Our Drink in the Movies team have compiled a comprehensive year-end piece that provides a shared look at each of our top 5 Limited Series and Television Show selections of 2021. Our team compiled their lists based on titles that had a finale air between January 1st, 2021 and December 31st, 2021. You can see their selected titles below in the text list or by pressing the arrows on the Poster Carousel Images.
Alexander Reams: Pretend It’s a City (Netflix)
What would be the next logical move be for Martin Scorsese after making one of the greatest films on reflection, masculinity, and fatherhood? All while looking at one of the great mysteries in US history, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. For Martin Scorsese, the answer is a bit puzzling. In the past, the answer has been a smaller, quieter film. After completing The Irishman or to the initiated, I Heard You Paint Houses, Scorsese collaborated once again with author Fran Lebowitz. Each episode of the series is directed by Martin Scorsese and also co-stars him as the interviewer of Lebowitz, with guests recurring throughout the series, most notably Spike Lee. It takes a lot for this writer to get invested in documentaries and docuseries, and from the beginning, I was in. A new feeling for myself, but a welcome one. Lee’s rapport with Lebowitz is humorous, insightful, and offers an interesting conversation on sports. Throughout the series, Scorsese and Lebowitz analyze a specific portion of New York City’s ecosystem, through the eyes of Lebowitz. Which generally means a lot of complaining. Complaining that is warranted when you hear about her perspective, a perspective that left me wanting to start this lovely series over again just as the credits rolled on the final episode.
Anna Harrison: How to with John Wilson (Season 2, HBO Max)
Jeff Sparks: The Morning Show (Season 2, AppleTV+)
Maria Athayde: Reservation Dogs (Season 1, FX on Hulu)
Taylor Baker: Q: Into the Storm (HBO Max)
Alexander Reams: Mare of Easttown (HBO Max)
Jeff Sparks: The White Lotus (HBO Max)
Maria Athayde: Mare of Easttown (HBO Max)
Created by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, Mare of Easttown is anchored by a stellar cast led by Kate Winslet, as the titular Mare, as well as Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and Evan Peters in supporting roles made it a must-watch television drama. Mare of Easttown told the story of Mare Sheehan (Winslet) a detective from the Pennsylvanian town of Easttown who is haunted by an unsolved case of a young woman named Katie Bailey (Caitlin Houlahan) who has been missing for over a year. Under scrutiny from the other residents of Easttown for her inability to solve Katie’s case, Mare is now tasked to solve another case. The murder of Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). Erin’s murder is the main catalyst for the story. However, what made me really love this series was not the whodunit aspects. Instead, it was the relationships between the characters particularly the mother-daughter relationships between Helen Fahey (Jean Smart) as Mare’s mother and Siobhan Sheehan (Angourie Rice) as Mare’s daughter and Helen’s granddaughter. This intergenerational depiction of motherhood and mother’s guilt intertwine seamlessly in the narrative as Mare tries to solve her latest case. Other highpoints were Mare’s friendships with her best friend Lori Ross (Julianne Nicholson) and a young detective called Colin Zabel who is brought in to help Mare solve Erin’s case. Lori and Colin are Mare’s closest confidants in the series, and it is through these relationships that we start to understand what happened with Katie and Erin. As we come to expect from the majority of HBO shows this story feels very lived in and the characters feel real. If you haven’t seen it yet, Mare of Easttown is a must-watch for those that are equally interested in crime thrillers and family dramas.
Taylor Baker: Succession (Season 3, HBO Max)
Alexander Reams: Succession (Season 3, HBO Max)
Anna Harrison: What We Do in the Shadows (Season 3, FX on Hulu)
Jeff Sparks: Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu)
On August 18 Hulu released the miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers, which featured an all-star cast including Michael Shannon, Melissa Mccarthy, Samara Weaving, and the standout performances from Bobby Cannavale and Nicole Kidman. The show centers around Kidman’s character Masha, who runs a mysterious wellness resort called Tranquillum House that eight guests visit to be healed of their deepest problems. The show relies heavily on the intrigue of Kidman’s mysterious character, who always seems to be orchestrating something. In the early episodes, Kidman doesn’t always have room to work, but in the final few episodes she finds the space and heats up, giving one of the best performances of the year. Bobby Cannavale is also a highlight in the series, playing a former football star looking to heal the wounds of his past that were caused by a career-changing injury. Cannavale finds much room to work in his scenes along with Samara Weaving due to the narrative’s decision to look deeper into side characters that don’t usually get narrative time spent on them. This is aided by impressive cinematography that utilizes a rich color palette that makes shades of green and white pop in every scene. Hulu had a good outing with Nine Perfect Strangers, but most importantly had one of the most perfect casts of the year.
Maria Athayde: The White Lotus (HBO Max)
Taylor Baker: The North Water (AMC+)
Alexander Reams: Ted Lasso (Season 2, AppleTV+)
Anna Harrison: Arcane (Season 1, Netflix)
Arcane makes this list less because of its quality and more because of its existence at all.
Of course, Arcane is still very good. Adapted from the massively successful online multiplayer game League of Legends, but still completely accessible to those without any League knowledge (like myself), Arcane seamlessly blends 2D and 3D animation to bring its steampunk world to life, and the beautiful visuals alone almost make it worth the watch. Set largely in the city of Piltover, Arcane traces the lives of a host of different characters so complex and richly drawn that it’s impossible not to find yourself fascinated by them, and Piltover proves a lush setting full of political intrigue.
But Arcane makes this list not just for its storytelling triumphs, but for the potential it represents. Recent years have seen a slew of live-action fantasy adapted from beloved source material to varying degrees of success. Often, these shows (like Game of Thrones) will discard the stranger elements of their sources in order to be gritty and “realistic,” and presumably because the producers fear that too many strange goings-on on might alienate their audience. Arcane uses its animated medium to go places that live-action can (or will) not, as it has no concern with “realism” and can instead dive deep into its own bizarre, fascinating world with no production constraints except budget. It proves that animation is a viable, perhaps even the preferable, medium for fantasy and science-fiction adaptations—not just ones aimed at kids—as it allows creators the freedom to do whatever the hell they want to do, giving them room for experimentation and as many strange goings-on as needed. Hopefully, Arcane’s immense popularity will inspire more shows like it, and if anyone wants to make one, I’ve already got several suggestions lined up. (Seriously. I have so many ideas. Someone call me.)
Jeff Sparks: Ted Lasso (Season 2, AppleTV+)
Maria Athayde: The Sex Lives of College Girls (Season 1, HBO Max)
Taylor Baker: Hacks (Season 1, HBO Max)
Alexander Reams: Midnight Mass (Netflix)
Anna Harrison: Succession (Season 3, HBO Max)
Jeff Sparks: Maid (Netflix)
Maria Athayde: Starstruck (HBO Max)
Taylor Baker: The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime)
Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad paints a portrait of a minorly fantastical and harrowing voyage along the underground railroad from a slave plantation in Georgia toward the mythic north. Where all one’s troubles are supposed to be miraculously washed away. Jenkins in conjunction with numerous writers most notably Jihan Crowther adapted Colson Whitehead’s book into a riveting odyssey. With decidedly revolting, hopeful, difficult, tragic, and exhausting moments along the way. James Laxton, a frequent collaborator of Jenkins serves as cinematographer for each and every entry of the 10 episode 585 minute Limited Series. Bringing luxuriousness, terror, and care to a rich mixture of quality that never over indentures itself to the viewer or feels like a cheap decision to elicit a response from the audience. Through this restrained quality and with the help of other members of the craft team it coalesces into a Limited Series with constant cinematic grammar that while being labeled as a “Limited Series” puts it shoulder to shoulder with the best offerings of cinema in 2021. Relative newcomers Thuso Mdebu and Chase Dillon alongside the steadfast Joel Edgerton make the fabric of The Underground Railroad come to life, and their characters last in your mind long after your television’s LED panels fade. The Underground Railroad is one of the best pieces of storytelling to release in 2021.