Patrick’s blog sup­ple­ment­al. Have you ever checked your view­ing his­tory on Net­flix or whatever else you turn to for enter­tain­ment on telly? I have, so here’s a list of all the new TV series I’ve been watch­ing in 2020. It’s more than usu­al, in addi­tion to everything else that went down.

Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie in Black Sails.

Series means any­thing with more than one epis­ode, regard­less of wheth­er it’s a lim­ited series or some­thing that runs for fif­teen sea­sons with twenty-two epis­ode per sea­son. But no films. My 2020 films would be a dif­fer­ent list.

New means new to me, and only that which I’ve star­ted watch­ing in 2020, regard­less of wheth­er it was launched this year or much earli­er. Thus, series that I did watch this year but star­ted watch­ing earli­er are not on the list. Basic­ally, this refers to Amer­ic­an Hor­ror Story: 1984, Babylon Ber­lin, Crim­in­al Minds, The Crown, Dark, Deutsch­land 89, Mod­ern Fam­ily, Vik­ings, and Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery. Quite a hand­ful in its own right.

Watched means watched com­pletely – all of it from A to Z, how­ever much there is –, again regard­less of wheth­er it’s a lim­ited series or a pro­gramme that’s been with us for sev­er­al years and sea­sons. Of course, com­pletely watch­ing a pro­gramme implies that it is quite tol­er­able, if not more. Bar­bar­i­ans is not, where­fore I didn’t watch it to the end (I just couldn’t), where­fore it’s not on my list. The same applies to A Very Secret Ser­vice (a very bor­ing ser­vice) and a few oth­ers which I’ve already forgotten.

Apply­ing these cri­ter­ia, we arrive at thirty-four new series. There is one undis­puted win­ner, Black Sails, and one strong second, Money Heist. There are no less than sev­en hon­our­able men­tions, by which I mean if it weren’t for Money Heist, I would have a hard time choos­ing a runner-up.

Here goes. My 2020 TV series in the order of watching.

Star Trek: Picard (January to March)

The first hon­our­able mention.

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Picard, one of 2020's TV series highlights.
Jean-Luc Picard

Jean-Luc Picard is back. Set twenty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemes­is, Patrick Stew­art reprises his role from Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion. It’s won­der­ful to see Sir Patrick again. Lots of fan ser­vice, too, which to me boils down to: Deanna Troi. Beau­ti­ful, nos­tal­gia-evok­ing main title sequence.

Money Heist (April)

The strong second, in fact, this has been my num­ber one till Black Sails came along. Also known as La casa de papel, this Span­ish pro­duc­tion is about two heists metic­u­lously pre­pared by a man known as the Pro­fess­or (Álvaro Morte) and executed by a team of pro­fes­sion­als who have giv­en them­selves city names for ali­ases. I look up at the Pro­fess­or, I identi­fy with Ber­lin (Pedro Alonso). But Nairobi (Alba Flores) – La Puta Ama – broke my heart.

Alba Flores as Nairobi in Money Heist, the second-best TV series I watched in 2020.
Nairobi – La Puta Ama

The main theme isn’t any­thing to write home about, but Money Heist stands for a dif­fer­ent piece of music anyway.

The Last Dance (April)

I used to play bas­ket­ball, a lot, and I used to sup­port the Chica­go Bulls dur­ing the time covered by this doc­u­ment­ary about the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Hence it was a no-brain­er that I would watch this.

Yeah, yeah, Jordan, but it was nice to see the oth­er mem­bers of the team again, first and fore­most my favour­ite Bull, Scot­tie Pippen.

Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls in The Last Dance.
Scot­tie

Caliphate (April)

The story of this Swedish pro­duc­tion is based on the real-life Eng­lish case of three teen­age girls who let them­selves be recruited by the Islam­ic State. Only that it’s set in Sweden. Islam­ic extrem­ism, ter­ror­ism, ten­sions with­in Islam and among Muslims, women’s rights, and human rights.

After Life (April)

A beau­ti­ful series about how a man lives on after his wife dies from breast can­cer. So sad the premise yet so funny the plot, some­thing which only Ricky Ger­vais can deliv­er like that.

Fauda (April, May)

An Israeli series about a Mista’aravim spe­cial unit which con­sists of Arab­ic-speak­ing Israeli sol­diers cov­ertly oper­at­ing as Palestini­ans. Very excit­ing, although the qual­ity var­ies from sea­son to sea­son. Also, Lior Raz, the screen­writer who also plays the lead­ing role, is so vain. His pudgi­ness makes him stand out among his super-fit col­leagues, which doesn’t exactly add cred­ib­il­ity. Plus, his char­ac­ter is con­stantly screw­ing up. This is to move the plot for­ward, I sup­pose, but often it’s so unreal­ist­ic that it hurts. In a series that is based on real­ism this is a minus point.

Tiger King (May)

This true crime doc­u­ment­ary about that zoo­keep­er Joe Exot­ic and oth­er mem­bers of the Amer­ic­an soci­ety of big cat con­ser­va­tion­ists and col­lect­ors. Lots of vicari­ous embar­rass­ment, fol­lowed by embar­rass­ment about why one is watch­ing this.

Giri/Haji (May)

The second hon­our­able mention.

This gem was serendip­ity. A Yak­uza crime thrill­er set in Lon­don and Tokyo, most of it in Japan­ese but ori­gin­ally aired on the BBC. Sev­er­al char­ac­ters, sev­er­al indi­vidu­al story lines, all interwoven.

And at the very end, sud­denly there’s this inter­pret­at­ive dance scene. A three-minute word­less poem recapit­u­lat­ing it all. It comes out of the blue and inter­rupts the ongo­ing action for a while. Yet it is strangely fitting.

The interpretative dance scene in Giri/Haji, a refreshingly different TV series.

Into the Night (May)

A pro­duc­tion from Bel­gi­um. An Itali­an NATO officer forces a red-eye flight from Brus­sels to take off early. It seems he knows some­thing the oth­er ones on board don’t. Indeed, because of the early start, they sur­vive an event which causes every liv­ing organ­ism in the world to be killed when exposed to sun­light. They con­tin­ue to fly west­ward, ever west­ward try­ing to stay ahead of whatever led to this calamity.

It was all right.

Hollywood (May)

What does it say about a mini-series set in Hollywood’s golden age after World War II that seems to have everything – good act­ors, good music, a good script, über-pro­fes­sion­al present­a­tion –, yet doesn’t leave an impres­sion? Or what does it say about me?

The Valhalla Murders (May)

An eight-epis­ode mys­tery series from Ice­land. An Oslo detect­ive with a pain­ful past returns to his nat­ive Ice­land to help a police officer hunt for a seri­al killer. The story and all that are quite con­ven­tion­al. The set­ting and the lan­guage made it worth the while. I was sit­ting there try­ing to catch up as much Iceland­ic as possible.

Freud (May)

A re-ima­gin­a­tion of the life of young Sig­mund Freud – prob­ably a lot more excit­ing than the real thing. Won­der­fully inac­cur­ate and silly, which is pre­cisely why I liked it.

Inhuman Resources (May)

An unem­ployed and des­per­ate man doesn’t shy away from host­age-tak­ing to secure a job. Star­ring Eric Can­tona, who, I’m told, used to be a pro­fes­sion­al foot­baller, only in France.

It was all right.

The English Game (May)

Speak­ing of foot­ball. This is a Brit­ish his­tor­ic­al sports drama about the ori­gins of mod­ern asso­ci­ation foot­ball in England.

It was all right.

Suburra: Blood on Rome (May, October)

An Itali­an crime drama set in Rome. In oth­er words, power struggles among clergy, politi­cians, organ­ised crime (the Sicili­an Mafia calls in reg­u­larly), loc­al gang­sters, and real estate developers. One gets to like some of the char­ac­ters, but like so many series, this one suf­fers from the phe­nomen­on that it’s strong at the begin­ning, but then fades away.

Trotsky (May)

For­eign Policy called it ‘an ice-pick to the heart of Soviet his­tory’. Ice-pick, haha. Indeed, that’s how it felt.

Space Force (June)

This one is funny because the real Space Force – the branch of the US Armed Forces as devised by Trump – is funny. (‘It is going to be some­thing. So important.’)

As a piece of TV enter­tain­ment, Space Force mainly is a vehicle for Steve Carell and John Malkovich to have fun togeth­er. It shouldn’t come as a sur­prise that this is amus­ing to behold.

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (June)

A doc­u­ment­ary about a dis­gust­ing man.

White Lines (June)

Twenty years after going miss­ing in Ibiza, the body of an Eng­lish DJ is found. His sis­ter goes there to investigate.

It was all right.

Charité (June)

They made one about the Char­ité in Ber­lin, the uni­ver­sity hos­pit­al with tons of history.

The first sea­son takes place at the end of the 19th cen­tury, when med­ic­al pro­gress was sig­ni­fic­antly influ­enced by research­ers at the Char­ité, namely Robert Koch, one of the main founders of mod­ern bacteriology.

Insight­ful and entertaining.

Black Earth Rising (June)

A story about the pro­sec­u­tion of war crim­in­als respons­ible for the Rwanda genocide.

Nation­al Pub­lic Radio (some US medi­um I had nev­er heard of) called it ‘a fas­cin­at­ing, if clunky, take on the Rwandan gen­o­cide’, The Con­ver­sa­tion (same, only Aus­trali­an) ‘a nuanced por­tray­al of Rwanda’s com­plex post-gen­o­cide his­tory’. Inter­na­tion­al Policy Digest (you know) rated it ‘a dis­ap­point­ment whose cas­u­al way of address­ing a raw and com­plex his­tory only adds insult to the injur­ies of mil­lions of Rwandans’. Yikes.

I go with the first one. Also, I loved Michaela Coel in the main role.

Black Sails (June)

The undis­puted winner.

Toby Schmitz as Jack Rackham in Black Sails, undisputedly the best TV series I watched in 2020.
Jack Rack­ham

There are many good series out there, there are new ones every day. But this one, whoa. You know, when you find a gem of a show where everything is right? Except its length, which is too short, and you can barely accept that it must end, even though it ends bril­liantly – some­thing which not many of even the good series achieve? Where all the mem­bers of the ensemble cast are stel­lar, as is the scriptwrit­ing, as are the props, as is the lit­er­ary basis, in this case Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treas­ure Island, of which this show is in fact a pre­quel? Where each frame exudes how much fun every­one had dur­ing the shoot­ing. All this is Black Sails. It made me dig out and re-read my copy of Stevenson’s classic.

My favour­ite char­ac­ter: Toby Schmitz as Calico Jack Rackham.

And the theme! One of those which you don’t skip. Ever.

Warrior Nun (July)

The third hon­our­able mention.

What is War­ri­or Nun? Well: ‘After wak­ing up in a morgue, an orphaned teen dis­cov­ers she now pos­sesses super­powers as the chosen Halo-Bear­er for a secret sect of demon-hunt­ing nuns.’ Awe­some, right?

Elle magazine sum­mar­ised it thus: ‘A lot of super­nat­ur­al-esque bad­die-fight­ing, spiffy super­powers, and flashy out­fits, but the delight­ful cast res­cues this oth­er­wise irrev­er­ent show from ali­en­at­ing its audi­ence.’ I agree wholeheartedly.

Strictly speak­ing, this isn’t a mag­ni­fi­cent show and yet it’s one hel­luva, simply because it’s so enjoy­able. It’s enjoy­able because of the cast and the fun they’ve had while shoot­ing, which is so vis­ible it’s almost palp­able. This makes this series a big joy to watch, and I look for­ward to the next season.

My favour­ite char­ac­ters: Shot­gun Mary and Sis­ter Lilith. My excite­ment began when I heard the names. It grew when I watched Toya Turn­er and Lorena Andrea’s acting.

Lorena Andrea as Sister Lilith and Toya Turner as Shotgun Mary in Warrior Nun.
Sis­ter Lilith and Shot­gun Mary

Fear City: New York vs The Mafia (July)

A doc­u­ment­ary about five Mafia fam­il­ies who con­trolled New York in the 1970s and ‘80s, until a group of US fed­er­al agents work to take them down.

It was all right.

Indian Matchmaking (July)

This is a doc­u­ment­ary about match­mak­ing and arranged mar­riages, which are a thing in India. Well, I knew this already. Also, I’m not against it if, as always, con­sensus reigns. In oth­er words, I don’t quite get why this show has a divided view­er­ship, allegedly pro­moted false per­cep­tions, painted India in an ana­chron­ist­ic light, focused too much on tra­di­tion­al, ortho­dox views, or whatever else was repor­ted. I found Indi­an Match­mak­ing to be a heav­ily staged pro­duc­tion com­plete with arrange­ments about who is sup­posed to be the view­ers’ darlings or the unloved.

It was all right.

The Umbrella Academy (August)

The fourth hon­our­able mention.

I won’t wager my boots on it, but some­times I feel this one comes closest to Money Heist, mean­ing it may be the strongest second run­ner-up candidate.

Allow me to copy and paste from the show’s cos­tume design­er Chris­toph­er Har­gadon (yes, the cos­tumes were great, too):

On one day in 1989, 43 infants are inex­plic­ably born to ran­dom, uncon­nec­ted women who showed no signs of preg­nancy the day before. Sev­en are adop­ted by bil­lion­aire indus­tri­al­ist Sir Regin­ald Har­greeves, who cre­ates the Umbrella Academy and pre­pares his “chil­dren” to save the world. In their teen­age years, though, the fam­ily frac­tures and the team dis­bands. Fast for­ward to the present time, when the six sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the clan reunite upon the news of Har­greeves’ passing. They work togeth­er to solve a mys­tery sur­round­ing their father­’s death, but diver­gent per­son­al­it­ies and abil­it­ies again pull the estranged fam­ily apart, and a glob­al apo­ca­lypse is anoth­er immin­ent threat.’

A won­der­fully silly story per­formed by a great cast. For example, it’s quite some­thing how Aidan Galla­gh­er por­trays a sixty-year-old man in a fif­teen-year-old boy’s body. Incred­ibly enjoy­able to watch, often tak­ing the mickey out of itself (the makers of humour-bypassing Dark could take a cue from this).

Elliot Page as Vanya Hargreeves in The Umbrella Academy.
Van­ya Har­greeves – The White Viol­in of The Umbrella Academy

High Score (August)

A doc­u­ment­ary that looks at the his­tory of clas­sic video games, with stor­ies of and inter­views with games developers and cre­at­ors. It was par­tic­u­larly nice to see Atari founder Nolan Bush­nell again.

Biohackers (August)

This is a Ger­man mini-series, the story of med­ic­al stu­dent Mia and her ruth­less pro­fess­or, who wants to make God obsol­ete using syn­thet­ic biology.

It was all right.

Why Women Kill (late August)

The fifth hon­our­able mention.

Yes, why do women kill? And when they do, how do they make sure they won’t be caught?

A dark com­edy drama about three women liv­ing in three dif­fer­ent dec­ades: a house­wife in the six­ties (Gin­nifer Good­win), a social­ite in the eighties (Lucy Liu), and a law­yer in 2019 (Kirby How­ell-Bap­tiste), each deal­ing with infi­del­ity in their marriages.

This series bears the hall­marks of Marc Cherry’s Des­per­ate House­wives, of which I’m a big fan.

Ginnifer Goodwin as Beth Ann Stanton, Lucy Liu as Simone Grove and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Taylor Harding in Why Women Kill.
Why Women Kill

Ratched (September)

Remem­ber One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Oscar-win­ning film with Jack Nich­olson, or even the nov­el? This is the pre­quel focus­ing on one of its char­ac­ters, Nurse Ratched.

Where Why Women Kill resembles Des­per­ate House­wives, this here reminds one of Amer­ic­an Hor­ror Story: same writers, same cast. Which is a good thing.

Away (September)

A short-lived show about the first mis­sion to land on Mars. Hil­ary Swank as Emma Green, the com­mand­er of an inter­na­tion­al crew, who leaves behind her hus­band and teen­age daughter.

It was all right.

The Strain (late September)

The sixth hon­our­able mention.

Now, what is this? A chance find, a show about a vir­us or… some­thing… infect­ing every­one on a plane from Ber­lin to New York, so now they’re all dead, or are they. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (some kind of nation­al pub­lic health insti­tute in the US) come in, and just as you’re expect­ing a sci­ence thrill­er to unfold, the series takes a sharp bend. Sud­denly you’re in some kind of vam­pire hor­ror story. With Nazis.

That was about the time when I real­ised this series was cre­ated by Guillermo del Toro of Hell­boy fame.

Favour­ite char­ac­ter: Richard Sam­mel as former con­cen­tra­tion camp com­mand­ant and ant­ag­on­ist-at-large Thomas Eich­horst would be to easy. Nah, it’s Kev­in Dur­and as Vasiliy Fet, who reskills from rat to vam­pire exterminator.

Richard Sammel as Thomas Eichhorst and Ruta Gedmintas as Dutch Velders in The Strain.
Thomas Eich­horst and Dutch Veld­ers of The Strain

Deadly Class (November)

Not that The Umbrella Fact­ory were san­it­ised (it is not), but if you add a lot more grime to it and firmly place it in the eighties (instead of all over the twen­ti­eth cen­tury), then you get close to Deadly Class.

This time the Hog­warts sub­sti­tute is a school of assas­sins. You know, the kind where mob bosses and mass mur­der­ers send their off­spring, so that they learn the same trade as their parents.

A pleas­ant view­ing. The set­ting in the eighties is nice. Includ­ing this funny ref­er­ence to the early days of remote data transmission.

You talk­ing to me again?’

No. I’m talk­ing to my real friend, Johan. He’s in Sweden, and he just sent me a photo of a naked lady. In eight hours, it will be downloaded.’

Inspir­ing use of tech­no­logy you got there.’

Everybody Hates Chris (since November)

The sev­enth hon­our­able mention.

This is a com­edy series about the life of Chris Rock, indeed it’s some­what auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al, or so I’ve read. Thus, a com­edy series about a black boy who lives with his fam­ily in Brook­lyn in the eighties, but goes to a faraway school where, apart from him, there are only white people.

It’s fun to under­stand all the (or, well, many) ref­er­ences and allu­sions to hip-hop, sports, TV, and what­not. Miss Morello, the naively racist class teach­er who fet­ish­ises everything about black cul­ture is great enter­tain­ment. Anoth­er high­light is the epis­ode in which Chris has a date for the school ball, but the girl’s par­ents want to meet him first. So, he goes to her house, rings the bell, the door opens – and sud­denly he’s in an epis­ode of The Cosby Show, because the par­ents are the Huxtables and Chris just stepped into their liv­ing room. With all the trim­mings: live sit­com format, the audi­ence laugh­ing or cheer­ing whenev­er a char­ac­ter enters for the first time. Chris even gets one of Mr Huxtable’s hil­ari­ous icon­ic sweaters.

Tyler James Williams as Chris Rock in Everybody Hates Chris.
Chris

I read up about what in this pro­gramme is auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al and what’s inven­ted. It said Chris Rock changed or com­pressed a lot (one broth­er on the show instead of sev­er­al broth­ers in real life, things like that). But grow­ing up wasn’t a walk in the park, it seems. One for­gets about it while watch­ing because everything is turned into a laugh, and suc­cess­fully so. One blanks out what the series is called. Till some­thing super-racist at the expense of series Chris hap­pens and it comes back to one.

You have reached the end of the list. Thanks for reading.