The Best Documentary Series of 2021

Best Documentary Series of 2021
Courtesy of Apple TV+/HBO/Amazon Studios

Docuseries mushroomed in 2021 as streamers ramped up their offerings, and viewers were the beneficiaries. The wide array of series ran the gamut from investigative to ruminative, tackling sports, crime and music. At their best, they stood tall against the year’s top TV series overall — Variety TV critic Caroline Framke chose Netflix’s “High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America” as her favorite — while Peter Jackson’s “The Beatles: Get Back” was hailed as one of the best rock documentaries ever.

Documentaries frequently blur categories between film and TV so it should come as no surprise that there’s overlap within the non-fiction realm as well. Variety staffers debated whether “Get Back,” originally planned as a feature-length movie, should be considered a doc feature or doc series, but the fact remains it was streamed over three nights as a miniseries. Similarly, “Listening to Kenny G” debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, and has received kudos recognition as a feature, but aired on HBO as part of its new “Music Box” series from Bill Simmons. That series also included a provocative doc about Alanis Morissette that the singer disavowed before its debut at the same fest, plus a look at the disastrous Woodstock music festival in 1999.

Other selections on this list, arranged alphabetically by title, examine a seminal year in rock history, a pyramid scheme and a cursed fashion brand. They represent a fraction of the docuseries offerings available for small-screen viewing.