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WTW's top TV shows of 2021: we pick our favorites

2021 top TV shows.
(Image credit: Getty)

Here are the shows we've loved watching in 2021. You might disagree with our picks! But, we hope our personal best TV shows rundown will make you think, “Hey, I need to watch that!”

Obviously, we’ve not seen everything and this is very much our own view. These might not all be critically-acclaimed shows, but they’re the ones we have a passion for as a team.

We’ve asked all our writers to name their top shows of the year and to make their case for why you need to watch that series. Here they are… we hope it gives you some ideas on what to watch next.

'It's a Sin'

Olly Alexander in It's A Sin

(Image credit: Channel 4)

Three gay teenage lads from around the UK begin new lives in London at the start of the 1980s, hoping they can find friendship and love, plus party hard and of course get their rocks off! But this is no ordinary coming-of-age story as it happens during the unfolding AIDS crisis. 

This beautifully crafted drama plays out in five episodes over 10 years. It’s written by the brilliant Russell T. Davies and boasts top names among the cast such as Keeley Hawes, Neil Patrick Harris, and Stephen Fry

It's a Sin kicks off in 1981 as wannabe actor Ritchie (Years and Years singer Olly Alexander, who has won awards galore for the role), party boy Roscoe (Omari Douglas), and shy Welsh Savile Row apprentice Colin (Callum Scott Howells) end up sharing a London pad together with another friend Jill (Lydia West).

But the lads’ joyful journey of self-discovery is soon marred when news of a mystery illness hits the headlines — a deadly virus called AIDS that will cast a devastating shadow over all their lives. If there was ever a drama that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, then this is it!  

The show’s 1980s soundtrack is great for nostalgia too, with the likes of Soft Cell, OMD, and Teardrop Explodes playing through scenes as well as the iconic Pet Shop Boys’ title track. - Nicholas Cannon

'Death in Paradise'

TV tonight Sorry, Neville, your Christmas is cancelled!

(Image credit: BBC)

Need cheering up? Watch Death in Paradise! From the moment the ridiculously upbeat opening theme tune kicks off, you’re thrown into a different world of endless sunshine and Agatha Christie-style murder cases. Thankfully for DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little) he only ever seems to have to cope with investigating five suspects — phew, otherwise this crime-solving lark might cut into the time the gang spends together at Catherine’s Bar

To celebrate 10 glorious years, the show was given a special extended anniversary episode which was a real treat for fans as original star Ben Miller made a ghostly reappearance as DI Richard Poole. And, in a festive bonus, there’s also the first-ever Death in Paradise Christmas special to look forward to and, just around the corner, is Death in Paradise season 11

Oh, and we mustn’t forget how much we love Don Warrington, the only actor to have remained in the show throughout, as the grumpy and loveable Commissioner. - David Hollingsworth

'Squid Game'

Squid Game

(Image credit: Netflix)

After being watched by a whopping 111 million fans globally, Squid Game must have something going for it! This nine-part series centres around a series of deadly games, where desperate members of the public compete to win a massive amount of money, 45.6 billion won ($45 billion) to be exact. 

Lead character Seong Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee) is a man who is riddled with debt and constantly on the run from loan sharks, as he struggles to provide for his daughter and his mother. After he's approached by a stranger at the train station, he's convinced to join these games and becomes the 456th and final participant, where he meets with others in similarly desperate positions. 

Of course, these people were lured in thinking the games would be simple, but it soon becomes apparent their lives are in danger and they're playing for much more than the jackpot. With some gory moments and heartbreaking losses, this series is an intense watch, but audiences everywhere have been raving about it.

There's good news too because the series has been so successful that creator Hwang Dong-hyuk has confirmed that Squid Game season 2 will go ahead. We're already excited to see what happens next! - Lucy Buglass

'What We Do In The Shadows'

What We Do In The Shadows Season 3

(Image credit: BBC/ FX Networks)

What We Do In The Shadows season 3 is a truly ridiculous sitcom centered on a gang of vampires trying to navigate modern life in New York City. It also just so happens to be one of the best comedies on TV, and the third season proved there's plenty more life left in its ensemble cast.

Despite being a fairly inept group of ghouls, the third season saw Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Laszlo (Matt Berry), and energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) elevated to a higher power after season two’s shock finale, with vampire-slayer Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) now acting as their fearsome bodyguard.

Nadja and Nandor are vying for power as the true leader of the Vampiric Council, and now the wider supernatural world (begrudgingly) has to pay them more respect. This — plus important side-stories like Nandor’s quest for love and Colin’s quest to learn his origins — offered up lots more ridiculous scenarios for the group to try and muddle through and presented plenty of opportunities to develop our understanding of every character in the show.

What We Do In The Shadows is still delightfully silly, but the jokes are perfectly balanced with an even stronger sense of heart. Roll on series 4! - Martin Shore

'And Just Like That...'

And Just Like That

(Image credit: Sky)

It's been nearly two decades since we last saw newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), no-nonsense lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and prim-and-proper Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) navigating their way through friendships and relationships as 30 something singletons. Now, they're back for a 10-episode sequel to the Emmy-winning American comedy-drama, And Just Like That…

The Sex and the City reboot sees Carrie and friends now trying to figure out life in their 50s, with all that marriage, jobs, and raising older children entails. Carrie now has a podcast instead of a newspaper column, Miranda is heading back to college after quitting her high-powered job in law, and Charlotte is a proud mum to two teenage girls. The new series brings shocks, laughs, huge twists, and a massive helping of nostalgia — definitely not one to be missed. - Claire Crick

'WandaVision'

Monica (Teyonah Parris) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) inside the Hex.

(Image credit: Disney+)

The first of the Marvel shows to hit Disney Plus, WandaVision is a masterclass in misdirection (as well as set design, costume design, plotting, humor and acting...!). To say the show takes viewers on a journey is an understatement. 

Starting, seemingly, as a retro comedy spin-off — in which Marvel's favorite couple Wanda and Vision, are magically reunited in a 1950s suburban bubble (remember, Vision dies in Avengers: Infinity War — not just once, but twice), there's also a witchy fantasy strand (which we’ll see play out further in the wonderful Kathryn Hahn's Agatha Harkness spin-off), a Marvel/S.W.O.R.D. action thread and, underpinning it all, a dramatic study of the power of grief. In less capable hands and with less capable performers this tone switching wouldn't work. Here, it's seamless and utterly compelling.

Each episode is visually and narratively styled as a different period of TV sitcoms — from the opening episode's black & white whimsical, 1950s pastiche of frocks and pratfalls (a la I Love Lucy), the I Dream of Jeannie 60s aesthetic, 70s psychedelia and "modernized" families (The Brady Bunch) through the big-haired, loud colors of the vibrant 80s (Family Ties, Married... with Children), the 90s Roseanne dramedy stylings and finally through to the 2000s where we flit from one trope to another as Wanda gradually loses her grip on the spell she's been weaving for herself — WandaVision gets progressively darker, richer and more interesting with each episode. - Louise Okafor

'Vienna Blood'

Vienna Blood

(Image credit: BBC/Endor Productions/MR Film/Hubert Mican)

Vienna Blood is that rare thing on television, a little-known gem. The series quietly snuck onto our screens two years ago, and now Vienna Blood season 2 has arrived — and it’s even better. 

The addictive crime thriller follows young Max Liebermann, a brilliant student of Freud, and grizzled cop Detective Oskar Rheinhardt, as they crack cases in early 20th century Vienna. 

The enchanting city is the perfect setting, but the wonderful partnership between the two leads — Matthew Beard as Max and Juergen Maurer as Oskar — really makes the show. Like many of the great TV crime-solving partnerships, they seem inseparable while driving each other crazy!. 

Vienna Blood has many similarities to Sherlock, not least the fact it’s been adapted by Sherlock screenwriter Steve Thompson. Dare we say it? OK, if you insist, Vienna Blood is superior! - David Hollingsworth

'Succession'

Jeremy Strong in Succession

(Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

After winning a host of Emmys, BAFTAs and Golden Globes in 2020, the hype surrounding Succession season 3 was enormous. Yet the latest installment of Jesse Armstrong’s drama delivered a tour de force that somehow managed to exceed our expectations. 

Part Game of Thrones, part Peep Show — which Armstrong also wrote — Succession has already blazed a trail as a show unlike any other and this year’s offering only confirmed how unique it is. No other drama can deliver breathtaking plot twists one moment, before serving up one-liners to leave us choking on our TV snacks the next. Indeed if 2021 saw a more beautifully crafted gag than Roman Roy’s errant dick-pic, we’d very much like to see it.

It's a shame because Roman had been rising in his father’s estimations until that moment, yet his riveting dalliance with Geri ultimately proved his undoing as he was cast back down with his grasping siblings. Such is life on the slippery ladder of Waystar Royco.  

There are many reasons to love this show, but any scene shared by Kendall, Roman and Shiv is always a joy to behold and the cathartic meeting they shared in the Tuscan parking lot, during the season finale, felt like one of the finest moments the series has ever produced. 

If the Roy kids spent as much time working on the company as they did aiming razor-sharp barbs at each other, then maybe they’d be ready to lead, but the series would undoubtedly be poorer for it. After stabbing each other in the back so many times, what a cruel twist of fate to see them go down in flames together in a devastating finale. 

Yet this year’s third season undoubtedly belonged to Matthew MacFayden, whose character, Tom Wambsgans, finally stepped out of his wife Shiv’s shadow in a jaw-dropping finale. The feverishly-anticipated fourth installment surely can’t live up to this… can it? - Sean Marland.

'Only Murders in the Building'

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in Only Murders in the Building.

(Image credit: Disney)

The murder-mystery genre is a classic and we viewers were spoiled with a number of selections for it this year, like the aforementioned new seasons Death in Paradise, Vienna Blood, as well as the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown. But new to the scene and offering its own hilarious comedic spin was the Hulu original series Only Murders in the Building.

The fantastic comedic duo of Steve Martin and Martin Short add Selena Gomez to their ranks for an awesome trio of amateur sleuths who use their shared affinity for true-crime podcasts to investigate and document a mysterious murder in their own New York apartment building. Among their list of suspects and allies were some great supporting characters that include Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Aaron Dominguez, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Tina Fey and even Sting. What series creators Martin and John Hoffman were not only able to create a funny commentary on true-crime content but a fully twisty and enthralling entry into the genre as well.

Don't worry, I won't give anything away here, but I'll just say that the cliffhanger that the season 1 left on has me ready to break out my own clue board and consume nothing but dip as I try to piece together where Only Murders in the Building season 2 may go. - Michael Balderston

'Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy'

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy

(Image credit: CNN)

While a silver lining of the last nearly two years has been the amount of time I've had to discover or catch up on TV shows and movies, I have definitely missed the chances to easily travel. That is probably why I enjoyed Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy so much, as I got to scratch both interests in one.

In the CNN original docuseries, which is now streaming on HBO Max, actor Stanley Tucci explores the food that defines Italy and the culture behind it. Going region by region, Tucci has explored Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany and Sicily, with more on the way as Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy season 2 is in the works.

Beyond the mouth-watering pizza, pasta and other dishes being discussed, what separates the show from other food-centric shows is the history and personal touches that Tucci adds. Each episode provides key historical context to the regions they explore as well as the importance of the food and its production to the culture. Then, coming from an Italian family himself, Tucci shares his own experience in the kitchen and memories of these dishes to viewers.

Watching Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy certainly made me hungry and craving Italian food, but it was also an alternative form of travel in a time when that was not possible. - Michael Balderston

'Money Heist: Part 5'

TV Tonight How will things end for Tokyo (Ursula Corbero) and co?

(Image credit: Netflix)

The huge Spanish Netflix hit Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) was watched by audiences globally upon its release, with part five being watched by 69 million people across the world!

Money Heist part 5 saw criminal mastermind The Professor (Álvaro Morte) and his recruits continue to pull off another huge heist— stealing 90 tons of gold from the Bank of Spain. But, as we get to know the gang and discover more about their personal lives, we can’t help but hope that the baddies will succeed in their mission.

This series has had viewers hooked as we all experience the love, heartbreak, and terror just the same as the thieves endure throughout the show and it even had audiences shedding a few tears for their favorite characters.

Recently, it was announced that they are doing a Korean remake of the popular series, which will feature Squid Game star Park Hae-soo. In addition, they have also confirmed a spin-off series for popular character Berlin (Pedro Alonso).- Grace Morris

'Baptiste' season 2

Tcheky Karyo and Fiona Shaw in Baptiste

(Image credit: (C) Two Brothers Productions)

Tchéky Karyo reprises his role from the hit series The Missing as detective Julien Baptiste. In Baptiste season 2, he travels to Hungary to help British Ambassador Emma Chambers (Fiona Shaw) find her family who have mysteriously disappeared. 

But, they soon become embroiled in something far deeper than they could have ever imagined. Full of twists and turns, this series leaves you unsettled until the very end. Although some classic detective stories may seem stereotypical, this one particularly stands out for its unpredictable and enthralling plot.

Through the two timelines, viewers get the opportunity to slowly connect the pieces of the heart-stopping case and helps give the gripping whodunit a refreshing touch, while also unearthing the personal traumas both Baptiste and Emma have suffered during their lives.

One of the best BBC dramas in a long time.- Grace Morris

'Ted Lasso'

Brendan Hunt, Ted Lasso, and Brett Goldstein in Ted Lasso

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Jason Sudeikis' Ted Lasso follows the fictional English Premier League team AFC Richmond. The club's in serious trouble and at the centre of a media scandal following the former owner's love life. In an attempt to spite him, new owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) brings in Ted Lasso (Sudeikis) an American college football coach in an attempt to completely ruin the club and spite her ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head), who broke her heart.

The series is a perfect blend of comedy and drama, and as it progresses, we get to learn more about each of the characters on an intimate level. The very quirky, very American Ted stands out like a sore thumb amongst English fans and colleagues, and it takes a long time for him to earn anyone's trust. On top of this, everyone's dealing with their own deep-rooted issues that threaten the future of AFC Richmond.

In just a few episodes, you'll no doubt find yourself rooting for this failing football club and those who hold it dear, even if you have no interest in the game yourself. It's the kind of series where you'll be laughing one minute, and crying the next. And if you are a passionate football fan, you'll love some of the real-life cameos! - Lucy Buglass 

'Landscapers'

Landscapers: Olivia Colman as Susan Edwards and David Thewlis as Christopher Edwards

(Image credit: Sky/ HBO / Sister)

Landscapers is an unorthodox true-crime miniseries that tells the story of Susan and Christopher Edwards. Susan and Christopher are a real couple who became the focus of an extraordinary police investigation after the bodies of William and Patricia Wycherley — Susan’s parents — were discovered buried in their back garden in Mansfield in Nottingham.

What writer Ed Sinclair and director Will Sharpe achieve with this tragic source material is nothing short of extraordinary. Susan (Olivia Colman) is a devotee of classic Hollywood and Western movies and she conjures up a fantasy land in which she recasts herself and Christopher (David Thewlis) as Hollywood heroes and are protected from their own guilt and troubles.

As the investigation progress, this fantasy world bleeds into reality, giving rise to fourth-wall breaks, layered narratives, flashbacks, and even the odd moment of black comedy as the show plays with everything you’d expect from any other British crime drama. All this creativity is matched by phenomenal performances across the board; basically, I haven't watched a more dynamic and visually arresting show all year.

Landscapers will definitely not be for everyone, but if you do click with it, it’s a surreal thrill ride that you’ll be hooked on from start to finish. - Martin Shore 

'This Way Up'

Áine (Aisling Bea) and Shona (Sharon Horgan) sit in a hot sauna in their bathing costumes, flushed and clearly finding the heat extremely hard to handle

(Image credit: Channel 4)

Aisling Bea's pitch-black comedy about mental health, loneliness, family, and friendships —This Way Up — returned for a second series in 2021 and was just as uncomfortable and piercingly honest as the first. 

Creator and writer, Aisling Bea, plays Aine, a twenty-something Irish girl who's recovering from a "teensy little nervous breakdown". This season she seems like she's in a much better place — there's her romance with awkward, ex-employer Richard (The Crown's Tobias Menzies), work is going well and she's back on good terms with her housemate, Bradley (Kadiff Kirwan). In fact, it's sister Shona (Sharon Horgan) who seems on shakier ground — recently engaged to long-term beau Vish (Aasif Mandvi) but there's a small matter of an illicit, passionate kiss with business partner Charlotte (Indira Varma, Game of Thrones) that she's studiously ignoring. 

Needless to say, despite the promising start Aine's journey hits a few speed bumps — often self-inflicted — but you're willing her to make it. The strong, loving bond between the two sisters is the heart of the show and it brings warmth and humor to a difficult subject. Always watchable. - Louise Okafor

'The Pact' 

The Pact cast

(Image credit: BBC)

If you’re looking for a gripping thriller with twists and turns right to the very end, then The Pact is for you. The six-part drama follows a group of friends who all work together at a brewery, but as well as being a close-knit gang, they also all share one thing in common — working with a boss-from-hell called Jack, played by Aneurin Barnard. However, things take a sinister turn for the group when a drunken prank goes horribly wrong after an office party, resulting in their arrogant boss winding up dead in the middle of some woods.

Soon the group of women find themselves covering dark secrets, while their personal lives are dug up by the police. Meanwhile, Jack's father, Arwel, played by Ray Donovan star Eddie Marsan, returns to the brewery following his son's death, and soon a horrific family legacy is unraveled. The crime thriller boasts a whole host of familiar faces in the cast, including Breaking Bad star Laura Fraser taking center stage as Anna, alongside Julie Hesmondhalgh as Nancy (Broadchurch, Coronation Street) and Abbie Hern as Tish (The Twilight Zone). - Claire Crick

The What to Watch team helps you find out the how, when, where and why of sports and entertainment — a comprehensive guide to all the must-see movies and shows that are coming your way. Our expert recommendations will help you decide how to make the most of your viewing time and make informed choices on the best TV and home entertainment devices to buy.