Forbes India 2021 Rewind: Best web series we watched this year

From HBO's Succession to Netflix's Squid Game, to What If on Disney+Hotstar, here are some of the favourite TV shows of the Forbes India team in 2021

Published: Dec 23, 2021 12:40:24 PM IST
Updated: Dec 23, 2021 01:21:21 PM IST

Top row: What If...? (Disney+Hotstar), Money Heist (Netflix), Succession (HBO)
Bottom row: Squid Game (Netflix), Grey's Anatomy (Disney+Hotstar), Lupin (Netflix)

This is supposedly the golden era of content, and OTT series is leading the pack. There are hundreds of shows launched every year and fan-favourite classics are added to the online libraries of numerous OTT platforms. You can binge-watch the brand new season of Emily In Paris or you can take time savouring the weekly episodes of Wheel of Time. You can go back to the first episode of Grey's Anatomy to return to that feeling of comfort and the familiar in this pandemic or you can dissect the accuracy of Arcane concerning the League of Legends storyline. Team Forbes India did all of this, and now we are presenting you with our favourites in 2021.

RUCHA SHARMA'S PICK


Succession
Streaming on - Disney+Hotstar

I am always on the lookout for shows that evoke strong feelings. Succession on HBO was that one show in 2021. Amazon Prime Video's Mumbai Diaries nearly overwhelmed me. Jason Sudekis's Ted Lasso on Apple TV+ made me feel all warm and fuzzy with its relentless optimism in contrast to the sadness of the pandemic. But it was Jesse Armstrong's writer room for Succession that made me beg for the other shoe to drop. The latest season of Succession seems to draw inspiration from the Disney-Fox merger. A deal so massive, it can not only save the drowning elephant that is Waystar Royco but also change the most important dynamic of the show—the one shared between Logan Roy and his children.

Image: Graeme Hunter/HBO

These uber-rich characters are mean and deprived of a real connection by design. The father enjoys giving his kids something he can, and then snatches it away from them. It devastated his second-born, Kendall Roy, in the first season. In the recent one, he killed the soft corner in the heart of his youngest, Roman. His daughter Siobhan is constantly subjected to casual sexism. What made this season more claustrophobic is Logan's tendency to keep the cards close to his heart. He closes all windows and doors through which his kids can beat him. When the shoe finally dropped in the season finale, there were shards of relationships and a great opportunity for Kintsugi (Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold). The success of Succession lies in the crisp writing, twisted narratives, and impactful musical score. The first two allow actors such as Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Matthew MacFyden to build upon the source material and deliver stunning performances, while Nicholas Britell's music encases these gems perfectly.
 

SAMIDHA JAIN'S PICK

 
Money Heist
Streaming on - Netflix


Image: Netflix

This show became a popular choice in the past two years, with viewers waiting with bated breath for the final season. The bar was set high, and I think the last season matched the expectations of the viewers. The many twists made the climax of the heist much more exciting. What was also very remarkable was the parallel storyline of a beloved character, Berlin, played by Pedro Alonso. This season makes the viewer feel deeply for the character and enhances his charming ways of living life.   

NAANDIKA TRIPATHI'S PICK

 
Maid
Streaming on - Netflix

Image: Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix

This popular show on Netflix is inspired by Stephanie Land’s ‘Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive’. Maid follows the story of Alex, a single mother, who turns to house cleaning to make ends meet as she escapes an abusive relationship and overcomes homelessness to create a better life for her daughter. The 10-episode limited series powerfully depicts the devastating impact of domestic abuse, and portrays the clear difference between couple arguments and emotional abuse. Amongst many, one of the most chilling moments in Maid is a scene where Sean (Alex’s ex-husband) is emotionally abusing Alex, forcing her to sit at the table while her father looks on, without saying a word. The rawness of this show prevents it from falling into the melodramatic territory. I wouldn’t recommend binge-watching this series since it weighs heavy and has many dark moments. But it is a must-see. I also loved all the soundtracks used in the show. My personal favourite is ‘Shoop’ by Salt-N-Pepa.

ANUBHUTI MATTA'S PICK

 
House of Secrets
Streaming on - Netflix

Image: Netflix

House of Secrets, a docu-series on the Burari deaths—11 members of the same family are found dead under a roof—is gripping and binge-worthy. It captured all the voices one expects from a documentary—police, investigators, friends, family, a host of medical professionals, even social anthropologists, and journalists. There is a solid storyline, presented immaculately without sensationalising any detail or taking a stand. The best part about it is that every time I had a question, it was answered within the next few minutes. It leaves no questions unanswered, no mystery unsolved.

ADITI AGRAWAL'S PICK


Let’s be honest. 2021 was a steaming pile of burning garbage. Outside of very few movies and shows, I was not particularly looking for dramas that would put me through an emotional wringer or for profound ruminations on life and its meaning. I needed an escape and an excuse to laugh. Korean dramas came to my rescue, where even understanding the culture and its intricacies were not that hard given its proximity to (north) Indian practices and family structures (disclosure: my aunt is Korean so I’m biased). Here are the three that me (and my family) liked the best and laughed at the most:

Squid Game
Streaming on - Netflix

Image: Noh Juhan/Netflix

This was the South Korean juggernaut’s first season (it has been renewed for another). Netflix's Money Heist, and now Squid Game, deal with a very similar set of issues related to class, capitalism, hoarding of wealth, and ethnicity-based discrimination. Irrespective of how you think the world or its financial systems should be governed, you land up rooting for the underdogs in these gripping, keeps-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat productions.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
Streaming on - Netflix


Image: Netflix

This show focussed on intertwining stories of a close-knit community in a small, coastal Korean town. The interfering people who dot this community, despite the language barrier for the Indian audience, are recognisable and relatable, as are their concerns. The show maturely and subtly deals with issues of divorce, homosexuality, mental health without pontificating on any of them. Buttressed by gorgeous scenes shot in the real town of Pohang, it is a breeze to get through.

Hospital Playlist
Streaming on - Netflix

Image: Netflix

Two reasons initially prevented me from watching this show—the hospital setting which hit too close to home, and what I assumed to be the centrality of Korean pop music to the show. At my aunt’s recommendation, I decided to give it a shot and I am glad I did. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, this show has heart. It focuses on the lives of five friends, who are also assistant professors and doctors in a hospital in Seoul, and often meet after work to practice in their little band. Once again, the doctors, their families, their students and patients are all people that we recognise from our lives. And the leads’ antics and group dynamics will often leave you in splits. Yes, the show does show the five leads as ideal humans and doctors but that is part of the reason why it was so watchable this year. And as far as the music is concerned, soon enough, you will start humming it.

What If...?
Streaming on - Disney+Hotstar

Image: Marvel

Some may argue that WandaVision deserved to be here on the list, but this animated series about what could have been is a good exploration of different storylines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My favourite is 🚨 spoiler alert 🚨 Captain Carter.

Offerings from hosts of The Grand Tour/Top Gear
Streaming on - Amazon Prime Video

Image: Ellis Obrien/Prime Video

The (un)holy trinity of automotive entertainment programming—Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond—have truly found a home for themselves at Amazon. The streaming/ecommerce giant had thrown bucket loads of money at the extravaganza that was The Grand Tour (two special episodes were released this year) but it is their other shows—James May: Oh Cook (2020), James May: Our Man in Japan (2020), The Great Escapists (2021), and Clarkson’s Farm (2021)—that warrant mentioning. The three get up to their typical irreverent, politically incorrect (often bordering on offensive), over the top hijinks—May decidedly less so than his colleagues (obviously!). For what it is worth, Clarkson manages to make farming interesting (and destructive). Once you understand that everything they touch outside of cars and other automobiles is being set up for failure, these shows are a delightful watch.

NAINI THAKER'S PICK

 
Lupin
Streaming on - Netflix

Image: Emmanuel Guimier/Netflix

I rarely binge watch TV shows unless I am a true fan. And I am a huge Lupin fan. Since the first part ended, I was desperately waiting for part II. Needless to say, I finished the second part the day it was released. The show is based on the classic French story about Arsène Lupin, the world-famous gentleman thief and master of disguise. I will not reveal any part two spoilers, but if you start watching the show, you will not stop till it ends. Brilliant writing, direction, cinematography, background score and of course, acting. Omar Sy knocks it out of the park as Lupin. If you have no plans for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, watch Lupin. You can thank me later.

MANSVINI KAUSHIK'S PICK


Ray
Streaming on - Netflix


Image: Netflix

A tribute to Satyajit Ray, Ray is a four-part series that reimagines the iconic short stories of the legendary filmmaker. The stories are woven to keep you at the edge of your seat, leaving enough room for interpretation in each, which has been the signature Satyajit Ray style.

The stories are psychological probes into unusual minds. The three directors, Srijit Mukherji, Abhishek Chaubey, and Vasan Bala, add their creative sensibilities to Ray’s stories that might or might not sit well with the followers of Ray’s original work. But the stories do enough to bend your mind and look beyond the predictable human behaviour we expect in everyday life. It’s a must-watch for anyone looking for brilliance in the intricacies of storytelling.

Kota Factory
Streaming on - Netflix

Image: Taha Ahmad/Netflix

Once in a while, there surfaces a story on how the young minds in India have an almost gruesome, excessive obsession with IIT admissions. It highlights the rat race as children devote their heart and soul to secure admission in a college and letting exams and results define their worth, or worse, their right to live.

Kota Factory tells you that story. It is a portrayal of a bunch of kids who travel to Kota, Rajasthan—a hub of IIT entrance coaching in India. The series revolves around the lives of a few impressionable minds who have entered the IIT admissions rut but are just starting to realise the magnitude of obsession with cracking the JEE entrance. It doesn’t fail to acknowledge the inherently discriminatory nature of Kota, with the faces of toppers plastered at every nook and cranny, plodding one or the other coaching centre. The ingenuity of Kota Factory lies in its ability to dive into the minds of 17-year-olds—who fall between the over and underachievers—and coalesce the narratives effortlessly.

KATHAKALI CHANDA'S PICK


Mare of Easttown
Streaming on - Disney+Hotstar

Image: Michele K Short/HBO

Perhaps the only thing that Mare of Easttown gets wrong is its categorisation as a crime drama. The mini-series does revolve around a murder and a number of missing cases in a remote town of Pennsylvania, US, which detective Mare Sheehan (played by Kate Winslet) is called upon to investigate. But it is much more than just that. The seven-part series is a canvas of Sheehan’s life, fraught with tangible conflicts and everyday realities—a son’s suicide, a divorce, a battle for the custody of her grandson, frictions with an adolescent daughter and a mother who can, at times, drive her up the wall. Winslet immerses herself in the character, with a brilliant portrayal of the prosaic humdrum of the ordinary. The murder plot, not entirely plausible or perfect, is cast aside as Sheehan navigates grief and chaos, bringing forth a relatable cocktail of emotions and circumstances. She’s flawed and faltering, but in her multiple crises, Sheehan becomes one of us.

RUCHIKA SHAH'S PICK


Grey's Anatomy
Streaming on - Disney+Hotstar

I usually hop onto cultural bandwagons pretty late—movies, music, podcasts, shows, and the works. So the first time I ever saw Grey’s Anatomy was in 2016. It was a marathon to catch up to the latest season back then. Since, every year, I’ve waited for a new season (the universe and Shonda Rhimes just keep on giving). Last year, the season tackled the Covid-19 pandemic and though I couldn’t help but watch every episode, it made my teeth grind—watching a fictional show act out the nightmare we’re all living through was not easy or fun. In the next—and latest season (season 18; told you), Shonda Rhimes decides to move into a world that has left the pandemic behind (thank heavens). But watching Grey’s Anatomy one episode a week has never been as fun as devouring it like a non-stop dessert marathon. And in the second year of the pandemic, and all work and no play, I wanted some McDreamy and McSteamy and McGrey (hah!), and I started Grey’s Anatomy all over again from season 1, episode 1. And it’s been a ride, reliving the show, the characters, and the plot twists. It is different—perhaps because I’m older too: McDreamy (played by Patrick Dempsey) doesn’t seem that dreamy, apart from the floppy hair and the eyes, but the imperfection (which I perhaps glossed over during my first watch) made him more real and human. McSteamy (Eric Dane) is steamier than ever, and Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) is a fascination.

Image: Eric McCandless/abc

The list of the characters I love (and hate, depending on the episode) is too long for here—okay, Allison Shepherd, Callie Torres, Arizona Robbins (it was a ride), Alex Karev (best character arc), Miranda Bailey—yep, it’s long. The Covid-19 season may have made me uncomfortable and when I get to it, I may not rewatch it. But Shonda Rhimes’ perfected art of dealing with delicate and complex emotions of loss, death, tragedy, and sorrow always leaves me wanting more. That and how complex subjects like adoption, alcoholism, addiction, gender identity, gender reassignment, LGBTQ+ identities, transphobia, racism, black identity in America, school shootings, and many more, are tackled expertly and sensitively by the creator. Maybe most of you are caught up with the latest episode, but if you’re thinking of reliving the entire journey, I’d highly recommend it. Okay, now back to my marathon.

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