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The Best and Worst TV Shows of 2021

From December 14 and 21, 2021, Programming Insider‘s Douglas Pucci was a guest on Northern Iowa’s Y100.1 FM with their longtime personality Scott Nolte to discuss the best and worst TV offered in 2021.

First, we’ll focus on the top five worst shows of 2021 in our opinion.

Douglas’ #5 — Ordinary Joe (NBC)
Among the fall entries, this drama takes this spot. The plot revolves around a guy who makes a decision on his graduation day and that sparks three more storylines. Unfortunately, all of them were unappealing.

Douglas’ #4 — Kenan (NBC)
There was much promise for this comedy. But this clone of CBS’ “The Unicorn” was absent of any laughs, which was surprising considering I’m a fan of Kenan Thompson on “SNL”.

Douglas’ #3 — Tiger King 2 (Netflix)
This falls into the category of trying to milk a dead cow. That cow is “Tiger King”, the wildly popular guilty-pleasure Netflix documentary from 2020. The streamer tried to extend that craze in November 2021, despite the absence of its two main personalities Joe Exotic (who’s in prison) and Carole Baskin (who refused to appear in new episodes). But its return was a mere rehashing of things we’ve already seen. I don’t want to revisit anything from the spring of 2020, let alone “Tiger King”. No thank you.

Douglas’ #2 — Pretty Smart (Netflix)
The inverse of “The Big Bang Theory” where an intelligent person resides with regular folk: a professor’s assistant (Emily Osment) gets dumped by her boyfriend long-distance while visiting her sister and her sister’s friends in Los Angeles. Every attempt at humor ventures towards cringey as any stereotype you could imagine about Gen-Z’ers is presented. By far, the worst scripted series of the year.

And my number one worst show of 2021, I’m coming for the king of romance reality shows…

Douglas’ #1 — The Bachelor/The Bachelorette (ABC)
To start the year, “The Bachelor” made history with its first Black bachelor. But what turned out to be the season’s top headline: the woman he selected once attended a plantation wedding. Shortly thereafter, Chris Harrison lost his hosting gig after 19 years following his combative interview with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay on the newsmagazine “Extra.” But even if Harrison never had that incident and remained as host, the show still would have deserved worst billing. Within the recent decade, this franchise went globe-trotting with its contestants and delivered some whirlwind romances which made each season distinct. But since the pandemic, production’s limitations exposed what was lacking. It relied on the same gimmicks, same formats of dates, and usually lame and corny participants — most notably, former “Bachelor” contestant turned “Bachelorette” Katie and her beau, former multiple “Bachelorette” suitor Blake.

If there ever was a year to peg “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” as THE worst, 2021 was the year to do it.

Scott Nolte’s Worst of 2021
#10 — Call Me Kat (Fox)
#9 — Kenan (NBC)
#8 — Mr. Mayor (NBC)
#7 — Alter Ego (Fox)
#6 — Tiger King 2 (Netflix)
#5 — Clarice (CBS)
#4 — Turner & Hooch (Disney+)
#3 — The Masked Dancer (Fox)
#2 — The Celebrity Dating Game (ABC)
#1 — American Horror Stories (FX on Hulu)
Don’t waste your time! Even though they revisit the first season’s murder house, these episodes are a different experience from the “American Horror Story” franchise.

And now, Douglas’ best shows of 2021:

Honorable mentions (in no particular order): HBO Max series: “Hacks”, “Succession” and “The White Lotus”; “Sex Education” (Netflix), “Physical” (Apple TV+), “The Big Leap” (Fox), fall edition episodes of “Saturday Night Live” season 47 (NBC), “Survivor 41” (CBS), “Monday Night Football: ManningCast” (ESPN2)

Douglas’ #5 — The Conners (ABC)
Consider me a nostalgic. I grew up at a time when the network sitcom was king. I thoroughly enjoy “The Conners” as it stands now as it’s the best written scripted show on the broadcast networks right now. This current season is top notch thus far.

Douglas’ #4 — Mare of Easttown (HBO)
One of the year’s best limited series. Starring Kate Winslet as a former high school basketball phenom turned police detective who tries to solve the murder of a teen mom in a small Pennsylvania town. Terrific acting all around by Winslet, an already-legendary film actress, as well as from recent greats of the small screen: Jean Smart and the Emmy-winning Evan Peters. Its ending was surprising and confirming of an intense thriller.

Douglas’ #3 — Only Murders In The Building (Hulu)
I would not have expected the odd grouping of legendary comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short with pop music star/former kid actress Selena Gomez to generate magic. But it turned out to be the most suspenseful show of the year and the funniest show of the year. It well incorporated celebrity guest roles (e.g. Sting, Nathan Lane), and provided an engaging take on the true crime podcast craze as well as on the old-fashioned murder mystery.

Douglas’ #2 — The Circle (U.S. Netflix/UK Channel 4)
The reality show that well reflects our current times by borrowing the many aspects of social media and incorporating them in to a highly competitive format. The game involved a group of contestants, each member residing in their own respective apartment and can only communicate via their TV screens through an app called The Circle. Even moreso than the similar “Big Brother”, social game is at a premium. Every discussion, talking point and contest (proving non-physical challenges can be very engaging) tested the bonds among the players and attempted to alter their dynamic ever-so-slightly to shift the game’s balance of power. In 2021, there were two civilian U.S. seasons, a civilian UK season and British celebrity edition. All four of the cycles were a treat to watch.

#1 — The Hustler (ABC)
Quite fitting that my top four shows of the year involved solving mysteries and none of them were a generic crime drama.

Two decades ago, ABC introduced the reality show “The Mole” where a group of contestants must accomplish several tasks for a grand prize. But to win the money, one must best identify the saboteur playing amongst them. Another ABC show at the start of 2021 took that format, sprinkled some comedy (in the form of host Craig Ferguson) and turned us viewers into amateur detectives. It became the best new game show of recent time, and personally, it was a welcome communal experience as I was involved in several weekly text chains with fellow TV Tuesday partner Scott Nolte and my Uncle Anthony in Florida attempting to identify “the hustler.”

Scott Nolte’s Best of 2021
#10 — B Positive (CBS)
#9 — Coyote (Paramount+)
#8 — Sex Education (Netflix)
#7 — The Conners (ABC)
#6 — You (Netflix)
#5 — Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
#4 — Marvel Studios: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye (Disney+)
#3 — Yellowstone (Paramount Network)
#2 — Survivor 41 (CBS)
#1 — The Hustler (ABC)