The best TV episodes of 2021

Television today largely comes from, because whoever has passed more than seven hours with the Beatles over Thanksgiving weekend can at...


Television today largely comes from, because whoever has passed more than seven hours with the Beatles over Thanksgiving weekend can attest to that. But just as a marathon jam session can give a a few tight singles, the most memorable television is often the well-crafted individual episode. As Mike Hale, Margaret Lyons and I wrap up another frenetic year as TV critics for The New York Times, here are some of the 2021 episodes that have dominated our personal charts. JAMES PONIEWOZIK


More than 30 European actors – including stars like Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno – graciously and often ruthlessly taunted each other in this French comedy-drama, playing clients or potential clients or angry former clients of the agency. fictional talent ASK. In this Season 4 episode, an American stepped in, and Sigourney Weaver, speaking more than passable French and playing herself as an utterly charming manipulator, was flawless. (Streaming on Netflix.) MIKE HALE

Lots of kids’ shows are cute, but “City of Ghosts” is also gorgeous, and its poetic Los Angeles melancholy would be right at home in a premium cable drama. Instead, it’s in this brave, naturalistic cartoon about ghost hunter kids who have a podcast. I loved every episode of this series. But I chose “Bob & Nancy” because it is a puppet theater, and therefore it plays with animation ideas of the inanimate – rich ground for a performance in contact with the kingdom. of spirits. (Streaming on Netflix.) MARGARET LYON

This teenage kidnapping mystery took all the hallmarks of high-profile crime shows – split timelines, dark lighting, tangential secrets – and repackaged them with a ’90s YA rocket. It was one of the highlights. juicy summer. But shows like this are only as good as their finals, and “Cruel Summer” pulled off the trick of a happy ending and a dark, thrilling twist. (Streaming on Hulu.) MARGARET LYON

Texting can be a kickstand for TV shows, a way to use pop-up bubbles to give characters phone-activated telepathy. That’s not the case in this playful and clever half-hour, in which up-and-coming rapper Dave Burd made (and lost) a date with Doja Cat. As the two musicians courted with their thumbs, “Somebody Date Me” showed how context and time can change the meaning and reading of even the smallest (poor) communication online. Thumbs up emoji! (Streaming on Hulu.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Each season in this alternate space race story is a multi-stage booster rocket. The slow first episodes expend a lot of fuel, energy, and narrative force until the series hits exhaust speed. (My readers of aerospace engineers, please don’t check my metaphors.) The White Fist Season 2 finale played out with the skill of a docking maneuver, as a conflict Soviet-American on the moon and a threat of war on Earth demanded it. risk and sacrifice on two celestial bodies and intermediate points. (Streaming on Apple TV +.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Black Church music and community shared the limelight in two commendable hours of television. Aretha Franklin’s bio-series culminated in focusing on the recording of the 1972 live album “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, merging the artist’s past and present in a melting pot of ‘soul. In “Pose,” a grim diagnosis brought Pray Tell (Billy Porter) back to his hometown and religious community, both to confront the homophobia that drove him out and to give voice to the music that supported him. (Stream “Genius: Aretha” on Hulu; buy “Pose” on Amazon.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

This CW drama about a blind woman and her pals, who run a rescue dog agency and become involved in drug trafficking and murder, is nothing more than a usable thriller. But the connection between its central characters, Murphy (Perry Mattfeld), Jess (Brooke Markham) and Felix (Morgan Krantz), has become one of the most believable and moving portrayals of friendship on television. When Murphy found herself stranded in a foreign land, the strength of those bonds formed the basis of a tense and agonizing hour. (Streaming on Netflix.) MIKE HALE

Tension and deception run through the veins of this lightning-fast proceeding on a UK internal affairs unit, and no show does cliffhangers better. You can indicate just about any episode; this one, with one of the heroes following a possibly dirty cop through an abandoned industrial park because that’s what the job demanded, was off the charts. (Streaming on BritBox.) MIKE HALE

In just 13 minutes, this elegant short film about the corpse of a giant that one day stranded on a beach captures, in a perfect snapshot, humanity’s tendency to desecrate wonders, to contemplate an event that changes the world. world and just decide to continue. Based on a short story by JG Ballard, “The Drowned Giant” is rendered here in predominantly realistic animation, with the clean-shaven cheeks, groomed fingernails, and muscular chest of the giant shown in painful detail. At a time when so many shows intermingle, this episode stands out with its light touch and sad imagination. (Streaming on Netflix.) MARGARET LYON

After the “Great British Baking Show,” many reality TV competition series moved away from the cut-throat in favor of warm and fuzzy, and perhaps no show is warmer and more fuzzy than the “Making It” craft competition. Each episode has its charms, but “All the Holidays at Once” was especially exciting, because unlike some of the show’s biggest projects, making your own Halloween costume is pretty standard fare, even for laymen. The dizzying joy of the contestants in presenting their creations to the judges was matched only by my own dizzying joy at seeing their ridiculous and spectacular costumes. Jess won with her awesome alien abduction costume, but when everything is this fun, don’t we all win? As a bonus, this episode also included MelaƱio telling a story about a bat in the toilet, a story that will haunt me for the rest of my life. (Streaming on Hulu.) MARGARET LYON

Offering one of the best pandemic-inspired episodes of 2020, this video game industry comedy is aiming for the highest score in solo TV. This episode gave video game writer CW Longbottom (a wonderfully whimsical F. Murray Abraham) his own flashback as a struggling sci-fi writer in the 1970s – a funny and poignant tale of irony, professional jealousy and success at a price. . (Streaming on Apple TV +.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Ry Russo-Young’s three-part documentary about his lesbian mothers and the sperm donor who sued them for parental rights, threatening to separate his family, came to a powerful and eloquent conclusion. It both affirmed the importance of the battle waged by his mothers and called into question the assumptions of everyone involved. (Streaming on HBO Max.) MIKE HALE

You so rarely get to receive or send a text “Turn on your TV right now”, especially in my area of ​​work. So, just for this double thrill, this interview has gained a place in my heart. It was the kind of programming that hardly exists any more: a frank talk show in which celebrities share some real new information with Oprah, the patron saint of Soul Revelation. There was Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, lit by the Californian sun, speaking out against racism and candidly discussing mental health crises. Which would have been enough, but they also reset the royal tale, gave Oprah eggs, fought back tears, and looked at each other lovingly – all sitting on chairs sold by Christopher Knight from “The Brady Bunch”. TV, baby! I love you! MARGARET LYON

Mutsuko Erskine had never acted before her daughter, Maya, throw it away playing Maya’s mother in Hulu’s brutally funny teen comedy. Sometimes the girl knows better. This landmark episode, in which a chance encounter with an ex-husband led Yuki to consider a road not taken, was a rich vignette of an immigrant’s experience and a subtle performance to cap off the role, literally, of a life. (Streaming on Hulu.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Who would have thought that the Comic Book Guy origin story, made in part as a loving sendoff from a Wes Anderson movie, would be so beautiful? (Streaming on Disney +.) MIKE HALE

This brutal and as sentimental as needed drama about a rogue CIA agent and young black entrepreneur, partners in the crack war in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, still doesn’t get enough attention. That’s especially true of stories written by novelist Walter Mosley, like this creepy, tight episode about rage, revenge, gentrification, and the desire to go straight. (Streaming on Hulu.) MIKE HALE

Several episodes of this superhero psychodrama, set in a bizarro-world version of classic sitcom formats, could have made this list. But you might as well start at the beginning, in which Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) played house to a 1950s set whose perfection designed for television went horribly (and ingeniously) wrong. (Streaming on Disney +.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

“Shadows” is one of the funniest shows on TV right now, and “Casino,” where the gang goes to Atlantic City, was my favorite episode this season. Nandor (Kayvan Novak) is mesmerized by a “Big Bang Theory” slot machine – “‘bazinga’ is Sheldon’s battle cry,” he explains – and in perfect, cascading horror, it leads to the total dissolution of his understanding of the universe. “Shadows” is at its best when the greatness of vampires collides with their vulnerabilities, especially their excitability, and I will never see another internal commercial on hotel television without thinking that it is the favorite show of vampires. Colin Robinson. (Streaming on Hulu.) MARGARET LYON

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