As many top tens have mentioned, 2020 has really bit the big one. When I started compiling my list of my favorite shows of the year, I noticed that I gravitated more towards shows that made me feel good. Television was all about escape since I spent, you know, roughly eighty percent of my year looking at screens in the confines of my own home.
My top ten has more than ten shows squeezed into it (not sorry), but my honorable mention list is way longer than I expected.
The Plot Against America for giving me election anxiety way before the election got serious this fall. That final shot is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.
Unorthodox for giving us Shira Haas
Unpregnant for being a passionate companion piece to Never Rarely Sometimes Always and nimbly balancing that tricky tone
The Queen’s Gambit for getting me to download chess on all my devices
Every reality show that showcased real people getting to do real things in wholly original reality competition series like Supermarket Sweep, The Weakest Link, Haute Dog, RuPaul’s Drag Race (including the Sherry Pie drama from season 12 and iterations both from Canada and Holland) Full Bloom, The Big Flower Fight, Legendary, Lego Masters and many more.
Dave for being the best bait and switch show of the year. I was not looking forward to watch it and then I didn’t want it to end. “Jail” should’ve been nominated for an Emmy.
Black Monday for never settling on one steady tone and giving us whacky ’80s everything
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness for giving Dakota Fanning’s Sarah Howard her own agency and a star-making turn from Rosy McEwen
We Are Who We Are for being unpredictable and sun-kissed
We’re Here for unleashing those queens and their artistry on those small towns
Oh, Jerome, No for reminding us that nice guys still exist and they have problems too
Saved by the Bell for giving us the brilliance of Josie Totah
10. Hulu’s The Great
I am still in shock that this comedy series didn’t do more damage at this year’s Emmy Awards. With the acidic words of Tony McNamara, Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult tear down the tapestried scenery in this tale of the rise of Catherine the Great. It’s Fanning’s best performance to date and Hoult is a live wire ready to pounce or hump anything that crosses his path. It’s beautifully performed dark comedy cinched into the tightest corset you can find.
9. TBS’ Miracle Workers: Dark Ages
Long live the comedy limited series! Simon Rich’s medieval iteration is a send-up of the peak Golden Age of Television and it’s led by the dimwitted brilliance of Daniel Radcliffe and the gusto of Geraldine Viswanathan. Instead of trying to stop God’s obliteration of planet Earth, season two shows how forging one’s path and the thirst for knowledge have always been beloved and hilarious struggles. It’s silly, broad, and has a dash of potty humor.
8. Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso
Many people have said that “__________ is the show we need right now” but no other new comedy has shown how kindness and forgiveness go a long way the way Ted Lasso has. Jason Sudeikis has never been better (or hotter?) than he has as a man who seems rather relaxed to coach a sport he is completely unfamiliar with…in a country he isn’t accustomed to. Ted Lasso could’ve been a grating or annoying character, but he is imbued with such honesty and openness that you will give him a chance. Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple are fantastic. Towards the end of the first season, Ted says, “You know, I think that if you care about someone and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.” I’m not sure another line sums up how we can look towards 2021 with more optimism than that.
7. HBO’s Insecure
For most of Insecure‘s three seasons, the comedy has come from Issa’s struggles and her missteps, so it’s refreshing to see her come more into her own and gain a professional confidence that we haven’t seen yet. Yvonne Orji’s Molly can’t get out of her own way or stop sabotaging her relationships but that conflict seeps into her friendship with Issa this year. Issa and Molly can challenge one another when they are getting along and it becomes an entirely new animal this time around when they can’t figure out how and why they aren’t clicking. The block party episode (“Lowkey Movin’ On”) is one of the best episodes of the year.
6. Starz’s Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult/HBO’s Murder on Middle Beach
These two documentary series couldn’t be more about different things, but they share a lot of similarities. India Oxenberg takes her trauma into her own hands as she discovers more about Keith Raniere’s odious manipulation and Madison Hamburg is determined to reveal who is responsible for the murder of his mother even if it incriminates someone else in his family. There is a hunger for the truth and closure in both of these docs and neither of them are finished.
5. Pop’s Schitt’s Creek
Farewell Roses. We are better because of you.
4. Hulu’s PEN15
As someone who grew up at the exact same time that Anna and Maya did, this second season is very surreal. PEN15 is a brilliantly awkward comedy about the pain of adolescence, and if you were at all a theater kid in high school, you will love the second half of this sophomore outing. Before that kicks in, their new friend, Maura, will teach everyone about gaslighting and being a terrible influence. Even though I am in my mid-30s, I found myself reacting like a teenager to this new batch of episodes. That is both surprising and terrifying.
3. Amazon’s Small Axe
Just when you think of what you love about one film in Steve McQueen’s anthology, you think of another worthwhile moment or performance in another film. The romance of Lovers Rock does not outweigh the anger of Red, White, and Blue or the injustice of the trial at the center of Mangrove. All five films works best when viewed together to paint an indelible portrait of what West Indian immigrants had to endure at this time in the UK. It is a breathtaking achievement.
2. Netflix’s The Crown
What hasn’t already been said about this fourth season of Peter Morgan’s royal saga? This is the season we have been waiting for, and boy does it deliver the drama. With the additions of Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, The Crown is furiously firing on all cylinders. Watch the physicality of all the women this year and see how they compare to last season. Notice how Josh O’Connor’s Charles has changed from a man eager to expose the institution and then succumb more to it in season. I really want this to win Drama Series at the Emmys next year, and it has a real shot to finally, ahem, take the crown.
1. HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant
This year was not easy for any of us, but The Flight Attendant helped me get over the finish line. I thought this was going to just be a glossy vehicle for Kaley Cuoco to spread her post-Big Bang Theory wings, but it’s so much more than that. Yes, it is a fun, globe-trotting thriller, but it’s also about a woman confronting her own pain and the horrible choices she’s been running away from her entire life. The way Cuoco is able to smile through your tears is a skill that not many can successfully pull off, and her performance is completely reminiscent of Goldie Hawn’s work from the 1980’s. She gives the performance of the year. It’s stylish while bending multiple genres at once and gives its characters more dignity than you think an escapist murder mystery would.