Best TV shows of 2020 (and where to stream them in Australia)
There are many reasons to wish that 2020 is already done and dusted, but when it comes to TV shows, there have been some quality releases to at least help pass the time. Whether its cracking limited docuseries, new shows that are full of laughs or wonder, or new seasons of classic TV series, 2020 has already had some banging entertainment.
If you don’t have time for comedy movies, don’t have the steely reserves for horror, or you’re looking for something that’s easy to binge, there’s something to suit all tastes in this list of best TV shows of 2020 (so far).
Originally created for HBO Max, Netflix Australia has sagely nabbed the rights to this latest irreverent animated comedy targeted at adults. It’s closer to Regular Show for grown-ups than it is to the regular Rick and Morty comparison for kid-unfriendly animated shows these days, but that’s because Regular Show and Close Enough are both made by the same person: J. G. Quintel.
For fans of Regular Show, you’ll know what to expect and you’ve probably stopped reading and clicked on the link to watch this already. For everyone else, you don’t need to be familiar with Quintel’s previous work to get consistent chuckles and some per-episode big laughs that make for incredibly easy bingeing.
Close Enough follows the larger-than-life antics of husband-and-wife duo Josh and Emily, as well as the people they live with: their daughter Candice and divorced on-again-off-again couple Alex and Bridgette. The laughs are at their biggest when it follows the wacky adventures of the four core adult characters of the show, which take them on adventures to a Logan’s Run-style night club, a house inspection turned sitcom, and a battle against a time-slowing giant sentient snail. As odd as that may read, Close Enough is more wonderful than weird.
As this is written, Maccas Monopoly is taking Australia by storm again, offering a gamified reason to order food from beneath the Golden Arches. While nowhere near as problematic for McDonald’s as Super Size Me, McMillions does a deep dive down the rabbit hole into the oddball tale of how the McDonald’s Monopoly game was used to steal $24 million of prizes in America.
This plays out as a six-part exploration of the co-conspirators, McDonald’s employees, and FBI agents who were involved in cracking the case. FBI Agent Doug Mathews steals the show whenever he’s on screen, injecting the truly bizarre story with high energy and entertaining yarns about how the case first came to him and how it was eventually cracked.
McMillions effortlessly drifts between laugh out loud to dramatic when it explores the stories of sympathetic co-conspirators but, mostly, it’s the kind of bizarre story that’s absolutely at home in the weirdness of 2020.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans will know that the solo comedy series of some of the main cast members have, thus far, been a mixed bag. Kaitlin Olson’s The Mick took a few episodes to warm up before it got great before being cancelled, and Quibi’s Flipped was okay with moments of occasional hilarity. Glenn Howerton’s A.P Bio had an incredibly shaky first season before seemingly finding its groove in season two.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, Rob McElhenney’s first major foray away from It’s Always Sunny, takes a couple of episodes to warm up, but then quickly goes from strength to strength. A strong core comedic cast of characters makes for a healthy chuckle quotient when bigger laughs are lacking early on, but when those guffaw-inducing moments come, they are absolutely worth it and become a staple of the show.
By the time you get to episode five, the experimental mid-season ‘bottle episode’, Mythic Quest unleashes its strongest episode, which may have the least laughs, but is a definite contender for best episode of television in 2020. Sure, it’s a massive thematic shift from the rest of the goofball series that’s focused on the many clashing personalities of a contemporary video game development studio, but if you make it to episode five, you’ll be all in for the rest of the season.
Ozark is a show that’s had potential since its first episode, but it’s also had issues finding consistent quality. At face value, it’s a Netflix riff on Breaking Bad, with a family that finds itself on the run and caught up with a dangerous drug cartel. The first season felt a bit too close to Breaking Bad at times, with the extremely talented Laura Linney relegated to a mostly passive and cliché role.
Season two tightened up the focus, quite literally dispatching of some of the deadweight subplot characters, while also offering chewier material for Linney, alongside the introduction of the entertainingly intimidating Janet McTeer. You absolutely should work your way through the first two seasons because the third season is Ozark at full stride and it’s the best season yet.
There are no disclaimers needed, with the core cast of characters laser focused on their various approaches to surviving in this dangerous world, as the stakes continue to rise in leaps as you constantly wonder how the core Byrde family can possibly survive. Ozark season three is absolutely compelling watching from start to finish, and represents a pay-off for some of the better elements that were set up in the preceding seasons.
Netflix continues to knock it out of the park with comic book adaptations. The Umbrella Academy was part of the quality ranks of comic TV adaptations of 2019 – alongside Watchmen, The Boys, and Doom Patrol (more on this below) – and that trend continues in 2020 with Locke & Key.
The story follows the plight of a widow and her three children who are force to uproot their lives and move into their truly creepy ancestral home. While there are occasional moments of horror, this is less The Haunting of Hill House and more The Chronicles of Narnia, with a firmer focus on wondrous magical happenings than unsettling ones.
As the children explore the delipidated home, they discover mysterious keys that unlock otherworldly abilities, and also put them in the crosshairs of the seriously sinister Dodge. At times hilarious, at others moving, the main thrust of Locke & Key is a powerful mystery and a great sense of fantastical wonder that makes for a truly fascinating world.
The original What We Do in the Shadows movie is a low-budget mockumentary about a house of deadbeat vampires struggling to adapt to modern life. For the TV show adaptation, What We Do in the Shadows is more a sequel than reboot, taking the movie formula but shifting it to a US setting with an even cooler comedic cast of cackle-worthy creatures of the night.
Season two is more than a worthy successor to the greatness of the first season; hell, it’s arguably even stronger. While still an episodic comedy at heart, season two explores moments and consequences from the first season that pay off in even funnier ways. The wackier it gets, the more hilarious it becomes, too.
Whether the vampire housemates are dealing with zombies, ghosts, or curses, there’s plenty to laugh about in every episode. While it’s often tricky to pick a favourite lead character, energy vampire Colin Robinson frequently steals the show, particularly in an a mid-season episode where a shift in the power dynamic has a hilarious flow-on effect.
Nathan Brown is dead. That’s not a spoiler; it’s actually the setup for Upload, a series that explores a near future where the afterlife is monetised and segregated by how wealthy you were at the time of death. If you’re fortunate enough to have rich surviving family members, they can fund your afterlife from the land of the living, so long as you stay on their good side.
Poor Nathan wasn’t particularly wealthy at his untimely death, but luckily his rich girlfriend Ingrid is willing to fund a luxurious afterlife. The problem is that Nathan has a strained relationship with Ingrid – which is a whole lot trickier now that they’re trying the ultimate long-distance relationship – and her high-maintenance beyond-the-grave demands make his afterlife a whole lot less fun. Nathan is assisted in the afterlife by his still-alive guide Nora and, as Nathan’s relationship with Ingrid continues to strain, he gets closer with Nora.
Very little goes to plan, though, and the result is a comedy with plenty of heart and a healthy dose of mystery over the events surrounding Nathan’s early demise. The 10 episodes of Upload’s first season are incredibly easy to binge through, and it’s made even more appealing by the confirmation that a second season is on the way.
With the announcement that Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is being made into a movie, with Nicolas Cage fittingly playing the larger-than-life titular Tiger King, you should have an idea of just how crazy this docuseries is. It primarily follows the story of Joe “Tiger King” Exotic, a flamboyant and outrageous self-proclaimed animal enthusiast who collected and bred tigers (and other exotic animals) in his Oklahoman park.
It wouldn’t be right to call it a zoo, given the questionable conditions the animals live in and how the focus of Exotic and other collectors of exotic animals that are featured in the docuseries seems to be on profits over protection. There’s an argument to be made that Carole Baskin is an exception to this rule, but as many of the people in the docuseries posit, she may have her own shady history.
Outside of the rare grounded regulars you genuinely end up feeling sorry for, Tiger King is a docuseries that’s primarily about people doing terrible things to each other and the animals in their care. In fairness, the focus is less about animal cruelty (though that’s certainly there) and more on a cast of characters who are wilder than the exotic animals they care for. It’s a bizarre tale that absolutely needs to be seen to be believed.
Coming soon to Stan, Gangs of London is a hard-hitting drama that sets the scene of visceral violence from its brutal opening. If you’re squeamish, this show definitely isn’t for you. If, however, you’re familiar with Gareth Evans’ other work – The Raid, The Raid 2 and, most recently, Apostle – then you’ll know what to expect from Gangs of London: incredibly well shot action scenes that are unflinching in their ruthlessness.
That’s enough of a reason for action fans to watch Gangs of London, but outside of the occasional moments of killing, there are killer moments of intrigue as the shadowy intentions of protagonist Elliot Finch (Sope Dirisu) quickly lead to an often tense exploration of loyalty and potential double-crossing.
While the final episode is unnecessarily convoluted and expository, it does create an interesting setup for a second season that’s currently in development. More importantly, all of the episodes before the season finale make for fascinating viewing, with a particular highlight being a Raid-like episode smack bang in the middle.
It was a blessing and a curse that Doom Patrol managed to release a season in 2020: a blessing because the first season was such a treat, and a curse because the COVID-impacted production means the second season ends with a hell of an unintended cliffhanger. Now with your expectations appropriately set to its teasing conclusion, you can safely lose yourself in a new season of big laughs, compelling character-driven drama, and some fiendishly clever weirdness.
For anyone unfamiliar with Doom Patrol, yes, it is another comic book adaptation, but it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. The eclectic cast of superhero rejects are often at ends, which increases both dramatic stakes and comedic results, but the more you lean into the strangeness, the more you get out of this show.
The first season is one of the most binge-able shows from 2019. By the time you make it to 2020’s second season, you may think you’re prepared for just how strange this show can be, but the creators clearly hadn’t come close to scratching the surface. Season two has a time-altering demented genius with a clock for a head, a horrific palace of the screaming victims of the murderous Red Jack, and nymphomaniac ghosts who just want to party. And that’s just the first few episodes.