The Best TV Shows of 2021 (So Far)
Put these on your to-binge list.
We're still in this interminable pandemic but that hasn't stopped the pipes that provide us with content from spewing out its usual mix of solid gold and total sludge. To avoid the latter, we're once again pointing you toward the offerings absolutely worth watching so you always have something in your queue. Like we did in 2020 and with our Best Movies of 2021 round-up, we'll be adding shows to this list regularly, so keep checking back.
Dickinson (Apple TV+)Season 2. 10 episodes.
The second season of Apple TV+'s Emily Dickinson comedy freed itself from all the questions that are associated with the phrase "Emily Dickinson comedy" by evolving into an even weirder, truer version of itself. These 10 episodes find Emily wrestling with the question of fame, both on a practical and spiritual level as she considers publishing her poems. The ways in which her conflict manifests are surreal, and range from the unnervingly elusive (the appearance of a certain "Nobody" personified) to downright amusing (Nick Kroll as the drunken ghost of Edgar Allan Poe). All the while, the show finds time for trips to the opera and the spa, a spider dance from Emily's sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov), and a look at Amherst's Black community.—Esther Zuckerman
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+)Miniseries. 6 episodes.
After Steve Rogers gave up the Captain America shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame, the question became which of his buddies would take up the mantle next: Sam Wilson, also known as winged Avenger the Falcon, or Bucky Barnes, Rogers' friend from the forties with a vibranium arm, who up until recently was a brainwashed HYDRA assassin. The two frenemies are forced to work together with a fan-favorite villain to defeat a new threat, the anarchist Flag-Smashers, who want to return the world to the way it was during the Blip, and in the process they unearth the darker parts of Captain America's legacy.—Emma Stefansky
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)Season 2. 10 episodes.
Ten years after the events of Season 1, the year is 1983 and the American Space Program in this alternate timeline is in full swing, with more and more astronauts serving on missions to the palatial Jamestown moon base, carrying out scientific research projects, fielding talk show interviews, and trying to keep one step ahead of those dastardly Soviets. Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) is now Chief of the Astronaut Office, Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) is ambitious to a fault, and Gordo (Michael Dorman) wants nothing more than to get back into a spacesuit. The second season of the show ups the ante, playing around with Cold War politics in a new technological era, where the dreams of the erstwhile Space Age—cell phones, electric cars, lady astronauts (gasp)—have become an easily attainable reality.—Emma Stefansky
It's a Sin (HBO Max)Limited series. 5 episodes.
This groundbreaking limited series out of the UK starts off as a party. The first episode is a celebration of gay life, following three young men who come to London and eventually become flatmates in a dilapidated but loving home known as the Pink Palace. But even these ebullient moments are filled with dread. Russell T Davies, best known for creating Queer as Folk and rebooting Doctor Who, has made one of the definitive pieces of television about the AIDS crisis. It's not perfect—and many critics have noted how the show missteps by focusing on how its protagonists contract the virus—but in its messiness and brutality it's also teeming with honest emotion. It's a Sin is vital not because it chronicles a disease but because it chronicles the lives that were altered and cut short by that disease.—Esther Zuckerman
Lupin (Netflix)Season 1, Part 1. 5 episodes.
Each episode of Netflix's new hit Lupin, a nimble caper series starring Omar Sy (The Intouchables) as gentleman thief Assane Diop, builds to the type of rug-pulling flashback that you might find at the end of an Ocean's movie. Disguises are ripped off; diamonds get pocketed; the dashing hero slips away, again. It's a classic heist-movie device that could get repetitive or predictable, but, through the mercifully fast-paced five episodes released so far (the second half of Season 1, picking up following part one's cliffhanger ending, arrives this summer), Lupin and its endlessly charming leading man execute each reveal with a high degree of finesse. With a show like this, getting fooled is half the fun.—Dan Jackson
Made for Love (HBO Max)Miniseries. 8 episodes.
When Hazel (Cristin Milioti) runs away from her megalomaniacal tech bro husband Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen) after being trapped for 10 years inside the simulated-nature campus of his company, she learns, to her terror and chagrin, that Byron has implanted her brain with his newest prototype, a chip that allows him to read her thoughts and see through her eyes as she tries to free herself from him. The darkly comedic show was adapted from Alissa Nutting's 2017 novel, and hilariously and irreverently examines the nature of love, human relationships, and the personhood of sex dolls.—Emma Stefansky
Resident Alien (Syfy)Season 1. 10 episodes.
When an extraterrestrial crash-lands on Earth after his spaceship is struck by lightning, he disguises himself as a vacationer in a small town, Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle (Alan Tudyk), in order to blend in. There's just one problem: When the town's local doctor is mysteriously murdered, the other residents, unaware of his disguise, elect Harry to be their new medical professional, and Harry has no choice but to agree. Based on the comic by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, the show is an absolute delight, following Harry as he ingratiates himself with the townspeople (save for one terrified little boy who can see through his disguise), while also searching for the alien superweapon he dropped in the crash, meant to wipe humanity from the face of the planet.—Emma Stefansky
Search Party (HBO Max)Season 4. 10 episodes.
Search Party filmed its third and fourth seasons during a nearly three-year hiatus following Season 2, which, along with the show's move last June from TBS to the nascent streaming service HBO Max, explains the short wait for these 10 new episodes. Once again, the series lands a spot on our Best TV Shows list, as it did in 2020, with the plot following the four aimless Brooklyn hipster protagonists in the wake of the kidnapping of Dory (Alia Shawkat) by her stalker (Cole Escola), who just wants to be her BFF. Creators Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss plunge deeper into their characters' self-absorption taking them to a new extreme while building more empathy for them in the process. Meanwhile, it manages to remains very funny, with incredible work from Escola and guest stars Susan Sarandon and Chloe Fineman.—Esther Zuckerman
30 Coins (HBO)Season 1. 8 episodes.
If you're one of the recent converts to CBS's Evil after the first season dropped on Netflix and have been craving more ever since, turn on HBO's Spanish-language horror series about disgraced exorcist Padre Vergara (Eduard Fernández), who teams up with a small town's mayor Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre, whom you may recognize from Netflix's Sense8) and veterinarian Elena (Megan Montaner) to solve supernatural mysteries related to the legendary 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot for betraying Jesus, seemingly possessed by demonic energy. Their investigations into hauntings, ouija boards, and one absolutely monstrous giant spider-baby reveal a devilish conspiracy 2,000 years in the making.—Emma Stefansky
WandaVision (Disney+)Season 1. 9 episodes.
What started as a charming pastiche mixing classic sitcom television and the deepest of Marvel Comics lore became a strikingly effective character study for two of the most shafted Avengers. Wanda Maximoff is living in a world of I Love Lucy bliss with her loving husband Vision, but things in the cutesy, all-American town of Westview are not as they seem. Why are Wanda and Vision trapped in a TV sitcom? Isn't Vision supposed to be dead? Is anyone coming to get them out? WandaVision's sunny exterior hides a darkness within, and turns a sprightly homage-driven series into an examination of grief on a chaotic, interdimentional scale, not to mention an action-packed lead-in to the MCU's Phase Four. It's worth watching for Vision's cozy sweaters alone.—Emma Stefansky