nail-biting and tense television experiences of 2021. This had everything bar the kitchen sink! Claustrophobic horror, psychological trauma, a murder, romance and a deadly nerve agent, all set on a nuclear sub. Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Jones) is sent onboard the HMS Vigil to investigate a death, which takes place shortly after the disappearance of a fishing trawler. Her investigations and those of her colleagues back on land bring the police into a conflict with the Royal Navy and British security services. Also starring Game of Throne’s Rose Leslie and Endeavour’s Shawn Evans among a cast of British talent. This was a bit far-fetched at times, but it had us gripped throughout.
Jimmy McGovern’s 3-part drama about prison life is seen through the eyes of former teacher Mark Cobden, played superbly by Sean Bean, whose performance was a masterclass in understatement. Serving his first four-year stretch in prison and consumed by guilt after killing an innocent man by accident, he meets Eric McNally – a prison officer, played by Stephen Graham, who tries to protect the prisoners in his charge. However, Eric is faced with an impossible choice between his love for his family and his principles when a dangerous inmate identifies his greatest weakness. Both Eric and Mark are trapped by their past in a story of guilt and forgiveness. This is one of my personal favourites of the year.
Squid Game was one of the most surprising entries on this list – literarily appearing from almost nowhere to become one of Netflix’s most-watched shows. It is very similar to the Japanese Battle Royale and Hollywood’s The Hunger Games in style. 456 strangers who are strapped for cash, in debt, or have gambling addictions, are invited to take part in a deadly tournament, consisting of a series of traditional children’s games like Red Light, Green Light. However, the games are deadly death traps with the winner getting a huge cash prize, while those who lose are executed. The series follows Ki-hoon (Lee Jung Jae) who sees the tournament as his only way out of despair. This is an intense watch as we see friendships and alliances form only to be betrayed by cold-blooded betrayal. Warning: this series is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but is really worth checking out on Netflix for those interested.
Season 3, Sky Atlantic
Succession is probably one of the best shows on television. A black comedy drama it centres on the Roy family, who are the dysfunctional owners of a global media and entertainment empire. As the family patriarch, Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox), has experienced a decline in his health. He has four children, all with varying degrees of connection to the company. The show sees each of them begin to prepare for a future without their father. Season 3 sees Logan Roy fighting to secure alliances and tensions rise as a corporate battle threatens to turn into a civil war. With more twists and turns than an episode of Game of Thrones, this is must-see viewing, and a fourth season can’t come soon enough.
This one was overshadowed by Squid Games as they more or less arrived on the streaming platform at around the same time and I feel it fell under the radar a bit. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan of The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manner fame, this is a Steven King type tale about an isolated community and the young preacher who inspires his flock, performing miracles before their very eyes… to say more would ruin it (no spoilers here). I highly recommend it and it was one of the scariest things I watched over Halloween.