In a year that was that was no-good or downright terrible most of the time, the best TV shows of 2020 made us laugh, cry and cheer — and took our minds off our troubles. They comforted and challenged us. And they entertained us for hours as we stayed safe and healthy at home.
The best TV shows of 2020 include the feel-good comedy Ted Lasso, which flew under the radar when it premiered but is gaining well-deserved popularity. We also loved the absurd vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and the last hurrah of BoJack Horseman.
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On the drama side, must-stream TV included the recent seasons of The Crown and Better Call Saul, both of which upped the ante and raised the stakes (and featured excellent performances). The horror and reality TV genres also gave us strong offerings, with The Haunting of Bly Manor and Love Is Blind impressing in very different ways.
Here is the Tom’s Guide list of the 15 best TV shows of 2020 and info on where to stream them.
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Better Call Saul season 5
Since the spinoff series premiered, fans have been waiting for the timeline of Better Call Saul to merge with Breaking Bad — and season 5 left them tantalizing close. Finally, the legal world of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is colliding with the criminal underworld inhabited by Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), as depicted in the desert escapade. But nobody could’ve predicted the chilling twist that closed out the penultimate season — rather than Jimmy breaking fully bad, it’s Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) who’s turning to the dark side. I used to be afraid for Kim; now I’m afraid of her, as it’s all due to Seehorn’s incredible performance. — Kelly Woo
Rent or buy Better Call Saul season 5 on Amazon Prime Video
BoJack Horseman season 6
BoJack Horseman finally came to an end this year, after six seasons of hilarity and heartbreak. After getting his alcoholism under control and embracing his creative side, everything looked pretty good for BoJack in the first half of the season — which is why the second half had to blow it all up. The penultimate episode, "The View from Halfway Down," is about as dark and contemplative as the show's ever been, and earned a well-deserved Emmy nomination. BoJack Horseman ended in style, with a finale that wasn't exactly uplifting, but also not as horribly depressing as it could have been. And really, isn't that a good way to describe the show in its entirety? — Marshall Honorof
The Crown season 4
Brace yourself, because the most anticipated season of our favorite show about the British Royal family has finally arrived on Netflix. Season 4 of The Crown features two main characters that I’m sure need no introduction: the late Princess Diana and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The storyline mainly follows Princess Diana’s controversial relationship with Prince Charles and the UK's economic struggle with Thatcher as PM. Another amazing thing about this particular season is that it pulls a strong focus on mental health issues: from Diana’s eating disorder to Princess Margaret’s struggle with anxiety and depression. And if that’s not enough, the cast speaks for itself: with the brilliant Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher and the charming Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, their performances are absolutely jaw dropping. Not only will this season make you rewatch all of the existing Diana-related documentaries, but you also won’t resist mimicking Thatcher’s low curtsy every chance you get. — Denise Primbet
The Flight Attendant
Kaley Cuoco spent many years raking in the big bucks on The Big Bang Theory but she really gets to spread her wings in this dark comedic thriller. She plays the titular character, Cassie Bowden, a party girl who jets around the world. On a flight to Bangkok, she meets a handsome businessman, Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) and ends up spending the night with him. But the next morning, she finds him murdered in the bed next to her. From there, Cassie makes a series of alcohol-fueled Bad Decisions that land her in trouble with both the feds and a dangerous criminal organization. The zany plot twists are balanced by great, three-dimensional characters like Cassie’s best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet). Go wheels up on The Flight Attendant. — Kelly Woo
Harley Quinn season 2
The DC Universe series Harley Quinn practically didn't exist to many audiences, as streaming service DC Universe has always been pretty niche. So while only season 2 of Harley Quinn came out in 2020, both of its seasons were "practically" new releases when the series opened to a wider audience on HBO Max. More than capable of drawing in the audiences who loved Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn continues the tale of the former Ms. Quinzell's time after calling it quits with The Joker. Fortunately, she's got a new friend by her side, as Poison Ivy's a bit wiser and can try and push her away from making the same mistakes twice. And Quinn's quest to join the Legion of Doom gives her all the opportunities to regress, with her makeshift gang of misfit super-powered criminals. Season 2 thrives, though, with a "what if?" scenario when criminals take over Gotham for a longer period of time than most. — Henry T. Casey
The Haunting of Bly Manor
If for some reason 2020 wasn’t enough for you and your heart still demands more twists and turns, stop scrolling - you’ve found it. Set in England in the late 1980’s, The Haunting of Bly Manor follows the story of a young American au pair as she tries to protect two children from the ghosts that inhabit an old English estate. Even if there seem to be some similar themes, the narrative of Bly Manor is completely unrelated to its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House. You’ll definitely see a lot of the familiar faces though. If you’re the type of person who’s able to predict most horror stories, prepare to be pleasantly shocked - the nonlinear storytelling of Bly Manor is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. With evergreen themes of loss, mental health and sexuality, The Haunting of Bly Manor is a series you’ll definitely want to revisit more than once. — Denise Primbet
I May Destroy You
Star/creator Michaela Coel is responsible for one of the most audacious television shows in years. I May Destroy You may actually destroy you with its unflinching, darkly funny portrait of a writer dealing with the aftermath of being raped. Arabella (Coel) is a Twitter personality turned novelist struggling to meet the deadline for a second book. After returning from a vacation in Italy, she goes out for a boozy night in London. The next morning, she vaguely recalls experiencing a sexual assault. From there, Arabella leans on friends Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) while trying to piece her memory together. Coel doesn’t hold back, tapping into her own personal traumas and exploring issues of race, gender, creativity and fame. — Kelly Woo
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
From the gorgeous cinematography to the superb acting, South Korea's It's Okay to Not Be Okay is one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking dramas on Netflix. The 16-episode show breaks from your typical K-drama rom-com by painfully examining the difficulties faced by people suffering from trauma and mental illness. IOTNBO tells the unlikely romance between a selfless psychiatric nurse and an antisocial children's book author, the latter of which is brilliantly portrayed by South Korean actress Seo Yea-ji. Supporting actor Oh Jung-se also pulls off a stunning performance as Moon Sang-tae, a brilliant artist born with Autism Spectrum Disorder. — Louis Ramirez
Love Is Blind
Reality TV has been my comfort food through this nightmare of a pandemic and this dating show was an especially delicious feast thanks to a bonkers premise and memorable characters. Netflix releasing the episodes over three weeks, veering away from its usual full-season drop, a canny move that built anticipation. A cast of hetereosexual men and women dated each other, round-robin style. The catch was that they dated from separate pods, so they could hear but not see one another. And they only met face-to-face if they got engaged. From there, they jetted off on vacation, moved in together and met each other’s families. Some couples fizzled, while others turned out to be perfect matches. These days, The Bachelor franchise can feel tired and predictable. Love Is Blind was a refreshing change of pace in the genre and became a fascinating social experiment that got everyone talking. — Kelly Woo
Watch Love Is Blind on Netflix
Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet
A show about a video game development studio sounds as doomed-to-fail as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Aaron Sorkin's messy show about a variety show. But it turns out that the right creative minds can make anything work. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia vets Rob McElhenney, Megan Ganz and Charlie Day co-created and co-wrote Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, a weird and wild series where McElhenney plays Ian Grimm a narcissistic leader of a game studio that's promised a serious update that is taking a while to actually come out (No, it's not based on Cyberpunk 2077, that show would probably be a darker series on HBO). And while the series thrives thanks to its strong casting — F. Murray Abraham is a hoot as overly dramatic storytelling-obsessed writer C.W. Longbottom — the core of the show is the working relationship between Grimm and colleagues Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) and David Brittlesbee (David Hornsby, who played Rickety Cricket in Sunny), who are all at different corners of being broken humans. — Henry T. Casey
First love, in all its messy passion, beats at the heart of this adaptation of Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel. The story follows a young Irish couple, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), through their roller coaster relationship starting from secondary school and into their years at university. They get together, they break up, they make up — it’s a tale as old as time, but Normal People tells it with aching intimacy and beautiful nuance. It’s also perhaps the sexiest show of the year, thanks to the red-hot chemistry between the two leads. — Kelly Woo
Watch Normal People on Hulu
PEN15 season 2
The exquisite awkwardness of puberty continues to be on full display in the second season of the teen comedy, which still mines a ton of humor from Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle passing as middle schoolers. The new batch of episodes digs deeper emotionally, as the once-inseparable best friends start to grow up and grow apart for the first time. They deal with individual challenges, like Anna’s parents splitting up and Maya getting her period, and pursue different interests (one stars in the school play’s cast, another joins the crew). Their bond remains strong, but PEN15 beautifully portrays the inevitable change our relationships go through as we mature. — Kelly Woo
Watch PEN15 season 2 on Hulu
Reminiscing about the earlier seasons of American Horror Story? We have the next best thing. Created by Evan Romansky and Ryan Murphy, Ratched serves as a prequel to the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (as well as the Jack Nicholson film from 1975). If you’re put off by the prospect of watching a prequel, don’t be. Ratched is a thrilling standalone story that you will likely binge-watch in one sitting. As usual, actress Sarah Paulson is in her element - she manages to steal the show, even alongside veterans such as Sharon Stone and Cynthia Nixon. Her portrayal of the damaged nurse Mildred Ratched will take your breath away as she manages to both draw you in and repulse you at the same time. Despite her questionable morals (admittedly anunderstatement), you won’t be able to help but to sympathize with her as she embarks on her twisted journey. A must-watch for fans of psychological thrillers. — Denise Primbet
Watch Ratched on Netflix
Theodore "Ted" Lasso is a man with an impossibly sunny disposition, which might be the only real tool he has in his quest to coach AFC Richmond — a soccer club that is in dire need of leadership. And this odd premise, an American abroad coaching a sport he knows nothing about, turned out to make for one of the best shows of 2020. Lasso's played perfectly by Jason Sudeikis, who shows more range than SNL ever allowed him to offer. The series, run by Scrubs mastermind Bill Lawrence, pits Lasso's positivity against veteran players and a legion of fans that don't respect the decision to hire him, as well as a team owner whose motives aren't entirely pure. But in 10 episodes, you learn why Lasso is so good at his job: he's a people person. In a year filled with reasons to focus on the negative, Ted Lasso offered us a lot of reasons to smile. — Henry T. Casey
What We Do in the Shadows season 2
While the first season of What We Do In the Shadows impressed by bringing the instant cult classic to the TV, with a new cast, the crew managed to keep the undead spirit … alive? … with a novel twist. As alluded to with the season 1 finale, Guillermo (or Gizmo, to his roommates) turns out to be surprisingly adept at killing vampires — the last thing he wants to do. But when the first season saw Nando's "familiar" frustrated with a lack of respect and his master's indifference to turning him, this was the perfect way to infuse the hilarious series with a bit of tension. Making matters funnier, Guillermo meets a pack of wanna-be vampire hunters, who have no idea what they're getting themselves into. Other season 2 highlights include Laszlo's flight to middle America, where he becomes Jackie Daytona, a bartender who just wants to help the local women's volleyball team. — Henry T. Casey
The best TV shows of 2020: Honorable mentions
The Good Place season 4 (Netflix)
The afterlife comedy goes out with a philosophical and bittersweet bang.
How to With John Wilson (HBO Max)
The comedic docu-series turns humanity’s eccentricities into pure poetry.
Insecure season 4 (HBO Max)
Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji beautifully portray the complicated ebb and flow of adult friendship.
The Last Dance (Netflix)
Time travel back to the ‘90s and the peak of Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls.
The Mandalorian season 2 (Disney Plus)
Thrilling action, genuine emotion and Star Wars fan service – what more can you ask for?
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Think chess is boring? The Queen’s Gambit makes it mesmerizing.
Schitt’s Creek season 6 (Netflix)
The Rose family’s transformation is capped off with a sweet ending.
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