Given that we spent the first half of 2021 in lockdown here in the UK, it’s only natural that most of us resorted to watching a shit-ton of TV. You may be surprised to know that I actually haven’t watched Normal People since March 2021. I know right? I replaced it with Grey’s Anatomy, which I’m currently still watching through. Although, given that we’re coming up to two years since the absolute fucking masterpiece that is Normal People graced our screens, it’s probably time for a re-watch anyways. BUT, I digress. Every year, I write a post about my favourite TV shows from the past year, and seeing as 2021 actually involved a lot of new TV for us, I felt like for my 2021 wrap up I actually have some decent crap to talk about. So, here goes – here are my top telly highlights from 2021.
I heard of Firefly Lane during the summer while I was listening to the Scrubs re-watch podcast, Fake Doctors Real Friends. Sarah Chalke, who plays Elliott, was a guest on one of the episodes and started talking about this new show she was doing. I hadn’t really seen Sarah in anything else other than Scrubs and her story-arc in How I Met Your Mother (there was also a Lifetime TV movie she starred in called Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, which was so damn good), so we decided to give Firefly Lane a go. The show also stars Katherine Heigl, and the two play childhood best friends, Tully and Kate. The show documents their friendship over the years, starting from when they first met in the 70s as teenagers to their adulthood in the early 2000s.
The show is based on the novel of the same name (which has been added to my TBR list, obvs) and is told via flashbacks tied in with Tully and Kate in the present day – Kate navigating a divorce and trying to get back to work after being a full-time mother, and Tully being a famous TV talk show host. It’s your classic binge-worthy drama series with romance, scandal and a few laughs thrown in along the way. I personally love the fashion and wardrobe choices during the flashbacks too. It may not have the best ratings of shows from the past year, but for those who love the sort of female orientated shows around friendship and romance – things like Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls and such, this is definitely one to watch.
Season 1 of Firefly Lane is currently available to watch on Netflix, with Season 2 expected later this year.
The Flight Attendant
The Flight Attendant was a rare show that we actually watched shortly after it came out in the UK, and I bloody loved it. In the lead is The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco, who plays Cassie, an alcoholic flight attendant who spends her layovers partying and sleeping with passengers. The premise of the show is that she wakes up in Bangkok after a night of drinking, only to find the dead body of one of her passengers next to her. In shock, she cleans up the crime scene and leaves to join the rest of her crew, but the rest of the show follows her dealing with her personal demons, the fallout of her actions and trying to discover who the killer is.
At first, it was weird seeing Kaley Cuoco in a different role to Penny in The Big Bang Theory, but she plays Cassie so brilliantly that you very quickly get used to it. The show itself has something for everyone – you’ve got the whole murder-mystery thing going on, you’ve got suspense and action, and the show is just glamorous AF. I spent most of it envying Kaley’s hairstyles, truth be told. Alongside Kaley absolutely smashing it in the lead role, The Flight Attendant has an impressive supporting cast too – there’s Rosie Perez as Megan, Cassie’s fellow cabin crew member, and T.R Knight as Cassie’s brother, Davey, among others. Not only that but the fast paced style, combined with a pretty damn awesome soundtrack, and a KILLER opening credit sequence make for one show that will have you hooked after the first episode.
The Flight Attendant is currently available to stream on NOW.
The Handmaid’s Tale
I was late to the party with The Handmaid’s Tale, which originally began back in 2017. It was actually my Mum who got me into it, telling me “Ames you’ve got to watch it – it’s fucked up and the way this country’s going, it could actually happen.” Seeing as she was the one who got me into Desperate Housewives, one of my most favourite shows of all time, I felt it only fair to give it a watch. Ultimately, Liam and I binged the first four seasons within a couple of weeks.
I have so many thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s certainly a show where you’ll need to have a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek or something on hand afterwards, that’s for sure. I love the character of June, played by Elizabeth Moss. Her strength is a running theme throughout the show, but as the seasons progress, her character gets progressively darker, especially during the later episodes of the last season. Some of the scenes throughout the four seasons have been eye-wateringly difficult to watch, but in a strange way, you can’t help but become invested. One scene in particular that I can’t forget anytime soon is the hanging scene from the season two premiere – it’s shocking, heart-breaking, and the scene being set to This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush makes it even more powerful . That’s another thing about the show – one minute you’ll be so shocked and irrationally angry (Commander Waterford and Aunt Lydia can go fuck themselves) at how the handmaids are treated, and the next minute you’ll be crying your eyes out at their pain. But even after you’ve been given an emotional bollocking for the full 40 minutes, you still have to watch another episode.
While I can’t say that The Handmaid’s Tale is the lovely, comforting viewing I sometimes seek of an evening, that doesn’t make it any less watchable. It’s gripping, and where each episode reveals small snippets of back story for the characters, you can’t help but come back for more.
Seasons 1-4 of The Handmaid’s Tale are currently available to watch on All4.
Bo Burnham: Inside
While I’d heard of Bo Burnham before, I’d never actually seen any of his work. However, after seeing all of the hype around Inside, we decided to give it a watch. Just…wow. For those who don’t know, Inside is Burnham’s comedy special, recorded during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Setting it aside from other comedy specials, it’s filmed in his home without an audience or crew, and features a series of sketches and musical numbers, depicting his day to day life in lockdown, as well as his deteriorating mental health. At first, the set up is a little weird to get used to, especially given as we hadn’t seen much of his work before, but after the first couple of numbers, it’s all good.
Inside has some brilliantly funny and topical numbers, covering the more controversial topics (How the World Works) to those that we’re all familiar with in our day to day lives (my personal favourite being White Woman’s Instagram). There are also some pretty relatable songs which had me crying with laughter, my absolute favourite being 30, a song that pretty much summed up exactly how I’m feeling about turning 30 this year. Alongside that though, you’ve got a few songs that actually get you pretty hard in the feels – in particular, All Eyes On Me. In the song, Bo talks about how he previously quit live comedy due to having severe panic attacks on stage, his recovery, and how in January 2020, he decided to make his return. However, as he puts it, ”the funniest thing happened.” I instantly fell in love with the song, which felt like it summed up the pain and angst we were all feeling in the height of the pandemic, especially those of us who majorly struggled with our mental health. It’s now one of my go-to “angsty songs” that I belt out in my car after a crappy day.
Inside caused me to develop this whole new fandom (and I’ll admit, a bit of a crush) on Bo Burnham (we all know I love a funny man), and we ended up watching his other specials – my personal favourite being Make Happy, which had me wetting myself laughing. If you haven’t seen Inside yet, I strongly suggest you give it a watch. It’s a goddamn masterpiece and 100% is one of the best pieces of work to come out of this shitty, shitty pandemic.
Inside is currently streaming on Netflix.
It’s a Sin
I’ve saved the best for last – It’s a Sin was another one of the shows that I actually watched pretty much as soon as it came out and bloody hell, I still can’t forget about it. For those that haven’t seen it, It’s a Sin follows four friends – Ritchie, Roscoe, Colin and Jill – between 1981 and 1991 during the AIDS crisis in the UK. It’s one of the most incredible TV dramas that I’ve seen – it’s entertaining, it’s brilliantly written, the acting is fantastic, and most importantly, the cast are amazing. Olly Alexander and Lydia West especially shine as Ritchie and Jill, but there’s also some amazing performances from Neil Patrick Harris, Callum Scott Howells and Keeley Hawes. Of course, given the subject matter, it goes without saying that it’s an incredibly difficult watch at times, and, full disclosure, there are some scenes that will rip your fucking heart right out. Put it this way, I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I did after watching the last episode.
What I especially loved about It’s a Sin was that it alerted us – especially those of us who weren’t old enough to know at the time – just how much the AIDS crisis affected people, and how awfully gay men were treated because of it. In particular, seeing how the early AIDS patients were treated in hospitals, was utterly heartbreaking. Channel 4 did some amazing stuff in promoting the show, including taking their idents back to the early 80s on the day of the show’s launch, and most importantly, ending each episode with information on the progression of treatments for HIV and AIDS over the years, highlighting that HIV is no longer the death sentence that it once was.
At the time of writing, the show itself is currently the most binge-watched show on All4, being watched over 6.5 million times in its entirety after the first few weeks, and was recently named number one in The Guardian’s list of 50 Best TV Shows of 2021. What’s even more impressive about It’s a Sin, is the impact of it. The explicit sex scenes resulted in the show being praised for showing and normalising gay sex on mainstream TV, while the show itself meant that organisations such as The Terrence Higgins Trust saw a surge in HIV testing kits being ordered. Not only that, but the commemorative t-shirts with “La” on them (the friends’ catchphrase used throughout the show) that were designed by Phillip Norman, helped to raise over £100,000 for The Terrence Higgins Trust, who support people living with HIV.
Overall, I’d have to say It’s a Sin was probably my favourite TV show from 2021. While not an easy watch at times, it’s incredibly entertaining, powerful, and beautifully written with an amazing cast. If you watch (or even re-watch) a show from 2021, make it this one.
It’s a Sin is currently available to watch on All4.
What were your favourite TV shows from the past year? Let me know in the comments!