Tuesday, December 14, 2021

2021 in Review: My Favorite TV Shows [Contributor: Jenn]

As we round out our sophomore year in a pandemic (ugh, can you believe it?) I’ve realized that essentially I need a Letterboxd for television. I watch way more TV than I do film, and this year was no exception. The truth is that between the fifteen different streaming services out there, it’s impossible to watch everything that is available to stream. That is never more evident than when we get to year-end lists and I read through picks from Vulture, EW, and more while realizing there are shows I’ve never heard of out there! Nevertheless, I have compiled some of the television shows that got me through 2021 — and ones that I personally think you should be watching.

For ease of access, I’ve broken the series down by which streaming service (or cable network) they’re available on. If you have access to one or all of these streaming services, I highly recommend checking these shows out. May they get you through your junior year (ugh) of the pandemic.

Note: Spoilers will be discussed below so read at your own risk!


Mythic Quest 

Look, I’ll sing the praises of Mythic Quest all day long but it’s an absolute shame that the series wasn’t nominated for any Golden Globe awards or Critics’ Choice awards. While season one was great, season two brought even more heart and twists to our favorite video game company. In addition to two stellar standalone episodes, Mythic Quest gave us growth and development for every character in its ensemble, delivered the feels (if you didn’t cry during “Juice Box,” are you a robot?), and propelled us into season three — and four, thank goodness! — with so much promise. I might be biased because I podcasted about this series incessantly this past year and adore all its stars/behind-the-scenes people, but I stand by it: Ted Lasso is Apple TV+’s golden child but Mythic Quest is its secret weapon.

Ted Lasso

Of course Ted Lasso landed on my list, y’all. Season two improved on what season one of the show delivered: promise to make us laugh hysterically and also weep. But what I particularly enjoyed about this show’s sophomore season was its insistence that its characters aren’t perfect. I like watching Ted make poor decisions or not realize the consequences of his actions. Even though it was frustrating, I like that the series made Nate a villain and didn’t neatly resolve that arc. I love that the show prioritized therapy and mental health. I love that the show made me weep overtly. And I love that even though there were elements this season that felt weaker or I disagreed with (controversial opinion: I can’t get on board Sam/Rebecca and I am mad that the show made me think for even a moment that they would do a Jamie/Keeley/Roy love triangle), they never overshadowed the series as a whole. Bring on season three, everyone!


Do you love musicals? Do you love shows that poke fun of musicals while also BEING musicals? Then Schmigadoon! was just the series for you. Filled to the brim with a talented cast — Cecily Strong deserves awards, Keegan-Michael Key was so wonderful, Ariana DeBose keeps winning, Kristin Chenoweth and Aaron Tveit were perfect, etc. etc. — this comedy about a couple on the verge of a break-up winding up in an old-school musical town hit all the right notes. It was funny, the songs were incredibly catchy and paid homage to musicals (please, I beg you, listen to Cecily Strong sing a Sound of Music parody song that had me in stitches) while delivering some much-earned heart. If you have Apple TV+ and enjoy musicals, check this one out.


One of Apple TV+’s newest offerings is one of the most delightful. Set in the titular Mexico resort city, this Spanish/English show has a lot to offer. Think the same sort of storytelling as How I Met Your Mother but without the rage and way more fun! Eugenio Derbez plays the present-day version of Maximo, the show’s main character and whom we meet as a young adult who got his dream job: working at Las Colinas Resort. The series follows Maximo and his best friend Memo as they navigate resort politics, love, and friendship.

Season one wrapped and left us wondering what would happen next, so I can’t wait for a second season to get to know more about these characters and their relationships!

(Honorable mentions on Apple TV+ are Dickinson which continues to be zany and absurd, but also often fun as well as The Shrink Next Door which was a wild ride and often stressful. It made me not like Paul Rudd — simply because of the character he played which is based on a real person — and I really don’t love that feeling!)



This series is on nearly every “best of” list for 2021 and it’s deserved. Starring the impeccable Jean Smart, Hacks is the story of Deborah Vance who is a comedy legend. She reluctantly teams up with a young writer named Ava (Hannah Einbinder) because she’s been tasked with becoming more relevant to new audiences. It’s a plot that’s made even more compelling by the push-and-pull dynamic between Deborah and Ava, as well as the growth and regression that we see from both of them. Flawed characters are interesting and these two women are incredibly flawed — and I love it. Moreover, you will understand each character as a person, woman, and comedian by the end of the first season. Oh, and in addition to being compelling and well-written as a series, Kaitlin Olson recurring as Deborah’s daughter on Hacks is maybe one of my favorite performances in 2021. 


Do you want a rom-com miniseries that will make you feel all of the things, especially for Nikesh Patel? Good, then watch Starstruck on HBO Max! This six-episode first season stars — and is written and produced by — Rose Matafeo as Jessie, a normal 20-something who has a one-night-stand on New Year’s Eve with a famous actor (Patel). Honestly this description doesn’t even do it justice because the show is so funny, so sweet, and so swoony. Each episode focuses on a different season in the year as Jessie and Tom navigate their personal lives, their feelings for each other, and their life decisions. It’s so wonderful and I’m thankful it’s getting a second season because I honestly know Starstruck is one of the best shows I watched in 2021.


The final season of Insecure is winding down and I’m not ready to let these characters go quite yet! I’m so impressed by Issa Rae, think that she deserves all the awards for playing Issa Dee so faithfully and beautifully, and I just want the best for Issa — the character and actress! Insecure’s last lap is bringing the character development, the tears, and the laughs as it’s clear that Issa and our other characters are growing up and moving on. I’m not ready for this journey to end, but I’m grateful to know that Issa, Kelli, Molly, and Tiffany are going to be okay. (Fine, the men will probably be fine too but I really care about that core friendship most of all!)

Mare of Easttown

Dramatic and harrowing from start to finish, Mare of Easttown was everything that I was promised it would be. Kate Winslet gave a compelling performance as Mare, a detective investigating the murder of a young girl who was also a mother. In addition to Winslet, Julianne Nicholson gave an amazing performance from start to finish as Mare’s best friend... especially when we get to a revelation at the end of the series. Honestly, even though I prefaced this article with a spoiler alert, I won’t tell you the twist of this show because I think it’s worth watching without knowing the ending. Just be aware that this is a heavy series so you might want to space it out with some fun.


Never Have I Ever 

Over on Netflix, Never Have I Ever continued to shine. Mindy Kaling’s coming-of-age comedy focused on Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) navigating a love triangle between Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) and Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison). In the end though, this season wasn’t just about Devi trying to juggle boyfriends, which she thought was so cool: it was also about her best friends, her mother, and her cousin trying to navigate life and love. Devi is an imperfect character who you don’t always root for but that’s beautiful! She’s a teenage girl so we should expect her to be selfish and petty and hurt other people occasionally. And she does. She also avoids pain and dealing with the grief of her father’s death, but we all avoid grief and pain to an extent which makes her actions relatable but also hard to watch. I love Never Have I Ever and while I’m #TeamBen, I am really interested to see what happens next season with Devi and her friends!


I was incredibly impressed with and compelled by Maid. Again: if you’re looking for something that is light and fluffy, this isn't the show for you and trigger warning — this is a show that depicts and discusses abuse. If you choose to watch it, Maid is a powerful tale based on a true story. Alex (Margaret Qualley) decides to leave an abusive relationship with her young daughter and start cleaning houses to provide for their new life. But Alex goes through a lot of financial and emotional struggles on this journey, including dealing with her absent father and her undiagnosed bipolar mother (Margaret’s IRL mom, Andie MacDowell). I think one of the things I can say about Maid as a whole is that it’s hard to watch someone try and fail because of the way the odds are stacked against her — especially when it comes to emotional and verbal abuse.

But you root for Alex. You hope she can get on her feet. You want her to accept the help that others are offering but you also don’t want to pity her. You know that she’s making sacrifices for her daughter. You know they both deserve the best life. It’s a complex journey as a viewer but that makes the series rewarding. (Additionally, Anika Noni Rose plays Regina, a wealthy client whom Alex cleans for, and delivers a monologue so compelling and utterly heartbreaking in episode four that it should earn her all the awards.)



Few shows were talked about as much this past year as WandaVision, with good reason. Not only was this series the character study on Wanda Maximoff and Vision that I needed to care about them as individuals and a unit, but it was also an incredibly well-done homage to television sitcoms in every decade. While a lot of Marvel TV might feel like one big set-up for future films, WandaVision swung big and accomplished something much more: letting us all feel the weight of grief and pain and not shying away from it or covering it up. WandaVision reminded us that to be human is to feel and not to be ashamed of those feelings, whatever they are.

(It also gave us standout performances from Kathryn Hahn and scene-stealing ones from Kat Dennings and Randall Park.)

While WandaVision did set up the next phase of the MCU, it did more than that: it touched us all in unexpected ways and reminded us that regardless of the flashy CGI budget Marvel has, it can weave compelling stories with earnest characters — and it did.

Big Shot 

I love John Stamos and I love Yvette Nicole Brown so when my friend Nick mentioned Big Shot, I was on board — even if I’m ambivalent about basketball, which is what the show centers around. But that’s the best part of Big Shot: it seems like it’s going to be a show about basketball but it’s really a show about female friendship, teamwork, and family. A big shot basketball coach (Stamos) is fired and given a job coaching an all-girls high school basketball team. In the process, he bonds with the girls, learns how to be a better coach and person, and gains new insight as a dad. It’s charming, sweet, funny, and features a stellar cast of young actors. Check this one out of you’re looking for a fun binge this holiday season!

(Honorable mention to Loki which was a wild and fun ride, but mostly honorable mention to Tom Hiddleston let’s be real.)


Only Murders in the Building

What happens when you put Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez in a Hulu show together? Magic, that’s what! I absolutely fell in love with Only Murders in the Building and they’re the reason why. The Hulu series focuses on these three characters: Charles (Martin), a former actor and star of a popular detective drama, Oliver (Short) who’s a Broadway director struggling financially, and the young Mabel (Gomez), a mysterious woman renting an apartment from her aunt. The three bond after a murder occurs in their building and they use their obsession with a true crime podcast to try and solve the case — while also starting their own podcast in the process. 

Often silly and fun, occasionally incredibly tense and dramatic, Only Murders in the Building was the show to watch in 2021. Steve Martin and Martin Short have incredible chemistry, obviously, but it’s the inclusion of Selena Gomez’s dry wit and hilarity that really sells this show. You’ll likely call some of the twists and turns, but probably not all of them. And there’s one particular episode of the show — “The Boy From 6B” — is one of the most inventive episodes of TV this season.

Home Economics

A worthy tonal successor to the charming ABC series Single Parents, Home Economics airs on the same network but is available to stream the next day on Hulu — just like the other two shows below. Starring Topher Grace as a novelist writing a book about his dysfunctional sibling group, Home Economics is a fun, endearing ensemble sitcom that everyone should be watching. If you’re a fan of Mythic Quest, you’ll get a double dose of Caitlin McGee, plus the bonus of Sasheer Zamata who is hilarious. Karla Souza plays the pitch-perfect, blunt, sardonic Marina. And James Richard Tatro is so fun as the wealthy youngest sibling. The kids are just as entertaining as the adults which is what makes this show such a great choice to watch. 

The Wonder Years

If you’re looking for a new show with the same name as an 80s classic, look no further than the 2021 version of The Wonder Years which focuses on a Black family in Alabama. Dean (older narrator Don Cheadle) navigates life as a pre-teen including friends, family dynamics, and his love life. Dulé Hill stars as Dean’s dad and of course we love him because Dulé is amazing. But one of the best episodes of the show thus far has been one that focuses on Dean’s mom, Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh) and what Dean learns about her not just as an adult but as a Black working woman when he shadows her at her job for the day. 

The Wonder Years is fun, fresh, and a lovely little ABC addition that you all should check out.

Ordinary Joe

Starring James Wolk, James Wolk, and... James Wolk (and other talented actors of course), this show is essentially a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game that begs the question of what would happen if you could see the effects of one choice in your life. The show follows Joe (Wolk) after a decision he makes on graduation day. He had three options: to go to a party his college girlfriend Jenny was attending, to celebrate with his family, or to go meet with a young woman he just literally ran into at graduation. Based on the choice Joe makes, his life turns out differently. In one timeline, he’s a musician, in another he’s a nurse, and in another he’s a cop. The coolest thing about the show is seeing the color cues for each timeline (red, blue, and green), which means you’re never confused by which timeline you’re in!

It’s truly an intriguing concept for a show that’s anchored by Wolk, who should be a lead in way more things than he has been. Charming, engaging, and often breaking your heart, James Wolk is the star of every timeline and I’m here for it.



Music, comedy, and girl power: what more could you want? What if we threw in the iconic Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Philipps, and Paula Pell? That’s exactly what Girls5Eva does. From the minds of  Meredith Scardino and Tina Fey, the series focuses on a 90s girl group of the same name who decides to reunite and produce music together again. The show is a quirky and fun comedy about getting older, female friendships, love, and music. It features one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard (“I’m Afraid”) as well as plenty more original, catchy music. I love all these characters, I love recurring hilarity in the form of Andrew Rannells, and I love that we’ll be getting more of these characters in another season!

We Are Lady Parts

Featuring punk rock music and an all-female Muslim group, We Are Lady Parts was a gem of a freshman find. The best part about the show is that in only a few episodes, each character manages to be completely developed and nuanced. They all have different priorities — Amina wants to find a husband, Saira wants to preserve the punk music of their band, etc. — but each woman grapples with her priorities and the responsibility of the band. Even though it’s a short season, there’s so much character development and heart that I can’t wait for season two. Watch this charming series on Peacock if you’re able to! You won’t regret it.

Rutherford Falls

When I discovered that there was a show starring Ed Helms on Peacock, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before (... the answer is because it was on Peacock). But I checked out Rutherford Falls on a whim and fell in love! Created by Helms, Mike Schur, and Sierra Teller Ornelas, the series follows Nathan Rutherford (Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding) who are childhood best friends and live in Rutherford Falls, a small town founded by Nathan’s ancestors. Reagan is from the Minishonka Nation and is desperately trying to create a museum that celebrates the history of her Nation. 

Featuring Indigenous actors (Michael Greyeyes is perfect in this show) and writers, Rutherford Falls is a funny, engaging sitcom about a friendship tested and the boundaries you have to put in place with people you love. I like that Nathan is someone you actively root against at points in the show and that Reagan’s career ambitions and love for her Nation are something the series celebrates. Jana is absolutely captivating and her rapport with both Michael and Ed is hilarious. I’m excited to see where season two will take us, especially in regards to the town’s future, but I’m ready for the journey!

Baking It

The literal cutest show ever, Baking It is the spin-off of Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman’s crafting series Making It. This cooking competition series features pairs (either siblings, parent and children, partners, etc.) baking up creative holiday treats which are judged by literal grandmas. Oh, and it’s hosted by Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg because they need to host literally everything. I’m not joking. EVERYTHING. If you’re in need of some pure serotonin this holiday season, get Peacock and check this gem out!

What television shows got you through this year? Sound off in the comments below!


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