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.

Warrior: Bruce Lee’s Vision Done Right – HBO Max Review

This show is amazing and some other network needs to pick it up.

SUMMARY

Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) is a Chinese-American martial artist who arrives in San Francisco searching for his sister Xiaojing (Dianne Doan). He quickly runs afoul of local authorities and gains the attention of local black marketer Wang Chao (Hoon Lee) who introduces him to Father Jun (Perry Yung), head of the Hop Wei Tong (gang), and his bastard son Young Jun (Jason Tobin). Ah Sahm saves Young Jun from being abducted and the pair become friends. Ah Sahm also becomes involved with Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng), a local Madame. However, Ah Sahm’s arrival comes at a time in which the violence between the Tongs, as well as the violence between the Irish gangs and the Chinese all are on the rise. As a result, Mayor Blake (Christian McKay) orders the creation of a Chinatown police squad under Big Bill O’Hara (Kieran Bew) and his new officer Richard Lee (Tom Weston-Jones). This comes from the machinations of the deputy mayor, Walter Buckley (Langley Kirkwood), and against the wishes of Blake’s wife, Penelope (Joanna Vanderham). There’s gonna be a lot of fighting in the future.

And the fighting shall be glorious.

END SUMMARY

So, before his death, Bruce Lee pitched a series to Warner Bros. Television called Ah Saham about a martial artist in the Old West, but the network passed… only to quickly create Kung Fu starring David Carradine. The network says it’s a coincidence, which is code for “we have lawyers and you don’t.” While I do like Kung Fu and its sequel series, this show is a completely different animal. What Lovecraft Country and Watchmen did in opening people’s eyes to some of the horrible things that America did to black Americans, this show tries to do for some of the things that were done to Chinese immigrants in California, including the incipience of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only law ever implemented specifically to prevent all members of an ethnic group from immigrating to the US (so far). It’s a hell of a demonstration, since many of the more fleshed-out and likable characters are also some of the most mistreated by this society. 

That includes some of the “villains,” since everyone gets screwed.

I will also give the show credit for pointing out that the Irish-Chinese labor wars really just served to make the wealthy land and labor barons even wealthier. Each group kept undercutting the other and directing their violence towards their fellow laborers, while the people who are encouraging the fighting reap the benefits of the cheap labor. The show not only demonstrates this on multiple levels, but outright states it multiple times just to make sure the audience understands it. 

They want to deliver the message like a haymaker to the face.

The action sequences in the show are fantastic. They occur reliably, but not so often that they become trite. Notably, there’s a tribute to Enter the Dragon in the second season and it’s beautiful. Andrew Koji, while he does not appear to have studied Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, was a competitive martial artist in Shaolin kung fu and taekwondo and has been doing his own stunts and fight choreography for many years. He knows how to sell a fight scene as well as almost any actor I’ve seen in quite a while. When the moment calls for it, he can also deliver a solid emotional performance, though his character mostly maintains a “silent badass” vibe. He works perfectly for this role. 

Yes, he uses nunchaku it’s pretty amazing.

The acting in general is excellent. The actors are all given a lot of solid material to work with and I cannot think of a single performance that I thought was inferior. I particularly thought that Olivia Cheng was great as the historical character Ah Toy and that Perry Tobin was great as the ambitious and kind of easily-swayed Young Jun. I also like how the show switches between subtitles and English depending on whether there are non-Mandarin speakers in the area. Sometimes it even uses the switch to great comic effect.  

Olivia Cheng’s portrayal is full of surprises.

Overall, this was a fantastic show. Unfortunately, Cinemax has stopped making original content, so this show is now in limbo. I’m hoping that HBO Max or Netflix picks up the baton.

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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