And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of my favorite TV shows that came out this year.
Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of TV shows that I saw which came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of shows I never got around to watching that might have ended up on my list... and (more likely) shows I loved but have forgotten about. And here we go...
#1 Hawkeye (Disney+)
If you had walked up to me and told me that my number one show of 2021 would not be Ted Lasso just last month, I would have slapped you across the face. Mostly because you aren't wearing a mask, but partly because it's just so inconceivable. But here we are. After getting off to a slow start, Hawkeye managed to go out with a bang and seal that top spot. The series takes so many of the things that I love from the original Matt Fraction and David Aja comic book series then blends them seamlessly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe we know and love. Though pretty much flawless, I maintain that had the first two episodes been merged into a single episode... and they split the final episode into two parts with more Yelena in them... we would have got more of what made everything so darn good. Like that cast! Jeremy Renner is at his best yet as Clint Barton. Hailee Steinfeld is sublimely perfect as Kate Bishop. Alaqua Cox nailed it as Maya Lopez. Florence Pugh is hilariously great as Елена Белова. And we also get some new characters that are all perfectly cast... along with the return of a character that was better than could have been hoped for. The best Disney+ series from Marvel Studios yet and my favorite show of 2021.
#2 Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Following up one of the most flawless seasons of a show ever created had to be a daunting task. There was literally nowhere to go but down. But darned if the people behind Ted Lasso didn't manage to come darn close. Even if they had to utterly destroy one of my favorite characters to get there. And speaking of favorites? Roy Kent... my favorite television character ever... had a run for his money thanks to Sarah Niles playing Dr. Sharon Fieldstone. If I have a criticism it's that the season was all build-up to the endgame coming next season. The conflict came very late and it was just feel-good moments piled on top of each other. But they were such good moments, weren't they?
#3 The Mandalorian (Disney+)
If anything, Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and Crew elevated their game to give us something that may be better than even the first season. Partly because they worked hard to push things into new directions... partly because we got a mix of terrific new characters and a return of old favorites... and partly because they know exactly what the fans want to see, then they 100% deliver on it. One has to wonder if they had been in charge of the movie prequels and sequels... would they have ended up as shitty as they were? I'm willing to bet not. Though Book of Boba Fett just started and is not exactly blowing my socks off, so perhaps. Oh well. So long as Disney keeps pumping out amazing content like Mando Season 02, Star Wars will be just fine. And just think... Obi-Wan, Andor, Ahsoka, Lando, and more are coming. Oh happy day.
#4 Resident Alien (SyFy)
I knew I was going to like this show the minute I saw the trailer. Any time you wind up Alan Tudyk and let him run wild you're guaranteed terrific entertainment... and this time they put him in the wacky world of a comic book series that he actually elevated to something even better. Tasked with destroying the Earth, but then crashing into it instead, an alien has to assume the identity of a doctor who died while attempting to repair his ship, avoid being spotted by a boy who can see his true identity, and burying his growing affection for earthlings. The result is hilarious television that has me eagerly anticipating what we're going to get in the second season.
#5 What We Do In the Shadows (FX)
I honestly anticipated that this show would burn through whatever good ideas they had after two seasons then deteriorate into something that's a shadow of what we started with. Well, thank heavens that's not the case, because the third season was every bit as great and sets things up for yet another spectacular season. Or maybe I'm just in love with Nandor. But who isn't in love with Nandor? Consistently one of the funniest shows on television and they haven't had a bad episode yet.
#6 The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (Disney+)
This show was badly hampered with having to deal with the ramifications of half the planet being blipped into existence after five years dead from Thanos snapping his fingers. Had they been able to just work towards Sam taking up the mantle of Captain America without spending so much time being distracted, we would have gotten a better show. But it is what it is, and there was enough on-screen magic in the Sam/Bucky love/hate relationship to make this series far more entertaining than it had a right to be. The Flag Smashers weren't great as a threat. Counterfeit Captain America was just a way to set-up future shows (and did not deserve the hate he got online). And the arc for Sharon Carter is something that's likely going to either be forgotten... or hung around the neck of a future Marvel Studios series.
#7 Acapulco (Apple TV+)
I have quickly become a major fan of Eugenio Derbez. His performance in the Overboard remake was classic... he had a fantastic bit part in one of my favorite 2021 films, CODA... and he's done a load of fantastic voice work for various animation. So when I heard that they were building a series around his character from How to Be a Latin Lover AND he would be reprising the role? I had no idea what to expect. But it wasn't the sweet, charming, funny, and wholly entertaining show. There's no word on if we're getting a second season, but I sure hope so.
#8 The Other Two (HBO Max)
In their first season this show was so horribly demented and wrong... but all the more hilarious because of it. This time around they did not back down, going to even worse places to mine for laughs, and striking gold more often than not. A part of me is embarrassed that I like this show so much, but it just can't be helped. It's so very, very funny. But also so very, very wrong.
#9 Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu)
All I had to hear was "Taika Waititi is producing" and I was in. But in for what I had no idea. A comedy about indigenous teens who want to move from Oklahoma to California, but have to commit petty crimes in order to ear the money they need to do it? Okay then. The result is a lot of subtle, deadpan humor that always seems to land perfectly. The show is funny and painfully relevant, making it must-see television for anybody who appreciates shows like that.
#10 Modern Love (Amazon Prime)
You know how I found this show? I heard a song, liked it, then found out that it was the theme song for this show which is now in its second season. Based on a popular column from The New York Times by the same name, each episode is a stand-alone story which talks about love in all its forms (BONUS: in the first season all the episodes end up tying together at the end). Charming, funny, awkward, heartbreaking, uplifting, painful, and wonderful... this series is all the things that love can be.
#12 Lupin (Netflix)
Netflix really hurt the show by splitting the first season into two parts because the second half was not as good as the first. And yet it's hard to get too caught up in all that when Omar Sy's gentleman thief is so compelling a character. Revenge stories are as old as time, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one done as stylish as this. At the end of the season Lupin is essentially forced to cut off some dead weight that was dragging the show a bit. What I hope that the writers do is have the guts to leave it be so they can focus on Lupin alone, which is when the show absolutely shines. Of course I have no idea if it will even get a second season, but given how it was Netflix's most-watched non-English program before Squid Game came along, it's likely pretty likely.
#13 Loki (Disney+)
I'm just going to get this out of the way... the Loki variants like Gator Loki and Thor Loki and Female Loki were not something I thought worked very well. What did work exceedingly well was everything else. The writers wisely decided to snap Loki out of his element and comfort zone so he has to evolve past the merry prankster he was before he "died" in Avengers: Endgame. And it was handled so beautiful. After getting apprehended by the TVA (Time Variance Authority) AKA "The Time Police," Loki thinks that all his problems will be solved if he can just get The Tesseract and its Infinity Stone back after the TVA took it from him. Then he will have the power to do whatever he wants. Again. But very quickly he finds out that the Infinity Stones which Thanos used to eliminate half of all life in the universe are mere trinkets to everybody working at the TVA. That "The Power" he's been chasing since Avengers was never what he thought it was. And at that moment when you can see it dawn on him (holy shit is Tom Hiddleston an amazing actor) is when you realize that this series is not going to be what you thought it was. And the story was darn good... if not a bit meandering.
#14 The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime)
Historical fiction is a tricky business. When you stray too far from the real events, you might very well diminish the things you are trying to tell your story around. And here we have a series where the Underground Railroad is made into a literal railroad?!? It's like... why would you do that? And I very nearly skipped out until people started telling me how good it was. And while I'm ultimately glad that I saw it, I'm the first to admit that it's difficult to watch at times... a boring slog at times... and challenging to the viewer always. It ain't going to be for everybody. But what makes it so worth it is how beautifully the series is crafted. When you get to those bright spots, the show's epic scope unfolds and reveals itself. This show is the very definition of "powerful television." If you think you can handle it, you really should.
#15 For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
There's something to be said for how this series coasts on the sheer quality of it all. It's not the best thing on television. But everybody working on it treats it as if it is, and that goes a long, long way. In my opinion, For All Mankind is often times as good as it was the first season, but there are still issues that pop up which have me scratching my head. They're 100% invested in this being an alternative history series one minute... then it feels as if they're scrambling to fill in the gaps the next, and it makes for an uneven ride. Like they come up with really great ideas in the broad-strokes, but don't know where to go with the details from time to time to get there. But it's still a very good ride. Thrilling even. And one that I'm happy to keep taking.
#11 Magnum, PI (CBS)
This series started so brilliantly, but then kinda lost its way after the first two seasons. The chemistry was there. The cast was still amazing. And Higgins was so great that she could carry her own show. But it just wasn't working as well as it once was. Then they kinda earned something back in this, their fourth season. I still find myself hoping for more Rick & T.C. because they are woefully underutilized too much of the time, but am glad that they're still around at all. Their job is to ground the show more often than not, and they excel at that.
#16 WandaVision (Disney+)
For a Marvel Studios fan like myself, WandaVision was a tough sell. Because it was The Vision and the Scarlet Witch from the Avengers... but not really. Told through the lens of old television shows and exploring Wanda's trauma over losing The Vision, I understand why the show was so critically acclaimed. Honestly I do. I'm just not one of the people who was able to buy into it. I wanted to see the characters have some cool super-hero stuff to do, but we didn't really get that.
#17 Hacks (HBO Max)
Jean Smart completely caught me off guard with her performance in HBO's Watchmen series. She was absolutely glorious and pushed that role in a direction that not many other actors could. I can't even say if she knew the material she was a part of... but she knew her character. She had a handle on that much from her first moment. And now she's done it again with Hacks. As an aging comedian in Vegas who is forced to take a look at herself and her world after taking on an assistant (who has problems of her own, let me tell you). I don't think that every episode is a home run. But overall as a series I was digging it. And that was mostly thanks to Jean Smart, who I am paying very close attention to for whatever she decides to do next.
#18 Mythic Quest (Apple TV+)
The first season was exceptional. I loved every minute of it. And their COVID special was one of the better ones. But this second season, while still pretty darn good, is no longer must-see television for me. It's more of a "I like it... but when I get around to watching" kind of show. Maybe it's because the whole "behind the scenes of a video game company" blew through so much funny in the first season that it's running out of gas? Maybe I've grown tired of it already? That very well could be, because I know people who think that the second season is better than the first. So I dunno. I still love the characters and what they're trying to do... I'm just not as hyped for the result as I once was. Still made my list though.
MUST SEE TELEVISION SPECIALS AND DOCUMENTARIES...
This year was a weird one in comedy because one of my all-time favorite comedians was cancelled... or is getting cancelled... or is somebody people want canceled... or whatever. In an effort to clarify the material he used in a previous special about the trans community, Dave Chappelle actually dug himself into an even deeper hole. And it's pretty cringe because he devoted so much time to it. But even worse? It wasn't very funny. The ultimate comedy sin. He would have been better of saying nothing, but instead we get a huge chunk of an entire special prefaced with "I can't be transphobic because I have a trans friend who died." A horrible take to be sure. I don't think the actual material was as bad as its been blown up to be, but it's my least favorite of his specials, so there's that. What were my favorites this year though? Glad you asked...
TELEVISION HONORABLE MENTION...
ANIMATION TO WATCH
HAVEN'T SEEN, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST
OVERRATED BUT OKAY
TOTALLY SHIT THE BED