A very late and incomplete list of the best TV of 2020

LISTEN. I KNOW. It is mid- (almost late-) January 2021, and a “Best Of” list of 2020 is beyond late to the conversation. Most critics post these lists at the beginning of December, late December at the latest, and here I come — INAUGURATION WEEK — and dump this in your lap.

But three things:

  1. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been a little bonkers around here lately. And I’m not just talking about the return of The Bachelor two weeks after The Bachelorette ended.
  2. Can we discuss the critics who post their lists right after Thanksgiving? Like, there’s still a whole month of television left of the year, my dudes. How many of y’all regret posting your lists without having finished the second season of The Mandalorian right about now, for instance?
  3. It’s my blog, I do what I want.

Also, I hate making lists. And because I hate making lists, I’m doing this list a little differently. Instead of just listing 10 or 20 shows in some ostensible order based on my subjective tastes, I’m going to break down the TV series and movies I watched this year by month, highlighting one show or movie in particular. Is it the show that I liked the most that month? If it makes you feel better to think that, sure. Go with it.

I also list the shows that I didn’t get a chance to watch, but which have received glowing reviews elsewhere. There is more TV than ever before, and there are only so many hours in the day, and because of ~gestures broadly at everything~ most of those hours are devoted to MSNBC these days. Also note that some of the shows I’ve listed as ones that I missed I have actually watched one or two episodes, but I don’t want to falsely claim that I can form some strong opinion on them when I just can’t. But feel free to scream at me anyway.

All that said, here you go: 2020 Television, A Half-Assed Assessment.


The Outsider

It would be easy to mistake The Outsider — especially the early episodes — for a dark detective procedural instead of a story based on a Stephen King novel. But that’s a large part of what made The Outsider so effective as horror series: it feels very grounded in reality, and the monsters, they look like us. Literally, they look just like us. But the strongest part of The Outsider is the acting. It’s a shame that Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Ervios were overlooked for their work on this show — they deserved more for their quiet, powerful performances. (HBO & HBO Max)

  • Everything’s Going to Be Okay
  • Avenue 5
  • The New Pope
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Cheer*

Shows I Missed:

  • 68 Whiskey
  • Little America
  • Sex Education


Better Call Saul

I’m not sure what to tell you at this point: Better Call Saul has been on for five seasons now and has consistently been one of the best dramas on television in that time. And this season is no exception. As Jimmy continues his journey towards fully becoming Saul Goodman, Kim begins exploring her own limits and dark side and the sense of impending doom is starting to fill the remaining spaces. (AMC & Netflix)

  • Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet
  • McMillion$
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race

Shows I Missed:

  • High Fidelity
  • I Am Not Okay With This
  • Briarpatch
  • Year of the Rabbit



This limited series follows Esther “Esty” Shapiro, a young Hasidic woman who, after being forced into an unhappy marriage flees her insular controlling community in Brooklyn. She runs to Berlin, in search of her mother, and discovers a world that challenges everything she had been taught to believe. This is a beautiful, unforgettable series with a career-defining performance by Shira Haas. (Netflix)

  • Breeders
  • Better Things
  • Ozark
  • Tiger King*

Shows I Missed:

  • The Plot Against America
  • Devs
  • Little Fires Everywhere
  • Dave
  • Feel Good


Parks and Recreation Special

There were a number of cast reunions of beloved shows during the quarantine, but none of them quite captured the spirit of their original series the way the Parks and Recreation special did. (The less said about the 30 Rock commercial for Peacock, the better.) Sweet, hopeful, and true to its optimistic soul, Parks and Recreation gave us a pure moment of joy during the beginning of a dark time. (NBC originally, now on Peacock)

  • We’re Here
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Run
  • What We Do In the Shadows
  • Mrs. America
  • Normal People
  • The Last Dance

Shows I Missed:

  • Defending Jacob
  • Tales from the Loop
  • Bad Education
  • 50 States of Fright


The Great

Elle Fanning shines in this satirical not-quite-historical series about the rise of Catherine the Great and her schemes to murder her inept husband, Emperor Peter III, as portrayed by a hilarious Nicholas Hoult. It’s obviously gorgeous to look at, with the lush 18th-century costumes, sets, and so many wigs, but The Great distinguishes itself from other period pieces with its quirky, modern humor. (Hulu)

  • Legendary
  • I Know This Much is True

Shows I Missed:

  • Betty
  • Upload
  • The Half of It
  • White Lines


I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

There are countless true-crime series and miniseries out there, but there has never been one as poignant as I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, the story of true-crime writer Michelle McNamara’s obsessive search for the Golden State Killer. Sensitive and insightful, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark does not lionize the killer the way so many series do, but instead focuses on the pain he left in his wake, and what he took from his victims, including McNamara and her family. (HBO)

  • Perry Mason
  • I May Destroy You
  • Floor is Lava
  • Search Party
  • Cobra Kai**

Shows I Missed:

  • Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi
  • Sherman’s Showcase: “Black History Month Spectacular”


Unsolved Mysteries

Honestly, this month was the hardest to choose from, and there is definitely an argument that Hamilton, Palm Springs, and Host are all better than the reboot of a late eighties-nineties true-crime series. But if I’m being honest with you, I could not turn off Unsolved Mysteries once I started playing the episodes, and some of the stories still haunt me. The reboot of the classic series is slicker than the loveably cheesy original, and wisely focuses each episode on one story instead of several — but there obviously is no replacement for host Robert Stack and his trench coat.

  • Hamilton
  • Palm Springs
  • Host

Shows I Missed:

  • Love on the Spectrum
  • P-Valley
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Muppets Now


Ted Lasso

If you absolutely forced me to choose one Best Show of the Year, it might very well be Ted Lasso, a sitcom based on a character created for a series of TV commercials. And honestly, that is difficult for me to admit: it’s like saying Cavemen was the best show of 2007 — BUT HERE WE ARE. As a revenge plot, Ted Lasso, a small-time college football coach who knows nothing about soccer, is brought to the U.K. to coach an English Premier League soccer team. But through his sweet nature and positive attitude, Lasso not only wins over his players and bosses, he begins to turn the team around, too. Look, it’s not a complicated plot, you know exactly where it is headed, but the energy of this series is so infectious, so cheery, so … damn loveable, it served as a balm in very bleak times. (Apple TV+)

  • Teenage Bounty Hunters
  • Lovecraft Country
  • Class Action Park

Shows I Missed:

  • Boys State


The Third Day

Judd Law and the wonderful Emily Watson star in this miniseries about a mysterious island off the coast of England, its eccentric inhabitants, and their culture’s dark folklore. Bloody and brutal, the series sometimes meanders, but the bonkers revelations at the heart of it are well worth the ride. (HBO and HBO Max)

  • Chef’s Table: BBQ
  • A.P. Bio
  • Pen15
  • The Boys
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door

Shows I Missed:

  • We Are Who We Are
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things
  • Raised by Wolves
  • Woke
  • Ratched
  • Utopia


The Queen’s Gambit

Yes, The Queen’s Gambit is about chess, and as many have pointed out, it makes chess look sexy. And it’s also about feminism: a woman breaks into a man’s world and shows them up or whatever. But for some reason, no one talks about how The Queen’s Gambit is a fairy tale. In fact (KINDA SPOILERS AHEAD), Beth shares much in common with Harry Potter: she is an orphan who inherits superpowers from her talented parents who she never really got to know; a series of adults help her unlock said powers; and with her team of friends, she saves the world from a supervillain whose goal was to achieve world domination. Or something. Anyway. Watch it for the costumes and set design, if nothing else. (Netflix)

  • The Haunting of Bly Manor
  • Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult
  • How to With John Wilson
  • The Mandalorian
  • Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm

Shows I Missed:

  • The Good Lord Bird
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • What the Constitution Means to Me
  • David Byrne’s American Utopia


The Flight Attendant

I’m not here to tell you that The Flight Attendant is prestige television — it’s not. But what it is is fun, sexy, and very entertaining. It’s a romp. You can’t take your eyes off of Kaley Cuoco, who is fun and funny and heartbreaking — all at once. Michiel Huisman is sexy as all get-out as the murdered one-night stand who remains alive in her head. And in a subplot, Rosie Perez delivers one of her best performances as a fellow flight attendant who feels unseen now that she has hit middle age. Highly recommend as a very satisfying weekend binge. (HBO Max)

  • Big Sky
  • Murder on Middle Beach
  • Crazy, Not Insane

Shows I Missed:

  • A Teacher
  • Small Axe
  • The Crown
  • I Hate Suzie


The Wilds

The Wilds is Lost fanfic. I am 99% certain that the writer of The Wilds is a diehard fan of Lost who took their own disproved theory and wrote an entire series about it. In fact, I’m fairly certain back in the day, I read a variation of this theory on the Lost fan forums. Just look at this: A group of teenage girls survives a plane crash and struggles to survive on a mysterious island where not everything is what it seems. And if that logline doesn’t already sound enough like Lost, each girl’s past, complete with heartbreaks and traumas, is revealed in flashback episodes. Unlike Lost, The Wilds doesn’t string you along with the mystery for very long, and there are no polar bears. But like Lost, it’s real focus is on the characters and their individual struggles to survive both on the island and off. If you’re a fan of Lost, check this one out and let me know what you think. (Amazon)

  • Bridgerton
  • Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults
  • Death to 2020
  • The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart
  • The Ripper
  • Letterkenny

Shows I Missed:

  • The Stand
  • Adult Material
  • Wolfwalkers
  • The Art of Political Murder
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Soul
  • Sylvie’s Love

That’s it. That’s the list. What did I forget or leave out or malign?

*You can’t talk about 2020 TV without mentioning Tiger King and Cheer, but it should be noted that they are both problematic. Tiger King was a legit TV phenomenon and I enjoyed it, albeit with a certain queasiness over how the show was treating people with clear mental health and substance abuse issues. And Cheer was one of 2020’s most uplifting series until it was marred by a sex abuse controversy surrounding one of its previously most endearing subjects. Jerry Harris’ arrest for child pornography and his alleged abuse of minors is a shocking and horrific postscript to a series that was originally about a group of teens who found escape from their difficult lives through sport, and it is a shame that it will forever taint what had previously been an inspirational story.

**Yes, I know, Cobra Kai actually debuted on YouTube back in 2018, but it didn’t arrive on Netflix until this year, so it’s new to me.

5 thoughts on “A very late and incomplete list of the best TV of 2020

  1. I’m so glad to see you talk about “The Wilds”. My 13-year-old daughter wanted to watch it with me, and we were both really into it. The “Lost” comparisons are obvious (way less symbolism to go over my head, which I appreciate), and the characters are the heart of the story. I feel like before the end of Season One we should have known more about Gretchen and why Jeanette died (falling down on the dock like she did should not have been fatal), and I really want to see what happened when the crew showed up to take them away. Minor complaints overall, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

    I know there’s no time for anything, but you really should check out “Upload”. Only ten 30-minute episodes, and it was hilarious. It was one of the first things I watched in quarantine.

    1. You’re not the first person whose taste I trust to recommend “Upload.” I guess it gets moved to the top of the list now. Thanks!


  2. I’ve got two recommendations – a movie and a show – both on Netflix. Warning: You’ve got to be able to take a gut punch; each one has its heart-rending moments.

    System Crasher, a German film, came out in February. It’s the (fictional) story of a 9-year-old girl with serious behavioral problems – the government’s child welfare apparatus can’t quite handle her. The film won Outstanding Feature Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing, and Best Sound. Of course these are Lolas rather than Oscars, so think Toni Erdmann quality rather than Green Book. (The Best Actress winner, Helena Zengel, stars with Tom Hanks in the recent film News of the World.)

    Can You Hear Me? (French Canadian) came out in June (season 1) and November (season 2). Three young women, lifelong friends, scramble to survive on the margin of society. Part comedy, part drama. Each season is ten 23-minute episodes, so not too big a time commitment.

  3. I agree with Charles on The Wilds and Upload, two excellent programs for very different and very similar reasons. (But that fall could have been fatal if not properly addressed – and it wasn’t.) I also liked Flight Attendant (Kaley is great), Lovecraft Country, and Raised by Wolves (went in a totally unexpected direction and I love it).

    How did you miss The Undoing?

    1. I hated The Undoing. I saw it, watched the whole thing, it made me angry.
      Thanks for the seconding of Upload!


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