Joker’s Top 10 Television Shows of 2020

We all had a lot of time to binge and here were the best bits.

Special Recognition: Tiger King

Look, I’m not going to say that I thought Tiger King was the best show of the year, but I can say without a doubt that Tiger King was the most 2020 show. It was an absolute thrill ride into the most disturbed and depraved group of people you could get to sign a release. I don’t think we’ll see anything like it for a long time.

Probably because the king is in jail.

10) The Midnight Gospel – Netflix

Everything about this show was insane and somehow I think that made it one of the most original things on television. Essentially made of recordings of Duncan Trussell’s podcast with completely unrelated (or seemingly unrelated) images animated over them, this show ended up being a bunch of powerful and existential messages concealed in weird and wacky clips. 

And it’s hosted by a wizard, basically.

9) What We Do In The Shadows – Hulu

While some shows reinvent themselves a bit with their second seasons, this show instead decided to start expanding its universe beyond just the existence of vampires, bringing in ghosts, witches, and zombies while also giving its characters more fleshed-out and hilarious backstories. Also, it gave us Jackie Daytona, the ultimate human disguise.

What We Do in the Shadows | FX on Hulu
Also, Colin eats a corporation.

8) Lovecraft Country – HBO Max

An adaptation of Matt Ruff’s book of the same name, Lovecraft Country managed to combine the cosmic horror and monstrosities of H.P. Lovecraft with the existential threat and atrocities of racism in the United States. A number of the episodes and characters in this show were up at the top of television. Unfortunately, it did seem to get a bit off-kilter towards the end or it would be ranked higher. 

The show that taught white America about Sundown Towns.

7) Warrior – HBO Max

I only reviewed it last week, but this show brought Bruce Lee’s desire for a television show to life almost fifty years after his death and it is glorious. Filled with great action sequences, this show conveys the story of a martial artist in San Francisco during the late 1800s and it approaches that with an unwavering resolve towards accuracy. 

You can hear this photo beating you up.

6) Never Have I Ever – Netflix

A complete surprise to me, this show about a nerdy high-school girl trying to lose her virginity and achieve popularity was one of the best-written things I’ve seen in a while. It’s one of the funniest shows Netflix put out last year and I was surprised that it seemed to fade off of critics lists very quickly. Still, it’s going on mine.

The leads are all amazing.

5) The Queen’s Gambit – Netflix

If someone told me there’d be such a compelling mini-series about a woman playing chess in the 1960s, I’d have thought they were crazy, but this show managed to pull it off. Anya Taylor-Joy brought an amazing amount of charisma to a character that could easily have come off as shallow, often acting solely with her very expressive eyes. Also, it made chess awesome. Truly, a great accomplishment.

Smart is sexy.

4) The Mandalorian – Disney+

This show decided to use its second season to try and incorporate more traditional elements of the Star Wars universe into the series and rather than overshadowing the core characters, it made it clear that this was a universe filled with fun and exciting stories everywhere and that we’re only seeing a part of them. It’s what I wanted out of Star Wars for a long time. Plus, BABY YODA!!! (Now Grogu)

Behold the face of cuteness.

3) Perry Mason – HBO Max

It’s tough to do a new take on a series that ran from the fifties to the nineties, but HBO Max managed to pull it off. With a film-noir vibe and some new characterizations, this show made Perry Mason feel a little dirty while still emphasizing that he’s the good guy; the system he fights against is not. I hope they keep it going.

HBO Reveals PERRY MASON Premiere Date, Poster and Plot Details
It’s got hats, too.

2) Schitt’s Creek – Netflix

I hadn’t watched this show until it finished, but once I started I could not stop. It’s as funny as it gets and you will fall in love with the characters despite how much you would want to hate them at the start of the show. Containing as many moments that’ll make you cry as laugh, it deserves all of the acclaim it got. 

It also had a solid version of Cabaret.

1) The Good Place – Netflix

I would never have thought you could bring The Good Place to a satisfying end. It’s a show that starts off with the premise that all of the characters are already dead and, therefore, are already living an essentially eternal existence. However, somehow, the show managed to not only pull it off, but pull it off in a more touching and more real way than I could have ever thought. It was an amazing ride and we are all the better for taking it.

Plus, it had a promo with a sofa. Automatic win.

The Mandalorian (Season 2): Finding Your Potential – Disney+ Review

After a pretty good first season, the show seems to be stepping up its game.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were some battles among celestial bodies. Five years after the Rebellion managed to destroy the second Death Star and kill the Emperor, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. He is hired by a client (Werner F*CKING Herzog) to secure a bounty, which is revealed to be a small child of an unnamed species. The Mandalorian betrays the client and decides to protect the child, earning him a host of enemies all over the galaxy, most notably his allies Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and the late Kuiil (Nick Nolte) as well as the ire of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito).  Eventually, he is charged by his clan’s armorer (Emily Swallow) with finding a home for the Child with its kind.  All kinds of fun surprises lie in store.

One of which is Timothy Olyphant being a badass space cowboy.

END SUMMARY

When I reviewed the first season of The Mandalorian, I definitely liked it, but I admit to still feeling like they hadn’t quite started fully tapping its potential. This second season started to step up its game a bit and I really appreciate it. 

It’s tough to improve on some things, though.

First, giving the Mandalorian an actual explicit goal beyond “keep the child alive” has given him motivation that he definitely needed. For all of the badass and bravado that we get from Din Djarin, he is a fairly void character. While it’s often fine to have a character onto whom the viewer can project, and having a character who is literally faceless facilitates that well, they still need personality. I think that they’ve done a great job expanding on that without having to use clunky exposition by showing how the Mandalorian handles his current task, particularly since it forces him to interact with people that he normally wouldn’t. 

Including other Mandalorians with different opinions.

Second, while the first season gave us a taste of life in the Star Wars universe for the more normal people, the second season has expanded on that both geographically and politically. It’s shown us monsters on a scale that really had only been alluded to before now. There are extra cultural touches to every planet and hazards that you wouldn’t normally consider for this kind of fantasy universe. It has the effect of giving us more of a frontier element to the series to complement its Western elements. Also, we start to get an idea of why, exactly, the new Republic is going to be put in danger again in The Force Awakens, due to their own incompetence. It turns out that the Empire, while it suppressed everyone through force and violence, did actually at least keep some of the lawlessness on the outer planets, which the Republic completely ignored, in check.

A creature that can swallow buildings is just the tip of the monster iceberg.

Third, they’ve been tying the show into the existing Star Wars mythos in JUST the right way. It was a big deal at the end of the first season to introduce the Darksaber, but this season has reintroduced multiple characters from other Star Wars properties. The key, though, is that none of the references or introductions have required the viewer to know the backstory. If you are familiar with it, then you get more out of the experience, but people I know who have never seen anything other than the films who have been enjoying the series thoroughly.

This shot contains no spoilers. The person he’s hunting would be a big one.

Overall, just a great step-up by Disney+ and I am hoping they keep it going.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Disney+ Mini-Review: The Mandalorian – It’s Fun and That’s Fine

Disney finally gave us the Star Wars side story that we secretly always wanted and I’m pretty happy about it.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free if you have the internet)

It’s 5 years after Return of the Jedi and most of the Galaxy’s collective sh*t is pretty broken. A lot of soldiers are now working as private armies, a lot of formerly powerful Imperials are trying to resist the new Republic, and bounty hunting is a viable business model.

Image result for the mandalorian
His people fought Jedi. Just remember that.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is a bounty hunter who operates alone and tends to be fairly brutal in combat. His bounty hunting guild leader Greef Karga (Carl “Apollo” Weathers) informs him that there is a client (Werner “Holy sh*t, Werner Herzog” Herzog) with a special bounty request. When the bounty price is revealed to be a cache of Beskar steel, sacred to Mandalorians, the Mandalorian agrees. After gaining the assistance of a vapor farmer named Kuill (Nick Nolte) and a robot bounty hunter IG-11 (Taika “What Waititi Do in the Shadows” Waititi), he succeeds in finding the target, but discovers that it is a child from the same species as Yoda. Having a change of heart, the Mandalorian goes on the run with The Child, earning enemies everywhere.

END SUMMARY

Let’s get it out of the way: Baby Yoda is about the cutest damned thing out there. It’s what happens when someone looks at baby Groot and goes “I’ll top this.” Is it bad writing to have a character whose main trait is just that he’s adorable? Maybe, but also HE’S SO ADORABLE YOU GUYS. Also, I think they’re going to name the child Yoda just so that, in retrospect, everyone isn’t wrong about what they call him. 

Image result for the mandalorian baby yoda
This is him in a bad mood and I want to hug him so badly.

Star Wars has had a lot of great stuff and a lot of crap over the years, but mostly it’s created an amazing world that manages to combine the possibilities of almost every frontier. Any scene can take place, justifiably, in almost any environment. You can have a representation of a futuristic armada intercut with a sequence of desert survival and nothing about that is inconsistent with the Star Wars universe. That means that, in Star Wars, you can imagine almost any background for a character or culture and it will still fit. Star Wars doesn’t stifle the imagination, it feeds it. That’s why it’s so great to get a show like this, where we just see a completely different story playing out parallel to the rest of the series. 

Image result for the mandalorian
This is a robot with a bandolier. That’s just awesome.

While Star Wars was based on the old Buck Rogers serials and their sci-fi action/adventure roots mixed with Japanese jidaigeki films (mostly The Hidden Fortress), The Mandalorian is its own melting pot of genres. The main character is based on the Man with No Name figure typically associated with Clint Eastwood, a taciturn gunslinger who travels alone and has his own code of ethics. However, once he becomes attached to The Child, the series shifts slightly to be more like Lone Wolf and Cub, the famous Samurai manga and film series about a father doing horrible killings to protect his son. By blending the Western and Eastern influences with the sci-fi and fantasy setting, the show can justify making episode-specific genre shifts. This means that rather than having to focus on maintaining a consistent tone, the series allowed the writers and directors to explore more when they had control while still being true to the characters. For example, we have a heist episode that ends up also playing out a number of horror tropes and it still works.

Image result for the mandalorian
Surprise, the Devil guy is not nice (yes, hes a Devaronian, Star Wars names are easy).

The action sequences in the show are among the best in the Star Wars universe, partially because there are more people with guns and fewer space wizards. Not that I don’t love a good lightsaber battle as much as the next guy, but that’s been the majority of sustained action sequences in the franchise. Instead, we get to watch a bounty hunter use a combination of fantastic weaponry, tactical planning, and training to take out small armies of enemies. Hell, we get to see a single person fight a TIE fighter and, well, it’s everything that Star Wars videogames told me it would be. 

Image result for star wars shadows of the empire video game
Same with an AT-AT.

Overall, this is just a great show. Does it have a huge character arc for the main character? Not really. Does it have a ton of lines that are profoundly quotable and meaningful? Nope. Does it teach me things about myself that I would never have found otherwise? Not at all. BUT IT’S JUST SO FUN. It’s got a space cowboy kicking ass to protect the cutest creature in TV history, a phrase that also describes Firefly, and that’s all I wanted out of it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.