The Daily Californian’s Arts Awards: Television of 2021

Still from Squid Game
Netflix/Courtesy

Best Drama

Still from Squid Game

Courtesy: Netflix

Winner: “Squid Game”

It would have been near-impossible for “Squid Game” to not win our award for best television drama. Masterfully combining mind-boggling violence, pertinent social discussion and a phenomenal cast of actors, the South Korean drama was bound to take the world by storm from the moment it was released. Quickly becoming Netflix’s most-watched series ever, the show has sprouted numerous TikTok trends, conversations surrounding capitalist class divides and a ubiquitous obsession with model-turned-actress HoYeon Jung.

Following the impoverished life of gambling addict Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-jae), viewers find the troubled father down on his luck and in a massive amount of debt to a group of bloodthirsty loan sharks. With nowhere to turn and his life on the line, Gi-Hun meets a mysterious man in a train station, offering the opportunity for him to win 45.6 billion Won (about $38 million).

Taking up the offer, Gi-Hun finds himself in a pastel landscape alongside 455 other players set to participate in a sequence of children’s games, with the “winners” taking home the grand prize. Quickly, however, the lighthearted concept takes an unexpected, hellish turn in the very first “game” (red light, green light), with the losers being shot and killed on the spot.

With nine entrancing episodes which juxtapose childlike innocence with savage bloodlust in the name of greed, the series proves to be much more than just nonsensical violence. Sparking mass discussion of capitalist critique, pointing to the disparities between the mega-rich and those stricken with poverty, “Squid Game” is not only entertaining but incredibly thought-provoking — a gem of a series and essential commentary in 2021.

Ian Fredrickson

Runner-up: “Succession”

After a two-year hiatus, the third season of HBO’s “Succession” wastes no time diving into the caustic petty squabbles and backstabbing Shakespearean power struggles that made its first two seasons so endlessly engrossing. The premiere picks up after the second season’s explosive cliffhanger which saw corporate scion Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) publicly blame his father Logan (Brian Cox) for the sexual assault cover-ups at Waystar Royco, a move portentous of great change.

However, “Succession” has remained surprisingly consistent. Season 3 is characterized by the renewed division between Kendall and Logan, and much like the first season, finds the Roy children once again chafing in various ways as they each struggle to wrest control and climb out of Logan’s shadow. 

Though this may sound like spinning wheels, the third season proves “Succession” is more than just simple rich-people problems. Somewhere between a soap and a sitcom, “Succession” uses its cyclical nature to craft a deeply engaging tale of corporate greed and impunity. As each episode delves deeper into the show’s core examination of the lust for domination, it becomes all the more disturbing – and pleasurable.

Neil Haeems

Best Comedy

Still from The White Lotus

Courtesy: HBO

Winner: “The White Lotus”

Pandemic life has made visible the contours of America’s stratified wealth more than ever before, especially in relation to geography. While millions of Americans were stuck at home, a select few were jetting off to tropical locations, first-class tickets in one hand, mai tai in the other. The characters on “The White Lotus” are not too far from those on their exodus from pandemic hotspots, a privilege afforded to them at the expense of others. “The White Lotus” is keenly aware of the mechanics of modern-day colonialism and seeks to unpack them with the meticulousness of Jennifer Coolidge rifling through her pink leather suitcases to unearth her mother’s ashes. 

Brimming with biting satire and memorable performances, the show’s messaging and character development is airtight — an impressive feat for any television show, let alone one with only six episodes. The exploits of each of the waspy hotel guests are rendered absurd; whether it’s Olivia’s (Sydney Sweeney) brand of irony-pilled socialism, or the kooky Tanya’s (Jennifer Coolidge) debilitating mommy issues.

Despite its satirical aspirations, “The White Lotus” takes care to never stymie emotional depth or character development. Interspliced between each quip and gag are moments that feel realistic — a characteristic of the show that allows it to both resonate and sound the alarm. 

— Emma Murphree

Runner-up: “Only Murders in the Building”

Hulu’s “Only Murders In the Building” enthralls audiences from the start, offering a satisfying mix of murder, mystery and comedy. United by an obsession for uncovering killers and a shared love of podcasts, three Upper West Side neighbors turned unlikely friends attempt to solve a murder that happens in their upscale apartment all while publicizing it to the outside world. 

With perfected comedic delivery and a unique narrative style that attributes sentiments of a podcast to the television series, “Only Murders in the Building” keeps viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end. Whether it’s Oliver Putnam’s (Martin Short) incessant need to dress like a billionaire who can only afford to eat dip or Mabel Mora’s (Selena Gomez) annoyances at having to deal with two grandpas who cannot text for the life of them, there is never a dull moment on one of the funniest, most exciting murder-mystery shows of the year. 

— Sejal Krishnan 

Best Limited Series 

Still from Maid

Courtesy: Netflix

Winner: “Maid”

Grueling, powerful and at times quite uncomfortable and hard to watch, “Maid” is one of the few shows of its time to have the gallantry to challenge some of the most harmful notions of domestic violence that plague modern consciousness. 

The show, which Netflix adapted from the memoir by Stephanie Land, is the absolute best at what it does, which is offering a voice to a character and experience that often goes dangerously unheard. The portrait painted in this 10-episode series is detailed, vibrant and relays the hardships of emotional abuse and poverty through the lens of motherhood, undoubtedly the most poignant narrative concoction to reach our screens this year.

It is no understatement to suggest that Margaret Qualley was born to play Alex, as she does so effortlessly in each episode, giving audiences the full spectrum of emotion necessary to bring the character to life. She perfectly complements the vision and memorandum of the series and never in a way that comes across cheap or preachy — pitfalls many of the show’s peers fall victim to. Instead, we are gifted the dynamic array of life and experience, which, both heartbreakingly and elegantly, becomes a humble teacher of the metamorphic process of becoming a survivor. 

— Ryan Garay

Runner-up: “Mare of Easttown”

It seems like every year, HBO trots out a dozen identical limited series, all centered around a tragic mystery and anchored by an Academy Award nominee dipping their toes in prestige television. Inevitably, though, one of these shows rises to the top and captures our attention. This year, it was “Mare of Easttown,” an unassuming but moving limited series following detective Mare Sheehan’s (Kate Winslet) investigation of a young girl’s murder.

“Mare” doesn’t turn the genre on its head; it’s content to walk the path of the myriad murder mysteries that came before it. It shines instead in its vibrant characters and scintillating performances: a career-best turn from Evan Peters and a breakthrough role for Julianne Nicholson help round out the ensemble led by Winslet’s hard-nosed Mare. It might not have revolutionized the television landscape, but it provided us with two months of intrigue. What more can you ask from a limited series?

— Matthew DuMont

Best Actor in a Drama Series

Still from a Jeremy Strong television show

Courtesy: HBO

Winner: Jeremy Strong, “Succession”

The war in HBO’s “Succession” still rages on, but at this point, it’s safe to say that the Emmys have already been won. The show made waves at the 2020 Awards with 18 nominations and seven wins, including Outstanding Lead Actor for Jeremy Strong as the spurned corporate heir Kendall Roy. Now, as “Succession” wraps up its third season with Strong again at its helm, there’s no doubt that the cast and crew have set themselves up for a very pleasant awards season. 

In many ways, Strong’s performance sets the tone of the entire series. When it comes to weighted topics such as sexual abuse, addiction and political radicalism, balance is of the utmost importance. Too despicable, and audiences will be turned off; too sympathetic, and the show loses any edge to its social critiques. In season 3, Strong once again proves his ability to masterfully balance the extreme highs and devastating lows of his character. With the furrow of his eyebrows, Kendall goes from one of the most detestable characters on television to an empty shell, evoking pity and disgust in equal measure. 

It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Kendall Roy — near impossible, even. Strong has taken a brilliantly written character and elevated it to legend, and long may he continue to reign. 

— Lauren Sheehan-Clark

Runner-up: Lee Jung-jae, “Squid Game”

With wide eyes and a heart of passion, South Korean actor Lee Jung-jae gives us the character of a lifetime in the central protagonist of “Squid Game,” Seong Gi-hun. As Seong juggles through the burdens of child custody, gambling addictions and impounding debt, Lee is able to emulate these real life hardships, serving as the audience’s perspective throughout most of the early stages of the show’s story. 

Entering the games pushes a fiery determination within Seong, one in which he works to unconditionally prove himself to those around him. Lee soars in to make this sentiment come alive in a genuine and raw way, rising to the occasion by playing the moments of victory as convincingly as he does his defeats with a great sense of sorrow. With this performance sculpting and setting the tone of “Squid Game,” Lee is able to trailblaze the success of the show in an honest and organic way, leaving viewers impressed and hungry for more.

— Ashley Tsai

Best Actress in a Drama Series

Photo of Squid Game still

Courtesy: Netflix

Winner: HoYeon Jung, “Squid Game”

“Squid Game” was the hit breakout show of 2021, and it’s clear that the show’s success is attributed to the standout performances of those who brought the story to life. Among these is a star turn from 27-year old HoYeon Jung, South Korean model and actress playing the role of contestant no. 67, Kang Sae-byeok. Jung’s filmography is a short list, with “Squid Game” being her first main role in a major television series. Her debut hasn’t gone unnoticed, as she’s delivered a performance that has kept her in conversations for weeks, even months after the show’s initial release.

Jung embodies the reservation and calmness of Kang’s unique personality. While the games get stressful and the situations grow dire, Jung is able to convey the calculated moves of Kang with sternness and precision. As her motivation to succeed within the games stems from reuniting her family, Kang’s heart is seen through this emotional perspective, unraveling in a pivotal moment during “Gganbu.” That’s why we root for her — her intentions are clear and her heart rests in the right place.

Kang’s growth throughout the games is exponential, and by the end of it all, we see how critical her role is in the show and how pivotal Jung’s performance is in illustrating the humanity of its characters. With a first performance so special and monumental, it may be the first of many impressive feats that Jung is able to achieve in the television world. Surely, “Squid Game” will not be the last time we’ll see her grace the screen.

— Ashley Tsai

Runner-up: Indya Moore, “Pose”

Just as underappreciated as the show itself and the rest of the cast of “Pose,” Indya Moore shines as Angel Vasquez-Evangelista in the FX series’s third and final season. Moore’s performance throughout the latest season is the obvious standout, displaying a full range of emotions throughout its eight episodes. Especially in the bittersweet series finale, Moore’s Angel has audiences lamenting why the show ended so soon as they light up the screen at every opportunity.

Not only a trailblazer for transgender actresses of color on television throughout their time on “Pose,” Moore’s contributions to “Pose” solidify them as one of the show’s biggest breakout stars. As the series makes its fond farewell, it’s clear that performances like theirs helped define the groundbreaking series, paving the way for more to come.

— Caitlin Keller

Best Actor in a Comedy Series 

Still from Ted Lasso

Courtesy: Universal Television

Winner: Jason Sudeikis, “Ted Lasso”

Puns and dad jokes are perhaps embedded within the DNA of “Ted Lasso”: a comedy series that follows the trials of an American football coach learning the ropes of coaching an English football team. Since its debut in 2020, the show has quickly become one of the most uplifting programs on television, all thanks to Jason Sudeikis’ performance as the effervescent Ted Lasso. 

The first season excelled in throwing its titular character into an unfamiliar environment, allowing audiences to examine how Lasso reacts when it seems as if the entire world is waiting to watch him fail. Yet, with unwavering enthusiasm, he perseveres and finds community with his players. From the series’s pilot episode, this incessant sense of warmth and positivity exudes through Sudeikis’ performance. Though Lasso certainly has his over-the-top moments, Sudeikis meticulously crafts a character that is, by no means, one-note. 

While Ted Lasso shines when he is delivering inspiring quips and cheesy jokes to AFC Richmond, the series is perhaps most compelling when there are cracks in Lasso’s go-getter attitude. This is most explicitly explored in the series’s latest season; viewers learn of Lasso’s past trauma and gain insight into the overtly positive character’s struggles with mental health. Sudeikis gives a phenomenal performance that highlights his range as a performer, making audiences go from laughing to crying in a matter of mere minutes. 

And it’s this quality of “Ted Lasso” that generates a devoted viewership. Sudeikis’ performance is so honest and heartwarming that viewers just can’t help but want to be a little bit more like Ted Lasso. 

— Sarah Runyan

Runner-up: Murray Bartlett, “The White Lotus”

Two characters serve as microcosms in one of the year’s most twisted, yet indefatigably funny series, “The White Lotus.” Among the tropical resort’s guests, Tanya is played by the fantastic Jennifer Coolidge, and on the staff, Armond (Murray Bartlett) has an obsequious nature that can’t thin a desperate aftertaste. To match the resort manager’s epic spiral of despair, Murray Bartlett turns in an embattled performance layered with a frustration that borders on grief.

In the first episode, Armond awaits the arriving guests (perhaps better categorized as monsters) with a smile plastered on his face. Audiences get the sense that he’s a deeply insecure man who derives personal and professional validation from the guests’ satisfaction. Bartlett’s intervening performance is an assemblage of comedy and desperation, without the easy retreat to bitterness.

— Dominic Marziali

Best Actress in a Comedy Series

Still from a Jennifer Coolidge television show

Courtesy: HBO

Winner: Jennifer Coolidge, “The White Lotus”

There are more than a few scenes from “The White Lotus” to laud Jennifer Coolidge for. The best arrives in the third episode, where, on a boat, Coolidge doubles down on the sensibility that vaulted her to stardom as a comic of both the mainstream and alt. 

That same scene gives Coolidge, who plays Tanya, the chance to introduce a protruding honesty into her performance. In “The White Lotus,” the giddiness that turned Coolidge into the go-to bimbo star (“American Pie,” “Best in Show,” “Legally Blonde”) finds a cozy partner in the actress’s turn to grief. As she coos about spreading her mother’s ashes overboard (hilariously, in front of two horrified honeymooners), her wispy breaths are still there. 

They’re met halfway by a range Coolidge hasn’t often had the opportunity to let loose. Her performance is like an arch held up by the pressure of her competing components. On the boat, she toasts the newly weds. Moments later, she’s deep into a wrenching speech about her mother. Coolidge lingers on the contradictions which “The White Lotus” relishes, figuring out how she can subvert her character’s surface level appearance at every turn. 

Here, that means schmaltz meets grief, and MILF meets mommy issues. It becomes painfully obvious that Tanya knows herself, yet in the end, she loses her self-awareness. It’s a loss Tanya doesn’t even know of, but one that Coolidge renders heartbreakingly in one of the best performances of the year.

— Dominic Marziali

Runner-up: Selena Gomez, “Only Murders in the Building”

Selena Gomez has proven her captivating acting abilities in her most recent role as Mabel Mora in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” which has received critical acclaim for its comical approach to the true crime genre. Starring alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short, Gomez plays a cheeky, stylish 29-year-old tenant who investigates a murder in her building alongside podcast enthusiasts Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin).

Gomez expertly embodies Mabel’s cool, sarcastic humor, while also softening her character’s blasé demeanor for the show’s more emotional moments. Following her successful Disney Channel and pop singer careers, Gomez has since flexed her acting skills by starring in a variety of films. This role makes for her first true dive into comedy since her Alex Russo years, making her a somewhat unusual matchup for the show. However, Gomez undeniably draws intrigue with her ability to embody the essence of not only her character, but also the millennial generation.

— Nathalie Grogan

Best Actor in a Limited Series

Still from an Oscar Isaac television show

Courtesy: HBO

Winner: Oscar Isaac, “Scenes From a Marriage”

In the era of endless remakes and seemingly infinite recyclable media content, some stories remain evergreen. Director Hagai Levi’s adaptation of Swedish filmmaking legend Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage” seems to mine more great television out of the ever-watchable premise of good things falling apart. His secret weapon? Year-best performances from stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

Like Bergman’s original, “Scenes From a Marriage” hinges upon the performances of its two leads, essentially the only real characters throughout the series. Isaac, in particular, is a revelation; playing the academic and stay-at-home father Jonathan Levy, he is positioned on the receiving end of his marriage’s collapse with Chastain’s Mira Phillips. Isaac’s Levy is a man moving past his strict religious upbringing; the actor brings a sensitivity to the role which slowly begins to unravel as the characters encounter one another through their failing relationship’s various stages.

Together with Chastain, Isaac develops unprecedented intimacy in front of the camera, turning in a performance that lends ”Scenes From a Marriage” an air of brutal honesty that makes the couple’s difficult-learned truths about making love last well worth a watch.

In a year where he appeared in major roles in big-budget films such as “Dune” and critical darlings such as “The Card Counter,” Isaac’s turn as Levy will be most remembered as one of the strongest performances of 2021, a definitive example of emotional acting that pulls the very most out of a well-worn premise to become something that feels almost entirely new.

— Vincent Tran

Runner-up: Aaron Pierre, “The Underground Railroad” 

Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad” often allows itself the time to sit in the glow of some of the most visually arresting tableaux of the year. It’s accompanied by a consuming soundscape that makes the moments of portraiture — “moments where … standing in the spaces our ancestors stood, we had the feeling of seeing them, truly seeing them,” as Jenkins has said — all the more intimate. 

Aaron Pierre, who plays Caesar, delivers a performance that’s wrapped in the show’s golden-hour naturalism and the danger that underlies it at every turn. Pierre conveys great depth with what he’s given, and the quality of his turn as Caesar needs little explanation to be understood. He’s both monumental, a statuesque testament to Jenkins’s mission, and understated. It’s a calibrated mix of serene, organic observation and quiet tragedy. 

— Dominic Marziali

Best Actress in a Limited Series

Still from a Jessica Chastain television show

Courtesy: HBO

Winner: Jessica Chastain, “Scenes From a Marriage”

One of the most sultry, poignant and emotionally raw performances of 2021 came from none other than Jessica Chastain. Her leading role in the American adaptation of Swedish mini-series “Scenes from a Marriage” asked quite a lot of the actress, whose thoughtful and exhaustive offering was relied heavily upon by the series as a whole. 

For Chastain, who has churned out many powerful performances in recent years, this will certainly go down as one of her all-time best. She’s able to find such an intricate balance here, teetering between overly expressive melodrama and minimalistic apathy to find the perfect note in every scene. There’s an utter vastness to her emotional range on screen, and she leaves audiences with a stunningly acute understanding of her character, unachievable by any less astute performance.

These factors all culminate in what feels like a documentary-style look at a real person, not Chastain at all, going through an intensely jagged and taxing divorce process. We struggle with her, and we feel what she feels. These emotional states evoked by Chastain are as potent an actor could desire from their observers, signaling possibly the most prominent talent in the industry today. Her work here is a masterclass in capturing the realism and humanity in some of the most complex and enigmatic personas.

— Ryan Garay

Runner-up: Kate Winslet, “Mare of Easttown”

Without Kate Winslet’s performance as small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan, “Mare of Easttown” would’ve faded into obscurity. Winslet elevates Mare above the cliche grizzled detective, adding levels of nuance and humanity that allow her relationship to the community to raise the stakes of her investigation. 

Where a multitude of male-centered detective stories paint love as a petty distraction from the real work, “Mare” puts the two forces in tension in a distinctive, emotionally impactful way. Mare is passionate about her work, but she also has a family and friends whom she loves deeply. Her love motivates her, but it also turns against her when the clues point close to home. We see all of Mare’s conflict and pain etched across Winslet’s face, offset by the soft counterpoint in moments where she bickers with her mother or comforts her daughter. Winslet’s performance has set the bar for future gumshoes who will follow in Mare’s footsteps.

— Matthew DuMont

Best Variety Talk Show

Still from John Oliver

Courtesy: HBO

Winner: “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”

Ever since “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” made its debut in 2014, John Oliver has cemented himself as a well-known late night personality, even winning the Emmy for the best variety talk series at the 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards. With every episode that airs, Oliver’s comedic chops are never in doubt, as he masterfully weaves his segments together with ease and keeps his show’s episodes relevant, immensely informative and gut-bustingly funny. 

Covering pertinent issues like union busting, Tucker Carlson, police raids and no-knock warrants as some of its topics this season, “Last Week Tonight” strikes an important balance between keeping its content centered upon politically relevant subjects and humor, doing so in a way that is never stale. This late-night staple truly sets itself apart from the pack with its blithe takes on unique topics, a rare late-night structure distanced from the promotion of celebrity guests and consistent Adam Driver references; being just a bit more unhinged than other late night hosts is what Oliver does best. Even in its eighth season, “Last Week Tonight” has proven its incessant power, making it the clear pick for Best Variety Talk Show.

— Caitlin Keller

Runner-up: “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah”

Since Trevor Noah’s tenure at The Daily Show starting in 2015, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” has clearly remained one of the late night staples. Noah’s witty banter with guests, out-of-the-box satirical segments, entertaining correspondent bits and personable demeanor all help make the cohesive show a fan favorite.

Aptly and informally renamed “The Daily Social Distancing Show” during the pandemic, Noah continued to host the show from his New York apartment for most of its recent season. Only returning to a live studio audience in November, “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” went above and beyond to make the most of its online format, keeping its blend of news and comedic entertainment fresh as always.

— Caitlin Keller

Best Variety Sketch Series

Courtesy: Netflix

Winner: “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” 

Within its first minute, the new season of “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” provides us with the line that sets the tone for the rest of its 30-odd sketches. Having just been informed that his office will be pushing back lunch to make time for an impromptu meeting, Tim Robinson’s character Pat, holding back tears, whispers, “I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that.”

Pat’s simple protest sticks in the back of your mind throughout the season’s six episodes as viewers watch all manner of characters — belligerent, clueless, even heartbreaking — victimize others and themselves while they navigate the show’s bizarre social physics, which somehow manage to feel precisely of the moment without overtly taking aim at any of our modern trends or tendencies. 

It’s this quality that made the first season an instant classic: It was the perfect antidote to the too-prevalent strain of comedy that is obsessed with satirizing current events, yet never seems to be able to articulate why these events are funny or even notable. The second season preserves the first’s refreshing genius and builds on it, injecting the show’s inimitable spirit into new situations and characters throughout 90 minutes of the funniest, most inspired sketch comedy television currently on air.

— Matthew DuMont

Runner-up: “Saturday Night Live”

Since 1975, “Saturday Night Live” has entertained viewers with feel-good, boundary-pushing late night comedy. Though ratings have declined in recent years, season 47 sees the cast rebounding with full force. This season has seen several surprises — Kim Kardashian hosted, Taylor Swift gave a 10 minute performance of “All Too Well” and Dionne Warwick took the stage with Ego Nwodim. 

While there have been notable absences from the standout cast member Kate McKinnon, fan favorites such as Cecily Strong and Bowen Yang continue to shine with their creative character work. As per usual, the mock news segment “Weekend Update” sees co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che bouncing off each other with their signature dry humor. With a host of strong performances, this latest iteration of SNL continues more and more to prove that perhaps it’s not just a show for Pete Davidson fans.

— Lauren Harvey

Best Animated Series

photo from Big Mouth

Courtesy: Netflix

Winner: “Big Mouth”

Since its premiere in 2017, adult animated sitcom “Big Mouth” has reached its fifth season, in which it continues to teach viewers about the possibilities of sexuality, the importance of communication and that sometimes, humor is the best way forward. 

Created for Netflix by Andrew Goldberg, Nick Kroll, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, “Big Mouth” is unlike anything else on screen right now, distinguished by its fresh approach to the highly popularized coming-of-age genre. The series follows a group of preteen friends as they navigate new sensations, desires, growth and realizations. Although the show has been criticized for being too sexually explicit, its honest approach to sex and relationships is never pornographic or exploitatively suggestive. Rather, it displays how people, particularly preteens, struggle with issues of self-acceptance, communication, curiosity and change. Essentially, it’s the sex ed class you never had — but wish you did.

Now in its fifth season, “Big Mouth” returns with familiar themes and personifications — such as its highly entertaining Hormone Monsters (voiced by Kroll himself and ​​Maya Rudolph)— but also introduces many new creatures who embody universal experiences. For example, the series offers the concept of a “love bug,” which enters the lives of Nick and Jess, contrasted by the “hate worm,” and is at times accompanied by “the green-eyed monster,” who is less of a monster and more of an overall transformation. As always, “Big Mouth” uses visual allegories, comedy and clever dialogue to map its characters’ arches. However, season five includes newly soft moments of compassion and self-reflection which separate it from its successors and illustrate its evolution alongside its characters.

— Nathalie Grogan

Runner-up: “Tuca & Bertie”

After season one of “Tuca & Bertie” was dropped by Netflix, it seemed like the end of the line for the titular feathered friends. But the story was soon picked up for a second season by Adult Swim, a perfect new home for an absurd animated series about anthropomorphic birds. In the second season, Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish continue to be a comedy powerhouse, and the dynamic of opposite personalities makes for a witty and heartwarming tale.

Though creator Lisa Hanawalt also produced “Bojack Horseman,” the animation in “Tuca & Bertie” is far more avant-garde and experimental, stretching the limits of the medium to colorful new heights. Despite the wackiness of a world where moss is a greedy landlord and vibrators sprout fins and swim in the ocean, the show also deals with issues such as co-dependency, panic attacks and manipulative relationships. At its core, though, “Tuca & Bertie” is a story about the beauty of female friendship — and a remarkable one at that.

— Asha Pruitt

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