The best TV of 2021
During 2021, we’ve witnessed our best Friends get back together, seen H finally get caught by AC-12 and experienced heartache at Wembley in the Euros.
It’s been quite a year in front of the TV, so get ready to relive all those soaring highs (and the odd emotional low).
Black to Front
This diversity project cleared the regular Channel 4 schedule to showcase programming fronted by black presenters and featuring black contributors. Of key interest were Mo Gilligan and AJ Odudu who brought back 1990s staple The Big Breakfast from its original east London location of the Lock Keepers’ cottages. Their chemistry left many wondering why this one-day-only revival couldn’t have been turned into a permanent fixture.
Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death
“Caroline became addicted to affirmation,” said Dermot O’Leary in this powerful profile of the Love Island host’s life and career in the media glare. We heard from Caroline Flack's family members, friends and colleagues about both the star’s loyalty and affection, but also her mental health issues.
Read more: Caroline Flack documentary paints unflinching portrait
And one year on from that tragic decision to take her own life in February 2020, it was obvious to all that Flack’s death continued to haunt those closest to her.
England v Italy
It’s a rare thing these days for the viewing public to be united in front of their TVs, but the final of Euro 2020 brought 30.5 million people together – a figure that made the match at Wembley the most-watched UK event since the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. England was, of course, trying to end a 55-year dry spell when it came to the matter of winning a major trophy. And, as we know now, that quest was destined to continue…
Friends: The Reunion
The Central Perk Six got back together for a sit-down chat, where they reminisced about favourite moments, while also finding time to revisit the sets from the beloved 1990s’ sitcom.
Read more: Friends: The Reunion is Sky One's most-watched show ever
The stand-out moment proved to be the admission by Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer that they’d been very close during the show’s early seasons but hadn’t crossed a line. “Bulls***,” came the reply from a grinning Matt LeBlanc.
Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham proved to be a dream team living a nightmare in writer Jack Thorne’s excoriating take on care home policy during the early months of the pandemic in 2020. Comer was Sarah, a carer working in Liverpool, while Graham played Tony, a resident with early-onset dementia.
After Covid hit, we saw how their bond was tested as the pressure mounted thanks to PPE shortages and seemingly unremitting illness.
It’s a Sin
It’s already considered a modern classic and is now All 4’s most binge-watched show, but Russell T Davies’s chronicle of the 1980s’ AIDS crisis was a tough sell, with BBC1 and ITV turning the show down. How they must be kicking themselves. Over five masterful episodes, Davies and such stars including Olly Alexander and Lydia West wrung every emotion out of viewers as we followed a generation who lost their lives to the illness.
Kate Garraway: Finding Derek
The trauma of Covid was brought home to many as a candid Kate Garraway permitted cameras to chart the journey their family has made since her husband Derek Draper’s admission to hospital with the virus.
Read more: Finding Derek leaves viewers in tears
The resulting documentary earned the Good Morning Britain presenter a National Television Award, and a follow-up film — capturing the rest of 2021 — will be screened early in the new year.
Katie Price: Harvey and Me
Some viewers will certainly have reassessed their opinion of the model after watching this personal documentary in which she was seen searching for a residential college for her eldest child Harvey, now turning 18, whose medical and behavioural conditions mean that he has the cognitive understanding of a seven-year-old. The bond between mum and son was undeniably touching, and an eloquent Price made good use of her media platform.
Line of Duty
The finale to series six of Line of Duty became the UK’s most-watched drama of the century so far with 12.8 million tuning in to see H finally being unmasked. The revelation, when it came, proved to be underwhelming for some, but BBC drama boss Piers Wenger has since expressed his hope that the officers of AC-12 would return for a seventh series. But, unfortunately for fans, creator Jed Mercurio has yet to commit to writing further scripts.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a disappointingly pedestrian entry in Phase Four of the MCU, but things got back on track with this mind-bending, timeline-jumping six-parter that saw Tom Hiddleston reprise the role of the trickster god.
Read more: How Loki set up a second season
Loki's visuals, performances and score were all lauded, as was the decision by the creative team to confirm Loki’s bisexuality, a move that made him Marvel’s first canonically queer lead character.
Only Murders in the Building
Crime dramas a ten-a-penny but none had the quirkiness or A-grade casting of this splendid Disney+ whodunnit. The New York-set mystery saw Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play neighbours who band together to hunt a killer following a homicide in their enviably gorgeous apartment block. While investigating, they also decide to record their findings on a podcast – attracting an obsessive listenership in the process.
Oprah with Meghan and Harry
Oprah Winfrey bagged the scoop of the year when she conducted a tell-all interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in California. Subjects up for discussion included the couple’s estrangement from members of the royal family and and Meghan’s contemplation of suicide. But it was undoubtedly the revelation about comments made by an unspecified royal concerning their son Archie’s skin colour that proved the most incendiary.
The surge in games of grandma’s footsteps in schools can be attributed to kids having watched this dystopian Korean drama on Netflix about people in financial hardship volunteering to take part in a blood-spattered contest. Anyone under the age of 18 shouldn’t have been watching this ultraviolent nine-parter at all, but it was that young demographic — raised on The Hunger Games — which turned Squid Game into a huge hit.
Strictly Come Dancing
Diagnoses of Covid may have caused some problems, but there was no denying the feelings of uplift this latest series generated. High in the affections of the public were its most progressive signings: John Waite, who formed Strictly’s first all-male dance partnership with pro Johannes Radebe, and deaf competitor Rose Ayling-Ellis, who let viewers into her world with an acclaimed routine performed silently with Giovanni Pernice.
With inter-family conflicts that make Game of Thrones look like a game of snap, the ongoing saga of the Logan family empire continued with a critically-acclaimed third season. Despite being delayed by the pandemic, Jesse Armstrong's Succession wisely chose to avoid addressing Covid in favour of simply picking things up exactly where they left off in 2019, with the show's venomous barbs, toxic relationships, and sibling rivalries providing a welcome distraction this winter.
Nerves were set on edge in BBC1’s claustrophobic thriller as DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) was winched on board a nuclear submarine to investigate a murder.
Read more: Vigil creators tease second season
Cliffhanger scenes abounded, the most memorable being the moment in episode five where the tenacious copper was attacked and trapped in a torpedo tube that was then filled rapidly with water. Vigil viewers waited a whole week to discover whether Amy screams would be heard.
Watch a clip from Succession