The 10 best TV shows of 2020

Naomi Gordon
·7-min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

From Harper's BAZAAR

We've clung on to TV like a life raft during a challenging year, with so many exceptional series arriving just in time to deliver us the escapism we've needed more than ever.

The pandemic aside - 2020 has been a promising year of fresh voices, delivering original stories from different perspectives, many of which that have been created by women - despite the majority of mainstream TV still being hijacked by a repetitive stream of white male voices.

This year definitely took us in the right direction, with lots of new talent to get excited about in 2021 and beyond. Here are our 10 favourite shows of 2020 below...

I May Destroy You

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Michaela Coel blends humour with the horror of her own experience of sexual assault in her dazzling masterpiece I May Destroy You. The drama follows Coel as 30-something writer Arabella, who is haunted by violent flashbacks that threaten to unleash the trauma of what happened to her the night before.

Coel takes us on a thrilling ride that dips back and forth in time to fully explore consent, race, abusive relationships, Black queerness, millennial life, friendship - and, yes, the reality of period sex. The standout cast includes Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu.

Industry

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

If you think you've ever had a bad day/hangover in the office, chances are, it won't compare to what Harper and co are going through in the cutthroat and unscrupulous world of investment bank Pierpoint. BBC Two's outrageous and compulsive banking drama follows five graduates as they compete for a coveted position in the bank - and the pressure and sexual tension is palpable.

With an opening episode directed by Lena Dunham, the series has been described as Skins meets Succession, but this drama stands alone in its originality. Myha'la Herrold leads as bright US graduate Harper in a cast full of brilliant young actors that we predict are going to be huge very soon.

Normal People

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Watching Lenny Abrahamson's beautifully rendered adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People was like reliving our own painful experience of first heartbreak. And so we sobbed, then went for a government-mandated walk in the park, came back and sobbed some more.

A screenplay from Rooney and Alice Birch breathed new life into the story, which follows lovestruck millennials Connell and Marianne and their complex relationship as they enter young adulthood. Newcomers Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones give heart-wrenching performances as the lead stars, resulting in Mescal's Emmy-nomination, and Edgar-Jones being cast in Reese Witherspoon's adaptation of a similarly beautiful novel, Where The Crawdads Sing.

It's also first time we've seen sex on-screen performed so authentically and non-gratuitously, thanks to intimacy coordinator Ita O'Brien, marking a new way in which sex scenes will be safely handled in the future.

The Undoing

Photo credit: David Giesbrecht - HBO
Photo credit: David Giesbrecht - HBO

We were immediately drawn into the glitzy world of Upper East Side's best-dressed psychologist Grace, played by Nicole Kidman, and her oncologist husband, Hugh Grant's Jonathan, whose easy charm and humour left us wondering whether he was hiding something much darker. Created by Big Little Lies writer David E. Kelley - the soapy whodunnit drama left us guessing right up until the end with its relentless twists and turns, resulting in a climax that we definitely didn't see coming.

Supporting cast Donald Sutherland and Noma Dumezweni commanded the screen as staunch patriarch Franklin Reinhardt and dynamic attorney Haley Fitzgerald.

The Crown

Photo credit: Des Willie
Photo credit: Des Willie

Emma Corrin and Gillian Anderson deliver powerhouse performances that exceeded expectations with their debuts as Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher in The Crown's season 4.

Peter Morgan's drama explores the transactional nature of Diana and Charles' early courtship, and offers an intriguing insight into the brittle relationship between the Queen and Thatcher, in part due to her controversial policies that divided the nation - and her failure to grasp the royal family's favourite parlour game Ibble Dibble.

We were also treated to a poignant Princess Margaret-centric episode, which illuminated a lesser-known history of the Windsor family - Elizabeth and Margaret's first cousins on their mother's side, Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon, who were born with severe disabilities and institutionalised for most of their lives. Helena Bonham Carter gives a stunning performance as Margaret as she grapples with the prospect of an unworthy legacy and a devastating family secret.

I Hate Suzie

Photo credit: Sky
Photo credit: Sky

Billie Piper and Lucy Pebble's bold and brutally dark comedy-drama follows the unraveling of Piper's charismatic and overly-indulged Suzie, a former child-star on the brink of reinventing herself until she is hacked and compromising images of her are leaked online. And no amount of damage control by the brilliant Leila Farzad as best friend and publicist Naomi can stem the scandal when it's slowly revealed that the man in the picture isn't Suzie's husband, and that there might be drugs in the background.

Piper recently explained that she wanted her series to be an immersive experience, and feel like a "literal panic attack" to capture the lead's unfiltered breakdown, and with unflinching scenes featuring Suzie having a stress-induced bout of IBS and a cocaine binge at a sci-fi convention, her drama did exactly that.

Mrs America

Photo credit: Sabrina Lantos
Photo credit: Sabrina Lantos

Cate Blanchett chills the soul as Phylis Schlafly, the anti-feminist conservative activist who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment movement in the 1970s. The story unravels through the eyes of Schlafly and second-wave feminists of the era Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus, as they battled in a culture war that permanently altered the political landscape - to this day, women's rights are not protected under the Constitution. Rose Byrne and Uzo Aduba as Steinem and Chisholm are powerful forces not to be reckoned with.

Schitt's Creek

Photo credit: CBC/Netflix
Photo credit: CBC/Netflix

Schitt's Creek went out with a bang this year with no-less-than nine Emmy Awards, leaving a gaping hole in our lives. David and Eugene Levy's sleeper hit has offered us unbridled escapism, made us laugh till we cried, and reminded us how much of a comic genius Catherine O'Hara is. Bow down to matriarch Moira Rose and her inimitable British accent, unashamed self-obsession, and those divine wigs.

The show also normalised LGBTQ+ relationships, made us feel all warm inside, and gave us a series of wardrobes we'll never, ever forget. If you haven't seen it yet, you've six seasons of laughs ahead of you.

Small Axe

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Oscar-winner Steve McQueen's powerful five-part anthology about Britain's Caribbean history tells four true stories and one imagined, set between the late '60s and mid '80s.

Airing on BBC One, Small Axe celebrates British-Caribbean culture, provides viewers of Caribbean descent with representation, and educated everyone on important parts of our history that many of us - shamefully - know little about.

The series begins with the critically-acclaimed Mangrove, centring on the Mangrove Nine activists who were accused of incitement to riot in 1970 after their lively community hub, The Mangrove in Notting Hill, was the subject of relentless police raids. Their landmark trial included thrilling twists and turns exposed racial hatred deep within the Met.

The anthology's stunning ensemble cast includes John Boyega, Rochenda Sandall, Letitia Wright, Naomi Ackie, and Shaun Parkes.

Unorthodox

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Shira Haas gives arguably the best breakthrough performance of the year as Esther Shapiro, a young Hasidic Jewish woman in Brooklyn, who begins to question her suffocating, ultra-conservative religious community and embark on a dangerous quest for freedom. The exhilarating Netflix drama is based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, a recommended must-read, which follows Esther of on her emotional and edifying journey to independence.


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