Sky News’ Backstage podcast team gives the run-down on their favourite films and TV shows of 2021, looking back at the likes of It’s A Sin and Framing Britney Spears from the start of the year, to more recent hits such as Squid Game – plus, of course, the return of James Bond.
Another year of restrictions, lockdowns and limited live entertainment meant more heavy reliance on screens, and TV and film certainly delivered – despite productions having to adhere to new COVID protocols in order to keep cast and crews safe.
Once again, the team behind Sky News’ film and TV podcast Backstage has whipped out the calculators and used a fiendishly complicated points system, plus some healthy debate (listen to the latest episode to hear some of that) to come up with their picks of the best shows and films of the year.
The lists prove that there really is a wealth of great stuff being made – so if you’re wondering what to watch while isolating, while bored over the holidays, or just so you’re in the know come awards season, we’ve got you covered.
Starting with TV…
In My Skin series two – BBC iplayer
A touching and funny teen drama set in Wales, In My Skin is inspired by writer and executive producer Kayleigh Llewellyn’s own experiences. The new series sees lead Bethan, now in her final year at school, falling in love and planning to leave home while still trying to hide what goes on behind closed doors thanks to her violent father and her mum’s mental illness. Star Gabrielle Creevy is no doubt one to watch over the next couple of years, while This Is England’s Jo Hartley puts in a great performance as her mother. With only five bittersweet episodes per series, In My Skin is highly bingeable and well worth seeking out.
Wandavision – Disney +
The first TV series set in the Marvel Universe turned out to be a real benchmark for others to live up to. Set just after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany return as Wanda Maximoff and Vision from the films, trying to figure out what’s going on when their surroundings start to change. A study of grief in the form of a sitcom, the show was perhaps a surprise to some coming from Marvel. While there are no plans for a second season it has led to a spin-off starring Kathryn Hahn in her role as Agatha Harkness.
Friends: The Reunion – Sky/HBO
The pandemic has had many of us desperate for a bit of comforting nostalgia, so the Friends reunion, despite taking ages to arrive after first being announced, was like seeing, well, an old friend. The special featured celeb guests, interviews and a return to the original set for all six main cast members, and they didn’t disappoint when it came to some new revelations – could Rachel and Ross’s real-life crushes BE any more thrilling for fans of the show? It was quickly announced as Sky One’s most viewed show ever, with 5.3 million people tuning in, so it’s no real surprise it’s secured a spot in our top 10.
Ted Lasso series two – Apple TV +
A somewhat maligned second series after the first one became a surprise mega-hit, some critics weren’t bowled over by the first few episodes of the season, which looked at Ted’s second season in charge at AFC Richmond. But with a new villain emerging, an insight into Ted’s psyche and so much heart we think the show is impossible to resist, it was still a brilliant series. Plus, it’s worth watching for Hannah Waddingham alone, if nothing else. A third – perhaps final – series is on its way, the popularity of the show perhaps proving that we all want to be inspired to “believe” by The Greyhounds.
The White Lotus – Sky/HBO
The White Lotus sees satire taking a trip to a tropical beach hotel, and series creator, writer and director Mike White pulls no punches whatsoever in his skewering of the residents and staff at the high-end resort where this show is set. Star Murray Bartlett – who was almost set to give up acting – plays the spiralling hotel manager whose guests are so disgracefully self-absorbed that it is almost uncomfortable viewing. Almost. This first series proved such a hit that it’s launched the show as an anthology, and we’ll see a whole new group of travellers heading to another hotel in the White Lotus chain next season.
Squid Game – Netflix
A TV phenomenon – what can we say about Squid Game that’s not already been said? The show about the class divide in South Korea, which sees people forced to play games for their lives in a bid to get themselves out of extreme poverty, Squid Game broke Netflix viewing figures and proved that television doesn’t have to be western to be a juggernaut of a hit. The compelling aesthetic and cliff-hanger episodes drew audiences in and kept them watching, and of course there’s now a follow-up in the works. This may not have been anyone’s favourite show of the year, and the ending may have left some a little cold, but its place on our list recognises the massive impact it had – a feat it’s not easy to pull off in a time when viewers are swamped with content.
To hear more on our lists – and some thoughts about what should have made it but didn’t – check out the latest episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News