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The Best Network TV Shows Of 2021

After a year of unpredictability, television networks have developed adaptive strategies and are working hard to fill up the 2021 roster with a slate of premieres we can look forward to. From sitcoms to thrillers, police procedurals to superhero dramas, there's something for just about every audience that's either already been released, or is coming up in the next few months — whether you need something to make you laugh, a pleasant and idyllic form of escapism, or even some super-powered excitement to get you through the next week, month, or year.

Streaming is a stronger force than ever this year, especially in the theatrical world, where it is on track to rival or even replace in-person premieres. And while we can get just about every kind of content or program we can dream of through these services, there's something special about waiting until a specific time on a specific night each week for our questions to be answered and our appetites for drama sated. So if you haven't already been watching these shows, now is the time to catch up, and give yourself something new each week to look forward to.

All Creatures Great And Small (PBS)

The legacy of the PBS television series All Creatures Great And Small is definitely great, and not small. A collaboration with Playground Entertainment for the UK's Channel 5, the program was released in January of 2021 in the United States and is based on a series of books about a veterinarian in Yorkshire. This isn't the first time the books have been adapted: BBC still airs reruns of the 90-episode adaptation that ran on the network from 1978 to 1990.

When this newest installment premiered in the UK in the fall of 2020, it garnered Channel 5's best audience in five years. The appeal can be attributed to the solace viewers find in the rural landscapes of Yorkshire and the themes the series presents: kindness, community, and family. The series chronicles the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of its characters with gentleness and warmth, and while its veterinarians practice on animals, they certainly manage to soothe more than a few human hearts.

Resident Alien (Syfy)

Now more than ever, being a doctor is a difficult job. As if the education, hours, and personal peril weren't already enough, health care workers are currently (as they have been for a year) on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. The only thing that could make this more difficult would be if you were a literal alien.

And that's exactly the challenge that Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle (known on his home planet as Captain Hah Re) must face day in and day out after he crash-lands on Earth and begins masquerading as a small-town doctor in Colorado. This Syfy series has a little bit of mystery, a little bit of sci-fi drama, and a lot of comedy. Starring Alan Tudyk, the show provides a wonderful outlet for his specific skill set as a comedian, as well as an interesting premise that nonetheless contains itself within the familiar formulas of an American sitcom.

Clarice (CBS)

For fans as ravenous for their favorite content as Hannibal Lecter is for humans, Clarice was a welcome addition to the 2021 network TV roster when the series was announced during this year's Super Bowl. Since it began airing, it's been an audience favorite.

Because honestly, who doesn't want a deeper dive into the life and mind of Clarice Starling? After the events of The Silence of the Lambs, which came out in 1991, the Clarice series on CBS picks up a year after the film left off. Most of what we hear of Clarice herself serves the narratives of the psychopaths and serial killers she crosses paths with. But in Clarice, we finally get a window into her life, her personal politics, career choices, and psychology.

The talented cast buoys the grim narrative and allows us a glimpse into the woman behind one of the most infamous psychological horror stories ever told.

Young Rock (NBC)

It starts off with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson running for President of the United States. The year is 2032, and although the trend of celebrities seeking political office doesn't seem to have waned, at least the pool of potential candidates from the Hollywood echelon has grown more amenable.

The story of the young Rock is told primarily through flashbacks as present-day (actually, future-day) Johnson engages in conversations with interviewers and campaign staffers that illuminate his background and the experiences that have made him not only a great professional wrestler and distinguished actor, but also a viable candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

The series has been "Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, resting at an 88% approval rating. Critics and audiences find the show and its subject matter both endearing and intriguing: The world of wrestling is an exciting one that not many people get such an inside look at, and the same goes for the life of the popular actor.

The Equalizer (CBS)

It may be a reboot, but The Equalizer of 2021 is certainly equal to its predecessor from the 1980s, at least where Queen Latifah is concerned. The versatile actress shines in the role of Robyn McCall, a single mother living in New York City and working to defend those who can't defend themselves. As she crusades for the less fortunate, Robyn demands a significant effort from the talented actress who plays her, to portray her mysterious past and the skills that allow her to perform the acts of a guardian angel.

Now, Queen Latifah puts a stipulation in every contract that her character cannot be killed off, so we can bet pretty safely that her character in The Equalizer will be serving justice for the long haul. More confirmation for that assumption? The show has already been renewed for a second season as of March, when the series is only four episodes old! It quickly rose in the ranks of television viewership, and is shaping up to become a fan favorite.

Superman & Lois (The CW)

Honestly, we've all been waiting for Tyler Hoechlin to have a shot at playing the Man of Steel in his own TV show. He's one of those actors, like Henry Cavill or Tom Welling, who have the classic Superman look. You may recognize his intense visage from his portrayal of Derek Hale on Teen Wolf, the 2011 werewolf drama from MTV, or his role in the critically acclaimed 2002 film Road to Perdition. We've seen him make a few appearances as the last son of Krypton on the CW's Supergirl, which began airing in 2015, but now he'll get to fully explore the part.

If you're a fan of the Arrowverse, you'll enjoy finding the little Easter eggs of continuity that populate this series, as it shares its universe with such popular CW superhero series as Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash. If you're already into any one of these series, you have an excuse to get into Superman & Lois, in which Superman and Lois Lane return to Smallville (another show you should watch) with their sons. If you haven't yet made the foray into the Arrowverse, then you have a plethora of episodes and heroes waiting to share your journey during this network TV season.

Mr. Mayor (NBC)

Ted Danson, the titular Mr. Mayor in NBC's new sitcom, could just as well be called the mayor of our hearts — if he hasn't already won a similar title for his work as the afterlife architect Michael on The Good Place, also on NBC. With that role he broke his own record for Emmy nods when he earned a 14th, but he also fundamentally changed as an actor and person.

Now, fresh off that previous series and as full of vigor and humor as ever, Danson takes on the role of a wealthy Los Angeles businessman who is running for mayor "for all the wrong reasons," which, for fans of NBC comedies and Ted Danson in general, are probably the perfect reasons when it comes to making us laugh. The hapless middle-aged man is also attempting to impress his colleagues as well as his daughter, whom he is trying to reconnect with. Would it surprise you to learn that the role had been written specifically for the affable, zany former Cheers star?

The part and series were created by none other than Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, showrunners for such renowned productions as 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. If their previous work is any indication, we're in for a quirky, unpredictable ride that will warm our hearts and tickle our minds this year.

The upcoming 2021 shows we can't wait to watch

If you haven't found anything in this list yet to tickle your fancy, don't worry: There are plenty of shows coming your way during the rest of 2021. For starters, PBS is gearing up for a documentary miniseries that promises a "nuanced portrait" of literary legend Ernest Hemingway that deconstructs his notorious public persona, to be released in April.

HBO will also release a couple of period-oriented series. The Nevers is both a Victorian-era drama and a science fiction excursion, created by Joss Whedon and detailing the lives of women with unusual abilities, while The Gilded Age is a historical drama depicting the 1880s "Gilded Age" of New York City, developed by the creator of Downton Abbey.

On FX, we get to look forward to the next endeavor from creative genius Taika Waititi, a comedy series called Reservation Dogs that follows the lives of four Native teenagers in Oklahoma. We'll also get to see a new spin-off of the Law and Order franchise, Law and Order: Organized Crime, as well as an Erin Brockovich-inspired drama, Rebel, airing on ABC. And on CBS, we'll have a new sitcom called United States of Al that follows the relationship between a combat veteran and the interpreter who worked with his unit, both of whom are adjusting in different ways to life in America. As we adjust to whatever 2021 holds, it's good to know we'll have some solid television to keep us company.