Top 10 TV Shows of 2020
I wrote about the top 10 songs of the year here.
10. Earth to Ned (Disney+)
This is ostensibly a children’s show, though it’s format (a talk show parody), writing staff (veterans of the
alt-comedy scene), and guests (again, lots of alt-comedy people), make it hard to call it that. It’s a weird
show, about two aliens (who appear as puppets) trying to figure out what makes Earth tick, so they host
a late night talk show, bringing in various guests to interview about a certain topic. I love that something
like this exists in 2020, a time where media seems to be created according to whatever algorithm tells
them they will find the most success. The show breaks so many of those barriers and while not perfect is
a strange delight.
9. Never Have I Ever (Netflix)
A high school comedy about Devi (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) trying to figure out her place in the
world. It’s a charming show that grows as you watch, detailing difficulties both small (like Devi trying to
get a boyfriend) and large (Devi’s father has recently died before the show starts).
8. Pen15 (Hulu)
I didn’t know where to place this as technically it’s only the first part of season 2, filming was interrupted
because of, well, you know. I turned to this expecting to find the ridiculous laughs that creators/stars
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle brought playing versions of their teenage selves (they are in their 30s
now). While season 1 tackled some deep issues, season 2 almost turns dark in its depictions of slut
shaming and the tenuousness of friendships. I did not expect to need a pick me up after watching this
show, but I suppose it was just that kind of year.
7. Normal People (Hulu)
Based on Sally Rooney’s novel (which I have not read), Normal People is about the romance/friendship
of two Irish teenagers, following their lives years into the future as they go through the ups and downs
of the modern world. It’s sweet, loving, and frustrating, featuring two standout performances from Paul
Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. If you’re looking for a winter watch, the gray landscapes of Ireland just
might fit your mood.
6. The Mandalorian (Disney+)
I fell way behind season 1 and ended up catching up with it out of obligation—I did not really like that
season. With season 2, I again turned it on out of obligation, but from the moment the sand people are
introduced as characters with agency and a big battle occurs with a sand monster I was hooked. For me
the show works better as an excuse to highlight the weird and (frankly) cool parts of Star Wars.
Creatures and costumes and set design are probably what make Star Wars great, not necessarily the
mythology. That’s what this season does, highlighting the Baby Yoda puppet work and offering glimpses
of coolness that you once experienced as a kid.
5. Mrs. America (Hulu)
I had never heard of Phyllis Shlafly before watching this show, so for me a lot of the fun of this was
learning about recent history (however dramatically skewed it may be). There’s been a lot made about
whether this show is sympathetic toward Shlafly (and whether it should be if it is). I found it to be fairly
neutral, showing her to be a character who is fine with accepting her role as secondary to her husband’s
even if she never really was that. More importantly, I found it to be a fascinating look into movements
and the tensions and compromises that occur to find success in what you believe to be right. At what
points do our disagreements necessitate a split? Should you compromise if it results in small success?
4. Ted Lasso (AppleTV)
If Friday Night Lights were a half-hour comedy, this is probably what we’d get. Ted Lasso is a sincere
show about an American college football coach who gets hired by an English soccer club as part of a
nefarious plan. Ted Lasso’s approach is all inspirational quotes and sweet viral videos. The kind of
sincerity that reality cuts into pieces. Yet, this show pulls it off. It wonders if in pure kindness we can find
the success and the fulfillment we long for and it proceeds to win you over despite your doubts.
3. How to With John Wilson (HBO Max)
Produced by Nathan Fielder, How to with John Wilson is ostensibly a documentary series where John
Wilson tries to teach the answer to some mundane question. What follows is a series of rabbit holes and
interviews with quirky characters across the country. Wilson personally captures it all with his camera (he’s rarelyseen in the show) and helps tell the story using years of footage he’s captured that represent his
awkward, stuttering voice over. The key to the show’s success is Wilson never leans too hard into
mocking his subjects (who include hardcore proponents of the Mandela Effect and anti-circumcision
activists, among others), instead he follows them, hoping to find insight about life’s peculiarities. It’s a
weird show, one that is best compared to Nathan For You, especially when that show took detours to
explore its subjects’ interiorities. All in all, I think it’s a love letter to New York City and the vastness of
humanity that is represented within.
2. I May Destroy You (HBO)
I May Destroy You follows Arabella, played by series creator Michaela Cole, who experiences a sexual
assault while out at a night club. Created from Cole’s own experiences, I May Destroy You is a dark, but
ultimately illuminating story of what comes after. It’s an uncomfortable watch almost all of the time,
because of the nature of its subject, portraying consent and the traumas of lines being crossed. It
achieves this through a comedic setting, Cole is a comedian after all, but there’s nary a light moment
that isn’t followed by immense dread. Sexual assault is overwhelming for those who experience it and
Cole makes us as an audience grasp with all these questions, not letting us stand by in silence.
- The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)
Based on a novel by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird follows Reverend John Brown on his mission to
end slavery in the 1800s. Brown (played by Ethan Hawke in a tour-de-force performance) is beyond
passionate in his desire to end slavery, killing in the name of the Lord and justifying it as righteous
violence. The show takes this violence seriously while also undermining it with a comedic edge,
displaying Brown as the zealous abolitionist he was, but noting that he’s a little out of his mind. This is all
seen from the perspective of Onion, a teenage boy who is mistaken for a girl and remains dressed as
such because you shouldn’t disagree with a white man. It’s about the ways in which even the most well-
intentioned white people can barrel through the world causing unintended damage, doing good for
others while neglecting that truly helping others means giving them a choice. Yet, the show doesn’t
deny that John Brown did in fact help to end slavery through his violent crusade, lighting the spark
necessary to start the Civil War. History is complicated as are each of our desires and motivations.
People can be bad and do good things and can also do bad in trying to do good. Good Lord Bird revels in
these complications in a violent, entertaining, and often comical way.