Superhero sitcoms, hardcore sci-fi and Belfast noir: the must-see TV of 2021

(ITV) The first series of The Bay existed to fill the hole Broadchurch left in your life; a scenic whodunnit set in a town full of the most suspicious people imaginable. The second begins in January and has the potential to be a simple do-over. However, with Morvern Christie’s spectacularly flawed DS Lisa Armstrong at the centre, and the addition of the splendidly gruff James Cosmo to the cast, it will hopefully avoid that trap.
13 January

(Disney+) Marvel’s television offerings have been a mixed bag so far; the network fare was too broad and the Netflix shows too dull. But now, under the leadership of the film universe’s guiding hand, Kevin Feige, we might see a glimmer of promise. Wandavision is a show about Scarlet Witch and Vision, and exists to set up Phase 4 of the MCU. But it’s also going to take the form of several sitcom pastiches. This will either be amazing or awful, but it won’t be dull.
15 January

(Channel 4) The second season of David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s pitch black sitcom had something of a stop-start production; pausing first so that Webb could undergo emergency heart surgery, and then because of Covid. Happily, the finished version maintains the high standards of the first, and Geoff McGivern’s uncle Geoff remains one of the best characters on television.
21 January

(ITV) The third series of Anna Friel’s Nordic-noir detective series has been widely available to the rest of the world for some time now, but luckily we’ll be able to catch up in early 2021. It picks up where the previous series left off, with Marcella working undercover in Belfast.
January

(Channel 4) Following a quick apocalyptic tangent with Years and Years, Russell T Davies returns to Channel 4 with It’s a Sin; a five-episode series that takes a decade-long look at the effect of the HIV and Aids epidemic that tore through London’s gay community in the 1980s.
January

(Sky Atlantic) The first season of Euphoria was an unexpected hit – classier than its billing as “the US Skins” would have you believe – with Zendaya’s bracingly adult portrayal of recovering addict Rue landing her an Emmy. Season two promises more of the same – teens, sex, drugs, parties, crime and hallucinations – so let’s hope the novelty doesn’t wear off.
Special airing January, with series later in the year

(Walter Presents on Channel 4) The follow-up to Deutschland 83 and Deutschland 86, this promises to be truly momentous. Any sense of equilibrium gained during the last two seasons looks set to be swept away by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and all the upheavals that came with it.
February

(BBC One) Line of Duty’s strongest asset is its ability to dance on the line that separates unbelievable tension from preposterous silliness. Arguably, the last series got slightly too silly for its own good. But the new run, starring Kelly Macdonald as – and this is just a guess – a corrupt police officer, will hopefully set it back on course.
Spring

(ITV) By the time Covid hit, Love Island sorely needed a reset. It was getting too big, expanding too fast and taking in water from all manner of controversies, as well as the tragic death of host Caroline Flack. Now, after a lockdown-mandated rest, it will finally return to give us yet more vaguely exploitative reality fun. Will the show have learned any lessons from its down-season? Let’s hope so.
Summer

(BBC Two) The flipside to 2020’s The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, The Fall of the House of Maxwell promises to tell a much grubbier story; the creation of Robert Maxwell’s media empire, its subsequent destruction, his bizarre and apparently accidental death and the prosecution of his daughter Ghislaine for allegedly grooming underage victims for sexual abuse.
Mid/late 2021

(BBC One) A 1960s East End thriller about neo-nazism, Ridley Road has lots to commend it. It’s based on the 62 Group, a coalition of Jewish men who stood up to the postwar far right. It stars Rory Kinnear, Tamzin Outhwaite, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Eddie Marsan, Samantha Spiro and Rita Tushingham. And best of all, it’s written by Sarah Solemani, star of Him & Her.
Late 2021

(BBC Three) Ignore the slightly offputting name, this drama based on Nicôle Lecky’s one-woman Royal Court show, tells the story of a young slacker sucked into the superficially glamorous world of parties, influencers and sex work. But what makes Superhoe special is that the story will be told, in part, via the medium of original songs.
Late 2021

(BBC One) There are lots of reasons to watch The Pursuit of Love. It’s a sumptuous adaptation of the Nancy Mitford novel. Emily Mortimer wrote the script. It stars Andrew Scott and Emily Beecham. That said, the reason you’re going to watch it is because it also stars Lily James and Dominic West, and you’re a sucker for that tabloid intrigue.
Date TBC

(BBC One) Stephen Merchant stars as Stephen Port, a real-life serial killer who met his victims via gay and bisexual hookup apps, in a series told from the perspective of the grieving families. Sheridan Smith and Rufus Jones co-star in what is sure to be a harrowing drama.
Date TBC

(Channel 4) Described by Channel 4 as “an audacious, celebratory and hilarious new comedy”, Lady Parts is a new musical sitcom about a female Muslim punk rock band written by the up-and-coming Nida Manzoor. If it’s anything like the Comedy Blap that inspired it, it’s going to be fantastic.
Date TBC

(Sky Atlantic) Here’s prestige for you. Landscapers is a Sky Atlantic drama about a pair of real-life husband and wife murderers, starring Olivia Colman and directed by Alexander Payne (writer-director of Election and The Descendants). The series is written by Ed Sinclair, who happens to be Colman’s husband, but Sky is clearly positioning this to be a successor to Chernobyl.
Date TBC

(Sky Atlantic) The Nevers was supposed to be Joss Whedon’s big return to television; a London-set sci-fi about Victorian women with unusual abilities, starring Olivia Williams, James Norton and Nick Frost. Then, in November – with much of the filming already completed – Whedon abruptly left, citing “exhaustion”. What this means for his distinctive voice and the future of the series is anybody’s guess.
Date TBC

(Sky Atlantic) The premise for Mare of Easttown – “a detective in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart” – couldn’t sound more boilerplate HBO. Nevertheless, it stars Kate Winslet, whose last television appearance in Mildred Pierce won her an Emmy, so it’s sure to be impressive.
Date TBC

(Sky Atlantic) The best show on television is finally returning. How did we cope without the dysfunctional Roy family? How did we manage to get by without seeing Roman’s weird posture, or Kendall’s anguish, or Shiv’s nice dresses, or the weirdly affirming Tom/Greg bromance? We’ve been teetering on season two’s cliffhanger for far too long now. Please hurry back.
Date TBC

(Netflix) Remember Anna Delvey, the apparent Russian socialite who made a living from defrauding New York hotels? Remember the New York magazine article that made her famous? It’s going to become a series, created and produced by Shonda Rhimes. Might be brilliant, might be weird and exploitative, but definitely worth watching.
Date TBC

(Netflix) With just one season left, Better Call Saul still has some big questions to answer. Will Lalo meet a sticky end? Will we meet Walter White? How will the black and white flash-forward conclude? What will happen to Kim? Most importantly, will Rhea Seehorn ever get the Emmy she so urgently deserves?
Date TBC

(Amazon Prime) Typical Amazon. In a bid to replicate Game of Thrones, it bought the rights to the Lord of the Rings books and used them to produce the most expensive television series ever made. Then the final season of Game of Thrones happened, and no one wanted to watch anything like Game of Thrones again. This will be worth watching, if only to rubberneck at the attempt to better Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
Date TBC

(Apple TV+) An adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s series of novels, Foundation sounds astonishingly ambitious. A sci-fi show as hard as you can imagine, it tells the thousand-year story of a band of exiles facing nothing less than the total destruction of the entire galaxy. Jared Harris stars, so this is likely to be very good indeed.
Date TBC

(Apple TV+) Weird to think that a very expensive television series starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon could ever be seen as underdog, but here we are. Little-watched as it was, The Morning Show was one of 2019’s most thrilling programmes; a meditation on #MeToo-era sexual politics that delivered solid entertainment as well as a knotty exploration of the issues. If season two can keep up the pace, it’ll be unmissable.
Date TBC

Here’s something that you didn’t know you needed – Gossip Girl is getting a gritty reboot. The new version of the show will once again follow the exploits of some obnoxious Manhattan private schoolers, but this time there’ll be more stuff about social media. Plus it’s airing on HBO Max in the US, so there’s potentially swearing and nudity too.
Date and UK broadcaster TBC