The cast of 'Succession' (2021)
Succession (2021) HBO
Stories & Ideas

Mon 13 Dec 2021

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Your museum of screen culture

Which shows did you binge-watch this year? Here are some of our favourites.

Squid Game


What is there to say about Squid Game that hasn’t been said? If somehow you missed the South Korean show that had everyone from my kooky goth artist friend to my mum watching, it’s probably not for you. This show found its audience in Battle Royale fans like me and expanded to include anyone with a screen. (Mum’s review: “Can only watch in the daytime so I don’t have nightmares!”)

I was instantly hooked by Squid Game’s premise: the horror of ending up in a life-or-death situation that is apparently a game to someone else. It kept me enthralled with the added intrigue of unknown new challenges, an unfolding story and characters you can’t help rooting for. Our protagonist is Player 456, Seong Gi-Hun, (Lee Jung-jae), a bumbling loser and deadbeat dad – yet we embrace him as our flawed hero. Picture me perched literally on the edge of my seat as I watched his journey with the kind of heart-thumping anticipation that in this current state of streaming abundance no show has inspired in me for a long time. It was the most bingeworthy series that I couldn’t actually bingewatch because I needed to give myself regular breaks from the intensity.

Despite being brutal and graphic, this seemingly niche Korean horror/drama had universal appeal. Was it purely the massive power of Netflix backing – playing us all from their own control room in their gold masks? I think perhaps it had a perfectly timed resonance by offering up both the escapism we crave, while touching on the trapped and helpless feeling we all have as pawns of the pandemic.

– Hannah Miller, Social and Content Advisor

Mare of Easttown


It’s hard to look back on the past year of television without mentioning one of the most acclaimed, addictive and talked about shows of the streaming era. Mare of Easttown started out like many other limited series – a grisly murder, a hardened detective, an isolated small town haunted by its past – but quickly evolved into a profound exploration of grief, family, addiction, and intergenerational trauma. The slowly unfurling dual mystery kept water cooler chatter bubbling week after week, but sharp writing, a surprising dose of humour and the many, many standout performances set Mare apart from the rest. How can we forget the divine Jean Smart as Mare’s mother Helen, her relentless sarcasm stealing every scene she popped up playing Fruit Ninja in? (Not to mention Smart’s other landmark role this year in the brilliant comedy Hacks.) Or the fantastic Evan Peters as wide-eyed detective Colin, who’s role in episode five made all our hearts simultaneously break? But Mare of Easttown would be nothing without the titular Mare herself – an instantly-iconic, Emmy-award winning performance from Kate Winslet, who’s fierce devotion to her family, her job, and her rough Philadelphia town (hello Delco accents!) kept us glued to our screens in 2021.

Jayden Masciulli, Visitor Experience Guide

Succession (Season 3)


Who knew that the gradual demise of a disgustingly rich media empire would be so compelling? HBO’s Succession is all about tension. It’s a finely orchestrated dance between the oligarch father Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and the siblings Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck) – who tear at each other like jackals, volleying verbal insults and quips that make you guffaw at their cruel audacity. Ultimately the love withheld by Logan and the power he wields is what his children crave, as they clamber over each other to get it. But what also makes the show so watchable is the satellites that orbit Waystar Royco’s gravitational pull: Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) bumbling consent with whoever he is talking to; or Tom Wambsgams, the oft-dismissed, under-appreciated husband of Shiv; or Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) the long-suffering interim CEO, who may be reading the game most astutely of all.

Penned by Jesse Armstrong, who gave us iconic British comedy Peep Show, the recent Season 3 finale was so compelling, so surprising that we are all left waiting and wanting more.

– Anaya Latter, Brand Manager

Ted Lasso (Season 2)

Apple TV+

Packing a heavier punch than the beloved first season, Ted Lasso triumphantly returned with a laugh-out-loud script, touching moments between our favourite characters and a poignant insight into mental health. The show continues to champion character development through innovative story arcs while challenging the conventions of the modern sitcom. The revelation of the loveable Jason Sudeikis’ future nemesis was expertly done, providing yet another reason to keep tabs on the Season 3 release date.

Many shows falter after a successful first season, especially when introducing new characters. However, one of the best characters to appear on our screens this year is Sarah Niles as sports psychologist Dr Sharon Fieldstone. Her relationship with Ted and their mutual battle to find their own happiness drives the show. Hannah Waddingham is as delightful and strong as ever; Brett Goldstein stars as a role model for all men facing middle age; and the bigger spotlight on Toheeb Jimoh’s character Sam Obisanya is very welcome – Sam faces obstacles that echo the Black Lives Matter movement and demands for change across sporting codes in recent history. All in all, we learn that “Football is life” but also life is beautiful and fragile.

– Benjamin Haller, Membership and Engagement Officer


Apple TV+

Sci-fi fans looking for something grand in scale and scope aside from another Star Wars or Star Trek series might find Foundation their new favourite show. Apple TV+’s epic is more akin to Game of Thrones than another Star-something spin-off, thanks to its many peoples, cultures, power struggles, and political intrigue (having a series of sprawling books by Isaac Asimov as your source material doesn’t hurt either).

It can be a little disorientating at times; the ruler of Foundation’s galactic empire is the twelfth clone of Emperor Creon I, and the first season spans several decades. However, the show is anchored by mathematician Harri Seldon (Jared Harris), his protégé Gail Dornick (Lou Llobell), and the bad-ass Salvar Hardin (Leah Harvey). It’s Seldon who provides the catalyst for the series after predicting the fall of Creaon’s Empire thanks to some fancy mathematics dubbed ‘psychohistory’ (much to Creon’s ire), but it’s Dornick and Hardin who emerge as the show's real stars, both bound in some way to the titular Foundation – a Noah’s Ark of sorts where the best parts of humanity’s culture and knowledge might yet be preserved, should Seldon’s predictions come true.

Good storytelling and engaging characters are great (obviously), but it will please sci-fi fans to know Foundation looks incredible. The visual effects and various design elements from spacecrafts to cityscapes, costumes to technology, are beautifully realised and help greatly in building a believable world… well, galaxy, I guess.

– Garry Westmore, Producer, School Programs

Total Control (Season 2)


Sophomore seasons don't always go to plan. Sometimes a successful first season can wrap up a story so satisfyingly that a second season can feel like forced fun. But 2021 gifted us a second season of Total Control that carried on so naturally, building up the momentum and tension into moments of quiet fist pumps and loud cheers. This season, the focus shifted more strongly to the experience of women in politics, mirroring one of the major issues to dominate news cycles and public consciousness. As a series, Total Control is one of the best of the year, but also one so relevant that it can define it.

Watch a discussion about the production of the show with co-creators Rachel Griffiths and Darren Dale

– Reece Goodwin, Curator, TV & Special Events



As a proud English northerner, one of my heroes is Jimmy McGovern. The screenwriter’s back catalogue of compelling, cogent and important work has been praised for raising awareness on a multitude of social and political issues. Series such as The Lakes, The Street, and the BAFTA-winning Hillsborough – a docu-drama widely credited for sparking a new inquiry into the 1989 football stadium tragedy – have astounded audiences, with McGovern’s candid approach to storytelling, proving both insightful and impactful.

His latest work, Time, is a gritty 3-part prison drama that features two perfectly cast actors: Sean Bean as new inmate Mark Cobden, and Stephen Graham as prison officer Eric McNally. McGovern brilliant recreates the suffocating atmosphere of the modern prison system, and imbues this setting with realism through moments of psychological terror and visceral physical violence counterbalanced with empathetic portrayals of the inmates. It's the dialogue that's most affecting, exposing the failings of modern society to provide effective methods of rehabilitation. Both main characters are pushed to the brink by asphyxiating pressures from inside the prison and external factors beyond their control, and the result is a confronting watch that demands your attention at every moment. Bean and Graham are phenomenal.

– Benjamin Haller, Membership and Engagement Officer



It wasn’t until the start of 2021 and the launch of Disney+ that Australians first had the chance to watch Dollface. Perhaps one of the most underrated offerings from Margot Robbie’s Oscar-winning production company Lucky Chap (Robbie also guest stars in an episode), it follows the freshly dumped Jules (Kat Dennings) as she returns to her group of girlfriends at the conclusion of her relationship. Struggling to make amends for prioritising her ex over her besties – played by the superb trio of Brenda Song, Shay Mitchell and Esther Povitsky – and to navigate life as a single woman, Jules' journey is interspliced with surreal scenarios like the frequent appearance of her spiritual guide, Cat Lady (is what it says, a literal lady that is a cat).

Genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious, the thing that sets Dollface apart from the sea of ‘four women just trying to make it the world’ sassy scenarios is the completely incongruous comedic interjections. From a Crisis Centre dedicated to what happens when you accidentally like an ex’s social media picture, to a game show centred on whether you should or shouldn’t go out, the Jordan Weiss-created show cleverly uses absurdity to comment on the modern female experience in what is ultimately a touching and deeply insightful study that, um, also has a giant recurring Cat Lady.

– Maria Lewis, Assistant Film Curator

The Newsreader


Any series set in 1986 runs the risk of going a tad too hard on the look of that era, and although The Newsreader features plenty of shoulder pads, big hair and nostalgia for 80s kids, it’s more about the era when newsreaders were huge stars and audiences relied heavily on televised news programs to break the big stories.

Also, a heap happened in 1986 – the Russel Street Bombing, Chernobyl – and although these stories are the focal points for each episode and the show’s fictitious news team, it’s not episodic, as we are quickly swept up in the dynamics between wannabe newsreader Dale Jennings (Sam Reid), superstar newsreader Helen Norville (Anna Torv) and veteran anchor Geoff Walters (Robert Taylor).

They are superbly supported by curmudgeon boss Lindsay Cunnigham (William McInnes), ocker sports reporter Rick Rickards (best role I’ve seen Stephen Peacocke play) and quiet standout, News Producer Noelene (Michelle Lim Davidson).

Director Emma Freeman knows when to let the inner demons and interpersonal relationships of her wonderful cast play out, and when to let the drama of the stories they’re covering take centre stage. Its uniquely Australian take on ambition, sexuality and gender politics through the lens of an 80s newsroom makes for great viewing.

– Garry Westmore, Producer, School Programs

In Treatment


2021 was the perfect year for In Treatment to make a return to TV screens. On paper, it's the perfect pandemic production. Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba joins the rebooted cast as the new therapist with a team of co-stars subbing in and out as her patients, capping the cast, for the most part, to two per episode – the requisite armchair and couch set up keeps actors socially distanced to 1.5 metres, save for the occasional hug. There’s something almost theatrical about In Treatment that could make it seem untelevisual – it could easily be performed on stage or as a radio play – but in a way, this harks back to the early years of television drama. Watch the layers of the onion fall away from each character while they barely shift from one cheek to the other on the couch, in one of the finest dramas of the year.

– Reece Goodwin, Curator, TV & Special Events

Sex Education (Season 3)


Admittedly the competition wasn’t too fierce, but the latest season of Sex Education was in my top ten ‘things to look forward to in 2021’. There’s a lot to love about the series as a whole – portrayals of healthy relationships, thoughtful representation of a huge spectrum of identities and experiences and of course its excellent promotion of sex-positivity. Season 3 delivers on the show’s bread and butter, but its focus on a range of characters overlooked in earlier seasons makes this one extra special.

The spotlight moves away from Maeve and Otis and instead, we get a deeper look into the lives of the other students, staff and parents of Moordale. We see the tender and vulnerable sides of ex-school bullies Ruby and Adam. We see Eric connect with his Nigerian culture and become more confident in his sexuality ­– while also navigating the complex interplay between the two. We also get a more intimate look into the lives of adults on the show, including some very touching emotional development from Moordale’s former headmaster Mr. Groff.

Through the lens of these characters (and many more), Season 3 of Sex Education tells stories about sexuality, class disparity, disability, trauma, addiction and cycles of abuse with the respect and careful nuance that they deserve. The latest season also succeeds in invoking every known human emotion – laughter and joy, anger, sadness, and of course I’d be lying if I didn’t also include uncontrollable ugly crying.

– Ikumi Cooray, Marketing Assistant

Insecure (Season 5)


And so began the final season of Issa Rae’s ground-breaking television series, wrapping with its fifth and final season in 2021. As one of HBO’s staple series for the past five years, the Emmy Award-winning show turned its creator (and star) into a Hollywood heavyweight and its success into a benchmark. Its spotlighting of blackness changed television forever, from the way black characters are lit to Insecure’s meticulous attention to detail when it came to illustrating the depths of their lives.

In particular, it platformed black women not just in front of the camera – the complexity of Issa and Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) friendship journey is something rarely seen on mainstream television – but behind the camera as well, becoming a launchpad for black filmmakers like Melina Matsoukas, Stella Meghie, Regina King and Kerry Washington (to name a few) and highlighting black artisans in costuming, production design and soundtrack.

The season’s overarching question of ‘are we gonna be okay?’ (hence each episode title ending with an ‘okay?!’) captured not only the mood of the moment, but – to quote Natasha Rothwell’s Kelli – the “growth” of the show. Insecure started in 2016 with not just Issa, but all of the central cast trying to figure it out as they hit the pointy end of adulthood. It concluding so strongly and securely in 2021 – when everything feels quite opposite to that – was a balm for these trying times.

– Maria Lewis, Assistant Film Curator

Never Have I Ever (Season 2)


In Never Have I Ever, Mindy Kaling encapsulates the ratbag immigrant child’s coming-of-age story in an awkward, charming and delightful way. It’s a show I would have loved to have watched growing up as a mixed-race child, and now I feel happy that others like me can feel represented on screen. It deals with all your traditional teen-drama tribulations like dating, popularity, friendship and heightened emotions – but with characters who typically would take the backseat in mainstream media. In the second season, you get to see Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) mature and settle into herself and overcome the demands of family and her cultural identity. I binged the whole series so far in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

– Emma Sullivan, Communications Assistant

How To with John Wilson


Categorising this six-part HBO series (now in its second season) is a tough one – is it a comedy? Documentary? Mockumentary? All of the above? But understanding exactly what this show is misses the point. How To with John Wilson frames its episodes as tutorials, with titles such as ‘How To Make Small Talk and ‘How To Cook The Perfect Risotto’, and uses real footage (sometimes covertly filmed) and real conversations with New Yorkers to explore these topics. But it very much spirals into something else entirely – Wilson’s curious nature and impeccable comic chops lead him to all sorts of places, including a conference on the Mandela Effect in Idaho and the site of a tragic scaffolding collapse in Las Vegas. The series effortlessly shifts from hilarious and eye-opening, to gut-punching and raw, and Wilson’s narration and unique insights (you barely see him at all, just the footage he collects) gives this a style and tone unlike anything else. Not to mention some of the best blink-and-you-miss-it visual gags I’ve ever seen. Executive produced by Nathan Fielder (of Nathan For You fame – if you’ve seen this you’ll probably understand where How To is coming from), this is a hidden gem of a show that deserves all of the acclaim it can get.

Jayden Masciulli, Visitor Experience Guide



Loki is perhaps the worst villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He never succeeds at the task at hand, rarely follows through with his threats and fails miserably at his ploys for world domination. Yet we love him.

After Loki is found to have committed terrible crimes against the Sacred Timeline by stealing the Tesseract, he’s compelled by an organisation that exists outside of time to track down another mischievous criminal – an alternate timeline version of himself. Seeing this as both a complete loss of will and opportunity for endless power, he works with another variant of himself, Sylvie, to find his glorious purpose.

With each episode and each new obstacle faced, Loki learns how to adapt to challenging situations, work with others and make friends, and stand up for what he believes is right. Throughout its six eventful episodes, the show poses interesting questions, such as ‘how can you change if your destiny is predetermined?’ or ‘are beings entirely good or evil?’

Disney+’s decision to release each episode weekly made them feel like an event, building anticipation and giving viewers a chance to analyse key moments and discuss theories on what will happen next. Loki is scheduled to make his next appearance in the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction Marvel will take with one of the most engaging, complex protagonists on television.

– Claudia Scalzi, Visitor Experience Guide

Pose (Season 3)


Pose celebrates the ballroom sub-culture started by LGBTQIA+ people of colour in the 80s and 90s in New York City. An ensemble story, featuring lesser known LGBTQIA+ actors, the show is full of heart; the characters are fierce and gorgeous, and there are some epic dance floor scenes. However, it’s not just about the lavishness of the costumes and the ballroom scene at the time. Pose is a beautifully woven tale of chosen family and a reclaiming of the ‘otherness’ that so many LGBTQIA+ people experience. It strikes a beautiful balance between exploring the characters' personal issues and how these intertwine with the issues faced by the community as a whole, such as the impact of the AIDS crisis and the activism surrounding it. For the musical theatre nerds out there, the vocal talents of the cast provide some broadway Easter eggs, particularly from the buttery vocal chords of Billy Porter, Mj Rodriguez and Patti LuPone.

On a final note, Madonna did not invent vogueing. Credit where credit is due, Madge!

– Zoe McDonald, Public Programs and Education Facilitator

The White Lotus


The White Lotus is the television series equivalent of a trashy yet readable holiday novel – lush setting, crazy characters, a growing sense of dread (accompanied by a score that makes every scene a nail biter) and a climax that is both ludicrous and deeply disturbing. However, it also provides unnerving insight into the oblivious cruelty of the rich and the disposability of those who are cogs in the capitalist machine. Much like how Succession is a window into the world of rich, badly behaved white people, The White Lotus presents us with wealthy characters who play at wokeness while reinforcing their entitlement with every callous interaction, making it both compelling and cringey. It’s a challenging piece of television because you can’t sit comfortably and simply enjoy it – it’s far too recognisable for us to laugh it off as just a piece of entertainment. But I loved this show because of how disturbing it was; months later, certain scenes pop into my head at the weirdest times (if you’ve seen it, I’m sure you know which ones). Despite my mixed feelings, you can bet that I’ll be first in line to watch the second season with its brand-new cast.

– Candice D’Arcy, Visitor Experience Supervisor

Honourable mentions

Reservation Dogs (FX)

Hacks (HBO Max)

Sort Of (CBC Television)

It's a Sin (Channel 4)

Master of None presents: Moments in Love (Netflix)

Feel Good – Season 2 (Netflix)

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