Best TV 2020

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020

20 Best Scripted TV Series of 2020

It has been challenging to find bright spots in 2020. While many of you started baking sourdough bread and made TikTok videos, we watched television to pass the time. Although some of the most impressive series have appeared in our previous best tv shows of the year (20172018, and 2019), what we were looking for was different this year. We gravitated to series that were human and relatable. Series that encouraged us to think and see things from different perspectives. And lastly, series that provided us with the friendship and intimacy we all were missing in 2020. In short, our top 20 shows were about 2020 even if they never address 2020 by name. 

To note this is a list of the best-scripted series to premiere during 2020. Therefore docu-series such as The Last Dance (ESPN), City so Real (Nat Geo), The Vow (HBO Max),  Immigration Nation (Netflix), and Lenox Hill (Netflix) are not on this list. Additionally, The Good Place ended early in 2020 and therefore we decided not to include it in this year’s list as only a few episodes aired in 2020.  A few shows just missed out on this year’s list, they include Ted Lasso (Apple+), Brockmire (IFC), Fargo (FX/Hulu), ZeroZeroZero (Amazon), Search Party (HBO Max), The Crown (Netflix), The Good Fight (CBS), and Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO).

Here are our 20 best tv series of 2020:

[20] Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV/Netflix)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Schitt's Creek

Sometimes it’s all about timing, and not even the ingenious Dan Levy could have predicted or planned for a global pandemic that required global lockdowns just when all episodes of Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek were made available on Netflix. Of course, we needed an escape to the little town of Schitt’s Creek with Moira, Johnny, David (say it as Alexis says it), Alexis, Stevie, Roland, Jocelyn, Patrick, and Twy. Schitt’s Creek is a series filled with characters that can so quickly get annoying but never does, quite simply, because they are human with faults just like you and just like me. Underneath the wigs, designer fashion, and accents (?) are characters we’ve come to love and respect (and who by the end of the series love and respect one another and, perhaps most importantly themselves). 2020 sucked. Schitt’s Creek provided the necessary communal laughs, much like Friends achieved after Septemeber 11th, Schitt’s Creek brought us all together in 2020. 

[19] Unorthodox (Netflix)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Unorthodox

This German-American miniseries follows Etsy, a 19-year old Jewish woman living unhappily in an arranged marriage among an ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, may have unintentionally given us some access into a culture that fought social distancing and mask-wearing to combat COVID-19. They still are fighting it in communities in New York. A pregnant Etsy runs away to Berlin, looking for her mother, discovering life outside her community, and rejecting many of the beliefs she grew up with.  Unorthodox is immersive, emotional, and captivating, and as topical of a series as any that graced our screens in 2020.

[18] Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Never Have I ever

This new coming of age series created by Mindy Kaling is sweet, lovable, honest, relatable, and yes, funny — even when dealing with grief. What you see is what you get here, and during a time of cliffhangers and confusing narratives, Never Have I Ever is welcomed. Also welcomed: being able to watch a series with everyone in your family. Breakout star Mailtreyi Ramakrishnan is engaging. It is also not lost on us the watershed moment Never Have I Ever is for South Asian representation (much like our next Vice President). 

[17] The Boys (Amazon)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | The Boys

What season 1 lacked (depth), season 2 makes up for by introducing more characters and allowing audiences to understand and relate to those characters. The second season of The Boys is sharp, witty, and alluring. It never takes its eyes off its point: to satirize a sick, grotesque, boys’ club capitalistic culture that we have allowed permeate not just American culture but all cultures. What The Boys does so well is its blunt commentary on our priorities and what we value, good vs. evil, trust, and justice. Perfect for 2020. The highlight of season 2 for us was the addition of You’re the Worst’s Aya Cash, who can manipulate her audience’s mind (which she was also able to do to Jimmy). 

[16] Betty (HBO)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Betty

What we love most about HBO’s Betty is the relationship each young woman has to her city, New York City, as she tries to stand out in New York’s male-dominated world of skateboarding. Betty does not delve into the stereotype of young cosmopolitans (sex, drugs, being misunderstood, etc.) we have become accustomed to in other series, even those on HBO, which is why it stands out. Additionally, creator Crystal Moselle never seems to make New York City a prop where it becomes others’ ideas of what it’s like to grow up in the city. Betty feels authentically New York with a steadier, more natural pace. Ultimately, Betty is about friendship, and in 2020 that was something we were looking for on our screens. 

[15] Mrs. America (FX/Hulu)

One hundred years following the ratification of the 19th Amendment, we are treated with a period mini-series that amplifies the voices of women who fought for (and some against) The Equal Rights Amendment. Mrs. America is a reminder that nothing gets accomplished out of the blue. There are fearless people behind every movement and every revolution — in this case, women — whose shoulders we all stand on. Too often, we look at history as singular events that are just tangentially connected, but Mrs. America does a superb job at linking our past with our present. While we were all binging this series during quarantine, during an election year that ultimately saw the United States elect our first woman to the office of the Vice Presidency, Mrs. America taught us how to celebrate the incremental changes while never, never, never giving up the good fight. A lot has been written about Cate Blanchett’s exceptional and memorizing portrayal of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. Still, for us, the standouts were Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug, and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan. 

[14] Devs (FX/Hulu)

We have a confession: We have no idea what Devs is about. We think it is a commentary on technology and Silicon Valley. Maybe technology is moving way too quickly? Perhaps we have to stop developing? During the season, we had to rewatch episodes to try and get a handle on what was going on. We think that was the point. We kept watching. So why do we have it on a list of Best Shows of 2020? Because Devs accomplished precisely what it set out to do. Confuse us, reexamine technology in our own lives, and show us the beauty and the destruction in life that is developing too fast. Devs is strikingly cold yet visually stunning (a giant child statue?) with some exceptional acting. A lesson we learned watching Devs: too much technology and too much development can’t be great for our mental health. 

[13] Ramy (Hulu)

It’s not easy for a freshman hit to get better in their sophomore year. Season 2 is better than season 1. It is smart, funny, emotional, and profound. Ramy is unafraid to confront our insecurities and racism, but the series finds the humor in it to knock down barriers to address them in ways not always seen on our screens. It is the addition of Mahershala Ali, a Sufi leader, and his relationship with Ramy, who gravitates to him as a spiritual leader, that makes Season 2 so exceptional. Additionally, Maya Calamawy, who plays Ramy’s sister, storyline regarding the loss of her hair was a standout in Season 2 and should be required viewing. One day it will no longer be refreshing or shocking to see a show about a Muslim millennial navigating America and its culture, and we will have Ramy to thank for that. 

[12] The Queens Gambit (Netflix)

Following the debut of The Queens Gambit, inquires for chess sets on eBay were up 250%, Google search queries for “how to play chess” hit an all-time high, and the number of new players on chess.com grew by 500%. Is it the power of Netflix or the power of The Queens Gambit? The theme of this year’s list is timing, and The Queens Gambit had impeccable timing. The pace is fast and riveting (which is not what one would expect from a series about chess), and in its way, addresses some pertinent and topical issues such as women’s empowerment, substance abuse, and race. The Queens Gambit is a joy to watch, so much so that we were eventually able to get over the fact that it’s stars and love interests Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomas Brodie-Sangster look alike. 

[11] Normal People (Hulu)

Normal People was excruciating to watch. And yes, we mean that in the best of ways. More often than not, while viewing a TV series, you can keep your distance. What you are watching is fiction, and you are separated from reality. However, Normal People flips that script on its head, and instead, we become part of what feels like a very real, raw, appropriately erotic, and emotional love story that we are not sure we want to continue with, but we do. You cannot achieve this brilliance without the on-screen chemistry between Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal, who both put it all out there (literally and figuratively). Marianne and Connell’s relationship is worth watching play out because, unlike most love stories, we see play out on our screens; this one feels honest, which is what we needed in 2020. 

[10] Dave (FXX/Hulu)

Created by rapper/comedian Lil Dicky, Dave makes this list for it’s the second half of its debut season. What started as another series about a privileged manbaby, Tom Green-type, cringe-worthy, white dude navigating Hollywood became a series that was self-actualized — even if Dave has zero-self awareness. Through all the little dick jokes and the over-the-top insecurities, Dave is a very likable character and someone by the end you are rooting for. Dave is easy and fun to watch, and the season finale should be reward enough for watching the series.

[9] BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

Does art have a point? BoJack asks Todd in the series finale, before Todd replies, “You do the hokey pokey. And you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about” You with me? Over six seasons, BoJack Horsemen ironically has been one the most real series on television. BoJack Horsemen has also been one of the most thoughtful, enjoyable, and at times self-reflective series. Art is meant to inspire. It’s intended to connect. It is not always pretty or poetic, but it an expression and commentary on life. A series like BoJack Horseman, which frequently commented on Hollywood and what in Hollywood should be considered as art, was just that, art.

[8] Pen15 (Hulu)

Blame it on our millennial nostalgia, but we love PEN15. The brilliance of PEN15 is how relatable it is. We have all been where Anna and Maya are. We all remember what it felt like to be a teenager, even if we try hard to forget. Adults play Anna and Maya — which, admittedly, we forget — only enhances this feeling. Watching PEN15 is like reading a more approachable Marcel Proust. We are constantly reminded of feelings we had as a kid, products we felt we couldn’t live without, and our fears about being different. And yes, how they all have an impact on who we are today. Deep down, we are all just a bunch of angsty, unassured teenagers. PEN15 is funny, bold, and an easy watch. We want more episodes! 

[7] We Are Who We Are (HBO)

One of the most beautifully shot TV series of 2020, We Are Who We Are, was a series we couldn’t stop watching. We don’t entirely understand why. The series is slow at times. It feels a little too European to capture American millennials living abroad accurately. However, we couldn’t look away. We Are Who We Are authentically tells the coming of age story of two young people trying to figure out who they are. And the answer to that question is not easy. Nor should it be. We are so used to seeing things in black and white, while life is filled with just the gray area. During a time of heightened awareness on gender identification and sexuality, We Are Who We Are paints a picture of what ordinary young people are facing in our ever-changing world. 

[6] P-Valley (Starz)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | P-Valley

The unexpected series of 2020 is without question P-Valley. The series, created by Katori Hall, follows employees’ lives — predominantly black women strippers — working at a Mississippi strip club. As the series premiered, the United States saw a reckoning in its streets following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahamad Aubrey. As many were stuck at home educating and unlearning, P-Valley unapologetically tells the stories of women who too often are marginalized and over-sexualized. Stories that too many ignored. P-Valley has a ton to say about how we look at race and sex and where we are today in 2020.

[5] What We Do In The Shadows (FX/Hulu)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | What We Do In The Shadows

If there is one series that made us consistently laugh out loud, it would be What We Do In the Shadows. Sure, this is a one-note series that probably will get old and tired soon, but that did not happen in season 2. Season 2 is better than season 1. It’s exactly what you liked about the first season, but they just doubled down on the things that worked. ‘Resurrection’ with guest star Haley Joel Osmont was one of the funniest 20+ minutes we watched all year. The second funniest was went they were invited to their human-next-door neighbor Sean’s Super Bowl Party, which is nothing like what they thought it would be. 

[4] Insecure (HBO)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Insecure

If 2020 were a relationship, it might be Issa and Molly. Season four of HBO’s Insecure was challenging to watch for fans of Issa and Molly. We applaud the direction. Although many probably watched to see Issa and Lawrence try it out again, we were captivated by whether or not Issa and Molly were going to be able to see and hear one another. We knew they needed one another, and yet they were so apart. They needed time apart, even if that bothered us. Thankfully through the angst, we had Natasha Rothwell’s Kelli making us laugh. Yes, Insecure is Issa’s show, but without Molly, Issa seems lost. If we learn anything from 2020, it is that friendships are essential for our mental and physical health, and we want Issa and Molly happy… together. 

[3] Better Call Saul (AMC)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Better Call Saul

Season five of Better Call Saul is nothing short of remarkable, which after five seasons and the most devoted fans knowing where the story ends is saying something. Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy is compelling, fun to watch, and one of the best characters ever written. It’s almost remarkable that after Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul we aren’t sick of Jimmy/Saul. The success of Better Call Saul may not be Bob Odenkirk alone, however. Season five for us was all about Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler. Much like Odenkirk, Seehorn is magical whenever graces the screen, and she does so often in a surprising yet subtle way.

[2] I May Destroy You (HBO)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | I May destroy You

Before watching HBO’s I May Destroy You, we knew that it would end up toward the top of our best tv shows of 2020. That is because we are such a fan of Michaela Coel and her work on Chewing Gum. We knew a series that would explore the trauma of sexual assault in her dark humor was going to be both a harrowing and enjoyable watch. However, Coel exceeded our high expectations. No TV series or movie has ever, at least to our recollection, portrayed the complexities of sexual assault and how it affects survivors and their friends much like I May Destroy You. I May Destroy You is hard to watch at times, but Coel keeps your eyeballs on her and her struggles in what might be the most accurate portrayal of how so many millennials feel. It is a near-perfect 2020 series. I May Destroy You is complicated, beautiful, and at moments quite funny. It’s a must-watch. 

[1] Better Things (FX/Hulu)

20 Best TV Shows Of 2020 | Better Things

Everything about Better Things is so imperfectly perfect that it should be no surprise that it ranks again as the best show of the year (like it did in 2017). We have written extensively about Better Things season 4 here and here, and we are not sure what else to say to convince you to drop everything and start streaming this series. What Adlon has been doing season after season is nothing short of astonishing. We are just so thrilled FX/Hulu renewed the series to see how Pamela Adlon tackles 2020 and COVID-19. 

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