2020 will be remembered as the year of the pandemic. Right behind the pandemic should be television and how it captivated my life for 365 days. This past year, I’ve never watched more television in my life. Every week, a new TV show grabbed my attention and dominated my discussion within my social circles.
This is the first year where my list for top 10 TV shows was harder to make than my top 10 movies. That speaks volumes for me personally. As a result of the pandemic, I haven’t gone to a theater since February 2020, which is depressing. However, television filled my void admirably. I was willing to try more new shows because of my abundance of free time. There were so many tv shows to watch that I even missed out on notable programs like I May Destroy You and The Boys.
Below is my list for the top 10 best TV shows of 2020.
10. Devs (Hulu)
Can man play God? That’s one of the questions behind the sci-fi mystery, Devs. Set in San Francisco, a young software engineer (Sonoya Mizuno) named Lily works at the tech-giant, Amaya. When her boyfriend dies on the job, Lily investigates the company’s CEO, Forrest (Nick Offerman), which leads her down a dangerous but compelling path. Framed as a murder mystery, Devs dives deeper into themes of free will, determinism, and quantum computing. Many will be turned off by the show, but if you enjoy the work of Alex Garland (Ex Machina and Annihilation), Devs is a weird sci-fi thriller with a satisfying conclusion. Plus, it’s beautiful to watch.
9. PEN15 (Hulu)
My favorite premise on television belongs to PEN15. Co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play 13-year-old versions of themselves in the year 2000 while being surrounded by actual teenagers. The show sounds silly and childish, but it’s a stroke of genius. The gag never loses its charm, and the show hilariously dives into themes of adolescence in their own charming way. I cringe for all of the right reasons. Don’t forget to set your away message on AIM before watching.
8. ZeroZeroZero (Amazon Prime)
Remember March? That feels like five years ago. Right before the world went to shit, ZeroZeroZero hit Amazon Prime video. The story centers around the cocaine trade and involves three groups: the Mexican cartel, the American brokers, and the Italian mafia. The story tracks how cocaine is shipped from Mexico to Italy. It’s a fascinating look into a corrupt world and how power is worth more than gold. Standouts from the show include Harold Torres as Manuel Contreras, a rising soldier in the Mexican army, and Dane DeHaan as Chris Lynwood, one of the cocaine brokers who battles Huntington’s disease.
7. Unorthodox (Netflix)
If Normal People did not air in 2020, then Unorthodox would be the show that moved me the most. Unorthodox plugs viewers into the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, NY. It’s here we meet Esty Shapiro (Shira Haas), an unhappily married teenager who decides to escape to Berlin and find her estranged mother. It’s a beautiful and delicate look into a world that at times, feels like a foreign country, not a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The brilliant Shira Haas is a star, and her captivating and emotionally-gripping performance is one of 2020’s best.
6. Dave (FXX/Hulu)
Hi, I’m Dave. The surprise of the year belongs to Dave, the fictionalized tale of Lil Dicky and his quest to become the best rapper in the world. Dave is borderline ridiculous at times with milk boards and shitty hikes. However, Dave is more than just dick jokes. It has subtle nuance and tackles real problems in a caring way, highlighted by the standout episode dedicated to GaTa’s bipolar disorder. The show really hit its stride towards the end with “Ally’s Toast,” and ended with one of my favorite scenes of the year. At the end of the day, Dave makes me laugh more than any other show on TV.
5. The Queen’s Gambit
The winner of the “show that came out of nowhere to captivate the nation” was The Queen’s Gambit. Somehow, a show about chess became the sexiest thing on television. The Queen’s Gambit chronicles the life of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), an orphan chess prodigy that strives to become the world’s best player in the 1950s and 19660s. As an average chess player, I was so captivated by the show that I found myself researching The Sicilian Defense and Queen’s Gambit. It’s as entertaining of a binge-watch as you’ll find all year. Anya Taylor-Joy is a captivating performer. From her stylish outfits to her killer instinct, Taylor-Joy has a magnetic look in her eyes that reminds me of a young Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. I just want to hang out Beth and drink a cocktail over a game of chess. Buy your Taylor-Joy stock now.
4. The Mandalorian
In my best Carl Weathers’s voice, “Mando!” Star Wars has reached new heights due to The Mandalorian. The bounty hunter tasked with returning Baby Yoda aka Grogu is an absolute blast. Even if you’re not a diehard Star Wars fan, this show is so fun and compelling that viewers can learn the ways of The Force without seeing any of the movies. Every episode is a fun adventure from start to finish. Season 2 continued to highlight where this show can go conceptually, and thanks to the recent Disney+ announcements, The Mandalorian will continue to open new doors in the Star Wars universe.
3. The Last Dance
The MVP of quarantine was The Last Dance. Spending two hours every Sunday night for five weeks with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls was one of the few highlights of 2020. From his rise in the 80s to his dominance in the 90s, The Last Dance brought fans on an emotional journey into the mindset of one of the most influential athletes of the last 100 years. When my mom and sister, who don’t play sports, are raving about a basketball documentary, then you know it’s fantastic. Jordan’s speech about winning and leadership is in my top ten scenes of the year.
2. Normal People
The show that brought me to tears was Normal People, Hulu’s adaption of Sally Rooney’s novel about two young adults who fall in and out of love over the course of a few years. Normal People is one of the most heartbreaking and purest depictions of young love I’ve ever seen. It floored me both emotionally and mentally. The chemistry between Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones was undeniable. It’s the type of show that I will be thinking about for many years to come.
1. Better Call Saul
This was an easy decision. The best show TV show in 2020 was Better Call Saul. Most shows start off great and plateau in the middle seasons before declining towards the end. With Better Call Saul, it’s quite the opposite. Vince Gilligan’s prequel to Breaking Bad has gotten better every year, culminating with a perfect fifth season. Every episode is like watching a masterclass on acting, writing, and directing. The show is so strong that most fans care more about the status of the secondary lead, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), than the titular character, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, and Tony Dalton all deserved Emmys for their performances. In particular, Seehorn can arguably make the claim that she’s giving the best performance on television today. She’s that damn good. Better Call Saul is no longer in the shadow of Breaking Bad. They are finally contemporaries.
Quick shoutouts to shows that just missed the cut and shows I didn’t get a chance to watch.
Honorable Mention: How To with John Wilson, Lovecraft Country, Ramy, Sex Education, Dash & Lily, The Real Bros of Simi Valley, Outer Banks
Did Not Watch: I May Destroy You (will 100% watch), The Boys, The Undoing, Ozark (Season 3), The Crown, Ted Lasso, Mrs. America, The Good Lord Bird
Editor’s Note: The Queen’s Gambit was originally at 4 and The Mandalorian was at 5. After a terrific Season 2 finale, The Mandalorian moved up to 4 while The Queen’s Gambit moved back to 5
What shows are on your top 10 lists? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet us, @unafraidshow.