Best Returning Shows of 2021

Apple TV+ wins in quantity, but the HBO still retains the #1 spot.

BY ZACH DECEMBER 29, 2021

In addition to my annual Best New Shows list, I've also selected 10 shows in their 2nd season or later which stood out as high quality television.

Most notably, Apple TV+ is starting to earn a reputation for their original series getting better in their second seasons. This might be a coincidence, or it may have something do do with their massive pile of cash allowing them to greenlight new shows for multiple seasons at a time like Netflix used to do back in the day (House of Cards). Regardless of the reason, Apple put out 3 stellar sophomore seasons this year that are worth catching up on.

Netflix, HBO, and Hulu all earned 1 show each on this list, and the final show actually comes from Channel 4 in the UK.

PODCASTS

Best of the Decade Series

7. Sex Education (Season 3)

Netflix | Laurie Nunn

A teenage boy with a sex therapist mother teams up with a high school classmate to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school.

Genre: Comedy / Drama

First aired: 2019

Total episodes from start: 24

Length per episode: 45 min

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Renewed for a 4th season

6. Taskmaster (Seasons 11 & 12)

Channel 4 (UK) | Little Alex Horne

Five comedians are set tasks challenging their creativity and wit. The tasks are supervised by Alex Horne but the Taskmaster, Greg Davies, always has the final word.

Genre: Comedy, Game Show

First aired: 2015

Total episodes from start: 105

Length per episode: 45 min

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Renewed for at least 3 more seasons


Without a doubt the single most entertaining show to watch over the past two years of pandemic life has been the UK's Taskmaster. In the past year, I have watched two seasons of the UK version, two debut seasons of a New Zealand spin-off, and a New Year's special episode. It's just that good. And most of the 100+ episodes are available for free on Youtube.

5. Ted Lasso (Season 2)

Apple TV+ | Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly

American college football coach Ted Lasso heads to London to manage AFC Richmond, a struggling English Premier League soccer team.

Genre: Comedy / Drama

First aired: 2020 (#7 on my best new shows of 2020)

Total episodes from start: 22

Length per episode: 40 min

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Renewed for a 3rd season


Apple's early pandemic darling, Ted Lasso, returned for its sophomore season this year. For a show whose first season hype was the result of many viewers going in with low expectations, season 2 had a massive disadvantage of insanely high expectations. Nevertheless, the quality of the writing is still high enough for Lasso to interweave optimistic charm with more serious subject matter. And as a bonus, this season featured a stand-alone episode featuring Coach Beard which was reminiscent of Barry's second season.

4. Mythic Quest (Season 2)

Apple TV+ | Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, Rob McElhenney

The owner of a successful video game design company and his troubled staff struggle to keep their hit game 'Mythic Quest' on top.

Genre: Comedy

First aired: 2020 (#5 on my best new shows of 2020)

Total episodes from start: 20

Length per episode: 30 min

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Renewed for a 3rd and 4th season


Season 2 of Mythic Quest (now dropping the Raven's Banquet) has maintained everything great about the inaugural season and added even more. Like last season's "Dark Quiet Death" episode, this season features a mini-arc which goes back in time to tell the origin story of C.J. Longbottom. Another stand-out episode this season gives off vibes of Community's tradition of great bottle episodes.

3. For All Mankind (Season 2)

Apple TV+ | Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, Ben Nedivi

In an alternative version of 1969, the Soviet Union beats the United States to the Moon, and the space race continues on for decades with still grander challenges and goals.

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama, Alternate History

First aired: 2019

Total episodes from start: 20

Length per episode: 1 hour

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Renewed for a 3rd season


The winner for "most improved" this year goes to For All Mankind, whose first season was another forgotten show on the list of the Apple TV+ launch line-up. But the second season is getting so much buzz from critics that many (including me) are just catching up now. This season has such great storytelling, it's the rare sci-fi show which starts just enough parallel storylines that they all still come together in a satisfying finale. (Which makes sense given this show is steered Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica.)

2. The Great (Season 2)

Hulu | Tony McNamara

The Great is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longest-reigning female ruler in Russia's history. The series is fictionalized and portrays Catherine in her youth and marriage to Emperor Peter III, focusing on the plot to kill her depraved and dangerous husband.

Genre: Historical Farce, Dark Comedy

First aired: 2020 (#4 on my best new shows of 2020)

Total episodes from start: 20

Length per episode: 45 min

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Not officially renewed yet.


The Great was sooo very close to taking the #1 spot on this list. Nicholas Hoult (who you may know from the UK show, Skins) is so incredibly riveting to watch as Emperor Peter. Every horrible thing he says, he says with such charisma and charm that you can't not love him. (He's like the anti-Joffrey.) And Elle Fanning's facial expressions reacting to everything Hoult's character says are worthy of an Emmy by themselves. (Particularly in one scene in the season finale.)

1. Succession (Season 3)

HBO | Jesse Armstrong

The series centers on the Roy family, the dysfunctional owners of Waystar RoyCo, a global media and entertainment conglomerate, who are fighting for control of the company amid uncertainty about the health of the family's patriarch, Logan Roy

Genre: Drama

First aired: 2018 (#13 on my best new shows of 2018)

Total episodes from start: 29

Length per episode: 1 hour

Continuing, Cancelled, or Completed: Renewed for a 4th season


Succession is still the king. For any further thoughts, I refer you to the 9 podcast episodes I recorded this season.