The 25 Best TV Shows of 2021: 2021 like its predecessor saw a glut of long-form content being produced. As a result of having access to different streaming services, viewers were now exposed to long-form content produced throughout the world, and thus the creators of said content had to substantially raise the bar of crafting compelling stories in order to keep the audience engaged. It’s of course a given that with the advent of so many streaming services, the quality of web shows being produced is bound to get diluted, but having seen quite a lot of these in 2021, I can safely reassure you by saying that the good far outweighs the bad.

There are a couple of caveats to consider before getting to the list of the best tv shows of 2021. Firstly, the list is subjective. These are the 25 best TV shows that aired during 2021 according to me. The second caveat builds organically from the first. I haven’t seen everything that had come out this year, which means I might miss a couple of important ones.

There are also a lot of acclaimed shows (Squid Game, Invincible) that do not make the cut, because they simply did not work for me.  The third caveat is this list is only considering the long-form narrative content produced. Thus no documentaries or anthologies on this list. And the final caveat is this list is not considering the shows that are currently still airing. Thus critically acclaimed shows like Yellowjackets, the final season of The Expanse, etc. are not considered because they are still airing.

Honorable Mention

The Underground Railroad

The only reason why the Prime Original Miniseriesisn’t on the list is because I was unable to complete it. This isn’t because the show is unwatchable. On the contrary, the show is highly important and a sure-shot technical achievement. It is also one of the finest directorial ventures of Barry Jenkins.

However, The Underground Railroad like its source material is so potent and so overwhelming in exploring slavery during the 1800s, that it remains a story you simply can’t binge. I can safely say that if I had completed this show, The Underground Railroad would have been near the top, if not at the top of this list. Its ambition and its messaging are challenging but ultimately a necessary one.

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So, Without further ado, let’s get to the actual list:

25. Domina

This is the story of Domina Livia Drusilla, the 3rd wife of Augustus Caesar. A master manipulator who ensured that Augustus became emperor and stayed in power. The opening credits encapsulated the show in a nutshell, the bloody backstabbing history of Rome and its legacy through the eyes of the women working behind the scenes.

There is nudity and violence, but the show focuses on Livia Drusilla manipulating and controlling the backdoor politics to navigate a turbulent time in Rome. It makes for an intensely watchable experience. The fact that women were extremely important in the running of government behind men might feel like woke agenda to a lot of people disillusioned with Hollywood’s recent trend of agenda-driven content. However, history doesn’t lie. Livia Drusilla is a very important character in roman History, for better or worse. That said, Season 1 of Domina is historical fiction that takes liberties between events of history to deliver compelling television.

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24. Stargirl

Stargirl, created by Geoff Johns and Greg Berlanti (Arrow, Flash) is mostly written by Geoff Johns, follows the story of Courtney Whitmore, a teenager who moves with his mom and his stepfamily to Blue Valley, Nebraska. While there, Courtney discovers that his stepfather Pat Dugan was a sidekick to a superhero Starman, himself a member of the JSA, and has the cosmic staff, Starman’s weapon with him.

When the staff inadvertently starts to work with Courtney, it unravels secrets related to both Pat, as well as the JSA (Justice Society of America). As a show, Stargirl came with the baggage of whether we needed another show in the vein of a CW show. The first season and this season proved that other than its cheesiness it has absolutely nothing to do with the CW vein. On the contrary, the show’s earnestness and sincerity are what make it so watchable.

The addition of secondary characters like Shade, who looks and acts absolutely pitch-perfect as a side-kick, is a welcome addition. Additional exploration into characters like Mike (Trae Romano), Beth, or even Rick is quite welcome. The special effects too look quite great, far better than the CW budgets we are used to seeing.

Stargirl thus joins the new iteration of Arrow-verse shows where the story is more focused and doesn’t dive into melodramatic drivel. And the acting across the board being great also helps. If you have seen the first season, binge season 2 because the quality doesn’t dip. If you haven’t seen Stargirl but loved Shazam as a movie, dive in.

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23. Gullak

Best TV Shows of 2021 - Gullak

Gullak, loosely translated to piggy-bank, is a story about a middle-class North Indian family. Basically, it’s not a story that really has an overarching plot, instead, it is more focused on anecdotes and using those anecdotes as a backdrop for creating characters so recognizable and relatable that you are going to love them from the first frame or the first dialogue. That doesn’t mean these stories are simple. For instance, the anecdote about a scooter, or the anecdote about a power cut one evening has a script and the dialogues that are witty and sincere. And the performances are absolutely brilliant. Every character is three-dimensional and perfectly fleshed out and defined. It’s still a question whether we needed a sequel, but Season 2 like its predecessor, has its tonality still intact.

Since there isn’t too much of an overarching plot here, that, in itself, becomes the point. A focus on reality is more pronounced here and the acting remains top-notch. Also, there is a sense of sentimentality here that is a tad bit more pronounced than the previous season, but the core remains unchanged. It is still heartwarming and it is still fascinatingly relatable. TVF has a knack for creating content that hits on the pulse of the country. A microcosm examination of an Indian middle-class family which can be enjoyed at all – this is a rare content and should always be appreciated.

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22. The Chestnut Man

Created by Soren Sveistrup, who created the fantastic Scandinavian noir series “The Killing”, The Chestnut Man takes place in Copenhagen where the police are shocked to discover a young woman murdered to death in a playground, with one of her hands missing. The killer leaves a calling card, “The Chestnut Man” – a makeshift doll made of two chestnuts connected with twigs to create the shape of a man.

The investigation is soon assigned to Naia Thulin, an ambitious detective who is planning to move into cybercrime away from the Homicide division, thus effectively making this her last case. Her boss saddles her with Mark Hess, a young detective from Interpol who is stuck in Copenhagen and waiting for the call to return from his organization. Almost immediately Thulin and Hess don’t get along because Hess doesn’t want to be here, and is killing time, while Thulin wants to investigate this case. However, Hess and Thulin soon discover evidence in the piece of chestnut connecting this case to another mysterious disappearance of a girl almost a year prior – the daughter of the minister of social services.

What makes The Chestnut Man so good isn’t the main investigative story thread, which is compelling and twisty like most potboilers. It’s the supporting storytelling that is equally compelling or even filled with realistic drama for the viewer to buy into. The creators maintain a sense of tension by keeping the revelations a slow burn, making it the show’s biggest strength. Sometimes in case of heightened moments, the tension is almost unbearable; while the release – equally cathartic. The opening moments of the show as well as the final climactic moments are top-notch Scandinavian-noir storytelling.

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21. The Investigation

Best TV Shows of 2021 - The Investigation

Created by Tobias Lindholm (Another Round, The Hunt), The Investigation deals with the murder investigation of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, investigated by the Copenhagen Police Department. The investigation herein is led by Inspector Jens Moller who is aided by public prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jespen. That’s it!

This show is almost stubbornly solipsistic in its field of vision. It is so narrow in that regard, that neither the accused nor the victim is ever shown on screen. There are no efforts to sensationalize the proceedings by showcasing blood, gore, and limbs – a trademark of most nordic noir. Consequently, The Investigation is one of the cleanest police procedural you will see. However, its focus on its procedural roots and the detail-oriented approach of the investigation is the ultimate catnip for viewers. Thus making the show a highly subjective one. Depending on your taste, this show would ultimately be either an extremely boring and sanitized take, or an extremely detail-oriented and far more poignant take than you would anticipate.

My inclination towards the latter comes from noticing the show’s almost reverential respect towards the victim, a viewpoint sorely lacking in most true crime dramatizations. The Investigation is punishing in its pace, very much focused on the procedural and bureaucratic aspects of the police investigation, and would frustrate you almost intentionally. However, sticking with it turns out to be rewarding and ultimately a cathartic experience that makes it one of the best tv shows of 2021. 

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20. Only Murders in the Building

Best TV Shows of 2021 - Only Murders in the Building

A retired television actor, a washed-out broadway director, and a 28-year-old interior designer don’t ostensibly have anything in common. Other than these couple of facts – they are rabid fans of the same true-crime podcast, they live on the same New York high-rise apartment. Oh, and one of their neighbors were murdered, with a surprising connection to one of them. The show is about what happens when these three start a true-crime podcast to solve a real murder in their building.

It’s a surprising and fun premise, but what’s surprising is how wonderfully the show works. Resting on the strong writing as well as the fantastic chemistry between the three leads, Only Murders in the Building imparts the feeling of reading an old school murder mystery novel that you are reading while drinking coffee inwrapped in blankets.

The stakes are there, but the show never forgets to maintain a sunny disposition and an old-school charm. The comedy comes in the exploration of the generation gap between Steve Martin, Martin Short’s characters, and the character of Selena Gomez, a perfect straight foil to the wacky and earnest efforts of her geriatric companions. Surprisingly funny, heartfelt, sincere, and yet thrilling the show also remembers to explore the pathos of the central protagonists. As far as American TV Shows of 2021 are concerned, it also explores the growing fandom of true crime podcasts as well as its fan base to hilarious and often heartwarming results.

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19. Castlevania

Credit to Warren Ellis and the creators of Castlevania, the show in its final season does manage to give all of its characters a definite closure, even as the universe of the show is open for more continuations. As the season begins, it is hard-pressed to think that it is the final season because the first 5 episodes are all about building up the stakes, and philosophical discussions with a healthy dose of snark, and if you aren’t an Ellis fan, it would very much feel like a drag.

The second half though is when all of it comes together. The reason why the show is still so watchable is because the characters are infinitely more interesting and the animation is excellent. It does feel a tad bit looser during the action sequences, less detailed and more fluid, but you can feel Ellis giving attention to the construction of these set pieces. Castlevania starts off as very much an oddity, a curious experiment that somehow humanizes Dracula, one of the biggest villains of literature. But after 4 seasons, the characters are so well developed that the show as a whole becomes an intensely compelling and watchable story from beginning to end.

18. The Family Man

The Raj & DK-created show starring Manoj Bajpayee had been the victims of numerous delays. Thankfully though Family Man Season 2 is the prime example of one of those shows which proves that even if censorship can dull the teeth of your show, it won’t completely damage the impact your show would have if the story is actually good.

One of the reasons why Family Man Season 2 excels is how it explores the various character arcs. Srikant, played by Manoj Bajpayee, was a soldier and a patriot first, and a performative family man in the first season. But as the show begins, we see Srikant disillusioned with his patriotism and his work, and thus leaves his job, joins a new corporate one, and strives to be more of a family man.

As a result, the performative aspects carry over to both his family as well as his work life, which causes him to feel lost. This lost feeling is echoed by the primary antagonist of the show and Srikant’s chief foil, Samantha Akkineni’s Raji, an ex-soldier, ex-freedom fighter who is now working in a textile factory living her life on autopilot, and basically lost, until orders come from above and she starts to find herself again.

This mirroring between two individuals, an angry jaded patriot, and a fanatic nationalist, is fascinating. But The Family Man is such a successful show also because the family aspect is intrinsically tied to its identity, and here, it becomes tied to the show’s plot, as well as in its exploration of karmic comeuppance. The show’s exploration of family dynamics and humor is still on point.

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17. Arcane

A stellar example of a show breaking the videogame adaptation curse, Arcane is a video game expansion that works perfectly for newcomers. The animation by Fortiche Studios is the major draw here. The mixture of 3D density and weight with the fluidity of 2D animation produces a visual spectacle and brings to life a world that is so rarely seen.  The fight choreography is animation work at its finest. The makers spare no expense at making sure the medium is pushed to its absolute range and limits.
The world-building of Arcane is the second big draw. It forges exposition from the screenplay and lets the visuals expand the world. The character work of the show is very strong, offsetting the sometimes simplistic story and the dialogue reminiscent of YA fiction. But the core central relationships – the sisterly bond between Vi and Powder, and the quasi brotherly relationship between Viktor and Jayce are what drives the narrative forward.
The characters’ decisions affect the world and carry the narrative instead of the other way around. The voice-over work, especially of Hailee Steinfeld as Vi, Ella Purnell as Jinx, and Kevin Alejandro as Jayce bring forth nuance and pathos which are ably supported by the beautiful visuals. This is one best Netflix original content produced in 2021 and definitely one of their best TV shows that demands to be seen by more eyeballs.

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16. Loki

Best TV Shows of 2021 - LOKI

Any Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series has two tasks it needs to accomplish. It needs to move the overall plot of that universe forward, while also establishing itself as a standalone TV series in which characters have their own motivations and points of view.
Loki is the first MCU show which finally pushes the overall story of this fictional universe forward, building on the foundations of the last 10 years, and then breaking them and charting a different course. Its success is due to show-runner Michael Waldron’s confidence in leaning into the absolutely goofy and weird aspects of this comic-based universe. Waldron and director Kate Herron use a version of Loki who escaped in Avengers Endgame and immediately follows up on that plot thread. It’s a fascinating choice due to Loki as a character, but also due to Tom Hiddleston being at his most charismatic here.
Loki succeeds as a series because it manages to balance intimate characters with utterly weird special effects-heavy action set-pieces. But unlike the other shows in the MCU, Loki feels very much unique in its utilization of green screen, and CGI to create environments you haven’t seen, at least in the MCU. In terms of relative importance alone, Loki succeeds in elevating itself to a key piece in the newer tapestry of the universe. It has been further proven by the success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, and the concept of the multiverse getting so intrinsically tied to the MCU.

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15. Superman & Lois

Like most shows broadcast on the CW, Superman and Lois elicited a healthy dose of skepticism for me. This is because most of the CW super-hero offerings are basically relationship drama shrouded with a superhero veneer as a cape.
Superman & Lois is significantly different. It is a show which works because the writers understand Superman. They understand that Superman as a character can work and can be extremely compelling because he is not just the invincible bruiser. What happens when Superman is faced with being a parent, and not a very successful one at that? How does he manage to help his sons while also trying to save the world, keeping his aspirational qualities intact?
Both Hoechlin and Tulloch as Superman and Lois Lane have the perfect chemistry of a couple having lived together long enough, being adults and knowing how to solve their problems as a family. What works in Superman and Lois is a thin balancing act.
Superman and Lois is successful in exploring both the Superman side of the coin with the melodrama, the high school cliches, the romantic triangles, the super-hero shenanigans with a healthy dose of administrative and City politics, as well as the Lois Lane aspect of the show. It also helps that their sons, Jonathan and Jordan Kent, transcend beyond the usual archetypes of jock and brooding introvert to something far more three-dimensional.
Surprisingly, with all of the better changes made in the lore (with all of the action set-pieces present due to a higher budget) what will bring me back to a second season will be the family dynamics. And that’s where this show succeeds.

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14. Reservation Dogs

Reservation Dogs start off as a couple of kids steal a chips truck in an Indian reservation and go from there. The genre inspiration is in the title, but Reservation Dogs is anything but a heist movie in the vein of a Quentin Tarantino joint. It’s more in the vein of an Atlanta or even a Dave, but unlike the usual FX comedies dealing with existential issues, Reservation Dogs doesn’t have the joke density and thus the exhaustive usage of that humor quotient.
It instead uses the sense of authenticity and location specificity that comes from having people of indigenous descent both front and behind the camera. It this crafts a story unique enough to be engaging. At its core, though the story is still about belonging to your place. The kids want to escape to California to live a better life, but the world they are leaving behind has its own charms for them which makes it difficult to leave, and difficult for the viewer to walk away from the show.
Maybe the narrative structure is familiar, but Reservation Dogs creeps up on you, with regards to how touching and nuanced it is. When it dips into the Surreal nature too, it feels like the creators acknowledge just how closer the world shown here is, with the spiritual aspects of life itself.
While Reservation Dogs feels like a series of anthology episodes connected by the same characters, there is a definite throughline in terms of plot. The acting, as well as the lackadaisical nature of the story, eases you into the nuanced points the show is trying to make with regards to women empowerment, or the battle between modernity and traditionalism. It’s a coming-of-age story wrapped up as a hangout story about the reservation, and it surprisingly works wonders.

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13. DAVE

Best TV Shows of 2021 - Dave

Following the tradition of comedians writing a show starring a much more exaggerated version of themselves in a comedy show, like Seinfeld, Dave is the story of Lil Dicky, an aspiring youtube rapper aiming for the big leagues. As a show, Dave isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of humor – as a neurotic character himself, Dave uses his neuroses to give comments which are crass, crude, and sometimes offensive, but always side-splittingly funny.
If DAVE Season 1 was the rise of a neurotic youtube rapper in the big leagues, DAVE Season 2 is the immediate follow-up to that. It looks at what happens when you taste overnight success and you slowly start to alienate the people who have been with you in the first place. If Dave’s neuroses were funny before, now they become downright annoying, and Burd is capable of playing this exaggerated version of himself that’s threading a very thin line of  becoming downright unlikable.
This alienating behavior of Dave towards his friends leads to the necessary spotlight on his friends. This strengthens the ensemble while preparing us mentally for the inevitable car crash-like realization which Dave would have later in the season. When it does happen, it happens to become one of the trippiest and most hilarious sequences of 2021.
I don’t think I have seen anyone explore the concept of id, ego, and superego in such a funny and poignant manner before. Poignancy is the name of the game. Character development is key this season, which is why the humor doesn’t completely take a backseat but does become part of a mix of genres, a balance between character-focused drama and gross-out or sitcom-level comedy.

12. Mare of Easttown

There are very few shows which perfectly encapsulate the feeling of living in a small town, knowing each and every member of the said locality, and the subsequent feeling of both closeness as well as claustrophobia and exasperation. Mare of Easttown follows Mare Sheehan, a detective investigating the murder of a local teen, which causes old secrets of the inhabitants of the small Philadelphia town spill over.
Mare is a character with a lot of baggage. The show slowly gets us to know of this baggage as the series progresses. She is also a person haunted by a similar case she had been unable to solve for over a year, leading to people in the community doubting her detective skills. Her personal troubles, on the other hand, include a divorce, her son lost to suicide and an ex-heroin addict daughter-in-law fighting for the custody of her grandson.
All of the above issues give Mare a prickly and no-nonsense demeanor, which makes her likable and highly easy to root for. It also helps that she is played by Kate Winslet, who is sublime here in what looks like a defining performance this late in her career.
Her chemistry with her mother, played with aplomb by the brilliant Jean Smart, is one of the key highlights of the entire show. But what truly stands out is just how commanding Winslet’s prescenes is as Mare. She is able to give us a window into her obsession, and just how much abuse she can dish out when she is threatened.
The show however is a completely immersive product because the town has a very distinctive character. From the very realistic Philly accent to each of the supporting cast having a defining characteristic and a palpable relationship with Winslet’s character. Watch out also for a wonderful supporting role by Julianne Nicholson as Mare’s childhood friend, who sometimes surpasses Winslet in key scenes.

11. What We Do In The Shadows

Best TV Shows of 2021 - What We Do in the Shadows

An expansion into the world crafted in the 2014 comedy film by Taika Waititi, What We Do In the Shadows has always been consistent in maintaining the idiosyncratic humor and its satirical bent throughout its three-season run. It isn’t a surprise that Season 3 manages to keep the humor quotient intact. It is however surprising just how much focused on lore Season 3 is.

From exploring Colin Robinson’s past and the existence of energy vampires to moving forward with the revelation of Guillermo’s lineage last year, to the existence of werewolves as well as an expansion of the vampiric council, What We Do In The Shadows definitely does a lot.

That said, Season 3 is Nandor’s season. It develops and pushes Nandor’s character forward in weird and interesting ways, leading to the funniest trio of episodes in Episodes 8, 9 and 10, while simultaneously being extremely emotional and stakes heavy. It also manages to flesh out Nadja and the relation the three vampires share between each other.

The show also manages to evolve the bromantic relationship between Nandor and Guillermo while hinting at something far deeper. What We Do in the Shadows is swinging for the fences, taking risks with an assured confidence because it’s USP – the humor is always on point. This is again a fantastic season and a must-watch for those who have been following the show.

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10. Doom Patrol

Look, telling that Doom Patrol is a weird show is just underselling it at this point. One of the main villains of this show is sentient butts with sharp teeth, a green humanoid alien creature called Garguax. Weird is the new norm in this show.

Telling that Doom Patrol is also one of the best superhero series coming out of HBO Max is also underselling Doom Patrol the show as a show about family, both the real and the family forged from circumstances. Season 3 is when the creators of Doom Patrol actually start to make a concerted effort in highlighting this “Doom Patrol” as an actual team, and not just a group of misfits living in a house and bound together by the machinations of a manipulative old bastard, who is now also dead.

Knowing that coming together as a team is easier said than done, the story throws all these characters in their own personal crucible and comes out together as something far more resilient. All of the main characters get developed to the point that by the end of this season, things have almost radically changed. However, the eccentricity still exists, the stupidity and complete weirdness still exist, albeit with a dose and sense of self-awareness.

There is a heart in this show, hidden beneath all the comic book and superhero wacky hijinks, and a definite knowledge of character interactions that make these characters straddle the fine line between humanly relatable and larger than life actual idiots.

9. Time

Time is a 3 episode miniseries about prison life, both for the administrators of punishment and the punished. Mark Cobden goes to jail for drunken driving which causes him to kill a cyclist by accident. Prison is his sense of atonement, but the world of prison is not just for reformation but also realization. A crucible where hardships, abuse, manipulation of power occur under the watchful eyes of the law, and the crucible doesn’t differentiate with regards to the crime committed. Prison also forces Mark’s support officer Eric McNally, an officer of an impeccable career of 22 years, getting ultimately drawn to the web of the prison crucible to save the life of his son.
What makes Time so compelling and so imminently watchable is how stripped down and without flair, it feels. Jimmy McGovern’s script is realistic and hard-hitting, without being overwhelmingly gritty. It is hard-hitting, but unlike say Stephen Zaillian’s The Night of, another miniseries following the life of an inmate in prison, the bleak nature of Time is offset by a glimmer of hope through the characters and the four walls of the prison.
Lewis Arnold’s direction ensures that you follow through the story as it moves at a measured pace. However, he doesn’t step back on introducing newer conflicts. His work makes the machinations inside the prison feel authentic. The appearance of a drug Kingpin inside the prison who controls his business outside, the appearance of a prisoner who takes a liking to our protagonist and becomes his ally – these are well-worn prison tropes, but at no point does the show take you out of the proceedings that you are compelled to identify the tropes it is following.
One of the biggest reasons to watch it is the two protagonists who share the majority of screen time. Both Bean and Graham deliver performances so real that you feel you are on a journey with them, and by the time the story ends, you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained but also in touch with these characters.

8. Tabbar

Pavan Malhotra has carved a niche for himself as a copper-bottomed supporting actor in the business. With Tabbar, Malhotra finally gets one of the meatier roles his talent can handle, and he chews on that meaty role to perfection. As Sardar Omkar Singh, an experienced retired police officer who is wary of the system and has  spent the better part of his life navigating, he becomes the only sane person in his family to steer out of a crisis.
The crisis in question could be the premise of any prestige television show; a case of mistaken luggage leads to an altercation between Harpreet AKA Happy and Maheep which causes the death of a character by a bullet to the head. The resulting image of blood and brain matter on the family photograph attached to the mantle is one that is going to be etched into your head forever. What follows is Omkar Singh bending every possible rule he can think of – both legal and societal, to plug this rapidly sinking ship, and save his family, especially his elder son from going to jail. The question that the show works up is a simple one – “How far would you go to protect your family?” Tabbar answers with a terse “As far as you can imagine”.
What makes Tabbar stand out is the scope as well as the tones it balances. Juggling all these tones and giving each of its characters their due is something that the show does really well. The sense of place too also gives Tabbar a unique voice and doesn’t make it devolve into something like Udta Punjab.
Jalandhar in Tabbar is a city stuck between two tones – the violence and the drug-heavy mob life that promises a far better life of excess. The show cleverly delves into melodrama, mixing its serious tone and oppressive bleakness in a palpable and relatable blend. And the imagery, the overhead shots, the blood seeping out from locked doors, rats chewing away at brain matter; these images manage to reinforce the tone of the oppressive bleakness. But what makes Tabbar stand out is its ending – a bleak, mesmerizing, terrifying, and inevitable one.

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7. Landscapers

When Landscapers begins you are thrust into the world of the Edwards’, a mild-mannered British couple who live in France. Wife Susan (Olivia Colman) is a lover of classic cinema and buys rare memorabilia for her equally loving cinephile husband. Husband Chris (David Thewlis) is an intense yet loving husband who can’t get a steady job because of his inability to speak fluent french.
As the story progresses we start to realize that the couple had escaped from England due to mysterious circumstances, which only gets compounded when Chris, in a moment of weakness calls his stepmother and reveals the horrible crime the couple had done and the reason for their escape. Contacted by the British police, they are finally called in to answer for their crimes.
If Landscapers followed this gist down to a tee, it would have been an interesting if ultimately dry dramatization of the decade-old unsolved murder finally being unearthed, quite literally. Instead, Ed Sinclair is more interested in crafting a character study of two distinctly flawed individuals and how stories and true events could be interpreted by different people.
Colman’s Susan is a broken individual whose love for films has completely engulfed her life to the extent that her returning to England to answer for her crimes with her husband feels like a third-act reel for her (complete with a soundtrack). To showcase the disparity between truth and interpretation Landscapers changes visual format quite frequently.
The idyllic French life of the Edwards’ is shot in a high frame rate, almost like a telefilm, but the dream sequences are shot with green filters. Interrogation scenes where the police officers try to reconstruct the chain of events from the two protagonists is shown by depicting hastily constructed sound stages and the reenactment of the events almost pushing against the constraints of reality. But the trick and thus the genius of the show is just how empathetic you might feel towards the protagonists because of all the cinematic flair used to imbibe them. But that’s not it. The show makes sure that at no point do you forget that all of these is an elaborate misdirection or reconstruction of fabricated events. That distance makes you interested to watch how the events progress and what happens at the end.
The performances by both Olivia Colman and David Thewlis is what elevates Landscapers to the stratosphere of television. Reality might be fluid here, twisted by the storyteller to pay homage to the classics of the film genre, but it is never ignored but always acknowledged and taken as part of the whole. The crime was horrific, the reasoning is cut and dry, but the official standpoint and the emotional standpoint are both important cruxes of Landscapers, and neither one of them gets lost over the other.

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6. Succession

Season 3 of Succession opens with the prodigal son Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) dealing a decisive blow to father Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) plans to get his company Waystar Royco out of the biggest jams, while also simultaneously taking revenge on his father. It’s very Shakesperean, full of energy and aplomb – until Kendall enters into a hotel room, goes in the bathroom and locks it, and lies in a cold bathtub alone, suffering a panic attack. And you realize there won’t be a victory lap for any of the characters, and we are still not able to predict where the story would go. At the core, though Succession is a story about the three Roy siblings Kendall, Roman, and Shiv, and the war that occurs between them on who is going to takeover Waystar Royco.
The show makes it a point to build each character up, give them a high for the majority of their runtime and then tear them down, leaving us the scraps to feast on. It’s especially interesting to see how each of the Roy siblings at the end of the day is always interested in the goodwill of their father.
The far more interesting aspect of the show is Logan himself, who is very aware of the love these kids have for him and is not averse to exploiting them at any opportunity. It’s a form of abuse, and these kids, because they are overgrown kids, are emotionally abused, mentally decapitated by their manipulative father and absentee mother. Their only showcase of love is through circular talk, colorful insults, twisty language which would make any aficionado of the English language cackle in glee.
The cleverness also lies in how Armstrong and his team are successful in showcasing the absolute apathy of the rich people by their camera work and cinematography. The production design is sometimes spartan, sometimes almost untidy with a rembrandt at one corner, a picasso at the other – there isn’t an acknowledgment of the wealth. No, the show is about power, and how the men wielding this power corrupt everyone in their vicinity.
This is a show that revels in us rooting for unlikable characters. The writing and the structuring of the show is so strong enough that you start out by watching cringe comedy that soon builds to catastrophic meltdowns, and it is absolutely glorious to witness.
Nicolas Britell’s theme is too big and yet off-key giving it a strange vibe, completely summing up the show – the characters are too big, and yet they are too small and sometimes too petty to comprehend the larger game afoot. Like the Sopranos, this is a show that revels in making the anti-climax feel climactic, and Armstrong and his team at every turn ask us – “Isn’t this what you wanted? Why are you looking away now?” And truth be told, even as the urge comes, we can’t look away, even as Strong delivers the performance of his career, Matthew Mcfayden gives a heartbreaking performance that is sure to bring acclaim. These are unlikable characters, brought to life spectacularly.

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5. Maid

The systematic rigmarole and circuitous methodology of administration is a universal problem. That universality ensures that Maid remains grounded, but creator Molly Smith Metzler keeps a fine balance with her directors to not make the show complete poverty porn or a misery-fest. There is a sense of optimism there, a hint of a light at the end of the tunnel which is ultimately attained by our protagonist at the end.
The show however succeeds largely because its protagonist Alex, played by Margaret Qualley is a woman who feels real. Her reactions and frustrations mirror ours, as we see her cleaning toilets, living below the poverty line, constantly calculating the dollar amount in her bank amount, living on the edge day by day.
Qualley makes her character likable, with her balanced attitude, and her calm nature, even as the script manages to slide in moments of befuddlement for Alex’s character. The raison d’etre of the show would be its potrayal of Motherhood. But what works for the show is the chemistry between Qualley and young Whittet. The turbulent relationship Alex has with her mother – an undiagnosed bipolar who has been through cycles of abuse that is unable to break out of, and Alex’s frustration at having to be the adult in that relationship is also scarily believable.
Where the show also succeeds is in showcasing the effects of emotional abuse, manipulation, and gaslighting, and how despite all of Alex’s hard-earned tries to escape from the abuse it is equally believable to slide back into that cycle.  However, the writing of the show is so strong, that even as her character slides back, we slid back with her into it, and thus root for her even as the support system around her fails.
Maid is a brilliantly written, wonderfully acted, and carefully balanced show which manages to impart an important message of the effects of domestic abuse without coming off as preachy. Even as recognizable story tropes come in to steer the plot in somewhat predictable resolutions, at no point does the show completely fall into the trap of becoming a predictable bore.

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4. Master of None – Moments in Love

A much better homage to Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage than the actual official remake. It’s easy to see why Ansari did this. While Season 2 was his love letter to The French new wave an experiment like this was likely on the cards. Memories of Love or Master of None Season 3 works best as a standalone miniseries. With only limited guest appearances by Ansari to connect this miniseries to the entire show at large, this miniseries explores the life of Denise, Dev’s friend introduced in Season 1, and her relationship with newly wedded wife Alicia.
The fascinating viewpoint in adapting the heterosexual white gaze of Bergman in Scenes from a Marriage, to a story very much exploring a marriage of a same-sex couple who are definitely not white is fascinating. Ansari who directed all 5 episodes, uses static shots and lets his actors and the script do the work. There is a propensity for the show to linger, which gives this miniseries an added tone of drama and melancholy.
If Season 1 and 2 are outright comedies, Season 3 is a relationship drama. An especially poignant and real one that looks at the 21st century through the lens of a 70s movie aesthetic. The fact that it works is surprising. The primary reason for it work can be attributed to the script, written by Ansari and Lena Waithe. Waithe’s point of view is the crucial one here, giving context and relevancy to moments almost impossible to obtain otherwise. The performances from both Waithe and Naomi Ackie are sublime. Ackie in particular gives one of the strongest performances in television this year.
Memories of Love is such a radical departure from the previous seasons, that it made me curious and then made me fall in love with the characters. The slow lingering pace is definitely a turn-off for people used to the traditional tone of Master of None, but as a unique venture in Ansari’s filmography, memories of love stands out as far more nuanced and poignant than I would have expected.

3. It’s A Sin

Best TV Shows of 2021 - It's a Sin

Russell T. Davies’ five-episode chronicle of a group of friends in 80s London’ deals pretty directly with the LGBTQ+ community as well as the AIDS epidemic. But as if foreseeing how much of a heavy topic that exploration would end up being, Russell crafts It’s a Sin as almost a furious exploration of life, to maintain that contrast when the epidemic raises its darkened cloak of inevitability.
Vibrant, vivacious, and lively, Davies’ characters in It’s a Sin almost leap off the screen and page. Cramming almost 5 seasons of story into 5 episodes of television, Davies crafts an almost exuberant exploration of LGBTQ life, so markedly different from the usual exploration we get as major Oscar baits. His characters for the majority are rounded 3-dimensional characters with their flaws and foibles. However, they are strong enough to fight against a world either content to ignore them or to lock them up and force them to comply with traditionalism.
As a fight for individualism, almost every character is incandescent with personality, and thus you are hooked into following their lives almost immediately. You cry, laugh, and wallow in heartbreak with these characters and consequently feel disgusted at the normalization of making AIDS “the gay disease”.
The show perhaps too unsubtle a fashion makes the marginalization of queer people one of the primary causes of the epidemic to run rampant, and while that might feel like an oversimplification, it’s still a very important issue that is addressed. The principal cast all shine, especially Olly Alexander as Ritchie, the protagonist. But the entire ensemble makes It’s A Sin a comprehensive and yet quick and exhilarating watch with happiness and heartbreak working in sync, perfect or imperfectly.

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2. Odd Taxi

Best TV Shows of 2021 - Odd Taxi

Anime dealing with anthropomorphic animals are all the rage nowadays, catering to a subsection of the anime fanbase which is slowly rising and becoming far more mainstream. Oddtaxi however takes all the traditional aesthetic quality of the anthropomorphic character-filled world and just takes it as fact. It instead focuses on creating a story that is far more conversational – a taxi driver picks up interesting characters every night as his passengers and his conversations with these characters give clever insight into the world.
That’s the first layer. The second layer is the mystery of the kidnapped girl, part of a trio of up-and-coming girl bands and connected to our taxi driver in some way. The second layer is a twisty clever and tightly written noir. The third layer is revealed with a twist that is both surprising, wild, and completely makes sense in the context of the biggest criticism of the shows regarding anthropomorphic characters.
It is frankly a twist that enhances the central story while also literally giving the viewers a completely new perspective on the 12 episodes that preceded it. For anime fans who want to see kinetic and gorgeous animation, they might be disappointed. But for people looking for a fantastic story with carefully constructed characters without an ounce of filler in the plot, you can’t do any better than Oddtaxi. Its ambition in hindsight looks absolutely breathtaking to comprehend.

1. Midnight Mass

Best TV Shows of 2021 - Midnight Mass

Mike Flanagan, with his 7 episode limited series “Midnight Mass”, crafts a horror masterpiece both on the macro as well as the micro-scale. However, it is the micro-scale that is infinitely more interesting. On the micro-scale Midnight Mass is about a gated island community’s dependence on organized religion. In a way Flanagan’s treatment, his showcasing of the Catholic Church, the way each and every sermon used here, feels like the experience of a man raised catholic, going to Sunday school.
Flanagan shows us the myriad of ways by which theism and religion affect the lives of these people in the community of Crockett Island, whether they want to be affected by it or not. On the macro scale, Midnight Mass is about the lives of a gated community of Crockett Island which gets interminably changed by the arrival of a mysterious priest, and the supernatural events occurring in tandem with said priest’s arrival. Revealing too much would not only be a spoiler, but it would also actively hamper your enjoyment of seeing how Flanagan and his team of writers utilize a pulpy horror premise to craft a slow burn story into the unraveling of humanity itself.
That’s where Midnight Mass shines. Flanagan’s exploration into these characters and their nuances ensures that at no point do you start missing the external horror you are expecting to experience. He sprinkles those moments in each episode, letting it simmer, until the external and internal horror boil over into a controlled cacophony. The road to apotheosis leads to deals with the devil, angels, and demons who are all interchangeable, and the screenplay subversion with visual imagery, creating a story that is both profound as well as primal. The horror here both creeps with dread and is visceral. 

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Let me know what were your favorite TV shows the last year, whether I missed any, and whether this list helped you increase your watchlist. Sound off in the comments.

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