As we quarantined at home for much of the year due to Covid19, tv was just about the only source of new entertainment available to us. And thankfully, despite production shutdowns that prevented some of 2020’s best-shows from making new episodes this year , there were plenty of terrific options for binge-watching. Several series even deftly navigated pandemic to produce some of the finest TV created in any year.
As a result, there was no shortage of worthy candidates for 2021 list of TV’s 10 best shows. The lineup, which includes only one returning series from 2020’s list, features four shows that came into their own in Season 2, two gripping miniseries, a sensational freshman debut and three longer-running series that are only getting better with age. (For shows that aired on linear networks, we’ve also included the name of the OTT service they are currently streaming on.)
10. The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Every upstart streaming service is looking to attract subscribers by turning a beloved piece of IP into a TV show, but none have pulled it off as skillfully as Disney+ has with the first-ever live action Star Wars series. In Season 2, the show avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by opting against turning into The Baby Yoda Show and leaning into that character’s massive fanbase (his real name is Grogu, but he’ll always be Baby Yoda to us). Instead, Boredbat’s TV Creator of the Year Jon Favreau continued to rely on the character only in smaller doses, focusing instead on a potent weekly mix of thrilling action pieces, creepy foes (including an ice cavern filled with carnivorous spiders) and humor, all while deepening the Star Wars universe in a way that most of the recent movies have failed to do.
9. What We Do in the Shadows (FX, streaming on Hulu)
Based on the 2014 mockumentary, this comedy about a houseful of vampires on Staten Island and their human “familiar” built on its promising first season to produce a steady stream of much-needed belly laughs during the pandemic. Season 2 was packed with memorable episodes, including the gang panicking after receiving a chain email threatening them with being cursed by Bloody Mary if they don’t forward it to 10 other people, and attending their neighbor’s Super Bowl party (which they mistake for a Superb Owl bash). But nothing comes close to “On the Run,” a tour de force episode in which vampire Laszlo (Matt Berry) goes into hiding in rural Pennsylvania as a small-town bartender named Jackie Daytona—using a toothpick as his only disguise.
8. Lovecraft Country (HBO, streaming on HBO Max)
Misha Green held nothing back in her wildly inventive adaptation of the 2016 Matt Ruff novel about two intertwined Black families in 1950s Jim Crow America struggling against racism while also facing off against untold supernatural horrors. One episode would focus on a Black woman who literally was able to slip into a white woman’s skin; the next followed the story of a South Korean nurse possessed by a kumiho, a thousand-year-old fox demon.
7. Pen15 (Hulu)
In lesser hands, this comedy would have been tripped up in its first year by its premise, which seemed better suited to an SNL sketch: Co-creators Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine play themselves as 13-year-old outcast middle schoolers in the year 2000, while the rest of their classmates are actual teenagers. Yet the show developed into something surprisingly poignant as well as hilarious. That continued in its even stronger season season, delving into the issues that shape adolescence in moving (and yes, hilarious) ways: from Konkle’s coping with the breakup of her parents’ marriage to other rites of passage like sleepovers, first kisses and a flirtation with witchcraft.
6. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Who knew chess is so exciting? Apparently Scott Frank, who turned Walter Tevis’ novel about a chess prodigy—who learns to play the game in the late ’50s during her time in a Kentucky orphanage, where she also picks up an all-consuming drug addiction—into some of the year’s most thrilling sequences. (The series also helped jumpstart chess set sales.) Anna Taylor-Joy is a revelation in the lead role, and is equally riveting whether she’s plotting her next chess move or spiraling out of control.
5. Ramy (Hulu)
Yet another show that built on its standout freshman debut in its second season. Ramy Youssef—who reinvented TV by creating and starring in the first series about as a Muslim-American family—surprises viewers again by adding two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as a Sufi leader who helps mentor Youssef’s TV alter ego as he embarks on a spiritual journey. The episodes constantly keep viewers guessing, from a bachelor party that veers in a wholly unexpected direction to an excruciating event that could derail his mother’s efforts to become a U.S. citizen. It’s funny, moving and often uncomfortable to watch, but always rewarding.
4. Mrs. America (FX on Hulu)
Much like Watchmen, the best TV show of 2019, this limited series—about the ’70s movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and the conservative backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett)—ended up being much more of the moment than anyone could have anticipated. Creator Dahvi Waller had a deeper bench of acting talent than any other show this year and made the most of it, focusing each episode on a different character, including Rose Byrne’s Gloria Steinem, Uzo Aduba’s Shirley Chisholm, Margo Martindale’s Bella Abzug and Tracey Ullman’s Betty Friedan.
3. The Crown (Netflix)
After a disappointing Season 3, in which the new talented cast of British royals were given little opportunity to emote, the show bounces back with its best season yet. As the ’80s begin, the one-two punch of Diana Spencer (played by Emma Corrin) and Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) provide just the spark needed to shake the show, and its characters, out of its past lethargy. The dynamic new additions in turn prompt the rest of the cast—particularly Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) and Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor)—to rise to the occasion in a way they had been unable to in the previous season. The show remains as visually lush as ever; now, it finally has the layered story to match.
2. Better Things (FX, streaming on Hulu)
The title doubles as a description for each new season of Pamela Adlon’s series, which improbably continues to improve on the (incredible) one before it. Adlon tops herself once again with a season filed with gorgeous imagery that includes a euphoric trip to New Orleans, adventures with her character Sam’s new El Camino and her daughter Frankie’s “Batceañera” (part bat mitzvah, part quinceañera). And through it all, the show remains an unflinchingly honest look at the neverending emotional roller coaster that is raising three daughters (in one memorable mother/daughter fight, the c-word is uttered 18 times).
1. Better Call Saul (AMC, streaming on Netflix)
Every season, I’m astounded all over again that this Breaking Bad prequel manages to not be overshadowed by comparisons to the show that preceded it (one of the greatest TV series ever made), but that when all is said and done, it might actually end up creatively surpassing its predecessor. Season 5 saw Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill almost complete his transformation (or, more accurately, deterioration) into Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman, with now-wife Kim Wexler (played by the criminally underrated Rhea Seehorn) following him along for the (likely tragic) ride. The season included 2020’s finest single episode of TV: Bagman, in which Jimmy and Jonathan Banks’ Mike Ehrmantraut found themselves stuck in the desert. AMC has announced that the upcoming Season 6 will be its last, which means that, if the show’s creative growth continues, we could be in for no less than one of the greatest TV seasons of all time.
Source – WTF Detective