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A Few of Our Favorite (and Most Disappointing) Things in 2021 TV

Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO

It’s time for another round of the venerable 25YL TV Obsessive Awards! If you haven’t heard, 2022 will bring 25YL TV to its own site, as we launch TV Obsessive. Don’t worry, though, things won’t change that much. A word as to the ethos that guides the entries that follow (which also gets to a broader kind of ethos around here): we’re not claiming that our choices are the “best of the year” as though we can inhabit some objective point of view. That isn’t possible, and there’s plenty of faux objectivity to go around out there if that’s what you’re looking for.

No, these are merely our favorites—favorite shows, favorite performances, etc.—along with the things that have disappointed us the most this year. We have reasons, and we’ll offer them, but instead of pretending we can speak with some kind of critical expertise or feigning to do so, we each speak here in our own voice. Perhaps a proliferation of perspectives goes some way towards grasping the truth.

The categories for the TV Awards are as follows:

  • Favorite New TV Show of 2021
  • Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series in 2021
  • Favorite Overall TV Show of 2021
  • Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021
  • Most Painful TV Show to Part With in 2021
  • Most Anticipated TV Show of 2022

Contributors were free to skip categories if they chose to do so. Picking more than one thing wasn’t necessarily allowed, but some people did it anyway. So I guess we’re allowing it, retrospectively.

Read on and let us know if you agree or disagree (and with whom), or about things we’ve missed.

Andrew Grevas: Dexter: New Blood, Nine Perfect Strangers, Succession, Jeremy Strong, Barry

Favorite New TV Show in 2021: Dexter: New Blood. Is this cheating? In a sense it is but this is a new series and the original series has been off the air for a long time now. And Dexter: New Blood is fresh. The baggage that burdened the original series’ final four seasons has been removed and what we have here is a story that acknowledges the good, bad and ugly of the original series but goes out of its way to tell its own story. And it’s a redeeming story, which after the original finale, was desperately needed.

Dexter chopping wood
Image courtesy of Showtime

Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series in 2021: Nine Perfect Strangers. What an amazing cast and even an interesting setup but this story ultimately just felt flat and like a huge waste of opportunity.

Favorite Overall TV Show in 2021: Succession. There’s no denying that a lot of the charm was gone this season, with a much heavier focus on the tragedy behind it all but I really enjoyed that layer of the onion being peeled away. Jesse Armstrong’s third season drama has entered the discussion for all time, HBO greats after this year which exceeded my already really high expectations.

Logan and Kendall Roy in Succession
HBO

Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021: Jeremy Strong, Succession. Strong has always excelled as Kendall Roy but here in the show’s third season, was able to embody this level of grief and desperation better than perhaps anyone else ever before. Strong took to this broken man and owned the tragedy and did more in the small moments with body language, silence and facial expressions than I thought was humanly possible. This was a career defining season for Jeremy Strong.

Most Anticipated TV Show of 2022: Barry. It’s been way too long since our favorite Hitman turned actor has graced our screens and if you recall, Season 2 ended in quite dramatic fashion. Hearing that series star and co-creator Bill Hader wrote not only the third but fourth seasons and will personally direct 5/8 episodes in Season 3 has me even more excited for the return of one of TV’s most fascinating series.

Bill Hader in HBO's Barry Season 2 finale
HBO

Caemeron Crain: Yellowjackets, Invasion, Station Eleven, Hugo Weaving, The Expanse, Better Call Saul

Favorite New TV Show in 2021: It’s been a little bit of a weird year for me TV-wise, in that with production delays and so on I’m realizing almost everything I watched would be in the category of “new TV show.” So how to distinguish between what I choose for “favorite new TV show” and what I later choose for “favorite overall TV show” has been on my mind. I suppose I could pick the same thing twice, but I’m not going to. Rather, I’m distinguishing by focusing here on the ongoing nature of the new show, whereas my favorite overall is going to be a limited series.

And on that front, it’s definitely Yellowjackets. I’ve become properly obsessed with the show. I even wrote an article analyzing its opening credits! Thankfully Showtime has renewed it for a second season, and I hope that Ashley Lyle & Bart Nickerson get to carry their vision to its completion. My understanding is that there are supposed to be five seasons. So you can expect me to keep not shutting up about Yellowjackets for some time I hope.

If you aren’t familiar, Yellowjackets presents fundamentally two timelines: one in 2021 and the other in 1996, when our main characters were teenagers and their plane crashed in the woods. And…things get dark. There are definitely horror elements to this series and that’s a reason it’s so great (or I suppose a reason you might want to avoid it if you’re a bit squeamish).

All the performances are wonderful, such that I could list pretty much the whole cast if I started offering highlights. The music is great, too. It probably helps that I’m basically the same age as the main characters in the show, having been smack in the middle of high school in 1996 myself.

The girls in the soccer team in Yellowjackets stand in a line at a pep rally in the gym
Photo credit: Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME

Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series in 2021: I’m going to have to choose Invasion here, but it’s a weird one. I didn’t have terribly high expectations for the show going in, but figured I’d check it out. I thought it would likely be a fun alien invasion show. Instead, I found in the first several episodes a beautifully contemplative character drama. Going in I honestly wasn’t sure I would watch more than the first episode, or the three episode premiere, but Invasion hooked me, so I continued.

And then it got bad. The tone got messy and the plot muddled. The characters somehow started feeling thinner the further into the season I got. So I ended up feeling really disappointed in something I didn’t think would be that great in the first place because it tricked me for a little bit into thinking it might actually be really good. And I still think it could have been.

Of course the Season 1 finale had just enough in it to intrigue me about about a possible Season 2, which is kind of annoying in its own way.

Aneesha looks back over her shoulder, as cars burn in the background
Courtesy of Apple TV+

Favorite Overall TV Show in 2021: Station Eleven just debuted on December 16th, but I’m pretty sure it is one of the best shows that has ever been made. At very least, Episode 5 “The Severn City Airport” is one of the best episodes of television that I have ever seen. I haven’t even seen all of Station Eleven yet, but I have no worries about it losing its way, particularly when I know it is based on an acclaimed book.

But I love this show for far more than its story—I love the characters, the music, the framing of each shot and the inflection of each word. Comparisons to The Leftovers are earned, not just in terms of some similarities in theme but in how well crafted Station Eleven is overall. Unfortunately, its release schedule makes no sense and was clearly planned out without any thought to the structure of the show itself. You’ll want to take a breath and contemplate a bit after each episode of Station Eleven. It’s not a show to be binge watched, truly, and I mean that as the highest praise, not as a judgment upon anyone who does so anyway.

Clark Thompson (David Wilmot) looking out a window of an airplane with the title STATION ELEVEN on the screen
Photo: HBO Max

Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021: Of all of the shows I watched this year, Mr. Corman might have been the most misunderstood. I know others found it and loved it as I did, but a lot of critics and viewers seemed to not quite get what it was up to. Which is fair enough, as I don’t think this show was for everyone.

Nevertheless, Mr. Corman was a great character drama in many ways, and I’m giving my favorite performance of the year to Hugo Weaving’s turn as…Mr. Corman. But not the one the show is presumably named after! His father. Appearing in only one episode after having been more of a haunting presence in the narrative prior, the power of finally meeting Josh’s dad owed quite a lot to the absolutely brilliant job Weaving did portraying him.

Hugo Weaving on the street with lights behind him in Mr. Corman
Apple TV+

I can’t recall seeing Hugo Weaving quite like this before—the character is basically a charming reprobate you can’t help but love even though you know you shouldn’t—and I guess even if you didn’t watch Mr. Corman I’d recommend dialing up this half an hour to experience it. Then let me know how it stands on its own.

Mr. Corman was summarily cancelled the day its season finale aired, which felt like a bit of a gut punch, but since I also thought the show was complete and a second season unnecessary, I went with something else for my most painful show to part with.

Most Painful TV Show To Part With in 2021: The Expanse was cancelled once before, until Amazon gave it new life and a few more seasons. When it was announced that Season 6 would be its last, I have to admit I hoped that meant we would get some (however limited) sense of closure from this final run, but it doesn’t seem to be shaping up that way. The creators of The Expanse seem to be hoping for a third home and someone to save the show once again. You can find people talking about it on social media, but it’s also kind of evident in the way Season 6 itself is playing out. As of this writing we have a few episodes left and I haven’t seen them yet, but I already feel a strange kind of sadness at how the show is ending.

Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think there will be more, or another savior. Instead, I feel like The Expanse is petering out and headed towards a fate where it feels like it was both cut off too soon and went on too long.

It is worth noting that others do not quite seem to feel the same way, if you look at the fandom, but personally it’s like I want a word coined by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows to describe how I feel about The Expanse ending, because there isn’t quite an existing word that captures it.

Drummer has her hands in front of her chin as Oksana looks on with her arms crossed
Amazon Prime

Most Hotly Anticipated TV Show:  I chose Better Call Saul last year, and it hasn’t happened yet. Does this mean I spent all of 2021 in unbearable anticipation? Yes. But it also means you can just go and read what I wrote last year in this space instead of me writing the same things again.

Other shows I’m really looking forward to returning include Barry, The Righteous Gemstones, Euphoria, Raised by Wolves, and Kevin Can F**k Himself, but there is really no way to choose anything other than the final season of Better Call Saul here. It’s the best show on TV.

Kim and Jimmy, carrying briefcases, walk together down the hallway of an office building
AMC

Clay Dockery: Only Murders in the Building, Shadow and Bone, Station Eleven, Ariana DeBose, Schitt’s Creek, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Better Call Saul

Favorite New TV Show in 2021: Steve Martin and John Hoffman’s Only Murders in the Building is a perfect mix of whimsy, mystery, and character based comedy. It is a parody of true-crime podcasts and murder mysteries while also being a great show on its own right. Steve Martin also plays the lead role of Charles-Haden Savage, the well known but washed up star of ‘90s TV detective series Brazzos, and reminds us all of how amazing he can be, and how great it is to have him back on the screen. The story isn’t dominated by Martin though, he shares screen time with his two podcast creating partners Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez).

Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short look stunned in Only Murders in the Building
Hulu

I have legitimately never loved Martin Short more than I do in this show. Oliver has some of the over-the-top moments that Short is so well known for but they are, for once, well grounded in the character. The theatre director turned podcast producer is a great role and also lets Short have some real emotional moments. (Not to mention an amazing pet bulldog named Winnie.) Selena Gomez is also a revelation in the show. She displays a real range and ability that makes Mabel into a fully formed and emotionally affecting character. The season ends on a difficult note for all three of our beloved podcast hosts, but it is a thrilling new series and I can’t wait to see where it goes in Season 2.

Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series in 2021: It is hard to establish my level of disappointment with shows, at least in years when there is nothing as egregious as Game of Thrones Season 8, but Netflix’s adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone certainly fell short of even the minimal expectations I had for it. The execution was poor, the sets and costumes looked cheap, and the entire thing lacked creative oversight to make it work.

This was particularly true in the main storyline between the Darkling (Ben Barnes) and Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei). It seemed like it was supposed to be a story of a woman coming into her power but instead it turned out to be a tale of control and lack of agency and it ended in a disappointing thud. The only redeeming part of the show was the secondary storyline based on Bardugo’s related series “Six of Crows”. Those characters; Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and especially Jesper (Kit Young) were by far the best parts of this thoroughly underwhelming experience.

Alina (Jessica Mei Li) stands looking off to the sky with her scarf blowing in the breeze
Netflix

Favorite Overall TV Show in 2021: Station Eleven is not what you expect when you first encounter it. When I first read the book six years ago I was expecting something like a lighter version of Stephen King’s The Stand, for the show I was worried it would be a warmed over rehash like Y: The Last Man. The book is instead a quieter meditation on art and death, a much deeper and more moving experience and, as Emily St. John Mandel constantly has to remind publishers, not a “genre book” at all.

Station Eleven, the HBO Max limited run series, is a character based reflection piece. Each episode focuses on an individual from the story and goes deep into who they are and how the changing world has affected them. In just one episode showcase we know more about characters like Miranda Carrol (Danielle Deadwyler) or Clark Thompson (David Wilmot) than most other series give us in full seasons worth of stories. In just a few episodes Station Eleven the series, like the book before it, has established itself as one of my all-time favorites.

Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) sitting under a tarp in the rain, reading the Station Eleven graphic novel
Photo: HBO Max

Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021: Ariana DeBose may be getting Oscar Buzz for the new Steven Spielberg directed version of West Side Story (and she should be) and may still be best known for being a “bullet” breakout from the chorus of Hamilton, but I really fell in love with her playing school marm Emma Tate in Schmigadoon! DeBose brings great depth to the character and her show stopping performance in Episode 4,“Suddenly” is easily the high point of the cute musical-parody series.

That show stopper, “All Your Heart,” gives DeBose a chance to sing and dance with grace and flair. Schmigadoon! is a fun show, full of great songs, but this moment is when the show comes into its own and that is all on the back of DeBose’s singular gifts. As she leads her students through the meaning of love the song quickly feels like the staples of musical theatre upon which it is based, and DeBose immediately fits right into the shoes of the greats who have gone before. (Which then happens literally as she takes over the part of Anita from the legendary Rita Moreno, and is absolutely fantastic in the role, in that previously mentioned new version of West Side Story.)

Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Emma (Ariana DeBose) sitting in the woods looking at each other with sad and serious expressions
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Most Painful TV Show To Part With in 2021: Did we part with any quality TV shows this year? With reboots, reimaginings, and restagings, will we ever really depart with a show again?

I’m going to cheat a bit in this category though, the most painful show I had to depart with this year everyone else already experienced losing. I finally watched Schitt’s Creek. After the first few episodes I could not understand why it was so beloved. Eugene Levy and Katherine O’Hara are of course amazing as Jonny and Maura Rose. Then, about six episodes in, the show takes an amazing turn. Everyone was right about Schitt’s Creek after all. Dan Levy had full creative mastery over the show. It had the perfect cast in the perfect roles. And everyone involved had a masterful mix of heart, absurdity, and rebirth that made the show “Simply the Best.” I may have been late to the party, but Schitt’s Creek was an absolute favorite and it was painful to part.

Most Hotly Anticipated TV Show: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Better Call Saul are my favorite current shows by a large margin and both of them will be returning to the screen in 2022 after a very long time away. It doesn’t just seem that way due to the pandemic, Maisel Season 3 dropped on December 6th 2019 and “Something Unforgivable,” S5E10 of Better Call Saul, aired on April 20th 2020. So it has been nearly two full years since either show graced our screens.

Saul leans against the mailbox outside Mr. Acker's house
Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Tony Shaloub and the rest of the cast make Maisel a crackling and funny showstopper. Especially when paired with the amazing costume and production design. It is easily my favorite Amy Sherman-Paladino show as the subject matter and time period are a perfect fit for her particular witty-repartee. Better Call Saul is a great feat of television, a prequel that almost surpasses its masterpiece predecessor. Vince Gilligan knows this world and these characters better than most creators know their shows and it shines through in every crisp detail, tie clip, and slip by Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk). The whole thing shouldn’t work, but with Kim Webster (Rhea Seahorn) Mike Ermantrout (Jonathan Banks) and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) on board too, there really never should have been any doubt about Saul’s intensity.

I can’t wait for these two shows, both all time greats, to return!

Katie Bienvenue: Chucky, Central Park, WandaVision, Kate Winslet, Wentworth, The Midnight Club (and others)

Favorite New Show in 2021: I really hate picking “favorites” but since most of the shows I really enjoyed this year were miniseries (Wandavision, Midnight Mass, Mare of Easttown) I think it’s safe to say that Chucky came out on top for me. It was one of those shows that were surprisingly well done given that it was based on a property that has had its moments full of badness. Don Mancini managed to give the respect needed towards the Child’s Play OG’s while also making us fall in love with a whole other assortment of characters. He also managed to cover an array of different storylines including a LGBT love story, a serial killer origin story, and teenage bullying. It’s probably safe to say I’m very much looking forward to the second season.

Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series in 2021: Apple TV+ have given me some pretty decent shows this year with the final season of Dickenson and The Shrink Next Door, but one that I found myself going “what the heck” with was probably its second season of Central Park. The first season was a tight knit storyline about a family who lives in New York City’s Central Park because the patriarch is the Park’s groundskeeper. It had the voice talents of Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr, Daveed Diggs, Stanley Tucci, and even Kathryn Hahn. They used this talented cast to create a story full of memorable music and characters, but this second season felt like a complete tone change. There wasn’t an overarching plot that drove the story. Instead we were given a very episodic season with stories that really were forgettable. The same could be said for the songs. When I think of the series, the list of songs that come to mind are all part of the first season. It’s sad how this one just sort of disappears into the background.

An animated boy and girl in front of a bench in Central Park
Apple TV+

Favorite Overall TV Series in 2021: This must go to Marvel and Disney+’s WandaVision. It has to! This series had taken over my entire life in 2021 to the point where I can’t even remember what I was thinking about before it aired. It was a love letter to classic sitcoms while also finally giving my favorite Avenger the story she deserved. It dealt with overcoming grief in the most imaginable way I have ever seen. It also became my gateway drug into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I had been more into DC and their shows because of the darker themes they seemed to deal with, but Wandavision created a story that captured me. I also have it to blame for rekindling my obsession with Kathryn Hahn that I had back during Crossing Jordan and then forgot about. Yup, it still has me going back every so often and rewatching it!

Wanda Maximoff leans in to kiss Vision in a kitchen
Disney+

Favorite Performance in a Show in 2021: You would think after reading my answer for “Overall TV Series” that I would pick Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness but hate to say it there were quite a few favorite performances in shows this year. Like I said, I hate picking favorites. Sure Kathryn Hahn has held me captive in the Agatha bubble (seriously, thanks to her I now am the proud owner of maybe 14 Agatha Harkness themed t-shirts, two face masks, two pairs of socks and a headband. Not to mention the pins that live on my work apron), but I also really enjoyed Kate Winslet’s turn as Mare Sheehan in HBO’s Mare of Easttown. I fell in love with how relatable Winslet made this broken woman. Then there was Kate Siegel’s Erin, Samantha Sloyan’s Bev Keene, and Annabeth Gish’s Dr. Sarah in Netflix’s Midnight Mass. Mike Flanagan managed to create some pretty incredible female characters that pulled me in and made me invested in their survival. In the case of Bev, he created a woman so hateable that when I dressed as her at New York Comic Con I had people saying how much they hated me. I really never took in so much pleasure being called a bitch before but it was interesting seeing people’s reactions over this woman.

Mare (Kate Winslet) exits a car.
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

Most Painful TV Show To Part With in 2021: This year was the final season of the Australian series Wentworth and I’ll be honest, I still haven’t brought myself to watch the final eight episodes. I was very late to the Wentworth party since I discovered the show during quarantine of 2020, but I quickly became very invested in the women of the Wentworth Correctional Facility. The final season was split into two parts. Part one aired in 2020 while its last eight episodes were released this past summer. Like I said, I haven’t watched these last eight because I am in complete denial that it’s actually coming to an end. I will eventually, I just don’t know when.

Cast of Wentworth

Most Hotly Anticipated TV Show in 2021: There are a lot of series ahead that I am super excited about, the only problem is I just don’t know exactly how long I have to wait! Mike Flanagan is going to own next year with The Midnight Club (wrapped filming and probably in post) and The Fall of the House of Usher (which is just starting production). He’s become the best thing Netflix has to offer, and with recent casting announcements for The Fall of the House of Usher including Mark Hamill along with returnees Carla Gugino, Kate Siegel, and Katie Parker, words can not describe how pumped I am to get this series into my hands! Fans that have loved his The Haunting series will totally love his take on Edgar Allan Poe’s works in this!

Then there is Disney+ and Marvel’s Agatha: House of Harkness. I mean, it’s probably wishful thinking on my part in hoping we get more Kathryn Hahn as Agatha next year, but no matter how far out this series actually is, you better believe that I will be here waving all the pompoms in the world when we finally get it’s official release. I was so excited when my manager came in the backroom to tell me of its announcement that I had to apologize to our customers for probably scaring them with the scream I let out. There are no actual details yet on the plot or where in her timeline this will fall, but I honestly don’t care and am having all the fun in the world writing it in my head!

Brien Allen: Shadow and Bone, The Stand, Foundation, Adrien Brody, Cowboy Bebop, The Sandman

Favorite New Show in 2021: I found Shadow and Bone genuinely enjoyable. The fantasy world building is fantastic, based on source material from not just one, but two novels set in the “Grisha-verse” by author Leigh Bardugo. The first storyline deals with Alina Starkov, who finds out somewhat by accident that she is a Grisha, one of the rare people who have a talent for magic in this world. Not only is she a Grisha, she is further rare in that she commands a particular type of light magic that has been sought out in hopes of cancelling out the “Shadow Fold,” a magical wall of darkness that divides the land, and causes many to hate and fear the Grisha.

General Krigan (Ben Barnes) looking into Alina's (Jessica Mei Li) eyes as a giant spark of light emanates from her wrist
Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

A second storyline follows Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, collectively known as the Crows. This motley group of rogues is given the job of kidnapping Alina, having to first navigate the seedy underworld to get to the other side of the Fold. Once they get to Alina, they have to decide whether to do the right thing, as she is trying to basically save the world.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There is a lot going on in Shadow and Bone, but it is all coherent and never feels too overwhelming. The characters are great, the story is compelling, and the fantasy setting is doing something unique and interesting. The show has been renewed for a second season, promising to adapt the second book in the series and weave in a new story for the Crows.

Honorable Mentions: Cowboy Bebop, The Nevers

Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series: I’m cheating a bit here, since CBS’s The Stand is technically listed as a 2020 show. It ran from December to February, so at the time we submitted our nominees for last year’s awards, it was too early to tell just how disappointing this adaptation was going to be.

And “disappointing” is the exact right term here. As a lifelong Stephen King fan, you get used to bad adaptations. It’s just part of the deal. Though in recent years we’ve had some really good ones, particularly in the television series department. This one, I would say, falls somewhere in the middle. There were some really great performances, like Owen Teague as Harold and Brad William Henke as Tom Cullen. We also got a “coda” chapter added for Frannie, penned by the master himself.

Harold in the glow of a computer screen smiling wickedly in The Stand Episode 5
CBS

But so much of the rest of the show could have been better. The decision to start with everyone arriving in Boulder took a lot of the punch out of the story that the Lost-style flashbacks could not restore. Las Vegas was just a hot mess. Ezra Miller’s interpretation of Trashcan Man was painful to watch. Most of the time you were left with the feeling they were doing something different just for the sake of doing something different. There was no care and respect for the original source material, and it shows.

Favorite Overall Show in 2021: Foundation was my pick last year for “Most Hotly Anticipated TV Show” and I was not disappointed. This is the Apple TV+ series based on the classic sci-fi series by Isaac Asimov. Being an adaptation of an 80-year old story, there were going to be some updates to the source material. The original material is (sorry, not sorry) a bit dry. It’s also an anthology, with different stories set generations apart spanning a 1,000 year period of darkness, as one galactic empire collapses and the Foundation charts its course to becoming the successor.

So yes, they added some pew-pew and some sexy time, though keeping it fairly tame for a streaming service show. They’ve employed a few interesting contrivances—robots, holograms, and genetic clones—that allow for a handful of characters to continue throughout the series. This will give the TV audience some much-needed anchor points to span the planned 8-season run. They are also flushing out back stories for things that appear as deus ex machinas later in the original stories.

Foundation S1E9 - Hari stands in the field of flags with a smile on his face
Apple TV+

They did take some liberties with the Foundation’s “first crisis” this season, but in the end, the arrived upon resolution is in keeping with the first crisis of the novels. The most important thing they held onto though was the spirit of the original works, preserving the spirit of Isaac Asimov as a mystery writer first, and a sci-fi writer second. This show is written to be a water cooler show, with mysteries and puzzles to be discussed and theorized over week-to-week. That kind of thing is my bag, baby.

Honorable Mentions: Star Trek: Lower Decks S2, Star Trek: Discovery S3

Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021: Adrien Brody as Charles Boone in Chappelwaite

Chappelwaite took me by surprise. I had written it down as a show to look forward to some time ago, but then forgot why. The “why” was Stephen King, of course. Chappelwaite is based on one of the short stories in his Night Shift collection, “Jerusalem’s Lot.” Having read that many, many moons ago, I had forgotten entirely what the story was about, although the obvious title parallel to Salem’s Lot (one of my all-time favorite SK movie adaptations) is a bit of a hint, though this story is set in 1850.

Adrien Brody as Charles Boone in Chappelwaite
EPIX

Adrien Brody could do stoic brooding in his sleep, and he gets a lot of opportunity to do so in this series. After the death of his wife, Captain Charles Boone has to give up his life as a whaler and bring his three children back to his ancestral home in Maine. The townsfolk consider the Boones to be cursed, and indeed, Charles begins experiencing that curse firsthand as he slowly descends into madness. Brody sells every minute of both his anguish and his madness, as things just get worse and worse for his character. You’d expect nothing less from an actor of Brody’s caliber, and he definitely delivers.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Loki), Laura Birn (Demerzel in Foundation)

Most Painful TV Show to Part With in 2021: I freakin’ loved Cowboy Bebop, and I don’t care what anyone thinks. I watched that first episode and immediately jumped online to say, “Holy crap, this is awesome!” It’s like they gave Quentin Tarantino a blank check and said go make a sci-fi show. Before you ask, no, I have never watched the original anime, and also no, that does not invalidate my opinion.

See, here’s the thing. Every one of my picks for this year were adaptations, in every category. I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. When you’re dealing with an adaptation, the more vocal, rabid fans are going to hate on it—seems like a given these days. But when the folks making the adaptation obviously care about and respect the original source material, it shows. This series was ten years in the making. They loaded it with so many Easter eggs that even I, who had never seen the original, couldn’t help but notice. They faithfully recreated so many things from the original anime. These people tried their asses off, and I think what they accomplished was great.

A close up of Spike
Netflix

For me, Netflix established that they are soulless morons when they cancelled The OA, a move for which I will never forgive them. Although at least they gave that two seasons. Cowboy Bebop got three weeks (dropped on November 19, and then dropped (cancelled) on December 9). There is an online petition to try to get Netflix to reconsider, but these things rarely pan out. Cancelling the series this fast seems to indicate that was Plan A for them all along.

Honorable Mentions: Lucifer

Most Anticipated TV Show in 2022: The Sandman. There is no other answer. Anyone not listing this as their top pick has either never heard of, or at least never read, the graphic novels. I’ve been looking forward to an on-screen adaptation of The Sandman for over 25 years now, having picked it up only a year or two after the original comic first started publishing.

The Sandman is Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus. It is sprawling and it is epic. It pulls in all manner of mythology, while layering atop of it one of the most genius mythologies I’ve ever encountered. Something like this begs for the prestige television series format. What we’ve been shown from the “first look” clip released in September looks amazing and spot on from the first graphic novel.

A man with shadows on his face in a promo for The Sandman

My only fear is that it is coming from Netflix. A more auteur-oriented streamer, like HBO Max or Showtime, would feel safer. This series is going to cost a lot to make, and The Sandman can be pretty heady material. If they can’t pull in the regular joe viewers, this one season—likely just covering the first graphic novel—could be all we get.

Honorable Mentions: Raised by Wolves S2

Derrick Gravener: The Sex Lives of College Girls/Yellowjackets, Younger, Work In Progress, Jennifer Coolidge, Good Girls, The Dropout

Favorite New TV Show in 2021: It was a weird year for television to say the least–I went back to a lot of stuff I had missed out on when it came out like You’re The Worst and Superstore. Other than that, I lapped up the lush offerings of The White Lotus, I sipped with intensity from the muddy creek of Mare of Easttown, I guzzled the dustpan glitter of Hacks, I sipped from the broken beer bottle of Kevin Can F*** Himself, and I put my mouth under the faucet for Maid. And maybe its just the fact that these two are quite warm in my brain, but I gotta give it up to HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls and Showtime’s Yellowjackets.

They couldn’t be further apart in terms of tone: with The Sex Lives of College Girls offering the quirky, pop-culture-laden, one-liners famous in a Mindy Kaling show; and Yellowjackets offering a darker, and quieter dialogue, often laden with subtext.

Girls raise a glass in The Sex Lives of College Girls
HBO Max

Sex Lives excels at fleshing out its four women leads, and their respective problems, and pulls off a rare feat in that all four characters have pretty equally compelling storylines. Maybe it’s the fact that I work on a college campus, and think about the student needs timeline on a regular basis, but this show offered something refreshing in how gritty it was willing to get in its comedic, campus-set stories. It felt real, messy, angry, and misunderstood, much like  college freshmen themselves.

Yellowjackets, a mystery-turned-psychological-horror drama, excels in its characters and the mysteries that continue to unfold. Still currently airing, I can’t give you a complete review, but I can say I wait by TV every Sunday pretty religiously to see just how these women survived almost two years in the wilderness after a plane crash. So far, it’s a fascinating exploration of intergenerational trauma, a compelling mystery, and a showcase for cult-classic actors Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci.

Natalie stands by the sink with her arms crossed while Misty stands in front of her
Showtime

Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series in 2021: Younger, a frothy, escapist comedy starring Sutton Foster, managed to turn in six(!) somewhat delightful seasons. It took place in a New York City that really only exists in movies, and somehow pulled off things like a he’s-dead-but-he-has-a-twin plot, and beastiality, without being totally absurd and unwatchable. Sadly, it turned in a pretty abhorrent seventh (and final!) season because of how safe it played it, how it didn’t honour its characters growth, and how stale the jokes (and overall dialogue) often were. Sure, it suffered because the New York City it took place in now really didn’t exist, but its cardinal sin was forgetting that its characters had grown so much—and offering them resolutions that really only felt true to their Season 1 selves.

Favorite Overall TV Show in 2021: Work In Progress. A quiet, messy, dark, and yet often hilarious contradiction of emotions is what forms Work In Progress—a half-hour comedy which saw its second season take on themes of family, mental illness, and closure, while quietly sneaking in the pandemic.

If for nothing else, Work In Progress was the first (and currently only time) I really felt seen in the way the pandemic hit me anxiety wise. The way it quietly snuck up and changed everything forever, the way things went unsolved in personal lives due to now bigger problems, and also the way the world reconciled with bigger injustices, and its racist and transphobic past (and present). Yes, Work In Progress somehow does all that, not perfectly, and not revolutionarily in any way, and it owns that, and maybe that’s what made it so perfect to me. It felt real, it felt lived in, and it didn’t take itself too seriously when it didn’t need to, but when it did need to, it doubled down and led with a heart and empathy that’s often hard to communicate through a script. Bravo Abby McEnany and Lilly Wachowski, your show will be missed.

A person with grey hair and glasses in Work in Progress
Showtime

Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021: Jennifer Coolidge (The White Lotus). Leave it to comedy queen Jennifer Coolidge to have the best performance of the year as Tanya McQuoid in Mike White’s The White Lotus. Grieving the loss of her mother (“oh mother, mother, mother”) at a Hawaiian resort, Coolidge leeches herself to spa manager Belina (an also perfect Natasha Rothwell), and languishes through grief rituals and spa treatments (and piña coladas). Coolidge manages to be laugh-out-loud-funny quite often, but often those laughs hurt afterwards, as she portrays such a clueless, selfish, and lost grieving process. Like being stabbed with a Louboutin, it’s as painful as it is iconic.

Jennifer Coolidge raises a glass in The White Lotus
HBO

Most Painful TV Show To Part With in 2021: Good Girls. Perhaps this one hurts the most because of the petitioning that happened, or the ending that was clearly not its final conclusion, or finally the news that a fifth (and final) season was all but confirmed (with the leads even taking pay cuts to make it happen), but Good Girls did not deserve this send off, particularly the way it left Annie (Mae Whitman).

Good Girls was often far from perfect, never quite as sharp or succinct with plotlines as it could’ve been, but it was also often funny, unique, and buzzing with chemistry from its stars. I never tuned in for its hot take on crime-caper-comedy, or money-laundering-gone-wrong schemes, but what was interesting was watching a resentment boil through three women into a business idea. It was a darkly comedic take on the scam of the American Dream™ but it was also a showcase for Christina Hendricks, Retta, and Mae Whitman. Ultimately it may become forgettable when we sum up the best TV of the decade, but the cancellation burns most strongly because of just how close it came to earning a proper goodbye.

Most Anticipated TV Show of 2022: The Dropout. Sign me the heck up for Amanda Seyfried’s Hulu miniseries which is scheduled to premiere on March 3rd! Seyfried plays Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of Theranos (you know, the blood test scam company). Executive produced by New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether, and Search Party co-creator Michael Showalter, I’m excited for the potential comedic edge they will bring to the subject matter. And with recurring roles from heavyweights like: Laurie Metcalf, William H. Macy, Michaela Watkins, and LisaGay Hamilton it’s set to be a star-studded event. Let’s just hope it turns out better than American Crime Story’s Impeachment installment.

Fraser Hamilton: Y: The Last Man, The White Lotus, Matthew Macfadyen, American Horror Story

Favorite New TV Show in 2021: Y: The Last Man

“Didn’t you just say there’s no such thing as ‘men’ and ‘women’?”

“I didn’t say there was no such thing. I said there’s infinite variations.”

I will go to bat for this show, even though it was unfortunately, and unfairly, cancelled by FX just a few weeks before its season finale aired. Y: The Last Man was an adaptation done right. Many can admit that some of the themes introduced in the 2002 graphic novel haven’t aged well, despite being an intriguing feminist take on a world where every living thing with a Y chromosome is dead. Showrunner Eliza Clark knew that going into the show, and decided to challenge the story’s narrative by giving less focus towards Yorick (the titular “last man”), and instead expanding the scope on the many, many diverse survivors left in a complicated, ruined world.

Yorick, in full black hazmat suit and gas mask, carries a pet carrier through a city street and looks up at the sky
Photo Courtesy of FX/ Rafy Winterfeld

Y: The Last Man had incredibly strong performances across the board, most notably from Ashley Romans, Missi Pyle, Ben Schnetzer, and more, but I often think back on Marin Ireland’s performance as Nora, a former political strategist who finds herself in an uneasy alliance with Pyle’s Roxanne and her cult. Ireland’s Nora is a darkly layered and surprisingly crucial piece of the show, as a woman who simply wants to survive in a bleak and hopeless world, but soon starts to show signs of becoming someone radical and even dangerous. There’s still a slim hope that the show could find new life elsewhere on a different network and I hope it does. There’s so much more to show and tell.

Favorite Overall TV Show in 2021: The White Lotus. I’ve worked almost every customer service job you can think of. Server, housekeeper, salesperson, valet, you name it. I dealt with some of the worst people, aka customers, imaginable. There’s something that occurs when a line is drawn between worker and consumer. Basic human acknowledgement and decency sometimes get lost. The White Lotus knew this better than most shows this year, showing the struggles between resort staff members and their obnoxious, yet miserable, wealthy customers. But creator Mike White doesn’t condemn these rich adult children completely, showing glimpses of their humanity as they struggle to find some semblance of happiness in paradise. Every performer comes out, guns blazing, from Murray Bartlett as Armond, the long-beleaguered hotel manager, to Jennifer Coolidge’s pathetic, but endearing Tanya. At the end of the day, The White Lotus was a dark comedy, letting the cartoonishly terrible characters go above and beyond in their awfulness, and it was a blast to watch. But it was also a dark reminder that no matter where you go, there you are.

Favorite Performance in a TV Show in 2021: Matthew Macfadyen in Succession

Roman, Shiv & Tom look on in Succession
HBO

Make no mistake, Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen on Succession, is an awful, terrible, no-good person. He’s a simpering leech who’s latched himself onto one of the richest families in the world, and takes out his feelings of inferiority on those under him through humiliation and bullying. But somehow…Matthew Macfadyen managed to make him one of the more pitiable and sympathetic characters on TV this year. In Succession’s third season, as Tom comes to the sobering realization that he may be headed to prison and any love his wife may have had for him has evaporated, Macfadyen’s portrayal of someone who’s quickly realizing everything has been for naught is shockingly heartbreaking. It made his betrayal in the finale all the more shocking, yet strangely satisfying.

Most Painful TV Show To Part With in 2021: As a horror movie obsessive, it was sad to say goodbye to American Horror Story. In retrospect, it’s almost embarrassing I’ve stuck with this show for as long as I did. After a few successful seasons that fed horror fans and showcased underrated talent, eventually the show’s writing team leaned far into shocking imagery, bizarre plot twists, and campy dialogue at the cost of coherent storytelling. I’ll give AHS credit for trying something new this year with a “Double Feature”, featuring two storylines in one season. But after a couple episodes, it was clear the show couldn’t resist relying on another vampire-centric storyline with characters who’s motivations change at the drop of a hat. At least Sarah Paulson still seems to be having a blast.

A gloved black hand reaches towards a baby in a promo for American Horror Story
FX

So those are our favorite TV shows of 2021, our biggest disappointments, and what we’re looking forward to next year. I’m sure we missed some things. Squid Game comes to mind. What rankles you that we’ve left off? What do you disagree with? Let us know in the comments!

Written by 25YL

This article was written either by a Guest Author or by an assortment of 25YL staff

3 Comments

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  1. I need new Better Call Saul like I need AIR.
    I don’t watch enough new things to have considered myself qualified to contribute to this piece, but if I had done, I would have been screaming wonderful things about Cobra Kai all over it, so there’s that.

    • I can’t wait for Better Call Saul. It is probably going to hurt…maybe very badly depending what exactly happens with Kim, but I need it

  2. Well, I rarely watch new TV shows but I”m definitely with Andrew on how disappointing Nine Perfect Strangers was – so much potential and such poor execution.

    I’m with Brian all the way re: Sandman. I was always of the mindset that it should really never be adapted for TV or film because any attempts will pale in comparison to the graphic novels – but here we are! I’m hoping it will have at least one season before it is abruptly cancelled by Netflix. Sigh. Can’t win, haha.

    This weekend I will be giving in to Caemeron’s relentless love of Yellowjackets. Maybe it will inspire an article…

    Well done, everybody!

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