1 of 11
Serial killers in love, the obscenely rich in crisis, scammers in too deep: This year’s best TV offerings, with one notable exception, reflected our extremely 2021 desires to get back to normal. After experimenting with COVID-19 constraints last year — remember all those socially distanced, Zoom-based shows only TV critics seemed to watch? — television largely ignored the pandemic, exploring what feels like any other issue under the sun. Here are the nine finest escapes from the pandemic, and the one painfully accurate tribute to a year lost.
Image Credit: Pexels/Cottonbro
2 of 11
10. ‘You’ (Netflix): It’s entirely apt that a show with a book-revering protagonist would come by its pleasures the old-fashioned way. Immaculate plotting, pitch-perfect satire and combustible chemistry between leads Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti made the third season of this serial-killer drama the series’ best by far. An incisive dissection of the self-delusion it takes to sustain obsession, ‘You’ pulled off the seemingly impossible by making its sendups of the suburbs feel fresh, while pointedly exploring the all-too-common denials and deceptions that can slow, but not stop, a marriage’s inevitable disintegration.
Image Credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix
3 of 11
9. ‘WandaVision’ (OSN): Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany played their roles as Marvel’s Wanda and Vision to perfection in this much-loved miniseries. In it, they play a newly-wed couple settling into a new old-school neighbourhood. There’s a mix of comedy and tragedy and it has been praised for its sitcom vibe that delves deep into emotions.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios
4 of 11
8. ‘Mare of Easttown’ (OSN): Hollywood actress Kate Winslet is soul-crushingly brilliant as a troubled police officer who has to solve a local murder of a young woman. The series is a searing exploration of a woman struggling to gain closure from a personal tragedy and how she throws herself into her job to take her mind off her past. Her present and past intermingle and give us a portrait of grief and loss in the most humane manner. Winslet as a hardened, bitter, and brittle mother is painfully good. Watch this compelling series to appreciate Winslet’s turn as a consummate actor. It’s a series that leaves a lasting impression on you.
5 of 11
7. ‘Hacks’ (HBO Max): ‘Hacks’ is the kind of show so good, you wish there were 10 others just like it — in its case, platonic love stories between female mentors and protegees. Whether in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ or the more recent ‘Late Night’, the older woman tends to become the centre of gravity in such workplace tales of mutual grudging respect, and this dramedy from ‘Broad City’ alums is no exception. Jean Smart delivers the performance of the year as Deborah Vance, comedy’s Vegas-based fading grande dame. Her iron-willed comeback to relevance — aided by Hannah Einbinder’s entitled but cutting-edge Gen Z joke writer Ava — looks to the future of stand-up while paying tribute to its past.
Image Credit: IMDB
6 of 11
6. ‘Maid’ (Netflix): To watch ‘Maid’ is to realise how seldom pop culture dares to tackle experiences as widely shared as low-wage work, domestic violence, being a half-step from homelessness and caring for a family member with untreated mental illness — and with such care, nuance and well-roundedness. Adapted from Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir, the limited series seems to have become a word-of-mouth hit, not just because it depicts those struggles with sensitivity, but because it made them part of an engrossing tale of a single mom’s self-rediscovery. Starring mother-daughter leads Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley in career-high performances, the drama soars by refusing easy answers or villains. Life’s much too complicated for that.
Image Credit: Netflix
7 of 11
5. ‘Succession’ (OSN): A multibillion-dollar fortune is at stake on HBO’s buzziest (and still TV’s best) drama, but ‘Succession’ somehow managed to raise the ante even higher in its third season. Wittier and nastier than ever, the Murdoch-inspired dynastic farce reached a zenith with its sixth episode, which took viewers to an anti-democratic conclave where the next GOP presidential candidate was chosen, and with its seventh, which took place at the world’s saddest 40th birthday party (Kendall’s, obviously). By pitting his children against each other, Roy family patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) practically ensured that they’d always be at each other’s throats. Season 3 finds the Roy parenting approach coming into rotten fruition, the grown children continuing to battle each other for a company that’s steadily proving itself too big to control.
Image Credit: Supplied
8 of 11
4. ‘Oprah With Harry and Meghan’ (OSN): The revelations kept on coming when Oprah Winfrey sat down with Prince Harry and Meghan, Dutch of Sussex, some 14 months after the couple broke from the rest of the British royal family and resettled in California. Inquiries about their then-unborn son’s skin colour and Markle’s ignored pleas for help following her mental distress (which became severe enough to include suicidal thoughts) were just the tip of the iceberg in an interview that will probably be discussed for years to come. The March special was deeply personal, yet unmistakably openhearted, with Harry following in his late mother’s footsteps by encouraging more candid conversations about mental health, including on his and Winfrey’s follow-up Apple TV Plus miniseries, ‘The Me You Can’t See’.
Image Credit: AP
9 of 11
3. ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ (Netflix): No other TV programming felt more 2021 than Bo Burnham’s musical-comedy special, a clever yet unabashedly bleak meditation on the isolation and depression brought on by the pandemic, as well as the absurd, flattening infiniteness of our digital lives. (“Start a rumour, buy a broom-er/Or send a death threat to a boomer/Or DM a girl and groom her/Do a Zoom or find a tumour,” as Burnham carnival-barks in one song.) Released at the end of May, as we were being promised something like a post-COVID summer, watching ‘Inside’ felt like a collective mourning for the year (and sanity) we’d lost — and fittingly, most of us did it on our phones and laptops, indoors and alone.
Image Credit: The Washington Post
10 of 11
2. ‘Ted Lasso’ (Apple TV+): Everyone needed a little bit of gentleness during the pandemic, and if there were a bunch of laughs thrown in, even better. That’s was Jason Sudeikis’ multi-award winning series gave the masses. His role as the firm but kind coach, Ted Lasso, defied the norms of modern TV and offered audiences a bear hug in the form of a TV show. There were no harsh edges, no evil characters, nothing to rub us the wrong way. All the characters made their mark in the show and were largely likeable, even when they were being difficult. If you haven’t watched ‘Ted Lasso’ yet, start now!
11 of 11
1. ‘Squid Game’ (Netflix): This dark and twisted South Korean series had everyone around the world talking when it released, and has cemented its place in TV show history by becoming Netflix’s most popular show. In it, 456 broke and desperate contestants compete in a deadly survival game to win a massive amount of money that can change their lives. There’s a lot of blood, gore and frustration as the contestants play strange version of childhood games to secure the winnings. Under it all there was a message about capitalism and human rights that everyone could relate to in some way. There’s a reason why this series will most likely be on many top 10 lists for this year, and it deserves every spot.
Image Credit: AFP