Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
Happy New Year! 2020 was an all-around disaster capped off by a masked Ryan Seacrest standing in an empty Times Square. No more looking back... it's time to look forward to 2021.
This is going to be a challenging year for television. Thanks to last year's events (I know, don't look back!), production schedules are a complete mess. Still, I believe there's some breakthrough TV coming our way.
Creators have had months to come up with unique ways of getting through their COVID days. One good thing that can come from a lockdown is creative solutions to everyday problems. There will be the usual reality dating shows and profiles of humans out of control, but I'm anticipating some out-of-the-box thinking showing up on our small screens. Have faith.
With that, here are my inaugural TV picks of 2021...
Cobra Kai (NETFLIX)
Season 3 available now
Cobra Kai is my guilty pleasure. It would be so easy to get this wrong, but the show's producers have really nailed the balance of nostalgia in a contemporary tale. The first season was fantastic — lots of throwbacks peppered in with young Miguel following in the great Daniel LaRusso's footsteps behind the training of rival sensei Johnny Lawrence.
The second season was not as good, but still did a good job of harkening back to the original films and letting you enjoy the ride. Johnny and Daniel-san experienced their highs and lows as karate became a bad word in the home of the All-Valley Tournament.
My expectations were low coming into season three, but the prized all grown-up pupils of Mr. Miyagi and John Kreese deliver in a big way. When the show sticks to Johnny and Daniel, it's a lot of fun. When it diverts to other storylines, it slips into cliched plots worthy of a fast forward.
I will not spoil who returns to The Karate Kid universe this season, but if you're a fan, you will be more than satisfied. Now I have to go wax my floor and paint my fence.
History of Swear Words (NETFLIX)
Tuesday, January 5th
Nicolas Cage hosts a six-part series centered around the origin of our favorite curse words. Welcome to 2021!
The series is loud, profane and somewhat insightful. It's also straight out of the Drunk History playbook. Comedians you'd expect to see along with etymology experts you've never seen give a thorough examination of the words you're not supposed to say.
Cage is the perfect host for this show. Always curious and never holding back, he explains why a simple expletive was created in the first place, and illustrates clever uses of each word. Watch trailer.
Mr. Mayor (NBC) Series Premiere
Thursday, January 7th 8pm
The backstory on the latest Tina Fey comedy offering provides me with some faith. The original premise was to bring back 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy as the mayor of New York City, but contract negotiations with Mr. Baldwin fell through.
The show shifted to L.A. and was recast, and Tina should have retitled it The Likeables. Beloved Ted Danson, Holly Hunter and Bobby Moynihan lead the way. Ted plays a wealthy businessman who runs for mayor to win the respect of his teenage daughter and awkwardness ensues.
Ted has been stellar on network TV, most recently shining as Michael on The Good Place. Here's hoping that traditional sitcom hokeyness gets avoided and who knows, maybe the Beeper King can make a cross country trip.
Friday, January 8th
Alex Trebek says goodbye as host of the best game show on television. It will be bittersweet watching Alex give the answers (not the questions) to contestants for the final time.
This signifies the end of the lucrative Trebek/Sajak host combo, but Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune will live on. It's the peanut butter and jelly of dinnertime TV.
Ken Jennings is a great pick as first "guest host." No one knows the show like Ken, and a celebrity host would likely be a disaster. Jeopardy! is all about the game itself as the late mustached Canadian would tell you.
Prepare for a tearjerking Final Jepoardy!.
Tiger (HBO) Part 1
Sunday, January 10th 9pm
HBO profiles the rise, fall, and comeback of one of the most pivotal figures in modern-day sports in this two-part documentary. Tiger Woods was the can't-miss kid. His father and some god-given golfing ability ensured that. But does anyone really know what Tiger is all about?
We saw the championships and the demise of one of the greatest golfers who ever walked the fairways. This Alex Gibney-produced doc digs in to the early years of Tiger Woods and focuses on how he became "Tiger".
Tiger's dad was everything to him and seeing their relationship play out as his achievements stack up is a curious study. His destiny was clear early on as a child golf prodigy appearing on Mike Douglas and other talk shows. But unlike many child stars, Tiger got better as he got older and lived up to all the early hype.
Fellow golfers, his caddy and the women in Tiger's life paint a detailed picture that's illustrated with lots of never seen before footage. Last year, Michael Jordan had The Last Dance — this year, it's Tiger's turn.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.