2020 has been an insanely insane year! Words like “unprecedented” and “the new normal” simply don’t justify what we’ve collectively been going through since everything hit the fan this past February. Despite a global pandemic, financial collapse, political unrest, and many other variables that made this yeah such a vast hellscape, many of us were able to find some sense of relief through popular culture. Sure, the movie theaters weren’t (and still for the most part) open, but the small screen has still been available for us to consume content. Lucky for us, there have been a plethora of new TV shows to hit the small screen to keep up engaged and entertained. Even the end of the world didn’t stop the golden age of television! While there have been hundreds of new TV shows that have given some great content, we’re gonna narrow this down to the top 20 new TV shows of the year.
Before we dig into the great ones, there are a few honorable mentions that need to be notified as they were also awesome: Snowpiercer (Daveed Diggs taking the reins from Chris Evans in a TV reboot of the Bong Joon-ho sci-fi action film), The Walking Dead: World Beyond (a weird CW-esque teen version of The Walking Dead that somehow managed to have a better fight scene than the one between Darryl and Beta in its inaugural finale as it deepens the mystery of the nefarious group involved with Rick Grimes’ disappearance), The Letter for the King (a fun teen version of a medieval swords and sorcery tale that had the little guy become the most unlikely hero), and neXt (which is literally a TV show where Skynet is portrayed within our own real-world rules) are a few new TV shows that managed to be entertaining and engaging and worthy of some praise, even if they aren’t the best of the best.
Here are the 20 best new shows that premiered in 2020.
20. Stargirl (CW)
While it seemed as though the old guard within the Arrowverse are starting to disappear (Arrow finally ended while Supergirl and Black Lightning are also having their final seasons), that doesn’t mean that some new blood cannot come in to replace the void. Stargirl originally appeared on the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service, but finally gained a respective audience through showing repeats on the CW. Stargirl focuses on Courtney Whitmore, who after moving to the Midwest with her newly blended family, learns that her step-father was a superhero sidekick and after snooping around his old belongings, she has inherited the Cosmic Staff originally held by Justice Society member Starman and she begins her journey to become a superhero. Under her stepfather’s tutelage, she starts to form a new version of the Justice Society while also learning about the Injustice Society in her town and takes them on. Stargirl is DC CCOs baby (both in print and on the small screen), so she’s getting just the right amount of care in the development and display of her character, and actress Brec Bassinger is a breath of fresh air as the new hero.
19. Hunters (Amazon Prime)
Amazon Prime’s Hunters has a very fun premise: Let’s go Nazi hunting! Al Pacino leads a diverse ragtag group of people who dedicate themselves to killing former SS soldiers who are hiding out in America after the end of World War 2. Many have assumed new identities (with the US government’s blessing as they have been proven valuable), and that just doesn’t sit well with them. Centering on young kid Jonah who joins Meyer Offerman’s group of “hunters” as they start going after Nazis in hiding so they can prevent the rise of a Fourth Reich. Hunters operate in a weird drama/satire/black comedy domain that keeps it engaging. The occasional breaking of the fourth wall, or even the breaking out into song and dances also feels out of place, but it makes up in more ways than one when the show swings for the fences in its outlandish killings. The season finale has some unique twists and turns that almost begs for a second season to come as soon as possible.
18. Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous (Netflix)
Despite the lackluster Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs are still awesome. The world of Jurassic Park/Jurassic World still has a lot of room to grow and be fun. Leave it up to Netflix to make a decent Jurassic show with Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. The animated show takes place during the events of the first Jurassic World movie and centers on young kids who are involved in a pilot summer camp program taking place at the doomed park, just as everything hits the fan as it did in the first movie. There are plenty of Easter Eggs associated with the film (like the new Indominus Rex stalking the kids, the pterosaurs getting loose, and showing how terrifyingly like Jaws the mosasaur is), but Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous manages to do its own thing, like finally making the big bad dino, not the Tyrannosaurus or the Indominus Rex, but introducing the equally scary “Toro” the Carnotaurus. Despite the show being geared towards young children, there are stakes that include deaths, and a realistic ending that raises the stakes for the kids and their fates on the ill-fated island.
17. I Am Not Okay With This (Netflix)
Despite Netflix unfortunately canceling I Am Not Okay With This after one season, the teenage superpowered drama was very good. Sydney (Sophia Lillis) is a young 17 year old who is going through the trauma of not only being a teenager at that point in her life where everything is weird, she’s also dealing with her father’s unexpected death. Oh yeah, she’s also developing telekinetic powers that she’s having trouble getting ahold of. Now, we always think of Eleven or Professor X and think, “that’s a cool power to have,” but Sydney shows us that being a literal walking time bomb isn’t as cracked up as it may seem on paper. Her powers get triggered by her feelings, and between having a crush on your best friend, helping your brother from bullies, and being deemed a de facto loser doesn’t help. As stated, Netflix canceled the show, just as it had one absolute mindf*ck of a twist ending which sucks, because it was getting SO good!!
16. Hightown (Starz)
Starz continues to drop some low key gems. While it’s probably “The ‘Power‘ network” for the foreseeable future (with like 20 spin-offs of the popular drug soap opera…. yes it’s a soap opera), that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have other good shows. Hightown centers on Jackie (Monica Raymund), a National Marine Fisheries Service Agent. Her life is somewhat of a train wreck. Despite being technically a federal agent, she has a substantial drug and alcohol problem. That all changes when she comes across a body of a woman murdered and partners with Massachusetts State Police sergeant Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale) as they explore the opioid epidemic in the small Massachusetts resort town of Provincetown. Not only is this a fun mystery, but it gives you an eye-opening view of Provincetown (which is considered the prominent vacation destination for the LGBTQ+ community) and the culture that exists there every summer. Having been there, Hightown captures the community to the letter.
15. Upload (Amazon Prime)
Greg Daniels’ (of The Office and Parks and Recreation fame) newest project Upload explores the concept of a “digital afterlife” as in the year 2033, humanity has discovered a way to upload your consciousness into the cloud. If you die (and pay the right amount of money), you can live on forever after uploading your consciousness to one of many “retirement” providers. After our literal audience avatar Nathan (Robbie Amell) is critically injured in a car accident (or was he murdered?), he is uploaded to Lake View for his new afterlife. Despite his rich girlfriend paying for his afterlife services, he bonds with his afterlife customer service rep Nora (Andy Allo) as the two starts to fall for each other. Upload is a very interesting premise and does a great job at satire of our current culture of 5-star ratings, website paywalls, and corporate monopolies and has a fun twist ending that can only complicate things for Nathan and Nora that leaves you begging for a second season.
14. Brave New World (Peacock)
Based on the 1932 novel of a dystopian society where emotion is outlawed, Peacock’s Brave New World is a surprise as it modernizes the original story. Monogamy, privacy, and even family are outlawed in a new society where everyone is drugged with “soma” pills to keep these things in check. That all changes when John “The Savage” (Alden Ehrenreich) from “the savage lands” (not a part of the new society is introduced and by birthright, becomes a member of this society. Having been raised with a different mindset (love, family, passion), he comes at odds with a society that doesn’t value these things and considers them “savage” and backward. As he is attempted to integrate, he falls in love with Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay) and slowly starts to change this new society. But did is he making it better or worse? Brave New World really pushes the limits of TV-MA with the “no monogamy” rule of the society and there are daily orgies on the show, even though it never has sex for sex’s sake. It’s also good that Alden Ehrenreich got a new opportunity to showcase himself as he got a raw deal in Star Wars’ Solo film. Too bad Peacock canceled the show though.
13. Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Ridley Scott sure loves himself some androids! HBO Max’s flagship show Raised by Wolves centers on androids Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) who were tasked with raising human children on the famed (and very real) Kepler-22b planet after a religious war has devastated Earth. The two androids were programmed to raise the children as atheists as the planet-consuming war was between atheists and the Mithraic religion and the idea is that if there is no religion, humanity will be more peaceful. Of course, the Mithraics also followed them to Kepler-22b led by Marcus/Caleb (Travis Fimmel of Vikings fame) an atheist soldier who killed and took the identity of a Mithraic soldier, and he is starting to drink the Kool-Aid. Raised by Wolves juggles a lot of hats: war, religion, individuality, and robots learning to be better humans. Towards the end of the first season, a new variable is introduced, one that only the creator of the Alien franchise could have, which makes the second season even more interesting.
12. Warrior Nun (Netflix)
As I said before, Netflix’s Warrior Nun is a ridiculous premise done right. Based on the Antarctic Press’ “Amerimanga” comic book “Warrior Nun Areala” by Ben Dunn, Warrior Nun centers on a secret society within the Catholic Church that is dedicated to fighting the forces of evil. Each generation a “champion” is chosen to receive a halo, that then bestows the user with supernatural abilities. This time around, the halo is accidentally given to recently deceased and atheist quadriplegic Ava (Alba Baptista), who is then resurrected and recruited into Order of the Cruciform Sword and trained to be a “warrior nun” with a colorful cast of supporting characters, especially Shotgun Mary (Toya Turner). In addition to fighting demons (or are they really evil?), the warrior nuns have to deal with a conspiracy within the hierarchies of the Catholic Church as once again, humanity is always the villain. Joaquim de Almeida once again steals the scene as an almost mustache-twirling villain, Cardinal Duretti. The first season lays the groundwork in regards to world-building and delivers a fun twist in the finale that begs for a second season.
11. Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
What happens when you combine Rick and Morty and Star Trek? You get Star Trek: Lower Decks. CBS All Access (the Star Trek streamer at this point) managed to make Star Trek raunchy and funny at the same time with their ninth TV series based on the Star Trek franchise. The animates show focuses on the crew members of the U.S.S. Cerritos. Instead of dealing with the executive crew as most Star Trek shows do, Star Trek: Lower Decks centers on the support crew. Literally, the people in the lower decks. Just how Star Trek: Discovery didn’t center on a ship captain, Star Trek: Lower Decks focuses on someone else. This time, the hero is ensign Beckett Mariner, the rebellious daughter of the ship’s captain who is constantly being demoted as she doesn’t take anything seriously. She and her friends while constantly get into adventures, spend most of their time comically screwing things up for the crew. Because of the animation style and the low-brow comedy, Star Trek: Lower Decks is a good show that can get younger audiences engaged in the world of Star Trek.
10. Devs (FX on Hulu)
Alex Garland continues to shine in all his science-fiction projects. With Ex Machina as his directorial debut, he gave us a techno-thriller where a Turing Test proved deadly. With Annihilation, he explored the world of “the shimmer” which re-wrote the rules of biology in a thinly veiled display of dealing with loss. Deciding to take his talents to the small screen, we are introduced to Devs. Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) is a software engineer working for Amaya, a quantum computing company run by Forest (Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation fame), when her boyfriend supposedly kills himself. She’s not buying the cover story and slowly but surely, we are lured into a world of not only corporate espionage, but the power of computing, to the point that the mysterious “Devs” department has built a machine that can see through time, space, and alternate realities. The ideas like free will, determinism, and the multiverse are explored in Devs. Kudos to Nick Offerman who shines as the reclusive Forest as he has finally shed himself from the Ron Swanson persona as is the scariest version of Mark Zuckerberg that can exist.
9. Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Captain Picard is back! What more do you need? Patrick Stewart seemingly turned in his badge in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis (who can blame him) but decided to come back as many folks’ favorite captain after 18 years for another adventure for Jean Luc Picard. Now, no longer within Starfleet, Picard resigned after Starfleet abandoned its core principles after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis as well as the 2009 Star Trek reboot in the Kelvin Universe. After Starfleet abandoned synthetics and left the Romulan refugees on their own, Picard resigned to live a life of solitude on his farm. That all changes with Romulan assassins kill a young woman named Dahj after she sought out Picard. Turns out Dahj is an android living with an organic body. To make matters even more interesting, she’s his best friend (and long-dead) Data’s (Brent Spiner) daughter. Felling he owes his friend, he goes on a mission to save Dahj’s twin sister Soji from a group of Romulans who have a fanatical belief that androids will be the end of everything. Picard finds himself a new crew to assist him but also gets some help from Star Trek fan favorites like Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) as there’s also a Borg subplot. If you are a Next Generation fan, Star Trek: Picard is for you as it gives just the right amount of nostalgia while opening a brand-new world for Star Trek.
8. The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)
It’s about damn time the world knew who John Brown was. The famed abolitionist preacher believed that speeches and pleads against the institution were not enough and the only way to defeat slavery was through violent means. John Brown led a group of like-minded people through the violent “Bleeding Kansas” campaign. John Brown who was responsible for the raid of Harper’s Ferry has been notoriously absent from pop culture. That was until The Good Lord Bird. Based on the James McBride book, The Good Lord Bird is from the perspective of a fictional enclaved boy named Henry “Onion” Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), who becomes entangled with John Brown’s (Ethan Hawke) group, The Good Lord Bird then takes you on their adventures as they carry out bloody vengeance in the name of freeing enslaved Americans. The show takes a little bit of a comical take on John Brown as he is seen as a “crazy preacher” but by the end of the series (thanks to Ethan Hawke devouring the scenery), The Good Lord Bird is an incredibly moving piece of art. Hawke is pretty much a lock-in for getting an Emmy, and Joshua Caleb Johnson should play Miles Morales when the MCU starts making him the new Spider-Man.
7. The Outsider (HBO)
The Stephen King renaissance continues! Based on his 2018 book about detectives faced with a bizarre and unexplainable killing of young children, The Outsider delves deep into Stephen King at his best. Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) is a little league baseball coach who is arrested for the gruesome murder of a young boy he coached. Even though his DNA is all over the crime scene, he has a solid alibi as he was miles away on the night in question. So, what the hell is going on? Police detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn gets to be a good guy) and famed Stephen King private detective Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) start to investigate and learn that the real killer is “El Coco,” a demon from folklore, who can mimic people down to the cellular level. El Coco loves to kill children, and by default, cause misery for the people he impersonates. The Outsider is downright scary and Stephen King at its best. While HBO passed on a second season, it may show up on another network as it was exceptional!
6. The Last Dance (ESPN/Netflix)
If there is any debate as to who the GOAT is between Lebron and Michael Jordan, watch The Last Dance! The exceptional ESPN documentary series had us captivated as it chronicled the final year of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Phil Jackson in their winning of the 1997–1998 NBA championship. The Last Dance had never before seen footage from the team, but dug deep into Jordan and his life and once again proves why ESPN has the best documentaries. Learning about each player, from Steve Kerr’s father being murdered by terrorists in Lebanon, to Scottie Pippin’s notoriously bad contract with the Bulls, to Dennis Rodman’s outlandish antics, The Last Dance gave us a great perspective on the dynamic championship team. Of course, the main star was Michael Jordan and how dangerously competitive he was which created the meme of “and I took that personally.” Jordan’s flu game origins were revealed, and nothing was as touching when he won the game for his father and broke down crying when it was all over. As a Knicks fan, I’m genetically predisposed to hating the 90s Bulls, but even I can stop and give MJ his props, especially after viewing The Last Dance.
5. Utopia (Amazon Prime)
Talk about poor timing! Amazon’s Americanized remake of the British Chanel 4 hit show Utopia had the unfortunate effect of being a conspiracy thriller about a pandemic unleashing chaos, while we all were stuck in the house during a pandemic that was unleashing chaos. Amazon even had to put disclaimers at the beginning of each episode basically saying “this is a TV show, people.” Utopia centers on a group of young adults who are friends online through their love of a famed indie comic book called “Utopia.” They all meet together at a convention to get a copy of the book and finally meet each other. The only problem: Utopia’s real and hidden within the pages of the comic book is a vast conspiracy that has global implications. After finding the real-life protagonist of the comic book Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane), the young group of comic nerds has to stay one step ahead of a cabal led by Kevin Christie (John Cusack) who wants to unleash a plague to correct humanity. As a comic nerd, this is kind of a dream come true scenario that plays out on the small screen in an effective way. Utopia is incredibly violent. Just within the first two episodes, we see children murdered, eyes ripped out, and the “hero” murders one of the geeks just because they have cold feet, but it’s an incredibly fun ride. Unfortunately, Amazon decided not to renew for a second season, so there’s always the original to watch and see how the series ends.
4. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
As I said in my review, The Queen’s Gambit is exceptional as Anya Taylor-Joy delivers as the tortured chess prodigy working her way to be the best chess player in the male-dominated sport. Chess is not known for being an exciting sport, but director Scott Frank along with co-writer Allan Scott deliver and make The Queen’s Gambit an exciting television show. Centering on Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), The Queen’s Gambit not only focuses on the sport of chess (and is responsible for a renewed interest in the sport), but also the ideas of addiction as Beth is not only addicted to becoming the best, but she develops a substance abuse problem. Netflix has already claimed that The Queen’s Gambit is their most-watched series ever (but didn’t release the numbers as Netflix usually does), and there’s a good reason. The production, acting, and story are all exquisite in their coming of age, period piece, and sports drama all rolled into one is an exceptional show that once again shows why Netflix is the OG when it comes to streamers.
3. City So Real (National Geographic)
Director Steve James sought out to do a documentary on the city of Chicago as it was going through a mayoral race, but thanks to the evens of 2020, he ended up capturing so much more with City So Real. The 5-part documentary series chronicles the fall of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, the horrible shooting of Laquan McDonald and the city’s attempt to cover it up, the 2019 mayoral race included 14 candidates and elected Lori Lightfoot as the city’s first black woman mayor, third African American mayor, and the first openly LGBTQ+ mayor. City So Real captured how the political process of electing a major in Chicago works, the slugfest involved, as well as the many communities impacted. In the aftermath of Lightfoot’s election, George Floyd happened, and City So Real kept the cameras rolling to showcase a summer of protest as well as how the city has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. City So Real succeeded in showing a city (warts and all) and not just giving us the Fox News headlines of the supposed “lawlessness” of a major urban American city. I’ve already given this show it’s props in my review, as it’s just an exceptional show.
2. Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Come on now, you know Lovecraft Country had to be on this list! Misha Green’s hit TV show that paid homage to HP Lovecraft while also putting him on blast as the racist he was, was appointment TV this year. Based on the 2016 novel, Lovecraft Country takes place during the 1950s in which Tic Freeman (Jonathan Majors) joins his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and best friend Letitia “fu*kin” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) as they venture through Jim Crow in search of his missing father Montrose (Michael K. Williams).
Slowly but surely, we are in a world of magic, spirits, monsters, the multiverse, and everything in between. Like Watchmen from last year, Lovecraft Country informs as well as entertains. Like people learned about the Tulsa massacre in Watchmen, Lovecraft Country teaches the uninitiated about “sundown towns,” where black people had to flee the town before dark or be killed. In the first episode, the tensest moments were not about weird vampire monsters with multiple eyes, but having to drive out of town (while being forced to drive the speed limit) against the setting sun before the racist sheriff killed everyone. As the series continued, the penultimate episode dealing with the actual race massacre in Tulsa was some of the most emotional moments of TV this year as we got an entire episode dedicated to the massacre (while in Watchmen centered on it as a prologue).
Lovecraft Country finally allowed us to see the awesomeness that exists in Jurnee Smollett. She’s been in the business since she was a child in Eve’s Bayou (more than 23 years ago), but her portrayal as Letti was outstanding. Jonathan Majors has been slowly but surely making his presence seen in The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Da 5 Bloods, but with Lovecraft Country, he’s now a major player in Hollywood. It’s no surprise that he’s going to be Kang the Conqueror in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Lovecraft Country is a genre-bending love letter to black people, who have long been absent in horror and science fiction, but now they have all the magic!
** Honorable Mention** Euphoria: Trouble Don’t Last Always (HBO)
This is a cheat, but it’s my list so I’m adding it anyway. Because of the pandemic, Euphoria’s second season hasn’t been able to resume production, but creator Sam Levinson decided to help us get our fix of Rue (Zendaya). In the season 1 finale of Euphoria, Rue relapsed and started using again after she was heartbroken and left by Jules. The Euphoria special titled “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” picks up with Rue spending Christmas Eve with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) at a local diner as they engage in talks for the entire hour of the special.
Man, this episode is just what Euphoria needed! By default, Euphoria is a very fast-paced show as it deals with teens engaging in drugs and sex, but in the special, Euphoria manages to slow itself down. It simply is just two people talking about life over pancakes. In this episode it’s not the plot twists, the sex, the fights, or the drug use that makes it shine, it’s simply the dialogue. It’s about two people with substance abuse issues talking about themselves and how they have to not fall victim to their disease. Zendaya has already won her Emmy for the first season of Euphoria, but GIVE COLMAN DOMINGO HIS EMMY NOW!! He commands the screen the entire episode as Ali. He breaks down both Rue and life in general so that you understand his perspective on many things. Domingo’s critiques on Nike and Black Lives Matter as well as the notion that people protest and complain about everything to the point that it doesn’t matter and there needs to be a religious/spiritual need for change and not just hashtags, is incredibly on point, exquisite, and topical that this episode is easily one of the best hours of television this year.
1. I May Destroy You (BBC One/HBO)
Michaela Coel’s star continues to rise. During the process of creating her UK dramedy Chewing Gum, the unthinkable happened to her. Unbeknownst to her, Coel was drugged and raped. The only reason Michaela knew about it was because she started experiencing flashbacks of sex she can’t remember having. Now dealing with a trauma like that can be a terrible ordeal. Michaela Coel decided one therapeutic avenue was to apply her creative talents to not only work through the ordeal herself, but also help others understand the concept of consent through the BBC One/HBO masterpiece I May Destroy You.
Basing the story off her own experience, Michaela Coel wrote, produced, directed, and starred in I May Destroy You. The show centers on Arabella (Coel), a Twitter personality turned surprise novelist, who after writing her first book “Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial” is facing a deadline for her second book. To blow off some steam, she heads out of a night of drinking and partying. The next day she starts having flashes of some stranger having sex with her and a bruised head. Arabella goes through the four stages of grief before acknowledging that she has been raped and teams with her friends Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) for support as well as try and piece together what happened that fateful night.
I May Destroy You’s central theme is the idea of consent and perfectly illustrates how grey a line that can sometimes be. Kwame while using Tinder is assaulted by a man he wanted to go on a date, but is laughed off by authorities because he’s gay. At the same time, to try and exert his masculinity, he engages in sex with a woman, but doesn’t reveal he is LGBT, meaning he had sex under false pretenses. Is that a violation? Terry engages in a threesome with two “strangers” she meets at a bar, but finds out later that the two men weren’t strangers and knew each other and set everything up. Is that a violation? Arabella’s rape survivor’s support group leader claimed she was a rape survivor, but a backstory episode revealed that she lied on a young black man who spurned her advances. She genuinely helps counsel rape victims, even though shied cried wolf and could have locked up an innocent victim. I May Destroy You showcases that consent has layers upon layers that can get very messy and murky. The final episode is incredibly powerful as Arabella has various fantasies about what she would do when confronting her rapist as she finally tracked him down. You never know which is the real way the scenario played out, but that doesn’t matter, it’s about her finally getting the chance to heal from her trauma.