Given the impacts of COVID-19 causing theaters and businesses to shut down, many people resorted to television shows as a pastime. With the rise of new streaming platforms like HBO Max, it appears that television content is unlimited. Whether it be returning shows like Narcos: Mexico or new shows like Upload, there is something for everyone to watch at the comfort of their homes.
Critics and associations honored some of the best television shows in 2020. Recently, the American Film Institute (AFI) released their top 10 television shows of 2020. All of their choices were critically acclaimed and are some of the highest-rated series by critics and audiences.
10 Lovecraft Country – 7.1
Based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, executive producers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams brought to HBO a new supernatural thriller, Lovecraft Country. During a period of segregation in the 1950s, a young Black man, Atticus Freeman, goes on a mission to find his missing father. With help from Uncle George and a friend Leti Lewis, they uncover dark mystical secrets surrounding their town and the historical significance regarding his family.
Lovecraft Country rose to popularity and became one of HBO’s most successful series in 2020. Critics praised Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett for their powerful and heroic performances as Atticus Freeman and Leti Lewis. The series also earned several award nominations, like the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Drama. Smollet won an award for Best Actress in a Horror Series at the Critics’ Choice Super Awards.
9 Bridgerton – 7.3
A cross between Pride & Prejudice, Gossip Girl, and the Fifty Shades franchise, Bridgerton became the latest Netflix hit series. The Netflix drama highlights the Regency-era setting and premise of a complicated love story from Pride & Prejudice with its beautiful costuming and set design. However, Bridgerton is different from most period series or movies, taking a more risqué and sexy approach.
Viewers instantly loved the series and hope for more to come. Some fan favorites include the second-oldest Bridgerton daughter, Eloise, who desires more than just a husband and who goes on her funny little quest to track Lady Whistledown. Of course, fans “swoon” over the dashing Simon Basset, who has stolen the hearts of viewers. Thanks to the popularity of the series, Netflix confirmed a second season, which will focus on the eldest Bridgerton, Anthony.
8 The Good Lord Bird – 7.5
Based on the 2013 novel by James McBride, a recently freed boy, Henry Shackleford, joins an abolitionist, John Brown. Soon, he finds himself in the 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry that eventually ignites the American Civil War. The Good Lord Bird features Ethan Hawke, Joshua Caleb Johnson, and Daveed Diggs.
The historical drama became universally acclaimed, with critics complimenting the series for its historical source. Hawke received praises for his portrayal as John Brown, earning him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Limited Series or Television Film.
7 Mrs. America – 7.9
FX presented a historical depiction of the women’s rights moment with 2020’s Mrs. America. One conservative woman, Phyllis Schlafly, takes matters into her own hands to stop the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment. She pursues women’s rights activists like Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm to sabotage the amendment’s ratification.
Viewers found the drama series exceptional, showing the complex perspectives of the two opposing groups. Cate Blanchett and Uzo Aduba had standout performances, which even earned both actresses Emmy nominations. Aduba won her Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. Mrs. America also received a nomination for Emmy’s Outstanding Limited Series.
6 Unorthodox – 8.0
Consisting of only four episodes, Unorthodox slowly became one of the most recognizable and suggested series to watch on Netflix in 2020. Based on an autobiographical work by Deborah Feldman, the drama series is about a married Jewish woman in New York City. She escapes from her orthodox community and seeks a free and secular lifestyle.
Critics and audiences lauded the series for its authentic content and Shira Haas’s exhilarating and emotional performance. Unorthodox earned several nominations at the 2020 Emmys, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Haas and a nomination for Best Limited Series or Television Film at the Golden Globes.
5 The Queen’s Gambit – 8.6
The Queen’s Gambit became one of the most talked-about and the most-watched miniseries on Netflix in 2020. A young orphan becomes one of the best chess players, but she seeks to beat the world champion, Vasily Borgov. However, her lifestyle becomes complicated as she soon struggles with depression and alcohol addiction.
The drama series was an overnight sensation, contributing to a renewed public interest in chess. Anya Taylor-Joy also became one of the most promising young actresses of her generation for her performance as Beth Harmon, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Limited Series or Television Film. The Queen’s Gambit also received praise for its set design and costumes of the 1950s and 1960s.
4 Ted Lasso – 8.7
On a list saturated with drama series, Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso is the only comedy series to make it onto AFI’s list of best television shows of 2020. But, the recognition is also very much deserved. In this comedy, Ted Lasso becomes the football coach of an English soccer team, AFC Richmond. The ironic part is that he knows little about the sport.
Viewers instantly loved the series, finding it hilarious. Critics also commended Jason Sudeikis for his charming and natural portrayal of Ted Lasso. Due to its immense success, Apple TV+ has already renewed the series for a second and third season.
3 The Crown – 8.7
The Crown has been Netflix’s best piece of television content since its premiere in 2016. A partially fictionalized biographical series centered on the royal family, not everything is as gracious about United Kingdom’s Queen and her royal members as most people would think. The series covered several juicy moments, like Britain’s historical events and royal scandals.
The fourth season had even more drama, scandals, and royal conflicts than ever imagined. The first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom made her appearance on-screen, highlighting her lowest and highest moments during her career. Of course, fans were most excited to see the most prolific royal member, Princess Diana and the series did not pull back any punches regarding the doomed marriage between Diana and Prince Charles. The series recently earned six Golden Globe nominations, including Best Performance in a Television Series – Drama and Best Performance in a Television Series – Drama for Josh O’Connor, Olivia Colman, and Emma Corrin.
2 Better Call Saul – 8.7
A prequel spin-off to AMC’s Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is one of the most underrated TV shows today. The drama show centers on a lawyer Jimmy McGuill, and his life before becoming the famous Saul Goodman. Characters like Gus Fring, Mike Ehrmantraut, and Nacho Varga are prominent in the spin-off series, focusing on their early endeavors.
The fifth season premiered in early 2020, and the reception is universally acclaimed. Although the drama series has always been popular, the latest season left quite an impression, with some critics comparing its content to the level of Breaking Bad. Of course, the acting by Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito is top-notch. But Rhea Seehorn was the standout performance this season, which made her Emmy snub even more unacceptable.
1 The Mandalorian – 8.8
Fans were delighted to witness a fresh take on the Star Wars universe with Disney+’s The Mandalorian. The series even earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama Series. When fans questioned if the newest series could replicate its excitement in terms of content, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni did just that and exceeded expectations.
Several fans described the second season as having the most Star Wars content. The second season had live-action appearances of The Clone Wars characters, more thrilling fight scenes, and the end to a long-standing theory about Boba Fett. The season finale blew viewer’s minds with the return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker. Although both Grogu and his father figure, Din Djarin, went their separate ways, Star Wars fans are looking forward to more content with a third season on the way.
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