Sunday 13 December 2020

My Top 5 TV Shows of 2020

Phew, what a year huh? 2020 has lasted for what feels like a century of centuries, but here we are, only a few days away from the start of another year. That must mean it's time to look back at the entertainment highlights – starting with the best that TV and streaming had to offer.

With whole countries under lockdown, many of us have turned to TV and streaming to keep us all from climbing the walls. There have been plenty of shows that have captured our imagination this year – from the opulence and intrigue of Netflix's The Crown, to the batshit insanity and weirdness of Tiger King.

Despite lockdown and social distancing, no-one can binge everything out there – myself especially. So my list of favourites is more a reflection of what I've seen and enjoyed, rather than a definitive guide on the best of the best. What TV shows and streaming series have you been watching this year? Let me know in the comments down below.

Honourable mentions: Ozark Season 3 (Netflix), The Flight Attendant (HBO Max), Criminal: United Kingdom Season 2 (Netflix), The Boys Season 2 (Prime Video), Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Season 7 (HBO), The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix),  The Crown Season 4 (Netflix), Westworld Season 3 (HBO).

5) The Undoing (HBO)

With The Undoing, Nicole Kidman hit another homer by reuniting with Big Little Lies creator David E. Kelley for yet another slick HBO limited series about posh people who find themselves caught in a hurricane of media outrage, murder and scandal. At only six episodes, The Undoing was a tight, taut thriller that centred around Kidman, a New York therapist, and her shifty husband (Hugh Grant, who perfectly straddles that grey area between charming and unsettling), as their lives come...undone. Ah, I get it now.

Pairing moody direction from Susanne Bier with some fantastic performances from Kidman, Grant and youngster Noah Jupe, The Undoing was a pulpy psychological thriller that moved at a good clip, keeping its audience hooked through a series of swerves and shocks. If you're looking for something a little trashy but with high production value, HBO's The Undoing can be mainlined over a weekend. All killer, no filler. Noice.

4) The Mandalorian Season 2 (Disney Plus)

After the dismal final chapter that was The Rise of Skywalker, I was burned out on Star Wars. All that hype, followed by crushing disappointment. The thought of returning to a galaxy far, far away was not an enticing one. 

But The Mandalorian has rekindled my love of Star Wars. And in its sophomore season, The Mandalorian has reached even greater heights – and now sits, in my opinion, alongside Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi as one of the best Star Wars stories since Disney took the helm.

With the novelty of season one a thing of the past, Dave Filoni and Jon Faverau were tasked with building on solid foundations to expand the scope of the series. Each chapter feels bigger and more ambitious than before, and the storytelling strikes the right balance between forging forward and roping in established characters from other shows, like Katee Sackhoff's Bo-Katan. 

With talented filmmakers like Peyton Reed, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Rodriguez and Rick Famuyiwa each taking a turn on directorial duty, The Mandalorian has felt exciting and cinematic, week in, week out. High points include episode five ('The Jedi'), which introduced Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, and episode seven ('The Believer'), which sees Mando teaming up with fan-favourite Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) to infiltrate an Imperial base. 

If this is the template on which future Star Wars TV shows are based, then sign me up for more. 

3) Normal People (BBC Three/Hulu)

An Irish coming-of-age drama based on a novel by Sally Rooney, Normal People was something of a phenomenon back in April and May – and with good reason. The tale of two teens and their struggles as they move from high school to university, the 12-part limited series was equal parts agonising and enchanting, awash with angst, tension, lust and ultimately, love.

Spearheaded by two towering performances from Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, Normal People thrust young love to the forefront – before exploring all the ways in which life can slowly pull that same couple in different directions. Much digital ink has been spilled about the show's (admittedly steamy) depiction of sex, but it's a means to an end – which is painting a compelling portrait of intimacy in its tenderest of forms. 

2) The Last Dance (Netflix)

Growing up, I was more captivated by the sporting heroics of Michael Schumacher than Michael Jordan; more familiar with Monza and Suzuka than Madison Square Garden. Which is why I was surprised to find myself hooked on Netflix and ESPN's The Last Dance earlier this year,  lapping up each and every moment of the captivating series which charted the rise and rise of NBA legend Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Over ten episodes, The Last Dance takes a deep dive into Jordan's career, from humble beginnings and early struggles to international success and beyond. Using his sixth and final championship year as a framing device for the entire show, The Last Dance unpacked the complexities of the mercurial sportsman, who was beloved around the world and revered for his ruthless, unrelenting competitive attitude on the court. The show was able to effectively thread the needle, and speak to both newcomers such as myself, and ardent fans who have followed Jordan's story since its inception. 

Aside from a couple of detours, The Last Dance was beginning to end, a fascinating exploration of an elite sportsperson and interlinking factors that carry them to the pinnacle of their field. 

1) The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)

Sometimes, the best TV can come from the strangest of places. Like, for example, a seven-part period drama about an orphaned, alcoholic chess prodigy. 

On the surface, The Queen's Gambit sounds a bit dull – set in 1950s America, the series is centred around Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), the aforementioned prodigy who we first meet at a glum orphanage in Kentucky, as she muscles her way into the male-dominate world of competitive chess tourneys. But the show and its enigmatic lead performance soon cast a spell on you, and you find yourself locked into a rich and textured tale of obsession, addiction, passion and most important of all, family. 

Spearheaded by the always magnetic Taylor-Joy and boasting an ensemble that includes Harry Melling, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Marielle Heller of all people, The Queen's Gambit is lean and sharp as a tack – there isn't a gram of fat or a second wasted. Written and directed by Scott Frank (Logan, The Wolverine and...Marley & Me), the story is filled with twists and turns aplenty, as Harmon rises through the ranks, hits her fair share of rough ground, before taking on Russian grandmasters in their backyard. It's thrilling stuff – yes, even for chess! 

Part period drama, part soaring sports success story; The Queen's Gambit is a perfectly paced work of character-driven storytelling with all the right pieces, sitting in all the right places. 

1 comment:

  1. The only one of these I haven't seen is Normal People but I enjoyed the others. I actually just started The Queen's Gambit so I'm not finished yet, but I've liked what I've seen so far.



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