Matt Roush’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2021

Matt Roush Top 10 TV Shows 2021 WandaVision, Ted Lasso, The Underground Railroad
Disney+/Marvel Studios; Apple TV+; Amazon Studios

In an era of “peak TV,” with so much content on so many platforms, compiling a year-end top-10 list merely scratches a very busy surface.

Below, Senior critic Matt Roush offers his picks of the shows that stood out from the pack, from the buzzy Ted Lasso and WandaVision to the compelling Dopesick and breakout comedy Ghosts.

Ted Lasso
Apple TV+

1. Ted Lasso

When I found myself choking up at an instant-classic Christmas episode — in the middle of August! — that was so overwhelmingly heartwarming it almost caused acid reflux, I realized what a gift Ted Lasso is for all seasons. This year’s Emmy darling, about a Kansas football coach transplanted to England to lead a soccer team, is a feel-good underdog story that expertly blends saltiness and spice with an underlying sweetness. It’s a welcome tonic for our toxic times. In its second season, as folksy-corny Ted (Jason Sudeikis) faces his demons with the help of a warily compassionate sports psychologist (the terrific Sarah Niles), our love only grows for the show’s deep bench of memorable characters. And for Ted’s way with words: “You are more mysterious than David Blaine reading a Sue Grafton novel at Area 51.” He said it. Streaming on Apple TV+

WandaVision Season 1 Elizabeth Olsen
Disney+/Marvel Studios

2. WandaVision

My other favorite show of 2021 is the biggest surprise: a Marvel series that rarely feels like a Marvel series, at its best when it uncannily re-creates classic sitcom tropes — with The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch as obvious models — in equal parts homage, parody, and cosmic mystery. Using TV nostalgia as a smokescreen to cushion the grief of “Scarlet Witch” Wanda Maximoff (pitch-perfect Elizabeth Olsen) over losing her android soulmate Vision (suave, droll Paul Bettany), WandaVision is visionary entertainment. Streaming on Disney+

Succession Season 3 cast
HBO

3. Succession

Tongues are sharper than knives in the riveting and brutally funny third season of the high-stakes drama about a family’s fraying media empire, riven by envy, betrayal, and viciously witty backstabbing. “Being horrible for fun” is how one of the Roys puts it. Few do it better. Or worse. Streaming on HBO Max

Dopesick Hulu Michael Keaton Kaitlyn Dever
Hulu

4. Dopesick

It’s enough to make you sick — with anger and despair, in a devastating limited-series docudrama about the addictive ravages of OxyContin, fueled by the deceptions and greed of the Sackler pharmaceutical titans. In a stellar cast, Michael Keaton and a heartbreaking Kaitlyn Dever stand out as a mining-town doctor and his young patient, trapped in the drug’s downward spiral. Streaming on Hulu

Schmigadoon Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key
Apple TV+

5. Schmigadoon!

While Broadway and other stages were still mostly dark, this jubilant musical spoof lit up the screen with abundant creative energy, subversively tweaking the sexist attitudes of classic musicals while cleverly celebrating their genuine heart. Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key are adorable as a modern couple trapped in the magical Brigadoon-like tune town until they can rediscover true love. Bolstered by a fabulous score from series cocreator Cinco Paul, who nails the essence of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin — and in a moving finale, the late Stephen Sondheim — Schmigadoon! is a hoot and a hymn to an undying tradition. Streaming on Apple TV+

The Underground Railroad Aaron Pierre and Thuso Mbedu
Amazon Studios

6. The Underground Railroad

Adapting Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) delivers TV’s most shattering portrayal of slavery since Roots. South African actor Thuso Mbedu is a marvel of intensity as escaped slave Cora, who boards the subterranean train, a surreal metaphor for the legendary pipeline to an elusive freedom that more often feels like an endless circle of hell. Streaming on Prime Video

Mare of Easttown Julianne Nicholson and Kate Winslet
HBO

7. Mare of Easttown

A relentlessly suspenseful whodunit of shocking emotional authenticity, set in small-town Pennsylvania, Mare is grounded by the unyieldingly gritty performance of Kate Winslet as the titular detective. She knows everyone in this close-knit burg, making her investigation into a local teenager’s sordid murder painfully personal. No one emerges unscathed. Streaming on HBO Max

Evil Mike Colter, Katja Herbers, Aasif Mandvi
Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

8. Evil

When’s the last time you giggled during an exorcism? It’s often hard to know whether to scream or howl in laughter at the outrageously macabre shenanigans in this boldly ambitious thriller about a team of paranormal investigators whose faith, or lack thereof, is shaken by the horrors and miracles they regularly witness. Evil is undeniably scary, but it’s also sexy and devilishly original. Streaming on Paramount+

The White Lotus Season 1 Jennifer Coolidge
HBO

9. The White Lotus

Hawaii has rarely looked more beautiful, or overprivileged American tourists uglier in spirit, than in Mike White’s bitterly amusing and impeccably cast social satire set at a plush resort where moral rot lurks just beneath the shiny, sudsy surface. First among unequals in this cauldron of entitlement is the great Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya, a pathetically needy hot mess given to oversharing. Aloha oy! Streaming on HBO Max

What We Do in the Shadows and Ghosts
FX and CBS

10. What We Do in the Shadows/Ghosts

I’ve wanted to put Shadows, the gloriously goofy vampire comedy, on this list for years. The third season, in which squabbling housemates Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) vie for power, was impure bliss. It’s in fine silly supernatural company with the fall’s best new comedy, CBS’s Ghosts, about another household of wonderfully mismatched spirits. Shadows, streaming on FX on Hulu; Ghosts, on Paramount+