From It's A Sin To Strictly Come Dancing – The TV That Saved 2021

Squid Game, Married At First Sight and Motherland were also among our top TV picks of the year.

Say what you like about the unpredictable and often-stressful nature of the last 12 months, but one thing that can’t be denied about 2021 is that it served up some brilliant TV to keep us distracted from the chaos of the news cycle.

Over the course of the year, gripping dramas kept the nation on the edge of our sofas, laugh-out-loud comedies provided light relief and reality shows introduced us to a host of new friends at a time real-life socialising wasn’t always an option.

As the year draws to a close, the HuffPost UK team has chosen some of our favourite shows that saved 2021...

It’s A Sin

Daniel Welsh, Entertainment Editor

Channel 4

When I look back on the TV of the last 12 months, there’s no question that It’s A Sin is the show that had the biggest emotional impact on me. The Channel 4 drama told the story of the AIDS crisis through the eyes of one group of friends in London in the early 1990s, and brought pretty much everyone who watched it to tears, thanks to beautiful writing from Russell T Davies and incredible performances across the entire cast. In particular, the slow demise of Colin (played beautifully by Callum Scott Howells) and Lydia West’s final confrontation with Keeley Hawes hit hard and highlighted the cruelty and devastation of the time.

But it would be doing It’s A Sin a disservice to focus solely on its tearful moments, despite the harrowing and devastating places the show went to.

Russell T Davies’ decision to end the show on a flashback, giving us one last glimpse of the residents of the “Pink Palace” during happier times before it ended, served as a reminder that It’s A Sin was as much about life as it was about death.

Line Of Duty

Rachel Moss, Life Editor

BBC/World Productions/Steffan Hill/Geraint Williams

Aside from football, Line Of Duty was the most-watched TV show of 2021 – and I’m not surprised. Along with millions of others, I tuned in every Sunday for a slice of Steve’s waistcoats, Hastings’ catchphrases and Kate’s epic putdowns.

We were all desperate to know one thing: who the bloody hell was H? And in a world of instant binge-watching, having to wait a whole week for a new clue made it more special.

For me, the Twitter memes and family Whatsapp debates also provided half the fun – offering much-needed collective enjoyment during the spring lockdown. Yes, the final reveal was a little anticlimactic, but a bumbling idiot whose corruption passes as incompetence? Sounds pretty realistic to me...


Faima Bakar, Life Reporter

BBC/Avalon UK/Mark Johnson

I don’t normally watch British comedies like this (shamefully, I only recently watched Fleabag), but Starstruck caught my eye because of its unconventional central pairing. We had two people of colour (Rose Matafeo and Nikesh Patel) playing romantic interests without the story being inherently about their background – and it was great and really delivered the laughs.

I’m hoping to see more films and shows like Starstruck where Asian people (and people from other backgrounds) can play regular Joes without it being a big deal. Fingers crossed for a season two!


Melanie Grant, Audience Editor, Shopping

BBC/Merman/Scott Kershaw

For every one of my epic mummy fails, Motherland always serves as reassurance that my melting at the school gates is quite normal. This year the sitcom was back for a third series, and I needed haphazard Julia and her gang back after the drudgery of homeschooling and Covid! So it was fitting that the series kicked off with a parody pandemic of nits. And then drama and politricks of PTA fundraisers, school trips and kids’ birthday parties – all of which I personally avoid – followed.

I love the way Motherland takes a swipe at middle-class West London mummy-dom with oh-so-real characters. There’s a queen bee, highly strung-out stress-head and misfit in every group, right?

In this series, they delved a little deeper into the lives of the mums, which took things in a slightly more serious direction – but hey, it was worth seeing feeble Kevin grow some... ballsy Liz get some... and picture-perfectionist Amanda unravel everywhere. Roll on series four.

Friends: The Reunion

Nabihah Parkar, Audience Engagement Reporter

Terence Patrick/HBO

I was barely 10 years old when the final episode of Friends aired so I’d pretty much been looking forward to the reunion special my entire life, and anyone who knows me will know I can recite lines from all 236 episodes as if I were a cast member sat on the Central Perk sofa myself.

Skipping over the randomness that was Justin Bieber walking down the catwalk in the infamous “Spud-nik” costume, Friends: The Reunion otherwise exceeded my expectations. I even got emotional seeing them get emotional on set. And the revelation that Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer fancied each other back in the day – and there had been a tiny chance of something happening between them IRL – will live rent-free in my mind forever.

From the table readings of iconic scenes to the Zoom dial-in from the late James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther, I could’ve easily and happily watched another six hours of the reunion. But if there’s ever a next time, maybe less of the celeb cameos – after all, we were there for the original six friends.

Married At First Sight Australia

Habiba Katsha, Junior Life Reporter

MAFS Australia
MAFS Australia
Channel 4

During the 2021 lockdown, I struggled to get into new TV shows, but Married At First Sight came at just the right time. As a reality TV lover I didn’t know what to expect when I first watched MAFS – and I’ve never watched anything so chaotic in my life. It was the perfect escapism from the bleak reality of the pandemic.

The concept of the show is ridiculous, but it was actually interesting to actually see couples fall in love. I was rooting for Cam and Jules (who, spoiler alert, are still together!). But what made this season so interesting was the messy love triangle of Jess, Dan and Ines. I don’t think I’ve gasped at a TV show so much in my life. My friends and I even started a group chat specifically to speak about MAFS. 10/10 would recommend.

Squid Game

Kate Nicholson, Senior Trends Reporter


Of all the shows that helped me forget about Covid this year – even if just for an hour at a time – Squid Game is definitely up there. It had truly unpredictable twists and turns, ending with a cliffhanger which left me Googling for hours on end, trying to find out if I had missed any subtle clues or when the next season might come out.

A Korean series about fighting for survival full of complicated characters and packed with cultural references – red light, green light, anyone? – Squid Game really reels you in, making you ask all kinds of questions about a world where 456 people risk it all to win millions.

Yes, it’s violent and, really quite sad in places, so it’s not to everyone’s liking, but it’s also surprisingly easy to follow – and hard to stop watching.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK

Liza Hearon, Assignment Editor, HuffPost

BBC/World of Wonder/Ray Burmiston

As 2021 seemed to veer towards some semblance of normalcy (spoiler alert: it didn’t quite get there), my weekly hit of the funny, fierce and campy queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK fortified me more strongly than a roll of duct tape.

My standout moments from the most recent season were all of Kitty Scott-Claus’ facial expressions as she kept meeting her girl group idols and Ella Vaday’s Nigella Lawson impression during Snatch Game – surely “mee-cro-wee-vay” will go down in herstory.

When everything is uncertain and mostly terrible, I can always count on RuPaul’s queens to remind me that we can choose to embrace joy in a fabulous world.

Strictly Come Dancing

Ash Percival, Entertainment Editor

Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing
BBC/Guy Levy

For a show that’s been going as long as Strictly Come Dancing, you’d imagine viewer fatigue might have set in by now, but for me (and ratings suggest that 12 million other people agree) that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I think this year might be my favourite of its 19 series.

Not only was the casting spot on in terms of a range of names from across the entertainment sphere, but it continues to be one of the most wonderfully inclusive and diverse shows on TV, which is a joy to see.

There were also routines that will remain in my personal all-time top 20 (AJ’s Jive! Nina’s Samba! AJ’s Charleston! John’s Paso Doble! Rose’s Argentine Tango! AJ’s Argentine Tango! Rose’s Couple’s Choice!, I could go on...), and although I’m still devastated at an injured AJ cruelly having to pull out of the final, I think every Strictly fan can agree that the show crowned perhaps its most meaningful winners in the incredible Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice. I’ve only just about stopped crying since the finale.

I miss the water cooler TV shows of old that everyone watched at the same time and picked apart in forensic detail in the office of a Monday morning, and Strictly is one of the last of that genre. So, at a time when we’re still living pretty fractured and isolated lives, the level of investment I share in Strictly with friends and colleagues has really helped pull me through the latter part of 2021.


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