Jessica Williams and William Jackson Harper, “Love Life”, Sandra Oh and Mekai Kurtis “The Chair”, and Patina and Patina (Power Book III): Raising Kanan.”
Illustration: Isabella Carapella/HuffPost; Photos: HBO Max, Netflix, Starz

There were many great TV programs on the air this fall. It was almost impossible to keep up. HuffPost’s culture team was constantly trying to catch up on as many TV shows and network dramas as they could, no matter what the occasion.

HuffPost journalists laud their top TV shows of the year in this list. From unexpected obsessions (“Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” “Love Life”) to can’t-stop-talking-about-it winners (“Succession,” “Sex Education,” “Hacks”) to shows we tearfully said farewell to (“On My Block,” “PEN15,” “Insecure,” “Pose”) to shows that kept our minds off … well, everything else happening in the world (“Love Island UK,” “Selling Sunset”), here are 30 of the best shows we watched in 2021.

“The Other Two”

We’ve heard the stories about the teenager who dropped a pop music video on YouTube and catapulted to fame, then fizzled out and all but retired by age 20. This character is also at the fore of showrunners Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly’s razor-sharp HBO Max comedy, “The Other Two.” But the narrative doesn’t center on the escapades of a young Justin Bieber-type celeb (Case Walker). Rather, the series focuses on his non-famous family — primarily siblings and unsung artists Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver) as well as mother Pat (Molly Shannon) — as they grovel at the edge of obscurity and infamy. We know from other sitcoms that desperation can bring out the best comedy, and “The Other Two” was no exception as it portrayed the pitfalls of celebrity in its sophomore season this year, when each character grappled with varying levels of success and satisfaction. —Candice Frederick


One hand, it’s possible to write an entire book about the amazing things I see. Season 3 of HBO’s “Succession” was. On the other hand, what else is there to say, other than: “Perfect season of television, no notes”? An Emmy should be given to every cast member. So precise is every line of dialogue. Every shot looks like a Renaissance painting. Every second you look away from the screen, you’ll miss a tiny detail or nugget of information that will make sense later. Every episode is a mix of hilarious, devastating, and shocking. And, as that electrifying season finale proved, every time you think you know what the show’s next move will be, you’ll probably be wrong. To everyone who groused about how “this season was boring,” in the words of Logan Roy: “Fuck off. Be gone. Bye bye.—Marina Fang

“The Chair”

Sandra Oh adds to her formidable careerAs Dr. Ji Yoon Kim, Ji-Yoon Kim is a wonderfully messy woman who appears on television. She was the first female to head the English department of Pembroke (a fictional New England elite liberal arts school). Ji-Yoon struggles to make it through the myriad of crises she faces at work and home. Her colleague and best friend Bill (Jay Duplass) has landed himself in a campus controversy, further jeopardizing the department’s precarious state. Rounding out the show’s outstanding ensemble are Holland Taylor, Bob Balaban and Nana Mensah. Co-creator and showrunner Amanda Peet’s NetflixThe series blends well-written characters with witty social commentary, but it doesn’t hit us too hard. “The Chair” is a lot of different things, and one of them is a workplace comedy: You really feel that these characters have gone through a lot together in this dysfunctional department, and six episodes feels too short to adequately spend time with all of them. —Marina Fang

“Love Life”

The second season of HBO Max’s “Love Life” was the most enjoyable TV series I watched all year. The 10-episode series, which stars Jessica Williams and William Jackson Harper, follows Marcus Harper (Harper), as he marries and falls for Mia (Williams). What’s great about the series is that you can jump right in on Season 2 — though the first season is breezy, too — and really dive right into this romantic roller coaster. Now, it is messy so you won’t get lovey-dovey vibes all the time; but more than most series, “Love Life” approaches well, er, love lives in a way that is so realistic that you’ll think the writers have interviewed your closest friends about your sauciest and wildest text message conversations. You can watch it right now. —Erin E. Evans


Jean Smart in "Hacks."
Jean Smart, “Hacks”
Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max

At first, “Hacks” is a great comedy about the foibles of showbiz and a mismatched pair: legendary comedian Deborah Vance (played perfectly by the similarly legendary Jean Smart) and her new writing assistant Ava (Hannah Einbinder). Each has no reason to trust the other: Deborah, performing a Vegas residency-style show with stale and outdated jokes, doesn’t think she needs someone to fine-tune her act. Ava was dismissed from her job as a TV writer because she tweeted a fiery message. She feels this gig is too much for her. It’s a premise that yields a lot of sharp barbs and topical jokes. But in the deft hands of the HBO Max show’s creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky (who previously worked together on “Broad City”), “Hacks” also turns into a profound and moving meditation on women who’ve been unfairly maligned, wronged and misunderstood. —Marina Fang


With so many superhero adaptations, they’re all beginning to blur together. It takes an experienced storyteller such as Jac Schaeffer in order to make a Disney+ series stand out from the rest. “WandaVision” takes all the potential of what makes a genre offering so captivating on its own and throws in familiar elements of grief and family that ground its central antihero, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Culling from classic sitcoms like “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “I Love Lucy,” “WandaVision” brilliantly unpacks her devastation over losing her husband (Paul Bettany) through powerful nostalgia and historical reconstruction. They are likely to reveal everything Marvel fans had believed about Wanda. —Candice Frederick

“Love Island U.K.”

I love mess and for that reason, I love “Love Island” — the U.K. version, not the off-brand U.S. version. This past June, reality TV’s dating series returned after 15 months. The “Love IslAnd U.K.” cast and franchise suffered a lot of losses in the past year and consequently, the ITV series issued new “duty of care” protocols to protect the welfare of contestants. Starting with 11 “islanders,” some of whom will be dumped from the Mallorca villa and replaced by new contestants, the eligible suitors compete for love and a £50,000 (approximately $70,000) grand prize. From the contestant challenges to the cheeky banter and peril that Casa Amor brings upon seemingly solid relationships, “Love Island” seems to be the only competition dating series right now with a good formula, one that breeds actual suspense and organic hilarity. Now, whether the couples stay together afterward is another question (#KazAndTyler4ever), but I’m still saying “he’s proper fit” in casual conversation from here on out. —Ruth Etiesit Samuel

“Selling Sunset”

Did you remember how I mentioned that I loved mess? Yes, that extends into the real estate reality show “Selling Sunset.” When I first learned about the Netflix series in winter 2019, my initial reaction was apathy. How could I possibly be interested in seeing wealthy, white women sway around Hollywood arguing about the sale of billion-dollar houses? I quickly learned it’s about so much more than that at the Oppenheim Group. On Nov. 24, Season 4 of “Selling Sunset” premiered on Netflix, showcasing lavish homes, new additions to the brokerage, Christine Quinn’s over-the-top maternity wear, and most importantly, friendship fissures in the workplace. This is a great combination for reality TV. We should also not forget that one of the agent’s bosses started dating another in the off-season. Though their relationship wasn’t the topic of discussion in this season, I know Season 5 won’t disappoint. —Ruth Etiesit Samuel

“Queen Sugar”

This season of “Queen Sugar” was its best yet. Ava DuVernay created the OWN series based on the novel. The sixth season of OWN tackles issues such as police harassment and political ambition. The series has successfully portrayed the reality of COVID-19 since Season 5. The performances were stellar across the board, with several new recurring characters, including Prosper’s daughter Billie (Tammy Townsend) and domestic abuse survivor Celine (Paula Jai Parker) joining the ensemble. All of the characters face a crossroads within the 10-episode season, and with the series finale on the horizon, I can’t wait to see how the writers close out this beautiful, powerful and, at times, heart-wrenching series. —Erin E. Evans

“Never Have I Ever”

Created by Mindy Kaling, “Never Have I Ever” is a coming-of-age comedy that follows 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she navigates adolescence after the death of her father. A star student, an Indian American teen, and a member of the “UN: Unf*ckable Nerds” — a name given to her by arch nemesis Ben Gross — Devi just wants to be a normal, popular high school sophomore. The show has been applauded as a groundbreaking moment for South Asian representation and is a beautiful exploration of how one grapples with girlhood, identity, and grief in a way that we haven’t seen depicted before. As a first-gen immigrant kid myself and a teen who admittedly thrived off academic validation, I see so much of younger me in Devi, sans, you know, sabotaging a classmate’s entire high school career over a rumor. Despite Devi’s numerous unhinged moments (and trust me, there are several), I sincerely appreciate seeing a brown girl as the love interest for once in a series, and watching her grapple with all of the decisions ahead of her. I am excited for the next season of love triangles. —Ruth Etiesit Samuel

“Blood & Water”

Another win for Netflix’s international programming is the highly underrated series “Blood & Water.” Its second original African series after “Queen Sono,” the South African mystery-drama is — chef’s kiss — exquisite. Puleng Khumalo (16 years old) follows Ama Qamata as she moves to Parkhurst High, where she tries to find out if Fikile Bhele (Khosi Nyema), her lost star pupil. Season 2 premiered Sept. 24 and there were higher stakes this season. After a scandalous teacher-student relationship and shocking DNA test results, a new kid and a new faculty therapist join the ranks — complicating Puleng’s pursuit and inciting drama along the way. The series, despite Puleng’s insufferable nature, is well-written, thrilling, and captivating at all stages. While we await the news regarding whether it’ll be renewed for a third season, “Blood & Water” is a testament to the global reach and potential that African entertainment and talent has always had. —Ruth Etiesit Samuel


Laura Patalano as Beatriz, Karrie Martin as Ana, Alma Martinez as Lupe, Carlos Santos as Chris, Bianca Melgar as Nayeli, JJ Soria as Erik, Annie Gonzalez as Lidia in "Gentefied."
Laura Patalano as Beatriz, Karrie Martin as Ana, Alma Martinez as Lupe, Carlos Santos as Chris, Bianca Melgar as Nayeli, JJ Soria as Erik, Annie Gonzalez as Lidia in “Gentefied.”
Kevin EstradaKevin Estrada/Netflix

Contrary to what its theme around gentrification threatens to accomplish, showrunners Linda Yvette Chávez and Marvin Lemus restore the heart and soul of the beloved Boyle Heights neighborhood through their compelling story that centers themes of family and identity. In its first season last year, Netflix’s “Gentefied” was as much about the Morales family helping preserve the essence of their Latinx community as it was about them trying to remain a unit while amid their patriarch’s (Joaquín Cosio) possible deportation. This season, Chávez and Lemus top themselves with a story that goes deeper into their characters’ individual lives as they continue to search for joy and success in the midst of uncertainty — a journey to which many of us can relate. —Candice Frederick

“On My Block”

It is inevitable that all good things will come to an abrupt end. But it was hard for me to let go of my Freeridge friends: Monse and Cesar, Jamal Jasmine, Jasmine, Jasmine, Jamal, Jasmine, Ruby. Netflix’s “On My Block” wrapped its final season this fall, after four seasons that explore the inner lives of Black and brown teens in South Los Angeles. With the cast really displaying their chemistry, this season was funny and heartbreaking at points. Jamal (Brett Gray) and Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia) got to flex their comedic prowess more than ever; Ruby (Jason Genao) got to be a horny AF teen on-screen; and everyone who was still ’shipping Cesar (Diego Tinoco) and Monse (Sierra Capri) got their wish, at least for a moment. Though the series is over, I’m looking forward to the spinoff, which is set to follow a whole new crew. —Erin E. Evans


From “Chicas de Cable” to “La Casa de Papel,” “Gran Hotel,” and more, Netflix’s Spanish-language programming is on another level. The hit teen drama “Elite” is where “Degrassi” meets “Gossip Girl” meets “How to Get Away With Murder.” The series begins when three working-class students must transfer to Las Encinas, an exclusive private academy filled with the children of Spain’s most elite. Culture clashes ensue between these two groups. They incite feuds about wealth, sexuality, Islamophobia, and many other topics. The end result is a string of deadly murders. The plot thickened in Season 4, which was published on June 18. A new principal assumed control of Las Encinas and brought his mischievous, unassuming children along. The fourth season of “Elite” was an interesting journey that explored issues such as digital grooming and assault. I only wish they would have reintroduced Black characters. Ahead of the holidays, “Elite” is releasing another installment of historias breves, giving fans a sneak peek of fresh faces that we’ll see on campus. While Season 5 is on the way, the series has already been renewed for a Season 6 — and I can’t wait to watch. —Ruth Etiesit Samuel


How fitting is it that the question lingering throughout the final season of “Insecure” is “are we going to be OK?” Because, quite frankly, I don’t know if we will knowing that a show that’s been so groundbreaking and authentic is coming to an end. It’s bittersweet, really. We’ve watched these characters grow up (and stress us out along the way). This is evident now more than ever, as Issa and Molly enter new chapters in their lives which will require them to grow in ways that are challenging. This season of “Insecure” is special not only because rarely do we see celebrated Black TV have the luxury to end on its own terms, but it also feels like the beginning of a new era where we’ll get to see the talent who worked in front of and behind its cameras soar to new heights in TV. After five years, Issa Rae and Prentice Penny said it’s time to move “Onward, Okay?” —Taryn Finley

“Reservation Dogs”

The FX on Hulu Drama follows four Indigenous youth in Oklahoma as they pursue their big dreams and adventures. This wonderful FX on Hulu series, created by Taika Waititi & SterlinHarjo, blends coming-of-age and magical realism to create something truly transformative. The episodes are filled with whimsical stories, but also highlight serious problems facing Indigenous communities. They capture teenage anxiety beautifully and have a lot of fun. “Reservation Dogs” has also broken new ground behind the scenes. Harjo, the series’ showrunner, hired all Indigenous directors and writers for the show. Devery Jacobs is one of the show’s great stars. is also joining the writers room for the show’s upcoming second season. In addition, Harjo recently signed a deal with FXTo develop more projects from Indigenous creators. It’s way past time for this, but after decades of Native and Indigenous erasure in Hollywood, I’m hopeful more work like this will not only get to exist, but thrive. —Marina Fang

“All American”

The CW’s series centered on high school drama are questionable to say the least (looking at you, “Riverdale”), but some actually have semi-coherent plotlines. Loosely based on the life of former NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger, “All American” follows the fictional Spencer James, a rising football star from South Crenshaw who is recruited to play at Beverly Hills High. He quickly realizes it’s a different turf in more ways than one, but with the support of Coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), his mother Grace (Karimah Westbrook), and some unlikely allies, he finds his way. Despite the fact that some characters can get to me on the nerves, I still love the drama and the storyline. Though often compared to “Friday Night Lights,” “All American” is intriguing in its own rite, centering on a slice of Black adolescence I had yet to see depicted on-screen. It would be nice if Coop had a happier storyline. —Ruth Etiesit Samuel

“High on the Hog”

“High on the Hog,” Netflix’s docuseries on how African-American cuisine impacted food across the world, was one of the most talked about documentaries when it was released in May. Stephen Satterfield is a food writer and takes us along a delicious journey through Benin, Africa, the Carolinas, Texas, and beyond. Watch to see a compilation of the top historic spots as well as restaurants and eateries around the globe. —Erin E. Evans


It can’t be easy to encapsulate nearly two decades of ball culture as well as the multilayered gay and trans community in ’80s and ’90s New York City, but showrunner Steven Canals makes an astounding effort with “Pose” on FX. What began three years ago as a series that merely centered primarily Black and brown trans and queer people on the small screen unlike they ever have before became a narrative rich in specificity and detail about each of his main character’s journeys. From enviable mother Blanca Rodriguez’s (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez) beautiful romance to lovable trash-talker Pray Tell’s (Billy Porter) heart-wrenching humanity, what Canals ultimately presents is a story about love and survival for Black and Brown queer and trans people. —Candice Frederick

“Sex Education”

Sex Education Season 3. Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong in Episode 6 of Sex Education Season 3. Cr. Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020
Season 3 of Sex Education. Ncuti Gatwa portrays Eric Effiong, Episode 6 of Sex Education Series 3. Cr. Sam Taylor/NETFLIX © 2020
Sam TaylorSam Taylor/Netflix

You’d think there could only be so many stories you can tell around teenage horniness and sexuality on one show, but creator-showrunner Laurie Nunn wonderfully proved that theory wrong as audiences devoured Season 3 this year. The first two Netflix seasons explored sexual curiosity among students at Moordale Secondary. This year’s season showed that there was a growing sense of maturity and confidence as teens attempt monogamy. While some relationships can be difficult to save, others may last a lifetime. Others are redefined completely. And yet the one true constant that grounds the show is each character’s blossoming sense of self. Nunn is a master at bringing the drama to life. New cast members add even more depth and dimension. —Candice Frederick


In its beginning, Hulu’s “PEN15” was a delightfully cringey comedy about the awkward antics of two seventh graders and friends that are played by actual adults and besties Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. They also portray versions of themselves in middle school, using their real names and bumbling real-life experiences as inspiration — like trying on a thong for the first time and having a crush. This was already extremely entertaining. But as the show progressed into its second and final season that aired this year, it became cathartic to watch two women reenact even their most difficult ordeals like Anna’s parents’ divorce and Maya’s first sexual encounter. Even though it sounds absurd, this meta show became very real. This meta show will be remembered. —Candice Frederick

“Search Party”

Showrunners Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’s “Search Party” centers a group of friends that are so self-centered that even when one of them gets abducted, the rest somehow make it about themselves. But that’s the beauty of this pitch dark HBO Max comedy starring the marvelous Alia Shawkat as Dory, the discontented millennial who becomes pseudo-famous after spearheading a contrived search for a missing high school peer and gets kidnapped. And she also ends up helping to murder someone. Despite the inflated self-importance of all members of her crew — including the hilarious Meredith Hagner and John Early — they spend most of the series actually searching for relevance within themselves as things continue to get wilder and more dystopic for them. It is a remarkable reflection of today’s lost generation. —Candice Frederick


One of the most captivating TV series got better with its second season. With the Paramount+ series “Evil,” showrunners Michelle and Robert King challenge their protagonists — psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers), priest-in-training David (Mike Colter) and skeptic Ben (Aasif Mandvi) — to consider beyond what they actually believe. Their audience is encouraged to follow their lead and think critically about what they believe. But this year, each of the characters’ belief system is rattled to the core as they begin to respond to sinister events, including the surreal appearance of a goat devil and prosaic horrors like a murder that hangs over the overarching storyline, in ways that shock even them. It becomes less important to ask if evil exists than if it is living within them. —Candice Frederick


Still of Jonica T. Gibbs as Hattie from BET's "Twenties" episode 108.
Jonica T. Gibbs is still playing Hattie on BET’s Twenties episode 108.
Photo by Ron P. Jaffe/BET

Jojo T. Gibbs leads this BET dramedy with so much finesse you’d think she’d been acting for years. Gibbs portrays Hattie, a queer Black woman hoping to become the next big Hollywood writer — and find love all at the same time. Also in the ensemble are Gabrielle Graham and Sophina Brown as well as Big Sean, Iman Shumpert, Christina Elmore, Gabrielle Graham, Sophina brown, Big Sean, and Sophina Brown. It is funny, seductive, and based loosely upon the life of Lena Waithe. It’s also just a breath of fresh air to see queer Black women having fun and navigating complicated love situations on-screen. Season 2 just ended — and you should dive in. —Erin E. Evans


It was a small screen adaptation of Stephen King novels that made its Epix debut at the close of the summer with little fanfare. But, rest assured: “Chapelwaite” is the most engrossing of recent variations as it expands on the author’s 1978 short story, “Jerusalem’s Lot.” Hinging on themes of grief and trauma, this macabre narrative stars Adrien Brody as a recently widowed sea captain in the 19th century who returns with his children to his family estate and is immediately confronted by horrors from his past. Vampires are able to sub-in for the horrifying ancestors of his sanity. Showrunners Peter Filardi and Jason Filardi encourage viewers to consider which scarier, monsters that charge through thick fog or human beings. —Candice Frederick

“Isabel: The Intimate Story of Isabel Allende”

It’s inexplicable why this essential HBO Max miniseries inspired by the biography of celebrated Chilean novelist Isabel Allende fell so far under the radar, but it unflinchingly details a storied life punctuated by personal pain, emboldened by politics, and elevated by her own sheer will. There are moments while watching “Isabel” when you’re wrecked by the choices she makes as a mother, while others that make you you cheer for her as she perseveres as a feminist writer in the midst of Chilean dictatorship and exile. It’s so visceral that even Allende tweeted that “in some moments the series made me cry and in others I shuddered with all the bad memories.” —Candice Frederick


New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo’s gem of a six-episode comedy on HBO Max is like a messier, edgier and more honest version of “Notting Hill.” Matafeo, who created and co-wrote the series, plays Jessie, who has a one-night stand with a vaguely familiar but definitely cute and charming guy she meets at a New Year’s Eve party. It’s not until the next morning when it dawns on her that this man is a famous movie star named Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel, who was similarly cute and charming in Mindy Kaling’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” series on Hulu). Each episode zips by, building the usual will-they-won’t-they tension, but also meandering through the characters’ existential crises and neuroses. Drawing from elements of many classic rom-coms and screwball comedies, “Starstruck,” which was already renewed for a second season, crackles with wry wit, snappy dialogue and Matafeo and Patel’s through-the-roof chemistry. —Marina Fang

“In Treatment”

In a time of too many reboots/revivals/reimaginings, HBO’s revival of “In Treatment” is the rare one that was additive. The original series, which ran from 2008 to 2010, was groundbreaking for its format: a two-hander following a therapist and a rotation of patients, with multiple episodes per week (each patient’s episodes would air on the same day each week, like actual weekly therapy sessions). However, it had a predominantly white cast. Uzo Abuba plays Dr. Brooke Taylor as the therapist. The latest version features mostly characters from color. In addition, “In Treatment” is also one of the rare shows that incorporated the pandemicIt should feel unique to the series and not just a gimmick. The life and death of a show that is almost all set in one place depends on the quality of its performers. Aduba is the star of this series. He commands each scene, and manages to communicate a lot by saying very little. Anthony Ramos plays Eladio as a Brooke home healthcare aide who uses telehealth. —Marina Fang

“South Side”

One of this year’s most laugh-out-loud-worthy shows is HBO’s “South Side.” Based in South Side, Chicago, the show centers on two recent community college grads and the hijinx they run into working their job at a rent-to-own furniture store. Their world also features a self-centered politician, their co-workers, who are better than working, and a duo of cops (one loves the South Side, the other is a fan of musicals). The show’s uniqueness is in the ease with which it taps into Chicago’s culture without ever being too heavy-handed or extractionive. Viewers get the mild sauce and juking that Chicago is known for, but there’s also an underlying observation about the city’s sociopolitical workings that’s presented in a way that makes you laugh, then think, then laugh some more. Bashir Salahuddin, Diallo Riddle and Diallo Riddle are the creators of this show. —Taryn Finley

“Power Book III: Raising Kanan”

I honestly didn’t think I’d tune into any of the spinoffs of the hugely popular STARZ series “Power.” It ran for five seasons and was wildly addictive. I thought I’d had enough. But I was mistaken. I keep up with “Power Book II: Ghost” and am really looking forward to “Power Book IV.” But “Power Book III: Raising Kanan” stands out as superior within the “Power” universe. This installment is set in Queens in the ’80s, and follows Kanan’s early life as he watches — and helps — his mom run the drug business in their ’hood along with her two brothers. Kanan (Mekai Cutis) is accompanied by Jukebox (Hailey Kilgore), as they navigate teenage life carrying heavy loads. These performances are outstanding and the stories are captivating. Everyone should catch up on the series before it ends. —Erin E. Evans


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