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Television

AIPT’s 2020 TV picks: Our favorite shows of the year

Whether it was returning, new, or new to us, we share the TV series we loved in 2020.

December not only brings the holidays but also a time to reflect on the past year. In the world of television, there was plenty to be excited for. However, with so many options such as broadcast, cable, and streaming, it can be difficult to catch everything. That’s why we at AIPT have worked together, like with comics and film, to bring you our favorite 2020 TV picks. Whether it came back for another season, premiered for the first time, or was discovered during our extended time at home, here are the series we enjoyed.

2020 TV picks 1
Photo: Apple TV+

RETURNING

Killing Eve

Killing Eve’s sophomore outing didn’t quite reach the levels of season one and was a bit disappointing. Luckily the spy thriller bounced back this year with its third season. Though it had a sluggish start and killed off a fan favorite, the story built up as the show progressed. There was a deeper dive into Villanelle’s history and family and we witnessed the evolution of her and Eve’s relationship from curious infatuation into something more. It all culminated into a flawless finale that was worthy enough to end the series. Luckily, the show will be returning but it has a tough act to follow. 

Gary Catig

Doctor Who

Doctor Who series 12 was a welcome return to the emotional, character-based dynamics that made the Russel T Davies era so great. Jodie Whitaker was outstanding as the 13th Doctor, as this series offered Who-fans a more serious side to the character, with the help of Sacha Dhawan’s exceptional performance as The Master. Highlights of this series included the unpredictable Timeless Child Saga, the reveal of Jo Martin as The Doctor, and the return of Captain Jack Harkness. Look out for the upcoming New Year’s special—it looks like it’s going to be a good one.

Ally Iciek

Long Way Up

I was a huge fan of original motorcycle documentary series Long Way Round and its sequel Long Way Down so the inevitable third series Long Way Up has been on my radar for some time. It’s a travel show about two men riding motorcycles with a small team of filmmakers and sharing their experiences however hard or enlightening it may be. This third season delivers big time, especially since it’s impossible to travel and explore the world in its current pandemic state. 

The series follows Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they motorcycle through bad terrain, tricky unsafe areas, and beautiful landscapes only extreme vacationers get to see. This third season starts at the tip of Argentina and has the men ride electric motorcycles through South America, Central America, and finally ending in California. Beautifully shot with amazing drones doing a lot of the heavy lifting, the show is a great travel show as it shows two friends going through hard times while they try to prove a point about electric vehicles being the future.

Dave Brooke

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

After six long years, we finally got the conclusion that this gem of a series deserved. “The Siege of Mandalore” was a visual spectacle that surpassed even the most overhyped expectations. While obviously none of us wanted the show to be canceled, it’s worth pointing the time gap between Seasons 6 and 7 allowed the animation team to create in ways that would not have been possible back in 2014.

It was Ahsoka and Rex’s final scenes, however, that really drove home what an amazing show Clone Wars evolved into. Any Star Wars fan who eschewed the series simply because it’s animated missed out one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking sequences in the entire franchise.

Nick Nafpliotis

The Umbrella Academy

I loved the first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and loved the most recent second season just as much if not more. The Umbrella Academy follows seven adopted super powered siblings as they try and stop the end of the world. While the first season introduces all the siblings, their abilities, and their “interesting” relationships with one another, the second season is able to dive deeper into their relationships and further character development. 

I cannot speak highly enough about this show and how every component just works so well. You have such great cast chemistry that cannot be taught. You have an outstanding and compelling story line from the first season that is improved upon with events from the 1960s (racism, communism, and the Kennedy Assassination) that makes each episode fly by. For the music lovers out there, this show has one of the best soundtracks out there. Each song is expertly selected and each song delivers exactly what it needs to. Throw in some genuinely hilarious moments and you have a show that is 100% binge worthy. 

Shane Martin

Stargirl

NEW

Raised by Wolves

Raised by Wolves was the puzzle-box show we all desperately needed during this tough year. As a fan of Lost and Fringe, I liked how this show delivered strange mysteries and interesting answers in every episode. It was also released in a weekly format so it gave me plenty to think about as the week went on. Pair this with the craftsmanship of Ridley Scott–who has supplied us with plenty of puzzler films like Prometheus–and high production values and you have a show that is addictive. It’s also sci-fi that feels new and not derivative like Star Trek.

Dave Brooke

Lovecraft Country

Even if you didn’t like Lovecraft Country, there’s no denying that it was completely different from anything else on television. How could you not love this show, though? It combined horror, science fiction, and fantasy into a wonderfully mind bending tale that featured one of the most incredible casts on television. During the course of these adventures, the show explored Jim Crow-era racism in a way that refused to soften or sanitize things for its audience.

The series also took big risks to tell a great story. There were definitely a couple episodes that missed the mark, but most of them were incredible (including the best pilot episode for any series I’ve ever seen). 

Over the course of ten episodes, Lovecraft Country wove a powerful and character driven narrative that concluded with one heck of a good a finale…and maybe more adventures to come.

— Nick Nafpliotis

DC’s Stargirl

I loved everything about DC’s Stargirl. It was entertaining and it expertly balanced the “teen drama” that the CW looks for in its shows with the superhero grit that comic book fans enjoy. Introducing some of the lesser known heroes and villains from the DC Universe, the first season flew by. The storytelling was great and the show is full of just outstanding characters. The casting choices were perfect. And let’s not forget to talk about the CGI and soundtrack that were also equally as impressive. If you’re looking for something new to watch to scratch your Superhero show itch, this is the one for you. The whole first season is available on DCU and the CW app. You won’t be disappointed. 

— Shane Martin

Unorthodox, The Queen’s Gambit, & I May Destroy You

Unorthodox and The Queen’s Gambit were two of Netflix’s best releases this year. Both mini-series told the stories of young women finding their way in the world. The 4-episode series Unorthodox takes us from an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, to Berlin, where Esther Shapiro (Shira Haas) tries to get away from the world she was brought up in and carve out her own place in the world. It’s a fascinating look at a world we don’t often see on screen. Shira Haas’s emotional performance is captivating; I couldn’t help but binge the show in one evening.

Similarly, Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit is impressive, as we follow her journey from an orphanage to the most competitive chess tournaments worldwide, as well as her journey with substance abuse. Both The Queen’s Gambit and Unorthodox feel like incredibly well done period pieces, with impeccable costuming and set design — although Unorthodox takes place in current times, the show brings you to another world entirely. If you haven’t seen these two mini-series yet, they’re short, sweet, and absolutely amazing.

I May Destroy You tells the story of a young woman, Arabella (Michaela Cole), who thinks she knows herself and how to navigate her life, until that is all upended by a sexual assault. While the show sometimes feels like a mystery/crime drama, it’s really about Arabella grappling with the emotional toll of the assault. It’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen on television; darkly humorous and absolutely beautiful, this is a must-watch. 

Juli Cabot

Ted Lasso

The original iteration of the character, Ted Lasso, relied heavily on the boorish ignorant American stereotype as a football coach travels to the UK to become a fútbol gaffer at a Premier League club. The Apple TV+ series of the same name used the initial premise but instilled its titular character with good wholesome values and almost annoying levels of positivity. The pivot in Jason Sudeikis’ Lasso resulted in one of the most feel-good shows of this year that emphasized the forging of personal bonds and kinship helped navigate the struggles on and off the field much easier. The only thing more infectious than the Marcus Mumford penned theme song is Ted Lasso’s relentless optimism.

— Gary Catig

NOS4A2 Season 2
Photo: AMC

NEW TO US

NOS4A2

When I first heard that AMC was adapting one of my all-time favorite novels into a television series, I was much more worried than excited. That’s arguably a damning indictment of my cynicism/neurosis. To be fair, though, anyone who read the book first is likely to agree that translating the bizarre and terrifying source material on a basic cable budget would seem like a tall order no matter how much you wanted it to happen. 

When quarantine boredom finally pushed me into watching the first season, however, I was blown away with how good it was. I immediately signed up to review Season 2, which somehow managed the rare feat of a television show improving upon aspects of the novel while retaining all its best elements. It also took what was already a great ending and expanded it into something that’s guaranteed to haunt your dreams–and all but begged for a third season.

Unfortunately, AMC didn’t agree. As disappointing as the series’ cancelation was, however, showrunner Jami O’Brien and the incredible cast/crew got to tell the original story in a way that was so much better than I could have imagined or hoped for. If you find yourself looking for something to binge and keep you up at night this holiday season, consider taking a trip with Charlie Manx to Christmasland.

— Nick Nafpliotis

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead has been on my Netflix list for years. I came so close to watching this show on several different occasions, but would always find myself watching something else. Finally, though, I bit the bullet and settled into watching The Walking Dead. It took a couple episodes of world building and character introduction, but about three episodes in, I understood the hype. I watched episode after episode 

There is a period in the series, around the season 6 mark, where things start dragging. The series moves away from an ‘undead’ threat being the major focus and shifts instead to humans being the main villains. However, if you can manage to get through the Negan/Saviors arc, the show begins to pick back up with a new direction starting around season 8. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the last two seasons play out and I’m thankful I jumped on TWD bandwagon. Better late than never, right? 

— Shane Martin

PEN15

Middle school might be the years of someone’s life they would never want to experience again because it can be a cruel and awkward period. PEN15 perfectly captures that time in all its cringe worthy glory. Best friends, Maya and Anna, have each other while they traverse the junior high landscape of mean pranks, equally mean people, and unchecked hormones. It can be painful how relatable their exploits are but the comedy certainly makes it easier to digest. Throw in the nostalgia of the early aughts and PEN15 is a show when you need a laugh.

— Gary Catig

Fargo

I’ve heard people rave about Fargo for years from its acting to its absorbing storytelling, but it never made it on my watch list. That is, until I watched Long Way Up (see my comments on the series above) when I remembered Ewan McGregor recently split up with his longtime wife for actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She even shows up near the end of Long Way Up, and the tabloid gossip inside me now had two reasons to watch Fargo season 3. 

As an anthology show it was easy to skip over season 1 and 2, and ignore season 4 which is currently on the air. You’ll soon find one of the best crime dramas ever recorded for your television viewing pleasure. I found an interesting show about seedy evil men, good natured folk getting trapped by that evil, and a police chief who loses a step dad in a murder and seeks to find the truth. McGregor is excellent in this show playing two characters who are twin brothers. Winstead steals the show in every scene she’s in as a smart ex-con who everyone underestimates. I even liked the strange supernatural elements that seem to come out of nowhere. It takes a little bit to get going, but once it’s moving along it’s hard to stop yourself from binging all 10 episodes in one sitting.

— David Brooke

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