Best of 2020: TV Shows
With everyone and their brother starting a streaming service in the past few years, it has never been easier to consume amazing television. Budgets are bigger, special effects better, and great writing bountiful. Here’s my list of favorite TV shows that I discovered in 2020.
I’m pretty specific about how I watch TV, which drives my wife crazy. It’s hard for me to keep track of a bunch of plot lines, so I prefer only a few going at once and to watch them all the way through before starting a new series. Thankfully, streaming services make that possible, but it means that my “up next” queue grows rapidly.
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+, 2020)
As I mentioned in my personal Upgradies picks for 2020, Ted Lasso was my TV Show of the Year. Reading the tin, you’d think it was a classic fish-out-water story about a clueless American hired to coach professional soccer (football) in England. But it’s so much more.1
Released in the midst of the pandemic and social unrest in the United States, this show was the right show at the right time. I think Ted’s optimism in the face of challenge helped a lot of us get through tough times. It was refreshing to see a strong male figure work through problems with kindness, care, and respect rather than with classic toxic masculinity.
Ted Lasso has it all: lovable characters who grow throughout the season, many laugh-out-loud bits in every episode, endearing and frankly tear-jerking moments of vulnerability, and an awareness for the real world that navigates actual challenges people face in the best ways without overdoing it. Don’t underestimate Ted Lasso — it’s hilarious and heartfelt, and I’m thrilled that it’s been renewed for a second and third season.
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix, 2020)
I recall discovering The Queen’s Gambit organically through Netflix’s banner almost the same time it exploded in popularity. My wife and I looked at each other and agreed it looked interesting enough to add to the queue. As mentioned above, I don’t like to have a ton of shows going at once, so it sat for a couple of weeks until I heard its praises sung often enough that we just had to start. The fans weren’t wrong — it’s exquisite television.
Beth Harmon is a child chess prodigy and singularly commanding force. Beth is played by Anya Taylor-Joy — though that does a disservice to her incredible performance. Anya captures Beth’s character with the confidence and grace of a jungle cat on the prowl. The series follows Beth through her young life fraught with addiction to tranquilizers and alcohol, which Beth uses to cope with her gift of genius. Though there are dark parts concerning Beth’s relationship with her birth parents, the orphanage she grew up in, and spiraling as a young adult — but I don’t think I could describe The Queen’s Gambit as a dark show. It uses humor and fun to take the edge off.
Equally impressive to Anya’s performance is the writing and camerawork for The Queen’s Gambit. Despite chess being a largely silent game, the writers snuck in enough dialog to inform and engage the viewer without being conspicuous. As someone who appreciates the details of cinematography, what this show does with lighting and framing is breathtaking. It all works together to transform chess, a typically slow game, into a dramatic battlefield that kept me on the edge of my seat. I’ve even gotten back into playing casually after watching this show.
The soundtrack is also excellent, and makes great focus music.
Central Park (Apple TV+, 2020)
Central Park, developed by Josh Gad, is simply a delight. It’s an animated series in the style of Bob’s Burgers, and brought together an all-star cast. You might recognize Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame, Titus Burgess, Kristen Bell, Stanley Gucci, and Katheryn Hahn (whom I know from Parks and Rec). Josh Gad rounds out the cast as the zany narrator.
I don’t know that I could adequately explain the plot of Central Park, but it’s ultimately unimportant. What you’ll love from this show are the catchy musical numbers, and the general hilarity that ensues between the family living in the park and the mega-rich villain on a quest to purchase and flatten it. I ended each show wearing a smile, and my wife immediately restarted the series when we finished it.
Trying (Apple TV+, 2020)
Trying is a British comedy series that follows a couple along their journey seeking the adoption of a baby. Nikki and Jason are certainly no perfect couple, but they’re lovable and real. “Trying” was the perfect title as they work through their shortcomings in an effort to be accepted by the adoption agency. I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end and eagerly await season two. Oh, and I’ve only known Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter, so it was a shock to love her as Penny, the adoption social worker.
Little Voice (Apple TV+, 2020)
When I finished Little Voice, I wouldn’t have placed it on my favorites list. The plot was fraught at times, and I had frustrations with some characters’ actions. But as time passed, I couldn’t get this show out of my mind and I realized that it made an achievement: I had grown to care for the characters. Little Voice follows Bess as she struggles to kickstart her musical career, while also being a caretaker to her family.
The music, written by Sara Bareilles and performed beautifully by the cast, made it onto my most played playlist. Seriously, even if you don’t watch the show you should listen to the soundtrack.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Hulu, 2013)
I’m late to the game on Brooklynn Nine-Nine, but I’ll concur that it has earned the praise I’ve heard over the past seven years and seasons. It’s so funny, and I like all the characters. Brooklyn Nine-Nine joins Parks and Rec, The Office, and How I Met Your Mother on the list of shows that I initially resisted and ultimately loved.
I’m Sorry (Netflix, 2017)
My wife discovered this show, and I’m so glad she did. Created by and starring Andrea Savage, I’m Sorry had me in stitches every episode. In the show, Andrea and her husband Mike navigate parenthood with a lightheartedness and confidence that, frankly, I admire. The openness they have with their daughter got them into some sticky situations, but the fun in the relationship between Andrea and Mike is worthy of #MarriageGoals. I’m sad that I’m Sorry won’t be coming back for a third season, but I now have more incentive to finally start Veep, which also stars Andrea Savage.
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix, 2015)
Yep, I jumped on the Schitt’s Creek train this year. I was unsure about continuing on after the first season, but ended up drawn in by the ridiculousness of it all. Each season was better than the one before, and the Rose family developed from spoil and grievance into truly decent people in a way that I did not expect. The absurd situations were complemented by heartfelt compassion resulting in my own teary eyes more times than I’m willing to admit. Patrick singing to David in their apothecary gets me every time.
Letterkenny (Hulu, 2016)
You’ve likely noticed that this list is dominated by comedies, and for that I have no regrets. 2020 was a difficult year, and it was a relief to escape into shows that made me laugh. There was no show that had my eyes watering from laughter more than Letterkenny. A fast-talking sitcom, Letterkenny started as a YouTube series based on creator Jared Kesso’s experiences of local rivalries in small-town Canada. Letterkenny straddles the intersection of slapstick, profanity, and morality — a weird place, to be sure — but it’s a joy. I’m through six of nine seasons, and it keeps getting better. Oh, and cute puppies make regular appearances.
If you want to get a sense of if you’ll like Letterkenny, do yourself a favor and watch the season cold-opens on YouTube for a taste.
It’s true that Apple TV+ shows make up much of this list. As a completionist2, it brings me a small amount of joy to know that I’ve tried almost everything on their service. But it’s not just that point of pride, I’m genuinely impressed by what Apple was produced in their first year. I agree with those who say after the fiasco of HBO Max that Apple TV+ has the opportunity to take up the mantle of prestige television, and I’ll be continuing on with many of the second seasons.
Having a never-ending stream of great television to pass time during quarantine was a blessing this year. With so much great stuff coming out it’s difficult to keep up, but no complaints here. If you enjoyed these shows, you can check out what else I’ve been watching and other years’ favorites on my Trakt.tv profile.
Just tonight as I was finishing up this list, I learned from 9to5Mac that Apple is premiering season two of Dickinson tomorrow and anyone is invited! Dickinson was one of my favorites from 2019, and I’ve watched the first season through twice. It will be a thrill to experience a true premiere — and for a show that I’ve been eagerly awaiting! I’ll report back about the whole affair.
UPDATE: I tried to get in on watching the premiere tonight. I was on time with iPad in hand and ready to test out Spatial Audio at the same time. The count tick down to zero and then…black screen. It never started for me.
#Dickinson on Twitter indicates that it’s great a return. I can’t wait to watch tomorrow.
The show’s backstory is pretty cool if you haven’t heard it yet. Basically, the character of Ted Lasso started as a commercial for the Premiere League coming to NBC. But then Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt drafted the series only to be repeatedly passed over before getting picked up by Apple and becoming their breakout hit.↩︎
For keeping track of shows and seasons, I can’t recommend TV Forecast highly enough. It works with a Trakt account, has a great design, and does the job efficiently without too many bells and whistles.↩︎