Top 15 TV Series of 2020 – A Big Geeks View on the Small Screen
Let’s admit it, the TV series of 2020 really did keep us sane and ticking over. It was the year of binge watching, the year we were stuck at home and managed to consume everything on our streaming platforms four times over. Long loved series continued or came to an exciting end, and brand new entertainment washed over the small screen in equal measure.
So here is a list of the amazing television shows that filled the entertainment void of 2020 and brought laughs, thrills and visual feasts right into the living room.
Never Have I Ever
Why: It can be hard to a Teen Dramedy show nowadays without simply treading every familiar thread we’ve already seen, but Mindy Kailing’s joyous and hilarious Never Have I Ever manages to be so endearing and cleverly written that it stands out from the rest. Focusing on Devi, a young Indian American who is grieving the loss of her father, exploring her identity and culture, and going through the usual coming-of-age fare that plagues every teenager. There’s a strange mixture of the realistic, and often ego-crushing, moments of teen development and some surreal and fantastical elements, like McEnroe narrating the story like an omnipresent tennis deity. It’s a charming show with a great ensemble cast who keep the humour strong whilst still exploring the tragedy and sorrow of losing a loved one. Plus the central trio’s friendship is extremely enjoyable, even when they go through the usual teen turmoil.
Gangs of London
Why: Fast frenetic camerawork, exquisitely choreographed fight scenes and wince inducing violence abound in this gritty British crime drama. Worming into the underbelly of London’s crime scene the show follows the Wallace family after the murder of their patriarch and his son, Sean’s, attempts at finding the killer and enacting revenge. If you feel that your TV screen has been lacking the high octane insanity of a martial arts action film then look no further than Gangs of London. At its core it is a story of the next generation taking on both the riches and ruins of their parents and trying to do better, just like all good gangster narratives. One of the standouts of the series is Sope Dirisu as Elliot Finch, a man with a lot of morals but not enough to stand in the way of him cracking bones and spilling oodles of blood to keep us entertained.
Where: Netflix & BBC iPlayer
Why: Told in three ‘feature length’ episodes, similar to Sherlock, another spectacular Mark Gattis show, Dracula brings a modern retelling of the classic tale to the small screen. Each part tells a different element of Dracula’s story, from the classic castle dwelling introduction, to his boat journey to England and finishing off in the modern world. There may be some split opinions on how well these episodes land, especially the finale, but there is one thing that is hard to argue, and that is the incredible cast who hold the lofty ambition of this show on their shoulders. Smoldering with effortless appeal and a deadly yet debonair demeanour Claes Bang is perfectly cast as Dracula. Battling against him, and never being overshadowed by his cape or charisma, is Dolly Wells as Agatha Van Helsing, a strong and sardonic conundrum who speaks in science and is described as an atheist in a habit. Throw in the gore and it’s definitely satisfying for horror fans.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Why: It was always going to be a hard task for Flanagan to follow up his incredible series The Haunting of Hill House and there are many who see this second series as lesser, yet the change from a ghost story of family trauma to a Gothic Romantic Tragedy was well executed in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the overuse of “perfectly splendid” did do my head in and there were more lulls in this entry to the ‘Haunting of’ series. There’s a strong cast with numerous romances that all seem doomed and yet are heartwarmingly enjoyable to watch and impossible not to root for. It may not be as chilling as Hill House or have as many ‘jump out of you skin’ scares, but it has heart. As the script tells us, “You said it was a ghost story; it wasn’t. It was a love story.”
Sex Education (Season 2)
Why: This Netflix TV series did more in one single season for the sexual health education of young people than any school curriculum has ever done and they continue that run of sneaking knowledge into a Teen Drama Comedy with season two. Of course it’s not all about sex, the characters are developed in other ways too with Maeve has to deal with her estranged mother and new half-sister, Jackson is struggling with the pressure of his swimming career and Adam dealing with his expulsion from military school and Eric is stuck in a love triangle. The most heartbreaking element of this season involves Aimee as she deals with a sexual assault which causes her to fear getting on the bus again, the resolution of this is a beautiful moment amongst the females of this show that is empowering and emotional. As always Gillian Anderson is impeccable and a constant highlight of the show. Oh, and there’s the most insane and perfect musical version of Romeo & Juliet I’ve ever seen.
Big Mouth (Season 4)
Why: Big Mouth has been exploring the trials and tribulations of puberty since 2017 and is still going strong in its fourth season. This season explores a Summer of change with friendships being broken and rebuilt, identity being explored and even some strange forms of romance happening. It’s a fun change of pace from the usual school life and introduces a few new faces, including Seth Goldberg, the friend between Andrew and Nick, Natalie a transgender camper who bonds with Jessie and Tito the Anxiety Mosquito, who causes a whole apocalyptic future episode. Missy definitely gets a lot of development throughout this season as she visits her family in Atlanta who help her to explore and embrace her Black identity. There’s an incredible moment in the episode ‘Horrority House’ where Missy is confronted by the different aspects of her personality and this is the episode where her voice actor is changed from Jenny Slate to Ayo Edebiri in a poignant and sensitive change. As always the show juggles it’s crass and dark humour with real development and progressive storylines.
The Umbrella Academy (Season 2)
Why: Following on from the Apocalyptic ending of season one the Hargreeves family are transported back to the 1960’s to try and avoid this destructive fate. This season seemed to explore the family of characters more, giving them all different reactions to being dumped into a historic time frame. Vanya tries to live a normal life, Luther gives in to being hired muscle, Allison fights for black rights in a segregated America and Klaus starts a cult based around 90’s pop lyrics, because of course he does. Then of course there’s poor burdened Five, played with incredible talent by Aidan Gallagher, who is trying to reunite the motley crew of superheroes to stop the world from ending. It’s still emotional but it definitely leans into his wackier more dysfunctional comedy whilst keeping the spectacular visuals inspired by the source comic book series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. It’s a perfect follow up that leaves just enough mystery for a third season.
Inside No.9 (Season 5)
Where: BBC iPlayer
Why: From the incredible, twisted and macabre minds of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, co-creators of The League of Gentleman and Psychoville, comes the fifth installment of anthology series Inside No.9. Each season consists of six episodes and offers a wide variety from Silent Film robberies, Horror based hauntings and riddle filled Thrillers, all infused with dark comedy. As with most anthology series some episodes stand out more than others with ‘Thinking Out Loud’, ‘Death Not Proud’ and ‘Misdirection’ being the season highlights in my opinion. The pair are incredibly smart and creative writers who manage to land a twist, turn or shock in every episode whilst keeping them all unique and interesting. This deliciously dark series keeps audiences guessing and delights us with outstanding performances and impeccably written dialogue. It’s worth following every half hour to see where it take you.
The Good Place (Season 4)
Why: So this season finale may have straddled 2019 and 2020 but it’s impact was so huge for me that it had to be included. The Good Place has been steadily building through it’s four season run and has developed an immersive world with diverse and well rounded characters that fans love, which made finishing this series, while keeping audiences happy, a humongous task. Thankfully Michael Schur and his team nailed this emotional and uplifting ending with a send off worthy of the universe they created. The show’s heart is on full display in every episode and the final episode, ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ had my eyes filled with tears but never removed the smile from my face. Somehow this beautiful and funny story of what happens after we die was just the right amount of catharsis and positive messaging that I needed right at that time.
The Third Day
Why: It may not sound like a compliment to say that the first few episodes of this Jude Law show had my anxiety levels peaked and my head spinning but believe me I mean it as exactly that. For anyone who has The Wicker Man and Midsommar on their favourite films list this is a must watch. A folk-horror series that lavishes in saturated colour, stunning cinematography and a cult based mystery that slowly weaves itself through the narrative. After rescuing a young woman Sam takes her back to her home of Osea Island, a place only accessible at certain times of the day via a causeway. Once there he seems to be drawn into the weird goings on of the inhabitants and suspects there is more to them than they are allowing him to know. It is an ambitious, beautifully crafted and excellently performed series that compels you to keep watching. Luckily it was released weekly, as watching more than one episode a night may just be too much of a trip.
The Mandalorian (Season 2)
Why: It’s the Star Wars extension that fans really wanted, a TV show that manages to reinvent, rejuvenate and expand on the world whilst giving just enough fan service to keep die-hards happy without becoming just another game of ‘spot the reference’ like recent films have been. After The Child (or Baby Yoda depending on your preferences) hooked us all to season one simply by being adorable, season two upped the stakes by bringing us more characters from this world we’ve been desperate to see more of. Finding a great balance between fun and action packed adventure episodes and poignant emotional arcs (including a surprising turn from comedian Bill Burr) season two does not disappoint. With the plethora of Star Wars shows heading to Disney+ in the future it’s everyone’s hope that they can match the energy and excitement of this Space-Western. A giant thanks to the great team of Favreau and Filoni for reviving this universe.
The Boys (Season 2)
Where: Amazon Prime
Why: After an incredible first season The Boys had a lot to live up to. Luckily this second season delivered on its promises, keeping its rebellious, foul-mouthed and blood splattered energy all the way through. The introduction of a new character, Stormfront, leads to some hilarious take downs of Capitalist Feminism and Extreme Right Wing mentality, proving they’ve lost none of their bite. The amazing visuals are still prevalent but the team behind the show still takes pause to develop the characters and give us growth from them. There’s The Deep and A-Train’s exploration of a Scientology style cult church, Starlight’s disillusionment and her relationship with Hughie and Butcher’s attempts to rescue his wife. There are some incredibly shocking moments, from ‘spontaneous’ head explosions to a very strange appendage being used as a weapon. The attitude of The Boys has not changed.
Why: A stunning and ambitious anthology that plays with genre throughout delivering haunted house spookiness, body horror and identity, time traveling sci-fi, lost treasure action adventure and even Korean folklore within it’s season run. Set against the backdrop of Jim Crow era America the amazing cast, which includes Jurnee Smollett, Wunmi Mosaku, Jonathan Majors and Courtney B. Vance, must battle Lovecraftian monsters and real world white supremacist and racists. Each episode of Lovecraft Country feels like its own entity that explores, and celebrates, black history, culture and creativity. It is visually beautiful with incredible creatures and gore effects that kept the horror nerds, like me, very happy. The extra treat? Knowing that the writer who inspired the series, noted racist H.P Lovecraft, would be horrified by this rebellious and admirable show.
Harley Quinn: The Animated Series (Season 1 + 2)
Why: This was my ultimate binge watch of 2020 as I hungrily consumed both seasons within a week and fell madly, head over heels in love with this animated world. Clearly I am a sucker for the character of Harley Quinn, with this year’s Birds of Prey making my Best Films of 2020 list as well, and this version of her is zany, frantic, badass and just the right level of unhinged. It’s an anarchic frenzy of a show with incredible voice actors backing these larger than life characters and a vibrant and destructive visual style. Jam packed with meta-jokes, exaggerated versions of well known characters and a tonne of dark comedy this is the iteration of Quinn fans have been waiting for. Season two explores Harley’s closure on her relationship with The Joker as she falls in love with her sarcastic and passionate fellow supervillain Poison Ivy, teasing one of the greatest comic book relationships ever for season three. Harley runs Gotham, and she will always have my vote.
I May Destroy You
Where: BBC iPlayer
Why: Poignant, timely, hard hitting and yet still hilarious at points, I May Destroy You, may just be the ultimate must see show of 2020. Michaela Coel’s autobiographical show is extremely personal, she is the writer, co-director, inspiration and has full control of this sensitive and fierce narrative. Coel plays Arabella, a woman working on her second book who, whilst taking a break from her deadlined all nighter, is drugged and raped. Her journey through remembering the events and having to contend with what happened to her and how that changes her is heartbreaking, honest and crucial to a modern conversation on sexual assault and consent. Coel is mesmerizing in her role and is supported by two great talents playing her friends, Weruche Opia as Terry and Paapa Essiedu as Kwame, who both go through their own struggles with guilt and sexual assault. I May Destroy You is confrontational, dark, comedic, sharp, biting, tender and ultimately vital. The series ends with one of the most interesting, experimental and thoroughly satisfying 30 minutes of television I have seen in a long time. This show is a landmark of television with a voice for this generation.