Squid Game red light green light doll
Squid Game red light green light doll, public domain

The best TV shows of 2021: honorable mentions

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2021 was the first and hopefully, only year fully experienced under the pandemic. As such, home entertainment was one of our most constant and reliable companions throughout. To honor and reflect on the media that got us through this tough time, we put together a list of unique and wonderful TV shows that ran this year.

First up, we have a slew of contenders that did not make it into the top 10. TV has become more crowded than ever, with streaming giants like Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Netflix fighting hard for their piece of the global entertainment pie. So we looked across all outlets to find the best among each to highlight here.


Squid Game

We have to talk about it, everyone is: Squid Game is the biggest streaming show, and perhaps the biggest international entertainment success, of all time. Produced for just 21.4 million dollars, it generated an insane 900 million dollars in revenue for Netflix.

With its glossy yet ultra-violent look and the familiar theme of South Korea’s obscene wealth inequality, it conquered the world by storm.

Squid Game is a loud and at times absurd show but the dedicated performances and assured direction help viewers overlook even the most uneven elements, like its ludicrously hammy American performers.

What also helped the production was its single-minded production process, with writer-director-creator Hwang Dong-hyuk being solely responsible for writing and directing each episode.

This allowed for a very coherent feel throughout. All episodes seemed like they showed exactly the right amount. Squid Game does not reinvent the wheel, in fact, it borrows from a lot of prominent predecessors. However, the Series never lets up with its pacing while also boasting some incredible visuals that stick with you and thereby caught people’s attention all over the world.


Midnight Mass

The third series by Netflix collaborator extraordinaire Mike Flanagan moves away from his previous “The Haunting of..” titles. Yet, Midnight Mass fits in perfectly with Hill House’s and Bly Manor’s sensibilities: a slow burn of increasing tensions and paranormal activities. This time around, we follow the devoutly catholic and remote island community of Crockett Island.

Midnight Mass might a have few too many one-on-one long dialogue scenes, perhaps also due to Covid restrictions, but some of them do hit very hard.

Leads Hamish Linklater, Kate Siegel and Zach Gilford each get several strong scenes where they can show some acting muscle.

Meanwhile, the plot creeps on slowly, as with each Flanagan production. Similar to his idol and collaborator Stephen King, he first wants to show us the world of Crockett Island before things start to get out of hand. With a clear understanding of this island microcosm, Flanagan then proceeds to go nuts with some of the most daring horror twists in recent history.


Loki

Arguably the most exciting and accomplished TV project by the all-powerful Marvel machine (sorry, WandaVision), Loki works best when it goes as much out there as possible. The first few episodes are truly a fantastic joyride as each new scene piles on more and more crazy concepts and subversions of the viewers’ expectations.

However, they could not quite keep this high insanity throughout the series and do lose some steam towards the end.

Nonetheless, Loki had so much going for it that I would recommend it even to the Marvel skeptics out there.

With a very welcome return of the inimitable Owen Wilson, who has lost none of his affable charms, and a star-making turn for female Loki Sophie Di Martino, Tom Hiddleston often falls into the background on his own show. We honestly hope that the success of Loki will enable Marvel to allow for more experimental projects down the line.


Mythic Quest

Ever since The Office and Parks and Recreation left the airwaves, the world has been waiting for the next workplace comedy to take the crown and galvanize new fan armies. The beauty of these shows is their jovial, everyday vibe that invites you to hang out and see what the gang is up to now. In Mythic Quest, this jovial energy is subverted a little, thanks to a sizable amount of darkness.

Mythic Quest sprung from the minds of many creatives behind the longest-running and perhaps darkest TV sitcoms of all time, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

This influence is apparent in every scene, as the inner workings of a video game company show all the dysfunction and toxicity one might expect from this crunch time-obsessed industry. Yet, its cast of characters is almost entirely drawn in a very humane manner. Their shortcomings are frequently on display and are milked for humor and yet still never looked down on.

This delicate balance is what keeps Mythic Quest so entertaining. Nearly all characters have very unlikeable qualities, yet we still root for most of them through each of their crises.

Heiner Uebbing originally hails from rural Lower Saxony and is based in Leipzig. His passion for film dates back to his teenage years, when he started attending film festivals, writing and corresponding about his experiences. You can probably spot him in one of Leipzig’s OmU/OV screenings in the front rows.

Mushuman's "luminous cloud" at Lichtspiele des Westens 2021, photo Andreas Matthes, Metaorange Photography&Design
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