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Best TV shows: great new TV series and how to watch them

Don’t miss the best TV shows of recent times – here’s what you need to catch up on.

Best TV shows: great new TV series and how to watch them
07 June 2021

Why would you ever leave the house when you can stay in and binge the best TV shows of the year? As you'll see from our list, these new TV shows are quite special.

2020 was an amazing year for quality telly and 2021 is offering up some fantastic shows, too There are so many must-watch series on our list we had a hard time fitting everything in – and with it all available on demand, now’s the perfect time to catch up with any you may have missed.

UPDATE:A number of the television series on our best TV shows list have, quite understandably, won a BAFTA or two at this year's awards. Congratulations to Small Axe, I May Destroy You, Sex Education, Normal People and This Country for winning an award. All of these are well worth a watch, alongside out other expert picks.

We'll update this article with more hits as the year rolls out. Make sure to submit your favourites in the suggestion box at the bottom.

From the science-fiction adventures to dark comedy and emotional drama, here's our best TV shows of recent times list. Upvote your favourite.

Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

1. The Mandalorian

Watch now on Disney Plus

The Mandalorian is the first Star Wars live action TV show and it's already proved to be a big hit over in the US. Now Disney Plus has arrived here in the UK, we can find out what we were missing out on. And boy, have we been missing out. The Mandalorian is best described as a space western, following the story of a Mandalorian bounty hunter who comes across an unusual bounty. The acting is top, the directing is great and the music and visuals work perfectly together. Most importantly, it's a really fun watch – even if you're not that into Star Wars already.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

2. The Queen's Gambit

Watch now on Netflix

The Queen's Gambit is the sort of television Netflix should be commissioning. It's lavish but unconventional, a mini series of seven episodes about an orphan who becomes a chess prodigy. Not afraid to show the darker side of fame and brilliance, the show is an absolute delight and will have you picking up a chess board in no time.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

3. Better Call Saul Season Five

Watch now on Netflix

When it first came out, everyone thought Better Call Saul would just be a fun Breaking Bad spin-off series. But over the past four seasons, the fantastic writing, beautiful cinematography and brilliant (brilliant, brilliant) acting has proved that Saul Goodman's story stands up even if Breaking Bad was never a thing. The series has done a great job at showing us the making of Saul Goodman and season five is already heating up to be one of the best. Episodes of the new season are currently being released weekly on Netflix.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

4. The Expanse Season Four

$0.00 with Prime
Watch now at Amazon Prime Video

The Expanse could be one of our favourite TV shows of all time. It's science-fiction, dealing with the challenges that arise once humans have left Earth and begun to venture into the solar system, but it's so much more as well. It deals with friendship, love and a lot of politics to boot. That's why we'd recommend to everyone - not just space nerds.

The latest season is a change of pace (and was released right on the cusp of 2020. No longer are the main characters of the Roccinante just whizzing through the solar system, there are more and more worlds to discover and, as you'd expect, lots of ancient aliens, challenges and hardships to face.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

5. Sex Education

View now at Netflix

A shy and insecure teen called Otis knows a lot about sex. Not because he's having lots of it, but because his mum is a sex therapist. This is why he teams up with Maeve to open a sex-therapy clinic at school, which then follows the stories of pupils who come to seek advice, about sex, of course, but also love, intimacy and all of the messy feelings that come with it.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

6. Dark: Season 3

Watch on Netflix now

When two children go missing in a small German town, an intricate puzzle ensues. This German language series is as good as anything else on TV right now - like its name suggest, it's dark and every character has some sort of sinister element to them. The third and final season is out and it concludes the show in the absolute best way possible

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What starts off as a quirky homage to sitcoms of old turns into a massive superhero mystery with Wanda and Vision at the centre. Epic in both its scope and heart, if all the new Marvel TV shows end up like this then we are going to be very spoiled

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

8. Star Trek: Picard

Watch on Amazon Prime now

There was a lot to love about Star Trek: The Next Generation, but what Star Trek: Picard does so well is it takes the best bits of TNG and spins a whole new story around them. As you'd expect, it revolves around Jean-Luc Picard, but in his later life after he's waved goodbye to Starfleet. He's enjoying a nice life in rural France with wine and a great dog (called Number 1) but then a mystery begins to unravel that sees Picard swept up on another space adventure, which involves Romulans, artificial intelligence and, his good old friend, Data.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

9. Schitt's Creek: Season 6

Watch on Netflix now

The final season of Schitt's Creek aired in 2020 and it is joyous television. About a couple - who own a video store empire - facing bankruptcy and end up with one asset: a small town called Schitt's Creek. Devised by Dan and Eugene Levy, who also stars, the cast are fantastic with Catherine O'Hara as standout. It takes a season to get going but by the end you will love it

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

10. The Outsider

Watch now on Prime Video

It used to be that decent Stephen King adaptations were few and far between, but recent years we have seen the brilliant IT, as well as the decent Doctor Sleep on the big screen. This small screen treatment of one of King’s more recent novels is superb - treating the subject matter with the care it needs. The plot is fantastic: a respected man is accused of killing and sexually assaulting a child. Despite all the evidence proving it’s him, it turns out he wasn’t in town at the time of the murder. What ensues is a grizzly detective drama with a King-like twist.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

11. Westworld Season Three

Watch on Now TV

The highly-anticipated new season of Westworld is here and it takes place immediately after the events of season two. If you need a quick refresher, then Dolores has escaped Westworld – along with a few other hosts. That means she's out in the real world of Los Angeles in 2058 where she's exposed to the harsh realities of life as a lower-class human after she befriends a man named Caleb. Meanwhile, Maeve finds herself in another park, this time one based on Italy during World War II.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

12. The Undoing

Watch now on NOW TV

Susan Bier is one of the best TV directors in the world Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant the best actors. Sprinkle in Big Little Lies' David O Kelly as the creator and what you have is a piece of astonishing television. the plot: a successful psychologist (Kidman) is about to launch a book that should catapult her to fame but on the eve of the launch, her husband is implicated in the death of someone they know

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

13. Gangs of London

Watch now on NOW TV

What do you get when you take one of the most celebrated action directors of recent years (Gareth Evans), one of the most celebrated horror directors of recent years (Coring Hardy) and get them to work on a script about gangland violence in London? One of the most ambitious, brutal bouts of TV you will see come out of England, that’s what. The violence is intense, the storyline sensational and the acting top notch. The is some of the most cerebral TV of recent years.

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From the brilliant mind of James Garland (Ex Machina, Sunshine) comes Devs. This smart science-fiction show is all about secretive goings-on in a tech company in Silicon Valley. It's full of conspiracy, weird-tech and it looks damn good too.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

15. Killing Eve Season Three

£12.99 (DVD)
View now at Amazon

Acclaimed spy thriller Killing Eve returned for its second season this year, following a multi-BAFTA-winning first. In a cat-and-mouse game across the globe, Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh star as a psychopathic assassin and the MI5 agent on her case, who are both equally hunting, and obsessed with, each other.

Comer’s assassin, Villanelle, is rumoured to be named from a combination of "Villain" and the French word "Elle" for 'she' – meaning She-Villain.

The third season is out now and things have gotten, well, interesting.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

16. Normal People

Watch now on BBC iPlayer

Sally Rooney’s celebrated novel works fantastically on the small screen, with the actors, directors and writers all getting the most out of the source material. Half of the show is directed by Lenny Abrahamson who brought us the amazing Frank. The other half by Hettie Macdonald whose Hit & Miss is glorious TV. They paint a picture of Marianne and Connell’s relationship that is just wonderful. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal play the pair and the casting is also pitch perfect. It all culminates in a coming-of-age story that takes sex and relationships seriously.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

17. The Salisbury Poisonings

Watch now on BBC iPlayer

The true story of the Salisbury Poisonings is like something out of a John Le Carre novel - forget the quaint UK setting, this is spy espionage on a global scale. The BBC decides to play it like this - you’d be forgiven if you thought that, at times, you were watching 24 with the events unfolding to utter disbelief of those who are witnessing it. And for good reason: when Novichok, one of the most deadliest synthetic substances on earth turns up somewhere like Wiltshire, very few know just what they are getting into. It’s just three episodes long but that’s plenty of time to let the madness of the events occur and the cast is superb, led by the likes of Rafe Spall and Anne-Marie Duff.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

18. This Country Season Three

Watch now on BBC iPlayer

This hilarious mockumentary is written by, and stars, brother and sister duo Daisy May and Charlie Cooper. It's based in a village in the Cotswolds and touches on what it means to be a young person in rural England – which most of the time just shows how boring it can be. The show has had great reviews and, after its first season, came back for another, a 40-minute special and now a third and final season, which landed on BBC iPlayer in March.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

19. Tales from the Loop

Watch now on Amazon Prime

Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag became well-known for his art, which imagined a retro-futuristic world in Sweden in a series of art books first released in 2014. Fast-forward to 2020 and the characters, scenes and technology he imagined in his art has been brought to life in a haunting science-fiction series on Amazon Prime. Telling the story of life around The Loop, a scientific facility, it follows characters as their lives are affected, subtly and not-so-subtly, by strange occurrences. It proves sci-fi doesn't have to be all big alien invasions and flashy space battles, it can be cerebral, emotional and deeply moving.

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20. Steve McQueen's Small Axe

Watch now on iPlayer

An anthology of TV movies, Steve McQueen's Small Axe is stunning television set in the UK during the 60s and 80s and based on key events in and around the Caribbean community. The first is Mangrove, a brilliant courtroom drama about police harassment at The Mangrove, a restaurant and cultural hub in Notting Hill. Other films include Lovers Rock, set in a 1980's Blues Party; Red, White and Blue, starring John Boyega who goes into the police force after his dad is assaulted by two policemen. The two other movies are Alex Wheatle and Education.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

21. The Trip To Greece

Watch now on NOW TV

The last instalment of The Trip is very bittersweet. It’s like getting the bill at the end of one of the best night’s in a restaurant, finding out you may have to mortgage your house to pay it. That’s because it’s a real shame we won’t see Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon share impressions among some of the most beautiful landscapes of Europe ever again. There’s more plot with this series as it tries to wrap everything up - and it’s surprising just how much plot has amassed among the discourse and the dishes. Beautiful to look at, poignant and ‘still tears streaming down your face’ funny, The Trip’s final series is unfussy yet perfect.

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In 2001, there was a scandal on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. British Army major Charles Ingram scooped the top prize of £1 million, amazing, right? Well, not quite. It soon came to light that Ingram's wife, and another member of the audience, may have helped him win by coughing throughout the show. We won't give away anymore of the story, but it's a riveting watch and Martin Sheen, sorry, Michael Sheen is excellent as gameshow host Chris Tarrant.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

23. Tiger King

View now at Netflix

It was the show that got most of us through lockdown, Tiger King is the bizarre, sprawling tale of a zoo owner whose life unravels after he is accused of trying to hire a hitman to kill one of his rivals. It's suspenseful TV, with real-life footage showing just how eccentric the world of big cat keeping really is.

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Dave is a rapper, a fictional version of comic Dave Burd who raps under the pseudonym Little Dicky. The show is a lot of fun, if you can handle the crassness of everything (there’s a lot of penis gags). You can see that Burd has lived through the comedy moments that are brought to life in the sitcom, though. Its comedy with its tongue firmly in cheek, where we get to see just it’s like to become an unlikely star born from a generation brought up on YouTube.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

25. I May Destroy You

Watch now on BBC iPlayer

Perhaps the most important TV show in a generation, I May Destroy You is a tragicomedy that’s centres on a sexual assault of creator and lead star Michaela Coel’s character Arabella. What ensues is a show that tackles the notion of consent, race, gender and more, constantly questioning what is right and wrong leaving the viewer to decide upon their own answers. It’s a stunning show - each 30-minute episode is a heady mix of shocks and laughs, undercut with a frankness rarely seen on the screen, small or big.

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Best TV shows of 2020 and 2021

26. I Know This Much Is True

Watch now on NOW TV

Mark Rufflo is one of the greatest actors of his generation, so to have two of him on screen is a revelation. That’s what you get with I Know This Much Is True, a bleak, unforgiving story about Dominick Birdsey and his relationship with his paranoid schizophrenic twin brother. If you have seen director Derek Cianfrance’s other movies such as Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, then you know you aren’t in for an easy ride but it is sublime television.

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