The Best TV Shows of 2021 – Honorable Mentions

When I saw the season premiere was rated TV-14, I figured it had to be a mistake. But then they got away with a “grab ’em by the pussy” joke, and I realized it was intentional. This second season pretty much ditched any semblance of being for kids and was all the better for it. What other show would parody Run Lola Run or Marina Abramović?

Birdgirl – “Sharebear”
This spin-off of my beloved Harvey Birdman never quite hit the highs of that Hanna-Barbera riff. But this second episode came closest, as Sebben & Sebben’s new product – a cross between Teddy Ruxpin and Alexa – wreaks havoc on the world by exposing its owners’ darkest secrets. A privacy nightmare was never so funny.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Last Day”
When the show took a year off to retool to grapple with COVID and a new wave of protests against police brutality, it came back with arguably its worst episode to date. And any time an episode tried to be honest about policing, the show came to a screeching halt. But there were still plenty of funny moments and a finale that would have been perfect even without its attempts at relevance. The last heist was perfectly low stakes, even if there were some high stakes for individual characters.

Curb Your Enthusiasm – “The Mormon Advantage”
It’s easy to take Curb for granted. The last three seasons have been consistently funny, even if the seasons themselves have been inconsistent. Larry David constantly includes jokes and premises only he could get away with, and frequently delivers brilliant guest stars. Everything came together in this finale, which sees Larry stealing shoes from an exhibit at a Holocaust museum and having a showdown with Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, who repeats his own history by exposing a “quid pro quo” call between Larry and an elected official.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “The Wilderness”
I’m not gonna lie. This season was rough. June finally made it Canada but made a lot of stupid, frustrating decisions again. But at least the finale was in league with the show’s finest hours. After learning Fred will be granted immunity and allowed to live in Geneva, June strikes an off-books deal which frees some women of Gilead and leaves Fred to the ex-Handmaids, who have their bloody revenge in the woods.

In & Of Itself
There’s basically no way to describe Derek Delguadio’s In & Of Itself, so I won’t even try. It’s simply a must-see experience.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “2020: A Year in Review”
This truncated season had some frustrating moments (including a pointless flashback episode) and an Ireland arc that didn’t always work. But its season premiere – its first episode in more than two years – was a doozy. The Gang relates their disastrous 2020 to an IRS agent, revealing they all had a hand in the year’s dumbest events.

Kevin Can F**k Himself – “New Tricks”
AMC’s hybrid bright multi-cam comedy/pitch black drama didn’t always work. But it did give us two great performances (more on that later). The second episode was its best, with Allison (Annie Murphy) setting her plan to kill her doofus husband (Eric Petersen) in motion: She’ll acquire opioids, and give Kevin an accidental overdose. This babe-in-the-woods searching the underbelly of Worcester for drugs leads to a fabulous cliffhanger, as she discovers she actually knows one of the biggest dealers in town.

Master of None – “Episode 4”
This abbreviated third season – subtitled Moments in Love – barely featured Aziz Ansari’s Dev at all. Instead, he mostly stayed behind the camera, directing the hell out of each episode. He also co-wrote each one with Lena Waithe, who took the lead as Denise in this season, chronicling the unraveling of her marriage to Alicia (Naomi Ackie). The fourth entry, which follows Alicia’s life as a newly single mom-to-be had hardly any laughs. But it was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not even a parent!

Search Party – “The Imposter”
This fourth season took a darker turn, as Dory was imprisoned for most of it. This episode feels like an anomaly for 99 percent of its runtime, until the final minute when it all snaps into place. Chantal (Clare McNulty), who “disappeared” in the first season, tries to write a book about her experience – with encouragement from R.L. Stine – getting an endorsement from an Oprah-like figure in the process. It’s the most surreal episode of a very surreal season.

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