After revealing numbers 7 through 12, it’s time for Eric’s Top 6 TV Shows I Saw in 2020…
(I know not all these shows first aired in 2020; it’s that 2020 was the year I finally got around to watching them this year!)
6. Killing Eve – Hulu/BBC America/AMC
I concede that Season 3 of Killing Eve is a bit of a comedown from Season 2, which in itself was a bit of a comedown from Season 1. But that doesn’t make this show any less compelling or fun to watch. And if you haven’t seen it at all, time to watch.
It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller involving an international assassin (Jodie Comer) and a MI5 detective (Sandra Oh). Oh connects a string of murders throughout Europe to Comer, and the game begins (with plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected murders).
At its best, Killing Eve is an original, daring, witty and jaw-dropping thriller. Comer seems to have owned the Emmy award the last couple of years for her Villanelle. Comer’s great but the writing and are what stand out to me. And it’s original it’s about time an assassin and detective should both be female.
And Killing Eve is courageous. There’s a most unusual willingness to murder major characters. You’re always guessing, never sure, as a viewer.
We are always a bit off balance watching the run of the show. Will she or won’t she. And it appears there isn’t anything she won’t do.
Like all the shows on my list – Killing Eve is addictive. Just when you think, “they can’t do that” – they do.
5. Homeland – Showtime
I’m not sure there’s ever been a series that, over time, is uneven as Homeland. I doubt it was ever intended to be more than a 2-season series (but what a two years they were). Then some good seasons and some – meh – not so good seasons.
I started watching the show from the beginning in 2011. There were often long delays between seasons, and some of them weren’t worth the wait.
But then came the final season – number 8 – which began in February and ended in April 2020. And Season 8 more than made up for the past five or so years. I’m so glad I didn’t write it off.
If you don’t know the show – it follows a brilliant, bi-polar CIA Officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). Mathison navigates between making brilliant deductions and equally horrible personal choices.
From Washington to Iran and Germany to Israel, Homeland international storylines are about saving the world, or not.
But Season 8 brings it all together. Carrie and her long-time mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) are in a true no-win situation. Pakistan has a nuke and won’t hesitate to use it on nearby American troops. Russia holds the key to the solution, but demands a huge sacrifice of the Americans. And the American President is in completely over his head and held sway by a Svengali who has his own agenda.
Homeland has always followed world events eerily and accurately. The breakneck pace of plot is never more evident than this year.
Lots of actors roll through the series, but at the core was always Carrie and Saul. Danes and Patinkin are perfect. No one does a lower-lip quiver better than Danes. She’s haunted. Patinkin’s Saul could be his best performance ever. And yep, in 1979, I saw him perform Che in “Evita”).
You’re convinced there’s a logical conclusion (a direction the writers want you to take) to the series. But it ends with a roller coaster of shock, disbelief and then a final scene that is inevitable. I’ll miss Homeland, but they ended the series in the best way possible. Most series can never say that.
4. Normal People – Hulu
There hasn’t been much criticism of Normal People. What little there is complains the series doesn’t meticulously follow Sally Rooney’s novel.
I didn’t read the novel. I didn’t need to and neither do you. And if you’re staying away because it’s a millennial coming-of-age story, don’t stay away. This is a beautifully wrought classic; a story about growing up.
Normal People follows two high schoolers in Ireland. There’s Marianne, an social outcast from a wealthy family. And Connell, who has his act together but no money (his mother cleans house for Marianne’s family).
They connect (literally and physically), and the series follows their relationship through college. They’re together, then not. With other people, then back together. But always friends.
Normal People overcomes every possible stereotype through its fantastic writing and cinematography. The haunting, spare soundtrack lets us know we’re in this with them.
And “them”. What casting. Daisy Edgar-Jones is simply radiant. In the final episode, there’s a flashback to her high schooler to a beautiful college graduate. It’s shocking; the transformation is stunning. Even though the series was filmed in a few months, Marianne looks five years older. It’s not just makeup; it’s acting.
Mark my words: Edgar-Jones is going to be a major star soon. Paul Mescal doesn’t even need to talk. His emotions and feelings are plain to see on his expressive face. Mescal understands the impact of underacting.
There’s talk of a Season 2, and I hope that isn’t true. This was near perfect television; it won’t improve in future seasons.
3. The Crown – Netflix
It’s somewhat unoriginal of me to put The Crown at number three; it’s at or near the top of every “best of” list.
But there’s a reason for that. The Crown is so sumptuous, so ambitious, and so laden with acting talent it can’t be ignored.
Three women dominate Season 4: the Queen (natch) and also Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana.
Their stories are already known and don’t need repeating. We know Diana had an unhappy marriage to Charles and that Thatcher was “The Iron Lady”. But The Crown explores in detail why the marriage was unhappy. And Thatcher’s bumpy, awkward relationship with the Queen is uncomfortably funny.
Or do we? Much has been made of whether everything in “The Crown” actually happened? After all, how do we know what Charles and Diana said to each other in private? Or if Thatcher really was imperious in her meetings with the Queen?
It doesn’t matter. It’s great storytelling; it’s fascinating, and it’s compelling.
It pulls no punches: we see Diana vomiting during her periods of bulimia. The royal family (including the Queen and Queen Mother) plays drinking games in front of an astonished Thatcher.
It’s rumored The Crown cost Netflix $130 million to make over the anticipated six-year run. You see every cent of it on the screen, from the costumes, scenery, and CGI effects. And by now you’d think the UK would run out of good actors for The Crown. They haven’t so far, although Americans Gillian Anderson as Thatcher and John Lithgow as Churchill are notable exceptions.
Maybe it’s that I respect “The Crown” more than anything else. Whatever. It works for me.
2. Succession – HBO
You have to be patient with Succession. Many people I’ve recommended it to can’t get through the first six or so episodes. I understand; I barely made it through. But the series finds its footing after that, and Season 2 finds it hitting its stride.
Succession follows a Murdoch-like family running a media and entertainment empire. The family tries to figure out who does what with an aging, but still wily, patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Kind of a thin premise, but the plot ultimately delivers and in a big way.
One of the reasons it’s hard to like Succession is because there’s not one likable character in the bunch. Family, business associates, hangers on – no one is likable. When you find a redeeming character, he or she does something so reprehensible that you want to throw your slipper at the screen.
But then, slowly and surely, Succession envelopes you. You start understanding the characters and why they are who they are. Then the plot thickens. We find ourselves rooting for things to happen one way or the other. There are more evil families than the Roys. And every decision comes with unexpected consequences.
No family member is good enough for Logan, and they’re all damaged as a result. One son gave up everything to live in New Mexico with his ex-hooker girlfriend. The number two son is brilliant, awkward and a recovering drug addict. When he asks his father – finally – why he didn’t get the #1 job, Logan looks at him sadly and says, “because you’re not a killer.”
It’s that kind of show. Plus billionaire porn: castles, mansions, cars, yachts (WHAT a yacht). And truly some original casting and acting. Any of the major characters could have won an Emmy (it turns out Jeremy Strong, who plays the #2 son, got it if for no other reason than this scene.)
There’s some good news. It turns out that – at least in the world of Succession – billionaire families are as dysfunctional as the rest of us.
1. Broadchurch – Netflix
OK, so the series ended in 2017. Well, I didn’t get around to watching it until 2020. Sue me. Broadchurch is the best television I saw.
Broadchurch is a British serial crime drama set in a fictional, picturesque English town. It focuses on police detectives Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman).
It begins with the death of a local boy, Danny Latimer. Then turns its attention on the impact of grief, mutual suspicion and media attention on the town. Miller’s best friend is Danny’s mother. Together, Hardy and Miller try to track down the killer among many likely suspects. The killer? Someone you’d never suspect; a true jawdropper.
It’s well-written as you’d expect. The cinematography creates a character out of the actual town. Broadchurch redefines your expectations of the crime drama.
Character after character is developed, nuanced and acted beautifully. They’re real people placed in circumstances no one should have to go.
At the end, the show revolves around Hardy and Miller. Tennant is a wondrous stage actor and a former Doctor Who. Colman has gone on to play Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and is now one of Britain’s great actresses. It’s an awkward but ultimately trusting relationship. They inhabit their characters with simple authenticity.
Those who have seen Broadchurch will understand: I’ll greatly miss hearing Tennant’s Scottish accent yell out, “Mill-ah!”
Other shows I watched this year but didn’t make the list: Two wonderful series that finished too long ago to be relevant for the list: Breaking Bad, The Office (yes, we finally saw them). Also saw the entire series runs of Bosch, Modern Love, The Widow, Truth Be Told, Jack Ryan, The Loudest Voice in the Room, and The Undoing.