A Look at Top TV of 2020

By Amit Jagwani  | 

2020 was anything but predictable in just about every area of life and business — and entertainment was no exception. Most productions were halted due to coronavirus surges, but some series found ways to work around the pandemic and deliver gripping moments of comfort, comedy, grit or escape. We take a look at some critics’ top favorites.

Fantasy Viewing
When the world got too frightening to face, fantasy viewing like What We Do in the Shadows offered powerful moments of escape. The FX series follows a coven of vampires living on Staten Island. Despite centuries of being alive—or at least, undead—they haven’t learned how to navigate the world, resulting in silly but smart relief from harsh reality. HBO’s Lovecraft Country is described by Adweek as a blend of horror, supernatural and other genre elements that tells a story about America’s racist past and present. The acclaimed series includes storylines that are both painfully real and fantastically unique.

Drama Queens
Critics and fans alike loved Breaking Bad, so a prequel to that show had a very high bar, but Better Call Saul (AMC, streaming on Netflix) delivers. Season five of the hit drama series tracks shady lawyer Jimmy McGill down his ever-continuing slide into the underbelly of the criminal drug world. By contrast, Better Things (FX, streaming on Hulu) is about an honest (albeit equally loud-spoken) single mother raising three daughters while struggling to make it as an actor in LA. The comedy-drama series is based on Pamela Adlon’s fictionalized memoir and she stars in the lead role of Sam Fox.

Gravity for Grave Days
I May Destroy You is unsettling. It’s also lyrical, comical and of-the-moment, as it recounts writer Michaela Cole’s experience of being drugged and sexually assaulted. The country was not in good shape when it premiered on HBO in June, grappling with Covid-19 and mass protests in response to George Floyd’s death. The weightiness of this intense series felt timely, as did Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird. Ethan Hawke stars as abolitionist John Brown in the darkly comedic miniseries about slavery and America’s (ongoing) struggle with racism.

Comedies with Teeth
In the second season of Ramy, on Hulu, eponymous creator Ramy Youssef delves deeper into his whimsically spiritual journey toward becoming a better Muslim. The lives of his father, sister and additional relatives get airtime, in this groundbreaking first-ever series about a Muslim-American family. Pen15, also in its second season on Hulu, teeters that fine line between funny and flinch as it tells the story of best friends Maya and Anna attempting to navigate the heartbreaks and triumphs of eighth grade. Thirty-something co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play the gawky 13-year-olds in a perfectly cringe-worthy way made all the more ridiculous by an accompanying cast of real teens.

Content for Big Kids
BoJack Horseman wrapped up its final season at the start of 2020, after entertaining fans on Netflix for six years. The animated dramedy introduced viewers to a world of anthropomorphic animals, led by Will Arnett playing the title role of a washed-up former star of an ‘80s show called Horsin’ Around. And Disney Plus scored top marks during its debut last November with The Mandalorian, a live-action Star Wars series written and produced by Jon Favreau. While humor, action and memorable villains entertained, Baby Yoda nearly broke the Internet in 2020.

Like the rest of us, television suffered from last year’s pandemic plight. Yet dark days were made brighter with these binge-worthy shows that promise to keep us entertained well into the coming year.

Amit Jagwani
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