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The Best TV Shows of 2020

This has been a horrible year. That almost goes without saying at this point. The COVID-19 pandemic made us desperate to escape into other worlds, galaxies, timelines, and eras, just to get some respite. Luckily, there was plenty of amazing television in this year that helped us do just that. Here are Nerdist‘s picks for the best TV shows of 2020.

The Best TV Shows of 2020_1AMC

Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul had already established itself as one of the best spin-off series in television history before its fifth season premiered in 2020 Now? It might be the best ever. The show was so incredible it now has an opportunity to do the unthinkable in its final season. It could best Breaking Bad itself. That’s how good the explosive, emotional, intense fifth season was. It featured superb performances, impeccable writing, and memorable villains, as Jimmy McGill lost more of his soul to Saul Goodman. Worst/better yet, Kim might be losing hers too. – Michael Walsh 

A black and white image of a woman holding her jewelry from The Haunting of Bly Manor.Netflix

The Haunting of Bly Manor

Part ghost story, part love story, Mike Flanagan proves once again that he has the most tender heart in horror. The Haunting of Bly Manor had a lot to live up to. Its precursor, The Haunting of Hill House, was a perfect season of television. And it’s loosely based on one of the most famous horror stories of all time, The Turn of the Screw. But wisely, Bly Manor struck out on its own path. It didn’t double down on themes from Hill House or stick too closely to its source material. It told it’s own lovely story, about the power of love, and its ability to heal the depths of our trauma. – Lindsey Romain

The Best TV Shows of 2020_2
Tsuburaya Productions

Ultraman Z

As a blessing to audiences outside of Japan, Tsuburaya Productions has put subtitled episodes of their current Ultraman season, Ultraman Z, on YouTube. This season has been some of the most fun and exciting tokusatsu storytelling in years. The lead character Haruki is such a loveable goon who nevertheless wants to help people and has a real compassion for the monsters he has to fight as Ultraman. The show features some amazing crossovers with earlier Ultras of several eras, intriguing mysteries involving a returning villain, and one of the most banger theme songs in TV history. That half of it was made during a pandemic is even more amazing. – Kyle Anderson

The Best TV Shows of 2020_3Hulu

High Fidelity

On paper, a High Fidelity TV series sounds like a bad idea. The original film, based on the book by Nick Hornby, is a classic. But Hulu’s revamp did the impossible; it not only lived up to its predecessors, but it bested them. Zoë Kravitz stars as a gender-bent take on the lead character Rob, a lovelorn Brooklyn hipster who revisits old relationships to see where she’s gone wrong. The series wisely updates the material in fresh, modern ways: Rob is a queer woman with a diverse roster of friends. But it also holds her accountable for the ways she’s gone wrong, never taking it easy on the character. The result is a brilliant condemnation of too-cool culture, and a testimony to growing up. Too bad we won’t get a season two. – Lindsey Romain 

Nick Offerman looking very Christlike, stood under a neon halo, in FX's Devs.FX

Devs

After Ex Machina and Annihilation, not to mention his earlier screenplays for Danny Boyle, Alex Garland was already in rarefied air with me. His FX on Hulu mini-series Devs proves Garland’s sensibilities work great in episodic format. A treatise on technology, metaphysics, and determinism, Devs is at its core a deeply moving story of the lengths we’ll go to run from grief. Sonoya Mizuno carries the show with her soulful, stoic performance, while Nick Offerman and Alison Pill provide the perfect degree of hippie-infused menace. Tech companies sure are weird. – Kyle Anderson

promotional photo of babysitter's club tv show castNetflix

The Baby-sitter’s Club

Netflix gifted us with so many wonderful gems in 2020, and brightest among them was their lovable take on The Baby-Sitter’s Club. The series is a delightful, updated take on the book series from Ann M. Martin that so many of us grew up on. It’s refreshingly modern, self-aware, funny, touching… basically everything we could want in an updated Baby-Sitter’s Club and more. – Lindsey Romain

The Best TV Shows of 2020_4Hulu

PEN15

There are lots of great comedies on TV. Just like there are both lots of great coming-of-age series and dramas. Hulu’s PEN15 is all of those things and more. By playing 13-year-old versions of themselves, stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle have managed to create something special. PEN15 is an honest, hilarious show about middle school that can go to uncomfortable places and take chances a series with actual teenage performers couldn’t. And this year the chances they took were even bigger, in a truly superb season that was equal parts insightful, touching, painful, and funny. – Michael Walsh

The Best TV Shows of 2020_5FX

What We Do in the Shadows

Quite simply the funniest show on TV. While the first season was very good, the second season of FX’s vampire mockumentary takes everything up 15 notches. Each member of the cast gets their moment (or 90) to shine, but the diversion for Matt Berry’s Laszlo to become a real human bartender was sublime, and Harvey Guillen’s Guillermo really goes from the butt of the joke to the hero we all deserve. BAT! – Kyle Anderson 

The Best TV Shows of 2020_6Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit

Already a frequent topic of praise and discussion online, Netflix’s highest rated limited scripted series deserves every bit of it. A showcase for the subtle acting of Anya Taylor-Joy and ’60s set and costume design more striking than Mad Men, The Queen’s Gambit made chess matches feel like pitched battles, the endgame of which leaving all of us breathless. CHESS! How did they make that exciting?!?! – Kyle Anderson

The Best TV Shows of 2020_7HBO

I May Destroy You

I May Destroy You is one of the most inventive, brutal, and beautiful shows of the last several years, and the best thing I saw all year. The British comedy-drama was created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by the incredible Michaela Coel, who also stars in the series. She plays Arabella, a Londoner who tries to put her life back together after being raped. The 12-episode show balances gut-wrenching truths with laugh-out-loud humor, and culminates with a stunning finale that you won’t soon forget. – Lindsey Romain

The Best TV Shows of 2020_8Lucasfilm

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian is the most exciting thing happening in Star Wars right now, and that’s all thanks to Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. The love poured into this series is so palpable. It’s clear that these guys love Star Wars, and have created a perfect series for hardcore fans and newbies alike. The second season has been non-stop delightful, with appearances by beloved characters like Ahsoka Tano and Boba Fett. Just when it feels like it can’t get any more exciting, Baby Yoda gets a name and a backstory, and the world opens up even more. It’s a joy to tune in every Friday and escape into the galaxy far, far away. – Lindsey Romain

A man and two women stand in a dark forestHBO

Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country’s ability to expertly blend Lovecraftian horror and magic with deeply moving examinations of racism under Jim Crow laws is enough to set this series apart from the crowd. But its appeal runs deeper than it being scary and suspenseful weekly entertainment. Lovecraft Country serves as a history teacher with nods to Emmett Till, redlining, and the Tulsa Race Massacre. It delivers an ensemble of passionate, captivating, and flawed Black characters who are given the space to be messy, hurt, empowered, heroic, and afraid. It provides a basis for conversations about masculinity, sexuality, and family dynamics and makes distressing connections to our current racial and social plights. Lovecraft Country is a story that encapsulates Black pain, power, and plights in a way that breaks your heart, gives you hope, and sticks in your consciousness. – Tai Gooden

The Best TV Shows of 2020_9Apple TV+

Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso is, without question, one of the best new comedy shows of 2020—if not the best. A sitcom about an American football coach moving oversees to manage a Premier League team sounds funny enough. But Jason Sudeikis-led series is not only hilarious, it’s bursting with an optimism and sincerity that anchors the many delightful hijinks that ensue. It’s been a joy watching people discover and subsequently fall head over heels for Ted Lasso—and I cannot wait to see what the next two seasons bring. – Meaghan Kirby

Marianne and Connell dance in a pub in Normal People.Hulu

Normal People

I adored Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, so I was primed to like the show. What I didn’t expect was to like it even more than the source material. It’s a story about the evolving relationship between two Irish teenagers, Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). The show follows them from high school and through college, as they grapple with class politics, sexual desires, and other things that disrupt and complicate their love for one another. It’s a simple story, really, but it’s told in such an achingly human way, that it’s impossible not to relate. And beyond everything else, it’s worth it just to watch Mescal and Edgar-Jones in the early stages of what’s bound to be superstardom for both. – Lindsey Romain

The characters of HBO'S Betty wander the streets of NYC.HBO

Betty

The television I’ve gravitated toward this year, new and old, has had a bit of a maudlin streak. While lightweight comedy has failed to drown out my anxiety, the intensity and despair shows like The LeftoversMad Men, and even golden era ER have proven up to the task. The exception to this rule: Betty. The delightful slice-of-life dramedy follows a troupe of young queer women skateboarders just trying to live the lives they deserve. Betty’s six-episode run is funny and tender, and armed with engrossing authenticity. Whether at play and on the warparth, the girls’ stories are shown to be of utmost importance to them—and felt as much to me. – Mica Arbeiter

The Best TV Shows of 2020_1Pop TV

Schitt’s Creek

The sixth and final season of Schitt’s Creek was nothing short of a triumph. From its humble beginnings on a little-watched basic cable network to becoming one of the biggest sitcoms in the world, the series always stayed close to its Canadian roots. And it was better served for it. Season six was the beautiful culmination of years watching the Rose family stumble, embrace, and finally come into their own. Dan and Eugene Levy were firm in wanting to end the series on their own terms. They did, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch all the way to the end. – Meaghan Kirby