Let’s look back at the best TV shows of 2021.
A ton of amazing TV shows
Whether it was a haunting horror set in a small religious community, or a survival drama featuring deadly children’s games, we had a great time watching monsters and general destruction.
But then came a feel-good gem such as We Are Lady Parts and a comedy-drama starring the great Jean Smart, topping up our serotonin via the TV screen.
Here are CNET’s best TV shows of the year.
THE BEST TV SHOWS OF 2021 (SO FAR)
Marvel’s What If…?
There are few comics I would deem impossible to be made in today’s age. With special effects as good as they are, every superhero can be featured in a movie or TV show, but the What If comic is different. A favorite of mine in the ’90s when I was heavy into comics, What If asked the questions comic book fans always had running in their minds. What If Punisher actually killed Daredevil or What If Gwen Stacy never died. It seemed impossible because these comics were made for just one book and that’s it.
Then came the announcement of Marvel’s What If, and to my shock, the geniuses at Marvel Studios actually did it. They carefully created nine episodes that answer certain questions fans of the MCU had while also making these stories tied into each other. More importantly, the show made already compelling characters even more compelling. We saw what happens if Dr. Strange went evil, how Peggy Carter truly loved Steve Rogers no matter how he looked physically and in a seemingly impossible feat, make T’Challa even more of a dashing hero by taking him into outer space. But what really sold me on the series was that it also answered a question any MCU fan wondered: What if the heroes lost? We saw that in the Marvel Zombies episode where seemingly the world was on the brink of destruction and again when Ultron obtained the Infinity Gauntlet. Avengers: Infinity War is the only movie that ended on a downer, but in Marvel’s What If, it happened again and again as a reminder that we’re fortunate to see the heroes win in the movies or else we’d be constantly heartbroken again and again.
Only Murders in the Building
This murder mystery is funny, smart and the episodes are a packed 30 minutes each. On top of that, the show is about a podcast and takes place in one of those grand, old New York City buildings facing Central Park that most of us in the city will never set foot in.
Of course, Steve Martin and Martin Short are both great and look like they’re having a lot of fun. While clearly still in their respective primes, they’re completely believable as elderly, washed-up showbiz types that starkly contrast with Selena Gomez’s mysterious millennial character.
But the best thing about this show is the never-ending stream of supporting characters played by famous actors and other performers that you’d never expect to show up in a Hulu series. I won’t spoil it for you by naming them. It’s much better to be surprised when they suddenly pop up.
The plot takes a handful of twists and turns over the 10-episode season. If you figure out who did it before the characters do (I did), just sit back and enjoy the ride, which incidentally ends with a cliffhanger. Good thing there’s a season 2 already in the works.
Every family has a story and Nuclear Family director Ry Russo-Young shares hers in this fascinating three-episode HBO Max documentary series. Russo-Young was born to a lesbian couple, Robin Young and Sandy Russo, with help of a sperm donor whom her mothers later invited into their lives. It surely seemed like a good idea at the time. But when the donor, lawyer Tom Steel, decided he wanted even more of a presence in Ry’s life, her moms fought back and Steel then sued for paternity and visitation rights.
It’s easy to sympathize with every side in this series. Russo-Young herself was just a child with absolutely no power over the adult events threatening to turn her life upside-down. The case itself is historic, but I’d watch a weekly show featuring Ry’s smart and dynamic moms just shopping and chatting — they’re that engaging and likable. Don’t miss this one, a reminder that there are still plenty of meaningful family stories out there we have never heard.
I’m a huge fan of Mike Flanagan, so I was buzzing for his latest series Midnight Mass. After the first two episodes, I was calling it one of his best. Then, as it went to places I really didn’t expect it to go, it took me a minute to appreciate how sublime it really is (I wasn’t a massive fan of its chaotic ending, but the overall package is something else). If you’re into slow-burns, Midnight Mass is seven episodes of steadily building foreboding and dread. The scary moments will catch you off guard and the existential monologues will fascinate (just don’t make the mistake of learning to anticipate when a character’s about to set off on one — the predictability removes you from the otherwise mesmerizing viewing experience).
Of course we have to put Squid Game in here. It’s good!
Everyone has an opinion on Squid Game, even Lebron James, but it’s good! It’s overall good. Yes, the second half of the series isn’t quite as strong as the opening half. Sure, the English speaking actors are brutal. Sure, we’ve seen Battle Royale style shows before, but Squid Game is a cultural phenomenon and it’s been a blast going along for the ride. I haven’t seen this much chatter around a single show since Game of Thrones.
There’s some great stuff in the show. Episode 6, AKA the marbles game, is a masterclass and there are stellar performances too. Everyone in the main cast is incredible.