My Top Ten TV Shows of 2021

Since I’ve already given you a list of my favourite books, I’ll continue with the list motif and tell you some of the TV shows I really enjoyed in the past year.

I’ll be honest: most of my TV time is spent watching Star Trek reruns. But occasionally I do take a chance and dip into something new, or at least new-to-me. Here are some of the shows that were standouts for me this year.

  1. Ted Lasso

I have zero issues with having a show that’s going to be on most people’s best-of lists, on my best-of list also. I have no desire to be odd just for the sake of being odd; this show is popular and beloved for a reason. It’s funny, the writing is extremely witty and smart, and it explores human relationships in a far deeper and more thoughtful way than we normally expect from a sitcom. We were late to Season 1, watching it several months after it first aired, then devoured Season 2 as soon as it became available.

2. It’s a Sin

Unlike Ted Lasso, this is definitely not a feel-good show, as it’s a miniseries about the AIDS crisis among young gay men in the UK in the 1980s. But despite the tragic subject matter there is something ultimately life-affirming in the love and strength of community that’s celebrated here. I loved every one of the characters, maybe identified a bit too much with Jill, and cried over this series.

3. WandaVision

I’m sorta “meh” on the whole Marvel universe. There are comic-book movies I’ve loved, like Thor: Ragnarok and Into the Spiderverse, and a whole lot more that I’ve either fallen asleep during or haven’t seen. I love the character of Loki as played by Tom Hiddleston, and I did watch that TV series, but it didn’t grip me or obsess me. WandaVision, however – even though I didn’t know any of the previous movie or comic-book lore around Wanda’s character — had me hooked from the first episode. The construct of having each episode framed around a TV genre from a different era was so fresh and interesting, and of course I came to really care about Wanda, Vision, and their perfectly doomer suburban life.

4. Hacks

The only reason I watched, or even knew about, Hacks, is because it won a bunch of comedy awards that it was nominated for up against Ted Lasso, and I was like, “If this show is funnier than Ted Lasso, I’ve gotta see it.” It’s an unlikely tale of female friendship/mentorship that has a more cynical tone than I usually like in entertainment — it’s no heartwarming, be-the-best-people-we-can-be Ted Lasso story for sure — but the writing is brilliant and there is some genuine heart at the core of it. I’ll be interested to see where it goes in Season 2.

5. Maid

This miniseries isn’t exactly the same story as Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid, but it’s the same kind of story, albeit fictionalized a lot. What remains from the memoir is the sense of just how grindingly hard it is to be poor and try to become less poor, how much bureaucracy and red tape stands in the way of anyone striving for a better life. I found this just as absorbing as the book, though perhaps in a different way.

6. Resident Alien

The plof of this story at first reminded me a lot of Matt Haig’s novel The Humans, although it’s based on a completely different source (a series of graphic novels). An alien who is supposed to have come to earth to destroy humanity ends up living in a human body, dealing with humans, and slowly forming bonds with this inferior species. There’s a lot of comedy here, but also some more thoughtful reflections on it what it means to be humans, as seen through Alan Tudyk’s brilliantly alien eyes.

7. Shetland

Everyone in my extended family was watching Shetland, so Jason and I decided to give it a try. I’m not as big a fan of mysteries/procedurals as many people I know — I like them better if they include strong characterization and a dash of humour. Shetland, set in the titular remote Scottish islands, is usually too bleak for any but the wryest moments of humour, but the deeply-rooted sense of place and the vividly drawn recurring and occasional characters, with Detective Jimmy Perez at the centre of the story, are worth coming back to Shetland for. We watched all the five series currently available and will watch the recently-aired Series Six as soon as it appears on a streaming service we can actually access.

8. Only Murders in the Building

Man, this was just so funny. Steve Martin and Martin Short at their very best, with Selena Gomez as the cynical millennial (or is she Gen Z?) drawn into their attempt to solve a murder — which, it turns out, she may know more about it than they do. The banter between the two veteran comedians, and the level of physical comedy that Steve Martin is able to pull off at 70+, is just astonishing. Loved it, and glad there’s going to be another season.

9. Get Back

Once again, this was hardly a niche choice, as it seemed like everyone in the English-speaking world was watching Get Back before or during the Christmas holidays 2021. I consider myself a moderate Beatles fan, certainly not an obsessive one who can name every obscure song in the catalogue, but one who grew up in the late 60s and early 70s where, even after the band broke up, they were so much a part of the cultural landscape I never even had to think about liking them or not — they just were. John Lennon’s death when I was 15 was the first celebrity death that really hit me with any force. This brilliantly restored footage from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions recreates the closing days of the Beatles so vividly it feels like you’re in the room watching everything — yes, the breakup and resentments, but also those moments of joy, silliness and connection that were still there despite it all. What struck me more than anything is how young they all were. Just boys. I watched this twice and am not opposed to watching it again.

10. Taskmaster

I’ve been putting in trailers for all these shows so that if you’re not familiar with the show you can get a flavour of it, but I’m not sure a trailer for any season of Taskmaster can really give you a sense of what the show is about. The Taskmaster UK team are now twelve seasons in to making comedians (and occasionally other celebrities) do ridiculous tasks for the entertainment of the audience, and it’s brilliant, and honestly I’m not sure our family would have made it through any of the 2020-2022 (so far!) lockdowns without watching and re-watching Taskmaster.

When I started this list, I wasn’t even sure if there would be enough for a Top Ten, but it turns out I enjoyed more good TV than I thought I did. In fact, it could have been a Top Twelve, because I’ll give honourable mentions to both seasons of the David Tennant/Michael Sheen lockdown project Staged, and also to finally getting to watch the final season of Detectorists, the sweetest, funniest, quirkiest most feel-good UK comedy every, which aired back in 2017 but which we FINALLY got on Netflix over here this year (several years after the first two seasons).

And, of coruse, there’s always old Star Trek episodes. This year we finally finished our Voyager rewatch and started re-watching The Next Generation. It’s comfort food for the geek brain.

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6 Replies to “My Top Ten TV Shows of 2021”

  1. Well, you sure read a lot and watch a lot. The only visual I’ve seen from your choice is Get Back! Of course, not having a TV and only having Netflix might be the reason. By the way, I do not have yet your newest book “Such Miracles and Mischiefs” but I expect it to be as good or better than the 1st in your trilogy!! But keep up the awesome writing and reviewing and creating!!!

      1. Good comments everyone!!!! PS…Tomorrow(Wed) on VOBB radio where Kathy and I host the Wed morning show 9-11am, we play TV themes to 25 shows and…well of course people have to guess the name of the show! And remember, we don’t have a TV lol VOBB is at http://www.vobb.org

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