Well, 2020 has been an experience hasn’t it. Unlike films (many of which have been delayed infinitely due to the pandemic), television has been actually striving this year. And, here are 10 of the very best television of the year.
This ITV miniseries about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal has kind of flown under the radar this year, but it really shouldn’t have done, because it was really terrific. The 3-part series is filled with great performances, especially by Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford, and has some wonderful, witty writing. And, just like the best biopic/real-life dramas, the series remains riveting, tense and you have no idea what’s going to happen (even though you kind of do know what’s going to happen).
Also, Martin Sheen as Chris Tarrant is pure genius.
9. Sex Education
This Netflix coming-of-age comedy drama was the break-out hit of 2019, and it still remains just as good with it’s sophomore season. Although a bit of the novelty that the first season had has kind of worn off, this season remains just as funny and joyous. The real treasure of this show are wonderful characters and great cast, with particular stand-outs including Aimee Lou Wood as the incessantly chipper Aimee Gibbs, Gillian Anderson as the embarrassing sex therapist mother, Jean and Tanya Reynolds as the school “weird girl”, Lily.
This could be a real long-running hit for Netflix if they manage to keep up the same level of quality for season 3.
8. The Umbrella Academy
Based off the comic book series of the same name (which, quick fact for you – was written by Gerald Way of My Chemical Romance fame), this quirky and idiosyncratic Netflix hit ambitiously blends many genres, including black comedy, time travel adventure, 60s period drama, superhero action and many more. The series may not feel as fresh as it did in it’s first season, but it’s also smoothed out some of the harsh edges from the previous season, getting more of an equal tonal balance and giving more interesting development to some of the more boring characters.
Hopefully, this future cult classic will continue to remain it’s brilliant quality for it’s next season.
7. Normal People
For many of us, this BBC Three/ Hulu miniseries has a lot of memories of early lock-down, and for the first few months of the year, it was definitely the best television out there. The 12-part drama features two break-out performances from relative newcomers, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, and is a haunting depiction of young love, centring on our lead characters’ journey through sixth form to university to post-university life. Even if you are not a romantic at heart, this show is definitely worth checking out for it’s sympathetic writing and heartfelt direction.
However, it is not even the best limited series on the list (that is still to come).
6. I May Destroy You
Michael Coel’s 12-part mini-series was one of the most delightfully weird pieces of media to come out this year. The former Chewing Gun creator/writer adapts her own traumatic experiences in this limited series, centring on a “millennial” writer who struggles to come to terms with the fact that she was raped after her drink was spiked. The best thing about this series, however, is that the series never feels like you’re watching a “important series”, it remains equal parts shocking, heart-breaking and often times, very funny.
Also, the series marks possibly the best way to end a series, with the final part – titled “Ego Death” – being one of the very best TV episodes of the year.
5. Schitt’s Creek
PopTV cult comedy, Schitt’s Creek has been slowly climbing up the ranks over the past 6 years, with each season gathering higher critical acclaim, a bigger fan-base and awards success. And with it’s final season, the series ended on the highest of highs, and broke all kinds of Emmys records (including the most Emmys ever for a single season of a comedy series, and the only time a series has won in all seven major categories).
The series has proven itself to be “the Fleabag” of the year, proving that a small, underdog series can break into the mainstream, and get huge acclaim. And, with it’s final season, Dan Levy has provided us with many hilarious moments and pitch perfect endings for all of our central characters.
4. Bojack Horseman
Bojack Horseman has had such an odd trajectory as a series. Debuting in 2014 opposite the then-Netflix hits, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, it looked like it was set to be a charming but forgotten about adult animation series. However, over it’s past 7 years, it has somehow managed to rise up the ranks to become one of the best – if not the best – animated TV series of all time.
The concept of the show continues to entertain, blending hilarious satire of the show-business and Hollywood with some wonderfully odd anthropomorphic comedy. And, over time, the show has turned into an especially deep show, giving us some haunting commentary on depression, addiction, self-destructive behaviour and overall, what it means to be human. And, it all comes from a show about an animated talking horse.
Also, this season ended the show brilliantly, with it’s penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down” being a particular highlight.
3. Better Call Saul
Now, to be honest, my number one show is pretty much a three-way tie between these following three shows. On any other day, I could rearrange these three shows to be in the very top spot.
What I’ve currently decided on though, is the fifth and penultimate season of the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul in third place. Much like it’s predecessor, Better Call Saul has crept up on us, being a slow and methodical character study that just continues to get better and better.
And, I know it’s sounds like a cliche, but this truly was the series at it’s best. In particular, the series excelled in it’s final 3 episodes, with “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road” being two of best episodes of television of all time. It was at this point that the show really gave us such quality just as good as Breaking Bad and possibly even better.
Also, special mentions should go to the brilliant performances, especially by lead, Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn (as Kim Wexler), and newcomer, Tony Dalton (as Lalo Salamanca). I mean, the season is just worth watching for the showdown between Kim and Lalo alone. All this sets the stage for what will hopefully be an explosive (and tragic) final season of the brilliant series.
2. The Mandalorian
Back in 2015, JJ Abrams completely revitalised the tired Star Wars franchise with it’s seventh movie, The Force Awakens. However, the franchise’s most recent movies (Solo and The Rise of Skywalker) have proven to be colossal disappointments, all of which set the stage for the next big Star Wars project – the live-action series broadcast directly to DisneyPlus, The Mandalorian – to be give a much-needed revitalisation to the franchise again.
And indeed it has.
The first season (broadcast in March earlier this year) was absolutely terrific, but it was the second season (which aired over the past two months) that really sealed the deal. This latest season had absolutely no bad or filler episodes, and climaxed in possibly the show’s best episode (“The Rescue”).
What’s so brilliant about the series is it’s beautiful simplicity – it’s essentially a Sergio Leone-like western set in space, with Pedro Pascal’s The Mandalorian being the show’s very own Man with No Name. And, that leaves space for some brilliant supporting characters (especially Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett; Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon and Gina Carano as Cara Dune) and plenty time to development the Mandalorian’s character and his father-son bond with the show’s breakout character, Baby Yoda (or Grogu).
The first two seasons of The Mandalorian are so damn good that it’s almost been the best TV has to offer. Almost…
1. The Queen’s Gambit
And, now we reach number one. Now, like I said, any other day of the week, The Mandalorian or Better Call Saul could of been in the top spot, however, the eventual winner ended up being The Queen’s Gambit, a small Netflix mini-series that could.
Directed and written by Godless’s Scott Frank (and adapted from classic book of the same name written by Walter Tevis), the series follows a self-destructive young woman, Beth Harmon (played to perfection by Anya Taylor-Joy) on her path to becoming the world’s greatest Chess player.
And, I know what you’re thinking – “A TV show about Chess. Really?”. But that’s one of the real joys of the series, is that it makes you extremely interested in a subject that otherwise could of been really boring. The Chess-playing sequences are executed brilliantly, with perfect direction and editing to go alongside.
And, that’s what is really remarkable about the series – is that, although brilliantly written, a lot of the storytelling in the show is really visual. It’s possibly one of the most perfectly constructed pieces of media to come out in a long time in that everything, from the writing to the cinematography to the production values to the costume design to the acting (especially by a break-out performance by Taylor-Joy) are all absolutely great.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check out The Queen’s Gambit, because it’s absolutely brilliant and (although, a very close call) it’s my favourite TV show of the year.