2021 in TV was a year of wacky reality shows, buzzy mysteries (“Mare of Easttown,” “Only Murderers in the Building”) and the return of favorites such as “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Succession.” That’s not to mention that the superhero genre continued to have its stronghold over pop culture, and the influx of more shows from Indigenous creators than ever before.
Keeping all of that in mind, here are our picks for the best shows of the year.
You wouldn’t think that “Lost” meets “Big Little Lies” is a series concept that works – it sounds too random. But boy, does it. In this gritty, surprising, captivating new show with a high-concept premise, a girl’s soccer team in the 1990s gets stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash. Twenty years later in the present day, four middle-aged women (who are former soccer player survivors of that incident) played by an all-star cast including Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynsky, and Juliette Lewis try to move on with their lives, even as the past haunts them. No wonder it’s already been renewed for a Season 2. (LS)
“Station Eleven,” (HBO Max)
Squeaking in at the very end of the year (it just came out), it’s understandable if you missed this one – or if you simply don’t want to watch it, since it’s about a pandemic. But if you can stomach the subject matter, this show about life in a post-apocalyptic scenario is complex and full of heart. It lingers more on how people use art and human connection to survive than the actual mechanics of the virus. (LS)
“Cruel Summer” (Freeform)
Soapy teen dramas are fun but rarely tend to be among the best of the year. However, “Cruel Summer” was better than it had any right to be. With a fun ‘90s setting, multiple timelines that didn’t get convoluted, and a captivating central mystery of what really happened when popular Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) went missing – only to return a year later to find that social outcast Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) stole her life – the show hit all the right notes. It ended up delivering a more satisfying story than some prestige TV mystery series, to boot. (LS)
Marvel fatigue is real. But, “WandaVision” showed that superhero stories don’t have to be homogenous; they can be wacky and weird and experimental. Even if you have mixed feelings about superheroes taking over the entertainment industry, “WandaVision” showed that there’s still plenty of room for creativity within it. (LS)
“The White Lotus” (HBO)
Part social satire, park dark comedy, part murder mystery, all with a cast of characters you love to hate and a gorgeous Hawaii setting – no wonder this was the buzzy show of the summer. It had something for everyone, and a slew of all star performances from veterans like Jennifer Coolidge and Steve Zahn and star-making turns from Murray Bartlett and Jake Lacy. Even though the story ended on a bitter note, the ride was well worth it. (LS)
“What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)
The series about a group of bickering vampires residing in Staten Island lost none of its comedic flair in its third season — despite (sort of) killing off Energy Vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). Clever writing and bloody good chemistry between stars Proksch, Matt Berry, Nastasia Demetriou, Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillen added up to a fun, watchable half-hour each week.
Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard as parents Paul and Ally were back for Season 2 of the sometimes-profane family comedy, dealing with their now-teenaged kids — ‘nuf said — while growing apart from each other as the season progressed. Light comedy mixed with emotional resonance sets this series apart. It will return for a third season in 2022.
“Ten Year Old Tom” (HBO Max)
Steve Dildarian, the creator of “The Life and Times of Tim” returned after 13 years with this animated, droll gem centered around Tom (Dildarian), the titular 10-year-old (going on 40) who sees the world through weary, bemused eyes.
“In Treatment” (HBO)
I had my doubts about reviving a series that last aired in 2010, but Emmy nominee Uzo Uduba as therapist Brooke Taylor — trying to help her patients while dealing with her own conflicts (including drinking and an iffy personal relationship) — nailed it, with help from a stellar supporting cast including John Benjamin Hickey and Anthony Ramos.
Margaret Qualley and real-life mother, Andie MacDowell, were terrific as a young woman trying to raise her daughter on her own — under often-brutal circumstances — and her free-spirited mother lost in a world of her own broken dreams.