Top 25 TV Shows of 2021

Big musical numbers, wild superhero adventures, and deeply human stories were key to this year's best shows

Top 25 TV Shows 2021
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    Our 2021 Annual Report continues with our Top 25 TV Shows list. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.

    While the past year wasn’t easy, one thing that once again helped us get through it was television. Whether it was keeping us entertained during those pre-vaccine months inside or making us feel connected through watercooler moments, the best shows of the year rose up to keep us feeling sane and whole and maybe just a little bit less alone.

    The series that Consequence chose to highlight for 2021 often overlap in subject matter, whether it be the AIDS crisis, the world of music, or the disintegration of reality as the MCU knows it. But they also represent the wide depth of storytelling made possible by this medium, making small-town Pennsylvania or a mysterious Korean island or antebellum Georgia or the chambers of the Vampiric Council feel like a part of our everyday lives.


    It was a good year for new points of view and new voices. A good year for fresh takes on tired genres. A good year for singing and dancing just because that’s the only way all those feelings can be felt. A good year to confront the trauma of the past and look forward to a better future. A good year to be inspired by heroics, both super and ordinary. In short — a good year for television.

    Liz Shannon Miller
    Senior Entertainment Editor

    25. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8)

    Brooklyn 99 Review

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)

    Created by: Dan Goor, Michael Schur
    Stars: Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker, Joel McKinnon Miller
    Network/Platform: NBC

    As the world watched police brutalize protestors of police brutality in 2020, backlash towards cop shows inevitably followed. The procedural dramas didn’t change much, but the always self-aware sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine pivoted earnestly for a brief farewell season. Getting a little more woke didn’t diminish the character-driven comedy, and Andy Samberg led the ensemble cast across a political tightrope for a funny, satisfying finale. — Al Shipley

    24. Midnight Mass

    Midnight Mass Hamish Linklater

    Midnight Mass (Netflix)

    Created by: Mike Flanagan
    Stars: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Matt Biedel, Michael Trucco, Crystal Balint, Louis Oliver, Henry Thomas, Hamish Linklater
    Network/Platform: Netflix

    Mike Flanagan’s magnum opus about a small island town held in sway by the influence of a charismatic new priest (Hamish Linklater) is talky, to be sure. But Flanagan’s works aren’t horror so much as they use the aesthetics of horror to ask questions about death and the mania of religious fervor. Midnight Mass may well be his most cohesive thesis statement to date. — Clint Worthington

    23. Squid Game

    squid game halloween costume banned schools

    Squid Game (Netflix)

    Created by: Hwang Dong-hyuk
    Stars: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, Kim Joo-ryoung
    Network/Platform: Netflix


    It was the Netflix breakout of the year, yet it was a far cry from the nostalgic Stranger Things or viral Tiger King: Squid Game was a brutal and harrowing commentary on capitalism that couldn’t be ignored. Netflix reported a mind-boggling 1.65 billion hours of viewing in the month following its premiere, locking it in as Netflix’s most-watched series ever. Ever! It was the bloodbath people couldn’t look away from, and an exciting breakout moment for Korean television. — Mary Siroky

    22. Doctor Who (Season 13)

    Doctor Who Season 13

    Doctor Who (BBC America)

    Showrunner: Chris Chibnall
    Stars: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop
    Network/Platform: BBC America

    Depending on who you ask, Doctor Who hasn’t been this good since the Matt Smith era, or at least since Peter Capaldi’s best episodes. So what improved this season? All of these episodes, featuring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, are actually connected, for a start. The overarching plot is interesting in and of itself, and new companion Dan Lewis (John Bishop) is a hilarious foil to the practical Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill). Then there’s Karvanista, a canine hero who, no lie, carries the season, and should be in every season henceforth. It’s a shame the writing wasn’t always this good for Whittaker, because this season has shown her in Top Doctor-y form. — Gab Ginsberg

    21. Schmigadoon!

    schmigadoon interview cecily strong barry sonnenfeld

    Schmigadoon! (Apple TV+)

    Created by: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
    Stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Cecily Strong, Fred Armisen, Dove Cameron, Jaime Camil, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Ariana DeBose, Ann Harada, Jane Krakowski, Martin Short, Aaron Tveit
    Network/Platform: Apple TV+

    High-concept sitcoms were once considered relics of the campy I Dream of Jeannie era, but The Good Place cleared a path for a more ambitious approach. In Schmigadoon!, Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong are transported Pleasantville–style into a hokey 1950s fantasy world, and have to navigate the hilariously backward logic of an imaginary Lerner and Loewe musical. — A.S.