Our Favorite Shows of 2020, From ‘Schitt’s Creek’ and ‘Ted Lasso’ to ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Ted Lasso Lovecraft Country Queen's Gambit
Apple TV+; HBO; Netflix

Yes, it’s good riddance to most of 2020, but TV, we were happy to discover, was better than ever. Just as we were forced to stay at home, shows we loved upped the reasons to keep us watching, while a steady stream of new content filled with fresh ideas made sitting on our couches the greatest escape imaginable.

Our favorite series — a couple of which were chosen by more than one person — range from some of the year’s buzziest shows (such as Schitt’s Creek and The Queen’s Gambit) to those you should think about trying if you haven’t yet (think Giri/Haji, The Great). Each is a testament to the extraordinary talent both in front and behind the cameras. Let’s get right to it.

Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV/Netflix)

Schitt's Creek Series Finale Annie Murphy Eugene Levy Alexis Johnny

Pop TV

In a year that brought so much pain and loss, Schitt’s Creek was an unapologetic jolt of joy. What started in 2015 as an amusing but under-the-radar series about a formerly wealthy family slumming it in the titular small town became a heartwarming cultural phenomenon that launched catch phrases (“Ew, David!) and water cooler conversations about the eccentric Rose clan: parents Johnny and Moira (Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara), and their dependent adult kids, David (Daniel Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy). The Pop network series’ final season, which aired earlier this year, is by far its best, as each of the Roses evolve into the best versions of themselves in hilarious and heartbreaking ways. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll covet Moira’s wigs. — Eric Andersson

The Boys (Prime Video)

The Boys Season 2

Amazon Prime Video

There was a surplus of bingeable shows in 2020, but nothing has held my interest as much as Prime Video’s hilariously self-aware superhero gorefest, The Boys. Bonus: It has more than just wild, mind-numbing action and violence (though, you know, sometimes that’s not bad either); the show comments on issues ranging from racism and sexism in the workplace to the corruption of all-powerful “supes” and corporations. — Emily Aslanian

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Apple TV+

Apple TV+

Happiness was hard to come by this year, so I was thrilled to discover that Ted Lasso is hoarding an abundance of it. While I’m not much of a soccer fan, it doesn’t matter; this fish-out-of-water tale following Jason Sudeikis‘ titular character as he travels across the pond to coach a game he knows nothing about proves that kindness goes the ultimate distance. His ability to soften even the hardest of hearts is a quality 2020 was in dire need of. Whether it’s the players who push back on his unconventional style or his boss who had hired him with bad intentions, Ted worms his way into every heart in his orbit. — Meaghan Darwish

Normal People (Hulu)

Normal People Daisy Edgar-Jones Paul Mescal

Hulu

Sally Rooney’s novel comes to life in the beautifully made limited series that broke hearts and left viewers with plenty of tears. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell’s (Paul Mescal) relationship, covering high school through their college years at Trinity, projects a semblance of reality that not all romantic dramas achieve. As much as they try to make their relationship work, life, as it often does, gets in the way. Between new professional opportunities and tumultuous situations at home, Normal People shows how two people who care about each other don’t have always have to be together to have each other’s backs. — MD

Prodigal Son (Fox)

Prodigal Son Whitly Family Killers

Barbara Nitke/Fox

The gleefully twisted drama starring Tom Payne as traumatized criminal profiler Malcolm Bright, and Michael Sheen as his serial killer father, Dr. Martin Whitly, wrapped its first season in early 2020 with a cliffhanger I haven’t stopped raving about since. It’s the perfect, shocking ending to a satisfying season-long mystery, and the beginning of even more wildly dysfunctional — and fun — family dynamics to come. — Mandi Bierly

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

Anya Taylor Joy The Queen's Gambit Beth Harmon

Netflix

Just when I thought the pandemic had done an irreversible number on my attention span, along comes this limited series about chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman trying to find herself and some people she can count on in the 1960s. I stayed up till 4 a.m. binge-watching the seven episodes, cheering her on and being grateful for a compelling story I could get lost in. — MB

Evil (CBS)

Mike Colter Katja Herbers Evil Kristen Bouchard David Acosta

Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

Evil just did OK in the ratings in 2019 (ranked #61 out of a 100 in total viewer), but CBS knew it had a good show on its hands so the network made it available on Netflix last October to hopefully generate more attention. I might not have caught it otherwise. But it’s perfect for a relatively quick binge (only 13 episodes, much less than the still-standard network order), the chemistry of the supernatural hunting team of Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) and David Acosta (Mike Colter) (the skeptic and the believer) is electric, and there are genuine creeps and scares that make you want to watch with someone else close by. — Michael Fell

Lovecraft Country (HBO)

Lovecraft Country

HBO

This engrossing genre mashup sets the real-life struggles of a Black Chicago family in the segregated 1950s against a supernatural tale. Young Korean War vet Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) goes on a road trip through Jim Crow America with his photographer friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett) and bookworm Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to his missing father’s last known location. They discover a hidden family history and are soon fighting for survival against an ancient cabal in possession of powerful magic. There are thrills galore from horror and sci-fi tropes: monsters, time travel, even an Indiana Jones-like sequence. These are smartly woven in with the characters’ everyday concerns and real historical events, such as the 1955 funeral of Emmett Till, a Black child horrifically murdered by white men in Mississippi — making it clear the monsters are as much in the real world as the supernatural one. — Kate Hahn

The Great (Hulu)

Elle Fanning The Great

Ollie Upton/Hulu

Huzzah to this historical satire from The Favourite co-writer Tony McNamara. The Great focuses on the culturally sophisticated but politically naïve Empress Catherine (Elle Fanning), new to the Russian court, who is first puzzled by the stupidity and debauchery of her husband, Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult) and his sycophantic courtiers. It’s hilarious and satisfying to watch her figure out how to manipulate them using their own egos and ignorance so she can improve the lives of the much-abused peasants — and herself. The absurd acts of aristocratic cruelty are so pointless and shocking that all you can do is laugh — and plan how to slip Catherine a knife so she can stab Peter in the back. — KH

Normal People (Hulu)

Normal People

Hulu

No series delivered an emotional sucker punch in 2020 like Hulu’s Irish drama. Based on Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name, the limited series focuses on the romantic relationship between quiet Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal) and outspoken Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones). The highs and lows of the pair drifting in and out of each other’s lives oozes with the kind of raw feeling that leaves you gutted…but also longing for more. — Jim Halterman

The Magicians (Syfy)

The Magicians Ending Arjun Gupta Reaction

James Dittinger/SYFY

I wanted to go with Amazon’s so-clever Upload for showing the world that Robbie Amell had range, and then I thought, “No, Crisis on Infinite Earths for the sheer nerdgasm of seeing so much of the DC Universe all in one crossover.” But no, this year, it has to go to The Magicians for ending five seasons of intricately mapped out allegories for mental health, trauma, and adulting with a beautiful gift series finale that, fittingly, involved Santa. Because that is how messed-up and awesome this show always was. — Damian Holbrook

Prodigal Son (Fox)

Prodigal Son Season 2 Characters Malcolm

Barbara Nitke/Fox

The Fox thriller has the right mix of dark comedy (Tom Payne’s Malcolm Bright chops off a guy’s hand in the premiere!) and serial killers. From the Whitly family reunions in Martin’s (Michael Sheen) cell and the work of the spectacular cast — fun standouts include Bellamy Young as Jessica, who strives to stay in control despite having had no clue of her husband’s murderous urges, and Keiko Agena as Edrisa, who enjoys a good murder as much as Bright — to the bloody shocking Season 1 ending, every minute was a delight. — Meredith Jacobs

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC)

Zoeys playlist

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Who doesn’t need a musical dramedy in 2020? Zoey’s was a bright spot in a tough year, even though it made me full-on sob during the finale. While some parts were harder to watch than others (oh, the secondhand embarrassment at times!) — and as someone who’s Team Max all the way, that includes the love triangle — I have loved every bit of Zoey’s journey so far, sometimes even especially when it’s made me cry. — MJ

Cobra Kai (Netflix)

cobra kai youtube 1

One of my most relaxing activities while stuck at home this year was binge-watching Cobra Kai with my husband. The follow-up to The Karate Kid movies is the perfect mix of nostalgia (love seeing the clips from the films!) and new storytelling. Is it a little unbelievable that a whole student body would become so invested in karate? Sure. But I’m definitely invested in what happens next for Daniel (Ralph Macchio), Johnny (William Zabka), and their students. — Amy Miller

How To With John Wilson (HBO)

HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON PORTRAIT

HBO

How To with John Wilson is a surreal love letter to New York City. In each episode, filmmaker Wilson hits the streets armed a camera to learn more about a specific topic, from how to make small talk to how to split the check at a restaurant. He chats with random New Yorkers, asks their advice, and ends up in places so far from where he started you forget what the episode was even about. The show is witty, charming, and utterly compelling. The season finale is the highlight. In it, Wilson decides to learn how to make risotto just as COVID hits and, as he films, life unravels around him, a reminder of how quickly our lives changed in a short period of time. Wilson handles all of this with a combination of bewilderment, humor, and sensitivity that scripted shows just haven’t been able to tap into. — Lori Perna

Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame) (Netflix)

Netflix

This creative eight-part British mashup of a violent Yakuza crime story, an emotional family drama, and an unlikely cross-cultural romance was riveting edge-of-the-seat entertainment. Filmed in both London and Tokyo , the episodes mingled flashbacks, split screens, even animation to tell the story of a Japanese cop (Takehiro Hira) whose life changes in profound ways when he heads to London to bring back his reckless gangster brother (Youske Kubozuka) and avert a gang war. — Ileane Rudolph

Supernatural (The CW)

Supernatural Jared Padalecki Jensen Ackles

The CW

It may seem odd in a tough year to find solace and hope in the 15th and final season of a horror show replete with demons, vampires, Lucifer, and an ego-driven God, but that’s exactly what Supernatural offered. The show’s battered monster-hunting heroic siblings Sam and Dean Winchester (played with warmth and humor by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively) kept fighting for humanity out of love — no matter how bleak the situation. Plus, there’s beer in Heaven! — IR

The Crown (Netflix)

the crown season 4 emma corrin josh o'connor

Netflix

Like everyone, I’ve watched a lot of TV in semi-quarantine this year, and most of it has been really good. But if I’m thinking about my favorite show of 2020, I’m not trying to be clever or to impress anyone: It was The Crown. The show’s fourth season was the only thing I watched this year that provoked an immediate and intense desire to rewatch it as soon as the credits on the finale rolled. I guess what I needed most as the days darkened was that heady mix of melodrama, history, and gossip delivered in clipped, patrician accents. Throw in a precisely executed Stevie Nicks music cue and, well, the competition never stood a chance. — John Russell