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 Queen’s Gambit: Sex, Drugs, and Chess – Netflix Review

A young woman takes the chess world by storm. Yes, that’s a thing.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Beth Harmon (Anya-Taylor Joy/Annabeth Kelly/Isla Johnston) is orphaned when her mother dies in a car crash. At the orphanage, Beth stays isolated aside from her friend Jolene (Moses Ingram) until she sees the Janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), playing chess by himself. He eventually agrees to teach her and, by the age of 9, she has become a prodigious player. As she gets older, she begins to demonstrate incredible skill and starts to win tournaments with her adopted mother, Mrs. Wheatley (Marielle Heller), as her manager. She eventually goes up against American champion Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Soviet champion Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński), and a ton of sexism.

Once she’s got her eyes on you, it’s check and mate… if you’re lucky.

END SUMMARY

It’s tough to make chess interesting in film, which is probably why the movies Searching for Bobby Fischer and Queen of Katwe are the only ones I can name off the top of my head. Both of those are biopics, albeit dramatized, about real young people becoming chess prodigies, whereas this series is entirely fictional. However, since apparently there’s only one chess story to tell, it is still about a young person becoming a chess prodigy. 

There’s a lot of white guys standing around watching.

The reason this series works is because, like the above movies, it’s more about the person than the game. Beth is a broken person and, for much of the series, it’s not even her fault. Her mother died, she was put into an orphanage, and the orphanage drugged her regularly. She’s an addict by the middle of the first episode. The rest of the series pretty much just goes naturally from there, with her spiraling from vice to vice, sometimes under the watch of her adopted mother and sometimes not. At the same time, we see that Beth is not just a chess prodigy, but a brilliant thinker in math and science as well, just not to the same level. I like the depiction of a chess player as not JUST a chess player, but a person who has considerable talents and just dedicates them to chess primarily. Not that this wasn’t true of both Josh Waitzkin and Phiona Mutesi, I’m sure, but their biopics didn’t have the time to expand on it sufficiently. Also, both of those were limited by reality: Waitzkin quit chess in his early 20s and Mutesi, while she does appear to still be active, only has a rating of 1600, whereas chess champions are all usually above 2500. As Beth is fictional, she’s allowed to actually go out and win against the best of the best.

She takes enough drugs that it’s surprising she makes it to the end of the show.

Anya-Taylor Joy’s strength in the portrayal is her eyes. Beth is often depicted as playing games out in her head and visualizing the chessboard, and Joy conveys that perfectly. We see her moving between fierce concentration, anxious fear, and ruthless enjoyment of her victories. She’s got a mostly laconic wit, which Joy lays out well. The supporting cast are also great, although many of them move in and out of the series almost at random. The recurring character of Watts, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, is particularly interesting because his relationship to Beth changes so drastically during the series, going from being an idol to a rival to a friend. 

Yes, he is a chess champion who dresses like a vampire hunter.

Overall, great series whether you like chess or have no use for the game.

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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