Between network TV, cable, and streaming services, there is a cornucopia of content launching every single month. It’s hard to keep up with what’s good outside of things like Netflix’s daily Top 10 list. It’s a golden age for television, but at the same time, it all becomes white noise.
Luckily, GameSpot has come together to make a list of the 10 best TV shows of 2021. After hours and hours of debate, where we all called each other names, screamed at each other, then talked about how uplifting Bluey is, we finally narrowed it down to the top 10.
This year’s selection pulls shows from numerous streaming services and cable networks. From Apple TV+ to Netflix to Disney+ to HBO to FX, there’s a great representation of drama, horror, comedy, and more this year. What it all comes down to is escapism, something we all need a little bit of in 2021.
Below, you’ll find GameSpot’s top 10 TV shows of the year, in no particular order. If you’re interested in what we thought was the best TV show of 2021, check out the GameSpot’s TV show of the year, Midnight Mass.
Netflix’s breakout hit from Hwang Dong-hyuk took the world by story in the latter half of 2021. The series follows a man in debt who gets involved in a competition where he and others play kids’ games in order to win a large sum of money. However, if you lose, you die. The series was aesthetically pleasing, easy to digest, and contained some of the most engaging storytelling we’ve seen in years.
Hwang’s story may have played heavily into the concept of Han, which is culturally relevant to South Korea, but it was something everyone could understand. The disparity between classes and capitalism are something most people watching the show can relate to. The series had relatable characters that you’d fall in love with, and a few you couldn’t wait to see die. But the show was layered, with numerous stories that would unravel throughout the season. There was a lot to love there.
More than being a great show, it infiltrated pop culture in a huge way. Saturday Night Live did a sketch about it, there were numerous sloppily put together mobile games, and many rich people dressed up as characters for Halloween or hosted a Squid Game of their own–completely missing the point. There is no other show in 2021 that was a world-wide phenomenon like Squid Game.
The first season of Ted Lasso arrived in 2020 as one of the most unabashedly positive TV experiences in recent memory–at a time when many of us needed it most. Season 2 grounded the series and threw many for a loop. What goes up must ultimately come down, and in Season 2, Ted came back down to earth, dealing with a series of panic attacks, confronting the grief associated with his dead father, and the realization that it’s impossible to espouse endless optimism, especially when you are sorting through your own trauma.
Beyond the titular character, though, the depth on display in Season 2 was incredible. From the rise of the power-hungry Nate (and the slights he believes Ted has carried out against him), to the humanizing of both Roy Kent and Jamie Tartt, to Rebecca looking for love, to Keeley’s ascension as a media relations powerhouse. And, of course, Coach Beard being the most Coach Beard person imaginable. While Ted is clearly the center of the show, the character works so well because of how well built the rest of the show is.
The third MCU TV show on Disney+, Loki did something that WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier didn’t do: affected the entire cinematic universe. The series sees the version of Loki from the first Avengers movie, who got a hold of the Tesseract during the time-travelling escapades we saw in Endgame. Yes, the set-up is a tad convoluted, but from there, Loki learns of an agency that puts a stop to alternate universes being created by getting rid of “variants.”
Aesthetically, the show was quirky and engaging, feeling like an old “World of Tomorrow” video hosted by Walt Disney himself. The way the TVA (Time Variance Authority) operates was just as quirky, and seeing this version of Loki–still the evil one–once again was a blast, even if he ends up being not-so-bad at the end. However, this show had huge ramifications on the MCU, fully opening up the multiverse. Loki also introduced us to Jonathon Majors’ character–who will be playing Kang in the third Ant-Man movie–and he stole the show. While other MCU shows were enjoyable, Loki put things on a grander scale, which made it truly feel part of the larger cinematic universe.
The third season of HBO’s darkly comic tale of big business and family dysfunction was its best yet. Leading off directly from the bombshell ending of Season 2, as Kendall turned against his father Logan and threatened to expose all of Waystar RoyCo’s dirty secrets, the show was funnier, weirder, and more dramatic than ever, making for some utterly compelling TV.
Succession is a triumph of both writing and acting. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong has perfected the blend of profane comedy and compelling character drama, and the cast are so perfect in their roles that it’s never been more enjoyable to spend eight hours in the company of some truly awful people. From Kendall’s 40th birthday party to Roman’s jaw-dropping cellphone mistake, Succession Season 3 will be remembered as classic TV for years to come. The only downside: an agonizing wait for Season 4.
Brand New Cherry Flavor
There’s a good chance you missed this one entirely, and if you did, here’s the good news: The entirety of Brand New Cherry Flavor is streaming on Netflix. The bad news is, however, you’re just going to have to trust us on this one–trying to describe what Brand New Cherry Flavor is actually about is an exercise in futility.
Imagine if a David Lynch movie were eight hours long, given the body horror sensibilities of David Cronenberg, and filtered through the lens of ’90s Hollywood and you might come close to really grasping the full bredth of this show. The Netflix series stars Rosa Salazaar as Lisa Nova, an up-and-coming writer/director determined to make her big break with a new feature, but things quickly begin to go south when she gets involved with a seedy producer who is only looking to take advantage of her. Things go even more off the rails when Lisa hatches a revenge scheme with a witch named Boro (Catherine Keener). The end result is a bloody, horrific nightmare trip through a world filled with monsters, both literal and metaphorical.
I Think You Should Leave
Season 1 of I Think You Should Leave was a delight. Tim Robinson’s sketch comedy series was hilarious, but would that type of humor translate to a second season and would it continue to feel fresh? In short, hell yes. Season 2’s six episodes taught us some important life lessons, like not skipping lunch, why you shouldn’t order sloppy steaks, why you’ve got to give, and why CornCob TV should be carried by all satellite providers.
Many of the sketches of Season 2 were a journey. We saw Bob Odenkirk play a man in a diner who supports a father, but as the sketch plays out, we learn how sad his life is. He’s alone, and he continues to make up stories about owning classic cars. Or Carmine Laguzio, a prank show host who puts on way too much prosthetics for a prank, and he’s not happy about it, and doesn’t want to be “around anymore.”
Season 2 gets better and better the more you watch it, and remains funny even after watching it a dozen times. It’s one of the best written sketch shows currently out there, which on the surface, seems almost laughable. For some odd reason, if you haven’t seen I Think You Should Leave, do yourself a favor and check it out, and then watch it four more times. I’m done. Do what you want. Pull the plug.
What We Do In The Shadows
What We Do In The Shadows continued to be one of TV’s funniest comedies this year, as its characters also evolved to keep things fresh. There was so much happening this season, between the vampire quartet coming to grips with Guillermo being a vampire hunter, Nandor and Nadja leading the vampire counsel, and Laszlo somehow becoming closer to Colin Robinson, even though he seemingly hates everyone and everything–except sex and his beloved Nadja.
The beauty of this show is that it should eventually become stale. After all, silly humor based around vampires can only go so far. But the creative team behind the series had made such a strong and funny set of characters that continue to change in the smallest ways to make their continuing adventures seem continually fresh and hilarious. Thankfully, it’s already been renewed for another season, given the cliffhanger we were all left with.
Pitching a show like Arcane is guaranteed to get you some strange looks–an animated series based on a MOBA? A show about League Of Legends? It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would be even remotely worth watching, and yet, here we are. Arcane came out of nowhere, hitting Netflix at the end of the year in three “acts” to make up its nine episode run and almost immediately, animation fans began realizing the show was, against all odds, something incredibly special.
Presented with a stylized mix of 3D and 2D art styles, Arcane feels like a worthy heir to modern classics like Into The Spider-Verse. It’s slick, stylish, and immaculately detailed–but beyond that, the story sitting at Arcane’s heart is complex and surprising, even for people familiar with the overarching lore behind the League Of Legends franchise. On the surface, it’s the story of two sisters from the slums of a wealthy city called Piltover, but as things progress, it rapidly becomes much more. One part exploration of the cycles of violence and trauma and the ways they’re perpetuated, one part reinvention of old League stories, Arcane wound up being one of 2021’s biggest, and most worthwhile surprises.
The HBO series starring Jean Smart follows an older comedian, Deborah Vance (Smart), working in Las Vegas who has a young up-and-coming comedian, Ava (Hannah Einbinder), write for her. Of course, the generational gap between them leads to the duo butting heads and learning how to get along. It’s a series featuring two women with major faults learning to like each other and become better people.
While there are plenty of TV series about unlikable people, what makes Hacks such a great watch is the evolution of the characters throughout the first season. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster throughout the season as both the characters are so similar–which includes stubbornness. Hacks is a very interesting look into the world of stand-up comedy that’s full of heart, and it feels incredibly fresh for a familiar story of two generations clashing.
Source: Game Spot Mashup