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Emmys? We Don’t Know Her. These Are Unbothered’s Best TV Shows Of The Year

·10 min read

The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards are on Sunday (19th September). The prestigious awards show is usually how Hollywood gauges the best of the best of the most recent TV season. But we know that, typically, they don’t have the best track record when it comes to rewarding non-white talent, or shows that don’t fit into the very rigid, and often pretentious, criteria of “prestige TV.”

While this year’s Emmys did get some things right (finally recognising Pose and MJ Rodriguez, Lovecraft Country’s multiple noms, Michaela Coel and I May Destroy You getting the love she deserves), they still overlooked so many shows that we here at R29Unbothered couldn’t stop watching this 2020/2021 TV season. These are the series — new and returning — that made us laugh, cry, cheer, and feel a little less lonely in the loneliest times. Many of these shows feature incredible Black women leads, girls of colour getting long overdue shine, riveting storylines, or all of the above. But mostly, these shows are just damn good. And while some of them will be the exceptions that get nominations, none of them need awards decided by archaic white institutions to solidify that fact. We’ll give them their flowers instead.

Here are R29Unbothered’s best TV shows of the year, picked personally by members of our team.

P-Valley

Picked by Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Senior Editor

P-Valley is based on Katori Hall’s 2015 play Pussy Valley and it’s about the lives of strippers working down in the Dirty Delta in Mississippi. Even though its name may be censored, there’s nothing tame about the series. As I wrote in my review when it first dropped in summer 2020, “after the first episode, The Pynk club — and its cast of characters — starts to feel like home (you know, if your home was full of squeaky pleather, sky-high stilettos, and hollering patrons).” This show is a character-driven drama hiding under the spectacle of stripteases and trap beats, and I just feel like we moved on from it too quickly!

Girls5Eva

Picked by Chelsea Sanders, VP

Girls5Eva is about the members of a girl group (Sara Bareilles, Busy Phillips, Paula Pell and Renée Ellis Goldsberry) from the ‘90s who reunite after a young rapper samples their hit song. They decide to give their pop star dreams one last chance, but this time, all “while balancing spouses, kids, jobs, debt, aging parents, and shoulder pain,” according to the show’s tagline. This series is hilarious, heartwarming and packed with nostalgia (for us more, ahem, experienced millennials) and it’s infuriating that this perfect season came and went with little fanfare. As Chelsea puts it, “Renée Ellis Goldsberry is everythinggg!” Unrelated, Chelsea would also like a retroactive Emmy for Countess Vaughn in The Parkers.

Queen Sugar

Picked by Brooke Obie, Deputy Director

Queen Sugar takes us deep into the rich and complicated lives of three siblings in rural Louisiana (Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Kofi Siriboe) who, when their father suddenly dies, must decide the fate of his 800-acre sugarcane farm. It’s on Season 6 and has yet to be nominated for any Emmys. Smells anti-Black to me! But seriously, this show is one of the best family dramas on television and aside from the Kofi Siriboe eye candy, it’s got so much soul, gutting performances and seering intensity.

Ramy

Picked by Stephanie Long, Senior Editor

Ramy is the perfect example of specificity being universal. It’s about Ramy (comedian Ramy Youssef), the son of Egyptian migrants living in New Jersey. He begins a spiritual journey which leads him to straddling the conflicts between his Muslim community, his neighbourhood and his friends. Whether you are or aren’t part of Ramy’s communities, you’re going to relate to nuance articulations of identity in our daily lives and prickly but hilarious family tensions. Plus, there are incredible performances by Mahershala Ali and MaameYaa Boafo in Season 2, and thoughtful conversations about anti-Blackness in the Muslim community.

AlRawabi School for Girls

Picked by Ineye Komonibo, Culture Critic/Writer

Since you’re not a part of our work Slack chats, I’ll let you in on one of my fave Ineye rants: it’s about how Netflix’s international shows continue to body its American offerings. And she’s not wrong! AlRawabi School for Girls is an Arabic series that has been compared to Mean Girls, but that’s a lazy comparison; this show is a star of its own. Tell me you’re not sold based on the Netflix description alone: “The bullied outcasts at prestigious Al Rawabi School for Girls plot a series of risky takedowns to get back at their tormentors.”

Shadow and Bone

Picked by Rissa Papillion, Producer

Save for Game of Thrones, fantasy series usually don’t get a lot of love at award shows — especially not fantasy series starring Asian women. Jessie Mei Li stars in Shadow and Bone, an adaptation of the wildly popular trilogy, about “dark forces [who] conspire against orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov when she unleashes an extraordinary power that could change the fate of her war-torn world,” according to Netflix. The costumes are gorgeous, the action is thrilling and everyone is fine as hell. What more could you ask for?

Elite

Picked by Ineye Komonibo, Culture Critic/Writer & Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Senior Editor

We’ve called it Netflix’s sexiest teen show, but Elite is so much more than pretty people and their naked makeouts (that is a bonus, though). The Spanish series is one of the best murder mysteries on television, periodt. And in an era of TV where chemistry is lacking and everything seems recycled, Elite is unique, fresh, and brimming with actors who ooze onscreen charisma and connection. Two words: Guzman and Nadia. Sure, there may be too many suspicious deaths for one fancy prep school, but this show always keeps us on our toes. One of our colleagues called EliteGossip Girl-meets Big Little Liesmeets Cruel Intentions,” which is high praise, but I’m going to go so far as to say that this show is better than all three.

The Underground Railroad

Picked by Brooke Obie, Deputy Director

Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad got unfairly cast aside as just another slave narrative when it first dropped earlier this year. If you did write off the show because of its subject matter (it’s based on the Colson Whitehead novel of the same name), you missed out on one of the greatest cinematic achievements in the history of television. I promise you’re going to want to give Cora — and her story of escaping a Georgia plantation to board a train seeking freedom while being hunted by a notorious slave catcher — a chance.

Clickbait

Picked by Rissa Papillion, Producer & Christa Eduafo, Social Content Strategist

I haven’t seen this show yet, but what I do know is that Clickbait has Black women in a chokehold. The timeline has been popping off about the Adrian Grenier and Betty Gabriel series, which follows a man named Nick Brewer and his family when he is abducted and subjected to a sinister online twist. His friends and family then race to uncover who kidnapped him and why. Critics say it will have you hooked from the first minute to the last. If for nothing else, watch this show to see what all the hype is about.

Money Heist

Picked by Sandy Pierre, Branded Execution Specialist & Christa Eduafo, Social Content Strategist

Money Heist is another Netflix international original that goes harder than anything else the streaming service has to offer. As the logline goes, “to carry out the biggest heist in history, a mysterious man called The Professor recruits a band of eight robbers who have a single characteristic: none of them have anything to lose.” Now on Part 5, the show is a massive hit, and has actually garnered some Emmy love, winning the International Emmy Award for Best Drama Series. And rightly so! We love it for its stellar cast, nail-biting suspense, and brilliant twists.

Starstruck

Picked by Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Senior Editor

All I will say about this show is that I watched all six episodes in one sitting and then immediately ran them back and watched them again. It’s that good. If you don’t know Rose Matafeo’s name or her work, Starstruck will leave you begging for more of her. The comedian wrote, created, and stars in this rom-com series about a messy millennial woman in London who accidentally sleeps with one of the most famous movie stars in the world. It’s like a gender-reversed Notting Hill with people of colour. I was, and still am, obsessed with every single moment of this funny and romantic romp.

In Treatment

Picked by Brooke Obie, Deputy Director

When I interviewed Uzo Aduba for In Treatment, we talked about the Black Lady Therapist trope and how her character, Dr. Brooke Taylor, is finally bringing depth to Black therapists on screen. That’s just one of the many reasons to tune into this continuation of the beloved series. Dr. Taylor virtually sees patients from home amidst the pandemic, and in this season, as we see her treating a new patient each episode (including my boyfriend-in-my-head, Anthony Ramos), it’s not just her clients who gain some catharsis. Watching this series while the world crumbles was just what the doctor (our actual therapists) ordered.

Mr. Inbetween

Picked by Stephanie Long, Senior Editor

Mr. Inbetween is a half-hour Australian dramedy about a man named Ray Shoesmith, who is an assassin by night, and a father and friend by day. The show, based on Scott Ryan’s 2005 film The Magician, follows Ray trying to juggle the juxtaposition of being a killer and a lover. Critics have called it “violent” but “with a wicked sense of fun,” and now I feel like I know so much more about Steph based on this pick.

Scenes from a Marriage

Picked by Brooke Obie, Deputy Director

Brooke would like to clarify that she is specifically recommending Nicole Beharie’s performance in Scenes from a Marriage because, obviously, Beharie steals every scene she’s ever been in. This show is an adaptation of the beloved 1973 Swedish television miniseries written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. This version stars noted chemistry experts Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain who play a couple in a marriage falling apart. No word on if there will be any bicep kisses.

Never Have I Ever

Picked by Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Senior Editor

Never Have I Ever isn’t perfect. It’s got some questionable jokes, and has the audacity to sideline Niecy Nash, but it has brought me too much joy in the past year to ignore. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (a star!) plays Devi, a teenager navigating the death of her father and the frustrations of high school. In so many ways, Devi and her disastrous dating life and bursts of rage are the representation us second-generation kids of colour have been waiting for. Plus, there’s a side storyline involving Common that I won’t spoil for you, but if teen shenanigans aren’t your thing, there’s something for the grownups too.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

The Downright Sexiest Shows Of All Time

Why Insecure’s Emmys Shutout Hurts

Your Complete Netflix Spring Preview Is Here

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