2021 has been… interesting… to say the least, but we can all agree that it’s been a terrific year for streaming. Netflix gifted us with Squid Game, Sweet Tooth, new episodes of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, Bo Burnham: Inside, The Power of the Dog, and not one but two new seasons of Cobra Kai (Season 4 premieres December 31!). If you’re an Apple TV+ subscriber, you were able to enjoy another round of Ted Lasso, the coming-of-age dramedy CODA, and the second season of the wildly underrated series Mythic Quest. And last but certainly not least, HBO was responsible for Decider’s top four shows of 2021 (Succession, Arliss, White Lotus, and Hacks).
Wait, I’m being told that the Robert Wuhl-led comedy Arliss (aka Arli$$) actually concluded in 2002 and was thus ineligible for our best of 2021 TV list. Rude.
The aforementioned titles received heaps of well-deserved acclaim, but there are a number of TV shows and films that flew under the radar. Since the holiday season is the perfect time to tend to your ever-growing streaming queue, Team Decider cobbled together a list of our favorite hidden streaming gems. These shows and movies made our 2021 just a little bit better, and we hope they do the same for you. Happy holidays!
Language Lessons is one of my favorite films of 2021. Written by and starring Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass (and also directed by Morales), the movie centers on the unexpected friendship between a Spanish teacher and her student. Despite being shot during the pandemic, the spellbinding film exudes sparkling chemistry and an abundance of sincerity.
An emotionally-fulfilling masterpiece that’s filled with well-earned moments of humor, sorrow, and friendship, Language Lessons is a celebration of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Starz’s Stephen Amell-led series Heels is a captivating look at small town indie wrestling. Created by Michael Waldron with Mike O’Malley serving as showrunner, the criminally underappreciated Starz charmer centers on a family-owned indie wrestling promotion (the Duffy Wrestling League) in a close-knit Georgia community, and much like the WWE or AEW, the most compelling storylines are often the ones that develop outside of the squared circle.
Even if you don’t know your headlock from your sharpshooter you’ll be instantly hooked by the incisive writing and nuanced performances from the talented ensemble cast.
Bernadette Banner on YouTube
YouTube is full of magnetic personalities and stylish influencers, but for my money, one reigns supreme above them all. Bernadette Banner is a costume designer and history bounder obsessed with keeping the traditions of Victorian sewing alive in 2021. I first fell in love with Banner’s videos ranking (and roasting) the costume designs in popular period dramas. After that, I fell down the rabbit — er, Guinea Pig — hole obsessing over her corset explainers, fabric district tours, and dark academic aesthetic-embracing vlogs. Bernadette Banner might seem super niche, but she currently boasts 1.21 million subscribers. Her appeal is bizarrely universal in its cozy, enchanting, and nerdy way.
Bernadette Banner’s YouTube channel is my go-to place for that rare mix of escapism and sewing inspiration… and it might be yours, too! — Meghan O’Keefe
Though SYFY’s comic book adaptation Resident Alien may not have been totally under the radar for some viewers (it netted over a million viewers per episode over the course of season one, a sizeable hit for the network), it’s entirely possible this dark comedy passed you by when it premiered this past January. Starring Alan Tudyk as an alien tasked with destroying Earth who accidentally gets hired as a small, snowy town’s doctor, the consistently hilarious series explored what it means to be human through the eyes of a character that absolutely loathes human beings.
Boasting a season long mystery that actually ties up nicely, and an overarching mythology that’s just getting started (the show has already been picked up for Season 2), Resident Alien is the perfect 10 episode catch-up for your holiday break. — Alex Zalben
I haven’t done the requisite research, but I strongly believe that it’s scientifically impossible not to fall head over heels in love with Josh Ruben’s endlessly entertaining 2021 horror comedy Werewolves Within.
The critically-acclaimed whodunnit centers on the snowed-in residents of the small town of Beaverfield, a quirky hamlet that finds itself in turmoil as a proposed pipeline creates divisions within the community. After forest ranger Finn (Veep standout Sam Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Other Space scene-stealer Milana Vayntrub) arrive in town, the community is forced to band together upon discovering that a killer, or perhaps a mysterious creature, has begun terrorizing local residents.
Terrific writing and a slew of magnificent performances combine to make Werewolves Within one of the most enjoyable films of 2021.
‘Rockfield: The Studio on The Farm’
Rockfield: The Studio on The Farm was one of my favorite music documentaries of the year (which is really saying something this year). If you haven’t heard of it, this film is tucked away on the excellent Coda Collection, a Prime Video add-on that is well worth it. Chris Martin, Liam Gallagher, and other influential musicians share their experiences at this unique property, including the legendary songs that were recorded there, a touching family story, and all the silly rock n’ roll hijinks you could ask for.
Impress the biggest music fan in your life by recommending this doc and thank me later. — Lea Palmieri
If you’re talking about hidden streaming gems, you can’t not talk about Apple TV+’s Dickinson, which — despite being in the middle of its final, critically acclaimed season — is nearly impossible to find on the Apple TV homepage. While we can’t speak to why Apple has decided to downplay one of its best series, it’s well worth taking the extra step to search for Alena Smith’s surprisingly historically accurate history of the life of American poet Emily Dickinson (played by Hailee Steinfeld). And don’t worry, it’s not some stuffy costume drama: this is a half-hour comedy first, drama second. It’s also surreal, hilarious, anachronistic, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen on TV.
Catch up on the first two and a half seasons now, before the series ends for good on Christmas Eve. — Alex Zalben
‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’ Season 2
Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is such a unique gem of a series. Created by and starring Josh Thomas, the offbeat comedy follows Nicholas (Thomas) and his two half-sisters (Kayla Cromer and Maeve Press) who are forced into becoming a family after their father’s untimely death. A genuine sitcom that’s bursting with heart and originality, the series was unfortunately canceled after two seasons, but you can stream all 20 episodes of this lovely show on Hulu.
CNN’s ‘The Story of Late Night’
CNN continues to produce the most riveting talking head documentaries on television. This year we were gifted with the absorbing six-part series The Story of Late Night. The immensely entertaining docuseries explores the most memorable moments from more than 60-years of late-night comedy. From Steve Allen and Jack Paar to the battle between David Letterman and Jay Leno (and Conan and Leno), The Story of Late Night is a fascinating master class on the history of late-night comedy.
It’s one thing to make childhood disappointment funny. It’s quite another to make that same heartache feel all at once silly, profound, and yet oddly beautiful. That’s what Alyson Levy and Alissa Nutting’s Adult Swim comedy consistently does. It takes the grossest and most fear-inspiring parts of life, from death to disease, and makes them pretty in its own morose way. After the chronically irresponsible Trophy Fantasy (Maria Bamford) comes back to life as a bug-ridden zombie, her sweet daughter Annie (Jo Firestone) sees it as her chance to reconnect with the mom that abandoned her. What follows is a show that’s as hilariously crass as it is surprisingly kind as it dissects the bleakest parts of human nature. — Kayla Cobb
‘Joe Pera Talks With You’ Season 3
If you’re looking to unwind after a hectic year, we highly suggest the cozy-hug comedy Joe Pera Talks with You. Adult Swim’s feel-good series returned for a third season of wholesome, hilarious comedy and if you have yet to experience the show’s comedically-hypnotic charms, well friend, you’re in for a treat.
The series follows a fictionalized version of Pera, a soft-spoken middle school choir teacher living in Michigan, as he converses with viewers on a variety of humdrum topics like how to pack a lunch, dancing, sleeping, fire, and visiting the grocery store. A unique blend of kindness, sincerity, and unexpected humor and heart, Season 3 begins with Joe helping his friend Gene pick out a retirement chair, which kicks off Pera’s season-long search for the perfect place to sit.
‘Birds of Paradise’
If you took Black Swan and made it less disturbing and less heterosexual, then you’d have Birds of Paradise, a criminally underrated drama from Sarah Adina Smith on Amazon Prime. Kristine Froseth and Diana Silvers star as rival ballerinas at an elite school, both competing for one slot to join the Opéra national de Paris. After a rocky start, the girls become fast friends—and then something more. This beautiful, heartbreaking love story is the perfect watch for anyone obsessed with fanfiction tropes. (There was only one bed!) — Anna Menta
Peacock Sitcoms (And ‘Dr. Death’)
Don’t you dare sleep on Peacock. NBC’s streaming service may not be as ubiquitous as Netflix or Hulu, but it’s produced some of the funniest sitcoms of 2021.
Do you miss Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock? Then you’ll love Rutherford Falls and Girls5eva! If you’re in the mood for something edgier, Mike O’Brien’s A.P. Bio is similar in tone to Dan Harmon’s iconic sitcom Community, and Tracey Wigfield’s sensational Saved by the Bell revival continues to deliver some of the best joke writing on television. And while Peacock’s bread and butter is comedy, the Joshua Jackson-led crime drama Dr. Death was one of the most riveting shows of 2021.
‘Staged’ Season 2
Making films and TV shows during the pandemic was a unique challenge for filmmakers, but none have pulled it off so successfully as Simon Evans with his BBC comedy, Staged, now streaming on Hulu. The premise finds Evans playing an incompetent version of himself: a director desperate to carry rehearsing a play over Zoom, while managing the egos of his arrogant stars, Michael Sheen and David Tennant, also playing themselves.
The majority is filmed over Zoom, but Staged nailed the flow — none of that awkward, out-of-rhythm-ness you get from Zoom scenes in other COVID shows and movies. That’s thanks to Evans’s dialogue, editing, and, most importantly, the natural chemistry between his leads. Staged is a special treat for Good Omens fans, and Season 2 came with a meta-twist so delicious, it would have broken the internet — if there had been any justice in this world. — Anna Menta
It would make sense that Sigil Avin’s Apple TV+ drama would be divisive. Not since Adaptation has a thriller felt so self-serious about its meta nature nor as indulgent in its conversations about art. But time and time again, Losing Alice does the near impossible, making its most pretentious impulses feel earned.
At its core, this gorgeously directed and powerfully acted drama centers around a woman (Ayelet Zurer) who fears she’s at the end of her creative life meeting a like-minded soul (Lihi Kornowski) at the beginning of hers. What unfolds is a brilliant meditation on morality and the often unexplored cost of true art. Zurer certainly deserves some awards for this one. — Kayla Cobb
https://decider.com/2021/12/02/top-hidden-streaming-gems-of-2021/ The Top Hidden Streaming Gems of 2021