The Year in TV – 2020

Ah 2020. The year staying home on the couch and watching TV became a virtuous way to spend your time. Not all heroes wear capes, many wear sweatpants.

Rated Greg’s Top 12 Shows Of The Year

  1. The Last Dance (ESPN & Netflix)
  2. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
  3. The Crown (Netflix)
  4. ZeroZeroZero (Amazon Prime)
  5. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
  6. High Fidelity (Hulu)
  7. Cheer (Netflix)
  8. Normal People (Hulu)
  9. Ozark (Netflix)
  10. Yellowstone (Paramount)
  11. How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  12. Betty (HBO)

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): The Mandalorian (Disney+), The Comey Rule (Showtime), Better Call Saul (AMC), What We Do In the Shadows (FX & Hulu), Dave (FX & Hulu), Love Life (HBO Max), The Outsider (HBO), I May Destroy You (HBO), The Reagans (Showtime)

Despite a prolonged quarantine I actually watched less TV shows in 2020 than I have in years past.  Part of this is due to a newfound obsession with watching older movies that I missed (yo, have you heard about this guy named Alfred Hitchcock?).  But it’s also because I no longer feel compelled to watch EVERYTHING in the zeitgeist.  It’s just not possible.  In 2019 I finished at least a dozen shows that I honestly didn’t even like.  True Detective, The Boys, Too Old to Die Young, Living with Yourself, The Politician to name a few.  In each of those cases I enjoyed the first episode but grew to resent them upon each remaining chapter. It was like staying in a relationship that you knew was going nowhere.  In 2020 something clicked and I now have no problem breaking up with a show if I notice myself constantly reaching for my phone while watching.  Recent examples include Fargo Season 4, The Good Lord Bird, and Lovecraft Country.  All of those shows are significantly better than the 2019 shows I mentioned, but do I NEED to finish them?  No, of course not. 

Nonetheless, there were plenty of shows this year that were thoroughly entertaining all the way through.  Here are my favorites of 2020. 

The Last Dance (ESPN & Netflix):  Reasons why I’m worried about younger millenials and Gen Z. They think The Office is better than Seinfeld.  And they think LeBron James is a better basketball player than Michael Jordan.  My hope is that this exceptional peak inside the lives of MJ and the 96 Bulls helps reverse the troublesome course our country is steering towards, but regardless one thing I think we can all agree on is that Michael Jordan is a hell of a lot cooler that LeBron.  If you somehow haven’t seen this yet, it’s the one must see show of the year, sports fan or not.  A candid, uncompromising examination of celebrity in the United States. 

Best episode: The one where MJ bullies Scott Burrell

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) – Season 10: If someone were to ask me what the five funniest shows of all time are I’d probably say Seinfeld, South Park, Fresh Prince, Veep, and Sopranos in some order.  Friends maybe.  The Office maybe.  But Curb wouldn’t have come to mind.  At least for top 5.  However Season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, centered around a spite store and Larry’s rivalry with Mocha Joe, is perhaps the funniest season of television I’ve ever seen! 

Best episode: The one with Jon Hamm

The Crown (Netflix) – Season 4: The rare show that gets better after each season.  It’s never been more apparent that the creators of The Crown just know what the fuck they are doing.  The evolution from Season 1 to 4 is a real time experience of watching a show runner master their craft. 

Best episode:  The one with the Australian tour 

ZeroZeroZero (Amazon Prime): There are three factions of the international drug trade.  The producers, the shippers, and the distributors.  A miniseries that’s spoken in a quarter English, a quarter Spanish, a quarter Italian, and a quarter gunfire, ZeroZeroZero tells the story of three families at the center of each of those factions regarding a mammoth cocaine deal.  It sorta reminded me of the movie Traffic, only with more action.  I’m telling you, the shootouts inherent in this show are unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV. 

Best episode: The one with the birthday party

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix): The word of mouth show of the year.  No one voluntarily starts a show about a chess phenom without someone telling them to watch it first.  But once you see it it’s impossible not to send a raving text back to the person who recommended it to you.  The most impressive thing about it is how EXCITING they make chess tournaments.  I kept expecting “You’re the best, AAAAROUND!” to play during one of the montages.  A show with a 100% approval rating if there ever was one. 

Best episode: The one in Mexico City

High Fidelity (Hulu): When someone asks me why I’m still single I like to quote bank robber Robert De Niro in the 1995 movie Heat.  “I’m alone.  I am not lonely.” Here’s another good one. “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything that you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” 

In High Fidelity, Hulu’s gender switched take on the John Cusack rom-com of the same name, a Brooklyn record store owner played by Zoe Kravitz asks herself why she’s still single.  Each episode reflects on a different ex lover and what went wrong.  While I’m not even a fan of the original movie, this one and done season was an undeniably pleasant experience.  Up until now she’s mostly just been a pretty face in the background as an actress, but High Fidelity really lets Kravitz cook. 

Best episode: The one with Parker Posey

Cheer (Netflix): The runner up word of mouth show of the year.  Just like chess, most also wouldn’t voluntarily watch a docuseries about competitive cheerleading at a junior college.  If you liked Friday Night Lights, you should absolutely watch this show.  Coached by a real life Tami Taylor in Corsicana, Texas, it’s equally exhilarating and heartbreaking to watch these young athletes train, sacrifice, and obsess over the singular passion in their lives. 

Best episode: The one where they go to Daytona

Normal People (Hulu): No com, all rom.  Two incredibly good looking young adults in Ireland get together, split a part, get together, split a part on repeat over the course of the end of high school through college.  This probably would have been better served as a movie.  Twelve episodes of a will they or won’t they arc was a little much, even if they’re only 30 minutes, but the highs of Normal People justify it as one of the more touching modern day, young love romances you’ll see.  Don’t watch this on a plane. The NSFW show of the year (insert eyes emoji).

Best episode: The one during Christmas

Ozark (Netflix) – Season 3 & Yellowstone (Paramount & Peacock) – Season 3:

The key to enjoying both of these shows is to understand that they are soap operas in prestige TV clothing. The directing and acting is impeccable despite most of the storylines being predictably dumb. I don’t watch these shows to find out what happens. I watch because the environments are just a good time. Yellowstone in particular, filmed in Montana and Utah, I mean….who wouldn’t want to watch Kevin Costner and his pals riding around on horses cursing at each other?

How To with John Wilson (HBO) & Betty (HBO):

In the very beginning of quarantine, you might have immersed yourself in content related to pandemics/isolation.  Cast Away, Outbreak, Room, Children of Men, Unfriended, Contagion, etc.  But that got old quick, didn’t it?  I think it’s safe to say we do not need to be reminded of our dire, day to day circumstances during our leisure time TV.  Rather, we yearn for the times of just a year ago when you could walk down a crowded street and saunter into a more crowded bar to meet friends, exchanging air droplets with a plethora of strangers all along the way. 

From that standpoint, the two “anti-quarantine” shows I’d recommend the most is How To with John Wilson and Betty.  While I stand by the entertainment value of all of the shows mentioned above, nothing will remind you of the pre covid reality you actually remember experiencing with your own eyes like these two New York City based shows.  After all, what place makes you feel more ALIVE than a bustling, pandemic-free New York City. 

How To with John Wilson is a comedy docuseries about an anxious, socially awkward New Yorker who attempts to provide viewers with “advice” on how to carry out various tasks.  Some are routine to the vast majority of us, like “how to make small talk” or “how to split the check.”  Other tasks are things you might have never thought about, like “how to cover your furniture” or “how to put up scaffolding.”  This isn’t one of those Marie Kondo advice shows.  John isn’t good at any of these things, and that’s what makes it funny.  It’s hard to tell if John is actually this awkward in real life or if he is a brilliant actor in the vein of Sacha Baron Cohen, but either way How To is quite charming.

Best episode: The one where John makes risotto

Speaking of charming.  Betty is a dramedy that follows a group of New York girls who only care about skateboarding, friendships, and getting fucked up.  What makes this so authentic is that the main cast of characters aren’t even actors by trade.  These are actual city skateboard friends that were recruited to make a show.  You don’t notice any questionable acting because they are basically playing themselves. 

Best episode: The one with the worst birthday ever

A Few Rated Greg Superlatives

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Lead Performances

  1. Josh O’Connor (The Crown)*
  2. Julia Garner (Ozark)
  3. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit)
  4. Zoe Kravitz (High Fidelity)
  5. Lil’ Dicky (Dave)

*I’ll be interested to see if his role as Prince Charles will pigeonhole O’Connor into playing truly despicable characters for the rest of his career. I just can’t imagine him doing anything else because he’s so good at it!

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Supporting Performances

  1. Brendan Gleeson (The Comey Rule)
  2. Rhea Seahorn (Better Call Saul)
  3. Cole Hauser (Yellowstone)
  4. Tom Pelphrey (Ozark)
  5. Nina Moran (Betty)

Rated Greg’s Top 5 TRASH TV

  1. The Challenge: Total Madness (MTV)*
  2. Summer House (Bravo)**
  3. Southern Charm (Bravo)
  4. Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)
  5. Below Deck: Sailing Yacht (Bravo)

*The most excited I was for a sporting event in 2020 was the elimination between Johnny Bananas and Wes

**I think my favorite annual episode of TV is Kyle’s birthday party on each season of Summer House

3 comments

  1. samjoseph77 · December 8

    v nice. May have talked me into watching curb (I don’t always like it – but I love seinfield) and into watching ZeroZeroZero

    >

    Like

  2. Jen · December 9

    I’ll have to check out Curb (season 10) and Yellowstone. Both sound good!

    Like

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