Today we move from the big screen to the small screen with the Best TV Series of 2020. If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2020 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here. We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie. We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching. The theory? If we like it, we think you may like it. The best shows have a compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired. Even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes.
Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:
Best Borg Series – Altered Carbon (Netflix). Showing life in a world well past the merger of the organic and inorganic via stacks placed in human individuals’ vertebrae in the back of the neck, the second season of the series further revealed the dark side of being able to live forever. What parts of life have the most value in a cybernetic world? What crimes emerge when body and mind can be separated and re-shuffled? Honorable mention: Star Trek: Picard (CBD All Access)–revisiting Star Trek’s old nemeses The Borg and introducing the cyborg-like nonbiological humanoids called Synths, the same term used in the BBC’s Humans.
Best TV Borg, Best TV Villain – Darth Maul (played by Sam Witwer and Ray Park), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Disney+). The athletic performer Ray Park provided the best-ever lightsaber duel scenes in his co-starring performance in The Phantom Menace. Watching the animated series this year it was clear Darth Maul wasn’t just another animated character. Add another great duel to the books–Park’s motion capture abilities live on and continue to set the bar for Star Wars action sequences, and Witwer voices a character we never want to see go away again. Honorable mention for Best TV Villain: Grand Moff Gideon, Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian (Disney+).
Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Western TV Series – The Mandalorian (Disney+). Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which continues to be compared to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back more than anything with the Star Wars label on it since. The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb. And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) now called Grogu, on the genre-loving world and beyond. Credit Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for a series that only gets better with each episode, despite their short lengths. Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi TV Series: Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access).
Best TV Series, Best TV Drama, Best Limited TV Series, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV Soundtrack, Best Retro Fix – The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix). If we had a category about best series about games, gamers, and gaming, this series would take that prize, too. Inspired, unique, stylish. One of the best screenwriters around adapted a 1980s novel to create a quick-witted, fast-thinking, intense young girl, who becomes a smart young woman in the 1960s where she overcomes a hard life to compete and win against Bobby Darin-era boys and middle-aged men in tweeds in places that her sex dare not tread. Runner-up for Best TV Series, Best TV Drama, Best TV Costumes, Best Makeup, Best Soundtrack Vikings (History). Honorable mention for Best TV Costumes: The Mandalorian (Disney+), Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access). Honorable mention for Best Makeup: Kingdom (Netflix). Honorable mention for Best Soundtrack: The Mandalorian (Disney+).
Best TV Superhero Series, Best New Ongoing TV Series – Stargirl (CW). On par with the best superhero series of all time: The Incredible Hulk, The Flash, Luke Cage, and Swamp Thing, the next great superhero series has arrived. Pushing aside the too dark, too cartoony, and not so fun or funny comics adaptation, Stargirl brought the live-action comic book adaptations forward to a new place. It really is that fun that makes you keep coming back for more. Yes, it’s another successful B-level superhero from the comics, and yes, again, that seems to make the best live-action superhero characters. Brec Bessinger’s teen heroine was the perfect match to the lovable Luke Wilson as her new stepdad, bringing some heart to every episode. A relook at the Justice Society is something every comic book reader could love–and a giant robot supersuit, too.
Best Ongoing Series, Best Horror TV Series – Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix). The most twists and turns, the most clever story arcs, and the most faithful adaptation of a comic book series we’ve seen so far. After a great first season but a ho-hum sophomore season, the creators of the third season of Netflix’s adaptation of the dark side of Archie Comics kicked every aspect of the show into high gear, making for the best season of any ongoing series so far on the streaming provider. Honorable mention: Kingdom (Netflix).
Best British Series – Wild Bill (BritBox). Quirky. You won’t get enough time to get completely absorbed in the dreary burgh of Boston, Lincolnshire, but you might think of it as a quick weekend business trip. Rob Lowe and the rest of the cast were great in this one-season wonder that was part police show and part comedy–the scripts were typical British police procedural that fans of the genre will find familiar but welcome with some light humor to offset the darker bits. But it’s the kind of start that should have gained at least an extra season, and surpassed so many series this year in quality.
Best Comedy Series – Derry Girls (Netflix). We didn’t get a chance to slip in a review this year, but the two seasons of Derry Girls is the funniest 6 hours of television we watched this year. The tears in your eyes kind of funny. It follows four Irish teen Catholic girls and a British boy in Derry, Ireland in the 1990s leading up to the case fire with the IRA. The real-life trauma is echoed this year, but it’s only the background to a great coming-of-age, autobiographic story that mirrors real-life family antics anywhere. Great stuff.
Best Mystery/Crime Series – Stumptown (ABC). Happily for fans of detective shows, the long first season of the Cobie Smulders’ show stretched well into 2020. It’s a travesty this one ended, because it was so much better than most of network television. Smulders and co-star Jake Johnson had great chemistry as friends that always seemed to be in a bind with regards to money. As adaptations of stories from the comic book pages go, this one elevated the story into something we wish there was more of. Honorable mention: Wild Bill (BritBox), Magnum, PI (CBS).
Best Animated Series – Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Disney+). Who knew stories from the Star Wars prequels could be as good as the final four episodes of the surprise seventh and final season this year? Taking a back-and-forth approach between the final act of Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, a new story unfolded with branches that could result in tie-in series for years to come. The season also revealed the true potential of Disney and Lucasfilm, using an animated series to springboard key characters out of the Expanded or Legacy Universe to appear as part of the franchise’s canon stories.
Best TV Actress – Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit). Taylor-Joy was a breakout performer this year, appearing in three series and six films since 2019, but in no role better than Beth Harmon. She created a strong young woman you’re likely to remember, an incredible mastery of her craft, and an uncanny ability to take over a scene, sometimes with as little as a shift of the eyes. Honorable mention: Isa Briones (Star Trek: Picard), Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Cobie Smulders (Stumptown).
Best TV Supporting Actress – Marielle Heller (The Queen’s Gambit). Was she transmitted from the past? Was this series really filmed in the 1960s? Heller’s Alma was mom to series star Beth Harmon, and she perfectly played the suburban woman in the 1960s when so many TV series have gotten it all wrong. Heller’s believable, sympathetic, scorned wife had her own hero’s arc, and added a new dimension to an already impressive and layered story. Honorable mention: Ragga Ragnars (Vikings), Rachael Stirling (Wild Bill), Orla Brady (Star Trek: Picard), Moses Ingram (The Queen’s Gambit).
Best TV Actor – Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian). It’s easy to not notice the quality of the performance of an actor hidden behind a helmet. But the dynamic duo of his bounty hunter and young sidekick couldn’t convey so much heart without his believably duty-bound anti-hero. He is the Western hero from the 1930s-1960s Saturday serials. Through Pascal’s hidden efforts, his character is becoming the favorite hero of Star Wars fans, and fans of sci-fi and space fantasy, everywhere. Runner-up: Alex Høgh Andersen (Vikings); Honorable mention: Ji-Hoon Ju (Kingdom), Rob Lowe (Wild Bill), Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: Picard).
Best TV Supporting Actor – Chris Conner (Altered Carbon). Chris Conner’s Poe was dazzling in the series’ first season, but Conner really showed his incredible range this year. Poe, an artificial intelligence/virtual reality hologram with sentience, is degrading. And it is emotional, sometimes even difficult to watch. The heart of the visionary look at the future, Poe really is the character bringing the humanity to the story. Honorable mention: Luke Wilson (Stargirl), Harry Melling (The Queen’s Gambit), Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Picard), Santiago Cabrera (Star Trek: Picard).
Best Guest Stars/Stunt Casting – Temuera Morrison returned to Star Wars to play Boba Fett (The Mandalorian). Not only did Morrison’s return signal the survival of THE fan-favorite bounty hunter, Morrison, who played the original clone in Attack of the Clones, is the face of all clones, meaning if he’s willing to step back into the Star Wars universe maybe he could return to play Jango again or Rex and Echo, or any number of the troops from the series and The Clone Wars. Honorable mention: Ray Park returns to play a motion-capture Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager cast members return for Star Trek: Picard.
Best TV Episode – The Mandalorian, episode “The Tragedy,” thirty minutes of heart-thumping, non-stop drama that felt like a two-hour movie while ushering in the return of an iconic character from the past. A close runner-up is the movie-worthy special effects and photography of The Queen’s Gambit in the episode “Fork,” where Beth finally goes head to head with Benny Watts, with some of the best montage work and cinematography we’ve ever seen. Honorable mentions: Sabrina learns why she was having a bad feeling about the ice cream truck in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, episode “Drag Me to Hell“; we met Cristóbal Ríos and his assorted holograms in a Star Trek: Picard version of Orphan Black in the fun episode “Broken Pieces“; Ahsoka Tano faced down Darth Maul in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode, “The Phantom Apprentice“; and in Doctor Who, the TARDIS crew returned to the origin of Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein and a classic version of the Cybermen was revealed in the episode “The Haunting of Villa Diodati“.
Come back tomorrow as we reveal more of borg‘s Best of 2020! If you missed our list of Best Movies of 2020, check it out here, and if you missed our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020, be sure to check it out here.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg