Favorite TV Series of 2021

I didn’t have a lot of favorite TV series last year, so this isn’t a long list. I mostly didn’t have the time for watching regular shows, and when I did find the time to watch TV, I watched old favorites instead. Disney produced a lot of what I watched last year. Conspicuous by its absence is Squid Game.

I didn’t get caught up in the Squidsteria, because I already got the message it was giving from other Korean shows and movies, so what the show was saying was not a revelation to me, and I also simply wasn’t in the mood to watch the show. My baby sister watched it, which I found surprising, because she normally ignores stuff like that, but she seemed to really enjoy it, and that made me happy. She doesn’t usually understand nerdy type stuff.

In no particular order, here are a handful of shows I really enjoyed watching, last year:

Wandavision

I have made it pretty clear that I am not, nor have I ever been a Wanda fan. I don’t dislike her. I always try to make it clear that I don’t hate certain characters because people always try to read stuff into what you say, that you haven’t said. I would say that I was indifferent to her. I knew a lot of her backstory in the comic books because of the tremendous amount of influence her storylines had in the MCU, and it’s the same with this series.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I went into it on the strength of the trailers, and the acting skills of Elizabeth Olsen. I got a lot more than I bargained for: a trip down television memory lane, some great plot twists, some great acting, one of the first Black superheroines in the MCU, a lot of great Paul Bettany scenes, Jimmy Woo, the introduction of Speed and Wiccan into the MCU, (which means that with the addition of America Chavez later this year, and probably Hulkling as well, that sooner or later The Young Avengers are on their way since we just saw Kate Bishop in the Hawkeye series and Patriot in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.)

But Wandavision was actually a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed seeing all the homages to old shows, and watching those tropes be overturned because of the nature of Wanda’s abilities, and the idea of reality trying to reassert itself. Elizabeth Olsen did a great job as Wanda. She was engaging and funny, and that went a long way towards getting me to like the show, although I still don’t care about Wanda much more than I did before I watched it. I had a couple of other problems with the series, like the unimaginative treatment of Monica Rambeau, and the show’s ending, which devolved into a magical fistfight between Wanda and her arch-nemesis. Otherwise, it was worth the watch.

Falcon and the Winter Soldier

I am a big Falcon fan, so I really enjoyed this show. I had some issues with its depiction of racial dynamics throughout history, and depictions of the use of power, but it was otherwise a great action-oriented show. I wanted the show to make more concrete statements about American Imperialism and race, but it’s a Disney show, and there’s only so much depth we can expect from such an entity. Disney always gets its understanding of power dynamics between different groups wrong, so what happened in this series was par for the course. I did not care for the show’s depiction of the Flagsmashers as paranoid lunatics because it’s a depiction of rebellion written by the kind of people who know nothing about how to do it and never had to learn.

The standout part of the show for me of course were the character dynamics. Two of the more opposite characters in the MCU getting stuck together on an adventure was wildly fun. I’ve always liked Bucky, both as a bad-ass, and a person, and it was fun watching this deeply serious and rather grave character crash up against Sam Wilson’s sometimes relentless optimism. It was fun watching Bucky’s interactions with Sam and how that changed Bucky for the better, not because they were trying to change him, but just by being themselves in his presence, giving him a glimpse of a normal life, with family and friends, and the realization that is not something that’s out of bounds for him, just because he has a dark past.

And it was “fun” watching Sam struggle with having the title of Captain America thrust on him without preparation and dealing with what is obviously “Imposter Syndrome” (the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills) and eventually stepping up and embracing it. Another thing the show got right: the action scenes, which were awesome! Even if you didn’t catch any of the other messages in the show, it’s well worth watching for all of the incredible stunt-work, and the variety of action scenes throughout the show.

Midnight Mass

Some shows cannot be said to be enjoyable in the sense that they are not “fun” to watch. They are however deeply satisfying in the sense that you watched something important. This is what watching Midnight Mass was like. It’s one of those deeply serious shows about a not particularly serious subject: vampires. You would think that most of the points about vampirism in fiction have been made, and this is probably true, but I liked the clash of vampirism against religion, something which I haven’t seen in a while regarding the topic. Most of the time vampire movies and shows avoid talking about religion except in a joking manner.

The show is a slow burn, but once it gets going it’s quite harrowing to watch. The vampires are pretty brutal creatures, which is jarring after you’ve gotten to know them as people first. The situation is complicated by the fact that most of the town is Christian but not all of it. The sheriff and his son are Muslim, and I just thought this was an interesting contrast between different religious ideologies, as the two of them get firmly caught up in the madness that ocurrs.

In MM, a pastor goes into the desert and encounters a vampire, which he then transports to a small town in America, claiming the creature to be an Angel that can offer everlasting life if one accepts communion from it. Needless to say, the whole thing is a disaster, culminating in the destruction of the entire town. The situation was not helped by the greed, hypocrisy, and gatekeeping of some of the town’s residents, although I’m still uncertain if the town’s pastor was simply mistaken in believing what he encountered was an Angel, or if that was something he wanted to believe, for his own selfish ends. I was satisfied with the end of the series, which leaves itself open for more sequels.

Ashin of the North

This is another show that’s harrowing to watch. It’s a prequel to the Korean zombie series, Kingdom. I reviewed this in an earlier post and talked about how I didn’t completely understand the political situation that created the zombie apocalypse in the first series, and how a thoughtful Korean lady on Tumblr came to my rescue to explain it to me.

It all comes down to the disenchantment and revenge of one woman, Ashin, who introduces the catalyst for the zombie disease (a small purple flower) into the wider population of Korea during the Joseon era. I am here for how the stories about zombies and vampires are branching out from the usual tropes of the genre, as this is the only historical zombie television series I can think of, set in Korea.

I remember dithering for some time about whether or not I was going to watch it despite that I was excited about its existence. It’s a bit much to say I’m glad I watched it because it was depressing, and occasionally infuriating, and/or confusing, but it was worth watching.

The Mandolorian

Of all the shows I watched on Disney Plus, I can definitely say that The Mandolorian was the delight of all of them! Now season two aired in 2020, but I didn’t get around to really watching the last few episodes until January and February of 2021. The series was just so much fun, and fully immersed me in the Star Wars universe, with plenty of wild characters, action scenes, just enough depth of plot and character to make things intriguing. There’s not one bad episode in the two seasons really, although there are some slow ones.

Of course, the stand-out character was Baby Yoda (Grogu) who became a huge meme the year before, and a few of my favorite actors showed up too, like Carl Weathers, Mark Hamill, Rosario Dawson, and Ming-Na Wen, and hopefully I will get to see more of these characters in future Star Wars series.

What If…?

This one was mostly enjoyable. I liked many of the episodes. I especially enjoyed seeing Peggy as Captain Britain, along with Doctor Strange’s dark side. There is set to be a second season so I hope to see a continuation of Black Widow’s story, along with Captain Britain. And I hope to see more of evil Doctor Strange in the sequel relating this Summer.

I didn’t particularly care for the episode with the zombies, even though I thought I might, because, like the comic books the idea is based on, it was really depressing. I remember being initially excited about the idea of Marvel Zombies, but the stories turned out to be bleak and uninteresting, and I wasn’t in the mood to read them, just like I was not in the mood to watch the episode.

The most bittersweet episode, of course, was the one that starred Chadwick Boseman as his last role as Black Panther. What if Black Panther became Star Lord. I kind of dismissed the episode as being a bit of fluff, but it turned out to be okay and I didn’t really reckon with how much I’d be emotionally affected by Chadwick’s appearance.

This is one of the MCU series that got the ending right. It just felt good, and it was satisfying, and I hope to see more of Jeffrey Wright’s Watcher in the next season, because that was a great plot hanger and I just liked him. Overall, this series was fun though and I’m looking forward to a second season.

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