20 Best New Shows of 2020

No shortage of quality tv shows amidst a global pandemic


This year I watched close to 30 new television shows. (This excludes the great continuing shows that are in their second or later season.) The following are the best 20 debut seasons and miniseries that aired in 2020.

You can read my recommendations for previous years: Best 19 of 2019 and Best 18 of 2018

20. The Circle

Netflix | Studio Lambert

"Players start off isolated in an apartment, and with their online interactions as their only means of any communication. The players use a social media platform called The Circle."

Genre: Reality competition

Investment: 12 episodes, 44–63 minutes (plus the 2 UK seasons which are much better)

Must-watch if you like: Big Brother and Catfish meets Black Mirror

19. Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

NBC | Austin Winsberg

"After an unusual event, whip-smart computer coder Zoey Clarke magically begins to hear people's innermost wants and desires through popular songs."

Genre: Comedy / Musical / Drama

Investment: 12 episodes, 43–44 minutes (season 2 premiers Jan 2021)

Must-watch if you like: This is Us, over the top musical numbers

18. Hollywood

Netflix | Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan

"In post-World War II Hollywood, aspiring actors and filmmakers will do almost anything to make their showbiz dreams come true."

Genre: Period / Drama

Investment: 7 episodes, 44–57 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Stories about the film industry

17. Zero Zero Zero

Amazon | Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fasoli, Mauricio Katz

"A cocaine shipment makes its way to Europe, starting from the moment a powerful cartel of Italian criminals decides to buy it, to its journeys through Mexico, to its shipment across the Atlantic Ocean."

Genre: Drama

Investment: 8 episodes, 48-66 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Narcos, shows about drug trade

16. I May Destroy You

HBO / BBC | Michaela Coel

"After being sexually assaulted in a nightclub, Arabella's life changes irreversibly and she is forced to reassess everything, including her career, friends and family."

Genre: Drama

Investment: 12 episodes, 28–35 minutes (second season unlikely)

Must-watch if you like: Millennials and trauma

15. Quiz

ITV (UK) | James Graham

"Quiz tells the story of Charles Ingram, a former British army major, who caused a major scandal after being caught cheating his way to winning £1 million on the game show 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'"

Genre: Drama

Investment: 3 episodes, 46-54 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, A Very English Scandal

14. Raised by Wolves

HBO | Aaron Guzikowski

"Two androids are tasked with raising human children on a mysterious virgin planet; as the human colony threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task."

Genre: Sci-fi / Drama

Investment: 10 episodes, 42–55 minutes (renewed for season 2)

Must-watch if you like: Ridley Scott, BSG, hard sci-fi

13. The Good Lord Bird

Showtime | Ethan Hawke & Mark Richard

"Onion, a newly freed teenager, joins abolitionist John Brown on a holy crusade to end slavery and finds himself part of the famous 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry."

Genre: Period / Dark Comedy

Investment: 7 episodes, 46–57 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Ethan Hawke, historical dark comedy

12. The Plot Against America

HBO | David Simon, Ed Burns

"An alternate American history during World War II is told through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey as they endure the political rise of Charles Lindbergh, who captures the presidency and turns the nation toward fascism."

Genre: Drama / Alternate history

Investment: 6 episodes, 60 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: The Wire, Man in the High Castle,

11. Perry Mason

HBO | Rolin Jones, Ron Fitzgerald

"Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the series focuses on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason, based on characters from Erle Stanley Gardner's novels."

Genre: Period / Drama

Investment: 8 episodes, 56–64 minutes (renewed for season 2)

Must-watch if you like: The Americans, the original Perry Mason, detective neo-noirs

10. Unorthodox

Netflix | Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski

"A Hasidic Jewish woman in Brooklyn flees to Berlin from an arranged marriage and is taken in by a group of musicians — until her past comes calling."

Genre: Drama

Investment: 4 episodes, 52-54 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: short and well directed miniseries

9. Little Fires Everywhere

Hulu | Liz Tigelaar

"Following the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and an enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the 1990s."

Genre: Drama

Investment: 8 episodes, 53-66 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Big Little Lies

8. Lovecraft Country

HBO | Misha Green

"Atticus Black joins his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father."

Genre: Drama / Supernatural horror

Investment: 10 episodes, 53-68 minutes (not yet renewed for season 2)

Must-watch if you like: Get Out, Watchmen, the works of H.P. Lovecraft

7. Ted Lasso

Apple TV+ | Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly

"Small-time football coach Ted Lasso is hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience coaching soccer."

Genre: Comedy

Investment: 10 episodes, 29–33 minutes (renewed for season 2 and 3)

Must-watch if you like: Barry, Bob Ross, soccer, optimism

6. Mrs. America

FX on Hulu | Dahvi Waller

"Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), exploring how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the '70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape."

Genre: Period / Drama

Investment: 9 episodes, 43–54 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: political period dramas

5. Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet

Apple TV+ | Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, Rob McElhenney

"The team behind the biggest multiplayer video game of all-time is tasked with building worlds, moulding heroes and creating legends, but the most hard-fought battles don't occur in the game -- they happen in the office."

Genre: Comedy

Investment: 10 episodes, 24-35 minutes (renewed for Season 2, delayed by COVID)

Must-watch if you like: Silicon Valley, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, or if you work in video games

4. The Great

Hulu | Tony McNamara

"A genre-bending, anti-historical ride through 18th-century Russia following the wildly comedic rise of Catherine the Nothing to Catherine the Great."

Genre: Period / Dark Comedy


Must-watch if you like: The Favourite, The Death of Stalin, black comedies / historical farces

2. Normal People

Hulu / BBC | Sally Rooney, Alice Birch

"Following Marianne and Connell, from different backgrounds but the same small town in Ireland, as they weave in and out of each other's romantic lives and start to grow up."

Normal People is the most intimate and painful dissection of a relationship ever aired on television. The closest thing I can think of is Marriage Story but unlike Marriage Story, which is told primarily from Adam Driver's perspective, Normal People alternates the point of view between Marianne and Connell, creating a brilliant tragedy around the gap between intention and impact.

Genre: Drama

Investment: 12 episodes, 23-34 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Irish accents, the original book by Sally Rooney

2. The Queen's Gambit

Netflix | Scott Frank, Allan Scott

"Set during the Cold War era, orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world."

The Queen's Gambit is the best miniseries Netflix has ever produced. By far. As a period piece, its production design and cinematography rival The Crown and even Mad Men. The score is perfect. The writing and direction of Scott Frank manage to make chess games into an edge-of-your-seat action sequence. But above all, Anya Taylor-Joy just secured herself a nomination (and likely win) at the 2021 Emmys.

Genre: Period / Drama

Investment: 7 episodes, 46-67 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: period dramas, fashion, chess, Anya Taylor-Joy

1. Devs

FX on Hulu | Alex Garland

"A computer engineer investigates the secretive development division in her company, which she believes is behind the disappearance of her boyfriend."

Much like Chernobyl, which held this spot on my 2019 list, Devs demonstrates the power of singular vision. All eight episodes are written and directed by the amazing Alex Garland. The cinematography is impeccable and (also like Chernobyl) the score is unlike anything you've heard before. But if the atmosphere and mood of Garland's vision is the soul of this show, the face of it surely is Nick Offerman and his expectation shattering performance as Forest.

Genre: Sci-fi / Drama

Investment: 8 episodes, 43-57 minutes (miniseries)

Must-watch if you like: Ex Machina, Black Mirror, Nick Offerman, philosophy + science fiction