There’s more than one reason to be excited that the year’s end is looming – yes, it means 2021 is almost over, but it’s also time for RadioTimes.com to reveal its top 50 TV shows of the year.
Over the next five days, we’ll be revealing its top 50 shows of the year, as selected by our team of editorial experts. Today (27th December), we continue our countdown with 40-31 – expect glitz, glamour, big laughs, heartbreak and Hollywood handshakes.
Be sure to join us again tomorrow and throughout the week as we disclose our full list, including the show that’s landed this year’s much-coveted no. 1 spot.
40. Strictly Come Dancing
Available on BBC iPlayer and to buy on Amazon
The nineteenth series of our beloved Strictly brought a fantastic line-up of celebrities, record-breaking scores and, most importantly, a parade of sparkling suits from the inimitable Claudia Winkleman.
Its long-established glitz and glamour has been all the more welcome the past two years, as the world appears to crumble under a relentless bad news cycle, and the 2021 series a brought not only welcome escapism but also some incredible moments destined for a place in the Strictly history books.
From the show’s first ever all-male couple, chef John Whaite and Johannes Radebe, who delivered sparkling performances, lots of laugh and buckets of joy, to force of nature Rose Ayling-Ellis (as the first deaf contestant to compete) showcasing a powerful Couple’s Choice dance, it was nothing short of a total pleasure to tune in to Strictly live from Elstree every Saturday night. And that’s without even mentioning the costume department’s work overtly emphasising Adam Peaty’s backside in the early weeks of the competition. – Minnie Wright, News Editor
39. The Beatles: Get Back
Available on Disney Plus
It’s hard to imagine a more intimate or in-depth look at the creative process than this exceptional documentary series from Peter Jackson, which follows The Beatles as they write and record tracks for their 1970 album Let It Be. Unfolding across three episodes and eight hours, fans of the Fab Four get closer access than ever to John, Paul, George and Ringo – culminating in the thrill of watching their iconic rooftop concert play out in real time.
There’s plenty of drama – including George Harrison’s brief exit from the band – and as many moments of genius as you’d expect from a portrait of such a brilliant band, but the best moments are arguably those in which we just watch the quartet lark about, with some of their hilarious shenanigans helping to dispel myths that their working relationship had completely deteriorated by this point – even if there were clear tensions.
And then there’s the music – with hits such as I’ve Got A Feeling, Don’t Let Me Down and the titular Get Back featuring prominently, along with numerous covers. Some may find the lengthy run time a little indulgent, but for fans of The Beatles, it doesn’t get much better than this. – Patrick Cremona, Writer
38. In My Skin
Available on BBC iPlayer, Sky Go or to buy on Amazon
To hear Bethan Gwyndaf tell it, she has everything. A high-flying, albeit over-protective mother; a cheesy but loving dad; a conservatory and a house abroad. Sadly though, her friends can’t pop round to see any of it today…or tomorrow…or the day after.
Because in reality Beth’s life is chaos, and she’s spinning lies. Her mother, struggling with bipolar disorder, has had to be sectioned again, while her abusive dad just drinks in the living room. Her nan’s too far away to help, and her dreams of a life beyond it all are held back by her mother’s dependence on her.
On the page, Kayleigh Llewellyn’s coming-of-age series reads like a tough watch – so it’s a credit to the writing and performances (especially that of lead Gabrielle Creevy, now off to Hollywood) that In My Skin is charming, funny and heartfelt alongside the grit. It’s also brilliantly, authentically Welsh – an embarassing rarity, still, on British TV.
By the end, as Bethan finds love, comes out on top over school bullies and flourishes despite her struggles, you’ll be punching the air – though with a certain sadness, given the fairly definitive ending of this year’s second series. – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor
37. Inside No. 9
Available on BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, NOW and to buy on Amazon
Six series in, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s superb Inside No. 9 remains a dark and delightful jewel in the BBC Two crown. While it’s somehow still not the most harrowing experience we’ve had inside this year (see #33 on this list), no other show on TV could jump from a commedia dell’arte/heist movie mash-up, to a surprising and ambitious Brexit satire, to a chilling morality tale featuring the actual devil himself, but this is an anthology series operating at the absolute peak of its powers.
Pemberton and Shearsmith finally picked up their long-overdue Best Scripted Comedy BAFTA in 2021, and it’s testament to the show’s reputation that it continues to attract some of the best guest stars in the business. The likes of Sir Derek Jacobi, Gemma Whelan, Sian Clifford and Sarah Parish all brought their A-game this series – and that’s before we even get to Line of Duty actor Adrian Dunbar’s star turn as Line of Duty actor Adrian Dunbar. Mother of God! Series seven can’t come soon enough. – Christian Tobin, Production Editor
36. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
Available on Netflix
Putting it simply, I Think You Should Leave…with Tim Robinson is a loose sketch show with few (if any) returning characters and the odd celebrity cameo. But more specifically… I think it’s the funniest show on Earth?
Written by Robinson and others including co-creator Zach Kanin and breakout star Patti Harrison, ITYSL is populated by a cast of grotesques and man-children (often portrayed by Robinson himself) who generally push social situations beyond breaking point… and then further, in increasingly bizarre ways.
But its strength, truly, is in its dialogue. It seems strange to call a sketch show Shakespearean, but there’s something about the shape of lines in ITYSL that makes them ring like poetry, doomed to rattle around your heads for years afterwards. All I need to do is suddenly recall “He admit it!” “The Bones are their money,” “Triples is best” or simply, the word “tables” to be transported back into shaking mirth.
Clearly, it’s difficult to explain the appeal. But there’s a reason this show has become such a source of online memes (you’ve all seen the hotdog) – as a strange study of humanity, it can’t be beat. 2021 brought us season two – I pray more is on the way – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor
35. This Way Up
Available on All 4 and Sky Go
Starring Aisling Bea as teacher Aine and Sharon Horgan as her sister Shona, This Way Up returned to our screens with a big tonal shift in the summer. Aine, who attempted suicide at the beginning of season one, appears with a new lease of life – and a new relationship with emotionally repressed single dad Richard. However, as you might expect, this soon starts to capsize, and with it the rest of Aine’s life as she starts slipping back into her old self-destructive habits.
Following in the footsteps of Fleabag and Back to Life, This Way Up has been rightly lauded for pushing the boundaries of the comedy-drama genre to better reflect the nuances of life and mental health. Full of the most touching human moments, this returning series flits between moments of hilarity and despair with such deftness that you have no idea what is going to happen next. – Molly Moss, Trends Writer
34. We Are Lady Parts
Available on All 4
Written and created by Nida Manzoor, We Are Lady Parts centres around geeky microbiology PHD student Amina, whose dutiful search for a husband accidentally leads to her becoming the newest recruit for Lady Parts, an all-women Muslim punk rock band. The show offers a refreshing representation of Muslim women, in which they are allowed to be rebellious and religious: along the way we meet lead singer and butcher Saira, drummer and uber driver Ayesha, band manager Momtaz and bassist and cartoonist Bisma as they fight to get the London scene to stop focusing on their gender and religion – and start taking their punk seriously.
We Are Lady Parts is a tightly-crafted show that’s equal parts hilarious, chaotic and silly. Amina offers us an amusing Bridget Jones-style commentary throughout as she thirsts over potential suitors and welcomes us into her hectic fantasy world. – Molly Moss, Trends Writer
33. Bo Burnham: Inside
Available on Netflix
There’s Bo Burnham, and then there’s the rest of us. The writer, comedian, actor, director (he’s more accomplished than your average 31-year-old) returned to Netflix this year with a shiny new special, Bo Burnham: Inside, in which he revealed what he’d been up to when heading outside wasn’t an option – and your sourdough starter pales in comparison. Sorry.
Inside is almost impossible to pin down, such is the extent of the ground it covers and how the varying ideas are distilled and captured for maximum impact. Weighty, well-trodden subjects such as internet culture and market labour exploitation are cast in a new glow. A ditty about Jeff Bezos somehow became the catchiest tune of the year. One second, you’re laughing, the next you’re in the foetal position – sometimes simultaneously, such is his distinctly singular brand of artistry. It’s an especially mind-boggling feat when you consider that he scaled this summit solo, writing, directing and editing Inside without a sniff of outside involvement.
Not that we didn’t already know it, but Inside has affirmed that Robert Pickering Burnham is one of the most talented and innovative creatives working today. – Abby Robinson, Drama Editor
32. The Outlaws
Available on BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and to buy on Amazon
Stephen Merchant finally returned to the BBC this year and reminded us that he’s one of the very best writers working in television today. The Outlaws follows a group of perfect strangers brought together by a community service order, who soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous feud involving a ruthless crime kingpin. There isn’t a weak link in the stellar ensemble cast, with Merchant himself co-starring opposite Christopher Walken, Rhianne Barreto, Gamba Cole, Darren Boyd, Clare Perkins and Eleanor Tomlinson.
The ragtag group initially expects to have nothing in common, but their similarities are gradually revealed in a way that feels completely natural and gives you some hope our polarised society might someday stitch itself back together. Each member is gifted strong material to work with from the expertly crafted scripts, which provide complex backstories as well as a gripping high stakes plot that irresistibly blends comedy and suspense. Without a doubt, one of the most promising debuts of the year; we’re counting the minutes until series two. – David Craig, writer
31. The Great British Bake Off
Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off brought us the comfort we needed on Tuesday nights in the form of delicious bakes, double entendres, and heaps of banter. As the show introduced us this year’s dozen bakers, it became clear this line-up knew what they were doing, with some of the best bakers we’ve ever seen in the famous tent baking their way to the hearts of Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood.
Forget soggy bottoms, this was the year of Hollywood Handshakes and multiple Star Baker wins, as the contestants went neck and neck for the coveted glass cake stand. Despite the obvious talent, series 12 wasn’t short of the heart-warming (and often very chaotic) moments Bake Off is known and loved for, with hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding causing a stir in the kitchen as usual. And with the show confirmed for three more series on Channel 4, there’s plenty more Bake Off on the way. Oh, we can’t wait! – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor
Find something to watch now with our TV Guide.