We can all safely say we probably binged, enjoyed, and consumed more media in 2020 than in some years prior. I’m a person who regularly watches TV shows and movies, reads books, and listens to music and I (mostly) increased the value of all of those categories during this year. Prior to quarantine, with grad school, it’s great to find shows to escape into to take your mind off of your thesis, comps exam, revisions, annotations, defense, etc. Some of these are shows that premiered in 2020, had ongoing seasons into the year, or maybe that I didn’t get around to until this time. As with all of my favorites, I’ve developed some rules to help me narrow my possibilities down.
- Must be a show I watched and loved in 2020 but need not be a show that premiered this year—also does not need to be a show that I haven’t been introduced to before, but should be a show that had a new season or content out.
- I’ll explain why this show is a favorite of 2020: whether it’s a memory, a particular episode, or just a basic reason why I love the show.
- As I do not have cable, most of these are gathered from my access to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, or other sources.
So get cozy and let’s tune into the newest episode.
- 13 Reasons Why. I have now seen season one of this semi-controversial show three times. I think it says relevant shit. However, it wasn’t until summer that I sat down and binged the additional seasons and then finally tacked on the last one over winter. While I still think the first season is the strongest and viewers could just watch it and be perfectly happy, it’s rare that a teen drama captures my attention in this way. Usually, there needs to be fantasy elements or more going on than just “semi-relatable dramatized drama.” However, I enjoyed the depth of a few of the characters and my friends and I had a lot of conversations about the ethics of right and wrong in some of the scenarios on the show. It’s not really a happy show, but, sometimes, that’s just what you need.
- American Horror Story: 1984. I’ve been watching American Horror Story since 2011; I’ve been there for all the highs and lows, and recent seasons have left me feeling flat. However, 1984 is kind of refreshing in its tone, humor, plot, and action. It’s certainly not the best of the seasons, but it’s definitely hit higher (for me) than recent years. I liked the world-building, the nods to 80s slashers, and it actually concluded in a way that somewhat made sense. I’m hopeful that future seasons can go back to the drawing board in the way that this one seemed to do, but my hopes aren’t that high. As always, the ensemble cast gave fun performances, with a nod to Billie Lourd and Cody Fern for their turns. A lot of people didn’t watch because Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters weren’t in this season, but it doesn’t make this a bad season—just different.
- Cursed. In a similar vein to my “I don’t watch many dramas” statement is the fact I don’t watch a lot of fantasy or sci-fi shows (that aren’t anime). However, I was instantly interested in Cursed because of its cast and the premise of presenting Excalibur to a woman instead of King Arthur. The show throws in multiple complications to flesh this out and delivers a moderately compelling quest-based plot with enough suspense to make things interesting. Katherine Langford is great as Nimue and her plight on whether or not to save her people with the sword or deliver it to the king feels relatable (even though I doubt any of us have been in this situation). Anyone who was a bit of an Arthurian legend geek as a kid will have fun identifying characters and figuring out how they connect with one another in this new plot.
- Demon Slayer Kimetsu no Yaiba. At first, I wasn’t interested in this anime because it has a very unique animation style. However, I figured I’d give the first episode a try and if I didn’t like it I’d just stop watching. Then I binged all the available episodes. Not only is the plot one I’m very weak for (a long-term revenge-based quest to save a family member), but the worldbuilding and characters at the core of the show make for an entertaining watch. Rather than falling back on the trope of ultimate-power-genius, the show gives Tanjiro and Nezuko limits to their abilities and allows them to grow in order to accomplish their goals. Plus, I love that the show focuses on a relationship between a brother and sister and that unique bond rather than your usual friendship or romance.
- Food Wars – Seasons 3 & 4. I watched the first two seasons of this show (a favorite from last year) again and then was curious if there were any other seasons. Crunchyroll to the rescue! Although I had to change from the dub to the sub, I am so invested in this anime about students at a cooking school and Soma’s education and ascension as a chef. I really enjoyed the different plots in season three and four, and the variety of dishes that were featured because of them. Additionally, seeing Erina’s growth as a character, through her interactions with others, was fantastic. I literally want to eat everything I see in every episode.
- Fruits Basket (2019) – Season 2. Back in the day, the original Fruits Basket anime ended after only one season and that’s all we had for years. The first season of the reboot covered a lot of the same plot—with a few new additions—but I was curious to see how the second season would progress and add onto things. What amazed me most was that Tohru’s optimism and kind spirit seemed to reach through the screen during this difficult time and create a greater sense of peace. She begins to unravel the mystery of the Sohma family curse and build bonds with the various zodiac members, but there are also so many small moments that feel relaxed—a family meal, building a sandcastle, a school play. The low stakes moments match well with the high stakes scenarios and drama that hits so well it often made me want to cry. I can’t wait to see where the show goes next.
- The Good Place – Season 4. Endings are hard. Ending a show that’s literally about death, the afterlife, and the ethical questions of how well you’ve lived your life could be even harder. However, The Good Place makes it seem natural. I loved how each season built on itself, creating new scenarios instead of rehashing the same ones. I loved the characters and the humor of the show, even as it wrestled with big questions. I literally sat on my couch practically sobbing to the final episode, but in a weird sad-not-sad way because I couldn’t be sad that it was over when it hadn’t ended badly. I’m hopeful that this is a show I’ll watch again many times in the future, and maybe it will change me a little each time.
- The Great. I was so excited for this show from the first trailer. A historical comedy about Catherine the Great? With Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult as Catherine and Peter III? I watched the entire show as quickly as possible. I loved the humor and wit, how self-referential to our own times it could be, how (yes) anti-historical it was but how that also didn’t seem to completely matter. Fanning and Hoult deliver fantastic performances, transforming across the episodes in interesting ways. The production—especially the costumes—are gorgeous to look at across several scenes. I would definitely love more shows in this same vein.
- Haikyu!! I was initially hesitant about Food Wars because I wasn’t sure if I could like an anime about cooking where someone wasn’t physically fighting, falling in love with a supernatural being, or some other high-octane thing. For the same reason, I wasn’t sure about this anime about a boys’ volleyball team trying to make it to nationals. Well, I was wrong. Not only are the games shown and given the same energy as a major battle, but all of the characters’ desires and wants feed into your own as well. More than once I was on the edge of my seat when a play wasn’t going well, or I did cheer when someone succeeded. It really does have some of the dramatized energy of a volleyball game with a lot more thrown behind it. The team dynamics also make this worth checking out because the boys work with and against each other in various ways but come together for the games—for the win.
- Hollywood. I’ve basically checked out most of Ryan Murphy’s oeuvre at this point in my life so I obviously wasn’t going to miss his re-imagining of 1940s Hollywood. It has just enough actual history to it to feel real but then takes that world in another direction of ‘what if?’. The cast, assembled from his various shows over the years but with some new faces, deliver nice performances. If golden-era Hollywood was all about having a dream and making it real then this is Murphy doing the same today for so many minorities; he basically waved a hand and said, “Make it gay and diverse.” The ending, while a bit saccharine, feels like it deserves that imaginary moment and I loved it. The production and costumes and everything feels vintage, and I enjoyed dipping my toes into that world with those characters for the duration of the show.
- My Hero Academia – Season 4. I really enjoy the world of this show so much and, while it may often be compared to Naruto, I think there are many inherent differences that make this entirely its own thing. Izuku is a character whose determination is inspiring and who has had to overcome many obstacles, but the drive to literally push himself to the point of breaking to save and help people makes him more than compelling. We also see this in the further development of other heroes in Class 1-A, and we also get some surprising development from a new villain in the season. I really like the nuance the world continually adds—not all heroes are perfect, not all villains are totally evil. Additionally, the fights keep ramping up and we see some amazing ones in the latter half of this season that increase the stakes and entertain in amazing ways.
- Sword Art Online: Alicization. There’s a subgenre of anime that focuses on virtual online gaming and it’s growing, but Sword Art Online and its iterations really builds on this with various stakes, suspense, and great action. The newest game and season feels like a world I’d definitely love to dive into, but the goal of rescuing an AI blends the fantasy-setting with the inherent real-world aspects well. The dual narrative of the game and the espionage to acquire this technology works decently. While it’s not a perfect show and has more than a few faults, the scope and buy-in makes this feel like life-and-death even when it’s so dramatic you could laugh. Also this season has probably one of the best-worst ways to die I’ve seen and I’m all for it.
- The Umbrella Academy – Season 2. I have a weakness for shows about dysfunctional families. When you throw in supernatural abilities and a need to save the world, I’m all in. This season takes the Hargreeves children back in time to the 60s. I love that this show isn’t afraid to deal with the actual realities of time in sometimes serious and sometimes funny ways. Like, yes, racism and homophobia were alive and normal in the 60s, but the characters aren’t going to just accept that. There are some great action sequences, particularly with Number Five, and this season really builds on a lot of stuff in the first in great ways. The whole cast is really a joy and they do often feel like a real family that continually choose each other.
- What We Do in the Shadows – Season 2. I watched both seasons of this show twice this year. I was already a fan of the movie it’s spun from and tied to, but the series takes that mockumentary premise, some American zeal, and runs with it. The first season is good but the second is even better. The cast is still just as amazing and the characters just as crazy, but everything feels smoother. Notable episodes like “Colin’s Promotion” and “On the Run” give characters time to shine. Additionally, Harvey Guillén as Guillermo has a great character arch this season and he’s probably one of my favorites—but it’s hard to choose when they’re all fantastic. There are a lot of great cameos and guest appearances in certain episodes and I love that this show seems to only be getting better, which means next season will just be insane.
- YOU – Season 2. The first season of this show changed my life in one significant way; I made many of my social media profiles private, because the lesson was anyone can stalk you via the internet, learn your secrets, and use them to their advantage. The second season has taught me that it is impossible to live off of the grid but cultivating an image is entirely possible—you can hide in plain sight. Joe is probably one of the more interesting characters in recent TV because, as we’re in his perspective, we’re meant to sympathize with his thoughts and feelings even as we know they’re wrong. Season two builds on that by giving us backstory to why he is the way he is and trying to make him more relatable against a different kind of crazy—entitled rich hipsters. There are a bunch of interesting twists and turns, good performances, and certainly enough paranoia to make you look over your shoulder anytime you’re walking down the street. I’m excited to see where we’ll stalk Joe next season.
There are shows that I binged, watched, and enjoyed but didn’t quite make the favorites list (this year). *Represents shows I had already seen prior to 2020, but watched again due to quarantine.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender*
- Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense
- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Season 2 & 3
- Into the Dark – Season 2
- The Legend of Korra*
- New Girl*
- Rick and Morty – Season 4
- Saturday Night Live
- Skip Beat*
- Smile Down the Runway
I still have a whole bunch of shows to catch-up on, binge, and delve into. Thankfully, there’s a whole new year for that. We’ll see what 2021 brings us on the small screen.