The Best TV Shows (I Think) Of 2020

2020 is coming to a close and not a moment too soon. Almost everything about this year illustrates Mike Tyson’s famous line about how “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And this year has been a series of repeated blow straight into our pieholes almost from the moment the ball dropped in Times Square and brought 2019 to a close.

I don’t need to go into everything that for many pontificators has made 2020 “The Worst Year In History”. I also think that while bad, there are plenty of years that beat out 2020 for that title, but I don’t want to get into those details now. What I do want to go into something that does provide something for everyone, regardless of personal tastes, background or politics:

TV.

As people spent more time at home this year, they ended up spending a lot more time watching TV. I like to joke that TV is like a muscle…It will atrophy if you don’t use it enough. Well, all of our TVs (and iPads and iPhones) were used to watch so much stuff this year that one would think they had been on performance enhancing drugs.

Somebody has been watching something pretty much non-stop in the last nine months, even if they were actually working or going to school at the same time. The choice of such TV content is astonishing. My family has 200+ cable channels, subscribes to anywhere between five and seven streaming TV services (I honestly can’t remember how many we have), and watch I don’t know how many YouTube channels that include everything from Australian kids who make a living by posting videos of them doing little more than yelling at each other, to barbecue grilling masters who have taught me amazing ways of slow-grilling beef short ribs and cooking up a pot roast good enough to make me retire my mom’s own recipe. (Sorry, Mom).

If you had a problem with “Cobra Kai”, then you’re the one with problems.

So, apropos of nothing else besides a tradition of making end-of-the-year Best Of lists, and a desire to use the word “apropos” in a sentence, I present my year-end 10 Best Things I Watched On TV In 2020 List, or TBTIWOTVITTL (pronounced Tee-Bee-Tee-What-Vittel). I’ve given an appropriate amount of thought to this list (at least 36 minutes, off and on) and I think it reflects the state of my life, and spare time, during this strange year of years.

10. Tiger King (Netflix): The popularity of this series was aided by the early days of Covid-related stay-at-home edicts. But, even if the world hadn’t drunkenly fallen down a flight a stairs like it did this year, this show would have been a hit. When I was in grade school, I was led to believe that by 2020 it would be a given that we would be living on the Moon. The tales of insane “Tiger King” Joe Exotic, possibly husband killer Carole Baskin, and the motley assortment of friends, workers, lovers and all-around weirdos that dominated this surprisingly dramatic series about the world of Big Cat parks and their owners showed that we remain much closer to being hillbilly shack dwellers than we ever will to Moon colonizers.

9. Belushi (Showtime): If there were a Mount Rushmore of “Saturday Night Live” cast members, John Belushi would be the first face on that facade. I’ve watched this documentary at least five times and I recommend that you do, too.

8. Spiral (MHz Choice): Subscription streaming service MHz Choice has plenty of content for fans of any language that isn’t English. You can go down a pretty deep European rabbit hole with MHz while exploring shows you’ve never heard of from countries like Finland, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Italy. There’s even stuff in Welsh and Irish if you feel like hearing what your great-great grandparents spoke before they took the boat across the pond. But, the best of the best is probably “Spiral”, a French cop show that is among the grittiest and most dramatic the genre has ever produced anywhere. This isn’t the Paris of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and cheesy romance movies. The City of Lights in “Spiral” has more than a few burned out bulbs in it.

7. Jeopardy! (Syndicated): I have always wanted to get on Jeopardy for two reasons: One is to show off the power of my trivia-knowing nerdiness. The other was to have Alex Trebek ask me to tell something about myself during the program’s first commercial break. (That would be that I have a Seattle Mariners logo tattoo on my arm because I am a lifelong, long-suffering fan of the only Major League team to have never even played in the World Series. No one is more loyal to lost causes than I.) R.I.P., Alex…

6. The History of the Seattle Mariners (SB Nation/YouTube): And, as I a lifelong, long-suffering Seattle Mariners fan, I joke that being a Mariners fan means you are always one half-inning away from wanting to light yourself on fire. This amazing three-plus hour-long series, which can be watched in six episodes, or one entire “super cut”, and tells the glorious highs (there have been a few) and the ridiculous lows (so, so many) of my Beloved Hometown Mariners, left me both proud of my fandom, and wondering where the lighter fluid and matches are. Even non-Mariners fans will find this entertaining and a potential source of self-immolation.

5. The Goldbergs (ABC): This is the funniest show currently on American television and I will fight anyone who claims otherwise. Just 30 minutes of ridiculous, and spot-on humor set against the nostalgia of the 1980s every week. The Goldbergs will make you long for a time when you didn’t worry about your friends, or anyone else, going into a Twitter rage just for telling a stupid joke.

4. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (HBO): Did you know that Otis Redding was supposed to sing “To Love Somebody”? That the riff for “Jive Talkin’” came from the sound of a car driving over the seam in a bridge in Miami? That you have always known The Bee Gees have always been goddamn brilliant even when you pretended they weren’t?

3. Cobra Kai (Netflix): Not to make fun of them, but when was the last time you thought about Ralph Macchio or William “Billy” Zabka? It might have been back in the 80s when “The Karate Kid” was a hit. You might not have even know this modern day update was around if it had stayed in YouTube Red. But once Netflix picked it up this year, everyone picked a side between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do and the battle was on.

2. The Rockford Files (Peacock): Look, I never said these shows would be only from 2020. It’s been 40 years since Jim Rockford took his last payment for $200 a day, plus expenses, and drove off to do his final bootlegger’s turn in his gold colored Firebird. But, “Rockfish” remains the greatest TV detective show of all time. Trying to find anyone saying something negative about The Rockford Files is like expecting Angel to not get Jimbo into some dumb scrape with the local mob. It can’t be done.

1. The Mandalorian (Disney+): I love “Star Wars”, and the first season of this “Star Wars” TV series was about as great an initial season of any show I have ever seen. An entire series based around a guy who looked like Boba Fett, one of the most-popular, and least-known about characters in the history of “Star Wars”? That’s all I needed to subscribe to Disney+ last year.

And, I didn’t know how “Mando” was going to get better in season No. 2. But the combination of a family drama and a western adventure worked. Every week saw the Mandalorian face a new challenge to his mission to connect Baby Yoda—Grogu—with a Jedi who would be able to train the kid to use his powers for good. And all along, the Mandalorian performed like all fathers should: Above all else, he devoted himself to a cause, protected his charge, and, in the end, let his child go so that it could fulfill its destiny in a way he never could. We don’t know what will happen to the Mandalorian, or The Mandalorian as a show. All we know for sure is that the Biblical-sounding “Book of Boba Fett” is supposed to premiere a year from now. Whether that means the Mandalorian will be involved remains to be seen. But I do know I’ll be holding a place on this list next year when I watch the debut of the “Book”.

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