There is a ridiculous number of TV shows and movies out there to get your binge on with. And with more and more releases foregoing theatres or dropping on streaming services at the same time these days, you can watch most of it from the comfort of your own home thanks to the best streaming services.
It’s all motivation to deck out your home theatres with snazzy new stuff, sure. But it can also be overwhelming to narrow down what to watch next (or decide which streaming service to invest in for the next few months). Need some help in that department? We’ve got you covered.
From addictive reality competitions to hot new dramas, comedies and the returning seasons of some of our faves, we’ve compiled this list of the best streaming releases in 2021. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include everything dropping before the end of the year, but if you’re planning to catch up on some buzz-worthy shows, this list totally has you covered. See something we’ve missed? Drop us a line in the comments below.
26. The Great British Bake-Off (S12)
You don’t need to be any kind of baker to appreciate the fine science behind this sweet, sweet baking series. Despite the show being in its 12th season, it was still one of the most anticipated culinary competitions to drop this year, as hopefuls rolled and floured their way through delicious-looking cakes, pastries, breads and other baked concoctions. It’s exactly the kind of thing that puts us in the mood for the holiday season, even if our preferred baking method of choice is dropping freezer dough onto cookie sheets.
Loaf is in the air…
— British Bake Off (@BritishBakeOff) September 2, 2021
25. You S3
Thanks to the pandemic there was a two-year wait between this show’s second and third seasons, and looking back, that gap definitely fueled overall anticipation. No matter how you feel about the stalker culture that Penn Badgley potentially glorifies in this show with his character, Joe, you have to admit it’s also a fascinating look into the mind of a deranged killer. Also, seeing him interact and eventually turn on his equally deranged wife, Love (Victoria Pedretti), was a guilty pleasure highlight in Season 3.
24. Coming 2 America
Was this follow-up to the 1988 Eddie Murphy film a critical success? Not really. But did it scratch an itch we didn’t even know we had? Oh, it sure did. Seeing the likes of Murphy, Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones reprise their roles was joyous, and the fact that actors like Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan and Wesley Snipes joined in on the fun only made it extra special. If you were a fan of the original it probably didn’t live up to expectations, but it also probably comforted you during a dumpster fire period. As far as we’re concerned, that alone earns it a spot on this list.
23. Kevin Can F*** Himself
Anyone who watched Annie Murphy in Schitt’s Creek was probably blown away by her performance (and Boston accent!) in this dark comedy, which definitely bordered on a drama. The show is one-part a critique on traditional sitcom set-ups and one part a story of a dissatisfied woman who wants more from life. And while the first season definitely had its ups and downs, the way it switches from a brightly-lit comedy to a darker first-person narrative is one of the most unique and exciting things we saw on TV this year.
22. The Other Two S2
This comedy might be one of the most underrated series on this list, but we promise it’s worth a watch. The series revolves around two millennials (Heléne York, Drew Tarver) whose 13-year-old brother (Cae Walker) becomes famous overnight after a viral video. The kid’s fame makes his older siblings wonder about their own place in life, but more than that it’s a hilarious take on current pop culture standards that has already scored a season-three renewal.
21. Black Widow
There have been few female-led MCU projects, so the fact that we finally got a Black Widow standalone was a big deal. Sure, the film dropped on Disney Plus and in theatres on the same, leading to a groundbreaking lawsuit from star Scarlett Johansson. But, it was also a fun way to experience the joy of a summer blockbuster from the comfort of our own, sanitized homes. Could there have been a little more plot and character development and slightly less action? Probably. But then again, action is kind of the point of a comic movie, is it not?
20. Kim’s Convenience S5
Fans weren’t ready to say “Ok, see you” to this Canadian comedy when it bowed its fifth and final season over the summer, but following a swift decision by show creators to wrap things up that’s what we all had to do. Later, star Simu Liu would speak out about the show’s abrupt ending and things that really went down behind the scenes, but in the end #KimBits everywhere celebrated the fact that this show existed to finally push comedy — and representation — forward.
19. The Chair
Sandra Oh and Jay Duplass co-star in this unexpectedly funny and charming story of a university chair and her bid to secure tenure for her young co-worker while navigating her complicated crush on a colleague. It’s an inside-baseball look at academia that we didn’t even know we needed, however in our minds the one major criticism would be that the six-episode season is just way too short.
This miniseries (based on the memoir by Stephanie Land) was an unexpected hit when it dropped later in the year, hitting Netflix’s Top 5 and staying there for weeks. The story of a woman (Margaet Qualley) who escapes an abusive relationship and begins working as a house cleaner resonated with a lot of viewers when it debuted. Since then, many critics have applauded it for its nuanced take on the tough subject matter, while many fans have been blown away by Qualley’s top-notch performance.
17. The White Lotus
This six-episode anthology dramedy gave us all travel envy when it debuted over the summer, even though it opened with a dark coffin bit. The ensemble cast (including Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake Lacy and Steve Zahn), breathed life into larger-than-life characters, as we all learned about the kinds of people who stay at the gorgeous White Lotus property. It was a fun (although sometimes weird) watch, one that definitely made us forget about life at home for a while.
It’s no surprise that the MCU has been expanding and experimenting given the overall franchise love, but this series stands out for one very big reason: Tom Hiddleston. Watching his character transform from a notorious villain into an antihero was fascinating, but the show also produced a well-rounded and watchable cast of supporting characters that we couldn’t wait to hop online and discuss every single week. (Here’s looking at you, Owen Wilson.)
Think back to earlier this year — January to be exact — and the only thing on anyone’s minds was what could possibly go down next on this groundbreaking MCU TV series. Not only was the pilot the most-watched series premiere on Disney Plus when it debuted (yes, even beating The Mandalorian), but it also garnered the kind of online chatter that we’re used to with shows like Game of Thrones. In other words, it was kind of a big deal.
14. Succession S3
Another show that was delayed because of the coronavirus, this family drama definitely benefitted from the two-year gap between seasons as more viewers caught on to its brilliance. For those who need a refresher, the show revolves around a wealthy (and essentially terrible) family that will do anything to gain power over each other, and we can’t stop watching. Season 3 has been another wild ride to be sure, so it’s no wonder that a fourth season was quickly ordered just days after the third season premiere.
13. Judas and the Black Messiah
Another film that debuted on HBO Max and in theatres simultaneously last February, this biographical drama about Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and the man who betrayed him, William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), was another must-see in 2021. Not only did it earn six Oscar nominations, but Kaluuya won the awards circuit when he brought home supporting actor trophies at the Globes, Oscars, Critics Choice Awards, BAFTAs and SAGs.
12. For All Mankind S2
If you haven’t yet caught onto this sci-fi drama from creator Ronald D. Moore, what are you waiting for? The show hasn’t been as talked about as some of Apple TV+’s other, shinier properties (ahem, Ted Lasso and The Morning Show), but critics have been all-in — especially in the second season. This story shows an alternative history that contemplates what might have happened if the global space race didn’t end, and has lots of memorable performances by the likes of Joel Kinnaman, Jodi Balfour and Michael Dorman.
No one expected this BBC and HBO Max comedy series to come in swinging the way it did, but the underdog show quickly became a critical favorite when it debuted last spring. The show revolves around a woman in her twenties who falls for a famous movie star (without realizing he’s a movie star) and the tumultuous but sweet relationship that follows. It’s unconventional as far as American comedies go (the story takes place in London), but that’s all part of the charm.
10. Ted Lasso S2
It took people a while to catch on to this Jason Sudeikis comedy when the first season dropped, but after it took home all the awards, people were good and ready for Season 2. Sure, the tone and overall vibe may not have been the exact same Ted Lasso goodness that people were expecting, but the show dug deeper and touched on some important mental health issues in its sophomore season that still had us believing.
9. Money Heist S5
This Spanish crime drama has had us captivated since its debut, and now with the last season finally here in 2021, it would be criminal not to include it on this list. Not only is the show one of the most-followed on Netflix and a regular trending topic on social media, but it’s been a global phenomenon that many feel is ending too soon … or, depending on your point-of-view on such matters, at just the right time.
8. The Underground Railroad
This miniseries from acclaimed director Barry Jenkins (based on the novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead) is required watching at this point. Unlike many traumatic takes on that period of history, this series uses magical realism to unfold the narrative, delivering a powerful and must-watch TV event that tackles a painful and hard-to-navigate subject.
7. Framing Britney Spears
The discourse has shifted from #FreeBritney to #FreedBritney, but Spears’ followers definitely have this documentary to thank for the widespread coverage that got the pop star to that point. The unflinching look at the events that led to Spears’ 2008 conservatorship and the clues about how she had been treated since then made (many, many) headlines, and even sparked a follow-up, Controlling Britney Spears.
6. Only Murders in the Building
On paper, it’s hard to see how a quirky series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez would pan out, but this show has done more than appease viewers during its initial season: we’d say it’s brought generations together through the power of laughter. Look, there’s no shortage of crime fiction right now, but when you can successfully put a comedic spin on it all? Well, that’s the kind of original TV we live for.
Jean Smart has been dominating screens for years now, but this is the role that finally had people everywhere standing up and taking notice. In Hacks, Smart plays an aging comedian who was once groundbreaking but is now complacent in her Vegas residency. Until a young writer (played by Hannah Einbinder) comes into her life to shake things up. The series is one of the rare ones to receive a 100% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it also brought home trophies during the last awards show season.
4. Mare of Easttown
No matter how you feel about those accents, you have to agree that this Kate Winslet star vehicle was essential viewing in 2021. The dark murder mystery, the complex characters and *that* twist in Episode 5 had everyone talking, and it was no wonder that the show went on to win large at the 2021 Emmy Awards.
No one expected Dune to hit the streaming service circuit at the same time as theatres — not with a $165 million production budget, at any rate. Yet when the first installment in the expected trilogy finally dropped this year, that’s just where the world was at. Sure, it wasn’t the way director Denis Villeneuve necessarily intended audiences to see the book’s adaptation, but between advanced home theatres and general hype, it was the movie many people needed to get through the last part of 2021.
2. Bo Burnham: Inside
Years from now this special, which was written, directed, filmed and edited by (you guessed it!) Bo Burnham, will undoubtedly serve as a snapshot of what life in quarantine was like. That’s because the project was filmed without a crew or audience from Bo’s guest house in Los Angeles during actual stay-at-home orders. However, between Bo’s songs and sketches, not to mention the sexting, FaceTiming and streaming, it’s an accurate and lauded offering, one that definitely deserves a top place on this list.
1. Squid Game
Whether you were able to sit through this murderous take on class, greed and the financial hardships that so many can, unfortunately, relate to aside, there’s no denying the show was a powerful entry in 2021. (Right in time for Halloween, too.) The South Korean drama — and its controversial ending — has been discussed ad nauseam online and parodied nonstop on TikTok, and it has since become the biggest show to ever debut on Netflix. If all that isn’t enough reason to launch the show to the top of this list, then we don’t know what is.