Now streaming: 2020’s best TV shows

By Maggie Hershey, Entertainment Writer

Though 2020 was an unfortunate year for many reasons, one bright spot was the new programming that many of us were able to view during quarantine.  These four shows were our top picks for at-home streaming in 2020.

The Last Dance

Netflix and ESPN’s The Last Dance is a documentary miniseries covering one of the greatest basketball players in history: Micheal Jordan. The series started airing on April 19 and shows a deeply true portrayal of this basketball legend. This documentary does not attempt to cover up who Jordan was as a person, depicting his different experiences in the NBA as well as his brief switch to baseball, issues with gambling, and close-knit relationship with his family. 

This show covers a lot about Jordan’s time on the court and with his team. By using two separate timelines and flashbacks, it helps the viewer understand how much Jordan changed during his career. There is a quite noticeable difference between the 1991 Micheal Jordan in the show and 1997 Jordan. The latter is much more team-oriented and understands more thoroughly the importance of teamwork. This realization is what allows him to grow into the player he is during his best years and win three consecutive championships twice with the Bulls.

Though you may need some interest in basketball to truly enjoy this miniseries, it is incredible and you will learn so much about the players and the team. The show also offers an interesting insight into the importance of teamwork and relationships. If nothing else, you will get to see some of the best plays in basketball history, and with only ten episodes it’s worth a shot.

Outer Banks

One of Netflix’s originals that struck a chord with teens last year was Outer Banks. Originally released on April 15, 2020, this show—though at first glance a generic teen soap opera—is full of mystery, adventure, and drama. The protagonist John B, along with three of his friends, works to solve the mystery of his missing father and find a legendary treasure during the ten episodes of the show’s first season. Set in the outer parts of North Carolina, citizens of the town are separated into Kooks and Pogues, or rather, haves and have-nots. John B and his friends are mainly Pogues, but one of the four happens to be a Kook; this helps develop the characters into more deep and realistic portrayals of actual people.

One of the appeals of this show is its seamless blend of nostalgia, aesthetics, and adventure. Outer Banks has a distinct indie coming of age movie feel to it, helping entice its teen audience and makes the show more relatable. The aesthetics of the show, from the beautiful setting to captivating shots, give the show charm. The characters spend a lot of time on boats or near bodies of water which immerses the audience into a feeling of the idyllic teen summer. While upholding the aesthetics and nostalgia, the show is riveting; there is plenty of action and mystery. The perfect blend of these three elements that the show has managed to create has led to its immediate success. 

Whether you saw it when it was first released or you’ve never heard of it, Outer Banks is a quick, fun, and thrilling watch. With the inevitable gloom of winter months to come, this could be a great show to throw you back into the summer warmth.

Tiger King 

Tiger King is a short, masterfully crafted, seven-episode, Netflix original documentary miniseries released on March 20, 2020. It starts as a show following a seemingly unreal gay, polyamorous, mullet bearing, internet persona, and tiger keeper known as Joe Exotic. Although Joe is the main focus of this documentary, the audience is hardly expected to agree with his actions or sympathize with him. The series not only draws attention to the unbelievable lives of these private tiger owners but also to the inhumanity of keeping a tiger as a pet; though Joe technically keeps his big cats in a zoo, the amount of space per animal is not close to adequate and this drew a lot of attention by animal activists.

Everything about the show seems absurd and the raw natural footage keeps you in disbelief the entire time. There’s an element of drama throughout the series as it explores the relationships and rivalries between competing big cat sanctuaries. Though Joe exotic is the most extreme character, the others shouldn’t be overlooked; every zoo owner showcased in this documentary is odd, yet fascinating. The characters all seem like train wrecks in some way, but it’s difficult to look away because of how absurd the whole business is. Living up to its title as a true-crime documentary, Tiger King depicts murder, arson, and even politics. 

This show is a quick watch and keeps you on the edge of your seat; it is absurd, nuanced, and even fantastical. If you happened to miss this show in 2020, it’s not too late, and it’s worth all of the praise it got. 

The Queen’s Gambit

On October 23, 2020, Netflix released their original series The Queen’s Gambit based on the novel of the same name; though released later than those previously mentioned, it gained a lot of attention upon its release. The show follows the life of an orphan and a child chess prodigy. The protagonist Beth has to work through various emotional issues as well as alcohol and drug dependency. The Queen’s Gambit takes place in Lexington, Kentucky during the 1950s through the ‘60s; though it may seem to follow the traumatized genius trope, the show is much deeper in its portrayal of this chess mastermind. 

This limited series is primarily a drama and captivates audiences with its seven episodes of binge-worthy chess plays and unique characters. Each chess master Beth faces is presented in their own way; they’re so elegantly filmed and different enough from the last that even someone with no interest in chess can enjoy watching these matches. There is also a coming of age theme throughout the miniseries that is incredibly different from most others of the genre. There are flashbacks to her time as an orphan and the trauma she endured, her older years as she faces chess masters to become the best, and there is an overarching theme of her discovering herself. The historical conflicts of the ongoing cold war and the women’s rights movement combined with the coming of age theme make the story very nuanced and allow Beth to be a complex and realistic character who is easy to like.

Being a limited series with no expectation for a second season, The Queen’s Gambit is masterfully crafted and is a quick watch. Even if you have no interest in chess, the drama, realistic characters, writing, and production quality—all over the backdrop of a coming of age story—will make it difficult to turn your TV off once you start watching.

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