It’s been a long, hard year for a variety of reasons I probably don’t need to point out; but if there was one thing we could rely on, it was television.
In fact, even with the entertainment industry shut down in March along with everything else, television became the thing most of us relied on more than anything else — from the distraction of streaming shows, to new online series and TikTok videos, to sleepless nights staring at election coverage, waiting for vote counts to slowly tick upwards. Television has always traditionally been a gathering place for the family, but in 2020 it became the respite that held families together.
Thankfully, TV was also very good this year, with shows for every taste. From comedies like Schitt’s Creek that wrapped up their run while dominating the Emmy awards, to Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso, the surprise hit of the season, there was a lot to be said for comfort television. There were plenty of shows that reveled in discomfort, though, like the scifi epic Raised by Wolves, and Michaela Coel’s genre-bending I May Destroy You. Not every show was a big hit, though, and some were unfairly struck down after one season, quality or not, like Teenage Bounty Hunters and High Fidelity.
There are plenty more shows that stood out over the year, and with that in mind the staff at Decider got together (virtually, of course) to break down what broke out in 2020. Each member of the staff sent in their own top 10 shows of the year. Those were ranked, mixed together, and sifted into the list you see below.
These are far from the only great shows released this year, of course. For some other views, check out our best of lists from January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and the best of 2020 so far to see which shows stuck around. And without further ado, here are the 19 best TV shows of 2020.
Narcos is the longest-running (and, arguably, the most popular) franchise in the Netflix universe, so it’s not surprising that Amazon Prime adapted Robert Saviano’s widely-praised book about the international cocaine trade into a series. What is surprising, however, is how Stefano Sollima’s (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) sinister, tense, globe-hopping epic develops into one of the most enthralling series of the streaming era (and how cartoonish, by comparison, it renders Narcos: Mexico). Led by Andrea Riseborough and Dane DeHaan, this is the kind of complex, adult drama that demands your full attention. — Mark Graham
‘I May Destroy You’
Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You is the absolute masterpiece of the year. In excavating her heroine Arabella’s complex reaction to the trauma of sexual assault, Coel blasts the omnipresent culture of abuse shaping us all. Whether it’s looking at the grey areas of consent, the parasitic nature of corporate entities, or even just the give and take of friendship, Coel indicts — and forgives — us all. It’s a breathtaking work of genius that will leave you rattled, unsettled, and downright inspired. — Meghan O’Keefe
On its surface, Cheer was nothing more than a juicy peek inside the world of competitive college cheerleading. We rooted for the Navarro Bulldogs and hoped our cast favorites would make it “to mat” at Daytona. However it was also an unblinking look at the wild lengths at which competitive athletes push their minds and bodies for excellence. The show’s portrayal of trauma and the shocking allegations that Jerry, one of the most beloved cast members, was a sexual predator hiding in plain sight make Cheer one of the darkest docs on Netflix…but also the most addictive. — Meghan O’Keefe
The ending of a show, especially a show as critically revered as this one, can make or break its legacy. Yet BoJack left television exactly how it started: by breaking one last boundary. BoJack, Tood, Diane, Mr. Peanutbutter, and Princess Carolyn’s stories didn’t end with a tidy, sitcom-ready bow. They ended with lingering conversations and quiet, reflective moments. They ended in the middle of all of their characters’ lives, firmly ending one chapter of their lives before starting on another. “I think there are people who help you become the person that you end up being,” Diane (Alison Brie) says to BoJack (Will Arnett) in the show’s final episode. “And you can be grateful to them even if they were never mean to be in your life forever.” That’s what BoJack Horseman was to television. It was a sarcastic, smart, silly friend that held a clear mirror up to Hollywood. But more than that it held its mirror up to its audience, challenging conventional ideas of what it means to be happy, mentally well, and successful. It does no good to mourn BoJack now that one of the most intelligent and empathetic shows on television is over. Just be happy that it happened and move forward, embracing the people it’s made us become. — Kayla Cobb
‘Teenage Bounty Hunters’
On the list of crimes 2020 has perpetuated on humanity, Netflix canceling Teenage Bounty Hunters doesn’t quite make the top five (it’s been a bad year, folks). But if we’re just talking television, pulling the plug on the adventures of Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair Wesley (Anjelica Bette Fellini) was a massive mistake. Not only was the series created by Kathleen Jordan one of the clearest, freshest concepts on TV this year, but Phillips and Fellini are comedic gifts to the world, the best, quippiest crime fighting teens since the Scooby Gang was in their prime on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And with Kadeem Hardison’s hilariously gruff yogurt shop owner Bowser Simmons, and you have an iconic trio cut down in their prime.
But that’s not all, as they say! Beyond the catchy premise, Teenage Bounty Hunters was unique in its equal parts embrace and criticism of Southern culture, a surprisingly nuanced look at religion, and a beautifully rendered LGBTQ+ romance that told stories about coming out (and staying in the closet) that were fresh and new. Add in the several last second plot twists so surprising — yet perfectly set up — and it’s agonizing to not know how they will be resolved. Netflix may have made a big mistake canceling TBH, but hopefully some other network can rectify their error, and transform 2020’s biggest TV bummer into 2021’s biggest TV return. — Alex Zalben
PEN15 burst onto Hulu last year as one of the streamer’s most original comedies, and while Season 1 proved to be a hilarious, fresh take on adolescence, Season 2 added a layer of heartbreaking reality on top of all that cringe-worthy humor. Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine return as their middle school selves in the early aughts, still struggling through awkward crushes and botched haircuts, but the girls find themselves grappling with heavier topics, too, like period shaming and divorce. With Season 2, PEN15 embraces the uniquely horrible experience of being a tween girl, encapsulating the strangeness of growing up in a way no series has been bold enough to try before. — Greta Bjornson
The Mandalorian had a lot to live up to in Season 2. The first season wasn’t just the biggest TV hit of 2019, but it helped launch an entire new streaming service—the biggest new platform launch in a decade. How could the show outdo itself? By going bigger and weirder than ever. I’m talking about a praying mantis playing space poker with Amy Sedaris, a squid man in a fisherman sweater, desert dragons that vomit acid, and—most controversially—Baby Yoda scarfing down a frog lady’s unfertilized eggs! But the show surrounds those pockets of the bizarre with action set pieces that big enough to fill up an IMAX screen. Murder spiders, speeder bike chases, Mandalorian warriors hijacking Imperial freighters—and need I remind you that this show literally slays dragons?! There is no other show on TV that loves being its kooky, nerdy, and fighty self more than The Mandalorian—and that’s why we love it. — Brett White
We all knew it was coming, but saying goodbye to Schitt’s Creek this year still wasn’t easy. Thankfully, Dan Levy crafted a sweet, memorable ending to the charming sitcom that began as a little-known PopTV series in 2015 and morphed into a global phenomenon when it hit Netflix in 2017. The final season of Schitt’s Creek keeps all of the running jokes and clever bits, but also marks a shift in David, Alexis, Moira and Johnny Rose. Although they’ve been waiting for years to get out of the ramshackle town, they can’t deny that Schitt’s Creek has changed them for the better. If you’ve managed to avoid the series for this long, you owe it to yourself to give it a try — trust us, all of the hype (plus all those Emmys) is well deserved. — Greta Bjornson
Why isn’t everyone completely obsessed with Search Party? After two years on TBS, the third season of this trenchant comedy moved to HBO Max and delivered its best season to date. The show was initially about a group of friends who set out on an ill-advised quest to find their missing ex-classmate, but the nimble series from the creative trio of Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter has morphed into an unpredictable dark comedy that boasts the funniest ensemble cast of 2020. Search Party is brilliance personified. Don’t sleep on this savvy, sophisticated series. — Josh Sorokach
‘Better Call Saul’
Fans have spent the past few years comparing Breaking Bad to prequel series Better Call Saul, but BCS Season 5 may have put that debate to rest once and for all. By all accounts, Rhea Seehorn is phenomenal as Kim Wexler, whose slow transition from upstanding lawyer to Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) morally dubious accomplice grounds the season. In an already terrible year, Seehorn’s Emmy snub is yet another tragedy, but unfortunately, it’s one that the Television Academy doesn’t seem too concerned about rectifying. — Claire Spellberg
Just seeing the words “Normal People” makes me clutch my heart. Marianne and Connell’s love story was certainly one of the greatest told in 2020 in that it was complicated and frustrating but when it was good, it was so, so good. The Hulu drama series also gave us Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, two of the most exciting actors that absolutely crushed their performances here. The TV adaptation of the popular book was even sexier and more compelling (and heartbreaking) than reading through those pages, giving us all plenty of reasons for making it one of the most talked-about, buzzed-about, and swooned-about shows of the year. — Lea Palmieri
‘Never Have I Ever’
Never have I ever binged a show so quickly as I did with Season 1 of Mindy Kaling’s new high school romantic comedy. Eighteen-year-old Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is a revelation as Devi, a hot-headed and boy-crazy teen who is also working through the trauma of losing her father. This show is as hilarious as it is sweet, and you’ll be laughing through your tears by the final episode. If you’re nostalgic for the golden years of Gilmore Girls, Never Have I Ever is the binge-watch for you. — Anna Menta
‘The Baby-Sitters Cub’
You absolutely read that correctly: Netflix’s adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s children’s novels is one of the best shows of the year. Creator Rachel Shukert has updated Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne and Stacy for 2020, but rather than a condescending commentary on cell phones and emoji use, it’s a refreshingly empathic coming-of-age story for the modern era. Yes, I cried when Mary Anne said trans rights; when Claudia faced hard truths about her grandmother; when Stacey wore her insulin pump with pride. Every episode of this nine-episode season gives 110 percent. The Baby-Sitters Club really didn’t need to go that hard, but it did. — Anna Menta
‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’
Ultimately, you want a TV show about ghosts to haunt you. You want it to slip into the shadows of your memory, only to be spotted out of the corner of your mind’s eye when you’re vulnerable. Naturally, these creepy recollections should involve, y’know, ghosts. This is The Haunting of Bly Manor’s greatest achievement: it told a slow burn ghost story wherein you actually aren’t haunted by the spooky spirits. Instead, you’re haunted by the love story between Dani (Victoria Pedretti) and Jamie (Amelia Eve). Still, months later, you get flashes of Dani and Jamie’s happiest moments, their greatest losses, and—most chillingly—the eternal connection that tethers Dani to Jamie from beyond the grave. It’s rare that a horror series delivers characters that you care about more than the monsters (Hannah and Owen, we love you both). The Haunting of Bly Manor did that, and that’s why the show lingers. — Brett White
‘Raised by Wolves’
They said it couldn’t be done. A wholly original science fiction series full of bizarre new lore, insane twists, and a satisfying Season 1 finale. It should have been impossible, but HBO Max’s Raised By Wolves did it. The Ridley Scott/Aaron Guzikowski series took the aesthetic weirdness of ‘70s sci-fi and dropped it in the era of prestige TV. Led by Danish actress’s Amanda Collin and an ensemble cast of international rising stars, Raised By Wolves was wild, emotional, thrilling, and most of all, entertaining. Fingers crossed they can keep it up in the show’s sure-to-be-insane second season… — Meghan O’Keefe
I am shocked, one more time with italics, shocked that Hulu canceled High Fidelity after one brilliant season. Based on the 1995 novel and 2000 film of the same name, the engrossing series had all the ingredients of a successful TV show: a disarmingly cool leading lady (Zoë Kravitz), an effortlessly charming ensemble, critical acclaim, razor-sharp writing, and a killer soundtrack. The cancellation of High Fidelity was the biggest pop culture travesty of 2020. — Josh Sorokach
Come for the dick jokes, stay for the heartfelt comedy. When Dave premiered this spring, many viewers expected a classic Lil Dicky bit rife with references to the rapper’s small penis, but what they found was a sweet, self-aware comedy jam-packed with emotion. It’s difficult to find something Dave did wrong; from its depiction of mental illness to its heartbreaking portrait of a relationship gone wrong to its hilarious “backpack salmon” punchline, the show’s first season was a masterclass on every front. — Claire Spellberg
‘What We Do In The Shadows’
It’s hard to imagine that FX’s show about dumb vampires could get even better. And yet it did. Season 2 of What We Do in the Shadows was sillier, gorier, and more elaborate than its first iteration. It had everything from Mark Hamill and enchanted dolls to secret vampire hunters and a literal internet troll. But more than anything else this comedy gave us Jackie Daytona. During a year that seemed hellbent on displaying the worst the world has to offer, writer and executive producer Stefani Robinson and star Matt Berry offered us all a regular old Yankee Doodle Dandy from Ara-zone-ia. Truly this was the light we all needed during this dark, dark year. — Kayla Cobb
It makes perfect sense that Ted Lasso was a show all of us at Team Decider could agree on for the very best of the year — because I certainly don’t want to meet any grinch that would disagree! It was the ultimate 2020 show in that it was the hopeful balm we all needed and savored. It’s filled with laughs and every kind of love for friends, teammates, coworkers, romantic partners, and even your enemies. There’s a spirit about this half-hour Apple TV+ comedy, led by Jason Sudeikis, that few shows have ever captured so well. You can recommend this show about a football coach (no sports interest necessary) and his pals to anyone in your life and it’s a near guarantee they will enjoy it. It’s simply impossible not to. Ted Lasso makes viewers feel good and feel optimistic — in 2020! If you haven’t watched it yet, please do, and plan to take the warm, joyous lessons into 2021 (as we wait until Season 2 to arrive in late summer). — Lea Palmieri