2021 Year in Review: Favorite TV Shows

Another year of mostly staying at home=another year of consuming a ton of television!

Inspired by Emily VanDerWerff over at Vox, I wanted to compile a list of my favorite tv shows of 2021, although focusing more on why I loved them rather than the intense (self-imposed) pressure to put them in rank order.

“So in making my 2021 list, I opted not to try to have a comprehensive survey of “the best” because I’m increasingly convinced that no one person can watch enough television to reasonably say what the best even is. What I watched this year was completely arbitrary. I long ago gave up on trying to ‘keep up with’ TV as a medium, and I really only watched shows in 2021 if I thought I would find them interesting. So consider this list even more idiosyncratic and personal than it normally would be.”

VanDerWerff, Emily. 2021. “The Very Best TV Show of 2021”. Vox. Available here.

VanDerWerff and I share the same favorite show, which I’ll outline below, followed by the rest of the television I really enjoyed last year.

My Favorite Show of 2021: The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime)

I absolutely did not believe that the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Colson Whitehead could be successfully adapted for TV, but I was 100% wrong. This incredible show–somewhat lost to many of the other top shows this year for a number of reasons–is heartbreaking, breathtaking, horrifying, and one of the best miniseries on TV.
Released all at once, the ten episodes are a difficult binge, which is one of the reasons–similarly to When They See Us–it is really hard to watch, especially all at once. Required viewing but know that you’ll need an emotional pick-me-up after each episode. Gorgeous storytelling, acting, music, and directing, this was my favorite show of 2021.

12 Other Shows I Really Loved in Random Order:

High on the Hog (Netflix):

A huge fan of Stephen Satterfield’s podcast (Point of Origin) and magazine (Whetstone) I was so excited to see the Netflix series he created to show the history of how Black food has shaped and influenced American cuisine. All four episodes are great, but I loved The Rice Kingdom, which features the amazing Gabrielle E.W. Carter and Michael Twitty discussing the legacy of African American planting and dishes across the Carolinas.
Favorite Episode: #2 The Rice Kingdom

Station Eleven (HBO):

This adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel post-apocalyptic novel is spectacular. Again, I was skeptical that it could be done, but the writing and acting in this series is one of my favorites of the year. This isn’t a binge-show; you’ll want to take your time both visually and emotionally. I LOVED the graphic novel aspects of Station Eleven too–just gorgeous.
Favorite Episode: #7 Goodbye My Damaged Home

Reservation Dogs (Hulu):

I LOVED this series co-created by Taika Waititi about four teens growing up on an American reservation. The young Native American lead actors are incredible and the show is a breakthrough for being one of the first (if not THE first) to feature Indigenous representation in the acting, writing, and production of the series. Absolutely one of my favorite shows of the year.
Favorite Episode: #6 Hunting

Mare of Easttown (HBO):

I didn’t know I needed a Cheez Whiz eating, Rolling Rock drinking Kate Winslet in my life, but phew Mare of Easttown is one of those shows that I am thankful came out weekly, rather than all at once. An emotional, complicated story of a detective (Winslet) trying to solve a murder in her hometown, the series kept me guessing until the very last episode. Of course, Jean Smart is also spectacular is Mare’s mother. So good.
Favorite Episode: #5 Illusions (sobbing emojis)

Loki (Disney+):

There are so many aspects of this show I adored: Tom Hiddleston, the dramatic soundtrack, the mid-century modern vibe… I loved Loki. While teetering a bit towards the last episodes (Marvel-We-Need-A-Giant-Fight-Scene-Ending) I thought this series was very well done and nice to feature Loki as the begrudgingly anti-hero rather than the villain. I really enjoyed it.
Favorite Episode: #3 Lamentis

Ted Lasso Season 2 (AppleTV+):

Ah, Ted Lasso. The show that gives me hope in humanity again. This season was a little more vulnerable as we learn more about Ted’s struggles, but still holds on to the cheer of season one. Of course Roy Kent is my absolute favorite.
Favorite Episode: #4 Carol of the Bells

The Great Season 2 (Hulu):

I did not think it was possible to top season one of The Great but, as with The Underground Railroad, I stand corrected. Fun, shocking, and delightful, season 2 brings even more of Catherine and Peter, along with probably my favorite supporting cast in all of television.
Favorite episode: #8 Seven Days

Succession Season 3 (HBO):

Grand, overwhelming, a masterpiece of a season, Succession is THE show. Linking destructive family relationships with (even more?) toxic capitalism, Succession is one of the best shows on television, even if you need to shower afterwards. Cousin Greg and Tom are THEE couple of the year.
Favorite Episode: #9 As the Bells Say (tough to choose just one, but this ENDING)

The Other Two Season 2 (HBO):

I loved this sitcom (?) about the two siblings of a Bieber-esque celebrity attempting to find their own place and fame. Molly Shannon plays their mother and is absolutely delightful and charming as only she can be.
Favorite Episode: #9 Chase Drops His First Album

Hacks (HBO):

Huzzah to more Jean Smart! I loved this smart, hilarious comedy, proving 2021 is the year of our Queen Jean.
Favorite Episode: #3 A Gig’s A Gig

Mythic Quest Season 2 (AppleTV+):

We just happened to stumble on the delightful Mythic Quest, binging both seasons over the weekend. The show is (mostly) light, funny, and boasts a plot centering on video games.
Favorite Episode: #7 Peter

WandaVision (Disney+):

The first eight episodes of WandaVision are lovely; how do you not love Wanda and Vision living through the decades, experiencing a life stolen from them? The addition of Kathryn Hahn (FINALLY RECEIVING THE RECOGNITION SHE DESERVES) made this one of my favorites of the year. Of course they had to go all Marvel at the end, which I found annoying as the rest of the series is soooo great and has an emotional center lacking in most Marvel productions.
Favorite Episode: #1 Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

Special mention: Never Have I Ever Season 2 (Netflix), Why Are You Like This (Netflix), Only Murders in the Building (Hiulu), Landscapers (HBO), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+), Dopesick (Disney+), The Shrink Next Door (AppleTV+), and For All Mankind Season 2 (AppleTV+).

Still sobbing at this absolutely perfect episode (Mythic Quest)

Reading: Recitatif (Toni Morrison)
Watching: Pam & Tommy (Hulu)
Listening: American Prodigies (Blue Wire)

One thought on “2021 Year in Review: Favorite TV Shows

  1. I have not seen any of those shows! Thanks for the recommendations. I have been listening to the Dooesick book on audible. It’s very good.


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