Top Ten TV of 2021

David Dylan Thomas
7 min readMar 27, 2022

I had to leave a lot of great stuff off of the list this year, which just goes to show how good 2021 was for television. A good thing given how much we had to stay at home. (And probably will, you know, forever at this point.)

10. Mare of Easttown

Two characters dressed for cold weather walk towards the camera in the woods. From left to right they are Colin Zabel played by Evan Peters and Mare Sheehan played by Kate Winslet.

Delco accents be praised!( Although I’m not the best judge of accuracy as a transplant to the area). Mare of Easttown is a triumph of the regional noir subgenre. We get an excellent overview of a place and the characters inhabiting it through the lens of a crime investigation. Kate Winslet is at an all-time high as the title character and the supporting cast is outstanding as well. Hitting high notes as both a mystery and as family drama, Easttown makes for compelling viewing.

9. Rick and Morty

Two animated characters both try to hold on to a really large lever. From left to right they are Rick Sanchez, an elderly gentleman in a lab coat and Morty Smith, a young boy in a yellow t-shirt.

I was late to the Rick and Morty train but over the past two seasons I’ve caught up and it just keeps getting better. This season in particular gave us insight into the cost of Rick being Rick, for himself and others, while still keeping up the genre-lacerating wit of Mark Harmon’s story engine and gross-out hilarity we’ve come to know and love.

8. What We Do in the Shadows

The main cast of What We Do in the Shadows stand in front of a casino. From left to right they are Matt Berry as Laszlo Cravensworth, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja, Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson, Kayvan Novak as Nandor, and facing them, Harvey Guillen as Guillermo de la Cruz

Season over season What We Do in the Shadows has piled on high satire on top of sitcom wit. “We’re all a big family here” directed from a group of vampires to their put-upon familiar still serves as one of the best critiques of corporate America tossed into a throwaway gag. Said familiar Guillermo’s growth this season was especially entertaining to watch, as was the addition of the brilliant Kristen Schaal to the cast.

7. Loki

Loki, portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, stands in a green lit room with several out of focus people behind him wearing a green suit with a political pin with his name on it and, on his head, his traditional Loki horn-helmet.

This was the year of Marvel television. And among the standout efforts of the Disney+ parade was this take on perennial MCU villain Loki, which at once gave us a return to the evil-er earlier iteration of the foe while also allowing him to grow more deeply. All while greatly expanding the scope of the MCU in a way that even the movies haven’t necessarily been able to do.

Great supporting performances from Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Jonathon Majors, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Wummi Mosaku reign all of that scope into very human and funny stories. By the way, even though race is the domain of another MCU show on our list, this one was rather effortlessly Black, with key roles played by Black actors in a way that was not defined by their Blackness but still notable because those particular roles are not often given to Black actors.

6. Reservation Dogs

The titular reservation dogs, from left to right Paulina Alexis as Willie Jack, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs as Elora, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as Bear, and Lane Factor as Cheese, walk along the street towards the camera in black suits in the manner of Reservoir Dogs from the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film.

Another Taika Waititi entry on this list (he co-created this and exec produces What We Do in the Shadows) that shows his dedication to telling very specific, regional stories with universal appeal. Here it’s life on a reservation and how it plays out for a group of indigenous teens. It balances quirk, surrealism, drama, sweetness, and humor in a way that, while reminiscent of shows like Atlanta, are really its own.

5. Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso (Jason Sudekis) sits at his desk and points at someone off camera.

While some complain that this season of Ted Lasso wasn’t as cheery as the first, I’d argue that that’s completely the point. This season was, in part, about the cost of what goes into the optimism that drives the spirit of season one, and that spirit is not always coming from an optimistic place. Still the characters grow even richer this season and it’s still one of the most positive shows on television (in fact, the increased realism just bolsters the positivity) and the addition of Sarah Niles as a sports therapist is fantastic addition to an already powerhouse cast.

4. Succession

Left to right: Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook),  and Tom Wambsgans (Matthew MacFayden) stand looking off to their right at something offscreen.

This season of Succession was kind of harder to watch than others because this season started getting real about the cost of the otherwise hilariously incompetent shenanigans and power plays of the Roy family. It showed us the darker timeline of “What if Trump were smart?” in an episode set at an event where a bunch of rich white people get to pick the next president (which, to hear from some insiders, is a very real sort of event). But it is precisely because the season got too real that it succeeded at what previous seasons were only starting to inch at, why we should care about and not just be amused by the machinations of this family, and the resentments that fuel them. All of it culminating in one of the most powerful season finales I’ve seen.

3. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Left to right The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) stand in a field facing each other but looking more toward the camera.

“They… will… never… let a Black man be Captain America. And if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be.” This, coming from a controversial (at least when he first appeared) character from the comics, is the essence of what takes The Falcon and the Winter Soldier being a good spy action series to a great meditation on race in America. There are other speeches and lines that I’ll let you discover on your own, but the unflinching exploration of the essential question, “What does it mean to ask a Black man to be Captain America?” cuts to the core of vital discussions about race in America. No coincidence that the show had a Black showrunner and every episode was directed by a woman.

2. Squid Game

Left to right: Park Hae-soo (박해수) as Cho Sang-woo, Lee Jung-jae (이정재) as Seong Gi-hun, and Jung Ho-yeon (정호연) as Kang Sae-byeok, stand facing the camera wearing green jumpsuits and carrying makeshift weapons in what looks like a gymnasium about to fuck some shit up

This is a show about class. No, really, this is a show about class. Underneath the hype and the sensationalism of the premise, there is a seething indictment of capitalism worthy of a Bong Joon Ho joint. Within the first two episodes Squid Game shows you not only the horror it’s willing to depict, but the true horror of poverty that would drive someone to engage in the titular game to begin with. While maintaining all the elements of a great thriller and churning out must-watch-the-next-episode-immediately cliffhangers, Squid Game nevertheless establishes its thesis firmly and repeatedly, that capitalism, and the illusion of fairness that goes along with it, brings out the worst in people.

1. The Underground Railroad

A Black woman (Thuso Mbedu as Cora) wearing 1800’s period clothing stands in a field with a Black man (William Jackson Harper as Royal) in a cowboy hat looking offscreen.

Speaking of capitalism, here is a show about its greatest, most horrific triumph: the institutional kidnap, rape, torture, and forced labor of human beings. Barry Jenkins’ brilliant The Underground Railroad is not shy about depicting the lengths to which people will go to keep that institution alive. In fact, the show goes beyond just showing the horrors of slavery to showing the dangers of just being Black in America at the time, because many of the threats presented our heroes come from white people who don’t even believe in slavery, but still fundamentally abhor Black people.

It is also a show about Black joy, endurance, self-organization, enterprise, self-determination, and all of the other things we aren’t told that Blackness meant and still means in the face of relentless oppression and violence.

It is not an easy show to watch. It does not try to make it easy for you. Horrific things happen. But it does give Black people a dignity that they don’t often get in stories like this, on the rare occasion that those stories dare be told.

And it is, I believe, something that every American should watch. Because it’s one thing to talk about slavery in the abstract. It’s another thing to watch a man be burned alive for trying to escape. It’s like how the conversation changed around the Holocaust after Schindler’s List. It was no longer an abstract, if horrible, idea. It was something you could visualize clearly and, as such, be motivated to never let happen again.

Honorable mentions: Hawkeye, Evil, The Witcher, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Black Lightning



David Dylan Thomas

Big fan of treating people like people. Author, Design for Cognitive Bias. Founder, CEO, David Dylan Thomas, LLC. Speaker, Lots of Places.