TV

The Best Television Shows Of 2021

Well, another year of television is in the books. Things got pretty wild out there. It was impossible to keep up with every show, once again, so it became a matter of picking and choosing. It was tough to go wrong, fully, with so much quality on so many different channels and streaming services. Look around long enough and you can find something neatly tailored to your interests. That can be kind of cool.

It can also be a trap. You can fall into a rut of watching just the things you already like. You can forget to branch out a bit. That’s important, both for your personal growth and because, like, there’s so much cool stuff out there if you look for it with an open mind.

And so, with that said, allow us to present our top shows of the year. We came at this list mathematically. Everyone submitted their list ranked from 10 to 1, with the first-place show receiving 10 points, the second-place show receiving 9, all the way down until the last show on the list getting 1 point. The results proved interesting:

  • Shows like Ted Lasso and Dave and The Other Two and The Great, all objectively pretty good, missed the cut
  • Someone popping a show in first-place could rocket into the top ten even if no one else had it above, like, seventh
  • THERE IS A TIE AT NUMBER ONE

The point here is that it was chaos. As it should be. Anything easier or more straightforward would have felt… wrong.

Away we go.

10. WandaVision

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Marvel

Our apologies to Sparky, but WandaVision not only gave us a beautifully wrought, serialized meditation on grief, it also delivered one of the year’s most entertaining villains in Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness. Trippy and weird and completely unlike anything Marvel’s done thus far, Jac Schaeffer’s memorable decades-spanning series did more than just pay homage to the Golden Era of sitcoms, it reimagined them, using everything from live audiences to practical effects, black-and-white cinematography, and camera confessionals to expand the story of Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and explore this new world of superheroes and multiverses and magic in fresh, exciting fashion. Olsen delivers her best MCU performance here, playing Wanda as a grief-stricken young woman who can’t seem to control her universe-altering abilities while Paul Bettany returns as Vision, deftly switching between comedic brilliance and emotional monologues that stop Twitter in its tracks. The show brought back familiar favorites, set up new storylines, and introduced the next-gen of superheroes without losing its emotional focus, and Hahn, bless her, turned the sitcom trope of a nosy neighbor into a dog-murdering, spell-binding, power-hungry antagonist with one hell of a theme song. Really, what’s not to love? – Jessica Toomer

9. Mythic Quest

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Apple TV+

Rob McElhenney’s other show is quickly staking its claim as TV’s best workplace comedy, increasing the reps it gives to its ensemble while stepping out of the show’s narrative comfort zone to create stand-out one-off episodes that go deeper on specific characters and their backstory. This while playing around with the audience’s comfort level and showing a willingness to blow up the familiar, especially heading into season three. – Jason Tabrys

7. (tie) I Think You Should Leave

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Netflix

Tim Robinson’s chaotic sketch show returned for a second season with quite a crew of maniacs. There were dudes with questionable hats, dudes who loved loud shirts, dudes who wanted to tell you about coffin flops, ladies who loved wine and hated bald boys, ladies who just wanted to transport their tables, and so many more. The best part of the show is that, if you’ve seen it, all those descriptions probably brought vivid images to your head and/or made you shout lines from the show out loud in public (“TABLES”), but if you haven’t seen the show, they look like complete nonsense.

And, to be clear, they are all. They are the best kind of nonsense. It’s a good show. If you can’t see that by now, well… see the image above. — Brian Grubb

7. (tie) Only Murders in the Building

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Hulu

Hoo boy, was this show fun. As it should have been. The talent on display here was remarkable. Steve Martin as a former television detective investigating a real murder in his building. Martin Short assisting and giving it the full Martin Short. Selena Gomez cussing up a storm. Nathan Lane playing devious as all hell. Jane Lynch popping up as a character named Sazz Pataki. And again, really fun, with twists and turns and silly jokes and Steve Martin doing high-level physical comedy well into his 70s. And each episode was only 30 minutes long, which is not by itself a selling point, but kept things nice and breezy throughout.

There are too many shows on too many different outlets. It’s impossible to keep up. But it also means there’s room for a group of comedy legends to make a goofy little murder mystery that ends up being sweet and heartfelt and really just a blast straight through. There is very little to complain about here. — Brian Grubb

6. Mare of Easttown

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HBO

Kate Winslet’s return to HBO even captivated Stephen King as the twists and turns kept coming. More than pulling off all of those story threads around a central murder, however, the show gave us an entertaining cast of characters and authentic Delco accents and food. Seeing Kate Winslet tuck into cheesesteak (even though that was a vegan replica) and spray-can cheese was more than worth the price of admission. Not only did we receive Winslet’s world-weary detective, but we also received a dogged Evan Peters and a painfully complex Julianne Nicholson, both of whom brought the emotional gravitas to pull at the heart strings here. And because we needed some levity for balance, an irresistibly cranky Jean Smart put a bow on this page-turner of a show. – Kimberly Ricci

5. What We Do in the Shadows

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FX

In certain ways, What We Do in the Shadows is a throwback. It’s a 22-minute sitcom with a central setting, a workplace romance, a wacky neighbor, and a will they/won’t they relationship. But in other ways, What We Do in the Shadows is a thoroughly modern comedy, because the central setting is a creepy old mansion in Staten Island; the workplace romance is a horny vampire married to another vampire with an enchanted Mini Me doll; the wacky neighbor has the world’s largest collection of Ocean’s Twelve memorabilia; and the will they/won’t they relationship is between another blood-sucker and a human familiar who desperately wants to be turned into a vampire — even though he’s a descendent of famous vampire hunter Van Helsing. I don’t remember that episode of According to Jim.

It’s that careful balance of the new and the old that makes What We Do in the Shadows arguably the funniest show on TV. Well, that, and Colin Robinson’s updog jokes. – Josh Kurp

4. Reservation Dogs

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FX

Reservation Dogs was the most pleasant surprise of the year, for me at least. The other shows on this list have big names in front of and/or behind the camera, or they have a few seasons of momentum behind them to invest you in the characters. Reservation Dogs kind of came out of nowhere, a half-hour comedy, with serious undertones, about rascal indigenous teens stealing stuff and screwing around and making big plans. It was so good. It was so, so good. It’s the show I’ve recommended most often this year, in part because I enjoyed it so much and in part because it flew under the radar more than some of the other shows on this list. This is me attempting to fix that. We are righting wrongs here.

Watch Reservation Dogs. It’s great. You will like it. We need more shows about rascal teens getting into trouble and learning about life while Wu-Tang songs play in the background. I have always said this. — Brian Grubb

3. The White Lotus

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HBO

Our collective affinity for watching rich folks behaving badly in dramas knows no end with the sixth season of Billions and third season of Succession drawing praise and the 245th season of America chugging along. White Lotus could be considered another part of the collection, landing right on time to satirize upper-middle-class dysfunction and privilege by showing us an island of Karens. But look deeper and you’ll see far more direct, human consequences for the non-elites than we typically get to see when the Gods tussle on Succession, making White Lotus biting in an entirely different way that begs for self-examination. – Jason Tabrys

1. (tie) Hacks

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HBO

Jean Smart might seem like she’s everywhere at the moment, but she never left the scene since her Designing Women days. She’s stolen focus (and justifiably so) in recent roles all over prestige-and-guilty-TV land, including Fargo, Legion, and Dirty John. In every context, she’s a total pro, and Watchmen truly reminded viewers that she can pull off those jaded, smartass characters who are hiding that soft underbelly from the world. Dare I say that no one else could pull off growing sentimental about a big blue dildo in such a believable manner? Yep, that’s what I’m saying, and in Hacks, Jean Smart is a force of desert-tornado nature. She’s several generations of women in one legendary character, raging against those ridiculous two-dimensional boxes where the world (still) wants to place women, no matter how much money they’re making for other people.

As a Vegas stand-up queen (which, let’s face it, far exceeds the Joan Rivers-esque template that many would like to slap onto this character), Smart’s gift for the sitcom shines, and she peppers in very real punchlines about the bullsh*t in life. She’s hilarious and captivating and frightening and, at times, reluctantly warm and fuzzy, but rest assured that Smart knows how to milk those moments to give them appropriate heft. The show’s a quick-and-dirty master class in the difficulty of crafting comedy, and somehow, relative newcomer Hannah Einbinder holds her own with Jean giving as good as her character takes. The Summer of Jean Smart was real, and it was spectacular. — Kimberly Ricci

1. (tie) Succession

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hbo

You know about this one by now, in all likelihood. This one was everywhere over the last few months, and was probably HBO’s biggest and most ubiquitous hit since Game of Thrones. As it should be. Succession is basically a perfect show, funnier than most comedies and more devastating than most dramas, well-written and well-acted and directed in ways that highlight all of it, with about a dozen awful characters who you somehow end up both hating and rooting for at various moments throughout a season. This third clump of episodes might have been the best yet, with delicious little morsels dropping throughout and leading to that jaw-dropping finale. And the jaw-dropping episode before the finale. (Roman, what are you doing, buddy? You need to be more careful while texting, my guy.)

All of it added up to a hell of a ride from beginning to end. So many quotable lines (“I’m losing juice!”) scattered throughout a legitimately compelling story, one that looks to be getting even more twisted and delicious whenever it comes back for a fourth season, which cannot possibly be soon enough. It’s almost wizardry, really, this show. Nothing else on television compares. — Brian Grubb

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