Plus, find out what their friends, family, and the KCM staff watched this year!
There was a point during Covid as we were all binge-watching Tiger King for the third time when we started to hear rumblings of something called a “content drought.” Since production had to be shut down on so many sets to stop the spread of the virus in 2020, the fear was that in 2021, studios would run out of new content to release.
But, even though the premiere dates for some new and returning series had to be pushed, the drought seemed to have missed us because 2021 was littered with great TV. Some of us found time to binge-watch shows that had been on our lists for a while, and others kept up with the revolving door of epic streaming content. Want to know what we were watching in 2021? Read on for Katie’s favorite show from 2021, and more from her friends, family, and KCM crew (including one must-watch movie, for good measure)! And get cozy on the couch for some serious binge-watching over the holiday break.
I’ve seen so many wonderful things this year. I cannot wait for West Side Story, and I’m loving getting my first taste of And Just Like That. But there are two series I can’t stop thinking about: One is Dopesick on Hulu, and the second is Maid on Netflix.
I’ve covered the opioid epidemic from almost the very beginning, but this series helped me understand it better than any news story I’ve watched, read, or reported on. It’s riveting and heartbreaking, but so important. It tackles the opioid epidemic from a variety of vantage points: the greed of the Sackler family — primarily Richard Sackler. His hubris-wrapped insecurity blinds him to the immeasurable damage his drive for global pharmaceutical dominance is doing to so many Americans simply looking to control chronic pain or following doctor’s orders. It introduces you to (in this case) the cut-throat, devious world of pharmaceutical sales, where reps ingratiate themselves with doctors, nurses, and receptionists as they peddle (and lie about) their wares. There are the academics, who sell their souls to reap the rewards of a growing market. And there are the victims, even an ethical, compassionate doctor played by Michael Keaton, who unintentionally become addicted to a drug whose deadly grip is too often inescapable. Kaitlin Dever, who starred in Unbelievable, which I executive-produced, delivers a harrowing performance. I’m convinced she is her generation’s Meryl Streep. And then there are the heroes — the drug agents and indefatigable lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who smelled a rat early on and gave up so much when their desire to see justice became an obsession. Their Sysphian efforts make you want to scream and ultimately cheer, but the frustration over the slow-motion pace of recognition, government complacency, and corporate corruption is excruciating. I loved everything about this series, except, of course, the subject matter.
Again, this is a case when scripted dramas can do much more than entertain. This is a look at domestic violence and the systems that try, but too often fail, to address it. It’s about the complexities of abuse and what makes women often return to the scene of the crime, trying but somehow unable to extricate themselves for a myriad of reasons. It’s about income inequality, about being a victim of your circumstances, and about “there but for the grace of God, go I.” It’s about the haves and have nots and how money doesn’t eradicate loneliness and a sense of hopelessness. I thought Margaret Qualley’s performance was amazing, and her real-life mom Andie MacDowell, who I’ve adored since Four Weddings and A Funeral, plays her emotionally disturbed mom whose maternal instincts rarely surface. It’s beautifully shot and I love the use of the flashbacks. It transported me to the Pacific Northwest; I could almost smell the fir trees and damp leaves. No, it’s not “have a jolly, holly Christmas” fare, but damn, Alex, played by Qualley, is one tough cookie. She just can’t get a break, but her desire to build a better life for her daughter will make you want to reach through the screen, help her and say, keep going, it will get better. And, spoiler alert, it does.
There’s no time like a pandemic to catch up on great content. Like you, probably, I logged my fair share of hours on Amazon, Netflix, and HBO, but perhaps unlike you, I also spent hours nightly rewatching seasons of CNBC’s Shark Tank. When in doubt, I hit 102 on my remote and watched CNBC. On any given night, chances are this network is rerunning the series that is a goldmine (or crypto-currency cache) of addictive content for business nerds like me.
So what are my top picks for the year?
This is definitely up there. It boasted great performances by Batman himself, Michael Keaton, and a supporting cast (including Kaitlyn Dever). We all know the story but you will still be blown away by the unimaginable greed and lack of humanity that drove Purdue Pharma’s campaign to addict our country to pain medication. Admirers of Purdue CEO Richard Sackler (any out there?) may feel differently.
I didn’t understand this series but it sucked me in and I enjoyed it. It’s sort of the Asian version of David Fincher’s 1977 film starring Michael Douglas, The Game.
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 11
The GOAT. Watch to understand why (among other critical stuff) you are not qualified to sit in the middle seat at a dinner party table of eight guests or more. Unless you’re the gifted good middle.
But, my favorite “TV moment” goes to CNN (which I happened to be watching although every network covered the moment live) when the world’s richest man (at that time) Jeff Bezos, his brother, Mark, and two others blasted into suborbital space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. There was something undeniably mesmerizing watching the phallic-shaped rocket soar into suborbital space — leaving earth’s orbit to the point where the billionaire and co-passengers were weightless and floating in the capsule. (The obvious Bezos d*ck pic irony lost on no one.) No parachute splashdown or navy pilots necessary to pry open a capsule door to retrieve these brave modern explorers — just an upright landing and “de-plane” seemingly like just another Delta flight. (“Ba-bye, thank you for choosing to fly with Blue Origin today…we know you have choices in space travel…”).
The post-show press conference with Bezos in a cowboy hat, that creepy chortle — and all the memes that followed (Bezos is Austin Powers!) provided laughter for days to go along with genuine astonishment at the innovation and technology behind an instantly iconic moment of modern space travel. It provided all you could ask for even though this happened a week after Richard Branson’s Virgin flight to space. Blue Origin’s rocket was just a lot cooler.
Katie’s daughter Ellie
Alone, Season 7
Mark and I loved the survival competition show Alone, where ten contestants are dropped in a remote corner of the world with nothing but a handful of tools, a sleeping bag, and their knowledge of the wilderness. In season 7, the grand prize of one million dollars was awarded to whoever lasted 100 days in the dead of winter near Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territories, Canada. The perseverance, courage, and ingenuity exhibited by the contestants in the face of extremely cold temperatures and a lack of food and sleep were truly awe-inspiring and made us appreciate the roof over our heads and food in our bellies. Our favorite contestant was Callie Russell, a 31-year-old “ancestral living skills instructor” from Flathead Valley, MT. She has to be the most upbeat, optimistic, and kindhearted person ever. Even in the face of impending starvation, Callie never stopped smiling or appreciating the beauty of the nature around her. Every time she snared a rabbit, we jumped for joy. You’ll never take food for granted after watching this show!
Katie’s sister Kiki
Rita, Danish television series in its fifth season, features an inspired and beloved teacher whose personal life is out of control. Rita (Mille Dinesen) is coping with scars from a troubled childhood, the demands of being a single parent, and a commitment phobia that leads to a lot of casual hook-ups (which makes this not recommended for family viewing). The cast of characters is really fun, offering a range of personalities including Rita’s children, her estranged mother, her ex-husband, her fellow teachers, the school psychologist, school principals, and numerous students and their parents. The school scenes are my favorite. Themes range from overbearing parents, untrustworthy teachers, and under and over-achieving students to manipulative politicians and multiculturalism. The school scenes, especially in the first three seasons, are wonderfully written and acted, and bring authenticity to the show. A favorite pairing of mine is Rita and the school psychologist Helle (Ellen Hillingsø). The antagonism between the two is visceral. Another fun part of the series is that it is filmed over eight years so we get to see the characters as they age, most notably Rita’s son, who at the beginning of the series is a 15-year-old student discovering his sexuality. The last two seasons don’t have the punch that the first three seasons had, but it’s still worth watching, even if the conclusion is a little too neat.
Katie’s friend and bookfluencer Zibby Owens
My favorite TV show of 2021 was The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. The outfits. The apartments. The New York City school scene. The suspicion. My husband Kyle and I watched the whole thing in one weekend. (Plus, I got to interview Jean Hanff Korelitz, who wrote the book it was based on, for my podcast.) I’m a sucker for an edge-of-your-seat immersive show set in my hometown: A place that makes all of us feel like we’re losing it at times.
Katie’s friend Wendy Walker
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
When I was little, I watched West Side Story maybe 10 times because I was hoping the ending would miraculously change and they would live happily ever after. It’s because of that scar tissue I can not bring myself to watch Spielberg’s masterpiece — because the ending will not change. Well, all of these years later, it has happened again. I watched Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. I saw it several times, hoping his death was just one of his pranks. But it was no prank. His demons took him away from us. I just want to holler up to the heavens and remind him he had it all. He had every reason to live. He had a daughter. He was hot. He had the absolute best job on the planet, and I mean THE BEST JOB ON THE PLANET: Going anywhere in the world, talking to anyone he wanted to talk to, and eating anything he wanted to eat while traveling and talking. And he got paid for it. Not only that, he had one of those unique perfect personalities that even when he was alone with just his own thoughts, I would have hoped his wit would have been able to guide him out of those dark spaces. Roadrunner simply reminds us of this guy we loved who we thought had it all. But I guess he didn’t. Watching it, I come away with two thoughts: I sure miss him, and also, I want to love my life, flaws and all, and cherish every minute. Oh, and yeah, you will want to change the ending too.
Katie’s friend and artist Allston Chapman
Like many people out there hunkering down and trying to entertain themselves watching shows, this year I fell in love with the cast and characters of Ted Lasso. Talk about all the feels! When I first started watching the series, I laughed, then found myself being moved to tears. Rebecca is a fierce lion and makes me want to munch on British shortbread and wear those power suits the way she does. I have a crush on Roy Kent and wish I felt the freedom to throw around the F-bomb and growl. And who doesn’t love Keeley?! Ted, oh Ted, his innocence and optimism hiding a struggle with his own anxiety. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but his struggles hit home on a deep level. This show is so well done and deserves all the awards and acclaim it’s been getting. I wish I had paced myself to make it last longer but sadly binged the whole thing each season! Ted Lasso is wildly popular, and I don’t care that I’m a part of the show’s “Believe” movement. I’m happy to be riding the wave of sentiment and joy with millions of people.
Katie’s friend Carol Naggiar
The Great British Bake Off
For those looking for pure joy, look no further than The Great British Bake Off, on which 12 amateur British bakers compete to make it to the finals, with one competitor eliminated each week. You don’t have to be a baker to be riveted by this series! And it’s not like the crass American cooking competitions you’ve seen. Instead, GBBO is full of civility, wit, and incredible creativity. Over time you will grow to care deeply about the wonderful amateurs — who by day might be anything from a doctor to a gardener. And I promise you will be white-knuckled at the complexity of the baked creations and utterly charmed by the show.
KCM staffer Ryan Buxton
The White Lotus
This sharp satire of the wealthy people vacationing at a luxurious Hawaiian resort made me laugh more than anything else this year. Who knew the drama over getting the wrong room at your hotel could be so engrossing — and deadly? The show spends a luxurious week in the lives of its spoiled characters, and we learn in the first episode that one of them will be dead by the end of their stay. The mystery is only part of the fun, which also includes the incomparably hilarious Jennifer Coolidge and the show’s incredible score, which is among the best music featured on television in recent memory.
KCM staffer Maggie Parker
Only Murders in the Building
True crime shows and podcasts are all the rage these days. And while I can’t deny I’ve fallen victim to this genre, sometimes it’s just too dark. That was why Only Murders In the Building felt like the perfect recipe for a show. It’s about three neighbors trying to solve a murder mystery in their apartment building and start their own true-crime podcast in the process. But it’s hilarious — it stars Martin Short and Steve Martin, a legendary comedic duo, along with Selena Gomez. It’s also really gripping, blending humor and humanity in ways I never thought would work but am craving more of. I’m so glad they’re currently shooting season 2!
How To With John Wilson
Each episode of this deeply weird show purports to be a tutorial on how to do something mundane: find a parking spot, make small talk, improve your memory. But in reality, it’s a documentary-style, brilliantly edited piece of art that gets at some of the beauty and banality of everyday life. Wilson carries his camera around NYC taking shots of New Yorkers just…New Yorking (exercising on scaffolding, arguing on street corners, giving him the finger) and assembles those clips together around each week’s loose theme. He also finds some of the oddest characters on the planet and convinces them to open up about their hopes and dreams. It’s a complicated quilt of bizarre B-roll, shriek-out-loud-funny interviews, and moments of real connection. How To is messy and wonderful — a freaky love letter to a city that can’t be tamed.
KCM staffer Julia Lewis
Kevin Can F**K Himself
Kevin Can F**K Himself was one of my favorite shows of 2021. This dark comedy has a spectacular cast (hello Annie Murphy) and is truly unlike any other TV series I’ve seen before. The show alternates between a multi-camera sitcom and a single-camera drama to show the parallel sides of the main character. I don’t want to give too much away, but you’ll be laughing and on the edge of your seat every episode. It’s such a unique and smart show with so many twists and turns: This one is hard not to binge in one sitting.
KCM staffer Emily Pinto
When I watched the first episode of Station Eleven, I had an actual, full-blown panic attack. It was so resonant of what we as a society have just gone through, and I had a really hard time watching it unfold from the beginning again, but with far more dire ramifications. If you can stomach the first episode, this show is ultimately hopeful. It will remind you of what matters, of what ultimately makes us human, no matter what circumstances we are faced with.
KCM staffer Mary Agnant
Much like Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, Bridgerton offers a re-imagining of a historical period — in this case, Regency-era London — with a cast that better represents how the world and society look today. In a time where we could all use something to take our minds off the world being ablaze, enter Regé-Jean Page, who has started a very different type of fire…in my heart. The actor says he just wants to tell stories that challenge what we think we already know about the world, but I know for sure that it was him that kept me locked in for all eight episodes. All that said, if you’re able to suspend belief for a little while and let your imagination be taken back a couple hundred years, it really is a good escape. Oh, and the costumes and music are beautiful too.
KCM staffer Rachel Uda
We Are Lady Parts!
This British comedy about an all-female Muslim punk band developing their sound in East London is what made me subscribe to Peacock. It’s hilarious, quirky, irreverent — taking particular delight in crushing all the cliches about women in headscarves, with a wink. It also has all the charming elements of a classic rom-com. (You can’t help but root for the show’s plucky lead guitarist Amina, as she works through both a debilitating case of stage fright and a bad unrequited crush.) But the characters and the conflicts that arise across the six episodes feel so separate from the rom-com genre, resulting in something that feels fresh and unlike anything I’ve really seen on TV before. Plus, there are some real bangers on the soundtrack (“Voldemort Under My Headscarf” and “Bashir With the Good Beard.”)
KCM staffer Adriana Fazio
Seinfeld/Veep/Sex and the City
I have to say, none of the year’s biggest hits left me wanting more. Yes, Nicole Kidman pulled us all into the Upper East Side, Kate Winslet had us glued to the Midatlantic, and Connie Britton made me book a (less violent) trip to somewhere sunny and 75 degrees. But, for whatever reason, my favorite shows of the year we the basics. After helping our Queen KC with Going There, re-watching Selina Meyer write her own memoir in Season 6 of Veep was laughable (when it wasn’t hitting too close to home). And — for the JLD stans out there — Elaine, Jerry, and George made me laugh at the same joke for the nth time in Seinfeld. And when I wasn’t seeking out a laugh and needed true escapism, nothing soothes me like listening to Samantha’s quick rebuttals, Miranda’s cynicism, all the things Carrie “couldn’t help but wonder,” and Charlotte’s unexpected wisdom in Sex and the City.