They don't call it Peak TV for nothing. With more shows than ever, it can be difficult for even the most plugged-in viewers to keep up. For every Squid Game or Succession, there are countless shows that debut to little fanfare and are left to languish among the rows and rows of offerings on any given streaming platform. Well-reviewed series like We Are Lady Parts and Feel Good may lack big-time buzz, but that doesn't make them any less worth your time. Here are ten great shows you may have missed in 2021, listed in chronological order by release date:
When Discovery+ launched in the United States on January 4, it debuted a handful of original series featuring some of the company’s biggest stars, including Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis. The Food Network personalities brought their trademark charm to Bobby and Giada in Italy, a four-episode travelogue that follows the two as they jaunt across Rome and Tuscany soaking up history, visiting their favorite restaurants, and savoring local products. Despite Bobby and Giada’s best efforts to put Italian cuisine at the forefront, their natural chemistry — and sexual chemistry, at that — quickly became the star of the show. The only thing more fun than watching Bobby and Giada in Italy? Speculating about what went down behind-the-scenes. Streaming on Discovery+
All Creatures Great and Small technically debuted in Britain last year, but it didn’t hit U.S. soil until January 2021. An adaptation of Alf Wight’s books (and the BBC series of the same name that ran from 1978 to 1990), the series centers on a trio of veterinary surgeons — James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph), Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), and Tristan Farnon (Callum Woodhouse) — working in the Yorkshire Dales in 1937. In a world filled with dark and depressing television, it’s incredibly comforting to watch these vets heal animals across the English countryside and approach their everyday problems from a place of pure heart and optimism.
Fans desperate for more light-hearted fun won’t have to wait long: All Creatures Great and Small Season 2 debuts January 9, 2022 on Masterpiece on PBS. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Aidy Bryant’s Shrill is like a fine wine that only gets better with age. After debuting to much fanfare in 2019, the comedy’s sophomore run flew under-the-radar in early 2020, but it came back with a vengeance this spring with a season that brought Annie (Bryant) and Fran’s (Lolly Adefope) friendship to the fore. Expanding the scope beyond Annie’s romantic and professional drama did wonders for Shrill: its third and final season was its best, largely thanks to Fran’s emotional storylines and the show's willingness to poke at Annie’s blindspots. We may have seen the last of Annie and Fran, but their friendship is forever. Streaming on Hulu
The Underground Railroad was nominated for Outstanding Limited Series at the 2021 Emmy Awards, but with competition like Mare of Easttown and The Queen’s Gambit (the eventual winner), it never stood a chance. That’s a shame, because Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel was one of the most powerful shows of the year, if not the decade. As the title suggests, the limited series primarily focuses on Cora (Thuso Mbedu), a slave who escapes a Georgia plantation and seeks freedom along The Underground Railroad. What follows is a sprawling, masterfully produced take on slavery and racism that deserves a spot in your streaming queue, no matter how difficult a watch it may be. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
It seems like every year TV serves up at least one new series that critics adore, but viewers seem to ignore. In 2021, We Are Lady Parts was that series. Created by Nida Manzoor, the comedy follows a British punk rock band made up entirely of Muslim women who are unapologetically themselves. Over the course of the first six episodes (the series was recently renewed for a second season), the women work to overcome their differences and achieve their dream of becoming punk rock stars. Not only is We Are Lady Parts an example of on-screen representation done right, it also boasts great original songs, silly sitcom storylines, and strong performances from soon-to-be-superstars Anjana Vasan, Sarah Kameela, Juliette Motamed, Faith Omole, and Lucie Shorthouse. Streaming on Peacock
“Criminally underappreciated” doesn’t even come close to describing Feel Good, Mae Martin’s semi-autobiographical dramedy. Season 1 introduced fans to the tumultuous romance between Mae, a Canadian comedian and recovering addict, and George (Charlotte Ritchie), a middle-class schoolteacher. Season 2, released in June, dug even deeper to explore the ways in which trauma and PTSD have affected the many relationships in Mae’s life. This may all sound pretty heavy — and it is — but Feel Good expertly blends its serious subject matter with laugh-out-loud moments of ridiculous humor (Lisa Kudrow is excellent as Mae’s mom) that's sure to keep you coming back for more. Streaming on Netflix
Relationships with famous people have long been romantic comedy fodder, but few have done it better than Starstruck. Rose Matafeo, who also serves as co-writer on the series, plays Jessie, a down-on-her-luck London twentysomething, who forms an unlikely bond with a famous movie star, Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel). The two sleep together on New Year’s Eve, and over the next 12 months they flit in and out of each other’s lives, although the timing is never quite right. Jessie and Tom’s will they/won’t they tension drives Starstruck, which both relies on rom-com conventions and happily defies them. Streaming on HBO Max
Shifting from CBS to Paramount+ couldn’t have been a better move for Evil. In Season 2, Michelle and Robert King’s drama ditched its network restraints and leaned into its out-of-the-box storylines to deliver four months of delightfully bonkers fare. The streaming world is rife with supernatural phenomena, but no one is having as much fun with these demonic figures as Evil, a series that spent the latter half of 2021 upping the WTF-factor, week after week. Streaming on Paramount+
Reservation Dogs earned the 2021 Gotham Award for Breakthrough Series, and for good reason: it’s a wonder of self-expression and a welcome addition to the coming-of-age genre. The standout comedy, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, follows four Indigenous teens as they steal, rob, and save in order to fund their journey to the promised land of California. In a major milestone for Native representation, every writer, director, and series regular is Indigenous, and they worked hard to resist the urge to glorify or mythologize the community they depict. Like We Are Lady Parts, Reservation Dogs offers a much-needed look into a vibrant community that has long been mistreated, both off-screen and on. Streaming on FX on Hulu
Dickinson functions as something of a bookend for this list, as its second season dropped in January, and its third (and final) season in November. The Apple TV+ dramedy was many things — a loose biopic, a period romance, and a rumination on death and legacy, to name a few — but it did them all unbelievably well, and its final season was no exception. Dickinson Season 3 continued to expand and reimagine the world of Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) while also placing her story in the larger context of the Civil War. Even as it introduced rich new characters, including Sojourner Truth (Ziwe), Walt Whitman (Billy Eichner), and Sylvia Plath (Chloe Fineman), the series remained laser-focused on Emily and her lifelong questions about art’s capacity to bring about change. Streaming on Apple TV+
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.