This without question my favourite post of the year. It’s another chance to celebrate the best television had to offer. 2021 was another strong year. Standouts It’s a Sin, Mare of Easttown, Only Murders in the Building and the long-awaited third season of Succession. Enjoy!
The Great (January 2021. Channel 4) Kicking off the New Year in style was Tony McNamara’s ‘occasional true story’ based on the life of Catherine the Great. Starting with the depiction of Catherine’s marriage to Peter of Russia, The Great showed her gradually plotting against her new husband, leading up to her coup at the end of the first season. Elle Fanning was wonderful in the lead role as the innocent who has been placed in a world full of backstabbing and politics for which she was initially unprepared. Meanwhile, as Peter, Nicholas Hoult portrayed the petulant tsar wonderfully as he perfectly conveyed the ruler’s manic temperament. McNamara’s punchy script was full of fantastic one-liners and comic set pieces but also balanced this with darker, more personal moments. The Great’s period detail was also fantastic, but this was far from your average costume drama and I’m already salivating at the thought of watching season two. Written by Matt Donnelly.
Lupin (January and June 2021, Netflix)Sometimes you just want a bit of escapism in your drama which was provided in droves by George Kay and François Uzan in their modern day adaptation of Maurice LeBlanc’s Arsène Lupin books. Omar Sy was utterly charismatic as Kay and Uzan’s adaptation of the gentleman thief, who in this version was a man who would go to any length to prove that his late father was framed for the theft of an expensive diamond necklace. Starting with an audacious heist in the opener, each episode featured Sy’s Assone Diop getting one step closer to exposing the truth. Although far-fetched at times, I felt that Lupin never seemed ridiculous thanks to Kay and Uzan peppering in plenty of backstory and motivation behind Diop’s schemes. Meanwhile, Omar Sy gave one of the most compelling turns of the year combining charm and menace, he really made me root for Assone with his turn in the finale being especially memorable. As, at the time, this was Netflix’s most-watched foreign-language drama, I’m half-expecting a third series to be announced. However, I believe these ten episodes were close to perfection and I feel that any more instalments of Lupin would ruin what was one of the most unique dramas of the year. Written by Matt Donnelly.
It’s a Sin (January 2021. Channel 4) It’s a Sin was powerful and unflinching; a drama in the truest sense of the word, with that delicious sweetness and vulnerability that’s a Russel T Davies hallmark. There’s glittering ambition, buzzy energy, naive innocence, and fates entwined. A group of friends, a chosen family, are pulled together by fate, proximity, poverty and circumstances. This is the ride of their lives.
To pigeonhole it as an AIDS drama is too simple – there’s everything here. Lives well-lived as a nightmare disease creeps up on the unsuspecting, and a nonsense half-arsed public health response by those shielded by power and bigoted by hate. Broadcast during the darkest days of the UK’s Covid lockdown it resonated so profoundly with the audience. So many heartbreaking moments (don’t talk to me about Colin) were peppered with the humour and humanity that Davies is known for. Our shared suffering saw the Terrence Higgins Trust raise £20,000 in 24 hours from Philip Normal’s iconic ‘La’ t-shirts, and Google searches about current AIDS treatments (Undetectable equals untransmittable! Shout it from the rooftops!) and all the things we should have learned at school skyrocketed. Simply put, great drama changes lives in the most awesome ways. La! Written by Sarah Kennedy.
Unforgotten (February 2021, ITV) Not as showy or grisly as the standard British cop shows, Unforgotten has managed to carve out a niche as one of British telly’s most reliable, low-key mystery series, and a nice corrective to the more sensationalist police dramas. This year’s fourth series was slightly different – the murder plot was still compelling, (and hit closer to home than usual, concerning four young police officers) and the suspects were all vividly brought to life by Andy Nyman, Susan Lynch, Phaldut Sharma and Liz White, but this time writer Chris Lang was clearly more invested in the personal life of his protagonist. For three series DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) has been one of the most effective detectives on British television, with her disarming, deceptively mild-mannered interrogation technique one of the shows most memorable features, but we also saw the warm friendship develop with her partner DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and her tumultuous relationship with her father, (Peter Egan) who has now entered the early stages of dementia and is planning on leaving all his possessions to his new girlfriend. For the first time in the series, Cassie’s personal life seriously encroaching on her work, and it all builds to one of the most emotionally impactful season finales I’ve ever seen. Walker, Bhaskar and Egan are all quietly devastating in their scenes, and there is a real sense of finality to it – a fifth season has been commissioned but it will be interesting to see how it moves forward from the gut-wrenching events of the final episode. Written by Nick Bartlett.
The Flight Attendant (March 2021, HBOMax/Sky One) Tense, unpredictable and great fun, The Flight Attendant was compulsive viewing. On paper, this clever blend of a dark conspiracy thriller and dark comedy shouldn’t have worked even half well as it did. Its success can be attributed in large part to the central performance from Kaley Cuoco. In Cuoco skillfully handles all the facets of Cassie Bowden’s tortured personality. From the party girl to the girl still grieving the loss of the father she idolised and the alcoholic expertly hiding the extent of her dependency on drink to get her through life. The initial premise of ‘woman wakes up next to a dead body after a one night stand’ was already enough of a hook, but what it slowly becomes is far more interesting. It is as much about Cassie discovering who murdered the man sleeping next to her in bed as it is her exploring her past and how the fond memories she has of her idyllic childhood with her hero father might actually be hiding something far darker she isn’t ready to address. The ensemble cast also shone with Zosia Mamet a particular standout as Cassie’s increasingly frustrated best friend Ani. Rosie Perez as Cassie’s colleague Megan who was a far darker person than her breezy disposition would have us first believe. The Flight Attendant could’ve been a silly comedic romp with the murder played laughs, but as the series progressed the more layers of depth were added to the story and the characters. A second series is coming, whether that is entirely necessary I’m not completely convinced, but if they can pull off what made the first season so special for a second time, I’ll happily swallow my scepticism. Written by Luke Knowles.
Mare of Easttown (April 2021, HBO/Sky Atlantic) HBO has cornered a market in complex murder mysteries centred around female characters played by A-list actresses over the last few years, so it says a lot that Mare of Easttown stood out as spectacularly as it did. Driven by a sensational lead performance by Kate Winslet, along with equally great work from Jean Smart and Julianne Nicholson, not only did Brad Ingelsby’s writing draw you in with a well-crafted murder mystery, it managed to do new things with the genre. Compared to so many series of a similar ilk, the series never felt gratuitous or sensationalist in its depiction of a murdered female character, instead zeroing in on one of the most brilliant lead characters in years, not to mention a realistic depiction of a small community and the lives that are affected by murder and secrets that never go away. The eventual reveal was not only worth it but played fair by what the series had already established, even managing to deliver a gentle epilogue that reminded you that it was its characters that were the biggest draw as much as the red herrings and revelations which also managed to be subtly and spectacularly memorable. Written by Eamon Hennedy.
Motherland (May 2021, BBC Two) In a lot of ways Motherland hasn’t developed a great deal over its three series, but that doesn’t matter at all because it’s still one of the most consistently funny shows on television. It can satirise British culture better than most, it’s cutting and harsh but surprisingly poignant in places too. In a time where comedies focus too much on being hip and forget to be funny, Motherland somehow manages to do both. The opening episode which parodied the pandemic by having the school going through a headlice infestation was a brilliant take on our ‘new normal’ The characters here aren’t all that likeable but that’s never been a problem with comedy. Anna Maxwell- Martin, Diane Morgan, Lucy Punch, Paul Ready and Tanya Moodie play characters who could easily lead their own sitcoms, but the fact they’re all able to bounce off of each other gives the show its magic. We can’t wait for more. Written by Erin Zammitt.
Inside No.9 (May 2021, BBC Two) Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have been making this anthology series look easy for years. Surely by now, any normal person would be running out of ideas? Inspiration strikes from any quarter, not just the gothic horror they both adore. Series 6 has a heist via the medium of Italian renaissance theatre, a guilty barrister’s secret deal with the devil, a murderous middle-class Last Night of the Proms party, and a very timely tale of what might happen to embittered fantasy fans who feel let down by how a TV series ends.
This year was undoubtedly some of their best work; breaking the fourth wall, messing about with the structure we’ve come to know and love, and just having huge amounts of fun. The accompanying BBC Sounds podcast is proving to be an essential companion piece for the show, and they tell you definitively where to spot the hare. It’s very nearly an essential public service. 9 seasons and a movie? The campaign starts here. Written by Sarah Kennedy.
Starstruck (May 2021, BBC Three) It’s not often that a romcom is essential viewing but Rose Matafeo and Alice Snedden’s delightful series did everything right. It could have easily been a mess, another nonsense about how celebrities occasionally pop down from their pedestals to sleep with normal people, but the power dynamic here was perfect. Jessie was the silly, awkward, trouble-maker who didn’t take herself too seriously. Tom was the handsome actor, seemingly with everything together, but totally out of his depth when it came to love. The jokes were great, the funny lines shared around equitably. The set-up was believable, the characters all likeable in their own odd little ways and the locations were a treat for the eyeballs. It was a love letter to London where each episode made you feel a little bit better than you did before. I’m so happy it’s been recommissioned for a second series. People called it Gen Z’s Notting Hill, but it’s much better than that. And much, much funnier. Written by Sarah Kennedy
Time (June 2021, BBC One) Time is a testament to the powerhouse performances by Stephen Graham (who’s never been in anything bad, ever) and Sean Bean, who showcase the raw horror of what life in prison is actually like for an average person who may be in there because they’ve committed their first crime. Bean’s character is an alcoholic and the best choice the show does is that it makes things clear from the start is that he’s actually guilty of the crime he’s committed – there’s no get out of jail free card here, no easy redemption – the consequences of his actions weigh heavy on his shoulders and any step to recovery feels completely earned and realistic – no expense is spared in this gritty, realistic drama that whilst not being an easy watch, is certainly an essential one. Graham’s prison guard is played straight opposite him – and the two actors are at their best when sharing the screen together as both of their morals and willpower are put through an unrelenting test after unrelenting test. In an age where even eight episodes can feel too long for a show, writer Jimmy McGovern keeps Time at three – and every second of them feels valuable important viewing. Written by Milo.
Betty (June 2021, Sky Comedy/HBO) Betty was unfortunately cancelled by HBO after its glorious two seasons, but this sequel to Crystal Moselle’s wonderful Skate Kitchen film – truly one of the best of the year it came out in – is a hidden gem and one of the network’s best series of the last few years, reuniting cast with creator for a freewheeling, natural slice-of-life story about a culture that’s rarely depicted on screen – following five friends who make up a gang of skateboarders from different backgrounds who help overcome their fears and struggles. It’s audaciously fearless to go where few teen dramas don’t – with the second season filmed during the pandemic, we get to see an empty, lifeless New York City, and the events of the last couple of years linger over the characters, they feel angrier this time out, with the series having more of a plot to it this time – but each episode feels increasingly relevant, with something to say. It’s such a great capture of these characters lives and their awkward friendships that build over the season – and almost feels akin to a documentary. Written by Milo.
The Handmaid’s Tale (June 2021, Channel 4/Hulu) I can understand if you jumped ship early with this one. It has always been a difficult watch. I’ve always found the central performance from Elisabeth Moss to be one of the best in modern television, and I’m able to wade through the misery because she anchors things brilliantly. If you were one of those people who grew tired of the unending cycle of torture Offered and her fellow Handmaids are forced to endure, then this season sees them finally breaking free of Gilead. The episodes gained an exciting pace as the majority of the Handmaids the series has focused on managed to escape to the safety of Canada back to families who had given up hope of ever seeing them again. June, who had spent her whole time in Gilliead dreaming of being back in the arms of her husband Luke finally got her wish. She was free but she was still furiously angry that she hadn’t managed to free her daughter Hannah. Seeing the Handmaids back in civilised society and free from persecution was what I’d wanted since the start of the series, but their reintegration into a world that didn’t really understand the true magnitude of their suffering was immensely fascinating. Elisabeth Moss was just as compelling back with her family as she was fighting within Gillead. The new dynamics were the breath of fresh air the series was crying out for and I truly believe that this fourth season was as brilliant and as powerful as the first. Written by Luke Knowles.
Ted Lasso (July 2021, Apple TV+) The first season of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso launched in July 2020 – and proved hugely successful. The show’s emphasis on kindness struck a chord with a world in dire need of something soothing and warm to watch. This year’s second season was highly anticipated but reviews were mixed. The warm and charming half-hour comedy morphed into a nearly hour-long drama. Experimental episodes like a Christmas episode which in July felt slightly out of place but managed to tug at the heartstrings regardless. The ‘bottle episode which looked into the out of hours habits of coach Beard was a brave choice but not one that entirely worked. Taking Nate to dark places gives Nick Mohammed the opportunity to shine and he most definitely does. As with the first season, Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham give stunning performances as the show delves deeper into their backstories. Ted Lasso’s second season might have been a different beast from the first, but the finale sets up some interesting questions for them to explore in the third. Written by Erin Zammitt.
Pose (May/July 2021, FX/BBC Two) Pose is perfect. I was surprised when we were told season three would be the last but now that I’ve recovered from the powerful finale, I’m so pleased we got three seasons of this gem and that it got to go out on its own terms. No other drama in this era of ‘Peak TV’ has moved me as often as Pose. The third season, delayed by the pandemic, gave each of its iconic characters their own personal and intimate send-off. The whole season felt like one long goodbye. Moving the story forward to 1994 gave it a more contemporary feel. With the HIV and AIDS epidemic is still taking members of the gay and transgender community at a young age, every character is touched by the new world they find themselves in. There are only a handful of the ‘ball scenes’ so the ones we get feel touched with poignancy. Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez’s final routine is not only one of the best moments of the series but one of the best of television of the year. It’s a series that had something to say and it said it beautifully. The goodbye was painful but Pose was such an important and revolutionary series that It’s a wonder it made it to our screens at all. I’ll never forget the series and I don’t think there will ever be another like it. Written by Luke Knowles.
The White Lotus (July 2021, HBO/Sky Atlantic) When the pandemic hit channels scrambled to find a new way of making shows. Mike White’s mysterious comedy-drama The White Lotus was conceived and written quickly and was designed to be ‘Covid friendly.’ Filmed with the cast and crew ‘bubbled,’ the empty Four Seasons Resort in Maui doubled as their accommodation and the fictional White Lotus Resort where the show was set. The show centred on the self-centred guests of The White Lotus and the staff run ragged by their demands. It begins, in a similar style to another HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, announcing that someone was killed during their stay at the hotel and then flashing back to tell the stories of the guests in the hotel. Everyone here is at the top of their game. Murray Bartlett is perfect as tightly wound Hotel Manager Armond who tries to keep smiling at guests who he soon comes to detest. His ongoing battle with Jake Lacy’s equally tightly wound Shane is as joyful as it is painful. Shane spends the entirety of his honeymoon convinced Armand has conspired to make sure he doesn’t get the honeymoon suite his mother has paid for. His wife Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) just wants to enjoy their time there as a couple but as Shane starts to get more obsessed she worries she has made a big mistake by rushing into marrying someone she barely knows. Even the seemingly happily married couple here doesn’t seem any better off. Steve Zahn and Connie Britton are brilliant together as Mark and Nicole, who drag their uninterested teenagers along for a family holiday. The show is about the awkwardness of spending time with the ones you love and not being able to escape them. Jennifer Coolidge is wonderful as the grieving Tanya who is in Hawaii to scatter the ashes of the mother she hated. It’s a show that gets crazier and more intense with every episode. In a similar way to HBO’s Succession, White’s characters aren’t likeable. These aren’t people who don’t play with well with others. It’s easy to forget that one of them reaches a sticky end as not explicitly mentioned again after that initial scene but there’s a sense of unease that runs throughout the show. The eerie score adds to the awkwardness, the mix of drama and comedy is perfect and the eventual conclusion, though divisive, was a winner for me. There’s a second trip to another White Lotus Resort on the way and I’m excited to see what White does with a new set of characters in this strange universe. Written by Luke Knowles.
Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing (August 2021, BBC Two) A fixture on these lists since it began, Mortimer & Whitehouse’s fishing travelogue continues to be one of the nicest shows on television. It never outstays its welcome, it’s a show that never fails to make me laugh and occasionally cry it’s just lovely to spend time with these two friends. Did this year’s series do anything differently? No, and that’s what makes it so special. The joy comes from its simplicity. I’m no more interested in fishing as I was when the series started but there’s a spark when these two join forces. Long may it continue as it feels like the sort of programme we need now more than ever.
Ghosts (August 2021, BBC One) This year gave us a third series of BBC comedy Ghosts, and it proved to be just as funny and delightful as ever. The supernatural sitcom put its focus firmly on family this time around, mixing things up with the arrival of a woman claiming to be Alison’s half-sister, as well as giving us a heartbreaking insight into Kitty’s past. Amongst a series of beautifully written episodes, The Woodworm Men was a particular highlight, perhaps even of the whole show altogether, with the ghosts joining Alison to camp outside Button House and Pat taking a certain vicarious pleasure in the dipping of biscuits into tea. Thankfully we still have plenty more Ghosts to look forward to, since there’s another Christmas special and a fourth series on the way. It’s such a joy to watch that I’m dreading the day when we’ll eventually have to say goodbye to its ensemble of lovable characters. Written by Sophie Davies.
Only Murders in the Building (August 2021, HULU/Star on Disney+) The biggest change in television over the time we’ve been talking about here is the fact that movie stars are happy to make the move from the ‘the big screen’ to the ‘silver’ one. This year has seen more ‘movie’ stars migrate with Kate Winslet and Colin Farrell making the leap. The biggest surprise though, was comedy legend Steve Martin announced he was to star with longtime friend Martin Short and Selena Gomez in a half-hour murder mystery comedy. The end result, Only Murders in the Building was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. The unlikely trio becomes friends when a neighbour is murdered in their New York apartment block and start podcasting as they investigate the crime. Martin is brilliant as washed-up TV star Charles-Haden Savage who still lives in the shadow of the TV Detective who made him famous. For the majority of the episodes, Martin plays the straight man allowing Short’s Oliver Putnam to be more overtly comic of the central trio. Selena Gomez is brilliant as Mabel Mora, a young woman who finds an unlikely kinship with the two older men but someone with big secrets of her own. The show was a constant surprise. What started as a chaotic, madcap and comedic romp following these hapless would-be investigators as they struggled to find a killer or the right tone for the podcast slowly morphed into something more special with every episode. It was at its very best when it slowed things down and explored the hidden depths of its three leads. An episode told from the perspective of a deaf character was performed in complete silence with characters using American Sign Langauge was a particular standout. I would’ve been happy with a silly comedy poking fun at the tropes of true-crime podcasts but I was floored by the show it ended up being. Season two is shooting as I type and I can’t wait to be back with them soon. Written by Luke Knowles
Help (September 2021, Channel 4) Writer Jack Thorne has become renowned for telling hard-hitting stories (This is England ’86 – ’90, Kiri and The Virtues), but none were more affecting than Help, a single drama about the horrors of working in a care home during the wilderness of March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic. Jodie Comer stars as Sarah, a new recruit who forms a close bond with resident Tony,(Stephen Graham) who has young-onset Alzheimer’s. Help follows Sarah as she is plunged into the great unknown…
In a powerful 20 minute scene, Sarah attempts to care for a patient who is clearly dying from COVID, whilst on a night shift on her own – harrowing and claustrophobic, it gives a more compelling depiction of the realities of pandemic life than reports and statistics ever could.
Comer and Graham are both brilliant throughout. Their performances and their chemistry with one another bring humanity and warmth to a world filled with misery. Help is an important and necessary watch, shining a spotlight on a sector that was completely abandoned by the government when it most needed help. Written by Erin Zammitt.
The North Water (September 2021, BBC Two) The North Water benefits from the natural deft hand of expert Andrew Haigh that strips away the toxic masculinity present in many of its characters and tears them down to their primal, basic level. Based on the fantastic novel from Ian McGuire, this incredibly faithful adaption introduces us to one of the most truly despicable characters of the year, Colin Farrell’s Henry Drax, in a completely hard-to-recognise transformative performance that will mean you’ll be unable to look at him the same way ever again. Few shows have ever filmed this far north and the gripping authenticity of The North Water is played entirely to its benefit – with Drax terrifying a haunted crew of a whaling ship and keeping them on edge at every turn, and Stephen Graham’s captain looks hopeless to stop him, having far more of an interest in deliberately sabotaging the ship to claim insurance. Written by Milo.
Squid Game (September 2021, Netflix) Who could have predicted that an eccentric Korean drama would become one of Netflix’s biggest ever shows? But landing on the streaming platform in September with little fanfare around it, Squid Game ended up capturing the public unlike anything else this year. If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it yet, it follows a group of contestants (all with serious financial problems) competing against each other in a series of games to win a life-changing amount of money – which increases each time someone is eliminated from the games and killed. And if you’ve only heard the discourse around the show, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s nothing but an all-out gorefest. However, there’s a lot more to Squid Game than its moments of shocking violence. Hwang Dong-hyuk barely puts a foot wrong in creating a piece of TV that’s gripping and surprising from start to finish, putting you through a rollercoaster of emotions as you watch. Also helping the show’s success is the fact that it’s stunning to look at, so memorable visuals have quickly entered into the public consciousness. It can be rare to find something as high-quality as it is popular these days, but Squid Game truly lives up to the hype. Written by Sophie Davies.
What We Do in the Shadows (September 2021, FX/ BBC Two) What We Do In The Shadows is a show that is constantly changing, evolving, and improving – driving the story forward in a way that never allows the joke to get old whilst managing to still be the most consistently funny show television. Series 3 saw Guillermo start to push the boundaries of his role and challenge his vampire masters, culminating in an exhilarating fight scene between him and Nandor that is unlike anything we’ve seen on the show before. This is just one way in which series three challenges and changes the familiar dynamics of the vampire residence; and if the final ten minutes of the finale are anything to go by – this is just the beginning. We see the vampire flatmates mourn the death of one of their own for the first time after the loss of Colin Robinson; though all is not as it seems. The final ten minutes of The Portrait takes everything that we knew about the show and flips it on its head. Colin Robinson reappears as a slimy, adult-headed baby creature that Lazlo is now charged with taking care of; and Nandor finds himself on the midnight train going everywhere after Guillermo is sealed in a coffin on its way to England. This promises to introduce a new dynamic between Guillermo and Nadja, the two characters that have interacted the least, after they are thrown together by dramatic, unfamiliar circumstances. With a fourth season on the way, they’ve set up so much that I can’t wait to see what’s to come. Written by Megan Hyland.
Alama’s Not Normal (September 2021, (BBC Two) We got a full series of Alma’s Not Normal in 2021, and it fully delivered on the promise of last year’s standout pilot episode. Sophie Willan writes and stars in this BBC comedy-drama, with elements inspired by her own life, about a working-class woman from Bolton who had a difficult childhood and dreams of being an actress. Willan is outstanding as the titular Alma and surrounds herself with a cast of equally brilliant women, including Siobhan Finneran (almost unrecognisable) as Alma’s mum, Lorraine Ashbourne as her leopard-print clad grandmother, and Jayde Adams as her no-nonsense best friend. Deftly dealing with areas from mental health and addiction to the care system and sex work in a frank and funny way, Alma’s Not Normal ended up being a real highlight of this year’s TV. Written by Sophie Davies.
Impeachment: American Crime Story (October 2021. FX/BBC Two) American Crime Story has had three excellent seasons. The first, focussing on the O J Simpson case, the second, focussing on the murder of Gianni Versace and his murderer, spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Impeachment focuses on the Clinton – Lewinsky affair and the Republican Party’s determination to impeach President Bill Clinton. The series has an ability to give public figures, who are often only represented through caricatures in the media, a sense of real depth. The key trio of Clinton, (Clive Owen) Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) and Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) are all played to perfection. The casting of both Feldstein and Paulson feel a masterstroke. The pair have instant and believable chemistry as a pair of unlikely best friends who unwittingly find themselves at the centre of the scandal that rocks America to its core. Paulson is mesmerizing as Tripp making a character that was the subject of mockery in American popular culture far more engaging and sympathetic than you might have previously thought.
Through the story of Tripp and Lewinsky, the producers are also able to examine the media’s portrayal of women, particularly women who publicly accuse powerful men of inappropriate behaviour. Given what has happened since then, with the #MeToo movement, it is important to reflect on how things were quite different not that long ago. Yet Impeachment is more than both the quality of its actors and its attention to detail – it is stunningly good television as well. One episode, in particular, stands out, Man Handled, is a masterclass in both stunning visual storytelling and characterisation. It is one of the best hours of television that has been produced this decade and is stunning in its ability to tell a relatively simple episode in the Lewinsky – Clinton saga in such a truly compelling way. Written by Will Barber-Taylor
Succession (October 2021, HBO/Sky Atlantic For a show that had not transmitted an episode for nearly two years, Succession did not coddle its audience. Picking up from the immediate aftermath of Kendall’s backstabbing press conference, the show proved that it wouldn’t be pulling any punches with its long-awaited third season Jemery Strong is wearing so many hats as the new ‘family black sheep’ Kendall and Strong plays them all beautifully. Kendal is power-hungry, ‘woke’ and out for revenge but he’s also desperately lonely, unsure of what life without his family looks like this. When his brash and over-bearing mask slips, it reveals a broken man who is ill-equipped to deal with the mess he has created for himself. Despite the gap between seasons two and three, the show hasn’t lost any of its confidence. It’s a rare beast that manages to get better with every episode. Every character in the Roy family has been teetering on the edge. The show has teased that terrifying patriarch Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) might be failing him, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) has had the threat of prison time hanging over him and even cock-sure Roman, (Kieran Culkin), who has become his father’s golden boy has let himself down by accidentally sending a ‘dick pic’ to his father in one of the shows’ most excruciating but brilliant moments. Shiv, (Sarah Snook) who was offered the top job by Logan early on in season two, has seen her position at the top of Waystar become less and less likely as she drifts out of her father’s good books. Delusional older sibling, Connor (Alan Ruck), believes it is his destiny to cement the Roy family legacy by running as a libertarian to become President of the United States. It’s a show that continually discussion-worthy moments and keeps you guessing. It’s as brutal as it is heartfelt and I still have no idea why I care about these people. Despite the two-year gap, Succession remains one of HBO’s most engaging dramas and unlike anything else on television. Written by Mo Walker.
You (October 2021, Netflix)After the first two series of You following a similar pattern of: Joe falls in love, Joe obsesses over said love and murders follow; there was massive potential for You to become predictable, even after the introduction of Joe’s seemingly perfectly-matched partner, Love. However, series three was far from predictable. While we’re still painfully aware of the potential for anybody that crosses this unconventional couple to end up dead by the end of the episode, the series throws some truly chilling curveballs our way throughout, building up to perhaps the tensest scenes in the show so far. Because now that we know what Love is capable of, we know that only one can make it out of this marriage alive.
Victoria Pedretti and Penn Badgeley are explosive together; their chemistry creating a thrillingly volatile dynamic that threatens to implode at any moment – culminating in the most epic face-off that the show has ever seen in the finale. And while the show won’t be the same without Pedretti; the marriage between Joe and Love was burning a short fuse, and it only makes sense for series four to be a fresh start for our favourite brutal bookseller. One can only hope that what follows can match Pedretti’s intensity and unpredictability that she brought to the show, as she gave the standout performance of the series. Though while it would have been interesting to see her take over the main role, You has been Joe’s story from the beginning, and the next series promises to be just as enthralling as the last. Written by Megan Hyland.
In My Skin (November 2021, BBCThree/BBC One) Kayleigh Llewellyn’s semi-autobiographical In My Skin concluded with its second series in November, and it’s criminal that this excellent coming-of-age show hasn’t been more talked about. It revolves around Bethan, a Welsh teenager with a bipolar mum and an abusive dad, both of whom she keeps hidden from her friends at school – and in series 2 we follow as she finds love for the first time, weighs up going to uni, and tries to assist her mum in leaving her dad for good. A combination of beautiful writing and pitch-perfect performances (especially from Gabrielle Creevy and Jo Hartley at the centre) makes In My Skin an underrated gem you’d be foolish to miss out on. It can deliver a bigger emotional punch with one shot than some TV shows manage in an entire series, and its second outing is equal parts uplifting and heartbreaking as it balances teen romance and friendship with mental illness and domestic violence. Written by Sophie Davies.
And with that, it’s goodbye to 2021 and goodbye to this version of the site. We’ll be relaunching with a brand new look in 2022. Thanks to all my contributors Matt Donnelly, Jackson Maher, Sarah Kennedy, Erin, Mo Walker, Sophie Davies, Milo, Megan Hyland, Nick Bartlett, Michael Lee, Eamon Hennedy, Will Barber-Taylor for their brilliant work this year. It means so much to have such a wonderful team behind me. If you’ve interacted with me on Twitter this year or listened to our podcast I want to thank you for your continued support. The site has always been a passion project for me and the fact that I can share my love of television with a wider community is very special. Here’s another great year of television in 2022.
Luke Knowles – Editor of thecustardtv.com