I missed a lot of Big Event Television in 2019 (Chernobyl looked a bit too intense to snuggle up with before bed, and I still haven’t got round to the second seasons of Killing Eve and Succession or the final season of Veep), but I did watch a load of other great stuff, and I’m going to FORCE MY OPINIONS ON YOU below.
I’ve left out the soaps (conflict of interest!) and the unscripted shows (Race Across The World and The Circle would win too easily!), but here’s what else I’ve watched and loved since January. You can also check out my Top 50 pop singles here, and I’ll get to movies and albums before the year is out.
25. Bonding (Netflix)
I’m not sure if there’s more to come from this show, about a heterosexual dominatrix and her gay male assistant, but I hope there is: it’s been criticised for feeling too uneven in tone, but I think there’s a lot of potential. The dynamic between lead characters Tiff and Pete is great, and those extremely short episode lengths are a GIFT. I think it could really hit its stride in a second season, given the chance.
24. Manhunt (ITV)
Look sometimes I just like a big ol’ dollop of prime-time crime, and Manhunt scratched that itch in 2k19. Based on the true story of the horrific murder of Amélie Delagrange, I liked how it focussed almost exclusively on the procedural aspect, rather than the personal lives of everyone involved; and somehow made even the paperwork seem riveting. Martin Clunes is great in the relatively cold lead role.
23. Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic)
Without the huge mystery element of the first season, BLL 2.0 wasn’t quite as exciting second time around, but I still really rated it. Meryl Streep was obviously brilliant, Laura Dern got lots more to do, and digging deeper into Zoe Kravitz’s character was also a really good move. I’m intrigued to know how this would have looked without the (alleged) worrying post-production drama.
22. Catastrophe (Channel 4)
Honestly, WHAT a SHOW. Catastrophe went out on a big high, as far as I’m concerned, and I think it was a really great time to wrap things up. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are a fantastic team and I hope they work together again.
21. The Crown (Netflix)
I’ll get straight to the point: Josh O’Connor would absolutely fucking get it. Christ, I did not appreciate developing a crush on a young Prince Charles thanks to that fine slice of casting. But hot flushes aside, this was the first season of The Crown I’ve actually seen, and I liked it more than I expected: Olivia Colman isn’t actually in it much but she’s obviously brilliant, and everyone else is fab too; especially Helena Bonham-Carter and Tobias Menzies.
20. One Day At A Time (Netflix)
Cruelly cancelled by Netflix after its recent third season, it’s such a relief that ODAAT has been picked up elsewhere. It’s just so comforting, and the best studio sitcom being made right now. Honestly it doesn’t even make me laugh out loud that much, it’s just so endearing and heart-warming and kind-hearted. Long may it continue.
19. The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon Prime)
Midge and Susie continue to be unbeatable company in the third season of this gem. The dialogue still crackles, the performances across the board are still spot-on, and it’s all still so gorgeous to look at. Three years in, there’s still plenty of life in this easy-to-love show.
18. Special (Netflix)
Another of Netflix’s experiments with shorter-than-usual episode lengths, Special made a star out of Ryan O’Connell in the semi-autobiographical role of a gay man with cerebral palsy. What’s so great about this show is the fact that Ryan’s sex drive is put front and centre: to see any sexually-charged gay character at the forefront of any TV show is rare, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this buoyant comedy developed further in season two.
17. Pure (Channel 4)
Exploring a side of OCD that’s barely ever seen on TV, this under-rated comedy-drama is pitched perfectly. Charly Clive is brilliant as Marnie, a 24-year-old woman struggling with disturbing intrusive thoughts of a very sexual nature; and the writing cleverly sprinkles its tough subject matter with a sense of humour that never comes at the expense of compassion.
16. Sex Education (Netflix)
Aside from its obvious selling points (lush scenery, bold subject matter, Gillian Anderson playing a sex expert), Sex Education is great because of its strong supporting cast of nuanced characters; not least Eric (whose scenes needed much more screen-time, in my opinion), and alien erotica enthusiast Lily. It’s Asa Butterfield and Emma Mackey’s show, though, and their characters’ unlikely alliance works thanks to their performances and some clever scripts.
15. The Boys (Amazon Prime)
An irreverent take on the superhero genre, The Boys is dark and twisted but very light on its feet; habitually subverting expectations and delivering on heart and humour when the going gets rough. It is VERY gory, though; which I know is great for many, but for a squeamish wimp like me… let’s just say that seeing a guy’s head explode because a woman sits on his face with superhuman force is not a scene I would love to see again, but hey! Whatever floats your boat! The rest is exceptional.
14. Gentleman Jack (BBC One)
“Sally Wainwright writing about an iconic lesbian” is basically my idea of TV heaven, and Gentleman Jack was everything I wanted: throwaway humour, Suranne Jones with baffling hair, Sophie Rundle finally getting another great prime-time role… this show’s a corker, and I had just as much fun reading some of the scripts as I did watching the finished product.
13. The Other Two (E4)
This looked a little bit irritating in the trailers but I gave it a go based on word-of-mouth and… it’s right up my street. Following two adult siblings as they struggle to adapt to their teenage brother’s megastardom, its wisest move is not making the latter character an easy-to-hate brat. Its second wisest move is casting Molly Shannon and Wanda Sykes in supporting roles, and its third wisest move is just being very bloody funny (the P!nk gags in episode four? Inspired!!).
12. Shrill (BBC Three)
I’ve only just finished this one on iPlayer and it’s awesome: Aidy Bryant is a STAR as Annie, a woman navigating modern life as a plus-size wannabe journalist. Lolly Adefope is excellent too as her room-mate Fran, and the very last scene of the season – in which Annie confronts her vicious internet troll in person – is epic.
11. Dead To Me (Netflix)
Is this inspired by the Milo and Cindy story in Hollyoaks? I’m gonna go right ahead and assume YES! Dead To Me is a gloriously soapy drama, which allows Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini to just… be brilliant. I loved all the twists, the dark humour, James Marsden playing a dick… I’m cautiously optimistic about the second season.
10. This Way Up (Channel 4)
This from Aisling Bea is my favourite new British comedy of the year. Following a central character who’s funny and sharp but with an unmistakeable undercurrent of loneliness (we first meet her in the aftermath of a nervous breakdown), I also loved what it did with Sharon Horgan’s character (her sister), and Tobias Menzies was brilliantly cast too. More please!!!
09. Years And Years (BBC One)
The scariest show of the year? MAYBE SO! Years And Years was essentially a horror because it felt like it could so easily be real, and I struggled to sleep after pretty much every episode. Any time you just about get comfortable, so-and-so loses everything, or has an affair, or votes for a wanker, or fucking dies. Russell T Davies is a cruel genius.
08. Russian Doll (Netflix)
Put Natasha Lyonne in the right territory, and she’s unbeatable. She was exceptional in this; a show that took a clever concept (she keeps dying and “resetting” to her birthday party) and managed to make it last a full season without growing tiresome. It didn’t fully rope me in to begin with (it wasn’t until I properly sat and binge-watched the second half that I got really into it), but it’s a really phenomenal piece of TV. I hope the second season doesn’t muck it up.
07. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Season six – while not the disaster many made it out to be! – was a rare dip in consistency for this now-iconic show, but the seventh and final season was an absolute triumph, in my opinion. The ICE stories provided some of the best stuff it’s ever done, and the vast majority of the characters got endings that felt dramatically ~right. I’ll miss them.
06. Glow (Netflix)
The third season of this criminally under-rated comedy-drama was another slam-dunk; this time following the wrestlers to Vegas and introducing a string of new dilemmas for Debbie (Betty Gilpin is still fucking brilliant), Ruth and Sheila, among others. Bash’s sexuality was also finally explored a bit more, giving Kate Nash some really meaty scenes as his wife Rhonda.
05. Fleabag (BBC One/Three)
I didn’t actually make it to the end of the first season of Fleabag – good as I thought it was – but I was all-in for season two; a water-tight dramedy with a razor-sharp script, some excellent gut-punches, and Andrew Scott being delicious. This is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s best moment yet. Believe the hype.
04. Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)
More of Moira being iconic, much more of Alexis being iconic… plus some more moving David and Patrick action and an exceptional shining moment for Stevie. The fifth season of this warm cuddle of a show was incredibly strong, and its upcoming final cycle is going to be HARD TO TAKE!!! I’ll just be over here mainlining A Little Bit Alexis until it premieres.
03. When They See Us (Netflix)
Ava DuVernay’s mini-series about the Central Park Five was… whew. Such a well-made project; from the performances (special shout-out to Jharrel Jerome) to the pacing to the writing. A masterclass in taking a real-life story and turning it into an engaging drama that’s as gripping as it is important. Show it in schools!!!
02. Derry Girls (Channel 4)
The best show of 2018 returned for a second series that was almost exactly as good as the first. These characters are just an absolute joy to spend time with, from the titular ensemble to the rich cast of supporting players. Aunt Sarah’s late arrival at a wedding at the top of one particular episode was side-splitting (the best TV wedding moment since “wrong church!” in Vicar of Dibley) and there was – wisely! – a massive uptick in appearances from Sister Mary. It was moving too: the bit with James in the finale? I wept!!
01. Pose (BBC Two)
Seasons one AND two aired in the UK this year, so we finally – finally!!! – got to see what the US had fallen in love with in 2018. Full of well-drawn characters and with a massive, beating heart, the show left me full of ~feelings~ after each and every episode. Engaging, funny, heartfelt, heartbreaking… it’s an absolute triumph, and the likes of MJ Rodriguez and Billy Porter are superstars. If you still haven’t seen it on iPlayer, do so iiiiiiimmediately.
Top 20 scripted TV shows of 2021
My movie-watching might have been crap in 2021 but lord I was SWIMMING in amazing telly, and this list below represents my very favourite stuff. Another shitshow of a year in The World but WHAT a year for small-screen excellence!!!!
Honestly the rankings here are almost completely redundant, you could reshuffle them all completely and the ordering would still stand. I’m just a creature of habit, yaknow? And for a millennial gay, that habit means: listicles.
For what it’s worth, my previous telly year-end No1s:
Here we go…
20. The Chair (Netflix, August)
Sandra Oh was so, so good in this really loveable six-parter; about the first woman to be appointed chair of the English department at a kinda stuffy university. David Duchovny has a really fun guest turn as a heightened (I assume) version of himself, and Holland Taylor is also, as ever, a riot.
19. The Flight Attendant (NowTV, March)
The pulpy, quick-witted tone to this thriller was SO up my street; and if it really kicked itself up a gear in the second half of the season with a string of breathtaking cliffhangers and delicious twists. Kayley Cuoco is perfection as the chaotic Cassie, and I also loved Michelle Gomez in her sinister-ish supporting role.
18. Starstruck (BBC Three, April)
Rose Matafeo and Alice Snedden’s scripts are packed with big laughs and big heart here; and Matafeo makes an amazing lead. Starstruck puts a more modern, gender-flipped spin on Notting Hill and is a real sitcom highlight of 2021.
17. Vigil (BBC One, August)
I love a good plotty, twisty, blockbuster thriller; and Vigil filled that void perfectly in the autumn. With Suranne Jones trapped on a submarine trying to solve a murder whilst getting on everyone’s nerves, and Rose Leslie back on dry land trying to get to the bottom of all sorts of political clownery, there were plenty of gasp-y moments right up until the very end – including an extremely tense cat-and-mouse chase through gas-ridden corridors in the finale.
16. White Lotus (NowTV, August)
Come for the Jennifer Coolidge memes in their original context; stay for the biting social commentary. White Lotus keeps the tension rife from start to bitter end, via a carousel of deeply, deeply (deeply, deeply, deeply) flawed rich people making a glittering array of shit decisions. The best kind of uncomfortable.
15. Landscapers (NowTV, December)
Just when you think Olivia Colman has already hit a career high… OOP! There’s another. Landscapers’ theatricality is its ace; director Will Sharpe putting slightly surreal, fourth-wall-breaking spins on Ed Sinclair’s wonderfully wry script. The fact it has two actors at the very top of their game front-and-centre (Colman and David Thewlis) is just another string in its bow.
14. Feel Good (Netflix, June)
How do you follow a perfect first season? With a perfect second! Mae Martin’s sadcom is as sad and com-y as ever; a perfectly executed blend of big laughs (shout-out Jordan Stephens for a very good guest turn) and hefty emotional beats that leave you in a deep state of contemplation over your own existence and past traumas. Dreamy.
13. Unforgotten (ITV, February)
We won’t talk about THAT ending, no ma’am! But safe to say Unforgotten was – yet again!!!! – on brilliant form; bringing together a raft of potential suspects and watching them all squirm under the weight of the grave missteps they thought they’d managed to escape. I think I’m excited about a fifth season, but… if you’ve seen the ending, you’ll know why I’m also in a grump over it.
12. Schmigadoon! (AppleTV+, July)
I’m not a massive musical theatre buff – which is to say, I didn’t get every reference here – but I still had a fucking blast. A loving send-up of all singing, all dancing classics, it sees a bickering couple getting lost on a hike and finding themselves trapped inside a musical. There are so many great supporting turns, but Cecily Strong in particular is the perfect lead. I would very much welcome another season.
11. Never Have I Ever (Netflix, July)
My favourite show of 2020 returned for its glorious second year, and these characters continue to be a hell of a lot of fun to spend time with. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan hopefully has a huge A-list career ahead of her, and Poorna Jagannathan as mum Nalini can do no wrong. Kylie playing over the final scene of the final episode was just… ugh. Chef’s kiss.
10. Girls5eva (NowTV, December)
This only dropped in the UK mere days ago so I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s already an instant favourite. One-hit-wonder girlband reunites twenty years later? SOLD!! The gags in the script are relentlessly funny, and the cast are all magnificent. Renée Elise Goldsberry in particular has me howling with every line.
09. Maid (Netflix, October)
You’d expect a drama about domestic abuse to end with the sufferer leaving – but in this case, that’s literally the first scene. In Maid, we explore what happens next: the hoops you have to jump through and the obstacles you encounter when you’re in a society that does so little for survivors. Where do you go? How do you earn? How do you care for your child? How possible even is it to cut ties with the environment you’ve left behind? Margaret Qualley is phenomenal as Alex, and her real-life mother Andie MacDowell turns in a career-redefining performance that deserves a hell of a lot of awards. Casting Love Simon heartthrob Nick Robinson as abuser Sean was also a stroke of genius.
08. We Are Lady Parts (Channel 4, May)
I’d be quite happy for creator-writer-director Nida Manzoor to take charge of every TV comedy ever. We Are Lady Parts is an intensely funny show about an all-Muslim, all-female punk band trying to make it in London; tackling stage fright, cultural differences, friendship troubles and relationship woes on their attempted route to stardom. So funny, so heartfelt, so warm, and the music slaps.
07. Insecure (NowTV, October)
Insecure was a lockdown 1.0 discovery for me, and I literally finished its final season hours before writing this. As ever, the will-they-won’t-they stuff with Lawrence and Nathan was beautifully done, but it was the friendships that really made this show sing. The whole final episode is, essentially, a tribute to Molly and Issa’s bond; and I’m gonna miss those two – not to mention Kelli and Tiffany – with my whole heart.
06. Sex Education (Netflix, September)
Season three was, I reckon, the strongest season yet for those at Moordale – with the usual mix of heart’n’humour more potent than ever. In such a massive ensemble cast, so many players got their chance to shine without overwhelming the stories: Mimi Keene in particular had a very strong season as Ruby, and I thought Jemima Kirke made for a delicious antagonist. It’s just so colourful and fun and knows exactly how to make you laugh and how to leave you devastated, often within the space of one single scene. It just keeps getting better.
05. Mare of Easttown (NowTV, April)
There’s a moment at the end of Episode 5 when Mare of Easttown goes from “ooh, this is a good show” to “OH SHIT!!!! THIS SHOW!!!!!!!!” (no major spoilers but it involves Mare and Zabel going to visit a shady man in his house). The story is riveting, and only increases in intrigue as the series progresses; and Kate Winslet has genuinely rarely – if ever – been better. Shout-out also to Jean Smart, delivering my favourite supporting performance of the year as Mare’s mother.
04. Only Murders In The Building (Disney+, August)
If it weren’t for the hype, I would never have dug into this show, but I’m SO fucking happy I did. It’s a whodunnit but it’s also a three-handed buddy comedy; it’s a heightened murder mystery but also a genuinely affecting study of loneliness and friendship. I didn’t think a second season would be necessary story-wise, but the end of season one sets it up tantalisingly and I cannot WAIT. I would take a bullet for these three!!
03. Alma’s Not Normal (BBC Two, September)
To be honest, what first caught my attention re: this show was the fact that the narrator of The Circle wrote and stars in it. Sophie Willan is – as Alma herself would say – “fabulous” in this absolute hoot of a comedy: the writing is watertight, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments coming consistently in every episode. The more affecting moments towards the end of the season are perfection as well; always feeling well-earned and genuinely quite hard-hitting. I absolutely adored this programme and urge every fucker to watch it.
02. It’s A Sin (Channel 4, January)
I feel like we all went into this knowing full-well we’d be in emotional smithereens by the end, but what can’t be understated as well is how much joy there is in this show; how much of a sense of community and friendship courses through it. Not only does that make the inevitable tragedy all the more devastating, it also elevates It’s A Sin way, way higher than the sort of misery-porn you might expect from a mainstream so-called AIDS drama. Russell T Davies remains one of the best writers we have, and the cast – many of them previously unknown on an A-list scale – all give phenomenal performances.
01. WandaVision (Disney+, January)
The bad news for Marvel is that now all of their small-screen capers are going to be compared to this; the very first MCU series to be made by the studio. WandaVision has so much fun with the form; paying homage to different generations of TV sitcoms whilst slowly but surely peeling back the mystery of why the hell we’re watching Wanda and the isn’t-he-supposed-to-be-dead Vision in, for example, a black-and-white 1950s-style comedy. For the first half of the season it leaves you scratching your head for just the right amount of time before hitting you with another surprise reveal or clue or bombshell; and it all culminates in the latter episodes with a genuinely exciting climax and an ending that feels spot-on. Kathryn Hahn is nothing short of iconic as neighbour Agnes (if you haven’t seen the show yet, keep an ear out for her incredible song); but WandaVision is about grief more than anything else, and Elizabeth Olsen hits every damn beat. Magic.
Eurovision odds: Four countries are extremely tight at the top
Tis the season
We’re now – finally – into Eurovision month; so time perhaps to check-in with the bookies and see who the frontrunners are at this crucial stage.
I’ve had half an eye on all the odds since January, when barely any of the songs had been released – and it’s been interesting to see how much (and in some cases, how little) the rankings have shifted since the different tracks have been put out into the wild.
With the majority of different bookmakers, Malta’s Destiny remains the one to beat, though it’s incredibly close. She’s at 3/1 with several companies, according to Oddschecker. If you want more #stats, Je me casse has 1.2 million streams on Spotify and the video has 5.4 million plays on YouTube.
Currently in second place is France’s Barbara Pravi with Voilà. Compared to Destiny, she has a fraction of the video views (1.2 million) but more Spotify streams (3.9 million). She’s on 4/1 with some bookies and 9/2 (4.5/1) with others.
Tout l’Univers by Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears follows in third; with 5/1 odds from several different bookies. That song has 2.4 million video views and 2.1 million Spotify streams as things stand.
And in fourth place, with 6/1 odds (5/1 from a couple), it’s Italy’s Måneskin with Zitti E Buoni. The rockier number is already a big hit in the group’s homeland and as such has far, far more Spotify streams than its closest competition (24 million). The video has 1.5 million streams on the official Eurovision channel but 19 million on the band’s own. It’s already gone Platinum in Italy – it’ll be interesting to see how it rates with the rest of Europe.
After those four, the odds become a bit more spaced out – last year’s would-be champ Dadi Freyr for Iceland is a distant fifth on around 14/1, about level with former favourite Victoria for Bulgaria.
Lithuania (The Roop‘s Discotheque, 18/1), Sweden (Tusse‘s Voices, 18/1), Cyprus (Elena Tsagrinou‘s El Diablo, 25/1), and Norway (TIX‘s Fallen Angel, 25/1) complete the top 10.
The United Kingdom are, in what will be a surprise for few, miles away from being any sort of threat – our most generous odds are 100/1. James Newman‘s Embers has 1 million video plays and 1.3 million Spotify streams (which, to be fair, is marginally more than favourite Destiny).
Ireland’s Lesley Roy is just behind on around 150/1 – Maps has 964k views on YouTube and 983k streams on Spotify at present.
Britney Spears can’t believe there are ‘so many documentaries with other people’s takes on my life’
The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship came out over the weekend
On the weekend that another Britney Spears documentary comes out, the star herself has spoken out and it doesn’t sound like she’s a fan.
In addition to Framing Britney Spears earlier this year, there’s also now The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship – courtesy of the BBC.
Netflix are also said to be working on their own doc.
Posting one of her dancing videos to Instagram, she wrote in the caption: “2021 is definitely way better than 2020 but I never knew it was gonna be like THIS ??? !!!!
“So many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life … what can I say … I’m deeply flattered !!!!”
She added: “These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing ???????? Damn … I don’t know y’all but I’m thrilled to remind you all that although I’ve had some pretty tough times in my life … I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative ??♀️??♀️??♀️ !!!!
“I mean … isn’t this supposed to be a business and society about THE FUTURE ??? ???? Why highlight the most negative and traumatizing times in my life from forever ago ???? I mean DAMN.”
Later in the caption, she refuted a recent claim from Billy B (remember him? He used to pop up on Drag Race every now and then), suggesting she doesn’t control her own social media.
“PSSSS I don’t actually talk to Billy B AT ALL so I’m honestly very confused ??? !!! This is my Instagram !!!!” she said.