The 10 Best TV Shows Of 2020

Dec 21, 2020
With the pandemic and lockdowns putting various productions on a lengthy hiatus, 2020's TV calendar hasn't exactly gone according to plan. Absent, for example, was the mighty Succession, with filming for the eagerly anticipated third season pushed back until early 2021 (although it did provide the opportunity for many people to play catch up with it).

Delays aside, it has still been a vibrant year for television across multiple genres, the so-called Golden Age of TV continuing unabated with a level of quality befitting the longform storytelling that has become the norm. There have been obvious favourites and lesser-known gems, ripe for discovery, across the last 12 months, with on-demand viewing becoming the favoured method for many.

The following are what I consider to be the 10 best television shows of 2020. 

Perry Mason S1 poster

10. PERRY MASON (HBO)
A prequel series based on crime novelist Erle Stanley Gardner's creation, made famous by Raymond Burr's portrayal of the character on TV, because we've all always wondered what Perry Mason did before he became a lawyer, right? Factitiousness aside, what could have been an entirely unnecessary delve into Mason's backstory becomes vital and urgent via a hardboiled approach to the era (James Ellroy is clearly an influence) and an outstanding cast, lead by a ruffled, forlorn but resilient Matthew Rhys in the title role. It's more violent and gruesome than may be expected, and when the courtroom theatrics commence there's an element of predictability to it all, but it's such a well made show (the set designs are stunning, as though they rebuilt 1930s L.A. in its entirety) with top tier craftsmanship both in front and behind the camera, that it's irresistible for those who like their crime dramas operating in ambiguous spaces with scrappy, underdog heroes.

Ozark Season 3

9. OZARK (Netflix)
The third season of this darkly compelling series saw the Byrde family continue to be drawn inextricably deeper into a world of crime and murder, with new arrivals on the scene complicating matters further. Ozark has always stretched the bounds of plausibility with the gradual escalation of events but it's presented in such a way that it transcends what would otherwise be trashy, potboiler material. The gloomy colour scheme sets the tone of impending doom being constantly around the corner and there's a similar subdued melancholy from the rather excellent cast, punctuated by frequent outbursts, many of a violent nature. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are terrific leads - coiled tension; holding things together - and this season saw the destabilising introduction of Tom Pelphrey as Linney's character's disturbed brother. The MVP remains Julia Garner though, a firecracker with the smarts to hold her ground with more seasoned crooks. Shocks aplenty and always riveting, if not always entirely realistic.

High Fidelity 2020 poster

8. HIGH FIDELITY (FX)
This show was cancelled after one season so it feels bittersweet praising it here knowing we won't see where the story goes next - it's a real shame because there will never be the opportunity to take these characters beyond the known territory of Nick Hornby's original novel and the film adaptation starring John Cusack. The gender-swapping of the main character really works, ZoĆ« Kravitz totally selling Rob's obsessions and self-destructive tendencies, ably assisted by a hugely likeable supporting cast. Sure, many will be familiar with the main plot points but it's the character details that make it worthwhile exploring this story again, and unsurprisingly, it has the best needle drops of any TV show during 2020. A thrilling blast of nostalgia for those who've spent (and continue to spend) a lot of their free time in a record shop (on either side of the counter) and a reminder that life's ups and downs in the 21st century are always all the more vital when soundtracked to music. 

I'll Be Gone In The Dark

7. I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK (HBO)
You don't need to flip through many channels to stumble across a true life documentary, but this one's substantially different than most, and arguably more affecting because of it. An adaptation of the late Michelle McNamara's book of the same name, where she transcribed her investigations into the so-called Golden State Killer (aka the East Area Rapist, aka the Original Night Stalker, and more) in the hopes of finally establishing his identity, this six-part series is unique in that it makes McNamara the central focus for the most part. The killer conducted a reign of terror during the seventies and eighties, with 50 rapes and 10 murders attributed to him between 1976 and 1986, but he eluded law enforcement at the time and ever since. McNamara's complete obsession with every little clue she uncovered quite possibly contributed to her untimely passing, and her widower, comedian Patton Oswalt - along with less well known faces - highlights with emotional force that she was a passionate, committed individual whose journey into the darkness undeniably took its toll. It's quietly devastating at points but the resolution reminds us what can be achieved through unwavering determination and that even if scars don't heal they do fade with time.

Schitt's Creek S6 poster

6. SCHITT'S CREEK (Pop)
Plenty of people played catch-up with this series in 2020, the building word-of-mouth reaching a peak as the sixth and final season appeared (with lockdown providing an opportunity for many of us to get up to date). The formerly rich Rose family's humorous escapades in the titular town were packed with wisecracks and moments of surreal incident but the key to its success was the warmth that supported the wit - the plots were usually kept afloat by the overreactions of the characters, any danger or threat being of a decidedly low key variety, but there was an overt tenderness at its heart that guaranteed a smile and a chuckle in every episode. Preparations for David and Patrick's wedding provided the arc for this season, but there were pleasing detours for all of the main cast members, whether it was unexpected success of Moira's appearance in low budget horror sequel The Crowening, or the expansion of the Rosebud Motel chain leading to Johnny getting his business mojo back. The magical ingredient that made Schitt's Creek so beloved was that each of the four leads - Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, David Levy, Annie Murphy - are all fantastic comic actors in their own right, with none of them overshadowing any other. Together, they were unstoppable.

The Boys Season 2 poster

5. THE BOYS (Amazon)
It's a strange world we live in when a dark, violently profane show about an amoral, corrupt team of superheroes - a knowing riff on the Justice League - becomes the most popular original series on Amazon Prime, but it's a testament to the quality of this adaptation of the Garth Ennis/Darrick Robertson comic book that it's managed to cross over to an audience that would usually steer clear of this kind of material. While there's a lot of pleasure to be derived from the over-the-top, tasteless humour, it's when the tone gets serious that it becomes more effective, especially when considering the allegorical, pertinent nature of many of the scenarios. It's an excellent ensemble piece, every member of the cast note-perfect for their particular character, but there's one performance that elevates the entire enterprise: Antony Starr as the narcissistic, sociopathic Superman-analogue Homelander is a devilish delight, at turns terrifying, mesmerising, repellent and - very occasionally - sympathetic. A highly compulsive viewing experience and one of those instances where the adaptation is superior to the source.

The Eddy poster

4. THE EDDY (Netflix)
An expat American in Paris trying to keep his jazz club and its house band alive sees things unravel when his teenage daughter arrives just as a violent event opens an unwelcome door to the criminal underworld, resulting in a ripple effect that impacts everyone in the vicinity. As lives teeter on the brink of collapse, it's music that keeps everyone struggling onwards, its power to elevate and heal, the way it can bring people together, is firmly and passionately conveyed throughout the eight episodes of this series. Oscar-winning director Damian Chazelle (La La Land, First Man) is a big presence behind the scenes on the series, his direction of the first two episodes setting the template for the rest of the season with its handheld intimacy. His love of jazz - as seen in La La Land - is abundantly evident and, whilst it may not be everyone's genre of choice, it's captured with such verve and joy that it's hard to resist getting carried along by it. An all round excellent cast led by Andre Holland (High Flying Birds, Moonlight) delivers a masterclass in flawed humanity and messy emotions, all pulled together by the redemptive force of music.

I May Destroy You poster

3. I MAY DESTROY YOU (BBC/HBO)
Perhaps the most brutally honest show of the year, Michaela Coel's miniseries was frequently an uneasy watch, dealing with the numerous complexities surrounding sexual assault, from the manner in which the system processes such crimes to the myriad ways it impacts the victims, and the emotional devastation that follows as a result. A story that focuses on the repercussions of violent rape may sound unremittingly depressing, and while there's plenty to discomfort there's also warmth and humour as Coel's character Arabella's attempts to lead a life that passes for normal. She struggles to complete her second book and not let the event define her, but also finds her perspective on things shifting, affecting her relationships with those around her, leading to chaotic, uncomfortable, charged - and, yes, funny - encounters with friends and colleagues. The fringe definitions of what is and isn't acceptable in terms of sexuality are changing and there's not always a way to find clear straightforward answers. Modern courting is perhaps more fraught with uncertainty than ever, with predators regularly hiding in plain sight, but Coel's approach of tackling it all head on without always locating easy answers - or any answers at all - was breathtakingly potent and marks her out as one of the most important voices currently working in the medium.

The Mandalorian Season 2 poster

2. THE MANDALORIAN (Disney+)
The wildly successful fusion of Lone Wolf And Cub and Western tropes by way of Kurosawa in the first season continued in the second set of episodes but upped the ante considerably by bringing wider Star Wars lore into focus. The Disney Star Wars movies may have created friction amongst fandom but the love for The Mandalorian was nearly unanimous and with familiar faces from Clone Wars and Rebels (and elsewhere!) making their appearance it really started to feel like it was laying the groundwork for operating on a much larger, more connected scale. At its core though, it remains a beguiling tale of the jaded bounty hunter finding new purpose in the form of the enchanting, mischievous 'Baby Yoda' (we learn his actual name this time around!). The action and special effects are on a par with the movies, something that would have been unimaginable a decade ago and, although Star Wars will return to the big screen in due course, it has definitely found its second home on the small screen.

Better Call Saul S5 poster

1. BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC)
This prequel series has regularly received a similar level of critical acclaim to its predecessor, if not the same kind of seismic cultural impact but it seems, with the fifth season, a wider audience began to sit up and take notice. It saw a move further into Breaking Bad territory with Jimmy McGill's (Bob Odenkirk) metamorphosis into Saul Goodman picking up pace, as he dragged Kim Wexler (a phenomenal Rhea Seehorn) into the world that operates on the other side of the law. Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) finds he can't escape Gus Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) hold over him while the appearance of Lalo Salamanca (an excellent Tony Dalton) causes problems for all parties, especially Michael Mando's Nacho Varga. It continues to have the best cinematography found anywhere TV, with lingering wide shots helping to create am atmosphere few small screen offerings can hope to match. Direction, scripting, acting and everything else are all gold standard and with the sixth season due to be the last, Better Call Saul has proven unequivocally that it's a match for Breaking Bad, and some may argue that it has now surpassed it.

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