10. The Haunting of Bly Manor
I’m sad to see Bly Manor has faded from the public discourse. It’s not as “good” as its Haunting predator Hill House, but such comparisons are unfair and misguided. Bly Manor is its own enchanting beast exploring the manifestation of grief. It’s a slow build, but it will leave you breathless by the end. Bly Manor’s greatest strength is that it allows you a chance to rethink your relationship to mortality, and if you let it, it will stay with you much longer than you imagined—much like the Lady in the Lake.
9. Ted Lasso
Friday Night Lights meets Episodes in this comedy about an American football coach (Jason Sudeikis) who moves to England to spearhead a soccer team. Ted Lasso is very sentimental, and that exactly why I loved it. In a year packed with cynicism, it was nice to see a show about a nice person doing nice things. Loaded with charm, humor, and heart, Ted Lasso is the perfect binge.
8. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist follows Zoey (Jane Levy), a quirky, lovable computer coder who gains the ability to uncover people’s emotions through musical numbers. Come for covers of your favorite pop songs and some of Mandy Moore’s career-best choreography; stay for a profoundly heartfelt series about adapting to life’s cruelest challenges. This year’s biggest TV surprise and an underappreciated hidden gem.
7. Defending Jacob
Our TV landscape is riddled with psychological thrillers and whodunits. Defending Jacob is the best one I’ve seen in quite some time. You’ll notice a recurring theme on this list is shows that leave an emotional punch. Defending Jacob is dark and moody, a twisted tale of the perfect family torn apart by lies and deceit. Aside from a trio of phenomenal performances, what really sets Jacob apart is that it leaves the audience with lingering questions—about the plot and the very essence of human nature.
6. I Know This Much is True
Written and directed by indie-darling Derek Cianfrance, this Mark Ruffalo starring miniseries earns a spot on my list because, in six episodes, it managed to profoundly move me unlike anything else I’ve seen this year. Ruffalo gives an all-time great performance in this duel role as the Birdsey twins, and Cianfrance so perfectly encapsulates the complexities of familial relationships. IKTMIT feels like a drama from the 90s —in the best way— a character-driven family drama we don’t see enough of anymore; in that way, it feels like a gift, one worthy of deep appreciation.
Ramy Youssef writes, produces, directs, and stars in Ramy, but what impresses me most about this multi-hyphenate talent is that, while it would be easy for Youssef to center his eponymous series entirely on himself, he allows each of his characters to become fully realized in their own right with a depth of emotion not usually seen in shows that also carry so much comedy. Ramy moves past stereotypes and cliques to present a close-knit family through something other than a eurocentric lens. A refreshing and hilarious addition to 2020’s TV offerings.
4. Normal People
As the era of Peak TV continues and production budgets and set pieces swell like never before, Normal People presented a welcomed change—an intimate story, both in its nature and subject matter. As Covid quarantined us from one another, seeing Marianne and Connell’s (the exquisite Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal) connection unfold was a needed reminder of the beauty of human connection.
3. The Last Dance
The premise of The Last Dance seems straight forward enough — the docuseries chronicles the Chicago Bulls’ quest for a sixth championship ring led by superstar Michael Jordan. What The Last Dance presents is an exploration of ego and the corrupting influence of money and power. For a sports novice like myself, Jordan was nothing more than my brother’s most beloved sports hero. The Last Dance presents a man who is profoundly charismatic and unmatched in talent, and also someone with deep resentments. In the end, Jordan remains something of a mystery but made for undoubtedly riveting television.
2. The Plot Against America
The Plot Against America presents a version of an America overtaken by partisan politics, suspicion, and blatant racism. It hits entirely too close to home— which is precisely why it is worth seeking out. Zoe Kazan and Morgan Spector lead an all-star cast turning in some of the best (and sadly overlooked) performances of the year. America is a terrifying what-if, but also brimming with humanity and hope—an all too prescient reminder of the lasting power of kindness.
1. The Crown
The Crown gave us the best production values of 2020, each episode dazzling with its recreation of royal opulence. Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher commanded the screen, and Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth remains an underrated performance anchoring the series. Add the introduction of Charles and Diana’s ill-fated romance, and you get The Crown‘s best season yet.