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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

10 Best Television Shows of 2020

The increase of original television programming has led to this current era of Peak TV, and thanks to the late 2019 launches of Disney+ and Apple TV+, there was no shortage of apps to download if you wanted to watch a TV show this year. In the past, we bemoaned the amount of distribution services, but thanks to the pandemic in 2020, our curse turned into a blessing. Considering the only thing we were allowed to do all day every day was stay inside, the glut of original television shows meant we had something to do to help pass the time. Heck, we made Tiger King a thing this year because of it. As such, I allowed myself to have a wide variety of streaming services at my disposal. I'm paying for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, I dabbled throughout the year with Showtime and Starz, and I have access to HBOMax and most cable shows thanks to immediately family members. Yet still, I'm not made of money so I don't have everything, most notably Apple TV+. While that mainly means no Ted Lasso on this list, I'd still like to think, as just a regular dude with a full-time job and raising a toddler, I had the ability to watch most of the shows that aired this year. So without further ado, below is my list of the 10 Best Television Shows of 2020. 

10) Dave (FXX)
Season 1
Created By: Dave Burd & Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Lil' Dicky, Taylor Misiak, & GaTa

Why It's Great: Before the pandemic really wrecked havoc over 2020, white rapper Lil' Dicky (born Dave Burd) gave me Dave and allowed me to go down a rabbit hole rocking out to $ave Dat MoneyLemme Freak, and Professional Rapper.  You wouldn't normally think a show about a White Rapper trying to emerge in The Game that tackles issues of race, mental illness, and sexual inadequacy would be funny, but thanks to Burd's humor that's already baked into his rap songs, Jeff Schaffer who co-created The League, and director Greg Mottola (Superbad), your left with a showcase from someone who can act, make you laugh, and can really spit. Dave certainly falls in line with FXX's brand of humor and style of comedy that often addresses "serious" issues, but this type of show really works for me. 

9) The Last Dance
One-Time Docu-Series
Directed By: Jason Hehir
Starring: Michael Jordan

Why It's Great: The Last Dance is a 10-episode docu-series about the basketball career of Michael Jordan, using the 1998 season of the Chicago Bulls trying win their 6th NBA Championship as a through line. Outside giving us some great memes, the documentary provided great insight to what made Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time. Jordan is so beloved and universal, that the show allowed us to have a Monoculture moment, if only for a little bit. 

8) The Boys (Amazon Prime)
Season 2
Created By: Eric Kripke
Starring: Karl Urban, Antony Starr, & Aya Cash

Why It's Great: Superhero films are basically the entire movie business right now, and 2020 only gave us one, Wonder Woman 1984, which was released on Christmas Day (Thanks pandemic!). But we were able to get our superhero fix anyways thanks to the subversive and violently delicious The Boys. Eric Kripke and crew was able to give us an entertaining genre story while also commenting on the worst parts of our culture. Season 2 steered into that thanks to the addition of the new Super, Stormfront, played by You're The Worst's Aya Cash. As the title of the Super suggests, the show delved into the racist/QAnon/fake news aspects that rose to prominence during the Trump administration. As a handful of our characters drove into the Deep South, they came across a picture of Homelander, this show's version of Superman who wears an American flag as a cape, painted on the side of the barn. Except in the painting, the American flag was replaced with the Confederate one. This picture is the perfect encapsulation of the show's second season as Stormfront slowly brings Homelander to her fascist, White Nationalist side. The only downside of this show is a bit on Concern Trolling on my part, in that it is slowly becoming the superhero monopoly franchise that it's criticizing, but it hasn't hit that point yet, which is why Season 2 of The Boys is one of the best shows of 2020.

7) The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Season 2
Created By: Jon Favreau 
Starring: Pedro Pascal

Why It's Great: The other major blockbuster, big budget television show of 2020, outside of The Boys, is The Mandalorian. All of story-telling now anyways is superhero shows and Star Wars, and we're lucky enough that these stories are good and entertaining. 2020 deprived us of our Summer Movie Blockbusters, but we were treated to it on television. The Mandalorian is by far and away the best Star Wars story since Empire, and the fact that it's only competition is Rogue One should signal to LucasFilms that these stories are meant for the smaller screen and aren't meant to be franchise films (from a storytelling perspective, not a box office perspective because as bad as The Sequels were, they still made a lot of money). The Mandalorian manages to be entertaining for both newbies and Hard Core fans alike, weaving in an enjoyable Mission Of The Week story into already built-in World Building. Season 2 gave us an introduction into Bo-Katan, Ahsoka Tano, and the Dark Saber from previous Star Wars show canon, and also gave us a reintroduction to Boba Fett and Stormtroopers. The ability to weave everything in so seamlessly is such a great testament to the show. Instead of jam-packing in ideas, themes, and characters into a two plus hour feature film, which led to an unsatisfying movie-going experience and nerds attacking Rian Johnson on Twitter 24/7, The Mandalorian has space to breathe, which leads to a more satisfyingly enjoyable viewing experience. 

6) Schitt's Creek (Pop TV)
Season 6
Created By: Dan Levy & Eugene Levy
Starring: Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, & Dan Levy

Why It's Great: A riches-to-rags story about a family forced to spend most of their days inside their motel room really struck a chord with us in 2020, didn't it? The show's final season swept the Emmy's taking home Best Comedy, Best Actor (Eugene Levy), Best Actress (O'Hara), Best Supporting Actor (Dan Levy), Best Supporting Actress (Annie Murphy), and writing and directing awards. You can quibble about each win, but you can't deny how well the show wrapped up all of its storylines to a satisfying conclusion, while allowing you to spend time with characters you grew to love. The heart of the show was the relationship between David (younger Levy) and his boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband Patrick (Noah Reid) and the final season gave us the wedding we deserved. The show's queer relationship throughout its run was handled so smartly, with nuance and grace, that it helped propel the Canadian sitcom into the juggernaut it became. 

5) Superstore (NBC)
Seasons 5/6
Created By: Justin Spitzer
Starring: America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, & Mark McKinney

Why It's Great: Superstore has consistently been the best and funniest sitcom on television during it's six season run, which makes its recent cancellation hurt that much worse. As television is transitioning to long-form, movie-esque storytelling, Superstore remained your weekly reliable laugh based upon old sitcom tropes and situations. Yet the show never shied away from the realities of what it's like to work for minimum wage in modern America. From almost non-existent health care, almost non-existent maternity leave, and legal status in this country, Superstore was a show built to handle tough issues, yet also be gut-bustingly hilarious. As shows begin to film and air during the pandemic, Superstore became one of the bright spots to seeing COVID-19 reflected on TV, because it was already built to discuss and comment on tough social issues. 

4) Ramy (Hulu)
Season 2
Created By: Ramy Youssef
Starring: Ramy Youssef & Mahershala Ali

Why It's Great: Like all great lists, there are tiers to them. We've now reached the upper echelon of this Top 10 list. These top 4 shows are by far and away the best of the best that 2020 had to offer. Season 1 of Ramy didn't make my Best of 2019 list, only because I was stupid enough to miss it in when it originally aired. I ended up watching the Hulu show at the beginning of 2020 after Youssef himself won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy. During his speech, he joked that no one in the room had watched his show. He was probably right, and that's a shame on us all, because it's one of the best shows of this time. While Season 2 didn't win any awards this year (though Youssef himself gave us this great Emmy's moment on Twitter), it explored deeper into Ramy the character's desire to use the Muslim religion to better himself - and how he ends up ruining everything anyways. I love how experimental the show is when it takes individual episodes to center around a secondary character that isn't Ramy (such as his sister, parents, or Uncle Naseem in by far and away the best episode of the season) to explore ideas of islamophobia/discrimination and what it means to be a good person. To have such a large chunk of the season be filled with episodes that Ramy the character is barely in, or not at all, shows Ramy Youssef's selflessness and dedication to his craft can create one of the best shows currently on television. 

3) BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Season 6
Created By: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Voices Of: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, & Alison Brie

Why It's Great: BoJack Horseman and Ramy have a lot in common. They're both shows around a flawed protagonist who is actively trying to get better, yet failing to do so. Both shows also have the "honor" of not being included on my Best of 2019 list, though in BoJack Horseman's case, it's because Season 6 was split up into two parts, with the first part airing in 2019 and the second part airing in 2020, that I just decided to write about the season as a whole in 2020 (which also allowed me to discuss more great shows in 2019). The show's final season was a triumph as the major characters that BoJack Horseman the character has deeply affected were finally able to move on from the deeply troubled narcassistic alcoholic. I've always appreciated the show's ability to continue to move forward for six seasons and 77 episodes about a (horse)man trying, and consistently failing, to get better without it ever feeling repetitive or like it was spinning its wheels. There's also something so bleak about a (horse)man that never really got better yet is now living with the consequences of his actions whether he's in jail or dead and in purgatory (whichever option you'd like to read from the last two episodes). The show is the pure encapsulation of Existential Nihilism with incredible season/series long running jokes and hilarious commentary (as a native suburban Chicagoan, I love all the jokes surrounding this world's version of Portillo's), that BoJack Horseman is not only one of the best shows of 2020, it's easily the best original show Netflix has ever produced. 

2) The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)
Limited Series
Created By: Scott Frank & Allan Scott
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Marielle Heller, & Thomas Brodie-Sangster

Why It's Great: While BoJack Horseman might be the best television show Netflix has ever produced, The Queen's Gambit is in the conversation for the best thing Netflix has ever produced. It is directing, writing, acting, cinematography, production design, and costume design at the highest level. Even though it's not a movie, it's probably going to win my annual Best Soundtrack of the Year award as well. Frank produced, wrote, and directed every episode, and the high quality of the finished product should come as no surprise from the man who wrote Logan, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, and Minority Report, and who also has been honing his directorial chops with projects like  A Walk Among The Tombstones and the Netflix limited series Godless. When you add everything together, you're left with a perfect, sexy, and entertaining show of chess prodigy Beth Harmon's (Taylor-Joy) rise in the 1950's and 1960's. While the novel by Walter Tevis that the show is based on was going to be made into a movie (most notably Heath Ledger was planning to direct before his passing) we're able to explore deeper into Beth Harmon's addiction and cost of genius, as well as her relationships with a handful of people in her life such as Kentucky State Chess Champion Harry Beltik (played by Harry Melling who is having an incredible year on Netflix along with his work in The Old Guard and The Devil All The Time), US Chess Champion Benny Watts (Brodie-Sangster) and her adopted Mother Alma (Heller) which made for a better and richer viewing experience. 

1) Better Call Saul (AMC)
Season 5
Created By: Peter Gould & Vince Gilligan
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, & Tony Dalton

Why It's Great: It's no secret that Breaking Bad alums Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould know how to make great television. They've not only made the greatest show ever made, but they've managed to take a prequel to said show, an idea the blogosphere concern trolled to death, and make "Is Better Call Saul actually better than Breaking Bad?" a legitimate debate. I'm still steadfastly in the camp of Breaking Bad is the greatest show of all time and nothing can defeat it, just like Michael Jordan is the NBA GOAT, but holy shit guys, Better Call Saul is good. The AMC drama has basically always consistently made my year end Best Of lists, but one aspect of the show I haven't been thrilled with was that Better Call Saul was basically two shows in one: a lawyer drama with Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk) and Kim Wexler (Seehorn) and a drug cartel show with Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Nacho (Michael Mando), and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Gus Fring easily makes my Mount Rushmore of all-time favorite television characters thanks his performance in the later seasons of Breaking Bad, but I haven't been thrilled with how he has been folded in to Better Call Saul. He spent much of Season 4 working with Mike just building a super meth lab, which was *yawn*. However, the addition of Lalo Salamanca (Dalton) has breathed new life into Saul. Not only is Lalo a fun and charismatic antagonist in his own right, filling the Gus Fring void Better Call Saul was ironically missing, but Lalo helps makes the Gus/Mike storyline entertaining as they try to outwit and outlast Lalo and the Salamanca cartel stranglehold on the meth market. Lalo also hires Jimmy McGill to be his lawyer, which not only kick starts Jimmy's path to REALLY becoming Saul Goodman, but it also merges the two parallel storylines the show was on into one cohesive masterpiece. As I mentioned earlier, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan know what their doing, and their expertise has landed Better Call Saul in the top spot of my list of the 10 Best Television Shows of 2020.  


A Teacher (Hulu) Limited Series Created by Hannah Fidell from her Indie film of the same name, Kate Mara plays a teacher who falls into a steamy sexual relationship with one of her high school students to fill the erotic taboo void in your life.

Bob's Burgers (FOX) Season 10/11 In so many ways, Bob's Burgers has become this generation's The Simpsons. But even The Simpsons weren't THIS strong this late in its run. Like Superstore, Bob's Burgers is consistently one of the best sitcoms on television, and probably a huge oversight on m part it didn't crack the Top 10. 

Cobra Kai (YouTube/Netflix) Season 2 Great blend of nostalgia, action, and YA drama. Click to check out my review of Season 1. 

Harley Quinn (HBOMax) Season 2 Though both seasons originally ran on the DC Universe app, they came to HBOMax in 2020. I love the show and humor and aesthetic of it, but I wasn't feeling the second season as much as the first, and technically the second season is the one that aired in 2020 and the season that will be judged on this list.  

Hoops (Netflix) Season 1: It's a pretty generic potty-mouthed adult animation show, but something about Nick Miller (Jake Johnson voices the lead Coach Ben Hopkins) swearing really tickled my funny bone. 

The Cost of Winning (HBO) One-Time Docu-Series A four episode show following a high school football program in the ghettos of Baltimore, MD, head coach and hedge-fund rich guy Biff Poggi spends millions of his own money to make the football program one of the best in the country to ensure underprivileged teenagers can go to college. An inspiring IRL Friday Night Lights

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (Netflix) Limited Series: Don't act like you weren't above the entertaining muck that was Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin. 

Upload (Amazon Prime) Season 1: A comedy about the afterlife from legend Greg Daniels (The Office, King of the Hill), Upload is a charming rom-com centered around recently deceased Nathan (Robbie Amell) who is placed in a virtual reality "utopia" and starts to develop feelings for his IRL handler Nora (Andy Allo).