Most years, I usually try to make excuses for why I didn’t get around to watching as many TV shows as I wanted to. This year, those excuses didn’t really exist. After all, what else was there to do last year than sit at home and let hours upon hours of television whisk you away from an ever darker reality? Yet, there was something about this endless time to sit around and watch TV that made the medium just a little less enticing. It’s hard to look at TV as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy something after a long day when it feels like everything had already slowed down and any sort of enjoyment was hard to come by. That said, I was somehow able to find a bunch of enjoyment in the shows listed below.
Also, I usually include a list of shows I wish I’d caught up with from the past year, but Better Call Saul’s really the only one I have for 2020, which I blame AMC for. Like, why even have an app for your network if it doesn’t have the only show anyone cares about?
Tiger King was the big “WTF” documentary that everyone watched during early lockdown, but McMillions was the other docu-series about an increasingly weird true story (which aired a few weeks earlier) that sat a little better with me. I suppose it was just fun to see a documentary that involved federal crimes, the mob, and McDonald’s and how all of these different worlds ultimately intersect. Similarly, McMillions is able to maintain a light tone while also retaining an air of intrigue about “Uncle Jerry” without minimizing the people he manipulated in the process of pulling off the McDonald’s Monopoly scheme.
I’m not sure that High Fidelity needed to be adapted again, but I really liked the direction this show was taking this familiar story, which of course makes it sad that it was canceled after this one season. While High Fidelity the book and film dig into the very male world of music obsession, the fact of the matter is, there are plenty of female music nerds out there, and this show’s representation of them was more than welcome. While this lone season did hit a lot of the main beats of its source material (while occasionally inverting them), it was when the show got away from them that I actually found the show even more enjoyable as a modern tale of dating in New York City while also being married to your weird obsession of records. Too bad subsequent seasons won’t see it vying for a place in my Top 5.
There aren’t many figures in sports who can fill a 10-episode documentary series just based on their career playing sports, but Michael Jordan isn’t your typical athlete. This series not only showed the rigorous dedication to winning His Airness embodied in his prime, but it also showed how big of a dick Michael Jordan is despite his ability to elude that reputation in an era before social media. I still often think of that scene where Larry Bird goes to congratulate Michael after a game, and Michael’s just like “fuck you, bitch”. Anyways, a lot of people turned to this documentary to fill the void of absent sports for a time in 2020, but honestly, this was basically the only sports I watched all year and I’m totally fine with that.
This didn’t seem like a show I would like, considering Mindy Kaling’s aesthetic has never intrigued me that much and the John McEnroe voice-over seemed like a needless bit of quirkiness. Though somehow, I found this to be a really funny show about being a teenager that I also felt less squeamish about watching than PEN15. In addition to the show’s diverse collection of nerds at the center of it, it also felt refreshing in how likable it decides to make its main character. Because sure, Devi is the kind of smartass you love to root for, but the show also depicts her with the kind of selfishness at the heart of any teenager just trying to figure things out.
Ok, so we’re finally at the end of the line for me constantly putting BoJack Horseman on my top 10 TV lists, since the final season aired a little over a year ago. Due to this, I’m having a little bit of a hard time remembering a lot of the last season other than the finale, but I suppose that’s what rewatches are for. I don’t think I really realized it until working on this list, but BoJack very well might be the best TV show to air on a streaming channel just because it was so uniquely consistent over the years. Also, it’s a little troubling how few streaming shows have been able to stay interesting after their first season or two. However, with its many detours into different tones, genres, and even animation styles, BoJack basically wrote the book on how to keep things fresh in an age of too many options.
One of the few shows to make all 3 of our lists, but this is no coincidence considering I spent the last week or two catching up What We Do In The Shadows after Sean and John recommended it multiple times over the course of the year. Which was totally deserved, since it’s a really funny show and I’m sure most years I make at least some mention on my Top 10 TV shows list of the fact that so few half-hour shows these days are actually that funny. What’s also refreshing is how visual the comedy is, despite the fact fact that the show can’t helped but be cloaked in darkness due to its nocturnal protagonists. Also, it even had a nice arc this season with Guillermo wrestling with his vampire hunting skills, which in the process made the show just a little more human in the midst of all its vampiric absurdity.
Like Fleabag before it, I May Destroy You was the UK export that I felt compelled to check out for no other reason than that critics seemed to be in love with it. Unsurprisingly, this praise is completely deserved, as it announces Michaela Cole as a writer-creator-star with talent the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Phoebe Waller-Bridge I guess. Anyways, it’s a show that I couldn’t quite go out of my way to recommend to people, due to it centering around the always heavy subject of sexual assault. But I think the surprising thing about this show is how well it pairs a very believable depiction of trauma with a breezy slice of life feel that gives us Americans a rare look into Black life in modern-day London.
FX sure has latched onto the based-on-a-famous-true-story mini-series genre in recent years, and while not all of them have been winners, Mrs. America sure is. Obviously, a show about the intersection of women and politics is going to feel timely in an election year, even when Mrs. America’s depiction of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment didn’t tap that specifically into what was going on in the news this year. Though I suppose Amy Coney Barrett’s ascension as a powerful woman who will almost certainly work against women’s rights doesn’t seem so far off from Phyllis Schlafly. As always, Cate Blanchett is pretty great as Schlafly, as the show manages to objectively tell her side of the story, but without ever making her entirely sympathetic.
I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit a lot, just as John predicted on a recent podcast. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have anything new or fresh to say about it. Sorry.
Not sure if this will stand the test of time as my favorite show of 2020, since I just binged it last week in about two days, but right now it just feels right. I made a short trip to New York City about a month before the pandemic hit, and each time I go there it grows on me more and more, mostly because there just is no place like it. There are so many weirdos and so much absurd humanity happening on every block, so the way John Wilson manages to document this with both an unjudging eye and a distinctive deadpan is just kinda perfect in its own odd way.
While the How To for most of its first season serves as a great reminder of what interacting with random humans can bring, it also brings things full circle in a way that could only come organically in its final episode. Here, Wilson shows us the oncoming threat of the pandemic in all-too-real detail while also trying to bake the perfect risotto for his landlady. It’s probably my favorite episode of TV this year, and at least while I’m stuck inside and unable to enjoy the cultural benefits of living in a big city, it’s my favorite show of the year.