The 8 Best (and 5 Worst) TV Shows of 2021

The 8 Best (and 5 Worst) TV Shows of 2021
A lot of TV to pick from this year! (Image: Marvel Studios, Apple TV+, Prime Video, and Netflix)
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The last couple of years have only re-centred just how massive the TV space is now, and there’s more shows than ever before fighting for our attention. Which means that 2021 was a jam-packed year of good TV… and some not-so-good. Here’s Gizmodo’s look back at the ups and downs of 2021 on the small screen — and if you’re wondering where our animated faves are, check out our dedicated list!

The Best: WandaVision

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

Yes, WandaVision did air in 2021. We were highly anticipating this Marvel TV show — the first of five this year for Disney+ post-Netflix deal — and we were not disappointed. Though the series struggled a bit in the latter half, mostly due to covid-19 related issues, to quote Gizmodo’s Charles Pulliam-Moore it told a “story of love, delusion, power, and American pop culture” that won’t soon be forgotten. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany got to feast on the characters and love story barely brushed on in the MCU films, serving us a mystery with countless layers to unfold. The series also gave us our introduction to Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau (next to be seen in The Marvels), a character fans have been itching to see brought to live-action and who actually got her superpowers already. Even the behind-the-scenes stuff was great! Last but not least, WandaVision gave the Scarlet Witch her name thanks to the deliciously evil Agatha — played even more deliciously by Kathryn Hahn, and a song that won’t quit. With humour and terror living side-by-side in Wanda’s Westview, we were given a complete story that could really end here… if you’re not waiting for the Next Thing.

You can catch WandaVision on Disney+.

The Best: For All Mankind

Image: Apple TV+ Image: Apple TV+

Apple isn’t great at marketing its originals (minus Ted Lasso), plus it’s yet another streaming service clustered on the mountain of streaming services, so a lot of folks haven’t yet seen Ronald D. Moore’s alt-history space race series. If someone gifts you with a subscription this holiday season or you’re going to do a free trial, we suggest binging For All Mankind first. Season one delivered a solid drama with an incredible range of performances from its ensemble plus some great science. Season two kicked us into the ‘80s — with some questionably aged-up adults — and a whole new fight with the Russians on the moon and at home. We aren’t saying too much more because we really don’t want to spoil this tremendous story. As is now tradition, the second finale was a can’t-miss event that ended with another time jump and we can’t wait to see what we’re getting up to in space now.

For All Mankind can be found on Apple TV.

The Best: Loki

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

After the delight that was WandaVision and the “meh” that was The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the third Marvel show to stream on Disney+ was, well, burdened with glorious purpose. Fortunately, the series focused on Tom Hiddleston’s villain-turned-antihero ended up being another winner, giving us a whirlwind blast through the weirder reaches of the MCU while setting the stage for further creative storytelling, especially in its exploration of multiverses. While Hiddleston, who’s been playing Loki for a decade now, was predictably great in the title role, the series also introduced several intriguing new characters — including slippery Loki variant Sylvie and instant fan favourite Alligator Loki. The obvious cliffhanger/intrusive season two set-up in the season finale was all too annoying, but even a total collapse of the sacred timeline couldn’t keep us from tuning in when Loki returns.

You can watch Loki on Disney+.

The Best: Legends of Tomorrow

Image: The CW Image: The CW

Even under the strain of the pandemic, Legends of Tomorrow remains one of the most effortlessly entertaining shows on TV. While season six didn’t reach the highs of the previous season (again, there was a pandemic), the show still managed to surprise by pitting the Legends against a variety of aliens and new villain Bishop (a delightfully smarmy Raffi Barsoumian). Only this show could pull off storylines about John Constantine’s (Matt Ryan) dark magic addiction and Nate (Nick Zano) literally intercepting a nuclear football in JFK’s office, and still feel balanced. Now, in season seven, the Legends are facing off against ruthless versions of themselves from an alternate timeline — a premise so potentially great the show will almost certainly be in 2022’s Best TV list, too.

Legends of Tomorrow is streaming on Binge, Foxtel and there’s 3 seasons on 9NOW.

The Best: Sweet Tooth

Image: Netflix Image: Netflix

When we think of post-apocalyptic worlds, we think bad thoughts. Drought, famine, death, decay, destruction. All of those things are happening in Sweet Tooth, but the audience, for the most part, sees them through innocent, loving eyes. The main character of Gus is a young half-boy half-deer who, when the world began to end, was taken into the woods by his father so they could survive together. Years later, Gus is on a mission to find his mother who might just have something to do with both the end of the world and the hybrid children at the centre. Filled with adventure, surprises, and incredible characters, as well as all the adorableness and loving emotion you can handle, Sweet Tooth lives up to its title and then some. It’s undeniably sweet.

Sweet Tooth can be found on Netflix.

The Best: Squid Game

Image: Netflix Image: Netflix

If Saw and the Hunger Games had a grounded, sociopolitcal child, it would be Netflix’s incredible Squid Game. Set in what we believe to be our world, it’s about hundreds of down-on-their-luck people recruited to compete in a series of kids’ games. Win, and all your financial troubles will be over. Lose, and you die. The stakes increase from minute to minute leading to unforgettable edge of your seat tension. Characters from all walks of life endear themselves to us and as their games end, it gets emotional too. Squid Game is the type of show that television aspires to: a mega hit that lives up to the hype and then some.

Catch Squid Game on Netflix.

The Best: What We Do in the Shadows

Image: FX Image: FX

What We Do in the Shadows continues to get better and better, which seems impossible given the fact that it was brilliant right out of the gate. Season three saw the vampire roommates taking leadership positions in the Vampiric Council, Guillermo being promoted from familiar to bodyguard, and the delightful return of Doug Jones’ presumed-dead Baron, among an array of rapid-fire shenanigans surrounding issues both monumental (the search for love, in Nandor’s case) and hilariously mundane, as is the show’s trademark. The finale, which scattered some of the roommates around the world while seeing the startling rebirth of energy vampire Colin Robinson, sets up a season four we can’t wait to see.

What We Do in the Shadows is on Binge and Foxtel.

The Best: The Expanse

Image: Amazon Studios Image: Amazon Studios

In its sixth and final season, the only complaint we can lodge about The Expanse is that the season (which is currently airing) isn’t long enough. Still, Amazon’s beloved sci-fi series is packing gobs of action — including maybe the series’ best-ever space battles — and drama into just six episodes, even making room for a bit of humour among a cast whose chemistry couldn’t be more crackling. While we hate to say good-bye to the Rocinante and its heroes, at least we’ll always have six seasons of near-perfect television that set a new genre standard for plotting, pacing, casting, and respect for real-world science.

Check out The Expanse on Amazon Prime Video.

The Worst: Invasion

Image: Apple TV+ Image: Apple TV+

Remember what we said about Apple promoting its originals? It worked in the viewing public’s favour this time. That first trailer for Simon Kinberg’s Invasion didn’t lie, because there wasn’t much invading going on. The sci-fi drama leaned heavily into the drama category by introducing us to an ensemble from around the world, all of whom are going through some serious shit, invasion aside. But that’s the thing, almost all of their problems came before aliens attacked and they didn’t let a small thing like the destruction of Earth get in their way. Sure, there’s some aliens melting humans into piles of black goop, but don’t let that stop the husband and wife attempting to dissect their broken marriage through all of it. It never let up, was incredibly boring, and frankly, unbelievable. Know what else was unbelievable? Hiring Sam Neill, marketing Sam Neill, and then killing his character in the first episode.

The Invasion can be found on Apple TV (if we haven’t turned you off watching it).

The Worst: Foundation

Image: Apple TV+ Image: Apple TV+

They said Isaac Asimov’s renowned, seminal science fiction masterpiece couldn’t be filmed… and Apple TV didn’t bother to try. The show understandably narrowed the focus of the centuries-long epic to a single generation with a handful of characters — the most notable being the essentially new, repeatedly cloned Emperor Cleon (Lee Pace), to give the show a stable antagonist — but the Foundation books’ emphasis on science and social change was mostly tossed aside for plodding storylines, unearned twists, and whiz-bang action.

Foundation is another Apple TV special.

The Worst: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

Falcon and the Winter Soldier opened with a lot of promise, wanting to give Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson a challenging path to the shield Steve Rogers had offered him — whether he actually was sure he wanted it or not. Alas, instead the meandering, aimless, and often clueless Falcon and the Winter Soldier delivered Marvel’s foray into streaming a toothless dud, one that struggled to take its exploration of race as far as it should while simultaneously whiffing on giving Sam and Bucky either much in the way of compelling opponents or really anything that made their arcs over the show feel like they were worth going through in the first place. It didn’t help that the more its creators tried to explain the show after its release, the more it got worse.

You can watch The Falcon and the Winter Solidier on Disney+.

The Worst: Midnight Mass

Image: Netflix Image: Netflix

It was never supposed to be a new Haunting, but fans of Hill House and Bly Manor still tuned into Mike Flanagan’s latest Netflix horror series hoping for something that approximated the brilliance of those prior series. Instead we got a (literally!) preachy tale that laid into heavy-handed themes about the dangers of religious fanaticism — along with some distracting choices like casting younger actors and covering them with old-age make-up that they gradually shed as the series progressed, and the use of a few too many Neil Diamond songs. Also, how did nobody realise the “angel” was really a vampire? Must not be any What We Do in the Shadows fans on Crockett Island.

Catch Midnight Mass on Netflix.

The Worst: American Gods

Image: Starz Image: Starz

From the moment that Starz’s American Gods began to lose cast members, it seemed as if the network couldn’t stop itself from making poor decision after poor decision in hopes of recapturing the magic that made the series’ first season so magical. By American Gods’ end, the show had essentially begun to rehash plot points that were already covered, and introduced a bunch of new gods who, while interesting, all felt like so-so pseudo recasting rather than novel deviations from the source material. By the end, you got the sense that Starz no longer believed in American Gods, a story that lived and died by its ability to dig into what makes belief such a powerful, intoxicating thing, which was perhaps the most devastating thing it could have done to the beleaguered show.

American Gods can be found on Amazon Prime Video.