The best Netflix shows of 2021 so far – SFGate

Omar Sy plays Assane Diop in season two of “Lupin.”
If you have one streaming account, odds are it’s Netflix. It is also very likely that you think you’ve watched every single good TV show the service has ever produced. 
But as anyone who has endlessly scrolled through Netflix’s menus can tell you, there is no lack of original content. And whereas smash hits like “Squid Game” have become so ubiquitous that Lizzo is dressing up as a robotic doll, there are still dozens of smaller shows that are more than worthy of a binge.
These are the best ones we’ve written about so far in 2021. It isn’t an all-encompassing best-of list by any means, but rather a selection of shows that we considered interesting enough to weigh in on. That spans from guilty pleasures like “Cooking With Paris” and “Sexy Beasts,” to surprise foreign finds like “Lupin” and “The Billion Dollar Code,” to prestige plays like “Halston.”
You may ask: How does one keep up with all of the new shows that will soon be released and aren’t yet on this list? Well, the answer is to sign up for our Remote Control newsletter, a weekly blast showcasing the best TV stories of the week, staff picks and updates on when your favorite shows will return.
Created by Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company Higher Ground (the main reason I gave it a chance), “Waffles + Mochi,” follows the adventures of two best friends: Waffles, who is half-yeti and half-frozen waffle, and Mochi, a small, pink, round mochi who speaks in “meeps” and purrs. They live in the Land of Frozen Food, with dreams of becoming famous chefs — they watch reruns of Julia Child cooking on their television — but instead, all they can cook is, well, ice. When they escape their frozen home, they begin working at a grocery store run by “Mrs. O” (otherwise known as Michelle Obama to those not living in a frozen cave) where they learn all about fresh foods, like tomatoes, pickles and eggs.
As a fan of the travel documentary genre, “Waffles + Mochi” not only scratches my itch for travel — they head to Peru, Italy and Japan, to name a few — but it manages to mash all the enjoyable parts of other TV genres: the Muppets, food documentaries (“Salt Fat Acid Heat” and “Ugly Delicious” among others), cooking and more. Even the “edu-tainment” genre gets a noticeable upgrade with this new show. “Veggietales,” this is not.
— Dianne de Guzman, read more
“Canine Intervention” goes into the hows and whys of training dogs, looking at the stories of couples and families who are dealing with their own problem pets, but it’s also a look into Jas Leverette’s life, both now and being raised in Oakland. In episode 1, viewers learn about the tragic turn of Leverette’s dog being euthanized for aggressive behavior when he was young. The experience led Leverette to want to lower the euthanization rate of dogs by at least 50% through educating owners on how to handle their dogs.
— Dianne de Guzman, read more
In the final installment of the Netflix teen rom-com saga “To All The Boys: Always and Forever,” Lara Jean Covey is utterly torn between two colleges: UC Berkeley and New York University.
Our lovelorn protagonist (played by the endlessly endearing Lana Condor) just came back from a life-affirming senior class trip to New York, which included a glam rooftop party, a trip to Levain Bakery for its cookies, and, for reasons only loosely explained, a theft of a pink couch.
“NYU has this amazing lit program where they invite real authors to come speak to their students,” she tells her sister, Margot (Janel Parrish), soon after she returns to her hometown of Portland. That’s one of the few tangible reasons we hear of NYU’s academic value.
— Joshua Bote, read more
This docuseries tells the story of notorious Satan-worshipping murderer Richard Ramirez and the bloody reign of terror he brought upon the people of Los Angeles in the sweltering summer of 1985, resulting in the death of 13 victims.
This isn’t the first doc about Ramirez, but what makes “Night Stalker” stand out is the ways in which director Tiller Russell strips the convicted murderer of his odd rock star persona, honing the show’s focus on the first-hand stories of the police officers, members of the press, victims and survivors who were impacted.
— Aaron Pruner, read more
When Google Earth launched in 2001, the free web program allowed users to explore geography in entirely new ways, zooming seamlessly through satellite imagery to visit any street in the world from their desktops. It felt like an revolutionary innovation, giving users the ability to travel the globe like never before.
But as shown in the German Netflix drama, “The Billion Dollar Code,” that technology wasn’t actually as new as it seemed.
— Dan Gentile, read more
“Midnight Mass” centers on a blighted fishing town off the coast of New York. Trouble brews when a shadowy, Nick Cave-looking figure replaces the parish’s longtime priest, Monsignor Pruitt, whom locals have mysteriously spotted lurking around the island. Concurrently, the town’s prodigal son returns from a 4-year stint in prison after killing a teenage girl while driving drunk. 
— Michelle Robertson, read more
I remember my first tango with “Outer Banks” vividly. It was April 2020, right as the pandemic sent the country into lockdown and left a paucity of new shows and movies for America to enjoy while we all sat around and waited for salvation. And lo and behold, here was an honest-to-God new thing to watch. And “Outer Banks” was the exact right show for my mood that spring, because it was f—king stupid, and because it had pretty scenery. Close as I could get to going on vacation at the time.
Cut to 2021 and there’s plenty of fresh TV shows and movies to gorge on, even as the pandemic refuses to go away. And here’s season two of “Outer Banks,” which is inarguably even dumber than the first season of it. How dumb? Lemme run down some of its more hilarious offenses, SPOILERS included. Fair warning: The list of plot offenses you’re about to read is extensive.
— Drew Magary, read more
It’s got romance, it’s got intrigue, and it also has one of the most gorgeous settings on television right now. 
“Virgin River” became a surprise hit when it premiered on Netflix in 2019. The streaming service released the third season earlier this year, and the series has quickly skyrocketed to the top of the viewership board. 
Based off the novels of the same name by Robyn Carr, the series follows nurse practitioner Mel Monroe as she navigates small-town living and romance in a remote town somewhere in Humboldt County, near Eureka. 
“I really feel [the setting] is one of the biggest draws of our show,” “Virgin River” creator Sue Tenney said by phone. 
— Michelle Robertson, read more
I left an English PhD program in 2020 for a number of reasons. I missed journalism and my colleagues at SFGATE. I missed living in San Francisco. I missed the freedom to read what I wanted when I wanted. 
But it goes deeper than that. In my two years in the program, I found grad school and academia generally unsettling in a multitude of ways. 
I’m still working through what I experienced in graduate school, and for a long while, haven’t felt ready to put my thoughts on the page. Netflix’s new series “The Chair” helped me overcome that. 
— Michelle Robertson, read more
A man in a furry gray mask attempts to take a sip from a glass of chardonnay, but his prosthetic snout is in the way. To solve the problem, he simply laps up the wine using his tongue. 
It’s a bizarre moment that would probably guarantee no second date in any other setting, but in Netflix’s latest romantic reality show “Sexy Beasts,” it’s all part of the game.
“That’s just how dogs do it!” says his enthusiastic companion, who is disguised as a triceratops.
— Amanda Bartlett, read more
On the show, Hilton invites friends like Kim Kardashian and Demi Lovato over to her house to make a meal while dressed to the nines. In each episode, three things are guaranteed: Hilton will wear an impractical outfit, she will say “sliving” too many times and she will be confused by at least one cooking tool or ingredient. 
“What does ‘zest lemon’ mean?” she asks her phone’s virtual assistant in one episode. 
“Excuse me, sir, what do chives look like?” she asks a grocery store employee in another episode. “What do I do with it?”
— Madeline Wells, read more
Binge was the verb of 2020 when it came to media consumption, but as COVID cases drop and vaccinations rise, parking in front of a TV for a full day feels a little bit… wrong. However the all-knowing programmers at Netflix seem to have anticipated this shift in habits, and seized on the moment as the perfect time to drop season two of “Love Death + Robots.”
The show was originally envisioned as a reboot of the 1980’s cyberpunk cartoon anthology “Heavy Metal” by directors David Fincher (“Fight Club”) and Tim Miller (“Terminator: Dark Fate”). That branding faded away after years of stalled development, as did the brash tone associated with the original series. The result is a whip-smart collection of sci-fi stories from a host of different filmmakers that couldn’t be more different visually, but share the same dystopian DNA one might expect from the show’s title. Part of what makes them so enjoyable, and easily digestible, is that the average episode is only 12 minutes long.
— Dan Gentile, read more 
I was introduced to this show after three of my Black friends texted me and asked if I had seen it. We do normally share shows and films, but the conversation around this one was different. Sometimes the references to race are clear, like one flashback where a shop owner won’t let a young Diop rent a violin simply because he’s Black.
“Racist,” Diop says quite plainly in response. 
But my friends and I notice the deeper coded language. One could watch this scene and leave it thinking that racism forced Diop to make choices he wasn’t proud of but that gave him the experience to deal with the rigors of his life as an adult.
That would be too easy.
— Rod Benson, read more
Our appetite for rise-and-fall narratives is absolutely limitless, especially when they involve fabulous costumes, astronomical quantities of drugs and Liza Minnelli.
Netflix’s 1970s biopic “Halston” could not deviate less from that script. The show is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, except the proverbial rags were actually made of ultrasuede, the defining synthetic fiber of discotheque mayhem. Directed by HBO workhorse Daniel Minahan and adapted from Stephen Gaines’ biography “Simply Halston,” the series is a portrait of the brilliant, vicious man who made aspirational fashion possible for generations of American women. Unfulfilled as a hatmaker for Jackie Kennedy, he rose through department store Bergdorf Goodman to become the equal of heavyweights like Yves Saint Laurent, fulfilling postwar America’s thirst for Europhilic culture by day and getting high at Studio 54 by night, until he died in San Francisco of complications from AIDS.
— Peter-Astrid Kane, read more
Dan Gentile is the culture editor at SFGATE. He moved to San Francisco from Austin, TX where he worked as a vinyl DJ and freelance writer covering food and music. His writing has been featured in Texas Monthly, American Way, Rolling Stone, Roads & Kingdoms, VICE, Thrillist and more.

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