Awards Daily TV Co-Editor Megan McLachlan lists her favorite TV shows of 2020.
Given that we were all at home in 2020, I suppose there’s really no excuse not to have a favorite TV show this year (unless of course you don’t have a television—which, to quote Joey Tribianni, “What’s all your furniture pointed at?”).
Can you believe 2020 was the same year that gave us Tiger King? That seems like years ago (Carole Baskin has already been on Dancing with the Stars since then). I loved so much television in 2020 and made my list based on shows that I think pushed the envelope in terms of where TV will go in 2021.
10. HBO’s The Vow/STARZ’s Seduced
In terms of basic pop culture obsession, I would put both of these shows at No. 1, as there was no subject as fascinating and disturbing as Keith Raniere and his NXIVM sex cult. While both of these docuseries use opposing techniques in bringing the story to life (The Vow is very rough and raw, while Seduced is more focused), both complement each other well and are must-sees for a primer on the topic.
9. FX/FX on Hulu’s A Teacher
Writer/director Hannah Fidell adapts her own feature-length film into a 10-episode limited series about a married Texas teacher (Kate Mara) who starts an affair with a student (Nick Robinson). The episodes are 30 minutes each and are actually best consumed all together to really digest the story, making for one of the most bingeable series of the year.
8. STARZ’s Hightown
Last summer, series creator Rebecca Cutter introduced us to TV’s next great ant-hero, Monica Raymund’s Jackie Quinones, a sea cop who gets embroiled in a murder investigation, all while trying to stay sober in the party capitol of P Town in Cape Cod. This show tackles the opioid crisis in a fresh way, with outstanding performances from James Badge Dale, Riley Voelkel, Shane Harper, and Atkins Estimond.
7. STARZ’s P Valley
Showrunner Katori Hall adapts her play Pussy Town for the small screen, which follows the lives of the strippers that work at The Pynk, owned by Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan) in the fictional Mississippi town of Chucalissa. There are a lot of storylines going on on this show (LGBTQ rappers, women escaping abusive relationships), but ultimately all of these tributaries flow into a bigger theme about motherhood.
6. Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso
Schitt’s Creek ended this year, but if we’re looking for a show to carry on the tradition of good people being funny (when so many times it’s the “bad” people who get the laughs), then it’s Ted Lasso to lead the way. Jason Sudeikis created this character out of NBC Sports promos he did, and developed Ted into a full-fledged, living-breathing classic. We always knew Sudeikis was a good actor, but this reinforces that he’s also an exceptional writer. But Ted Lasso is also a balanced team sport, with game players including Hannah Waddingham, Juno Temple, Nick Mohammed, and Brett Goldstein.
5. HBO’s McMillions
The docuseries profiled the cast of characters behind a decade-long scam in the McDonald’s Monopoly game, where one man sold winning game pieces to people for a profit. The series made us nostalgic for the ’90s and FBI agent Doug Mathews a household name.
4. FX’s Dave
Who would have thought Lil Dicky would be so deep? But in the first season of the comedy series based on his life, the rapper formally known as Dave Burd proves to be the real deal. Sex kinks, bipolar disorders, getting verified on Twitter—there’s nothing this show was afraid to tackle with the swagger of an upperclassman series.
3. Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit
A riveting show about chess? Surely, you jest. But it’s quite the achievement to be one of the most streamed shows of the season and be about a game that not many people really know how to do. Or maybe that was the draw. Either way, this might be the best limited series Netflix has ever done.
2. HBO Max’s Search Party
Search Party is the Madonna of television shows, in that it keeps reinventing itself each season. Season 1, it’s a missing persons story. Season 2, a crime story. Season 3, a self-reflective one that questions whether we ever really knew these characters (or whether they ever really knew each other). The evolution of Dory (Alia Shawkat) is as fascinating a Breaking Bad as Walter White’s. Maybe even more so, especially since this one keeps you laughing.
1. HBO’s I May Destroy You
This series provides you with a warning in its title. And while I didn’t leave this show destroyed, I did feel profoundly changed and challenged by I May Destroy You, which takes place over the course of a year in a young writer’s life, following a sexual assault. Throughout the 12 episodes, series creator/star Michaela Coel frequently spins the bottle of culpability, sometimes even pointing it at herself. In a year where everyone is talking about Emerald Fennell’s film Promising Young Woman, which is also about the fallout of a sexual assault, we simply can’t not include Coel’s series in the discussion. While IMDY doesn’t offer a “revenge” fantasy, it pushes its lead toward closure.