15. Fargo” (FX)
Fans of the Coen Brothers were understandably concerned when FX greenlit a TV adaptation of the ’96 classic, “Fargo.” Still, showrunner Noah Hawley and each season’s absurdly outstanding ensemble have managed to morph what could have amounted to lazy genre pastiche into a fully-fledged exploration of America’s crime foundations, one that acts as a deserved love letter to Joel and Ethan’s career oeuvre. Set in 1950s Kansas City, the fourth volume of the anthology feels like “Miller’s Crossing,” crossed with “The Godfather,” peppering in aspects of “Barton Fink,” and more of their movies along the way; the ninth hour being a road trip detour that evokes the aesthetic of “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” and culminates by meshing together fairy tale elements of “The Wizard of Oz,” and “A Serious Man.” Featuring a tremendous cast led by Chris Rock as a mob patriarch, who may have invented the credit card before having the idea stolen from him by the money-grubbing white man, Season 4 was chock-full of so many characters it couldn’t do them all justice, but is still a sprawling and stylish Mid-West bloodbath – a critique of Manifest Destiny examining our country’s prejudicial immigration roots, while simultaneously acting as the Coen Brothers’ equivalent of a true-crime bedtime story. – AB

14. “Unorthodox” (Netflix)
This year, there’s been some controversy about what qualifies as a feature film and what’s a TV series, and this tight 4-episode drama really does play out like one coherent piece. Whatever you call it, this German production surprised everyone by becoming one of the most acclaimed shows in the history of Netflix when it dropped back in March 2020 (what feels like a literal lifetime ago). Based on Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, “Unorthodox” introduced the world to Etsy, a teenage Hasidic girl who flees an arranged marriage to find her mother and really the whole world in Berlin. Newcomer Shira Haas is captivating, finding just the right balance of vulnerability and courage in every challenging decision that Etsy makes. Much more than just a window into a society that’s rarely been shown on TV, it’s one of those incredibly specific stories that still has the power to resonate universally. – BT

13. “How To With John Wilson” (HBO Max)
In a year in which most people couldn’t even see any new faces, much less make any new friends, “How to with John Wilson” felt like a much-needed escape. Never seen on-camera but narrating in a very personal way, filmmaker John Wilson uses simple concepts to dig into the human condition, starting with ideas like “How to Put Up Scaffolding” or “How to Cover Your Furniture” and literally just seeing where the premise takes him. For example, “How to Make Small Talk” introduces him to a man who claims to catch child predators, so he goes to his house to find out how. “How to Improve Your Memory” leads him to a convention about The Mandela Effect and the revelation that Febreze has only one ‘e.’ Don’t ask how the furniture episode leads to a segment about circumcision. Just see it. All six episodes are clever and deeply empathetic, reminding people how many different wonderful stories are out there, especially in New York City, for anyone willing to hear them. – BT

12. “I Know This Much is True” (HBO)
Derek Cianfrance’s “I Know This Much is True” is emotionally bruising or devastating. There’s little in between in this searing drama about brothers, family, and legacy. And it’s even a little too depressing at times, but lord is it so good, so incredibly acted, and ultimately so rewarding. In ‘IKTMIT,’ Mark Ruffalo pulls double duty as the brothers Birdseys, identical twins. Thomas (Ruffalo) has schizophrenia, and Dominick is angry, resentful, and feeling his entire life has been cursed by his mentally-ill brother.  The supporting cast Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Kathryn Hahn, Rosie O’Donnell, Imogen Poots, Archie Panjabi, and Philip Ettinger, is outstanding. And ‘IKTMIT’ has an epic scope to it as well, with notions of America, who we are as a country, and the legacy of trauma that are passed down through every generation. Cianfrance’s mini-series is gutting, but it’s so truthful in its complex and contradictory ideas of family members you believe are slowly killing you, and at the same time, you’d die for in an instant. – RP

11. “Better Things” (FX)
Entirely avoiding sitcom contrivances, the fourth season of FX’s best program defied all genre expectations. Creator/star Pamela Adlon has long refused to lean into cliché or traditional expectations of the half-hour format, but the 2020 outing for her show felt even more daring than the previous three in that regard. Once again, this was a season about ordinary people—a single mother (Adlon) and her three growing girls (the underrated trio of Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, and Olivia Edward)—but the brilliance of it is in how much truth and nuance Adlon and her writers find in the everyday. “Better Things” is somehow both a very specific show in terms of its characters and their predicaments and something that finds the universal at the same time. Adlon finds honesty in every scene, turning aspects of her own life into comedy history. Let’s hope she keeps doing so for years to come. – BT