“There’s no better mentor than Jed Mercurio”: Trigger Point writer Daniel Brierley discusses his new ITV thriller

Two images that blur into one another. Left: Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester in Trigger Point, wearing big chunk bomb disposal protective gear. Right: writer Daniel Brierley, wearing an open-collared blue and white shirt, on holiday.

When you work with Jed Mercurio, you know that you’ve got to be on your A-game. He’s not someone that suffers fools gladly. So that was an extra impetus for me to make sure I was turning in work that was as good as I could get it. I remember working on an early draft of the first episode with him, and his note being something like, don’t hold anything back. It’s like in football terms, there’s an expression “don’t leave anything on the pitch” – it’s very much like that in the script, you want to make sure everything dramatic is in there.

My first interview over at National World, which is neat – nice to be able to do that sort of work there.

This is the first of a two-part piece discussing Trigger Point with writer Daniel Brierley. In this one, we talk about his initial inspiration for the show, why he wrote it with Vicky McClure in mind, how his comedy background shaped his approach to writing thrillers, what it was like to work with Jed Mercurio, and more. In the second part, which will publish on Sunday evening, Daniel walks me through the explosive cliffhanger to the first episode.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Trigger Point’s carefully maintained tension helps it stand out in a crowded genre

In the centre, Lana Washington (Vicky McClure); to her left, slightly smaller, Joel Nutkins (Adrian Lester). They're both wearing big chunky helmets and goggles - the protective gear of bomb disposal experts.

Trigger Point is at its best as a process story.

The ITV drama builds its set pieces around the granular, technical details of bomb disposal: which wires to cut first, where the second trigger might be hidden, the significance of one type of explosive vs another. Trigger Point is careful, even forensic, in how it builds tension, and that’s very much to its credit: its slower, more precisely built scenes are always its most impressive. A possible shoot-out with a hostage wearing an explosive vest is engaging but familiar – it’s the delicate, steady incisions made in blue plastic carrier bag to identify the bomb inside that make Trigger Point stand out in a crowded genre.

The obvious point of comparison for Trigger Point is Line of Duty, for more reasons than one. Produced by Jed Mercurio, it’s got the same densely packed technical dialogue, which contributes to a similar style and feel throughout. Trigger Point also repeats a few of Line of Duty’s well-worn structural tricks, so even before you get to the obvious “they both star Vicky McClure in a police-adjacent role” observation, the two feel in conversation with one another (and Bodyguard too, come to that).

But it’s (at least a little) more than just ITV’s answer to Line of Duty, and it never quite feels like the product of a calculated, “if you liked that you’ll like this” style Netflix algorithm. The first episode is very much a statement of intent and scale – not just in terms of where it goes big and broad but where it’s small and precise, willing to let quiet moments of tension stand on their own. It’s not quite the BBC Two show Line of Duty began as, nor the BBC One show it became, but instead something between the two, with clear potential to develop its own distinct identity if it continues for as long as Line of Duty did.

My latest – well, latest of substance – piece for National World, reviewing upcoming ITV thriller Trigger Point. It’s written by Daniel Brierley (who I’ve also interviewed for National World), and produced by Jed Mercurio, creator of Line of Duty and Bodyguard. This is very much in the same vein as those two, as I explained above; worth checking out if you’re into that sort of thing though.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Rakhee Thakrar and Maxine Peake impress in Rules of the Game’s story of lies and deception

Murky green splintered glass. Reflected in the shards are Maya (Rakhee Thakrar) and Sam (Maxine Peake), as well as bearded men and office blocks.

What’s interesting about Rules of the Game is that its lead character Sam would, in another programme, be the villain: writer Ruth Fowler has spoken about how the miniseries was written in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and it’s notable that Fowler gives her lead lines originally said by Weinstein’s lawyer as part of his defence. Maxine Peake does well with the complexities to her character, from the steely public resolve to the private moments of concern – there’s a nice thread running through the drama about what she’ll excuse and what she won’t, what she’ll turn a blind eye to and what she doesn’t even notice in the first place. The series is, if not mired in ambiguity as such, certainly willing to indulge in it in a way that flatters its character drama.

Rakhee Thakrar is similarly impressive in a key role here, very much the way into the drama for viewers; she’s a consistently charming and sympathetic presence, likeable as she bristles against structures that have been in place since long before she arrived. Her role is well-characterised too, fleshed out quickly with beats that say a lot with a little. There’s a fantastic detail in the opening where Maya, clearly anxious, is listening to self-help tapes alone in her car – but skips through long sequences of the podcast, fast-forwarding and only listening specifically to the mantra.

New review of Rules of the Game for National World. Again, it’s sort of an interesting part of this new job, covering stuff like this – the sort of show that I probably wouldn’t have written about at all over the past few years, not really since I was at Yahoo (and even then it wouldn’t necessarily have been certain).

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Euphoria’s overwrought second series loses sight of its own strengths

Rue (Zendaya) is standing facing the left of the image. She looks half asleep, but her face is illuminated by a golden light.

Euphoria never quite seems like a show that knows what it wants to be.

It wants to be shocking, certainly. Season 2 of the HBO drama maintains the same sort of arch confidence at the first. It’s near-constantly calling attention to itself, with a reflexive “look at me” quality that almost dares you to complain. It’s a show that, while not exactly courting controversy, wouldn’t be doing its job right if someone, somewhere, wasn’t petitioning against it – indeed, you get the sense that creator Sam Levinson would be disappointed if Euphoria debuted to rave reviews only.

But by now that’s priced into the equation; it’s difficult to be provocative when that’s exactly what people expect. The question going into Season 2 – which begins almost three years after the first season concluded, a long time for any viewer to stay with a show but particularly those from a teenage audience – is whether or not Euphoria has any tricks left after the shock value has worn off, or if it’s a series with a fundamentally very limited range.

Across the 7 episodes of Season 2, Euphoria never does quite manage to reinvent itself. Even worse, there’s a sense that it loses sight of its own strengths as well: it’s a show so preoccupied with one particular vision of its own existence that it never quite realises all the other things it does well, and all the other directions it could – and likely should – push itself in.

My review of Euphoria season 2 for National World.

Odd show, this. I went back to look at what I said when the first series was airing, almost exactly a million years ago in June 2019, and I had found it basically messy but quite interesting, even pretty good at times. (I did completely fall off it in the end though – took me months and months to watch the finale, and I only got around to the 2020 specials in the past few days – which maybe says a lot about the conclusion I reached in the end.)

For the most part though the second series didn’t quite hit the same notes that I liked about the first series, and really doubled down on the bits that I found least interesting. Bit of a shame, really, because it’s a show that very occasionally shows these flashes of brilliance, and I wish there was a little more of that to it.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Nina Sosanya and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell make Screw just about worth watching

Prison officers Leigh (Nina Sosanya) and Rose (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) walking in opposite directions down a prison corridor; Rose is turning back to look at Leigh.

Part of the point of Screw is to tell a prison drama from a different perspective. After a number of television series focused on the lives of prisoners – from Orange is the New Black to Wentworth to OzScrew is an effort to flip the script and place prison officers at the centre of a drama.

Creator and executive producer Rob Williams, who also serves as lead writer on Screw, spent a number of years working as an art teacher in prison, and has continued volunteering in prisons since becoming a writer. Screw is, obviously, drawn from that experience; Williams has suggested that prison officers are “public servants, yet they’ve never really had their own TV show in the way that paramedics, firefighters and police have”, with Screw an attempt to redress that balance.

At times, that proves something of an uncomfortable framing. It’s hard not to feel like, in the opening episodes at least, the prisoners blend into the background a little, an abstract mass of people who are somewhere between irritants, obstacles, and oddities only. That’s one thing dealing with patients in a hospital drama, for example, but it feels like quite another to turn the lens away from the prisoners in a prison drama, the carceral state reduced almost to a background detail. Screw comes at an interesting point, actually, because now is probably quite a good time for a new prisoner-focused drama – given that audiences are likely to be more intuitively sympathetic to the experience of being locked away, and given how prisoners were consistently neglected through the pandemic. There’s a sense maybe that Screw might’ve just missed its moment.

What I’m finding about this – now that I’m writing a lot more pre-air reviews, often with shows I’ve not watched all the way through or had to finish quite quickly – is that… well, it’s just a fundamentally different thing, I suppose. Especially when you’re under embargo and have to follow certain spoiler stipulations and so on. Different task! Adjusting to that still.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Doctor Who Review: Eve of the Daleks

Screenshot of a Doctor Who title card. In shiny gold font, centred on a black background, it reads: EVE OF THE DALEKS Written By CHRIS CHIBNALL

We’re running out of time, Doc.

There’s an implied sequel to this episode – Dawn of the Daleks, perhaps – that begins with Nick arriving at another, very similar storage locker, making small talk with a desk clerk played by, let’s say, Sara Pascoe. Nick introduces himself, she explains the rules, he makes a bad joke, she asks what he wants to put in storage.

He hands her a white-and-yellow striped jumper and gives a hollow, dead-eyed smile.

I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m finding it difficult to engage with Eve of the Daleks – I’ve seen it twice now – because of how fundamentally broken its foundations are. The romance between Nick and Sarah, such as it is, is surely one of the most toxic dynamics Doctor Who has ever committed to screen; certainly, it’s one of the worst Chibnall has ever offered in his tenure as showrunner. That’d be one thing if it was just a stray detail in a wider piece that had more going on – Mitch in Resolution, for example, is a little clingy, but I can’t say it’s ever really bothered me because that episode is also about Ryan and his dad, it’s about the Daleks, it’s about having a third go at a finale for Series 11. It’s a typically chaotic and busy Chibnall story, and that can come with certain flaws, but it often also has a sort of inherent counterbalance to any one element that might not be working.

Eve of the Daleks – which, as a time-loop story, surely should’ve been called Repetition of the Daleks – doesn’t enjoy the same advantages. Structurally speaking, it’s probably the simplest piece Chibnall has written since The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, with its comparatively few characters, plotlines, and locations. In concept I think that’s clever, a necessary relief after Flux (it also cuts interestingly against the usual maximalism of holiday specials, contributing to the sense of Eve of the Daleks as one of the first to have its own distinct identity as a New Year’s piece specifically). But equally that does also mean that its core building blocks are exposed, with absolutely nothing to distract from them. You can’t get away from the fact that Eve of the Daleks, in terms of plot, structure, character, and theme, revolves around this relationship – a relationship which, through what it parallels and alludes to, takes on an even greater significance.

Nick (Adjani Salmon, wearing glasses and a denim jacket) in a darkened red-lit corridor, the beam of his torch illuminating the bottom right corner of the image.

Let’s dwell on this for a moment, if only because it’s winding me up so much I feel the need to really break it down into its constituent parts. Nick has a crush on Sarah; to contrive excuses to meet and spend time with her, he very regularly turns up at her place of work. In particular, he’s worked out when she’ll be alone, and makes a point of being there then as well. Their conversations are strained – she seems to find him quite irritating at best – and their back and forth is a customer service obligation (“Can you remind me of the list of things that can’t be stored?”), a professional conversation in a context where Sarah cannot get away from him.

We later learn that, in his storage locker, he keeps an exhaustively catalogued collection of possessions that used to belong to women he’s dated (but presumably, in each case, isn’t on good enough terms to speak to them and offer them their board games and binoculars back). Sarah, quite reasonably, finds that creepy, and Nick… well, it’s intended as a grand moment of self-sacrifice, as he throws himself at the Daleks out of embarrassment, but the narrative holds that over Sarah, and you get the sense that their subsequent relationship is predicated on some sense of obligation or guilt. It’s also established that Nick’s crush on Sarah has lasted three years (overlapping, interestingly, with several of the relationships suggested by his sticky notes), and he is very quick – rehearsed, even – to explain to her why she’s wrong to call it stalking. Really, keeping all the possessions is the least creepy thing Nick does this episode!

Now, I’ll readily grant there’s some ambiguity here, with more than a few lines that could be interpreted in different ways – “You’re the reason I’m here” suggests to me that the storage locker is only open on New Year’s Eve because Nick will turn up – as well as what may well just be some unhelpful set dressing. Actually, let’s go a step further with that: the script, the director, the set designers, and even the actors weren’t all on the same page for this one. Aisling Bea (and Mandip Gill, come to that) really goes for it in the initial “are these women still alive?” scene; Adjani Salmon plays the whole thing with a slight knowing edge, which in another context would be sweet but here seems secretive; Chris Chibnall very likely started with “Ex Terminated” and worked his way back from there; Segun Akinola puts together this really lovely, light bit of romcom music to score their scenes; director Annetta Laufer doesn’t manage to knit all those contradictions together. (That said, Laufer does some really excellent work otherwise, doing a lot with a setting that doesn’t easily lend itself to compelling visuals.)

Very likely this is because the script was written quickly, possibly when pre-production had already started; there maybe wasn’t the time for the level of course-correction needed. (That said, here’s a quick one – these should’ve been one ex-partner’s possessions, preserving the “letting go of baggage” idea, while minimising some of the character’s internal contradictions.) Or maybe this big, broad comedy for a festive special wasn’t deemed worthy of that level of scrutiny, and it’s as simple as that.

But Eve of the Daleks goes to some lengths to parallel Nick and Sarah with the Doctor and Yaz, meaning it takes on an outsized significance – the episode that canonises Thasmin being grounded in something as uncomfortable as this feels like a fatal flaw.

A Dalek at the end of a darkened corridor, lit from behind.

So, I quite like Thasmin, as a concept. I think romantic relationships in Doctor Who are, generally, a good thing worth doing; I think that, at the start of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor, it’d been long enough since the last Doctor/companion romance to be worth doing it again. Indeed, I was always surprised that, despite the Davies-era nostalgia that informs his era, Chibnall didn’t build a Doctor/companion relationship as the explicit spine of his populist reboot of Doctor Who.

“Explicit spine” being a carefully chosen phrase there, incidentally. I tweeted after the episode finished that I would’ve liked to see Chibnall introduce these ideas and themes much earlier, and a lot of people replied to tell me it’s been there since the beginning. (Actually, more than one person told me I needed to pay more attention to Doctor Who, which is, forgive me, very funny.) People pointed to Arachnids in the UK in particular – I rewatched it earlier, and it’s a lot better than I remembered or ever gave it credit for, but it’s about as concerned with alluding to a Yaz/Ryan romance as it is a Yaz/Doctor one. I think had this always been Chibnall’s plan, he’d have made it much more explicit much earlier; as Andrew Ellard pointed out, Chibnall is a writer who typically introduces details like that upfront immediately. (Which, relatedly, is why I don’t think the “actually, Nick is a sensitive portrayal of neurodivergence” defence is worth dignifying, aside from all the other reasons.) It seems more likely to me that, if Thasmin can be traced back to Arachnids in the UK, it’s in the response to that episode rather than its content – it’s Chibnall being influenced by the fans, rather than fans reading tea leaves he’s left for them. (Thasmin: it’s the people’s project!)

I think it’s a good thing to make it explicit; I think it’s neat that those moments do take on an extra textual resonance now, and I think it’ll make rewatching Series 11 and Series 12 a much more rewarding experience. Honestly, I like the idea that on some level I can watch the show that the Thasmin stans have been watching the past few years – if nothing else, they seem to have been having more fun than I have – but nonetheless it’s a shame for Chris Chibnall to have left it as late as he has to delve into it like this.

Even if you do read into some of the more subtle tea leaves (Yaz like Yasmin like Jasmine like Rose; the house in It Takes You Away is a triangle; so on) surely those are details that give Mandip Gill and Jodie Whittaker very little to do? It’s great that, finally, Mandip Gill is getting material like this, beyond her usual mechanical and perfunctory expository questions – that scene where she talks to Dan is sensitive and mature, certainly her best performance in the role. But still, I don’t think it’s unfair to wish this had been paced differently – couldn’t Graham have had that conversation with Yaz at the end of Revolution of the Daleks, asking her if she’d ever tell the Doctor how she felt before they went travelling together again? – to allow her more space to actually act.

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) in a storage locker, surrounded by junk.

What I’m more interested by, at this point, is what Chris Chibnall is reaching for here, and how we’re meant to actually read Thasmin. Certainly, it’s striking that Chibnall keeps paralleling Thasmin with less-than-healthy relationships; there’s Nick and Sarah here, deeply uncomfortable for how both Yaz and the Doctor are positioned as equivalents to Nick, who as we’ve already established is terribly creepy. But this isn’t the first time that’s happened – Survivors of the Flux draws similarities between Yaz and the Doctor and the Doctor and Tecteun, repeated lines of dialogue suggesting a similar dynamic in each case. (It’s an odd allusion to make, but it’s as grounded in the text as any prior hints of Yaz’s feelings were, so it deserves the same level of emphasis.)

But even then, setting aside the interpretive in favour of something more straightforward, the Doctor is often very mean to Yaz. She’s patronising and condescending, quick to anger, at times borderline manipulative in The Halloween Apocalypse, distant and detached long past the point she opened up to Ryan; Yaz has more affectionate relationships with Graham, Ryan, and Dan. The way the Doctor speaks to Yaz routinely makes me wince, honestly. On the face of it, it’s as bad as the Tenth Doctor’s now much-criticised treatment of Martha; taking Dan’s suggestion that the Doctor knows about and deliberately ignores Yaz’s feelings at face value, it’s surely worse. Frankly, if you’re looking for a Thasmin anthem, it’s probably No Children. (Someone make the fanvideo, go on.)

Perhaps that’s the point: Russell T Davies wrote his romances as tragedies, never escaping the curse of the Time Lords. Maybe Chibnall is reaching for the same ideas, trying to suggest that Yaz and the Doctor could never really be together, that the fundamental distance between them is too great – and perhaps also that Yaz, like Karl, might find a greater level of self-confidence and self-assurance without the Doctor in her life. It’s… well, interesting I suppose, but I must admit it wouldn’t be my preferred take in this instance, especially with such little time left. Knowing as we do that this was almost the penultimate episode of the Chibnall era, and at one stage would’ve led directly into Whittaker’s regeneration, it raises the question: where is this going?

That idea that the Doctor’s “actions are catching up to her” is interesting in that respect, because while it ostensibly seems to be about the Daleks pursuing her, it’s actually about her conversation with Time, isn’t it? She’s worried she’s going to die soon, that’s why she’s shutting Yaz out on this particular occasion (it grates somewhat that Chibnall keeps playing the same beat, giving the Doctor a new secret to keep over and over – Gallifrey’s destruction, the Timeless Child, now her coming death, each one leading right into the next).

In a way, that positions Can You Hear Me? (a personal favourite, largely for what it does for Yaz) at the centre of the Chibnall era – that episode is all about the value of openness and communication, so perhaps Thasmin should be understood in the same light, all about what they could’ve had if either had opened up to the other earlier. (Incidentally, Dan’s “you’re not socially awkward, you just pretend to be because you don’t want to engage” casts the end of Can You Hear Me? in an odd light, doesn’t it?) Maybe it’s Chibnall’s attempt at a critique of Series 2, in the same sense that Hell Bent was Moffat critiquing Series 4, which is actually quite an interesting thought to consider – though again, short of a Six Feet Under style montage, I don’t think Chibnall has left himself enough time and space to explore that in the depth it deserves.

At the moment, that seems to me like it’s still going to end, if not tragically, certainly sadly (and with a few unfortunate implications too). I worry this is only being given central focus now as a shortcut to a more poignant regeneration later this year.

“You can leave here, but you won’t outrun me. Your time is heading to its end. Nothing is forever. No regeneration, no life. Beware of the forces that mass against you, and their Master.”

I wonder if that has a dual meaning, incidentally. It might not refer to the end of a regeneration and a life, implying the Doctor’s final death, but rather a regeneration and a life – the Doctor’s regeneration, and Yaz’s life.

Related:

Doctor Who series 13 reviews

Doctor Who Review: Series 12 Overview

You might also be interested to read reviews from friends-of-the-blog Will Shaw and Audrey Armstrong, both of whom strike a much better ratio of insights to word count than I did above.

Meanwhile, you can find more of my writing about Doctor Who here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter

How we made The Sarah Jane Adventures: ‘We were like a family, and it was beautiful’

A picture of Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), surrounded by a vortex of purple/gold letters and numbers. She's got brown hair, is wearing a cream coloured coat, and smiling. To her left, in luminous purple, it reads: The Sarah Jane Adventures

“Children don’t need to be told that dragons exist,” says Phil Ford, quoting the writer GK Chesterton. “Children already know that dragons exist. What the fairy tale does is teach them that dragons can be defeated. That was something that was very strong through all of The Sarah Jane Adventures: those monsters are out there, but you can survive them.”

“And I suppose if The Sarah Jane Adventures is any kind of metaphor, that’s what its message is – that there are all kinds of obstacles that we all face through life, but they can be overcome.”

“One of the one of the great things about writing for children is that you can inspire them to go on to do other things,” Ford continues. “Maybe one of those things they want to go and do is actually write themselves. I mean, that’s what happened to me: I became a writer because I was inspired by old style Doctor Who, by episodes with Jon Pertwee and Sarah Jane.”

Another – and likely the last for some time – retrospective feature of Radio Times, about The Sarah Jane Adventures.

This one proved a little complicated to write (I started in late-October, figuring I could get it all done way in advance of Christmas, because it’d be much easier to navigate everyone’s schedules that way; didn’t quite work out that way in the end) but I’m really pleased with how it turned out in the end. Really nice to be able to revisit the show, and to talk to the people who made it, because it’d always been such a big thing for me back in the day.

What was also quite nice, actually, was that Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter got in touch to say she liked the piece. Appreciated that a lot.

You can find more of my writing about Doctor Who here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter

The Tourist is better as a black comedy than an action thriller

Jamie Dornan as the Man in The Tourist. He's wearing a grey t-shirt with a red heart, standing by a petrol pump in the Australian outback.

Watching The Tourist, you get the sense that it maybe wasn’t marketed particularly well.

The six-part thriller is BBC One’s prestige New Year’s Day drama for 2022, debuting in the same slot occupied by shows like The Serpent, Dracula, and Luther in previous years. To all intents and purposes, it was pitched as quite a serious affair – images were released of Jamie Dornan all bearded and brooding, trailers emphasised the intense action that kicks the whole thing off, and the official synopsis described it as “a story of self-discovery with a ticking time-bomb underneath”, full of “shocking, surprising, and brutal turns”.

It comes as a bit of a surprise then that the series is actually really, really funny.

My review of The Tourist for National World. Gotta admit, I wasn’t particularly enthused about this show at first – but it really clicked for me the moment I realised it was funny. Danielle Macdonald as Helen is a particular delight.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Stay Close is exactly what you’d expect, nothing more or less

Cush Jumbo as Megan Pierce in Harlan Coben's Stay Close. She's wearing a green jumper, using a knife to cut some rope, and looking worried.

As is often the case with crime thrillers like this, Stay Close is about a group of people haunted by their past – a past that’s come rushing forward into the present, threatening to disrupt their comfortable if stagnant suburban lives. Megan Pierce (Cush Jumbo) is a mother of three who reinvented herself seventeen years ago; Mike Broome (James Nesbitt) is a burned-out detective still obsessed with a seventeen-year-old cold-case; Ray Levine (Richard Armitage) is a struggling photographer still reeling from the disappearance of his girlfriend seventeen years earlier. The characters’ lives are, as you’d expect, intertwined, and Stay Close weaves a complex plot as it moves from one thread of its story to the next.

At its most basic level, Stay Close is very watchable. It feels designed to be binged, one episode leading into the next – it’s compelling in the sort of way that makes you want to keep going with it, if not necessarily compelling in the sort of way that you’d remember it in much detail a few months down the line. It’s atmospheric and suspenseful, often tense and dramatic, never quite addictive but certainly gripping: if you liked Safe, you’ll very likely enjoy this too. 

I’ve reviewed the new Harlan Coben Netflix adaptation. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d imagine it to be (albeit with one exception, discussed in the above review) – if you like this sort of thing, it’s worth a watch, but if not, it won’t do much to change your mind about them.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

The 21 Best TV Shows of 2021

7 circles on a pale pink background. Each circle represents a different TV show, and has a different colour hue: red (It's A Sin), orange (Stath Lets Flats), yellow (For All Mankind), green (Succession), blue (Superstore), purple (What We Do in the Shadows), and black & white (Landscapers).

“Best” can be a bit of a tricky word, especially when it comes to ranking something creative like a television programme. A ranked list suggests something quantifiable or easily measured, but “best” is often anything but.

In this particular context, it means something between greatest, most memorable, and often simply personal favourite. It’s necessarily quite a specific list, and in some ways a limited one: it doesn’t include popular shows like Squid Game, The White Lotus, The Underground Railroad, or Maid, because in each case I didn’t quite get around to watching them.

So, with all that established: here are the twenty-one best television shows of 2021.

I was planning on writing my year-end list as a series of articles, ten pieces on the ten different shows, shared daily through December – admittedly, that was massively optimistic from the outset, something I’ve tried and failed to do for a few years running now, but it just went totally out the window the moment I started the NationalWorld job.

Instead, I wrote this Top 21 piece (funny numbers like 21 rather than normal ones like 10 do better for clicks, it turns out), with a couple of hundred words about each show listed – which is quite fun in its own way too! I’ve never done a list this long before, so it was nice to be able to celebrate some other stuff that I really enjoyed, but wouldn’t have quite made the top ten.

(While I was still planning the Top Ten pieces, I did write a Special Mentions and Runners Up post, which I’ll upload soon as well as a little counterpart to this. And eventually I’ll do my movies list as well – late December proved surprisingly hectic, so I’m quite behind on a lot of the customary end-of-year stuff.)

Related:

Best of 2020 | My Top 10 TV series of the year

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.