Liam Hoofe with his top 10 limited series of 2021…
In a year where most of us have still spent more time in the house than we would have liked, television and streaming services have been our best friends. From surprising hits like Squid Game to returning favourites like Succession, most of us have consumed more TV than ever this year.
With so much TV to choose from, sitting down to catch up on several seasons of a show can be a daunting task. That is where limited (or mini) series come in. These one season shows tell a compact story that in many cases, can be consumed in one binging marathon. 2021 has been an incredibly strong season for mini-series, with more streaming services releasing them than ever before. Let’s take a look at the best that 2021 had to offer.
10: The Beatles: Get Back
One of the most ambitious TV projects of the year came in the shape of The Beatles: Get Back. This near 8-hour documentary, split into three parts, was a labour of love by Peter Jackson. Jackson has gone through over 70 hours worth of footage to provide audiences with a fly on the wall look at the creative process of one of the most influential music acts to have ever existed.
At eight hours long, the series is not always an easy watch. In fact, it is better off broken down into even smaller parts, but there are some unbelievable moments of magic and insight in here that make the whole thing worth it. Above it all else, it also humanises a band who have often been treated like gods and provides a whole new look at their relationships with one another. This is essential viewing for fans of The Beatles, the arts and the creative process in general.
One of the last mini-series to hit our screens this year was Hulu’s Dopesick. The show centred around an epidemic sparked by big pharma has certainly touched a nerve with some viewers, but current affairs aside, this is a gripping and well-put-together series with some strong performances. Michael Keaton is the big name attached here but other performers like Will Poulter and the always-dependable Rosario Dawson also shine throughout.
Marvel’s adventure into TV has dominated Disney+ in 2021. WandaVision, as it stands, is the only show that will not have a second season. The show was easily the most intriguing of the company’s first batch of shows, with the first nine or so episodes delivering a complicated and well-directed mystery. While the show didn’t necessarily stick its ending, reverting back to a big Marvel fight to see things out, this was still a trippy and hugely enjoyable ride.
7: Midnight Mass
Mike Flanagan’s horror mini-series have gained a lot of attention in recent years. Midnight Mass took a different turn, with the writer/director choosing to focus on a small island this time instead of any sort of haunted house. The results were probably his strongest show yet.
Midnight Mass is a fascinating examination of grief, faith, and redemption and it is all anchored by a superb performance from Hamish Linklater as the mysterious priest. While the show does have similar issues with dialogue that have plagued some of Flanagan’s other work, when it is good, it totally knocks it out of the park. The final few episodes, in particular, are gripping and well-directed, providing plenty of horror and excitement along the way.
6: The Underground Railroad
It should come as no surprise that Barry Jenkins was able to produce such a stunning piece of television when he was given the chance. While Amazon Studios are probably the least consistent of the streaming providers, they knocked it out of the park with The Underground Railroad.
The series imagines the Underground Railroad as an actual train, with Thuso Mbedu putting in a powerful performance as an escaped slave in the lead role. Joel Edgerton is at his best as the slave-owner chasing her across the country in this brutal but beautifully realised mini-series. This is essential viewing and one of the best series of 2021.
5: Dexter: New Blood
As a long-time lover of Dexter, the final season of the show’s original run broke my heart. It was a horrendous ending for what had once been one of the best shows on TV. Despite that, I was still sceptical about the show’s return this year.
Thankfully, Dexter: New Blood has turned out to be better than I could have asked for. The return of Clyde Phillips has ensured the show returns to former glory and also looks as though it is going to bring a real ending to the show.
As the only show on this list that is still on TV, things could still go wrong for Dexter, but given the promise the season has shown, that seems highly unlikely.
4: Mare of Easttown
Kate Winslet gave one of the best performances of the year in the brilliant Mare of Easttown. Feeling in many ways like an American answer to Happy Valley, the show focused on a grieving mother who also happened to be a hard-hitting, no-nonsense detective hunting down some missing girls.
The show explored several themes including grief and was anchored by some exceptional performances and some top writing. Everything about this show just worked, with several subplots and character arcs all coming together beautifully in its limited seven-episode run.
Will Sharpe has proven himself to be one of the most interesting writers and directors around in recent years, and Landscapers is perhaps his best work yet. This four-part series tells the story of a seemingly mild-mannered and ordinary couple that murdered one of their parents and buried them in their garden in Mansfield.
Olivia Colman and David Thewlis take the lead roles in this drama and needless to say, they are exceptional. The relationship between the two is brilliantly brought to life, with Thewlis, in particular, stealing the show. Sharpe manages to make what would have been a standard true-crime drama in the hands of someone else into something extraordinary. The final episode is a perfect combination of style and substance, with the show asking more questions than it answers in the long run. This is a truly compelling and unique piece of work that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Stephen Graham is one of the best British actors of his generation, and if you need further proof of that, then check out Time. This three-part BBC prison drama focused on Sean Bean’s Mark Cobden, a former teacher who finds himself behind bars as a result of a drink-driving incident. Stephen Graham stars alongside him as one of the prison guards who is being increasingly pressured by the inmates.
There are hundreds of prison dramas out there, but when they are done as well as Time, they really land. This is a difficult but at times incredibly profound examination of the British prison system, and the way that we treat those behind bars. Sean and Graham are nothing short of outstanding here, with Bean turning in his best performance in quite some time.
1: It’s a Sin
Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin is not only the best-limited series of the year, it’s the best TV show of the year. Davies is a master of finding humour and making us smile in the darkest of situations, and It’s a Sin made us feel both the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Set in London during the Aids epidemic, the show follows a group of young gay men as they struggle to come to terms with what is happening around them. The show has a defiant spirit, one that is perfectly encapsulated by Ritchie, the show’s central character played by Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander.
This was a show that was as brave as it was horrifying. It tackled not just the Aids crisis head-on, but also society’s reaction to it and the way that these young men had to wrestle with who they were. Keeley Hawkes’s turn as Ritchie’s mother was one of the show’s most challenging aspects, while Callum Scott Howells’s performance as Colin is one of the most heart-breaking I’ve seen in years.
In just five short episodes, It’s a Sin will make you laugh, cry, and ultimately, make you just hold those ones you love a little closer. Beneath all of it, this is a show about friendship, love, and being proud of who you are. Russell T Davies, take a bow.
What are your favourite limited series of 2021? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…