Even the most avid media consumer reaches a point in their habits when it truly feels like there is nothing new under the sun. When this particular ennui strikes, it’s time to rifle around in the archives to see what’s what, or to poke around in more unexpected places looking for something fresh.
The Jezebel staff watched a lot of TV this year, and not all of it was new; unlike the first year of the pandemic, when Tiger King dominated the airwaves simply because it was new, the second year of this drudgery saw the return of many shows from the before times. There was a lot to watch, but also, somehow not enough. Here’s what we all managed to concentrate on, for better or for worse.
Arguably, starting The Sopranos during the summer, as I did this year, was a poor decision that ultimately took a toll on the remainder of my sanity. I do not regret my decision at all, but the particular depression that stems from inhaling three episodes of the sad mob show a night is not well-suited to summer. I ran out of TV at some point, resorting to the dregs of HGTV and Discovery+’s generous offerings, but that’s when Tony Soprano and his giant rolling cart full of emotional baggage stepped in to fill the void.
Like a woman possessed with the spirit of a male film student in college, I inhaled every episode and hastened to various text threads to discuss the nuances with friends who had already watched the show but were game enough to participate in my journey into the hearts and minds of Italian-Americans from New Jersey. There’s nothing else left to be said about the show that hasn’t already been said, but there’s something funny to me about picking a program that is both extremely depressing and extremely good as my last-ditch effort at reclaiming both my attention span and my leisure time, and finding that the experience left me feeling like I was finally able to participate in a cultural experience that many others had already processed years ago. — Megan Reynolds
We Are Lady Parts
Before I even started watching this show I had written it off as not worth my time. I mainly did this because I don’t trust a streaming service as young as Peacock to properly handle a story about young Muslim women in the UK. But when I ran out of things to watch I begrudgingly clicked over to the Cock and was beyond surprised at how delightful this show was. In fact it was so good that I downloaded all the original songs from the first season and have watched it back twice as I wait patiently for a second season. The characters are fully realized and well written, the show takes a respectful yet cheeky approach to the many nuances of the Muslim identity, and, most importantly, the whole thing was funny. — Shannon Melero
Kevin Can F**K Himself
Amid the earliest iteration of the pandemic, like many people seeking feel-good content, I found myself binging Schitt’s Creek, and happily followed Annie Murphy to her next endeavor in AMC+’s Kevin Can F**K Himself this summer. I was instantly obsessed with the dark comedy drama’s meticulous subversion of nearly all gendered sitcom tropes, exploring the often invisible plight of popular sitcom wives by contrasting scenes featuring Allison’s (Murphy) unbearable husband, Kevin, shot as a multi-cam sitcom, with scenes from Allison’s perspective shot as a dim-lit, single-cam drama. At its core, the show is a sweet and terrifying ode to women’s rage at their abusers and the systems that enable them, as we root for Allison on her clumsy and suspenseful quest to have her husband killed. — Kylie Cheung
Mare of Easttown
Kate Winslet is at her best in this HBO limited series that dropped in early spring. A crime drama studded with stars like Jean Smart, Evan Peters, Guy Pearce, and more, the show follows Winslet’s Mare, a police detective, investigating a Philadelphia murder of a teenager as she attempts to juggle the trials of being a parent, a single woman in the dating scene, and a loyal friend. In just seven episodes, Winslet shows us her full range in a show that keeps you on edge the entire time. Half the fun of this show for me was watching it weekly and seeing live reactions on Twitter for what felt like the first time since pre-pandemic that a prestige TV show had such a chokehold on social media. If you missed that moment in time, I’d recommend grabbing a friend who hasn’t seen it and watching it all the way through together. It’s definitely an experience you’ll want to unpack with someone else immediately after watching. —Jenna Amatulli
Married At First Sight
My old roommate and I watched one season of this show (North Carolina) at the start of the pandemic, and promptly forgot about it. Within six months I had moved in with my girlfriend and despite Texas opening up, we were folding more and more inward. I remembered this ridiculous matchmaking show, so we started from the beginning in New York City. It is ridiculous to assume these “experts” can match you. In fact, my girlfriend has a theory that only one couple (maybe 2 in later seasons as the casts get larger) is expected to make it while at least one couple is matched to torture each other. If the rest of the cast makes it, cool!
But really, the drama is in the people who are so obviously mismatched. The experts are pretty bad at their jobs and for the first five or so seasons, every problem in a couple is the woman’s fault. Eventually they remember that men can make mistakes and the counseling sessions get better. But I don’t watch this show for happy endings. My girlfriend and I use this show to talk about our own relationship and the choices we want to make in our life. It’s so much easier to talk about “what ifs” when you have a ready made example scenario up there on the screen. Plus, most seasons actually have interesting dramas. But take it from me, skip the New Orleans season where COVID happens; they double the length of the “experiment” and personally I hated rewatching what April 2020 was like. — Caitlin Cruz
Why did it take me so long to check out one of the most daring shows ever on television. Your guess is as good as mine. I watched White Lotus right around the same time I was gorging my senses with Search Party, one episode after another of all four seasons, and it struck me that there is a good and bad way to depict loathsome characters. Search Party does it the good way (I did not like White Lotus, which I thought was too dull to stretch on for six hours and hypocritically wanted to decry privilege while luxuriating in it—it’s not a place I enjoyed visiting or would ever want to return to). The way Search Party pulls off making assholes so watchable is through specificity—Dory, Drew, Elliott, and Portia are just always…so them, even as the scenarios they get themselves into are increasingly shocking and outlandish, as the show deftly shifts genres, season to season, episode to episode, scene to see. And don’t even get me started on the crown jewel of a performance that is Clare McNulty’s as Chantal, a total pill who goes missing, setting up the premise of the show (via Dory’s obsession with her case). Few characters have ever sucked so ingeniously as Chantal (the episode of the fourth season, which ran earlier this year, that focused on her was my absolute favorite). I want goose, too, Chantal. – Rich Juzwiak
I got on the Shtisel bandwagon pretty late, but truly don’t feel like it’s that much of an exaggeration to say that it’s one of the most transcendent TV series ever created. The Israeli show tells the story of four generations of an Ultra-Orthodox family as they navigate romance, careers, domestic dramas, and their insular faith. It’s perfectly written, and transforms even secondary storylines, such as one about an intra-family debate over the propriety of Grandma owning a television, into graceful meditations. And the acting is sublime; just take the early romance between young rabbi Akiva Shtisel, played by the unceasingly dreamy Michael Aloni, and Elisheva, the mother of one of his students. Theirs is a courtship that plays out in sidelong glances and loaded silences, and yet it’s steamier than anything that HBO could ever dream up. Then there’s Akiva’s niece Ruchami (played by Unorthodox star Shira Haas), who’s trying to build a life of her own within her community but outside of her parent’s authority, and patriarch Shulem, who’s proud, selfish, controlling and simultaneously deeply sympathetic. It’s all TV perfection. —Gabrielle Bruney
After I downed Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New York, Salt Lake City, and Potomac in their entirety, then Love Island, Fboi Island, and that stupid robot-Lana show, I found myself digging through the dredges of Netflix desperate for something that might titillate my bored brain. I stumbled upon Blown Away, a Canadian reality glassblowing competition that aired in 2019. There’s only two seasons and a really pitiful Christmas special, but if you need something meditative without, like, having to actually meditate (I just don’t have 30 minutes for that!), feast your eyes on some really, really hot glass and a few really, really hot dudes. The contestants are mostly nerds like me, but the occasional brawny buff guy will hold you over. And the glass art is stunning… who knew? Go get lost in glass. You’ll wake up 20-something episodes later. —Emily Leibert
Law and Order
I’ve spent the last year finally getting around to Derry Girls (so ready for the next season), watching my boyfriend watch Narcos, and the two of us rewatching everything from Succession, to The Sopranos, to The Wire, etc. But I also love television that isn’t “prestige” or critically acclaimed, but rather… channel-surfing, brain-numbing bullshit. That’s why 2021 was my year of discovering 1000 Lb Sisters and, importantly, Law and Order (original flavor).
I was a (pre-Stabler leaving) Law and Order: Special Victims Unit girl my whole life, and while I’m not sure the original Law and Order can dethrone SVU for me, I’ve been charmed by the original big time. Yes, it’s pure copaganda, but I love a good, low stakes crime drama. What I love about the original Law and Order—aside from Lennie Briscoe, my king—is that it acts as a time capsule capturing the culture wars of ‘90s and the last vestiges of the “bad old days” of New York. The ultimate “product of its time,” however, is seeing how horny everyone was for the death penalty. Even a former hippie like Jack McCoy was itching for the needle on half of those cases. It’s not surprising, given that half the show is set in the “super predator” era, but still… woof. —Ashley Reese