15. The Midnight Gospel
This collaboration between Adventure Time creator Pendelton Ward and comedian Duncan Trussell is disorienting, bizarre, and an utter revelation. It’s a candy-colored mish-mash of animated sci-fi worldbuilding and powerful interview excerpts pulled largely from Trussell’s own podcast. His character, a “spacecaster” named Clancy, wanders through funky universes that are on the brink of collapse while speaking with people like TV personality Dr. Drew, writer Anne Lamott, and former death row inmate Damien Echols, all of whom assume alien or animal cartoon forms. Eventually, a pattern emerges from the chaos, and by the time you realize that The Midnight Gospel is a profound exploration of death and the afterlife, you’ll likely already be on track for the fantastic, emotionally gutting final episode.
14. How To With John Wilson
Documentarian John Wilson’s HBO series is a treasure trove of unexpected delights. Each episode presumably acts as a how-to guide, but the resulting half-hour video essays are so much more than that. A massive mind-map exploration of humankind’s quirks and a comedic love letter to New York City, How To With John Wilson is a total triumph in creative nonfiction. It’s also a surprisingly life-affirming exercise, as Wilson weaves deep truths and earnest observations in with goofy visual puns and off-the-rails encounters with strangers. It’s exactly the type of COVID-era perspective-shift we all need; once you’ve seen the city through Wilson’s eyes, you might never see it the same way again.
13. The Last Dance
While the early months of the pandemic saw plenty of preoccupation with Netflix’s Tiger King, it was a ten-part docuseries that aired in April on ESPN, then later dropped on Netflix, that brought the real drama. Much of the dramatic energy comes from Michael Jordan, the subject’s central figure. Directed by Jason Hehir, The Last Dance tells the story of the final season run of the six-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls team of the early-1990s while also cutting back-and-forth to previous years to paint a complete picture of their unprecedented decade. It’s a brilliantly edited piece of storytelling that benefits greatly from Jordan’s magnetic, enigmatic presence. (Neil Miller)
12. Mrs. America
Finely acted and richly written, this limited series about the failed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is a powerful look at history’s curse of repetition. Cate Blanchett rightfully grabbed headlines as forceful Republican housewife Phyllis Schlafly, but Mrs. America shines the spotlight on several key players from this point in history, including Uzo Aduba’s Shirley Chisholm, Tracey Ullman’s Betty Friedan, and Rose Byrne’s pitch-perfect Gloria Steinem.
With a star-studded cast and a feminist heart, Mrs. America could’ve become a critical darling without really trying, but the show is also genuinely excellent. Mrs. America never oversimplifies the complex and competing interests of the 1970s feminist movement. Instead, it shows the importance of each faction’s demands by switching perspectives every episode. The result is a portrait of insidious misogyny, stalled progress, and the real women whose lives were impacted by the delayed hope for equality. Also, the illustrated opening theme, set to “A Fifth of Beethoven,” is an all-timer.
11. What We Do In The Shadows
The first season of Jemaine Clement’s mockumentary series expanded on the What We Do in the Shadows film’s modern vampire mythology to hilarious results. The second season gets even more into a groove with wholly original, gut-bustlingly funny plots and guest stars like Haley Joel Osment, Mark Hamill, and Benedict Wong. Shadows mixes unapologetically raunchy humor with niche bits about everything from chain letters to bitmojis to the song “Come On Eileen,” and the result is a grossly adorable comedy about a lovable family of misfits. The crown jewel of Shadows’ second season? Matt Berry’s Jackie Daytona, of course. The women’s-volleyball and animatronic-fish-loving bartender perfectly embodies the dorky-cool-earnest combination that makes the show’s good-natured humor so infectious.
Related Topics: 2020 Rewind