The Best TV Shows of 2021 (So Far): From ‘Hacks’ to ‘WandaVision’
As the record heat proves that going out into the reopened world is decidedly not worth it, let us recommend excellent TV shows from the year so far that you may have missed.
This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
- Go outside? Gross! Watch these shows instead.
- Top Chef has been flawless.
- Very! Important! Jonathan Taylor Thomas update!
- Never not thinking about The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
- This horrible, heinous news week? No thank you!!!
The Best Shows to Catch Up on This Summer
It is July 4th weekend! The country is reopening! People are making plans, something at once wonderful and absolutely horrible!
It is #HotVaxSummer. It is “Finally Hug Your Loved Ones” time. It is “Go to Those Canceled Weddings,” “Have an Even Bigger Birthday Bash to Make Up for That Shitty Last One,” and “Wait in Line for Bars and Not Be Mad About It” season. It is the “Feel Even More Alone Because Everyone’s Doing Things But You’re Still Home By Yourself Hugging Your Air Conditioning” hellscape many of us have been dreading.
We all have our journeys. A recent one of mine took me on what was supposed to be a lovely evening stroll through New York City after a long work day of eye-frying screen time. My body rejected it completely. The entire concept.
The sweat was instant, and there was so much of it that my grave concern triggered a throbbing headache. My face, already red from the heat and the aforementioned spewing firehose of perspiration, started to break out and my eyes began itching. What am I allergic to aside from, apparently, existing outdoors like a normal human? Couldn’t say. My hands started to turn another color. (?!?!?!)
This is all to say, so happy for you, the people who are rabid and ready to be unleashed back into the world. I briefly tried it, and will instead be back on my couch watching television. Should you like to spiritually join me, I have some recommendations for you to watch. I am an expert, after all: This is literally all I’ve done for the last year and a half and, apparently, all I will do until my air conditioner shorts out and I combust.
Think of it as, at this halfpoint of the year, sort of a Best of TV in 2021 (So Far) list. But it’s also not really that. As the summer amps us up and we crave fun, but maybe not the kind that causes sunburn, it’s mostly a list of really entertaining things you might have missed that I think you should catch up on.
Hacks: Icon Jean Smart as a foul-mouthed, fed-up, but incredibly driven aging stand-up comic would be reason alone to tune in. That the series deepened into an exploration of self-worth, the limits we place on ourselves, how we run toward and away from family and connection, and mortality is icing on an already decadent cake.
Mare of Easttown: I advise you not to trust anyone who wasn’t a fan of this show. Kate Winslet, with her outrageous Delco accent, is perfect. Jean Smart—there she is again—is perfect. Julianne Nicholson, oh my god, is absolutely perfect. Evan Peters is perfect in a very specific way in that I’ve never seen such good drunk acting. This is a murder mystery that is thrilling at every twist and the rare one to produce a gratifying ending. It’s also a beautiful portrait of generational trauma and the ways in which tight-knit communities carry their scars.
Girls5eva: Tony-winner Renée Elise Goldsberry of Hamilton plays a diva former member of a ’90s girl group whose prized possession is a see-through piano she calls Ghislaine: “I named it 20 years ago. It was a pretty name then, it’s a pretty name now. I’m not changing it.” Sara Bareilles sings about her fear that she’ll accidentally send a picture of her vagina to her dad. Paula Pell and Busy Philipps are flawless. And, beyond all that, Tina Fey makes a cameo as a fever-dream Dolly Parton—something that, implausibly, 100 percent works.
For All Mankind: You know that thing where a show starts pretty meh, so you abandon it. But then everyone insists it gets good, and then next thing you know, season two has aired and people talk about how it might be the best drama on TV? Friends, behold For All Mankind.
Top Chef Portland: I can’t remember the last time I thought a season of a reality competition series was this good. And 18 seasons in, which is just remarkable. Obviously I cried at least once an episode.
Search Party: When a show is branded a “cult favorite,” the misconception is that it’s only for a niche audience. I reject that when it comes to Search Party. Yes, its audience was small, yet passionate. But the brilliance with which it cycled through millennial satire, procedural drama, courtroom black comedy, survivalist thriller, and even horror—all with, somehow, a straight face and unrivaled wit—should be for everyone. At least everyone with taste.
Chad: Give all credit to Nasim Pedrad for sticking with a passion project so preposterous for so long. In Chad, which took years to finally hit screens, she plays a high-school boy navigating the pressures of tenuous teenage social circles and hormones. As in, yes, she plays the boy. It works, and is so poignant and awkward that it’s no surprise that reviews often mentioned Lisa Kudrow’s The Comeback as a cringe-comedy reference point.
Pig Royalty: Discovery+’s series about warring families of pig showers—as in, people who parade their pigs as if in a beauty pageant—summons Shakespeare, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Queer Eye, and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo as references, all swirling in one, beautiful sty.
WandaVision: At this point, if you still need me to explain why this show is good, it is very clear you have no straight men in your life.
In Treatment: Uzo Aduba is serving looks. She is serving acting. She is serving therapy. There are about 400 episodes in a season of In Treatment, all mini-plays that individually rank among the most electric half hours on TV but, cumulatively, make up one of the most intelligent series reboots in recent memory.
It’s a Sin and The Underground Railroad: If the idea is “carefree entertainment,” my God, I would never recommend these to you. But if the idea is “the best TV of 2021 so far,” these should be the first two shows you turn to.