With our honorable mentions out of the way, it’s time to get into the illustrious top 10. This year has been chockful of great new and returning TV shows. It has been an especially great year for comedies.
The genre that is arguably the hardest to pin down in terms of general success has had various new entries, both odd and familiar. But we also have great crime mysteries and a superhero series up our sleeves. So, without further ado, here are the first five places in the top 10 best television shows of 2021.
10. Only Murders in the Building
This project is a true oddball among oddballs in today’s weird television landscape.
In a business where everyone seeks to stand out, Hulu made the bold move to bring together comedy legends and friends Steve Martin and Martin Short with the Disney starlet and singer Selena Gomez.
At first glance, this might seem like mere stunt-casting and the result might end up being a rather bland affair. On the contrary, though, Steve Martin himself helmed the production as showrunner and writer.
In that capacity, he managed to create some truly memorable episodes and moments about these three crime podcast aficionados who dabble in their own mystery to varying results.
Meanwhile, the novelty of Selena Gomez clashing with these two elder statesmen of comedy pays dividends. While not the biggest strength of the show, it does add some nice changes of pace to these two best friends making each other laugh.
An early entry in this long year of television, Hacks managed to remain high up in my estimation all through 2021. Revolving around a legacy comedy act in Las Vegas and a recently-disgraced young comedian trying to shake off a social media controversy, Hacks is a very contemporary show. It tackles the unique world of Las Vegas show business. Where the old guard of entertainment manages to pack audiences night after night into their resident casinos and make millions in the process.
But Hacks is also about failures and redemption.
Our protagonist Ava recently lost her career and standing in the industry, thanks to some badly-worded tweets that got her fired. Meanwhile, our other lead, Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance, clearly modeled after stand-up icons like Joan Rivers, is living lavishly in her Vegas villa. In order to revive her career, Ava starts working with Vance to update her material to the 21st century. It is the typical ‘unlikely couple’ premise that starts off this relationship. Yet soon, both Ava and Deborah discover in how many ways they are alike.
8. Mare of Easttown
The endlessly watchable genre of the broken anti-hero detective show just added one of the all-time greats to its roster:
Kate Winslet anchors this grounded, gritty noir about a suburban community rocked by the disappearance of one girl and the homicide of another.
Mare of Easttown is successful in delivering a satisfying whodunit mystery that unfolds at the right pace and packs many unexpected pushes. But what really makes it stand out, in this field littered with mediocrity, is Winslet’s central character and performance.
Her traumas, the anguish she hides and tries to bury in her work, her family life, and past glory as a hometown hero on the basketball court; all swirl around an incredible acting performance that manages to show more backstory in Winslet’s face than any writer could ever put on a page. Add to that a few impressive co-leads with Evan Peters and Julianne Nicholson and you have a rock-solid detective story with all the fixings.
Mare of Easttown gets to have its cake and eat it, too, with an emotionally resonant character arc and a whole lot of mysteries.
I had already talked a bit about the special place that this independent comic book inhabits in my life. Accordingly, I was equal parts excited and skeptical about the idea of a television show. However, any bigger concerns were completely alleviated once I saw the trailer with its beautiful, spot-on animation and uncompromising brutality and heft. Luckily, this great first impression carried over, all through the first season.
Invincible is fresh, bold, and funny, just like its comic book source material.
Besides the flawless conversion of the comic’s art style into the animation format, it is the voice cast that makes this series wildly successful. Especially the father-son dynamic stands out as our emotional compass of the show.
The gruff-as-always J.K. Simmons plays the perfect middle-aged superman parable and Minari‘s Steven Yeun captures the awe and excitement of a teenager discovering he has superpowers.
Meanwhile, in true superhero fashion, we also have a huge roster of secondary characters who are all equal parts entertaining and complex. The world of Invincible keeps growing each episode and I cannot wait for the other story arcs of the comic to be running across my screen.
6. The White Lotus
Ever since his television cult hit television show Enlightened, writer Mike White has been on my radar as a special kind of creative.
His characters are often very flawed to the point that audiences can easily and actively hate them without feeling regret.
And yet, his writing always bears an abundance of empathy. Despite all the horribleness that we confront ourselves and others with on a daily basis, his stories always manage to find those moments of enlightenment where beauty can coexist with the human condition.
In White Lotus, this balance faces its strongest challenge yet. The eponymous White Lotus Resort is a gorgeous upper-class destination in Maui, Hawaii, whose guests can be described as the definition of entitlement. Each one despicable in their own kind of fashion, it is a marvel to behold the subtle ways in which The White Lotus shows just how deeply and inescapably privilege and its colonial roots damage all individuals outside of the upper crust.