Netflix highlights of 2021 – Squid Game mania, Bridgerton exit and weird dating

From the blood-drenched drama in Squid Game to the truly bizarre animalistic dating of Sexy Beasts, Netflix users haven't been able to tear themselves away from their screens.

This year saw streaming records get broken, social media light up with enormous reactions and virtually unknown stars become global sensations.

As the year comes to a close and we look forward to what Netflix has to bring in 2022, Daily Star thought it would be a good time to take a look back at what got everyone talking in 2021.

And if you somehow missed some of this binge-worthy content, the festive down time is the perfect time to log in, sit back, and maybe even Netflix and chill…

Bridgerton exit

Technically speaking, the first season of Bridgerton landed on Netflix in 2020 on Christmas Day – but it had people talking for weeks after.

At the time, it became Netflix's most-watched series, with 82million households tuning in.

Just weeks after it was released, in January Netflix confirmed it would be getting a second season.

Then in April, just after production for the second season had started, it was confirmed the show would be getting a third and fourth season too.

However excitement turned to sadness when the male lead of season one, Rege-Jean Page, who played Duke of Hastings Simon Basset, announced he would not be returning.

On April 2, the official Bridgerton Instagram account announced: "While all eyes turn to Lord Anthony Bridgerton's quest to find a Viscountess, we bid adieu to Rege-Jean Page, who so triumphantly played the Duke of Hastings.

"We'll miss Simon's presence onscreen, but he will always be a part of the Bridgerton family."

The announcement confirmed that Phoebe Dynevor would be back as Daphne, though.

Although it was a sad announcement for many, it makes perfect sense in terms of the storyline, and it was reported that the actor had only signed up for one season anyway.

Elite returns

  • Netflix Elite's sexiest scenes ever – from bisexual three-ways to naughty dreams

Spanish teen drama Elite returned for its fourth season in June, with even more sex and scandal packed into the eight episodes.

The steamy drama saw characters enjoy threesomes, drunken hook-ups, royal romps, shower sex, same sex tension, fun with food, power play, and going at it in basically any location imaginable.

There was also some dry humping – sort of – when Patrick tried to seduce Ander by performing oral sex in public… only over the top of his clothes.

The show, which premiered in 2018, was renewed for a fifth season in February, which will air next year, and a sixth season was given the green-light in October, which is likely to air in 2023.

Squid Game mania

  • Squid Game Season 2 details revealed as Netflix show creator gives latest update

If you've made it to the end of 2021 without knowing about Squid Game… how!?

The South Korean drama became the talk of the entire planet when it was released in September.

The blood-drenched series follows Seong Gi-hun as he battles his way through the sadistic series of games in order to win a ₩45.6billion (£28.5million) prize.

Before long, it took over the record from Bridgerton to become Netflix's most-watched series to date, attracting audiences from more than 142m households, and becoming the top-viewed show in 94 countries in its first four weeks.

Squid Game completely took over the world, with the red boiler suits and masks, the green tracksuits or even the Red Light, Green Light girl becoming the costume of choice for many people over Halloween – even celebrities like Rebel Wilson, Kerry Washington and Lizzo getting involved.

The popularity of the series shot its main cast into superstardom – although they were already very well known in their home country South Korea.

Lee Jung-jae, who plays Gi-hun, became a global ambassador for Gucci, but Jung Ho-yeon, who played Kang Sae-byeok, really triumphed.

HoYeon started her career as a model, but left South Korea to try and make it elsewhere in 2016.

Squid Game became her television debut, and she ended up being the breakout star thanks to her portrayal of the sly Sae-byeok.

The 27-year-old has since been named Louis Vuitton's Global House Ambassador, partnered with Adidas Originals and was signed by the same agency in the US that represents the likes of Brad Pitt, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Cardi B.

She's also the most-followed South Korean actress on Instagram, having around 400,000 followers before Squid Game, to now having more than 20million.

Due to the show's popularity, writer Hwang Dong-hyuk started thinking about a sequel – despite having no initial plans, and it taking him 10 years to get the show produced.

But by late October, he announced he was in talks with Netflix about a sequel series, and in November he said he was working on ideas that would see Gi-hun return.

Netflix also confirmed they were working towards a deal, but that a second season had not yet been confirmed.

At this point though, they'd be stupid not to give it the green light.

Tiger King returns

  • Tiger King 2: When is Netflix star Joe Exotic's release date from prison?

Tiger King kept everyone entertained during the first lockdown all those months ago, and the story continued months after.

Joe Exotic tried to get a presidential pardon from Donald Trump, Carole Baskin went on Dancing with the Stars in the US, and then it was announced that Joe had cancer in prison.

With Joe behind bars and Carole very clearly on the anti-Tiger King bandwagon, the chance of a second series seemed more like a fantasy than the actual story behind the show.

But it was confirmed that a second season would be coming in September, and it was released mid-November.

The second season took much more of a deeper dive into Carole's missing ex-husband Don Lewis and the theories surrounding his disappearance.

If fans thought there was nothing more to learn about Joe, Carole and the other tricky characters involved in the story, they were very wrong.

It was revealed that Joe had been a police chief who used to strip for the mayor, and Carole had been struggling in her marriage in the weeks leading up to Don's disappearance.

However the sequel series didn't go down too well with critics, with some uncomfortable at how the show appeared to be a smear campaign against Carole, who had refused to be a part of season two.

Despite Carole having no direct involvement, apart from archive footage from YouTube, her life and marriage was devoured by the producers of the series, with no stone left unturned when it came to Don.

After the series was released, Carole spoke out about the theory that Don was actually alive and well – not dead after being fed to tigers – and living a new life in Costa Rica.

She said during a This Morning appearance: "He took about $1million down to Costa Rica and I had agreed to let him do that so that he could prove to himself that he couldn't make a living.

"So I don't know how it is that Homeland Security says he's alive and well in Costa Rica, but I'm glad to hear it."

Animalistic dating

  • Netflix's new show Sexy Beasts leaves viewers baffled as daters dress in animal masks

In recent years, Netflix has entered the world of reality shows, and even dating shows – but fans had never seen anything quite like their series Sexy Beasts.

The series sees singletons go on dates with potential matches as normal, but each person has elaborate makeup and special effect disguises on so nobody can see what each other looks like.

The idea is good – it takes the importance away from looks while dating, just like their series Love is Blind did.

But the bizarre costumes were a lot for fans to get used to.

Once the masks were off, though, some people were left disappointed, because everyone taking part was pretty good looking, so there weren't too many horrible surprises for the singletons.

Season one debuted in July and it proved so popular that a second was released just a few months later in October.

It even got featured on Gogglebox – and you can guess what they had to say about it.

Lockdown comedy

  • BBC facing crisis over the rise in streaming services like Netflix and Disney+

Actor Bo Burnham became one of the breakout stars of 2021 when he released his self-written, self-directed, self-filmed, self-edited and self-starred special, Inside.

It was all done from the guest house of his LA home during the pandemic, with no help from a crew and no audience to play off.

Premiering in May, it featured the Promising Young Woman star in a number of songs and sketches about his life stuck indoors.

There were segments about calling his mum, posting on Instagram and even indulging in a bit of sexting.

The soundtrack was released afterwards and it did incredibly well around the world, peaking at No1 on the US Top Comedy Album, and No5 on the UK Albums chart.

The special went down incredibly well with fans and critics, with an average rating of 9.2 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes.

And it won a number of awards, including two Hollywood Critics Association awards and three Primetime Emmy Awards.

Hello… You

  • Penn Badgley baffled by infatuation with Netflix's You character Joe Goldberg

Penn Badgley returned as the menacing yet charming Joe Goldberg when You returned for its hotly anticipated third season in October.

It opened up with Joe and wife Love (Victoria Pedretti) moving to the suburbs to start a new life together with their baby boy.

But things took a turn – ok, we knew it would – when Joe set his sights on their neighbour Natalie (Michaela McManus).

Love soon saw her off when she realised what was happening, and a full season of Love somehow being even more twisted than Joe followed.

There was a boys' weekend full of shirtless men and hunting, a foursome that also featured hunting, more trips to the terrifying perspex cage and, of course, plenty of death.

But one of the most surprising deaths came at the end, when it looked like Love was about to kill off Joe.

He managed to outsmart his wife and that was the end of her, with Joe free to start a new life in Paris of all places.

Joe, using the name Nick, went to Paris to try and track down his new obsession Marienne (Tati Gabrielle).

Luckily, fans will get to see what Joe gets up to in his new setting, as You was renewed for a fourth season just before the third premiered.

A long-awaited reunion

  • Love Is Blind reunion: Where are they all now? From dramatic exits to no-shows

Love Is Blind eased people into the first lockdown last year, with it being released in the weeks leading up to the world going to a standstill.

Fans were obsessed and desperate to find out more about the cast members, whether the married couples were still together and how they were getting on in their lives away from the cameras.

And their prayers were answered when, in July, a three-part "After The Altar" special was released.

But it failed to live up to expectations – despite some huge bombshells being dropped.

Damian had splashed out on some filler and Botox and was still in an on-off romance with Giannina.

Lauren and Cameron, and Amber and Barnett were still married, loved up and going strong.

Wine-loving Jessica had a new boyfriend who definitely wasn't Barnett – who was banned from talking to her.

Mark never turned up to the party, and minor character LC confessed she'd dated him after the show.

Then there was also the random arrival of Too Hot To Handle star Francesca on the arm of Damian, which caused major trouble with Giannina.

But the three-part special left some fans wanting more, as it felt way too manufactured and set up – which, of course, it was.

The realness and rawness had vanished, as fans had initially fallen in love with the emotion flowing between the singletons.

It was clear the point of the show was to cause some drama, and while it did, it didn't feel natural.

Luckily, a second run of the show is in production, so fans will get another chance at watching strangers fall in love through a wall again.

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