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Saturday, January 22, 2022

best tv episodes of 2021

Television comes today in large part, as anyone who spent more than seven hours with the Beatles over the Thanksgiving weekend can attest. But just as a marathon jam session can yield some tight singles, the most memorable TV shows are still often well-crafted individual episodes. As Mike Hale, Margaret Lyons and I end another year of binge-watching as TV critics for The New York Times, here are some installments from 2021 that topped our personal hit parade. James Ponywojic


More than 30 European actors, including stars such as Isabel Huppert, Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno, politely and often mercilessly tease themselves in this French drama, playing clients or potential clients or angry former clients of fictional talent agency ASK. In this Season 4 episode, an American stepped in, and Sigourney Weaver, speaking more of the prevailing French and playing herself up as the utterly charming manipulator, was flawless. (Streaming on Netflix.) Mike Hale

Plenty of children’s shows are cute but “Ghost Town” is beautiful too, and its poetry about Los Angeles would be at home on a premium cable drama. Instead it’s in this plucky, natural cartoon about ghost-hunting kids who have a podcast. I loved every episode of this show. But I chose “Bob and Nancy” because it’s about a marionette theater, and as such it blossoms with ideas of animating the inanimate-rich ground for a show in touch with the realm of the spirit. (Streaming on Netflix.) Margaret Lyons

This teen kidnapping mystery took all the hallmarks of a prestige-y crime show — divided timeline, dark light, tangential mystery — and reimagined them with a kick ’90s YA flair. It was one of the juicy highlights of the summer. But shows like this are just as good as their finals, and “Cruel Summer” manages to trickle down to both a happy ending and a thrilling, dark twist. (Streaming on Hulu.) Margaret Lyons

Texting can be a crutch for TV shows, a way of using pop-up bubbles to give characters phone-able telepathy. Not so in this playful, smart half-hour in which Dave Bird’s up-and-coming rapper dated (and lost) Doja Cat. As the two musicians bowed with their thumbs, “Somebody Date Me” showed how context and timing can change the meaning and reading of even the tiniest of online (mis)communications. Thums-up emoji! (Streaming on Hulu.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Each season of this space-race alternate history is a multistage booster rocket. The slow-moving early episodes expend a lot of fuel, building energy and narrative force until the show reaches escape tempo. (My aerospace engineer readers, I beg you not to fact-check my metaphors.) White-knuckle Season 2 concludes with the cleverness of a docking maneuver, as a US-Soviet conflict on the Moon and a threat on Earth war was needed. Risk and sacrifice on two celestial bodies and points in between. (Streaming on Apple TV+.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

The music and community of the Black Church co-starred in two appreciable hours of TV. The Aretha Franklin bio-series peaked as it focused on the recording of the 1972 “Amazing Grace” live album at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, which combined the artist’s past and present in The Crucible of the Spirit. In “Pose”, a dire diagnosis leads Praying Tale (Billy Porter) back to her hometown and to the church community, both to face the homophobia that has turned her away from it and to voice the music that sustains her. . (Stream “Genius: Aretha” on Hulu; buy “Pose” on Amazon.) James Poniewoczyk

This CW drama about a blind woman and her friends who run a rescue-dog agency and become involved in drug dealing and murder is nothing more than a fruitful thriller. But the rapport between its central characters, Murphy (Perry Matfeld), Jess (Brooke Markham) and Felix (Morgan Krantz), has developed into one of the more believable and moving portrayals of friendship on TV. When Murphy found himself trapped in a strange country, the strength of those ties was the foundation for a tense and painful hour. (Streaming on Netflix.) Mike Hale

Tension and deception pump through the veins of this dangerous procedural about a British internal affairs unit, and no show does cliffhangers better. You can point to almost any episode; This one, a potentially dirty cop with a protagonist chased into an abandoned industrial park because that’s what the job called for, was off the charts. (Streaming on Britbox.) Mike Hale

In just 13 minutes, this cute short about the corpse of a giant who washed up on a beach, in a perfect snapshot, sees a world-changing event and decides to just move on, the wonders of humanity profane. catches the trend. Based on a short story by JG Ballard, “The Drown Giant” is presented here in mostly realistic animation, with the giant’s clean-shaven cheeks, clean nails and muscular chest depicted in painful detail. In an era when so many shows blend together, this episode stands out for its light touch and gloomy imagery. (Streaming on Netflix.) Margaret Lyons

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Post the “Great British Baking Show,” a lot of reality competition series have moved away from jackfruit in favor of the warm and fuzzy, and perhaps no show is warm and fuzzy than the craft contest “Making It.” Each episode has its own charm but “All the Holidays at Once” was particularly thrilling because, unlike some of the show’s larger projects, designing your own Halloween costume is fairly standard fare, even common. For the people too. The giddy delight of the contestants presenting their creations in front of the judges was matched by my own giddy delight at the sight of their silly and fabulous costumes. Jess wins with her fabulous alien-kidnapped costume but when everything is so much fun, don’t we all win? As a bonus, the episode also featured Melanio telling a story about a bat in a toilet, a story that would haunt me for the rest of my days. (Streaming on Hulu.) Margaret Lyons

Coming up with one of the best pandemic-inspired episodes of 2020, this video game-industry comedy stand-alone is gunning for TV’s high score. This installment gave back story-obsessed sports writer C.W. Longbottom (a wonderfully bummed F. Murray Abrahams) his own flashback to the 1970s as a struggling sci-fi writer — a smattering of irony, professional jealousy, and success at a cost. Funny and touching story. (Streaming on Apple TV+.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Rae Russo-Young’s three-part documentary about her gay mothers and the sperm donor who sued her for parental rights, produced to a powerful and eloquent conclusion, threatens to tear her family apart. Gave. It both reaffirms the importance of the fight that their mothers fought and questions the beliefs of all those involved. (Streaming on HBO Max.) Mike Hale

One rarely gets to receive or send “Turn on your TV” texts, especially in my line of work. So it was for that double thrill that this interview made a place in my heart. It was the kind of programming that barely exists now: a tell-all network special in which celebrities share real new information with Oprah, the patron saint of soul-baring. There were Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, shining in the California sun, condemning racism and openly discussing mental health woes. Which would have been enough, but they also reset the royal narrative, watching Oprah lay eggs, shed tears, and look at each other lovingly—all sitting on chairs sold by Christopher Knight from “The Brady Bunch.” Television, baby! i love you! Margaret Lyons

Mutsuko Erskine, who had never starred opposite her daughter Maya, cast her to play Maya’s mother in Hulu’s brutally funny teen comedy. Sometimes the daughter knows best. This showpiece episode, in which a chance meeting with an ex-husband saw Yuki on a road not seen before, was a rich vignette of an immigrant’s experience and a subtle performance to fulfill the role, literally, of a lifetime. (Streaming on Hulu.) JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Who would have thought that the comic book cow origin story, which was partly intended as an affectionate sendoff of a Wes Anderson film, would be so endearing? (Streaming on Disney+.) Mike Hale

This brutal and just-so-emotional-like-need-to-play drama about a rogue CIA agent and a young black entrepreneur who was a participant in the crack wars in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, still doesn’t get enough attention. Is. This is especially true of stories written by novelist Walter Mosley, such as this chilling, tightly packed episode about anger, revenge, gentleness, and the desire to go straight. (Streaming on Hulu.) Mike Hale

Several installments of this superhero psychodrama set in a bizarre-world version of classic sitcom formats would have made this list. But the beginning can also begin, with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) playing home on a 1950s stage set whose made-for-TV perfection went terrifyingly (and simply) wrong. (Streaming on Disney+.) James Ponywoczyk

“Shadow” is one of the funniest shows on TV right now, and “Casino,” where the gang heads to Atlantic City, was my favorite episode this season. Nandor (Kayvan Novak) becomes mesmerized by a “Big Bang Theory” slot machine—”‘Buzzinga’ is Sheldon’s war cry,” he explains—and in perfect, cascading horror, it leads to a total disintegration of his understanding. goes. Universe. “Shadow” is at its best when the grandeur of the vampires clashes with their weaknesses, especially their excitement, and without thinking that this is Colin Robinson’s favorite show, I can’t find another in-house ad on Hotel TV ever. I will not see (Streaming on Hulu.) Margaret Lyons

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