It was has been an absolutely terrible year for humanity, but we can at least take comfort in the fact that there’s been more great television than ever to keep us going through troubled times. From streaming to cable to regular broadcast, there’s an overwhelming abundance of options, but for our money, these were the 50 best TV shows of the year.
Honorable mentions: The Baby-Sitters Club, Rick and Morty, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Carmen Sandiego, Hilda, Babylon Berlin, Search Party, Castlevania, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Tales From The Loop, The Last Dance, I Hate Suzie, The Midnight Gospel
50) Harley Quinn
After the climax of Harley Quinn’s gloriously funny first season, Gotham is in ruins, Batman is missing, and Joker is presumed dead. Now free from her toxic ex, this vibrant second season continues to be a profane and hyper-violent romp as Harley and her crew revel in the chaos of a lawless city. With Gotham’s remaining supervillains vying for domination in this power vacuum, Harley becomes the face of underappreciated henchmen as the goons stage a revolution themselves. Sharp, filthy, fast-paced, and surprisingly heartfelt, season two is an utter delight!
Magic For Humans returns for a third season of unexpected sleight of hand and sly social experimentation. Still hosted by magician/comedian extraordinaire Justin Willman, this season continues to tie together the wonder of magic with the universality of being human through some mind blowing, yet very funny, illusions. From performing tricks in the buff at a nudist colony (proving he’s got nothing up his sleeve, or anywhere else) to wowing random passersby – this sketch comedy meets street magic show is an insightful, charming and fun quarantine escape.
Speaking of Rick and Morty, its co-creator Justin Roiland is branching out with a hilarious new animated sci-fi comedy! Solar Opposites is a fresh spin on 3rd Rock From The Sun, centering on a team of aliens who escape from a dying world only to take refuge in middle America. Split on whether Earth is awesome or awful – their personality clashes, and cluelessness about the basics of human society serve as the spark for the series’ funniest beats. Solar Opposites flies with a breakneck pace, coasting on a witty mix of goofy absurdity and good-natured warmth.
The Mandalorian returns for its gunslinging second season, and gorgeously continues its gritty, fun and brisk approach to the space western genre. The series picks up with Mando on a quest to return Baby Yoda to its people. While that journey forms the throughline, The Mandalorian is still refreshingly committed to telling self-contained stories boltered by exciting action and tidy conclusions. Featuring tight narratives, stunning landscapes, and amazing guest stars – this consistently entertaining show remains, by far, the best live-action Star Wars of the modern era.
With the introductions of a beloved princess and a controversial conservative Prime Minister, this lavishly produced prestige drama enters into its fantastic fourth season with much personal and geopolitical meat to chew on. Aided by the tremendous performances of newcomers Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher (joining the magnificent Oliva Colman as Queen Elizabeth II), The Crown remains irresistible. From the Falklands War to an IRA bombing to a sad royal marriage, season four is the series at its best. Read our review.
Office lady Retsuko has spent two seasons of her hilarious and relatable anime series expelling her professional and romantic frustrations via death metal karaoke. But in this third season, financial woes have forced our hapless red panda into the world of J-Pop! In addition to the stressful demands of her job and continued misadventures in love, Retsuko now finds herself moonlighting for an idol group. But despite the exhausting toll of workplace politics and added responsibilities – this new environment might be just what Retsuko needs to reevaluate her life.
Created by Lee Eisenberg (The Office) alongside Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (the husband-and-wife writers of The Big Sick) – Little America is a poignant new anthology telling short stories about immigrants living in America. This smart, compassionate portrait of lives in the margins will make you smile and weep in equal measure. From the daughter of a Mexican housekeeper who becomes a squash star, to a Nigerian student struggling to fit in, these culturally specific tales exemplify how the American dream can inspire both hope and agony.
There’s nothing else in 2020 that will make you feel warmer than Ted Lasso. Jason Sudeikis stars as an American college football coach who goes to England to manage a Premiership soccer team. While the comedy leans into the fish out of water scenario, the heart of this sweet series lies in the coach’s sincere kindness and can-do attitude. He may know nothing about soccer, but genuinely want to help his players to be the best version of themselves (in life or sport). Buoyed by relentless optimism and decency, you can’t not root for the loveable cornball.
Created by Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Recreation), Upload is a hilarious and heartfelt sci-fi comedy that follows app developer Nathan after he is uploaded into a virtual afterlife following a car accident. However this digital reality is far from paradise because your wealth determines how idyllic heaven can be. It’s really just a means for companies to keep profiting from your consciousness as you continue making purchases after death. Deeply funny and thought-provoking, Upload explores capitalism, privacy and income inequality in the hereafter.
Even after the multiverse madness that was the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, the one constant in this or any universe is that Legends of Tomorrow will continue to be the wildest, funniest, and most gleefully bonkers show on TV. After the events of Crisis and the season four finale, this fifth season finds our time travelling misfits not only dealing the loss of friends due to timeline alterations, but evil souls that have escaped from hell! From Genghis Khan to Grigori Rasputin, the crew must scramble to stop the undead versions of history’s greatest villains.
Based on James McBride’s acclaimed novel, this series stars Ethan Hawke as John Brown, a militant abolitionist who murdered slavery supporters, burned down plantations, and raided a federal armory in an attempt to arm slaves and instigate a revolt. Told from the point of view of Onion, a formerly enslaved boy who is part of Brown’s militia, The Good Lord Bird is a rollicking and darkly comic tale that’s as blustery as its subject. Led by Hawkes’ crazy-eyed, spittle-flying, scenery-chewing turn, this miniseries explores Brown’s righteous hubris alongside his heroism.
Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a stunning performance as Beth Harmon, an orphan in the 1950s who grows up to earn accolades as a chess prodigy. Adapted from Walter Tevis’ novel, this Scott Frank miniseries takes a poignant story of identity, trauma, and competition – and elevates it into something incredibly captivating. Equal parts sports narrative, period piece, coming of age story, and a character study of the line between genius and psychosis – The Queen’s Gambit tracks the troubled grandmaster’s highs and lows through striking visuals and sensitive storytelling.
Based on Matt Ruff’s novel, Lovecraft Country presents a vision of 1950s America where the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic monsters and secret cabals intertwine with the daily horrors of anti-Black racism during Jim Crow. Centered on a pulp fiction-obsessed war veteran named Atticus, his best friend Letitia, and his uncle George – we follow the African-America trio on a road trip across the deep south in search of Atticus’ father. Determined not to cower before the white establishment, the three find themselves targeted by a cult in this gripping and eerie story.
Lynn Novick’s excellent documentary series is the inspiring, emotional, and deeply human story of men and women struggling to earn college degrees while in prison for serious crimes. In four years of study with the Bard Prison Initiative – they become accomplished scholars, reckon with their pasts, and prepare to return to society. This excellent exploration of incarceration in America questions if the system is designed to be punitive or rehabilitative. If it is indeed the latter, then College Behind Bars persuasively argues in the transformative power of education.
Big Mouth returns for its fourth season which continues to crassly (and smartly) confront the horrors and indignities of puberty to sublime comedic effect. Despite being an absurdist comedy with hormone monsters and talking genitals, the series also astutely tackles the emotional growth of its characters as they stumble through adolescence and sexual awakening. Now in eighth grade, Big Mouth enters more mature territory in dealing with issues like gender transition therapy, code switching, tampons and more – balancing gross-out humour with genuine insight.
Adapted by Katori Hall from her play Pussy Valley, this series explores the lives of those who work and visit the Mississippi Delta strip club, The Pynk. The world of its dancers and its owner instantly comes to life in a way so many dramas try and fail to do from the jump. While its plot is an intriguing stew made up of shady land deals and stolen identities – it’s the dreamy, neon vibe of P-Valley that’s engrossingly hypnotic. This is a lyrical, character-driven story about the beauty and scars of marginalized Black women that’s playfully obscene and heartbreakingly forlorn.
Jason Segel’s trippy new conspiracy anthology is ingenious, confusing, wildly unpredictable and unlike anything else on TV right now. Ostensibly, the story revolves around a scientific group dedicated to bizarre technology, an elaborate roleplaying game that forces participants to comb the city for clues and interact with odd characters, a resistance group and an imprisoned woman named Clara. As opaque as this puzzle is, this series’ labyrinth of weirdness feels like such an invigorating journey, thanks to stylishly imaginative storytelling and richly developed characters.
The Boys’ pitch-black deconstruction of superhero tropes and the evil megacorporations that run them (based on Garth Ennis’ equally dark comic series) is back for an even more badass second season! Equal parts meta nihilism and scathing lampoon of a society obsessed with superheroes, this cynical and ultra-violent series continues to flesh out how blind fanaticism and abuses of power can be destructive. But while it’s themes are sharp, The Boys approaches it all with a twisted sense of sardonic glee and gruesome action, balancing its smarts with pulpy fun.
The Good Place began life as a comedy about a woman who accidentally got into heaven, but it’s wonderful afterlife journey revealed the show to be a kind-hearted appraisal of philosophy, morality, and the meaning of existence. Couched by pop culture zingers, warm friendship, and clever puns – this series miraculously sticks the landing in its final episodes by continually hiding the heavy and heady under the hilarity. So while the story may involve our crew revamping heaven and hell’s system of judgement, the crux remains the sweetness of human connection.
The Innocence Files details the tireless work of The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization with the goal of exonerating wrongfully imprisoned people primarily through the use of DNA evidence, and striving for criminal justice reform. Equally moving, informative, and infuriating, this true crime series goes beyond sensationalism and shock to paint a comprehensive portrait of America’s justice system’s failures. From unreliable eyewitness testimony to police corruption to misapplied science – this is an eye-opening look at how easily innocent people end up in jail.
The Wire co-creators David Simon and Ed Burns re-team to adapt Philip Roth’s prescient novel. The Plot Against America takes place in an alternate history in which the United States turns toward fascism during World War II. Told through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey, we follow a country engulfed by anti-Semitism as aviation hero and xenophobic populist Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. This desensationalized, humanist and grounded cautionary fable feels intimate and scarily relevant.
Steve McQueen’s ambitious five film project Small Axe in an enthralling, multi-faceted look at the real-life struggles and triumphs of London’s Afro-Carribean and West Indian community in the 1960s – 1980s. From the powerful courtroom drama “Mangrove” about a group of nine black activists unjustly tried (for incitement to riot) after demonstrating against police discrimination – to the romantically joyous “Lovers Rock” which immerses into an intoxicating reggae house party – Small Axe is vivid storytelling and an impassioned portrait of Black British life and culture.
This hilariously dark coming-of-age dramedy lays bare the bleak realities of teenage life in the wreckage of Britain’s forgotten places. In My Skin follows 16-year-old Bethan who is trying to hide the truth about her mother’s bipolar disorder, father’s alcoholism and chaotic home life from her friends. Heavily drawing from her own experiences growing up, Kayleigh Llewellyn’s series may be bleak, but it’s also filled with tenderness and caustic wit. From the authenticity of its tone to the vivid grittiness of it’s Cardiff setting, In My Skin is a brutally relatable show that cuts deep.
Thanks to its all Latinx writers room, and all female directors, Vida’s thoughtful exploration of race, gentrification, class, and sexual identity in East L.A. is as vibrant and vital as ever. After two excellent seasons, Tanya Saracho’s series finishes strong in its final season by diving deeper into the complex lives of estranged sisters Emma and Lyn Hernandez. By lensing bittersweet stories of love, loss and family through a myriad of diverse perspectives within the LGBTQ and Latinx communities in their neighbourhood, Vida bursts with exhilarating specificity.
This excellent new docuseries is a moving and timely look at the everyday heroism of medical professionals. Following four doctors at a New York hospital over an 18-month period as they juggle their personal lives while trying to save lives – Lenox Hill is an extraordinary tribute to the intelligence, empathy and humility of healthcare workers. From the stress of medical procedures to the resonance of its subjects’ emotional stories – Lenox Hill offers clear-eyed and grounded insight into the dedication of doctors, as well as the inequities of America’s healthcare system.
From the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia team, comes a Silicon Valley-eque comedy set in the world of video game development! Set in the studio offices of the titular multiplayer online role-playing game, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet dives into the megalomania and workplace chaos of that world with eccentric, frenzied energy. This smart satire of the industry’s labour practices and toxic culture is deliriously funny, but it never simply mocks. Its jokes offer insight into the video game community’s dynamics, while examining the neuroses of its characters.
One of the greatest sports anime ever made returns for an exhilarating and emotional fourth season. Haikyuu!! Is a volleyball series following the heartbreaks and triumphs of a former top school Karasuno High. And with the infusion of two talented freshmen in the short but athletic spiker Hinata and technical genius setter Kageyama, the team is poised for a comeback, if only those two bitter rivals can get along. After a stunning upset victory in the prefectural tournament, this fourth season follows the Nationals, and the dynamic match-ups they face here are riveting.
Set in 1970s America, this exceptional miniseries focuses on the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), meant to put women on the same legal footing as men. Starring Cate Blanchett as conservative anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafley, Mrs. America traces her mobilization of housewives against the ERA out of a belief that women’s liberation would dismantle traditional family values. Beyond being a great period exploration of this ideological schism, Mrs. America also presents a nuanced look at the female vanguards on both sides.
Spun-off from Taika Waititi’s mockumentary, the first season of What We Do In The Shadows was a charmingly low-stakes, deadpan horror-comedy about a quartet of vampire housemates in Staten Island. Thankfully, season two remains a silly pleasure! When not concerned with the banalities of modern undead life, this season focuses on Guillermo’s turmoil after discovering that he’s descended from Van Helsing, introduces a terrible new familiar played by Haley Joel Osment, and hilariously explores our vampires’ relationships with other supernatural creatures.
This six-part docuseries offers a complex view of the American immigration system, combining in-depth research, empathetic storytelling and bold investigative journalism into a uniquely urgent humanitarian appeal. Immigration Nation follows ICE as it ramps up its operations and deportations in response to Trump’s rhetoric. While it offers unprecedented access to officers and bureaucrats throughout the system, the series is also focused on the human cost of policy. Its filmmakers sit down with many detainees, and their personal stories of grief are wrenching.
Rebecca Sugar ends her kind, brave and profound cartoon with a remarkable epilogue that explores the emotional aftermath of heroic optimism and intergalactic peace. The sweet boy has grown into a teen, and with no villains to fight, Steven has to come to terms with his repressed trauma and anger at his mother’s legacy, and grapple with the idea that his friends are moving on. Steven Universe’s final season is a fun yet vital look at how a maturing Steven handles “happily ever after” – underpinned by the show’s lasting themes of compassion and empathy.
Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) is back with a charming and bright new sitcom loosely based on her own childhood. Anchored by dazzling newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever is a breezy coming-of-age story about a first generation Indian-American teen growing up in suburbia. We follow her awkward sophomore year as she copes with grief over her father’s passing, juggles two cultures, and looks for a boyfriend. But beyond the hormonal hijinks, this series is anchored by authentic portrayals of poignant female friendships.
Created by Genndry Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack), Primal is a compelling look at the harsh cost of survival and the cruelty of nature, set during prehistoric times. Now back for the second half of its first season, this animated series tells the story of a caveman and a dinosaur after a shared tragedy unites them. Devoid of dialogue, gorgeously scored and hand-drawn, this is an elemental tale that finds emotional depth in its protagonists through expressive body language, wordless compassion and unsparing savagery. Beautiful and brutal, Primal is a roaring triumph.
Who knew a low-key comedy about a disgraced baseball announcer would end up dealing with a dystopian future curveball in its final inning? The fourth and concluding season of Brockmire skips ahead to 2030, into an apocalyptic world plagued by climate change, conflict, disease and food shortages. However, Brockmire himself is doing pretty well, now that he’s overcome his alcoholism and self-loathing. In this hilarious new season, our filthily acerbic lead unexpectedly finds himself as a father, and the new baseball commissioner, tasked with reviving a dead sport.
Luca Guadagnino’s first ever TV miniseries is a lyrical coming of age drama set on a US Army base in Italy. We Are Who We Are follows a group of interlinked youths and adults who are each grappling with friendship, duty, first-love and identity in a place where conformity rules. In particular, the show focuses on Fraser, an introverted 14-year-old who’s recently arrived with his military mothers – and Caitlin, a confident teen who’s lived on the base for years. This gorgeous miniseries immerses us into all the messy exhilaration and anguish of life with naturalistic flair.
Ramy Youssef’s heartfelt Egyptian-American dramedy returns for a terrific second season, deftly exploring the complexities of balancing religious faith with millennial anxieties, and the othered awkwardness of an immigrant family. After an ill-advised sexual encounter with his cousin during a spiritual pilgrimage to Egypt, Ramy now struggles to better a better Muslim under the tutelage of a stoic Sheikh (Mahershala Ali). But beyond the title character, this season also finds pathos and humour by deconstructing the walled-in masculinity of Muslim men in Ramy’s family.
Past seasons of Issa Rae’s brilliant comedy about the black millennial experience have explored the challenges of lost jobs and romantic relationships – but this one focuses on that frustration on an unravelling friendship. The heart of Insecure has always been the bond between Issa and Molly, and season four organically rips it apart when the pair give up on repairing wounds that have long been building. Despite still being consistently hilarious, this show’s dramatic strengths are at its peak here, playing out aggravations in realistic ways that few sitcoms ever achieve.
The team behind Last Chance U switches from the world of collegiate football to the world of collegiate cheerleading for this fantastic new documentary series. Cheer follows a champion team from Navarro,Texas, and just seeing their dedication, resilience and talent is awe-inspiring. From the intricacies of their gravity-defying routines, to the physical and emotional toll of such a high-pressure and high-flying activity (the injuries are gnarly, but the stress can be worse), to the diverse lives of the coaches and athletes – this show will make you tremendously invested.
One of the greatest shows of the 21st century bids a bittersweet but satisfying farewell with a reckoning for it’s problematic lead. While Bojack Horseman has made great strides in dealing with his depression, getting sober, and repairing relationships with his closest friends – this emotionally painful final stretch finally holds BoJack accountable for the many women he’s hurt. And while the drama lies between redemption or relapse for BoJack, the series also takes care to provide hilarious, beautiful and moving closing arcs for its richly drawn rendered ensemble.
Like a spiritual successor to Nathan For You, this new docu-comedy series is a celebration of social awkwardness as seen through the lens of John Wilson. Shot in the first person, How To With follows Wilson as he films the lives of everyday people he meets, as he attempts to give advice on relatable but random life topics like small talk, putting up scaffolding, improving your memory, and making the perfect risotto. His seemingly random wanderings through the world are by turns hilarious and poignant, revealing profound humanity through strange interactions.
Set inside a magically endless train where each car contains a different and wonderfully bizarre universe, Owen Dennis’ cartoon is a consistently inventive ride. As we’ve learned, the puzzles and dangers within each world are designed to help kids trapped aboard to work through their emotional issues, before they can leave. But what happens when some passengers don’t want to grow or disembark? This third season delves deeper into the mythos of the train by following a group called The Apex – anarchic youths who see the train as an escape rather than a prison.
This remarkable documentary series directed by Steve James looks at the city of Chicago and its residents as 21 candidates run for mayor during the 2019 election. City So Real captures the sprawling tapestry of a city – diving deep into its bureaucracy, issues and people. James sits quietly in barbershops and bars, among protesters and policemen and polling officials, hovering at parties and press conferences and courtrooms – letting everyone he comes across have their say. The result is a heartfelt, humanist look at the strengths and divisions of American society.
Created, starring and directed by Pamela Adlon, Better Things has consistently been one of the most poignant and humane shows on television. Now in season four, this beautiful series about mothers and daughters remains a rare and precious gift, eschewing grand drama and cheap conflict in favour of patient observation. Adlon finds ephemeral profundity in the commonplace, quiet and mundane – evoking complex arcs of love, hurt, mortality, connection and yearning in ways more akin to poems than screen narratives. Better Things remains the best thing on TV.
Co-created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle (who are 31-year-old actresses playing 13-year-olds amidst a cast of actual kids) – PEN15 is the most uncomfortably hilarious tween comedy on TV. But it’s also the sincerest, funniest and most painfully insightful. Now back for season two, this brilliantly awkward series about female friendship and the turmoil of puberty in the early-2000s is packed with more cringe moments and emotional honesty. This marvelous depiction of the joys, indignities and horrors of middle school is a hormone-laden rollercoaster.
Created, written by and starring comedian Mae Martin, this sharply observed and emotionally complex British dramedy is a lot like Fleabag by way of Master of None. Feel Good follows Mae, a Canadian stand-up comic and recovering drug addict barely making ends meet in London. She falls in love with an English teacher named George who has never dated a woman before. Their meet-cute and romance unfurls quickly – but this painfully honest and darkly funny series is all about delving into the messy aftermath of a rom-com whirlwind. Read our full review here.
Based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir, Unorthodox is a riveting Yiddish miniseries about religious rebellion and rebirth. Lead actress Shira Haas is phenomenal as a young Jewish woman who runs away from the Hasidic Satmar sect of Williamsburg, to find a secular life in Berlin. Part transformational drama and part escape thriller, Unorthodox balances a nuanced emotional tapestry of a woman battling to think for herself, and her family who feel betrayed. This series movingly captures the pain and power of leaving a strict religious community behind.
Spanning from secondary school in the small town of Sligo, to their young adult lives at Trinity College at Dublin, Normal People steeps us into the heads of Marianne and Connell (played beautifully by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal) – two lovers who try, and fail, and try, and fail, to resist the magnetic pull between them. Based on Sally Rooney’s novel, this breathtaking adaptation is an absorbingly intimate, achingly truthful, and emotionally sophisticated translation of a formative romance that is as immersive as the book that inspired it. Read our full review.
Now in its fifth season, this prequel spinoff has long since proven to be every bit as great as its parent series Breaking Bad. But this penultimate season of Better Call Saul is the show’s best yet! As we inch closer to the end, Jimmy McGill’s moral descent into “criminal” lawyer Saul Goodman is complete, just as Gus and Mike’s drug empire ascends. Though we know where they all end up (except for series MVP, Kim Wexler), the show’s patient and process-oriented storytelling is richly rewarding, infusing each character arc with such complexity and resonance.
Based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, the first season of My Brilliant Friend introduced us to Lila and Lenu, two dirt-poor but bright little girls in 1950s Naples, whose passionate friendship is challenged when opportunities lead to divergent paths. Now jumping ahead to the 1960s, this second season picks up with the vibrant Lila stuck in an abusive marriage, while the studious Lenu is a model student who moves to Pisa. Gorgeous and gripping, this complex portrait of female friendship continues to be a masterpiece of extraordinary depth and insight.
I May Destroy You is a fearless, frank and provocative half-hour series exploring the question of sexual consent and where, in the new landscape of dating and relationships, the distinction between liberation and exploitation lies. Following author and social media sensation Arabella as she tries to rebuild after being date raped – this series is a wrenching, comedically edged navigation of what life feels like after such a violation. Creator, writer, director and star Michaela Coel channels her own experiences with sexual assault into a work that is honest and humane.