Year in review: 25 best TV series of 2021

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Ruby’s Tuna

Year in review: 25 best TV series of 2021

Television made us laugh, cry, and offered us an escape during a time where it seemed we needed it more than ever. While the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have passed, the world was still reeling; we worried about the Delta variant, the climate crisis, and the mental health epidemic. Things seemed just as complicated as ever in 2021, but at least we had the comforting glow of the small screen.

Stacker compiled all TV shows with 2021 release dates on Metacritic and ranked the top 25. To qualify, the series had to have at least seven reviews. Miniseries were included.

These shows are the best of the best, among them are those that debuted with first seasons and those that gave us fantastic sophomore efforts, as well as limited series on everything from the opioid crisis to one of the most iconic writers who ever lived. Comedies, dramas, documentaries, and animated series all made this diverse list.

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Whether it’s the story of an unlikely group examining evil, a comeback series for a British actress who took a couple of decades off to join Parliament, or a show with 11 seasons that took place over 21 years, these shows kept us entertained during some very difficult times. Keep reading to see if your favorite series from 2021 made the cut.

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Snowed-In Productions

#25. Too Close

– Metascore: 84
– Release date: May 20, 2021
– Distributor: ITV

This female-led miniseries stars Emily Watson as a forensic psychiatrist and Denise Gough as a mother accused of a horrible crime. As Dr. Emma Robertson, Watson must figure out if Gough’s Connie Mortensen intended to kill the two children with her when she drove her SUV off a bridge. For her part, Mortensen claims she has no memory of the incident. The three-part series is based on the 2018 novel of the same name by actress Clara Salaman (under the pen name “Natalie Daniels”).

King Size Productions

#24. Evil

– Metascore: 84
– Release date: June 20, 2021
– Distributor: CBS

This thriller, offered on ViacomCBS streaming service, Paramount+, follows a psychologist, a man training to be a Catholic priest, and a tech expert who team up to investigate mysteries that the church has yet to explore. The team must figure out whether they are explainable or supernatural and extraordinary. Starring Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, and Aasif Mandvi, season two includes episodes that explore cannibalism, angels, and night terrors as each character deals with their own battles with evil. As of July 2021, it has been renewed for a third season.

Big Talk Productions

#23. Back

– Metascore: 84
– Release date: April 1, 2021
– Distributor: Channel 4

This British sitcom stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb as foster brothers who, following a period of estrangement, must come together after their father dies and they promise to take over the family business, the John Barleycorn pub. After a years-long absence, things get complicated in season two as the brothers’ hostility continues and a trendy new bar called P:UB gives the John Barleycorn some stiff competition.

HBO Documentary Films

#22. The Crime of the Century

– Metascore: 84
– Release date: May 10, 2021
– Distributor: HBO

From Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, this two-part documentary reveals the role Big Pharma played in America’s opioid epidemic. Exploring the indictment of Purdue Pharma and the role the FDA played in releasing the drug to the general public, “The Crime of the Century” the award for Best Political Documentary at the 2021 Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

Diamond Docs

#21. McCartney 3,2,1

– Metascore: 85
– Release date: July 16, 2021
– Distributor: Hulu

This six-episode series pairs iconic record producer Rick Rubin and music legend Paul McCartney. Rubin interviews McCartney while playing tracks to accompany the song analysis of several hits, including “Yesterday,” “Michelle,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Let It Be,” and “Band on the Run.” They discuss McCartney’s relationship with John Lennon, explore what inspires the musician’s songwriting, as well as his work with Wings and as a solo artist.

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Ruby’s Tuna

#20. Ted Lasso

– Metascore: 85
– Release date: July 23, 2021
– Distributor: Apple TV+

In this seven-time Emmy-winning series, Jason Sudeikis stars as the titular Ted Lasso, an American football coach who takes over a struggling soccer team in the English Premier League even though he has no real experience. Season two focuses on developing relationships that extend beyond Ted, particularly between Keeley and Roy, and the finale takes a bit of a dark turn.

Florentine Films

#19. Hemingway

– Metascore: 85
– Release date: April 5, 2021
– Distributor: PBS

Award-winning documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick team up to explore the life of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Using Hemingway’s biography and excerpts from his writing, including his novels, short stories, and nonfiction, “Hemingway” features voiceover work from Jeff Daniels, Keri Russell, Meryl Streep, and Mary-Louise Parker. The six-hour miniseries, narrated by Peter Coyote, is divided into three episodes and contains archival footage and commentary from Heminway’s second-born son, Patrick, who is in his ’90s.

Walt Disney Pictures

#18. The Beatles: Get Back

– Metascore: 85
– Release date: November 25, 2021
– Distributor: Disney+

This eight-hour docuseries features footage of the Beatles in the studio in 1969 while they were recording the album “Let It Be” and shooting film for the documentary of the same name. “The Beatles: Get Back” was actually meant to be released in 2020, lining up with the 50th anniversary of the “Let It Be” film and album. However, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the release date back to 2021. Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson directed and produced to project.


#17. The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song

– Metascore: 85
– Release date: February 16, 2021
– Distributor: PBS

This two-part series explores the roots of the Black church, and how Black worshippers molded a unique version of Christianity influenced by African traditions over 400 years in America. The book that accompanies the series became a New York Times bestseller. Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the executive producer and also hosted and wrote the series. Archival footage helped bring this decades-long journey to life.


#16. This Way Up

– Metascore: 86
– Release date: July 9, 2021
– Distributor: Channel 4

In this British comedy, Aisling Bea stars as Aine, a woman who tries to piece her life back together after a nervous breakdown, while Sharon Horgan plays concerned sister Shona. Bea and Horgan have played sisters before on the BBC’s “Dead Boss.” In season two of the show, Aine begins a relationship with the father of one of her students, and Shona and her partner Vish go through some growing pains.

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#15. Elizabeth Is Missing

– Metascore: 86
– Release date: January 3, 2021
– Distributor: PBS

Adapted from the 2014 bestselling novel by Emma Healey, “Elizabeth is Missing” focuses on Maud, a woman attempting to understand what happened to her closest friend Elizabeth while struggling with dementia. As the series continues, past and present blur for Maud, who wonders if Elizabeth’s disappearance may be connected to the disappearance of her sister, Sukey, which happened decades before. Glenda Jackson, who stars as Maud and won a BAFTA award for the role, made a return to television after a 27-year acting hiatus in which she focused on political pursuits and served as a member of Parliament.

Objective Fiction

#14. Feel Good

– Metascore: 86
– Release date: June 4, 2021
– Distributor: Netflix

In this British series, a comedian named Mae tries to manage her sobriety and navigate a relationship with her new girlfriend while living in London. Former “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow portrays Mae’s mother. The second and final season finds Mae exploring their nonbinary identity while trying to navigate past trauma and a platonic friendship with ex-girlfriend George.

Thruline Entertainment

#13. The Great

– Metascore: 86
– Release date: November 19, 2021
– Distributor: Hulu

Elle Fanning stars as Catherine the Great in this series about the Russian empress who must choose between her happiness and her love for her country. Nominated for two Emmys, the second season begins four months after the coup launched against Peter, and focuses on a pregnant Catherine attempting to rule Russia while managing her husband and the crazy happenings of royal life.

Hyperobject Industries

#12. Painting With John

– Metascore: 86
– Release date: January 22, 2021
– Distributor: HBO

This art meditation features actor and musician John Lurie waxing philosophical all while painting with watercolors. The series also features Lurie’s island life and references the 1991 documentary “Fishing with John,” which finds him fishing with celebrity friends like Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper, and Matt Dillon. “Painting With John” was renewed for a second season, according to Variety.


#11. Tuca & Bertie

– Metascore: 87
– Release date: June 13, 2021
– Distributor: Adult Swim

This is the animated story of two women—who happen to be birds—living in an apartment building. Ali Wong voices Bertie and Tiffany Haddish Tuca, while Steven Yeun portrays Bertie’s boyfriend, Speckle. Season two finds Bertie and Tuca searching for love, battling health issues like irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia, and dealing with a natural disaster that strikes Bird Town.

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Irony Point

#10. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

– Metascore: 87
– Release date: July 6, 2021
– Distributor: Netflix

Tim Robinson, who performed on “Saturday Night Live” for just one season, has his own sketch comedy show boasting an impressive guest lineup of funny friends, including “SNL” star Cecily Strong, funnyman veteran Fred Willard, and “SNL” alum Will Forte. Season two features a ghost tour with an unruly guest, a “Little Buff Boys” competition, and a guest appearance by Bob Odenkirk.

Florentine Films

#9. Muhammad Ali

– Metascore: 88
– Release date: September 19, 2021
– Distributor: PBS

This Ken Burns series focuses on the life and career of boxing great Muhammad Ali. The three-time heavyweight champ was also a philanthropist and activist, and the four-part series features Keith David as the narrator. From Ali’s gold-medal win at the 1960 Olympics to his commitment to the Nation of Islam, “Muhammad Ali” is a thorough portrait of a great athlete.

Home Box Office (HBO)

#8. Curb Your Enthusiasm

– Metascore: 89
– Release date: October 24, 2021
– Distributor: HBO

Comedian and “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David returns for the eleventh season of the comedy series loosely based on his life. Season 11 of the Emmy-winning series features a faulty toilet, Woody Harrelson, and a sushi restaurant date. As always, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” continues to include epic guest appearances, and Season 11’s lineup—Rob Morrow, Vince Vaughn, Seth Rogen, and Tracey Ullman—didn’t disappoint.

Boardwalk Pictures

#7. Last Chance U: Basketball

– Metascore: 90
– Release date: March 10, 2021
– Distributor: Netflix

Athletes who blew their shot get a last chance through the junior college system. This series takes an honest look at what happens to these basketball athletes and was nominated for a Cinema Eye Honors Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Series for Broadcast. The series was renewed for a second season.

Red Production Company

#6. It’s a Sin

– Metascore: 91
– Release date: February 18, 2021
– Distributor: Channel 4

Written and created by Russell T. Davies, this British television drama miniseries follows the adventures of four gay friends in London in the early 1980s as the AIDS epidemic takes hold. Davies was adamant about casting gay actors in the roles, believing only they could portray gay characters honestly. The award-winning television writer also created “Queer as Folk” and the 2005 “Doctor Who” revival.

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Gary Sanchez Productions

#5. Succession

– Metascore: 92
– Release date: October 17, 2021
– Distributor: HBO

This series focuses on the wealthy Roy family, as they fight for control of the family business after Logan Roy, the patriarch, falls ill. Season three picks up with the war started by son Kendall at the end of season two, which finds Logan in a perilous situation. The series was renewed for a fourth season in October 2021.

Cuba Pictures

#4. Romeo & Juliet

– Metascore: 92
– Release date: April 23, 2021
– Distributor: PBS

This Emily Burns adaptation, based on the play by William Shakespeare, stars Jessie Buckley, Tamsin Greig, and Josh O’Connor. Set in modern-day Italy, this National Theatre production was filmed over 17 days on one stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing for The Guardian, critic Arifa Akbar called Buckley’s performance as Juliet, “Intense and ardent, she is a strong, rebellious daughter who verges on the punkish, and even when she is at her most vulnerable never appears weak.”

Amazon Studios

#3. The Underground Railroad

– Metascore: 92
– Release date: May 14, 2021
– Distributor: Prime Video

Oscar-winning film director Barry Jenkins directed and created the Amazon original series based on the 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead, which follows an enslaved woman who discovers a literal underground railroad when she attempts to escape a plantation in the south. Writing for the New York Times, critic Reggie Ugwu called praised the project as “perhaps the most widely anticipated television series about slavery since ‘Roots.’” The series was nominated for seven Emmys.

FX Productions

#2. What We Do in the Shadows

– Metascore: 96
– Release date: September 2, 2021
– Distributor: FX

Based on a 2014 New Zealand film of the same name, this FX mockumentary series, created by Jemaine Clement, focuses on the life and times of four Staten Island roommates who happen to be vampires. Season three of the Emmy-winning series features the return of an old flame, a vampire road trip, and a near-perfect season finale, according to fans.

Bo Burnham

#1. Bo Burnham: Inside

– Metascore: 98
– Release date: May 30, 2021
– Distributor: Netflix

This musical comedy special starring comedian and singer Bo Burnham, who both wrote and directed the project, won three Emmy Awards. Burnham was one of YouTube’s first true stars and “Inside” documents his time indoors during the COVID-19 lockdown. Writing for The New York Times, critic Jason Zinoman called the experimental feat, “sweepingly cinematic and claustrophobically intimate, a Zeitgeist-chasing musical comedy made alone to an audience of no one.”

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