Exclaim!'s 13 Best TV Series of 2020
Published Dec 17, 2020If we're being totally honest with ourselves, 2020's best show might be America's Funniest Videos. With all of the apocalyptic chaos going on in the real world, there was no better escape than watching those hour-long supercuts of funny animals, cute babies and people falling over (hosted by the eminently lovable Alfonso Ribeiro). AFV is full of diverse families laughing at themselves and each other — like some revisionist version of the 1950s with all of the wholesomeness but none of the bigotry.
When we weren't laughing along with AFV's adorable home movies, 2020 also offered some truly fantastic TV shows. While we sat in our homes during lockdown, we were transported to a 1990s basketball court, to a tent in the British countryside, to our most mortifying high school moments, and to a galaxy far, far away. These are Exclaim!'s 13 Best TV Shows of 2020.
13. High Fidelity
A 1995 book adapted into a 2000 movie adapted into a 2020 show, people were understandably skeptical about whether High Fidelity could live up to its legacy. But this 10-episode series pulled off what seemed impossible: channeling the wry spirit of the source material while giving it a modern update that felt entirely its own. Zoë Kravitz gets credit for making romantically embittered record store clerk Rob seem simultaneously cool and stuck up her own ass. It's not in our —ahem — top five, but it's pretty great.
12. Love Is Blind
Exhausting stupidity and corny romance somehow proved to be a defining moment of early 2020 — you know, in the months before it became the year everyone wanted to forget. Conceptually, romance gameshow Love Is Blind is goddamn ridiculous, but once it gets into the swing of things and the couples exit the pods, the drama and wild pairings make for one of the spiciest premises in recent reality TV memory. If nothing else, for once the world was able to finally come together to agree on one thing: how much Jessica suuuucks.
11. Sex Education
Who knew a high school chlamydia outbreak and impulsive wanking could be so charming? Sex Education's second season sees highschoolers Maeve (Emma Mackey) and Otis (Asa Butterfield) back in the sex clinic business as their relationship gets increasingly complicated, while Eric struggles to choose the right partner. Simultaneously conscious and hilarious, the series' latest chapter has everything entertaining about the carnal, raunchy teen movies of the '00s with none of the unchecked sexism, toxic masculinity and homophobia — plus, an all-too-rare slice of asexual representation.
Rampant incest, teen romance and senseless violence: it all sounds a bit slapstick for the gravest and final season of Dark, though the series manages to prove its case for all of the above. With stunning performances from Louis Hoffman, Oliver Masucci and Karoline Eichhorn (and an incredible score to boot), the apocalyptic time travel sci-fi series deftly concludes its mind-bending journey in its darkest (and Dark-est) instalment yet. And while its meticulously crafted timelines and incestuous family trees may have you busting out your notepad to make sense of it all, the German Netflix original manages to neatly tie up all of its loose ends to finally find the one true "origin," so, at last, the town of Winden can free itself from the trappings of time and fate.
9. The Great British Bake Off
Season 11 of Channel 4's unbelievably popular baking competition show is quite literally too big to fail. And while this season was marred with controversy thanks to irritating new cohost Matt Lucas, whose off-colour jokes occasionally reminded viewers of the awful racist "comedy" he made on Little Britain, the show still shined because of its charmingly down-to-earth bakers and their occasionally disastrous bakes. After all, this is the season that gave us the unforgettable Tom DeLonge cake.
8. Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet
On paper, Mythic Quest is basically just the It's Always Sunny guy doing a Silicon Valley clone and, well, in execution it kind of is too. But that's what makes Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet so great. Transporting tech-world douches into another natural habitat via the world of gaming, the show offers plenty of hat-tips to gamers while also standing on its own as a ridiculous comedy that anyone can enjoy. Rob McElhenney is once again perfect as a piece of shit in the show, and he's found a perfect foil in newcomer Charlotte Nicdao.
7. Beef House
Like all great disrupters, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim spent the 2000s defining a comedic sensibility that has been so mimicked and watered down by try-hards that the Awesome Show style has started to feel a little played out. But with Beef House, they've once again proven that their genius works far outside of aesthetic trends. Adopting a standard '80s sitcom model, the show is all cheesy segues and canned laugh tracks, but the jokes still land. Think of it like Full House if said house was full of old guys, rotting food and diarrhea.
6. The Mandalorian
With The Mandalorian's second season, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have successfully built beyond the first season's "Western in Space" vibe and are offering the most compelling Star Wars live action content since the original trilogy (or the prequels, depending on who you ask). While the main plot remains focused on the titular Mandalorian, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), delivering the adorable Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) to the Jedi, Mando encounters an impressive array of characters along the way. A couple key players from the Clone Wars animated series make their live action debut, and there is a frog lady named Frog Lady.
5. Schitt's Creek
Somewhere around the third or fourth season, Schitt's Creek transformed from a wacky sitcom into a genuinely moving comedy that irreverently explores themes of unconditional love and embracing life for what it is rather than what you wish it was. With its sixth and final season, Schitt's Creek cleaned up at the Emmys, proving that the rest of the world had caught up with the show's beautiful evolution.
The main joke of PEN15 is that two actors in their 30s are portraying preteens — and the main triumph is how little it matters. Much like 2019's first season, the second season is a masterpiece of car-crash-level cringe-comedy that's painful to watch but impossible to turn away from. Forget Carole Baskin or Doc Antle — middle school mean girl Maura (Ashlee Grubbs) is the most alarming villain to grace the small screen in 2020.
3. The Last Dance
A flawed hero who will stop at nothing to complete his quest. A goblinesque corporate villain in a suit. A nurturing mentor figure with a big heart and questionable cultural appropriation. A cast of wacky, intriguing supporting characters. Michael Jordan-centric series The Last Dance has all of the elements of a great drama — it's a documentary, but fiction writers couldn't have plotted it out it any more perfectly. It doesn't even matter if you don't like basketball (but it probably helps if you do).
2. I May Destroy You
Devastating and unusual, I May Destroy You offers a mercurial, honest perspective on how to cope (or how not to) after a sexual assault. Often treading into the grey area of morality, showrunner Michaela Coel articulates her semi-autobiographical experience of being a survivor — how one embodies shame in wake of a harrowing assault, how women (and men) blame themselves for not being guarded enough, and how victim advocacy can be retraumatizing in itself. Through the series' 12 episodes, Coel bravely confronts the paths to personal justice without ever committing to a definite conclusion, and how, in the post-#MeToo era, the onus still unfairly remains on survivors to gain closure and reclaim their identity. The show asks a lot of big questions, few of which are answered entirely. But that's okay — as long as we're finally talking about it.
1. How To with John Wilson
How To with John Wilson is not an easy show to describe, nor is it easy to adequately praise. The strangely labyrinthine documentary, which at times can feel like a far better version of Billy on the Street or the "Humans of New York" Instagram account, sees John Wilson point his camera at present-day New York City and build a visual cacophony of gags, puns and poignant philosophical points about modern life at large. Undeniably voyeuristic, the show manages to immerse itself in the day-to-day absurdity of life in the big city without feeling like it's pointing and laughing at its subjects. Plus, it introduced us to the most unexpected and interesting pop cultural reviewer in exhibitionist foreskin activist Ron Low. There's never really been anything like How To with John Wilson, and it's a perfect show to sum up the insane, confounding, frustrating and ultimately fascinating realities of modern life.