2021 in Television – The Top 5 Netflix Shows of the Year

2021 was certainly a year for outstanding television. Netflix gave us enough content to see anyone through a lockdown – with a generous helping of dramas alongside reality shows, crime documentaries, and thrillers, there really was something for everyone. Here’s a look at my top 5 Netflix shows from 2021.

1. Squid Game

As the most-watched show in Netflix’s history, it is no surprise that Squid Game takes the number one spot on my list. Having watched the show in its entirety three times, I can confidently say it is one of the most gripping and thrilling series I have ever seen.

From the story to the emotional bonds between characters, to the stunning set design, the series has everything you’d expect from a suspenseful thriller.

The show’s structure is what makes it really come alive. From episode one, the viewer is given an insight into Gi Hun’s (Lee Jung-Jae) life and his crippling financial struggles.

It is his game of ddakji with the mysterious man at the station that thrusts him into the Squid Game. The first, seemingly harmless game of Red Light, Green Light turns sour quickly, resulting in a mass shooting of the contestants.

After the initial shock of the murderous intent behind the games, the sheer adrenaline we feel and anticipation for the protagonists’ lives make the following episodes beautifully nerve-wracking.

In the final episodes when the mysteries of the series are revealed, the shock and betrayal felt is unrivalled and the emotional journey the series takes us on is like no other. Though, if you look close enough, the clues are all there from the very first episode!

So, for the unparalleled emotional turmoil Squid Game puts its viewer – and players – through, the series takes the number one spot on my list for 2021. 

2. Sex Education (Season 3)

The long-awaited return of Sex Education takes the second spot on my list as season three saw growth, betrayal, heartbreak, and the re-ignition of old flames.

As well as presenting some fantastic storylines this season, it is coverage of many more serious issues that undoubtedly highlights the series as a force to be reckoned with. The list is extensive, as we see Jean’s (Gillian Anderson) navigation of pregnancy as an older woman, Adam’s (Connor Swindells) struggles with bisexuality, the introduction of two non-binary characters, and many more.

The interwoven lives of the students and parents of Moordale instil the series with an emotionally charged representation of change, discovery, and healing. Despite the series’ overall brilliance, one of my favourite scenes is the bowling montage of Adam and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), and Ruby (Mimi Keene) and Otis (Asa Butterfield).

The snapshot of joy cements itself as a core memory in the otherwise hectic and emotional lives of the teenagers as they discover adulthood.

Another brilliantly powerful moment was Aimee’s (Aimee Lou Wood) talk with Jean about her experience of sexual assault. She explains how her relationship with her body has worsened, resulting in discomfort around intimacy. Jean makes clear that it was not her fault, though she may never be her old self – but it’s alright because humans are meant to change. The powerful scene brilliantly handles Aimee’s ongoing navigation of the lasting effects of the assault.

Not only for its stunning handling of heavy topics but also for its magnificently youthful portrayal of the bittersweet transition to adulthood, Sex Education season three achieves spot number two.

3. Atypical (Season 4)

Atypical’s final season was released back in July and is one of the sweetest shows I have watched on Netflix. Following the life and passions of protagonist Sam (Keir Gilchrist), this season establishes itself as a truly beautiful finish to the four-part series, centred around Sam’s dream to travel to Antarctica to research penguins, and his personal growth.

Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Izzie’s (Fivel Stewart) relationship undergoes stresses this season, as does Doug (Michael Rapaport) and Elsa’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Sam and Paige’s (Jenna Boyd) break-up was a personal favourite moment from the season. Telling Paige she should move across the state for a job opportunity, Sam’s progress is evident as Keir’s emotional delivery makes the scene so memorable.

Though Sam’s trip to Antarctica with the school is ultimately cancelled, Doug agrees to go with him. It’s a wonderful moment between the otherwise disconnected father and son and ends the series with a truly matured Sam. If only for its growth over the series, Atypical asserts itself at number three.

4. Too Hot to Handle (Season 2)

As a more restricted version of Love Island, Too Hot to Handle season two provided ten perfectly bingeable episodes back in June. If you’re not familiar with the series, it sees 10 singles enter an island with the hope of coupling up (sound familiar?). The twist of the series? The contestants must remain abstinent for the duration of their stay with the aim of forming real, emotional connections.

The challenges and activities on the show are strangely captivating. Comically testing the limits of the contestants, the show really puts them under pressure. The huge prize pot at the end serves as a motivator, though that certainly doesn’t stop some.

As well as being easy to watch television, the show surprisingly produced some couples by the end. Though the breakups didn’t take long after the show finished, one couple has stood the test of time. Cam and Emily have recently reached the one-year milestone – perhaps the show really does work?

For its binge-able qualities and light entertainment, the show provided some summer content and so reaches number four on my list.

5. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

If you’re a fan of true crime, then The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a must-watch. Covering the true story of the disappearance of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, the series takes us on a journey of the events leading up to her disappearance, the hotel, and the possible theories.

Whilst exploring the speculation and investigation into the case, the series also delves into the consequences of blame, alongside accountability and victimhood. Detailing Elisa’s bipolar disorder, it also sheds light on the misconception of mental health and our understanding of it on a larger scale, and so gives it a spot in my top five.

2021 was a brilliant year for Netflix shows and aided the struggle of the ongoing lockdowns, as well as accompanying us into a brighter half of the year. I can only look forward to what television 2022 has to offer.

Featured Image – John-Mark Smith on Pexels

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