A year that began with yet another lockdown and ended with a list of must-watch series so lengthy we still haven’t managed to tick them all off, 2021 proved to be a strange 12 months.
Despite the difficulties faced by productions, the quality of the shows gracing our screens hasn’t wavered. And with enough stellar entertainment currently on offer to see us through, it is time to reflect on the dramatic plot twists, shock announcements and enlightening documentaries that caused a stir this year.
Here are a handful of the telly moments that really got us talking:
Ensuring every other Halloween costume this year involved a tracksuit and a mask stencilled with a square, triangle or a circle, South Korean Netflix hit Squid Game quickly became one of the most talked about series of the year.
Created by award-winning director Hwang Dong-hyuk, the survival drama, similar in premise to Japanese action thriller Battle Royale, sees hundreds of cash-strapped citizens drawn into competing for a huge grand prize. It’s quite literally the piggy bank to end all piggy banks.
Packed with action, suspense and enough bloodshed to attract any self-respecting horror fan, the show took the world by storm despite it being a relatively late arrival for 2021. Paired with the fact Squid Game is a non-English language title, the show’s success, surpassing Bridgerton as the most streamed show in Netflix history, becomes even more impressive.
The tale of a Murdoch-esque dynasty battling it out to take control of their family-owned media empire, Succession’s depiction of the power hungry echelons of society ensured viewers lapped up the Sky Original in their droves.
Starring Bafta winner Brian Cox, Matthew MacFadyen, Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook to name but a few, the high drama of the series saw over 1.4 million viewers tune in to catch the first episode – the show’s highest viewing figures to date. If you are ready for a show devoid of morality, we can guarantee you have come to the right place.
Turning sexual taboos on their head, the highly-anticipated third series of hit Netflix show Sex Education did not disappoint when it hit our screens in September. Regularly tackling subjects rarely discussed on television including gender identity, gay sex and sexual assault, the groundbreaking series still manages to pack in plenty of laughs for good measure.
With Gillian Anderson returning as sex therapist Jean Milburn alongside Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, breakout star Ncuti Gatwa and Bafta winner Amy Lou Wood, we’re already rubbing our hands in expectation ahead of Sex Education series 4.
Returning to our screens after a prolonged, Covid-induced break, Love Island’s sun-doused villa proved just the tonic for lockdown. With Laura Whitmore taking over presenting duties from the late Caroline Flack in 2020, this year’s instalment of the ITV2 show saw a host of new contestants return to the villa in a bid to find true love (alongside fame, endorsement deals and a hefty cash prize).
With Millie Court and Liam Reardon being crowned 2021 winners and cries of ‘my type on paper’ featuring in every other episode, the show’s appeal looks set to continue for years to come.
LINE OF DUTY
No round-up would be complete without an appearance from DI Kate Fleming. With actress Vicky McClure stepping back into the inspector’s shoes, the sixth series of the hit BBC show once again kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
Returning alongside fellow actors Martin Compston as Detective Inspector Steve Arnott and Adrian Dunbar as Superintendent Ted Hastings, the AC-12’s nose for uncovering police corruption is seemingly unparalleled.
Already claiming the title of the UK’s most-watched drama series of the Century, Line Of Duty’s cult following led 12.8 million people to watch the series six finale at the time of airing. Audiences do not get much bigger than that. As for the identity of the illusive ‘H’? You’ll have to watch and discover that for yourself.
IT’S A SIN
Led by Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, five-part drama It’s A Sin saw audiences laugh, cry and gasp in equal measure. Created by Queer as Folk and Doctor Who screenwriter Russell T Davies, the series tracked a group of gay men and their friends as they navigated the UK’s HIV/AIDS crisis throughout the 80s and early 90s.
Complete with a nostalgic soundtrack that had us dancing in our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms, this frank, and often shocking, portrayal of London’s gay scene as it was ravaged by the then-little known disease saw an average of 2.3m viewers tune in per episode.
Starring Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, Callum Scott Howells, Shaun Dooley and Omari Douglas, the series sees the group of friends band together in an attempt to raise mainstream awareness of the illness, in turn helping the subject to become less of a taboo. A series initially declined by both the BBC and ITV, it took a long fought battle by Channel 4’s commissioning editor of drama, Lee Mason, for the show to finally reach screens.
STRICTLY COME DANCING
"In this dance we have a very special moment, and I'm doing it for the deaf community." 💖 So much power in the silence of Rose and Giovanni's routine. #Strictly @RoseAylingEllis @pernicegiovann1 pic.twitter.com/kW8OTggI5X
— BBC Strictly ✨ (@bbcstrictly) November 13, 2021
It goes without saying that no round-up would be complete without the addition of Strictly. From rugby player Ugo Monye donning a wig for a Moana-themed routine to former Bake Off winner and presenter John Whaite’s Pirate Paso Doble, this year’s line-up is more diverse than ever.
And with the baker forming part of the first all-male couple alongside partner Johannes Radebe (and the second ever same-sex couple following Nicola Adams’ 2020 Strictly appearance) the BBC show continues to serve up telly firsts direct from the dancefloor.
However, it is EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis that has really stolen the show this time around as the first deaf contestant to ever take part in the series. Paired with partner Giovanni Pernice, the 26-year-old actress says reading her partner’s body language is key to her Saturday night success.
Murder? Check. Submarine? Check. A confined space capable of triggering claustrophobia in even the most mentally resilient viewer? Check.
Complete with the tagline ‘the deeper you go, the darker it gets’, six-part BBC drama Vigil gripped audiences as the show’s cramped setting proved a recipe for tense altercations and high drama. Following DCI Silva (Suranne Jones) as she joins the crew aboard ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigil following the suspected murder of one of its crew, her investigation bringing her into direct conflict with both the Royal Navy and MI5 intelligence services.
With its opening episode attracting 13.4million viewers according to the BBC’s 30-day viewing data, those numbers ensured it ranked as the most popular debut since The Bodyguard in 2018.