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.
2021 has been a bizarre year.
Everything changed yet so many things stayed the same. We have a vaccine, but COVID and its new Greek letter is spreading everywhere. There's a new President, but the country remains divided and as angry as ever. Tom Brady is the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champion.
TV was no different. Seinfeld relocated. Yellowstone runs on Paramount Network but streams on Peacock (and not the current season). Reality dating shows continue to be anything but real. There were plenty of new offerings on different platforms, but it was difficult for many new shows to break through.
It's impossible for me to limit my picks this year to just ten shows, so let’s begin with a few honorable mentions, starting with five shows (and/or seasons) I haven't yet watched but I hear are great and might well have made my list had I completed them in time: Midnight Mass (NETFLIX), We Are Lady Parts (PEACOCK), Reservation Dogs (FX), What We Do In The Shadows Season 3 (FX), and Yellowstone Season 4 (PARAMOUNT NETWORK).
RETURNING SHOWS WORTH THE WATCH
Last Chance U (NETFLIX)
This season they switched to basketball. The drama remains the same.
Cobra Kai (NETFLIX)
I got an advance copy of the fourth season. Can't wait for the fifth.
Love On The Spectrum (NETFLIX)
I despise reality dating shows… except this one. It's a heartwarming and honest look into what dating is truly all about.
ROOKIES OF THE YEAR
Leaving an abusive relationship leads to housecleaning and soul searching.
Cruel Summer (FREEFORM)
Great pilot, and it does a decent job of keeping the mystery alive throughout. Jeanette Turner, I hope you rot in hell!
Big Shot (DISNEY+)
John Stamos coaches a female high school basketball team in one of the most charming series of the year.
Wanda and Vision are living it up in the suburbs, until they're not. The best of the Marvel minor character TV spinoffs.
TWO FANTASTIC DOCS
Get Back (DISNEY+)
I could watch another eight hours of The Beatles creating music that will last a lifetime.
1971 - The Year That Music Changed Everything (APPLE TV+)
Music was never more powerful and made a real difference in society. Focuses on all different genres in a truly magical year.
THE TOP TEN
I’ve limited my list this year to episodic shows (otherwise Get Back would appear here), and shockingly there's not one network program on the list. More than half of the shows are new, which is exciting. There were a plethora of great shows this year, but I thought these ten were the best of the best.
10. Dopesick (HULU)
Powerful stuff and slightly preachy, but this drama with a stacked cast breaks the Sackler family and big pharma down from multiple angles. Kaitlyn Dever, Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg give riveting performances.
9. Ted Lasso (APPLE TV+)
The bar was set ridiculously high, and season two could not possibly have the impact of first one, but this is still one heck of a show. Charm has not escaped Ted and his "football" team and the Emmy winning acting performances remain top notch. I have a feeling the focus will shift back to Ted for the third season. We're Richmond 'til we die.
8. Narcos: Mexico (NETFLIX)
The third season of this show flew under a lot of people's radar - just like certain elements of the Mexican drug cartel. Following The Wire's proven template, there are no good guys in the cartels, government agencies or the press. Chapo is coming, but who and what he followed is an incredible ride.
7. Only Murders In The Building (HULU)
You can never go wrong with Steve Martin and Martin Short. This mystery got better with each episode as the guest stars joined the cast. Selena Gomez more than holds her own with the two comedy geniuses. It keeps you laughing and guessing until the end, and even a little bit more after that.
6. The White Lotus (HBO)
This quirky Hawaiian resort tale caught everyone's attention with some unique characters and genuine surprises. It drips with satire as the guests and staff live on the edge of tropical paradise. The razor-sharp writing of Mike White, aka School of Rock's Ned Schneebly, finally gets its due.
5. Squid Game (NETFLIX)
Everyone told me I had to watch. I'm so glad I did. A version of The Hunger Games that hits violently and emotionally hard. Every episode packs a surprise as the games progress and you grow more attached to the participants. Shot well, quirky and definitely not your typical series.
4. Hacks (HBO MAX)
Jean Smart shows how it's done playing an aging Vegas comedian who works with a youthful comedic scribe. Funny, poignant and smart writing performed by an actress who charms and stings is a winning combination.
3. For All Mankind (APPLE TV+)
One of the best second seasons you'll ever see. The space race continues with the Russians in the lead (or are they?). Tremendous effects, fine acting and some of the best writing on television with a killer finale.
2. Mare of Easttown (HBO)
Kate Winslet pulls off the eastern PA accent with aplomb. Dark story in a dark town where everyone's life is falling apart. The murder becomes the least interesting thing as this small town struggles to heal all the way through. Then you find out who did it.
1. Succession (HBO)
I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong, and I was wrong about this award-winning drama. My big criticism is that there are no redeemable characters to root for. That remains true. But this ten-episode third season comes out swinging and does not stop until the riveting finale. The Roy family is a conflicted one, but boy are they entertaining. After all, it's all about winning.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe.
Happy holidays! I’ll see you in 2022.
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.
TOPICS: 2021 In Review, 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, The Beatles: Get Back, Cruel Summer, Dopesick, For All Mankind, Hacks, Last Chance U: Basketball , Little Big Shots, Love on the Spectrum, Maid, Mare of Easttown, Narcos, Only Murders In The Building , Squid Game, Succession, Ted Lasso, WandaVision, The White Lotus, Cobra Kai