As we wind down our look at the Best Television of 2020, we’re moving from the best TV components and entering the realm of final products. With nothing to do in quarantine but watch TV, many of us turned our attention to comforting favorites. Me? I turned to Grey’s Anatomy, because The Wire was, like, a total bummer. But in between the shenanigans of Seattle Grace, I did manage to watch a whole lotta great television, and I’m ready to share my favorites with you now. That’s right, it’s the Top Ten Best TV Shows of 2020! Actually, that doesn’t seem right. And with two shows scratching the exact same itch, I think we can justify expanding to the Top Eleven Best TV Shows of 2020!
2020 was a year that gave us a little bit of everything, and there was no way we could watch it all. Consider this your friendly reminder that I never had a chance to watch Insecure, Unorthodox, We Are Who We Are, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Better Call Saul, or The Crown. I also never had a chance to finish The Mandalorian or I May Destroy You, two of the year’s most talked-about shows that were just too much for easy binge viewing. Then there are the shows I watched, but were either too silly or too lackluster for serious contention. Love Is Blind took The Bachelor to the insane next step (and introduced us to Amber and Jessica, two of reality TV’s greatest finds). The cast of 30 Rock reunited, but turns out it was for an extended commercial for the worst streaming service. Mark Ruffalo is great in I Know This Much Is True, but the rest of the show is kinda meh. Ditto The Plot of America, which never fully captures the scope of the book. Mrs. America is a series of great performances that never lives up to its surface-level take on the 70s. Moonbase 8 provided laughs, but never fulfilled the promise of John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and Tim Heidecker as bad astronauts. Black Monday is still not my bag, despite actors I like tackling topics I like. And despite still having some of the sharpest satire on TV, The Eric Andre Show is just…too much for me.
But enough with the “just fines.” Let’s talk about my Honorable Mentions. There are a lot of shows in contention for this year’s Top Eleven list, and it went through several iterations. The Good Lord Bird was a fascinating look at one of my favorite stories in American History, with abolitionist John Brown perfectly played by Ethan Hawke. Dead To Me was an early-quarantine delight, thanks to Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. The Good Place’s heartwarming final three episodes almost made the list all on their own. I’ll always enjoy Rick and Morty’s irreverent sense of humor. The pure innocence of Joe Pera Talks With You was an early balm during the first days of quarantine. Killing Eve will never match the magic of the first season, but I’ll be damned if it’s still not entertaining. Dave found new ways to make dirty jokes sound fresh. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive movie was both hilarious and innovative. Big Mouth and Pen15 explored the horrors of growing up and entering puberty in unique, disturbing (and sometimes overlapping) ways, thanks to the genius of Nick Kroll, Maya Erksine, and Anna Konkle. The Parks and Recreation Quarantine Special defied the odds and gave us the warm reunion and pandemic distraction we desperately needed. And Ramy just missed the list, balancing drama and comedy with pitch-perfection as it explored millennial malaise and religion.
And finally, we have my Very Special Awards. Like A Very Special Episode, these awards pop up once a year to tackle something Super Serious, but will probably just end up being silly. I only watched two documentaries, and I’ve decided my Special Award for Best Television Documentary will be shared between Tiger King (I love me some rednecks making bad decisions) and The Reagans (which was mostly old knowledge, but at least had some new facts and insight unlike 2016’s The Reagan Show). Up next we have a Special Short Award, which goes to the terrific comedy short series Ayo and Rachel Are Single(Ayo Edebiri is a revelation). Then there’s the Exceeds Expectations Award, which goes to a show that should not have worked, but ended up being a f*cking delight. It’s an award created especially for Saved By The Bell, a reboot of a cheesy series that somehow threads the needle between loving homage and scathing satire (it feels like the early seasons of Glee in the best way possible).
And finally, we have the coveted Law and Order: SVU Award, my annual prize for the Most Hate-Watchable Show, where everything makes you angry but you can’t stop watching. I was tempted to choose Love Is Blind, but I mostly just had a blast with that goofy ass show. So joining the ranks of Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why, Fuller House, and Euphoria has to be Emily In Paris. It’s an entire show of people making bad decisions that they write off with “It’s Paris, baby!” (including sleeping with a 16-year-old) and in which an idiot 20-something American can make the most basic-ass Instagram about her vagina and get it retweeted by Brigitte Macron. Every episode made me mad, but I couldn’t stop watching – the perfect mark of a Hate-Watchable Show. But we’re not here to hate. We’re here to love. And without further ado, let’s look at the Eleven Best Television Shows of 2020!
10. Schitt’s Creek/Ted Lasso (TIE)
2020 was a depressing year, there’s no beating around the bush. We saw international assassinations, a global pandemic that killed 110 million people, a draining, painful election cycle that culminated in weeks of back-and-forth over misinformation and an eventual charge on the Capitol, and a national reckoning with our traumatic past surrounding racism. In times like these, comfort served as a great entertainment, and that’s where Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek come into play. No shows in all of 2020 were as wholesome, heartwarming, and magical in their depiction of good people doing good things and ending up in classical sitcom-ish mischief. Take, for example, Ted Lasso. On paper, this show shouldn’t work: it’s based on an averagely funny series of commercials focused on Jason Sudeikis doing funny voices. But therein lies the magic. Sudeikis and sitcom legend Bill Lawrence infuse the story with a heart not found in most sitcoms. What starts as a silly, simple premise (a D-II college football coach is hired by a Premier British soccer team as part of a ploy by the team’s owner to spite her ex-husband) evolves into a story about optimism, love, and happiness. Ted is one of television’s most lovable characters, imparting wisdom and empathy into everyone he meets until he not only wins over every character through wholesome charm and genuine connection, but a whole country as well. It’s a show of great messages (“Be a goldfish”) with characters you actually care about, from nerdy waterboy Nathan to the uptight, yet deep-down good owner Rebecca to my beloved Roy Kent, the caring captain with anger issues. Few shows made me laugh and cry like Ted Lasso did, and I’m amazed I felt this way about a show this silly.
I’m late on the Schitt’s Creek bandwagon, I’m the first one to admit that. I was a bit turned off in the first season by its rough first couple of episodes (I’m a huge Levy/O’Hara snob, thanks to being raised on the Christopher Guest trilogy). But as I learned during a pandemic binge watch, Schitt’s Creek may be the ultimate relaxation show. You can watch it on so many levels: the jokes are straightforward and easy to understand, ranging from the absurd (“Were the crows nice? Because my uncle had a parrot that kept asking me to take my bra off”) to the mildly pointed (“This reminds me of the Nickelodeon pilot I did where Ashley Tisdale and I played suffragettes. You remember, ‘You Go, Girl!?’”). The story could shift from the hilarious – tourism videos, crow attacks, and Chris Elliott – to the romantically heartbreaking – Roland standing up for Johnny, Stevie and David having a heart-to-heart, and Alexis’ heartbreaking journey of self-discovery – and yet, it always felt down to earth in its emotions. Obviously this has to do with Dan Levy’s strength as a writer, but you cannot undersell this incredible cast. Every actor knows their part, whether it’s Dustin Milligan and Noah Reid’s straight men, secret weapon Sarah Levy as the naïve Twyla Sands, sardonic Emily Hampshire, or the remarkable Rose family. No one can deliver a line like Annie Murphy, no one has reaction shots like Dan Levy, and no one plays flustered like Eugene Levy. And who could forget Catherine O’Hara’s Moira Rose, the greatest TV character of the last decade, who somehow takes the most straightforward line and turns it into a comedic goldmine? The show won a record-breaking 7 Emmys this past fall, and its easy to see why: Schitt’s Creek is a pure, serotonin-inducing delight.
Best Episodes: “The Diamond Dogs” and “The Presidential Suite” – For Ted Lasso, my pick has to be “The Diamond Dogs,” which captures the heart of each character so perfectly, whether it’s Roy Kent’s anger-induced courting of sweet party-girl Keely or Ted hilariously winning a game of darts while heartbreakingly revealing the source of his optimistic worldview. Meanwhile, despite the presence of “Start Spreading The News” on my Best TV Episodes list, I have to name “The Presidential Suite” as the best summation of Schitt’s Creek. No other show on TV so perfectly balances the classic situational humor of couples trying to “break in” a sexy motel room with the heartbreak of one of the show’s cutest couples realizing they have to break up. You’ll laugh one minute and cry the next – it’s why we love Schitt’s Creek so much.
While I loved each and every show on this list in unique, special ways, there’s only one show here I managed to finish in one day. That show was the reboot of Animaniacs. I was a casual viewer of the iconic original series, watching enough to enjoy some of the antics and laughing at some of the side bits (I particularly loved the Good Idea/Bad Idea Mime) while never getting as into it as some of its biggest fans. But call it the post-pandemic slump, call it getting laid off at work, call it the weariness of the pandemic, but my god did I finish this show in one fell swoop. It was the sort of nonsensical joy I’d needed since my #1 show left the air, delivering top-notch jokes from Groucho-esque Yakko, doofy Wakko, and sarcastic/violence-prone Dot (not to mention the brilliance of Pinky and the Brain, which showed up to steal the show every episode). The pop culture jokes were top of the line, whether it involved criticizing reboot culture, a battle with Pennywise, or anime. There’s even Quibi jokes written a full two years before Quibi’s rise and fall. Hell, even the show’s political humor (a staple from the first season, which savagely went after Bill Clinton and Rush Limbaugh) works – a surprise in such a divided, clapter-ruined era. Vladimir Putin, Tucker Carlson, Seth Meyers, Wayne LaPierre, and even Edward Snowden show up to earn equal ribbing (upon making his debut, Edward Snowden immediately declares “I’ll tell you everything. It’s kind of my whole thing”). I won’t say every joke lands in this new show – not even every Bugs Bunny joke lands. But if you want a show that can alternate between cartoon violence and scathing jokes about crystals, then trust me: Animaniacs is the show for you.
Best Episode: “Episode 9” – I loved several episodes from the show’s run, but my personal favorite is probably the 9th. Not only does it feature solid jokes about the Oscars in the “Pinky and the Brain” sketch, but it features two all-timer sketches from the Warners. The second, simpler sketch features them showing up to f*ck with a certain 8:00 pm talk show host that will remain nameless, but the first is a dazzling, music-based routine that serves as a modern-day “Rabbit of Seville.” It’s a brilliant piece of animation, a symphony of humor and creativity, and it’s the new show’s best display of Warner buffoonery.
8. The Queen’s Gambit
There’s something pure in the execution of good old fashioned storytelling. As much as there’s a need to push narratives, techniques, and storytelling beyond the traditional formulas (after all, how long can we see the same variations on stories?), there’s an inherent magic to seeing a pro tell a straightforward story almost perfectly. Such is the case with Scott Frank’s adaptation of The Queen’s Gambit, the most straightforward of narratives told so impeccably, and so perfectly, that it became the most-watched Netflix show ever. I couldn’t even begin to explain what drew people to it – after all, this is the story of a young girl who plays chess and gets addicted to booze and drugs while taking on the Ruskies. It doesn’t seem like the type of thing to bring everyone together. But that’s part of the magic in Frank’s storytelling. He tells the story so perfectly, nailing each story beat with a flourish; I don’t care how many times I’ve seen a prodigy dominate the competition and wow a crowd, seeing a 10-year-old Beth Harmon win 12 chess games at once, or stump a cocky Grandmaster, or get that glimmer in her eye as she takes on her archrival Soviet is spellbinding. The same goes for the portrayal of Beth’s struggle with addiction – I could never see another project about an addict again in my life and die a happy man, and I’m still wowed by Beth dancing to “Venus” in her underwear while popping pills. Frank’s writing and direction certainly work wonders, but I think the real reason the show works are the performances. Of course I’m referring to Anya Taylor-Joy’s career-defining work as Beth Harmon, but that also includes the litany of fascinating side characters, including Bill Camp’s lovably gruff Mr. Shaibel, Marielle Heller’s heartbreaking foster mom, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s rascally handsome rival/mentor/lover Benny Watts. This is a pitch-perfect show that remembers why we love stories, and finds new ways to elevate the miniseries format.
Best Episode: “Exchanges” – There are certainly better episodes that delve into Beth’s love of chess, or her relationships with others, or her struggles with addictions. But personally, my favorite episode is “Exchanges,” the first episode to feature Taylor-Joy’s performance. It’s the best insight into Beth’s mental state, shows her experiencing love for the first time (paternal and romantic), and climaxes in the exciting domination of Harry Beltik (Cousin Dudley from Harry Potter). It’s an episode that’s impossible to look away from, and it’s the moment in the show when you’ll be hooked.
7. BoJack Horseman
At some point I’ll have to write about BoJack Horseman in its entirety. No show has spoken so clearly to me before: it is simultaneously a scathing Hollywood satire, silly Simpsons-esque farce, and bitter, searing drama about depression and forgiveness. It was clear from the end of last season that the potential happy ending for the seriously depressed horse set up in the last season was too good to last. Hell, it was more than he deserved, considering the terrible things he’s done to date (including inadvertently killing his former child star compatriot). And the show spends its final run grappling with questions about not just forgiveness, but actual justice. Can someone who’s done terrible things ever redeem themselves? At what point have they properly made amends for their actions? And how can we, as a society, grapple with the fact that so many of our celebrity heroes have done some undeniably heinous acts. BoJack offers no easy answers – in fact, it almost taunts you with this fact. Every time BoJack comes close to a happy ending, or getting away with his immoral actions, reality seeps in, and he ends up destroying his last glimpses of happiness. And on one level, good – he still has to pay for everything he’s done. But then again, who are we to judge? The show reminds us of humanity’s flawed nature, our own ability to let our selfishness and brokenness drive us to bad decisions, and our need to better ourselves every day. Empathy overwhelms us as BoJack continues to sink into his depression, and when the penultimate episode threatens his life at his own hand, it’s heartbreaking to witness. BoJack forces us to explore our own flaws, our own need to forgive, and humanity’s need to better itself one day at a time. Who knew all it would take was a bunch of talking animals to get the point across?
Best Episode: “Nice While It Lasted” – I don’t count series finales toward my “Best Episodes” list. It’s a bit unfair – the goal is to wrap up arcs and go out high as opposed to telling a story or furthering an art form. But I want to take this opportunity for praising BoJack for going out on a high note, choosing to dispel the vast and talented voice cast in favor of the four leads: Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Paul F. Tompkins, and the great Amy Sedaris. Every actor gets a chance to go out on their A-game, saying their goodbyes as they clearly separate from the show’s toxic lead, yet in a way that promises hope for all of them. It’s sweet and poignant, and offers up thoughts on just trying our best to do good in the world and bettering ourselves every day. So few shows go out on top. Kudos to BoJack for pulling it off.
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Outside of The Simpsons and perhaps It’s Always Sunny, few other shows have ever been as funny in their tenth season as Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s still a mystery why this season, more so than the last couple, managed to strike a chord with people the way this season did. Most likely it’s because the last few years have seen the worst people imaginable either being outed in their behavior or feeling justified in their behavior, including harassers, anti-maskers, and literal Nazis. Curb Your Enthusiasm works because it gives us an outlet for our anger, thanks to Larry David as a writer and as an actor. David can be whatever audiences need him to be – a target for our anger, or a voice for our frustration. One minute, David is taking on liberal hypocrisy and just generally f*cking with pompous assh*les (including Nick Kroll as a maître d’. The next, he’s so busy lamenting the fate of men during the #MeToo era he lets a woman nearly die in an elevator because he doesn’t think “men can touch women anymore.” David finds humor in the unhumorous, including #MeToo, MAGA, “yo-yo dieters,” death, Nazism, and trans issues, without ever veering into the offensive or “punching down.” It helps that David surrounds himself with guest stars as talented and as versatile as himself, including a return-to-form Vince Vaughn, Jon Hamm, Kaitlin Olson, Jane Krakowski, and Ted Danson delivering the best expression of the entire show: “The man’s putting his penis in a g*ddamn balloon.” Only a show of this caliber could make jokes about Harvey W*instein funny, and only a show this planned out could take throwaway lines and turn them into a season-concluding arc. Thus is the power of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the fact that the show can accomplish all this after ten seasons and twenty years proves why this season is such a marvel.
Best Episode: “Happy New Year” – While “Elizabeth, Margaret, and Larry” is the better episode, I’ve got to applaud the level of structure that goes into “Happy New Year.” Each joke works on its own – Jeff Garlin being mistaken for W*instein, The Big Goodbye, the talcum powder, wearing a MAGA hat to piss off all of L.A., Larry trying to get appetizers and accidentally groping the creeped-out waitress, and Larry accidentally sharing a cereal bowl with a dog. However, when they all tie together, culminating in Larry facing a sexual harassment lawsuit and putting his ex-wife in the hospital for a talcum-related allergy, the episode reminds us, once again, how great this show is when it’s really clicking.
5. The Boys
The Boys may be the most scathing indictment of modern America I have ever seen, hidden in the guise of its favorite genre: superheroes. The story of a covert war between bumbling anarchists and a corporation of celebrity superheroes, The Boys takes on so many major institutions, it’s impossible to count: there’s corporate America, pharmaceutical companies, Hollywood, the alt-right, and its corruption/hypocrisy, and the police and military industrial complex. There are so many layers within each setup to parse through: the Superheroes are praised by the public for “keeping the peace,” yet constantly need their corporate overlords to cover up civilian deaths, the brutal murder of “criminals,” and their own assaults, deviancy, and murders. Obviously this all serves as a stand-in for the level of cover-up that goes into policing, but it’s hard to not look to liberal Hollywood and the W*insteins of the world with the way publicists are utilized, stage moms run rampant, and disgraced heroes need to “rebrand their image” by joining Scientology. There’s a terrific Superhero parody where two writers pitch a fictionalized hero story (not unlike how the CIA pays Hollywood for propaganda projects like 24) and describe its “Hans Zimmer score, very Greengrass, Lin-Manuel Miranda will voice a character, and we’ll get a rewrite by Joss.” That’s some top-notch Hollywood satire right there (to say nothing of the token “women” scene). But what makes The Boys great is the way it stages its drama through a macrocosm for the power struggle occurring in the U.S., as the “All-American” Superman-esque sociopath Homelander finds himself battling (and ultimately bedding) his younger, smarter replacement, Stormfront – who, as her name suggests, is a literal Nazi. And I haven’t even touched on the soundtrack (all my favorites are here, from The Talking Heads to “Orinoco Flow” to Billy Joel) or the performances – the undeniable game-changers are Karl Urban (the embittered leader of the Boys), Antony Starr (psychotic Homelander), and Aya Cash (Stormfront), but kudos to Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty for making the star-crossed lovers at the show’s center so likable. The Boys finds the perfect balance between comedy and drama as a means of taking on everything, and it stands as one of the biggest spectacles on TV in the modern era.
Best Episode: “Nothing Like It In The World” – Few episodes on TV all last year were as audacious as “Nothing Like It,” which features characters falling in love over donuts and “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” a Scientologist bride audition, immortal Nazis, and a psychopathic Superman so desperate for love he kidnaps a male shapeshifter and forces him to transform into his dead lover/mommy figure. Everything adds up into a massive treatise on love, which makes the final image – of Homelander considering hooking up with a duplicate of himself before snapping his neck instead – so haunting. It’s a spectacle, a character piece, and a metaphor, all rolled into one.
4. Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn is the second show to get me through quarantine – and with good reason. After having heard good things about the show, and having always loved the writing of Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker (Surviving Jack is one of the last decade’s most underrated shows), I decided to check out the spinoff/spoof/reimaging of Batman: The Animated Series that gave Harley her due, a full two months before Cathy Yan and Margot Robbie did so on the big screen. And I’m glad I did. The show follows Harley’s quest to become the most powerful supervillain in Gotham, battling a haggard Commissioner Gordon (Christopher Meloni playing an accurate version of Detective Stabler) and her sexist ex Joker (who constantly claims that “women don’t get comedy” and pretends to read Infinite Jest). The reason this show works is the incredible cast and the lovable characters. Alan Tudyk, the show’s secret weapon, not only voices The Joker, but also Clayface, who he plays as a struggling actor who speaks solely in hyper-specific Tony references; the goodhearted human-eating King Shark, “played” (in that he just plays himself) by Ron Funches; misogynist frenemy Dr. Psycho, voiced with demonic glee by an against-type Tony Hale; well-meaning bro Kite Man, who speaks in Borat references, has the catchphrase “Hell yeah!” and went to Oberlin; and my sweet baby boy Bane, voiced by James Adomian, and played as a lovable doofy sad-boi. And at the heart of it all there’s the friendship/romance of Harley and Poison Ivy, played with appropriate manicness and sardonic honesty by Kaley Cuoco and Lake Bell. They are the thrust of the show, and I love them wholeheartedly, together or apart. And what’s more, Halpern and Schumacker played things brilliantly – using their position to let a female-majority writers’ room run wild, only stepping in on occasion to sprinkle in some very Halpern-esque jokes (including an “Under The Sea” medley that’s all about the fish sh*tting everywhere), or references to Shark Repellant Bat Spray. Harley Quinn is a show about growth, change, love, anarchy, and finding itself. Even if it weren’t the best Batman show in history (which it very well might be), it would still earn its place on the list.
Best Episode: “The Final Joke” – It’s tempting to pick one of the more romantic episodes from Season Two, or one of the flashback episodes. But I’m personally drawn to the Season One finale, which features the cast’s best vocal work and sets up some insane stakes. In the wake of The Joker’s conquering of Gotham, imprisoning of Batman, and killing of Poison Ivy (don’t worry, Harley resurrects her with the power of “love,” much to Ivy’s amused chagrin). The action is at its best, the team dynamics are the most likable, and the jokes are as sharp as they ever are, including the aforementioned Infinite Jest joke and The Joker berating Bruce Wayne for being an Elon Musk-esque hack. It’s all hilarious and brilliant, and its why I love this show.
3. Lovecraft Country
Man, how bold was Lovecraft Country? Misha Green’s horror drama managed to entertain and inform at the same time, demonstrating how the power of stories and representation can aid art in exploring real-life traumas. Green’s adaptation of the novel of the same name uses horror – and specifically Lovecraftian horror – as an exploration of racism and America’s history of anti-Blackness; a noteworthy feat considering most of Lovecraft’s stories were thinly veiled metaphors for his white supremacist views (look up his cat if you don’t believe me). Every episode features the characters – a Scooby-Doo/Indiana Jones style group including Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. Vance, and Michael K. Williams – confronting two types of horrors, both equally interesting, and both fascinatingly intersecting. The first set of horrors, and the deeper one, is racism, plain and simple. Lovecraft Country brings the horrors of 1960s America to life, in graphic, terrifying detail – and unlike Green Book, which Lovecraft touches on, there’s no romanticism or “Northern superiority” to soften the blow. Our heroes are chased out of “Sundown Counties” by the police, nearly executed extra-judiciously, have crosses burned on their lawns, are sexually harassed, and beyond. All of this is scary enough, but then there’s the second layer of horror, which titillates as much as terrifies: supernatural horror. Every episode takes on a different horror subgenre: there’s Lovecraftian, Jekyll and Hyde, Haunted House, Indiana Jones, time travel, and beyond. There’s secret rooms behind bookcases, crazy cults with magic spells, underground tunnels with invisible bridges, and even ghosts. And not just any ghosts: racist eugenicist ghosts. The show never hides from its occasional silliness – the soundtrack ranges from “Sinnerman” to “Whitey On The Moon” to the Jeffersons theme song to Cardi B. And it never undercuts the heroism and sexiness of its stars: Jonathan Majors is a classic movie hero of the highest order, while Jurnee Smollett dominates the frame from the minute she arrives. Oh, and I can’t forget Abbey Lee, who makes for an incredible villain. Lovecraft Country is the type of pulpy fun that we love, mixed with layers and layers of subtext, commentary, and indictment. It’s one of the smartest shows on TV, whether by turning racist tropes on their head or by simply understanding that audiences love a good silly aside.
Best Episode: “Strange Case” – While I prefer the simplicity and ghostiness of the show’s haunted house episode, I cannot deny the power of “Strange Case.” Focused on supporting character Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), “Strange Case” explores race dynamics from a new angle, as Ruby acquires a potion that lets her transform into a white woman for a few hours. At first she uses her powers for minor gain – she gets jobs previously withheld from her just based on her skin color. But the show goes deeper than that, as Ruby soon finds herself bullying a fellow Black colleague out of jealousy and spite, commenting on self-loathing racism as well. And just in case you forget that this is supposed to be a horror show, Ruby’s transformations back go full Cronenberg, with skin disintegrating and bloody goo trailing behind her. It’s as scathing as it is fun, and it’s a great embodiment of the commentary this show does so well.
2. The Great
The Favourite was one of my favorite films of 2018, and I dubbed its script at the time as one of the best in 20 years. So it stands to reason that The Great, screenwriter Tony McNamara’s follow-up project that plays in the same sandbox, would equally become one of my favorite shows. The Great takes a fascinating tale from world history – Catherine The Great’s coup to overthrow her husband and become one of the most famous leaders in all of Russia – and puts it in a modern, yet strangely historically accurate context: like a high school power struggle between a bunch of assh*le teenagers. It’s a brilliant way to stage history: using a high school comedy format about nerds trying to one-up the jockey bros to tackle real historical notions about the inherent flaws in the class system and glorifying what essentially amount to psychotic inbred children. The Great has everything: bears; power struggles that involve the church, the patriarch, the rich, and the bookish nerds; butterfly-obsessed aunts; child murder; the list goes on. And at the heart of it all, there’s two unbelievably great performances. The first is Elle Fanning, finally getting the role she always deserved, perfectly portraying Catherine’s journey from cock-eyed optimist to plotting mastermind. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoult is giving one of television’s greatest performances as Emperor Peter, somehow finding the humanity in Peter’s psychopathic douchebaggery stemming from his inbreeding and a strong Oedipal complex. Oh, and how could I forget, the script, which doubles down on his talents in The Favourite with popular catchphrases like “Huzzah!” or the hilariously bleak retort between two warring emperors, “We’re Russian! We don’t care how many of us die!” The Great is a show that uses modernity to convincingly – and realistically – portray history. In short, it’s a prime example of how to become one of my favorite shows of the year.
Best Episode – “The Great” – I love a good pilot that makes its themes clear from the jump. And “The Great” does this perfectly. We meet Catherine as a young, optimistic girl who loves to read and explore, and thinks she’ll make a difference as the Empress of Russia. Watching that optimism slowly disintegrate as she learns that Peter is insane, has people executed on a whim, and openly flaunts his extramarital affairs while only sleeping with her for thirty seconds in order to conceive an heir. The episode is bleakly funny, and scathingly thought-out taking us on the mental journey of how a young optimist could go from earnest young wife to plotting revolutionary. And it’s a great demonstration of how good this show can be.
1. What We Do In The Shadows
I was a bit mixed on the first season of What We Do In The Shadows. I consider the film to be one of the greatest comedies of all time, and while there was promise, last year’s premiere just didn’t match the film’s magic. As it turns out, they were just setting the table for Season 2. The second season of Shadows combined everything I liked about the other shows on this list into one perfect half-hour combination: likable, escapist comedy; strong, witty humor based on clever jokes and writing; and the funniest cast on television. Shadows builds on its own narrative in such brilliant fashion, feeling natural while instilling the universe with such brilliant jokes – necromancers who bring people back from the dead by scatting played by Benedict Wong, horny witches, child vampires who hunt pervs in Florida, and naturally, Vampire Elvis who lives in the basement. Each character is equally lovable in their idiocy, whether it’s the pure love felt by savage Nadja and pompous Lazslo (sorry, “Jackie Daytona: Regular Human Bartneder”), the preening wuss Nandor, and especially the put-upon Guillermo, the human familiar who serves as the entry point to the series (and gets his own badass moment in the midst of his generally sad existence). And I can’t forget Colin Robinson, a character I originally disliked who has grown in my eyes thanks to Mark Proksch’s indelible performance. An energy-sucking vampire, Colin Robinson creates some of the series’ best moments, including “feeding” as an Internet troll by being overtly racist and sexist, trying to awkwardly kiss friends, getting promoted at work to go full Michael Scott, and ultimately resurrecting the ghost of his grandma to get her to fall for an “Updog” joke. What We Do In The Shadows is everything one could want in a TV show. It’s outwardly silly, smartly written, and perfectly acted, with jokes that range from as silly as characters falling for the “toothpick in the mouth” disguise to as detailed as an appearance from The VVitch’s Black Phillip. In short, it’s the rare perfect season of a show that will hopefully only get better from here.
Best Episode: “Colin’s Promotion” – Listen, the correct answer here is “On The Run,” which is the Best TV Episode and TV Moment of the year. But I also want to talk about “Colin’s Promotion,” which takes The Office setup and elevates it to fantastic new heights. Energy vampire Colin Robinson finds himself promoted at work, which means that he – a vampire that feeds by making others miserable – is now in the perfect position to feast. By living for obnoxious boss-jokes and assigning asinine projects and meetings, Colin Robinson becomes All-Powerful, growing a full head of hair, creating clones of himself, and overpowering the immortal vampires he lives with. It’s such unique, incisive satire of office life, and yet never strives to be anything more than silly. It’s in, it’s out, it’s hilarious, and ultimately, it’s the perfect summation of why What We Do In The Shadows is so good.
And that wraps up our look at the Best TV of 2020! I hope you enjoyed these in-depth looks, and I hope you’ll join us later this week as we move on to movies! Wait…that means it’s time for my Worst of 2020 list. F*ck. Oh well. Happy watching, everyone!