Top 10 Best TV Shows of 2021

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Top 10 Best TV Shows of 2021

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best TV Shows of 2021. For this list, we'll be looking at 2021 shows that had us fully engrossed one minute and buzzing on social media the next. Given the sheer amount of quality out there, we're only focusing on shows that premiered this year. Sadly, that means no “Ted Lasso” Season 2. Our countdown includes "Invincible" (2021-), "Mare of Easttown" (2021), "Squid Game" (2021), "WandaVision" (2021), and more!
Transcript
Script written by Nick Spake

#10: “Midnight Mass” (2021-)


In the right hands, religion can inspire people to be more compassionate and help them to get through the day. In the wrong hands, it can be like something out of a horror story. In director Mike Flanagan’s hands, “Midnight Mass” is another masterstroke of terror. As is the case with any Flanagan production, our investment in the characters is what drives that terror. While there’s an underlying sense of dread from the beginning, it’s a slow burn to the legitimate scares. Even when you’re not jumping out of your seat, the chilling atmosphere, stimulating dialogue, and layered performances will leave you captivated. Although this miniseries possesses echoes of Stephen King, Flanagan’s distinctive style and voice shine are on full display.

#9: “Hacks” (2021-)


It’s an interesting time for comedy. Older comedians face the challenge of remaining timely and appealing to a younger crowd without betraying their roots. Younger generations may think they know everything, but there’s a lot they can learn from the legends. Whichever era you’re from, there’s the constant fear of telling a joke that’ll get you “canceled.” For Deborah Vance, though, there is no line as long as she thinks it’s funny. “Hacks” effectively and humorously explores comedy from different generational perspectives. Neither is always right and neither is always wrong, but if they can find common ground, comedy may evolve. Between Jean Smart’s Emmy-winning performance and Hannah Einbinder’s Emmy-nominated performance, this HBO Max series reflects where comedy is now and where it’s going.

#8: “It’s a Sin” (2021)


Based on the title and subject matter, some may resist watching “It’s a Sin,” assuming it’s too depressing. Yes, you are going to cry. Between the tears, however, you’ll experience moments of sheer joy. Following a group of gay men from 1981 to 1991, this miniseries assembles one of the year’s most likable ensembles. From Olly Alexander’s Ritchie, to Lydia West’s Jill, to Callum Scott Howells’ Colin, we’d love to have any of these characters in our inner circle. Given the time period, we know that not every character will live and even the ones who do will endure an uphill battle. “It’s a Sin” is a testament to the importance of friendship, helping to make life’s darkest hours just a little easier to overcome.

#7: “Loki” (2021-)


Behind the talking Southern clocks, giant cloud monsters, and alligators, “Loki” asks thought-provoking questions about every person’s glorious purpose in the grand scheme of things. If the Avengers were destined to save the day, that means Loki was destined to fail repeatedly and ultimately die at Thanos’ hand. It’s a bleak existence, but an essential one. Still, this Disney+ series presents a fascinating quandary: would you rather live in a world where every choice is monitored or where everyone is given the free will to potentially unleash chaos? Through Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie, both sides of the coin are represented. Whether you’d choose order or mischief, change is coming to the MCU and we can’t wait to see more.

#6: “Mare of Easttown” (2021)


Once upon a time, going from film to television was seen as a step backward. In the golden age of television, A-listers are now flocking to the small screen for more ambitious and mature storytelling. It’s debatable if Mare Sheehan marks the best performance of Kate Winslet’s career. However, even Winslet would agree that it’s probably her most talked-about project since she played Rose DeWitt Bukater. This is saying a lot considering that Winslet won an Oscar between 1997 and 2021. Unsurprisingly, Winslet won an Emmy for her work on “Mare of Easttown,” as did co-stars Julianne Nicholson and Evan Peters. The strength of the performances is matched by Craig Zobel’s direction and Brad Ingelsby’s writing, turning in a gripping mystery and deeply human drama.

#5: “Squid Game” (2021-)


With “Squid Game,” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk aspired to develop a series that would top the Netflix U.S. chart for a day at least. Dong-hyuk exceeded his own goal, as “Squid Game” has become the most-watched Netflix series yet. Even if you somehow haven’t seen an episode, the green tracksuits, PlayStation masks, and giant piggy bank have become pop culture staples. This South Korean series lives up to the hype with timely commentary, several breakout performances, and a “Battle Royale”-esque plot with genuine stakes. Not long ago, “Parasite” became the first international film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Could “Squid Game” pull off a similar feat at the Emmys? In any case, we’re ecstatic that a second season got the green light.

#4: “Invincible” (2021-)


Although a live-action “Invincible” film is reportedly in the works, this animated series seems destined to go down as the definitive adaptation of the beloved comics. While adult animation is nothing new, “Invincible” catches newcomers off guard with its mature edge. The first episode mostly plays out like an MCU show, appealing to younger and older audiences. It isn’t long, however, until the show goes to places that would even make Frank Miller say, “oh damn!” The series shifts between coming-of-age comedy and brutal action, but it never comes off as tonally inconsistent. The jokes all land, the drama hits home, and the animation ranges from old-school fun to shockingly grounded. Is this the best animated superhero series of 2021? What do you think, Mark?

#3: “The Underground Railroad” (2021)


When you first heard about the Underground Railroad in school, you might’ve naively assumed that it was an actual railroad. While the name was figurative, director Barry Jenkins interprets the railroad in a literal sense. Although his miniseries goes to some fantastical places, its portrayal of slavery is all-too authentic. In a strange way, the fantasy elements perfectly complement the historical elements. Slavery is such an inhumane practice that it’s hard for some to fathom how widespread it once was in the U.S. If an unspeakable atrocity like slavery could exist, the idea of an underground train doesn’t sound that far-fetched either. After a while, we begin to forget that we’re watching a work of historical fiction, camouflaging the magic in magic realism.

#2: “WandaVision” (2021)


For anyone who says that Marvel never takes any chances, “WandaVision” was one of the studio’s biggest creative gambles to date. After being somewhat underutilized in the films, could Wanda Maximoff carry a miniseries? Could the series balance sitcom tropes and an ongoing mystery while still fitting into the MCU? “WanadaVision” not only gave Elizabeth Olsen the showcase she deserved, but it pushed the superhero genre to bold territory - both stylistically and thematically. Even if not every theory panned out, watching week after week became a pop culture experience. People don’t really gather at office water coolers like they used to, but no show released this year delivered more water cooler moments. It defines 2021 while also covering the past seventy years of television.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Reservation Dogs” (2021-)

The Indigenous Experience Gets Its Due

“Schmigadoon!” (2021-)

Picture “Pleasantville” Meets a Golden Age Musical & You’ve Got a Hilarious Earworm

“Superman & Lois” (2021-)

A New Spin on a Classic Superhero Romance

“We Are Lady Parts” (2021-)

Punk Rock Finds a Fresh Sound

#1: “Arcane” (2021-)


We’d say that “Arcane” is the show that longtime “League of Legends” fans have been dreaming of, but this prequel series may surpass your wildest expectations. Even if you’re not familiar with the “LoL” lore, “Arcane” will suck in any newcomer with its rich worldbuilding, emotional voice acting, and stunning artistry. Blending traditional and CG animation, “Arcane” ecnompasses the innovation of “Into the Spider-Verse” while still remaining faithful to its video game roots. Visuals don’t matter without a worthwhile story, however. The relationship between sisters Vi and Powder is one of the most compelling and gut-wrenching we’ve seen in any medium, be it film, TV, or games. “Arcane” might not be the first video game adaptation to deliver, but it’s certainly the new gold standard.
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