TV

The nine most binge-worthy series of 2020

Our film critic raises his cap to the shows that made being stuck at home totally worth it — well, almost

20 December 2020 - 00:02 By tymon smith
Joe Exotic is the larger-than-life character at the heart of Netflix's 'Tiger King'.
Joe Exotic is the larger-than-life character at the heart of Netflix's 'Tiger King'.
Image: Netflix

If there's one good thing the unforeseen miserableness of 2020 has done it's this: it's given us time to catch up with the world of television. 

While for much of the year we've been stuck at home, streaming services have certainly stepped up and released some powerful and brilliant offerings.

Here, in no particular order, are my picks for the best series of the year:

1. TIGER KING

The first viral hit of the Covid era, this so-crazy-you-couldn't-make-it-up docuseries introduced the world to the antics of the larger-than-life Joe Exotic and his nemesis — hippy, animal-loving on the outside, husband-killing, ruthless bitch on the inside Carol Baskin. In a world gone pear-shaped, this insane true story with its soap-opera twists was just what we needed to remind us that things can always get a lot weirder.

2. SMALL AXE

Steve McQueen's five-film anthology of black British life, love and struggles offered a roller coaster of emotions and much to say about and wonder at. A beautifully observed and lovingly realised testament that redresses the lack of representation of the realities of a community who are deeply and proudly part of the cosmopolitan heart of modern Britain that blinkered Brexiteers continue to pretend doesn't exist.

3. THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

Anya Taylor-Joy gave a spectacular performance in this adaptation of Walter Tevis's chess prodigy novel. Filled with lovingly rendered period detail, tinged with suitably psychologically testing Cold War paranoia, and demonstrating a smart ability to make the very intellectual game at its centre visually interesting and engaging, it's the best thing to happen to chess since Garry Kasparov played Deep Blue.

4. THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA

David Simon stepped back in time to the imagined WW II era of Philip Roth's dystopian novel for a pertinent examination of paranoia and prejudice in times of uncertainty. It's an epic tale of one family's fight to survive in a world gone mad that has resonance far beyond the Trump era.

5. I MAY DESTROY YOU

Michaela Cole got mad and even with this superb mix of dark comedy and gut-wrenchingly honest storytelling that took a scalpel to the issue of sexual consent in the digital age.

WATCH | The trailer for 'I May Destroy You'.

6. UNORTHODOX

A captivating performance from Shira Haas made this adaptation of Deborah Feldman's best-selling memoir of her escape from the claustrophobic restrictions of the Hassidic community in Brooklyn a universally relatable and firmly feminist-centred tale of liberation and self-actualisation.

7. MRS AMERICA

Cate Blanchett gives an empathetic performance as Conservative antifeminist battleaxe Phyllis Schlafly in this superb period series about the Sisyphean struggle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment Act. Supported by a formidable cast, Mrs. America weaves a thrillingly dramatic and enlightening portrait of a complex women's movement, and the many women who were integral parts of it, to dazzling effect.

8. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE

Derek Cianfrance's grim adaptation of Wally Lamb's tear-jerking best-seller elevated its source material thanks to a powerhouse performance from Mark Ruffalo, who appears in the double role of twin brothers besieged by the demons of a past they can't shake and whose effect they never fully understand.

WATCH | The trailer for 'I Know This Much is True'

9. THE GOOD LORD BIRD

Ethan Hawke had the time of his life playing US abolitionist crusader John Brown. Adapted from the novel by James McBride, it's a fast, loose, violent and raucous but smart look at the life and times of an idiosyncratic American folk legend. Full of brilliant dialogue, comic twists and turns, and a satisfying determination not to let you get comfortable.


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