If 2021 was the year where I was an average reader then it was also a year where I enjoyed more TV, movies, and music than before. I dove back into old favorites with new seasons and discovered shows that I’d somehow missed along the years, along with premieres. I binged. I tuned in. I talked and hypothesized about what would happen next week with my friends. If some of my other tastes were predictable, then TV, perhaps, is where I truly found a taste of enjoyable chaos. Even then I didn’t watch everything I wanted! Luckily, we have rules to tame down the possible favorites:
- Must be a show I watched and loved in 2021. Either something I’ve never seen before or a show that released a new season with a majority of episodes in this year.
- I’ll explain why this show is a favorite of 2021: whether it’s a memory, a particular episode, or just a basic reason why I love the show.
- As I do not have cable, most of these are gathered from my access to Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or other sources.
Let’s tune in!
- American Horror Story: Double Feature. Was I intrigued and nervous about the tenth season of this show I’ve been watching for ten years now? Yes. Do I think it subverted my expectations in somewhat pleasant ways by avoiding its own pitfalls? Also yes. By cutting the season in two halves, the show mostly managed to avoid losing steam as it usually does and—miraculously—I loved both halves. Obviously, since Red Tide is about creatives, muses, and what price you’re willing to pay for talent and success, that’s tailor made for my tastes. I didn’t expect to like the aliens as much as I did, but was carried through by how great they pulled off every conspiracy theory. Definitely one of the better seasons in more recent years.
- Attack on Titan: The Final Season (Part 1). For all we can read into it and the conversations to be had about this franchise, I love that—at its most basic—it will always be horrifying. This season, with a time skip and the introduction of so many new elements, went smoothly and I loved seeing the action scenes play out. The opening titles were fantastic and I didn’t skip them like I normally do. I can’t wait for Part 2 to pick up in 2022 so I can see how the fate of this fictional world plays out. In many ways, Attack on Titan has a lot of the elements I liked in Fullmetal Alchemist, but it’s the insecurity in seeing fan favorites meet their gruesome ends and mourning them that makes this a brutal—yet satisfying—series.
- Bluey. Yes, this is an Australian children’s show. But you know what? This has been one of the best ways to ease my anxiety over the past year. It’s made me smile and laugh and reminded me of important lessons. The bright animation and accurate voice acting feels so next level compared to American kids’ shows that I can’t believe it. It is a family show, all around, because it’s entertaining for the young and older and it makes you want to be a better human (even if the characters are dogs), to treat others well, to remember the value of play, and to overcome difficulties.
- The Chair. This is a show about the faculty of an English department so of course I was going to love it. On some level, I recognized each and every one of these characters in the people I’ve been around or worked with. Sandra Oh’s performance as newly appointed Dean Ji-Yoon Kim is fantastic and really humanizes a role that is largely invisible to people outside of academia. The show also addresses cancel culture, the duty of remaining relevant in a ‘dying’/changing field, and how minorities within universities are still tokenized even after they’ve done the same or more work for the position. Even without all that context, it’s an entertaining show with a good sense of humor and a pace that knows when to linger and when to zing.
- Chernobyl. The only word for this miniseries is bleak. In recounting the events shortly before and after the 1986 incident in Pripyat, there is little hope or happiness to be had. The small moments of joy are usually followed by bad news, and danger is always present. All of the performances, particularly Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård, are solid. Watching it in 2021, following our own public health disasters, it was hard not to see similarities in when and how information is given to the public, and the panic this can cause. The moments of outright horror hits hard, and every suspenseful moment is pulse-racing. The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is taut and perfect for each scene. The cinematography perfectly captures the bleakness, the melancholy, and the harrowing reality of what happened.
- Downton Abbey. Never—and I mean never—could I have predicted that I would spend at least half this year watching the entirety of this popular BBC show. One day I was like, well I’ll give the first episode a shot and then I was absorbed in this historical drama about the Crawley family, their servants, and the various events that befall them throughout the many years of the early 20th century. I literally sobbed to at least a few episodes. I texted my friend with my live reactions to every outrageous drama that happened. It was, somehow, one of the most singular experiences of the year because I couldn’t help but talk about it. The performances were gripping, the character archs satisfying, and the production opulent. Somehow, even with its drama, watching Downton Abbey was like slipping into a pair of cozy slippers; it was a journey, but a comfortable one.
- Fruits Basket: The Final Season (2019). I’ve already said goodbye to this story once before but doing it this time, after a better developed plot and characters, was harder. I’d fallen in love all over again with Tohru Honda and the magical Sohma family. This season’s focus on breaking the zodiac curse and its heightened drama with Akito and the romantic tensions had me teary eyed many times. The crisp animation really has elevated this to new levels. This will be a show that I watch again and again, because it’s the perfect mix of humor, warmth, romance, and heartbreak.
- The Haunting of Bly Manor. Mike Flanagan is one of my favorite horror directors and I binged his newest adaptation of Gothic literature in a night. I appreciate most of the changes that were made to the source material and find that its time period creates a new aesthetic within an aesthetic (which is a current trend I like). The performances, especially by Victoria Pedretti and T’Nia Miller, were some of my favorites. Flanagan has a way of giving the horror of grief real weight in his works and I think it goes really well here. The scares aren’t as jumpy but the atmosphere and suspense make it worth it. It’s another one I’ll give a rewatch because I want to visit Bly again.
- Legion. I watched this on a bit of a recommendation and because this has been a good year for Dan Stevens and me. It was another “I’ll try one episode” show, and then I binged all three seasons in one week. It’s a fun adaptation of the Marvel comic and is so wonderfully unique and so unlike anything on TV (especially a network) that it automatically stands out. All of the performances, especially Stevens, work well and I love how it showcases another side of the Marvel world that we haven’t really seen in the films. The psychedelic moments are truly wild and the deep philosophical questions really probe the bubble between reality and the show. Did I question my reality while watching this? Yes. But maybe that’s a good thing.
- Miracle Workers (Season 1 & 2). I’d known about this show for a bit but finally gave it a try and, like other shows on my favorites, it’s here because it’s so different from the standard fare. Each season varies with the same cast, but they both have the same sense of humor in addressing bigger moral questions of what man owes to each other (especially in catastrophe). The show addresses if true love can exist and how, why the power of prayer really matters, the difference one person can make, how privilege can definitely affect your worldview but doesn’t determine who you are as a person, and more. The performances are all good fun, especially by Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Steve Buscemi.
- The Promised Neverland (Season 1). Two of the anime on this list have an important thing in common. What I loved about Attack on Titan is much the same for the first season of this anime about a home of children who discover that their world is not as it seems and try to plan their escape. The horror is incredible, the trauma is right there, and every new revelation builds and builds on this monstrosity. It all leads up to a season finale that is breathtaking in its execution. The music is also really good and captures emotional moments well. The core characters all feel relatable, even as they fulfill certain roles. It’s a show that definitely makes you question what you might do in the same situation.
- WandaVision. I limited myself to only one of the Disney+ Marvel shows because they released five this year and I enjoyed them all. However, WandaVision has stuck with me throughout the year because its execution is so ambitious. Not only is it giving depth and further continuation to Wanda Maximoff’s story in the MCU, but it is also utilizing tropes, production, and aesthetics from several decades of previous television to create a cohesive whole in telling a story about grief, trauma, denial, and empowerment. This is also a show that made me cry—notably I cried four times while watching “Previously On.” The show captured so much of my own nostalgia for popular sitcoms, was heartbreaking and funny in the right moments, and drove all of us up the wall with fan theories about Quicksilver and Mephisto. I want to relive it all over again.
- What We Do in the Shadows (Season 3). Every season of this show surprises me in how the characters change (often subtly because, hey, they’re vampires), what new crazy plots get thrown into the mix, and what new twists will hurt my soul. The humor is absolutely one of my favorites and, by now, the chemistry and tightknit vibe from the cast feels so organic. Guillermo is still pretty much my favorite character because he’s so relatable to anyone who grew up loving and wanting to be a vampire. Harvey Guillén brings him to life so wonderfully. Vampire media is often so saturated in tropes that seeing this show is a breath of fresh air because it twists them up in humor and a new light to remind us they’re sometimes helplessly immortal. And, after that cliffhanger of a season finale, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
These are some of the shows I binged, watched, and enjoyed but didn’t quite make the list. I do, however, still recommend them.
- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Season 4)
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
- The Great British Baking Show
- Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
- Reservation Dogs
- Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina
I’m not sure I’m going to do this every year but I was uniquely disappointed by two shows/seasons this year. Food Wars’ fifth season—the last season—did NOT live up to the previous four and I still find that the first two seasons are the strongest. For being one of my favorite anime of the last couple years, this was a huge letdown. The second (and last) season of The Promised Neverland was a train wreck. As someone who has not read the manga, even I could see that it was rushed, skipped character archs, and wrapped plotlines up with a pretty bow to resolve things. It was unsatisfying and I almost didn’t finish it but kept on in the hope it would get better. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a one season anime.
As always, I still have an immense number of shows to watch, catch up on, or discover in the year ahead. For now, though, I’m pretty pleased with how 2021 turned out on the TV. I’ll tune in again in 2022.