The best shows of 2021’s first half are united by their willingness to take risks and to play with format. “Mare of Easttown” and “The Investigation,” both on HBO, used the police-procedural drama to illuminate questions of grief, culpability, and forgiveness. “Ziwe,” on Showtime, turned the traditional late-night show inside out in pursuit of depth, and of deep laughs. “Blindspotting,” on Starz, and “The Underground Railroad,” on Amazon Prime Video, toggled between recognizable and heightened reality to tell its story. “Framing Britney Spears,” on FX and Hulu, converted the institutional power of a newspaper into documentary gold. And “Top Chef,” on Bravo, nimbly remade itself, finding in its 18th season not just new ways to tell its story but some of its best competition ever.
It’s that ability to adjust, to find new possibilities within the familiar, that sets television apart. These 10 shows, selected by Variety chief TV critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke and presented in alphabetical order, represent the vanguard of a medium that’s at its best when finding new ways to tell stories.