The best and worst TV shows of 2020: 'The Flight Attendant,' 'The Mandalorian' and 'The Queen's Gambit'

Yahoo Entertainment Staff
·16 min read
(Photos: HBO Max/Everett Collection)
I May Destroy You, Queen's Gambit, The Mandalorian and The Flight Attendant. (Photos: HBO Max/Everett Collection)

The line between movies and television blurred in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down big-screen multiplexes and made the small screen our only screen. But even as high-profile films like The King of Staten Island and Wonder Woman 1984 turned our living rooms into movie theaters, viewers still binged big-time on episodic television shows ranging from Tiger King and The Mandalorian to The Flight Attendant and The Queen’s Gambit. Here are Yahoo Entertainment’s picks for the 20 best shows we streamed in 2020... and the five we’ll never revisit.

THE BEST

20. Some Good News (YouTube)

The early days of the coronavirus lockdown were challenging, as the first COVID-19 victims passed away, jobs were lost, and toilet paper was scarce. Enter Office alum John Krasinski with Some Good News... literally. The actor’s DIY talk show crowd-sourced hilarious and heartwarming videos, paid memorable tribute to frontline workers, patched astronauts in from space… and even reunited the cast of Hamilton. The actor later caught some flack for selling what felt like an act of viral kindness to Viacom, but if you know Krasinski you know his heart is in the right place. We trust that decision will be redeemed. — Kevin Polowy

19. We Want Our Trek TV: Picard, Lower Decks & Discovery (CBS All Access)

2020 marked the first time since the 1990s that Trekkers could explore the final frontier on multiple Star Trek shows. The year dawned with the long-awaited return of Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, who embarked on a grand adventure that involved the return of some familiar faces and promised the character a new beginning. Over the summer, the rowdy cartoon Lower Decks got hilariously meta with Trek conventions, while also creating a cast of characters viewers grew to love. And Discovery recently returned in thrilling fashion, sending its crew to the distant future and finding renewed narrative drive in the process. The future of the Star Trek franchise is now, and we’re loving it. — Ethan Alter

18. Saved by the Bell (Peacock)

Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot isn’t just better than the many previous attempts to relaunch the iconic ‘90s teen series — The College Years, anyone? — it may even be superior to the original show. As overseen by 30 Rock veteran, Tracey Wigfield, the 2020 version tickles the nostalgia buttons with regular appearances by the O.G. Bayside crew, but also invests viewers in the lives of a new class of students, including breakout stars Josie Totah and Alycia Pascual-Peña. Based on how well they handled SBTB, we’re even more excited for the streaming service’s Punky Brewster revival. — E.A.

17. Survivor: Winners at War (CBS)

Thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, the all-star 40th season of Survivor is likely the last we’ll see of CBS’s signature reality series for awhile. But what a way to go out. Winners at War reassembled some of the greatest Survivor players from the show’s two-decade run — from Amber and Boston Rob to Sandra and Tony — for an epic reunion that delivered one surprise after another. In a way, this edition felt like the perfect series finale to the show’s first 20 years. When Survivor finally does return, here’s hoping they find a way to raise the game. — E.A.

16. Lovecraft Country (HBO)

Freely adapted from Matt Ruff’s bestseller, Misha Green’s road trip through 1950s America found horror in both the real world and the terrifying realms inspired by the titular author. More importantly, Lovecraft Country reclaims H.P. Lovecraft’s narratives for a new generation, stripping them of their barely-concealed racism and misogyny. Already rising stars on the big screen, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett delivered phenomenal performances that always held down the dramatic center of the show, even as the stories went in wild directions. — E.A.

15. Small Axe (Amazon Prime Video)

Oscar-nominated director Steve McQueen tells five stories from England’s relatively recent past, each one centered around London’s West Indian immigrant community in the 1970s and 1980s. The crown jewel of the collection is Lovers Rock, a glorious portrait of an after-hours house party that vibrates with feeling and incredible music. But each film has its own joys and sorrows as it depicts the systemic injustice across British society at the time, from the courtroom in Mangrove to the classroom in Education. The parallels to modern-day America can’t — and shouldn’t — be ignored. — E.A.

14. Kaley Cuoco to the Max: The Flight Attendant and Harley Quinn (HBO Max)

With apologies to Gal Gadot, HBO Max’s biggest star isn’t Wonder Woman — it’s Kaley Cuoco. The Big Bang Theory veteran has emerged as the nascent streaming service’s main attraction via The Flight Attendant, a fresh and funny mash-up of The Hangover and airport fiction that Cuoco executive produced and stars in. And if you’re coming to HBO Max for The Flight Attendant, be sure to spend some quality time with DC’s hilariously deranged Harley Quinn cartoon, featuring Cuoco as the R-rated Cupid of Crime alongside a rich vocal cast that includes Lake Bell, Andy Daly and Sanaa Lathan as some of Gotham City’s best-loved villains. — E.A.

13. The Great (Hulu)

The title says it all. Tony McNamara’s wickedly funny period piece offers a fractured fairy tale account of the life of Russian monarch Catherine the Great, played to comic perfection by Elle Fanning. Showing up at the Russian court expecting to commence a grand love affair with her new husband, Peter III (Nicolas Hoult, doing a grand Hugh Laurie impression), Catherine instead finds herself plotting a coup to rid her adopted nation of its oversexed, undereducated ruler. And unlike many streaming shows, The Great actually gets greater as it goes along, arriving at a season finale that masterfully combines Voltaire, revolution... and a delicious lemon hazelnut cake. — E.A.

12. The Last Dance (ESPN)

For much of the 1990s, Michael Jordan was the biggest star on Earth. From his mesmerizing dunks to his iconic Nike Airs to his beloved Bugs Bunny team-up in Space Jam, M.J. owned pop culture just as his Chicago Bulls owned the NBA. His Airness soars anew in The Last Dance, which features unprecedented access into Jordan's final go-around with that 1997 Bulls team — the b-ball Beatles with M.J. and sidekicks Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and Zen master coach Phil Jackson. The 10-part ESPN docuseries chronicles the high drama that went down both on and off the court, and filled a necessary gap when live sports were on an extended timeout during the early months of the pandemic. — Marcus Errico

11. The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

While The Great British Baking Show is always a welcome tonic — thanks to its sugary subject matter and the spirit of bonhomie that sees apron-clad strangers cheerfully competing for what is essentially a large dinner plate — the 2020 edition was even more desperately needed given… you know. It’s a huge relief that producers were able to pull off a series amid the pandemic by having contestants and crew members — including new co-host Matt Lucas, replacing the much-missed Sandi Toksvig — leave their home kitchens and form one large baker bubble. There were a few flaws, such as a controversial Japanese Week theme and Hermine’s premature ouster, but overall it was just the emotional hot water bottle we so desperately needed this year. If you didn’t cry happy tears into your Betty Crocker brownie mix, were you even watching? — Erin Donnelly

10. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (Netflix)

Your typical soap opera doesn’t have as many twists as the docuseries that gripped audiences in March, just when we were grounded at home by the pandemic. The idea of chronicling someone who keeps big cats was interesting enough, but Joe Exotic (real name Joe Maldonado-Passage) also had a singing career (or dreams of one anyway), a colorful love life and, of course, a nemesis in fellow big cat owner Carole Baskin, whose husband mysteriously disappeared in 1997. The doc was almost too dramatic to believe, except that — by the time it aired — the title character was in jail for attempting to hire someone to murder Baskin. No surprise that more than one dramatic adaptation of Tiger King is already in the works, including one with Nicolas Cage as Joe Exotic. — Raechal Shewfelt

9. Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

There’s probably not a day that goes by without someone we know tweeting something along the lines of, “Finally, watching Ted Lasso. You were all right. It’s glorious.” The delightfully funny Apple TV+ series about an American football coach recruited to coach a British football (soccer) team despite no actual experience in the sport is proving to be the newest Little Comedy That Could. It’s even drawing Friday Night Lights comparisons, meaning that it might look like it’s “about” sports, but even your sports-hating spouse/friend/cousin will love it. The word-of-mouth buzz also feels reminiscent of another underdog comedy, Schitt’s Creek. So look for Ted to lasso all the Emmys around say... 2025. — K.P.

8. Normal People (Hulu)

Yes, there is a lot of sexy time, and yes there are some shades of S&M. But the comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey that this tearjerking Hulu series seemed to draw at an unfair rate start and stop there. Based on the novel by Sally Rooney and directed by Lenny Abramson and Hettie Macdonald, the 12-episode arc follows the complicated relationship between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), Irish teens from rural County Sligo, as it evolves from secret social outcast/popular guy high school romance to even more tortured territory at a Dublin college and beyond. It’s sweet, sexy and tender, and the fact that they’re both so, well, normal — as opposed to a certain flawed, depressed, not billionaire playboy — gives the story a deep resonance. — K.P.

7. Cult series alert: The Vow and Seduced (HBO and Starz)

The chilling story behind the horrifying headlines provided the fodder for two of the year’s must-watch docuseries. Using incredible insider video footage, The Vow unfolds as a terrifying real-life thriller, where the subjects slowly come to understand the dark secrets of NXIVM — the would-be self-help group was a front for a predatory sex cult led by founder Keith Raniere and Smallville actress Allison Mack — and then embark on a mission to take down the organization at steep personal costs. Seduced, meanwhile, zeroes in on the efforts of Catherine Oxenberg, who also appears in The Vow, to free her daughter, India, from Raniere and Mack’s clutches. Both shows are compelling on their own, but paint an even more complex portrait when paired. — M.E.

6. The Boys (Amazon Prime Video)

If you thought the inaugural season of Amazon's The Boys was a wild ride, Season 2 took things to a whole new level. The sophomore year of the darkly funny, wildly violent superhero series introduced social media-savvy newcomer, Stormfront (Aya Cash) who made the Trumpian, nearly omnipotent Homelander (Anthony Starr) all hot and bothered. But the series has lots more on its mind than capes and cowls — it’s a deft satire that grapples with Big Topics like systemic racism, fascism, sexism, sexuality, xenophobia and homophobia, and even finds time to tackle cancel culture and Scientology. Profane, graphic and irreverent in the extreme, The Boys has become the best original drama on Amazon Prime. — M.E.

5. The Crown (Netflix)

Leave it to the People’s Princess and the Iron Lady to add some sizzle as Peter Morgan’s sumptuous drama heads into its fourth season. Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher gave Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth a formidable foil, but it’s beguiling newcomer Emma Corrin who stole every scene as Princess Di. Corrin deftly gives us both a young, carefree Diana Spencer — zooming past Buckingham Palace in a car with her girlfriends, clubbing, roller skating to Duran Duran — and an achingly vulnerable, oft-neglected Di who battles bulimia and the disdain of a sulky, Camilla-obsessed Prince Charles. It’s all said to have ruffled some feathers back in London, with U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden demanding Netflix issue a disclaimer warning viewers to not mistake it as fact. Season 5 will see Tenet’s Elizabeth Debicki take over the role, but it’ll be hard to shake off Corrin’s award-worthy performance. — E.D.

4. The Mandalorian (Disney+)

Baby Yoda, we hardly knew ya. Yes, viewers finally learned the Child's real name — and the revelation that the junior Jedi’s moniker is Grogu ranks among the least surprising turns in the second season of Disney+’s signature series. From the live-action debut of Clone Wars alumna Ahsoka Tano (in the form of Rosario Dawson) to Boba Fett’s butt-kicking showcase in Episode 6 to the showdown between our hero Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and the dastardly Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) — plus the return of everyone’s favorite Jedi! — in the season finale, The Mandalorian not only avoided a sophomore slump but improved upon its hit formula. Expertly blending deep-cut Star Wars lore with fan-friendly callbacks while creating its own substantial mythology, The Mandalorian has quickly established a successful template for Lucasfilm and Disney to keep Star Wars spinning off for years to come. This is the way… and it is awesome. — M.E.

3. I May Destroy You (HBO)

At its heart, I May Destroy You — in which the carefree life of London writer and influencer Arabella is knocked off course by a sudden sexual assault she can only half-remember — is about a very black-and-white concept: consent. But writer, co-director and star Michaela Coel’s commitment to picking through layers of nuance, shifting perspectives and blurry morality calls, fittingly culminating in an unresolved, choose-your-own adventure finale, made this one of the most nuanced, provocative and visionary things to come out of 2020. Coel drew on her own experience with assault in crafting the storyline, and if she doesn’t walk away with an armful of Emmys at next year’s ceremony it’ll be an unforgivable oversight. — E.D.

2. Schitt’s Creek (Pop)

Schitt’s Creek crept in like a lamb when it premiered on the little-watched Pop network in 2015. But the Canadian comedy co-created by Dan and Eugene Levy went out like a lion in its sixth and final season, which reduced its enormous fanbase to tears… and achieved Emmy history to boot. The show made a clean sweep of the Comedy category, with all four core cast members — both Levy boys, as well as Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy — taking home statues. Even if it hadn’t won a single Emmy, Schitt’s Creek would still be a modern TV classic for creating a loving, tolerant community we consider a second home. As Moira Rose would say, “Good people always win.” — E.A.

1. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

Netflix checkmated the streaming competition with Scott Frank’s addictive period miniseries, which successfully marries Douglas Sirk melodrama and world-class chess. The Queen’s Gambit is also the best showcase yet for breakout star Anya Taylor-Joy, who burrows deep into the troubled psyche of prodigy Beth Harmon, creating a character all the more compelling because of her flaws. Here’s how successful Frank was at getting viewers hooked all over again on one of the world’s oldest board games: Sales of chess sets shot up in the weeks following the series’ Netflix premiere. — E.A.

The Worst

5. The Undoing (HBO)

For the first few episodes, HBO’s latest tony murder mystery skated by on its combination of New York City real estate fantasy, Nicole Kidman’s brisk walks and Hugh Grant’s sleazy charm. But as the series progressed, it became harder to ignore the unpleasant scent wafting off the red herrings that writer David E. Kelly constantly tossed our way. What finally undid The Undoing was the laughably trite series finale, which coupled a random helicopter chase with a solution that was staring us in the face the whole time. To say we enjoyed the ride would be a big (little) lie.

4. Hollywood (Netflix)

It may have scored multiple Emmy nominations, but Ryan Murphy’s evocation of Tinseltown’s Golden Age is more Razzie-worthy in the way it strains to rewrite Hollywood history through a 21st century lens. Mixing real movie stars — like Rock Hudson and Anna May Wong — with fictional characters is a promising premise, as is the notion of incorporating the melodramatic plot devices found in 1940s films into the narrative. Unfortunately, sustaining this delicate balancing act all too often causes the series to fall on its face.

3. Snowpiercer (TNT)

Turning Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 cult favorite into an ongoing TV series was always going to be a tall order. But the chief sin of TNT’s Snowpiercer is that it’s so... middle of the tracks. Absent the film’s wild creative swings, and the original comic book’s layered backstory, the show seems content to just chug along with forgettable characters and bland storylines. Someone stop this train and let Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs off.

2. The Goop Lab With Gwyneth Paltrow (Netflix)

Gwyneth Paltrow’s controversial lifestyle brand birthed a controversial Netflix series that doubles as an extended commercial for Goop and a veritable library of crazy Paltrow stories. When she’s not confessing to taking MDMA or forgetting how old she is, the Oscar-winning entrepreneur sits down with various health and wellness trendsetters who offer a mixture of dubious advice and even more dubious products. The Goop Lab is classic car-wreck television in that you know should look away... but the sheer awfulness keeps pulling your gaze back.

1. Quibi

Speaking of car wrecks, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s short-lived mobile streaming service was 2020’s biggest flop, shutting down a mere six months after launch and burning billions of dollars in the process. Despite attracting top talent like Sophie Turner, Chrissy Teigen and Steven Soderbergh, Quibi struggled to justify its existence — and produce breakout shows — until the plug was finally pulled. If nothing else, we now have a new unit of measurement for TV shows. i.e. “It was over in a Quibi.”

— Ethan Alter, Erin Donnelly, Marcus Errico, Kevin Polowy and Raechal Shewfelt

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/tagged/best-of-2020 https://www.yahoo.com/life/tagged/best-of-2020
https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/tagged/best-of-2020 https://www.yahoo.com/life/tagged/best-of-2020

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: