Chad Grayson

My Favorite TV Shows of 2021

I’ve been keeping track of my books read since 2006. But last year was the first year I started keeping track of the TV series I’ve watched. I wanted to have a list to refresh my memory at the end of the year, as well as pick my favorites. Last year, I watched 78 complete Seasons of shows. These are my five favorites.

5. Wellington Paranormal Seasons 1-2 (The CW, HBO Max)

              I love a mockumentary series, and this one, about a unit of perfectly ordinary police officers in Wellington, New Zealand, hit the spot this year. It’s about two officers – Officer Minogue and Officer O’Leary – who are assigned to a special unit dealing with the paranormal. Do they receive special training? No. Are they given additional support or specialized equipment? Of course not! But deal with things they do, everything from ghosts, demons, vampires, and werewolves, and even aliens and sea monsters.  I have laughed out loud so hard at this show I scared my dog.

The key is, in every situation, Mike Minogue and Karen O’Leary (playing characters of the same names) play it completely straight. There’s no mugging, the lines are deadpan and hilarious at the same time. These are funny cops, but they are not wacky cops, and that makes all the difference. The hilarity comes from this no-nonsense approach being applied to a series of increasingly bizarre situations.

This is not serious Art, but it is fun, and I highly recommend it.

4. Star Trek Discovery Season 3 (Paramount+)

              My main problem with the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery was how it was supposed to be a prequel to the original series, and in that effort, it was a wild mismatch of style and technology level.

              Well, at the end of season 2, the Discovery jumped 700 years into the future, and that solved all of my problems with the show. The crew of the Discovery, led by Doug Jones’ Captain Saru and Sonequa Martin-Green’s Commander Michael Burnham (eventually) found themselves in a galaxy much transformed   by a recent catastrophe known as The Burn. The Federation is in shambles, Starfleet is much reduced, and the Discovery is tasked with bringing hope to a broken cosmos.

              It’s a very Star Trek theme, despite the dystopian setting. The crew spends the season helping to put the Federation back together and responding to threats from a criminal syndicate who has stepped into the power vacuum left by the Federation’s collapse, and along the way they solve the mystery of what caused The Burn in the first place.

              The character development is top-notch, and the episodes are intriguing and exciting, providing many thrilling moments, even a two-part foray back into the mirror universe that in less capable hands might have felt like a side quest.

              I’m a long time Star Trek fan. Star Trek The Next Generation is one of my foundational texts, and in Season 3, Star Trek Discovery finally proves itself worthy of the mantle.

3. Girls 5 Eva Season 1 (Peacock)

               I love a broad, wacky comedy, and the writer/creator team of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have never let me down.

              Girls 5 Eva is the story of the members of a former early-2000’s era girl band who get back together in their forties for one last shot at fame. The cast is incredible, but the two big standouts are Renee-Elise Goldsberry’s Wickie and Paula Pell’s singer-dentist-singer, Gloria, but all of the characters are sharply drawn and hysterical.

              The jokes are not subtle, and neither are the musical numbers, with the usual Fey-Carlock visual cutaways adding hilarious context. But even though the humor is broad, it is recognizably human in its absurdity.

              This is the story of a comeback. Sort of. One that doesn’t fallow anything like a traditional, or successful, trajectory. I cannot wait to see where they go in Season 2.

2. Foundation Season 1 (Apple TV+)

              I was really looking forward to this adaptation, and I was not disappointed, even if a lot of other people were. Look, the original Foundation Books were groundbreaking, but to a modern audience, were mostly about white men arguing with each other, especially the first book. They had some interesting moments, but they would have not made for good TV.

              So, this production wisely focused on the core concept – a thousands of years old galactic empire is about to collapse. We know this because of a new science, Psychohistory, which can reliably predict the actions of large groups of people, even if the actions of individuals remain unpredictable.

              Now, as science, does this make sense? Not really, but it’s a conceit worth buying into.

              Jared Harris, as Hari Seldon, Psychohistory’s creator and main proponent, is the quintessential man with a plan Asimov so loved to write about. A plan, specifically, to reduce tens of thousands of years of barbaric chaos the empire’s collapse will entail to a single millennium. To make this happen, he creates the Foundation, which will keep track of vital human knowledge and continue to shine the light of civilization.

              Hijinks ensue (not really).

              The first (only?) season chronicles the first thirty five years or so of this endeavor. It focuses on Seldon and his successors, and also on the person of the emperor, who is actually three people, all cloned from a great emperor from a thousand years ago.  There is a lot of high-concept scifi going on here.

              This show does take its time telling its story. Individual episodes seemed to drag at times, but it all comes together majestically at the end of the season. This is a show that rewards careful viewing.

              It may have been too ponderous for its own good, however, since I don’t think there’s been word of a second season, which is a shame, since while it told a complete story, it ended in an intriguing place with a lot of potential.   I really hope it returns.

1.  The Wheel of Time Season 1 (Amazon Prime)

              This was another adaptation of a book series that I was really looking forward to. I was a little more nervous about this one, because the source material, while beloved, is at once progressive and dated in its portrayal of gender relations.

              I felt a little better when Rosamund Pike, an actress I’ve enjoyed for a number of years (yes, since DOOM) came aboard in the pivotal role as Moiraine.

              In short, this is an amazing adaptation which does an exceedingly rare thing – it improves on the source material.

              Look, I love the Wheel of Time books, but they were very slow in places. Robert Jordan had the unfortunate tendency to follow plot bunnies down side trails that would take multiple volumes to see the end of. And, while he was great at putting female characters in positions of power that drove the plot, he was terrible at writing them, often giving them unnecessarily repeated mannerisms that served to infantilize them (Nynaeve tugging at her braid, anyone?)

              All of that has been improved in the adaptation. Also, LGBT plotlines that were mere subtext in the books, are text here. It probably helps that the books are finished—the writers of the series know what events they should focus on to get the primary plot and the core themes across. A month of travel that, in the first book, took probably 300 pages (I’m estimating) to chronicle is skipped over here between episodes. And the story is stronger for it.

              And the story is here, with expanded roles of importance for several characters. The cast is amazing. I wouldn’t say everyone matched up exactly with their book descriptions, since several are people of color, but in most cases the core of each character remains intact.

              The one exception, and my one complaint, is the character of Mat Cauthon. In the books, Mat is a happy go-lucky character. He’s a charming trickster. However, played by Barney Harris, he comes across as morose and tragic. We get none of Mat’s light. But that is the only real misstep. They have recast the character for season 2, so maybe this is being addressed?

              And there will be a season 2. This was Amazon Prime’s most watched series of 2021. I have high hopes for this team and can’t wait to see where the adaptation goes from here. There are 13 more books to go. Not even kidding.

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