The Best TV Shows (I Think) Of 2021

I like to say that TV is like any other muscle. If you don’t use it, it will atrophy. Which is why, this year, I am wondering if I gave my TV the workout it deserved.

This is because as much TV as there was to watch this year, I feel that for all the shows I did watch on our 58-inch Samsung LCD in the living room (and the 50-inch Panasonic plasma that is now 12 years old, but still holds its own in our downstairs office) I watched at least as much stuff on my iPad or iPhone. Part of that is that as I work from home, it’s easy to just prop up my iPad on my desk and put on another repeat of “The Rockford Files”, or an episode of some foreign-language drama on Sundance Now, to break up the silence of the day. And that same iPad, or my iPhone, definitely comes in handy when I want to watch something to fall asleep to in bed.

But, at the end of the day, we are still watching TV, and a lot of it.

So, as this is the end of the year, I’m going to list the 10 Best Things I Watched on TV This Year. And by “Best”, I mean that they are the best to me. I don’t pretend that every show here is some kind of great work of art. Many of these are very good shows. Some are just silly. And some are just here because I happened to stumble across them and have been on a viewing jag ever since. Plus, everyone likes to make 10 Best Lists of things at the end of the year, so here’s one more for your reading pleasure…If you can turn the TV off for a few minutes.

10. The Brokenwood Mysteries (Acorn TV): One of the best things about the booming streaming TV industry is that anyone can find just about anything from almost any country in the world to watch at any time. New Zealand is about a million miles away from the United States. But, thanks to Acorn TV, you can watch in Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd, as played by Neill Rea, solve what seems to be an inordinate amount of murders in the small town of Brokenwood. If you ever wanted to see a Kiwi version of Columbo in action, then this is the show for you.

9. Dopesick (Hulu). This mini-series that is a semi-fictional account of the rise of the opioid epidemic is a little over the top. The pharma company executives are, of course, evil, and the federal agents trying to bring them down are, of course, heroic, and those who get hooked on OxyContin are, of course, tragic. But Michael Keaton’s performance alone is worth the investment of your time as he has reached that Kurt Russell stage in his career where he makes everything he is in worth watching.

8. Narcos: Mexico (Netflix). Drugs. Guns. Bad Guys doing bad things, Good guys trying to catch the bad guys. I’ll see you in about 10 hours.

7. The Great Escape (PBS). To reiterate what I said in this listing last year, I never said what I watched had to be “new”. The Great Escape is one of those classic films that if you come across it on TV, you drop everything and start watching it no matter where you are in the movie. This happened to me this year when The Great Escape came on one Saturday night on our local PBS station and I knew how the rest of my night would go. Every time I watch this, I still think there’s a chance Steve McQueen’s going to get away from the Nazis and ride that motorcycle off to freedom in Switzerland…

6. Cooking With Ry (YouTube). There are about 17 bazillion cooking channels on YouTube right now. But there is nothing that compares to the Bob Ross of grilling that is Ry. I stumbled across his show a little more than a year ago and now I admittedly have stolen his recipes for sweet and spicy chicken thighs, tri-tip and innumerable ways to smoke ribs and you should, too.

5. The Equalizer (CBS). Queen Latifah as a former CIA agent helping those with nowhere else to turn by kicking the asses of bad guys all around New York? As my 81-year-old mother said as she watched the show, “That Queen Latifah…She’s got game!”

4. McCartney 3, 2, 1 (Hulu). This six-part series, largely shot in black and white, is mostly just Paul McCartney and legendary music producer Rick Rubin geeking out over, talking about and listening to Beatles songs. Rubin is here as a fan and acolyte, at one time literally sitting at McCartney’s feet as Paul plays one of the earliest songs he ever wrote. And as Paul finishes the song, there is an amazing shot as Paul keep talking to Rubin, but the camera stays on the guitar as Paul lowers the instrument to the floor. Paul never looks at the guitar as he does this, but you don’t think for a second that he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing as he tenderly lays down his instrument. It’s an incredible sign of respect. And it’s almost hard to believe that this would be only the second-best Beatles program this year.

3. Resident Alien (SyFy). Alan Tudyk is one of those “That Guy” actors. You have seen him in a million things, and you probably don’t know his name. (He’s been in things like “Firefly” and the movie “Dodgeball”, if that helps.) This year, Tudyk got to star as “Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle,” a doctor in a small town in Colorado. Or, rather, he stars as the alien sent to destroy Earth who ends up taking the from of Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, who in this comedy learns, to a degree, that the human race may be worth saving. It’s one of the most-subtly funny shows currently on TV, and, thankfully, a second season is on the way.

2. Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). I didn’t know what to expect from Jason Sudekis & Co. when this show premiered. But it has proven to be one of those shows that is better than advertised. It’s full of every cliche in the TV show playbook: A fish out of water. Silly jokes. Characters who learn and grow as people. Sports as a metaphor for life. British accents that make everything sound funnier and better than American ones. But…There is something about the humanity of the show that puts it over the top and has made it a must-see. It deserves every accolade it has received.

1. The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+). I marked the Thanksgiving Day premiere of this mini-series on my calendar the second I learned about it almost a year ago. I don’t even know where to begin with this, but I’ll try. The scene where Paul McCartney is fooling around on his bass guitar as he creates the song “Get Back” out of thin air is as powerful and emotional as anything I have seen on TV since I watched My Beloved Hometown Seattle Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII. We have grown up with “Get Back” in our lives for more than half a century. But, there was once a time when it didn’t exist. And that speaks to everything in life, in general. There is “before” and there is “after”. We all know the “after” that happened with the Beatles. But with Peter Jackson’s outstanding three-part, 8-hour-long, production (and I don’t want to hear anyone say it is too long), we finally really see and feel what was going on in the “before” of the band’s final era. And we see that, for the most part, it was a pretty good time.

Honorable Mentions:

Cobra Kai (Netflix)

The Book of Boba Fett (Disney+)

The only reason these aren’t in the Top 10 is because they aren’t premiering until the very end of the year and I need to get this written up now before my kids wake up and I have to referee their upcoming, and inevitable weekend brawl.

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur (Amazon Prime)

I have been a fan of Spurs for about 15 years now. Tom Hardy does the narration to this multi-episode series about what might be the most star-crossed English Premier League soccer team. I’m ready to get out on the pitch.

Red Letter Media (YouTube)

If you’ve ever sat around for hours cracking on bad movies with your buddies, then you will understand. 

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