My Top 10 TV Shows of 2020
Anybody else had the telly remote glued to their hand for the last nine months?
What a year 2020 has been: twelve, long months of hardship, separation and heartache. I don't think there's one person who won't be happy to wave goodbye to the absolute disaster that this past year has been. Throughout this period, it is the efforts of the entertainment industry that have provided heavy moments of relief during a time of uncertainty and desolation.
As a community of people, across the world, we have never relied on television quite as much as we have this year for escapism and distraction. The list of superb and masterful series that have graced our screens in 2020 is far too long and whittling my choices down to just ten was a very, very hard task.
While I'm missing quite a few of the big ones (I can't apologise enough for the fact that I haven't watched The Queen's Gambit or I May Destroy You - yet!), my ten picks reflect a variety of genres and storytelling that made the bleakness of this last year disappear: even if just for a short amount of time.
DisneyPlus arrived in the UK during the first lockdown (which feels like a lifetime ago!), boasting the entertainment conglomerate's entire filmography, as well as some brand new stuff that they spent quite a lot of money on (up to $500 million, if you want to put a figure to it). One of Disney's biggest successes was the acquisition of Lucasfilm back in 2012, allowing them to expand and explore the Star Wars universe in a way that no one expected. Following a sequel trilogy, and a couple of prequels that a received a mixture of emotions, Lucasfilm depended on Jon Favreau to open the Star Wars streaming world. A space Western with Pedro Pascal playing a protective father-figure to Baby Yoda? Of course, it was going to flourish. Luckily, us Brits have been able to enjoy two seasons of Mando and his pals fighting notorious figures of the Galactic Empire this year and the team at DisneyPlus did a cracking job of creating a brand new story that was action-packed and magnificently crafted. Anything related or connected to Star Wars is always inundated with positive reaction but The Mandalorian has surely been Disney's biggest triumph in recent years.
Netflix's dynamic advertising of their praised historical drama always made me hesitant to click 'play' when hovering my finger over my laptop touchpad or TV remote. Covering such a rich and extensive period of history that ties citizens of the United Kingdom together, The Crown has the duty of presenting the life and personality of our fabled female Monarch in a way that has to intertwine fact and fiction for purely entertainment purposes (though some have been quite vocal about this issue). Most assume that they have a thorough understanding of the Royal Family, being injected with their background and experiences during school or mass media events like Royal Weddings or Jubilee celebrations. I don't consider myself a history fan, nor a monarchist, but I can't help but admit that The Crown is pretty spectacular (and I'm not just saying that because I'm the biggest Olivia Colman fan). Portraying any living figure of notability is a hard task however no more so than our current Sovereign. Both Claire Foy and Colman radiate greatness alongside an ensemble of talents that shine a light into Britain, or the world's, most famous family. Even if it is one of the most expensive television series to be produced, the lavish luxury of its cinematography, story and costumes make it worthy of its universal acclaim.
This was one I stumbled upon whilst trying to find something new to watch with my best pal. While I am a sucker for a good period drama (I'm sure the previous paragraph proves this), I'm not one for thrills and suspense. Based on the crime novel of the same name, the series follows a trio of competent characters (a criminal psychologist, a newspaper illustrator/journalist and a headstrong secretary/wannabe detective) who investigate different, disturbing misdemeanours happening in America's most populated city. Those with a wary disposition may need to prepare themselves as The Alienist does cover some very dark and disconcerting themes: one of the main reasons why it stood out to me. Side by side with its impressive cast and brilliant production design, the magnetic pull of its narrative incorporates both fact and fiction (hello Theodore Roosevelt) and showcases 19th-century ideology to psychology, crime and society. Though hidden in a congested genre, the series is entirely intriguing and gripping to watch.
There is not much that I can say about this award-winning Canadian sitcom that you won't have already heard. Sweeping this year's Primetime Emmy Awards, the Levy father-and-son pairing created a powerful symbol that represented a complicated family dynamic filled with love, wisdom and wit. The show's final season was the perfect way to bid a fond farewell to the Rose family, in addition to the quirky town that changed their lives. Schitt's Creek reflected and celebrated ideas of acceptance and personal development underneath a flood of hilarity and warmth that had so many of us laughing and crying at the dejected and ridiculous family of four. I am sure that the world of television will never meet anyone as eccentric and effervescent as Moira and Alexis, or as sarcastic and whimsical as Johnny and David. The Rose family's intolerable isolation within the town they purchased as a joke somewhat mirrors the events of 2020: being stuck somewhere with very little to do and having to adapt to a new reality. One thing the show taught me especially is that if the Rose family can adjust to a different kind of world through no fault of their own, I guess we can give it a go too.
This comedy-drama is one of, if not, my favourite things that I've watched this year. From a young age, Jim Carrey has been one of my best-loved actors and I was so pleased to see him return after such a long time away from the screen. I have spoken about Kidding previously, but a second mention must be made purely because of how wonderful it is. Unlike Carrey's previous performances of slapstick and improvisation, the series is a moving examination of the harder parts of life such as depression and grief. There is a sense of heaviness and empathy when watching Carrey's Jeff Piccirillo slowly deteriorate into a broken husband and father whilst trying to manage his public image as a beloved children's personality. Addressing death and tragedy in a sometimes uncomfortable way, the nuance and genius of Carrey and the show's writing make this serious truly terrific. Even though it was unfortunately announced in July that Kidding was cancelled, the twenty episodes that feature are completely compelling and tell a bittersweet story of a man who just wants to make everybody happy: even if it means that he himself is not.
Julie and the Phantoms
Now this one falls very much into a completely different category. Kenny Ortega is the brilliant mind behind this Netflix musical comedy-drama that is utterly bingeable and so much fun. From what I've seen on social media, this series seems to have captured hearts across the world because of its feel-good factor, catchy tunes and energetic cast. The show's plot is a little bit bizarre (a high-school student who manages to find fame as a performer with the help of a band of teenage ghosts) but it is the enthusiastic cast of characters and colourful moments of musical intensity that are the reasons why it's loved by so many. The soundtrack is fantastic (I've played many of the show's songs at top volume and belted out every word) which is the perfect showcase for JOTP's headlining newcomer Madison Reyes. The fate of the series is currently unknown as Netflix are still yet to announce a second season almost three months after its original release. Many fans are adamant that another instalment of Julie and her ghostly gang needs to be a reality but it's all down the streaming giant (and we know that they aren't always the best at making decisions...)
The sublime partnership between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is one of British comedy's greatest gifts: there's a reason why Hot Fuzz is played on ITV2 every other weekend. While their latest collaboration isn't as laugh-out-loud hilarious as their previous work together, Truth Seekers combines old-school horror with a little bit of silliness to make their first crack at TV together (after so long) genuinely awesome. With a proper, nerdy narrative (the number of sci-fi and film references screams Pegg/Frost) and reliance on conspiracy theories, it makes the show feel like a retro ghost-hunting documentary that uses a focus on highly-developed technology ("6G" broadband felt a little bit too familiar) to bring it back to the 21st Century. Each episode is an investigation of an eerie, supernatural element that ties the characters and plot together by the final chapter and leaves a very open-ended conclusion moving forward. The five spectral explorers make a neat group: sort of like if the Scooby-Doo Gang were around in 2020 and were based in the South of England (minus the dog, of course). Their undeniable chemistry and quick-witted banter feel authentically British. Truth Seekers keeps you on your toes and constructs another platform for Pegg and Frost to manifest their geeky knowledge and charm.
Emily in Paris
Say what you will about Emily in Paris but it was my guilty pleasure watch of 2020. Whether it was another 'Tiger King-complex' or we were all just a little bit loopy after marking 6 months in a COVID world, there must have been some reason as to why it was in the top ten list of most-watched streaming shows at the start of October. While a lot of it was very silly and didn't make much sense (i.e. Emily being able to live in and explore a hugely expensive metropolitan area on mid-level wages), the show's backdrop and visuals were intoxicatingly gorgeous. Ultimately, it was these elements that carried the series (anybody else research a weekend break to Paris whilst watching?). Emily wasn't the most exciting or interesting character (for one, her costumes were...unique), but she did have some level of charm that made her nearly delightful to follow. The series is a very much a fantasy of what life as a social media strategist in Paris might look like but perhaps it was the idea of such an unrealistic daydream that drew worldwide appeal (especially during a global pandemic). Netflix is overwhelmingly good at creating shows that are a 'brain vacation' and Emily in Paris is certainly their biggest binge-worthy success in 2020.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Anything that includes the word "haunting" is always blacklisted in my watchlist. I am a total scaredy-cat and have always struggled to watch anything horror without a pillow in front of my face. After somehow managing to make it through The Haunting of Hill House (honestly, I don't know how I did it), I was persuaded to give the second entry of The Haunting series a good go. As those who have watched will know, Bly Manor features more tamed, gothic horror compared to Hill House which was just full-blown, supernatural fright: probably the reason why I enjoyed it so much more than its predecessor. Underneath all the spooky tricks and brain-racking twists, Bly Manor tells a story of unconditional love and family that holds a strong sense of heart at its centre. Victoria Pedretti shines (once again) and is joined by newcomers Amelia Eve, T'Nia Miller, and Rahul Kohli who also give some exceptional performances. After the massive accomplishment of Hill House, Bly Manor had some big shoes to fill. While it's definitely not as scary, the show's clever plot and gifted cast make all nine episodes outstanding.
Ryan Murphy has suddenly become Netflix's newest export, with two films and three different series under his belt in 2020 for the world's biggest content platform. His first release of the year was the miniseries Hollywood, exploiting the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Golden Age to tell the stories of a small group of aspiring actors and filmmakers. It is this group that sustain the series, with the displays by the show's main cast being widely praised (earning them four Primetime Emmy Award nominations). The allure of the Golden Age's aesthetic makes Hollywood's costumes, make-up and production design stunning to watch and help to draw away from the show's not-so-great writing. During early(ish) lockdown, the miniseries was an appealing escape to a world filled with dazzling style when our world wasn't quite as bright. Fans of old-age Tinseltown will enjoy this Murphy creation but it's very much something you binge within a day and probably never watch again for a long time: that's the whole point of Netflix anyway though, isn't it?