tv

'I'm a TV critic. Here are my top 10 shows of 2021.'

2021 has been a bloody good year for TV. 

And in turn, it's been a bloody great year for me, a pop culture editor who watches all the new TV shows so I can tell you whether they're worth watching or not. 

This year gave us the brilliance that was Mare of Easttown, the unexpected hit that was Only Murders In The Building, and three Australian series you need to watch immediately if you haven't already. 

Here are my top 10 shows of 2021 (in no particular order): 

Mare of Easttown

I think about Mare of Easttown and its brilliant twist at least once a week. 

Although the mini-series only came out earlier this year, it quickly became one of my favourite shows of all time. 

There's two reasons for this:

1. In just six episodes, the writers created a TV universe that I fell in love with. Although it was bleak, the people and the stories of Easttown were so compelling, I never wanted to leave. 

2. The twist was a stroke of genius. It WENT there. 

In case you missed it, the series follows the story of Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), a detective in the fictional American town of Easttown, where everyone is a bit down on their luck. 

Mare is a divorced single mum, who is raising her young grandson after her son ended his own life. Her mum Helen (Jean Smart) is also living with her. 

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While trying to keep her life together, she is tasked with investigating the murder of a local teen mum. And everyone in town is a suspect. 

What I loved about the series was how it combined a brilliant mystery, an amazing cast, a few well-placed laughs, and a study of the human condition into one show. 

You can watch the first season of Mare of Easttown on Binge now. 

Only Murders In The Building

Image: Disney Plus.  

Only Murders In The Building is the most unexpected TV hit of 2021. 

The 10-part series follows three New Yorkers living in a posh apartment building called the Arconia, who come together to make a podcast when another resident dies under suspicious circumstances. 

There's Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), a former actor who was once very famous for playing a detective in a police procedural series. Charles-Haden now lives alone and makes himself sad little omelettes each night. 

Then there's Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), a struggling Broadway director who has had a bunch of flops and is struggling to pay his bills. 

And finally, there's Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), a mysterious young woman who lives in a massive apartment in the building and claims she's renovating it for her wealthy aunt. 

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When Tim Kono, a resident in the building who seems to have rubbed everyone the wrong way, dies in an apparent suicide, Charles-Haden, Oliver, and Mabel decide there must be more to the story. 

So they start their own investigation, and a podcast which they call Only Murders In The Building. And everyone in the building is immediately a suspect including... Sting, who is one of the residents. 

It's part murder-mystery, part-comedy, part study of the human condition. 

The first season of Only Murders In The Building is streaming on Disney Plus. 

The White Lotus 

Image: Binge.  

I love watching rich people doing terrible things. 

And that's exactly what The White Lotus is about. It's a dark comedy, with a pinch of murder, that sends up mostly white, rich, privileged people and how they view their place in the world. 

It also tackles race relations, the generational divide, and... public poos. 

The cast is phenomenal and includes Jennifer Coolidge at her best, Connie Britton, Steve Zahn and Australia's very own Murray Bartlett. 

Did I mention there's a wee bit of murder? 

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The entire first season of The White Lotus is streaming on Binge now

Hacks 

Image: Stan.  

If you loved Jean Smart playing Mare's mum in Mare of Easttown, you're going to love Hacks

Smart plays veteran comedian Deborah Vance in the 10-episode comedy-drama. 

Deborah has been at the top of her game for years, but when her regular Las Vegas show is in danger of being cancelled, she hires a 'woke' millennial to help write her jokes. 

What follows in a story about generational differences, female friendship, and what happens after failure. 

It's a brilliantly warm and funny show. 

You can watch the entire first season of Hacks on Stan now

The Newsreader

Image: ABC iview.  

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The Newsreader is the Australian TV series not enough people are watching. 

The six-part series was created by Michael Lucas and it's set in a Melbourne TV newsroom in the late 1980s. 

It stars Anna Torv as Helen Norville aka the newsreader, Sam Reid as her colleague and love interest Dale Jennings, Stephen Peacocke as sports presenter Rob Rickards, and William McInnes as their shouty boss. 

Helen is trying to hold on to her coveted newsreader position while hooking up with her colleague and battling some personal demons. Dale Jennings is working up the courage to do a live cross, and Rob Rickards is trying to learn how to talk about anything that isn't... football. 

The fashion is amazing and the team cover major stories from the period like the Challenger explosion, the Lindy Chamberlain case, and the Russell St Bombings. 

It's a phenomenal series that will leave you begging for season two. 

The first season of The Newsreader is streaming on ABC iview now. 

Starstruck

Image: ABC iview.  

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Starstruck is hands down one of the best TV shows of 2021. 

The six-part series was created by New Zealand comedian and actor, Rose Matafeo. 

She plays Jessie in the series, a millennial ex-pat living in London and trying to make ends meet with a handful of casual, dead-end jobs. 

After meeting Tom (Nikesh Patel) in the bathroom at the nightclub, Jessie goes home with him. The next morning, she realises she's accidentally slept with a massive film star. Think waking up and realising you've a little bit slept with Liam Hemsworth and said all sorts of things to him. 

Each episode of the six-episode first season takes place in a different season - Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring - as Jessie and Tom deal with the aftermath of their one-night stand and attempt to fit into each other's lives.

The first season of Starstruck is streaming on ABC iview now. 

It's A Sin

Image: Stan.  

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It's been almost a year since I first watched It's A Sin, but I still think about it often. 

The mini-series was both one of the most heartbreaking and life-affirming TV shows I have ever watched. 

It was created by critically-acclaimed screenwriter and television producer, Russell T Davies, whose previous works include Queer as Folk, and Years and Years

Set in London in the 1980s and 1990s, the series follows a group of young friends who are discovering who they are and who they love, and living their best lives in London's vibrant gay scene, just as the AIDS crisis hits. 

It's not an easy watch, but it's an important one. One of the most brilliant and beautiful series of the year, It's A Sin will make you laugh out loud in one scene, and break your heart in the next. 

It's A Sin is streaming on Stan now.

Bump

Image: Stan.  

Bump made me fall in love with Australian TV all over again. 

The Stan Original Series follows the story of Olympia 'Oly' Chalmers (Nathalie Morris), a high-achieving 16-year-old who has her entire life mapped out in front of her when she suddenly has a surprise baby. 

Not a surprise pregnancy. A surprise baby. 

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After feeling unwell at school, Oly has a baby in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital, and immediately becomes a mother, and her parents Angie (Claudia Karvan) and Dom (Angus Sampson) become instant grandparents. 

Bump is a series about embracing the unexpected, and learning to love the messy, unplanned parts of your life. 

The first season of Bump is streaming on Stan now, and the second season drops onto the streaming service on Boxing Day. 

The Chair

Image: Netflix.  

In the opening scene of Netflix's The Chair, Sandra Oh's character Dr Ji-Yoon Kim walks into her new office. 

She opens a package that's sitting on the desk. It's a plaque that reads: F*CKER IN CHARGE Of You F*cking F*cks. 

It's a bloody brilliant opening scene and a good indicator of what's to come. 

The six-part series, which dropped on Netflix in August, explores race and privilege, the battle between the old world order and the new, and the fact that sometimes getting everything you want is the worst thing that can possibly happen to you. 

It's also wickedly funny and there's a smattering of David Duchovny in budgie smugglers. 

The first season of The Chair is streaming on Netflix now. 

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Wakefield

Image: ABC iview.  

In the opening minutes of Wakefield, Dan Wyllie's character James is dressed in a crisp business shirt, a tie, and a blazer. 

He's speaking to his colleagues over Zoom, throwing around words like 'market' and 'bounce' and 'equity'. He appears to be a high-functioning businessman about to close on a multi-million dollar deal. 

It's only moments later we find out James is actually wearing his pyjama pants, he's making the deal from the common room of a psychiatric ward, and he's one of the patients. 

This scene encapsulates the show's running theme and its tagline - there's a fine line between sanity and madness. 

James could be any of us, and under the right circumstances (or wrong circumstances), any of us could find ourselves in James' shoes. 

Wakefield is at once a riveting psychological thriller, a study of the human condition, and a light Aussie comedy. 

Wakefield is streaming on ABC iview now. 

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For more of her TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram 

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