Like the one before it, 2021 was a year in which many of us saw more of our TVs than of our friends and loved ones. It was lucky then, that there was so bloody much of the stuff, despite the pandemic’s best efforts to shut it all down. They might have been delayed, they might have been curtailed, but they weren’t stopped. Returning British TV shows returned like spring lambs, gambolling over the horizon right into your living room.
There was comedy and drama, as well as crime thrillers by the lorryload, and sci-fi and fantasy coming by the… much smaller lorryload. (More of a small van for returning British sci-fi and fantasy this year, but check out the new titles we enjoyed.)
A Discovery of Witches Season 2 (January)
Based on Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy about the forbidden love between a powerful witch and a centuries-old vampire, A Discovery Of Witches debuted on Sky in autumn 2018 (read our reviews here) and was renewed for series two and three almost straight away. The second run saw leads Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode (pictured) time-walking in Elizabethan England where they met some famous faces of yore and battled past demons, literally.
Back Season 2 (January)
Channel 4 aired a second run of Simon Blackwell’s excellent sitcom Back. The first series aired in autumn 2017 and was delayed while actor Robert Webb suffered an episode of ill health. The comedy reunites Peep Show’s David Mitchell and Webb as Stephen and Andrew, two erstwhile foster brothers whose neurotic rivalry boils up in the wake of Stephen’s father’s death. Louise Brealey also stars in the squirming, tragicomic delight. Stream both excellent series on All4 here.
Back To Life Season 2 (August)
Daisy Haggard and Laura Solon’s six part comedy-drama about a woman released from a lengthy prison sentence arrived in 2019 as one of a clutch of well-received original BBC shows. Haggard plays Miri, who returns to her childhood home and isn’t exactly welcomed back to the community with open arms, alongside Adeel Akhtar, Geraldine James, Liam Williams and more. It aired on Showtime over in the US, and series two arrived in August. It’s available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
Baptiste Season 2 (August)
Tcheky Karyo returned as grizzled French detective Julien Baptiste in the second series of the Williams Brothers’ Euro-set crime thriller. The character made his name on two series of The Missing, and earned his own BBC spin-off in spring 2019. (Read our spoiler-filled reviews here.) Series two saw Baptiste in Budapest on a search for the missing family of a British Ambassador, and co-starred Killing Eve‘s Fiona Shaw.
Breeders Season 2 (May)
Filming wrapped on the second series of Sky One parenting comedy Breeders just before Christmas 2020, and the new episodes aired in May. The series, created by Simon Blackwell, Chris Addison and Martin Freeman, follows the child-based frustrations and catastrophes of Paul (Freeman) and Ally (Daisy Haggard), breaking taboos and punching you in the heart as it goes. Season three started filming in late 2021.
Britannia Season 3 (September)
Playwright Jez Butterworth and showrunner James Richardson first brought their trippy vision of warring Celts, mystical druids and invading Romans to Sky Atlantic in January 2018, and were quickly rewarded by a second series renewal, and then a third. In season three, David Morrissey, Mackenzie Crook and co. returned for more bonkers ancient history, this time with added Sophie Okonedo!
Bulletproof: South Africa (January)
After two hit series of crime drama Bulletproof on Sky One, police officers Bishop (Noel Clarke) and Pike (Ashley Walters) came back for a three-part special set in South Africa. The miniseries saw the crime-fighters’ attempt to relax on holiday scuppered when they became entangled with a dangerous kidnap plot. Plans for a fourth season were cancelled in 2021 after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were made against lead and producer Noel Clarke.
Cobra Season 2 (November)
Robert Carlyle’s PM returned for another series of Sky One political thriller Cobra, written by The Tunnel and Strike: Cuckoo’s Calling‘s Ben Richards. The first series saw Carlyle’s character attempting to maintain power after solar flares took out Britain’s power grid and left the country in chaos as political factions vied for his position. Series two saw the team tackle an explosion that devastated the North Kent coastline.
Dead Pixels Season 2 (January)
Jon Brown’s gamer comedy debuted in March 2019 and was renewed four months later for series two. It stars Alexa Davies and Will Merrick as two die-hard MMORPG gamers (massive multiplayer online roleplay game, if you were wondering) and Charlotte Ritchie as their non-gaming flatmate. Here’s our interview with the creator on how other TV shows and films so often go wrong in their depiction of gaming and gamers.
Doctor Who Season 13 (October)
Thanks to the pandemic, we had a shorter run of six episodes for Doctor Who‘s thirteenth series, subtitled Flux, which welcomed new companion Dan to the TARDIS. Played by comedian-actor John Bishop, Dan joined Yaz and the Doctor as they searched for answers about the Doctor’s past after saying goodbye to Ryan and Graham in New Year special ‘Revolution of the Daleks.’
Endeavour Season 8 (September)
A three-episode seventh series of Russell Lewis’ Inspector Morse prequel aired in February 2020, taking Morse into a new decade, as he and the team investigated the discovery of a body on a canal path on New Year’s Day 1970 (read our spoiler-filled reviews here). Shaun Evans not only returned as the lead, but also directed his second instalment of the long-running crime prequel. After delays related to Covid-19, series eight finally arrived in September 2021 and felt ominously as though it might be the prequel’s final visit to Morse’s past.
Ghosts Season 3 (August)
This tremendously fun comedy arrived in 2019 from the cast of Horrible Histories and Yonderland, and quickly earned a second and third series renewal. Happily, it’s also been renewed for series four, which is due to arrive in 2022, which guarantees at least six more episodes of spectral shenanigans as Alison and Mike (alive) try to keep the ancestral family home going while dealing with an influx of housemates from history (dead).
Guilt Season 2 (October)
BBC Scotland’s dark comedy-drama Guilt was a word-of-mouth hit that became an award-winning hit. Created by Neil Forsyth and starring Mark Bonnar, it was the story of two very different brothers attempting to cover up an unthinkable act. It’s currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer and was joined by an equally excellent second four-part series in autumn 2021.
Innocent Season 2 (May)
ITV’s Innocent was a four-part series about a miscarriage of justice that aired in May 2018. Its conclusion certainly didn’t call for a continuation so news of a second series renewal was a bit of a head-scratcher until it was revealed that creator Chris Lang (Unforgotten) was writing a whole new case and a whole new set of characters for the second run, which aired in May 2021.
Inside No. 9 Season 6 (May)
Knowing a good thing when it has one, BBC Two renewed Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s ingenious anthology series Inside No. 9 for a sixth and seventh series back in March. The sixth run aired in May 2021 (read our reviews here), and the font of originality, fun and surprise showed no signs of drying up whatsoever. Bring on series seven in 2022.
Line of Duty Season 6 (March)
Series six of Jed Mercurio’s hugely successful crime thriller concluded in April 2019 with a finale that felt very much like an ending. Line of Duty stars Vicky McClure, Martin Compston and Adrian Dunbar as bent-copper-hunters AC-12, with each series welcoming a high-profile guest – previous series have welcomed Stephen Graham, Thandie Newton and Keeley Hawes, and for series six, it was Kelly Macdonald.
Marcella Season 3 (January)
ITV’s Marcella, co-created by The Killing’s Hans Rosenfeldt and starring Anna Friel, went out in a blaze of bonkers glory in 2018. Series two marked a turning point for the detective show, which went from domestic crime drama to full-blown comic-book spy thriller, complete with faked deaths, conspiracy, and secret investigative units. Series three had Marcella working undercover in a Belfast crime family. It first aired on Netflix around the world, and finally arrived on ITV in January 2021.
Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing Season 4 (August)
A fishing show may seem like a strange choice for this list of mostly high-profile dramas and comedies, but Gone Fishing deserves as much celebration as any of them. That’s thanks to Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse’s natural chemistry as two long-time friends, both of whom have been forced to contemplate their mortality in recent years due to serious heart problems. It’s fishing, yes, but it’s also chat, silliness and genuine human warmth.
Motherland Season 3 (May)
Sharon Horgan, Holly Walsh and Helen Linehan’s parenting comedy Motherland returned for a triumphant third series in May. Starring Anna Maxwell-Martin (Good Omens, Line Of Duty), Lucy Punch, Paul Ready and Diane Morgan, it’s a caustic look at the demands of modern parenting and life in your thirties and forties that you don’t even need to have kids to relate to/stare at in rapt horror.
Sex Education Season 3 (September)
Season three of Netflix’s celebrated high school comedy-drama went into production in September 2020 and finally arrived a year later on the streaming service. The show has won such an adoring fandom over its two seasons that they’ll wait as long as it takes to continue the stories of Otis, Eric, Maeve and of course, Gillian Anderson’s masterful Jean.
Staged Season 2 (January)
A lot of people tried their best to make new TV under lockdown conditions in 2020, and some fared better than others. At the top of the comedy pile is Staged, starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen as exaggerated versions of themselves, rehearsing a play on Zoom with a host of big name guest stars and plenty of laughs courtesy of their other halves Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg.
Stath Lets Flats Season 3 (October)
We waited too long to hear that Channel 4 was doing the sensible thing and renewing Jamie Demetriou’s excellent Stath Lets Flats for a third series. During that wait, the show won three Baftas and even more fans, securing its reputation as one of the best comedies around. Series three was madder and more inventive than ever, and loath as we are to say it, felt satisfyingly like a full stop.
Taskmaster Seasons 11 & 12 (March & November)
Joining the Taskmaster and little Alex Horne for series ten of Taskmaster in 2021 were Charlotte Ritchie, Jamali Maddix, Lee Mack, Mike Wozniak and Sarah Kendall, and then came series 12 featuring Alan Davies, Desiree Burch, Guz Khan, Morgana Robinson and Victoria Coren-Mitchell. That’s not all, because a special New Year’s Treat is also on its way, plus a champion of champions miniseries before Series 13 arrives later in 2022.
Temple Season 2 (October)
Adapted from Norwegian series Valkyrien, Temple is the story of an underground medical facility run by a desperate surgeon and his apocalypse-prepping colleague. It stars Mark Strong, Carice Van Houten and Daniel Mays, and debuted on Sky One in autumn 2019. Read more about the series here. At the time of writing, a season three commission is yet to be announced.
The Bay Season 2 (January)
Daragh Carville’s Morecambe-set crime thriller returned in January with a new case for Morven Christie’s DS Lisa Armstrong and co. The first series dealt with the disappearance of a set of teenage twins and shady goings-on in a picture-perfect coastal town, earning it the title of ‘the new Broadchurch’. Here’s our episode one review. Series two revolved around the case of a solicitor who was shot on his doorstep. Series three will feature new lead Marsha Thomason.
This Time With Alan Partridge Season 2 (April)
Series two of This Time With Alan Partridge gave us more of Norwich broadcasting veteran as the co-presenter of fictional magazine chat show This Time, following his gaffes on-screen and off. The brilliant Susannah Fielding co-stars. At present, no series three commission has been announced.
Unforgotten Season 4 (February)
Cassie and Sunny (played by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar) returned for a fourth series of ITV’s excellent cold case crime drama Unforgotten, which welcomed Susan Lynch, Andy Nyman and Sheila Hancock to the cast. What makes Chris Lang’s detective series stand out is its empathy—for its characters, for the victims, and often, for the killers themselves. Series four is on its way.
War of the Worlds Season 2 (May)
FOX UK sci-fi War of the Worlds was one of the first TV dramas to restart filming after the enforced Covid-19 lockdown (it helps when your show is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the population has been more or less destroyed), so even with all the effects-heavy post-production required, it arrived bang on schedule. It uses H.G. Wells’ story more as a jumping-off point than a bible, and developed into a poised and atmospheric sci-fi for adults. Production began on season three in July 2021. Read more about it here.
We also saw the return of:
- Brassic Season 3 – Joseph Gilgun’s Sky One comedy returned for a third run.
- Code 404 Season 2 – Stephen Graham and Daniel Mays came back to Sky One in this very British comedy take on RoboCop.
- Feel Good Season 2 – Mae Martin’s autobiographically inspired comedy returned to Channel 4 and Netflix.
- Hitmen Season 2 – Mel and Sue were back on Sky One for more paid-assassin larks.
- King Gary Season 2 – Gary King ruled the crescent once again in this BBC One comedy.
- I Am… Season 2 – The Channel 4 female-fronted anthology drama returned with Suranne Jones among the cast.
- Intelligence Season 2 – David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed came back to Sky One for more tech-spy comedy.
- Pls Like Season 3 – Liam Williams and co. returned for another series of the social media-skewering BBC iPlayer comedy
- Spitting Image Season 2 – Streaming service Britbox welcomes another series of the puppet-based satire.
- The Cockfields Season 2 – This Gold original comedy starring Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan will return, but sadly, without comedian Bobby Ball, who passed away in 2020.