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The top 8 breakout TV hits of 2021 that surged from word-of-mouth buzz

“Squid Game.”


  • The analytics company Diesel Labs provided Insider with a list of the new TV shows this year that had limited pre-launch online engagement, but had the biggest increase after they premiered.
  • Diesel Labs pulls audience-engagement data from social and video platforms Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to gauge the level of interest in a piece of content. 
  • Diesel Labs ranked the shows by their ratio of engagement before and after they debuted.
  • For instance, Netflix’s “Squid Game” had 820 post-premiere engagements for every 1 pre-premiere engagement.
  • The list also include Disney+’s “What If…?,” HBO’s limited series “Mare of Easttown,” and Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.”

8. “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu)Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin on Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building."Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin star on “Only Murders in the Building.”


Ratio: 1:70

Description: “Only Murders in the Building follows three strangers (Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez) who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and employs their precise knowledge of true crime to investigate the truth. As they record a podcast of their own to document the case, the three unravel the complex secrets of the building which stretch back years. Perhaps even more explosive are the lies they tell one another. Soon, the endangered trio comes to realize a killer might be living amongst them as they race to decipher the mounting clues before it’s too late.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 100%

What critics said: “Steve Martin, whose career path has intersected television since before he was a writer and an occasional presence on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, has in his mid-70s co-created a splendidly funny, involving and one might even say youthful series.” — Los Angeles Times 

7. “What If…?” (Disney+)Hayley Atwell reprises her role of Peggy Carter in Disney+'s "What If...?" premiere.Hayley Atwell reprises her role of Peggy Carter in Disney+’s “What If…?” premiere.

Marvel Studios

Ratio: 1:130

Description: “‘What If…?’ flips the script on the MCU, reimagining famous events from the films in unexpected ways. Marvel Studios’ first animated series focuses on different heroes from the MCU, featuring a voice cast that includes a host of stars who reprise their roles.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 93%

What critics said: “It notably stumbles into a mistake that always irks me in alternate-universe stories like this, but aside from that, it’s just an absolute blast.”  — AV Club

6. “Shadow and Bone” (Netflix)Alina Shadow and Bone season one Netflix 2Jessie Mei Li as Alina in Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone.”

David Appelby/Netflix

Ratio: 1:220

Description: “Dark forces conspire against orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov when she unleashes an extraordinary power that could change the fate of her war-torn world.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 88%

What critics said: “Vitally for a genre series in a time when we’re all pretty much over grim dystopias, the show has a human heart, a rollicking pace, and an honest-to-god sense of humor.” — Rolling Stone

5. “Mare of Easttown” (HBO)Mare of EasttownKate Winslet in “Mare of Easttown.”

Michele K. Short/HBO

Ratio: 1:330

Description: “As her life crumbles around her, a small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder. The series explores the dark side of a close community and provides an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 95%

What critics said: “‘Mare’ isn’t just a Winslet acting exhibition, nor is it ever in danger of becoming a hollow A-list actor offensive … It’s a riveting and messy family drama that’s wrapped in a chewy and thrilling murder mystery.” — Vox

4. “Bling Empire” (Netflix)bling empire


Ratio: 1:570

Description: “Follow LA’s wildly wealthy Asian and Asian American fun seekers as they go all out with fabulous parties, glamour and drama in this reality series.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 90%

What critics said: “If you are somebody who likes this sort of show, then you’ll want to add this to your queue — and maybe start begging Netflix for new episodes after that spectacular season finale.” — Mashable

3. “Ginny and Georgia” (Netflix)ginny and georgia


Ratio: 1:630

Description: “Free-spirited Georgia and her two kids, Ginny and Austin, move north in search of a fresh start but find that the road to new beginnings can be bumpy.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 68%

What critics said: “The body of the series is a bantery young-adult soap, the head a woman-on-the-edge thriller, and the tail a race melodrama. The creator, Sarah Lampert, must have looked upon her handiwork with proud amusement.” — New Yorker

2. “Squid Game” (Netflix)Squid Game

Youngkyu Park

Ratio: 1:820

Description: “Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits — with deadly high stakes.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 94%

What critics said: “Its messages hit like a sledgehammer to the head, yet this vibrant, vicious series holds a surprisingly big heart at its core. A winning blend of spectacle and sentiment.” — Empire Magazine

1. “Young Royals” (Netflix)a still from young royals on netflix“Young Royals.”


Ratio: 1:2,440

Description: “Prince Wilhelm adjusts to life at his prestigious new boarding school, Hillerska, but following his heart proves more challenging than anticipated.”

Rotten Tomatoes critic score: N/A

What critics said: “We’re intrigued with the love vs. duty story angle of Young Royals, but we’re wondering if that’s going to be buried under an avalanche of privileged teens acting badly.” — Decider

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