Best of 2021: Television

It was a weird TV year. There were long stretches of time in which I just didn’t consume any scripted content. Or that I only got to because I was watching them with a friend. But then there were things that grabbed hold of my heart and made things feel right and normal again for a while. So this is less a list of my favorites of the year and more a list of shows that made me want to talk about them for some reason. Sometimes it was a character, sometimes it was a premise, and sometimes it was because it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

If you’re looking for more year-end content broken up into categories, you’ll want to head over to Marvelous Geeks for some amazing recs and thoughts. And if you’re looking for a gorgeous essay on change and TV and what we needed (or specifically what Katie needed) this year, head over to Nerdy Girl Notes.

Leverage Redemption I needed this reboot/revival/return to be good. I love the original SO MUCH and desperately did not want to be let down. I trusted the creators but years of television have taught me that’s a dangerous thing. Thankfully, my faith wasn’t misplaced and I largely adored this season. My show came back, just as I would have wanted it. Not the exact same, it’s somehow less subtle now in its condemnation of the bad guys (and the real people they are based on) and it’s angrier because it’s 2021 and we’re all a little angrier about the ways in which we have been failed by so many systems. But the heart is the same. This family is the same. That drive to make the world just a little bit better is the same. It felt different without Hardison, in many ways, he is the glue that keeps everything together. But I love the explanation given for his absence and like the original did with Gina’s pregnancy, this version let Hardison grow as a character while giving Aldis Hodge the ability to keep his very busy schedule as his career skyrockets. But wow did I love the new additions to the cast. Our dear Mr. Wilson as the vehicle through which we explored the Jewish concept of redemption was a fantastic way to give shape to the season and he ended up being an incredibly endearing character on top of it. And then there is Breanna Casey. That fresh perspective she brings as a young woman who hasn’t known a different world breathes new energy into the show. Everyone else’s worse is her normal and her speech about that is the reason I will follow John Rogers as a creator wherever he goes. I am thrilled we are getting a second season to spend with these characters because I am not ready to say goodbye again. The only thing that could make it better is if they follow through on what they’ve written and make my beloved OT3 fully canon. It’s right there and while they are amazing now as they are, there is that potential for something even better and I want it.

Ted Lasso More than anything else on this list, I would have liked to rewatch this season before writing this like I normally would have. I think it would have benefited from a second watch in a binge format but I didn’t get to do it so instead I’m just going to talk about the things I loved the most instead of tying anything together nicely. I continue to be fully on board with Ted and Rebecca as a ship and want to yell about it all the time. If Leverage Redemption didn’t exist, they would be my #1 ship of the year. I love Rebecca being the one to consistently see through the walls Ted puts up (however positive they may look, they are still walls) and continuing her actions in Make Rebecca Great Again to show up and support him however she can. I love Ted being the person who knew exactly what to say to Rebecca at her father’s funeral and that he was the first to join in with her song. They understand each other and care for each other in ways that are simultaneously very quiet and very loud and I hope we get to watch them gravitate back toward each other next season as they get out of the dark forest. I love the redemption of Jamie Tartt alongside the fall of Nate Shelley. One blossomed under Ted’s style of leadership as soon as he let himself actually embrace what he stood for and one repeatedly pushed it aside because he couldn’t see past his own issues to believe in what he was demonstrating. And most of all, I love AFC Richmond as a club and as a family. Every scene of the players together in the locker room and the Christmas dinner at the Higgins’ house and the fact that every single person showed up for Rebecca at her father’s funeral (she’s not alone any more and I have entirely too many feelings about it) is what my found family loving heart needed from this season. It was dark and many characters were going through things and isolating themselves or shutting down communication when they needed it most. But it was never without hope or without love. 

The Expanse I will admit that I have not started the final season yet. But the back half of season 5 was more than strong enough for the show to make this list and it is primarily for one reason. Dominique Tipper gives one of the most extraordinary performances I have seen of determination and survival and intelligence and love in the season finale “Nemesis Games”. Naomi is an incredible character and Tipper does not get nearly enough credit for the absolutely incredible work she is doing and I will be mad about it forever. In addition, the reunion scene on the Roci is one of my favorites. They are a family and they may have lost someone but they are still strong and have each other. They are each other’s people and no amount of distance has shaken that and that’s the story I will always want from my science fiction (and television in general). I don’t want this story to end but I can’t wait to dive into the final episodes soon because I have faith that they will nail this ending. 

Never Have I Ever This show manages to walk the fine line between making Devi’s behavior understandable but not excusable. We watch her make awful choices, usually repeatedly. We get all the hurt and confusion and her not knowing what to do with her emotions manifesting in ways that hurt a whole lot of people. And yet we root for her to be healthier because we also see who she can be. The complexity she is afforded is one of my favorite things about the show and we saw that expanded in season two. This season worked to add layers to characters who didn’t have as many in season one. We see Paxton’s relationship with his grandfather and how it pushes him to be better than his parents think he can be. We see Kamala struggling to get the respect or recognition she’s earned in the lab and feeling a little stifled by all the boxes everyone wants to put her in. We see Nalini learn how to be a widow and still find joy and companionship. Because that’s what this show excels at. No one is just one thing. They get to be characters that will never be the main focus because this is ultimately Devi’s story but they feel like they live fully formed lives off screen. I would gladly watch an episode with a Kamala voiceover (please give me this one in season 3, I need it) or a Fabiola voiceover and that’s one of the marks of a good show to me. We don’t just want to follow the protagonist, we are invested in the side characters as their own people and not just as someone connected to the main character. It’s an incredibly strong ensemble and I don’t think it gets enough credit for that. 

WandaVison There was an exceptionally narrow window of time this year in which I could have watched this show and I’m glad it aired when it did. I didn’t have any attachment to Wanda or Vision as characters and didn’t have high expectations and wound up blown away by how much I ended up feeling. Elizabeth Olson was incredible in both the comedic and dramatic moments and embodied the feeling of a woman crumbling under the weight of grief and trying desperately to hold onto anything to ground her. But the rest of the cast was also incredibly strong. Kathryn Hahn is a marvel and clearly relished this role, Paul Bettany is a terrific comedic actor and I would love Hollywood to remember that more often, and this made me VERY excited for The Marvels and to see Teyonah Parris in a bigger role because she is perfect as Monica. It was emotional but so enjoyable to watch week to week and I’m really glad I got to experience it. (And someone tell me when I get my Darcy and Jimmy spinoff).

Mom It took some time and seasons to find its footing and what it actually wanted to be about but once it did, it became something truly remarkable. Not always perfect but full of grace. This show was always at its best when we focused on the core group of friends in AA and we got so much in the final season. And it is the rare show that has succeeded in adding a love interest later in the show’s run and incorporating him beautifully into the cast. Adam’s scenes with Tammy and Marjorie and the group Valentine’s date were some of my favorites of the season because they felt lived in and real. These are all the centers of Bonnie’s world (and that fact alone feels rare on television) and it makes them important to each other. I loved the focus on amends and doing better now that you know better this season. I love that we got to delve more into the thought processes that went into their drinking and can still trip them up in sobriety even if there isn’t any alcohol involved. And I love that it ended with a meeting. Bonnie has come such a long way but other’s journeys were only just getting started and that sense of continuity and time that would continue to elapse without us felt exactly right. 

We Are Lady Parts If you’ve read any of these in the past, you know I love half-hour shows made by women with a specific viewpoint and a specific story to tell. It doesn’t need to be fully understandable to everyone and an easy access point or even fully palatable to everyone, it just needs to tell the story it’s trying to tell. There’s not a great comparison to We Are Lady Parts. It’s the story of 5 Muslim women in a punk band in London and in many ways its the first story of its kind. But it feels like the best parts of Fleabag and Vida and Better Things in how sharply drawn the characters and the world around them feel. These women, Amina and Saira in particular as they get the bulk of the emotional arcs of the season, are all layered and flawed and different in the way they present themselves to the world and in their relationship with their faith. And it shouldn’t be remarkable that they’re allowed to be but it still is. I can’t wait to learn more about Bisma, Ayesha, and Momtaz and see Lady Parts go further in season 2. 

Station 19/Chicago Fire Other than the fact that both franchises have (at least) one show about doctors and one show about firefighters, they are actually fairly different in feel. But they are similar in that I think the firehouse pieces of the series are better at the moment and it is for the same reason. They both have fully leaned into the found family aspects of the series. We saw weddings and goodbyes and promotions and through it all, they had each other. I may not love every choice either show has made but I do love these characters and how much they mean to each other. I love Travis and Theo reconnecting and bonding again over their shared love for Vic. I love the new trio of Blake, Violet, and Darren and their beer brewing adventures. I love Ben Warren being the house dad in the same way that Chief Boden is. These shows are populated with characters who love deeply and want to make a difference and that was exactly what I wanted this year. 

Rutherford Falls First seasons of comedy shows can be a little rough. It takes a while to know what the tone of a show will end up being and what characters actually need to be at the center. This one hasn’t quite figured it out yet but it did enough to give me hope that it might. I think it knows what it has in Reagan Wells as a character and Jana Schmieding as an actress. She is far and away the highlight of the season as is her story arc. Plus she’s just incredibly charming and I love her. So while I would like them to recalibrate Nathan as a character and his prominence in the story moving forward, I also really want everyone to love Reagan as much as I did. It’s a Mike Schur show and it felt like one from the minute the credits started rolling in episode one but it’s also a lot of Sierra Teller Ornelas (who wrote for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore, so I know this show is going to appeal to a whole lot of you just based on who’s in charge) and the Native writers and cast who are helping to make this show what it is. 

City of Ghosts This children’s series flew under a lot of people’s radar because it’s for children and only six episodes long but it did something really special and I want more people to be aware it existed this year. It tells the story of different neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the people who live there through the lens of a group of children who find ghosts and preserve their stories. It’s a love letter to LA and the people who have made it what it is and also the gentlest introduction to concepts like gentrification and discrimination. It celebrates people as the heartbeat of cities and their stories as an important part of history just because they were people living their lives. It’s warm and inclusive and a show that will be just as enjoyable for parents as it is for their children (or just adults on their own). The animation style is really cool and unique with the animations imposed over photographs (or more photo-realistic images) and it would be the perfect thing to put on the next time you need some kindness in your life. 

In the Soop/Run BTS They weren’t scripted TV but there was nothing else that made me as consistently happy as these two BTS shows so it doesn’t feel right to leave them off the list. Part of the magic of BTS is not just in their music or even in their incredible performances and stage presence. It’s in these 7 men and the bonds they have with each other. And nothing puts them on display better than their shows. From the sheer chaos that is Run BTS to the more laid back vibes of In the Soop, this is the content you put on to feel good. They kept me company and gave me comfort when I needed it most and I am incredibly grateful to them.

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1 thought on “Best of 2021: Television

  1. One of my goals for this year is to slowly try to get back into scripted TV because I miss it, and I’m attempting to start with half-hours on my lunch breaks (also to keep me accountable about actually taking lunch breaks). So a lot of these recs feel tailored to me, and I love that. Rutherford Falls feels like something I might really enjoy, and given your excellent taste, We Are Lady Parts sounds like something I should try too.

    Thanks for always being my favorite source of TV recs and I am very ready to talk about more of them in the new year. ❤

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