Five Important Shows From the Devil’s Year, 2020

What a year, huh? No, not this one we’re currently in, the year that was 2020, where momentous change and horror fell upon us and took what we took for granted. Now, with thick, dark circles around our eyes, it’s time to peer forth from our personalized bunkers to reveal five shows we found important in 2020. These are five shows — and one special mention — we feel stood out above the rest, and are worthy of your time as 2021 rears its head and descends upon us itself.

Honorable Mention: Euphoria Special

Euphoria. HBO.

Though the second season is delayed, Euphoria came out swinging with its holiday special, a deep and moving hour about the crushing effects of addiction and depression. It’s a simple set-up, Zendaya’s Rue and Domingo Colman’s Ali discussing their lives and their past mistakes and regrets in a diner on Christmas Eve, but it takes on larger meaning by commenting on choice, capitalism, and the ever-changing landscape we find ourselves facing. Brilliantly performed and carefully framed, it’s an honorable mention as a worthy continuation of this fantastic series that digs deeper into its complex and fascinating lead. — Kevin Lever

5) Schitt’s Creek

Schitt’s Creek. Pop.

Warmest regards, as Schitt’s Creeks comes to its matrimonial conclusion. The intrigue of the show set in Who Knows Where, Canada, is the meticulous social engineering of star and showrunner Dan Levy’s mind. As intricate as his sweaters, the show weaves the normalizing fabric of LGBT love stories as-not-seen-on-TV. What begins with a cast of characters that the audience has no idea how they could ever sympathize with, ends with a cast that the audience would never choose to live without. Within the microcosm of the show’s fake world, we explore so much about how televisual relationships have historically functioned, and how, with just the right dash of charm and wit, there’s still so much space to create something new and of-the-moment. Love that for you. — Calvin Kemph

4) Animaniacs

Animaniacs. Hulu.

“We’re Animaniacs / Dot has wit and Yakko yaks / Wakko packs away the snacks / Our careers have made comebacks / We’re Animaniacs.” Even the new theme song maintains progress. The first episode of Animaniacs is a pure celebration of television cartoon history. It reunites Steven Spielberg with his Animaniacs, as they lend brand-new commentary about the state of modern television and the world. With on-brand self-examining insight and political comedy that doesn’t soften the edges for its audience, the new show stands boldly next to its original run, often better than it has ever been. It makes material use of a wider screen and feels metatextually reconsidered, top-to-bottom. Oh, and Pinky and the Brain retain new fantastic segments, trying to take over a world that has radically changed in their absence. All we know, is that the world has gotten marginally better since its premier. — Calvin Kemph

3) Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul. AMC.

This season, the ticking clock became very apparent, the counting down to the inevitable overlap into Breaking Bad coming ever closer. Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman is complete, but it’s Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler who is becoming just as riveting as her journey takes a wide turn and we see the patterns of her life take hold. Still beautifully shot and with that expert level of wit and cleverness, Saul’s fifth season turns up the heat and proves itself just as big a television powerhouse as its predecessor, with Bob Odenkirk and Seehorn incredible co-leads on this penultimate path. — Kevin Lever

2) How to with John Wilson

How to with John Wilson. HBO.

Initially, How to with John Wilson feels like a video-blogger making light social commentary with his handheld camera. What a funny premise, we think, this awkward guy talking over his home videos, and showing his results on a platform as prestigious as HBO. As we dig deeper, as John digs deeper, we enter his world. We’re drawn into the most hilarious kind of docu-poetry. He finds the discarded remnants of ideas and memories on his New York streets and through an ingenious turn in editing, finds practical application for all the small moments in life that others overlook. It’s his very ingenuity and constant curiosity for the microscopic that give the show an engine that doesn’t quit. Then, it all blows up in the last episode, as COVID overtakes the neighborhood. What happens then is an equally reflexive and analytical concept of what it means to create content as the artful final episode of Nathan for You (Nathan Fielder produces, and it shows). — Calvin Kemph

1) Betty

Betty. HBO.

Sometimes, we all need some chill. HBO’s Betty has that in everlasting abundance, becoming an unbelievably charming hangout series with a fresh voice and cast of characters who ollie off the screen. Trying to prove themselves in a predominantly male world while finding your place in your own crew are its main story threads, and though it has plenty to say about both, its main strength is knowing how to have a good time. With the focus on its endearing characters, and its modern style that combines with the independent filmmaking tone, Betty is a worthy spiritual successor to Skate Kitchen (2018). Crystal Moselle has created something special here, and it’s a show very much its own thing and not like much else currently on TV. — Kevin Lever

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