2021's small-screen hidden gems

Only Murders in the Building

We’ve put another tough and chaotic year behind us, and it seems particularly important now to find joy wherever and however we can.

If your self-care approach includes finding a funny, heartwarming, or appropriately dark TV show, you’re in the right place.

Here are some of the hidden gems you may have missed amid 2021’s well-rounded TV slate.

ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING

Longtime comedy collaborators Steve Martin and Martin Short team up with actress-pop star Selena Gomez in this delightfully macabre comedy about three true-crime obsessives who start a podcast to investigate a grisly murder in their storied New York apartment building. The show, written by Martin and John Hoffman, has more to offer than its intriguing whodunit, unpacking the closely held vulnerabilities of its protagonists: a washed-up actor (Martin), a disgraced Broadway director (Short), and their mysterious young neighbor (Gomez). Streams on Hulu

LAETITIA

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the director behind award-winning documentaries (Murder on a Sunday Morning, The Staircase), offers a fictionalized reaccounting of a true-crime story that gripped France a decade ago: the murder of 18-year-old Laetitia Perrais (played here by Marie Colomb). The critically acclaimed miniseries contextualizes the grim crime within larger tragedies, including misogynistic violence and repeated failures in the country’s child welfare system. HBO Max

STARSTRUCK

New Zealand-bred comedian Rose Matafeo created, co-wrote, and stars in this charming rom-com about a millennial woman who is shocked and amused to discover she had a one-night stand with a famous movie star (Nikesh Patel) — and might actually like him. HBO Max

HARLEM

Meagan Good — underrated among Hollywood’s many Me(a)g(h)ans, if you ask us — leads this drama about four friends navigating careers and relationships in a rapidly gentrifying Harlem. The series, from Girls Trip co-writer Tracy Oliver, may follow a formula with its successful, contemplative protagonist (Good’s character, Camille, is a professor of anthropology at Columbia University) and dynamic friend group, but it’s a tried-and-true one that is only getting more representative of what sex (and life) in the city looks like. Amazon Prime

INDEFENSIBLE

Comedian and Daily Show alum Jena Friedman highlights disparities and other pitfalls of our criminal justice system while examining murder cases in this thoughtful and incisive documentary series. Friedman told Vulture the show came together after she riffed on the true-crime genre in a pre-pandemic set on Conan, where she joked that “true crime is kind of feminist — it’s the only time the entertainment industry will take a chance on an unknown female lead.” Sundance TV and AMC +

2021's small-screen hidden gems

The Underground Railroad

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) examines the haunting legacy of American slavery through the vivid and surreal lens of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel. The Emmy-nominated series follows Cora (Thuso Mbedu) after her escape from a Georgia plantation. The violence of slavery, and the elusiveness of freedom, are depicted in brutal, uncompromising detail — but the show is as intentional about depicting the strength and resolve of Black people. Amazon Prime

THE SEX LIVES OF COLLEGE GIRLS

Mindy Kaling co-created this comforting and funny series about young women navigating the newfound freedom (and hot, chaotic messiness) of college. What the show lacks in novelty, it makes up for in insight. “The cheekily titled series works as well as it does because of its central observation: College, despite all its loudly proclaimed opportunities for self-cultivation, often just feels like high school, with higher stakes and far fewer safety nets,” Washington Post TV critic Inkoo Kang wrote in a favorable review in November. HBO Max

YELLOWJACKETS

This Showtime series knows how brutal it can be to be a teenage girl. Yellowjackets follows the survivors of a 1996 plane crash that killed several members of a high school soccer team. Starring Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, Ella Purnell, and Melanie Lynskey, the show is part coming-of-age drama and part survival thriller, which has worked well in cult favorites including Heathers and Jennifer’s Body (that film’s director, Karyn Kusama, helms the Yellowjackets pilot) and Mean Girls, if we’re being honest. Showtime

LOKI

Watch and re-watch WandaVision (it’s that good), but Marvel buffs shouldn’t sleep on this Tom Hiddleston-led series, which adds a little depth to the fan-favorite villain and offers a trove of clues about where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed next. Come for Loki’s dark humor and high jinks; stay for a scene-stealing performance by Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country). Disney Plus

2021's small-screen hidden gems

Loki

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