Ten years ago, it would’ve been difficult for us to compile a ‘Best Of’ list with 10 queer television shows, let alone 20. Thankfully, the small screen has evolved over the past decade (much quicker than film, we should add) and now we’re finally witnessing three-dimensional LGBTQ+ characters leading their own dramas and comedies – even in the realm of animation and horror, genres that have notoriously failed to provide representation for the queers.
2021 was perhaps the best year for queer entertainment yet, with RuPaul’s Emmy Award-winning drag empire expanding in brand in new international territories, while queer masterminds such as Russell T. Davies and Ryan Murphy continued to educate audiences on historical LGBTQ+ figures and real-life events that have shaped queer life and culture.
Here, we list our 20 best LGBTQ+ shows of 2021, from returning fan-favourites to limited series’ and new dramas that have made Gay Twitter explode – Young Royals, we’re looking at you. The list is in alphabetical order, but we’ve given a special shoutout to our TV Show of the Year at the end of the list. Without further ado…
9-1-1: Lone Star (Season 2)
Cast: Rob Lowe, Ronen Rubinstein, Rafael Silva, Sierra McClain, Jim Parrack, Natacha Karam, Brian Michael Smith, Julian Works, Gina Torres
The second season of Ryan Murphy’s breakout procedural drama continued to solidify its status as one of the most diverse and inclusive shows on air, thanks to Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael Silva’s Tyler Kennedy “TK” Strand and Carlos Reyes – who continue to be fervently championed on social media with the Brangelina-esque ‘ship’ name ‘Tarlos’ – Brian Michael Smith’s trans male firefighter Paul Strickland and Natacha Karama’s Muslim hero Marjan Marwani. Season two added even more emotion and chaos into the mix – as well as lava! – and managed to separate itself from Angela Bassett’s parent series with an eclectic roster of diverse personalities and storylines. Bring on season three!
Dickinson (Season 3)
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Adrian Blake Enscoe, Anna Baryshnikov, Ella Hunt, Jane Krakowski, Toby Huss, Amanda Warren, Chinaza Uche, Wiz Khalifa
Apple TV’s profoundly creative re-telling of the life of Emily Dickinson came to a bittersweet end this year with its third outing. Seeing the return of Hawkeye’s Hailee Steinfeld as the title poet, the final batch of episodes takes place during the Civil War; following Emily and her loved ones – including her soulmate Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt) – as they reckon with death, lust and personal complexities. Season three cemented Dickinson as Apple TV’s most bonkers creation to date with its mix of realism and fantasy, as well as its blend of the 19th century and present day. Mrs Dickinson (Jane Krakowski), Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov), Betty (Amanda Warren) and Henry (Chinaza Uche) are given much more to do, adding more depth to their characters in the process, while the final stretch shows Emily become the poet she was always destined to be. We’re devastated it’s come to an end, but with a gorgeous finale like that, we can’t stay mad.
Dragula (Season 4)
Cast: The Boulet Brothers, Dahli, HoSo Terra Toma, Saint, Sigourney Beaver, La Zavaleta, Jade Jolie, Bitter Betty, Merrie Cherry, Koko Caine, Astrud Aurelia, Formelda Hyde
Filth! Horror! Glamour! The Boulet Brothers returned for another spine-chilling instalment of their cult competition series this year following a year’s hiatus with their largest ever cash prize at – wait for it – $100,000. Created and hosted by the iconic duo, horror hosts Dracmorda and Swanthula, the new season proves, once again, why Dragula is one of the most inclusive competition series on air with a deliciously diverse line-up of – in their words! – “uglies” – again, their words! – including drag queens, trans women and AFAB performers. With its move to Shudder – AMC Networks’ premium streamer for horror, thriller and the supernatural – Dragula is on a whole new level of glam and gore.
Elite (Season 4)
Cast: Itzan Escamilla, Omar Ayuso, Arón Piper, Miguel Bernardeau, Claudia Salas, Georgina Amorós, Manu Rios, Carla Díaz, Martina Cariddi, Pol Granch
The fourth season of Netflix’s fan-favourite Spanish teen thriller is the series at its queerest, with fan-favourite couple Omar (Omar Ayuso) and Ander (Arón Piper) – known affectionately as ‘Omander’ – becoming a throuple with the arrival of Manu Rios’ bold new character Benjamin. Although we had reservations about the departures of series mainstays Mina El Hammani, Danna Paola Lucrecia, Ester Expósito, Álvaro Rico and Jorge López, our fears were put to rest with the arrival of some more highly attractive, drama-filled teens – played by Rios, Carla Díaz, Martina Cariddi, and Pol Granch – who challenge the status quo at Las Encinas. Good news: Elite has been renewed for a fifth and sixth season.
Feel Good (Season 2)
Cast: Mae Martin, Charlotte Ritchie, Lisa Kudrow, Phil Burgers, Adrian Lukis
Mae Martin earned universal acclaim for the second and final season of Feel Good, a semi-autobiographical dramedy based on their life experiences in contemporary Manchester. Following on from the events of season one, Mae is admitted to rehab and confronts their traumatic past after receiving a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, while coming to terms with their non-binary identity. Season two is a stunning depiction of sexuality, gender identity, addiction and will leave viewers wanting more from the incredible Mae Martin.
Generation (Season 1)
Cast: Justice Smith, Nathanya Alexander, Chloe East, Nava Mau, Lukita Maxwell, Haley Sanchez, Uly Schlesinger, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Chase Sui Wonders, Martha Pimpton
With an ensemble cast led by Detective Pikachu’s Justice Smith, HBO Max’s Generation (stylised as Genera+ion) follows a group of Gen-Z high schoolers exploring their sexualities and identities in a conservative Orange County community. Due to similar themes, the series was (unnecessarily) compared to other shows of its kind, such as Euphoria. Generation, however, is a lot sillier and boasts a more carefree (and accurate) approach to teenage life. It’s messy and cringy – but whose teen years weren’t? – and thankfully, queer as hell. Sadly, the series was axed after just one season.
Gossip Girl (Season 1)
Cast: Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Tavi Gevinson, Eli Brown, Thomas Doherty, Emily Alyn Lind, Evan Mock, Johnathan Fernandez, Adam Chanler-Berat, Zion Moreno, Savannah Lee Smith, Jason Gotay, Todd Almond, Laura Benanti, Kristen Bell
As is the case with most reboots, remakes and revivals (all the ‘r’s), the new iteration of Gossip Girl was met with polarising reviews when it landed on HBO Max earlier this year. Despite its mixed response, primarily from the ‘Is Hollywood out of original ideas?’ crowd, the salacious teen drama succeeded expectations when it became the streamer’s most-watched original series in its debut weekend. A large part of the reboot’s success has been credited to the fact it more accurately reflects New York, as well as the world we live in today, with prominent queer characters such as lesbian HBIC Monet de Haan (Savannah Lee Smith), pansexual bad boy Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), transgender stylist Luna La (Zion Moreno) and innocent bisexual Aki Menzies (Evan Mock). The beauty of the series is how there’s no elements of homophobia in the storyline, and all the aforementioned teens are accepted without question. Whether you wanted the reboot or not, Gossip Girl – the 2021 edition – is the inclusive teen drama we originally deserved.
Hacks (Season 1)
Cast: Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Kaitlin Olson, Christopher McDonald, Paul W. Downs, Mark Indelicato, Poppy Liu, Johnny Sibilly, Megan Stalter
HBO Max’s brilliant new series follows legendary Las Vegas comedy diva Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) as she reluctantly teams up with a witty Gen-Z writer (Hannah Einbinder) to revive her career. Megan Stalter, who received viral fame thanks to her instantly iconic “Hi gay!” Pride Month video, co-stars as Kayla; the nepotistic yet endearingly incompetent assistant to Ava’s manager who steals every goddamn scene she’s in. While the comedy-drama, created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky, has been lauded for its leading performances and hilariously fresh script, it’s also won rave reviews from LGBTQ+ critics and viewers for normalising the queer experience – particularly with Einbinder’s leading character, Ava Daniels.
Halston (Limited Series)
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rory Culkin, Rebecca Davan, Sullivan Jones, David Pittu, Krysta Rodriguez, Gianfranco Rogriguez, Bill Pullman, Kelly Bishop, Vera Farmiga, Maxim Swinton
The fourth in a string of Netflix releases from LGBTQ+ mastermind Ryan Murphy, Halston stars Ewan McGregor as the iconic gay designer of the same name who rose to international fame with a worldwide fashion empire that became synonymous with luxury, sex, status and fame in 1970s and 1980s New York. Although McGregor’s casting was met with controversy (straight actors playing gay debate etc), the star delivers a career-best performance as the ringleader of “a bunch of queer and freaks and girls who haven’t grown up yet”. It’s not a perfect series, by any means, but it’s a fascinating take on the fashion business, creating an empire and one of the industry’s most revered designers.
Legendary (Season 2)
Cast: Dashaun Wesley, MikeQ, Jameela Jamil, Law Roach, Leiomy Maldonado, Megan Thee Stallion, Johnny Wujek, Tanisha Scott, Jamari Balmain, House of Miyake-Mugler, House of Balenciaga, House of Comme des Garçon, House of Oricci, House of Tisci, House of Icon, House of Milan, House of Luxe, House of Prodigy, House of Chanel
Although Legendary lost some of its intensity in season two without a live audience, due to COVID restrictions, the HBO Max series finally found its identity with a brand new format heavily focusing on the five elements of vogue. As the first reality competition to shine a light on ballroom culture, Legendary delivered in spades with opulent high-fashion ensembles and fierce routines, while also diving into the unique – and often, emotional – backstories of its diverse roster of entertainers.
The Other Two (Season 2)
Cast: Helen Yorke, Drew Tarver, Case Walker, Ken Marino, Molly Shannon, Josh Segarra, Brandon Scott Jones, Wanda Sykes, Gideon Glick
Co-creators and writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider returned this year with a funnier, queerer and more outlandish second season of their satirical comedy The Other Two, which follows Dubek siblings Brooke (Yelen Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver) as they come to terms with their 13-year-old brother, ChaseDreams, rising to superstardom. With Cary no longer lusting after his straight roommate, the aspiring actor treads new queer ground this season with Grindr hook-ups, gay clubs and his first boyfriend, while highlighting the various hiccups a queer person experiences when coming out later in life. Our gorgeous ally Brooke remained ‘hot, cool and killing it’ as she found a new career avenue as a music manager, while mother Pat took on a more starring role as she hosted her own talk show, The Pat Dubek Show – to hilarious (and disastrous) effect. Shout out to supporting players such as Streeter (Ken Marino), Lance (Josh Segarra) and Shuli (Wanda Sykes) for never failing to bring in the laughs in one of the best ensembles on television right now.
Pose (Season 3)
Cast: Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Billy Porter, Hailee Sahar, Angel Bismark Curiel, Dyllon Burnside, Jason A. Rodriguez, Sandra Bernhard, Jeremy Pope
Like all Pose fans, we resisted the conclusion of FX’s beloved LGBTQ+ series. With only two seasons and 18 episodes under its belt, would just one more season with these characters be enough? The answer is still a fat no, but we have to give props to co-creators Steven Canals and Ryan Murphy for delivering a pitch perfect send-off for the House of Evangelista; staying true to Pose’s uplifting ethos with hope and inspiration for LGBTQ+ people of colour, particularly for trans people. As per, the cast earned 10s, 10s, 10s across the board for their performances – especially Porter and Rodriguez, with the latter making history as the first transgender woman to earn an Emmy Award nomination in a major acting category for her role as Blanca Evangelista.
Positive (Limited Series)
Cast: Jonathan Blake, Marc Thompson, Jay Hawkridge, Garry Bushell
To coincide with World AIDS Day, Sky Documentaries released a three-part docu-series using testimonies from some of the earliest HIV patients and real-life heroes to tell the tragedies – and triumphs – of Britain’s 40-year battle with HIV and AIDS. Positive chronicles the prejudice, intolerance and homophobia of Britain at the time of the epidemic, before examining a society that’s increased its understanding of sexual and gender identity. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been dramatised for various movies and TV shows over the years – more recently in Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin, which received universal acclaim and resulted in a significant increase in HIV testing when it launched earlier this year – it’s rare for a docu-series to chronicle the entire crisis and bring it up to date, making Positive an essential and educational watch for all viewers.
Pride (Limited Series)
Cast: Susan Stryker, Alia Shawkat, Ceyenne Doroshow, Margaret Cho, John Waters, Connor Paolo, Raymond J. Barry, Angelica Ross, Barry Livingston, Mark Saul, Christine Vachon, Fenton Bailey, Marquise Vilson, Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Paul James Jordan, Zackary Drucker, Michael Musto, Brontez Purnell
In PRIDE, six renowned LGBTQ+ directors explore “heroic and heartbreaking” stories that define America as a nation. Spanning six decades on the country’s struggle for LGBTQ+ civil rights, the mini-series uses interviews and archival footage of pioneers such as Christine Jorgensen, Flawless Sabrina, Ceyenne Doroshow, Susan Stryker, Kate Bornstein, Dean Spade and Raquel Willis. Unlike other documentaries of its kind, Pride isn’t a one-sided affair solely focusing on the efforts of white gay men. Instead, Pride commits to accurately representing the tremendous accomplishments of lesbians, bisexuals, and, especially, trans people of colour. It’s a raw, heartbreaking and inspirational dive into how far we’ve come and the change that still needs to come to fruition in order to achieve full equality.
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (Season 2)
Cast: RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Alan Carr, Graham Norton, Asttina Mandella, A’Whora, Bimini Bon Boulash, Cherry Valentine, Ellie Diamond, Ginny Lemon, Joe Black, Lawrence Chaney, Sister Sister, Tayce, Tia Kofi, Veronica Green
Following a year without Drag Race UK due to concerns over COVID, the series returned in January and bing, bang, bong’d the hearts of viewers around the world. Never has a season boasted as many shock eliminations, from the likes of Joe Black, Asttina Mandella and Ginny Lemon; particularly the latter, who sashayed away from the stage mid performance and failed to return. In the words of Tayce, “The cheek, the nerve, the gall, the audacity and the gumption!” The runways were also turned up a notch thanks to the likes of A’Whora and Bimini Bon Boulash, as well as the lip-syncs smackdowns. We can’t forget RuPaul’s now-iconic rant about H&M, COVID’s interruption halfway through the series – which resulted in Veronica Green contracting the virus – and the takeover of the United Kingdolls. Now that it’s over, we’re not UK Hun.
Sex Education (Season 3)
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Alistair Petrie, Mimi Keene, Aimee Lou Wood, Chaneil Kular, Simone Ashley, Tanya Reynolds, Mikael Persbrandt, Patricia Allison, Anne-Marie Duff, Rakhee Thakrar, Jemima Kirke
While Sex Education initially focused on the lives of Otis (Asa Butterfield), Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Maeve (Emma Mackey), the third season saw the Netflix teen comedy turn into an ensemble piece as it further explored the backstories of fantastic supporting characters such as Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), Ruby (Mimi Keene), Lily (Tanya Reynolds), Ola (Patricia Allison), Adam (Connor Swindells) and newcomer Cal (Dua Saleh), among others. Three dimensional characters, we’re here for it! Sex Education also ramped up the sex and cringe-factor, while also continuing to deal with issues such as consent, sexuality, identity and sexual assault. With its blend of quintessential British comedy and hard-hitting issues, Sex Education is still one-of-a-kind three seasons in.
Special (Season 2)
Cast: Ryan O’Connell, Jessica Hecht, Punam Patel, Marla Mindelle, Augustus Prew, Patrick Fabian
Another queer series gone too soon (seriously, why so many?), Netflix’s second and final season of Special focuses on Ryan O’Connell’s semi-autobiographical character, Ryan, a gay man with cerebral palsy who continues to explore the world and go after the life he wants. Thanks to the longer run time, O’Connell crafts an even more hilarious and heartfelt season than the first with exceptional character growth and the honest, as well as accurate, depiction of having a disability in modern day society. Although we’re disappointed Ryan and his adventures won’t return for another season, we couldn’t think of a better way for this groundbreaking story to end.
Transitioning Teens (TV Special)
Cast: Charlie Craggs
In this one-off special for BBC iPlayer, trans activist and author Charlie Craggs meets trans teens from across the country who have taken their transition into their own hands due to the NHS’ unfathomably long wait for a gender identity clinic appointment. The 43-minute episode examines transphobic media coverage including the UK’s reporting on puberty blockers and the weaponisation of ‘detransitioners’. It’s a heartbreaking but necessary education on Britain’s issue with the trans community and how young trans people feel abandoned by the healthcare system.
Young Royals (Season 1)
Cast: Edvin Ryding, Omar Rudberg, Malte Gårdinger, Frida Argento, Pernilla August
Swedish teen drama Young Royals took the internet – and LGBTQ+ community – by storm when it premiered on Netflix earlier this year. Set in the fictional elite boarding school Hillerska, the show follows Prince Wilhelm of Sweden (Edvin Ryding) as he finally gets an opportunity to explore his true self and find out what kind of life he really wants. Viewers were enamoured with the heartwarming romance between Wilhelm and fellow student, Simon Eriksoon (Omar Rudberg), with both stars becoming overnight sensations, and its modern love story confronted by centuries-old royal tradition packaged up for a Gen-Z audience who have a thirst for an era of Tumblr fan-fiction. Season two is coming, and it will hit Netflix next year.
TV SHOW OF THE YEAR: It’s A Sin (Limited Series)
Cast: Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, David Carlyle, Keeley Hawes, Shaun Dooley, Tracy Ann Oberman, Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Fry
Following a group of friends in 1980s London who grow up in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, It’s A Sin received widespread critical acclaim when it premiered on Channel 4 earlier this year. Not only that, it also broke record after record for the streaming service as it became their most binged box set ever. Thanks to Russell T. Davies’ harrowing – and at times, hilarious – script, the stunning performances of the main cast (particularly Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas and Lydia West) and for educating audiences on a vital period in LGBTQ+ history, It’s A Sin isn’t just the greatest LGBTQ+ drama of 2021, it’s one of the greatest LGBTQ+ dramas in history.