As all the time, this disclaimer: I’ve not seen most of the tv that aired this 12 months. No one has. Hundreds of new scripted reveals débuted in 2021, to say nothing of returning collection or of unscripted applications: documentary collection, actuality TV, daytime discuss reveals, and so on. So what was my methodology? I tended to deal with première seasons. (I made a particular class for returning collection that I like.) I attempted to examine my bias in favor of scripted tv. I hoped to have the next variety of community illustration, however HBO’s revived excellence wouldn’t let me. I did preserve an eye fixed towards reveals that didn’t obtain both the essential consideration or viewership that they deserved. Had I extra time to get by screeners, I can suppose of three reveals I’d most likely add (“Yellowjackets,” on Showtime; “Station Eleven,” on HBO; and “Landscapers,” on . . . HBO). But then which of them would I’ve needed to reduce?
I’d like to make use of the remainder of this introduction to offer a shout-out to the reveals that didn’t “make” the checklist. The troupe on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” is jelling in a means that’s reminiscent of the Gilda Radner golden period. Martin Short and Steve Martin have invented a vibe that I’ll name “uncle-core,” on the snappy Hulu homicide thriller “Only Murders in the Building.” The kinky historic fictions of “The Great,” additionally on Hulu, and of Apple TV+’s “Dickinson,” which is in its third and closing season—and ending at exactly the precise time—are constantly participating. HBO’s “100 Foot Wave” is a stupendous colossus; its director, Chris Smith, has merged an intimate take a look at the surfer Garrett McNamara with gorgeous footage of the ocean in Nazaré, Portugal. “Heels,” on Starz, a sentimental drama about skilled wrestling, intriguingly mirrors the meta-theatricality of “Glow.” “City of Ghosts” (Netflix), “The Good Fight” (Paramount+), and “Call My Agent!” (Netflix) saved me sane. The noir humor of “Odd Taxi” (Crunchyroll), an anime, made me really feel loopy—in a great way.
And now my favorites of 2021, in no specific order:
“The Underground Railroad” (Amazon Prime)
“Cinematic” is a fraught time period for TV critics; use it and also you threat giving gasoline to the argument that if a present is sweet then it have to be like a film. And but that is the supreme high quality of “Underground Railroad,” Barry Jenkins’s limited-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s historical-fiction novel. The painterly cinematography, the expressive rating, and Jenkins’s authoritative route makes this slavery-as-Exodus narrative a monumental sensory expertise.
“South Side” (HBO Max)
This gem from the Salahuddin brothers and Diallo Riddle is an antic, loving ode to Chicago, a metropolis that has been stereotyped to demise. The present additionally rivals “Rick and Morty” in phrases of sheer joke density.
“The White Lotus” (HBO)
Who is the standout in Mike White’s fable of the maladjusted élite? Is it Jake Lacy as Shane, the fratty, entitled honeymooner? Murray Bartlett as Armond, the resort supervisor on a drug bender? Natasha Rothwell as Belinda, the resort’s spa supervisor who has the final dredges of her optimism drained? Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya, the woo-woo loner who drains Belinda of that optimism? This collection gave us some of the very best performances of the 12 months.
“We Are Lady Parts” (Peacock)
Nida Manzoor’s début for Channel 4, an exploration of Muslim id that by no means curdles into didacticism, is a joyful smash of opposing sensibilities. It’s punk after which it’s candy, it’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” after which it’s “This Is Spinal Tap.” Anjana Vasan is mesmerizing as Amina, a gawky, lovelorn scientist who unexpectedly finally ends up because the lead guitarist for an all-women Muslim punk band, Lady Parts. The music written for the fictional band is superb, too.