Top 10 TV Series of 2020
Top 10 TV Series Released in 2020
10. Visible: Out on Television
Apple TV+'s first great original program, five-part docuseries Visible: Out on Television comprehensively chronicles TV's hidden queer histories, beginning with the birth of the medium in the 1950s. A spiritual sequel to the classic 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, this series relies on LGBTQ+ writers, performers, and activists to tell their own stories about how television impacted them in the earliest parts of their lives. Visible persuasively argues that TV was a vital tool for the gay rights movement because it brought flesh-and-blood queer characters into people's living rooms, alleviating some fears and mistrust of the non-straight community. Even more importantly, Visible reminds us that TV can provide access to language and representation that helps viewers define their own identities.
9. The Boys
Few 2020 shows shocked me, frightened me, or nauseated me more than Amazon Prime's gruesomely subversive superhero dramedy The Boys. Exploring what the U.S. would really look like if superheroes existed (and were controlled by a Disney-like pharma conglomerate), the series is a sociopolitical Hollywood satire that harpoons the greedy insincerity endemic to American culture. Also, the gore is primo. Although the momentum often deflates when the story shifts focus from the 'Supes' to the group of hapless chodes trying to stop these megalomaniacs, The Boys utterly fizzed in its second season thanks to a classic Ritchie Aprile-style Season 2 villain. Aya Cash's stomach-churning supervillainess Stormfront easily gives blue-eyed creepster Homelander (Anthony Starr) a run for his money - all the while sporting a killer undercut.
FXX's white-boy rap comedy Dave is one of those shows that is so perfect for me and my weirdo taste that I actually don’t know anyone I can recommend it to! Is this show for Jew-bros, rap fans, or disability studies wonks? I dunno, but I love it! Starring real-life hip-hop satirist Lil Dicky (a.k.a. David Burd), the semi-autobiographical comedy follows a twenty-something aspiring rapper/neurotic nebbish as develops his professional persona and dips his toes into stardom. Dave is consistently funny and also genuinely heartfelt, exploring everything from sexual intimacy in relationships to the everyday impacts of bipolar disorder. Best of all, it excels at showcasing male friendship. GaTa, Lil Dicky's real-life buddy and hype-man, is so hilarious and vulnerable in his art-imitates-life role that I would shower him in Emmys if I could.
7. This Country
One of the sharpest British sitcoms of the last few years, this BAFTA-winning mockumentary zeroes in on the eccentricities of rural English life. Created by real-life siblings (and genius writer-performers) Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper, the show features the two as cousins/best buds Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, a pair of listless twenty-somethings slow to launch into adulthood due to the economic decimation of their tiny Cotswolds village. Kerry is a naive and overgrown tomboy who lives at home and clowns around with the neighborhood middle schoolers. Kurtan is more ambitious but tends to self-destructively obsess over hobbies and etiquette. Framed as a slice-of-life BBC documentary, the series follows Kerry and Kurtan's cockamamie schemes, hysterically trivial arguments and sweet friendship with the avuncular local vicar. Season 3 ends the series with grace, making me somewhat hopeful for the upcoming American remake.
6. The Crown
As someone who found The Crown's third season much duller than its superlative first two, I'm ecstatic Season 4 is a return to form thanks to the introduction of some larger-than-life personalities. As this historical Netflix drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II veers into the 1980s, its fourth season focuses on female dominance/destruction and what that can look like outside of the sovereign's role. Gillian Anderson joins the cast as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and newcomer Emma Corrin debuts as Princess Diana, both playing alternatively egomaniacal but pitiable foils to the Queen (Olivia Colman). By far my favorite episode of this chapter homes in on the burbling conflict between Thatcher and the Queen regarding Britain's relationship with South Africa's apartheid regime. Watching a female monarch and a female politician spar over something that has nothing at all to do with marriage, romance, or birthing an heir is an absolute thrill to behold. (Also, we finally get to meet adult Princes Edward and Andrew, who, in just a few short comical scenes, come off as raging fuckweasels.)
5. What We Do in the Shadows
FX's horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows rewrites the trope that vampires are rich, sexy, and omnipotent. I mean, can't they be suburban losers, too? Season 2 ditches the first season's "let's--reluctantly-take-over-the world" McGuffin and instead refocuses on character development, especially the growing confidence of fed-up familiar-turned-nascent vampire hunter Guillermo (Harvey Guillén). Instead of fostering futile ambitions, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Colin (Mark Proksch), learn how to live not-so-peacefully in their Staten Island neighborhood, with uproarious results. Episode standouts include: "Ghosts" (Nadja's doll clone comes to life and becomes her only female friend in this sausage fest of a house); "Brain Scramblies" (the gang accidentally fucks up a neighbor's Super Bowl party); "Colin's Promotion" (the energy vampire gains authority at work, nearly destroying his household in the process); and "Collaboration" (Guillermo is beguiled by a chic vampluencer/scamfluencer). Honestly, though, if Greta Lee WERE a real-life vampire, I would succumb to her thrall like that.
4. The Queen's Gambit
I never thought chess could be so riveting. Netflix's dramatic limited series The Queen's Gambit stars beautiful alien Anya Taylor-Joy as an orphaned Kentucky chess prodigy who comes of age in the 1960s, battling abandonment and substance abuse along the way. Based on Walter Tevis' novel of the same name, the series is a dark, cerebral, and engrossing study of female genius - perhaps just as glamorous as Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but bleaker and more thrilling. Like the best sports movies, it treats its game like a mental heist: Taylor-Joy's precision and monomania entranced me.
I can never stop screeching at the TV while watching PEN15. Hulu's transgressive middle school comedy is, at times, so agonizingly relatable that I'm instantly transported to my own fetid, early 2000s pubescence. Created by and starring fearless writers/performers Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as their 13-year-old selves, the series exposes the sociological terrors of the pre-high school phase, when kids are even more identity-starved than they are in their full-blown teenage years. Building on the genius of their first season, Erskine and Konkle double down on emotional torment in Season 2 as their characters join the all-male wrestling team, star in/produce the school play, date their first gay boyfriends, experiment with Wicca, and struggle with manipulative friends. The child cast also continues to blow me away: We fall in love with closeted sweetie Gabe (star-in-the-making Dylan Gage) and run screaming from pathological liar Maura (expert villainess Ashlee Grubbs). Anyway, I'll be over here, shrieking in the corner from over-excitement.
2. Mrs. America
FX's tragicomic miniseries Mrs. America is akin to a murder mystery where you follow the perpetrator as they skulk about, committing their crimes. In this case, the killer is conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) and the victim is the Equal Rights Amendment, which died bloodily at the hands of her growing movement in the 1970s. The series frames Schlafly as an opportunistic intellectual who, after failing to win political clout via her expertise in national defense and nuclear policy, instead rebrands herself as an antifeminist crusader leading an army of trad-wives to defeat a major threat to their socioeconomic privilege. Each episode illuminates a complicated figure in the fight to ratify the E.R.A., including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Brenda Feigen (Ari Graynor), and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks). The acting is superb, but the individual stories are even more enthralling.
1. My Brilliant Friend: The Story of a New Name
I didn't think My Brilliant Friend could improve on its near-perfect first season, yet somehow, it did. HBO's lush Italian import, adapted from Elena Ferrante's mega-popular coming of age novels, chronicles the lives of two close frenemies - one bright but passionless, the other a prodigy denied an education - as they grow up together in impoverished post-War Naples. Constrained by forces beyond their control, including their class, gender, and violent neighborhood culture, Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Gaia Girace) are constantly pulled apart and smashed back together again. In the second season, beautiful but cruel Lila grapples with her miscalculated marriage to abusive Stefano (Giovanni Amura), while dowdy and passive Elena gains entry to the upper class thanks to the affordances of her schooling. They're fueled by each other's contrasting intellectual prowess, but neither is ever able to attain the other's elusive power.
Work in Progress
The Baby-Sitters Club
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook
The Good Lord Bird
The American Barbecue Showdown
Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi
Best Older Series I saw in 2020:
Stath Lets Flats Series 1 & 2 (2018)
Brideshead Revisited (1981)
The Forsyte Saga (2002)
Daniel Deronda (2002)
The Way We Live Now (2001)
Shameless U.K. Series 1 & 2 (2004)
Thirtysomething Season 1 (1987)
The Comeback (2005)
Florida Girls (2019)
Upper Middle Bogan (2013)
F*ck, That's Delicious (2016)