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It may have been another trying year for the world due to the ongoing pandemic and a host of other weighty issues, but our TV cup really did runneth over in 2021.
There was no shortage of mazing genre series to help us escape the every day. And with 500+ scripted TV shows released annually to choose from these days, one could also say there's too much new content to choose from. Which is why it's more important than ever to laud the shows, especially the nerdy/geeky/horror/sci-fi ones, that don't get enough love, and need to be passed around and celebrated like your favorite Topps The Empire Strikes Back trading card fresh from the package. And so we present to you the list of SYFY WIRE's Best TV Shows of 2021...
1. Arcane (Netflix)
Players of Riot Games' League of Legends were beyond excited for Arcane, the long in the works prequel animated Netflix series. But mainstream viewers were blindsided by what Fortiche Studios and Riot Games unleashed with this gorgeously animated, scored, and written epic about two sisters separated by bad luck, class divisions and manipulation. Not only is every frame worth framing, but the action beats are some of the most original and well-considered in the medium since Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Kudos also to voice work by the likes of Hailee Steinfeld (Vi), Ella Purnell (Jinx), Kevin Alejandro (Jayce) and Jason Spisak (Silco), who make you feel deeply for their character's and will demand a lot of water from your eyes by the end of Season 1. - Tara Bennett
2. The Bite (Spectrum Originals)
The brilliant Robert and Michelle King, of The Good Fight and Evil fame, did some cable moonlighting this year with their COVID/zombie/comedy/horror thriller, The Bite. The fact that it's a Spectrum Original means only their subscribers had access to this series, but that doesn't mean it wasn't great.
Using the lockdown as a series arc, the action is shot claustrophobically within limited residential spaces and through Zoom screens. The Kings create a palpable "what if" scenario around COVID turning people into flesh-eating monsters, with plenty of gory scares. Audra McDonald and Taylor Schilling anchor the whole thing playing wildly disparate women and neighbors who use their smarts to try and find a cure as the world dissolves outside their doors. - TB
3. Chucky (SYFY)
Chucky proves that some nostalgia plays with classic IP are extremely worth taking.
SYFY's new horror series, which recently concluded its terrifying (and, at times, hilarious) first season takes everything fans love about our favorite overalls-wearing murder doll and puts it through a progressive lens never before seen on television. The series mines all the exciting fan-favorite corners of Chucky's cinematic universe and reframes them for a legacyquel-type TV show. Part of the fun of watching Chucky, outside of the inventive and bloody kills, is watching how the show braids key characters into the narrative, some going all the way back to the original Child's Play Also, Chucky's unique sense of humor permeates tonally into almost every aspect of the series, especially with the very meta "Previously on fu**ing Chucky" episode recaps.
The holiday break is a perfect time to catch up with this series, but maybe watch it with all the lights on. - Phil Pirrello
4. Evil (Paramount+)
The second season of Evil really turned the proverbial screws on the Catholic Church possession assessors, Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), seminarian David Acosta (Mike Colter) and tech expert Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi). With agent of demonic chaos Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson) forever taunting the trio and their loved ones, the mythology behind the 500-year old doomsday codex continued to expand and just about everyone found themselves morally compromised by season's end. In particular, Kristen's downward spiral through just about every sin made for a jaw-dropping season that Herbers landed at every turn. Now, the very souls of David and Kristen are at stake in Season 3. - TB
5. For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
It's never been one of the buzziest projects at Apple TV+, and doesn't make headlines the way The Morning Show or Ted Lasso might, but Ronald D. Moore's alt-history space adventure remained one of the best sci-fi shows on television during its second season in 2021. After using much of its first season laying the groundwork for this "What If?" past where Russia beats the U.S. to the Moon, Season 2 takes that idea and runs with it, focusing on a tense Cold War that has now expanded to rival base stations on the lunar surface.
It's a fascinating peek into a world that could've been, with the sci-fi grounded enough that if you squint it almost feels real. A third season is already on the way, which promises to take the action to Mars... and the 1990s. - Trent Moore
6. Invincible (Prime Video)
Though the average TV fan likely best knows Robert Kirkman as the comic mastermind behind AMC's long-running The Walking Dead franchise – but he also spent the past two decades building one heck of an ambitious superhero universe, too. Amazon turned Kirkman's expansive Invincible comic book series, which ran from 2003-2018, into an ambitious animated adaptation that is equal parts The Boys and Batman: The Animated Series in all the right ways.
Set in the backdrop of a massive superhero world and raging alien war, Invincible remains firmly grounded in the journey of a father and son (who just so happen to both be superheroes), telling an engrossing tale of betrayal, love and — yeah — tons of punching and bloody action. The show has already been renewed for a second season. - TM
7. Loki (Disney+)
The Marvel Studios shows on Disney+ have already taken some big swings, from a more traditional action adventure in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, to a genre-busting mystery in WandaVision. But from the perspective of MCU stakes, Loki arguably represents the most consequential Disney+ series to date — and thankfully it was also very, very good. The show finds a time-displaced Variant version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who stumbles upon the Time Variance Authority (TVA) and a massive conspiracy that looks to be the first step in reshaping the multiverse itself within the MCU.
The show is gorgeous, clever and features an amazing cast led by Hiddleston, Owen Wilson and Sophia Di Martino. It also introduces Jonathan Majors as He Who Remains, with the actor set to return in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as A-list Marvel baddie Kang the Conqueror. A second season of Loki is already in the works, though no word on when we might see it. - TM
8. Midnight Mass (Netflix)
Midnight Mass, writer/director Mike Flanagan's original, limited Netflix series, was a moving, scary and often disturbing exploration of the isolationism of religious zealotry. Set within the tiny fishing community of Crockett Island, Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) returns home shamed by his four year prison stint after being convicted for DUI and killing a young woman with his car. Haunted by his past and the mistakes made in all aspects of his life, he's welcomed to repent by the new Catholic priest, Father Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater). An outsider with some unexpected baggage of his own, Father Hill ends up having a profound impact on everyone in the insular community. Flanagan brings together a brilliant cast of character actors to dissect the oddities of religion, faith, guilt, forgiveness, addiction, and fear. Linklater, in particular, gives the performance (so far) of his career. - TB
9. Mythic Quest (AppleTV+)
You could make the case that Mythic Quest doesn't really belong on SYFY WIRE's list of the best genre shows of the year. Take away the titular MMORPG and the Apple TV+ series is really just a workplace comedy. Well, too bad — it's on this list anyway, in large part because its second season improved on the first, radically changing the status quo for the series going forward and even adding some crucial backstory ("backstory!") to previously one-note joke characters. It's remarkably funny, yes, but Mythic Quest transcends because it has remarkable heart. Plus, the second of the two COVID specials that premiered in April featured an elaborate fantasy tournament, complete with fireballs and special effects, so that's genre enough for our purposes. - James Grebey
10. Resident Alien (SYFY)
Chris Sheridan's adaptation of the Resident Alien comic book was the sleeper delight of 2021. In his first series lead, Alan Tudyk takes on multiple roles, including an alien assigned to destroy Earth. Unfortunately, he crash lands instead and has to assimilate into human society while he seeks the broken parts of his spaceship. He kills Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, assumes his identity and then flounders around town trying to blend into the quirky town of Patience, Colorado. While Tudyk is a bona fide treasure in the show, the whole ensemble cast is equal to his funny which makes for a diverse array of stories that draw you in and make you fall in love with Harry and the town. - TB
11. Squid Game (Netflix)
From little-known South Korean import to global phenomenon, Squid Game took the world by storm in the latter part of 2021 to become the streamer's most successful series in history. The dark, bizarre thriller focuses on a group of contestants who compete in traditional children's games for a massive cash price. The only problem? If you lose, you die. The contest starts with 456 players, but only one can make it to the end. It's a wild concept, to be sure, but there's a reason the show resonated so much with fans across the world. It's the story of regular people desperate to escape their drowning debt and circumstances, and explores how twisted the world can be in providing a path of escape. A second season is in the works, though it could be a while until it hits Netflix. - TM
12. Star Trek: Prodigy (Paramount+)
The elevator pitch for Star Trek: Prodigy could be "It's The Goonies meets Star Trek." Which, according to showrunners Dan and Kevin Hageman (Netflix's Trollhunters), was, tonally, intentional from the jump.
The latest animated Trek series, which returns to Paramount+ with the second half of its first season on January 6, is the first to center on a group of wayward kids figuring out their way around their shiny new starship instead of a trained bridge crew of adults. This inspired choice wisely puts the show's target audience, kids, at ground level with these characters; that way, every victory they earn or action-packed adventure they take feels like one of our own. It's an exciting way "in" to the world of Trek, and it shows that there are still some corners of the Final Frontier that the long-running franchise has yet to explore. Prodigy's riveting voyage takes some bold (and welcome) creative swings to tell a story that both Trek fans and newcomers have never seen before. The way Star Trek: Prodigy effortlessly pulls off a weekly mix of feature film-worthy action and big emotional stakes puts its first season on par with The Original Series', which is the best freshman season of any of the Trek shows. If a show could match the quality of TOS Season 1, or come close to surpassing it, it's Prodigy. - PP
13. Sweet Tooth (Netflix)
Writer/illustrator Jeff Lemire's Vertigo comic Sweet Tooth was long categorized as impossible to adapt, but writer/director Jim Mickle proved the naysayers wrong with his hit Netflix series. It tells the story of a viral pandemic that wipes out a huge swath of humanity and ushers in a new era of hybrid children born with genetics that are half human and half animal.
Narrated by James Brolin like a modern-day fairy tale, Christian Convery plays Gus, a young hybrid boy with antlers, who is hidden away and raised in the woods for a decade by his father (Will Forte). A tragic turn of events forces Gus to go out into the world where he discovers for the first time and the variety of good and bad people still around. Gorgeously filmed, well written and beautifully acted, Sweet Tooth is an endearingly hopeful tale with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. - TB
14. What We Do in the Shadows (FX on Hulu)
It's always a treat to spend time with the most dysfunctional vampires of all time, the new Vampiric Council for the American Eastern Seaboard: Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). Season 3 upgraded the housemates into a position of unearned power and as expected, their egos went wild. Nandor's familiar, Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén) continued to clean up their messes as their bodyguard (and hide his familial connection to vampire hunter, Van Helsing). The writers stepped it up this season pairing up Colin and Laszlo for best comedic effect, doing a spot on parody of Twilight and leaving the season on a shocking cliffhanger. Five Bats out Five Bats! - TB
15. Yellowjackets (Showtime)
One of the gnarliest horror TV shows in memory, Yellowjackets is like Mean Girls meets Lost by way of The Lord of the Flies.
An intricately crafted mystery/thriller, the non-linear storyline tracks the story of the 1996 championship New Jersey high school female soccer team, the Yellowjackets. As they travel to their big game, their private plane crash-lands in a remote wilderness leaving the team and their chaperones isolated and with limited resources as they try to survive. Bouncing from pre-crash to crash era and then their current lives in 2021, audiences piece together what happened as the older women reconnect to have a reckoning with one another. The cast is superb, with the young and older actresses seamlessly crafting unified performances that keep revealing shocking twist after shocking twist. Plus, there's cannibalism, so be warned that this show is not for the faint of heart, but it's worth jumping on board for the ride. - TB
16. WandaVision (Disney+)
Marvel Studios introduced themselves to the streaming world in the most audacious way possible with WandaVision. The show tried to do a lot of things at once: It was a mystery, a love letter to classic sitcoms, and a heartbreaking exploration of grief and lost love. Amazingly, WandaVision hit the bullseye on all three targets. (Eat your heart out, Hawkeye.) It also served as a showcase for the talents of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, who both only got minuscule big screen real estate because of the density of the films. In the series, we got to see their comedic timing, their chemistry, and the gravitas they always bring to the characters, just amplified. Plus, we got Agatha Harkness as a canon character, with Katherine Hahn stealing the show as the nosey next door neighbor hiding oh, so much. She so earned that theme song in mere hours, that she's getting her own Disney+ series with Agatha: House of Harkness. WandaVision raised the bar and remains the creative title to beat. - TB