Like everything else, TV took a hit in this year of the pandemic, but networks felt the impact more so than streaming and premium. The latter categories put out several good short-form series or seasons, accelerating what had been a gradual shift to that format and making a tough year bearable. These were my 10 favorite TV series of 2020:
David E. Kelley’s ascension from snarky network procedurals to the rarefied air of classy miniseries continues from “Big Little Lies” (2017-19) into the recently wrapped “The Undoing” (HBO). At its foundation, the courtroom-scene writing is the equivalent of a top-shelf arc on “The Practice,” but this not-boring-for-a-moment six-episode series reaches another level thanks to its additional trappings. Namely, Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman shine as a husband and wife, Jonathan and Grace Fraser, going through the titular “undoing” of their marriage after he’s accused of murder.
If “The Third Day” (Mondays, HBO) was an open-ended series, I’d bow out after this first episode, cuz ain’t nobody got time fo’ a “Lost”-ian wait for answers. But since it’s a six-hour miniseries (rather than six seasons) there’s enough here to keep me coming back. The decidedly weird first hour is more good-weird than bad-weird. It’s not as creepy as I’d prefer, but it is mysterious, and an appealingly weathered, receding-hairlined Jude Law makes a fine lead as Sam.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with fall TV scheduling (it’s hard to tell one socially distanced, masked story, let alone fill a slate with them), and also revealed that (no surprise) cable and streaming were better prepared with content in their pipelines than the networks. But while 2020 serves up the thinnest lineup in modern TV history, it’s not a total wash. Here are my thoughts on 13 notable fall premieres, along with a “Go Bananas” Level (on a 10-point scale) of how excited I am for the series. All times Eastern:
It’s been three years since the previous season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO), so Larry David and his writers had plenty of absurdities from the real world to turn into absurdities on the show. Suffice it to say Larry gets into a lot of trouble in Season 10, which recently wrapped a 10-episode run that’s a nice mix of political correctness inanities and everyday annoyances that only “Curb” would latch onto.
Ilove the fact that there are still some weekly shows on TV (as opposed to all-in-one seasonal drops), but “Westworld” (Sundays, HBO) is not the ideal show for this format. Then again, even when binged, it’s hard to keep all the characters and their goals straight. Still, after a Season 2 that I found tough to get through, I decided to give Season 3 a chance. And the season premiere, “Parce Domine,” is one of the best episodes of the series to date.
Creator Damon Lindelof has taken the lessons learned on “Lost” – where time-jumping was a sometimes fun, sometimes hoary narrative device – and beautifully applied them to the nine-episode “Watchmen” (2019, HBO), a sequel to the comic/movie of the same name. Time is central to the “Watchmen” saga, the primary image of which is a clock counting down to the 1980s nuclear doomsday, especially with Dr. Manhattan existing outside of time as we mere mortals perceive it.
The Outsider” (Sundays, HBO) is written, directed and paced with such slow-burn confidence that a viewer can almost fool themselves into thinking this isn’t just another Stephen King novel adaptation. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of King’s catalog; I count some of his books and their movie versions as masterpieces. But it’s hard to disguise the Kingian cliches on display in this adaptation of his 2018 novel.
Here are 10 movies and 10 TV shows I’m looking forward to in the new year:
In chronological order, these were our 20 favorite TV shows of the 2010s: