10. Bojack Horseman
Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s masterful Bojack Horseman should be remembered not only as one of television’s greatest animated series but also as one of the most emotionally honest character arcs ever put to the small screen. The last handful of episodes, which aired this January, followed alcoholic Bojack (Will Arnett) to his lowest point and beyond to create a fitting, if bittersweet, ending.
Although the series’ last episode saw closure for most of its major characters, it’s the nightmarish penultimate chapter, “The View From Halfway Down,” that will likely stick with viewers the longest. The dinner party at death’s door reunited several characters from seasons’ past for a surreal round table that attempted to answer the ever-nagging question at the heart of a series that’s always been about depression and addiction: why go on? As expected, brilliant, emotionally raw Bojack Horseman ultimately showed us how to go on without giving any easy answers.
9. I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel’s intense exploration of trauma will rip you apart and piece you back together again, just as it does with its protagonist, Arabella, and the characters who form a constellation around her. I May Destroy You goes deep on assault in its many forms, from the obvious (rape, drugging) to the nebulous (slipping off a condom, taking an unexpected photo). The series also does the hard work of pulling apart the tidy hierarchies and expectations society creates for survivors, following multiple characters — including Black British writer Arabella — as they process various traumas in ways that are anything but straightforward. Bold and continually unexpected, I May Destroy You takes viewers to places that no other #MeToo story would dare to travel.
8. Better Call Saul
Walter White who? As Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Breaking Bad prequel enters the home stretch, it gets so damned good that it’ll make you forget all about that other show. The series has transformed itself over five seasons, growing from a slow-burn legal drama with a current of dark humor to a balls-to-the-wall crime thriller with incredibly high stakes. Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy has transformed himself too, fully slipping into the Saul persona even as criminals and cartel members threaten his livelihood and his life. This season was full of surprises, from Rhea Seehorn’s Kim gleefully dipping her toe into the dark side, to the desert-set survival saga of “Bagman,” to the set-up for a thrilling showdown between Nacho (Michael Mando) and Lalo (Tony Dalton).
Many of the best shows of 2020 on this list can be compared to beloved predecessors, but PEN15 holds a unique honor: there is, without a doubt, no other show like it. The Hulu series captures middle school in a way that’s never been seen before. The painful embarrassment, overwhelming obsessions, and myriad of constantly shifting micro-emotions are all laid bare in Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle’s comedy series, and to make it even more freakishly authentic, the showrunners play teen versions of themselves. The second season captures hyper-specific moments with clarity and grace, from the duo’s first co-ed pool party to their first time being slut-shamed, and even their first tangle with depression. PEN15’s second outing is a tougher pill to swallow than the first, dwelling more on moments of darkness and isolation, but it’s still as nostalgic and emotionally specific as an old diary entry come to life.
Alex Garland’s first foray into long-form storytelling is a near-future sci-fi thriller that will blow you away. DEVS is a visually stunning mix of action and intellect, all of it held together by bleak philosophical underpinnings. The series follows Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), a software engineer for a massive, shady corporation whose life is upended when her partner is murdered. Nick Offerman plays Forest, the all-powerful CEO who meets Lily’s every move with one of his own. If he’s a villain, though, Forest is a wonderfully complicated one, whose enigmatic past and suspiciously well-planned future unfold slowly over the course of the series. This year’s limited cinematic release schedule means that audiences only got to see a few bold, epic stories on screen this year. Luckily, DEVS, an exhilarating tech-based riddle with a very human soul, can be counted among them.
Related Topics: 2020 Rewind