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Best of 2021: Top 10 TV Shows

As 2021 comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the year in pop culture. For Inside The Film Room, that means movies and television. Here, Zach Goins is breaking down his 10 favorite shows from the year.

Both film and television have always been a huge part of my life, but movies have always taken priority. But something changed in 2021, shifting what was once a 70-30 split more towards equal footing.

For reference, in 2020 I watched 17 different shows throughout the year, but in 2021 that number increased dramatically to 26 different shows and 35 seasons. Among those shows, 22 were new releases from 2021 – an important qualifier in order to be eligible for this list – as the year delivered plenty of fantastic episodes.

This year brought the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first foray into television with a whopping five MCU series on Disney Plus, and it also saw the return of a number of highly-anticipated series. Before we dive into my Top 10, let’s take a look at a few that barely missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions

  • “Loki”
  • “Squid Game”
  • “Survivor 41”
  • “The Bad Batch”

Here we go….

Warning: The following may contain spoilers

10. “You” (Season 3)

Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn-Goldberg and Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in “You.” (Netflix)

This show continues to get crazier each season and I am so here for it. At this point, nothing is off limits, which is what makes it so fun to watch. Victoria Pedretti continued to shine throughout the season as the driving force behind much of the conflict, so it will be interesting to see the new direction Season 4 takes without her. If we’re lucky, she’ll pull a Candace and won’t end up dead for too long.

9. “Snowpiercer” (Season 2)

Daveed Diggs as Andre Layton and Jennifer Connelly as Melanie Cavill in “Snowpiercer.” (TNT)

I came to the “Snowpiercer” series late, having binged both seasons just this month, but it’s easy to get pulled into. Fans of Bong Joon-ho’s film will love the immersion and expansion of his mysterious train in this prequel. Season 2 may have been a slight step back in terms of overall quality, as the citizens of Snowpiercer navigate a post-revolution world, but it continued to expand on the train and characters in a compelling way.

8. “Outer Banks” (Season 2)

Madelyn Cline as Sarah Cameron, Rudy Pankow as JJ, Jonathan Daviss as Pope, Chase Stokes as John B and Madison Bailey as Kiara in “Outer Banks.” (Netflix)

This may not be good TV, but good lord is it entertaining. Just like “You,” it gets exponentially crazier each episode, and right when you think it’s peaked, it somehow gets wilder. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular, channeling the same melodrama and romance of the quintessential teen dramas, while incorporating plenty of adventure and action to attract a well-rounded audience. With Season 3 on the way, I’m all in on whatever’s next for the Pogues.

7. “Hawkeye”

Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton in “Hawkeye.” (Disney+)

“Hawkeye” very well may be the surprise of the year for me. It ended up being my favorite of all the Marvel series, after initially being written off as a who cares project. Hailee Steinfeld is the definition of a star and brings out the best in everyone around her – even making Renner feel charming. The grounded, crime-driven storyline provided a nice change-up from the recent MCU planet-hopping, and the Christmas setting added plenty of cheer and festivity.

6. “Mythic Quest” (Season 2)

Rob McElhenney as Ian and Charlotte Nicdao is Poppy in “Mythic Quest.” (Apple TV+)

If you got Apple TV+ just for “Ted Lasso,” you need to check out “Mythic Quest.” It brings together the best of workplace humor, gaming and comedy, like a beautiful lovechild of “The Office,” “Silicon Valley” and “Always Sunny.” It’s some of the smartest comedy writing around at the moment, and it’s filled with characters who are equally lovable and hateable. Plus, in an almost “Black Mirror”-esque standalone method, it does some really cool spinoff episodes that tie into the main storyline but are more than capable of standing solo.

5. “Ted Lasso” (Season 2)

Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard and Nick Mohammed as Nathan Shelley in “Ted Lasso.” (Apple TV+)

I love “Ted Lasso” with all of my heart, and Season 2 beautifully built on the happy-go-lucky narrative of the first season. Drama, conflict and self-reflection permeated this season, allowing Ted to step back and others to shine, particularly Nick Mohammed’s Nathan Shelley. But don’t worry, there were still plenty of lovable Lassoisms to go around, even if Ted wasn’t always front and center.

4. “Midnight Mass”

Hamish Linklater as Father Paul in “Midnight Mass.” (Netflix)

Mike Flanagan can do no wrong – from “Hill House” to “Bly Manor,” “Doctor Sleep” and now this. “Midnight Mass” delivers a heartbreaking and unsettling look at grief, trauma and faith that methodically unfolds throughout the series. The way tension is built here is unmatched, and the payoff is well worth the slow burn. The entire cast is stellar, with Flanagan’s muse Kate Siegel leading the way and QB1 Zach Gilford and Hamish Linklater both stepping back into the spotlight.

3. “Hacks”

Hannah Einbinder as Ava and Jean Smart as Deborah Vance in “Hacks.” (HBO Max)

I came to this show late after Jean Smart had already dominated awards season, so expectations were high. To no surprise, “Hacks” absolutely delivers. Its sharp and biting humor pairs incredibly with intimate and sweet character development that results in a near-perfect, genre-bending show. Smart and co-star Hannah Einbinder work beautifully together and create a truly believable and dynamic relationship.

2. “Mare of Easttown”

Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan in “Mare of Easttown.” (HBO)

I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery, and “Mare” is a great one. Kate Winslet is at her best, surrounded by tragedy, grief and pain, and Evan Peters’ goofy optimism provides an excellent foil. Some may have been able to predict its twists, but I was surprised until the very end. It’s perfect on its own, but I would not complain about another mystery to solve with Mare.

1. “Succession” (Season 3)

Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans in “Succession.” (HBO)

Is anyone surprised? “Succession” is the best show on television and it’s not particularly close. I keep waiting for it to peak – because it has to at some point, right? Well, that’s not happening any time soon. Emmy-worthy performances across the board, as Jeremy Strong, Brian Cox and Sarah Snook perform like always, but its Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen who step up most this season. Jaw-dropping drama abounds, and Season 3 delivers another brilliant evolution of the show.

Bonus: “The O.C.”

Ben Mckenzie as Ryan Atwood and Mischa Barton as Marissa Cooper in “The O.C.” (Warner Bros.)

I know I’m almost 19 years late at this point, but I’ve fallen in love with “The O.C.” this year. Having never seen any of the foundational teen dramas of the early 2000s, I was urged to dive in and start with the best – and I totally get it now. The melodrama, the angst, the romance, the horrible decision making… it’s become an all out obsession that has me wishing I could experience it live back in 2003. It’s thrilling, yet comforting and familiar all at the same time. Luckily, I’ve still got two seasons to go.

Here’s to 2022, and another year of fantastic TV!

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Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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