The Best & Worst Returning Dramas in 2021


2021 was a great year for TV.

There was some great programming to get us through a difficult year.

But there were also some terrible returning dramas that squandered excellent opportunities to tell good storylines.

We spoke to the entire TV Fanatic staff to get insight into what worked and didn’t work for returning dramas in 2021.

Have a look below.

Succession – HBO – Best

King Lear meets Desperate Housewives may be a silly comparison, but it seems to fit.

The narrative, the acting, the nuance, the close-to-home-ness of the struggles of the rich (just kidding, but, damn if they don’t make it feel real) — all is insane, and all is superb.

Season 3 is just as outrageous as its prior seasons, and we can’t get enough. As is the case for every Succession season finale, the third one is enough to keep us up at night… again.

American Crime Story: Impeachment – FX – Best

Having Monica Lewinsky as a producer on the adaptation of her story must have helped keep this epic in line with the dramatic nature of the truth.

Surprisingly bipartisan, the show really portrayed the pain within each of the very real people (though we’re not quite sure why Hillary Clinton sounded like she was suddenly from the Bronx — we still love you and your performance aside from that, Ms. Falco).

Sarah Paulson so accurately portrayed Linda Tripp, just as she did as season 1’s Marcia Clark, that she sometimes even came across as empathetic. Just stellar work all around.

Big Sky – ABC – Worst

The debut season of Big Sky was fabulous and addictive. Season 2 contains some creepy quirky stuff, but the whole drug crimelord narrative got old quick.

If it gets renewed for a third season, here’s hoping it can regenerate some of that initial magic that is suddenly missing.

All Rise – CBS/OWN – Best

If Own hadn’t picked up Season 3, this would’ve been on saddest cancellations. Season 2 of All Rise hit on so many important issues, including Mark’s case against a Sherrif debuty, which affected both his and Luke’s personal lives.

We saw the romances of Mark and Amy and Luke and Emily change, and Emily fight for mental health rights. Lola was involved in a black rights case. Judge Benner found romance. It was a wonderful year.

The Good Fight – Paramount+ – Best

The Good Fight proves time and again that it won’t let up regardless of the cast shakeups and everything else. The season cleverly addressed the pandemic, George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests, the insurrection, and so much more with the same sharp humor and intrigue.

They didn’t hold back in their most political and socially conscious season yet.

The series often thrived under its Anti-Trumpian stance, but there was no shortage of drama or things to dissect without him in office, and guest stars like Mandy Patinkin and Carrie Preston, as well as new additions in the form of an unpredictable, questionable Carmen Moyo, made every single episode a must-see.

Queen Sugar – OWN – Best

Queen Sugar continues to be one of the most emotionally powerful, socially relevant series on TV.

The storylines manage to stun the audience while still being true to the characters, such as Charley and Davis’ unexpected reconciliation to Micah’s exploration of what real friendship and intimacy mean to him.

With Nova’s deep dive into police corruption and Ralph Angel’s struggle to keep his criminal past from becoming his future, there’s never a note of this show that feels inauthentic.

No other TV drama manages to show how black American history affects black families today and keeps us glued to our screens waiting for more.

Evil – Paramount+ – Best

Paramount+ has been scooping up CBS shows and giving them a second life. In almost all cases, it meant not only salvation but the freedom to push boundaries.

Evil was already examining the meaning of the word on the broadcast network, but it went beyond suggestive evil to characters unleashing parts of themselves they never deemed possible.

Katja Herbers exploded on-screen as Kristen. Mike Colter excelled as David battled his conscience and desires to take his vows of the priesthood, and Aasif Mandvi made Ben’s practicality as interesting as the nuggets of belief that were niggling at him.

And as Leland and Sheryl, Michael Emerson and Christine Lahti were having more fun than should be allowed. There wasn’t a single misstep all season.

Goliath – Amazon – Best

Billy Bob Thornton took Billy McBride out in style as the embattled lawyer followed Patti (Nina Arianda) to a large firm to fight an enormous case, only to find that everything he’d worked so hard to escape was waiting for him all over again.

With brilliant cinematic nods to different genres and classic films and another stellar guest-starring cast, the show went out with as much flavor and panache as it began.

The Resident – FOX – Best

You would think that with a few significant departures and new controversial additions that the series would hit a bit of a rut. However, it’s quite the contrary.

The fifth season of The Resident is gearing up to be one of the strongest of the series yet. The writing is much tighter, only getting better with time, and the show has found a lovely rhythm and balance with its cast and characters.

Matt Czuchry has given some of his best performances of the series to date during the fifth season, and with the exploration of new dynamics, and the series venturing down new paths with a time jump, it’s revitalized the series.

Elite – Netflix – Worst

The fourth season devoted way too much time to the newer characters despite our limited investment in any of them.

Worse yet, they completely obliterated some of the best things about the show like Guzman’s character development and his relationship with Nadia, just to generate some contrived drama and cater to yet another love triangle of which no one asked for.

And we’re begging them to give Ander and Omar a decent storyline.

Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.


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