The year in TV: Squid Game, Piers Morgan exits GMB and Strictly firsts
A year that began with yet another lockdown and ended with a list of must-watch series so lengthy we still have not managed to tick them all off, 2021 proved to be a strange 12 months.
Despite the difficulties faced by productions, the quality of the shows gracing our screens did not waver. With enough stellar entertainment currently on offer to see us through, it is time to reflect on the dramatic plot twists, shock announcements and enlightening documentaries that caused a stir this year.
Here are a handful of the telly moments that got us talking:
LINE OF DUTY
The sixth series of the hit BBC show once again kept audiences on the edge of their seats. Viewers finally found out the identity of the mysterious H during a riveting final episode which saw DSU Ian Buckells, played by Nigel Boyle, unmasked as the mysterious figure.
The actor later admitted he never suspected he was playing the corrupt police officer at the top of a criminal conspiracy. The finale of the sixth series also left the future of anti-corruption unit AC-12 hanging in the balance.
The series featured returning favourites Martin Compston (Steve Arnott), Adrian Dunbar (Ted Hastings) and Vicky McClure (Kate Fleming), with Kelly Macdonald appearing as DCI Joanne Davidson.
IT’S A SIN
Led by Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, five-part drama It’s A Sin saw audiences laugh, cry and gasp in equal measure. Created by Queer as Folk and Doctor Who screenwriter Russell T Davies, the series chronicled the lives of a group of gay friends living in London during the 1980s Aids crisis.
Starring Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, Callum Scott Howells, Shaun Dooley and Omari Douglas, the series sees the group of friends band together in an attempt to raise mainstream awareness of the illness, in turn helping the subject to become less of a taboo.
STRICTLY COME DANCING
This year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing featured two historic firsts, with former Bake Off winner John Whaite competing as part of the first all-male couple alongside partner Johannes Radebe. The pair followed Nicola Adams’ 2020 Strictly appearance, with the sports star taking part alongside Katya Jones.
EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis became the first deaf contestant to ever take part in the series. Paired with partner Giovanni Pernice, the 27-year-old actress went on to claim Glitterball glory as she was crowned the winner of the show.
Turning sexual taboos on their head, the highly-anticipated third series of hit Netflix show Sex Education did not disappoint when it returned in September. Regularly tackling subjects rarely discussed on television including gender identity, gay sex and sexual assault, the ground-breaking series still managed to pack in plenty of laughs for good measure.
The third series saw Gillian Anderson returning as sex therapist Jean Milburn alongside Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, breakout star Ncuti Gatwa and Bafta winner Amy Lou Wood. Netflix has confirmed the series will be back with a fourth instalment.
In October, Netflix revealed Squid Game had been watched by a “mind-boggling” 142 million households around the world, calling the programme “our biggest TV show ever”.
The hit dystopian Korean drama, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, follows desperate people who are invited to take part in a mystery game for a massive sum of money.
The streaming giant also previously said the programme had achieved the biggest series launch on the platform, seeing off competition from Bridgerton. It is Netflix’s first Korean programme to become the most popular series in the US and follows the company’s efforts to increase its offering of international shows.
Murder? Check. Submarine? Check. A confined space capable of triggering claustrophobia in even the most mentally resilient viewer? Check.
Complete with the tagline “the deeper you go, the darker it gets”, six-part BBC drama Vigil gripped audiences as the show’s cramped setting proved a recipe for tense altercations and high drama.
Following DCI Silva (Suranne Jones) as she joins the crew aboard ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigil following the suspected murder of one of its crew, her investigation bringing her into direct conflict with both the Royal Navy and MI5 intelligence services.
The tale of a Murdoch-esque dynasty battling it out to take control of their family-owned media empire, Succession’s depiction of the power-hungry echelons of society ensured viewers lapped up the Sky Original in their droves.
Starring Bafta winner Brian Cox, Matthew Macfadyen, Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook to name but a few, the high drama series was renewed for a fourth instalment. The series, from Peep Show creator Jesse Armstrong, began in 2018. Its second series won the Emmy Award for outstanding drama series while its star-studded cast have also been recognised for their performances.
Returning to our screens after a prolonged, Covid-induced break, Love Island’s sun-doused villa proved just the tonic for lockdown. With Laura Whitmore returning as the main series presenter, this year’s instalment of the ITV2 show saw a host of new contestants return to the villa in a bid to find true love (alongside fame, endorsement deals and a hefty cash prize).
Millie Court and Liam Reardon were crowned the 2021 winners, alongside runners-up Chloe Burrows and Toby Aromolaran, Faye Winter and Teddy Soares, who came third, and Kaz Kamwi and Tyler Cruickshank, who were fourth.
PIERS MORGAN LEAVES GOOD MORNING BRITAIN
The TV presenter dramatically exited Good Morning Britain earlier this year, after saying on air he did not believe claims made by Meghan Markle during her interview with Oprah Winfrey. The broadcast in March was cited by Ofcom as the most complained-about TV episode of 2021, prompting 54,595 complaints to the media watchdog.
Morgan has since announced he will join News Corp and Fox News Media in a deal which will see him host a new global TV show and publish two weekly columns online for the New York Post and The Sun.
The TV show, part of Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV venture, will air on weeknights in the UK, US and Australia, and Morgan will also present a series of true crime documentaries.
The TV star also announced that he would be quitting his ITV show Piers Morgan’s Life Stories.