Sometimes you can say more about class, race, masculinity, and family by not focusing solely on each topic. “The White Lotus” is a superbly delivered satire that looks at toxic entitlement and privilege. You may choose to miss some of the jokes and what is being said underneath those jokes, especially if you feel you relate to one of the characters, but in that case, there is a plethora of other characters and subplots you can jeer at. And maybe you should think about why you relate to one of the characters and what you can do to fix that. At times there is a “Noises Off” feel as you jump around from story to story, but other moments catch you off guard for being genuinely thought-provoking and less chaotic. Except for “Squid Game,” “The White Lotus” may be the most meme-worthy series of 2021. The acting is stellar, but Jennifer Coolidge stands out amongst the rest. She had us cracking up during her “massage” scene, and it might just be the funniest moment of 2021.
9. Ted Lasso (Apple TV)
It’s becoming harder and harder to find anything that people can not only agree on but that can collectively make them feel better about themselves. If there is one big takeaway from Ted Lasso’s season 2, it is about how the medium of TV can be used to make people feel less anxious and overall good about themselves. “Ted Lasso” is refreshingly necessary in a sea of cliffhangers, anxiety-inducing 24/7 news coverage, and series after series about bad people. It is a show about how it makes you feel when you watch it. Even in the depressing scenes, especially those scenes between Ted and the team’s sports psychologist Sharon, you are left feeling that it is okay to feel how you feel. How the season ended may be one of those jump the shark moments, BUT we are optimistic that they will right that wrong in season 3.
8. Succession (HBO)
Here is the thing about HBO’s “Succession,” it’s a high-brow guilty pleasure comedy that’s intent is to make you feel better about yourself because no way are you as terrible of a person as the least terrible character. By season three, it is clear that there is no one good to root for so you are left cheering for the person who you hate the least or hate the most (and your choice probably says a lot about you). So we are going with the secretary who may be sleeping with Logan or even drugging him, Kerry. And what are you cheering for? Nothing happens in this series ever. They keep tripping over each other and themselves in their race to the bottom in beautiful, grandiose settings. The one-liners are so amateur that they work exceptionally well in this story that they are instantly quotable and some of the best on television: “Bring him up in the dumbwaiter like a fuckin’ hamburger,” “You tried to assassinate dad with the sun.” “Stop being a dirty, little pixie whispering swastikas in dad’s ear.”
7. Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu)
We love Taika Waititi (Look at our number 1 best series), and his freshman series with partner Sterlin Harjo is a refreshing highlight during a pretty dim 2021. However, “Reservation Dogs” is a first of its kind — a series that features all Indigenous writers, directors, and cast. And, yes, that is reason enough to give “Reservation Dogs” a gander, but what Reservation Dogs does so well is flip the script on Hollywood. You can thrive if you give people the authority and dignity to tell their own stories the way they envision telling their stories like “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Reservation Dogs” is filled with quirky, laugh-out-loud moments. This coming-of-age story is familiar, comforting, but not familiar enough that it feels like you’ve seen it before; because you haven’t. You have never seen indigenous people portrayed without a scintilla of stereotypes. We cannot wait to see season two of “Reservation Dogs” that hopefully will dig deeper into Elora, Cheese, and Willie’s stories like Season one did of Bear’s.
6. How To With John Wilson (HBO)
The thing with us New Yorkers is that we know that we aren’t for everyone despite feeling far superior to everyone else. John Wilson may not be for everyone, but his docu-series, “How to with John Wilson,” is far superior to others out there. Sure, sitting down to watch episodes about “How to Put up Scaffolding” (season 1) and “How to Find a Spot” (Season 2) may not be the most riveting but trust us when we tell you it’s an exhilarating ride that flips how you look at the world. And everything seems to come together at the end like New York’s own Seinfeld. Even when you don’t learn anything new (maybe you know how to cover furniture or pick out wine), you feel validated that you aren’t the only one who feels the way you do.
5. Dave (FX/Hulu)
What started as a series about dick jokes — tiny deformed penises — has evolved into something too clever for its target audience (sorry). Dave is probably the most likable unlikable character on television. You root for him but find his overconfidence off-putting. However, at the same time, you admire that someone so insecure about some aspects of his life can be so confident about others. He can be the most judgemental person while also having zero judgments. Dave is the quintessential millennial trying to figure shit out and grow up. And it’s more complicated than it looks. There are some hilarious moments in season 2. They often involved Producer Benny Blanco naked poolside. Also, there are some thought-provoking episodes, such as one with Doja Cat. But at the end of the day, Dave isn’t Dave, or Lil’ Dicky isn’t Lil’ Dicky without his hype man and best friend GaTa. The final moments of season 2 — where Dave finally grows up — were the most emotional moments on TV this past year. Maybe it’s the millennial in me, but next time I am fighting with my brothers or my best friends who are like my brothers, and it’s time to end the beef, I will be sending them a clip of the final 2 minutes of the Season 2.
4. The Underground Railroad (Amazon)
The Underground Railroad is one of the best things Barry Jenkins has made so far, and he was behind “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “The Underground Railroad” is not an easy watch (or listen to). It’s devastating and brutal, yet it is a series you can’t stop watching once you start because it feels so personal — like Jenkins poured his heart and soul into the series to ensure there are more series like it that are told. It is a harrowing story filmed so beautifully, and the cinema-like acting leaves you questioning if you are still watching a made for television series until the contemporary music plays at the end of each episode. What Jenkins excels at is telling the story of America (past and present). Typically, period pieces can feel distant or fictional, not “The Underground Railroad,” which treads the line and feels current, necessary, and just the beginning of the potential of new voices and new stories we hope to see on our screens in the years to come.
3. Mare of Easttown (HBO)
At first look, “Mare of Easttown” is familiar. Every streaming platform and most cable networks have their limited series crime drama that is meant to keep us guessing from episode to episode on who did it until all is revealed at the end that it was the husband all along or the obscure person no one thought it would be because they were barely in the series. Although Mare falls into some of these typical troupes, it is not really about the crime as much as it is about how a crime affects a whole community (as well as how quick we are to judge) AND the spectacular acting that sets this crime drama apart from the rest (except maybe season 1 of Broadchurch). And it’s not just the impeccable, could-do-no-wrong Kate Winslet. Julianne Nicholson (every scene), Evan Peters (drunk putting his bagel down), and Jean Smart (every scene that she is sitting down in) all gave performances of a lifetime. It is a heart-wrenching must-see series.
2. Hacks (HBOMax)
It is easy to get distracted by the laugh-out-loud jokes in “Hacks,” but those jokes uncover a hard truth about not just Hollywood but our society: we treat women terribly, especially older women. And that doesn’t just come from men. What Hacks excels at is an intergenerational relationship between two women who often use comedy as a defense mechanism in a patriarchal society. The holier-than-thou millennial Ava (Hannah Einbinder) sees Jean Smart’s Deborah as a has-been and is doing more harm to the feminist movement by not retiring. That is until she is forced to take the time to realize that she wouldn’t be where she was without Deborah paving the way. Unfortunately, Deborah, trying to hold on to her power and her Vegas residency, keeps getting in her way by not evolving her act to meet the moment that Ava and her contemporaries expect. Together they can be a force to reckon and usher in a new kind of comedy, that is, if they can stop (hilariously) tripping over themselves.
1. What We Do In the Shadows (FX/Hulu)
Very rarely will you find a comedy series that sticks the landing season after season, episode after episode, but “What We Do In the Shadows” does just that. It is consistently the funniest series you will find on television. It achieves this by never getting too campy or too repetitive, which can quickly happen to a series about vampires in Staten Island. “What We Do In the Shadows” excels at the surprise — sometimes subtle, sometimes less so, which ensures you aren’t watching it to guess what happens next, but rather watch it to enjoy the dialogue. In season 2, individual characters shined through by giving their own screen time, which worked for their character development. However, the best parts of season three were when our vampire group — Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin (and not a vampire Guillermo)— shared the screen while not hampering their character development. Their century-long history is oddly relatable, especially during the holiday season, and we are forced to spend more time with family. If there is one lesson from season 3, it might be that we are stronger together even if we kind of hate each other (just not Gail, Nadja “doesn’t hate Gail”). Fucking guy.