2021 is finally coming to an end but the memory of 2020 is still painfully fresh in the minds of those who lost their loved ones, their jobs and had their lives changed forever. During such difficult times, many people sought refuge in the comfort of episodic TV shows which provided a sense of stability in uncertain times and helped them process the wide range of emotions brought on by the subsequent waves of the pandemic.
As has become the norm now, most audiences accessed these shows via streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ but the entries on this list represent the exceptions to the vast quantities of content that was manufactured by most of these platforms. They are some of the most interesting viewing experiences of the past year, belonging to a vide variety of genres.
When it comes to 2021 and TV, the most definitive cultural phenomenon of the year might just be Squid Game which managed to come across as a consumable critique of hyper-capitalism and introduced many viewers to South Korean shows. However, we believe that television had much more to offer this year and we are focusing on the shows that moved you as well as the ones that you might have missed but are definitely worth catching up on.
Check out a list of some of the best TV shows that came out in 2021 and shaped the viewing experience for audiences all over the world.
The 10 greatest TV shows of 2021:
BBC’s three-part drama stars Sean Bean as a criminal drowning in anguish who gets newly incorporated into the prison industrial complex while coming to terms with what he has done. Inside the prison world, he is lucky enough to meet prison officer Eric (played by Stephen Graham) who does his best for the inmates but is targeted by one of the most dangerous individuals locked up.
The show received critical acclaim for the performances but it really is an understatement to say that Bean and Graham delivered two of the most convincing portrayals on television this year. Due to their fantastic work, Time can certainly be regarded as one of the finest shows of this year.
9. Mare of Easttown
Mare of Easttown has been the talk of the town throughout 2021, with many people claiming that it was better than anything they had seen all year. Although it does not rank that high on our list, they are definitely correct about what this new HBO crime drama has to offer.
Starring Kate Winslet as a detective who tries to gather more information about a murder in a small town, the show is a notable addition to the genre which starts slow but evolves into a wild ride. For her wonderful contribution to the show, Winslet rightfully picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Actress.
Despite the insistence of the fans who will try to convince you that Squid Game is the best that Netflix has to offer, this devastating drama series might just be the best show that the streaming platform has produced this year. Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid is an episodic translation of what it means to be a young and economically marginalised mother.
Featuring The Leftovers star Margaret Qualley in the lead role, Maid is mostly fuelled by her powerful performance as the struggling caregiver who does her best to support her baby by cleaning houses. It is a scathing indictment of the broken systems that do not provide any real assistance to those who can barely survive without help.
7. What We Do in the Shadows
A fantastic television adaptation of the eponymous 2014 cult classic by Taika Waititi, many fans claim that the show has exceeded the comedic achievements of the film. While that is a matter of debate, the third season of What We Do in the Shadows came out this year and it further reinforced the project’s status as one of the funniest shows in recent memory.
The show chronicles the clash between tradition and modernity through the lives of ancient vampires who hilariously adjust to the modern world by embarking on absurd adventures. Structured in the mockumentary fashion, What We Do in the Shadows blends brilliant writing with strong performances from the central cast.
6. The Beatles: Get Back
A new documentary on The Beatles directed by Peter Jackson? Such a combination would make it to the top of the watchlists of fans of either party and that is precisely what happened with Get Back, making it one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year.
Described by Jackson as a “documentary about a documentary”, Get Back sources footage from Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary but manages to construct a fresh and insightful journey into the making of the cultural phenomenon that Let It Be would become.
5. Exterminate All The Brutes
One of the most ambitious projects of the year, Exterminate All the Brutes is a brilliant miniseries that tackles questions about colonialism, genocide, racism and imperialism. The documentary series is a politically volatile and much-needed addition to the polarised political discourse that we experienced this year.
Since it is a miniseries, Exterminate All The Brutes fails to adequately unpack the infinite implications of the questions it raises but that was never the show’s purpose. Instead, it serves the exigent role of igniting the conversation which makes it one of the most important shows of the year.
4. Philly D.A.
Another essential documentary series that has become an indispensable part of 2021, Philly D.A. examines the judicial system of America by following the life of district attorney Larry Krasner who fights hard for his progressive beliefs. Through Krasner’s personal journey, Philly D.A. delivers relevant commentary about the systemic disadvantages caused by dangerous policies.
Hailed as the spiritual successor of The Wire which was voted as the greatest television show of all time, Philly D.A. has perfected the art of modern storytelling through the documentary genre. No other episodic project has managed to conduct a treatment of the current landscape of politics in America as well as this show.
3. The Underground Railroad
Barry Jenkins has returned to the directorial chair with one of the best shows in the year. Titled The Underground Railroad, this new Amazon Prime series is an adaptation of the eponymous novel by Colson Whitehead which is more than competent in its visual translation of historical horror.
Jenkins employs the lens of magical realism to view something as traumatic as slavery in America, imagining an actual underground railroad service that helped former slaves escape from their cruel masters. Challenging and uncompromising, The Underground Railroad moulds history to amplify historical truths at a time when others are trying to systematically eliminate the mention of slavery from children’s textbooks.
2. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
Prolific documentarian Adam Curtis has struck gold once again with his latest docuseries titled Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World. In his trademark style, Curtis attempts to delineate how the political polarisation of societies have taken place through the years.
Ranging from conspiracy theories to artificial intelligence, Can’t Get You Out of My Head is an extremely vital exploration of where we are and how we got here. Curtis came up with the project while grappling with the frustrations of having to deal with the facile political discourse surrounding Donald Trump and Brexit.
To anyone who has been keeping up with Succession over the course of the last few years, this should come as no surprise. Routinely cited as the show with the best screenwriting on TV right now, HBO’s most prominent series has managed to capture the attention of the world again with Season 3.
The latest season has followed the narcissistic adventures of Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong) as he attempts a coup to dethrone his psychopath father (Brian Cox) from his position at the very top. Through the use of brilliant visual narrative and genuinely funny writing, Succession maintains its reign at the top by creating an extremely entertaining critique of the elusive ultra-wealthy.