In 2021, the bar for good TV seemed to be back on, after a year in which we basically took everything we could get. When the pandemic hit, we found ourselves without films, theater, dance, art exhibitions; Television, even when it sucked, was an absolute lifeline. What else was there to do but sit at home as a nation and watch âTiger Kingâ? (Remember “Tiger King”?) We might have been away from the office, but the in-line water cooler was alive and well. It was like everyone was watching everything, all the time. This year, although COVID was far from over, the vaccine was successful enough to make a difference enough that most of us could venture outside with less fear. Television has once again become just another option on a much fuller plate. And yet the TV offerings were still more than robust. (“Tiger King 2”, anyone?) That meant we had to choose more wisely than before.
New York writers reflect on the ups and downs of the year.
However, “wisdom” is subjective, as is this list. By no means final, it’s just a celebration of some of the shows I’ve enjoyed watching this year, including feel-good and discomfort options, in no particular order. TV can serve as an escape, and some of the following shows relaxed me, made me laugh, or even made things a little sillier for an evening or two, which helped me get through when the world seemed too difficult for me to face. Conversely, some of the other offers here were great precisely because they reminded me of how shitty things are, skillfully reflecting the world to me. Even so, these unease shows often left me with a sense of hope. There is something invigorating and beautiful about art that is not striking. (Of course, I must note that the differences between feeling good and feeling bad are not always clear cut and are also, to some extent, subjective.) There is some overlap here with this list written by my colleague Doreen. Saint-FÃ©lix. Like Doreen, I discovered as I compiled my picks that I had watched a lot of HBO this year and not as much network TV, but unlike her more drama-centric roundup, my attention tended to shift. focus on comedies, both light and dark. . And, despite the current vogue for mini-series, a big chunk of my list, I realized, was multi-season series. There must have been something reassuring for me, in these times of turmoil and unknowns, in this sense of continuity.
“I Think You Should Go With Tim Robinson” (Netflix)
This sketch show, whose second season aired last summer, is possibly one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not even exaggerating that much. It sounds utterly idiosyncratic, more Living Theater than “SNL,” even though its creators – Zach Kanin and Tim Robinson – both wrote for the latter. Robinson, who also stars in many sketches, has a slightly crossed gaze and smirk, a combo that turns comedy gold before he even opens his mouth. Skits often start with a normal, everyday setup (two drivers clash in a parking lot) and quickly descend into absurdity and chaos (âDo you know how to drive?â âNo, I don’t know how to drive. don’t know what it is, and I’m scared. â) If I have one complaint, it’s that the episodes, about fifteen minutes each, are far too short, and there aren’t any. only six per season. More please.
“The Great British Baking Show” (Netflix)
Like a hot bath. During the pandemic, I started watching old episodes of this calming baking contest show, and by the time Collection 9 started airing last September, I was in full swing. Unlike American cooking contests such as “Top Chef”, in which participants seem ready to tear their eyes out with a dessert fork, “Baking Show” (which is known across the pond, where it airs on Channel 4, under the name “The Great British Bake Off”) is imbued with a spirit of collective goodwill. Contestants cheer each other on as they attempt to bake, for example, a Breton shortbread pie or a kiwi-lime Pavlova delicious enough to satisfy a judge’s punishing father, Paul Hollywood, and his sweeter wife, Prue. Leith. This season is worth watching, if only to see if it’s the gentle Giuseppe with the curly mane or the heavy, effusive JÃ¼rgen who wins.
If “Baking Show” has reminded us of what is good in mankind, then Jesse Armstrong’s satirical drama about the ultra-rich did just the opposite, remaining a vital text on how blind and ruthless people can truly be. to become. In the series ‘third season, the Roy siblings continued their attempts to please, impress, and undermine their media mogul father, Logan (who, come to think of it, might actually be this series’ own version of Paul Hollywood). Some viewers complained that the series was stuck in a rut. I didn’t agree, but there was no doubt that the plot shifted into high gear towards the end of the season, when the gang left for Tuscany to attend the nuptials of Caroline, the half-mum. away from Roy’s three youngest children â an occasion whose gloom was so masterfully conveyed that it made Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” wedding party look like a Brazilian carnival.
“Physical” (Apple TV +)
I really enjoyed this show, which stars a really good Rose Byrne as Sheila Rubin, a bulimic and disgusting housewife from ’80s San Diego who oscillates between the liberal ideals of her Berkeley years and the The ethos emerging from the self-interest of the Reagan era. In the first season (the series was recently picked up for a second), Sheila begins to build a career as the queen of VHS aerobics, and we come to understand the feminist promise of the fledgling auto-girl. . the healthcare industry as well as its toxic record. Even though âPhysicalâ took place forty years ago, it poses a still relevant question: what would it take for a woman to be truly free?
The third season of the comedy-drama, which stars 30-something Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as goofy college best friends in the early 2000s, continued to be both hilarious and poignant at the same time. Again, we had crushes, dating, friend fights, and masturbation sessions over a computer print of a breast; but there were also some explorations that ventured further, into the adult future, which seemed to promise a lot of its own sorrows and conflicts. (The bottle episode that followed a day in the life of Maya’s mother Yuki, a Japanese immigrant, was a wonderful Ozu-style interlude.) I love this show and was sad to learn that this would be his last season.
“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” (Bravo)
The most recent seasons of these “Housewives” iterations have each focused on the legal drama facing one of their protagonists: in “Salt Lake City” it is Jen Shah, who was charged during the filming. for his alleged role in a telemarketing scheme. , and in “Beverly Hills”, it was Erika Girardi, whose lawyer ex-husband allegedly hijacked millions of his clients in order to finance Erika’s lifestyle. This intrusion of real issues into shows made for fantasy TV; it has also rendered a public service by reminding us of the lie and the hidden misfortune that might hide under the shining booty of the very rich.
“The White Lotus” (HBO)
A debate on class and colonialism of the brilliant Mike White. âThe White Lotus,â written as a limited six-part series, although it was recently renewed for a second season, follows a group of wealthy white guests as they vacation at a luxury Hawaiian resort. Unconscious, awful and, unfortunately, far too human, the tourists surround themselves as well as the employees of the station, whom they mistreat, in a sort of claustrophobic dance, until the inevitable outcome of the spectacle. A depressing and hilarious must-watch.
Some other notable shows
- âChillin Islandâ (HBO): A woozy, exploratory stoner delight, starring hip-hop stars like Young Thug and Lil Yachty.
- “The Shrink Next Door” (Apple TV +): Perhaps the most Jewish show on television right now, to watch for Paul Rudd’s surprisingly comedic performance as a pretty monstrous psychiatrist.
- âThe Muppet Showâ (Disney +): Jim Henson’s beloved puppet variety hour has finally been streamed this year.
- âMare of Easttownâ (HBO): This gruesome and captivating miniseries had terrific performances, including by Kate Winslet as the titular police detective.