The good, the bad and the very ugly of TV in 2021

2021: another sequel no-one asked for

2021, you have come to the end of your unnatural life: no second acts, no more variants, nothing. You. Are. Done.

Once again, people in the arts chose not to retrain in cyber in 2021, instead ploughing ahead and digging deep to give us some of their finest work to date in order to lift us out of our apocalyptic funk. Telly people, in particular, really came through, with everything from homegrown leftfield sitcoms to international subtitled dramas where they even managed to eke tension out of a man in a tracksuit licking a biscuit.

But there are lists to be found elsewhere on this site for celebrating such positive things. In the next few paragraphs we will remind you, whether you like it or not, about the less delicious televisual moments of the last year. And we know you’re a glutton for such punishment: wasn’t it you, after all, who repeatedly sat through that office CCTV footage of Matt Hancock? Yes, that really was this year – I know we’ve all aged roughly half a decade in 2021, but it’s only been 12 months of our lives.

Dating TV shows continued to exploit our lack of physical contact and our growing fatigue with the standard dating apps to make us think, “Well, yes, this could be a possible next phase for me”. We were subjected to Sexy Beasts, which would have been a bad enough idea if it were a new one, but no: Netflix commissioners, possibly with some sort of drug dependency, chose to dig up this long-dead format from the BBC Three graveyard. It started with the fairly admirable concept of wanting to get away from superficial dating. The next logical step, then, was to cake the candidates in enough animal prosthetics and dull conversation that neither party would ever want to have sex ever again, thus introducing social Darwinism to a streaming audience. At least I think that was the idea.

Speaking of admirable concepts, the Eurovision Song Contest, originally conceived to galvanise a decimated post-war Europe, continued its transformation into a vehicle for humiliating a post-Brexit UK through the medium of song. When witnessing the nice, round ‘Nul Points’ for UK entry James Newman, we all stared believingly at the television screen and chanted in unison: “Yep, that’s about right.” I can’t claim that GB News was a direct consequence of this chastening defeat – you’ll have to read my thesis for that – but sure enough, on June 13, Andrew Neil was seated uncomfortably on a set that I can only describe as a Caffè Nero of misery, claiming that “we ask the questions you’d ask”. Unfortunately for them, though, the question that everyone was actually asking was: “Why am I watching this dreck?”

james newman eurovision
James Newman of United Kingdom reacts to receiving zero points during the 65th Eurovision Song Contest grand final held at Rotterdam Ahoy on May 22, 2021 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Picture: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

There was some TV disappointment that we weren’t necessarily prepared for, however. Tiger King 2 not only failed to answer any of the questions we had, but it also failed to feature the majority of the characters who made the original so compelling: Joe Exotic is in prison and Carole Baskin decided, quite understandably, not to participate. It might not be all their fault, though: don’t forget this was the breakout hit of the first lockdown. Maybe we – older, more embittered, around 25 lateral flow tests deep each later – just weren’t as susceptible to its charms the second time around as we were in that golden spring/summer of banana bread, jigsaw puzzles and Joe Wicks.

The Floor Is Lava was also another personal disappointment. A blend of Total Wipeout and Finders Keepers, I don’t know if my main bugbear was that the rooms weren’t real enough or that they weren’t filled with real lava. Either way, both ideas for season two, yeah?

It was also hard to tell which was more full of shit: whoever managed to get Cooking With Paris past the commissioners, or that suitcase at the end of The White Lotus (really, did we have to see it happen?). The former was an attempt to give ol’ Paris Hilton yet ANOTHER string to her bow. At the time, I said: “Throughout the show, Hilton is so utterly absent that, unless you really concentrate, there’s almost a vacant space on the screen where she’s supposed to be – a Paris Hilton-shaped void into which all hope and joy is sucked.” Having reflected on my language, I stand by it entirely – and I’m sure she spends many a long night thinking about what she’s done.

I’ve barely got time to mention the swanky new set of the Downing Street press room, which forms the background to the highlight of all of our days: the 5pm Press Conference. Although considering everything the footage from that room has given us over the past few months, it almost seems worth the eye-watering £2.5 million it cost to build. Pass the wine and cheese – I’m off to a business meeting…

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