And we’re back! After a staggered start to the year, which left me feeling awfully worried we wouldn’t have a top ten list let alone a top fifty, the small screen world burst into life at the mid-way point. With all the shows delayed due to the 2020 pandemic launching all at once, the TV scape turned into a battleground. With streamers and traditional TV fighting for dominance. We had returning greats, fantastic limited series and brilliant new shows, 2021 was truly a spectacular year for television.
If last year brought forth the dawn of the Streaming Wars, 2021 represented a continuation at light speed. Disney+ finally justified their worth as the MCU made the jump to the small screen, Netflix discovered a certain Korean flavour with their improved offering, Apple had a renaissance after their disappointing sophomore year, however, Amazon sadly remained shit. But huddled away under the newly branded and widely maligned HBO Max banner, HBO - the good one - available here in the UK via SKY, reinforced their position as the pinnacle for prestige television. Anyway enough jabbering from me, let’s get into this year’s highlights.
Honourable Mention, The Walking Dead - (Disney+/FX)
Like many viewers from the shows record-breaking audience of the mid-2010’s I abandoned The Walking Dead several years ago. After a fantastic first five series, the AMC fronted series quickly dissolved into a show that was more reminiscent of its titular Walkers. Meandering, lazy through a narrative devoid of inspiration and flagrantly contrived. But after it was announced the show would be drawing to a close with a bumper 24 episode final series I couldn’t resist diving back into the sleeping giant’s world of Walkers and unsavoury rouge humans. And although the show may not have made it into this years list, it has transformed itself back into the small-screen spectacular that attracted such an enormous audience at its peak. The grim vision of post-apocalyptic America that the creators have carefully crafted for so many years is starting to bear fruit. Reanimated and steaming towards a gripping conclusion, if you too have given up on the Walking Dead it may just be time to come back for the closing curtain.
50) Locke & Key - (Netflix)
49) Kevin Can F**k Himself - (Amazon/AMC)
2021 has been the year of genre-bending sitcoms. With Amazon’s new series created by Valerie Armstrong taking a dark look into the life of a sitcom wife off and on camera. Split between the traditional one camera sitcom arrangement and the standard multi-camera setup for a drama Kevin Can F**k Himself is a sure-fire head-scratcher. Allison is in a crisis (Annie Murphy) her obnoxious husband Kevin (Eric Petersen) and his horrendous entourage have stunted her life for too long. But escape this suburban prison is going to be anything but straightforward. The concept for this show is brilliant. Cast your eyes back to any male lead sitcom from the ’50s to the ’90s and you’ll find that the wife is always used as a punching bag for jokes. Hidden behind a laughing track this can sometimes go under the radar. And this is where the brilliance of Armstrong’s premise comes into its own. By presenting the sequences with Kevin as your traditional sitcom, with bright popping colours and a bumbling laughing track. And then switching to a cold, colourless environment when Allison is alone, she has perfectly encapsulated the reality of what living within the constraints of a sitcom would be like. Murphy is dynamite and embodies the role of Allison perfectly. Petersen as Kevin also deserves immense praise. He has crafted a character so insufferable and irredeemable it’s impossible not to scream Kevin can f**k himself at the screen.
48) Feel Good - (Netflix)
Comedian Mae Martin was one of the revelations of 2020 - at least in the eyes of this stand-up novice. So it should be no surprise the second and sadly final series of her comedy-drama Feel Good has made this years top 50. We re-join Mae in somewhat of a mini-crisis after the end of series 1. She’s back in rehab and her relationship with George (Charlotte Ritchie) is seemingly all but over. I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, '“this doesn’t sound like much of a comedy”. And for much of the series run-time, you’d be right. Martin isn’t afraid to highlight difficult themes. Childhood abuse, drug addiction and depression are prevalent throughout this second series. All dealt with in a careful, empathetic way by the series cast and creator. But still, through this Martin still finds a way to make us laugh. In this respect Feel Good is effortlessly true to life. After all, no matter how difficult life can get there is always some form of humour to be found out there, no matter how fleeting. We wouldn’t be able to leave this review without a mention for Friends royalty Lisa Kudrow. Who once again aced the role of Mae’s often overbearing, but heart in the right place mum Linda.
47) Only Murders in the Building - (Disney+)
In the past decade, podcasting has become one of the leading mediums, particularly in the United States. Almost everyone has a favourite podcast - or several in the case of this review - with True Crime being the leader of the pack in terms of listeners. It should be no surprise then that Disney+, guided by the comedic brilliance of Steve Martin and Martin Short, has decided to dip their toe in the fertile world of on-screen podcast re-enactment. It’s not like Disney to be advantageous. Unlike their counterparts, however, this is very much played for both laughs and drama. There are some hilarious moments as our unlikely trio of washed-up actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), debt-ridden play director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and surreptitious loner Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) attempt to uncover the truth behind a shocking murder in their luxurious, Upper West Side, Manhatten apartment block. The ending may just be a little too telegraphed for seasoned crime show viewers. But it’s the getting there that is the real pleasure. Heavily inspired by the series Mr. Robot there is also a brilliant episode that is played completely without sound. As we follow the perspective of one of the hotel’s deaf guests. The series is worth a watch just for those spectacular 30 minutes.
46) Loki - (Disney+)
A big-budget Doctor Who must have been the pitch for Marvels first off-world series, based around the mischievous adventures of the former villain turned whimsical cheerleader Loki. Teaming up with a resurgent Owen Wilson, Tom Hiddlesons fan favourite God of Mischief steps out of his brother’s muscular shadow and forges a “Ragnarock” style caper of his own. Exploring a futuristic bureaucracy called the Time-Variant Authority, very much in the form of the bureaucratic society of Terry Gilliam’s iconic film Brazil. Loki finds himself facing off against his ultimate advisory….another Loki. This truly is Marvel off the leash. Something I’m sure fans of the universe have been dying to see. After all, this year’s big-screen offering has been beyond disappointing for the most part. Loki is undoubtedly primarily fashioned by the MCU as a small-screen gateway into the chaos that is soon to come from the opening of the Multiverse. The show still manages to stand out on its own as a brilliant addition to the ever-growing MCU. While also being the only series produced by Marvel so far to have a second series commissioned. It’s unclear where his adventures will lead next, or if the shows charismatic and diverse cast will return. But after a first series this strong we can’t wait to see what happens next.
45) Dexter New Blood - (SKY/Showtime)
Set ten years after the abomination that was the original Dexter finale, Dexter: New Blood picks up with the missing anti-hero serial killer living a kill free life in the small town of Iron Lake based in uptown New York Swapping the sun-drenched streets of Miami for the frozen northern town Dexter: New Blood works as a much-needed renaissance for the beloved character, while also forging into's own identity. As you might have guessed I detested the 2013 finale. A once-great show that lived beyond its years the creators - who blatantly ran out of ideas - seemed to tarnish the series legacy forever. New Blood is working to redeem the killer’s reputation and so far it's doing a fantastic job. This isn't the same Dexter (Michael C. Hall) we left in 2013 - and not just because he's going under the new persona of Jim Lindsay, a play on the Dexter novels creator Jeff Lindsay - his emotions are more finely tuned, he's in a happy relationship and more importantly, he's gone without a kill for the last ten years. But after his long-abandoned son, Harrison re-enters the frame and an unknown serial killer starts to run-amuck in the sleepy mountain town, how long will Dexter be able to contain his inner demons.
44) The Underground Railroad - (Amazon)
Maestro Barry Jenkins turned his attention to television this year with his hauntingly beautiful adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s fictional book The Underground Railroad. In her attempt to escape slavery in the barbaric plantations of Georgia, Cora (Thuso Mbedu) travels the country in search of salvation. The arduous journey presents many challenges for the former slave as she navigates the hateful world of the Deep South. Jenkins has also brought a deeply moving visual style to his films. And with The Underground Railroad, he has translated this onto the small screen. The first unbingeable series - it took me the best part of seven months to finish - is a brutal unrelenting experience. But unlike some of its counterparts, think Amazons Them, the show doesn't revel in the violence its black characters endure. Jenkins is careful to examine the era truthfully while ensuring the series doesn't become bogged down in the hideous nature of its setting. Long time musical collaborator Nicholas Britell has also returned. With an exceptional operatic score that is filled with so much emotion, it's comfortably the score of the year. The entire cast is producing phenomenal performances. but none more than Mbedu in the leading role. This is an emotionally draining performance and she gives her all to it.
43) Your Honor - (SKY/Showtime)
Your Honor sees the legendary Bryan Cranston’s return to the small screen as the honourable judge Michael Desiato. After his son, Adam (Hunter Doohan) is involved in a fatal hit and run Desiato must abandon his morality to protect Adam and his life as he knows it. The new Showtime produced series leans heavily on Cranston’s previous, iconic, television role - no not the dad out of Malcolm In The Middle. In fact, the limited series, which feels destined for a continuation, works as a turbocharged version of the now infamous Walter White story. This time the dramatic fall from grace is neatly packaged into ten hours of television. Our first impression of Desiato is that of a patient and caring man who in the aftermath of a tragedy is trying his utmost to keep his family together. But once the dramatic hit and run happens, and the fallout starts to materialize, he soon turns into a complex anti-hero, breaking the law in a frequently fruitless fashion to try and cover up his and his son’s misdeeds. Then, by the end, he has gone full Walter White. Morphed into a despicable narcissist who you yearn to fail. It’s a testament to Cranston that he’s able to comfortably inhabit and portray such a complex and ever-changing character. He is truly a master of the small screen and one of the very best actors working today.
42) My Name - (Netflix)
The introductory Korean drama series - a sub-genre that has defined Netflix’s 2021 slate - to our list owes a lot to the beloved 2002 film Internal Affairs. After her career criminal Father is brutally murdered in front of her Oh Hyejin (Han So-Hee) follows in her Father’s footsteps in search of revenge. After homing her natural talents for martial arts and all-out violence, Hyejin decides to go undercover into the police force to route out her Father’s killer once and for all. Korean dramas are unflinching when it comes to handling action sequences. My Name is made up of brutal long takes and expertly choreographed fight sequences which represent some of the best action put to screen this year. The violence is off the charts, primarily made up of knife combat and bare-knuckle fighting. The series may not be for the squeamish in this regard. But it’s not just extreme violence that Ba-da Kim’s series has to offer. The story is well structured and emotionally engaging, with layers to the narrative allowing for twists and turns all the way up to the final episode. Let’s hope Netflix’s newfound love for Korean drama proves to be as fruitful as these early shows have proven to be.
41) See - (Apple TV+)
Steven Knights dystopian epic returned this year for its long-awaited second series. With his daughter, Haniwa (Nesta Cooper) captured and imprisoned by the tyrannical Edo Voss (Dave Bautista) Baba Voss (Jason Momoa) must raise an army to defeat his brother once and for all. Adding Dave Bautista, who is having a fantastic 2021 by the way, to a cast already overflowing with talent was an inspired call by Knight and his team. Bautista has an electric screen presence. And represents one of the few actors who can make even Momoa look like a puppy dog. Like the aforementioned series, See also includes some of the most detailed, ingeniously choreographed action sequences on television. Having to construct realistic battles between hoards of blind fighters is no easy task. The movements of the actors are composed to the minutest of detail to ensure the large-scale conflicts are as true to life as physically possible. This year’s outing further explores the vast, and surprisingly adept, world of this post-apocalyptic America. Apple has spared no expense to ensure Knights full vision is represented on screen. You can really see the money on the screen here. Sylvia Hoeks deliciously conniving Queen Kane is once again in fine form. Given more to do this year by the show’s creators. Including an extremely disturbing incestuous relationship involving her nephew. Hoeks presence on screen is as magnetic as Bautista and Momoa’s. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Hoeks Queen Kane is the series brightest star.
40) Dave - (BBC/FX)
Dave’s first series, a comedy-drama exploring a fictionalised version of rapper Lil Dicky’s (Dave Burd) ascension to stardom, was one of the surprise comedy hits of 2020. Appearing in the UK on the BBC it wasn’t until mid-way through the first series 10 episode run that we started to truly see Burd’s creative flair come to the forefront. Like that first series, the shows sophomore outing doesn’t bolt out of the gates. But once it starts to find its flow, Dave reminds us why the world of Lil Dicky is so effortlessly watchable. It’s admirable that as the shows creator and main star Burd is comfortable enough to often make himself the punchline of the show’s gags or showcase himself in an extremely unflattering light. This time out Dave’s raging entitlement and all-together irritating persona reaches almost insufferable levels. but Burd is always careful to ensure that these pitfalls of his character’s personality don’t define him or the show. There’s always room for heart. And this is no more evident than the series finale. If you thought last year featured a spectacular send-off you’ve seen nothing yet. The final ten minutes of this year’s show may just be the best 10 minutes of any show this year.
39) Unforgotten - (ITV)
The jewel in ITV’s drama crown, Unforgotten plays as the anti Line of Duty. The flash of Jed Mercurio’s hit police drama is here replaced by a meticulous exploration of the detective playbook. Following on from the uncovering of serial murdered Tim Finch (Alex Jennings) DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) is still on leave, unable to return to the force which has taken so much from her during her 29-year career. But after a new case is uncovered and Cassie is informed she won’t receive her retirement pension unless she resumes service our meticulous detective must jump back into a world she wanted to forget. The Unforgotten creative team, under Chris Langs leadership, has always carefully intertwined the professional and personal conflicts of our detective team since the series debut in 2015. But unlike in the past, this series sees Cassie in turmoil as the trauma of her work starts to boil over into her policing. Like many British series, it’s extraordinary the amount of depth, the creators are able to fit into just 6 episodes of television, while also delivering a compelling murder mystery with all the twists and turns of an Agatha Christie. After a tragic ending that drastically changes the landscape of the series, It’s unclear what the future holds for this dusty ITV drama. but here’s hoping the show returns in all its scrupulous glory next year.
38) Reservation Dogs - (Disney+/FX)
The latest incarnation from the whimsical mind of Taika Waititi, this time co-created by Sterlin Harjo, Reservation Dogs follows the daily lives of four Native American teenagers Elora (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Cheese (Lane Factor) and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) living in the eastern Oklahoma reservation of Okern. It’s fair to say that our teenage quartet isn’t afraid of getting into trouble. Whether it be hijacking a truck full of flaming hot chips or helping their Uncle sell his poorly aged weed, the precocious friendship group are always getting into scrapes. Before splitting the spoils over a plate of catfish. But it’s not all fun and games. Working as a comedy and drama entwined the series delves into real and traumatic events, including suicide. There’s also that devilishly entertaining supernatural comedy which has underlined much of Waititis work. With a monster lurking in the reservations woods to a hitchhiking half woman half deer eating unsuspecting men along the roadside. Consistently hilarious and often profound, Waititi has once again crafted another smash hit.
37) Invincible - (Amazon)
With high-octane, brutally bloody and often vulgar superhero stories Amazon seems to have found their niche. Hot on the tales of their mammoth hit The Boys, Invincible brings an animated flavour to the quickly building sub-genre which offers something different to the never-ending wave of family-friendly superhero productions. Seemingly committed to one-upping its predecessor at every turn - a task made easier by its animated form - Robert Kirkman’s - yes the very man behind the Walking Dead comics, which should give you all the background you need - comic book adaptation tests the very limit of viewers appetites for brutality. With some of the gore included horrendous enough to send anyone running for the sick bucket. Particularly those with a nervous disposition towards on screen-violence - this might not be the show for you. I’ve always had a little trouble when it comes to engaging with animation. Especially when the visual style is far removed from reality. More often than not it pales in comparison to live-action, principally when trying to create an emotional connection to its characters. As you can likely tell by its inclusion I didn’t have this same issue with Kirkman’s new series. J.K. Simmons also further expanded upon his ever-growing repertoire of unsavoury characters with his performance as the superhuman Omni-Man.
36) Brand New Cherry Flavour - (Netflix)
Undoubtedly one of the weirder shows to materialise on Netflix’s streaming platform this year. The new limited series by Nick Antosca chronicles aspiring film director Lisa Novas (Rosa Salazar) journey into the seedy underbelly of 1990’s Los Angeles. After completing filming on her short film, under less than ideal circumstances, Lisa Nova seeks out assistance in Hollywood to give her nightmarish story the feature film treatment. But after meeting Harvey Weinstein type producer Lou Burke (Eric Lang) she is suddenly transported into a hallucinogenic world of revenge witchcraft and murder. The visuals in Brand New Cherry flavour of eye-popping (viewers of the show will enjoy that one). Akin to the work of David Lynch, primarily Twin Peaks and the marvellous Mulholland Drive. Antosca’s creation while certainly unique - with its very own splendidly deranged personality - plays as a homage to Mulholland Drive and the more accessible films to escape from the maniacal mind of Lynch. I’ve always had my reservations with Lynch’s style. Mulholland Drive is exceptional filmmaking, from a creator at the top of his game. But his 2017 return to the world of Twin Peaks was so idiosyncratic I just couldn’t stomach it. Brand New Cherry flavour finds a delicious middle ground between the two. With a curse that forces its victim to throw up cats as white as ghosts. And the most bizarre sex scene you’ll likely ever see it’s certainly not afraid to embrace the weirdness. But with brilliant performances from the likes of Catherine Keener and its lead Rosa Salazar the series manages to keep viewers engaged and grounded.
35) Lisey’s Story - (Apple TV+)
At the age of 74 Stephen King continues to be one of the most prolific authors working today, the man is simply a well-oiled machine when it comes to creating supernatural thrillers. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that King himself wrote all eight episodes of the latest adaptation from his prolific body of work, Lisey’s Story. A self-proclaimed personal work for King, the story follows recent widow Lisey Landon (Julianne Moore) as she tries to unravel the mysterious second life of her deceased husband, the former beloved fiction writer Scott Landon (Clive Owen) - wink wink Stephen King. A slow burn at heart the show captures the Iconic atmosphere from King’s novels in a terrifying and eerily beautiful way. With the visual splendour of the otherworldly Boo’ya Moon presenting an enticing treat for the eyes. It’s true that the slow pacing may alienate some viewers with the show certainly not afraid to take its time in telling its story. But the sheer mastery behind Boo’ya Moon’s creation is appealing enough to draw in both fans of the book and new viewers alike. Look out for Dane DeHaan’s ghoulish performance as the panda eyed Landon-fanatic and all-around misogynist Jim Dooley.
34) American Crime Story: Impeachment - (BBC/FX)
The latest story from the ever-growing American Crime Story collection takes a look inside the White House, delving into the much publicised and debated affair between President Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) and Whitehouse staffer Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein). Delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the aptly named third series Impeachment was originally scheduled for release during the Impeachment trial of Donald Trump in 2020. A full year later the series may have missed its perfect release date, but the gravity of the subject matter still remains the same. Impeachment presents a story that can be interpreted in many ways. A story of betrayal and a fascination with worldwide gratification - this is certainly the case when looking at the involvement of the much-maligned Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson). Or a story about how even the most powerful man in the world can destroy his legacy and reputation because of his inability to control his urges. Or even a story of how the most reprehensible crimes can be overshadowed by the more salacious story - we’re talking about Juanita Broaddrick, who bravely told her story of how Bill Clinton allegedly raped her while he was attorney general in Arkansas. A detail that was left as nothing more than a footnote in the lewd 445-page report crafted by Ken Starr. Owen is surprisingly believable as the tarnished president. But Paulson and Feldstein truly steal the show here. Paulson, who has received some unwarranted criticism for her performance, transforms herself into Tripp in a way that only Paulson seems capable of doing. Right down to the sleight of hand body language and posture she perfectly embodies the complex character. I’ve had my issues with Ryan Murphy over the last couple of years. The man is a stickler for spreading himself too thin. But with American Crime Story he always manages to smash it out of the park. Please Ryan just stick with this show going forward.
33) Landscapers - (SKY/HBO)
Landscapers is the true story of devoted couple Susan Edwards (Olivia Colman) and Christopher Edwards (David Thewlis) who after making numerous bizarre decisions in a time of crisis, find themselves arrested on suspicion of double murder. Based local in Nottingham this is a true crime story I was criminally unaware of. Especially surprising considering the series primarily takes place during 2013. a hilarious dark comedy. Will Sharpe who directs all four episodes of the drama has given the series a striking visual style. A style that would be more accustomed to European works of cinema as opposed to British drama's. With fourth-wall-breaking interrogation sequences, otherworldly hallucination straight from an old-timely western and a dazzling use of colour Sharpe has crafted a series so unique in its identity. Colman and Thewlis are magnetic as the unlikely outlaws, you really feel their emotional distress at the idea of being separated from one another (spoiler, or not really a spoiler because the show seems content to make it clear from the outset these two don't get away with their crimes, both are currently serving 25-year sentences). The hilarious oddball police force is also a delight. Bringing humour to all of their scenes with ease.
32) Money Heist - (Netflix)
What a spectacular return to form! After lighting up the world with its first two audaciously addictive series, Money Heist imploded. Bogging itself down with characters who had long been killed off and featuring multiple cameos from footballing pre-madonna Neymar as a monster dwelling monk - yes seriously I still can't quite believe they gave this guy a speaking role - the once-great series looked beyond saving. But then from the rubble comes this fifth and final series. Following on from the ludicrous fourth series our seasoned collection of robbers are in a race against time to retrieve the gold and escape the surrounded Bank of Spain before the Spanish government’s inevitable intervention. The series, created by Alex Pina, may still insist on the aggravating flashbacks but at least this time they serve a purpose towards the shows primary narrative. This I can stomach. While the present-day events are once again finally tuned. No longer reliant on the nonsensical bullet heavy action sequences which had become a staple of the series previous two disappointing outings. Series finales are always intrinsically difficult - especially in the social media age. This is why Pina's breathtaking final episode, which expertly ties up all of Money Heists loose ends, should be quite rightly lauded. It may not have been clean sailing all the way to the end. But with its final series Money Heist has redeemed its reputation.
31) Physical - (Apple TV+)
Rose Byrne, possibly best known for her roles in lighthearted comedies, takes the reins of an altogether different comedy for Apple. This is mean-hearted comedy. In fact, you could probably just drop the comedy facade it is trying to pull all together and call it what it is. A brutish drama. Apathetic and suffering from an identity crisis, tortured housewife Sheila (Rose Byrne) embarks on a journey of discovery in the form of aerobics. Set in sun-soaked San Diego, Physical feels like a companion piece to Netflix’s wrestling hit cancelled Glow - one of many shows unceremoniously cancelled by the leading streamer. But Apple's series certainly carries with it a much more ferocious bite. Setting a show in the ’80s is almost an automatic win for me, such is my enamour with the era. So it should be no surprise creator Annie Weisman’s series has landed so high on this years list. But the praise runs much deeper than just the setting. The show is so unique in its execution I can’t help but find it utterly fascinating. The hateful voice-over which towers over Sheilas life switches from brutal, to funny and finally repulsive so frequently it can leave you in a head spin.
30) Line of Duty - (BBC)
Well then, this is sure to be a polarising one. Such is the hatred and intense backlash that has been directed towards the series finale - which at this time looks to be nothing more than a red herring. With series creator Jed Mercurio all but confirm the BBC ratings colossus will be returning for a seventh series. It’s fair to say that the reaction was palpable. So palpable in fact it clouded what had otherwise been a stellar series, with newcomer Kelly Macdonald once again flexing her acting chops in a complex role, that should have been explored in more detail than it was. The ending, which attempted to both pull the rug out from underneath its viewer’s feet - in typical Line Of Duty style - whilst also circumventing viewers expectations, with an out of character political message, as opposed to the expected revelation of one nefarious criminal mastermind overseeing the corrupt world Line of Duty has inhabited, - like a constabulary puppet master - ultimately fell flat. After all, it was an ending for a different show. One that was more grounded in reality and hadn’t spent its best years revelling in its mouthwatering absurdity. That being said the interrogation scenes were as meticulously produced as ever and who doesn’t love seeing Steve and Kate call each other “mate” fifty times an episode.
29) Insecure - (SKY/HBO)
After five glorious years full of laughter, tears and shocking life choices Issa Raes refreshing comedy series Insecure is coming to an end. With nine of the series final ten episodes already released, it’s safe to say Rae hasn't disappointed. This final outing for Issa and her beloved friendship is just as joyful as its predecessors with all the laughs and relationship drama we have come to expect. When we last left the gang Issa was riding the wave of her successful Blocc party, Molly (Yvonne Orji) was settling into her new law firm after a tricky initiation and Lawrence (Jay Ellis)had a baby on the way. Last time out Molly and Issa's friendship was living on a cliff edge. With the previously inseparable best friends well and truly at odds - let's not forget in the very first episode of Insecure Issa dedicated a rap to Mollys "Broken Pussy" so we should really have seen this coming. Thankfully the paring is now back to their aforementioned inseparable ways and ready to face down the challenges of life together. Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) is once again the unsung hero of the show. Her infectious performance brings so much laughter to the show. With each appearance on screen, I feel my sides splitting.
28) Arcane - (Netflix)
The second and final animated series to feature on this year’s breakdown. Arcane, inspired by the immensely popular game League of Legends, follows the story of two feuding sisters Vi (Hailee Steinfeld) and Powder/Jinx (Ella Purnell) torn apart by the unforgiving world of Piltover. Split into three distinct sections, one taking place before the sister’s inevitable separation, and two taking place after a time jump following the ever-evolving conflict between the pair and the two rival worlds of Piltovers major city and oppressed underground Zaun. In terms of animation style, Arcane may represent the greatest example of visually expansive, beautiful animation put to screen. Every shot is like a painting. The style is up there with that of the magnificent Into The Spider-Verse. The textures are expertly crafted with colours that pop and produce spectacular sequences you wouldn't be able to create in live-action. The story itself tales various different themes ranging from family alienation to systemic persecution. The characters are all complex, diligently written in order to build an emotional connection with the vast world of Piltover. With Imagine Dragons scoring the series-opening titles sequence and Alex Seavers and Temple composing a rich musical score to accompany the on-screen grandeur, Arcane has crowned itself the foremost animated series on television.
27) Hellbound - (Netflix)
The world is on a collision course with worldwide turmoil. Angels are appearing with deadly premonitions condemning people to the depths of hell. With horrifying smoke monsters sent to brutalise, then murder the condemned. But mysterious profit Jung Jin-Su (Yoo Ah-in) has then answers. It's a message from God, and only by repenting for your sins will you avoid the gruesome fate of those who have sinned. Of course, Jung Jin-Su isn't all that he seems and it's up to the unlikely pairing of Min Hye-jin (Kim Hyun-joo) and Jin Kyung-hun (Ik-joon Yang) to uncover the truth. The latest creation from the macabre mind of Korean filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon, best known for his gloriously gruesome Train to Busan film, Hellbound features all the guts and gore you would come to expect from one of Yeon's projects. But there is so much more going on here. Hellbound serves as an extensive examination of the pitfalls of religious indoctrination. And how it can be used to justify heinous, barbaric mistreatment of other people without the fear of consequences. With only six episodes in its first series, you may fly through Yeon's creation but it will stay with you for weeks. Eating away at your subconscious like the zombies that have defined his previous body of work.
26) Ted Lasso - (Apple TV+)
After an utterly charming first series, Ted Lasso went on the offensive in its second outing. After the club’s heartbreaking relegation, the staff and players of Richmond FC are adjusting to life in English footballs second division. But with the pressure of an immediate return to the summit of English football new rivalries begin to flare up and friendships are tested to the limit. We witnessed some hints that the show may be embarking on a more dramatic route last series but this was resoundingly confirmed with the shows ensuing series. And although the change has brought forward some of Ted Lasso's finest plot lines, I do think it has hurt the previously immense standards of the show. That’s not to say Ted Lasso isn’t still one of the best shows on Television. Its place in this list is a testament to that. It just means that this series could, and probably should, have been better, or at least on the same level as its predecessor. The rate at which Ted and The Diamond Dogs have taken the world by storm is almost unprecedented for a sports-based show, especially a show revolving around football. From exploring social media after the series release it’s clear everyone and their dog is watching Apples new flagship series. Step aside The Morning Show, Ted is the captain now.
25) Foundation - (Apple TV+)
Even Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece Dune isn't as ambitious a project as David S. Goyer and Apples attempt to adapt the influential Science-Fiction series Foundation by writer Issac Asimov. Set over the course of 1000 turbulent years this saga of humans trying to survive the inevitable destruction of the Galactic Empire is the perfect encapsulation of how much money is bring thrown into television by the major streaming services as they compete for dominance. The world-building here is off the charts. Entire universes have been intrinsically constructed, Some just to be destroyed after a minuscule amount of screen time. The scope is incomparable to any other show currently on television. But this extreme detail in the world does mean that the characters can occasionally appear cold and hollow. A major issue with the original material. But whereas Asimov showed little interest in building ups his human characters. With Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) the man whose psychohistory equation started revealed the empires impending doom appearing only once in the first five books from Asimov’s iconic series. Goyer has cleverly constructed ways around this in order to keep his major stars involved with the story for as long as possible. The most inspired of which is his invention of the constantly repeating cycle of emperors. With three emperors, Brother Dawn, Brother Day and Brother Dusk all forged from one original ruler in a revolving door of power. Lee Pace stars as the de facto leader and middle clone Brother Day in a powerful performance which is undoubtedly the shows strongest asset.
24) Vigil - (BBC)
After the BBC’s Line of Duty finale left most viewers feeling apathetic towards the series creators, they bounced back in triumphant fashion with the most popular - at least in viewing figures - new drama the BBC has seen in years. Taking the very simply premises of a murderer on the loose, with a detective hot of their tale, and transporting it into the undersea world of nuclear submarine warfare, they have created a series that hits all the right notes in terms of suspenseful weekly drama, while also forging its own identity in a crowded genre which has become the staple of the Beebs Sunday night calendar. When the premise was first revealed my immediate thought was “is a submarine really going to be big enough to keep this story going”. I couldn’t have been proven more wrong. The series makes brilliant use of its limited environment, as it transforms the steal underwater beast into an almost fairground funhouse - more like a delay funhouse considering the murders - with each level of the submarine presenting its own challenges and pitfalls. Certain to keep you guessing right until the very end, Vigil is a prime example of the BBC’s stronghold on the very best of British based small-screen thrillers.
23) Dr Death - (Starz Play/Peacock)
More terrifying than any horror story, the tale of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, nicknamed Doctor Death by his colleagues and the press, is sure to unnerve anyone in need of surgery. Adapted from both the true story and popular podcast of the same name. Dr. Death is a deep dive into the life of Duntsch (Joshua Jackson). From his early days in medical school, which although tumultuous of times were full of promise. To the horrifying reality of his crimes which left 33 of his 38 patients maimed, many dead. The catalogue of oversight and blatant corruption that lead to Duntsch being able to get away with his heinous crimes for so many years is shocking and, along with the nightmarish surgery sequences, is sure to leave viewers petrified. Joshua Jackson - who replaced Jamie Dornan who was originally penned for the leading role - is brilliant as Duntsch. He perfectly captures the menacing but also blundering persona of Duntsch. Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin as whistleblower doctors Robert Henderson and Randall Kirby who attempt to pull the plug on Duntsch destructive medical practice are also fantastic. Their on-screen chemistry is magnetic and brings some much-needed levity within the disheartening reality of a system that is built to protect the incompetent and harm the vulnerable.
22) Time - (BBC)
Frequently murdered actor Sean Bean stars in this gritty examination of the UK’s criminal justice system. After a drunken hit and run teacher Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) hands himself in to the police, accepting his fate behind bars. Sentence to four years he must overcome the collapse of his family while trying to survivor the perilous conditions of his new home. His pleasant, non-confrontational demeanour leaving him a target for the prisons seasoned inhabitants. It seems like every year you’ll see a new story in the news about the extravagant conditions of UK prisons compared to their counterparts, particularly in the United States. But Time presents the truth. This isn’t a land of opulence, it’s a barren unwelcoming hellscape, where the weakest of prisoners must fight to survive with danger hiding behind every corner. It doesn’t matter who you are on the outside, or even if you’re a prison guard. The moment you walk into the prison block you have to be ready for anything. Bean does a brilliant job of playing the fish out of water. This is a man who has played valiant knights on multiple occasions, so Time is a reminder of his extensive acting range. When it comes to short but sweet dramas there’s no better than BBC.
21) Goliath - (Amazon)
David E. Kelley is one of the most prolific creators of small-screen entertainment working today. The brains behind almost all of Nicole Kidman’s forays into the world of television, from Big Little Lies to The Undoing. He even has a Stephen King adaptation under his belt (but to be fair, as we mentioned earlier, who doesn't nowadays). Kelley is an expert when it comes to creating engrossing television drama. What may be surprising, however, is that his longest-running series is a little known, under-appreciate legal drama Goliath. Spearheaded by Billy Bob Thornton as the enigmatic, effortless cool, lawyer Billy McBride, Goliath hasn't received its dues since its breathtaking first series way back in 2016 (it feels so wrong to say that about 2016) with its fourth and final series Goliath has cemented its status as one of Amazons best long-running originals. This time out Billy and his rag-tag team featuring long-standing colleagues Patty Solis-Papagian (Nina Arianda) and Brittany Gold (Tania Raymonde) are taking on the giants of Big Pharma. The opioid epidemic currently ravaging the United States has received a lot of air time this year. And Goliath is another careful unwavering examination of the pain caused by the incessant creed at the top of the ravenous American pharmaceutical empire. J.K Simmons continues his villainous escapade as he takes on the role of George Zax The C.E.O of ZaxPharma. What Kelley has always brought to Goliath to differentiate it from the crowded American courtroom genre is a distinct visual style. Emboldened in the shows psychedelic third series the visual style made up of neon colours and flashy camera work has continued into the shows final series, finding the perfect balance between eccentric style and substance.
20) Starstruck - (BBC)
The rom-com genre has turned into a poison pill in the last decade. With its name associated with the shockingly un-funny sloppily made comedies that have plagued the careers of actors like Cameron Diaz and Adam Sandler - excuse me while I let out a shudder at the very mention of that man’s name. Enter Auckland native and relative newcomer Rose Matafeo and her brilliant re-imagining of the previously uninspiring genre. Jessie (Rose Matafeo) is juggling two dead-end jobs while trying to stay afloat in London. After a drunken one-night stand she awakes to realise the man she has just slept with is none other than film star and much courted leading man Tom Kapoor(Nikesh Patel). What follows is a hilarious often heartwarming, often cringe-worthy awkward on again of again relationship as the unlikely paring find their lives being more and more entwined together. Matafeo has created something really special here. Starstruck transcends the lazy tropes that have influenced the genre for too long to create a unique, finely balanced, comedy. Patel is also brilliant here and makes the series a delightfully easy watch. At just six short episodes the series is short-lived. But the BBC has already green light a second series and we can't wait to see it.
19) Cruel Summer - (Amazon)
Amazons brightest spark of the year. Cruel Summer is set in the small Texas town of Skylin. Taking place over the course of three separate summers in 1993, 1994 and 1995 it chronicles the ever-changing life of Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and her meteoric rise from outsider to the most popular girl in school and then to the most despised person in America. All while formerly admired teen Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) disappears in a seemingly unrelated incident. The structure of Cruel summer is what makes the series so utterly compelling. Each episode takes place during a specific date in the year over the course of three separate years. This inspired technique keeps the mystery hidden until the very end while also giving us a glimpse into how the lives of our characters have changed over such a short period of time. With the cast of the show, primarily made up of newcomers, having to portray the same character over three very different periods in their life this is the perfect project to flex your acting chops. Both the leads Aurelia and Holt really stand out when it comes to crafting different personas for their characters. the difference between Aurelia's 1993 version of Jeanette, a sweet, quiet and awkward girl compared to her haunted 1995 version is spectacular. At times it's almost incomprehensible that the same actor is producing both of these contrasting performances.
18) Showtrial - (BBC)
Back to the Beeb and we have another mesmerising crime thriller to sink our teeth into. As previously mentioned in our review of Goliath, American courtroom drama sequences are seemingly endless. However, the same can't be said for the wiggy environment of British courtroom dramas. Showtrial is the exception to this rule, and what an exception. After being arrested and charged on suspicion of murdering their former friend turned nemesis Hannah Ellis (Abra Thompson) wealthy friends Talitha Campbell (Celine Buckens) - if that isn't the most ridiculously obnoxious first name in television history I don't know that is - and Dhillon Harwood (Joseph Payne) go on trial in what depends into a media circus or show trial. With whip-smart lawyer Cleo Roberts (Tracy Ifeachor) representing her can Talitha overcome her combative personality to prove her innocence. Buckens is a revelation as Talitha. She perfectly captures the unpalatable person of Talitha while also sharing electric on-screen chemistry with the brilliant Ifeachor. I found Showtrial to be utterly engrossing. Like a book you can't put down this was the epitome of binge-worthy television. With each episode presenting a new twist and turn in the narrative.
17) Back to Life - (BBC)
Daisy Haggards spectacular dark comedy Back to Life returned for its second series this year. With Miri (Daisy Haggard) still very much adjusting to life outside of prison she is hit by the arrival of a familiar former resident to her claustrophobic coastal town of Hythe. Haggard's performance as the younger than her years Miri continues to be inspired. She perfectly encapsulates the reality of what it would be like to be thrown into adult life after being in prison for 18 years, convicted as a teenager. Series two allows Miri to further explore her blossoming relationship with neighbour Billy (Adeel Akhtar) while also attempting to mend the previously burnt bridges with her childhood friend Mandy (Christine Bottomley) More than any show this year Back to Life finds that perfect balance between comedy and drama. There are countless emotionally resonant moments in this second series. But it also remains blisteringly funny. With Miri's parents Caroline (Geraldine James) and Oscar (Richard Durden) providing the majority of the laughter out loud moments. Like the aforementioned Starstruck, Back to Life is a short but sweet experience at just six episodes. But this world Haggard has created is so endlessly engaging Back to Life is sure to take a place right at the top of my re-watch list.
16) Sex Education - (Netflix)
Returning for its third series in as many years, Netflix’s raunchy teen drama with a heart of gold continues to be one of the streamers most consistent series. Following the shocking finale last time out, we pick back up with our Moordale high favourites in a new school term, after a summer of drama and discovery. Otis has a new love interest, Jean is dealing with her surprise pregnancy and the complications that arise from the end of her relationship with Jakob and Maeve is left contemplating her next move after the tragic fall out with her former sex clinic cohort Otis. Oh and we also have a trendy new principle overseeing Moordale. It’s fair to say Sex Educations biggest strength - aside from the fact it is actually educational. Seriously, this show should be shown in Sex Ed classes as opposed to the mindless ramblings of teachers who would rather be anywhere else in the world - is its ability to juggle such a diverse and populous cast. We’re constantly switching between storylines, some interconnecting, some tackling difficult and important subjects and others that are just there to be hilarious - mission accomplished. But even with all these different narratives running concurrently with each other we never feel a sense of whiplash. Instead, we revel in each story. Simply put the show is one of the most astutely written on television. Justice for Ruby!
15) The Outlaws - (BBC)
The new series from Steven Merchant and Elgin James is a breakaway from Merchant's previously lauded comedic work. undoubtedly still harbouring comedic elements within its story. The Outlaws, however, is, at least in my eyes, a drama and a damn good one at that. Seven strangers from extremely different walks of life are thrust together to complete a community service project in Bristol. But upon discovering a bag of money in the ceiling the mismatched collection of convicted criminals must decide what to do with their discovery. I'm not sure about other people households. But the "Bag of Money" equation has been long debated in my household. I'm sure almost everyone has wondered what course they would take if they stumbled upon a bag of money. The Outlaws delves into this question bring us both hilarious moments of comedy and intense drama. The creators have constructed a glorious selection of characters to bounce off each other. From west-wipe lawyer Gregory (Stephen Merchant) to overly enthusiastic activist Myrna (Clare Perkins) and the hilarious short-tempered Instagram influencer Lady Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson). These brilliant thorough developed characters present the majority of the comedic relief while the dramatic elements of the story focus on teenagers Rani (Rhianne Barreto) and Christian (Gamba Cole). Oh, and did I mention bloody Christopher Walken is one of the show’s stars? Hollywood legend Christopher Walken. Television really has come a long way.
14) The North Water - (BBC/AMC)
The perfect series to watch over the chilly Christmas period, logs in the fire, snuggled under the blankets, baileys in hand. The North Water, the latest prestige historic drama created and directed by Andrew Haigh is one hell of an unforgiving watch. Telling the story of disgraced former army surgeon Patrick Sumner (Jack O'Connell) who in a desperate attempt to find work joins up with a whaling expedition heading for the northern arctic. Once onboard the ship spread-head by conniving captain Brownlee (Stephen Graham) Sumner meets Henry Drax (Colin Farrell) a beast of a man in charge of harpooning the whales. But Drax isn't to be trusted. A brutish killer on land his immoral escapades soon make their way onto the ship and further compound the ill-fated expedition. Farrell's transformation into the penguin for the upcoming Batman film has been the talk of the town. But his Transformation into the repulsive Drax may be even more impressive. Farrel is playing Drax filthy. And I don't mean in his personalist I mean in its very basic definition the man is disgusting. You can almost smell him through the screen. Shot on location for authenticity, you can really feel the pain the doomed sailors are going through. The unrelenting fierce environment is enough to bring produce chills down the spine.
13) WandaVision - (Disney+)
Disney has been teasing Marvel’s arrival to the small-screen ever since the service first launched in America way back in pre-pandemic 2019. The anticipation was fever pitch. After all the MCU is by far and away the most valuable and marketable property the film industry, along with Disney itself, currently possess. Therefore it’s nothing short of a miracle that WandaVision not only lived up to the hype but shattered it as the universes first foray into television. For a franchise that has often - and seemingly rightly, from looking at this year’s big-screen offering - been accused of playing it safe and lacking creativity, WandaVision is a bold and often poignant examination of grief through the lens of classic sitcoms from various decades of American TV history. From Hello Lucy to Modern Family almost every era-defining sitcom is touched upon in both hilarious and melancholy ways. Considering the MCU’s reputation the idea that they would release two opening episodes that are fully in black and white with no clear story-arc is something that would have been unimaginable outside of the realms of streaming. This medium has, as we’ve seen with the other Marvel properties that followed, opened up a door for the franchise to embrace change and experiment. Moving on to the cast both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as our wayward heroes produce stunning performances, with the effervescent Kathryn Hahn leading a brilliant supporting cast as the couples dastardly neighbour Agatha.
12) The Handmaid’s Tale - (Channel 4/Hulu)
Returning to our screens once again this year after a break from its usual yearly schedule. June’s fourth chapter in the authoritarian hellscape of Gilead was rocked by an unprecedented - lockdown forced - overhaul of its original pre-laid script. Ripped up at the eleventh hour this could have caused a disaster for Channel 4 and Hulu’s flagship show. Instead after an inspired, and much needed, change of direction by the series long time showrunners, The Handmaid’s Tale further cemented itself as not only one of the finest shows currently on television but also a juggernaut of the new wave of small-screen entertainment. The new series takes a much-needed breather from the unrelenting cruelness of its predecessors. If ever there was a series to bring back the fans who became too disturbed by the shows brutal subject matter this is the one - that’s not to say it is easy running however, there are still moments that will provoke a gut-wrenching reaction from viewers, they just aren’t as frequent. Elizabeth Moss reprises her award-winning leading role as Handmaid June and this time around picks up the Directors mantel for a number of episodes, all the while continuing to be an acting revelation. Her performance is as measured and powerful as ever while also allowing some much-needed rage to enter the fray at the same time.
11) The White Lotus - (SKY/HBO)
Created from the riotous mind of Mike White, The White Lotus welcomes a new wave of irremediable, obnoxious characters to the HBO playbook. Much in the same vein to Successions unsavoury Roy family. Set on a lush high-end tropical island resort the series follows the exploits of its guests and employees during a tumultuous week that culminates in an unknown death - don't worry this isn't a spoiler. The death is teased in the series-opening scene. With The White Lotus White and his creative team have shown their comprehensive understanding of how to present privilege and the class divide in a realistic way within a visual medium. All of their characters are complex and in a constant competition to become the most reprehensible. From Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) who befriends spa worker Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) with the promise of a fruitful business partnership only to become aloof when a new man enters the scene. To the self-righteous, aggrandising Mossbacher family who very publicly share their deep-rooted emotional issues. Olivia, played by HBO royalty Sydney Sweeney, the wokefishing teenager from this family a real standout. But you don't get more ghastly than mummy's boy Shane (Jake Lacy), who instead of enjoying his honeymoon with his new wife - well above his station - Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) decides to engage in an ever-growing feud with hotel manager Armond (Murray Bartlett). Bartlett and Coolidge’s performances may steal the show and take the majority of the praise. But the entire cast is on fine form here. The musical score is always worth a mention. The hypnotic them song is sure to stick in your head.
10) It’s a Sin - (Channel 4)
Russel T. Davies has had quite the year. Re-instated as the lead showrunner for Doctor Who 17 years after he first spearheaded the Sci-Fi behemoths momentous return to the small screen, which catapulted the beloved time-lord into the 21st Century, showcasing the playful but impassioned style of Davies writing which he has since become a customed for. The British TV maestro also perfectly displayed that aforementioned style in his new limited series It’s a Sin. The story of 1980s Britain ravaged by the aids epidemic might not sound like the kind of show to inspire joy. But Davies - who has been working on the project from before his time on Doctor Who - has brought so much heart to the story as well as the inevitable pain. His quintet of characters living and loving in London, while navigating the treacherous pitfalls of a disease misunderstood by many and active ignored by those in power, are expertly fleshed out. Meticulously written to draw us into their ostentatious lifestyles before ambushing us with the stark reality of the dangers faced by their very existence. The chemistry between the friends Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) Roscoe (Omari Douglas) Jill (Lydia West) and Colin (Callum Scott-Howels) is electric and along with Davies intimate deeply personal story has produced a magical limited series. Honestly, it’s just nice to see a story about Gay men that isn’t created by the menace that is Ryan Murphy. La!
9) Squid Game - (Netflix)
In September Netflix launched what is sure to be the cultural phenomenon of the decade in the form of their Korean exploitation, Battle Royale -esque drama Squid Game. In a seemingly unprecedented wave of word-of-mouth popularity, unseen since the early days of Stranger Things, the once unfancied Drama - which had been rejected countless times before emerging in a cloud of secrecy - has captured the world’s attention by being both beautifully produced and brutal beyond comprehension. I’m still not over the marbles episode. Claimed to be the perfect story for our time by some, the show follows 456 desperate people, who for one reason or another are living life on the poverty line in South Korea. Upon agreeing to participate in a selection of children’s games shrouded in a cloak of mystery for the chance to win a 45.6 billion Won prize. The participants soon realise that this seemingly joyful game show has a deadly secret. Only one of them is going to make it out alive! It’s difficult to put into words just how brutal creator Hwang Dong-hyuk’s show really is. There are mass executions and deaths that are sure to tug on the heartstrings of even the most steadfast viewer. But this brutality is almost inexplicably complemented by the vibrant world the characters inhabit. The games and environment that surrounds them are made up of bright punchy colours, which when mixed with the exaggerated, often outrageous, violence creates a tone that feels like nothing we have ever seen before. It’s unclear why Netflix has commissioned such a plethora of Korean shows this year. But one thing is for sure, it was an inspired decision.
8) Yellowjackets - (SKY/Showtime)
Every year there's always a show released right at the death which finds its home in our top ten. This year’s culprit is none other than Showcases Lord of the Flies inspired series Yellowjackets. Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson the show chronicles the tragic story of an extremely talented high school girls football team, who after a catastrophic plane crash are left stranded in the Ontario wilderness for 19 months. With two competing timelines set in 1996 when the plane crash occurs and present-day 2021 with the former friends new lives dripping in long-standing trauma. Structuring a narrative around two inherently different timelines is no mean feat. And the series creators handle it expertly. Neither timeline suffers because of its counterpart. The obvious reaction for audiences would be too long for the series more dramatic 1996 timeline to take centre stage. But due to the inspired casting of the shows present-day timeline, this isn't the case. Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis are all dynamite in their modern-day roles. In each of their performances, you can see the underlying trauma of their 19 months in the wilderness. Lewis in particular is producing a deliriously watchable performance white unlike any other this year. With a story that includes blackmail, teenage angst, broken relationships, cannibalism and murder Yellowjackets never has a full moment. Right down to the killer retro system title sequence - which plays like a corrupted VHS tape. Curse Showtime for releasing this show at the end of the year. With four of Yellowjackets ten episodes still to air in the UK, this is very much a preliminary placing. If the series continues on kit's upward trajectory we could be looking at the newest long-lasting prestige drama.
7) Dopesick - (Disney+/Hulu)
2021 has seen major Hollywood actors flock to the small screen in droves. The legendary Michael Keaton is the latest in a long line of storied actors to turn their attention to the small screen in this years true to life drama Dopesick. Based on the book by Beth Macy, Dopesick is a comprehensive examination of the tragic opioid epidemic which has suffocated America since the late 1990s. Transporting viewers from the epicentre of Americans never-ending struggle with opioids to the voracious money-obsessed board rooms of Purdue Pharma who's drug OxyContin kicked off the epidemic and to the hallways of the DEA as agents fight in vain to overcome the corrupt systems put in place to protect pharmaceutical companies. As the story progresses the heinous truth of this man-made epidemic comes to light in more distressing and shocking ways. The callous disregard with which Purdue Pharma and the loathed Sackler family operated with is truly unimaginable. If this wasn't a true story you would accuse the creators of making their villains evil intentions too telegraphed. As aforementioned, the series boasts the acting talents of Batman himself Michael Keaton, who plays small-town doctor turned drug addict Samuel Finnix in a heartbreaking performance. But the entire star-studded cast is putting in brilliant performances. Kaitlyn Dever returning to the small screen after her rip-roaring performance in Netflix's Unbelievable is once astounding. With her character, Betsy suffers from a familiar fate as her Doctor Finnix. Outside of those crippled by the drug bullish DEA detective Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson) is another standout. It may not make for an easy watch. But Dopesick is a story that should be absorbed by everyone.
6) Maid - (Netflix)
It's very rare that domestic abuse, particularly emotional abuse, is pushed to the forefront of a television show in the way it is examined in Maid. Often this form of abuse is left as an underlying theme in the show or something a secondary, often minor, character will endure. Maybe this is because it's an epidemic many people prefer to ignore. Largely confined to behind closed doors and out of sight from peering eyes it can be too easy to undervalue the trauma it causes. With domestic violence dramatically rising during lockdown Maid has arrived at the perfect time. Unafraid to explore themes of domestic abuse lesser projects might ignore, and featuring a wide lens that examines and critiques the systemic systems that are in place making it so difficult for victims of domestic violence to escape their perilous situations. Margaret Qualley is the lead here in a performance her short but notable career has been building towards. You can tell every facet of her being has been thrown into this role. It’s a physical, demanding and emotionally draining role which is uncompromising in its direction. Qualley has been a rising star for a while now. Being one of the standouts in Tarantinos most recent feature film and also delivering a commendable performance in HBO’s The Leftovers. But this is her moment now. I’m not sure she will ever put in a better performance than her turn as Alex.
5) Midnight Mass - (Netflix)
After the disappointment of Bly Manor Mike Flanagans, Netflix love-in returned to prosperity with the release of their latest collaboration the brilliant Midnight Mass. The modern-day horror auteur’s passion project has been in the works for the best part of a decade. So it should be no surprise he proclaimed it as his “favourite project so far” or that it’s made our top ten this year (the second time for Flanagan) Drenched in religious allegory and symbolism of faith well past its glory days, desperate for a rejuvenation no matter the cost. The story follows the religious reawakening of a small catholic town on a lonely forgotten Island outside the US mainland called Crockett Island. After the arrival of a new but eerily familiar priest, the Island and its residents receive a rejuvenation that defies logic and points towards divine intervention or gods miracle. His latest endeavour feels very personal for Flanagan, who grew up in a very religious environment and was an altar boy himself. This personal connection seeps into the story and helps to embolden its emotional moments, with are frequent. This is slow burn horror at its finest. The scares aren’t immediate with the ever-growing dread clouding the town taking precedent over the all too common lazy jump scares, which have plagued the genre. Some may struggle with its sombre pacing but Midnight Mass is an expertly crafted horror series by a creator at the top of his game again.
4) Scenes from a Marriage - (SKY/HBO)
In a similar vein to Normal People last yea, HBO’S new limited series, about a marriage falling apart over 5 brutal claustrophobic acts, was a bolt from the blue. If Normal People left you feeling as if you’d been hit by a sledgehammer after each episode, Scenes from a Marriage is the whole damn tool shed. Adapted from legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s 1974 film of the same name by well-travelled screenwriter-director Hagai Levi. This modern reimagining of a common but deeply compelling story brings a new and exciting layer to the brilliant original. Starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in the title roles, the show was immortalised in pop-culture history before it was even released, after the sensual red carpet display by the pair in Venice at the shows long-awaited premiere. It’s safe to say that the very same chemistry that brought social media to a standstill encompasses the series. The way they both subtly and loudly - depending on the episode - simultaneously love and very much at times disdain each other creates a palpable atmosphere ready to burst at any moment. It’s two actors at the top of their game, with a script that is fashioned to seep every last emotion from each scene.
3) For All Mankind - (Apple TV+)
When Apple TV+ Launched back in 2019 For All Mankind was one of its launch titles. The alternate history story of how the Soviet Union won the space race over the Americans was quickly forgotten about by audiences and critics alike, crushed under the tremendous weight of being released at the same time as the streamers major hit The Morning Show. Thankfully this reality didn’t stunt this alternate reality gem as the show triumphantly returned for a second stunning series of Television. Our fascination with Space has very much come back into the forefront in recent years with the world’s two leading billionaire playboys fighting over who has the biggest, most expensive, rocket. While NASA has, some would say unwisely set its sights on returning to the moon in the next decade. This has inspired creators in the film and TV industry as well, with a host of new space-based shows and films being released in recent years. But For All Mankind, spearheaded by the legendary Ronald D. Moore is a class above. The history both borrowed and invented is engrossing and most importantly believable, a testament to the creators endeavour to conceive the most rigorous, meticulous structured world-building on television. Just watch out for the giant time jump, which looks to be a staple of the series complex framework.
2) Succession - (SKY/HBO)
Jesse Armstrongs razor-sharp drama made its long-awaited return this year, and as you can probably tell it was anything but a disappointing homecoming with the Roy families toxic scheming going supersonic. When we left them last Kendall (Jeremy Strong) had started World War Three - or in his and Logans (Brian Cox) case World War Three hundred - as he orchestrated a miraculous double-cross in order to oust his Father as the much-coveted CEO of WaystarRoyCo. But with the tide very much against him and the piercing eyes of his family watching his every move, this might not be the slam dunk Kendall had envisioned. After two series which felt like forbidden fruit, too sour and unforgiving for most mainstreaming audiences, the show finally homed into that blockbuster level audience it has always been threatening to attract. That’s not to say the cruel, corrupt and often cringe-worthy Roy’s have toned down their loathsome behaviour. In fact the opposite. They’ve got worse! and the show is even better for it. The dialogue continues to be the most explosive on television, with seemingly every other sentence being worthy of quoting, again and again. And the finale Armstrong has produced will be lauded throughout Television history. It feels almost foolhardy to except to the show to improve upon this years offering but we can’t wait to see if Armstrong and his crew can achieve the seemingly impossible.
1) Mare of Easttown - (SKY/HBO)
HBO truly are in a class of their own when it comes to limited series. In a year that brought us both Scenes from a Marriage and The White Lotus. Mare of Easttown came out on top as not only the best Limited Series of the year but also the best series of the year. Starting out as a traditional detective story following ragged, over-the-hill detective Mare Sheehan - embodied by a phenomenal Kate Winslet in her long-awaited return to the small screen - as she tries to solve the murder of a young woman in small-town America, it soon transcends into something altogether more audacious and groundbreaking. The dynamic and relationships examined between Mare and her family, who are all in a state of grieving that is continually threatening to overflow into their everyday lives, makes for riveting television designed to pull on your heartstrings. There is a magnetic sense of dread that pulsates throughout the show as Mare’s life teeters on the edge of disaster. But even throughout all of this, there are still moments of joy and laughter. Mare’s relationship with her mum Helen - portrayed by the effervescent Jean Smart who is currently undergoing a small screen renaissance - is a beautiful tempered examination of both the pitfalls and joys of family life. Taking over the crown from Ozark last year, Mare of Eastown also includes the shock-inducing moment of the year, and for fear of spoilers, that’s all I’m going to divulge.