Here’s our list of the top 10 television shows of 2020 featuring some returning favorites and a new No. 1 series for the year…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe in 2020 and the entertainment industry was not spared in the delays, postponements and cancellations caused by the deadly spread of COVID-19.
Despite the many hiccups studios faced in trying to produce television shows during the year, there were still more than a few memorable series that either debuted or returned in 2020. It’s also a credit to the writers, directors, actors and producers behind these shows that for an hour a week or sometimes 8 to 10 hours binging over a weekend that television — on networks or streaming services — helped to distract us for a little while from an incredibly trying year on just about everybody.
In 2019, the limited series “Watchmen” reigned supreme but that was ultimately a one season endeavor so there is going to be a new No. 1 at the top of the list this year along with several new shows joining the top 10.
Some of these shows made us laugh, others made us cry and at least one of them left us disturbed thanks to a giant mutant penis going on the attack. Limited series also helped keep us entertained in 2020 including one particularly enthralling show that somehow made chess as exciting to watch as any contact sport on television.
With that said, let’s get to our list of the top 10 television shows in 2020…
10 ) The Haunting of Bly Manor
Mike Flanagan has become one of the most important voices in horror in recent years after he first came to prominence through his work on “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix. He followed up that series with “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which wasn’t a continuation of his previous series but rather a new terrifying tale in this anthology story comprised of nine total episodes.
While “The Haunting of Bly Manor” wasn’t as scary as “The Haunting of Hill House,” this follow up show kept a much tighter focus on individual characters versus the overall ensemble of the first series.
When a young girl from America is hired as a nanny in England, she brings with her a secret that scares her so much she’s frightened to even face herself in the mirror. The new nanny then begins caring for two children living in a remote mansion where their previous caretaker had died under mysterious circumstances and she’s soon haunted by ghosts from her own past as well as those still living within the walls of Bly Manor.
The show is well done with notable performances from Victoria Pedretti and Amelia Eve in particular and while this is definitely a show meant to scare you, there’s so much more emotion packed into this series than just a few thrills and chills.
9 ) Lovecraft Country
Another limited series adapted for HBO, “Lovecraft Country” was based upon the book by Matt Ruff that follows the story of Atticus Freeman as he discovers the true history of his family’s lineage, which involves deep ties to magic and the occult.
While there is an overarching story to the season, one of the best parts about “Lovecraft Country” was how the show managed to twist and turn into a different kind of show from week to week. The debut featured one of the most harrowing car chases in recent TV history with neither car breaking 40 miles per hour. Subsequent episodes transformed into treasure hunts, a terrifying game of cat and mouse that felt like something imagined through the vision of Jordan Peele not to mention a truly great monster story.
Of course each and every episode explored race and racism during a time this country would rather forget yet it was right there in our faces, forcing us to deal with the realism of what Black men and women dealt with while just trying to survive.
8 ) Yellowstone
Unlike the second season, which was a heart-thumping thrill ride that felt like something ripped out of the pages of a “Sons of Anarchy” spinoff, the third season of “Yellowstone” was much more reserved yet still steeped in tremendous stories and incredible performances.
Kevin Costner continues playing the patriarch of the largest contiguous ranch in the United States but the threats to his land ownership has never been more contentious as corporate greed begins invading the state of Montana because rich people need a posh place to ski. The conflict within the Dutton family continues to permeate nearly every scene of this show but there’s real heart at the center of this story. Hearts are mended, others are broken and the series manages to touch on some serious issues like the horrific abuses suffered within the Native American communities in this country.
Because “Yellowstone” is ultimately a family drama, that really drove the narrative in the third season with a deeper exploration about who these people are and what makes them tick. Uncovering secrets pulls bandages off some pretty gnarly wounds in season 3 and it all culminated in an explosive finale.
“Yellowstone” has been one of the best shows on television since first debuting and the third season did nothing to dispel that fact as we now look forward to season 4 in 2021.
7 ) High Fidelity
Based on the book by Nick Hornby that was originally adapted in the 2000 film of the same name starring John Cusack, this version of “High Fidelity” featured a gender-swapped lead role with Zoe Kravitz taking over the heavy lifting as the owner of a Brooklyn neighborhood record shop, who has the absolute worst luck with relationships.
The half-hour episodes of this series buzz by in rapid-fire fashion because the story is so well told that you can easily blow through the entire first season of “High Fidelity” in an afternoon.
This particular story, similar to the book and the original movie, follows the lead character Rob (Kravitz) as she navigates her messy social life after breaking up with the man she was probably supposed to marry. But unlike the original film, as much as Rob laments the loss of that relationship, she’s also attempting to move forward with her dating life and that creates an entirely different kind of story than what you might expect when going into this series.
Kravitz is absolutely fantastic in the lead role but she’s also supported by a wonderful cast including Jake Lacy, David H. Holmes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who help to chew up every scene they share inside that record store.
Sadly, Hulu made the ill advised decision to cancel “High Fidelity” after only one season so we won’t find out what exactly happens to Rob and her dating life but at least the first season is still there to enjoy as one of the best shows of 2020.
6 ) The Outsider
Jason Bateman makes a second appearance on the list this year after leading “Ozark” while also serving as one of the lead characters in this Stephen King adaptation on HBO.
Based on the book of the same name, “The Outsider” follows a police investigation into a horrific murder where a child is assaulted and butchered and it appears the culprit is a beloved local Little League baseball coach with a wife and family of his own. When police arrest the suspect, the lead detective is thrown off when evidence begins to mount that his slam dunk case isn’t a sure thing because it appears the man responsible for the crime was actually in two places at the same exact time.
That’s not possible, right?
Essentially that sets up the premise for “The Outsider” as Detective Ralph Anderson is forced to question everything he knows about science and investigation when it appears a supernatural presence may be responsible for the atrocities committed.
Adapting one of King’s books has never been an easy task — there are dozens of examples where good writers and directors have tried and failed. That said, “The Outsider” has to be among the best adaptations with a looming sense of dread and a hint of the supernatural lurking around every corner. The series was equal parts imaginative yet creepy and disturbing, which virtually describes all of King’s best works.
5 ) The Queen’s Gambit
Leave it to Scott and Allen Frank along with an absolutely brilliant performance from Anya Taylor-Joy to find a way to make chess the most interesting game you’d see on television in 2020.
Based upon Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, “The Queen’s Gambit” follows a chess prodigy named Beth Harmon, who discovers the game by the most random chance while befriending the handiman at the orphanage where she’s being raised. Beth has a natural instinct for chess, which makes her a force to be reckoned with whenever she sits down at a board with an opponent, but she’s also struggles at times to relate to her adoptive parents, friends and colleagues from the game she loves so much.
While “The Queen’s Gambit” landed at No. 4 on our list of best shows, Beth Harmon might be the best character you’ll discover on television this year. She’s conflicted emotionally not to mention addicted to the drugs she’d been force fed since childhood in order to excel at her favorite game.
By the end of this series, you’ll be witnessing chess matches with the same kind of chest-thumping intensity as any football game on New Year’s Day. “The Queen’s Gambit” was one of the biggest surprises of the year but definitely also one of the best.
4 ) Ozark
A crime saga set against the backdrop of the Ozarks sounds like an easy enough premise but that barely scratches the surface when it comes to the third season of this series on Netflix.
When an accountant who makes his money by laundering funds for a notorious Mexican drug cartel discovers his partner has been stealing from the last people you should ever steal from, he’s forced to think quick and offer to launder even more money at a faster rate in order to save his own life. That’s what leads Marty Byrde to relocate his family from Chicago to the Ozarks where he’s tasked with cleaning the cartel’s cash while also trying to navigate through a local crime scene that involves backwoods drug dealers, a hillbilly heroin operation and a mob outfit from Kansas City that wants a piece of the action.
By the time we catch up with Marty in “Ozark” season 3, he’s far beyond the point where he’s breaking bad because he’s now essentially a leader of major criminal organization. His wife Wendy is finally diving head first into the new family business and even his children have come to accept that this life is their new normal. The third season of the show also introduced Tom Pelphrey into the mix as Wendy’s brother, who struggles with his own mental health, and that adds yet another highly volatile compound to the mix.
And let’s just say the season finale will leave your jaw on the floor.
3 ) The Mandalorian
For all the hits and misses that have happened across the “Star Wars” universe since Disney acquired Lucasfilm from George Lucas for $4 billion back in 2012, there has been no more solid project as a result than “The Mandalorian” from creator Jon Favreau.
An outer space western featuring a lead character, who’s face you barely ever see, as he travels the galaxy in an attempt to protect a child sought by the remnants of the Galactic Empire sounds like a simple enough concept. But what Favreau and fellow creator Dave Filoni have managed to do during “The Mandalorian” season 2 is nothing short of a magic trick.
The story in the second season remains the same as much of the first — Mando (or his real name Din Djarin) is trying to protect the Child (aka Baby Yoda) from falling into Imperial hands after he was tasked with returning the little creature to his own people — better known as the Jedi. Because the story takes place five years after the events in “Return of the Jedi,” the New Republic is in charge but that doesn’t mean there are dangers hiding in virtually every city on every planet where Mando lands looking for answers.
“The Mandalorian” season 1 was fantastic but season 2 was even better after Favreau and Filoni began crossing over beloved characters that had previously only ever been seen or referenced in the “Star Wars” animated series. Those appearances played perfectly into the story being told during “The Mandalorian” season 2 so it never felt like anybody was showing up just for the sake of the audience gasping to see an animated character brought to life.
Instead, “The Mandalorian” season 2 expanded the world built during season 1 and made the inherent danger stalking Mando and his Child even more palpable. And let’s just say the season 2 finale will have you screaming for joy and then reach for the tissues as you weep at the way a “Star Wars” series can make you feel like a kid again.
2 ) Better Call Saul
When it’s all said and done, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould may have created 11 seasons of the best television in history. Following the critically acclaimed series “Breaking Bad” with a prequel telling the origin story behind Walter White’s strip mall attorney Saul Goodman wasn’t a guaranteed success but what’s unraveled in the past five seasons has perhaps even exceeded the original.
After taking a year off in 2019 with a delay in production — partially due to the “Breaking Bad” sequel movie “El Camino” filming in many of the same locations — “Better Call Saul” returned for season 5 in 2020 and the episodes were ultimately among the best of the entire season.
Watching Jimmy McGill slowly abandon whatever principles he had left in order to become a successful attorney named Saul Goodman was inevitable but still an utterly fascinating character study. In “Better Call Saul” season 5, Jimmy’s transformation to Saul Goodman was nearly complete as he began practicing law under his new name while seeking out a somewhat questionable clientele in order to fill his roster sheet. It didn’t help matters much that one of Jimmy’s earliest schemes on the show finally came back to bite him when an old “friend” returned to retain his services.
Once Jimmy became a “friend of the cartel,” he got in deeper than he could ever imagine as the lawyer became lawless in order to not only stay alive but to add even more funds to his coffers. Bob Odenkirk continues to amaze in his performance, although he took a slight backseat during “Better Call Saul” season 5 as nearly every episode was a chance for Rhea Seehorn to shine as his wife, partner and best friend Kim Wexler.
We all know when this show started that Jimmy would become Saul Goodman but seeing Kim’s evolution over five seasons has been entertaining and yet somewhat tragic as well. Season 5 also set up the final run of the show as “Better Call Saul” will come to an end with season 6 and there’s a really good chance you’ll be seeing this series return to the top of the list when 2021 rolls around.
1 ) The Boys
Already rated as one of the best shows in 2019, “The Boys” returned with an even more raucous, raunchy and outrageous second season this year.
Based on comic books of the same name, “The Boys” seeks to deconstruct the superhero myth by asking what would truly happen if a group of regular, ordinary people were granted extraordinary powers. If you think everyone would grow up to become Superman, you’re dead wrong.
Instead, “The Boys” tackles the age old wisdom that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” because these superheroes aren’t interested in saving the day unless it’s going to raise their social media profile, put some extra zeroes in the bank account or at the very least get them laid.
In season 2, the rag-tag group known as the Boys are still seeking to bring down Vought International — the corporate overlords responsible for creating the “Supes” — and the mission to stop them is even more important now that these supercharged yet morally corrupt heroes are getting involved with national security. Add in a new member of the group named Stormfront, whose origin story and plans for America are far too relatable to what really happened in the U.S. throughout 2020, and “The Boys” somehow manages to tackle incredibly poignant issues while still remaining a bloody good time in every episode.
In a world filled with shows and movies based on comic books, “The Boys” is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and will probably never see again. That speaks to the brilliant adaptation from creator Eric Kripke, who mined the source material from writer Garth Ennis, to make the perfect transition from the page to the screen with this show. Sprinkle in performances from actors like Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty and Aya Cash and the ensemble cast from “The Boys” could go toe-to-toe with any Emmy darling.
Plus, “The Boys” was among former President Barack Obama’s favorite shows of the year and that’s just pretty damn cool.
From the acting to the directing to the cunning dialogue, “The Boys” delivered in every way possible during season 2 and that’s why this series hit the top of the list as the top television show during 2020.