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  • Writer's pictureMartin Cheney

Top 5 TV Shows of 2021

In the spirit of manifesting a better 2022, I wanted to take a second to acknowledge the TV shows that improved the time I spent at home in 2021.

With that in mind, these are my top five TV offerings of last year. Only shows with air dates or streaming release in Australia between January 1 and December 31, 2021 were eligible. They also had to have a multi-episode format (either limited series or extended seasons — films and one-off special events don't count. See my top ten 2021 films list for those).

As is typical for me, this is a pretty diverse selection, so if you didn't catch them all, take this list as fervent recommendations. Do please enjoy.

5) The Chair (Netflix)

Sandra Oh leads an impressive cast in this quick-witted, quip-filled dramedy about a newly-promoted professor doing her best to keep her flailing English department afloat, battling moth-eaten racist and sexist superiors and allegations of a Nazi-sympathising colleague. And a daughter who isn't overly fond of her. I know, hilarious stuff.

4) Them (Amazon Prime Video)

Successfully landing beats that later seasons of American Horror Story often miss, Them is a mesmerising and shocking depiction of a black family moving to a seemingly idyllic white North Carolina neighbourhood in the 1950s. With genuinely effective horror tropes woven throughout, and an unforgettable visual style and sound design, it features probably the most harrowing scene I've ever seen on TV. When the credits are silent, you know something bad went down.

3) Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

A near-perfect blend of humour and heart, Ted Lasso makes me alternately laugh and cry on the regular. There isn't a single weak link in the cast and the subplots are expertly calibrated, developing characters and heightening stakes in unexpected ways. The best part is you don't need to know a thing about sport to get a single ounce of joy from this lovely show.

2) Midnight Mass (Netflix)

With an impressive lineup of bar-raising Stephen King adaptations under his belt, Mike Flanagan totally exceeded expectations with this original story of an isolated island community gradually accepting their new pastor after an inexplicable and miraculous event. Featuring an astounding collection of hypnotising monologues, this chilling drama/horror hybrid is as effective a rumination on faith, doubt, grief and love as you'll find. Equal parts devastating and beautiful.

1) Squid Game (Netflix)

It almost seems too easy to name Squid Game the best TV series of 2021, given that it's apparently the most-streamed show Netflix ever, but it deserves the accolade in every sense. Constantly surprising, gripping, moving and utterly addictive, this Korean title's most impressive achievement was threading such emotionally affecting themes throughout the intensity and violence. Future seasons have clownishly large shoes to fill.

(Full review here.)


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