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Jon Hein's Ten Best TV Shows of 2020

The Jump the Shark creator lists his favorite shows of the year.
  • Photos: Hulu, CBC/Pop, Netflix
    Photos: Hulu, CBC/Pop, Netflix

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    It's the most wonderful time of the year — and I've got a holiday watch list for you. Forget about the holiday specials, here's the best TV of the year right under your tree.

    2020 has certainly been one for the ages. Nostradamus couldn't have predicted how things turned out. There were lots of changes — most for the worse, but some for the better. Writing a weekly TV column is a positive change as I only wrote a "Best Of" column at the end of the past few years.

    Lockdown meant having all the time in the world to watch everything on TV, right? Well that's not exactly how things worked out. I've never been busier with my day job and appearing on a variety of sports shows.

    Now there's some time to relax at the end of the year, and here are some binge suggestions more filling than a holiday feast.

    My ten favorite shows of 2020:

    10. High Fidelity (HULU)

    This falls into the Fargo (failed to make the list this year) category — why take a great quirky movie and make a series out of it? It's a huge challenge, but this version rose to the occasion starring the daughter of one of the featured film players.

    The gender-flipped adaptation of the classic Hornby novel and subsequent Cusack-led film just works. Zoe Kravitz is excellent as the romantically torn record shop owner. The store's staff has the same elitist fun-loving attitude towards music as they laud and goof on hipster Brooklyn.

    It's a shame this version of High Fidelity is one and done. Really dug the first season.

    9. Better Things (FX)

    This Pamela Adlon gem is a mainstay on my annual Best Of list. Not the strongest season, but the POV of Sam Fox is one of the most unique on TV.

    Sam is the one is crisis this season as her daughters start to figure things out for themselves. Better Things is never really about the plot it's a character study on a divorced working mom and her three special daughters (not to mention her aging mother) told in poignant snapshots.

    8. How To With John Wilson (HBO)

    John Wilson explains day-to-day life in his own unique way. This documentary style comedy is dark and subtle with the little things in life meaning everything.

    It's not where the story begins and ends, but the path John Wilson takes to get there and the comedy he uncovers along the way. One of the most unique shows of the year is one of the most simple — and one of the most funny.

    7. The Mandalorian Season 2 (DISNEY+)

    The Mandalorian makes its second consecutive appearance on my Best Of list with season two picking up right where season one left off. Forget the latest feature films, it is possible to tell a good modern day Star Wars tale on TV.

    Mando's quest to return the child (who just happens to be a red-hot holiday gift) to the Jedi is filled with lots of old friends and X-Wings. Jon Favreau penned most of the second season and stays true to the force.

    6. Schitt's Creek (POP TV)

    The final season deservedly won every Emmy in sight, but I found it the weakest of the bunch for this Canadian comedy. Maybe it was high expectations or everyone's desire of not wanting the Rose family saga to end.

    Still, this Levy creation remains heads above most other 2020 programs. Even Moira Rose had to love that happy ending. Get ready to laugh and cry saying goodbye to the Rosebud Motel.

    5. Better Call Saul (AMC)

    Another perennial favorite on my year-end list. Jimmy McGill is practically Saul Goodman at this point. The writing continues to be heads above other dramas, and Lalo officially takes his place along side Gus Fring as a memorable foe.

    Maybe one day Emmy voters will realize that Rhea Seahorn has become the highlight of an acting clinic. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks doing their thing in that vast New Mexican landscape remains a pleasure to watch.

    4. The Queen's Gambit (NETFLIX)

    How does a drama about chess become an international sensation? Easy — it's not really about chess. It's about the life of Beth Harmon and all she overcomes with that brilliant mind.

    This is really a sports movie, but it tracks a cerebral sport. Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerizing to watch in this beautifully shot series. Chess sets are flying off the shelves for good reason — just don't look too closely at your ceiling.

    3. Normal People (HULU)

    This Irish beauty is the love story of 2020. Connell and Marianne weave in and out of their lives in this coming of age tale. The contrast in backgrounds and attitudes rings true in every scene.

    There are some steamy scenes, but the more moving stuff is how this couple finds their way through relatable struggles. This story is sweet and poignant, and it hooks you until the very last shot.

    2. The Crown (NETFLIX)

    It's the fourth season, and I still cannot get enough of the royal family. Maybe it's just masterful television filling my Downton Abbey fix. The Crown packs plenty of surprises in each episode as it chronicles British history (we know how it turns out for the Falklands).

    This season, it feels like you're watching home movies of Charles and Di falling apart. Gillian Anderson embodies Margaret Thatcher and stands toe to toe with Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth. The entire cast is spot on. Truly something special to behold.

    1. Ted Lasso (APPLE TV+)

    This sweet comedy is my favorite show of the year, and frankly it wasn't even close. Ted is simply the right show at the right time. Jason Sudeikis' transplanted football coach feels like a one dimensional character at first, but there's so much more to him and every member of the cast as well.

    Ted Lasso is funny, but also unexpectedly sweet. It feels good smiling along with AFC Richmond's quest to not get relegated. The scores don't matter — the people do. No show moved me more than this Bill Lawrence comedy did.

    Ted Lasso is the perfect uplifting show for a really crappy year.

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    If you love or hate my list, I'd love to hear from you.

    Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: 2020 in Review, Better Things, The Crown, High Fidelity, How To with John Wilson, Normal People, The Queen's Gambit, Schitt's Creek, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Ted Lasso