Putting together the list of our favorite television of 2021 involved our entire TV Team voting — which meant that some of our personal faves were left out in the cold. This post is our chance to alert you to even more of the television we loved in 2021 that you may have missed and therefore should watch OR that you did not miss and therefore would appreciate the opportunity to celebrate, together.
To read about our Top 25 faves go here!
Heather, Senior Editor:
Mythic Quest, Season 2 (Apple TV)
Mythic Quest is one of those very rare shows that it seems like everyone loves, but no one’s talking about, until it gets to the end of the year and it makes every single Best Of list. I think it’s because comedy is never considered prestige TV and also no one’s life ever really gets wrecked by, like, dragons, so you’re not in any real danger of getting spoiled (which is, ironically, the thing people tweet about the most?) But I also think it’s because there’s a lot of scathing indictments of our current geeky and (white) girlboss culture that hit a little bit too close to home for a lot of us. Despite that, though, Mythic Quest is very, very, very funny. And there’s a slow-burning queer romance with real life geek actresses to boot!
Star Trek: Lower Decks, Season 2 (Paramount+)
You know how everything in every episode of nearly every sci-fi show is life or death? What makes Star Trek: Lower Decks so great is that it’s about the crew of one of the LEAST important ships in the Starfleet, the USS Cerritos. That in and of itself is a novel premise for such a storied series. The series also focuses on the “lower-deckers,” the crew who don’t have prestigious jobs like Captain or Chief or Commanding Officer. They’re the downstairs workers in Downton Abbey, but in space, and as a comedy. You know by now that it annoys the heck out of me when people write off cartoons as trite, because some of the most important storytelling of our generations is happening in animated TV! Lower Decks tackles class privilege, workplace power dynamics, the internal conflicts of not having a satisfying career, and just the general complications of trying to have any kind of relationship with any other human being/alien. It’s a show for hard-core Trekkies and people who just like cartoons aimed at adults. It’s smart, but most importantly: it’s hilarious.
Rutherford Falls, Season 1 (Peacock)
Even while doing this job — writing about queer television for the whole wide world — sometimes I forget how much representation matters. You can start to take representation for granted. Often, there’s so much to cover and not enough time to cover it all…and it feels more overwhelming than valuable. Or, you’re so bogged down in doing the work of recapping, that you forget to enjoy a show for entertainment or appreciate the value of that representation.
But earlier this year, I listened to an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour where two Native writers got to talk about Rutherford Falls and I was reminded about how important representation is. The unmitigated joy these two writers — Vincent Schilling and Shea Vassar — expressed in talking about this show that was foregrounding Native stories in a way that’s never been on television. Vassar talks about growing up in an era where Pocahontas was her representation and now Rutherford Falls comes along and it stars and is written by Native people…and it’s just so good. The emotion was palpable and reminded me that I should never, ever take representation for granted.
I rushed to Peacock after listening to that episode to watch Rutherford Falls and consumed it voraciously. It’s funny as hell and will fill that Good Place-sized hole in your heart.
The Sex Lives of College Girls, Season One (HBO Max)
Firstly, I do deeply resent this program for both its name and its dedication to hiding all queer-women-related content from all of its promotional materials, thus inspiring me to prematurely declare that the entire show was a lie ’cause how can anybody do a show about the sex lives of college girls without any lesbian sex in it? Well great news, they can’t! Leighton, a legacy from the Upper East Side in Maje tweed and Gucci ankle boots, is the lesbian member of the four-girl set of roommates at the center of this comedy, and she keeps her sexuality a secret from everybody, not just the HBO Max PR team. But wueer inclusion is effortlessly everywhere in the Sex Lives of College Girls, from Whitney’s lesbian teammate on the Essex Soccer squad to her coach to appearances by our very own Vico Ortiz as Tova, a non-binary student Leighton meets at the Women’s Center where she’s forced to volunteer. But I was honestly just as much (if not moreso) invested in the stories of her roommates: horny aspiring comedy writer Bela (Amit Kaur), naive scholarship kid Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) and star soccer player and Senator’s daughter Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott). All grapple with so much their first semseter at school — sex, sure, but also sexism, class, and their sense of self in this shifting world. But most of all this show is fucking funny, consistently fresh, sharp in all the right places and a true joy to watch.
Why Are You Like This? Season One (Netflix)
Skewering “woke” culture was a contest this year in which everybody lost, but if any show came anywhere close to not just falling entirely on their face halfway through the race, it was Why Are You Like This? This accomplishment is likely owed entirely to its awareness of its own certain failure. Naomi Higgins wrote the show and stars as Penny, a cis white straight woman with two best friends: bisexual Bengali Mia (Olivia Junkeer) and their flamboyantly gay roommate Austin. They’re horny and rude and messy and make irritating mistakes with idiotic fervor and it’s just really a delightful little ride of a show that seemingly nobody watched!
Station Eleven, Season One (HBO Max)
I think if this show had premiered a few weeks earlier it would’ve landed on our Top 25 — and, similar to a few other picks on that list, it would’ve done so not because the show is super queer but because the show is SO F*CKING GOOD that Kirsten (played by Matilda Lawler as a child Mackenzie Davis as an adult) mentioning dating a woman was simply our green light to talk about it. Based on a 2014 novel I read during the first month of our own pandemic, Station Eleven grapples with the aftermath of a flu that wipes out civilization entirely in 48 swift hours, weaving together stories of interconnected characters across time, flashing between the day the pandemic hit hardest and the ensuing few years and what remains 20 years later. It’s a sweeping feat of world-(re?)-building and careful character study, and what could be simply triggering instead becomes a type of catharsis, speaking enough to the moment that I can’t imagine how I would’ve digested the show back in 2019 but with enough distance to retain its classification as science fiction, asking big questions about the purpose and endurance of art in hopeless and materially barren times, how we’re shaped by personal reactions to shared trauma, the nature of family and so much more. I don’t honestly feel smart enough to even write about this show, but it’s without question the most spectacular, gripping and exciting thing I’ve seen all year.
Gentefied, Season 2 (Netflix)
It makes me so sad that Gentefied hasn’t received more mainstream buzz in its second season, because it was easily one of the best television watching experiences of my year! The kind of care it’s taken with Latine storytelling — from showing a multiplicity of perspectives, to generational (mis)understanding, to regional differences and anti-Black racism within our communities, down to the ways we use our Spanglish — is unparalleled on television right now.
Looking back on the year though, what most stands out about Gentefied is that it is such obviously a work of love. “Love” is obviously hard to quantify from a critical standpoint, so I’m wading in some difficult waters. But at the same time, I think we all know what it feels like when someone has poured their all into their art. Linda Yvette Chavez started Gentefied as a webseries at Sundance with Marvin Lemus, they had never sold a tv script or even set foot in a writers room, but they knew that stories about Latine families needed to be told by us, and for us. I’m not Mexican and I’ve never set foot in Boyle Heights, but the Thanksgiving episode of Gentefied’s second season brought me to tears from the title card, “Sangving” because it read in my own mother’s accent. “Yessika’s Day Off” is the most time we’ve ever spent with the interiority of a queer Afro-Latina on television ever (and yes, I’m including Sophie Suarez on The L Word: Generation Q, though I will always take more of her as well). The grown up cousins forever in each other’s business? That specific dynamic of how you’re both exactly who were to each other as children and also something entirely new, but always there, consistent? That’s me and my two cousins and I don’t know if I’ve seen it quite this way before.
It’s also not about what’s personal to me. Gentefied is the kind of family drama that I hope we push for more of everywhere. It’s caring but not afraid to challenge, it doesn’t hide dysfunction but also doesn’t use that dysfunction as an excuse to be cynical, it’s smart and political but only because it knows that policies affect humans first. It’s queer, but doesn’t isolate its queer characters away from the community that surrounds them.
I’d write a thousand more love letters to it, if I could.
Kayla, Managing Editor:
Star Trek: Discovery, Season Four (Paramount+)
Star Trek: Discovery consistently delivers excellent visual and character-driven storytelling, presenting an original sci-fi narrative while still tapping into the strengths of the franchise as a whole. It satisfies and surprises in equal measure. And in case you’re wondering: You don’t even have to be a hardcore Star Trek fan to enjoy it.
The Rivervale 5-episode Event (The CW)
The five episode leadup to Riverdale’s 100th episode is simply this show doing all the things it does well— times one hundred. I wouldn’t say it’s self-parody so much as…the show evolving into its final, perfect form? Is that overwhelming and disorienting? Yes. But it’s oh so fun to watch. Does the show deserve to be on a best-of-the-year list? Probably not! I can admit that! But I’m fascinated by how Riverdale keeps finding new ways to mutate. May it last forty seasons.
Valerie Anne, Writer:
Nancy Drew, Season 3 (The CW)
When they first announced the Nancy Drew show, I was nervous, having grown up loving the books. But season after season this show continues to deliver spooky mysteries, found family bonding, hilarious one-liners, and meaningful story arcs for their resident lesbian, Bess Marvin. Including but not limited to falling in love with the ghost inhabiting her best friend’s body. Just classic queer shit. Even now, as a new girl for Bess, Addy, makes her way onto the scene, she’s being integrated into more people’s lives than just Bess’s, so she has more of a purpose than just “Bess’s love interest,” a thing not all shows get right.
Legacies, Seasons 3 & 4 (The CW)
While Legacies has had its ups and it’s downs, it has always done one thing right: queer supernatural teens. Queer witch Josie’s journey of self-discovery never really being about her queerness, and her Dark Josie side never being any more or less queer than her Regular Josie side, or vice versa, was a relief, and watching her be supported on her journey by not one, but two regular girlfriends in the series was a delight. It seems Josie might be heading out of town, and on a lot of shows that would severely decrease the possibilities of queer romance on the show, but with her ex-girlfriend Finch being the alpha of the werewolf pack, and Hope proving that without Landon on the scene she’s actually interested in girls, too, I have faith that we haven’t seen the last of sweet lady kisses in Mystic Falls.
Wynonna Earp, Season 4 (SyFy)
I’ve written tens of thousands of words about how much I love Wynonna Earp on this very website over the years, and I have a feeling I’ll be writing about it for years to come. I don’t like picking favorites, I like to caveat almost all things with “one of my favorite” so as to never have to make a final decision, but this I can say with certainty, if you factor in the joy it brought me on first watch, the lingering feelings I have about it, the writing I’ve done about it, my willingness to rewatch, and the people it’s brought into my life: Wynonna Earp is my favorite show. Genre shows rarely make top lists because sci-fi is somehow not everyone’s jam, but that’s part of Wynonna’s charm. Not for everyone, but exactly right for those of us who needed it most.
Legends of Tomorrow, Seasons 6 & 7
The past three years have been hard and dark and bleak but one thing I can always count on is that an episode of Legends of Tomorrow will let me practice true escapism for 42 minutes a week, because it’s hard to worry about much when you’re watching one of your favorite queer couples in TV history be wives and Co-Captains as they lead a band of misfits through time and space, encountering endless shenanigans along the way. 2021 didn’t have a lot of bright spots for me, but this show was sure one of them.