Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Flashback: Television

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2021 TV Shows I Missed That I Wish I Had Seen Before Compiling This List: Kevin Can F**k Himself, Squid Game, What If...?, Q-Force, The Great, The Lost Symbol, White Lotus, Physical, Y: The Last Man

2021 TV Shows I Missed, Don't Regret Missing, and Will Go Out of My Way to Continue Missing Until the End of Linear Time: Dopesick, Mare of Easttown, The Wheel of Time, Walker, Ghosts, La Brea, Coming Out Colton, Succession, Arcane

Top Ten Episodes of 2021

#10 "So I Married an Axe Murderer" You

You is a lot of things (and this sentence is upsetting my Grammarly something fierce). But this episode, the second from season 3, pushed it into an entirely new direction: horror comedy. This twisted tale of a couple seeking counseling over their murderous urges but being forced to hide the truth under layers of obfuscation is surprisingly funny (the show's usual mode of comedy is of the "not on purpose" variety) and boasts a tight teleplay that uses its layers of narrative to tell a tender story about a fucked-up but entirely real-feeling couple.

#9 "The Gang Goes to Ireland" It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It took a while for this season of It's Always Sunny in Philadephia to hit its stride, but every season has its share of clunkers. These ones just happened to be front loaded. However, once this episode, the fifth of an eight-episode season, strikes, they return to form in the best, crassest way possible. The gang spews their way across Ireland in an epic gutter-minded farce that includes a dead cat fused to a carpet, hair-sniffing, and some epically violent physical comedy. 

#8 "La teoría de la elegancia" Money Heist

No spoilers, but the cliffhanger twist at the end of this episode (which is pretty energetic and exciting to begin with) is one for the ages.

#7 "Hello It's Me" And Just Like That

I'm gonna throw a SPOILER tag on here even though you already know this is the episode where Mr. Big kicks the bucket after a fateful Peloton ride. It's an excellent, melodramatic coda to the first episode of a reboot show that is perfectly imperfect. It is sheer candy-coated pleasure to sink back into the universe of Sex and the City and experience their warped one-percenter perspective on the trials of tribulation of modern life, including podcasts, weed, identity politics, and everything else they are not remotely qualified to cover. Plus, knowing beforehand that Big was destined to die (because that was the original intention for the scrapped Sex and the City 3 film) made a pre-spoiler watch of this feel like a Final Destination movie like "Is the blender gonna do it? Or that champagne cork? How's he gonna bite it?" Good stuff.

#6 "Zoey's Extraordinary Mystery" Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

One of the most remarkable aspects of Zoey is its ability to be both a stupid, broad musical comedy and rip your heart right out of your chest at the same time. This episode has a lot of fun playing with its core concept, having characters switch heart songs which forces Zoey to figure out whose internal monologue is whose. It all winds up with a wrenching finale that somehow turns Toto's "Rosanna" into a soaring, beautiful moment.

#5 "Double Time" Only Murders in the Building

Only Murders in the Building was starting to seem like it was built out of just a single joke (something dramatic happens, which is then undercut by someone being clueless and thinking of it in terms of how well it serves the true crime podcast they're creating). However, this penultimate episode amped up the whodunit, complicating the tangled web in an exciting way while also proving there's a whole new comic universe for the show to explore when they pull out the ace up their sleeve: Jane Lynch as Steve Martin's worldly former stunt double.

#4 "I Like to be Hugged" Chucky

Every episode of Chucky has at least one moment that is worth putting on a pedestal (an epic free-fall from a high rise is one - ditto any scene set in the gloriously overdesigned Evil Hospital, which seems to be lit exclusively by colored neon stalagmites lurking in every corner). However, this is the one where everything came together most beautifully during a house party where Chucky wreaks titanic slow motion mayhem.

#3 "Reunited, Okay?!" Insecure

Insecure has nothing to prove at this point, but the final season turned it up to 11 right out of the gate with this episode that is somehow both a sedate hangout tale that settles characters into new grooves and knee-snappingly hilarious at every turn.

#2 "Casino" What We Do in the Shadows

The vampire gang travels to Atlantic City to experience the endless night of gambling, Rat Pack cover bands, and inane hotel information channels on the television. It's always a delight to see how these zany characters interact with anything that even remotely resembles the real world, and there is no sitcom runner this year more intensely satisfying in its payoffs than Nandor's obsession with a Big Bang Theory slot machine.

#1 "Pat Connects with Her Fans" The Other Two

This episode accomplishes two incredible things. The first is the best door-slamming farce in at least a decade. The second is taking all of this show's incredible skill at capturing the mundane ins and outs of gay life in the 2020s, harvesting pure comedy out of them, and condensing it into a potent 22-minute script that is both relatable and intensely secondhand embarrassing (all the more so because it's relatable).

Bottom Five Episodes of 2021

#5 "The Boy from 6B" Only Murders in the Building

This episode is attempting a stylistically audacious Master of None thing by delivering a word-free story narrated by the show's deaf character. However, they cheat far too much. The script doesn't try hard enough to justify why the hearing characters are not speaking, forcing them to mug horribly in awkward and unjustified scenarios, also leaning far too hard on goofy music to get the job done instead of plunging the audience into pure silence as they should have done.

#4 "Breakfast in the Clouds with Kim Kardashian West" Cooking with Paris

The thing that's annoying about this show is that it has learned all the wrong lessons about Paris' everlasting stardom. The heiress has always found excellent ways to harness the shallowness of her fame and wink at her own audience, but this show is so committed to presenting her as a vapid idiot to the point that it's just mean-spirited.

#3 "Yes, And" High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

I truly don't understand how this show flew so wildly off the rails so quickly, but this episode is bloated, boring, and keeps introducing concepts that then fly out the window three seconds later.

#2 The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

I'm just including the whole series here, because I enjoyed nothing about the forced buddy comedy between two characters who have no chemistry whatsoever, the didactic polemic about race with clunky metaphors that hit you in the face like a wet fish, or the world-building that actively undermines the Marvel universe.

#1 I Know What You Did Last Summer

Are we in a new golden era for bad scripted television? Here's another one where I just had to throw in all the episodes. Other than setting the North Carolina story in Hawaii and adding a twin element, this show does nothing to justify being a remake of a film that I don't particularly love in the first place. It's also an astonishingly poorly constructed show, featuring what certainly has to be the most painful, flagrant break of the 180-degree line of the 21st century. If there's another professional project that makes such sub-basement level film school errors, please keep it as far away from me as possible.

Best New Show: Chucky

Don Mancini always knows the best way to keep the Chucky franchise growing and moving into new territory. Combining a coming-of-age queer narrative with fan service cameos and plenty of delicious gore gags (there's a truly disgusting yet hilarious moment after a woman bites into an apple with a razor blade in it) is certainly the right move.

Worst New Show: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Seriously, I cannot stress to you enough how incoherent, sloppily made, and devastatingly boring this television program is.

Most Pointless New Show: The Book of Boba Fett

At the time of writing, only one episode of the show has aired, so it may massively improve over time, who knows. However, despite Boba Fett's weirdly enduring popularity as a character (doing nothing in two Star Wars movies is apparently forgivable if you're wearing cool armor), there's just no reason for this show to exist. We already have a show about a Mandalorian bounty hunter, and that one stars Baby Yoda, so Boba Fett is already starting at a deficit. And please explain to me the reason that, in an infinite and varied Star Wars universe, we keep just returning to the same 10 square miles of Tatooine that we've seen 800 times before? What's left to plumb here? Dear God!

Most Improved Returning Show: Money Heist

Money Heist has always been a "good" show, but sometimes the sheer crushing weight of the melodrama can cause the middle of a season to feel like a slog. Season 4, being the center of one long heist arc that spans seasons 3 through 5, was a full heap of slog episodes. However, season 5 really brought the energy and reminds you of just how fucking cool pulling off a heist is, which is really the entire point.

Most Degraded Returning Show: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

I constantly praised HSM:TM:TS season 1 for capturing to an almost embarrassing degree how silly and intense drama kids (and teachers) can be. This season must have fired all the writers who wrote those jokes. Nobody behind these scripts has never seen the inside of a theater, otherwise they'd stop having the characters smugly using film terminology that has no place in a high school drama program like calling lighting technicians "grips" and having the director shout "Cut!" It's humiliating, and when combined with the awkward behind-the-scenes drama between Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett and the plotless, boring refusal to have any kid find conflict with another, it's an unwieldy, unworthy disaster.

Best Dramatic Actor: Jaime Lorente, Money Heist

Money Heist is primarily an ensemble show, so it was hard to pick out a couple Best in Shows. However, Jaime Lorente really impressed me with his arc over the five seasons of the show. Plus, when I learned that the character Denver's iconic staccato laugh isn't Lorente's real life laugh, I realized just how many strong choices he's making as a performer. 

Best Comedic Actor: Steve Martin, Only Murders in the Building

Steve Martin's schtick got old practically before I was born, but he found new ways to breathe life into it in this comedy whodunit. His character, a washed-up actor who used to star in a detective show, is grounded in an emotional reality he hasn't gotten to play in a while, yet still allows him to goof off in his signature way, rooting it in a unusually deep persona that adds a new veneer of novelty to the whole process.

Best Dramatic Actress: Najwa Nimri, Money Heist

Nimri is a goddamn excellent villain, and her psychotic pregnant inspector is one of the most sincerely dangerous presences on a show full of crime and murder. The arc that season 5 gives her should have been impossible for her to play given how cartoonishly despicable the character has been up until now, but she handles it with grace and aplomb. Just like the Professor and his crew so frequently do, she gets away with it against all odds.

Best Comedic Actress: Natasia Demetriou, What We Do in the Shadows

As long as this show is on the air, this slot is hers. Don't look at me. I don't make the rules.

Best Dramatic Supporting Actor: Brad Dourif, Chucky

It's incredible that Dourif is still performing this role over 3 decades after originating it, but it's even more incredible how much fun he's still having bringing this coarse killer doll to life. His commitment to the role is a major part of why the franchise has remained so fresh after all these years.

Best Comedic Supporting Actor: Aaron Tveit, Schmigadoon!

Even though his character is unceremoniously shoved aside in the back half of the season, Tveit knows how to wear the hell out of those old timey costumes. His musical performances shine, even more so in the harsh relief of the show's other numbers, which were generally not as inspired a pastiche as the first episode promised they might be. He is so across-the-board excellent, he sells the show's weirdest recurring gag (his beloved phrase "yee-honk") without breaking a sweat.

Best Dramatic Supporting Actress: Fiona Dourif, Chucky

Proof that talent can run in the family. Not only does Brad Dourif's daughter Fiona continue the excellent Scream Queen reign that she began in 2013's Curse of 
Chucky playing the role of Nica Pierce, she is invited to play the younger version of her father in flashbacks to Chucky's origin and she knocks that out of the park as well.

Best Comedic Supporting Actress: Natasha Rothwell, Insecure

Frankly, I hate her character's subplot in this season, in which she is Finding Herself and embracing a lot of New Age woo-woo nonsense. The fact that she's still so damn hilarious while delivering those jokes is a testament to what a compelling actress she is.

Best Actress Who Delivers the Most Tragic and Then the Most Hilarious Moment of an Entire Show in About Thirty Seconds Flat: Sarah Jessica Parker, And Just Like That

More SPOILERS. The bad-good dichotomy of Sex and the City has never been better exemplified than the final scene of episode 1, in which SJP delivers the hell out of the tragic discovery of her dying husband, striking a heart-wrenching chord that is then completely exploded by the zaniest line of voiceover ever written: "And just like that... Big died."

Best Guest Star: Alligator Loki, Loki


Best Couple: Jake and Devon, Chucky

Watching baby gays get to experience first love at an age in which I never got to do that (even though I came out extremely young for my generation - the summer before my junior year of high school) is just so gratifying.

Worst Couple: Victor and Benji, Love, Victor

Look, I'm grateful that both sections of this category can be queer relationships, but every time Victor comes to Benji with a genuine issue that comes along with being freshly out of the closet, Benji makes a face like he just sucked on a lemon and proceeds to be passive aggressive for half an hour. Drop that boy, Victor!

Best Show Intro: Chucky

I love how this intro changes each time, visually reflecting the theme of that week's episode with a new collage of unsettling images.

Worst Show Intro: Loki

OK, it's fine, but it goes on like twice as long as it needs to, and I just want to get to the show, dammit.

Best SNL Sketch: "Simu & Bowen"

This sharp sketch points out how easy it is for an Asian actor to be the "first" at anything because there are so few of them given opportunities, all couched within a hilarious game of desperate one-upmanship.

Worst SNL Sketch: "Celeb School Game Show"

This sketch is based exclusively on the misconception that Rami Malek and Pete Davidson look anything alike, and completely fails to write jokes about it.

Best Musical Performance: "Húsavik" Molly Sanden (The Oscars)

The song was breathtaking even in the midst of the extremely silly musical it was written for, but when performed in the unspeakably gorgeous real-life town of Húsavík, it takes your breath, stomps on it, and chops it into little pieces.

Worst Musical Performance: "Stay & Ghost" Justin Bieber & The Kid Laroi (The VMAs)

Would it kill Biebs to take off the hoodie even once? Please never make me sound like a grandmother ever again, Justin.

Best In-Universe Musical Performance: "Bella Ciao" Money Heist

This song is a frequent motif in Money Heist, performed whenever the gang experiences a major success. The final performance is both stirring in context and extremely well-orchestrated, driven to propulsive new heights by the makeshift percussion.

Worst In-Universe Musical Performance: "Rogers: The Musical" Hawkeye

I know the point is that the musical isn't very good, but a parody of a splashy Broadway failure needs to look more like Diana the Musical and less like something a high school theater troupe put together with costumes they bought from Michaels.

Best Commercial: "AMC Theatres. We Make Movies Better"

Camp. Nicole Kidman wearing a pinstriped diamond pantsuit while walking through an apocalyptically empty theater to watch Jurassic World while monologuing about heartbreak is purest excellence all around.

Worst Commercial: "How Do You See Yourself? - Stephen"

I can't say I particularly love heartstring-pulling commercials in the first place, but this one's switch from the weepy of a recent widower to pimping Botox is just crass.

2021 Crush: John Clarence Stewart, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

I find it impossible to understand why anybody wouldn't be Team Simon. Also anytime John Clarence Stewart dances and sings at the same time, my jaw drops and I go, "yeah, this is why God invented art."


  1. Glad to see I wasn't the only one who liked the first season of HSMTMTS but had no use for the second season. The only two moments I fondly remember are 1) the half of an episode where it seemed like the show might use the Lily character as "super talented mean girl no one likes" before writing her out almost immediately, and 2) the "Mob Song" riff off

    1. The "Mob Song" thing was cute, and also I enjoyed how even the characters found it forced and weird. Yeah, what the hell happened to Lily? The show definitely got too bogged down in "these characters support one another" and eliminating any and all conflict.