Today we’re continuing our annual year-end round-up with the Best TV Series of 2021. If you missed it, check out our review of the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2021 here. We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie. We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching. The theory? If we like it, we think you may like it. The best shows have a compelling story, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired. It’s even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes. And the very best series get usually get canceled at the end of their first season because network execs will never figure out what we genre fans love.
Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:
Best Borg Series, Best TV Borg – Cowboy Bebop (Netflix). Mustafa Shakir’s Jet Black expanded on the anime series to create a space pilot and bounty hunter as cool and real as anyone from the Star Wars universe. His cyborg implants made him incredibly powerful–necessary in his dealings on behalf of Spike and his family.
Best Sci-Fi TV Series, Best Western TV Series, Best Space Fantasy Series, Best Retro Fix, Best TV Soundtrack, Best TV Costumes – Cowboy Bebop (Netflix). Only one science fiction series really knocked our socks off this year. The stylish look and music, and the fun of the crew of the spaceship Bebop made us want to speed through this series. For viewers looking for the next Firefly, this is it. For fans looking for the best futurism, space realism, and the next Altered Carbon, this is it. Its writing, direction, cast, and overall production values made the series this year’s series to talk about. Runner-up for Best Sci-fi TV Series: Blade Runner: Black Lotus (Adult Swim), great sci-fi, faithful to the source material. Honorable mention for Best Sci-fi TV Series: Resident Alien (Syfy) Alan Tudyk’s fish-out-of-water story and his alien story pulled us back to the roots of classic sci-fi with humor and drama as a bonus.
Best Fantasy TV Series – The Watch (BBC America). Worn-down cop that looks like a cross between Johnny Fever and Popeye with a partner that looks like Korg and a tough-as-nails front desk gal who evokes Janine Melnitz, and a human adopted by a dwarf fresh off a hike to the big city encounter a rebel woman who wants to make a fantasy world act like our real world… with the aid of a dragon. And they stuck the landing. Honorable mention: Fantasy Island (Fox) – A surprisingly good remake both faithful to the original and smartly updated.
Best TV Superhero Series – Hawkeye (Disney+). Repaired a bland superhero in Jeremy Renner’s arrow slinger and a lot more. It balanced a washed-up hero’s personal difficulties and challenges with another hero’s passion and desire to help people, backed by a holiday theme. Yes, it’s another successful B-level superhero from the comics, and yes, again, that seems to make the best live-action superhero characters. Honorable mention: Loki (Disney+) – Owen Wilson, a woman Loki, an alligator Loki, and a classic Loki version played by Richard E. Grant made Loki better than average TV.
Best TV Drama, Best British TV Series, Best New TV Series – All Creatures Great and Small (BBC/PBS). Brilliantly good, cleverly funny adaptation worthy of the source material and even more entertaining than the earlier series. An inspiring, successful autobiographical story of a rural British veterinarian gaining his footing. Honorable mention for Best British TV Series: Guilt (BBC Scotland/PBS), Mark Bonnar’s angst made this series; Professor T (BritBox/PBS), Ben Miller’s performance as a quirky, perfectionist criminology professor was great fun. Runner-up for Best New TV Series: Grace (BritBox/Amazon), audiences need more John Simm.
Best Mystery/Crime Series, Runner-up for Best Writing for TV – Leverage: Redemption (iMDB TV). Reboots and canceled series shifting networks never come back as good. This is the exception. Just as Major Crimes was able to adjust to its lead actor leaving the show, Redemption didn’t miss a beat, providing a smart update to its brand of 2020s crimes, and finding new ways to defeat the bad guys and keep the series fresh and fun. Honorable mention for Best Mystery/Crime Series: Professor T (BritBox/TBS), the British adaptation of its Belgian counterpart made for good weekly mysteries; Sinner (USA), Bill Pullman’s twisted character came at viewers for four seasons and established a footing much like Longmire was able to do; The One (Netflix), a great British police procedural with a stunning diverse cast, creative cinematography, and a smart if light use of science fiction to set the stage.
Best Supernatural Series – SurrealEstate (Syfy). The series was the best update for The X-Files, led by Tim Rozon and his supernatural team of property experts. Great sleuthing, and even better ghost busting. Honorable mention: Ghosts (CBS), who knew a supernatural comedy could be this good?; Truth Seekers (Amazon), rounded out a great year for supernatural TV shows.
Best Horror/Thriller TV Series, Best Limited TV Series, Best API/AAPI TV Series – Alice in Borderland (Netflix). Incredible writing, twists, and turns. Of all of this year’s series, no other had so many unique and cool characters. No other had more strong women characters, and all around high-octane thrills and action. So much better than the celebrated Squid Game, it also introduced Western audiences to high-quality Asian TV programming.
Best Comedy Series, Best Writing for TV, Best New TV Series Runner-up, Best TV Costumes Runner-up – Ghosts (CBS). We knew Rose McIver was a solid comedic actress from her iZombie role, but she showed a different kind of talent leading what was basically a theater troupe in a weekly, tightly-written stage play. Along with the snappy writing, every actor was top talent. Brilliantly fun. Honorable mention for Best Comedy Series: Resident Alien (Syfy), from Sheriff Mike to Deputy Liv to D’Arcy, Asta, and the kid, the series under Robert Duncan McNeill’s direction was even better than the comics; Nora from Queens (Comedy Central), always laugh-until-you-choke funny, especially from grandma; Truth Seekers (Amazon), Nick Frost’s smart team with a strange setting and a cool historical radio signal provided great moments this year.
Best Animated Series – Blade Runner: Black Lotus (Adult Swim). An animated series with realism that makes you forget you’re not watching live action. And a great tech noir story. Honorable mention: Star Wars: Visions (Disney+), this series showed the possibilities when Disney thinks outside the box.
Best TV Makeup – Resident Alien (Syfy). Ordinarily we’d be saluting the aliens of Doctor Who, The Orville, Star Trek, or Star Wars, but this year we can’t pass up the opportunity to commend Ashley Forshaw’s makeup work and the CG visual effects teams close-up work on Tudyk’s alien.
Best TV Villain – Rebecca Webb (The One). Hannah Ware’s CEO was driven, ambitious, intelligent, savvy, and ruthless. She was also the series’ villain, a murderer blinded by her ambition, and the best villain we found on television this year.
Best TV Actress – Nicola Walker (Unforgotten). Although the writers let the character down in the series’ final season, Walker never did, giving her all to this retired cop stuck in British police force technicalities that force her to keep working. She played every emotion this season, and every minute of it was so good she was difficult to watch. Honorable mention: Gina Bellman (Leverage: Redemption), Rose McIver (Ghosts), Awkwafina (Nora from Queens), Hannah Ware (The One).
Best TV Supporting Actress – Alice Wetterlund (Resident Alien). An enormously funny character played perfectly by Wetterlund. She really left viewers wanting more, providing several layers of drama and humor. Honorable mention: Aleyse Shannon (Leverage: Redemption), Shannon created a savvy Robin Hood who held her own in the first season reboot with the tried and true classic cast, and Lori Tan Chinn (Nora from Queens); Sophia Di Martino (Loki); Daniella Pineda (Cowboy Bebop).
Best TV Actor – Richard Dormer (The Watch). How could anyone possibly hold this facial expression that long? Many people play characters, but few really inhabit the role like Dormer did, creating a silly, desperate, driven, put-upon oddball who became the man to watch. Runners-up: Bill Pullman (Sinner) and Mark Bonnar (Guilt); Honorable mention: Alan Tudyk (Resident Alien), Ben Miller (Professor T).
Best TV Supporting Actor – Mustafa Shakir (Cowboy Bebop). Shakir brought his talent to create a tough guy and a sweet father who piloted a crew of miscreants. Even Captain Picard couldn’t have done any better. Honorable mention: Callum Woodhouse (All Creatures Great and Small), one of the most refreshing performances of the year, Brandon Scott Jones (Ghosts), Devan Long (Ghosts).
Best Guest Stars/Stunt Casting – Adrienne Barbeau (Cowboy Bebop). Barbeau is a great performer in everything, and here her eco-terrorist was equal parts horrid and downright mean. Honorable mention: Evan Peters as “sort of” Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver from the X-Men movies (WandaVision). Oh, why couldn’t they have let Peters be Quicksilver and make this the first step in the new X-Men universe?
Best TV Episodes – Star Wars: Visions, episode “Duel,” in only 16 minutes the Japanese-inspired animated story was one of Star Wars’ most Star Wars-y creations with its Samurai Sith; and the perfect Christmas and season payoff episode could be found in the All Creatures Great and Small season finale, “The Night Before Christmas.” A close runner-up is the impeccably sharp and outrageously funny dialogue of Ghosts in the episode “Alberta’s Fan.” A rollercoaster of a season of constant pummeling of DI Perez came together (or fell apart?) in the untitled Season 6 Finale of Shetland. And was any single scene more memorable than the Sheriff and Deputy reuniting to sing karaoke in the “Welcome Aliens” episode of Resident Alien?
Best Televised Event – Field of Dreams MLB Game (Fox). In August, Kevin Costner returned to Dyersville, Iowa, and brought with him the White Sox and the Yankees for a one-of-a-kind game 30 years after Field of Dreams first shared its magic with the world.
Best Streaming Event – WIlliam Shatner Rockets to Space (Blue Horizon). A science event that was also a treat for science fiction fans as the Star Trek legend became the oldest person to travel in space.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg