Remember 2020? Known in the social zeitgeist as one of the worst years in recent human history and probably one of the worst starts to a new decade, 2020 was a year rife with global miscarriages of justice, a global pandemic that shut down everything, devastating climate disasters, and overall vibe of general miserableness in the air.
It’s hard to believe that the calamitous year was three years ago and the stay-at-home restrictions have more or less been lifted (for most of the world, anyway), even if the effects of COVID-19 and the pandemic still linger. Staying home for a long time allowed binge-worthy TV shows and movies to flourish and become pop culture staples, from Tiger Kingto Normal People.
10 Mrs. America (2020)
2020 might be most well-known for the pandemic, but politics and the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election were at the forefront of everyone’s minds just as much as stockpiling toilet paper, and hand sanitizer was. The Hulu and FX miniseries Mrs. America features a star-studded ensemble cast with Cate Blanchett as the real-life conservative anti-feminist Phylis Schlaffy with Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinham, as well as Sarah Paulson, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, and Tracey Ullman in supporting roles.
The series focuses on the real debate over the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970s America, which proposed the guaranteed rights of individuals regardless of sex, which did not come to fruition due to the efforts of the conservative Christian right. The show encompasses all the rage and frustrations felt by feminists in the 1970s and echoes the current cultural climate of today’s world, displaying how even after all these years, we are still talking about the same issues and fighting the same battles.
9 I May Destroy You (2020)
I May Destroy You is a black-comedy drama show and a monumental tour de force written, created, co-directed, produced by, and starring Michaela Coel in arguably her best acting performance to date. Coel plays the main character Arabella, who attempts to gain control and rebuild her life following a sexual assault: the series is based on Coel’s own experiences.
The series’ fluctuation between being a dark comedy to a tragic drama highlights the devastation and chaos the aftermath of sexual assault plays on the mental state of its victims, with the final episode’s fantastical depiction of Arabella’s fantasies of reenacting revenge as well as empathizing with her rapist makes for one of the most nuanced and thoughtful television conclusions ever made. The show is a mesmerizing exploration of the human psyche and has landed on countless “best of” lists of 2020, so give it a watch if you still need convincing about how great this show really is.
8 ‘Ted Lasso’ (2020-)
Ted Lasso is an American sports-comedy series starring and developed by Jason Sudeikis. Sudeikis plays the titular role of Ted Lasso, an American college soccer coach who is hired to coach a floundering British football team whose folksy and endlessly optimistic teaching style allows the team to flourish to new heights.
The hit Apple TV+ show came to the world when it needed it most; the feel-good comfort show highlights all the best attributes of human connection and community during a time when hyper-isolation from friends, family, coworkers, and pretty much everyone was the norm. The show’s upbeat attitude and underlying message of hope helped us get through 2020, and the show’s popularity during the pandemic helped give it a second season and a third coming soon.
7 ‘Emily in Paris’ (2020-)
The 2020 Netflix romantic comedy-drama Emily in Paris stars Lily Collins as Emily Cooper, a PR assistant based in Chicago who becomes a Paris-based fashion influencer seemingly overnight.
The show was created by Darren Star, best known for Melrose Place, Sex and the City, Younger, and Beverly Hills 90210, and probably anticipated a much more positive reaction to the show. The show is loaded with French stereotypes and terrible outfits, which is shocking since it literally revolves around fashion. Despite the overwhelmingly negative response, the show is on track to release its fourth season.
6 ‘Tiger King’ (2020-2021)
There is almost no other show that encompasses the madness of 2020 like the Netflix true-crime documentary series Tiger King. The show primarily follows the eccentric and larger-than-life figure of Joe Exotic, a former zookeeper and convicted felon, and other big cat collectors in the USA, such as the infamous Carole Baskin. For a show that follows animal exploitation, murder, and meth addiction, it is surprisingly entertaining, with Exotic and his countless quotes becoming the breakout star of the series.
Three years later, the show remains Netflix’s most recognizable and popular program: even its follow-up second season did not deliver the same level of television gold as its predecessor. The show exposed humanity’s innate need for salacious stories about seedy people, even if also received a high amount of criticism for its lack of addressing the ethical issues of big cat ownership and animal rights.Tiger King might not have done anything to conserve and protect these animals, but at least it proved how shock value still brings in views.
5 ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ (2021)
Bo Burnham’s Netflix comedy special did not come out in 2020; instead, it was released the next year, but its soundtrack and overall tone have since become the unofficial anthem of the COVID-19 crisis as a whole, so it definitely still counts.
Inside is an introspective and sincere response to the pandemic (although it is never explicitly mentioned by name) as well as the current cultural climate of the internet’s growing power over people and how it plays into people’s mental health, as well as the effects of late-stage capitalism and the existential dread that comes with aging. The comedy special is one of the unique and experimental artistic approaches to the comedy genre. Its mood, humor, and music reflect the fears and frustration felt by pretty much everyone in the 2020s.
4 ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ (2020)
The biggest scripted limited series on Netflix to date, The Queen’s Gambit is a coming-of-age period drama miniseries starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the main character Beth Harmon, a fictional chess prodigy living in the mid-1950s and 1960s, who attempts to rise to the top of the world of chess while struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. The series is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis.
This series launched Taylor-Joy as a fully-fledged star, even with other impressive acting feats already under her belt, and it even helped to inspire a global interest back into the ancient game of chess. The show was praised for its cinematography, period-accurate sets, outfits, and Taylor-Joy’s incredibly refined acting performance that brings the troubled heroine to life and always makes for an incredible watch.
3 ‘Normal People’ (2020)
Based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Sally Rooney, Normal People is an Irish romantic-psychological drama limited series starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal as a couple that drifts in and out of each other’s lives starting from the last few days of high school into their undergraduate years at university.
The story is intensely intimate as it is immersive, filled with the same magic the original novel has, and is utterly heart-wrenching. It will probably leave you in an emotional mess by the end.
2 ‘The Great’ (2020-)
Described as an “occasionally true story” and created by Tony McNamara, who was the film writer behind the 2018 historical black comedy-drama The Favourite, The Great is a Hulu-produced ahistorical satirical comedy TV series starring Elle Fanning as the famous Russian empress and leader Catherine the Great during her reign in the 1700s.
The show is refreshingly modern, despite taking place in the past, and doesn’t feel indebted to remain historically accurate. Instead, it allows it to be more playful, experimental, and all-around fun than it would if it stuck to the strict guidelines of history. Fanning is incredible to watch, and her journey from the unassuming wife of Peter III into a revolutionary visionary of a greater purpose is more than thrilling to watch first-hand.
1 ‘Legendary’ (2020-2022)
While sadly another tragic case of a TV show being canceled well before its time, Legendary embodied the very meaning of its name through broadcasting the world of ballroom culture and hosting a vogueing competition that featured some of the very best performances you’ll ever see. The outfits and makeup are a highlight as well, with each episode following a specific theme that each team, “houses,” must follow, which gave the world some much-needed glamour in a time when sweatpants and face masks were the fashion status quo.
The show was praised by GLAAD for its excellent representation of LGBTQ+ artists and included living legends such as Leiomy Maldonado, also known as the “Wonder Woman of Vogue,” to sit on the judges’ table alongside Jameela Jamil, Law Roach, Megan Thee Stallion, and Keke Palmer.
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