13 of the Best TV Show Episodes of 2021, According to the Lifehacker Staff

13 of the Best TV Show Episodes of 2021, According to the Lifehacker Staff
Screenshot: HBO Max
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As I reflect back on 2021, I find my TV-watching to be found wanting. It’s not that I didn’t have options. Between my own accounts and those I share with my parents and brother, I have, at any given time, access to Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Stan, Binge and Paramount+. And I’m probably forgetting one. The problem isn’t a lack of shows to watch; it’s knowing where the hell to start.

I’m not saying I didn’t watch any TV. I started the year with Cobra Kai, worked my way through many episodes of The Great British Baking Show (every single one of which is excellent), looked forward to every new episode of LEGO Masters with my LEGO-obsessed son, caught up on Star Trek: Picard, and found time for many a period drama, which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit are my ultimate jam.

I could do better in 2022, though. I could be more intentional than simply texting my mum and saying, “OK, I’m done with Sanditon. Now what?” So I asked my colleagues: What did you watch this year? I wanted to know not just their favourite series but about their favourite episode within that series. Because I think when one episode of television stands out from all the other television consumed over the span of 365 days, it must be a show worth adding to one’s watch list.

Here’s a collection of the Lifehacker staff’s favourite TV shows they watched in 2021.

I Think You Should Leave: “They said that to me at a dinner” (Season 2, Episode 1)

I Think You Should Leave is so quotable, it threatens to become Monty Python’s Holy Grail for millennials. But it’s more than a collection of zany quotes — it’s a show about the horrors of being human, especially a male human, and manages to be relatable on an emotional level, even when the scenarios are utterly batshit. I’ll probably never pitch a show featuring “body after body busting out of shit wood and hitting pavement,” but I know what it’s like to have a dream killed by folks who think I’m just some dumb hick.

The whole season is great, but the first two episodes of this season are the best, and episode one is flawless, with the most memed phrases of the season, if not the entire show (“I don’t even wanna be around anymore,” and, “There’s too much fucking shit on me,” as uttered by Karl Havoc; though I find myself saying, “It’s an old circus term” the most). — Claire Lower, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Netflix

Mare of Easttown: “Sacrament” (Season 1, Episode 7)

What a TV show. Mare of Easttown really came out of nowhere for me, but became one of my favourite shows of 2021. I love a good crime drama, and Mare expertly mixes complex characters with a slow burn that builds to a truly satisfying conclusion. I love the show for its moments of laugh-out-loud humour and edge-of-your-seat anxiety (I will never stop thinking about this delivery from Jean Smart, even if it isn’t from episode 7). — Jake Peterson, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Binge

The Shrink Next Door: “The Verdict” (Episode 8)

I don’t usually watch TV shows where no one is murdered, but I got really into this quiet story of a toxic relationship between a psychiatrist and his patient. It’s rare to see a complex emotional relationship presented on screen, and both Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell are excellent. Watching a larger-than-life comedian like Ferrell turn everything inward and play a tragic introvert like Marty Markowitz is fascinating. — Stephen Johnson, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Apple TV

Arcane: “The Base Violence Necessary for Change” (Season 1, Episode 3)

I have strong feelings about Arcane, Netflix’s League of Legends-based animated drama that became an unexpected hit in November. The series is virtually perfect as far as I’m concerned, and my recommendation is to watch at least through episode 3, “The Base Violence Necessary for Change,” before deciding whether the show is right for you. That’s my favourite episode, not only for its stunning fights, but also because it reflects the trust that Arcane put in its audience. Episode 3 is when the major hook happens, a fracture point from which its characters won’t return, and it’s a hell of a turning point for what’s to come. And trust me: Everything that follows is amazing. — Jordan Calhoun, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Netflix

WandaVision: “Previously On” (Episode 8)

I have a wary relationship with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I like its movies and shows just fine individually, but I also feel overwhelmed at the pace of their release, not to mention their complex continuity, which often requires me to watch all the other things before I can tell if this thing is worthwhile. Which is why it’s so surprising that the eighth episode of a series — spun off largely from a movie I still haven’t seen (Avengers: Age of Ultron) — would turn out to be my favourite piece of storytelling in the whole dang franchise. In revealing the source (and depths) of pain within Wanda Maximoff’s past, the show made her present-day efforts to shield herself from the grief of her husband’s death hit like a psychic blast, thanks in no small part to an incredibly empathetic performance from Elizabeth Olsen. — Joel Cunningham, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Disney+

Arcane “The Boy Saviour” (Season 1, Episode 7)

Disclaimer: I do not (1) know, (2) like, or (3) care about any video games. Even if I wanted to get into gaming, I know enough not to start off with League of Legends. And yet, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the stunning animation in Arcane, which is set in the League universe and tells the origin story for many of its characters.

You don’t need to know anything about the video game to fall in love with the characters and stories. I chose the kick-off to Act Three, “The Boy Saviour,” due to the fight scene on the bridge (if you know, you know). I screamed out loud at the final shot of the season. This show was by far the most unexpected thing that I binged (twice!) this year. — Meredith Dietz, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Netflix

What We Do in the Shadows: “The Wellness Centre” (Season 3, Episode 8)

Though episode 10 contained my favourite Easter egg of the season (Matt Berry playing a bit of the Toast of London theme song on the piano), “The Wellness Centre” was my favourite. The entire season allowed Kayvan Novak to stretch out and bring depth and nuance to a troubled Nandor, and his issues come to a head. Brilliant physical comedy, outstanding choreography (both dancing and fighting), and truly poignant moments that examine loneliness and enui — they pack a lot into 25 minutes, yet it never feels rushed or forced. — Claire, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Binge

Squid Game: “Gganbu” (Season 1, Episode 6)

Most nights I nod off on my 3-year-old’s floor where I dutifully lie in the final coda of our simple, 27-step bedtime routine. I don’t have much time or bandwidth to watch TV, is what I’m saying. But I did watch Squid Game. And episode 6, “Gganbu” (loosely meaning “childhood friend”) was one of the most quietly harrowing things I’ve seen in a while. Watching the characters realise they’ll have to sacrifice their allies in a game of marbles in order to live — and the devastating, cold-hearted steeliness and unlikely affection they feel just before executing that betrayal — was a chilling look into human nature I won’t soon forget. — Sarah Showfety, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Netflix

Station Eleven: “Wheel of Fire” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Usually people turn to fantasy or something non-what’s going on in the real world, but not me. I like to immerse myself in a good ‘end times’ plot to escape the real end times. Station Eleven follows survivors of a devastating flu. They attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew while holding on to the best of what’s been lost. This pandemic lasted two years (sound familiar?).

The brilliant American post-apocalyptic science fiction miniseries created by Patrick Somerville is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel. It only just came out and the first episode implanted in my mind as the standout episode out of everything I watched this year.  — John Buckley, Business Insider

Where to watch: Stan

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “Vaccine” (Season 8, Episode 10)

I love myth busting-type shows — from Penn & Teller: Bullshit, to MythBusters, to Adam Ruins Everything — and the million-time Emmy award-winning comedy Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is easily the best. The series excels not so much by the information it offers, but from a self-aware pragmatism about how information is understood, and my favourite episode this year is a great example: Instead of bashing vaccine deniers and sceptics, the series acknowledges that “the vaccine hesitant generally don’t respond well to hearing from politicians, celebrities, or athletes telling them to get the vaccine.”

He explains why we shouldn’t dismiss or judge people’s scepticism if we want to change their behaviour, how his celebrity status is virtually meaningless, and that the people with the best chance of changing anyone’s mind are those of us who care about them. — Jordan

Where to watch: Binge

Hacks: “There Is No Line” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) takes on the stand-up comedy boys’ club in Hacks and it’s clear from the first episode of this brilliant series that she means business.

The first ep shows us the mentorship that forms between Vance (who is a legendary Vegas comedian) and her new writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), who is less ‘washed up’ and more ‘entitled pretty young thang’. The chemistry between the two is magnetic and I was hooked from episode one. – Ruby Innes, Kotaku

Where to watch: Stan

The White Lotus: “Arrivals” (Season 1, Episode 1)

The White Lotus show is nuts. There are complicated storylines, complex ideas, and arguments of culture, all surrounded by zany hijinks, missteps, and adventures by the hotel’s guests and staff. There’s a lot to say about this show, especially its controversial ending, but when I think about it, I mostly think of episode 1. It’s a great hook: it gets you with that killer theme song (no pun intended), an early mystery, and a host of intriguing characters. — Jake, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Binge

Euphoria: “Jules” (Special Episode Part 2)

It’s hard to believe that this episode was this year, but Jules’ special episode of Euphoria aired in January 2021, shortly after Rue’s special episode aired in December. Both were written in the same style, completely dialogue-based episodes between two people — Rue with her sponsor, and Jules with a new therapist — and both episodes are masterpieces. Jules explains how she feels that Rue is the only person who loves her for who she is, but also the difficulty of sharing the weight of Rue’s sobriety. The episode is heartbreaking as we get to know more about Jules than we had before, and it leaves you both desperate for the second season to begin and grateful that TV this good can exist. It’s simply one of the best episodes in one of the best dramas on television. — Jordan, Lifehacker

Where to watch: Binge

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