The most powerful TV shows of 2020
For many, 2020 has been the year in which we finally have time to binge-watch all those boxsets on the ever-expanding watchlist, or to revisit our favourite shows without feeling guilty for shrugging off a social event. However, with even more eyes on the small screen, there has also been space for some of the best new series to make waves like never before. We’ve compiled some of the most powerful shows of the year, which have either managed to lift our spirits in spite of the pandemic or to or open our eyes to social injustice and inequality in new and unexpected ways.
I May Destroy You
If you haven’t yet caught Michaela Coel’s BBC comedy-drama series and you’re wondering if it lives up to the hype, spoiler alert: it surpasses it. And while it may well destroy viewers emotionally with its intense and unflinching depiction of sexual assault, racism and trauma, for every winding blow there is nourishing food for thought that helps us back up and invites us to see the world in new ways. This is a show that pulls you in unexpected directions, which paints a sharp line between victim and villain and then rejects binary thinking altogether, questioning the dangers of the social media pillory without defending aggressors or their actions. Social politics are ambiguous and Coel doesn’t try to solve it like an equation; rather, with a sharp injection of wit, she scrutinises such a simplistic, polarised approach.
The most unlikely star of 2020 is a show that only gained true recognition in its final season – and made up for it in spectacular fashion. Schitt’s Creek is the brainchild of father-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy, who also star alongside a cast of wonderfully eccentric characters in a riches-to-rags tale that has not only captured the heart of the world but which also bagged nine Emmys, breaking the record for most awards in a single season for a comedy series. The story follows a family who lose all their assets save the titular backwater town, and who must learn the hard way that material possessions are no replacement for real human connection. At the heart of the show is one of the most enchanting gay relationships of all time, the couple’s homophobia-free life a sanctuary for viewers during a year of crisis and social unrest. And scene-stealer Catherine O’Hara’s inimitable portrayal of matriarch Moira Rose culminates with one of the best costumes in TV history.
Small Axe anthology
If Schitt’s Creek provides escapism, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology is the opposite: a resounding wakeup call. Screened on the BBC throughout November and December, this five-part series tells the tale of the Windrush generation, their stories reflecting the institutional racism still prevalent today. The Academy Award-winning director offers up five distinct tales from the late 60s to the early 80s, starting with Mangrove, a depiction of a legal battle against the Metropolitan Police following the arrest of a group of black activists during a peaceful protest in the 70s, and ending with Education, a film about racial discrimination in the UK school system in the same decade. The collection is sharp and unforgiving, but it’s also a cultural celebration, with Lovers Rock dancing through an immersive ode to reggae and arts in the black community.
This Is Us
While Mcqueen’s series addresses the present through the lens of the past, This Is Us delivers one of the most pertinent, up-to-the-minute examples of fictional filmmaking to date. The show, which follows generations of the Pearson family, switching back and forth between the decades, caught up with reality this year as the writers introduced Covid into the storyline. While characters found themselves social distancing and isolating, the most powerful depiction was that of Randall, whose trauma following news of yet more police brutality offered up a painful reality which has been insufficiently explored in TV drama. As he comes to terms with his identity as a black man raised in a white family who don’t understand his unique experience, the show reaches new heights, and with the series set to continue into 2021, it promises to draw to a compelling conclusion.