Back in June, when we published our ranking of the best shows of the year so far, it felt wholly plausible that our end-of-year list wouldn’t look much different. This was a few months into the pandemic, when it was unclear how soon television would be able to go back into production, if at all, and how much material the networks and streamers had stockpiled pre-quarantine. If the answer to either of those questions was bad, we assumed the last three or four months of the year would be bereft of interesting programming.
Instead, the content firehose of the last few years merely slowed to a soothing shower, offering enough quality series to fill more than half of a revised top 10, and eight shows overall out of this beefed-up top 20(*).
(*) Several of the returning shows are ranked differently relative to one another than they were in June. That’s a reflection on how some of them lingered more strongly in the months since they aired, but also how fluid these kinds of lists are by their very nature. The top-ranked show was always going to be the top-ranked show, but at least half the series would move up or down a bit depending on the day this compilation was being published.
It’s a group that includes both reliable veterans at or near the end of their runs and remarkable debuts from untested creators; series about the strains of getting older and ones about the thrills and terrors of adolescence; shows about America’s difficult past and ones that imagine what our future might hold. In a strange and often maddening year, it was great to have TV like this to turn to.