With so many movies, festivals, shows, sports, and other events from around the world being canceled, it’s reassuring to know we can always rely on the small screen to keep us entertained.
Yes, folks, TV has been a blessing in providing some much-needed escapism. As a worldwide pandemic brought most productions to a halt this spring, the television landscape has continued to expand its borders at a pace that’s all but impossible for anyone to keep up with— so, in order to help, we’ve compiled our list of the best TV shows of 2020 so far.
This list is in alphabetical order. We will be updating the list in October and again in December in which we will then rank them in order of worst to best.
We hope with this list, you will discover something new that you’ll enjoy!
The Best Television Shows of 2020
Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
Netflix’s animated Hollywood satire has always had a jarring tone to it. Bojack Horseman has spent 6 years balancing animal puns and show business silliness with grim depictions of personal self-destruction and the ravages of trauma and mental illness. While not all viewers could get on board with these ebbs and flows, for those who could, Bojack Horseman was a breath of fresh air in the modern animation department.
The show’s final season, split into two parts, saw Bojack finally breaking away from his toxic behavior and learning how to truly recover. However, as the demons of his past come back to haunt him, Bojack Horseman enters its darkest phase yet, with a harrowing penultimate episode that was a huge a gamble, to say the least. Luckily risks like these pay off and Bojack Horseman finished off its final run of episodes with a poignant and thoughtful ending that befitted its legacy. (Mike Worby)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Better Call Saul has been one of the best shows on television for 5 years now. Its stellar fifth season only further confirms its place as an all-time great.
Seeing Jimmy grow increasingly unhinged as he embraces his new moniker of Saul Goodman and Kim break bad in a vendetta against the man who helped to maker her, Better Call Saul took new narrative risks and gambles as it shook the cage of our expectations while ratcheting all the more further toward the events of Breaking Bad.
With a final season on the way, Better Call Saul will no doubt wow us even more as it enters into its twilight but showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould can rest assured that the legacy of their killer legal-crime drama is already well secured. (Mike Worby)
Cursed Films (Shudder)
The Shudder original series Cursed Films debuted to huge numbers for the streaming service, becoming the second most-watched series premiere in Shudder history behind only the breakout hit Creepshow. And it’s easy to understand why since Cursed Films is required viewing for lovers of film and horror.
For the unfamiliar, Cursed Films (which is written, directed and edited by Jay Cheel) explores the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously “cursed” horror film productions through interviews with experts, witnesses and the cast, directors, and producers who experienced these events first hand. Were these movies really cursed, as many believe, or just victims of bad luck and bizarre circumstances?
If you are looking for a documentary about how the public is fascinated by curses or how the “curse” adds to a film’s legacy, look no further. The series does a great job of providing insight from folks involved with the films in question as well as several renowned horror film experts and aficionados. (Ricky D)
Dare Me (Netflix)
High school dramas have taken a turn for the strange in 2020, as shows like Riverdale and Euphoria become the standard bearers of the genre. Somewhere in the middle, thankfully, was USA’s one-season wunderkid Dare Me and its high tension blend of competitive cheerleading and murder-y melodrama, co-adapted by author Megan Abbott and Gina Fattore. Featuring some of the most exquisitely directed sequences on TV (from directors like Josephine Decker, Olivia Newman, and Lauren Wolkstein), Dare Me offered an intoxicating mix of characters and elements, without some of the extraneous bullshit its aforementioned peers make their namesake (one could also argue Dare Me‘s particular brand of extraneous bullshit is just more satisfying to ingest).
Beyond the flashy direction and wonderfully arrhythmic narrative structure, Dare Me was also a powerhouse of TV’s next generation of female leads, in the form of Herizen Guardiola’s Addy and Marlo Kelly’s breathtaking turn as Beth Cassidy, an impressively baroque performance that elevates much of the show’s boilerplate high school material. Spearheaded by the trio of Guardiola, Kelly and Willa Fitzgerald (as the Sutton Grove’s new cheer leading coach), and driven by its engrossing visual panache, Dare Me is a powerhouse of creative expression, a 10-episode run that deserved much better than its unceremonious cancellation in April. (Randy Dankievitch)
Dark Side of the Ring (Vice on TV, The Movie Network)
For decades, professional wrestling has had its share of drama, both inside and outside of the ring and like any popular sport and entertainment, there are enough rags-to-riches stories; career-ending injuries; strange myths; urban legends; and heartbreaking controversies to fill the pages of several novels. From harassment suits to steroid abuse to screw jobs and double-crosses to backstage affairs and real-life suicides and murders— there’s never any shortage of topics to discuss in the world of professional wrestling. Luckily for wrestling fans, documentary filmmaking over the decades has provided a candid and deeply personal look at the lives of some of the world’s most famous wrestlers and the best of these documentaries act as a source of valuable information, sometimes shedding a light on a wrestling promotion or superstar— and bringing understanding (and closure) to controversy.
Last year, Viceland debuted one such documentary series titled Dark Side of the Ring, a compelling six-episode show that explores several of pro wrestling’s most notorious backstage controversies. The series was well-received and proved successful enough to greenlight a second season consisting of ten episodes.
This time around, Dark Side of the Ring takes a look at what many dub the darkest stories in the history of the industry including the tragic death of Owen Hart which happened live during a pay-per-view event; the murder of Dino Bravo; and the story of WWE superstar Chris Benoit who committed suicide shortly after murdering his wife and son.
You don’t have to be a fan of wrestling to enjoy this! (Ricky D)
Partially auto-biographical, Dave follows amateur rapper Dave Burd, “Lil’ Dicky,” as he tries to gain a foothold in the music industry. Dave is a white, Jewish rapper from the suburbs who believes he’s destined for fame, but first he has to convince his friends and family that he has the talent to back up his ego.
Though it has funny moments, Dave is not an outright comedy. Like Lil’ Dicky himself, the show yearns to be taken seriously even as it makes viewers laugh. By finding a balance between no holds-barred profanity and quieter moments, the series paints a complex, human portrait of Dave and the larger, ensemble cast.
Interestingly enough, the highlights of the first season are often scenes where Dave is not present at all, when the series can step outside of the tight lens of Dave’s ambition to examine romantic intimacy through his girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) or perception of mental health through his real-life hype man GaTa.
In some ways, Dave stands in the shadows of titans like Atlanta, a clear influence on its style and humor. But until season three of Atlanta hits, Dave is a worthwhile distraction that blows expectations out of the water. (Meghan Cook)
Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC)
It’s such a strange show, in so many ways. Four strangers are brought together to play an elaborate role-playing game around the city of Philadelphia. Over the course of its ten episodes, the show appeared to lose interest in the mystery and game parts, in favor of a focus on character, before pivoting again to fourth-wall-breaking solipsism in its finale. It shouldn’t have worked, at all, especially since it was based on documentary called The Institute which was, for lack of a better description, complete nonsense. But Dispatches From Elsewhere was a singularly personal work, masterfully shot and making better use of Philadelphia locations than any project since The Sixth Sense. That’s why it’s my choice as the best TV series of the first half of 2020.
Created by actor Jason Segel, the series focused on four characters, played by Segel, Eve Lindley, Andre Benjamin and Sally Field, and even included a groundbreaking romance between Segel’s Peter and Lindley’s Simone, a trans woman. Beyond that, the show followed its every weird, auterist whim, all the way up to letting Segel sing a “Les Miserables” song. Dispatches may not have clicked with most viewers, but it did with a small cult that absolutely got it, of which I’m proud to be a member. (Stephen Silver)
Feel Good (Netflix, Channel 4)
Feel Good is many things; a show about addiction, self-deprecation, love, and community, as acerbic as it is quietly hopeful – and as funny as it is emotionally devastating. Created, co-written, and starring comedian Mae Martin as a semi-fictional version of herself, Feel Good packs about four different shows into its six-episode first season – and they are all fantastic, a series that quickly earns its place among the many, many counterparts in the burgeoning “comedian comedy” genre.
It is hard to decide where Feel Good is most compelling; is it telling the story of Mae, a struggling comedian and former addict? Or is the love story of Mae and George (Charlotte Ritchie, in her finest role to date)? What about the Mom-esque dynamics of Mae’s Narcotics Anonymous group? Feel Good brings so much to the table – I haven’t even mentioned Lisa Kudrow as Mae’s mother – in its brief existence, some might find it overwhelming; I found it exhilarating.
Led by Martin and Ritchie’s magnetic leading performances, Feel Good is a perfectly imperfect comedy; it can be slight at times, and there’s certainly reason to believe a few more episodes would’ve relaxed the show’s breakneck pacing. But if these six episodes are all we get (if anyone at Channel 4 or Netflix is reading this and wondering about renewing Feel Good: what the hell are you waiting for?), Mae Martin’s mini-opus will remain one of 2020’s most memorable series. (Randy Dankievitch)
High Fidelity (Hulu)
Even in an era saturated with remakes and reimaginings, a television adaptation of High Fidelity (and a fairly faithful one, at that) didn’t seem like something the world needed. The Zoë Kravitz-captained first season, though, essentially makes the original film seem redundant. This doesn’t come down to a matter of simply having more time to explore High Fidelity’s characters and concerns in a longer format; the ideas and scenes here are just more refined. While some of the line-by-line re-enactments can get a little frustrating for viewers wishing to see an interpretation rather than a translation, the characters and the spaces they occupy feel much more lived-in by the end of the season than in the film. It’s funny, it’s sometimes touching and it’s unapologetic in its appreciation of both its source material and soundtrack choices. Costume designer Sarah Laux deserves special mentioning for such a gorgeous array of outfits that complement their characters and setting (Kravitz’ black Dickies shirt and green skirt, which should just come off as an everyday sort of design, sticks out as a particular instance of total understanding of color palette and texture). High Fidelity seems to get most of its details and enough of its bigger issues right, creating real excitement for a second season that will hopefully break away more fully from the film and be proud of the identity the series has started to create for itself. (Sean Colletti)
Hunters (Amazon Prime Video)
If a Tarantino-esque exploitation period piece set in New York City about a gang of vigilantes who track down Nazi fugitives living in America sounds like your cup of tea, then look no further. Amazon Prime’s Hunters is just that and so much more. This fantasy revenge thriller contains all the things Tarantino fans will like— from hyper-stylized action sequences to a barrage of pop culture references— Hunters is anything short of boring.
All in all, Hunters is recommended whole-heartedly for those seeking a mix of pulp fantasy, genre play, and narrative tropes injected with fresh takes and surprising twists. (Ricky D)
The Last Dance (Netflix, ESPN)
Considering The Last Dance was released back in mid-April when most North Americans were knee-deep in lockdown— Jason Hehir’s ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls was a godsend— a totally riveting ten-part series about arguably the greatest athlete who has ever lived and the legacy and inner turmoil of one of the great basketball teams of all time.
The Last Dance is one of the most ambitious sports documentaries to air since the Oscar-winning O.J.: Made in America. Not only is it a great character study but it’s also bloody entertaining thanks to its movie-like structure which contains corporate villains, surprising plot twists, nail-biting cliffhangers, and a killer soundtrack that rarely lets viewers forget they are witnessing greatness.
Even if you’re not a sports fan— even if you’ve never watched a game—The Last Dance is the sort of film that will you hooked thanks to the level of storytelling. It is not often that one gets to see such an intimate and detailed portrait of a legendary sports team and a larger than life celebrity/athlete, both on and off the court. The Last Dance is an impressive achievement for any documentary, not to mention one for the sports genre. Hell, it’s easily one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made. (Ricky D)
Never Have I Ever (Netflix)
Hilarious and heartfelt, Never Have I Ever is the latest comedic endeavor from The Office alum Mindy Kaling. Never Have I Ever centers on Indian-American highschooler Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she tries to reinvent herself after a particularly grueling freshman year.
In a world where there’s no shortage of television targeted towards teenagers, Never Have I Ever rises above the rest with nuanced portrayals of cultural expectations, grief, and mental health. Fresh and funny, the dramatic-comedy thrives when it leans into unique creative choices, like having tennis legend John McEnroe narrate Devi’s inner turmoil.
While the main character is flawed, and often gets herself into scraps because of her fiery personality, she also learns and grows as the series progresses. The specificity of Devi’s story makes her coming-of-age journey all the more relatable. With a well-written lead and transparent commentary on everything from identity, sexuality, and mental wellness, Never Have I Ever may prove itself to be the most emotionally intelligent show of 2020. (Meghan Cook)
Normal People (Hulu, RTÉ One)
Let’s just put the cards on the table up front: Normal People is one of the most affecting love stories I’ve ever seen in my life. Hulu’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel (co-written by Rooney, Alice Birch and Mark Rowe) is a whirlwind of visual panache and absolutely stunning performances, all wrapped in an engrossing examination of intimacy, love, and communication. Each of Normal People‘s twelve episodes examine specific moments of a relationship, beginning when teenagers Marianne and Connell meet and begin a secret relationship in high school.
In a story that spans over a decade, Normal People revolutionizes the television romance story, both in intelligence – and quite frankly, its hotness, offering up some of the most intimate, narratively poignant sex scenes ever seen on film (Ita O’Brien’s influence as intimacy director pays huge dividends in key moments, like the 10-minute love scene that opens episode two). Normal People achieves a balance between romantic sentimentality and cynical realism rarely seen in the genre of romance.
Doesn’t hurt, of course, that Normal People offers up the two most dynamic lead performances in all of television in 2020; though some might effuse Paul Mescal’s innate hotness as the reason for the show’s success, there’s so much more to what Mescal (in his on-camera debut) and Daisy Edgar-Jones offer to the roles of Connell and Marianne. Mescal is astonishing in how he captures Connell’s insecurities, and Edgar-Jones meets that commitment with one of the most dynamic performances by a female romantic lead I’ve ever seen. Together, they are absolute powerhouses of vulnerability and emotional honesty; there’s no way these two aren’t massive, award-baiting stars by the end of this decade.
Normal People is deserving of the repetitive superlatives being laid on it in this synopsis; it is a remarkable piece of work, the closest television’s ever gotten to Linklater’s Before trilogy. It’s so good, it was a bit disappointing to hear recently Hulu had ordered two additional “bonus” episodes; Normal People delivers all the way to the end, its final minutes leaving me sobbing on the floor in the way only the very best of TV can. (Randy Dankievitch)
The Outsider (HBO)
Stephen King’s imagination has contributed much to popular culture over the last 5 decades, and The Outsider is just one more successful adaptation of his work. Based around the concept of a gruesome child murder and a man with undeniable proof that he both committed the murder and couldn’t possibly have done it. As a detective and a psychic begin the process of unravelling the mystery, they find themselves up against an evil force that has been operating in perpetuity for years.
Anchored by strong performances from Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo and Jason Bateman, HBO’s spooky murder mystery series emerged as one of the earliest must-watches of 2020, and halfway through it’s still one of the best pieces of television of the year. (Mike Worby)
The Plot Against America (HBO)
David Simon and Edward Burns have been the minds behind some of the most well-respected television in the history of the medium. With shows like The Wire and Treme and miniseries like Show Me A Hero and Generation Kill, the team have proven their chops time and time again.
Their latest work, The Plot Against America, keeps this legacy well intact. An adaptation of the Philip Roth novel of the same name, The Plot Against America sees a 1930s alternate history where famed pilot Charles Lindbergh becomes the President of the United States and turns the country toward xenophobia and fascism. As minorities face discrimination and the threat of violence around every corner, it seems that the America we know may become an even darker reflection of itself.
With a shocking resonance to much in regard to modern politics and the current social climate, The Plot Against America has been adapted for new audiences at the absolute perfect time for them to appreciate it. (Mike Worby)
Easily the most convincing, confident, and ambitious auteur-driven half-hour shows to come out of the very specific school popularized by Girls and Louie, Ramy is still somewhat of a hidden gem shipwrecked on Hulu. No other series has such a grasp on how to execute the character-specific episode that has become a wonderful (and, now, somewhat overdone) trope. Nowhere is this more impressive than in the second season’s penultimate episode, “Uncle Naseem”, which is a frontrunner for best episode of television in 2020. While Ramy anchors the cast of incredibly well-drawn characters (with the few exceptions being Ramy’s closest friends), episodes like “Uncle Naseem” give the creator a chance to explore Ramy’s world through a different set of eyes and surprise the viewer by inviting them to change their mind about even the toughest of characters to love. Season two also hugely benefits from Mahershala Ali’s turn as Ramy’s new Sheikh and spiritual guide. Ostensibly a comedy, season two gets nail-bitingly serious when it needs to be, such as looking at a veteran’s PTSD and religious bigotry. Ramy is often awkward and uncomfortable, but for those who can find peace with its style of writing, there is a depth of humanity and empathy in the series that is beyond worthwhile. (Sean Colletti)
Schitt’s Creek (Pop, CBC Television)
It’s rare for a show’s endpoint to feel completely natural. Too often, shows either run for far too long, or are cut short before they have the chance to fully realize their potential. Schitt’s Creek is the rare exception, with its sixth and final season striking the perfect balance between keeping up the laughs and saying goodbye.
As with the final season of How I Met Your Mother, Schitt’s Creek creators (and stars) Eugene and Dan Levy chose to center their final outing around a wedding. Unlike How I Met Your Mother, Schitt’s Creek manages to stick the landing. The relationship between David and Patrick has been a source of both comedy and tenderness for the show since they met in season three, and getting to see the culmination of their relationship is the emotional linchpin that ties the final episodes together. The show expertly balances the wedding as both a romantic affair and a chance to showcase the bonds between David and his family: his mother, Moira, officiates in a typically extravagant outfit that must be seen to be believed, and his sister Alexis walks him down the aisle. It will be the rare viewer who manages not to cry. (Ellie Burridge)
Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime Video)
Amazon’s recent anthology series adapted from a book of visual art is, perhaps not surprisingly, the premier aesthetic achievement of television in 2020. When someone talks about the enjoyment of being sucked into a world, they’re getting at what Tales from the Loop pulls off so thoroughly. A more science-fiction-leaning kind of The Twilight Zone (though, Tales does occasionally dip into horror) for modern audiences, each of its eight episodes can stand alone or be viewed out of order or be seen sequentially and as one unit—it doesn’t really matter. Very little about Tales conforms to televisual narrative conventions. And what little can be said without spoiling some of the wonderful premises for each episode is that the debut season’s middle and endpoints provide one of the most emotionally-driven explorations of death and the meanings we yearn to ascribe to it that have aired. A relatively star-studded cast (Jonathan Pryce, Rebecca Hall, Paul Schneider) kind of just fade into the background behind Tales’ atmosphere, which is dominant and pushed along by a score composed by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan. “Haunting” may be an overused or hyperbolic word when describing works of art, but Tales earns the distinction and the views from every single person who has an Amazon Prime account. (Sean Colletti)
Upload (Amazon Prime Video)
Greg Daniels’ name is synonymous with The Office, The Simpsons, and King of the Hill, but his latest television series falls more in line with an episode of Black Mirror than the situational comedies he’s known for. Set in the near future, Upload follows computer engineer Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) into a virtual afterlife after his conscience is digitally uploaded in the aftermath of a car crash.
With meager life savings, Nathan mainly relies on his wealthy girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) to unlock facets of his computer generated heaven. But when he is left to his own devices, Nathan starts to fall for Nora (Andy Allo), the human agent helping him to adjust to life after death.
While it definitely tackles heavy subjects, like the meaning of life and the existential fear of Upload has an undeniable wit and sense of humor that keeps the darker aspects of the narrative at bay. And although fear of technology and the evils of greed come into play, Upload thrives when it sticks to what Daniels does best: crafting a believable love story. And Amell and Allo’s effortless chemistry doesn’t hurt either. (Meghan Cook)
The third and—sadly—final season of Vida recently wrapped up in about as satisfying a series of ways as was possible, given its premature cancellation. While Vida did some genuine heavy-lifting when it came to Latinx representation both on and off the screen, it goes down as possibly the third best Starz series of all time (behind Spartacus and The Girlfriend Experience) because of its incredible balance of characterization shared between its central cast of women. Exploring themes of grief, familial obligation, socioeconomic clashes and sexuality, Vida was as sharp in its writing and gorgeous in its presentation as just about anything else that aired during its run. At the very least, this will be a series championed in retrospect by future viewers looking for meditative, character-driven work in the almost impossibly easy-to-consume half-hour drama format. Starz has fumbled a bit in recent years by letting smart series like this and Survivor’s Remorse go, but with Vida on the CV, it’s hard to believe more networks won’t be jumping at the opportunity to work with Tanya Saracho.