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The best shows of 2020

From eerie sci-fi to whimsical animation, old favourites to riotous new originals, these were the shows that ruled this year

Michael Jordan is at the centre of the stunning sports documentary series 'The Last Dance'
Michael Jordan is at the centre of the stunning sports documentary series 'The Last Dance'

This has been a year of house arrest. Television, thankfully, kept us going through our collective internment. Here is my list of the shows that kept us sane.

Honourable Mentions (Nos.11-20)

Schitt’s Creek, Staged, Brockmire, Quiz, Ramy, Ted Lasso, Archer, The Boys, Run, Better Call Saul

10. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (Apple Tv+)

This workplace comedy about the testosterone-filled and alarmingly juvenile world of video games found truly original plot lines and truly outlandish kooks. Creator Rob McElhenney has a blast as the blustery man-child in charge, Charlotte Nicdao shines as the lead engineer, while F. Murray Abraham casts a spell as a washed up sci-fi novelist retrofitting old ideas for new audiences. The satire has teeth, but a surprisingly tender quarantine episode showed the heart it can muster. Well played.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Disney+ Hotstar)

Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s adventures in misanthropy continued for a blistering 10th season where David, annoyed by a coffee retailer, opened his own “spite store” next door. In the past, David was reviled by those around him, but now, in a world where hatred is worn proudly on one’s sleeve (or baseball cap), David becomes an inadvertent trendsetter. Other Hollywood names spitefully open their own stores, and Jon Hamm shows up to take David lessons.

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8. The Good Place (Netflix)

The most philosophically exploratory show on TV is a shape-shifting sitcom which often upended its own premise and swapped around its very purpose. In Michael Schur’s remarkable comedy, four dramatically imperfect humans, a charming demon and a smart-assistant (not a girl, not a robot) all stumble towards salvation. The final four episodes of the series illustrate how that moksha may be hiding in plain sight—it’s on us to look around for the answers instead of looking up.

7. High Fidelity (Available On Dvd)

Nick Hornby’s novel about a lovelorn record-store owner who wallows in obsessively made top-five lists was adapted into a safe, insipid John Cusack movie 20 years ago. This sharp reboot (by Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka) features the striking Zoë Kravitz in the lead, surrounded by terrific songs. It is a show proudly besotted by (and full of impassioned arguments about) music, a show where love is best expressed by stealing a rare David Bowie record—which comes as some surprise.

6. What We Do In The Shadows (Disney+ Hotstar)

This delightful sitcom about vampire roommates in Staten Island—growing out of the immortal film of the same name—topped itself in its second season, providing the biggest and cleverest laughs on television while fleshing out unforgettable characters: who think the Superbowl is about particularly splendid owls, and who use a toothpick between the teeth as disguises to build alternate lives. In a year where bats got a bad rep, the Shadows gang helped.

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5. Devs (Disney+ Hotstar)

In this eerie, bewildering but nearly plausible series, a giant computing company does things so creepy it makes programmers throw up. One of the most stunningly directed shows—writer-director Alex Garland crafts a mesmerising aesthetic from gold, levitating and glowing—Devs is also a rare self-contained mystery that knows how it ends, and satisfyingly sticks the landing. It’s as immaculate as a startup chime.

4. Harley Quinn (Available On Dvd)

The best superhero series on TV—bar none—this animated series celebrates DC comics villains Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Kaley Cuoco and Lake Bell voice the characters gleefully, forever stirring the pot. Season 1 was shockingly irreverent (Quinn repeatedly alleges that Batman is named thus because he has intercourse with bats) but season 2 is a gem, a visually whimsical and surprisingly sincere comedy with a Thelma & Louise heart, featuring girls who just want to have fun.

3. I May Destroy You (Disney+ Hotstar)

There is no other show like this. Created by and starring British comedian Michaela Coel, it tells us about a bright-eyed, bright-haired girl who realises she was drugged one loud night. An astonishingly intimate series, it gives viewers ringside seats to the heroine’s self-doubt, and fearlessly unravels complicated ideas of sexual assault and its varying shapes and symptoms. A show to learn from.

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2. The Great (Available On Dvd)

Down with The Crown. Created by Tony McNamara—who wrote the Oscar-winning film The Favourite—this sensational comedy about Russia’s Catherine The Great charts her rise from naïf to number one. Elle Fanning is sublime as Catherine, wide-eyed with hope (and panic), and Nicholas Hoult is uniquely daft as her coddled, clueless emperor. It’s what Sofia Coppola tried to do with Marie Antoinette—just with more character. The words are modern, the vibe is pop, and the story timeless. Here is an excitable, intelligent woman standing up for herself. Point a finger at your own peril. This empress bites.

1. The Last Dance (Netflix)

There is no better 2020 visual than Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete of all time, holding an iPad and shaking with laughter. The Last Dance is a stunning human story about a superhuman: his team, his spirit, his motivations. Like all explorations of sport, this breathtaking documentary series holds cues about our own lives: what to admire, what to avoid. Nobody can be Michael; we can merely aim for a life that isn’t entirely laughable. A life lived in the right shoes.

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Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.

@rajasen

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