If the year 2020 had to be summed up in one word, a resounding term may be “Sucks.” That is, except when you consider the TV shows of 2020.
This year has been a wet bite in the ass of humanity. From celebrity deaths to Coronavirus to the igniting of protests across America, 2020 has been a year many can’t wait to end.The one speck of silver lining has been the ability to catch-up and binge on TV shows. Game to reality, drama to horror, free television to apps — regardless what the content and where you get it, TV shows have definitely earned its money in the first half of 2020.
The nice thing about all the content we have seen hit the small screen is it spans genre, talent, and network. So, let’s dig in and see if your favorite passing fancy is here.
These are the Top 20 TV Shows of 2020 (so far)…
20. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (S7)
Many fans worldwide who have seen the way this TV series ended with its four-part finale, “The Siege of Mandalore,” believe that should be given the movie magic treatment. It was that good. The characters lived beyond their animation. The scenes were well beyond what most expect with live-action shows.
Ahsako Tano, Commander Rex, Darth Maul, and even General Grievous were just depicted as the great characters they were. A triumphant finale always leaves the audience wanting more — and who didn’t want more of that out of their TV shows in 2020, especially?
19, The Outsider
Yet another adaptation of a Stephen King prose proves to deliver the feels in a way few other authors can. The great Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) and Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One) stand center stage, so to speak, investigated the murder of a young boy. Oh, and Jason Bateman is the alleged baddie here and he’s stepped his game up again. And that’s about where the similarity between this and an episode of Law and Order: SVU ends.
We find at the heart of his disappearance may be some supernatural elements both Erivo and Mendelsohn aren’t ready to interpret or encounter. The plot is creepy enough but their performances create a substantial demand for seasons to come.
18. Dead to Me (S2)
This series was one that had an interesting premise — essentially, what brings these two together. No spoilers here but it is worth delving into, namely when you see how Season 1 ends. And Season 2 picks up the tension, character arcs between Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, and cliffhangers right where it left off with solid writing and tight pacing.
At times, the series gets a little over-the-top, but it’s an entertaining watch that stays somewhat practical for the viewer looking for a solid binge from what could have been nothing more than a twisted, schmaltzy soap opera. The relationship between those two women is something relatable but far-fetched enough to make one of these top TV shows of 2020, and an enjoyable one.
17. High Fidelity
A TV series from a movie is rarely a recipe for a good time; yet, when this John Cusack ’90s classic was set to become a series on Hulu, people kinda knew this would work and become a solid TV show of 2020. And it sure did. Starring Zoe Kravitz and her transformational role as the lead, we leave London and end up in 21st-century Brooklyn without losing a beat.
Much like the series’ muse, if you love a dope soundtrack and an inviting vibe, this is the place for you. The cinematography featuring Brooklyn’s gentrified pubs, day-glo Edison bulbs everywhere, and moving street scene is worth the time alone. Add the plausible scenes and dynamic acting and this is an instant binge.
2020: The year for pop-culture references on gymnastics. The hell?! Guys were reliving their secret crushes on Mary Lou Retton because of the drill sergeant / gymnastics coach, Monica Aldama, and how she got her teams in Texas to defy gravity, physical punishment, and the odds.
This chick cares nary one iota about these girls’ well-being. Admit it: Those girls are a means to an end — trophies and glory! If you don’t cringe and contort watching these teenagers fight for the right to compete by landing square on their mush, you have no soul. Painful to watch. Impossible to turn away. Trust me.
15. The Great
At first, The Great looks like a rather boring period piece about the rise and reign of Russia’s longest-standing empress (34 years), Catherine “The Great”. We have 18th-century politics and the proliferation of Westernized influence from a feisty, spitfire girl (Elle Fanning).
And then you watch it and realize you are stuck in a hilarious spoof caught between Catherine and her nitwit dope of a husband, Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). We go from risque to raunchy to a laugh riot. This is a surprise hit as one of the top TV shows of 2020. It’s not what you expect but a welcome refreshment for what you need.
14. Never Have I Ever
Mindy Kaling was a star on the rise following The Office with her writing skills on full display in series like her self-named project and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Then, her star seemed to fizzle. When Netflix brought us Never Have I Ever, people didn’t even know Kaling’s keen sense of humor and point-of-Gen Z-view was at the forefront of it. She is and it shows in a great way.
Teen comedy series are usually a thing that fulfills a mood or a particular taste. This is no different, but if that’s your thing, you will binge this quickly. There’s this irksome and cantankerous teenage girl named Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in her very first role) who manages to get back to life following the death of her dad. Sounds like a bummer; it’s quite the opposite. If you have teenagers — or are one — you will love this series.
13. The Good Fight, S4
When CBS announced its spin-off from The Good Wife would be exclusive to its paid app, many people feared the show’s demise. On the contrary, The Good Fight, now in its fourth season, is one of the primary reasons All Access has subscribers. This show has proven not every good writer has left to paid TV. These folks have brass to tackle real-time political turmoil (i.e., Trump pee tape, Chinese censorship) and bring it all to a colonialized head.
If you miss smart shows on free TV, get with CBS and get on this show. It is one of the top TV shows of 2020, so much so, that I even went back and streamed The Good Wife, which is freemium on CBS on-demand. Just a shame most won’t see it on CBS All Access. Maybe that access is something that should change.
TV: CBS All Access
12. Westworld, S3
The time-jumping journey into dystopia seemed to have jumped a shark in Season 2 of the HBO creation, but Season 3 shows Westworld has plenty of surprises left in the tank. Much like Dolores said, there is a beautyin this world and that is on full display with the tricks and turns this season takes.
No wonder this took nearly two years to come back to TV, the writers knew they had to come back and prove this series wasn’t over. Although we are no longer in “Westworld,” we come to the real world where things really get out of hand. Does this series give you more of what you wanted? Definitely. Is this series still Westworld? Not really, which may not be a bad thing. You be the judge.
11. What We Do In the Shadows, S2
Mockumentary TV is precisely what people need during the doldrums of COVID-19. Add to that the fading vampire craze and you have some potential genius. Based on the ratings, not many people gleaned greatness in the FX on Hulu inaugural offering, but Season 2 is picking up fans in the 10s of 1000s thanks to word-of-mouth chatter and the random blog, like this.
What We Do In the Shadows features dopey vampires who crash in the same “lair” in Staten Island and they end up hanging out with a frumpy social butterfly named Guillermo (played by a surprising Harvey Guillén), who just so happens to have traces of Van Helsing in his bloodline. This could be a colossal mess. Fortunately, someone at FX knows how to navigate the traffic for this relaxing, enjoyable trip.
TV: FX on Hulu
10. The Plot Against America
Yet another TV series based upon the prolific writings of Philip Roth, The Plot Against America was timely, if not anything else. Not for nothing, but this has nothing to do with Trump as he was judging bikini models in Miss Universe when Roth wrote this in 2005. More importantly, if you study writing, you will learn there are eight facets of any story — theme, characters, setting, conflict, action, tone/style, plot, and POV. This TV series has them all!
In a plot that has America in the global crosshairs among an alternative universe. You see, American wasn’t involved in World War II, at all. In fact, Charles Lindbergh is president. Politics is still the same showing family needs may trump morals when faced with the selfish needs of party…or life versus death. An excellent cast led by Winona Ryder, Anthony Boyle, Zoe Kazan, and John Turturro makes time fly by.
9. Narcos: Mexico
If you thought Netflix’s runaway hit Narcos jumped a shark when it killed off Pablo Escobar (who was owned by Wagner Moura), Narcos: Mexico shows you there are no great whites swimming nearby. Where Colombia stopped, Mexico picks up and runs away. Granted, the system can be predictable — nicotine-addled DEA agents cuss, rant, and rave to barely miss the cagey drug cartel leaders. There is music, sex, drugs…and more sex and drugs…and an entertaining series in its wake.
Yet, Mexico brings something a little deeper in that it draws on the conflict drug cartels and American politicians have at becoming the real power in North America. That become the villain Narcos has missed since Wagner Moura left his diabolical and polarizing Medellin cartel in Season 2. It seems 2020 was the year of the comeback for several series — Narcos: Mexico was no exception. Orale!
Many reading this still remember when McDonald’s ran the fabled ‘Monopoly’ game. From 1989-2001, only a couple of people won the money — and it was all a complete scam. This docuseries starts off a little slow but that is only to cram all the details that connects this tapestry of “No effin way” details to this national blitzkrieg of marketing muscle.
The entire country was behind this game and everyone wanted to get the “Boardwalk” game piece, which at one time, was more sought after than a Honus Wagner baseball card in mint condition. Led through this investigation by the lead FBI agent, a surprisingly entertaining Doug Mathews, you won’t believe the twists this documentary has in store. When you’re done, you’ll think twice about that next Big Mac. Guaranteed.
7. Bojack Horseman, S6
Yes. An animated series places this high because it’s unlike anything you would expect from this medium. Typically, an animated horse with the acerbic wit of George Carlin would rank up there with Family Guy, F is for Family, or the GOAT, The Simpsons. Not. One. Bit.
Bojack Horseman is a satirical introspection at life, but gets so real about the emotions and experiences you take out of it. Raw punches to the nether regions and roundhouse kicks to the chops is what you will get during some of these episodes. You never see the brutal honesty coming from Will Arnett of all people (who is fantastic), but when it hits you, all you can do is sit there and laugh uncomfortably. An unexpected delight for the final season.
“Coming-of-age” doesn’t begin to describe what this movie is about in the form of viewing. This is an exploration into the human psyche and quite possibly humans you don’t even know exist. The story is about Esty (Shira Haas), a 19-year-old Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn. She grows to abhor her hyper-regimented lifestyle forced upon her so she flees — to Berlin. (Think about that: a Jewish girl running to Germany.)
Then, of course, her past finds her in the form of her husband and cousin. It is thrilling and grueling all at the same time as Esty fights for her right life as a free person (yes, the timeliness is uncanny). There are only four episodes in this miniseries but the affect this will have you will linger for much longer.
Alex Garland made a miniseries for Hulu that no one saw coming. Starring Sonoya Mizuno, the story focuses on an Apple-like tech giant, led by a brooding and heartbreaking CEO named Forest (Nick Offerman), that offers a little more to the marketplace that its passion of quantum mechanics. We end up following Lily (Mizuno) through her death-defying journey to find what happened to her boyfriend, Sergei.
The plot keeps you guessing and never hope the story speeds up. If you saw Annihilation or Ex Machina, you get it…and Garland. Following the season ender, Google’s predictive search to “Will Devs…” is “have another season.” The thing is worth that kind of demand and certainly one of the best TV shows of 2020. The existential trip into psychedelia will have you begging for S2.
TV: FX on Hulu
4. Better Call Saul, S5
When Breaking Bad, arguably one of the best TV series ever made, shared a prequel was coming; hopes were high, but no one fathomed Better Call Saul would have this kind of longevity. The penultimate season — number five — proved while a shark may have been swimming around the set, no one is jumping (yet).
The stellar Bob Odenkirk is at again, and delivers in every episode. There are multiple storylines to juggle and even more characterization to develop. From the Salamancas to Mike and adorable Gus, we are getting a snootful of what led to Walter White meeting his demise many years later. This antihero dramatic exercise has shown good writing can give anything more time.
P.S. Kim Wexler is amazeballs. If that woman doesn’t get some gold, Emmy is blind, deaf, and dumb.
3. The Last Dance
If you watched any basketball in the 1990s, this is a must for your collection of DVDs to admonish that greatness and the preeminent basketball player in history, Michael Jordan. You would think a 10-part series about one season couldn’t capture the heart of a fan. It actually captured the heart of a sports nation languishing amid the pandemic looking for a serious fix.
Even though Jordan’s production company, Jump 23, helped ESPN put this docuseries on, don’t think MJ comes out smelling like a rose. The man was an assassin on the court and off it too. He dreamed of ways to destroy his opponents in whatever game he could find. And when you are that addicted to the win, the quest is a close second. Few documentaries, like ESPN’s signature 30 on 30 series, allow the open door into an athlete’s soul like The Last Dance did for Jordan. This is definitely one of the best TV shows of 2020. It was absolutely great, just like Mike.
2. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Can you even have this conversation about the best TV shows of 2020 and not bring up Joe Exotic?! This treasure of white trash created memes, conspiracy theories, spin-off documentaries, and now, even talks of a movie. When the COVID-19 quarantine hit us hard, Tiger King was there to make us all purr with binging satisfaction.
Dude was a gun-toting, mulleted eccentric douchnozzle who was also proprietor of a rogue zoo, aspiring country vocalist, and potential murderer. And then there’s that Carole Baskin chick who became the toxic subject line of Web forums everywhere. People are still talking about this guy and never even mention the tigers. This docuseries was an instant binge classic and you feel dirty watching it. Yeah, it was great.
(Oh yes, you bet your @$$ she did it.)
1. Mrs. America
Two words: True. Story. Two more words: Cate Blanchett. If this wasn’t among the top TV shows of 2020, Mrs. America would have been a complete flop. It’s not. In fact, it’s a must-see for any feminist or sexist, conservative or liberal, fan or foe — it’s just damn good television. Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing as 1970s and 1980s conservative icon, Phyllis Schlafly. And that doesn’t begin to end the top-notch performances: Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem (and dang near a doppleganger), Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, and a surprising turnout from Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan.
Think about the Women’s Liberation movement. It created a grassroots approach to equality unlike any other — and a woman was the enemy of the progression in America. She was the centrifuge of energy in this country, but not at all was the source — that was the government. An entity of reality Schlafly often found herself longing to get inside, so instead, she makes waves larger outside than anything she could have otherwise.
Blanchett is a force on the small screen too. She touches into her villainous quiver and unleashes a barrage of darts to hit people when they least expect it. Sexism. Culture stereotypes. Misguided morality. Religious piety. She hits all the targets on a quest that intoxicated Schlafly to deny the very women she loved the support she wanted.