PEOPLE Picks the Top 10 TV Shows of 2021

There was so much to watch and we loved every minute of it: here are our top picks for 2021 

01 of 10

Mare of Easttown

Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown
Sarah Shatz/HBO

Kate Winslet makes for unforgettable television. She is, shall we say, a titanic presence. Mare is the second time the actress has won an Emmy for an HBO series — the first was for Mildred Pierce in 2011 — and both times she triumphed in low places, playing a working woman who's sorely tried by sordid circumstance yet refuses to throw in the towel. Here she was Mare Sheehan, a divorced police detective in a small blue-collar town in Pennsylvania. Mare, generally looking like something the cat dragged in, knows everyone in Easttown, and everyone there knows her. Then the murder of a teenage girl upends her assumptions about both neighbors and family. This is what you'd expect of any good small-town mystery, but the exceptionally satisfying Mare had a great supporting cast that immersed us — in a sense, submerged us — in the community, which was collectively as grim and furrow-browed as Mare herself. In the finale, Mare's friend Lori (the wonderful Julianne Nicholson, who also won an Emmy) showed us something worse: the keen anguish of a daily existence with no sense of escape or hope. The woman could barely breathe. Whereas Mare, who by this point had survived everything from being thrown off the case to nearly being riddled with bullets, got up and somehow went on living. (HBO)

02 of 10

The White Lotus

Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady in The White Lotus.
Jennifer Coolidge, Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady in The White Lotus. Mario Perez/HBO

Written and directed by Mike White (Enlightened), Lotus was an uncomfortably funny, occasionally appalling satire of privilege and presumption at a five-star Hawaiian hotel. The pampered guests, unpacking their personal emotional crises along with their resort wear, failed to notice the hardworking staff collapsing in misery. (HBO)

03 of 10

The Underground Railroad

Thuso Mbedu in The Underground Railroad
Thuso Mbedu in The Underground Railroad. Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios

A haunting, surreal epic about an enslaved Black woman (Thuso Mbedu) and her terrifying journey to freedom. (Amazon)

04 of 10



Margaret Qualley (right) gave a committedly unsentimental performance as a young mother, desperate for resources, trying to leave an abusive boyfriend. (Netflix)

05 of 10


Marvel Studios

In this daring series from Marvel, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) experienced reality as a series of period sitcoms, hollow laugh track included. (Disney+)

06 of 10

Muhammad Ali

Trevor Humphries/Getty.

A powerful eight-hour biography of the three-time heavyweight champion, who led with his fists but listened to his conscience. Codirected by Ken Burns. (PBS)

07 of 10


renee elise goldberry in girls five eva

A giddy little sitcom, coproduced by Tina Fey, about a pop girl group reunited after years apart. The musical numbers were pitch-perfect catchy-awful. (Peacock)

08 of 10

Only Murders in the Building

only murders in the building
Craig Blankehorn/Hulu

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin chased clues and stepped on one another's toes in a dryly funny crime series. (Hulu)

09 of 10


jean smart

After a long career as a scene-stealing supporting actress, Emmy winner Jean Smart got her moment in the spotlight as a tough, shrewd stand-up star. (HBO)

10 of 10

Squid Game

Squid Game
Noh Juhan/Netflix

This South Korean series about a murderous game using human pawns was a global phenomenon. Watch the wild first episode, and you'll see why. (Netflix)

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