2020 Top 10: TV Shows

As we close out 2020, it’s time to put together a couple of Top 10 lists based on my key entertainment passions – film & TV.

First up – TV shows.

Lockdown actually afforded me the chance to watch quite a few new entries and classic TV shows – Community, The Sopranos and we’re currently amidst a first watch of Mad Men. Twin Peaks and The Wire are on the agenda for 2021 at some point.

Anyway, while 2020 saw lesser returns for cinema, it was actually a great year for TV which had the space to shine and at points take centre stage, so much so I’ve thrown a few honourable mentions in here too. Nothing quite as magnificent as Watchmen last year but still some terrific storytelling.

Here goes…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Little Fires Everywhere / Killing Eve (S3) / Lovecraft Country

The fact these three shows didn’t make the final ten is a testament to how strong 2020’s TV was, in the face of everything.

Little Fires Everywhere really surprised me as it’s vein of melodramatic family mystery wouldn’t normally appeal, yet it really drew me in and Kerry Washington in particular was quite magnetic. Killing Eve‘s third season was a mixed bag, and it’s absolutely a show that’s overstayed it’s welcome now, but it had some real bright spots as Villenelle’s psychology was explored and fleshed out in greater detail. Finally, Lovecraft Country was a vivid, imaginative blast, perhaps the most 2020 show of the year, but after a thrilling & tense opener, the rest is far too madcap & messy to warrant inclusion amongst the best, even if it’s always entertaining.

10. THE CROWN (Season 4)

As prestige as TV comes, The Crown is like taking a bath. It’s comfortable, relaxing and utterly welcome after a long year.

This fourth season wasn’t necessarily the best, however, as it dials up Charles & Diana & attempts to humanise the largely inhumane Margaret Thatcher, but it still has some fine episodes and is generally put together with wonderful style and skill. Olivia Colman had perhaps the trickiest period for the Queen to portray, with the least personal drama, but she holds the centre again superbly here, even if Gillian Anderson’s Thatcher steals the show.

You can find pieces on the first, second, third and fourth seasons at the links.

9. THE MANDALORIAN (Season 2)

This show has single handedly revived the flailing Star Wars franchise after the largely rubbish The Rise of Skywalker, and hits the ground running for a second round.

It’s pulp science-fiction, filled with nods, winks and outright homages to film and television, firing on all cylinders. It completely gives way to unashamed fan service, and works to set up about half a dozen back door spin off series, but it always retains focus, individual style, and feels completely true to the spirit of Star Wars. Fabulous escapism.

8. THIS COUNTRY (Season 3)

Honestly, this final season for Daisy May & Charlie Cooper’s documentary-style comedy wasn’t on a par with what came before, but in fairness that was the highest of bars.

As a conclusion to probably the finest comedy series of the 2010’s–this decade’s The Office or Peep Show for comic skill & cleverness–it still passed muster. A fitting goodbye for Kerry & Kurtan Mucklowe, a pair of English countryside wasters who brilliantly captured the working class boredom of rural society.

7. WESTWORLD (Season 3)

Find a fan of Westworld, I can find you a detractor. There are fewer series that polarise people. Is it profound, thrilling future fiction saying much about our destination? Or is it pretentious piffle?

Season Three was honestly probably somewhere in the middle but I enjoyed it. Less than previous seasons as the concept edges further into the real world and threatens to lose touch with the fusion of AI, the Old West & pulp philosophy that made it, but there are few shows out there made with such craft that leave you guessing.

6. STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS

The only new era Star Trek show I have pretty immediately fell in love with and it’s a clear-eyed animated parody of the franchise itself. What does that tell you?

To me it suggests that Star Trek is losing touch with itself as it strides into new territory whereas Lower Decks revels not just in fan service but also gentle mockery, exposing the franchise’s silly tropes and concepts while also conveying a new assortment of genuinely well developed characters. Made by Trek fans for Trek fans, but crucially who know what Trek is. I’m not sure the same is true of the other recent shows entirely.

5. TRYING

Probably the only thing that made the year’s subscription to Apple TV+ worth it, in all honesty, and as a result almost nobody will have seen this charming comedy.

Rafe Spall & Esther Smith are a pair of London thirtysomethings trying to have a baby while surrounded by life challenges that get in the way. That’s it. Simple but effective and written with real affection, performed with huge charisma, and for once it’s a show that feels real. I have friends just like these people. The result is an enormously engaging series that might just get me back on the Apple train.

4. SEX EDUCATION (Season 2)

Ah good old Sex Education, you have become a January tradition and you didn’t disappoint, arriving just before Covid in advance of a year desperately in need of this kind of romantic escapism.

Beefing up the supporting role for Gillian Anderson, introducing new characters, it once again mines a John Hughes American high school seam of nostalgia while being utterly charming, fearlessly rude in places, and incredibly warm hearted. Otis & Maeve truly is the greatest ‘will they/won’t they’ love story of recent times. Just a great show.

3. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (Season 2)

By some distance the funniest show to emerge from 2020, the second season of Shadows will be hard to beat for ten twenty minute blasts of absolute acerbic, twisted brilliance.

Everything about this show, based on the cult New Zealand movie about a group of old vampires living together in the modern day, just works. The cast are phenomenal. The scripts are laugh out loud funny. The situations play with established tropes and supernatural mythology wonderfully. It’s just so good you never want it to end. That’s the mark of a comedy classic.

2. OZARK (Season 3)

If you would have told me the third season of Ozark would be this high a year ago, I would never have believed you, but here we are.

Jason Bateman & Laura Linney’s smoky American crime saga has slowly developed and grown in quality season on season but this third year was hugely compelling. Payoff followed payoff, the narrative twists into unexpected places, and Linney in particular gets to act her socks off. The show really has grown into a natural inheritor to Breaking Bad & if the final fourth season continues to improve, it could rival that series for a hell of an ending.

1. HUNTERS

Much like Watchmen last year strode in and took the crown, Hunters–if not quite to the same degree, but close–blew me away enough for 2020’s top spot.

Spearheaded by Al Pacino, in his first major TV role ever for Amazon, this was a vibrant, shocking, thrilling and dark take on the Jewish Nazi hunter in 1970s America. Such style, such wit and daring, and it builds to a climax which genuinely had my jaw on the floor. I loved every minute of it and cannot wait for more.

What is your top 10 for 2020?

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