Best TV Shows of 2021 So Far
Are you tired of people recommending shows to watch? Do you feel the market is oversaturated? Are you overwhelmed by the number of shows and you feel you just can’t keep up? Well, whatever your answer is, we have plenty of more recommendations to send your way. What follows is our list of the best TV shows of the year, so far! That’s right folks; the year is far from over and we will be back in December to update this list— but in the meantime, here are our 30 favourite television of 2021. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: This list is in alphabetical order and will be updated in December. Only those shows which premiered prior to September 1st are eligible to make the cut at this time.
Blindspotting | STARZ
The STARZ spinoff of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal‘s poignant rap-musical film of the same name is by far one of the most inventive and unique television offerings of the year. Equally contemplative and comedic, the show examines and celebrates Black culture in Oakland’s vibrant Bay Area community. Blindspotting’s eight episodes explore code-switching, hustle culture, and single parenting, as well as the reality of blended families, job searches, and life post-incarceration.
The most striking aspect of this show is its multifaceted presentation: Expressive dancing blossoms alongside evocative, emotional spoken word and rap performances; music-video-like skits are incorporated into the storytelling. Blindspotting consistently surprises the audience with its depth and creativity, allowing our connection to these characters and the relationships between them to evolve. Featuring a phenomenal soundtrack, tumultuous family relationships, and surprising turns of adventure, the first season concluded with sweeping romantic gestures, inspiring character growth, and a final scene that left audiences breathless. (Andrea Marks-Joseph)
Cobra Kai | Netflix
After moving from YouTube to Netflix, Cobra Kai returned for a third season with its usual mix of action, comedy, and charm, and this time, it added even more familiar faces from the beloved film franchise. If you were disappointed the second season chose to model itself after The Karate Kid Part III, you’ll be happy to know Season 3 is all about the original sequel. Yes folks, make sure to revisit The Karate Kid Part 2 before booting up the new season because you might want to refresh your memory on the events and characters of that film.
In fact, Season 3 might be the most nostalgic season yet, and the closest to capture the tone of the original films with its craft and its patience. It’s precisely the sort of rousing, feel-good entertainment audiences have been craving all year, and with the stakes higher than ever, Season 3 will leave fans asking for more. Thankfully, Cobra Kai ends with the promise of a fourth season! (Ricky D)
Cruel Summer | Freeform
Teen drama with a dark mystery set in the 90s is a concept brimming with potential, but with that, the potential to fail in the execution is also high. With three timelines, each only a year apart, and told through two opposing points of view, Cruel Summer realizes its full potential and delivers a psychological thriller that one can’t help but try and solve.
The audience becomes the role of the jury, tasked with examining evidence and witness statements, and making an unbiased judgment of what the truth is. But what’s the fun in that? Cruel Summer allows one to have biased opinions on the characters and events, and it is proficient in making the viewer constantly unsure of those opinions. Just like the timelines, one can ping-pong back and forth between believing one girl’s story over the other’s. Red herrings and clues are scattered throughout, along with artfully placed reveals or cliffhangers.
The shock value is of value on Cruel Summer and it makes for a very entertaining watch. (Erin Allen)
Dave | FXX
The first season of Dave, which debuted back in 2019, was a fictionalized version of the life of rapper Dave “Lil Dicky” Burd. The show depicted Burd as an insecure young guy who struggled both professionally and personally, and about 60 percent of the show’s jokes seemed to directly reference his penis.
The second season, this summer, may not have had as much buzz as the first, but it was considerably better. Not only was it funnier, but it took some inventive risks, playing with the structure of episodes and borrowing a lot from that other FXX show about an aspiring rapper, Atlanta.
The new season had Burd enjoying some trappings of success, including a rented house in Hollywood, while he struggled with writer’s block during the production of his long-awaited debut album, “Penith.”
Highlights of the season included the premiere, with Dave causing an international incident in Korea, a long set piece set at a Bar Mitzvah, and the episode in which Dave angles for a date with rapper Doja Cat, with most of the “courtship” taking place over text, with Dave’s parents (David Paymer and Gina Hecht) asking if Doja is Jewish (turns out, on her mother’s side, she is.) Also appearing was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in one of the better TV guest appearances by a top athlete.
There’s no word yet on whether there will be a third season of Dave, but the show certainly grew by leaps and bounds in season 2, while still having room to grow in season 3. (Stephen Silver)
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier | Disney+
The second in Marvel’s line of Disney Plus shows, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier opts for a political thriller genre that feels far removed from the mysticism of WandaVision and the time jumping adventuring of Loki.
More akin to the Captain America movies which- whilst still very much superhero flicks- are at least a little more grounded, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier sees Sam Wilson- aka Captain America’s airborne sidekick The Falcon- and Bucky Barnes- ex Hydra assassin The Winter Soldier and Steve’s best friend from childhood- teaming up to take down a terrorist organization. They also find themselves in a difficult position when the government essentially recasts Captain America, handing Steve’s shield to a newcomer who both Sam and Bucky consider unfit for the task following Steve’s retirement after Avengers: Endgame.
The show is at its best with its simpler moments, such as the developing friendship between Sam and Bucky and the return of Baron Zemo, who is strangely likeable thanks to his newly written personality. There are even some emotional and moving moments too, particularly the discussion on race that comes about when Sam and Bucky speak with Isaiah Bradley, an African American man who was once a super soldier like Steve Rogers but- due the colour of his skin- was treated very differently, his heroism being kept a secret. Sam struggling with the thought of his country accepting him- a black man -as Captain America is highly topical in our society and- despite all the heroics, the action sequences and twists and turns of the mini-series-, its these themes that stand out in the show, offering some depth and commentary on timely socio-political matters whilst still being an entertaining comic book show. (Antonia Haynes)
Generation | HBO Max
Chaotic, effervescent, and spirited, Generation is the story of a Gen-Z high school community connected by their queerness. Remarkable in its centring of so many queer teens of colour, the diverse ensemble cast portrays a palpable teenage yearning for freedom and acceptance. The HBO Max show’s playful scriptwriting transcends a linear timeline, often switching back and forth in the school year, constantly alternating between shared scenes from various perspectives.
The soundtrack, costumes and unscripted sensibilities come together perfectly to capture a truly authentic feel of what it’s like to be a teenager in America right now –complete with the experience of a school-shooter lockdown, going to prom with a throuple, deported immigrant parents, and finding your guidance counsellor on Grindr.
Heartfelt, radiant, sometimes so sharp it feels satirical, Generation is a gift to the queer community, and to anyone interested in a fast-paced, youthful, intimate, joyous, television experience that celebrates life at a very particular moment in time. (Andrea Marks-Joseph)
Girls5eva | Peacock
Beloved by critics and the (few) viewers who took the plunge and got Peacock, Girls5eva was a pleasant surprise during the pandemic. The premier season followed a group of women who were in a 1990s girl group. When a hit rap artist samples their one hit song 20-odd years later, the women try and use the momentum to re-launch their music career.
Part-spoof, part-meta-commentary, the show has delightfully acerbic songs and poignantly charming jokes about only children becoming New York Lonely Boys. Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldberry have great chemistry and it’s their characters’ relationship that ends up being the beating heart of the show. A second season has been ordered and hopefully, more people will have jumped on the Peacock train by then so this show can get the attention it deserves. (Leah Wersebe)
Good Girls | NBC
Good Girls never had the air of a typical network property. A show about a group of women who commit crimes, eventually even embracing the criminal lifestyle, to take care of their families in suburban Detroit that’s funny, sexy, smart, and also, weirdly realistic about what experiences and knowledge women could use to commit fraud feels like it belongs on a streaming service. Unfortunately, Good Girls no longer has a home anywhere. It was cancelled a few months ago.
The fourth and final season was meant to be the penultimate season and that’s apparent in the finale so it did have a frustratingly bittersweet ending. The steps that occur to get to the final scene on a park bench are well-crafted with a couple of shocking reveals. It’s a show that deserved more attention from fans and critics and now sadly, the cast and crew don’t have the opportunity to finish the story on their own terms. (Leah Wersebe)
Hacks | HBO Max
Hacks is funnier than a comedy show about the comedy business has any right to be. Starring Jean Smart, who is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance at the moment, and Hannah Einbinder, relative newcomer that is as skilled as a veteran comedian and has comedy in her genes, Hacks is the real deal.
The story follows unemployed writer Ava Daniels (Einbinder) from LA to Las Vegas to work with Deborah Vance (Smart), a legendary comic who needs to revitalize her career. It’s a classic odd couple unwillingly teaming up scenario, but there is nothing stale about it. Its old-school comedy meets millennial humor with writing that is fresh and sharp and witty.
Subplots and side characters round out the robust storytelling. Sexism, age discrimination, and other relevant social issues come up naturally and give the jokes and drama potency and weight. It is a near-perfect comedy that knows what it’s doing and does so with ease and charm. (Erin Allen)
Heels | Starz
You don’t have to be a professional wrestling fan to fall head over heels in love with the new STARZ series starring Stephen Amell. Created by Michael Waldron (Loki) with Mike O’Malley serving as showrunner, Heels centers on a family-owned wrestling promotion (the Duffy Wrestling League) and follows brothers Jack (Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade as they navigate their way through the world of independent professional wrestling in their small, fictional Georgia hometown of Duffy. And much like sports entertainment, the most compelling storylines are often the ones that develop outside of the squared circle as the brothers wrestle to keep the family business alive while navigating family life in the wake of their father’s death.
Following eight stoic years as Oliver Queen, Amell is perfectly cast here given his long-time love affair with wrestling. In addition, his multiple appearances in several real-life wrestling promotions including the WWE and Ring of Honor, help bring far more nuance to his role. And speaking of the cast, Heels is also blessed with a star-studded supporting cast including Allen Maldonaldo, character actor treasure Chris Bauer and even the ‘Best in the World,’ CM Punk who is unforgettable in his brief appearance as local wrestling legend Ricky Rabies.
By now, you’ve most likely heard someone compare Heels to Friday Night Lights. Well, that’s not a bad comparison since Heels does a superb job in keeping viewers interested even if they are not familiar with the world of professional wrestling, not unlike how Friday Night Lights reached a wide audience including those with no interest in football. And like FNL, Heels is first and foremost a family drama— it just so happens to use professional wrestling as the framing device. Ultimately, Heels is funny, dramatic, often moving, and a well-written love letter to independent wrestling. (Ricky D)
Invincible | Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime Video is quickly becoming the home for subversive superhero stories. On top of The Boys, it now has Invincible as well. Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, Invincible focuses on Mark Grayson, the son of the greatest superhero the world has ever seen.
When Mark finally receives his powers as a teenager, he hopes to follow in his father’s legacy… unless, that is, his father’s legacy isn’t something worth celebrating after all. As the world comes to terms with a hero who may be the greatest villain of them all, what will his son do?
Packed with an insane cast of celebrities in its voice actor suite (Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh, JK Simmons, Walton Goggins, to name a few) and adapting one of the most chaotic, violent, and intense superhero stories ever made, Invincible is the surprise hit of the year and a total beast when it comes to animated entertainment. (Mike Worby)
It’s A Sin | Prime Video and Channel 4
It’s a Sin, follows a group of friends living in London through the 1980s — a decade that begins, for them, with the promise of liberation before their lives are destroyed by the encroaching AIDS epidemic of the period. Creator Russell T. Davies (Cucumber, Queer as Folk) wrote all five episodes, anchoring his scripts in real stories based on the characters it follows as well from his own memories.
From the beginning of It’s a Sin, viewers will pretty much know what to expect, and yet it’s impossible to resist hoping that some of these young men who we grow to love, will make it out unscathed. Sadly, that isn’t how it ends— yet despite the depressing ending, this coming-of-age drama is incredibly moving.
It’s a Sin broke viewership records when it aired in the UK and it’s easy to see why. The series demonstrates once again Davies’ masterful control of tone, shifting between moments of joy to rage, empathy, and humor in just the right places. It’s perfectly paced, exquisitely written, and played to perfection by an ensemble cast that doesn’t miss a beat. Heartbreaking, but healing, It’s A Sin is a masterpiece and more importantly, a tribute to those we lost and those who stood by them. (Ricky D)
I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson | Netflix
This sketch comedy series, which returned on Netflix this summer after a more than two-year absence, hasn’t captured the zeitgeist the way Netflix shows often do. It doesn’t pop up on top ten lists or anywhere else streaming shows are ranked.
But among comedians, comedy obsessives, and “extremely online” types, ITYSL is a special phenomenon. It’s the subject of memes, inside jokes, and endless references to the show’s sketches. And the second season, if anything, was even more of a phenomenon than the first.
A part of the fun is the unique way the show is structured. Each season is only six episodes, each of which is barely 15 minutes long, meaning the entire season can be watched in about two hours. So if you’ve watched the second season of I Think You Should Leave and you’re a big fan, you’ve probably watched it dozens of times, if not more.
And when you watch the show that way, you notice things, and things hit you differently on repeated viewings. Yes, “Coffin Flop” is viscerally hilarious the first time you see it. But the nuances of the “Tables” sketch? The repeated vulgarity of “Detective Crashmore”? The “Sloppy Steaks” bit? It just keeps getting funnier and funnier with time.
And all of this comes from Robinson, a former Saturday Night Live backbencher who went on to star in the fantastic Comedy Central (and streaming on Paramount+) show Detroiters, along with frequent ISYSL presence Sam Richardson.
I give the series credit for not trying to do recurring sketches, or trying to do the second version of Baby of the Year or the hot dog car guy. It also avoided the temptation to stick huge celebrities in all of the sketches, instead sticking with little-known but hilarious unfamiliar faces.
There’s no announcement yet of a third season, but hopefully, Netflix listens to the ITSYL cult and does the right thing. (Stephen Silver)
Kevin Can F*** Himself | AMC+
The best show you’re not watching right now is almost certainly Kevin Can F*** Himself. You’re not watching it because it’s buried in AMC+. Anyone that’s had the opportunity to watch knows that it’s a show like no other. The show blends two television production styles: the cinematic single camera (think 30 Rock, Ted Lasso) and the laugh-track-fueled multi-camera (think Friends, Modern Family). The hybrid aesthetic is more than just a gimmick, with duality at the core of Kevin Can F** Himself, it thematically employs each style with aplomb.
Allison (Annie Murphy) tries to keep her house and life in order despite her scheming husband Kevin (Eric Petersen) in the working-class town of Worcester, Mass. Kevin’s life is always presented in the multi-camera format complete with high-key lighting, laugh track, and half-baked hijinks. Flanked by his father Pete (Brian Howe) and hapless neighbor Neil (Alex Bonifer), Kevin’s havoc always leaves a mess for Allison, the TV housewife archetype, to clean up.
Allison’s half of the show poses an intriguing question. How far can you push a woman subjected to her sophomoric husband’s buffoonery? The scenes from Allison’s point of view are presented dark and dramatically in the less heightened single-camera style. She’s a woman pushed to her edge, deprived of agency, and desperate to reclaim it. Even Worcester is presented in dual prisms: as a Red Sox, Patriots, Good Will Hunting loving town as well as a gray, economically depressed suburb.
Having a northeast native and comedic genius like Sean Clements as actor, writer, and executive producer helps give the show its nuance and character. Murphy excels in both dramatic and silly performances in her follow-up to the triumphant Schitt’s Creek. Allison’s unexpected ally Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) is a captivating standout, pulling the same double duty as Murphy.
The show was picked up for a second season so there’s plenty of time to catch up on this spectacular first season. (Kent M. Wilhelm)
Loki | Disney+
Being the third show of Marvel Studio’s streaming lineup, Loki had an immense amount of pressure placed on its shoulders before it could even premiere. Not only was it a series that had to correct and face the criticisms of all its predecessors, but Tom Hiddleston’s God of mischief was a titular character who needed to provide surprise. After being previously killed off in Avengers: Infinity War, the only way for Loki to move forward as a character was to unsurprisingly work backward. Loki is a series audiences would initially expect to be a predictable bag of action and humor, but it efficiently grows into one massively cryptic storyline ruled by self-hatred and salvation.
Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Loki follows the Asgardian frost giant after his encounter with the future Avengers who accidentally threw his destiny of course. Putting the spotlight on Marvel’s time ruling overlords, Loki takes a detour from Norse mythology and focuses on the Time Variance Authority. Like WandaVision’s opening chapters, Loki in its entirety is a show that never lets itself down on being something that strays from the expected Marvel Studios formulas and tropes that always manage to entertain.
Loki remarkably inherits the challenge of having to build an entirely new version of its iconic lead, while juggling new concepts and characters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is an absolute joy to watch as it gives audiences more of the charismatic Hiddleston and Marvel’s remarkable comic book adaptations in a strange format that is simply mesmerizing. Loki has been blessed with a glorious purpose: to revitalize and reimagine the future of where its overlord franchise is heading, and it absolutely succeeds in doing so. (Marc Kaliroff)
Love, Death + Robots | Netflix
Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots dropped a first season that emerged as a surprise, sleeper hit when it premiered back in 2019. An animated celebration of everything we love about science fiction, the series adapts beloved stories old and new from stalwarts of the genre to new voices and ideas unique to the medium.
The second season, while considerably shorter than the first, was still able to recreate the magic once again. A dead giant washes ashore near an English town only to decay before everyone’s eyes. Two kids are horrified and bewildered to catch Santa Claus at work on Christmas Eve. A child-murdering cop finds his faith in the system shaken to its core.
These are the troubling, morally complex tales of Love, Death + Robots, and hopefully, there’s more of them to come as their disparate tones and animation styles are just the palate cleanser we need in the age of constant streaming wars and melting polar ice caps. (Mike Worby)
Lupin | Netflix
The master thief-turned-detective Arsène Lupin may be unknown to the average American, but the “gentleman burglar” is a well-known character in French pop culture and perhaps the most famous thief in the world of literature, responsible for daring heists and even more daring escapes from the law. Created in 1905 by the French writer Maurice Leblanc, Lupin has been the subject of several novels, comics, stage plays, video games, films, and TV adaptations over the years. He’s crossed paths several times with the great detective Sherlock Holmes; appeared in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro and even starred in the 2016 hit video game Persona 5. Chances are, the average American has seen some iteration of the character at one point in time, even if unaware of his legendary status.
His latest iteration, a Netflix series aptly titled Lupin, takes its inspiration from the popular fictional character and gives it a contemporary twist. Created by George Kay (Criminal, Killing Eve), in collaboration with François Uzan, the show stars Omar Sy (The Intouchables) as Assane Diop, a reimagined version of the titular thief. It’s not at the level of the French masterpiece Rififi, but Lupin is still a crackerjack crime series worth the price of your Netflix monthly subscription. I highly recommend it! (Ricky D)
Mare of Easttown | HBO Max
HBO has often found itself in the catbird seat when it comes to capturing the discourse with a scripted drama. A recent coup was the Keystone drenched mystery series Mare of Easttown. The show captivated audiences with its detailed depiction of working class Pennsylvania, the intriguing whodunit murder, and stellar performances.
The tremendous Kate Winslet vapes her way through the mysterious murder of a young girl in Easttown, Pennsylvania. Winslet guzzled Rolling Rocks, chomped on hoagies, and draped herself in the leisurely splendor of Jersey Shore souvenir apparel. It’s as if she pulled the purse-lipped vowels of the eastern Pennsylvania accent directly from the shelf of a Wawa. Along with Hacks, the show was part of the celebrated reemergence of Jean Smart, who plays Mare’s mother Helen. Guy Pearce and Evan Peters contributed their charisma in a large cast where many were considered suspect.
As evidence grew with each episode, one Easttown denizen after another was implicated with plenty of room left for Mare, and the audience, to come to their own conclusions. The careful disbursement of information through the limited series bounced blame from one character to another and then back again. With the murder mystery acting as narrative propeller, Mare’s own troubles revealed themselves. Her ex-husband, once again engaged, lives right next door as she attends therapy to work through a tragic loss.
Mare, once a star high school basketball player, is the town’s top detective. She is the exceptional child of the economically depressed Easttown. Mare is like a once impressive Mercedes-Benz that has worn off its shine, dents covering its chassis, and not had an oil change in over a decade. She’s the best of what the town has to offer; which it seems well aware of and just adds to its greater malaise. (Kent M. Wilhelm)
Mythic Quest | Apple TV+
With a second season hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, Mythic Quest did something that proved incredibly difficult: successfully parody remote work. The Apple+ series seemed to be buried beneath the unexpected success of Ted Lasso but the show’s stellar ensemble of veterans and newcomers continues to deliver a dynamic, albeit unorthodox, workplace comedy. The show is rife with gamer specific humor but uses outsider characters to make the references inclusive rather than alienating.
Mythic Quest is a game created by insecure alpha-male Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) and brilliant but egotistic Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao). The diverse cast reflects the breadth of topics included in the show. The incredible F. Murray Abraham stands out as self-indulgent, blowhard writer C.W. Longbottom.
Ian Grimm shares a lot of DNA with McElhenney’s Always Sunny character Mac. His unabashed confidence and pride is a garish suit of armor protecting the tender psyche beneath. Poppy dons a similar shell but as Ian’s is imbued with his physique and artistry, hers is forged from her intellect and proficiency.
The show does an excellent job pairing up its characters and then playing with the combinations of interaction. The company’s creative leads mix with a queer couple who mix with power-hungry corporate narcissists and the lone stragglers who move between them all. They conspire, connect, fight, kiss, and forgive. Their storylines braid together themes of aspiration, insecurity, generational divides, and relationships.
A highlight of each season is a bottle episode that strays from the main story but provides context. Each aside brings its own cast and interpersonal narrative in a touching reprieve from Mythic Quest HQ. Season two’s episode is an origin story for Abraham’s character C.W. Longbottom as a young, aspiring science fiction writer.
However, this season’s greatest triumph is the creativity of the unique remote work scenarios for each of its characters. Baking the pandemic into the show can be a messy proposition but Mythic Quest’s recipe gets a blue ribbon. (Kent M. Wilhelm)
Never Have I Ever | Netflix
This Netflix comedy-drama from Mindy Kaling encompasses the agonizing, awkward humour of teen angst through the eyes of its grieving protagonist. There is something incredibly refreshing about Devi’s problematic nature and her self-sabotaging behaviour. She speaks to the authentic all-consuming nature of the teen experience and navigates the life of a first-generation Indian-American teenager with eye-rolling hilarity.
Her determination to have the high-school experience ignites a smorgasbord of selfish shenanigans and captivating drama. Never Have I Ever clings to the immaturity of love triangles and all-consuming crushes but explores its bubbly comedy through the lens of unexpected narrators like tennis legend John McEnroe. The second season keeps the same winning formula, pushing Devi’s chaotic high-school dynamics to new heights of disastrous with secret boyfriends and rival transfer students. Yet, the series never loses sight of its young naive nature. (Alicia Gilstorf)
Night Stalker | Netflix
True crime as a genre is having its second coming at the moment with a newfound popularity fueled by podcasts and deep dives that provide more skin-crawling details and horrifying perspective than ever on the real-life monsters that keep us awake at night.
Night Stalker takes advantage of this fervor with an in-depth limited series focusing on the crimes of Richard Ramirez, a vile killer, and rapist in 1980s Los Angeles. Dialing in more on the police officers who tracked him and the victims or survivors of his brutal attacks, Night Stalker side-steps the glorifying of a killer in order to explore his impact on a terrified city that didn’t know where he might strike next.
This fresh perspective and fascinating tone allow Night Stalker to be a prescient and brilliant depiction of the terror serial killers inflict on a population and how that mark can still be felt over 30 years later by those who brushed against such an evil force. (Mike Worby)
Pose | FX
“Ballroom is home. Ballroom is family. Ballroom is love.”
In a final season that was much too short, Pose exited gracefully, leaving a lasting impression on its audience and a call to action, to look out for one’s community. Pose is great at giving us joyous celebrations of life, but it’s also pretty damn good at breaking our hearts. There are happy endings and proper payoffs, difficult goodbyes and tragic loss all culminating in a fierce and beautiful send-off of something that was much more than a TV show.
Groundbreaking with its inclusivity and representation, Pose honors not only its characters and their community but the incredible cast as well as the queer communities and found families that exist in reality. Although it’s hard to say goodbye, it is reassuring to know that the spirit of Ballroom continues to live on. (Erin Allen)
Rick and Morty | Adult Swim
Rick and Morty prides itself on being a funny, entertaining and surprisingly deep adult animated cartoon which- having released its fifth season this year- still manages to be an engaging, hilarious, and sometimes thought-provoking sci-fi show.
At the time of writing, the final episode of the fifth season has been delayed but from what the show has offered so far, it feels like one of the more mature seasons of Rick and Morty. The stories still have that classic Rick and Morty bizarreness with weird, science fiction style plotlines, insane antics, clever satire, and hilarious outcomes, but there is definitely a sense of development and growth with this season.
The characters have certainly had some evolution. Morty is the most prominent example as he exudes a confidence that is miles away from his previous timid nature as well as an understanding of the futility of trying to impress his grandpa Rick. Morty’s sister Summer gets more of a character arc too- desperately wanting to part of her brother and grandpas adventures- and whilst parents Beth and Jerry haven’t had too much of a change as characters, their relationship has definitely seen a change. The two no longer seem to despise each other- in fact they actually seem to love each other more than they once did-, forming a team to counteract Rick’s recklessness whilst still maintaining the aspects of their characters that made them who they are. Rick has had some character development too, showing that he does actually kind of care for his family and friends. At least a little bit anyway.
There have also been hints at more interesting and intricate plot points sprinkled throughout the fifth series so far. Let’s just hope that some of those big questions get some kind of resolution in the hour-long finale debuting in September. (Antonia Haynes)
Shadow and Bone | Netflix
Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse comes to life in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, an ambitious, sprawling fantasy that follows the Sun Summoner and the all-consuming dark fold she must one day vanquish. The series features a unique new world brimming with magical beings and intoxicating social hierarchies. However, it’s the gaggle of scrappy, sinister, and loveable characters that give light to a concept shrouded in darkness.
The first season brilliantly splices together the events of the Shadow and Bone novel with a gang of clever criminals from the Six of Crows duology. The Crows are certainly a stand out of this series thanks to Jesper’s reckless gambling habits, Inej’s sharp edges and even sharper knives, and Kaz’s strict but caring leadership. This show’s motley crew of mourners, saints, and thieves are matched by the intensity of Ben Barnes’ General Kirigan, an antagonist so captivating it is difficult not to root for him. This fantasy’s premise is elevated not by its modest word-building but by its characters’ clashing personalities. (Alicia Gilstorf)
Starstruck | HBO Max
It’s time to pay attention to Rose Matafeo. As the creator, writer, and star of Starstruck, Matafeo reminded everyone why rom-coms were King for so long. The show is about Jessie (Matafeo), a Kiwi living in London, who sleeps with Tom (Nikesh Patel), a film star. Their journey is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming as they realize they can’t stay away from each other.
The show is incredibly lean at only six episodes, but every step in Jessie and Tom’s relationship is earned. Season two is in the works and viewers are excited to see what happens next for Jessie and Tom considering when they were last seen, Jessie was about to make a big change in her life. It’s a great time to jump on the Matafeo train, because after the success of Starstruck, her life will surely be changing as well. (Leah Wersebe)
Superman & Lois | The CW
With Superman & Lois, the CW brings the familiar tale of Clark Kent and Lois Lane back to Smallville, this time with a focus on raising their teenage sons and acclimating to life away from the big city of Metropolis. The show delivers spectacular visual effects and supernatural battles, but the close-knit young family is its beating heart.
This sixteen-episode journey sees Superman (played by an almost-impossibly endearing Tyler Hoechlin) commit to being there for his family while they navigate new school blues, brotherhood, and the tension when only one of the boys inherits powers. The writers skilfully incorporated storylines that confront social anxiety, military occupation, alcoholism, and unemployment. Superman’s home planet, Krypton, and the multiverse both play important roles in developing the show’s villains; as does Smallville’s failing economy. Overall, Superman & Lois is a family-focused, superpowered, highly-weaponized but wholesome adventure. (Andrea Marks-Joseph)
Ted Lasso | Apple TV
It would be difficult to find a series that does comedy and kindness better than Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. A football coach hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience, is a concept that breeds top-tier comedy. However, the choice to take a higher road, one that preaches selflessness, hard work, and acceptance in a sport dominated by toxic principles, is what makes its rise from hidden gem to cult success so transfixing.
This comfort comedy constantly proves its “no strings attached” approach to nurturing character growth will be victorious in the second season as Roy continues to dominate the comedy, Jamie the field, and Ted our hearts with his southern euphemisms. Ted Lasso may have the weight of suppressed emotions this season to navigate, but the intelligence of its trajectory suggests this series is always on the verge of a breakthrough, never a breakdown. (Alicia Gilstorf)
WandaVision | Disney+
WandaVision was the first of Marvel’s Disney Plus shows that debuted at the beginning of 2021, kicking off Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang. The series focuses on Wanda Maximoff, a character who has been part of the MCU since 2015 but has rarely been given much of a chance to shine due to the tendency to relegate her character to the sidelines. WandaVision gives Elizabeth Olsen the opportunity to bring the character to life in a far more significant way whilst also offering a solid storyline.
Many unanswered questions surrounding Wanda’s character get answered in WandaVision– such as her disappearing and reappearing Sokovian accent- but we also get to see the mental strain that her grief has caused her. In the movies, these tend to get glossed over and almost forgotten by the next time we see her. WandaVision gives us a chance to see how losing everything and everyone she loved- her home, her twin brother, her parents, and her true love- has affected her, making for a character that becomes much more sympathetic and real. There are all of the usual Marvel tropes that we know and love in the show too, from the epic final battles to the characters finally reaching their true potential with their powers. Unlike usual Marvel fare though (minus a few exceptions like Loki and Thanos) the major villain of the show is actually compelling, which is another plus. Wanda herself is far from innocent in the proceedings as well, adding another layer of complexity to both the show and her character.
WandaVision is as much an in-depth look into the psyche of a character coping with extreme grief as it is a Marvel show full of magical superpowers and false realities. This duality not only makes WandaVision one of the most interesting Marvel properties to date, it makes it one of the best shows this year. (Antonia Haynes)
Underground Railroad | Amazon Prime
The Underground Railroad, director Barry Jenkins’ adaption of Colson Whitehead’s magical realistic novel of American slavery, arrived earlier this summer and didn’t really gain any measure of cultural ubiquity.
Perhaps it was because it debuted on the hard-to-navigate streaming backwater that is Amazon Prime Video, or maybe it was the inexplicable decision to release all ten episodes at once. Or perhaps it was because of the very difficult subject matter, which didn’t exactly lend itself to binging all or most of it at once.
But nevertheless, The Underground Railroad was a major work by a major filmmaker.
The series came from Jenkins, the director of beloved films Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, and this wasn’t just a case of him putting his name on the series as an executive producer- he directed all ten episodes.
Working once again with cinematographer James Laxton and composer Nicholas Britell, who were also credited with his last two films, Jenkins proved himself the right filmmaker for this very challenging material.
The beautifully rendered series followed the character of Cora (Thuso Mbedu) through the American South, or rather a version of it in which the titular railroad was an actual railroad. Most of the episodes are set in different states, with some of them looking at backstories of individual characters.
That’s why it was so maddening that Amazon released the entire series at once, causing it to drop off the radar in a matter of a week or two. (Stephen Silver)
The White Lotus | HBO
The White Lotus, the six-part HBO series created by Mike White that ran throughout July and August, was the buzziest show of the summer, featuring a half-dozen episodes of slow-burn class tension set at a luxury resort in Hawaii.
The series, featuring a tense score from composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer, featured strong actors, a lived-in location, and a compelling central mystery. But more than anything else, White’s show was about class tensions, and the way the rich screw over the poor and get away with it.
White has long specialized in that sort of thing. He wrote and directed Brad’s Status, which starred Ben Stiller as a middle-aged guy obsessively jealous of his more successful friends, and wrote the screenplay for Beatriz at Dinner, which starred Salma Hayek as a massage therapist, at an unlikely dinner party with callous rich people (including John Lithgow and Connie Britton.)
Britton shows up again in The White Lotus as a Sheryl Sandberg-like tech mogul, on vacation with her crisis-plagued husband (Steve Zahn), her troubled teenaged son (Fred Hechinger), and her mean-girl daughter (Sydney Sweeney), who’s brought along a friend named Paula (Brittany O’Grady.) The other rich people on the trip are young douchebag Shane (Jake Lacy), his journalist wife (Alexandra Daddario), and a middle-aged woman mourning her mother (Jennifer Coolidge.)
The show’s six hours chronicle the blood feud between Shane and the hotel’s manager Armond (Murray Bartlett), who hits a breaking point, as well as various discoveries by the other characters.
The series leads up to a satisfying finale and resolution to the mystery. And the premise is so durable that another season has been announced, albeit about all different characters. (Stephen Silver)
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