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The Best New TV Series of 2021 — What to Watch for Years to Come, from ‘Acapulco’ to ‘Yellowjackets’

What 2021 TV will stand the test of time?

Best New TV Series of 2021 Only Murders in the Building Swagger Reservation Dogs

“Only Murders in the Building,” “Swagger,” and “Reservation Dogs”

Craig Blankenhorn & Hulu / Apple TV+ / Shane Brown & FX

One of the best aspects of television is its ability to tell long-lasting stories. Whether they’re episodic or serialized, TV series invite us to visit again and again, for years on end, as characters grow, stories develop, and ideas proliferate. If you’re lucky, a cherished TV show can last through the awkwardness of adolescence, the glory days of high school, or even mature along with you into middle-age. Not everything has to last that long and all stories must end, but some of the most beloved programs can lull us into believing they never will.

With that unique attribute in mind, IndieWire has assembled the best new series on TV in 2021 — not limited series, not one-and-done specials, and not “six-hour movies” (looking at you, Marvel). These are the new shows that you can look forward to watching season after season, for years to come (and if their respective networks have yet to renew them, now’s the time to demand they get cracking). We’ve got nothing against short-term treats like “Mare of Easttown” and “Maid,” but there’s something special about TV shows that earn a long-term commitment.

Below, arranged in alphabetical order, you’ll find 15 ongoing series we believe have earned that kind of dedication. We’ve also included where to watch each program, in the hope of easing your way into these excellent shows as quickly and painlessly as possible. So go ahead. Try them out. You’ll never know you’ve found a new partner until you give them a shot.

Kristen Lopez and Libby Hill contributed to this article.

“Acapulco”

“Acapulco” is the kind of show that, up until a few years ago, would have been a network single-cam slam dunk. A coming-of-age story told in flashbacks, it follows young upstart coastal resort employee Maximo (Enrique Arrizon) as he navigates a world of hopeless crushes, rival coworkers, and a bevy of guests who each want something different out of the place where he works. The show slides onto its sturdy workplace comedy foundation surprisingly quick, helped by a winking ‘80s ambiance that has the perfect blend of corniness and awe. Nearly every inch of “Acapulco” is brimming with charm, helped along by Eugenio Derbez (playing an older, megawealthy Maximo) as the eager narrator. It’s an ideal combo of jokes and heart that any network or streaming platform would be lucky to have in its rotation. — Steve Greene

“Acapulco” is available to watch on Apple TV+. The series has not yet been renewed for Season 2.

MASTERPIECE“All Creatures Great and Small”Episode FiveSunday, February 7, 2021; 9-10pm ET on PBSJames volunteers to be the official vet at the Darrowby Show. His ordeals include an ethical plight involving Helen’s bull.Shown: Nicholas Ralph as James HerriotFor editorial use only.©Playground Television UK Ltd & all3media international

“All Creatures Great and Small”

Matt Squire / Playground Television UK Ltd

“All Creatures Great and Small”

It’s hard to describe this James Herriot adaptation in ways that don’t sound like a backhanded compliment. It’s wholesome, pastoral, and there’s a genuine heartwarming sweetness to it. Yet all of those attributes are part of the winning formula that make this an easy, fulfilling watch. As a young Herriot (played by Nicholas Ralph in this adaptation of the beloved writer’s pseudo-memoirs) begins his work as a local veterinarian in a northern England town, each passing episode brings more animal dilemmas and matters of the heart. Never straying into the saccharine, it’s a version of this story that completely understands all the personal connections that drive it forward. There are brothers (Samuel West and Callum Woodhouse) with a somewhat-strained relationship, the housekeeper (Anna Madeley) who can anticipate everyone’s next dozen moves, and an array of Darrowby residents who each get to tell their story in turn. Equally efficient and enchanting, “All Creatures Great and Small” knows how to keep giving you more to love. — SG

“All Creatures Great and Small” is available to watch on PBS. The series has been renewed for Season 2, which premieres Sunday, January 9, 2022.

“Blindspotting”

On paper, turning the 2018 feature “Blindspotting” into a television show sounds weird. The movie itself was so perfect, a mix of wry social commentary, hilarious dialogue, and deep conversation with an open-and-shut plotline. And yet the finished series, debuting on Starz, illustrates how movies can transition to television, tell a fresh story, and stay true to their source material. Following Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones), the girlfriend of Miles (Rafael Casal) from the feature, the series plops us right into the center of “the ordeal” — or Miles being sent off to jail and Ashley taking her son to live with Miles’ mom and sister (Helen Hunt and Jaylen Barron, respectively). The series never lets up with its witty writing and fantastic blend of comedic stylings, all while discussing topics like mass incarceration, the loopholes of the parole system, and whether “Paddington” is a movie about the Black experience. Cephas Jones is a fantastic leading lady, exhibiting grace under pressure but also being so damn cool (even when ripping up a hotel room). She’s a strong woman alongside a cast of amazingly strong women, including Hunt, Barron, and Candace Nicholas-Lippman. The series stands on its own, just as the film did, but I’m so very thankful for taking part in their shared universe. — Kristen Lopez

“Blindspotting” is available to watch on Starz. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

“The Great North”

Featuring the most inventive character names this side of a Wes Anderson film — Beef Tobin! Honeybee Shaw! Alyson Lefebvrere! Sandy Flarts! — Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin’s family sitcom certainly marches to the beat of its own drum — and proves all the better for it. Following the extended Tobin family in their hometown of Lone Moose, Alaska, the animated gem (already in the middle of Season 2) titles each episode as an “adventure” and the absorbing, uplifting, and totally singular stories do not disappoint. Each high-spirited half-hour is off-balanced enough to keep you on your toes (“Titanic”-themed weddings! lumber zombies! dental emergency musicals!) and sweet enough to warm your heart on the coldest winter night. With 20 episodes already available, now is the time to visit the Tobins (and Thomas Wintersbone, and Tusk Johnson, and Mayor Peppers). — Ben Travers

“The Great North” is available to watch on Fox and stream on Hulu. The series has been renewed for Season 3.

Hacks

Roughly a million years ago or, for accuracy’s sake, six months ago, HBO Max debuted “Hacks,” a series centered on fading Las Vegas stand-up Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), a millennial comedy writer she’s cajoled into hiring to tweak her act. The first season, created by Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, and Paul W. Downs, might seem straightforward in concept, but in reality, it’s dynamite. While “Hacks” could just rest on its premise — after all, older person vs. younger person is a trope for a reason — the series pushed beyond that, focusing on why those disconnects exist and the failures of each generation to communicate with those unlike them. Beyond that, “Hacks” digs into the harrowing experience that is being a woman both in comedy and in the world at large, finding commonalities stronger than any generation gap could be. Buoyed by a monumental performance from Smart, the series struck a near impossible tone, combining a clear-eyed view of the entertainment industry’s artifice with genuine insight into the persistent ghost of loneliness, all while remaining funny as hell. — Libby Hill

“Hacks” is available to watch on HBO Max. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

Invincible Amazon Series JK Simmons Sandra Oh

“Invincible”

Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

“Invincible”

Runtimes can have an odd effect on viewers, especially when it comes to sampling a new series. Half-hours can feel accessible in their trial-sized packages, while hourlong endeavors may need to build up a bit more anticipation to get people hooked. Comedies typically fall in the former camp while dramas skew longer, but of late, the half-hour format has been catching on across the board. So leave it to a true innovator like “Invincible” to buck the trend and — as an animated superhero series — still earn your 60 minutes every episode. Created by Robert Kirkman (and based on the comic he started with Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley), “Invincible” has a cheeky sense of humor, a darker tone than its sunny color scheme implies, and a very well-executed twist in its initial few hours. It’s also got a top-tier voice cast, including Steven Yeun (in a role far removed from his plucky boyfriend Speckle on “Tuca and Bertie”), Sandra Oh, and J.K. Simmons, as well as a propulsive story stacked with bloody action scenes that are sure to keep you glued to the screen. “Invincible” may not be a series for everyone (and it can skew a bit too close to Amazon Prime Video’s live-action superhero hit, “The Boys”), but it’s built to subvert expectations — and exceed your standards. — BT

“Invincible” is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. The series has been renewed for Seasons 2 and 3.

“Kevin Can F*** Himself”

A pointed hybrid of broad sitcoms and crime dramas, Valerie Armstrong’s potent concoction is one of the few high-concept series that pulls off both parts. Allison (played by Annie Murphy) lives half of her life under the gleaming lights and canned laughter of a multi-cam comedy; when her husband, Kevin (Eric Petersen), and his buds are around, they’ve’ got a quippy comeback for every one of Allison’s earnest requests. But when she’s alone, the lights dim to a dulled gray, the chuckles dissipate to a pained moan, and it’s all Allison can do not to run, cry, or crack. “Kevin Can F*** Himself” excels at calling out the toxic masculinity that became commonplace on TV, because a) the sitcom itself is sneaky good (Petersen is such a manic blend of sincerity and malice, you may even catch yourself snorting at his demeaning jokes), and b) Allison’s actual “reality” is as haunting as it is engaging. Her burgeoning friendship with next-door neighbor Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) makes for an honest emotional hook, as Allison pivots to vengeance against a husband she’s tolerated for far too long. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but the one-of-a-kind story has grabbed our attention. — BT

“Kevin Can F*** Himself” is available to watch on AMC and stream on AMC+. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

Only Murders in the Building

Comfort TV has been on the rise (can’t imagine why), and few new shows proved as instantly cozy as John Hoffman’s “Only Murders in the Building.” Starring a veteran pair of entertainers in Martin Short and Steve Martin (the latter of whom also co-created the series) alongside a multi-hyphenate talent in Selena Gomez, Hulu’s crime comedy also leans on outstanding craftsmanship as further incentive to sit and stay a while. From the intimate setting of an Upper West Side apartment complex to each character’s custom-made condo decor and the eye-popping costumes (both bold for the sheer style of it and molded to individual personalities), each episode is inviting, enjoyable, and sporting just enough of an edge to keep you from drifting off in satisfied slumber. Come for the light, loving parody of true crime podcasting, stay for more reasons than I can summarize here. — BT

“Only Murders in the Building” is available to watch on Hulu. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

RESERVATION DOGS “California Dreamin'” Episode 6 (Airs, Monday, Sepyember 13) Pictured: (l-r) Devery Jacobs as Elora Danan, Dalton Cramer as Daniel, Paulina Alexis as Willie Jack, D'Pharoah Woon-A-Tai as Bear, Lane Factor as Cheese. CR: Shane Brown/FX

“Reservation Dogs”

Shane Brown / FX

“Reservation Dogs”

The wonderful thing about narrative storytelling is that there very few stories to tell and an infinite number of ways to tell them. Such is the case with “Reservation Dogs,” a series centered around a group of four teenagers trying their damndest to better their prospects and escape their small town on a reservation in Oklahoma. Created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, the series could be described as a coming-of-age story, but the reality is that TV has, sadly, never before seen a show quite like “Reservation Dogs.” With Indigenous people making up nearly all of the cast and crew for the series, the comedy thrums with a different energy, a window into a world that most of America tried to board up centuries ago. Anchored by a star-making performance from Devery Jacobs, “Reservation Dogs” explores issues that have long plagued Indigenous communities, while also depicting the hilarious peculiarities of any small-town show. The series is a testament to the inherent power of letting people tell their own stories, their own way, and the beauty that follows. — LH

“Reservation Dogs” is available to watch on FX and stream via FX on Hulu. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

“Starstruck”

It would have been incredibly easy for Rose Matafeo to completely own “Starstruck” all by herself. A co-writer and star of the series, she’s amazing at setting the tone as Jessie, who stumbles into a romance with a Hollywood idol in between her odd jobs around London. Yet, between her would-be storybook boyfriend Tom (Nikesh Patel), her occasional tough-love roommate (Emma Sidi), and even Tom’s agent (Minnie Driver), “Starstruck” carves out some genuinely hilarious moments for each of the people who make their way (unsuspecting or otherwise) into Jessie’s orbit. Filled with unexpected laughs (who else can pull off a “Son of Saul” reference in 2021??) and moments of unfettered bliss (the opening to Episode 2 is still one of the best things to come out of TV this year), “Starstruck” knows exactly what it’s doing. Turns out, the best way to spruce up a rom-com is to find plenty more reasons to care about the “com” besides the “rom.” — SG

“Starstruck” is available to watch on HBO Max. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

“Swagger”

There are plenty of sports dramas content with tossing in a few buzzer-beaters, some shouting matches with coaches, and calling it a day. While there’s still plenty of on-court intensity in Reggie Rock Bythewood’s Apple TV+ series, “Swagger” is a lot more perceptive of what goes into making those moments matter. Fittingly, it runs an on-screen triangle offense of sorts, led by DMV prep legend-in-the-making Jace Carson (Isaiah Hill), who’s battling the pressures of growing up with the added weight of future-superstar expectations. There’s his coach, Ike (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who once had a promising trajectory of his own when he was a high-school player. And, of course, there’s Jace’s mom, Jenna (Shinelle Azoroh), who’s raising two kids while trying to run a business of her own that can help fuel those D-I (or even NBA) dreams. Hill is a commanding court presence, with fastbreak skills and sharpshooting range alike. Jackson Jr. and Azoroh, as the main adults in Jace’s life, know how to bring a lifetime’s worth of hopes, highs, and disappointments to each of their interactions. Combine all that with a story that’s not afraid to speak to the present, and “Swagger” finds ways to show how, for many, basketball at this level is far more than a game. — SG

“Swagger” is available to watch on Apple TV+. The series has not yet been renewed for Season 2.

“Waffles + Mochi”

Crowned as the best kids show in a generation by this very publication, “Waffles + Mochi” hinges on its titular hosts’ — Waffles, a blue lizard-like creature I’m told is half-yeti, half-waffle, and Mochi, a strawberry-flavored mochi (duh) — passion for eating and thirst for knowledge. Raised in the Land of Frozen Food, Waffles and Mochi kick off their colorful kids’ series by discovering the benefits of consuming fresh ingredients, from the many new flavors, smells, and health boosts to the variety of cooking tactics used to best cultivate such benefits. None other than First Lady Michelle Obama — er, “Mrs. O,” a supermarket owner — help them pick out fresh fruits and veggies, before they fly off around the globe to meet with various chefs and celebrities to better understand the food’s origins, cultural significance, and more. Beautiful to behold and easy to admire, “Waffles + Mochi” is an irresistible introduction to the culinary arts (and a darn fun time for children who love to laugh). — BT

“Waffles + Mochi” is available to watch on Netflix. The series has not yet been renewed for Season 2, but “Waffles + Mochi: Holiday Feast” premiered November 23.

WE ARE LADY PARTS -- "Potential Future Spouse", Episode 102 -- Pictured: Anjana Vasan as Amina -- (Photo by: Saima Khalid/Peacock)

“We Are Lady Parts”

Saima Khalid/Peacock

“We Are Lady Parts”

Whenever writers tend to talk about layers within TV shows, they’re either a) trying to decode a labyrinthine, lengthy drama built on twists and allegory, or b) they just sound like jackasses. I’ll risk the latter to honor the efficiency within “We Are Lady Parts,” Nida Manzoor’s sitcom about an all-female punk rock band that moves swiftly and surely to set its stakes, introduce its cast, and get to the good stuff — the jokes, the friendships, the songs — all while letting its empowering central arc build in the background. Amina (Anjana Vasan) is immediately pulled in a zillion different directions: She and her parents want her to find a husband, which introduces the pressures of dating. But she’s also got her music to tend to, at first by training local kids in the art of guitar and then when she’s recruited into Lady Parts, a three-piece band looking to add a fourth (along with the manager, Momtaz, played by Lucie Shorthouse). The rebellious performers don’t gel with Amina’s more traditional friends, and suddenly she’s hiding secrets, discovering a new passion, and trying not to throw up every time she’s thrust on stage. Manzoor’s six-episode first season is an absolute joy to behold, and it’s only strengthened by the respect the writer-director pays to each character’s individual journey. “We Are Lady Parts” is an excellent comedy, a stirring ode to camaraderie, and a foot-stopping, head-banging rock show. That its all these things at once, and a human, modern, and far-too-rare story of Muslim women, and a sneaky nod to the power of music as a way to explore our developing identities, well, the layers speak for themselves. —BT

“We Are Lady Parts” is available to watch on Peacock. The series has been renewed for Season 2.

The White Lotus

A savvy show can create the feeling that at any moment, something remarkable could be happening right off-screen. That’s one of the things that “White Lotus” creator/writer/director Mike White pulls off with nearly every scene of this six-episode, self-contained saga at a tropical resort. There’s not enough room here to run down the list of memorable White Lotus guests and employees, each with their own ambitions and preoccupations. Even without the bookending question of who doesn’t make it out of the season alive, you get the feeling that each new table at dinner, each new room down the hall could have its own pathway into a fascinating corner of this hierarchical world in microcosm. It’s no wonder that HBO greenlit another season of this as an anthology. Surely, there are petty grievances and tested marriages and scheming teenagers and drifting souls and, maybe most notably, ignorant folks with money anywhere in a tourist spot where there’s a decent view of the ocean. — SG

“The White Lotus” is available to watch on HBO and stream on HBO Max. The anthology series has been renewed for Season 2.

“Yellowjackets”

How does one begin to describe the brutal insanity that is “Yellowjackets”? What could be summed up tritely as “‘Lord of the Flies’ with girls” ends up a blistering look at trauma and the darkness that it leads us down. Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, Tawny Cypress, and Juliette Lewis are all fantastic, but it’s the younger versions of each of their characters that are so compelling. From the minute their plane crashes in the middle of dense wilderness, all bets are off. The show isn’t afraid to be grim and grotesque, with a leg being cut off in its second episode (expertly directed by Karyn Kusama, by the way), and the plot takes its time developing — which is perfect, as you get to spend extra hours with these various women who are all dealing with their lives (and the fallout of their actions). It’s a wild, audacious ride that I haven’t had any desire to get off of so far. — KL

“Yellowjackets” is available to watch on Showtime. The series has not yet been renewed for Season 2.

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