The 10 Best Shows of 2021

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.

“Yellowjackets,” (Showtime)

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)

Christina Ricci stars as one of the survivors of a plane crash in “Yellowjackets.”
Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME

“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)

Mackenzie Davis stands outside in a field looking serious wearing layered clothes.
Mackenzie Davis stars as Kirsten in post-apocalyptic series “Station Eleven.”
Ian Watson/HBO Max

“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)

Olivia Hold sits in a food court with Fory Gutierrez.
Olivia Holt starred as popular girl Kate in twisty mystery “Cruel Summer.”
Freeform

“WandaVision” (Disney+) 

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)

Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen gaze into each other's eyes.
Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) in “WandaVision.”

“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)

Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy smile at each other while he wears sunglasses and she wears a lai.
Alexandra Daddario and Jake Lacy as the newlywed couple Rachel and the odious Shane in “The White Lotus.”

“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.

Nastasia Demetriou in "What We Do in the Shadows."
Nastasia Demetriou in “What We Do in the Shadows” on FX.

“Breeders” (FX)

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.

Daisy Haggard and Martin Freeman in a scene from "Breeders." They're standing at a railing and looking into the ocean.
Daisy Haggard and Martin Freeman in the thoughtful dramedy “Breeders.”

“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.

Scene from "Ten Year Old Tom" on HBO Max.
“Ten Year Old Tom” from creator Steve Dildarian, who also voices the lead character.
Credit: HBO Max

“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.

Uzo Aduba as Dr. Brooke Taylor in HBO's "In Treatment."
Uzo Aduba as Dr. Brooke Taylor in “In Treatment” on HBO.

“Maid” (Netflix)

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.

Margaret Qualley in a scene from "Maid." She's wearing a sweatshirt over a T-shirt.
Margaret Qualley in “Maid,” in which she co-starred opposite her mother, Andie MacDowell.
RICARDO HUBBS/NETFLIX