Glenn Garvin’s Top 10 Television Shows for 2021

From the beginning of television’s birth, many have predicted that the end of the movie business would be inevitable. After seeing the TV giant in 1937 for the first time, David O. Selznick from Hollywood, was gloomy and said: “I don’t believe television can be stopped. Selznick tried his best and refused to sell his films on TV.Gone with the WindThe film, which was made just two years before Selznick’s vision of the approaching apocalypse didn’t premiere on TV until 1976). Most other studios also followed their lead. It wasn’t until 1961 when NBC paid a large sum for 31 feature films. Saturday Night MoviesIt was revealed that major movie studios sought peaceful co-existence between TV and film.

Although Hollywood is full of stories about ghosts, no one has reported seeing a spirit Selznick roaming Forest Lawn. It might be time for you to keep an eye out and listen closely for the “I told You so!” The year 2021 may be remembered for being the year that TV took over film production.

From March 2000 through April 2001, almost all American movie theaters were closed by the COVID pandemic. TV streaming services quickly became America’s preferred entertainment source. The new Disney+ streamer, which had 26.5 million users when the lockdown took effect was surpassed by 100 million within one year. Viewers stayed away from theaters when they reopened for business this spring.

As 2021 draws to a close, the collective American movie box office is down about 70 percent from the pre-pandemic year of 2019. James Bond can still pack them in, but nobody is using the word “boffo” for other expected tentpole releases like BelfastSpencer or King Richard. Even the slobbery reviews of critical darling Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story didn’t put butts in movie-theater seats; Variety this week officially pronounced it “a flop.” (Women in particular haven’t returned to the cineplex. The Wall Street Journal reports the percentage of female ticket sales is down by about a third from pre-pandemic levels.)

Hollywood has predictably and sensibly responded by following the money to television and the streaming services. Most Universal Pictures films are now available on video-on-demand channels within 17 days, with other studios not far behind – if they’re behind at all. Warner Brothers makes almost all its new films available on its HBO Max streaming service on the same day they debut in theaters. (Notable exception: West Side Story.)

The studio bosses and their nervous chums at the movie-theater chains all insist that this is a freakish situation brought about by the pandemic that will fade away when the virus does. They’re certainly correct that COVID can be held accountable for part of the problem. But the trend away from movie theaters began long before Anthony Fauci was a household name. In the 1930s, 65 percent of Americans went to the movies each week; even before the lockdown, it was down to around 10 percent.

There’s no mystery about where they’ve gone. The average American now spends more than three hours a day propped in front of the TV set. Why not? Television screens are bigger and sharper (and cheaper!) than ever, and so are their sound systems. DVRs mean you can watch a show when you feel like it, rather than slavishly follow somebody else’s schedule, and you don’t have to miss any decapitations, disembowelmentsOder disrobed D-cups to run to the bathroom. Not to mention the freedom from extortionate concession prices. Will viewers abandon all these advantages to return to theaters because masks are no longer required? Let’s just say I’m not buying a lot of stock in Regal or AMC these days.

If this were merely a matter of whose pockets are going to be lined, or not, it wouldn’t be that interesting. But as TV becomes the dominant delivery system for Hollywood’s product, that product will change technologically, aesthetically and financially, in ways that none of us can yet imagine. (Will Dwayne Johnson still make $90 million a picture for films that depend solely on Netflix subscription receipts?) And as movies become more like television shows, television shows will likely become more like movies, a process that’s already under way.

Meanwhile, though the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on TV production and scheduling, the demon box still had some fine moments in 2021. The year’s best:

10. Grace and Frankie (Netflix). These are the baby boomers who grew up watching Howdy Doody. They’re now saying goodbye to this show about Jane Fonda (an aging Junior Leaguer) and Lily Tomlin (a senescent Hippie) who make an alliance while refusing to be gentle into that great night.

9. The Big Leap (Fox). A bunch of wannabe dancers struggle to produce a live show in this take-no-prisoners-show. Swan LakeIt hilariously abuses Fox and the reality show genre. However, it does provide a few touching tales of survival, how you can take life’s knocks head-on and get up again.

8. This Is Us (NBC). Multi-generational story of thrills and spills in suburban Pearson’s family. Written with elegance, grace and humor. This Is Us is the toniest soap ever and a reminder that the genre needn’t be self-caricaturing dreck.

7. Yellowjackets (Showtime). This is a disturbing and deeply unnerving drama that focuses on what happens after a charter flight for a girl’s soccer team crashes into the wilderness. The truth is that Lord of FliesThey may find that -style decivilization is the easiest solution.

6, Tina (HBO). The montage of TV appearances of Tina Turner dervishing and shrieking her way through “River Deep – Mountain High” is, by itself, to win this documentary a place on the list. It tells the story of the tragic but fascinating life of Rock and Roll’s Ultimate Survivor.

5. Halston (Netflix). The battle for the destruction of the modern fashion houses is a fierce one. House Of Gucci may have Lady Gaga and a murder, but Halston has executive producer Ryan Murphy’s incisive story-telling skills—and that’s more than a match.

4. Yellowstone (Paramount). A modern western that savagely channels the stark message of the old ones: that morality is a myth, that might makes right, that—as Gene Pitney put it— “when the final showdown came to pass, a law book was no good.” You can also give Yellowstone its feminist due: The most vicious snake of the show is the evil Dutton family’s daughter (played with terrifying wicked zeal by British actress Kelly Reilly), whose rancorous villainy has spawned a cottage industry of coffee cups and t-shirts bearing the warning, “DON’T MAKE ME GO ALL BETH DUTTON ON YOU.”

3. Conners (ABC): Last year I wrote: “To my continuing amazement, Roseanne without Roseanne continues to be funny, poignant and TV’s only real banner-carrier for working class America.” It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong.

2. Chi (Showtime): In some ways television’s most remarkable show, Chi continues to tell tales of warmth and decency amidst the bloody chaos of inner-city Chicago, insisting on the humanity of its characters without denying the malevolence that surrounds them.

1. The chair (Netflix): None of the millions of words the chattering classes have spilled on modern academia and cancel culture amount to anything compared to the scalpel wielded against it in Netflix’s slyly malicious satire on college life. Then there’s the new Chaucer interpretation that Netflix delivered to its Gen Z students via a bitter Boomer professor.The Canterbury Tales is network of genius. There are philandering husbands and horny housewives. They also fart, shit, and have pubic hair. Poor schmuck asks a woman to kiss him and then ends up having an affair with his butthole. This is the fate that I wish for you.