Some year, eh?
We’re often poetic about TV around these parts. It’s no secret that we like to sing its praises as a powerful, restorative, and maybe sometimes therapeutic medium. But during a dangerous, confusing year, delving into the many ways that TV “kept us sane” or whatever feels reductive.
What we can say, however, is this: TV was around this year. And that’s no small feat as not every other medium was so lucky. Concerts and other live performances were canceled. The movie-going experience was upended (perhaps permanently), and even curling up with a nice book at a coffee shop was no longer an option for much of the year. The TV production schedule may have been disrupted, but for the most part, the television machine chugged along, providing us with a diverse (and often overwhelming) number of truly excellent options to take in.
This year we want to honor the best of those TV shows – not for any particular reason other than that it’s fun to do and we’ve all earned some year-end distractions. We had our staff vote on their favorite series, polled you the reader as well, then crunched all the numbers in an intensely complicated propriety equation (not really) to determine our winners.
Please enjoy our choices for the 25 Best TV Shows of 2020.
25. How To with John Wilson
How To with John Wilson is the heir to Nathan For You’s throne, which seems obvious considering the series boasts Nathan Fielder as an executive producer, but the new HBO series shares much of the fiercely beloved former Comedy Central series’ DNA. While Nathan For You used helping businesses as a jumping off point to explore social interactions and the funny, insane things that people may say or do if you point a camera in their face, How To with John Wilson purports to explain how to perform simple tasks like making small talk or splitting a check, but mostly showcases how beautiful, ugly, life-affirming, and odd life in New York City can be. It’s a difficult show to explain, but it uses dry narration and quick documentary-style footage to create laugh out loud set-ups and punchlines, and digresses into some of the most poignant, and “WTF” moments found in a comedy series. You may not learn much, but you’ll laugh a lot.
– Nick Harley
24. The Plot Against America
TV writing geniuses David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire, The Deuce) are masters of subtlety. Their many shows, several of which are among the best in TV history, know how to conquer small moments en route to a bigger, oft devastating picture. During these very unsubtle times then, how could they possibly adapt Philip Roth’s equally unsubtle book about creeping fascism in America, The Plot Against America? The answer, as it turns out, is with the same gentle touch and keen understanding of the human condition as they always employ.
Like Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America picks up in an alternate version of the American 1940s, where real life aviation hero and Nazi-sympathizing populist Charles Lindbergh is elected president. The show then follows the working class Jewish Levin family as they deal with the fallout. Simon and Burns’ subtle touch works uncommonly well here. The Plot Against America’s six episodes are in many ways about how gradually and imperceptibly things can get worse until one’s home is no longer recognizable. For obvious reasons, the series resonated this year but its ability to summon creeping dread would have played well just about any time.
– Alec Bojalad
23. Lovecraft Country
A sprawling anthology with an overarching fable set in the depths of Jim Crow America in the 1950s, Lovecraft Country was an epic, political, sometimes gory, always ambitious sci-fi horror unlike anything else in 2020. Following the journey of Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Leti (Jurnee Smollett), and Atticus’s uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) on a mission to find Atticus’s missing father, the story combines real life racist horror with supernatural creatures inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.
Each episode is both a standalone story and part of the whole, playing with different subgenres. Ep 3 “Holy Ghost” is a classic haunted house tale with a historical twist against a backdrop of neighborhood racism, ep 5 “A Strange Case” is an extraordinary body horror which explores the female experience, 6 “Meet Me in Daegu” introduces a character from Korean folklore, while ep 8 “I Am” is a sprawling afrofuturist sci-fi. Created by Misha Green, exec produced by Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams, this is glossy cinematic stuff with a terrific ensemble cast. Talk about bang for your buck.
– Rosie Fletcher
22. His Dark Materials
If season one of this fantasy adaptation was carefully laying the tracks, then season two is hurtling along them, whooping out of the window as it goes. The new episodes started from the high-point of the season one finale and kept climbing. The difference is in tone – this time it’s warmer, keying more successfully into its characters’ emotional lives. It’s bolder too, demonstrating confidence by stepping away from the books to add scenes, humor and modern updates as required.
Season two, adapted from the second book in Philip Pullman’s original trilogy, sees Lyra and Will cross worlds and forge a bond. Will undertakes his own hero’s journey, one involving Spectres, a magical knife and the father he’d long thought dead. The real star though, is Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, a devilishly complex character into whose head this show is satisfyingly determined to get.
Season two is an episode short, thanks to COVID-19, but we should be grateful it made it here on time at all. The real delight is all the talent and effort that’s gone into telling such a weird story, one that only gets weirder from hereon in…
– Louisa Mellor
21. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Season 5 of She-Ra was the show at its absolute best. Every restriction seemed to be lifted and it just let loose with all the joy, deepness, and big queer energy it had ever wanted to display. Bless it for that because it allowed the show to go out on the highest of notes. We’d be here all day if we listed all the fantastic plots this season and how everyone got a chance to shine but no moment stands out more than Catra and Adora kissing.
It’s a moment queer fans had hoped for and were shocked it actually happened. Seeing two leads in a legacy property get to be not only confirmed queer but also kiss is still a rare sight and we can only hope it signals great change in animation going forward. We’re sad to see She-Ra go but glad it got to end so perfectly.
– Shamus Kelley
During the 2011 “Middle School” episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass interviews producer Alex Blumberg, who presents a radical new approach to education in America: get rid of middle school. Children’s bodies and brains are just simply too volatile in their preteen years to meaningfully learn anything in the years between elementary school and high school. Give them a break, then pick up and try again in a couple years.
It’s hard not to think of that interview when watching Hulu’s wonderful middle school comedy Pen15. Lead characters Maya (Maya Erskine) and Anna (Anna Konkle) are very rarely seen learning something in class or poring over their homework. And why would they be? There are boys to obsess over, school plays to audition for, and moments that will scar them forever to experience.
Rarely has there ever been a more frank, honest, and hilarious exploration of the middle school years than Pen15. Much was made during the show’s first season about the adult Konkle and Erskine’s ability to portray their younger selves. And in season 2, they blend in so seamlessly that the novelty of the casting choice might never even occur to the viewer.
– Alec Bojalad
19. I Hate Suzie
The last time playwright Lucy Prebble wrote a TV series for Billie Piper, it was 2007’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. London-set, glamorous, sexy and funny, that was a distinctly twentysomething story. Over a decade later, Prebble and Piper reunited to do something different in I Hate Suzie; still funny, but rawer, more experimental, and probing all the ways that a thirtysomething woman’s identity – wife, mother, and in this case, celebrity – can be defined by everything except herself.
Piper plays popstar-turned actor Suzie, whose life explodes when hacked photos of her cheating on her husband leak online. Suzie goes through the stages of grief in eight riotous half-hour episodes that experiment with form and genre. There’s drama. There’s satire. There’s singing and dancing. There’s Dexter Fletcher doing coke off a bare arse, and a whole-episode wank that explores the societal construction of female desire. It is, in modern parlance, a lot, in the most exhilarating and enriching way. These two had better not leave it another 10 years until their next collaboration. We demand more.
– Louisa Mellor
18. Rick and Morty
Did you hear? This guy turns himself into a pickle…a PICKLE! It’s wild. Every subsequent year that Rick and Morty airs, it gets harder to separate the “meme” of Rick and Morty from the show itself. Suppose that’s just what happens when a fanbase proves itself to be…uh, energetic, and the Merchandising Industrial Complex kicks itself into overdrive to produce some truly offensively bad Big Dog-style shirts.
Removed from the meta of it all, Rick and Morty still churned out some great episodes of television in 2020. The back half of the series’ two-part season 4 all aired this year and there were real gems included among them. Though it proved to be divisive, “Never Ricking Morty” was certainly among the most structurally ambitious installments the show has ever attempted. Then there was just the sublimely hilarious “The Vat of Acid Episode,” which was enough to earn the show a Best Animated Series Emmy.
– Alec Bojalad
Dark is already notable for reaching levels of popularity in the United States not often enjoyed by subtitled fare, but it also was afforded the rare opportunity to end on its own terms with its third season in 2020. Audiences fell in love with the generational stories of the families living around the nuclear power plant in Winden, Germany, marveling at casting choices for characters in their older or younger forms whose resemblances were spot on.
The time travel plot tied viewers’ brains into knots, but the desire to see an end to the apocalypse was made even deeper by the strong chemistry between Dark’s own Adam and Eve: Jonas and Martha. As the true source of the alternate timelines and causal loops became known, everything about the show’s reality was called into question, but the ending left a lingering question mark to entice fans to speculate long after the show had ended.
– Michael Ahr
16. The Untamed
While The Untamed technically premiered in 2019, the Chinese xianxia drama was one of the escapist stories that most defined a year we all wanted to get as far away from as possible. Bursting onto the transformative fandom scene to come in ninth on Tumblr’s list of the most-discussed live action TV shows of 2020, the foreign-language fantasy series tells the story of supernatural flautist Wei Wuixan (Xiao Zhan) from his humble beginnings as a teen cultivator-in-training to his controversial role as a demonic cultivator war hero to his time as a masked detective after he is mysteriously brought back to life in a stranger’s body 13 years after his gruesome death.
But, like any good melodrama, The Untamed is really all about the relationships. This is a complex emotional story about siblings and sects, honor and morality. At the heart of the interpersonal narrative is the epic romance between Wei Wuixan and his stoic swordsman boyfriend Lan Wangji (Wang Yibo). The Untamed is adapted from an explicitly queer web novel, but China’s anti-LGBTQ censorship laws require the series tell its love story via lingering gazes, clasped wrists, and declarations of undying devotion. The result is no less queer, as these canonical soulmates sacrifice everything but their fervid commitment to protect the innocent for one another.
– Kayti Burt
15. The Haunting of Bly Manor
In 2018, Netflix shrieked its way into the spooky season game with the breakout hit The Haunting of Hill House. The streamer then afforded creator Mike Flanagan the opportunity to American Horror Story-ize his work into an anthology of his own, thus The Haunting series was born. In typical second child fashion, The Haunting of Bly Manor had a world of expectations to live up to, which included its often-adapted source material, primarily the novella Turn of The Screw by Henry James (or Hank Jim as we like to call him) among two other works. Flanagan, who’s a heavyweight in the horror genre at this point, again eschewed a direct remake for a loose adaptation with Bly Manor, a slow burn, but ultimately a deeply personal and satisfying tale of ghosts, both of the faced and faceless variety, intertwined with Gothic romance.
The returning players from the previous season, Victoria Pedretti (Dani), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Peter Quint), Henry Thomas (Henry Wingrave), Carla Gugino (The Storyteller), and Kate Siegel (a surprise character in an excellent episode 8), bring back some of the winning chemistry from Hill House. However it’s the newcomers to the series, T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose the housekeeper, Amelia Eve as Jamie the gardener, and Rahul Kohli as Owen the cook, whose standout performances ground Flanagan’s headier concepts, like the series’ mesmerizing fifth episode. It’s through these characters that Bly Manor poignantly articulates how love can be as much of a burden as it is a blessing. Not long after your Bly Manor binge is complete, Flora’s line, “You said it was a ghost story. It isn’t. It’s a love story,” will crystallize the throughline Flanagan was gunning for. And if that line isn’t a lasting memory of the limited series, perhaps it’s Owen’s lucious mustache, the best on TV in 2020, that will live on.
– Chris Longo
14. Ted Lasso
In a relentlessly dark year, Ted Lasso was one of the few rays of sunshine that warmed our hearts. Its title character is so pleasant and optimistic, he makes Leslie Knope look like a curmudgeon by comparison. Folksy, thoughtful, and almost aggressively friendly, Jason Sudeikis’s Lasso is hired to lead a struggling English Premier League team in a move of sabotage, but ends up charming the pants off of the squad and proving the power of positivity.
The character is practically impossible not to like, and in a time of so much anxiety and frustration, it’s refreshing to spend time with someone like Ted. The title coach isn’t the only reason to watch; the show features well-crafted characters with satisfying individual arcs, comforting, yet well-executed sports movie tropes, and funny fish out of water culture clash moments. Ted Lasso is a breezy, low-effort experience that makes you feel good. What more could you ask for in 2020?
– Nick Harley
13. The Umbrella Academy
The first season of The Umbrella Academy was already a stellar achievement in adapting the gloriously weird Gerard Way/Gabriel Bá graphic novels, but season 2 took the show to another level in 2020. The varied reactions of the superpowered family to being stranded in 1960s Dallas were extremely enlightening and made the characters even more enjoyable with all of their quirks, flaws, and emotional depth.
Of particular interest was the manner in which Allison strove to lead a normal life with a husband that loved her despite the difficulties of being Black in the segregated South and her determination not to use her powers. Fan favorite character Ben also received a noble and inspiring arc that led to a completely new role for him in season 3. Although there are plenty of mysteries remaining, the unfolding backstory leaves us always wanting more of The Umbrella Academy.
– Michael Ahr
12. The Great
“Russia must be saved, and I with it.” An occasionally true story from The Favourite co-screenwriter Tony McNamara, The Great is a satirical look at the rise of Russian monarch Catherine the Great (Elle Fanning, getting a chance to show off her comedic chops), from her arrival from Prussia as a naive teen bride to her time plotting the death of her husband, Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult, seemingly having the time of his career). The Great is cutting, clever, and hilarious, but, like The Favourite before it, its true secret weapon lies in its moments of earnest emotion.
The Hulu series revels in the often absurd nature of its subject matter, but not at the cost of ignoring the trauma and joys of its often gruesome world. The unpredictability of which kind of scene you will get next—absurd, deeply emotional, or both—creates a fantastic dramatic tension that sustains throughout the entire 10-episode first season, perhaps necessary in a story that, should it follow the broadest of historical strokes, the viewer knows will end in Catherine’s triumph. Huzzah!
– Kayti Burt
11. Harley Quinn
This year, we found out the answer to a question that no one was really asking – “who would win: a big budget Birds of Prey DC spinoff movie starring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, or one small Harley Quinn-focused animated series that was seemingly about to be left for dead on the ailing DC Universe streaming service?” Harley Quinn won, for everyone who cared to investigate, as the show leveled up in season 2 by having the balls to let Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel fall in love with her sardonic roommate Poison Ivy on screen and ditch any lingering feelings she had for the Joker, but for those not invested in the romance (they should go have a soup and rethink their priorities) there was so much else going on beyond deconstructing its central character.
Animated shows are typically seen as an immature, lesser form of entertainment than live-action series, but just imagining the creativity you’d need to come up with this many running jokes, in-jokes and meta jokes for the larger-than-life characters of Gotham is exhausting. There’s so much writing talent behind Harley Quinn that a third season wasn’t just expected, but demanded. And indeed, Harley Quinn will live on at HBO Max, but if it hadn’t happened, we’d do what the Doctor ordered and RIOT.
– Kirsten Howard
10. BoJack Horseman
Through its superb six-season run, BoJack Horseman’s tonal brilliance came to be an expected fact of life. Early on, it was tempting to pull non-viewers aside, shake their shoulders, and yell in their face “No, you don’t get it! It’s an animated comedy about a horse that was a ‘90s sitcom, yes, but it’s also a searing exploration of depression, dysfunction, and the dismal nature of the human condition!” It’s to the show’s eternal credit that that stellar comedic/dramatic tightrope act became all but a given a few seasons in and the world adjusted to it thusly. But even with that level of familiarity and comfort, it’s jarring just how well the show pulls off that delicate formula in its final, and perhaps best season.
BoJack Horseman season 6 premiered eight of its final 16 episodes in 2020’s first month and their dramatic resonance carried through the rest of the year. The story ends here as we always expected it might. BoJack’s past finally catches up to him, and when he becomes a pop culture pariah, he slowly begins to undo whatever progress he made throughout the series, culminating in a stunning penultimate episode where BoJack faces the infinite and meets up with all the figures in his life who died along the way. But it’s not until the show’s very end where the message comes into clear focus. BoJack has to start all over again, just like we all must from time to time. The difference this time is that the other people in his life are finally prepared to move on…possibly without him. “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this night was the last time we ever talked to each other?” BoJack says to Diane as they look up at the Hollywood night sky. Wouldn’t it be funny indeed.
– Alec Bojalad
9. Legends of Tomorrow
There is no superhero TV show that has strayed as far from its superheroic roots than Legends of Tomorrow. Despite the fact that its full official title is quick to point out that this is indeed DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, you’d be hard pressed to find a DC show less overtly concerned about its comic book roots, or even with any synergistic responsibilities it may have to the other DC shows in its orbit. Sure, Supergirl, Black Lightning, The Flash, and Stargirl are great, and they’re note perfect representations of what makes those characters special, but Legends does everything those other shows do, but with far less recognizable characters, with far more laughs, and an effortlessly perfect ensemble cast boasting chemistry for days.
No matter how high the reality-altering stakes, it all seems less important than watching the friendships between this crew of superheroic time traveling misfits. Legends of Tomorrow is everything good and hopeful and pure (ok, well…maybe not pure, especially where Matt Ryan’s John Constantine is concerned) about superhero shows without any of the baggage, and often without the superheroics. Always hilarious and often surprisingly touching, there’s not a single superhero team on the big or small screen that you’d rather actually hang out with. You don’t have to love superhero TV to love Legends, you just have to love TV.
– Mike Cecchini
8. Schitt’s Creek
People who love Schitt’s Creek LOVE Schitt’s Creek. It’s almost become cult-like in its following, so the arrival of the sixth and final season felt like an event and the end of a journey not just for fans of the show but the stars themselves. Season six isn’t the best season of Schitt’s – it leans into the schmaltz and sentiment heavily and throws realism to the wind in favor of the absurd but if you’ve come this far with the displaced Rose family and the sometimes odd but overall endearing residents of Schitt’s Creek, you won’t be disappointed.
All the major players get their arc. Alexis and Ted’s separation is heartbreaking, Moira’s Crows movie premiere is a hilarious mess, some of the Jazzagals almost join a cult… the season is packed with ridiculous scenarios in between many more moments of genuine sweetness as it gently guides its characters to an end. The finale comes together with David’s wedding to Patrick – a perfectly idiosyncratic affair in the Schitt’s Creek town hall. It’s a moving send off to which we’re all invited.
This is a show about family and community, created by a real family – father and son Eugene and Daniel Levy (sister Sarah plays Twyla) – that spawned a community of fans. This might be the end of Schitt’s Creek but we can always re-visit.
– Rosie Fletcher
Alex Garland’s unsettling, yet visually gorgeous science-fiction parables are always thought-provoking, but FX’s Devs asks bigger questions than any of the writer/directors previous projects. Do we determine our own fates? Does the multiverse exist? Can computers predict our future? Devs isn’t just heady techno-philosophical musings, it spends its runtime being a pretty satisfying corporate thriller, with our protagonist Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) investigating the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend.
This is a somewhat scathing indictment on Silicon Valley culture, with a Google-esque tech company operating with unmatched power in the shadows. Featuring a moving dramatic performance from Nick Offerman and a star-making turn from Sonoya Mizuno, Devs is just as pretty, existentially threatening, and hard sci-fi as Garland’s beloved films Ex Machina and Annihilation. If you love thrillers, but are also interested in Quantum Theory, this was the limited series you’d been waiting for in 2020.
– Nick Harley
6. The Mandalorian (READERS’ CHOICE)
Starting with its first season and extending into its improved second, The Mandalorian just works. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni’s creation about the galaxy’s most beloved bounty hunter dad is the kind of forward-thinking Star Wars project that works perfectly on a streaming platform.
If you’re a massive Star Wars nerd, The Mandalorian continues to provide plenty of Easter eggs and callbacks for you, but the show excels at being both a fun reentry point for fans fatigued with the sequels and prequels, and a standalone adventure series for viewers who don’t have much knowledge of Star Wars at all, deftly creating a string of sidequests in a galaxy far, far away that put you firmly in the beautiful Lone Wolf and Cub-like tale of Mando and Grogu as they fly toward an unknown future.
As we recently learned, there will come a time in the next few years when we will be simply drowning in Star Wars TV series, as ten(!) of them are in development, but for now, we get to really savor the intricate worldbuilding going on in The Mandalorian.
This is the way.
– Kirsten Howard
5. The Boys
The Boys was a breakout hit when it first landed on Amazon’s streaming service, but when the series returned, there was a bit of a backlash from fans of the show who were enraged that some of its new episodes would arrive weekly, unlike the binge-ready first season. Luckily, Season 2 had so many “what the fuck” moments in store that the griping soon quietened down, and the show eventually found its stride again after a slow start. Our diabolical, supe-fighting team led by a rather distracted Billy Butcher dealt with one bonkers revelation about Vought International after another this season, while the Supes themselves battled with their own humanity, and both groups often found common ground where they least expected it.
It’s really hard to pick a favorite moment from Season 2, but if you’ve forgotten how out there it was, let us present a wild bouquet that includes “Homelander angrily wanking over the city in the form of his own demented Bat-Signal”, “The Seven filming a very (very) thinly-veiled Zack Snyder-esque superhero movie that had undergone a Joss Whedon rewrite”, “a massive-dicked supe-in-captivity called Love Sausage”, and “a timid child getting confidently pushed off the roof of a house by his own beaming father”. And that’s without bringing up the whole “immortal Nazi” stuff that occasionally propelled the narrative into Verhoeven-level satirical territory.
There were things that didnt work about Season 2, and we can argue about them forever, but there’s one thing that everyone can agree on: if Antony Starr doesn’t get two armfuls of awards for his performance as Homelander, a fucking travesty has occurred.
– Kirsten Howard
4. I May Destroy You
On a night out while writing the second series of her acclaimed sitcom Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel was drugged and sexually assaulted by strangers. What she did with that experience – alchemizing it into a wise and fearless TV drama about trauma and survival – was extraordinary.
I May Destroy You is an extraordinary series. In it, Coel plays Arabella, a young writer also drugged and raped on a night out, while under pressure from publishers to follow up her hit book debut. With long-ranging flashbacks, the story moves through the next year in Bella’s life. We see her draw power from her new identity as a survivor and (often clumsily) navigate close friendships and new sexual relationships. She strays from likeability, changing in response to what happened, and in a transcendent, experimental finale, teaches herself how to live.
Coel is a bewitching lead with excellent support from Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu as Bella’s friends Terry and Kwame. This is no dreary misery memoir. It’s surprising, confrontational, often funny and always buzzing with life – a frank and much needed course correction for telling this kind of story on screen.
– Louisa Mellor
3. What We Do in the Shadows
Over the past decade of television, we’ve come to expect a lot out of our TV comedies. Since the Emmy Awards now categorize just about anything that’s 30 minutes long as comedy, the genre is now home to things like shockingly dramatic coming of age tales, intensely personal narratives, and experimental structures. This evolving of the half hour format is a welcome one. At the same time, however, sometimes you just want to laugh.
Enter What We Do in the Shadows. In its remarkable 10-episode second season, this FX adaptation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s movie of the same name made a serious case for itself as the funniest show on television. And it did so in shockingly simple fashion. In season 2, the character list remains short: just Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) make up the show’s cast of characters for the most part (give or take a Mark Hamill or Nick Kroll). And that’s all they need.
This year, the writers and performers all operate at the top of their game to make every possible plotline work and every character pairing sing. The comedic energy is top notch from the season’s opening “Resurrection” episode through midseason classics “Colin’s Promotion” and “On The Run” and all the way to the finale “Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires.”
– Alec Bojalad
2. Better Call Saul
The penultimate season of Better Call Saul was an absolutely brilliant run of episodes that perfectly set the stage for a climactic conclusion that looks to be every bit as heart-wrenching and explosive as the final season of parent series Breaking Bad. The show successfully introduced Lalo, perhaps the most charismatic and terrifying villain in Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque, and merged the series’ seemingly disparate storylines by bringing fan-favorite Kim Wexler closer to the dangerous dealings of the cartel.
It turns out that Jimmy becoming Saul wasn’t the tragedy that we should have been anticipating, it was Kim embracing the Saul way that we should have been worried about. The show’s strengths have always been its meticulous attention to details, fascination with processes, and humanistic view of exactly why someone like Jimmy McGill might break bad and become a dishonorable huckster like Saul Goodman. Those strengths only became more apparent in the thrilling, low-key heartbreaking fifth season.
– Nick Harley
1. The Queen’s Gambit
Oftentimes when assessing the quality of TV shows, we talk about how “timely” they are. In fact, if you scroll back through this list, you will find at least a few instances of just such language. The appeal to Netflix’s stylish, thrilling limited series The Queen’s Gambit, however, is just how timeless it is. And in a year with plenty of timely TV shows, that distinction was enough to launch the show to the very top of our best-of list.
Though we on the television side of Den of Geek are loath to call any rightful TV show an “x-hour movie,” there’s no denying that The Queen’s Gambit fits that mold. But this is not just any kind of filmic experience. It’s a throwback to a ‘70s and ‘80s style of simple, elemental storytelling that simply knows how to win over an audience. The beats of The Queen’s Gambit are predictable, but elegant and perfectly executed. Beth Harmon (the ethereal Anya Taylor-Joy) is a quiet, wide-eyed hero armed with one skill that can make the world care about her and in turn make her care about herself.
So she uses that skill and assembles her tools – her King, Queen, Bishops, Knights, Rooks, and Pawns, to embark on a classical bildungsroman journey of self-discovery and chess dominance. Like a deftly executed chess game itself, each of The Queen’s Gambit’s seven episodes acts like a move on a chess board. Some moments are triumphs, some are defeats, and some are sacrifices. But they all lead into one definitive, enormously satisfying checkmate.
– Alec Bojalad
Other shows receiving votes: Animaniacs, Ozark, High Fidelity, Star Trek: Picard, The Last Dance, Mrs. America, Solar Opposites, The Hollow, Killing Eve, Noughts + Crosses, Outlander, Star Trek: Discovery, Vida, Saved by the Bell, Lucifer, Gangs of London, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, World on Fire, Crash Landing on You, Infinity Train, Locke & Key, McDonalds & Dobbs, Into the Night, The Good Lord Bird, The Last Kingdom, DuckTales, Little Fires Everywhere, Normal People, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Pharmacist, Doctor Who, Away, Dublin Murders, Great Pretender, The Babysitters Club, Tiger King, The Crown, Ramy, The Shivering Truth, Perry Mason, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, The Undoing, Westworld, Doom Patrol, Stargirl, The Clone Wars, P-Valley, Bridgerton, Homeland, Stumptown, The Magicians, Bob’s Burgers, Primal, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Search Party, Roadkill, Raised by Wolves, The Flight Attendant, The Eric Andre Show, Defending Jacob, The Outsider, Julie and the Phantoms, Brave New World, Utopia, Carmen Sandiego, Brockmire, Somebody Feed Phil, Adventure Time: Distant Lands, Dead to Me, The Gift, Ghosts, YOLO: Crystal Fantasy, The 100, The Spanish Princess, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Adult Material, Fargo, Deadwater Fell, The Flash, Archer, Weird But True, Evil, Motherland: Fort Salem, Baghdad Central