2020 Retrospective: Best Series of the Year

20. The Real Housewives of Potomac – Season Five (Bravo)

Reality television is still considered bottom of the barrel in terms of entertainment, but in a year like 2020, its place has never felt closer to the precipice of public demand. In their fifth season, the ladies of Potomac have settled into the medium and brought forth some of the most memorable drama the franchise has had and will have in the future. Deconstructing stereotypes, polarizing fans and the women themselves, and featuring the longest and most contentious reunion in the show’s run, this year of RHOP was a must watch.

19. Grand Army – Season One (Netflix)

Going to high school in any generation has its shortcomings. For millennials, it was the constant pressures of rising social media platforms. For baby boomers, it was Reagonomics. But for Gen Z, the adolescents of today, it’s the threat of Neo-Nazi resurgence across America and the countless, brutal school shootings and fatal violence that could happen at any moment. Until now, this environment hasn’t been attempted to put on screen. Grand Army is a largely flawed series, yet it dares to go where few series have gone before. It draws inspiration from shows like Euphoria, but presents a diversified array of characters with varying perspectives. The first of hopefully several to come, Grand Army can only continue its hot streak in future seasons.

18. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich – Docuseries (Netflix)

As disgusting as it is revelatory, the Jeffrey Epstein docuseries from Netflix was an important investigation of the elitist corruption that torments a classist world. Epstein and his benefactors used and abused a system and its inhabitants, and this series plays as an outline of events as well as a tale of empathy for the victims of Epstein’s abuse.

17. The Queen’s Gambit – Limited Series (Netflix)

For a series about chess, The Queen’s Gambit was a compelling watch. Anya Taylor-Joy dazzles as the series lead, a troubled orphan at whom life throws countless blows. A tale of heroism, of redemption, and of addiction, The Queen’s Gambit is a period drama done right.

16. The Flight Attendant – Season One (HBO Max)

For the first time in her career, Kaley Cuoco shined outside of a sitcom forum. The Flight Attendant‘s enticing blend of outlandish drama and dark comedy were the perfect bridge for an actress still heading to her ultimate peak. It isn’t the most rewarding mystery to solve, but the journey is so fun that it doesn’t really matter.

15. Bridgerton – Season One (Netflix)

Coming in at the tail end of a quintessential year of endless television, Bridgerton was the perfect holiday treat for bored households. Packed to the brim with soapy dramatics, intensely passionate action sequences (both in and out of the bedroom), and a meticulously detailed world, this series was a hit that will only grow in the first weeks of the new year.

14. Feel Good – Season One (Netflix)

Less a season of television and more an elongated romantic comedy, Feel Good is a quickly digestible treat. Featuring Mae Martin in a semi autobiographical tale of a Canadian recovering addict finding love with a British woman in the UK, it sways from drama and comedy with ease, never boring audiences.

13. Tiger King – Docuseries (Netflix)

It’s impossible to think back on 2020 in television without considering the wildly entertaining, often jarring, docuseries Tiger King. In an age where true crime borders on the oversaturation, Tiger King was a fresh spin on what fans of the genre are used to. Almost too outlandish to believe at times, Tiger King maybe couldn’t have been so conducive to pop culture if it was released at any other point in time. Thankfully for those who leaped on on the Joe Exotic train, it dropped at the perfect time.

12. The Last Dance – Docuseries (EPSN/Netflix)

In a year when sports had some of the worst set backs due to COVID-19, fans could easily flock to the Michel Jordan docuseries The Last Dance. Featuring plenty of archival footage of the star player and lots of never before scene content of the ’97/’98 Chicago Bulls season, the series proves viewers don’t need to be die hard fans to recognize Jordan’s talent or his influence on the sport and its impact on contemporary pop culture.

11. Insecure – Season Four (HBO)

Insecure returned with an elongated, slower paced fourth year. Learning from the successes of previous seasons, Issa Rae and the series writers magnified certain character relationships, favoring their development over elaborate situations or plots. Always featuring the beautiful pockets of LA not typically explored on camera, and packed with more phenomenal music, Insecure continues to tread course for another great year.

10. Rick & Morty – Season Four (Adult Swim)

Though the writers took things to an overly meta place thematically this year, Rick & Morty continues its showcase of brutally dark comedy and nihilism featuring an increasingly alienated Smith family who has grown more and more tired of Rick and his antics. Decidedly less serialized than the third outing, season four features some hilarious and challenging adventures to add to the Rick and Morty universe.

9. Dave – Season One (FX)

As surprising as the talent of its titular character, Dave is a surefire hit series surrounding a fictionalized version of Lil Dicky. Never too serious, always commenting on the state of music and its culture in Los Angeles, Dave is a hilarious, star studded homage to an artist navigating his career and his personal life.

8. High Fidelity – Season One (Hulu)

Hulu will never be forgiven for cancelling such a phenomenal and yet to be fully explored series. Starring Zoë Kravitz, the show depicts the freshly heartbroken Rob. She speaks directly to viewers, informing them of each and every one of her worst heartbreaks. The world of the show quickly expands to include those within Rob’s circle, her colleagues at the record shop she manages, and a potential new suitor to add to the heartbreak collection. It’s criminal to see this show end so abruptly, but this season was a wonder.

7. The Undoing – Limited Series (HBO)

Another murder mystery series featuring the incomparable Nicole Kidman, The Undoing utilizes her stoic presence in perhaps the most compelling way yet. Kidman stars as Grace, a psychologist living in New York City. When her husband is tangled up in a twisted web that leaves a mutual peer dead in cold blood, she must connect the dots as the police begin testing the limits of Grace’s knowledge and her claim to sanity.

6. Normal People – Limited Series (Hulu)

Normal People, based on the novel of the same name, is a complicated journey that takes viewers into the love between two young characters as they navigate three important chapters in their lives. From high school, through college and their first years in the workplace, the duo are tested by their insecurities with each other and their environments, but for some reason, keep coming back.

5. Industry – Season One (HBO)

A spirited blend of Succession and Euphoria, HBO’s Industry is a thrilling glimpse into the global finance industry and what it does to young individuals when they enter their post collegiate careers. Rich with complicated characters, convoluted and misinformed preconceptions, and a fittingly pulsating soundtrack, Industry is one of the best new series to launch this year.

4. Better Things – Season Four (FX)

Four seasons in, Pamela Adlon’s semi-autobiographical character study remains as strong as its ever been, if not stronger. Dropping viewers into moments in life so singular, random, and unique to the family the series centers on, viewers wouldn’t be surprised to not feel any resonance or connection. On the contrary, what Adlon is able to capture is the universal theme of familial bonds and the vast range of emotions that come with aging, friendship, love, and politics.

3. Schitt’s Creek – Season Six (Pop TV)

The final season of Schitt’s Creek feels like it was a decade ago, yet its presence lingers long after its original run ended. It’s a perfect farewell to the incredibly well developed characters within the Rose family and those who inhabit the town in which they reside. The comedy is sharp, the emotional indulgence delicately applied, and the Moira Rose outfits never better. It will be hard to say goodbye to this series, but how amazing is it that it was made at all?

2. We Are Who We Are – Limited Series (HBO)

Luca Guadagnino’s series, We Are Who We Are, wasn’t for everyone. It’s at times incredibly strange, uncomfortable, and vacuous. Like in his films, Guadagnino favors narratives that are driven by characters rather than story beats. So, though it is all of those aforementioned things, it is true to life. The ambiguous but powerful bond between the lead duo is palpable and so subtextual it compels viewers from beginning to end. With a beautifully cinematic finale, the series will leave viewers with lingering thoughts (and a new obsession with Blood Orange).

1. I May Destroy You – Limited Series (HBO)

I May Destroy You is the perfect choice for best series of this year. Amalgamating some of contemporary cultures most central discussions of race, gender, and the mistreatment that comes within each categories sub specifications, creator Micaela Coel sews together a boundless narrative about a woman and her friends navigating modern life. I May Destroy You is as focused as it is broad, as poignant as it is funny, and as ruminative as it is visually breathtaking.

Author: Kieran Sweeney

Writing about entertainment for the better part of a decade and consuming it twice as much, Kieran Sweeney is "the" pop culture aficionado. A connoisseur of the intersection of art and commercialism, the USC Annenberg graduate has earned his reputation as an empathetic and thoughtful writer. His resume includes USC's The Daily Trojan, USC Viterbi News, and personal assistance for publicity and marketing companies from Drill Down Media to This Fiction. His intersectional experience in the industry points to his wit and unfiltered thoughts on the latest project in entertainment

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