Each year, the 25YL staff—or, well, those who answer the open call anyway—convenes to determine the prestigious 25YL TV Awards. Everyone knows these are the definitive awards in the business because we make no pretense to claiming that a show was the best of the year, or naming the best actor, etc. Instead, we list our favorites, because everyone knows that no one watches everything and the accolades bestowed by other outlets are all too often tainted by the bias of what they have seen. Ours are too, of course, but we’re upfront about it. Do you think we missed something? Let us know in the comments.
This year we’ve selected our favorite new shows, favorite overall shows, favorite performances, and the shows we found most painful to part with this year. Additionally, we’ve selected those shows that most disappointed us in 2020 and those we are most excited to see in 2021. Then, given that 2020 has been a year like no other (and not in a good way!), we each offer up our thoughts about the best show to watch in a pandemic.
Favorite New TV Show of 2020
What was the best new show of 2020? Maybe it was something listed below. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement among our staff this year, though Brien and Caemeron picked the same thing…sort of. It is maybe worth noting that none of our choices appear destined to continue into a second season. Make of that what you will.
Andrew Grevas: The Outsider
Admittedly, the bar was lower for me this year than it was in years past and it’s probably worth mentioning that I watched the first six episodes of The Outsider in 2019 with my press access, before waiting a few months to see the final four episodes. In terms of creating a mood and an atmosphere, this show killed it. There were some real, genuine scares in this series.
The acting was top of the line and the characters I thought were tremendously fleshed out. The middle act was slow, really dragging their heels in the dirt and placing an emphasis on atmosphere over story progression at times but ultimately, that was the style of the show. The conclusion was slow and creepy and felt true to everything we had seen before. This was a tough story to wrap up but I did feel satisfied with their choices in the show’s final hour. A solid series that told a compelling story and definitely creeped you out along the way.
Christopher Blackmore: Quiz
This miniseries one-shot about a cheating contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was phenomenal in its ability to tell an almost trivial story with conviction and tension. It also felt strangely science-fiction-y; with some shots reminding me of an old Frankenstein film. Unique and wonderful with a special mention to Michael Sheen and his perfect portrayal of Chris Tarrant.
Simon McDermott: Brave New World
If you want to read my analysis on this show, you can check out the full article I wrote about it recently. What I’ll say about it here is that it has its flaws but I still enjoyed it immensely. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the source material or because I particularly enjoy stories of this kind but I had a great time with the odd, future society of New London. It’s fun and the performances are great, especially Alden Ehrenreich’s cool portrayal of John the Savage. It’s more style over substance but this is in line with its themes and it has an amazing soundtrack to match its sleek look. Grant Morrison, along with Brian Taylor, do a great job of modernising Aldous Huxley’s ideas from the original book, making them relevant and entertaining to today’s audiences.
Honorable Mention: Hunters
Brien Allen: Dispatches from Elsewhere
Quick disclaimer: My actual favorite new show of 2020 is also my favorite overall show of 2020, Devs. By, like, a wiiiiiide margin. So I’m going to save that for the latter category. Looking back through the rest of the new shows I watched this year, it’s been kind of hard for me to pick my next favorite of the bunch. It’s pretty much a five or six-way tie. Raised by Wolves turned out to be weird but good. Briarpatch gave me distinct Twin Peaks vibes and I really liked it. Star Trek had hits with both Picard and Lower Decks. I even enjoyed Warrior Nun as my new guilty pleasure show.
The one that stands out just a bit ahead of the others though is Dispatches from Elsewhere.
It starts out from the perspective of Peter, who is introduced as our proxy within the show. The narrator says of him, “He is you if you lived alone and woke every weekday to your iPhone alarm, still set to the default chime ‘radar.’” What a great line. It says everything you need to know. Peter is invited to join a kind of live-action role-playing game, where two factions, the Jejune Institute and the Elsewhere Society, are pitted against each other in the search for “Clara, the special one, keeper of Divine Nonchalance.”
The players are grouped into teams of four people, and each of the initial four episodes swap through Peter and his teammates as our proxy. There is Simone, a trans woman who falls for Peter, Fredwynn, a paranoid tech genius, and Janice, an older woman whose husband is in a coma (played by the ever wonderful Sally Fields). Their missions get progressively bigger and weirder as the lines between the game and reality start to blur. Eventually, the show goes full meta in an ending that I personally wasn’t too terribly thrilled with, but I can appreciate as being entirely appropriate nonetheless. As they say, it’s all about the journey, not the destination, and that journey was magical.
Runners Up: Raised by Wolves, Briarpatch
Derrick Gravener: I May Destroy You
Without a doubt, HBO/BBC One’s I May Destroy You claims this spot. It burst on the scene in the summer to quick critical acclaim and has also proven the staying power to be on numerous best-of lists, and for good reason. My honourable mention goes to Showtime’s Work in Progress which saw its Season 1 conclusion in late January, which was a beautiful queer exploration of mental illness, OCD, gender, body politics, and just love and pain in general.
Caemeron Crain: Dispatches from Elsewhere
2020 has been a strange year, but you hardly need me to tell you that. Perhaps it is fitting that in a year where I have found it impossible to imagine the future in a meaningful way since March, there also seem to have been virtually no new shows that I watched that I look forward to continuing into a second season. Now, this is mostly because it kind of feels like everything this year was a limited series: Devs, Dispatches from Elsewhere, I Know This Much is True, The Queen’s Gambit…then there is Perry Mason, which was supposed to be a miniseries even if there will be more, and so on.
This leaves me in an odd spot when it comes to this category because wanting to see more would be my primary criterion, but that would leave me with Raised by Wolves winning by default, and that’s not the right answer. So, seriously, leave a comment and tell me what I’m missing. I need a new love in my life. Better Call Saul is going to end, for God’s sake.
So with the caveat that I’m not quite sure a limited series is a TV show in my mind, I’m going to choose Dispatches from Elsewhere. It was quirky, experimental, and even if it was based on reality, it was on a reality made strange, which I love. Also, I disagree with Brien about the ending, though it took me a second watch to fully come around on it. If nothing else, Dispatches from Elsewhere was the show I most enjoyed writing about in 2020, so I guess that decides the issue for me.