18 January 2021

TV shows I watched in 2020 ranked by how much I still think about them


I do love TV, but sometimes I fall out of love with streaming, and I can feel so overwhelmed by the abundance of shows out there that I just stick to YouTube or films. Then 2020 came along. Staying at home for months on end can only lead to one browsing Netflix or finally giving into the hype of popular shows. I went into lockdown binge mode already loving sitcoms, teen comedies and heavily stylised series, but I came out of 2020 loving horror and cartoons just as much. I found such gems last year that I still think about them to this day, so I decided to rank them by how much they impact my daily daydreaming...


It's so hard to rank these shows considering some of them are so different to others and are all of value in varying ways. However, there's something satisfying about a list, and this list is, at heart, very silly anyway. It's an attempt at ranking shows by how much I still freak out over them in my head and when talking to others, which is something I do for so many things anyway because I'm so enthusiastic about too many things. So, take it with a pinch of salt when you see a critically acclaimed series lower on the list than a children's cartoon.*

Also! A lot of these shows are new and came out or had new seasons in 2020, but some of them are older and I just happened to only watch them this year. Enjoy!

*Side note: I used to think, as I watched the many cartoons I watched this past year as a 19/20 year old, that they're just cartoons, or just children's shows. It was a big factor into why I was so shocked at the fantastic quality of the shows. But after some discourse with friends about this matter and learning through social media about the huge audience of adults watching these shows, my attitude has since changed and I now think: 'this show is of fantastic quality and it happens to be a show primarily for kids but also for an audience of any age.' Watch cartoons!!


14. Normal People, RTÉ/BBC/Hulu

I did enjoy Sally Rooney's novel, but the *main* reason I wanted to watch this series was to be able to be like 'wow, I know where that is' or 'I've been there,' and I was able to!! Connell sat in the Burke theatre, Marianne walked across Front Square, and the two of them studied in the Ussher, Lecky and Berkeley libraries. It was really lovely to see familiar places in the height of the first lockdown when everything felt a bit surreal. I was surprised by how Irish the show felt; the first few episodes of secondary school life in Sligo felt nostalgic to me, despite the fact I went to school in Leintser and not Connacht. I still think about this show when I'm making YouTube content about tRiNnErS sometimes and when I listen to its calming soundtrack when doing college work. Also, Paul Mescal's acting in that heart-wrenching scene had me in bits.


13. I am Not Okay with This, Netflix

The sister show of The End of the F***ing World was so underrated that Netflix cancelled it. I think this cancellation was undeserving as the series had so much potential. Sofia Bryant, Wyatt Oleff and Sophia Lillis, pictured above, are so charming and brought life to their characters, especially Lillis, who plays a very confused teenager, Sydney, realising she has telekinetic powers. I still think about this show when I think about my absolute favourite literary theory, Tvestan Todorov's the Fantastic, that I like to apply to a lot of stories, films and TV shows and that I feel fits perfectly well into this show. The Fantastic can be summed up quickly as a hesitation by a character as to whether to believe the supernatural events happening around them or to them are real or not. I won't spoil the ending, but I was on the edge of my seat trying to work out whether Sydney's powers were a metaphor for something or whether we were about to go all superhero or not. I highly recommend a watch even with its cancellation!


12. The Legend of KorraNetflix

I'm cheating a little as I only finished this show this past week, but I began it in December as one of my many cartoon binges. I don't think Korra deserves all the hate it gets as a series. I think it does a wonderful job of world-building, and there were so many likeable characters, including loveable himbo Bolin, and I like my loveable himbos. While it is of course still fresh in my mind, what I will remember from this show as time goes on is the way it had my heart racing for its season one finale, and how thrilling I found Korra's (quite dark) character arc to be in season 4. The show has its flaws, but I wholly admire the action, the score and the meaningful messages that you take away from it.


11. Julie and the PhantomsNetflix

Recommended to me by my friend Ailish, this show was such a surprise. I remember seeing the trailer and was like 'meh, maybe' but when Ailish vouched for it, comparing it to another teen musical comedy on this silly list, I knew I had to jump on board. I don't regret it all! This show is so so so fun! The highlight of the show is the music. The songs are incredibly catchy, so much so they're on my running playlist. That's what makes me think about it so much; Luke's harmony in the song 'Bright' is still so satisfying to listen to as I jog. The concept of the show itself is quite refreshing, as it is literally about a ghost band. That's right, a ghost band. How cool! The chemistry between the titular characters is adorable, and the show is the right amount of cheesy to cheer you up after a bad day. 


10. The Haunting of Bly ManorNetflix

The Haunting of Bly Manor is technically the "second season" of The Haunting series, but The Haunting is an anthology series, so I consider Bly Manor to be stand-alone as its a completely separate story. I was first drawn to it because I heard it was an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which I studied in my Modernism course in college. Since it was released in lockdown no.2 and I was really getting into all things Gothic, I just had to give it a go. 

Mind you, I used to not really like horror film or TV; I only associated the genre with jump scares. Jump scares are kind of fun but, like most thrilling activities, I hate the build up to them. Watching Bly Manor, I had to my hide my eyes with my hands during the long, silent, eerily shot scenes of Dani Clayton walking around the Manor. However, I took away so much more from the show than I expected. If you watch any episode, watch the fifth. I still think about that one a lot. It was such a disconcerting and excellently edited episode with a breathtaking performance from T'Nia Miller. I thought the plot of the show was a little more convoluted than necessary, as it brought in inspiration from other Henry James works, but everything wrapped up in a great but heartbreaking way by the end. It's a beautiful story, more sad than scary, and after the show, I was dying to watch its predecessor, which I was told by many was much better...


9. The Dragon PrinceNetflix

It was October before lockdown, and I had just finished watching another amazing cartoon that is higher on this silly list, and I wanted to watch something that felt similar... but was different. The Dragon Prince was a great choice; the head writer of that other-amazing-cartoon-that-I still-wasn't-over-that-I-guess-we-won't-name-yet(?) is the creator of this heart-warming fantasy show about a quest to return a dragon prince to its mother. I used to not really be into medieval fantasy with dragons and swords but The Dragon Prince has changed that. The animation style is very unique and beautiful, and the show has a wonderful ensemble of characters that I still think about a lot, like Rayla and Callum (pictured above) and my favourite character, Soren, another loveable cartoon himbo. What's great about The Dragon Prince is that it's not over - there are more seasons to air! What is available right now on Netflix are three exciting seasons of lore, adventure and surprisingly great humour.


8. High School Musical: the Musical: the Series (HSMTMTS), Disney+

This show was unexpectedly great. Think Glee, but take away a little bit of its satirical tone and you have High School Musical: the Musical: the Series. HSMTMTS is a mockumentary about high schoolers that go to where High School Musical the FILM was shot (so HSM is fictional in their fictional universe) and decide to hold the musical version of the FILM in the school, which, if I need to remind you, was the SET of HSM... You get your head around it quickly enough. 

It's very much a feel-good show with fun covers of the original Disney Channel movie's hits as well as some new songs that are absolute bops. Once again, this series has a terrific ensemble cast. I will admit, I am thinking a lot more about this show recently because of TikTok. I watched HSMTMTS back in April and May, but my love for it has resurfaced since the release of Olivia Rodrigo's masterpiece of a song 'drivers license.' TikTok has gone crazy over it and its suspected association with her breakup with costar Joshua Bassett (both actors pictured above). I am very curious to see how Nini and Ricky, their respective characters, interact after that season one finale...


7. The Mandalorian (Season 2), Disney+

(very small spoiler warning)

I think this show has possibly one of the best theme tunes of all time. Ludwig Göransson, the composer, is a genius. I get chills every time I hear the beat, and my brother and I usually stayed sitting as the ending credits rolled, just to listen to it. Incredible music score aside, I absolutely loved the second season of The Mandalorian. The subtle character development from season one, the introduction of well-known Star Wars characters like Ahsoka Tano and Boba Fett, and the exhilarating action made me excited to watch each episode every Friday in November and December. I get why not everyone can get into it, as its episodic and slow in its overarching plot, but I think it's slow in a fantastic way as it built up so well to the season 2 finale. I still think a lot about that finale, as well as Chapter 13, 14 and 15. 


6. The Queen's GambitNetflix

I still think about this show and how it has given me SO much faith in the art of storytelling because we really got obsessed with a series about CHESS!!! Chess!? Mind-blowing. It's not the plot of the show that gets you sucked in necessarily (although Beth Harmon's story is quite fascinating), but the atmosphere, the 60s fashion and music, the weirdly intense chess matches and the feeling you walk away with after each episode. The highlight of The Queen's Gambit is Anya Taylor Joy, who truly embodies her character, Beth Harmon, and really lets us in on the character's genius and hamartia. This show was so surprisingly exhilarating that I actually felt tempted to try chess again after barely trying in school. I didn't end up attempting it again, but it's the sentiment that counts!


5. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netflix

Where do I begin? How deep this show goes into the very important topics of love, trauma and friendship is so impressive, and it's a show about warrior princesses. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a 21st century reimagining of the She-Ra series from the 80s, and from my basic knowledge of the fun 80s cartoon, it seems the creators of the reboot have given so much more substance to the original She-Ra characters. You know a show has another great group of characters when you have a hard time picking your favourite one: there's Catra, Adora, Entrapta, Bow, Mermsita, Seahawk, even Kyle... like, it's impossible. While I liked the first two seasons, I truly got stuck into the show from season three through five. I still think about that *amazing* series finale (I won't be specific...), the overall adorableness, especially that of Entrapta, and these two video essays by Five by Five Takes on YouTube (of course, only watch if you've seen the show, because... spoilers!), linked here and here. You know I'm obsessed with something if I've watched video essays about it...


4. Tangled: the Series (or Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure)
Season 1 on Disney+ (and seasons 2 and 3 on YouTube... I never said anything...)

This was the show that started it all, it being me falling in love with cartoons as an "adult." Picture this: Disney+ was fresh in Ireland but so was the realisation that the world was ending. I needed all the hopefulness of Disney I could get. I returned to a film that I liked as a child but grew to love even more as I grew up (you could say it's my ultimate *comfort movie*). That film, of course, could only be Tangled, with its stunning animation, its fabulous music and the loveable himbo Flynn Rider... 

So, when I was browsing through Disney+ and stumbled across Tangled the SERIES (the SERIES!!), I just HAD to dive right in. The first season is really fun and wholesome, but at first it was at times a little too childish for me (as in 'there is a clear moral message here in this episode, which is valuable, but should be watched by 8 year olds rather than a 20 year old') BUT by the end of the first season, things get crazy!! Season 2 and 3 are just !!!! The show gets so dark and dramatic and I didn't expect it at ALL and I loved it. Cassandra is such an interesting character, and Rapunzel and Flynn/Eugene are just as funny and heart-warming as they were in the original film (still voiced by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi!). It has even more amazing songs that are just as catchy as 'When will my Life Begin?' and 'Mother Knows Best.' The animation is very different to the film because of course Disney cannot afford to make a whole 3D animated series but the animation is still so beautiful and colourful and it makes you want to escape to Corona. Oh yeah, the kingdom is called Corona... Wild...

I still think about *that* season 2 finale twist, the terrific character arcs, this very specific song and scene in season 3 and the fact Jeremy Jordan voice acts in it?! Amazing stuff.

TOP TIP: Before watching the series, make sure to watch the hour long film Tangled Before Ever After  because I've told friends to watch this show and failed to make them aware of the film that sets the entire premise of the TV show... whoops...


3. New Girl, Netflix

This is the only sitcom on the list surprisingly because I LOVE sitcoms, like How I Met Your Mother, Community, Brooklyn Nine Nine, and I'm also currently watching Parks and Recreation. I had seen many scenes from New Girl before, particularly of Jess and Nick, so I began the show for their slow-burn-romance but stayed for the absolute hilarity and the witty and *quirky*  characters. I even had a go as dressing as the core four for a TikTok/reel, and it was very fun. New Girl now reminds me of June 2020, which was a very nice, chill month for me: I was doing my psychology summer course online, and the days were long and warm, and I read in the sun and I relaxed in the evenings with Jess and her roommates of 4D. I still think about loveable himbo Nick Miller and his incredibly quotable lines which I see pop up on social media all the time. This one is definitely the most rewatchable and quotable.



2. Avatar: the Last Airbender (ATLA), Netflix

My GOODNESS this show is a GIFT TO THE WORLD! I wish I jumped on the re-watch bandwagon back when it was first added to Netflix earlier in quarantine because it was such a JOY to watch this show again. I actually never really finished watching it when it first aired on TV years ago. I remember watching lots of season 1, so I knew Aang, Sokka, Katara and Zuko really well as characters, but because I just watched whatever was on Nickelodeon when I turned on the TV back then (as that was how TV worked when I was, like, six), my experience watching ATLA was not sequential. I for the most part did not know or at least did not remember how the whole show ended.

And oh MY is this show just so well written, animated and scored because it makes me an emotional mess even thinking about it, which is, since its ranked no.2 on this silly list, often. It was a show that really allowed me to escape and feel like a kid again, which was obviously helped by the fact I was a casual fan as a primary school girl, but for the most part I felt like a kid again because of the excitement this show still elicits in me and because of all of the hope and light this show is imbued with. It probably (but definitely to me) has one of the best character developments ever in TV, not just in animation (and it boasts having multiple well thought out character arcs). It also, of course, features another loveable cartoon himbo, Sokka, who might have to be my fave character for his haiku alone. ATLA has everything from fantastic action, an immersive and emotional score and a bunch of incredibly in-depth characterisation. Play 'Leaves from the Vine' and don't cry, I dare you. 

Honourable Mentions
because this list would be too long otherwise:
Friday Night Dinner (final season)
Unorthodox
You
Selling Sunset
Dash and Lily
and Sex Education
(all Netflix)


1. The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix

This may come as a suprise to some but I think it is now my favourite show of all time. There, I said it. Jane, who didn't really like horror before, now thinks her favourite show is The Haunting of Hill House? Yeah!!! I really think it is. Why? I. Cannot. Stop. Thinking. About. It. 

Hill House came out two years ago but I only decided to watch it in 2020 because, as I wrote earlier, I loved its more recently released sequel series The Haunting of Bly Manor and I was getting into the Gothic and horror in both literature and film. Is it scary? Yes. There were times I was hiding my face behind my hands again as the camera slowly and silently panned around Hill House and there may or may not be some crazy jump scares. However, even more so than Bly Manor, the story is more heartbreakingly sad than it is scary, and the themes the show explores are almost scarier than the supernatural ghosts themselves. The series is loosely based on the well-known horror novel by Shirley Jackson, focusing more on family, trauma and grief. The real genius of this show lies in the the blood, sweat and tears of Mike Flanagan, who, for the most part, created, directed, wrote and even edited the series in its entirety. To say I admire the man is an understatement. 

Mike Flanagan: “Drawing out any narrative for 10 hours… it seems like a really exciting prospect when you start. But keeping all the plates spinning is really, really difficult... As much as people like to talk about structure and rhythm when it comes to genre moments, the thing that really gives a story a sturdy skeleton is character development.”

How the story unfolds and how the characters are developed over the episodes is so masterfully done that I believe Hill House is such a staple watch for any budding storyteller. The actors are incredible, especially Victoria Pedretti, Carla Gugino and the five child actors playing the younger Crain siblings. If you were to watch any episode, watch episode six; the first 17 minutes is shot in one long take, and the whole episode itself only has about three cuts. It's so impressive, and the stylistic filming choice reflects the content of the episode in such a satisfying way. 

Even if you're not a horror fan, I'd highly recommend The Haunting series. It's a little scary, which can make it fun (and kind of safer nightmare-wise) to watch with others (I watched it with my Dad), but you'll get hooked to the exciting, mysterious but tragic stories and well-written characters.


What are TV shows from 2020 that you can't stop thinking about?

2 comments

  1. You've watched so many wonderful things! I loved the High School Musical show and New Girl is always one of my favs! <3
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