As documented in our Best TV of The 2010 Decade feature, which you should read, the 2010s were the age of PeakTV, Prestige TV and the dawn of the streaming age. Now in this new decade of the 2020s, we enter the Streaming War era. Yes, Netflix is here and here to stay, HBO isn’t going anywhere and Showtime, FX and all the other major players are solidified in status. But November 2019 changed everything and hinted at the dawn of a new horizon. In that month, we finally caught the long-awaited Disney+ and AppleTV+ streaming channels and all of them debuted with just thick levels of content.
The same is set to happen in 2020. We’re getting FX on Hulu which will have exclusive shows and series there, we’re getting HBO MAX, arguably the new superpower of the streaming age, Jeffery Katzenberg’s Quibi, mobile, short-form streaming content channel is coming in April, and who knows what comes next after all this. Channels like CBS All Access are still finding their footing, but becoming more and more competent and the content war for your eyeballs, the attention economy is getting thinner and thinner.
It’s a good problem to have, but it’s actually also kind of becoming a bad one that is somehow going to affect the ecosystem of television and surely the bubble will burst at some point. For film and TV writers, it’s a nightmare honestly, but one supposes it only makes us that much more ruthless about our choices and what we’re going to devote time to. So, like our epic 100 Most Anticipated Films of 2020 feature we do annually, we’ve done our slightly scaled-back, but still comprehensive and exhausting feature on all the good stuff coming to the small screen in 2020 that we’ll be anticipating the most.
There’s really no rule, it can be series, mini-series, Quibi short show or one-shot whatever, but as usual, we tend to side with filmmakers, writers and creators in terms of what interest us most in our listmaking. Regardless, 2020 is going to be super busy so let’s dive right into the 60 Most Anticipated TV Shows Of The Year and a whole mess of honorable mentions that gets us way past 100. Here we go. – Rodrigo Perez
60. “Hightown” (Starz)
Synopsis: A federal Fishery Service Agent finds herself at the center of Cape Cod’s gruesome heroin epidemic after discovering a body in the bay.
What You Need To Know: “Hightown”stars Monica Raymund and James Badge Dale, and Raymund as a hard-partying lesbian and Federal agent who uses her gun and badge to seduce other women, but keeps finding herself in the middle of the heroin problem in her town. More importantly, Rachel Morrison, the director of photography of “Black Panther” and “Mudbound,” will direct the entire series. The show is written by Rebecca Cutter (“Gotham“), with Gary Lennon (“Euphoria“) as showrunner and both serving as executive producers.
Airdate: TBD 2020.
59. “The Wheel Of Time” (Amazon)
Synopsis: The series follows the quest to find the Dragon Reborn, who it is said will help unite forces to combat The Dark One. The story follows Moiraine, a member of the shadowy and influential all-female organization called the ‘Aes Sedai’ as she embarks on a dangerous, world-spanning journey with five young men and women. Moiraine believes one of them might be the reincarnation of an incredibly powerful individual, whom prophecies say will either save humanity or destroy it.
What You Need To Know: Rafe Judkins (“Chuck,” “Hemlock Grove,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) adapts James O. Rigney Jr’s popular series of novels for Amazon, as part of the streaming service’s post-‘Thrones,’ pre-‘Rings’ push into the high-fantasy space. The series stars Rosamund Pike.
Airdate: TBD 2020.
this is the cast of Amazon's Wheel of Time show, but if you asked me, I'd have said the CW is rebooting Gossip Girl or something. pic.twitter.com/QGI53UgPQN
— Rowan Kaiser (@RowanKaiser) September 12, 2019
58. “Avenue 5” (HBO)
Synopsis: Set 40 years in the future, “Avenue 5” follows the captain and crew of a luxury space cruise ship as they navigate disgruntled passengers and unexpected events after experiencing technical difficulties onboard.
What You Need To Know: A futuristic space comedy from the minds behind “Veep,” “The Thick of It,” and “The Death of Stalin.” That should be more than enough to entice you. But just in case you’re somehow not yet convinced to tune in, here’s some more tantalizing info: “Avenue 5” stars, among others, former Armando Iannucci collaborators Hugh Laurie (“Veep”) and Zach Woods (“In the Loop”), as well as charming “Yesterday” breakout Himesh Patel. With their new HBO series, Iannucci and co-creator Simon Blackwell bring their infamously profane workplace-comedy antics to outer space. It will be interesting to see how this fares against Greg Daniels’s “Space Force,” the other high-profile space comedy coming to the small screen in 2020.
Airdate: January 19, 2020.
57. “Truth Seekers” (Amazon)
Synopsis: A pair of paranormal investigators take out haunted churches, underground bunkers, and abandoned hospitals using an array of homemade ghost-detecting gizmos and share their adventures on an online channel.
What You Need To Know: This comedy-horror will stream on Amazon sometime down the line in 2020. Executive Producers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star, presumably as the central ghostbusting duo. While not a lot is known about this show as of yet, it’s always great fun to see Frost and Pegg share a screen, and we are eagerly anticipating whatever “Truth Seekers” turns out to be.
Airdate: TBD 2020.
— The Playlist ???? (@ThePlaylist) August 5, 2019
56. “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” (CBS)
Synopsis: Chronicling the tenure of the FBI’s seventh director, James Comey, most notably his role overseeing the Hillary Clinton email investigation as well as his testy relationship with and eventual firing by President Donald Trump.
What You Need To Know: It’s not for nothing that this is the only traditional broadcast network show on this list. The subject matter speaks for itself. “A Higher Loyalty” (which is written and directed by the great Billy Ray) is about the current national obsession, which is obviously to say, Donald Trump. In a year where we are somehow getting Clive Owen as Bill Clinton on “American Crime Story” this should not have been allowed to also happen, but—and this is real—in “A Higher Loyalty,” Brendan Gleeson plays the man of the hour, our President, Donald J. Trump. Of course we’re excited for this. Oh, and Jeff Daniels plays James Comey, Holly Hunter is Sally Yates, Joe Lo Truglio is Jeff Sessions(!), etc. etc. etc. But the very prospect of Brendan Gleeson as Trump makes what would otherwise seem like a throwaway, “The Loudest Voice” style recent-political-thriller seem incredibly vital and necessary.
Airdate: Shooting began in November 2019, so a fall premiere is likely, timed perfectly for the upcoming election.
— The Playlist ???? (@ThePlaylist) October 7, 2019
55. “The Good Lord Bird” (Showtime)
Synopsis: In the 1850s Kansas Territory, young slave Henry “Onion” Shackleford joins the radical abolitionist John Brown and travels through the country with his group of freedom fighters. Based on the novel.
What You Need To Know: This period drama comes from creator-star Ethan Hawke, Blumhouse TV, and Showtime. It’s got a fantastic cast, including Daveed Diggs, Wyatt Russell, Steve Zahn, Orlando Jones, and Rafael Casal, many of them playing actual Civil War figures (Diggs is portraying Fredrick Douglass). This is a bit reminiscent of Escape From Dannemora from a couple of years back, another powerhouse Showtime miniseries with a major actor as its primary creative force (in that case, it was Ben Stiller). And if “The Good Lord Bird” proves to be anywhere near as good as “Dannemora,” we’ll be very happy indeed.
Airdate: February 16. 2020.
— The Playlist ???? (@ThePlaylist) March 11, 2019
54. “American Crime Story: Impeachment” (FX)
Synopsis: Exploring the sex scandal surrounding U.S. President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
What You Need To Know: Everyone remembers the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal of the Clint0n White House in the ‘90s, or, at least you should. The fellatio shot heard round the world rocked the American political sphere for many years, and given so many parallels to today’s President—also impeached and featuring a controversial personal life—Ryan Murphy’s FX franchise, ‘American Crime Story,’ will surely do what they do best: adding melodrama to a well-known crime story from recent U.S. history and cast the shit out of it with big names. “Booksmart” breakout star Beanie Feldstein plays Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton will be played by Clive Owen, Sarah Paulson stars as Linda Tripp, and Annaleigh Ashford appears as Paula Jones. Murphy apparently told Lewinsky herself at a party, “Nobody should tell your story but you, and it’s kind of gross if they do. ‘If you want to produce it with me, I would love that; but you should be the producer and you should make all the goddamn money.” And well, she agreed and is an executive producer on the show.
Airdate: September 27.
— The Playlist ???? (@ThePlaylist) August 7, 2019
53. “Baghdad Central” (Hulu)
Synopsis: Set in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq after Saddam Hussein has fallen, in the midst of chaos, an Iraqi ex-policeman who has lost everything, makes a bid to reclaim his identity while keeping himself and his ailing daughter alive.
What You Need To Know: From BAFTA-nominated writer Stephen Butchard (“The Last Kingdom,” “House of Saddam”) comes this six-part Hulu miniseries starring Corey Stoll (“House of Cards,” “Ant-Man”) and Waleed Zuaiter (Netflix’s “The Spy” and “Altered Carbon”). This project is in line with past Hulu series like “The Looming Tower” (an underappreciated thriller about relatively recent world events) and “Das Boot” (foreign-language historical fiction). And as an Iraq-set international thriller about the fallout of Saddam Hussein’s execution, “Baghdad Central” is especially relevant in light of certain recent Middle Eastern events.
Airdate: “Baghdad Central” will launch on Channel 4 in the U.K. and stream on Hulu in 2020.
52. “Space Force” (Netflix)
Synopsis: Space Force is a workplace comedy series that centers on a group of people tasked with establishing the sixth branch of the United States armed services, Space Force.
What You Need To Know: The folks at Netflix can’t be too happy about the fact that they will be losing their biggest series to one of their many new streaming competitors next year. They’ve certainly acted quickly to preempt any potential loss of subscribers that could accompany the departure of Michael Scott and the Dunder Mifflin crew. So while you will have no choice but to go elsewhere to enjoy the company of Jim and Pam in 2021, by then Netflix will have the next-best thing: “Space Force!” “Space Force” features much of the same creative team that made “The Office” such a success. Greg Daniels, creator of the American version of “The Office,” will serve as showrunner. Steve Carell, whose career was launched on “The Office,” plays the lead character, Mark R. Naird. And the rest of the cast, while not associated with “The Office,” are no slouches either: John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Jimmy O. Yang, Noah Emmerich, Fred Willard, and Jessica St. Clair all star. We’re curious to see how this compares to “Avenue 5,” which also seems to be an acerbic, space-themed workplace comedy. Perhaps we’re entering into a golden age of acerbic, space-themed workplace comedies. We are in Peak TV, after all.
Airdate: TBD 2020.
.@SteveCarell will star in a new workplace comedy series he co-created with #TheOffice’s Greg Daniels about the people tasked with creating a sixth branch of the armed services: the Space Force! pic.twitter.com/6GEFNgP18w
— See What's Next (@seewhatsnext) January 16, 2019
— The Playlist ???? (@ThePlaylist) January 16, 2019
51. “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)
Synopsis: The series chronicles the life of an orphan chess prodigy. Set during the Cold War era, the story follows Beth Harmon, from the age of 8 to 22, as she struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.
What You Need To Know: Based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel of the same name, this six-episode Netflix miniseries comes from writers Scott Frank (“Godless,” “Logan”) and Allan Scott (“The Yellow Handkerchief.”) Frank is expected to direct. “The Queen’s Gambit” is produced by William Horberg (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Milk”) and stars the always great Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch,” “Thoroughbreds”) as fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon.
Airdate: TBD 2020