25 Best Shows of 2021
Are you tired of people recommending shows to watch? Do you feel that the market is oversaturated? Are you overwhelmed by the number of shows and do you feel that you just can’t keep up? Well, whatever your answer is, we have plenty of more recommendations to send your way. What follows is our list of the 50 best TV shows 2021! That’s right folks; as the year comes to an end, we have plenty of shows to recommend in case you are looking for something new to watch during the holiday break. These are our 50 favourite television shows of 2021. Click here for the first part of this list. Enjoy!
25. Attack on Titan (Season 4) | Crunchyroll
Entering its final season, Attack on Titan finds itself in a total inversion of what it was when it began, going from being an action series about desperate humans battling monsters to being a tragedy where people who were once heroes commit an atrocity. And that is why this show should be watched by everyone. Our world is splintering. Everywhere tribalism and “us vs them” politics threaten to tear us apart until we forget that each of us is human. Attack on Titan recognizes this and serves as an agonizing plea for us to see one- another.
I will not go into any specifics of this final season as doing so would ruin one of fiction’s great twists but I will say this: Attack on Titan is not a show about fighting giant monsters. It’s a show about recognizing our own capacity for evil. Every character in the series, in one way or another, is understandable. No one is evil, but they all commit evil, even when they do not intend to. And part of the show’s brilliance is that you want them to commit that evil because, like them, you do not realize the reality of what is going on until it is too late. You think certain individuals are irredeemable when, in fact, they are the most nobly intended of the characters. The show pulls you every which way until you realize a tragic truth: no one in this show deserves to die. They deserve peace and reconciliation, but they are all too hurt to offer it to one another.
To watch Attack on Titan is to experience loathing and then remorse for being so ignorant. That is to say, despite the violence on display, Attack on Titan is one of the most loving pieces of media I’ve ever encountered. (Nicholas Straub)
24. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 11) | HBO
Ever since Curb Your Enthusiasm returned to HBO in 2017 after a six-year hiatus, I’ve been noting that while the show can still deliver laughs, it plays a bit differently these days than it did in the early 2000s. For one thing, it doesn’t quite land the same now, when a wealthy white man is obsessed with small grievances, which is the ultimate premise of the show. And while the series, early in its run, depicted Larry David as a guy who’s rich, but not as rich as the real Larry David likely is, Season 10 featured plot lines about private jet etiquette and complaints about a too-small hotel room at a luxury resort.
The new season of Curb, which is ongoing on HBO and HBO Max, still has those problems, but this season has been notably funnier than the last two. The show has come up with a great arc, featuring Larry making a TV show called “Young Larry,” and he was blackmailed into casting Maria Sofia (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), the strikingly untalented daughter of the man blackmailing him. Everything involving her is gold, as are such set-pieces this season as Albert Brooks’ “living funeral,” and Larry’s Japanese restaurant date with Julie Bowen.
Yes, Larry is a bigger jerk than ever, and the show’s Jewish fans were left scratching their heads at the episode in which Larry seemed to get along better with a Klansman than with a rabbi (and I’ve also never been to a synagogue where the rabbi gives you his shofar at the end.) But it’s good to have a version of Curb that, at least occasionally, resembles the show of old. (Stephen Silver)
23. Rick and Morty (Season 5) | Adult Swim
Rick and Morty prides itself on being a funny, entertaining and surprisingly deep adult animated cartoon which- having released its fifth season this year- still manages to be an engaging, hilarious, and sometimes thought-provoking sci-fi show.
At the time of writing, the final episode of the fifth season has been delayed but from what the show has offered so far, it feels like one of the more mature seasons of Rick and Morty. The stories still have that classic Rick and Morty bizarreness with weird, science fiction style plotlines, insane antics, clever satire, and hilarious outcomes, but there is definitely a sense of development and growth with this season.
The characters have certainly had some evolution. Morty is the most prominent example as he exudes a confidence that is miles away from his previous timid nature as well as an understanding of the futility of trying to impress his grandpa Rick. Morty’s sister Summer gets more of a character arc too- desperately wanting to part of her brother and grandpas adventures- and whilst parents Beth and Jerry haven’t had too much of a change as characters, their relationship has definitely seen a change. The two no longer seem to despise each other- in fact they actually seem to love each other more than they once did-, forming a team to counteract Rick’s recklessness whilst still maintaining the aspects of their characters that made them who they are. Rick has had some character development too, showing that he does actually kind of care for his family and friends. At least a little bit anyway.
There have also been hints at more interesting and intricate plot points sprinkled throughout the fifth series so far. Let’s just hope that some of those big questions get some kind of resolution in the hour-long finale debuting in September. (Antonia Haynes)
22. Mythic Quest (Season 2) | Apple TV+
With a second season hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, Mythic Quest did something that proved incredibly difficult: successfully parody remote work. The Apple+ series seemed to be buried beneath the unexpected success of Ted Lasso but the show’s stellar ensemble of veterans and newcomers continues to deliver a dynamic, albeit unorthodox, workplace comedy. The show is rife with gamer specific humor but uses outsider characters to make the references inclusive rather than alienating.
Mythic Quest is a game created by insecure alpha-male Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) and brilliant but egotistic Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao). The diverse cast reflects the breadth of topics included in the show. The incredible F. Murray Abraham stands out as self-indulgent, blowhard writer C.W. Longbottom.
Ian Grimm shares a lot of DNA with McElhenney’s Always Sunny character Mac. His unabashed confidence and pride is a garish suit of armor protecting the tender psyche beneath. Poppy dons a similar shell but as Ian’s is imbued with his physique and artistry, hers is forged from her intellect and proficiency.
The show does an excellent job pairing up its characters and then playing with the combinations of interaction. The company’s creative leads mix with a queer couple who mix with power-hungry corporate narcissists and the lone stragglers who move between them all. They conspire, connect, fight, kiss, and forgive. Their storylines braid together themes of aspiration, insecurity, generational divides, and relationships.
A highlight of each season is a bottle episode that strays from the main story but provides context. Each aside brings its own cast and interpersonal narrative in a touching reprieve from Mythic Quest HQ. Season two’s episode is an origin story for Abraham’s character C.W. Longbottom as a young, aspiring science fiction writer.
However, this season’s greatest triumph is the creativity of the unique remote work scenarios for each of its characters. Baking the pandemic into the show can be a messy proposition but Mythic Quest’s recipe gets a blue ribbon. (Kent M. Wilhelm)
21. Underground Railroad (mini-series) | Amazon Prime
The Underground Railroad, director Barry Jenkins’ adaption of Colson Whitehead’s magical realistic novel of American slavery, arrived earlier this summer and didn’t really gain any measure of cultural ubiquity.
Perhaps it was because it debuted on the hard-to-navigate streaming backwater that is Amazon Prime Video, or maybe it was the inexplicable decision to release all ten episodes at once. Or perhaps it was because of the very difficult subject matter, which didn’t exactly lend itself to binging all or most of it at once.
But nevertheless, The Underground Railroad was a major work by a major filmmaker.
The series came from Jenkins, the director of beloved films Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, and this wasn’t just a case of him putting his name on the series as an executive producer- he directed all ten episodes.
Working once again with cinematographer James Laxton and composer Nicholas Britell, who were also credited with his last two films, Jenkins proved himself the right filmmaker for this very challenging material.
The beautifully rendered series followed the character of Cora (Thuso Mbedu) through the American South, or rather a version of it in which the titular railroad was an actual railroad. Most of the episodes are set in different states, with some of them looking at backstories of individual characters.
That’s why it was so maddening that Amazon released the entire series at once, causing it to drop off the radar in a matter of a week or two. (Stephen Silver)
20. What We Do in the Shadows (Season 3) | Apple TV
The third season of What We Do in the Shadows maintains the undead excellence we’ve come to expect as we peer into the lives of four emotionally stunted vampires and their affably co-dependent human companions.
By now, we know these characters well, but placing them in yet another context, as the bumbling leads of the Vampiric Council after near-death, gives both the cast and the story new places to play and grow. Shadows is a mixture of roommate comedy, office mockumentary, and all-out full-bodied farce, and the incredible cast makes it all look as easy as it is fun.
In season 3 there is character growth, there is story movement, there is poop humor and there is robust physical comedy. You will laugh.
What We Do in the Shadows is as vulgar as it is witty, and it all comes across with confidence and smarts and lands as one of the best comedies that are currently airing. Go hang out with these awful vampires, they are the best. (Marty Allen)
19. Hellbound (Season 1) | Netflix
Weaponizing religion and arming it with strange phenomena that cannot be explained, Hellbound is an incendiary television series. In the span of six episodes, Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan) delivers an almost unrelenting exploration of the ways in which humanity can easily be manipulated to believe something and structure their entire lives around that belief. Occasionally punctuated by excessive violence, Hellbound is a nasty piece of work that starts off fascinating and then blends its genre elements with its philosophical concepts into an unwieldy blend of thrills and heady ideas that land somewhat inertly by its conclusion.
Bingeable as it is due to its minuscule six episodes with only one running a full sixty minutes and quick pacing, Hellbound is more than just another piece of content to consume. The ideas it interrogates are so effectively explored that fans of shows like The Leftovers will probably find more than enough to adore just from the pilot episode. There’s a bit of everything here for genre fans from the anime-like angels that bludgeon and mercilessly torture sinners to the thriller plotlines and pervasive hopelessness that washes over the entirety of the series. Hellbound is relentlessly bleak, but even in its darkest moments are people questioning the status quo – that it provokes the audience to do the same is a tremendous achievement, even if it finds itself stumbling to the finish line. (Christopher Cross)
18. Cobra Kai (Season 3)| Netflix
After moving from YouTube to Netflix, Cobra Kai returned for a third season with its usual mix of action, comedy, and charm, and this time, it added even more familiar faces from the beloved film franchise. If you were disappointed the second season chose to model itself after The Karate Kid Part III, you’ll be happy to know Season 3 is all about the original sequel. Yes folks, make sure to revisit The Karate Kid Part 2 before booting up the new season because you might want to refresh your memory on the events and characters of that film.
In fact, Season 3 might be the most nostalgic season yet, and the closest to capture the tone of the original films with its craft and its patience. It’s precisely the sort of rousing, feel-good entertainment audiences have been craving all year, and with the stakes higher than ever, Season 3 will leave fans asking for more. Thankfully, Cobra Kai ends with the promise of a fourth season! (Ricky D)
17. Ted Lasso (Season 2) | Apple TV
It would be difficult to find a series that does comedy and kindness better than Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. A football coach hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience, is a concept that breeds top-tier comedy. However, the choice to take a higher road, one that preaches selflessness, hard work, and acceptance in a sport dominated by toxic principles, is what makes its rise from hidden gem to cult success so transfixing.
This comfort comedy constantly proves its “no strings attached” approach to nurturing character growth will be victorious in the second season as Roy continues to dominate the comedy, Jamie the field, and Ted our hearts with his southern euphemisms. Ted Lasso may have the weight of suppressed emotions this season to navigate, but the intelligence of its trajectory suggests this series is always on the verge of a breakthrough, never a breakdown. (Alicia Gilstorf)
16. The Witcher (Season 2) | Netflix
It seems like adaptations run the gamut of quality from terrible to exceptional these days, and the second season of The Witcher inches the show closer to exceptional. After Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Ciri (Freya Allan) find each other in the woods, they travel to one of the only places Geralt feels safe. As they get to know each other, a relationship starts forming that isn’t born solely out of duty. It brings depth and emotion to the characters that audiences didn’t see as much in season one.
Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) doesn’t get a lot of downtime this season. She keeps facing challenge after challenge, eventually making a decision that could hurt others beyond repair. It’s great to check in with some old characters and meet some new ones with Geralt, Ciri, and Yen as they travel around the Continent. There are more politics this season so it’s best to pay close attention, but there are still beautifully rendered CGI monsters and a few reminders that the worst monsters are often just regular people among us. (Leah Wersebe)
15. Only Murders in the Building (Season 1) | Hulu
A surprise hit, Only Murders in the Building made excellent use of the weekly drop format that has proven so successful for many of the year’s biggest shows. When a man is found dead in his apartment building, the police rule it a suicide. But three podcast-obsessed residents decide there’s more to the story: They band together to investigate and produce a true-crime podcast along the way.
The show’s stars (Selena Gomez, Martin Short, Steve Martin) carried this creative riff on society’s passion for true crime with heart, humor, and endless charm. The chemistry between the ensemble cast was vibrant and dynamic, despite, though more likely because of, their characters’ generational differences and frequent miscommunication. While every detail of their daily routines, autumnal outfits, love interests, and stylized apartments was meticulously but playfully designed to invite curiosity and suspicion from the audience, the characters hold their secrets close.
The script succeeds with equal mastery as an upbeat comedy, intriguing mystery, and a meditation on loneliness in New York City. Each week brought more astounding theories behind the likely suspects and motives for murder, as the show’s quirky sensibilities continued to delight. Highlights include the silent episode told from the perspective of a deaf resident, and any of the hilarious scenes with iconic guest stars: the trio interrogating musical icon Sting as a potential murder suspect; a celebrity podcaster played by Tina Fey; Jane Lynch as Steve Martin’s problematic body-double; Jaboukie Young-White as a superfan of the podcast.The best murder mysteries keep you guessing as facts are uncovered and the story changes completely, and this series aced that; Its unreliable narrators causing chaos that made every twist more captivating. Only Murders’ shocking, thrilling season finale ramped up the drama, intensifying anticipation for the upcoming second season. (Andrea Marks-Joseph)
14. Loki (Season 1) | Disney+
Being the third show of Marvel Studio’s streaming lineup, Loki had an immense amount of pressure placed on its shoulders before it could even premiere. Not only was it a series that had to correct and face the criticisms of all its predecessors, but Tom Hiddleston’s God of mischief was a titular character who needed to provide surprise. After being previously killed off in Avengers: Infinity War, the only way for Loki to move forward as a character was to unsurprisingly work backward. Loki is a series audiences would initially expect to be a predictable bag of action and humor, but it efficiently grows into one massively cryptic storyline ruled by self-hatred and salvation.
Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Loki follows the Asgardian frost giant after his encounter with the future Avengers who accidentally threw his destiny of course. Putting the spotlight on Marvel’s time ruling overlords, Loki takes a detour from Norse mythology and focuses on the Time Variance Authority. Like WandaVision’s opening chapters, Loki in its entirety is a show that never lets itself down on being something that strays from the expected Marvel Studios formulas and tropes that always manage to entertain.
Loki remarkably inherits the challenge of having to build an entirely new version of its iconic lead, while juggling new concepts and characters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is an absolute joy to watch as it gives audiences more of the charismatic Hiddleston and Marvel’s remarkable comic book adaptations in a strange format that is simply mesmerizing. Loki has been blessed with a glorious purpose: to revitalize and reimagine the future of where its overlord franchise is heading, and it absolutely succeeds in doing so. (Marc Kaliroff)
13. I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson (Season 2) | Netflix
This sketch comedy series, which returned on Netflix this summer after a more than two-year absence, hasn’t captured the zeitgeist the way Netflix shows often do. It doesn’t pop up on top ten lists or anywhere else streaming shows are ranked.
But among comedians, comedy obsessives, and “extremely online” types, ITYSL is a special phenomenon. It’s the subject of memes, inside jokes, and endless references to the show’s sketches. And the second season, if anything, was even more of a phenomenon than the first.
A part of the fun is the unique way the show is structured. Each season is only six episodes, each of which is barely 15 minutes long, meaning the entire season can be watched in about two hours. So if you’ve watched the second season of I Think You Should Leave and you’re a big fan, you’ve probably watched it dozens of times, if not more.
And when you watch the show that way, you notice things, and things hit you differently on repeated viewings. Yes, “Coffin Flop” is viscerally hilarious the first time you see it. But the nuances of the “Tables” sketch? The repeated vulgarity of “Detective Crashmore”? The “Sloppy Steaks” bit? It just keeps getting funnier and funnier with time.
And all of this comes from Robinson, a former Saturday Night Live backbencher who went on to star in the fantastic Comedy Central (and streaming on Paramount+) show Detroiters, along with frequent ISYSL presence Sam Richardson.
I give the series credit for not trying to do recurring sketches, or trying to do the second version of Baby of the Year or the hot dog car guy. It also avoided the temptation to stick huge celebrities in all of the sketches, instead sticking with little-known but hilarious unfamiliar faces.
There’s no announcement yet of a third season, but hopefully, Netflix listens to the ITSYL cult and does the right thing. (Stephen Silver)
12. The Great (Season 2) | Hulu
It’s hard to do really, really good satire, but The Great makes it look so easy. Wickedly smart writing, captivating performances by a superb cast, and an effective balance between emotional and fun make it one of the greats from 2021’s television offerings.
In Season 2 of The Great, a rollercoaster serves as a plotline and multi-purpose metaphor. Everything that takes place is a macabre rollercoaster of drama and comedy that one wants to ride again and again. The upper hand constantly shifts among the major players, as do loyalties.
A much-anticipated birth, an unconventional wedding, defenestration, a crocodile, and many, many deaths are just a few of the things that make The Great Season 2 a splendid spectacle. Huzzah! (Erin Allen)
11. Yellowjackets (Season 1) | Showtime
Yellowjackets is easily the biggest surprise of the year. It’s one of the best shows of 2021 and it could have possibly taken the number one spot on this list except only seven of the ten episodes in the first season have aired so far, with the remaining three episodes set to be released next year. Still, those seven episodes are stellar! Trust me, this is one of the best mystery dramas in recent memory and we can’t wait to see more!
Created and executive produced by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, this genre mash-up alternates between 1996 and the present day as it follows members of New Jersey’s state champion Yellowjackets, one of the nation’s top-ranked girls’ high school soccer teams. On their way to a championship game in Seattle, their plane crashes somewhere in the wilds of Ontario, Canada, where they’re stranded for 19 months. In their fight for survival, the young ladies begin to lose grip on reality and turn against each other.
If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel so bad. Yellowjackets is a Showtime production, so it doesn’t garner as much hype as anything you’d find on Netflix or HBO. It’s a shame that there aren’t more eyeballs on this series because one of the pleasures of watching Yellowjackets is participating in the weekly watercooler talk that it generates in between episodes and spending time online with other fans trying to piece together what is going on.
Yellowjackets is best described as a pulpy blend of Alive, Heathers, Lord of the Flies, and Amazon’s survival drama The Wilds, only unlike The Wilds, this show is actually great! Trust me, you’ll want to seek out this psychological, supernatural thriller and when you do, you’ll right away want to recommend it to your friends and family. (Ricky D)
10. Mare of Easttown (Season 1) | HBO Max
HBO has often found itself in the catbird seat when it comes to capturing the discourse with a scripted drama. A recent coup was the Keystone drenched mystery series Mare of Easttown. The show captivated audiences with its detailed depiction of working class Pennsylvania, the intriguing whodunit murder, and stellar performances.
The tremendous Kate Winslet vapes her way through the mysterious murder of a young girl in Easttown, Pennsylvania. Winslet guzzled Rolling Rocks, chomped on hoagies, and draped herself in the leisurely splendor of Jersey Shore souvenir apparel. It’s as if she pulled the purse-lipped vowels of the eastern Pennsylvania accent directly from the shelf of a Wawa. Along with Hacks, the show was part of the celebrated reemergence of Jean Smart, who plays Mare’s mother Helen. Guy Pearce and Evan Peters contributed their charisma in a large cast where many were considered suspect.
As evidence grew with each episode, one Easttown denizen after another was implicated with plenty of room left for Mare, and the audience, to come to their own conclusions. The careful disbursement of information through the limited series bounced blame from one character to another and then back again. With the murder mystery acting as narrative propeller, Mare’s own troubles revealed themselves. Her ex-husband, once again engaged, lives right next door as she attends therapy to work through a tragic loss.
Mare, once a star high school basketball player, is the town’s top detective. She is the exceptional child of the economically depressed Easttown. Mare is like a once impressive Mercedes-Benz that has worn off its shine, dents covering its chassis, and not had an oil change in over a decade. She’s the best of what the town has to offer; which it seems well aware of and just adds to its greater malaise. (Kent M. Wilhelm)
9. Invincible (Season 1) | Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime Video is quickly becoming the home for subversive superhero stories. On top of The Boys, it now has Invincible as well. Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, Invincible focuses on Mark Grayson, the son of the greatest superhero the world has ever seen.
When Mark finally receives his powers as a teenager, he hopes to follow in his father’s legacy… unless, that is, his father’s legacy isn’t something worth celebrating after all. As the world comes to terms with a hero who may be the greatest villain of them all, what will his son do?
Packed with an insane cast of celebrities in its voice actor suite (Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, JK Simmons, Walton Goggins, to name a few) and adapting one of the most chaotic, violent, and intense superhero stories ever made, Invincible is the surprise hit of the year and a total beast when it comes to animated entertainment. (Mike Worby)
8. Hacks (Season 1) | HBO Max
Hacks is funnier than a comedy show about the comedy business has any right to be. Starring Jean Smart, who is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance at the moment, and Hannah Einbinder, relative newcomer that is as skilled as a veteran comedian and has comedy in her genes, Hacks is the real deal.
The story follows unemployed writer Ava Daniels (Einbinder) from LA to Las Vegas to work with Deborah Vance (Smart), a legendary comic who needs to revitalize her career. It’s a classic odd couple unwillingly teaming up scenario, but there is nothing stale about it. Its old-school comedy meets millennial humor with writing that is fresh and sharp and witty.
Subplots and side characters round out the robust storytelling. Sexism, age discrimination, and other relevant social issues come up naturally and give the jokes and drama potency and weight. It is a near-perfect comedy that knows what it’s doing and does so with ease and charm. (Erin Allen)
7. WandaVision (Season 1) | Disney+
WandaVision was the first of Marvel’s Disney Plus shows that debuted at the beginning of 2021, kicking off Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang. The series focuses on Wanda Maximoff, a character who has been part of the MCU since 2015 but has rarely been given much of a chance to shine due to the tendency to relegate her character to the sidelines. WandaVision gives Elizabeth Olsen the opportunity to bring the character to life in a far more significant way whilst also offering a solid storyline.
Many unanswered questions surrounding Wanda’s character get answered in WandaVision– such as her disappearing and reappearing Sokovian accent- but we also get to see the mental strain that her grief has caused her. In the movies, these tend to get glossed over and almost forgotten by the next time we see her. WandaVision gives us a chance to see how losing everything and everyone she loved- her home, her twin brother, her parents, and her true love- has affected her, making for a character that becomes much more sympathetic and real. There are all of the usual Marvel tropes that we know and love in the show too, from the epic final battles to the characters finally reaching their true potential with their powers. Unlike usual Marvel fare though (minus a few exceptions like Loki and Thanos) the major villain of the show is actually compelling, which is another plus. Wanda herself is far from innocent in the proceedings as well, adding another layer of complexity to both the show and her character.
WandaVision is as much an in-depth look into the psyche of a character coping with extreme grief as it is a Marvel show full of magical superpowers and false realities. This duality not only makes WandaVision one of the most interesting Marvel properties to date, it makes it one of the best shows this year. (Antonia Haynes)
6. It’s A Sin (mini-series) | Prime Video and Channel 4
It’s a Sin, follows a group of friends living in London through the 1980s — a decade that begins, for them, with the promise of liberation before their lives are destroyed by the encroaching AIDS epidemic of the period. Creator Russell T. Davies (Cucumber, Queer as Folk) wrote all five episodes, anchoring his scripts in real stories based on the characters it follows as well from his own memories.
From the beginning of It’s a Sin, viewers will pretty much know what to expect, and yet it’s impossible to resist hoping that some of these young men who we grow to love, will make it out unscathed. Sadly, that isn’t how it ends— yet despite the depressing ending, this coming-of-age drama is incredibly moving.
It’s a Sin broke viewership records when it aired in the UK and it’s easy to see why. The series demonstrates once again Davies’ masterful control of tone, shifting between moments of joy to rage, empathy, and humor in just the right places. It’s perfectly paced, exquisitely written, and played to perfection by an ensemble cast that doesn’t miss a beat. Heartbreaking, but healing, It’s A Sin is a masterpiece and more importantly, a tribute to those we lost and those who stood by them. (Ricky D)
5. The White Lotus (Season 1) | HBO
The White Lotus, the six-part HBO series created by Mike White that ran throughout July and August, was the buzziest show of the summer, featuring a half-dozen episodes of slow-burn class tension set at a luxury resort in Hawaii.
The series, featuring a tense score from composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer, featured strong actors, a lived-in location, and a compelling central mystery. But more than anything else, White’s show was about class tensions, and the way the rich screw over the poor and get away with it.
White has long specialized in that sort of thing. He wrote and directed Brad’s Status, which starred Ben Stiller as a middle-aged guy obsessively jealous of his more successful friends, and wrote the screenplay for Beatriz at Dinner, which starred Salma Hayek as a massage therapist, at an unlikely dinner party with callous rich people (including John Lithgow and Connie Britton.)
Britton shows up again in The White Lotus as a Sheryl Sandberg-like tech mogul, on vacation with her crisis-plagued husband (Steve Zahn), her troubled teenaged son (Fred Hechinger), and her mean-girl daughter (Sydney Sweeney), who’s brought along a friend named Paula (Brittany O’Grady.) The other rich people on the trip are young douchebag Shane (Jake Lacy), his journalist wife (Alexandra Daddario), and a middle-aged woman mourning her mother (Jennifer Coolidge.)
The show’s six hours chronicle the blood feud between Shane and the hotel’s manager Armond (Murray Bartlett), who hits a breaking point, as well as various discoveries by the other characters.
The series leads up to a satisfying finale and resolution to the mystery. And the premise is so durable that another season has been announced, albeit about all different characters. (Stephen Silver)
4. Arcane (Season 1) | Netflix
League of Legends, one of the biggest video games of all time, has finally let out its
feelers and ventured into other mediums. The story of League has been… Well,
inconsistent for starters. However, there are these glimpses of amazing quality laying
under the surface there, and Arcane brings that brilliance out in a triumph of
The utopian city of Piltover and the oppressed city of Zaun that lays beneath it
collide, centering around the sisters, Powder and Violet and their tragic beginnings.
As we navigate through severe trauma, a rich and alive world, and well-executed
queer subtext, Arcane takes us into the volatile clash between the oppressed
Zaunites and the city above, as well as the controversial birth of Hextech (a mixture
of technology and magic). All this through the lens of a cast of incredible characters,
both pre-existing and entirely new.
Video game adaptations are always rough terrain to navigate, however, I feel the
great advantage Riot had here is that their game doesn’t outright tell their story, so
they had all this freedom and creativity to paint across the world of Arcane. Voice
acting is superb across the board, and the characters really come alive with vibrant
personalities. Plus fans of the game get the joys of theorizing which characters may
turn out to be existing, or even upcoming champions for League of Legends.
Even if you don’t play the game, Arcane is brilliant. Captivating throughout, and it
builds an utterly immersive world. There’s a reason it blew up so fast, this action-packed story of sisters torn apart by rebellion, a brewing war, and oppression from
Piltover is an instant classic. (Shane Dover)
3. Midnight Mass (Season One ) | Netflix
Over the past five years, Mike Flanagan has developed a reputation as one of horror’s most talented auteurs, directing several successful literary adaptations including two Stephen King novels he’s turned into films (Doctor Sleep and Gerald’s Game) and two of Netflix’s most acclaimed genre efforts in The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor. After the success of these shows, he was finally given the green light to pursue Midnight Mass, an original, and long-gestating, passion project that thankfully, does not disappoint.
Midnight Mass is easily one of the best shows of the year, a seven-episode creature feature that smartly weaves together vampire tropes with biblical texts, while blending horror with profound questions about spirituality, religion, and faith. And like Mike Flanagan’s best work, the show prioritizes characters and emotions over cheap scares and shock value. In other words, it will sooner make you cry than have you jump out of your seat, but we love it no less! (Ricky D)
2. Succession (Season 3) | HBO
With the growing pains of its sophomore season far in the rearview, Succession returned from its two year (and four day) hiatus in October with a different buzz around it, given how season two ultimately stuck the landing and the corresponding acclaim and awards that came along with it. The context is important; Succession came into season three as the crown heir to the HBO legacy – which, even in the streaming age, has an important place in the culture.
That pressure is not always easy for a show to deal with (just ask Westworld or Game of Thrones); however, Succession rose to the occasion, ascending to the top of the television patheon with a devastating season of guest stars and generational strife. By drawing back slightly from Kendall Roy as our de facto protagonist, Succession’s third series struck a more even balance between the misery of the four Roy children, as Kendall faced his 40th birthday and Shiv faced the very limits what reality show junkies refer to as “the social game” – and it was all the better for it, transforming a pretty good show TV nerds loved into one of those transcendent works of art we only see a few times each generation.
All hyperbole aside, what makes Succession season three great is its versatility; part Dallas, part Veep, and part Peep Show, the show’s foundational DNA and industry-leading performances make it perhaps the easiest inclusion on any best of 2021 list (did I mention this season added a very buff, focused Alexander Skarsgård? You can never go wrong adding a Skarsgaard). Whether Greg’s romantic foibles, Kendall’s ability to not find his kids, or anything Roman does at the end of “Chiantishire”, Succession’s third offering is definitively its best yet, one of those memorable seasons when you can feel yourself watching a TV show ascend to greatness. (Randy Dankievitch)
1. Squid Game (Season 1) | Netflix
Squid Game didn’t take long to grab hold of the cultural zeitgeist. It’s the K-drama that broke Netflix, becoming the streaming platform’s most-watched original series with a reported 1 billion-plus views. Whether you like it or not, Squid Game is the biggest and most popular show of 2021— a word-of-mouth sensation that nobody could have predicted would shatter so many records. At once a white-knuckle thriller and a scorching satire of late-era capitalism, Squid Game has all the characteristics we love about Korean dramas including unexpected plot twists, over-the-top characters, and a story that grapples with economic anxieties and class struggles. It’s part horror and part dark comedy and boasts a catchy soundtrack as well as impeccable set design with candy-colored, high-concept dystopian sets that reflect how brutal South Korean society is toward the people at the bottom. If you’re familiar with manga like Liar Game, Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji, and Battle Royale, you know what to expect. Squid Game is all that and more! And whatever the reason for its astounding success, Squid Game is undeniably riveting TV! (Ricky D)