The 10 best drama TV series of 2021

Last year I thanked the TV gods for providing us with enough fare to get us through lockdown, but I warned that 2021 would be the year our beaming rectangular friends feel the pinch of Covid . And that’s how it happened. We must salute the television industry for persevering during shutdowns and strict pandemic regulations that could shut down production at any time. But it is clear that 2020 was a pivotal year for British television series: Quiz, I May Destroy You, Small Ax, Normal People, I Hate Suzie. And 2021 has, well, not been.

However, let’s not forget all year round. Innovative and idiosyncratic dramas like Landscapers, WandaVision, The Serpent, The Chair, and Reservation Dogs didn’t make my top 10, but all of them deserve praise. And, as you can see in my top five below, it’s been a year that Americans have shown us how it’s done.

The list below, I note in retrospect, leans heavily on the darkness, downtime, and downright depressing, but maybe that’s appropriate for a year we’ve all been tested at the limit. Great art reflects its time, and television is no exception.

10. Time – BBC One
Most people were won over by this six-word drama: Sean Bean. Stephen Graham. Jimmy McGovern. Bean played a basically decent middle-aged guy, doing a long stretch for killing a man while driving while intoxicated; Graham was the honest fool forced into shady deals. McGovern didn’t spare us the gloomy 21st century British prison system, but, as always with the great writer, this tough story was hopeful. The performance of Bean’s Guilt Made Flesh was striking.

9. In My Skin – BBC Three
On paper, Kayleigh Llewellyn’s drama looks like a mishmash worthy of social issues – teenage Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy, remember the name) struggles with her sexuality, her mentally ill mother and abusive father , as she grew up in relative poverty on the concrete suburban streets of Cardiff. However, the lightness of Llewellyn’s writing, which captures the ecstasy and agony of adolescence with wit and verve, made this comeback series a little wonder. A brilliant – and very Welsh – television novel.

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