Top 20 scripted TV shows of 2020

 Top 20 scripted TV shows of 2020

This year, amongst the (altogether now) UNPRECEDENTED TIMES, I watched a lot of telly from bygone years that I had never got around to seeing. From Dinnerladies to the first season of Good Girls, or This Is Us to The Americans, I maybe focussed more on ‘old’ shows than I did on newly-released stuff. How novel! As such, I’ve shrunk the annual year-end wrap-up from a Top 25 to a Top 20.

That said, I did squeeze in a load of reaaaaally great new programmes (and new seasons of pre-existing ones) – and these were my absolute top-tier faves.

First, here’s a quick recap of my No1s from previous years:
2016: Brief Encounters [blog]
2017: Crazy Ex Gilrfriend [blog]
2018: Derry Girls [blog]
2019: Pose [blog]

You can catch-up on my 2020 year-end singles here and albums here. Films still to come!

20. Deadwater Fell (Channel 4)

David Tennant does a damn good Creepy Villain, doesn’t he? And it was actually kinda refreshing that the culprit turned out to be… the exact person we suspected. Seeing Cush Jumbo and ex-EastEnder Laurie Brett in action was great too.

19. Criminal: United Kingdom (Netflix)

I just love the concept of this – and I love the self-contained nature of each episode. Seeing people like Sharon Horgan and Sophie Okonedo taking centre-stage in their respective episodes was great fun, and Kit Harington made a reaaaally good posh wanker. A moment also for Katherine Kelly’s wig!

18. The Salisbury Poisonings (BBC One)

I binged this in one day, which was… heavy!!!! But excellent. Still an absolutely jaw-dropping story.

17. Two Weeks To Live (Sky Atlantic)

This is such a great, fun concept; and it’s so great to have more Sian Clifford on our screens. Also: Mawaan Rizwan 😍😍😍

16. Us (BBC One)

I read this book ages ago and forgot about a lot of the little moments in it – so I loved watching this and enjoying the story almost from scratch. David Nicholls continues to be one of my fave writers, and the way the emotional ~heft built up as the series went on made for a really satisfying payoff by the end.

15. Quiz (ITV)

This was big, blockbuster Event Television that came along at the perfect time. As close to a watercooler moment as we could get in a national lockdown.

14. Sex Education (Netflix)

Lots to love in season two. That moment on the bus? Absolutely wonderful. And I’m still, 11 months on, super excited to see more of Viv.

13. Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens (BBC Three)

I haven’t quite got to the end of the first season of this yet, but it’s such a treat to see Awkwafina leading her own show – her world is so vibrant and fun and gloriously chaotic; and the supporting characters she introduces are all *chef’s kiss*.

12. Last Tango In Halifax (BBC One)

Last Tango was one of my favourite dramas of the 2010s, and a new season was long overdue. It was just so lovely to watch a warm, comforting, Sally Wainwright drama in which the cliffhangers included “will Celia’s new kitchen ever be finished?”.

11. Dead To Me (Netflix)

The James Marsden twist early-on in this season is so outrageous, you have to make an instant snap decision: “am I on board with this, or not?” And if you are, Dead To Me continues to provide big soapy hooks underlined with delicious dark humour; driven by continually fantastic performances from Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini.

10. I Hate Suzie (Sky Atlantic)

This show is so… weird? In a good way! It’s not what I was expecting at all but I like how it dares to go totally unconventional with its storytelling, and really tests us as viewers in terms of how unlikeable the characters often are.

9. Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)

The final season(!) of this gentle low-stakes hug of a show delivered all the feelgood moments and Moira Rose-isms we needed to get through the early stages of the pandemic, and though I don’t think it was quite the strongest season overall, it stayed impressively on-form right up until the magnificent finale.

8. Trigonometry (BBC Two)

I discovered this by accident on iPlayer and totally loved it. The story of how a couple takes in a lodger and ends up in a complex but totally believable throuple, it totally succeeds in making you root for each individual character every step of the way. Thalissa Teixeira especially was fucking great.

7. Little Fires Everywhere (Amazon Prime)

At the start of the pandemic, I wanted BIG! SOAPY! PLOT! – and Little Fires Everywhere (which I tore through right after finally watching The Morning Show) reaaaaaally scratched that itch. I haven’t read the book, but I loved how the story unfolded in terms of what backstory details were drip-fed when; and I thought Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon made for a cracking pair of leads.

6. Mrs America (BBC Two)

Loads of gay-friendly Hollywood actresses in one ensemble drama? An instant winner! This was a really great little series – Cate Blanchett was a deliciously evil Phyllis Schlafly, Margo Martidale was Margo Martindale, and even though Sarah Poulson’s fictional character was likely only added to give us a bit of hope amidst all the baddies, she provided some of the real moments of heart and warmth.

5. I May Destroy You (BBC One)

There was so much to love about this show, and much of it has already been said by people far more articulate than me. But I will say that my favourite thing about it was probably the ending. “How the hell will she [Michaela Coel] wrap it up?!” I thought. “She could do X, she could Y, she could do Z…” As it turned out, in one incredibly surreal but clever episode, she did all of the above. Brilliant, event telly.

4. Feel Good (Channel 4)

This show covered so much bold territory for a half-hour comedy, and did it so bloody well. It was Episode 4, when Mae’s parents visited, that I was properly like “fuck… if I ever write anything even a third as good as this, I’ll be happy”. Funny, emotional, uplifting, devastating… all the words.

3. This Country (BBC Three)

There are honestly no better characters to spend time with than Kerry and Kurtan. None!! I will miss this show massively and I hope to see Daisy May Cooper in literally every television programme from now until the end of time.

2. Insecure (Sky Comedy)

I ploughed through all four seasons of Insecure this year and I just stan basically everything about it: the way LA is shot, the relationship between Issa and Molly, the sheer beauty of Jay Ellis, every syllable Kelli says… I got so absorbed in Issa’s world, and 2020’s season four was sublime – the way it pushed the characters in new ways (Molly and Issa, WORK IT OUT!) and delivered big on story and on humour.

1. Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

This show – a teen drama by Mindy Kaling, in which an Indian American high school student deals with the usual coming-of-age issues in addition to the devastating death of her father – made my heart SO FULL. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is a revelation as Devi, keeping you on-side and in her corner even when she makes bad decisions; and Poorna Jagannathan is absolutely savage as her mother. John McEnroe as a narrator? Sure! And if the final beach scene doesn’t leave you in absolute PIECES, do you even have emotions?! I cannot wait for the second season.

Shaun Kitchener

Scriptwriter for the theatre and TV (currently Hollyoaks) and freelance entertainment ~reportage.