2021 saw long-running shows come to an end, new series emerge, and movies with phenomenal star cast. But not all of them had a gripping storyline, or engaging premise – and yet, went on to become hugely popular.
However, just because something is popular, does not mean it’s worth spending time on (*cough, urban dictionary, cough*).
Here’s a look at some of the underrated shows from 2021 that should be on your binge-watch list, instead of the popular, but frankly, mediocre projects that released this year:
1. If you want to watch a show on how a woman, backed in a corner, fights her circumstances to build a better life, watch Maid on Netflix, instead of Maharani on SonyLiv
While Maharani boasted of a great performance by Huma Qureshi, its unstructured writing and over-plotting paled in comparison to the empathetic storytelling of Maid, backed by a truly brilliant performance by Margaret Qualley.
Also, while Maharani skirts around the issue of class bias, Maid deals with it head-on, but without the brashness that Indian web series have sadly, become extremely fond of.
Money Heist may have started off with a bang, but it’s come to a disappointing end that has actually opened our eyes to the fact that it was never that great, or for that matter even original, in the first place.
Tabbar, on the other hand, is a clutter-breaking thriller that manages to surprise and impress, despite belonging to Indian web series’ most abused genre – crime dramas.
3. If you want to see a show that exposes the class divide that exists in our society, and the effects of materialistic greed, in a shocking manner, forcing you to sit up and take notice, then watch The White Lotus on Disney+Hotstar, instead of Squid Game on Netflix.
There is no denying that Squid Game was highly engaging and tailor-made for binge-watching. But The White Lotus had a far more nuanced take, and despite the running track of black comedy and events that bordered on fantastical, it was more realistic and relatable than Squid Game.
4. If you want to see the searing, far-reaching effects of patriarchy and how women struggle to break free from internalized misogyny, Kevin Can F**k Himself on Amazon Prime Video is a better choice than Bombay Begums on Netflix.
Let me start by saying I actually liked Bombay Begums when it released and I don’t mind ‘massy’ masala entertainers. But while Begums‘ subject matter is on-point, it’s also highly predictable and lacks any semblance of subtlety.
Kevin, on the other hand, not only pushes the envelope when it comes to its storytelling format, but it also is incredibly layered – forcing you to confront your own internalized misogyny.
5. If you’re looking for a situational comedy that has the right dose of drama, makes you feel good, and improves upon its first season, then pick Season 2 of Gullak on SonyLiv, instead of Never Have I Ever Season 2 on Netflix.
Though NHIE tried and tried hard, it still reminded me of the many romantic comedies and sitcoms I grew up watching, and there was little, in terms of content, that seemed refreshing or surprising. It was comfortable, but certainly not novel.
Gullak, on the other hand, is an underrated gem in the space of Indian comedy that artfully combines nostalgia, humor, and drama, without turning vulgar or melodramatic. Especially season 2, which has a lot more emotional depth than the first season.
I’d rather take my comedy with a pinch of drama, the way Bam serves it in Dhindora, than struggle to find a single funny segment – which is what happened when I watched (with an increasing sense of disappointment) some of India’s most loved comics on the Comedy Premium League.
To be fair, Call My Agent: Bollywood is certainly not popular – though it did receive far more promotion and attention compared to Your Honor.
And that’s a travesty because Your Honor is a gripping thriller that actually makes use of a brilliant star cast, while also cleverly adapting the show for the Indian audience, without compromising on the source material.
8. If you’re looking for a good mystery then Only Murders in the Building on Disney+Hotstar will better serve your purpose than the Netflix anthology, Ray.
One may say I’m comparing apples to oranges here but if you look at Ray (an adaptation that, in my limited knowledge, did not do justice to the star cast or the source), the four stories fell into four different genres with the underlying theme of mystery. But the stories barely scraped the surface, with only Forget Me Not and Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa coming the closest to Satyajit Ray’s vision.
Only Murders in the Building, on the other hand, combined mystery and comedy (which is certainly not your usual combination) and served a unique story that changed the way we view crime fiction and investigative dramas, while at the same time, reminding us of why we fell in love with the genre in the first place.
Little Things, on the other hand, culminated beautifully, justifying both, Dhruv and Kavya’s growth as individuals, and the growth of their relationship. It also managed to stay true to the communities and regions showcased in the show – which becomes a talking point because of how often Bollywood misses the memo on it.
Like every year, 2021 was also a year of hits and misses. But perhaps, if we start giving more attention to the shows that deserve it, we’ll not be forced to deal with mediocrity!