2020 was abysmal across the board. Well, except for television, of course. Because the one thing we all needed was more television.
Before we get into it, here are three shows that nearly cracked the top 10: Adventure Time: Distant Lands; The Boys; The Great.
10. The Last Dance: ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary was a timely balm for a sports-starved country. It got me through the early throes of lockdown and increased my appreciation for Jordan—even if it was unable to budge my opinion on basketball’s GOAT debate.
9. Devs: Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) first foray into television show-running lacks charisma and character development, but it more than makes up for the deficiency with tech-company omnipotence and free-will philosophy. Devs is imperfect, thought-provoking, and oh so pretty.
8. Harley Quinn: DC Comics ended 2020 as it started it: with a disastrous live-action movie. Traditionally, the publisher’s characters have shined on the small screen, and Harley Quinn bore that out with one of the year’s best animated shows after Birds of Prey floundered. Harley Quinn was renewed for a third season on HBO Max after two genuinely funny and occasionally romantic seasons on the failed DC Universe streaming platform.
7. How To with John Wilson: A comedian explores mundane questions like “how to improve your memory” and “how to cover your furniture” through New York City and its remarkable, bizarre inhabitants. Wilson stumbles onto profound ideas about humanity more than once in the season’s six, 30-minute episodes.
6. Lovecraft Country: Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country took big swings. They didn’t always connect, as the show’s overarching magic fell flat, but the anthology-style episodes imagined its Black cast in exhilarating pulp fiction. Two demonic twins hunting Jada Harris through ‘50s Chicago? Check. Jonathan Majors as Indiana Jones? Yes, please. Aunjanue Ellis traversing time and space? More of that.
5. Mrs. America: A show about the rise of the religious right and the fall of a popular feminist amendment was decidedly not what I needed in 2020. Although far from a comfort watch, Mrs. America is a painful reminder of the stakes and the right’s inexhaustible determination to fight against their own self-interest.
4. I May Destroy You: Michaela Coel’s semi-autobiographical sexual-assault story is a pure demonstration of her writing, directing, and acting talent. Covering climate change, Millennial life, and internet fame, there’s nothing else like it.
3. The Midnight Gospel: Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward struck gold again with The Midnight Gospel, a combination of a phone call between old friends, iconoclastic visuals, and psychotherapy.
2. Better Call Saul: Death. Taxes. Vince Gilligan. The routine brilliance of Gilligan’s Albequerque-set shows is almost annoying. The Breaking Bad showman is rightfully omnipresent on end-of-year lists.
1. Normal People: Sally Rooney’s 2018 romance novel inspired a television adaptation less than two years after its debut, and with good reason. Led by two star-minting performances from Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, Normal People is an impassioned tribute to young adulthood.