The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film Companion

If 2020 was just a prelude to the uncertainties of 2021, then the wheels of this newly found streaming culture have just set in motion. TV, rather reductively, used to be considered a piece of furniture — some turned it on while they ate their meals to momentarily forget the loneliness that accompanied it; some wanted to pass the time; and for some, television was the only space to breathe. Television is not just a stopover anymore, it is a part of our everyday journey. As the pandemic continues to box us into our houses, now more than ever, it is important that the content artists develop is one that we can turn to. 

2020 was a year of intense highs and lows in the streaming landscape — for every Paatal Lok, we got five more Hasmukhs. 2021 isn’t a paragon of good streaming either, but it did have a solid start. The more I thought about this list, the harder it got. The last ten days alone — which I nicknamed “the streaming goldmine” — delivered some of the year’s best television. Every great show was toppled by another one. So, after hours of twisting and turning, here are some of my favourite shows from 2021, ranked:

10. Sweet Tooth

Streaming on: Netflix

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionThere is something enchanting about a show this joyful and pure-hearted, the kind that everyone needs in their lives. As a deer-hybrid boy embarks on a journey across the US to look for his mother in a post-apocalyptic setting, we are allowed to see some of the most elaborate set pieces. From forests filled with clumps of trees to neon-lit theme parks, Sweet Tooth is a visual wonder. But it is the show’s lead Christian Convery, bursting with cheery optimism and do-gooder passion, that surprises you. This is television for children as well as adults.

9. The Bad Batch

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionWhile the entire season has not yet released, with only six episodes out, The Bad Batch has set the bar so unbelievably high that it was impossible to not include this here. This is one of Star Wars’ most subversive content — here, an unrestrained group of genetically advanced clones are fighting their way through a galaxy post the Clone Wars. Complemented by its grandiose and bold animation, almost every action sequence proves to be a spectacle. It is a shame that you have to wait every week to see what they have in store for you.

8. Cobra Kai (Season 3)

Streaming on: Netflix

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionSeason 2 of Cobra Kai ended with a school-wide brawl. Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any crazier, Season 3 came out, knocking all your preconceived ideas out of the park. It is perhaps the most binge-able show on this list — you are left craving more after every episode. Each fight sequence, especially those that involve Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso, reminds you of the blockbuster Karate Kid franchise that this is based on. It is a nostalgic trip to the past as well as an invocation of a writer’s ability to improve content that has been held sacrosanct for over three decades.

7. The Underground Railroad 

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionAs I watched The Underground Railroad, I was instantly reminded of Barry Jenkins’ 2016 directorial venture Moonlight. If the film confronted the idea of freedom in an implicit sense, the show takes a more literal approach here. And just like Chiron, Cora (the lead who plays an enslaved woman in antebellum America), too, is utterly enigmatic in expression. This is Cora’s odyssey — as she travels from Georgia to Indiana — but also Jenkins’. The world he develops is so texturally and lyrically impactful, that you aren’t only on a journey with Cora but also with Jenkins as a filmmaker. This is a cinematic feat.

6. Master of None (Season 3)

Streaming on: Netflix 

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionAt first watch, this season, or rather a spin-off, left me underwhelmed. But it grew on me, somewhat unexpectedly, when I decided to give it another shot. This is Aziz Ansari’s most mature, most evolved work till date. He navigates the moral complexities of a relationship skilfully, oftentimes borrowing from the likes of neorealist auteurs like Luchino Visconti. The penultimate episode however — that focuses on Naomi Waithe’s character as she struggles with in vitro fertilisation — is what singularly earned this show a position on this list. It is a triumph of visual storytelling.

5. Invincible

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionInvincible is about a superhero of extraterrestrial origin training his son who has recently acquired powers. Towards the end of the first episode, through a gratuitously violent show of action, Invincible illustrates the double-edged nature of such powers — you can either protect humanity or cause its ruin. While it is predominantly a commentary on the desire for control, it also makes us introspect about the ongoing craze around superheroes in general. Watch this show for its inimitable voiceover cast and for a blazing, bloody season finale alone. This is not for the faint-hearted.

4. Pretend It’s a City 

Streaming on: Netflix

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionMartin Scorsese’s limited docuseries is not about anything in particular. Sometimes, it focuses on New York’s sprawl and at other times, we are given a peek into the mind of the show’s central focus Fran Lebowitz, a punchy, erudite, and witty author. Scorsese and Lebowitz make for a dynamic duo — at times, they bantered; at times, both chuckled at her own rejoinders. Scorsese is, simultaneously, the audience and the filmmaker. But he does not take up the space that Lebowitz deserves. For a show about a diverse range of conversations — from sports to smoking — Pretend It’s a City never meanders. It is a hoot. 

3. Formula 1: Drive to Survive (Season 3)

Streaming on: Netflix

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionIn season 2, Toto Wolff had equated Formula 1 racing to war planning. The latest season continues to embody this. This season’s shift, from garage drama and racing alone to garage drama and racing amidst the pandemic, allows us to process the horrors of the past year. Conditions everywhere are hostile and volatile, but more so when you are in a vessel with an open cockpit going over a couple hundred miles an hour. Season 3 is just as nerve-wracking as the previous seasons, where you have to weather a gut punch after another every episode.

2. The Family Man (Season 2)

Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video

My only peeve surrounding this season, apart from Samantha Akkineni’s bronzed face, was how expressly apolitical it was. However, Raj & DK put on such a display of such self-assured filmmaking that you cannot help but forgive this. Srikant (the brilliant Manoj Bajpayee), now a layperson who has to trudge through a 9-to-5 IT job, misses his espionage romps back at TASC. And while he’s away from his one true love, the Prime Minister’s life is at risk. The final few episodes, which threw my pulse rate off the chart, manage to create a spiral of thrill and fear. The show also weaves in moments of tenderness effectively — when Srikant quietly cries, the pain becomes tangible. Oh, and the pleasure you derive while seeing Bajpayee slap someone, it’s unparalleled! This season of Family Man will mess with your brain’s circuitry, and can a show really be great if it doesn’t?

1. Mare of Easttown

Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

The Top 10 Shows Of 2021 (So Far), Ranked, Film CompanionHBO’s seven-episode series elevates the crime-mystery genre it is situated in — while the general rhythm may seem familiar, its individual beats are what set the show apart. As she investigates the murder of a young girl, a feeling of crippling loneliness envelopes Mare (a steely Kate Winslet). People across her town, as well as her family, have lost hope in Mare’s ability to carry out her only jobs — that of a detective and mother. Mare of Easttown simultaneously delivers high-octane shootouts and shiver-inducing cliffhangers as well. This is an intelligent show that caters to all sensibilities, a staple HBO trait. 

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