The best TV shows of 2020

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In many ways, television is the MVP of 2020.

During lockdown, it gave us something to talk and text about, even while we were stuck in our houses. And although COVID greatly affected the industry — large-scale shutdowns paused production on tons of shows — it also pushed the floodgates wide open on the transition to streaming’s dominance.

To whit: There was a lot of television to watch during these long 12 months — and some of it was even great.

Below, our picks for Top 10 best of the year.

Ozark” (Netflix)

"Ozark" stars Laura Linney and Jason Bateman.
“Ozark” stars Laura Linney and Jason Bateman.
Netflix

I thought the Jason Bateman/Laura Linney drama series had run its course after two seasons. But I was wrong; Season 3 branched out into different, unforeseen directions and ended with a literal bang — throwing Marty and Wendy Byrde and their teenage kids into the arms of their new boss, Mexican drug kingpin Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). Yikes. — M.S.

“New Amsterdam” (NBC)

Ryan Eggold in "New Amsterdam."
Ryan Eggold in “New Amsterdam.”
Craig Blankenhorn/NBC

Yeah, I know … a broadcast medical drama. So what’s the catch? Renewed for three more seasons, “New Amsterdam” offers a twist in an oversaturated field: its compelling, multi-layered characters, led by series star Ryan Eggold (Dr. Max Goodwin), are not cardboard cutouts — the usual bane of this genre. Kudos to co-star Tyler Labine as conflicted hospital psychologist Dr. “Iggy” Frome. — M.S.

“I Know This Much Is True” (HBO)

Mark Ruffalo in "I Know This Much Is True."
Mark Ruffalo in “I Know This Much Is True.”
HBO

Mark Ruffalo turned in a bravura, Emmy-winning performance as identical twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, living in different worlds in a working-class Connecticut town. Dominick, dealing with soul-searching personal issues, is steadfast in his love for Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic living in a psychiatric hospital and haunted by family secrets. Rosie O’Donnell is terrific as Thomas’ gruff-yet-empathetic social worker —  who treated Dominick on equal terms with his brother. — M.S.

“The Boys” (Amazon Prime)

"The Boys."
“The Boys.”
Amazon Prime Video

This is perhaps the weirdest series I’ve ever seen — and that’s saying a lot. But with its mix of high comedy, cartoonish violence (lots of blood … and exploding heads) and off-kilter superheroes, led by the murderous psychopath Homelander (Antony Starr), it’s a bizarre, riveting journey. The terrific cast includes Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarty, Billy Butcher, Dominique McElligott, Giancarlo Esposito and Aya Cash (a standout in Season 2). — M.S.

“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)

Daniel Levy in "Schitt's Creek."
Daniel Levy in “Schitt’s Creek.”
Pop TV

This will make many year-end “Best Of” lists, but for good reason: The tale of the once-rich Rose family forced to move to the hick town bought by video-store millionaire Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) years before as a gag checked all the satiric boxes. It was funny, touching, empathetic to its core characters, cleverly written and simultaneously underplayed and over-the-top (Dan Levy and Annie Murphy as David and Alexis). It won five Emmys in its sixth and final season (for stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dan Levy and Annie Murphy and Best Comedy) and had the good sense to go out on top. — M.S.

“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+)

Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso."
Jason Sudeikis in “Ted Lasso.”
Apple TV+

The titular Ted — Jason Sudeikis’ cheerful American football coach who’s recruited to coach UK soccer — is a character that the former “SNL” star originally created for an NBC commercial. It’s a paper-thin premise to stretch into a series and it shouldn’t have worked. But not only did this potentially tired concept soar, the comedy also became the unlikely TV MVP of 2020: warmhearted and uplifting during a year when audiences sorely needed a dose of optimism. The smartest thing the nascent Apple TV+ has done so far is renew it for two more seasons right off the bat. — L.S.

“I May Destroy You” (HBO)

“I May Destroy You”
A scene in “I May Destroy You.”

It certainly did destroy us. The aptly titled drama announced creator and star Michaela Coel as a stunning new voice. A series about a woman rebuilding her life after being raped is heavy stuff. But “I May Destroy You” never feels bogged down in misery. It’s a tender and searing investigation of trauma with a strong and necessary message — that never feels preachy or pedantic. — L.S.

“What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Kayvon Novak in "What We Do In The Shadows."
Kayvon Novak in “What We Do In The Shadows.”
Russ Martin/FX

The goofy mockumentary about vampire roommates in Staten Island could have outgrown its premise in its second season. Instead, it elicited more laughs than ever, cementing its place among TV’s most unique and delightful comedies. Its all-star cast (Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou) came into their own even more, turning in terrific and uproarious performances. — L.S.

“Normal People” (Hulu)

Paul Mescal on "Normal People."
Paul Mescal on “Normal People.”
Hulu/Courtesy Everett Collection

Based on a 2018 best seller of the same name, this coming-of-age drama weaves a tale that’s simultaneously gritty and dreamy. The story is simple, following a couple through high school and college as they move in and out of friendship and romance. With breakout performances from newcomers Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, the show announces its two stars as actors to watch — and cements itself among the top dramas focusing on the complexities of young love. — L.S.

“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon in the Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit."
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon in the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit.”
Phil Bray/Netflix

A period piece drama about chess-playing sounds as dull as dirt. Instead, “The Queen’s Gambit” was riveting. Anchored by sumptuous aesthetics, tension and an all-star performance from Anya Taylor-Joy — one of Hollywood’s rapidly rising young stars — “The Queen’s Gambit” took the world by storm for good reason. As fiction, it has the feeling of a great biopic while sidestepping the genre’s pitfalls. — L.S.



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