What a year, right? With people stuck at home more than ever before, television felt even more essential, and the best creators rose to the challenge. While there was concern that pandemic shutdowns would destroy the landscape, there was no dearth of titles to choose from when it was time to pick the best 25 programs of 2020. Great shows missed the cut. And the diversity of genres and networks felt broader than ever.
Dramas, comedies, docuseries, mini-series, and genre-benders defined the year. Old hits that will be coming to a close soon were joined by new programs that we hope are on for most of the 2020s. Everyone hopes that 2021 will be different from 2020 in just about every way…but let’s also hope the quality of television remains the same.
25. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+)
In a year without blockbusters, something is comforting about the simple eye candy that is Disney+’s landmark hit. As Jon Favreau and the brain trust at “The Mandalorian,” dig deeper into the history of the George Lucas films and shows like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” it’s debatable as to whether or not all these connections are good for the show or not, but having a way to escape to the stars every Friday has felt essential at the end of 2020. It would be nice if it developed more of its own personality, but just being reminded of what so many people love about this universe has undeniable value. – Brian Tallerico
24. “Dave” (FXX)
Dave Andrew Burd is a rapper and comedian who goes by the name Lil Dicky, and he uses his true story and skills behind the mic in this clever, raunchy FXX comedy that’s about definitions of masculinity and maturity in 2020. With a few episodes directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), this one of the most legitimately funny shows of 2020, a program with a sense of humor that feels just a bit different from everyone else. On the surface, it appears to be another comedy about arrested development. Still, there’s more to this as “Dave” expands its scope to look at celebrity, relationships, male friendship, and much more, while never losing its daring tone. The premiere season starts a little rocky (like many comedies) but really develops in the second half and ends strongly. This Lil Dicky guy could get pretty big. – BT
23. “The Good Fight” (CBS All Access)
The best reason to subscribe to CBS All Access remains this brilliant legal drama, a sequel to “The Good Wife” that has surpassed the original in every way. The show attempts such topicality that the 2020 season was filming so close to its airdate that the fourth season had to lose three episodes, but what remained was as sharp as ever. Consider the timeliness of a season-long plotline about a mysterious system that allows the compelling people in this world to get off when they’re on trial. A show that has never shied away from tackling Trump, directly aimed at how much current power structures protect the corrupt and the vile. With all the stories of arguably treasonous activities that would unfold between the end of this season and the election, it’s hard to think of a show that captured 2020 more completely. – BT
22. “Ted Lasso” (AppleTV+)
Maybe it was the cynical nihilism that dominated the headlines in 2020, but the unbridled optimism of “Ted Lasso” proved to be a much-needed alternative. It’s funny how much the fan base for this show grew in the weeks after it premiered as people took the story of an American football coach (Jason Sudeikis) who ends up coaching a British soccer team. Sudeikis’s wide-eyed charm is infectious not only to the players on his team but also to viewers too, and the writers of this show deftly balance the positive tone in a way that doesn’t make it too sentimental or maudlin. It’s just one of 2020’s few legitimately enjoyable hangout shows, a comedy that gave people a diversion when they needed it the most. Thanks, Ted. – BT
21. “Ozark” (Netflix)
Let’s face it, Netflix’s “Ozark” has a similar story, concept, tone, and feel to “Breaking Bad,” but that’s OK, because the series is terrific. What if, the concept posits, a shady accountant (Jason Bateman) who money launders for the Mexican cartels, inadvertently puts himself and his entire family’s lives at risk, and then must play a hyper-calculated game of chess to ensure everyone stays alive. Three seasons later, “Ozark” is as good as it’s ever been, it’s being showered with Emmys, the Byrde family are constantly hanging by a thread, the anxiety and emotional stakes are through the roof, and actors like Bateman and co-stars Laura Linney and Julia Garner are doing the best work of their careers (Bateman, also directs and won an Emmy for his perfectly economical and taut work). As Marty (Bateman) and Wendy (Linney) struggle for control of their casino business and how they do business in general, their family’s safety lies in the balance, and once miscalculation in their high-wire act of balance means it’s over. Janet McTeer and Tom Pelphrey, also did some amazing emotional work this third season, and just when it’s getting good, “Ozark” is ending, likely going out on top, as it should. – Rodrigo Perez