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2021 streaming: the best shows we binged this year

From ‘Succession’ to ‘It’s a Sin’: the most essential shows of 2021

Phil de Semlyen
Edited by
Phil de Semlyen
Contributor
Andy Kryza
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It was the year Squid Game shattered Netflix records, Ted Lasso consolidated its position as everyone’s favourite hit of feelgood viewing and Succession was back to do Succession-y things with magnificent swears, extreme backstabbing and corridor vaginas. 2021 had more than enough great new TV and streaming offerings to keep even the most lockdown jaded viewer happy.

Whether your choice of platform was Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple or any of the myriad other platforms out there, there was plenty of good stuff to binge and a few shows that gave us room to breath with a weekly drop. Here’s what has been keeping team Time Out going around the planet over the past 12 months.

READ ON:
– The 20 best movies of 2021
– The 50 coolest filmmakers in the world right now

It’s a Sin (Channel 4)
Photograph: Channel 4

It’s a Sin (Channel 4)

Sharply witty, magnetically performed and deeply melancholic, Russell T Davies's four-part AIDS drama is an outstanding piece of television. One of the first major British dramas about the AIDS crisis and broadcast shortly before National HIV Testing Week in the UK, its release during another major public health crisis only ramped up its impact: the Terrence Higgins Trust attributes a four-hold increase in uptake on HIV tests to the show’s impact.—Rosie Hewitson, Time Out London

Dopesick (Hulu)
Photograph: Gene Page

Dopesick (Hulu)

We’ve all watched a lot of TV this year, so takes something special to make you wait with baited breath for a weekly drop. Dopesick tells the semi-fictionalised story of the development of opiod OxyContin, its devastating fallout and the crusaders who are desperately fighting to plug the dam. Its sense of controlled chaos made it feel like watching a trainwreck.—Elizabeth McDonald, Time Out Sydney

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Squid Game (Netflix)
Photograph: Noh Juhan | Netflix

Squid Game (Netflix)

A deeply unusual blend of childlike whimsy and brutal bloodlust, Netflix’s surprise mega-hit is great at providing characters you can root for – they are flawed, sure, but almost all are relatable, if not always loveable. The show resonates further with its treatment of zeitgeisty concerns like gambling addiction, capitalism, the wealth gap and the exploitation of the working class.—Adena Maier, Time Out Melbourne

Maid (Netflix)
Photograph: RICARDO HUBBS/NETFLIX

Maid (Netflix)

I laughed, I cried. Mostly I cried. Netflix’s ten-parter turns Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive into poignant, knock-you-off-balance viewing. Real-life mum-daughter duo Margaret Qualley and Andie MacDowell bring on-screen chemistry, while Este Haim delivers a sublime soundtrack to accompany one young single mum’s struggles to shake off an abusive relationship and endure a scarcely less abusive system.—Eliza Campbell, Editor, Time Out Melbourne

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Succession season 3 (HBO)
Photograph: Home Box Office

Succession season 3 (HBO)

Succession is one of the smartest, most gripping and funniest shows on television, even if Jeremy Strong doesn’t seem to think so. After the absolute bombshell that ended season two, the stakes were sky high for season three. The relationships (Gerri and Roman, Tom and Greg, Shiv and Logan, Kendall and everyone) shift between shaky alliances and outright betrayal, the acting is world-class (and award-winning), and the writing sizzles in every scene. It's deliciously satisfying to watch these superbly realised super-rich assholes tear each other to pieces.—Cass Knowlton, Time Out Australia 

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
Photograph: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)

This quirky comedy-thriller took a punt on an unlikely team-up of old boomer buds Steve Martin and Martin Short with millennial superstar Selena Gomez and reaps the rewards with something fresh-feeling and funny. It works seamlessly as both a witty comedy about a trio of unexpected friends in a Upper West Side apartment block and as a thrilling murder mystery about true-crime enthusiasts turning detective.—Delia Barth, Time Out New York

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The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime)
Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon Prime

The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime)

Unless Amazon was keeping its viewing stats particularly close to its chest, the streamer’s ten-part adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning novel didn’t find much of an audience – at least not the audience it so richly deserved. Hopefully that will come with time because make no mistake, Barry Jenkins’ magical-realist slavery epic is an astonishing piece of television. Electrifying, haunting and hypnotic, its journey of an escaped enslaved woman (Thuso Mbedu) across the antebellum South made for a close-to-overwhelming viewing experience.—Phil de Semlyen, Time Out

Get Back (Disney+)
Photograph: Walt Disney Studios

Get Back (Disney+)

Peter Jackson is often roasted for turning a 300-page book into a nine-hour trilogy, but in documenting the creation of a single Beatles album over eight hours, the Lord of the Rings director gives music lovers an opportunity seemingly lost to time: we get to hang out with the Fab Four. That includes jam sessions, sure. But in unspooling and remastering days’ worth of footage, Jackson brings the seminal pop gods down to Earth and shatters myths about the band's tumultuous final years. Mostly, it’s a chance to see pop’s biggest-ever group as they really were: not gods, but four young goofballs changing the world one note at a time.—Andy Kryza, Time Out

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Hawkeye (Disney+)
Photograph: Chuck Zlotnick:Marvel Studios.

Hawkeye (Disney+)

For Marvel fans, the continual drip-drip of lavishly-budgeted new shows (and movies) was a lifeline in a bleak year. Most have been somewhat mercurial – even the much lauded WandaVision – and the best was saved for last. Hawkeye is easily the most consistent MCU show of the year, with its New York Christmas caper stylings, warmth and wit (so that’s what an Avengers Broadway musical would look like) proving a delight. It’s all underpinned by the likeable chemistry between Jeremy Renner’s grumpy old archer and Hailee Steinfeld’s dorky protege Kate Bishop.—Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out London

The White Lotus (HBO)
Photograph: HBO

The White Lotus (HBO)

When a show about a fictional Hawaiian resort opens with a flash forward of an unidentified coffin being loaded into a plane, you might expect a Clue-like conceit to follow. But in creator Mike White’s dark satire, mystery takes a back seat to losing yourself in the entitlement of the filthy rich – much to the chagrin of Murray Bartlett’s teeth-gritting hotel manager. From a standout Jennifer Coolidge as an airy, grieving socialite to the edgy tribal score to some memorable salad tossing and deuce dropping scenes, The White Lotus is tropical pandemic-born escapism at its finest.—Michael Juliano, Time Out Los Angeles

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Sort Of (CBC Television)
Photograph: HBO Max

Sort Of (CBC Television)

The queer answer to Broad City and Girls you never knew you needed, this comedy centres on the life of non-binary, Pakistani-Canadian millennial Sabi Mehboob (played by the show's co-creator Bilal Beig), who gives us Daria-esque deadpan with a fashion-forward twist. Sabi is torn between nannying duties, their mother's expectations, and their best friend's desire for them to run away to Berlin together. The combination of laugh-out-loud moments, diverse representation and a killer payoff made Sort Of a rare treat.—Alannah Maher, Time Out Sydney

The Terror (AMC)
Photograph: BBC/AMC Film Holdings LLC/Nadav Kander

The Terror (AMC)

A brilliantly inventive mash-up of history, the supernatural and gory visceral grotesquerie, The Terror takes the well-trodden path of ‘arctic exploration goes wrong’ and introduces a nightmarish note of existential, well… terror. Okay, the big reveal is a bit of a letdown, but luckily the cannibalism makes up for that. A chilly delight.—Chris Waywell, Time Out London

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Midnight Mass (Netflix)
Photograph: EIKE SCHROTER/NETFLIX

Midnight Mass (Netflix)

It’s a horror story starring a priest, but there are no men in dog collars shouting Latin phrases at the demonically possesed. Mike Flanagan’s latest works via the power of suggestion rather than through flashy scares as it maps out a troubled island community in New England turned upside by the arrival of a charismatic priest. The substantial shocks come buried deep within it, and its subversive central tenet is powerful: what if evil is not an adversary to be vanquished but the solution to all our problems?—María José Gómez, Time Out Barcelona

Ted Lasso season 2 (Apple TV)
Photograph: Colin Hutton

Ted Lasso season 2 (Apple TV)

The first season of Ted Lasso roped people in by surprise. It was better than anyone expected from the premise, and its kindness was a balm. Season two had the harder challenge of deepening and darkening Jason Sudeikis’s sunny football coach, who turned out to suffer from panic attacks. The result was an oddly inspirational balancing act: a feelgood comedy about a man who, despite his surface cheer, feels bad a whole lot of the time.—Adam Feldman, Time Out New York

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Stath Lets Flats season 3 (Channel 4)
Photograph: Ben Meadows_ Roughcut TV

Stath Lets Flats season 3 (Channel 4)

Watching hapless London lettings agent Stath show reluctant house-hunters around dodgy, overpriced flats is always a lot of fun. But in this third (and possibly final) season, the characters become more sympathetic too, without ever losing their distinctive eccentricity. The estate agent I rent my flat from shares his name with Jamie Demetriou, the writer and star of the show, which somehow made the perpetually-baffled Stath even funnier this time around.—Sophie Dickinson, Time Out

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 3 (BBC Three)
Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 3 (BBC Three)

The second season of RuPaul's Drag Race UK was – gay silence – iconic. Truthfully, it even gave the US version a run for its money, all without sacrificing its uncompromisingly British camp. The production paused about halfway through (plot twist: the pandemic), which means viewers got to see the fierce queens rebound after seven months of lockdown. The season brought us the hit single ‘UK, Hun?’, an unforgettable lip-sync of ‘Memory,’ and a Katie Price impersonation that proves the eyes are the nipples of the face… the cheek!–Keith Flanagan, Time Out New York

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Reservation Dogs (FX)
Photograph: Shane Brown/ FX

Reservation Dogs (FX)

Co-created by Taika Waititi, this likeable comedy-drama follows four teenagers saving up to swap Oklahoma for California. While still grieving the loss of their friend, the crew spends its time indulging in delinquent activities, avoiding a rival gang, and doing typical teenage stuff, while the show – almost entirely made by and starring Indigenous people – throws a powerful spotlight onto representation in America’s heartland.—KD Harris, Time Out

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (Netflix)
Photograph: Netflix

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (Netflix)

Hosted by food writer Stephen Satterfield, this four-part Netflix series traces the history and influence of African-American food. From walking through Benin’s Dantokpa Market to learning about the origins of 18th century mac and cheese at Monticello, the Virginia plantation built by Thomas Jefferson, it’s much more than a cooking show – and it never reduces anything down or skips over the ugly parts of the slave trade history. An educational, engaging and powerful watch.—Angela Hui, Time Out London

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