My Favorite TV Shows of 2021
Though I did not have as much free time to watch TV as I did last year, but there were still plenty of shows I caught that I absolutely loved. For this list, there are some ground rules I had to impose on myself. First, the show had to have a US season or series premier in 2021. Second, while sports-based documentaries are cool actual sporting events are not, which means as much as I loved AEW Dynamite and had my heart overfilled with joy watching the Memphis Grizzlies win the NBA Play-in tournament, they do not qualify. Thirdly, there are no movie blocks because they tend to be mostly movie with a host popping up every so often; so as much as I love them no Svengoolie, Noir Alley, The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob, or TCM Underground. So without further ado here are my favorite TV shows of 2021.
Creepshow (Shudder): What began as a movie saluting the old EC horror comics is now a TV series which serves as a salute to all things we as fans love about the genre across all forms of media. The first episode of this year “Model Kid” paid tribute to the horror equivalent of the Greatest Generation, the Monster Kid, with what may be the best episode they have ever done. From there we have pure gold entertaining horror blending terror, humor, and heart courtesy of Greg Nicotero and a ridiculous amount of talent both in-front of and behind the camera. The story “The Thing from Oakwood’s Past” even sees Creepshow delve into an animated format.
Death in Paradise (Britbox/PBS): The long running British mystery/comedy series hit season number 10 this year. The island of Saint Marie is famed for two things: its sunny beaches and complex murders and this trend continues in this first full season with Ralf Little as the show’s new lead DI Neville Parker. DS Florence Cassell returned to the island’s police force and is seemingly less than impressed with DI Parker. Like the inspectors before him, Parker may have his quirks but his brilliance as a detective eventually wins everyone over (well, except Commissioner Patterson). 2021 saw him match wits with pompous TV hosts, a spoiled viscount’s son, and his numerous allergies and ailments. The highlight of the year was a tense two-parter which featured guest spots from the original duo of Camille Bordey and Richard Poole (in dream sequence) for this milestone season.
Behind the Attraction (Disney +): As a theme park junkie, I recognize the brilliance Disney has demonstrated over the decades in continually revolutionizing this industry. Each episode of this series looks at a different classic ride from the Disney parks exploring its history as well as the technical aspects. Of course the fact that they devoted an episode to my favorite theme park ride ever, the Haunted Mansion, was bound to endear Behind the Attraction to me. Along the way, we get to hear from many legendary Imagineers like Rolly Crump, Tony Baxter, Kim Irvine, and Joe Rohde who bring their firsthand knowledge and experience to the table.
Wheel of Time (Amazon Prime): With a grand and immersive world filled with countless characters adapting Robert Jordan’s classic fantasy saga was bound to be far from easy but somehow producer Rafe Judkins pulls it off. In the small village of Two Rivers, five young people are chosen by the magic-wielding Aes Sedai Moiraine as potentially being the second coming of “the Dragon” who can defeat a growing evil. Thrown into a brand new and complex world of warring factions and political backstabbing, the quintet learn of their own hidden abilities, but will it be enough to save the world? This high fantasy series remains true to the source material while still being easy enough for novices of the series to understand which is no easy feat.
Dark Side of the Ring (Vice): After the success of last year’s sophomore season Evan Husney and Jason Eisener, ventured back to the squared circle for some of the darkest and craziest tales pro wrestling has to offer. When the early promos of the season featured former AEW World Champion Jon Moxley talking about his tongue being sliced up by hardcore wrestling legend Nick Gage, fans knew they were in for another wild ride. From the insane life of Brian Pillman to the WWE’s Plane Ride from Hell, and even the NJPW/WCW joint event in North Korea, no topic in professional wrestling is off-limits as those who were there give firsthand accounts of what happened.
Philly D.A. (PBS): Over the past few years, the glaring flaws in the American criminal justice system have been on full display. During the 2020 election, lifelong civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner vowed to fix the problem from within by running for, and ultimately being elected to, the office of district attorney in Philadelphia. A crew from the documentary series Independent Lens, follow the idealistic new prosecutor on the first few months of the job, as he tries to repair a corrupt and damaged office and faces challenges every step of the way. Unfortunately spending his career thus far holding cops accountable for wrongdoings has left him few allies among the Philly PD. Even in his own office, many wonder if his idealism is impractical and will ultimately do more harm than good. Philly D.A. gives viewers a compelling and raw look at a crusading lawyer trying to save his city while besieged on all sides.
It’s a Sin (HBO Max): In 2021 HBO Max imported this miniseries created by acclaimed writer Russell T. Davies. In 1980’s London, five friends: Ritchie, Roscoe, Colin, Ash and Jill share a flat dubbed the Pink Palace and make the most out of the lively atmosphere of the city’s gay community. Every night is a party amplified by the show’s killer soundtrack of artists like: Pet Shop Boys, Joy Division, Culture Club, and Blondie. Slowly but surely a specter begins to loom over things as the AIDS epidemic begins to rear its head. As this horrible disease starts to claim the lives of their friends and society at large stigmatizing homosexuality, this surrogate family must lean on each other for support. Equally inspiring and heartbreaking, this powerful miniseries will stick with viewers long after it is over.
Sasquatch (Hulu): The wilderness of Northern California known as the Emerald Triangle is known for three things: cannabis farming, organized crime, and Sasquatch sightings. On a rainy night in 1993, these three worlds seemingly collided. While staying at the cabin of a cannabis grower, journalist David Holthouse meets a local who tells him that a Bigfoot had just brutally slaughtered three men in the woods. In the years that followed, he never heard another thing about these murders so he is now in pursuit of the truth about what happened. Documentarian Joshua Rofe follows Holthouse as he uncovers a web of; crooked cops, Hell’s Angels, marijuana farmers, a hitman so dangerous people are afraid to speak his name, and searchers for one of the most elusive cryptozoological creatures in the world. The dangers of the Emerald Triangle are brought into the forefront in this docuseries filled with twists and turns leading to a horrifying conclusion.
The Way of the Househusband (Netflix): I have no problem admitting that in my family unit my brilliant, caring, beautiful wife is the breadwinner while I toil away tapping at a keyboard for scraps from publishers (please buy a copy of Robots in Popular Culture). So this anime gave me a new television hero in the form of Tastu AKA “the Immortal Dragon”. Once a feared Yakuza enforcer he is now married to a wonderful career woman and has left organized crime behind to become the Househusband. In this new role, he brings the same intensity and ruthless efficiency of his past life to tasks like: preparing lunch, purchasing a birthday present, vacuuming the floor and taking care of the cat. Although it is inevitable that his past life as a violent criminal frequently clashes with his new life as a househusband. Over-the-top action makes for great hilarity in this Netflix original.
The Lost Pirate Kingdom (Netflix): Despite what the crowned heads of Europe may have said, the real power in the Bahamas during the 18th century rest with the pirates loosely united under the “pirate code”. This 6 part documentary series narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi tells the story of captains Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings, the two pirate lords of the region who were both rivals and reluctant allies. We see their rise and fall and how many who sailed under them like; Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy, Anne Bonny, Charles Vane, and “Blackbeard” Edward Thatch became legends of the sea in their own right. What makes The Lost Pirate Kingdom stand out is the top tier production values for the historical reenactments. The costumes, props, and acting is all at a high level and the show does not shy away from the violence and other seedy aspects of pirate life. This miniseries proved to be that perfect combination of compelling historical documentary and riveting drama.
DuckTales (Disney XD): The show which took the crown left by Gravity Falls as my favorite animated series has now wrapped up its run in grand fashion. Uncle Scrooge, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, Donald, Della, Mrs. Beakley, and Launchpad McQuack had their final adventures leading to an epic series finale. This season saw the villainous organization F.O.W.L serve as a constant threat to the Duck family as they scour the globe for a series of legendary artifacts that when combined could threaten all of reality. The creative forces behind DuckTales wrapped everything up to perfection making sure the stakes were high enough to go out with a bang without losing focus of the fact that the strength of the series has always been the strength of their family unit.
The Pembrokeshire Murders (Britbox): In the late 1980’s John Cooper killed four people and viciously assaulted five teens in southwest Wales. While he evaded authorities for those crimes, he was arrested for a series of unrelated burglaries. In 2006, Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins (played by Luke Evans who can finally use his natural Welsh accent in a role) brings a fresh set of eyes to the case and with his covert Operation Ottawa seeks the evidence needed to put Cooper away for good. The problem is, he is working against the clock, because the killer is up for parole and if freed will no doubt kill again. Based on the real life story of Wales’ most brutal serial killer and the quest of one detective to put him away, this series kept me on the edge of my seat with every episode.
WandaVision (Disney+): For as long as my comic geek self can remember, I have been sucked in by the relationship between Scarlett Witch and The Vision. I even wrote a whole chapter in the book Robots in Popular Culture about Vision for this reason (available HERE from ABC-CLIO publishing). Needless to say, I was bound to be a fan of any show focused on them, but WandaVision was something completely different from what I expected and I loved it. The Scarlett Witch and the Vision seem to be stuck in a small town playing out roles in a variety of famous TV sitcoms. Outside of the Hex the superheroes are stuck in, Jimmy Woo, Monica Rambeau, and Darcy discover there is something far bigger at play. As the saga unfolds, new revelations come to light and Wanda’s life is changed forever. WandaVision was one of those rare shows that got better with each episode combining the spectacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a genuine heartfelt emotional core.
American Experience: The Codebreaker (PBS): For far too long the incredible story of Elizabeth Smith Friedman was a state secret. However, in 2021, the documentary series American Experience shared this hero’s tale with the world. The youngest of 10 children, Elizabeth knew she was meant for greater things despite the obstacles that came with being a woman in that era. Recruited by an eccentric millionaire for her natural skills in cryptography, Smith Friedman came to the attention of the US government who utilized her in the First World War and breaking the code used by Al Capone’s criminal empire. During World War Il, she matched wits with the lead German spy in the Americas cracked the infamous Nazi “Enigma Machine” (and she did it by hand, not computer so take that Alan Turing). Despite it all, the tale of this American hero ends on a sad note but luckily, The Codebreaker was here to tell the story of this amazing woman.
Kim’s Convenience (Netflix): In 2021, viewers made one final trip to Mr. Kim’s shop in Toronto’s Moss Park neighborhood. Following last season’s cliffhanger, Mr. Kim and the rest of the family have to support his wife Umma as she struggles with the beginning stages of Multiple sclerosis. With Simu Lu starring in Marvel’s Shang Chi, many wondered what role he would play this season. Luckily, Skype allowed him to take part when he was not on set, giving him to play the character he loved and also giving his onscreen coworkers at Handy Car Rental more of a spotlight. In his final turn as the cantankerous and sarcastic Mr. Kim, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee picked up another Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor, joining was castmate Andrew Phung with a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor win. While the surprise announcement that this would be the final season of Kim’s Convenience left the cast, crew, and fans around the world devastated, we still have five seasons of one of the best shows to hit the airwaves. All that is left is to give one last “OK, see you” to the acclaimed sitcom
America’s Hidden Stories (Smithsonian Channel): Did a woman secretly hold the office of President? Were Colonial New Englanders terrified of vampires? Did George Washington actually make certain military decisions solely to spite a romantic rival? These questions and more have long been points of fascination among scholars and history buffs. In each episode of this Smithsonian Channel series a collective of historians from a variety of backgrounds seek definitive answers to these questions. With both, brand new technology and access to rarely explored archives on their side they discover aspects of the past long thought lost and forgotten.
Midnight Mass (Netflix): I just hope that by now anytime writer/director Mike Flanagan has an idea for a series Netflix automatically gives him the greenlight. This fall he returned with another creepy and cerebral horror series which works both as a good scare but also resonates on a far deeper level. Released from prison on parole, Riley returns to his hometown, the fishing island of . There he reunites with the sweetheart of his youth Erin and gets to know the new priest, Father Paul. It seems however, with the arrival of Father Paul has come a host of miracles upon the island’s inhabitants. While it seems like the work of God, it may in fact be tied to something ancient and evil. A haunting mini-series featuring incredible performances by Hamish Linklater and Samantha Sloyan, Midnight Mass is another horror masterpiece from Flanagan.
Hawkeye (Disney +): When looking for source material to bring to television you can not go wrong with the comic book masterpiece Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja. While in New York at Christmas for a family trip, Clint Barton’s past comes back to bite him in the head. Being targeted by the criminal underworld of the Big Apple, Hawkeye finds himself reluctantly partnered with fellow archer (and Hawkeye fan) Kate Bishop. Hawkeye proves once again that Disney + is the perfect venue to tell smaller stories featuring characters from the MCU who have not gotten a huge amount of movie spotlight.
What we do in the Shadows (FX): After the wholesale vampire slaughter courtesy of Guillermo we ended last season with: Nadja, Laszlo, Nandor, and Colin Robinson find themselves as the vampire lords of New York…..God help the undead community of the Big Apple. In it’s third season What we do in the Shadows still proves to be the funniest show on television. The relationship between Nandor and Guillermo grows even more complicated as the former warlord and his familiar try to figure out their next steps, even if it means listening to Barenaked Ladies while trying to become a human. Fan favorite Colin Robinson digs into his heritage as an energy vampire buddying up with Laszlo in the process. On a trip to Jersey City we even get to see Nadja reunite with her former lovers Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.