Twelve Exceptional New TV Shows From 2020 That You Need to Catch Up On
This year has served up plenty of new must-see TV so far — here's what you need to stream.
If you're a fan of Better Call Saul, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dead to Me or The Good Place, you've probably spent plenty of time in front of your TV screen over the past six months. But, even when we're all staying inside revisiting our favourite shows, 2020's television and streaming viewing isn't just about the programs you already love. If you're always eager to add some fresh favourites to your pile, the year so far has well and truly delivered. They're the new series that, in years to come, will sit atop your rewatch list.
From ominous and ambitious science-fiction thrillers and contemplative slow-TV documentaries to comic takes on history and bold reworkings of literary classics, 2020's batch of new shows has proven a varied bunch — and an excellent one as well. It's enough to make you hole up in your living room and never want to leave. Or, to spend the year's colder months catching up.
With the year at its halfway point, here are our picks of 2020's best TV and streaming series that you owe it to yourself to seek out now.
When Sally Rooney's Normal People first hit bookshelves in 2018, it thrust readers into a disarmingly relatable love story, following the amorous ups and downs of an on-again, off-again couple from Sligo, Ireland. Teenagers Marianne and Connell have known each other for years, as tends to happen in small towns. And although she's aloof, intense and considered an acerbic loner, while he's outgoing and popular, a torrid and tumultuous secret romance blooms. That's just the beginning of the Irish author's novel, and of the both tender and perceptive TV series that brings the book to the screen. As it dives deep into a complex chronicle of first love, it not only charts Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Cold Feet) and Connell's (newcomer Paul Mescal) feelings for each other, but details the recognisable and realistic minutiae of being a high schooler and then a uni student. This is first and foremost a romance, and a passionate and intimate one at that; however the series can't tell this complicated couple's story without touching upon everything else that pops up along the way.
TALES FROM THE LOOP
If Black Mirror set all of its bleak futuristic tales in one small town, followed interconnected characters and sported a low-fi, retro sheen, the result would be Tales From the Loop. This patient, beautiful, poignant and incredibly moving sci-fi series is actually based on a series of paintings by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag — and even if you didn't already know that fact while you were watching, you'd notice the show's distinctive aesthetic. The title refers to a mysterious underground machine, called The Loop, that's designed to explore and unravel the mysteries of the universe. For the folks living above it, their lives soon take strange turns. Anchoring jumps and pauses in time, body swaps, giant robots and more in everyday situations and emotions (such as being envious of a friend, falling in love, betraying your nearest and dearest, and trying to connect with your parents), Tales From the Loop is as perceptive as it is immersive and engaging. And, its eight episodes are helmed by an exceptional array of fantastic filmmakers, including Never Let Me Go's Mark Romanek, WALL-E's Andrew Stanton, The House of the Devil's Ti West and actor-turned-director Jodie Foster.
Tales From the Loop is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Radiating unease from its very first moments, yet sporting both a mood and a futuristic look that prove simultaneously unsettlingly and alluring, Devs is unmistakably the work of author-turned-filmmaker Alex Garland. His first jump to the small screen, it instantly slots in nicely beside Ex Machina and Annihilation on his resume — and it's just as intriguing and involving as each of those excellent movies. The setting: Amaya, a US technology company that's massive in size yet secretive in its focus. When Sergei (Karl Glusman) is promoted to its coveted, extra clandestine Devs division, his girlfriend and fellow Amaya employee Lily (Sonoya Mizuno is thrilled for him. But when Sergei doesn't come home from his first day, Lily starts looking for answers — including from the company's guru-like leader Forest (a long-haired, very un-Ron Swanson-like Nick Offerman).
It takes its title from its central figure, Russian empress Catherine the Great. It's filled with lavish period-appropriate costumes, wigs, sets and decor. And, it explores an immensely famous time during the 18th century that had a significant impact upon the world. Normally, that'd all smack of a certain kind of drama; however The Great is firmly a comedy as well. As starring Elle Fanning as the eponymous ruler, Nicholas Hoult as her husband Peter III and Bohemian Rhapsody's Gwilym Lee as a fellow member of the royal court, that means witty, laugh-out-loud lines, an irreverent and often cheeky mood, and having ample fun with real-life details — much in the way that Oscar-winner The Favourite did with British royalty on the big screen. Of course, the comparison couldn't be more fitting, with that film's BAFTA-winning screenwriter, Australian Tony McNamara, using his savagely hilarious satirical skills to pen The Great as well.
Whenever Warwick Thornton makes a new project, it demands attention — and the Indigenous Australian filmmaker has never made anything quite like The Beach. The director of Samson & Delilah and Sweet Country turns the camera on himself, chronicling his quest to escape his busy life for an extended soul-searching getaway. With only chickens and wildlife for company, Thornton bunkers down in an electricity-free tin shed in Jilirr, on the Dampier Peninsula on the northwest coast of Western Australia. He fishes, cooks, chats to the chooks, wanders along the shoreline and reflects upon everything that's led him to this point, with this six-part documentary series capturing the ups, downs, sublime sights and epiphany-inspiring moments. Unfurling quietly and patiently in the slow-TV tradition, Thornton's internal journey of discovery makes for both moving and absorbing viewing. Indeed, combined with stunning cinematography (as shot by Thornton's son and Robbie Hood director Dylan River), it just might be the best piece of Australian television you see this year.
The Beach is available to stream via SBS On Demand.
DISPATCHES FROM ELSEWHERE
It has been a few years since Jason Segel was seen on-screen with any frequency; however the Freaks and Geeks, How I Met Your Mother and The Muppets star returns in a big way with Dispatches from Elsewhere. As well as leading the cast, he created, co-wrote and co-directed the intriguing and enigmatic puzzle-like drama series, which is based on the documentary The Institute and tracks a group of strangers who find themselves drawn to a strange, game-like mystery. IT worker Peter (Segel), the lively Simone (Eve Lindley), the overly cautious and paranoid Fredwynn (Andre Benjamin), and the upbeat Janice (Sally Field) all don't know what they're getting themselves in for when they start spotting flyers around town about offbeat topics (communicating with dolphins and trialling human force fields, for example), then each individually call the number printed on them. And, for maximum immersion and enjoyment — and to go on the ten-part show's weird and wonderful ride with its characters — audiences should approach it with as little prior knowledge of any details other than the above as well.
Dispatches from Elsewhere is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Catastrophe, that great, smart, acerbically funny British comedy about a couple's experiences with parenthood, attempts to navigate life's all-round chaos and just general effort to try to stay together, sadly finished up its four-season run last year. Let worthy successor Breeders fill the gap — with Martin Freeman starring as exasperated dad Paul, Daisy Haggard (Back to Life) playing his partner Ally, and The Thick of It's Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell on directing and writing duties. Basically, if the aforementioned political satire featured parents swearing profusely at their kids instead of government staffers unleashing at their colleagues, this is how it would turn out. The show is partially based on Freeman's own experiences, too, and stems from the Sherlock, The Office and The Hobbit actor's idea.
Deborah Feldman's best-selling 2012 autobiography Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots makes the leap to Netflix as a four-part mini-series. And, as the book's title makes plain, both explore her decision to leave her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, New York, flee her arranged marriage and everyone she's ever known, and escape to Berlin to start a brand new life. Names and details have been changed, as tends to be the case with dramas based on real-life stories; however Unorthodox still follows the same overall path. In a tense but instantly commanding opening to the show's first episode, 19-year-old Esther 'Esty' Shapiro (Shira Haas) slips out of the apartment she shares with her husband Yanky (Amit Rahav), picks up a passport from her piano teacher and nervously heads to the airport. The end result proves a unique and intriguing coming-of-age tale, a thoughtful thriller, and an eye-opening but always careful and respectful look at a culture that's rarely depicted on-screen in such depth. Israeli actress Haas (The Zookeeper's Wife, Foxtrot, Mary Magdalene) turns in a nuanced, weighty and gripping performance as Esty, too — which is absolutely pivotal in making Unorthodox so compelling to watch.
A flight attendant (Yvonne Strahovski) unhappy with her life, trying to find solace in a cult-like dance school run by a creepy duo (Cate Blanchett and Dominic West), and eventually making a drastic decision. An Afghan refugee Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) attempting to escape to Australia with his wife and daughters in search of a better life. A struggling father (Jai Courtney) in a remote town who takes a job at the local detention facility because it pays well. A bureaucrat (Asher Keddie) brought in to manage said location when it attracts negative media attention. They're the four characters at the heart of six-part Australian mini-series Stateless — a show that doesn't just feel as if it is ripped from the headlines but, in one specific instance, is 100-percent drawn from real-life events. This is bold, topical television filled with fantastic performances, although that's to be expected given the cast.
Stateless is available to stream via ABC iView.
A fantastic cast, a Parisian setting and oh-so-much jazz. As executive produced and partly directed by Whiplash and La La Land filmmaker Damien Chazelle, that's what's on offer in eight-part drama The Eddy. The title refers to the French club run by former pianist Elliot (Andre Holland) and his business partner Farid (Tahar Rahim), with every episode following the daily life of a different person — including Elliot's rebellious teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg), as well as Maja (Joanna Kulig), the lead singer of the venue's resident jazz band. Like almost everything that Chazelle touches, other than First Man, jazz features heavily. That's really just a given with his work by now. But whether you're as fond of the style of music as he clearly is, you could take or leave it, or you're just keen on virtually visiting Europe, The Eddy unfurls a moody and engrossing tale that benefits from its excellent on-screen talent.
The Eddy is available to stream via Netflix.
MYTHIC QUEST: RAVEN'S BANQUET
For the past 15 years, Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton have co-written and co-starred in one of the best shows on TV: the so-ridiculous-its-hilarious It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Hopefully, that'll never change — Sunny just aired its 14th season last year — but McElhenney and Day have also just launched a new sitcom. Trading a sleazy Philly bar for a video game development studio, Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet sees McElhenney play a gaming visionary who's having trouble with the latest expansion pack of his big online role-playing hit. Big troubles, actually. A workplace comedy, Mythic Quest takes some time to find its feet, but it's worth sticking with. It also stars Community's Danny Pudi, Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham and Australian Content actress (and #Flipgirl) Charlotte Nicdao. And if you're a fan, you'll be pleased to know that Apple renewed it for a second season before the first even premiered.
Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet is available to stream via Apple TV+.
After giving Sherlock Holmes plenty of twists in Sherlock, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have decided that another famous character could use a once-over — and not just any old figure, either. Bram Stoker's Dracula has been adapted for the screen so many times, the bloodsucker actually holds the record, but this version isn't like any other. Starring The Square's Claes Bang as the undead count, the BBC and Netflix three-part series has plenty of tricks up its sleeves. So many, in fact, that we won't say too much in order to preserve the mystery. In a smart, lush, gleefully theatrical and cleverly scripted affair that blends gothic horror with sly amusement, the basic framework of the 123-year-old story remains — spanning both Romania and Britain, and following his altercations with lawyer Jonathan Harker, his lust for Lucy Westenra and his run-ins with Van Helsing — but not as you'd ever expect. Bang is fantastic, but keep a particular eye out for Dolly Wells (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) as a pivotal nun.
Dracula is available to stream via Netflix.
Looking for more viewing highlights? Check out our list of film and TV streaming recommendations, which is updated monthly.
Published on June 21, 2020 by Sarah Ward