With so many people stuck at home for most of 2020, TV series captured more of the popular imagination than ever. Here’s how you can stream the most acclaimed TV series of 2020 (as tabulated by review aggregation site Metacritic).
City So Real
Renowned documentary filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) takes a deep look at his hometown of Chicago in this five-part series, which first aired on Nat Geo. The show documents the 2019 Chicago mayoral race as well as the city’s response to the 2020 pandemic and the resulting social unrest with James’ typical clear-eyed vision and compassion for his subjects.
City So Real is streaming on Hulu ($5.99+ per month after a seven-day trial).
The gimmick of Pen15 is that co-creators Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine star as the 13-year-old main characters, although they themselves are really in their 30s. The adult stars channel the very real horrors and humiliations of middle school alongside a cast of actual teen co-stars.
In its second season, the comedy further explores the ups and downs of the central friendship as the characters mature, along with a whole range of adolescent awkwardness.
Pen15 is streaming on Hulu ($5.99+ per month after a seven-day trial).
Better Call Saul
The prequel to Breaking Bad has become an acclaimed classic in its own right over the course of five seasons as it explores the evolution of Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) into the shady lawyer character first introduced on Breaking Bad. The fifth season takes Jimmy closer to his later incarnation as he establishes his Saul Goodman law practice and becomes increasingly entangled with the criminal underworld.
My Brilliant Friend
Elusive Italian author Elena Ferrante’s four novels about the lifelong friendship between two women from a poverty-stricken area in Naples are the source material for this Italian-produced HBO series. The second season adapts the second novel in the series, The Story of a New Name, which is set in the late 1950s and focuses on the tense dynamic between the two young women and the mercurial man they both fall for.
The final episodes of this acclaimed animated series close out the story of the title character with typical humor and poignancy, demonstrating the deep emotions in what looked like a silly comedy about a washed-up TV star who is also a horse (voiced by Will Arnett). The series examines depression, addiction, and codependency while still crafting reliably hilarious jokes about showbiz delivered by anthropomorphic animals all the way through its finale.
BoJack Horseman is streaming on Netflix ($8.99+ per month).
The Last Dance
Co-produced by ESPN Films, this ten-episode documentary series delivers a detailed analysis of Michael Jordan’s basketball career, with a focus on his final NBA season after he returned to play for the Chicago Bulls following his initial retirement. Featuring extensive interviews with Jordan and a wide range of fellow players, commentators, and public figures, The Last Dance is an exhaustive look at a towering figure in both sports and American culture.
Visible: Out on Television
From documentary filmmaker Ryan White (The Keepers and The Case Against 8), this five-episode series chronicles the history of LGBTQ representation on TV, with each episode tackling a different theme. The series takes a journey through TV history, from the earliest depictions of homosexuality as a dangerous menace to the current expansion in diversity, with commentary from LGBTQ stars including Billy Porter, Margaret Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, and more.
Visible: Out on Television is streaming on Apple TV+ ($4.99 per month after a seven-day free trial).
At a time when healthcare workers are in the spotlight, this documentary series honors their hard work and sacrifice while also telling specific personal stories. It focuses on four doctors in various departments at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, from the emergency room to the delivery room to the surgical suite. This is also one of the first series to capture the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a groundbreaking episode shot from inside the hospital in March of 2020.
Lenox Hill is streaming on Netflix ($8.99+ per month).
The Baby-Sitters Club
Expectations may have been low for this adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s long-running young adult book series about a group of tween-girl babysitters, but it turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year, capturing the nostalgic tone of the books (and pleasing longtime fans) while also updating the characters and storylines for 2020 with humor and heart.
The Baby-Sitters Club is streaming on Netflix ($8.99+ per month).
A powerhouse cast leads this nine-episode miniseries, which racked up tons of Emmy nominations for its story of the efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and the activist women on both sides. Cate Blanchett plays conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly alongside Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, Margo Martindale, Tracey Ullman, and more, bringing these major figures in American women’s history vividly to life.
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