2021 was a continuation of the trash fire of a year we had in 2020. The world seems to have begun healing, but the fluctuation of COVID-19 cases has created more uncertainty and forced mandates to return. We all continued the habits we built at the beginning of the pandemic, soothed by thousands of hours of binge-watching tv, being hypnotized by TikTok videos, and consuming any bit of media that allowed for an escape from the chaos surrounding us.
2020 made us all slow down, reset and pay attention to our surroundings in new ways and 2021 got us up and moving again, but still with that thirst for consuming media. I found myself paying much more attention to the stories I was experiencing on the screen. This new appreciation for media unlocked some incredible characters and plots that remind me why I love storytelling. It’s great to see that the new golden age of television is still thriving with diverse narratives and spotlighting queer voices and people of color.
Here are 11 shows that have stayed with me well beyond their ending and have made me hopeful for the stories that will be told in 2022.
Awkwafina is Nora from Queens (Comedy Central)
Comedian Awkwafina shines in Nora from Queens which follows Nora Lin and her cousin’s struggle with young adulthood in Flushing, New York. With a little help from her father and grandmother, Nora’s daily life is a series of adventures. Bowen Yang stars alongside Awkwafina in this series based on her life in Queens, New York. Season two has Nora returning to face her lackluster life and desire to reach her full potential.
Genera+ion (HBO Max)
Generation is an American dramedy series that features an ensemble cast, including Justice Smith, Uly Schlesinger, Haley Sanchez, Chloe East, Nathanya Alexander, Chase Sui Wonders, Nava Mau, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. The story centers on a group of high school students in Orange County, California who explore their sexuality in a modern world. This tests their deeply entrenched beliefs about life, love and the nature of family in their conservative community. The show is a raw and real look at what it is like to discover your first love, be excited by the discovery of your sexuality, and the desire to stand out amongst your peers–all with a modern day and Gen Z twist. Genera+ion was not picked up for a second season (major bummer!), but it is queer AF and so worth the binge.
Hacks (HBO Max)
Deborah Vance, a legendary Las Vegas stand-up comedy diva, needs to maintain relevance: the head of the casino where she performs wants to pare down her performance dates. Ava is a Gen Z comedy writer who is unable to find work due to being fired from her job over an insensitive tweet. The two reluctantly team up to freshen up Deborah’s material and learn to respect each other’s differences. Hacks stars Jean Smart as Deborah, Hannah Einbinder as Ava, and Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Deborah’s assistant, Marcus. The series focuses on the professional relationship between a young comedy writer and a legendary stand-up comedienne trying to find common ground amid both their failing careers. The show has been renewed for another season.
Love, Victor (Hulu)
A departure from the groundbreaking movie, “Love, Simon,” which was inspired by Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed young adult novel, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” about a closeted gay teenager who is forced to come out after being blackmailed. The series stars Michael Cimino as Victor, who, like Simon, is on his own journey of self-discovery. Facing challenges at home, navigating the ups and downs of a new high school and exploring his sexual orientation, Victor reaches out to Simon when things become too difficult. Season two explores life as Victor comes out to his family, friends and peers and Victor’s continued discovery of himself.
The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
An inside look at the modern workplace through the lens of the people who help America wake up, pulling back the curtain on early morning television and focusing on the corruption that festers under the surface of corporate networks. Jennifer Aniston at her best as she portrays America’s favorite morning show host whose life begins to fall apart when a sex scandal plagues the beloved show. The second season of the show scratches the surface of the COVID-19 pandemic and brings out more of the angst among the characters as they navigate race relations, sexism, and sexual misconduct.
An American cringe comedy series, created by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, and Sam Zvibleman that premiered on February 8, 2019 on Hulu. The series stars Erskine and Konkle, as Maya and Anna, teenagers who deal with the pains of adolescence from wanting to fit in, to having your first kiss, to dealing with friendship and family constructs. The characters provide a hilariously nostalgic look at what it meant to grow up in the early 2000s when your best day could take a turn for the worse. After a hiatus, season two of PEN15 returned for its final episodes and season in late 2021. This show is awkward, heartfelt, and highly bingeable.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the phenomenon that is, Pose. Created by Ryan Murphy, the series is an American drama about New York City’s Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ and non-binary drag ball culture scene in the 1980s. The show jumps to the early 1990s in the second season and then to the mid-to-late 1990s in the third season. Pose has made history as the show that has cast the most LGBTQ+, and primarily trans, actors to play its key and supporting roles. The featured characters are dancers and models, who compete for trophies and recognition in this underground culture and who support one another in a network of chosen families known as Houses. While the ball scene is the unifying factor for the characters, it is their fight for social justice, HIV awareness, and gender inequities that make the story truly empowering. The series ended with season three in 2021, but it remains a testament to diverse representation and a love letter to the queer community. And the series has an INCREDIBLE soundtrack!
Sort Of (HBO Max)
A Canadian series, released on CBC Television in 2021 and created by Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo. The show follows Sabi Mehboob, played by Baig, a non-binary millennial trying to balance their roles as a child of Pakistani immigrant parents, a bartender at an LGBTQ bookstore and café, and a caregiver to the young children of a professional couple whose world is suddenly turned upside down. The show focuses on Sabi’s life and those around them reminding viewers that we are all always in transition.
We’re Here (HBO Max)
Drag queens Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka, recruit and train small-town residents to participate in a one-night-only drag performance. More than a makeover show, We’re Here works with everyday people who seek confidence and acceptance from their loved ones and community. The second season truly pulls at the heartstrings and explores race, gender identity, and injustice across the nation.
The White Lotus (HBO Max)
An American satirical comedy-drama television series created, written, and directed by Mike White that premiered on HBO on July 11, 2021. The series was filmed in Hawaii in late 2020, and features an ensemble cast including Murray Bartlett, Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Lacy, Natasha Rothwell, and Steve Zahn. In the first season, the lives of the staff and guests at a tropical resort in Hawaii intersect at various tumultuous moments. It was the scene heard ‘round the world when HBO Max released the fourth episode in its miniseries The White Lotus. The scene includes Murray Bartlett and Lukas Gage going on a drug and alcohol bender and leads to Bartlett’s nose buried deep in Gage’s behind. The White Lotus has been picked up for a second season that will focus on a different group of travelers arriving at the White Lotus. Jennifer Coolidge is attached to return to the series.
An American adult animated series voiced by Sean Hayes, Matt Rogers, Wanda Sykes, Laurie Metcalf, Niecy Nash, Gabe Liedman, David Harbour, Gary Cole, Melissa Villaseñor, and more! This series is about Queer Force (Q-Force), a group of undervalued LGBTQ+ super spies, and is centered on a gay secret agent who is like James Bond, Steve Maryweather (AKA Agent Mary), as they try to prove themselves on personal and professional adventures. One day, Mary decides to prove himself to the American Intelligence Agency (AIA), solve a case, and get the approval of the agency, but they have to add a new member to their team, a straight man. The series is hilarious and deals with the struggle to find your place in the world, while giving you wild animated sex moments.