A common refrain throughout 2020 was that the flood of new TV would eventually slow to a trickle, but while the pandemic-related shutdowns took a chunk out of programming lineups, there were still enough series premieres and returns to keep things looking relatively normal. The start of 2021 actually offered a better test for just how much TV schedules had been affected, as networks had to change their strategies for pilot season. TV did slow down, but in a different sense—streamers like HBO Max and even Netflix tweaked their distribution models, releasing episodes of Search Party and Hacks in batches, and splitting seasons of Lupin and The Circle. The weekly release schedule suddenly seemed to suit viewers more, as they took the time to pore over shows like WandaVision and Mare Of Easttown (though there were still plenty of people who banked episodes for their own marathons).
Appropriately, The A.V. Club’s 20 best shows of 2021 so far are a mix of instant and delayed gratification, shows built on heightened realities and historical deep dives alike, from IP-backed tentpoles to scrappy upstarts. Our unranked list is presented in roughly chronological order, taking you through the purportedly more fallow period at the start of the year, to the spring bounty that yielded a transcendent adaptation and the Jeanaissance. (For those about to argue about the absence of certain July premieres, we had to cut off the period of eligibility at the end of June, so we could offer you another list to argue over.)
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