In 2020, good TV has taken far more of a role in my life than it used to. The upside is that I’ve been immersed into wonderful stories and characters. The downside is that I’m not normally the kind of person to enthuse, leaving a burning desire to tell people about them.
So instead, I decided to write about my favourites so I at least feel like I’ve told people. Even if, as I deeply suspect, hosting a blog is the equivalent of shouting my opinions into a void. If you try any of these and enjoy them, do let me know! I’d love to hear about it!
I’m not a TV reviewer. These aren’t necessarily shows that came out in 2020. But I discovered them this year. Here are my favourites, counting down to my #1!
5. Schitt's Creek (Comedy)
Schitt’s Creek tells the story of the Rose family, who are forced to live in small-town Schitt’s Creek when their vast fortune is taken away from them. Let’s get this out of the way - Season 1 of Schitt’s Creek isn’t great. It has one joke: “Rich people are shocked by not being rich”. Yet as I kept watching, I cared less and less that that was the main focus of the show.
Schitt’s Creek weaves a gently evolving tale, during which I grew to love all of the characters and how they interacted. The rich-person blustering becomes less frustrating and more endearing, and little by little, they begin to evolve and learn from the people and places they previously looked down upon. The humour can be a little cringe-inducing at times, but as some light watching, it provides laughs and heartwarming moments in spades once you’re settled into it.
Schitt’s Creek is available on Netflix.
4. The Expanse (Sci-Fi)
The Expanse is a fantasy-esque sci-fi show, taking place in a world where Earth and Mars are two major superpowers vying for control of the galaxy. In the middle of it all is the Belt - mining colonies in an Asteroid belt which produce water and resources for whichever planet currently controls it. The Expanse begins with the crew of the ice freighter the Canterbury responding to a distress call in deep space. What they discover changes everything, fast.
The Expanse is a difficult show to start - in the first few episodes, people, stories, and space-politics are thrown at you with somewhat wild abandon. But each tale being told over the course of the show is fascinating, deep, and continues to evolve as you watch. It covers both the high and mighty political heavings of Earth and Mars, but also the stories and tribulations of the people caught in the middle.
It took me a little while to bond with the characters of The Expanse. I think there’s so many that it’s difficult to connect at first. But when I did, I really got myself invested into the journeys of the crew of the Canterbury, badass earth politician Avasarala, and fiery Martian soldier Bobbie.
I got through 3 Seasons of The Expanse before I moved onto something else for a while. But I highly recommend giving it a shot if this sounds interesting. I intend to go back to it.
The Expanse is available on Amazon Prime.
3. Money Heist (Crime, Action)
Money Heist (aka “La Casa De Papel”) tells the story of a group of thieves who storm into the Spanish Royal Mint, with the goal of printing themselves a few billion Euro and then getting the hell out of there. It tells the story of how they got there, and their mastermind on the outside (“The Professor”). The Professor is trying to steer the gang through all of the obstacles along the way, and enact his plan to make sure that even an intense police investigation will fail.
I enjoyed the first season of Money Heist for the reason I enjoyed films like Ocean’s Eleven - seeing meticulously thought out plans, backups, and fail safes get put into action as the police run into obstacle after obstacle, and the feeling of “oh, that’s clever”. But over the course of the series, as things start to go wrong, you see how all of the characteristics of people willing to put their life on the line for a heist start to bang off of each other, and how they are all determined to see the Heist through until the end.
At a certain point in the show, the heist ends. I didn’t keep watching after that. I didn’t want to ruin the story I’d seen.
Money Heist is available on Netflix.
2. Given (Anime, LGBTQ+)
Given tells the story of teenage guitarist Ritsuka Uenoyama, who finds that his favourite nap spot has been taken by a boy (Mafuyu Satou, pictured) he hasn’t met before, clutching a broken guitar, with no clue how to play it. Over the course of the show, you discover the origin story of that boy and his guitar as the pair learn to deal with the troubles and trauma of the past, and with the strange directions the present is taking them in.
I’m normally not a TV binge-watcher. I watch an episode a day of a couple of different shows (normally with lunch and dinner). But Given sucked me in so thoroughly that after about episode 5, I couldn’t get it out of my mind - so I watched the other 6 episodes over the course of the weekend.
It’s really hard to write about Given without spoiling it. But given made me the most emotional I’ve ever been whilst watching TV. It deftly side-steps all of the uncomfortable (and often downright damaging) tropes of LGBT anime, and provides a story that’s both incredibly tense and really heartwarming. And it does so over only 11 episodes of ~25 minutes each.
The show is based on a manga which is still being written - so there’s more to come. A movie of Given, following on from the series, came out in Japan in 2020. I’m eagerly awaiting it coming to the west in February 2021.
Given has only 1 season, and it’s available to stream on Crunchyroll. (Do yourself a favour and use the premium free trial - the ad supported version is not worth it)
1. Haikyuu!! (Anime, Sports)
Haikyuu!! was my antidote to 2020. In a world heaving with chaos and fear, at the start of 2020 I saught out a TV show that I could stream in the mornings that was easy watching, and gentle, and fun. Haikyuu!! provided that for me, but sucked me in in a way that I didn’t expect.
Haikyuu!! tells the story of Shoyou Hinata, a 5-foot-4 teen obsessed with volleyball, with lots of enthusiasm but no skills (or height) to back it up. After playing with a team only once in the past (and being thoroughly beaten), Hinata joins Karasuno High School’s volleyball team and throws his all into being the best.
Where Haikyuu!! really excels as heartwarming TV is in the character development. Every player on the team has their own motivations for playing, their own unique strengths and flaws. Over the course of the show, every character undergoes their own journey of progress - be that learning to trust in teammates, finding their niche so they can stand on the court, or even just finding their own reasons to care about volleyball. When you see the training and practice that characters have put in pay off, you can’t help but cheer for Haikyuu!!’s multitude of characters. Even Karasuno’s opponents are explored and colourfully characterised, which means each victory or defeat is one you can feel.
There’s no high drama, or grittiness, or darkness here. The story that Haikyuu!! tells is simple, and sweet, and bursts with childish innocence. It’s feel-good and uplifting. It’s hard for me to spend so much time raving about it for fear of being judged for enjoying it. But Haikyuu!! captivated me in the best possible way, and it was absolutely what I needed this year.
If this kind of story is what you need right now (and hell, surely it is for most?), I’d heartily encourage anyone to give Haikyuu!! a try. If you haven’t watched anime before, this is as good a first show as any. Figure out which audio you prefer (Original JP + Subtitles, or the English Dub), and give it some time to grow.
Haikyuu!! Seasons 1-2 are available on Netflix. Seasons 1-4 are available on Crunchyroll.
These didn’t make the top 5, but I still wanted to recommend them!
- Sex Education (Comedy, Netflix) - A nervous and shy boy sets himself up as a Sex & Relationship Counsellor for couples at his school. Crude, but a whole lot of fun.
- How To Get Away With Murder (Drama, Netflix) - A masterclass in keeping tension going for episode after episode. Gets a bit too “soap opera” after Season 3-ish for my tastes.
- The Queen’s Gambit (Drama, Netflix) - You mean you haven’t watched this already?
- After Life (Comedy-ish, Netflix) - I didn’t expect to like Ricky Gervais. But he brings both the comedy and the emotion to this show about moving on from grief.
- Run With The Wind (Anime, Crunchyroll) - Similarly to Haikyuu!!, Run With The Wind showcases a cobbled-together university running team taking on a huge challenge, and how they all get there. As a fledgling nerdy runner, I identified very strongly with the characters dragging themselves down a road without knowing quite why.