As hundreds of new TV shows debuted this year and with many fan-favourites returning, television and OTT platforms helped people get through another year of the pandemic.
The year 2021 has been truly diverse in terms of genres. There were superhero shows like Loki and WandaVision, murder mysteries such as Only Murders in the Building, and some great historical shows like Dickinson and Underground Railroad.
From HBO Max’s Gossip Girl to Nickelodeon’s iCarly, 2021 was also the year of revivals and reboots.
This year also saw actor Jean Smart’s appearances in the black comedy Hacks and crime-drama Mare of Easttown, both of which earned her rave reviews and Emmy nominations.
Interestingly, shows that exposed wealth and privilege were the most popular choices among audiences. Squid Game quickly became the most-watched show on Netflix, raking in 142 million household views in its first four weeks. Other shows such as Lupin received praise for their enthralling plot and earnest performances.
Several young adult shows returned to our screens this year too. Sex Education came back with its third season raising questions on gender binaries and infertility, and of course, featuring lots of sex and drama. Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever also returned providing a few laughs and some mindless entertainment.
However, as always, there were questionable and bad shows as well. Riverdale came back to our screens with its sixth season and now there is a parallel universe called Rivervale – as if one Riverdale was not enough. Other shows that failed to impress the audiences and critics alike included the CBS crime procedural Clarice (which focuses on Silence of the Lambs’ FBI agent Clarice Starling after her encounter with Buffalo Bill) and the live-action version of the popular neo-noir anime series Cowboy Bebop.
Silverscreen India has rummaged through these shows and made a list of five of the best and worst shows of 2021.
Five Best Shows of 2021:
What We Do in the Shadows (2019- Present)
Created by Jemaine Clementine and Taika Waititi, this comedy-mockumentary series follows four very old vampires as they navigate life and death, and try to keep up with the modern world. Living in Staten Island, the vampires Nandor the Relentless (Kayan Novak), Lazslo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) are at least a few centuries old while their roommate Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is around a 100 years old. They are joined by Nandor’s human assistant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) whose ultimate wish is to be turned into a vampire.
Over the course of three seasons, this group has seen a lot of things – mistakenly killing a very important vampire, transforming as bats and ending up in an animal shelter, and now, taking over the vampiric council without having any knowledge of how to run it. Much of the show’s comedy arises from the vampires’ false sense of superiority and their inability to be in touch with the real world. Thankfully, Guillermo manages to clear up (sometimes after creating) most of their messes. What We Do in The Shadows is a light-hearted, well-written series whose best asset is the fact that it does not take itself or its characters too seriously.
What We Do in The Shadows is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Squid Game (2021)
There is a reason why this South Korean show is the most popular series in the world right now. In this series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, 456 desperate and broke people sign up for a children’s games competition where the winner receives 45.6 billion dollars. Unbeknownst to them, these are actually deadly survival games where loss results in death. As people become frantic to survive, shaky alliances begin to form and some do not hesitate to take extreme measures to achieve their goal. Squid Game exposes the dangers of capitalism and exploitation of the poor and it does so in a thrilling and nerve-racking manner.
Despite releasing over three months ago, the hype around the series has not died down. From people throwing lavish Squid Game-themed parties to Indian content creators coming together to participate in a ‘fun’ version of the game, the show’s influence has been unparalleled and riddled with irony. Hwang has also announced that he is working on Squid Game 2.
Squid Game is streaming on Netflix.
White Lotus (2021- Present)
A satirical comedy series, White Lotus focuses on a group of idyllic guests and the employees of a Hawaiian luxury resort over the course of a week. As the days go by, complex truths about the guests and the staff emerge resulting in uncomfortable, and sometimes, downright shocking confrontations.
Created by Mike White, White Lotus boasts a strong ensemble cast, including Murray Bartlett, Alexandra Daddario, Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney, and Connie Britton. The show touches upon wealth, classism, gender, and race dynamics through compelling drama and dark twists, making it one of this year’s unmissable shows.
White Lotus is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Reservation Dogs (2021- Present)
Another gem of this year, Reservation Dogs was created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi. Moving away from vampires and superhero Norse Gods, Waititi takes on the coming-of-age genre. This show focuses on four Native American teenagers who live in rural Oklahoma. As they struggle to deal with the recent death of their friend Daniel, the foursome team up to commit petty crimes as a means of funding their plans to leave for California.
With a realistic plot and a touch of magic realism, Reservation Dogs is heartwarming and effortlessly funny in equal measure.
Lauded for its representation of the Native American community, the show is notable for hiring only indigenous writers and directors, and having a cast and crew comprised almost entirely of indigenous people.
Reservation Dogs is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Succession (2018- Present)
Succession is yet another former low-key show that blew up this year. This HBO Max original follows the uber-wealthy Roy family, who run one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. With patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) at the centre, the show explores his professional and personal relationships with his family. And with each of his four children having a personal agenda to establish themselves on the top, the drama is endless.
Backed by convincing and dynamic performances, Succession is a witty, dark, and sometimes comical, take on the power and political struggle of this dysfunctional family.
Succession is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Five 2021 Shows That Let Us Down:
Gossip Girl (2021- Present)
When HBO Max announced the reboot of the immensely popular Gossip Girl (2007-2012), expectations soared. Known for depicting the scandalous exploits of the privileged and wealthy residents of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the original show was high on the drama, fashion, and entertainment. However, the new Gossip Girl is a shadow of its predecessor. Despite a similar setting, the show does not deliver. Its characters and storylines are neither charming nor provocative, making it a dull and uninteresting watch. Plus, a major downfall is that it reveals the identity of gossip girl at the very beginning, which effectively defeats the whole point of the show.
Sex/Life (2021- Present)
Like the title suggests, this Netflix show is heavy on the sex lives of its boring and one-dimensional characters. It follows a suburban mother of two who begins to fantasize about her college ex-boyfriend to alleviate her sexual frustration. And soon enough, he re-enters her life causing chaos and confusion in her marriage.
While on the surface, Sex/Life looks like a show that you can hate-watch, it is so much worse than that. The shallow premise is only the beginning; bad acting, annoying characters who deliver cringe dialogues, and downright bad writing make this an unwatchable show.
If you don’t want to take our word for it, Sex/Life can be streamed on Netflix.
And Just Like That (2021- Present)
Revivals and reboots seldom capture the essence of the original and this show does not manage to break the cycle. And Just Like That, the revival of Sex and the City, is set 11 years after the disastrous and racist film, Sex and the City 2. It shows protagonists Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) living out their 60s in modern-day New York City. There are new characters and more contemporary storylines where the three women try to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing city.
However, the show fails to make its mark. For starters, there is no Samantha (Kim Cattrall) whose independence and spunk were the original show’s driving force. Despite being only three-episodes-old as of this writing, the series has already managed a big disservice to loyal viewers by killing off Carrie’s husband Mr Big (Chris Noth) almost immediately.
No matter how hard the show’s creators try, And Just Like That is ultimately no different from the previous movie instalments. It revolves around a group of privileged white women who are out of touch with reality. And this time around, it is no fun to watch.
Tiger King 2 (2021)
Tiger King 2, the sequel to the popular true-crime documentary Tiger King, was received poorly by critics and viewers alike. Making no new contributions to the existing and already established story and featuring poorly-shot footage of several subjects, including Carole Baskin, the sequel is an uncompelling drag.
The documentary can be streamed on Netflix.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (2021- Present)
Belonging to the slasher genre, I Know What You Did Last Summer already has a familiar storyline. A college student Lennon (Madison Iseman) returns home to discover that an unknown assailant is stalking her friends for their involvement in a fatal accident the previous year. With a plot that is no different from the 1997 film of the same name, the show has nothing new to offer and only tries to bank on the nostalgia of its predecessor. Even the personal relationships and dynamics between the main cast add nothing to the plot except routine sequences of sex and hard drugs usage.
I Know What You Did Last Summer has an overused story that creates an underwhelming effect on the audience.
The show is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.