On January 1, I made an ambitious resolution to keep track of every single television show I watched in 2020: new series, old reruns, sports, news, everything. At the time, it felt like a fun and maybe slightly masochistic experiment in understanding exactly how much TV I watch by cataloguing it all in a cheery color-coded spreadsheet that might make me feel vaguely organized. Looking back now, nine months into a seemingly endless pandemic, it feels unimaginably silly.
After keeping meticulous records throughout January and February, the spreadsheet quickly started betraying signs of the troubled times. In March, stuck inside for what I thought would be a two-week quarantine, I diligently logged viewings of socially distanced YouTube concerts, Instagram Lives hosted by bored comedians, digital drag shows on Twitch, and “Tiger King.” (Blegh, remember “Tiger King”?) By April, the spreadsheet became a list of comforting older sitcom marathons, as if I feared that using too much of my brain on more challenging material might force its immediate collapse. I filled summer weekends with back-to-back Premier League games (some questionable semblance of normalcy) and a steady loop of the same four “Succession” episodes (if you know, you know). I wrote down every single last embarrassing thing I watched — at least until October, when my patience with the experiment and just about everything else evaporated. I haven’t touched the stupid spreadsheet since.
Time has rarely moved so slowly and so quickly as it has this year. Resolutely sitting at home, the days blending into each other until they all took on the same amorphous shape, I found myself stunned every time a new month began. That holds triply true now, staring both down the barrel of 2021 and back at 2020 in its wretched, bizarre entirety. So as I sat down to come up with my annual list of best TV shows, I re-opened my doomed spreadsheet to try and remind myself of what the hell I watched in 2020— and realized, with an actual laugh, that even this shattered glass of a year had a pattern after all.
With every new month, a new series entered my life and became my favorite for a reason. Some shows found me at just the right time and headspace to make maximum impact; some provided comfort when I needed it most; others broke through my mental fog with welcome urgency. If I were to do a traditional Top TV Shows of the Year list, all of them would have been on it. But instead of ranking them, I’ve decided to share them month by month as I first found them, the better to tell the story of a singular year that we may never remember with total clarity, but one which we’ll never forget.
So here are my favorite shows of the year — in chronological order, the only order that still makes any sense.