The best television series of 2020

In a year when many of us were glued to our screens for longer than was strictly healthy, what was most striking was the daring nature of many new TV series, recalibrating our sense of what we could expect from the small screen.

The best TV of 2020La Boca


The fact that we have all spent so much of the year at home, unable to visit cinemas even if we had wanted to, has inevitably meant that television dramas have occupied an even greater share of our time, and of cultural debate, over the past 12 months than they had done in recent years. No doubt many of us did turn to familiar watches during the months of lockdown – and broadcasters, acting partly out of necessity as social distancing restrictions halted the production of new shows, certainly offered up much more from their archives, from vintage episodes of EastEnders to BBC4’s season of long-unseen entries in the Play for Today strand, programmed to mark its 50th anniversary in October. If one of the enduring aspects of this wretched year is that more archive television appears on the main terrestrial channels, that would at least be one very welcome outcome.

But amid the ceased productions and slimmed schedules, when it came to new dramas, far from a retreat into comfortable territory, a look at the titles in our critics’ poll confirms that the defining characteristic of the year was sheer daring. And at the top of our list sits the most daring and original of them all, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. Coel’s painfully personal account of a young Londoner’s reckoning with a hazily recalled sexual assault fascinated for its side-stepping of conventional victim narratives, for its exhilarating handbrake-turn shifts in tone, for its insights into the peer pressures faced by Coel’s generation, and above all for the emphatic sense throughout that here was a major talent truly coming into her own. It was the runaway winner of our poll, with almost all voters including it in their shortlists of five titles.

Interestingly, I May Destroy You was also one of a number of new shows that centred on an often self-destructive female protagonist, and which were written by or created by women. It would be too easy to say that such shows were following in the wake of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag (2016-19) – indeed, we shouldn’t forget that Coel’s breakthrough, Chewing Gum (2015-17), another very personal show about a not always ’likeable’ female character, frank about sexuality, pre-dated Waller-Bridge’s creation – but nonetheless, at the point of greenlighting new shows, Fleabag’s great success surely smoothed several paths. Billie Piper’s darkly comic I Hate Suzie, which she both starred in and co-wrote, drawing on her own experiences as a young actress, might be said to exist in similar terrain.

The major hit of the latter part of the year was Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, in which Anya Taylor-Joy played an orphan chess prodigy and confirmed herself as one of the most interesting young stars working today. It may not have shared the aforementioned shows’ autobiographical signatures, but it too offered a richly complex central character dealing with demons and addictions, and similarly sidestepped narrative expectations. And, crucially, its drama found a natural endpoint after seven episodes, resisting the tendency today for successful series to plough on past their natural dramatic lifespan.

That was true also of the BBC’s fine adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, which could in another way too be likened to The Queen’s Gambit, in that Marianne, its central figure, is a highly intelligent yet socially awkward young woman. Normal People was also daring in the candid nature of its sex scenes, something taken further still in Lucy Kirkwood’s Adult Material, for Channel 4.

Sexually explicit scenes possibly seemed more risqué in a year marked by social distancing – and they certainly wouldn’t be possible under current shooting regulations. But uninhibited though many of the year’s shows were in these scenes, they didn’t feel exploitative – a recognition, no doubt, of the post #MeToo need for good-practice guidelines for such issues. It’s surely no coincidence that I Hate Suzie, I May Destroy You and Normal People all employed intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien to oversee shooting.

There are several other stories centred on women in our top 20 as well. As star and producer of Amazon’s Little Fires Everywhere Reese Witherspoon continued the influence she had behind and in front of the camera on Big Little Lies (2017-19). And among the year’s standout performances was Shira Haas’s mesmerising portrayal in Unorthodox of a young woman who escapes the restrictive life of a wife in an Orthodox community in Manhattan (though, in truth, Anna Winger’s drama often failed to live up to Haas’s performance), while in Mrs. America Cate Blanchett was as impressive as ever, as Phyllis Schlafly, an enemy of secondwave feminists in the 1970s for her campaign to resist the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.

If Mrs. America offered an oblique way to comment on debates new and old, the Jordan Peele-produced Lovecraft Country on HBO refracted the darker truths of American history – in its case, racism in the South – through the prism of horror. But its depiction of a US scarred over race of course also had one eye very much on the present.

Other American shows confronted the ugly truths of the past few years more directly. Indeed, a nihilistic tone hovered over much US drama in what we now know to have been Trump’s last year, but which was anything but certain to be when such shows were in production. So the third season of Ozark offered as bleak an assessment of a contemporary America fuelled by self-interest and violence as could be imagined; The Plot Against America’s alternative history in which xenophobic populist Charles Lindbergh took the White House no longer seemed at all fantastical; and the grim crime procedural/horror The Outsider, adapted from Stephen King’s novel, suggested unspeakable things lurking in the American heartland.

Those last three shows were made for Netflix, Sky and HBO, respectively, and if they were evidence of the dominance of the streaming giants – whose reach swelled enormously through lockdown – there were also standouts closer to home. It’s encouraging that the top two shows in our poll, I May Destroy You and Normal People, were both BBC productions – and that they were produced at a moment when the BBC is facing cuts and hostile attacks from commercial rivals and political enemies in government is still more remarkable.

Those aside, the year also brought fine if less innovative British dramas, such as Stephen Frears’s hugely enjoyable Quiz on ITV, whose reassuring beats soothed audiences in early lockdown. And domestic broadcasters also responded to the new restrictions in innovative ways, as seen in ITV’s Isolation Stories and in the BBC’s Staged, in which Michael Sheen and David Tennant played versions of themselves over Zoom.

And then of course there is Steve McQueen’s landmark Small Axe anthology, produced by BBC Films, and without question one of the most significant TV events of the year when broadcast through November and December on the BBC and Amazon. It’s only not included in our poll as we judged that as some of its five films had played in film festivals, and were conceived as standalone parts of a whole, it was eligible for our film poll instead.

Such imperfect categorisations are likely to become more rather than less common in the years ahead, as the collapsing of different mediums into less distinguishable camps continues, and we can be sure that the hoary old ‘Film vs TV’ debates will be rehashed past the point of tedium. The tantalising news that David Lynch is reportedly readying an $85-million series for Netflix entitled Wisteria, due to start shooting in May 2021 – Covid permitting – will do little to dampen such discussions. But as with Michaela Coel’s marvellous series, it’s one thing we can at least all agree we’re excited about.

See much more of our review of the year in our Winter 2020-21 double issue

Our biggest-ever issue takes stock of 2020 with our annual polls of the best films and television of the year and surveys of the state of different regions and genres.

Find out more and get a copy

The top 20

20. Isolation Stories

Various writers and directors, ITV

Isolation Stories (2020– )

Four 15-minute dramas, cast, filmed, directed and edited remotely in April and May, that depict life in lockdown and what families are going through after weeks of isolation.

We say: “Obviously 2020 has been a year in which production was disrupted by the pandemic, but which contained some ready-made pieces of significance. Of the dramas which employed improvised production methods under lockdown conditions, ITV’s Isolation Stories was best because it eschewed the device of using computer screens in favour of finding ways around the restrictions to comment effectively on the extraordinary situation we found ourselves in.”

— Steve Bryant

Where to see it: On ITV Hub

19. The Outsider

Richard Price, HBO

The Outsider (2020)

Ben Mendelsohn is a grief-stricken detective investigating the horrific and inexplicable murder of a child in this ten-part drama adapted from a 2018 Stephen King novel.

We said: “So many tropes of current TV date back to Stephen King that there’s a risk direct adaptations seem like collages of standardised themes, characters and moods. The arrival of [Cynthia] Erivo’s Holly Gibney in Episode 3 significantly changes the mood, culminating in an on-the-nose statement about the supernatural villain that positions the psychic if troubled sleuth as a force of light equivalent to the shapeshifting serial killer.”

— Kim Newman

Where to see it: On Sky Atlantic

18. Staged

Simon Evans and Phin Glynn, BBC

Staged (2020)

Six-part British television comedy series, in which Michael Sheen and David Tennant play fictionalised versions of themselves trying to rehearse a performance of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author during lockdown, filmed using video-conferencing technology.

We say: “Staged managed to provide something joyful, distinctive and reflective of the global situation just when we needed it most, and was turned round to broadcast in mere weeks. We should not just be thanking the TV series and dramas of this year. We should also praise the TV programme-makers who had to reinvent the ways they make their programmes so that shows could continue to air. ”

— Scott Bryan

Where to see it: On BBC iPlayer

17. The Beach

Warwick Thornton, SBS TV

The Beach (2020)

The Australian director’s series documents his solitary retreat to a corrugated iron shack near the sea on the Dampier Peninsula in the north-west of Western Australia.

We said: “Warwick Thornton’s singular six-parter is hard to pin down. It has obvious roots in reality TV, but the cinematography (by Thornton’s son Dylan River) often takes it into the realms of quasi-abstract film poetry and the editing brings in conceptual ambiguities of a kind rarely seen since the heyday of Alain Resnais. There’s nothing else quite like it in contemporary cinema.”

— Tony Rayns, S&S December 2020

Where to see it: On BBC iPlayer

16. The Salisbury Poisonings

Written by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn, directed by Saul Dibb, BBC

The Salisbury Poisonings (2020)

Three-part docudrama portraying the attempted assassination in Salisbury of the former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and its aftermath. Anne-Marie Duff starred as Tracy Daszkiewicz, the public health official in charge of the crisis, with Rafe Spall as DS Nick Bailey, a police officer left seriously ill by contact with the nerve agent Novichok.

We say: “The Salisbury Poisonings looked beyond the sensational aspects of the case to focus on the ordinary people affected by the botched assassination attempt, with a heartbreaking performance from MyAnna Buring as victim Dawn Sturgess.”

— Alex Davidson

Where to see it: On BBC iPlayer

15. Adult Material

Written by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Dawn Shadforth, Channel 4

Adult Material (2020)

A woman’s life working in the adult film industry , from its seedy beginnings to a highly successful enterprise.

We said: “As enjoyably hectic and messy as its heroine’s life, Adult Material finally settles, after genre-hopping through black workplace comedy, soap opera and lurid melodrama, as a surprisingly sensitive character study. Digging beneath Jolene’s big-mouth-big-tits porn queen persona, it ensures that she keeps her dignity even when all else is lost. Jolene may be due a great fall but she’s resolutely not a fallen woman.”

— Kate Stables

Where to see it: Available to stream on All4

14. Better Call Saul (Season 5)

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, Netflix

Better Call Saul (2020)

The ‘Breaking Bad’ prequel series follows the slow evolution of Bob Odenkirk’s good-hearted conman Jimmy McGill into corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman. Season 5 saw McGill get drawn further into the web of crime when he is forced to represent Mexican cartel kingpin Lalo Salamanca.

We say: “Where Breaking Bad revealed the evil in a ‘respectable’ man; the tragedy in Better Call Saul is in how a kind, good man sees those very virtues determine his downfall. Odenkirk makes hay with the role of a lifetime, but the show’s emotional impact owes an equal debt to Rhea Hunter’s Kim Wexler. The inevitability of their relationship’s demise made Season 5 a riveting but often sad watch.”

— James Bell

Where to see it: On Netflix

13. Little Fires Everywhere

Liz Tigelaar, Amazon

Little Fires Everywhere (2020)

Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1997, the series – adapted from the 2017 novel by Celeste Ng – follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. The story begins with the Richardson family’s house on fire, then follows events leading up to it, exploring issues of race, motherhood, sexuality, abortion and more. Reese Witherspoon produces and stars, with Kerry Washington co-starring.

We say: “No singular TV event better undressed the cognitively dissonant political animus and anxiety of American suburbia that birthed the Trump era than Little Fires Everywhere.”

— Jan Asante

Where to see it: On Amazon Prime

12. Lovecraft Country

Misha Green, HBO

Lovecraft Country (2020)

A young African-American man travels across the segregated US of the 1950s in search of his missing father, learning of dark secrets plaguing a town on which H.P. Lovecraft based the location of many of his tales.

We said: “The idea of turning Lovecraft against himself to address race is neat. After a strong opening, the episodes drift towards a CGI-heavy fantastical quest narrative… with exposition whispered hurriedly in haunted basements as CGI effects batter on the door… it begins to feel a little hectic. Still, it’s yet more evidence of the onscreen revolution in genre horror – that it has always been there in the soul of Black folks.”

— Roger Luckhurst, S&S October 2020

Where to see it: On Sky Atlantic

11. Mrs. America

Jason Dundas, FX on Hulu

Mrs America (2020)

A dramatisation of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution, and the unexpected backlash led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, played by Cate Blanchett.

We said: “Turns a beady eye on the 1970s battles that raged over US women’s rights… simultaneously sharp-eyed about the GOP backlash and glossily nostalgic about second-wave feminism. Blanchett’s grandstanding Schlafly bestrides the series like a colossus. Smothering rage or self-satisfaction behind tiny moues or feline smiles, wearily accommodating a marital near-rape, she’s a magnificent construction.”

— Kate Stables, S&S October 2020

Where to see it: Available on BBC iPlayer

10. Unorthodox

Anna Winger, Netflix

Unorthodox (2020)

An ultra-Orthodox New York Jewish woman named Esty (Shira Haas) flees her arranged marriage and religious community to start a new life in Berlin.

We said: “Haas makes Esty seem younger even than her teenage years but balances childlike vulnerability with a strong will and propensity to bold opportunism. While there’s an effective undertow of dramatic suspense throughout, the focus remains on the extraordinary psychological tensions that structure Esty’s journey, quite fraught enough even without the occasional genre trappings of chases, break-ins and standoffs.”

— Ben Walters, S&S Summer 2020

Where to see it: On Netflix

9. Quiz

Directed by Stephen Frears, ITV

Quiz (2020)

Adaptation of James Graham’s play about Charles Ingram, who won the jackpot on the quiz show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ in 2001.

We said: “Temptingly watchable television, though at three hours it falls short of A Very English Scandal in feeling occasionally a touch repetitious. What Frears lacks in ostentatious directorial flash, he more than makes up for in meticulous handling of character, especially in ensemble dramas like this. As Charles Ingram, Matthew Macfadyen brings his self-deprecating smile and air of apologetic vulnerability to a character nearly as pushed around and put-upon as his Tom Wambsgans in Succession.”

— Philip Kemp, S&S Summer 2020

Where to see it: On Britbox

8. The Plot against America

Ed Burns and David Simon, Sky

The Plot against America (2020)

Adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel depicting an alternative history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt was defeated in the US presidential election of 1940 by the Nazi-sympathising Charles Lindbergh.

We said: “The main problem was how to tell Roth’s counterfactual history alongside the dramatic scenes drawn from the life of the protagonists, the Levins – a Jewish family from New Jersey – in such a way that the audience understands not only as fiction but as a pattern of behaviour to watch out for right now… It is great at portraying the way fascism comes into ordinary lives as small adjustments, seeping in until the terror is literally at your door.”

— Nick James, S&S October 2020

Where to see it: On Sky Atlantic and Amazon Prime

7. Des

Directed and co-written by Lewis Arnold, ITV

Des (2020)

ITV’s three-part drama starring David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen offset his murder spree through the prism of his police interrogation, and boasted a strong central performance, but was it yet another example of a drama in which a serial killer’s gay victims are treated as dramatically disposable?

We said: “Tennant’s performance has received great acclaim, with one reviewer noting it is so strong that viewers would want to ‘spend more time with one of Britain’s most notorious murderers’. The victims themselves have received rather less attention. As the series begins with his arrest and does not use flashbacks, we do not see any of the men he murdered depicted on screen.”

— Alex Davidson

Where to see it: Available on ITV Hub

6. Ozark (Season 3)

Chris Mundy, Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, Netflix

Ozark (2017– )

A financial adviser drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder money to appease a drug boss.

We said: “Sometimes our long-form TV series are the masterworks we yearn for, more lasting and encompassing than our best movies. Ozark is at masterpiece level because, as in so much of Dickens, it is a sweeping intoxicated portrait of a society and its engines as much as the melodrama and the pathos in which the characters live. Casablanca celebrated a daft dream, sweet enough to override war. But in Ozark it is clear we are seeing and living in the extinction of those old American dreams.”

— David Thomson, S&S Summer 2020

Where to see it: On Netflix

5. I Hate Suzie

Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble, Sky

I Hate Suzie (2020)

Billie Piper plays an erratic actor stumbling from one crisis to another in this provocative and spiky pseudo-autobiographical drama.

We said: “That I Hate Suzie is rather higher on shock moments and general nerviness than on actual jokes won’t please everyone. Neither its atmosphere nor Piper’s vivid but stagy performance are easy to relax into. What does feel provocative, in an entertainment moment somewhat besotted with narratives of victimhood and responsibility, redress and redemption, is the spectacle of a female character engaging in dissolute and depraved behaviour for which – thus far – she seems distinctly disinclined to atone.”

— Hannah McGill, S&S, October 2020

Where to see it: On Sky Atlantic

4. Devs

Alex Garland, FX on Hulu

Devs (2020)

Science-fiction thriller about a woman who works at a tech giant, and who investigates a disappearance at the company’s secretive ‘Devs’ department.

We said: “Often sublime visually… Garland’s visual imagination and Rob Hardy’s glow-steeped photography impart a confident sheen. Overall, though, the material lacks a certain freshness. The show is more eloquent when it lets the visuals speak, with certain sequences flamboyantly using superimposed imagery, showing simultaneous alternative versions of single events, to illustrate the multiverse theme.”

— Jonathan Romney, S&S Summer 2020

Where to see it: On BBC iPlayer

3. The Queen’s Gambit

Scott Frank and Allan Scott, Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit (2020)

Anya Taylor-Joy’s alcoholic chess prodigy puts herself to the test in Scott Frank and Allan Scott’s series adapted from Walter Tevis’s novel.

We said: “Taylor-Joy pursues her own star character actress arc, from the haunted child of The Witch to the Austen heroine of Emma, and reaffirms her position – obvious even in fare like Morgan and The New Mutants – as one of the most distinctive presences in contemporary cinema and TV. Tevis writes brilliantly about chess and Frank devises a variety of stratagems to reproduce the tension as Beth plays many, many games over the course of seven episodes.”

— Kim Newman

Where to see it: On Netflix

2. Normal People

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, BBC

Normal People (2020)

Adaptation of Sally Rooney’s highly acclaimed novel about Marianne and Connell, two people from different backgrounds but the same small town in Ireland, as they weave in and out of each other’s romantic lives.

We said: “The fact that such a popular novel has been adapted into a television series rather than a feature film affirms what we already know about current showbusiness hierarchies – but the format also suits a slow, episodic narrative that has multiple subtle peaks and troughs rather than a three-act structure. It’s a sign both of Rooney’s contrarian instincts and of her skill that she successfully generates copious sympathy for people so rich in various forms of that modern anathema, privilege. Rooney’s defence of teenage sex as potentially loving, enriching and fulfilling, rather than de facto reckless or exploitative, is respectfully replicated here.

“The other narrative problem for Normal People, also inherited from the book, is one of repetition. How much of two adults shillyshallying about whether or not to be Official Boyfriend and Girlfriend will an audience sit still for, especially without the gags with which a romcom could festoon the same structure? Both lead performances are singularly impressive, [Paul] Mescal doing more with a fixed, nervous grin than any actor since Ben Gazzara in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), and [Daisy] Edgar-Jones nailing the particular self-conscious prickliness of somebody no one believes should be sad.”

— Hannah McGill, S&S Summer 2020

Where to see it: On BBC iPlayer

1. I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel, BBC

I May Destroy You (2020)

Coel’s bracingly original drama tells the story of millennial author Arabella and her disorienting transformation from victim to vigilante to virago.

We said: “Just when we need it most, Michaela Coel is uniting our world. I May Destroy You is unifying the left and the right, Britons and beyond in the vote for the finest TV drama of 2020… The startling clarity of the series lies not only in its psychological veracity but also in the way it problematises the simplistic victim vs oppressor binary. Instead, through following Arabella’s journey, we are invited to explore the more nuanced idea that we each exist on a sliding scale of complicity and confusion. It is this complex layering that makes I May Destroy You so bold and prescient.

“Rarely too have we seen so well rendered the way Black women navigate the tension between race and gender, or the intergenerational trauma passed down from Black mothers to their girls. What we witness over the show’s 12 episodes is the healing of Arabella’s maladaptive psyche. Once she unpacks the memories she has stuffed beneath the bed, dons the horns of her own darkness and baptises herself in the sea, her true freedom can begin.”

— Gaylene Gould

Where to see it: On BBC iPlayer

How they voted

Jan Asante

  1. Little Fires Everywhere
  2. Random Acts of Flyness
  3. I May Destroy You
  4. I Know This Much Is True
  5. Adult Material
  • No singular TV event better undressed the cognitively dissonant political animus and anxiety of American suburbia that birthed the Trump era than Little Fires Everywhere.
  • Stylistically, the vision of Random Acts of Flyness creator Terence Nance almost defies classification. This show is anti-genre. Lucidly eccentric, non-linear, deconstructive television that segues seamlessly through animation, documentary, newsreel and sci-fi dreamlike states. A fascinating meditation on desire, liberty, joy and death and the Black aesthetic. A little like imagining David Lynch’s cult series Twin Peaks, retweaked as an allegory of race and sex in modern day America.
  • British television owes a great debt to the defiant supernova chronicles of Michaela Coel. She may make you face your fears, but your imagination may emerge absolutely better for it.
  • And the truth is, when on-screen, Mark Ruffalo will never fail you. Not least in duplicate form in I Know This Much Is True, embodying twin stories of two traumatised brothers, meticulously captured through the lens of series creator Derek Cianfrance. This synergy is intoxication.
  • Adult Material was a worthy, if at times conflicted attempt at humanising the shadowy world of adult entertainment, as seen through the eyes of the women it exalts and devours.

Robin Baker

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Normal People
  3. Paatal Lok
  4. Panchayat
  5. Devs
  • I May Destroy You felt like a TV game-changer – relevant, provocative, structurally audacious and wholly compelling. Due to lockdown, water cooler moments were off-limits, but Michaela Coel’s tour de force as writer, star and co-director occupied 50 per cent of the WhatsApp messages I sent and received this summer.
  • Kudos to co-directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald for cutting so deeply to the heart of the relationship in Normal People. They observed and explored intimacy in a way that I usually only expect to see on the big screen.
  • This was my year of Indian TV. The first time I went to India one of the 94 episodes of the mythological epic Mahabharat seemed to be showing whenever I turned on the TV. On one level, the two great recent Indian crime dramas – Paatal Lok and Sacred Games – couldn’t feel more grittily contemporary and earthbound, but part of their brilliance is the way Hindu mythology flows right through them. Paatal Lok is the stand-out: a tale of crime, corruption and caste, like an Indian Line of Duty, but on bigger themes. Wholly different in tone is the rural comedy drama Panchayat. If I had to name my favourite episode of anything this year it would be episode 3 of Panchayat. Never has so much meaning been realised from the politics of an office chair.
  • Alex Garland’s Devs might have been flawed, but the scale of its mind-expanding ambition was unparalleled.

James Bell

  1. The Queen’s Gambit
  2. I May Destroy You
  3. Quiz
  4. Ozark (Season 3)
  5. Better Call Saul (Season 5)

Nick Bradshaw

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Normal People
  3. The Beach
  4. Lovecraft Country
  5. The Plot Against America

Scott Bryan

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Quiz
  3. Normal People
  4. The Salisbury Poisonings
  5. Staged

This has been an essential year of TV, not just because of the standard of dramas out there and the amount of global competition, but for its role in being a comfort and distraction to viewers at a time of global tragedy and anxiety.

By coincidence, some of the best shows of the year aired exactly at the time we needed them most: Michaela Coel’s compelling and powerful I May Destroy You, James Graham’s Quiz and Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Then there was Staged, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, which managed to provide something joyful, distinctive and reflective of the global situation, turned round to broadcast in mere weeks.

We should not just be thanking the TV series and dramas of this year. We should also praise the TV programme makers who had to reinvent the ways they make their programmes so that shows could continue to air. This includes the broadcasters who turned their bedrooms into home studios at no notice, the producers and directors who had to make shows in line with an ever-changing set of new safety rules, the post-production teams who finished editing shows from home, and the thousands of different roles in-between.

We should also thank those who helped turned the television from an entertainer and a distraction to an educator and resource, with thousands of hours of shows made for children when they couldn’t visit school. This was a year when TV went far beyond what many people expected it to do, and it succeeded.

Steve Bryant

  1. Tales from the Loop
  2. Normal People
  3. I May Destroy You
  4. Isolation Stories
  5. Home
  • This was obviously a year where production was disrupted by the pandemic, but which contained some ready-made pieces of significance. Of the dramas which employed improvised production methods under lockdown conditions, ITV’s Isolation Stories was best because it eschewed the device of using computer screens in favour of finding ways around the restrictions to comment effectively on the extraordinary situation we found ourselves in.
  • The other big theme of the year – racism and its history – found expression in a number of titles (Anthony, Lovecraft Country, Small Axe) though these timely pieces were all conceived before the worldwide impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Two of my choices also touched on racism without being directly about it: Rufus Jones’s sitcom Home continued to follow the travails of a Syrian asylum seeker while developing all its characters in a way which effortlessly switched between the moving and the hilarious; Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You was arguably the most strikingly innovative dramatic series of the year – another major contribution from an extraordinary talent.
  • Traditional values of excellence in writing, direction and performance were most clearly on show in Normal People: probably the best love story of recent years. It was also unafraid to take its time…
  • …as was my favourite series of the year, Nathaniel Halpern’s Tales From the Loop, which employed a meditative pace and beautiful construction to explore the full moral and philosophical consequences of strange hypothetical situations – the very essence of what the best science fiction can deliver.

Andrew Collins

  1. Normal People
  2. I May Destroy You
  3. Des
  4. Perry Mason
  5. The Undoing

Lockdown has made old TV as vital as new TV, with Britbox providing a revisit to The Jewel in the Crown (1984), Battlestar Galactica given a Freeview revival on BBC2 and Line of Duty re-categorised as a broadcast box set. With The Crown back and Succession imminent for 2021, the barriers between revival and premiere seem arbitrary. (If only Frankie Boyle would write a drama.)

Kieron Corless

  1. Anthony
  2. The Beach
  3. I May Destroy You
  4. Des
  5. The Queen’s Gambit

Alex Davidson

  1. Mrs. America
  2. I May Destroy You
  3. Feel Good
  4. Bojack Horseman (Season 6)
  5. The Salisbury Poisonings
  • In a year when most of us spent more time than ever in front of our TVs, often trying to resist an onslaught of worrying news updates, an army of quality drama came to the rescue. I write this the day after Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections; at the end of my favourite series of the year, Mrs America, the final image of Cate Blanchett’s Phyllis Schlafly glumly peeling potatoes, a victim of her own viciously anti-feminist rhetoric, seemingly predicted the downfall of another reactionary blowhard.
  • I May Destroy You is a rare TV series that earned its universal acclaim, an astonishing achievement for all involved, firmly establishing Michaela Coel as one of our greatest writers, with superb performances from Weruche Opia and Harriet Webb.
  • Feel Good made me laugh more than any other series this year, a queer romantic comedy with a star-making performance from Mae Martin, who shared real, messy chemistry with Charlotte Ritchie and gave Lisa Kudrow her best role in years.
  • Bojack Horseman came to an end with a set of consistently strong episodes; the revelation of Bojack’s actions on the night of Sarah Lynn’s death is a particularly wrenching highlight.
  • The Salisbury Poisonings looked beyond the sensational aspects of the case to focus on the ordinary people affected by the botched assassination attempt, with a heart-breaking performance from MyAnna Buring as victim Dawn Sturgess.

Maria Delgado

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. The Salisbury Poisonings
  3. Normal People
  4. Patria
  5. Anti Riot
  • I May Destroy You blew everything else out of the picture for me – fierce, fearless, edgy, perceptive and political. Watching it reminded me of seeing Boys from the Blackstuff for the first time in 1982. I couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it. That important. That urgent.
  • The Salisbury Poisonings, broadcast as Covid mismanagement wrought terrifying consequences on the world was a reminder of how art provides a commentary on the present, highlighting a very different way of handling a public health danger.
  • Normal People captured the awkwardness, embarrassments, highs and lows of teenage love with class – too often now displaced from centre screen – as a discerning factor. The opting for twelve thirty-minute episodes gave it a distilled quality, as if all extraneous stuff had been stripped away from the core tale.
  • Two series from Spain left a mark. Patria, an HBO adaptation of Fernando Aramburu’s acclaimed 2016 novel, captured the different viewpoints of the two close families caught on either side of the Basque sectarian divide during the 1980s. The weight of history feels palpable and almost tribal and the strong period detail offered a way of understanding the fault lines of Spain’s democracy through a narrative where the politics of forgiveness and reparation felt both urgent and timely.
  • Rodolfo Sorogoyen’s in-yer-face Anti Riot couldn’t have been more different. Taut, fast and furious, it centred on an anti-riot police unit that, like Money Heist, brutally exposes an institutional culture riddled with normalised corruption.
  • Finally, 2020 saw me revisit all seven series of Hill Street Blues and recognise once more the expansive influence it has had on TV series that came in its wake.

Toby Earle

  1. Once Upon a Time in Iraq
  2. I May Destroy You
  3. I Hate Suzie
  4. The Boys (Season 2)
  5. What We Do in the Shadows Season 2
  • In Once Upon a Time in Iraq the BBC produced a landmark series which assembled a collage of voices, all too often unheard in the West. How the contributors were found – from an Iraqi citizen who saved dozens from a Daesh massacre to a senior US military officer – is an achievement in itself. Gripping, heartbreaking, and infuriating.
  • A virtuoso work, Michaela Coel’s significant talent ascends even greater heights in I May Destroy You, a work which captures a thrilling contemporary energy and toys with the structure and expectations of television and storytelling.
  • Billie Piper and Suzie Prebble’s fearless dynamic propels I Hate Suzie, this exploration of celebrity, waning fame, and identity as much a comment on the media as how we, as an audience, consume and even facilitate those stories.
  • Corruption, greed, online radicalization, and the normalisation of far-right doctrine – The Boys does a better job of nailing the state of current Western democracies than any other series, all while smashing toothless megaplex superhero franchises with killer reality uppercuts.
  • What We Do in the Shadows is an ensemble piece played to comic perfection which blends the sublimely silly with the most mundane house share issues all vampires face. A comedy to watch and watch again to raise your spirits in this glum year.

Dick Fiddy

  1. Why Women Kill
  2. The Good Place (Season 4)
  3. After Life (Season 2)
  4. The Queen’s Gambit
  5. I May Destroy You
  • Marc ‘Desperate Housewives’ Cherry delivered the perfect escapist antidote to the COVID-clouded 2020 schedules with Why Women Kill, a comedy-drama, murder-mystery series set across three timelines which was distinguished by sharp writing and great performances, especially by Jack Davenport, Lucy Liu and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.
  • Elsewhere the brilliant comedy The Good Place wrapped with a flawless final episode and Ricky Gervais continued to cross heartbreak with laughter in the second series of the ambitious After Life.
  • Also ambitious was Michaela Cole’s mesmerising sexual-consent drama I May Destroy You, which confounded expectations at every turn and delivered no easy resolutions.
  • The Queen’s Gambit brought Walter Tevis’s 1983 chess-centred novel to the screen as a limited mini-series resulting in an elegantly paced, beautifully realised period-piece, quite different from anything else on screen.
  • Over at Disney The Mandalorian demonstrated how the Star Wars universe should be done and other honourable mentions should go to the Perry Mason re-imagining, The Good Fight, John Wyver’s excellent documentary on Play for Today and the mad gothic-horror sitcom What We Do in the Shadows.

Christine Geraghty

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Unsaid Stories
  3. The Split
  4. Inside No 9: The Referee’s a W***er
  5. EastEnders: Whitney’s Story
  • Conceived well before the pandemic for the BBC, I May Destroy You became a lockdown phenomenon. Its story of working through trauma is intensely personal; watching it is like connecting with Coel’s consciousness. But its creativity and energy provided a huge emotional lift and its amazingly inventive storytelling trusted the audience to stick with it.
  • It was good to see ITV respond to BLM with Unsaid Stories, four 15-minute films commissioned and made with a very short turn-around. While some of the scenarios may have been familiar to black viewers, the mainstream audiences could find well-known actors, sensitive scripts and different narrative angles on racism.
  • Abbi Morgan’s second series of The Split again featured an excellent cast, clever writing, underhand behaviour, sisterly shenanigans, spectacular settings and much swishing of stylish costumes. Hugely enjoyable.
  • Amazingly, Inside No 9 continues to deliver. Which to pick from Series 5? Maxine Peake in the complex Thinking Out Loud? The sombre comedy of Love’s Great Adventure? The best fun was The Referee’s A W***er, set in the changing room, and starring David Morrissey who loving kisses a living No 9 before the twists of the plot take over.
  • It has been a hard year for soaps but Whitney’s story in EastEnders convincingly took a character we first met in 2008 through another set of trials. For over ten years, the audience has been led to understand the impact of childhood sexual abuse on this vulnerable young woman who, in this case fatally, trusts the wrong men for the wrong reasons.

Rebecca Harrison

  1. Devs
  2. Normal People
  3. The Mandalorian (Season 2)
  4. Sex Education (Season 2)
  5. What We Do in the Shadows Season 2

A confession: I have barely watched any drama series through to their conclusions this year. 2020 has not, for what will probably be obvious reasons, been a great period for sustained attention or concentration in my household. We’ve tended to distract ourselves from the chaos with reruns of old favourites (The Vicar of Dibley, Spaced, I’m Alan Partridge) or the worlds of dating and competition shows (Love is Blind, Don’t Tell the Bride, Five Guys a Week, The Big Flower Fight).

There were some drama highlights, however. The effervescent and always on point second series of Sex Education hit just before lockdown, and the young cast had enough warmth and charisma that it provided solace on a second viewing, too. Another return, this time in the form of What We Do in the Shadows, was silly, fun, and low-stakes escapism.

But when I have become invested in new drama series, it has been all-encompassing, and my emotional responses have been intense. Normal People, Devs and The Mandalorian might not seem like they had much in common on the surface – spanning multiple genres and wildly different styles – but from the young will-they-won’t-they couple to the cutest father and alien child relationship in the galaxy, they all asked us to feel.

Sure, they spoke of uncertainty and anxiety. But they were slow, they took their time, and they looked sublime, with design work that whether understated or over-the-top were audiovisual treats for the senses. And ultimately, they all championed family connections and companionship – which, in moments when we’ve been far apart, made me remember what it was like to live closer together, and feel more connected.

Nick James

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. The Last Dance
  3. Babylon Berlin (Series 3)
  4. The Plot Against America
  5. DNA
  • For sheer verve and invention, nothing comes close to Michaela Coel’s series – a poke in the eye of staid telly drama and the best evocation of contemporary London managed by anyone for a while.
  • Ostensibly documentary, The Last Dance was structured like a drama series, all about the suspense for this virgin basketball watcher on whether there were limits to Michael Jordan’s talents.
  • Babylon Berlin continues to jazz me in ways David Simon and Ed Burns refused to with the somewhat pious but solid The Plot Against America, which won through the morass of too many characters and shrill sermonising that characterised the early episodes.
  • What’s fascinating about DNA is that, unlike its famous Scandi forerunners The Killing and The Bridge, it is not remotely interested in being cinematic. It’s shot like TV series were shot before big-screen TVs came along – very few wides, limited interest in landscape – and there’s something soothing about that, something that relies upon the flow of procedure to be enough.

The award for the most spectacular failure has to go to Devs, a vacuous hippy-tech fable that relies on having a credulous audience in awe of its admittedly tidy set design.

Despite being locked down for the majority of 2020, there are still plenty of TV shows I am yet to see and series I am yet to complete; online film festivals have dominated much of my traditional home viewing. And yet, Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Season 2, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, is still somehow left off my list.

Tara Judah

  1. The Outsider
  2. I May Destroy You
  3. I Hate Suzie
  4. Ozark (Season 3)
  5. Schitt’s Creek (Season 6)
  • For me, The Outsider is this year’s best show; creeping cinematography to create suspense, a Jungian shadow nightmare of a narrative, and piercing performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo – she is astoundingly good.
  • I May Destroy You is the stuff prime time should be made of: punchy and punching.
  • I Hate Suzie showcases Lucy Prebble’s brilliant writing just as well as it confirms Billie Piper is and always was a loveable, believable and enigmatic screen presence.
  • Ozark Season 3 rewards its dedicated audience with the gendered jibes and justice that seasons 1 and 2 left us wanting.
  • Schitt’s Creek ensured it finished its incredible run with the quality of class and comedy that even Moira Rose would approve of.

Vrai Kaiser

  1. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
  2. The Haunting of Bly Manor
  3. What We Do in the Shadows (Season 2)
  4. Ascendance of a Bookworm (Season 2)
  5. McMillions

Philip Kemp

  1. Normal People
  2. Staged
  3. State of Happiness
  4. I May Destroy You
  5. Cardinal

Encouraging that TV continues to explore concepts, and depths, that cinema generally can’t or won’t.

Lisa Kerrigan

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Adult Material
  3. I Hate Suzie
  4. The Queen’s Gambit
  5. The Baby-Sitters Club
  • Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which explores the aftermath of sexual assault and interrogates notions of sexual consent, is densely packed with observations on race, sexuality, relationships, class and even climate change. Coel’s triumph is to thread these themes through the series even as she experiments with narrative form and foregrounds the complexity of the friendships between her main characters. It is nothing short of a masterpiece.
  • Also addressing issues around consent and criminal acts, I Hate Suzie and Adult Material have at their heart the conflict between public and private personas for their heroines, a singer-turned-actress and a porn star. Somewhat miraculously, all three British series have comedy within their drama and are all the more affecting for that.
  • Netflix presented two very different adaptations of novels from the 1980s in The Baby-Sitters Club and The Queen’s Gambit. Anya Taylor-Joy’s mesmerising performance in The Queen’s Gambit was as enticing as her character Beth Harmon’s inexorable pull towards the world of chess. The pre-teen preoccupations of The Baby-Sitters Club may be a world away from the other dramas on my list but here sensitive writing aided a brilliant cast in their portrayal of the uncertainties of adolescence.

It seems remarkable that this year, in spite of everything, we were lucky enough to have five great series about women and girls making and remaking themselves, in opposition to stereotypes and in pursuit of self-fulfilment. I was thrilled by all of them.

Leila Latif

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. I Hate Suzie
  3. Normal People
  4. Little Fires Everywhere
  5. High Fidelity

After writing this list I looked back and realised I had unwittingly chosen five shows with female leads, three of which have Black female leads. For all that that seems unlikely this list still feels uncontroversial to me. Michaela Coel, Billie Piper, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Zoe Kravitz and Kerry Washington have all gotten the praise and accolades they richly deserve.

Whilst, in the midst of this tumultuous year, many shows seemed woefully dated and spoke to a world that no longer existed, all of these shows tapped into something urgent, universal and timeless. I May Destroy You, in a single season, shifted the paradigms of Black woman, trauma and sexual assault on television. It is a revelation, defying convention and moving between sardonic wit and gritty tragedy with style and ease. 2020 has cemented Michaela Coel as one of the most exciting and dynamic creative voices working today.

Violet Lucca

  1. The Plot Against America
  2. Truthpoint: Darkweb Rising
  3. The Good Lord Bird
  4. The Last O.G.
  5. Better Call Saul (Season 5)

In the months and weeks after 9/11, there was constant sense of national mourning – it was the only thing on TV. You couldn’t escape it. Obviously, part of that served a political purpose, which I resented at the time. But this year there was no attempt to mourn the 200,000+ COVID deaths in the United States. Instead, the TV remained tuned to the Trump show. The amount of suffering because of this wildly mismanaged pandemic is not going anywhere.

As a perpetually outraged leftist, my natural inclination is to ask: who benefits from eschewing grief and sticking solely to the numbers on TV? Americans excel at earnestness, so I implore the TV gods and the Hollywood ad wizards: interrupt all other scheduled programming and give us the signal to mourn.

Katherine McLaughlin

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. In My Skin
  3. Insecure (Season 4)
  4. Better Things (Season 4)
  5. Feel Good

Women telling stories about motherhood, dating, love, consent, career, mental health, addiction, menopause and friendship make up my top five this year. All these shows are insightful in how they confront their chosen subjects, skilfully using humour and comforting honesty to tackle complex themes.

  • The first series of Mae Martin’s Feel Good is a beautifully observed love story that simultaneously explores issues of addiction and recovery. There’s real chemistry between the two leads and it’s packed with charming humour.
  • Better Things and Insecure are both LA-set shows that make great use of their location to tell specific stories about women of differing ages and race. Female friendship in late twenties/early thirties life is perceptively tackled by Issa Rae in Insecure, with two best friends bitterly conflicted as they make important career decisions and grow apart as adult life takes over.
  • Pamela Adlon depicts late-forties/early-fifties friendships in Better Things as deeply rewarding. Watching a woman in full mid-life crisis speak so frankly about menopause and parenthood makes for a liberating experience.
  • With In My Skin, Kayleigh Llewellyn has written a coming-of-ager that will speak to many teenagers who have struggled with secrecy and shame. In this case, the impact of caring for a mentally ill mother on the life of a sixteen-year-old girl is confronted head on with dark wit and tenderness.
  • Michaela Coel perfectly balances scathing commentary with kindness and humour in I May Destroy You to make for powerful viewing on consent and dating in the contemporary world.

Henry K. Miller

  1. The Queen’s Gambit
  2. Devs
  3. The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
  4. Homeland (Season 8)
  5. The Good Fight
  • No-one in their right mind was still watching Homeland in 2020, and yet here we are. I don’t want to rewatch it or listen to a podcast about it, but that’s probably true of all of these – and of most movies, books, etc. too. This was up there with seasons 4 and 5, the best ones.
  • The Good Fight has been fully and avowedly Trump Deranged since episode 1, but somehow manages to get madder each season. It’s not exactly good – you watch to see where they’re going with this. Season 4 starts in a parallel universe where Hillary won in 2016 – good news for the Good Fighters, top-dollar Chicago lawyers with strong ties to the DNC, except that Harvey Weinstein is still an honoured citizen, and seeking legal representation… Lord knows what they’ll do now they don’t have Trump to kick around any more. Courtroom drama maybe?

Christina Newland

  1. Perry Mason
  2. The Queen’s Gambit
  3. The Boys (Season 2)
  4. Mrs. America
  5. I Hate Suzie

Kim Newman

  1. The Queen’s Gambit
  2. Harley Quinn (Season 1)
  3. The Outsider
  4. Devs
  5. Dark (Season 3)
  • Harley Quinn: the character returns to animation in a scurrilous spoof of the Bat-milieu, consistently lively and oddly touching.
  • Devs: among the best-directed series in recent years, though it can’t quite deal with all its ideas.
  • See my S&S reviews of The Queen’s Gambit, The Outsider and Dark Season 3!

Marcus Prince

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Normal People
  3. The Third Day
  4. The New Pope
  5. Isolation Stories

A list of titles that confirms the rude health of TV Drama. All drama commissioners say they want “strongly authored and highly original pieces” and TV drama this year as last proves that they are actually following through on this – from the immense sustained skill of Jesse Armstrong’s writing room for Succession to Michaela Coel’s very personal and tortured I May Destroy You. The latter is the drama that this year, perhaps above all others, caught the whole mood of a generation coping with the moral ambiguities of online sex and personal identity crisis.

Meanwhile the massively increased drama budget at Sky continues to pay dividends with The Third Day, the very brave and experimental tie-up between Punch Drunk Theatre and Dennis Kelly’s brilliant flare for creating dystopian nightmares. Sky’s faith in and creatve latitude given to director Paolo Sorrentino also bought us the joys of The New Pope and wonderfully nuanced performances from both John Malkovich and Jude Law.

The growth of truly international TV drama like this is perhaps the biggest takeaway from 2020, with Sky investing heavily in Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland whilst companies like Studiocanal and Walter Presents’s new tie up with Beta Film sees a growing scramble for European talents that can translate to the English speaking territories.

UK TV adapted with speed and agility to the Covid crisis, with ITV being the first to air a set of Covid themed short-form dramas – Isolation Stories – shot in an entirely new way but reaching a very high standard. This was fitting testament to the energy and talent in the UK TV industry, which is also, finally, now being applied to the diversity agenda. Hopefully we can look forward to the fruits of this in 2021.

Naman Ramachandran

  1. Paatal Lok
  2. The Queen’s Gambit
  3. Devs
  4. Us
  5. Baron Noir (Season 3)
  • At the height of lockdown along came an unheralded Indian show that took the country by surprise. Paatal Lok begins as a noir police procedural and proceeds to delve deep into India’s Hindu heartland, becoming an examination of politics and the media in the process.
  • While the other series on the list have been written about extensively in the English-language press, it’s worth mentioning that after a second season that got bogged down in the minutiae of French electoral politics, Baron Noir season 3 knocks it out of the park, with Kad Merad’s grandstanding performance in the title role being one for the ages. For cultural shorthand, Baron Noir has been described as a French House of Cards, but it is so much more than that given the limp nature of the latter show’s last two seasons.
  • Speaking of performances, Tom Hollander’s in a role written (in both the series and the David Nicholls novel on which it is based) as an unlikeable protagonist deserves every best actor award going.

Caspar Salmon

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Shrill
  3. John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch
  4. Ozark (Season 3)
  5. Unorthodox

My only option for the top spot was I May Destroy You – a landmark show in so many ways. It’s the only programme I’ve ever had a virtual study group for with friends, catching up after each episode to go over the writing, references and music, and pick out what the characters’ experiences meant to us. Michael Coel’s searing writing, culminating in a triumphant last episode that dared everything, never supplies easy answers, making every episode a searching, wholly invigorating experience.

Alan Sepinwall

  1. Better Call Saul (Season 5)
  2. Lovecraft Country
  3. I May Destroy You
  4. Normal People
  5. The Good Lord Bird

Kate Stables

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Des
  3. The Plot Against America
  4. Normal People
  5. Mrs. America

Isabel Stevens

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Normal People
  3. Ozark (Season 3)
  4. Unorthodox
  5. The Beach

Amy Taubin

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. The Eddy
  3. My Brilliant Friend
  4. City So Real
  5. Last Night with John Oliver

Lou Thomas

  1. Lovecraft Country
  2. Westworld (Season 3)
  3. The Queen’s Gambit
  4. The Great Heist
  5. I May Destroy You

We’ve all been stuck at home a great deal and so are perhaps more exposed to TV than ever before but, regardless, 2020 is yet another year that proves we’re living in a golden age of TV. My top five alone includes tense thrillers, eye-widening sci-fi, gruesome horror, social realism alongside plenty of moving drama and top gags. I’m a particular fan of the intersections: where genre boundaries blur and modes of storytelling come together in exciting or interesting ways. Thankfully, much of the great work currently being made exists at these points.

David Thompson

  1. Normal People
  2. Staged
  3. I May Destroy You
  4. Des
  5. Quiz

David Thomson

  1. Ozark (Season 3)
  2. The English Game
  3. The Queen’s Gambit

The TV drama, beyond everything else, was the ongoing reportage of the election year, as delivered by CNN, Fox and MSNBC. The latter was my home team, and I cherish the vital journalism, the humour and desperation in their presentation, highlighted by Brian Williams, Joy Reid, Nicolle Wallace, Lawrence O’Donnell and the flag in the wind, Rachel Maddow. But in the key week in November, all of those stalwarts gave way to Steve Kornacki, the master of the numbers board. In shirt sleeves, packed with radio microphones, he was a math genius even when exhausted, as dynamic as Cagney, as sweet as the young Jimmy Stewart and as perky as Mickey Mouse. No drama show could compete with the hours and the year of doing our absurd News.

Charlotte Whitehouse

  1. Adult Material
  2. The Outsider
  3. Isolation Stories
  4. Unorthodox
  5. Little Fires Everywhere

John Wyver

  1. I May Destroy You
  2. Homeland (Season 8)
  3. The Undoing
  4. The Pale Horse
  5. The Queen’s Gambit
  • Michaela Coel’s series was urgent and compelling and disturbing and truly original.
  • Homeland, in its eighth and final outing, demonstrated how great long-running series drama can achieve heights and depths of a kind unavailable to short-form works.
  • The Undoing and The Pale Horse (a two-part Agatha Christie adaptation scripted by Sarah Phelps), were thrilling examples of genre staples reimagined for today.

Needless to say, there were other series that made this strangest of years far more bearable, including Quiz, The Trial of Christine Keeler and I Hate Suzie.

Much of my year was occupied with exploring the BBC’s Play for Today series of single dramas in the 1970s and early 1980s (for a BBC Four documentary shown in October); each of these 2020 dramas keeps alive the creativity, challenge and complexity, and indeed the politics (albeit with different emphases), that distinguish the best of that series.