2020 Year-In-Review: The Top Five Television Series
There have been a lot of television series released in 2020 worth watching. Here are my top five recommendations.
You've probably read this a lot by now (and you'll continue to hear it over the next few days) but 2020 has been a particularly good year for television releases. Due to streaming services already having a stake in television before the pandemic hit, or shows being easier to release than movies, there's simply a lot on television worth watching – whether that's on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or even more networks. Although I don't watch as much TV compared to movies, there's a lot of things I've seen – whether it be a limited series or a season of a returning show – that I definitely think is worth recommending. Here are five of them, with a list of honorable mentions at the end.
5. The Last Dance
It was extraordinarily difficult to have a conversation about television with anyone in May and June 2020 without talking about the Michael Jordan docuseries, The Last Dance. To be fair, the series is so good that talking about it wasn't really considered an issue. A rare communal event in cable television, it almost felt as if everyone was watching this show on Sunday nights from 9 to 11. The series itself is simple. It tells the story of Michael Jordan's last NBA season with the Chicago Bulls, a team he led to victory six times in their Golden Era. As the final season progresses, the series jumps back into the past as the series explores the complete history of Jordan's tenure, including his rise as a star, his abrupt transition to professional baseball, and every single event leading up to the final season. The series does take a little bit of time to get into, and the timeline switching can feel tiring after a while, but for the most part, The Last Dance is a series that deserves all the hype it has received, and is a sports-centric docuseries that is bound to go down in history.
The Last Dance is streaming now on Netflix and ESPN+.
4. City So Real
Similar to The Last Dance, City So Real is also a docuseries. But besides that, the newest project from Steve James is nothing like the previously listed series. Initially divided into four parts, with a fifth part added to address the Coronavirus and the racial justice movement, James' series documents the events leading up to the 2018 mayoral elections in the city of Chicago. The brilliant documentary director uses his vérité documentary making skills to craft a story that leaves no event behind, capturing each candidates' story and practically all of their campaign events and journeys. It plays in a yin-and-yang harmony with Frederick Wiseman's four-and-a-half hour documentary, City Hall (which will be highlighted on tomorrow's list of best documentaries). James and Wiseman are compared a lot, due to their filmmaking techniques, but in both projects, they explore aspects of the government in a new way, showcasing the complexities of bureaucracy and the intensities of electoral processes that most might not know about. It's a deeply important project, one that is even more important now, and at its core, its a piece of work that is much more entertaining and fascinating than people are giving it credit for. A must watch for James fans, whose work is still so incredible, and a must watch in general.
City So Real is streaming now on Hulu.
At the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, a small indie film titled Skate Kitchen was released, to much acclaim. The film went on to have a small theatrical release, and had a moderately successful life when it was released on VOD and streaming services. You don't have to see Skate Kitchen to understand HBO's Betty, but it is definitely interesting to see how director Crystal Moselle adapted her story, the characters in it, and the actors who played those characters, for a six-part series on HBO. If I'm being honest, I wasn't the biggest fan of Skate Kitchen (although I'm planning on giving it a rewatch). When my cousin – who reviewed the show for Under The Radar Magazine – recommended Betty to me, I didn't know if I would enjoy it. Right from the opening few minutes of the first episode, through, I was hooked. Without describing too much of the show, because it's honestly best to go in blind, Betty is a show that wouldn't be half-as-successful without its brilliant cast, and their chemistry. As a result of that, the show is insanely hard to look away from. Each episode is addicting to watch and zooms through its 30 minute runtime. Thankfully, the show got renewed for a second season, because if the main ensemble and Moselle have shown anything with Betty, it's that there's definitely more story to be told, and a lot more for us to look forward to.
Betty is streaming now on HBO Max.
2. Small Axe
It's very difficult to classify Steve McQueen's powerhouse new series, Small Axe. On the one hand, it is a collection of five distinct films, all telling the story of the West Indian experience in the United Kingdom. I've even included some of the films in the KavehJAwards nominations. But on the other hand, it's being marketed by Amazon as a series, and the company is submitting them for consideration at next year's Emmys rather than the Oscars, which is an interesting choice. Regardless of if its a TV show or movies, there's simply nothing like Small Axe. Director Steve McQueen has returned with one of his strongest projects yet, each episode building off of the others whilst standing strong in its own right with its distinct film techniques and themes. Whether you watch each film separately or binge them all at once, there is so much to take away from this show, and it is bound to go down as one of the most important projects of 2020, as it should.
Small Axe is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
1. I May Destroy You
What can I say about Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You that hasn't already been said, including by myself in my review and editorial about the show for the site? It's been months since the show ended, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Based on Coel's own story of sexual assault, the 12 part limited-series explores the idea of consent, and the effect of when consent is breached, through its three main characters. It's expertly written, deeply emotional, and has an ending that will stick with viewers long after they finish the series, similar to the entire show itself. Out of all of both the films and television that I've seen this year, there is nothing for me that has reached the level of this masterpiece. It's absolutely amazing, and is essential viewing, plain and simple.
I May Destroy You is streaming now on HBO Max.
That's it for the main list, but here are some honorable mentions: Season Four of HBO's Insecure, Netflix's The Haunting of Bly Manor, HBO's We Are Who We Are, AMC's Quiz, HBO's I Know This Much Is True, and Hulu's Normal People.