Everything was on the back burner in 2020, except for the production of series. Streaming services have flourished like never before and that only makes us more curious about the future. Yet we also noticed something else: there is a lot more corn between the chaff and it is becoming increasingly difficult to pick out that which is really worth seeing. No one can see everything that appears, yet we think we have taken the best series of this year. We would like to remember these 33, in brackets you will find where you can view this series at the moment.
1. The Plot Against America (Streamz)
No year-end list without David Simon somewhere at the top. In previous years he finished high with, among others Show Me A Hero or the three seasons of The Deuce, but there was always at least one series that kept him off the top. Not now: The Plot Against America was the best there was this year.
We look at the story through the eyes of an American Jewish family and meet Herman Levin (Morgan Spector) who refuses a promotion at his company in order not to have to move to an anti-Semitic neighborhood. Herman sees and hears with sorrow what is happening with his country and with his city. “There is a lot of hatred, and he knows how to take advantage of it,” Herman fulminates on the radio, while Lindbergh warns against Jewish war refugees and advocates border controls. It goes without saying why David Simon now wanted to film Joseph Roth’s novel.
2. I Know This Much Is True (Streamz)
They are to be cherished, the mini-series from HBO, because this is one too: here Mark Ruffalo plays an impressive double role as identical twins Dominick and Thomas, one of the two of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.
Ruffalo’s acting performance is no less than a tour de force, but he’s also flanked by a strong acting cast overall. The story of the two brothers who have already been hit hard by life is reminiscent of the bestseller A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: this is about life pain, there is little light through it, but the series will touch you and you will often think back to it afterwards.
3. Tales From The Loop (Amazon Prime)
Tales From The Loop is the kind of science fiction that is unremarkable. Most of the time we seem to be in a completely normal world. Until something strange or unsettling happens. Everything we see – the houses, the furniture, the cars – indicates that the series is set somewhere in the 1950s or 1960s. Within that universe there are also some strange elements, such as robotic arms or a robot that just seems to be somewhere in the middle of a forest. But most of the mystery still radiates from the Mercer Center For Experimental Physics, a company in the town of Mercer colloquially called The Loop that is dedicated to discovering and unraveling the mysteries of the universe.
Then we get eight stories from people associated with The Loop. There is no logical plot sequence between those eight stories. Characters can appear in only one episode, or in several. A main character in one story can become a minor character in another, or vice versa. Somewhere there is a comparison with Black Mirror, but where that series more often focuses on social trends, it goes into Tales Of The Loop really about the existential, the personal.
4. BoJack Horseman S6B (Netflix)
We no longer need to introduce this old rascal. 2020 was also the year in which we had to say goodbye to BoJack Horseman. The series started off hesitantly, but got better, sharper and deeper emotionally every season. After the end, we could be swept together, because who thought a series like BoJack Horseman would end well is done for the effort.
5. The Crown S4 (Netflix)
Also The Crown is no longer a newcomer, but showrunner and creator Peter Morgan manages to keep the level high. The pace is sluggish as ever, but that is exactly what gives the series such a unique momentum in today’s series landscape. In this new season, a generation change takes place: the older guard has to make way for the storylines of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin). The young and still inexperienced actress Emma Corrin is shining.
6. Albatros (Streamz)
The best Flemish series of the year is one that will only be broadcast on Canvas in 2021, but can be found on Streamz since this summer. A (comedy) series about ten people who go to a slimming camp in the Ardennes, it sounds like an idea that could have gone wrong. In the right hands, however, it turned into a nugget of gold. Albatross makes it clear that people can struggle with very different things and that even people who are apparently very balanced can still fight an inner struggle. Flemish series where almost everything is correct, they are rare. Albatross is one of them.
7. Better Call Saul S5 (Netflix)
Also Better Call Saul is one of those rare series that manages to maintain a high bar for five seasons. The unique visual language that we now know from showrunner Vince Cilligan, the widespread use of silences and the near-perfect dialogues ensure that we will not fall off our seats this time, although it is all very good. One more season will follow, probably already in 2021, and then it will be irrevocably over. And rest assured, that will leave a gap with us.
8. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Every year Netflix has a surprise hit, this year they had two. One of those two was this mini-series that succeeded in making chess popular. The actress Anya-Taylor Joy, which has been described as “very promising” for several years now, gives shape to Beth Harmon, a small chess wonder. Even we – who wouldn’t know how to play chess – thought this was a special series. This is because of how she is portrayed and because she is about much more than just chess.
9. Unorthodox (Netflix)
That other surprise hit from Netflix this year was this mini series. Israel-born Shira Haas is a revelation. She plays 19-year-old Esther “Esty” Shapiro and it has been a long time since we saw a new face emerge that knows how to speak that way. Her character Esty grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish Hasidic environment in Williamsburg, New York. And while she does her utmost to give her husband and her in-laws what they want, Esty feels she wants something different. A little bit more. It was important for the makers to accurately depict the culture, language and rituals in detail. We feel very strongly that the series was made with respect for the community.
10. Why Women Kill (Streamz)
Three women, three different generations, the same house. Three murdered characters and three spouses who commit adultery. That is the premise of this enjoyable, deliberately over-the-top series. This series comes from the sleeve of Marc Cherry, the man who scored between 2004 and 2012 with Desperate Housewives (seen on Amazon Prime). Cherry evokes the same atmosphere here: the colors are bright – just look at the opening titles or the poster -, the tone is dark, but comical and the acting style is deliberately large and dramatic, leaning against the camp. That style is reflected in the kitschy sets, hairstyles and clothing and the playful music, but fits wonderfully into what Why Women Kill radiates: this is just for fun.
11. Homecoming S2 (Amazon Prime)
The makers of Homecoming made another interesting choice for the lead role when it appeared that Julia Roberts would no longer take her role for a second season. Janelle Monáe is not only one of the most idiosyncratic and talented pop stars of the moment, as an actress she has also appeared in Oscar winners such as Moonlight and Hidden Figures.
At the beginning of the season, we see her wake up in a rowboat in the middle of a lake. She seems very confused, has no idea who she is and how she got there. It would be a shame if we told more than this. An episode of Homecoming usually takes between 25 to 30 minutes, but at no point do we feel that it has to go fast. A slow pace is maintained in which the pawns are set out in peace for what is to come.
12. ZeroZeroZero (VRT NU & myLum)
ZeroZeroZero is the new prestige series from the makers of Gomorrah and the best crime series we’ve seen in ages. In this Italian-American collaboration, the manufacturer, supplier and courier in the cocaine trade are followed. Director Stefano Solima is an experienced storyteller: the shootings are easy to follow, the car chases spectacular and the executions original. Incidentally, the whole of the stories is intertwined in a non-linear way, which also leaves room for surprise. Add to that the striking, but atmospheric and very good soundtrack by the Scottish band Mogwai ZeroZeroZero is one of the best crime series we’ve seen this year.
13. The Outsider (Streamz)
Adaptations of the work of Stephen King, they can no longer be kept. The Outsider at first appears as a not bad, but good series, a bit too average for HBO. Like The Outsider a good, rather average, novel was for Stephen King. But those who keep watching after the first episode will see a different kind of series. A series that exploits slowness as a figure of speech. That focuses more on trauma than on action. There will be no second season, but we will always cherish this series.
14. Undercover S2 (VRT NOW)
The first season of Undercover was a success and launched Tom Waes as an actor. The second season was even better and more daring in its story. It is the actors in the supporting roles who flank Waes who made this season memorable. Wim Willaert and Sebastien Dewaele – like two brothers who trade weapons – radiated a wonderful threat, Ruth Becquart was the informant in search of a better life. More of that is coming as a third season is in the pipeline.
15. Killing Eve S3
Canvas starts these days with the broadcast of the second season of Killing Eve, hopefully they will immediately add the third season to it, because it continues to enjoy how hired killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and secret agent Eve (Sandra Oh) are drawn together. The third season also remains original, but at the same time light entertainment.
16. The Good Place S4B (Netflix)
There was one more of our beloved series that we had to say goodbye to in 2020. The finale of The Good Place is a piece of television that hurt in all the right places, but also put a smile on our faces. This is the series that made us think about what makes a person a good person and about the (in) finitude of existence. That in itself is unique for a comic series.
17. The Pier S2 (Streamz, myLum)
True The Pier initially resembling a series about a banal affair, it soon becomes apparent that it is much more than that. It is one of those rare series where everything is right: the melancholy that is in the image and in the supporting music, click together and is next to painful and beautiful. The Pier sometimes also painfully beautiful. Proceed to The Pier to look you are going to ask yourself what love is. What it can mean. When love may have a right to exist. When it’s fair to let love exist.
18. Hollywood (Netflix)
Hollywood is set in the era after WWII. We follow some young actors and actresses who dream of making it in Hollywood. They soon find that things are a little less correct in Hollywood than they expected and that they will have to put their principles aside to get anywhere. Until the young screenwriter Archie Coleman with the screenplay Peg comes on, a film about Peg Entwistle, the actress who committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood letters.
Hollywood is a Netflix production by Ryan Murphy, which means that this series too balances on a fine line between art and kitsch, to eventually end up on the right side. Murphy presents a kind of alternative world, a Hollywood of his dreams, a world in which it might all have been different. The references to Gone With The Wind make the series very topical again in a crazy way, the final episode during a fictional Oscar ceremony made us cry.
19. The Last Dance (Netflix)
Netflix has scored solidly with The Last Dance, a ten-part documentary series that sports channel ESPN worked on for three years and that zooms in on the NBA season of 1997-1998. At that point, the Bulls had already won the title five times in the past seven years, yet within the board of the club the belief grew that the star players and their coach Phil Jackson should gradually make way. They had had their time. But because Jordan was so untouchable at the time, he wanted the coach back or he wouldn’t play: he won. The legendary group of players went for the title one more time. A camera crew was also brought in who were allowed to film wherever they wanted for the entire season, and it turned into a turbulent season.
In Belgium, we don’t have nearly as close a relationship with basketball as the average American has with the NBA. Yet we all know the Chicago Bulls of the 90s with names like Michael Jordan, Scotti Pippen and Dennis Rodman. This documentary series is about living legends who have transcended their sport. Apart from that, the series can be viewed as a thriller and the camera work is sublime. Add to that the childhood nostalgia and you can start wondering why the hell you shouldn’t watch.
20. The English Game (Netflix)
We put ourselves forward The English Game to England in 1876. Football already exists, but it is still in its infancy and is dominated by the upper class, who invented the rules. Every year there is the FA Cup, a competition in which factory teams are also allowed to participate, but little is really expected from those factory teams. Until factory owner James Walsh brings two star players from Glasgow to his own Darwen and starts paying them for their game too, which is actually against the rules at the time.
Outlined in six episodes The English Game an image of an era when football was not yet an industry and a trade, but a passion. A time when club love, club loyalty and village love was still above everything else. The 15-minute sequence that takes place during the FA Cup final in the last episode is to die for and puts you on the edge of your seat.
21. Self-Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker (Netflix)
Four episodes tell the story of the first black woman to become a self-made millionaire. She did that through in her early 20’se century hair product to sell. Hair product, indeed. Self-Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker is harmless, but very well-made television. A snack, but a very pleasant snack. A mini-series that will make you smile at least a few times over the four episodes. And that seems exactly what we need these days.
22. Trying (Apple +)
The most likeable things on AppleTV + are often their smaller productions. So there is now Trying, a new British comedy, in co-production with the BBC, which lives in anonymity so far. In this series Jason and Nikki, in their early thirties, have been trying to have a child for a while. When they are told that this will probably not be for them, their world will collapse. After some doubt, the couple decides to go for adoption, despite the insecurities they feel about themselves. Will they be good enough as parents? Are they ready?
There may be an occasional tear while watching, but in the end the warmth and charm of the series overcomes and you watch with a smile. Trying mainly seems to want to say that it is okay to be who you are in life and in parenthood. You don’t have to want to be like the others are because the only option is to be yourself.
23. Red Light (Streamz)
At first sight it seems Red Light a new kind Matryoshkas, but because the story here is told from the perspective of three women, it becomes something else again. Maaike Neuville, Carice Van Houten and Halina Reijn respectively play an agent who is struggling with an alcohol addiction, a sex worker in the hands of a human trafficker and a well-known soprano singer who becomes involved in a murder case without her will.
24. Mrs. America
In this series – which aired in the middle of the day without any publicity on the now-defunct CAZ – Cate Blanchett is inimitable as Phyllis Schlafly, a Republican politician who struggles with the courage of despair in the 1970s. continues to fight against the Equal Rights Amendment. Strong series, but the many political references and the namederopping make the sequence a bit much and a bit much of the same at the same time. Nice reunion with John Slattery, Roger the old man Mad Men.
25. The New Pope (Streamz)
The beginning of this second season – a sequel to The Young Pope – looks a bit forced, with Jude Law’s character still in a coma, but once we’re on the new track, the train has left again. The biggest novelty here is John Malkovich, who plays Sir John Brannox, a gentleman considered by Voiello as the new Pope. He is described as “velvety” and “frail with a predisposition to depression” who is also “sleep-inducing calm” and therefore fits well with the Vatican, according to Voiello and his followers. Only he seems about the only one who is not immediately eager to become pope.
26. Into The Night (Netflix)
The time has come: Belgium has its first real Netflix Original. There was already Undercover, but there it was still a co-production between the VRT and Netflix. Into The Night is the first true Netflix Original. The basic idea is as ingenious as it is simple: the sun is destroying all life on earth, so the task is simple: fly westward to stay ahead of the sun for as long as possible.
The claustrophobic aspect of the plane is an interesting setting, after all, you cannot leave and have to make do with the company that you have been granted by fate. In Into The Night we also noticed how quickly people can adapt to a new reality, just like now in corona times.
27. Upload (Amazon Prime)
In front of Upload let’s jump to the year 2033. The end of life, which we all had to deal with until recently, is no longer an end. After all, a technique has been invented that allows you to upload your entire consciousness at the moment of death, after which you can continue to live in a kind of digital consciousness world for the rest of eternity. When, at the age of 27, Nathan is unexpectedly injured in a car accident with a self-driving car, he too is given the choice in hospital: does he want to operate with the chance that things go wrong? Or does he want to have his consciousness uploaded – for a fee, of course – and start his life in a digital afterlife?
Upload combines a lot. It’s a sitcom, with elements of sci-fi, a hint of rom-com and a bit of murder mystery. Nevertheless Upload not entirely original. Two references are indispensable: The Good Place and Black Mirror. That we are happy to Upload largely depends on the consistency level, the criticism of capitalism and the multitude of original jokes.
28. Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix)
It was nice while it lasted: Teenage Bounty Hunters is one of the victims of the corona crisis and will not get a second season, despite a good reception. It was certainly one of the strangest series of the past year. The series is about sixteen-year-old twins Sterling and Blair Wesley who grow up in a strict American town. In the opening scene, the sisters are each sitting in a car with their boyfriends several meters away. One sister talks about sex all the time but never does. The other quotes from the Bible as she does it. When they drive home, they run into a man who turns out to be the prey of Bowser Jenkins. He sees the girls as bounty hunters and goes on a hunt with them in between studies of the twins. Torn off the pot, but it works.
29. Ratched (Netflix)
2020 was also the year we got tired of Ryan Murphy. Three series (The Politician, Hollywood, Ratched) and two films (The Prom and Boys In The Band) was a bit too much for someone who always follows roughly the same pattern. We think his average run could be better if he took more time for it.
So also Ratched, although he will get away with it. This is the first of already two announced seasons revolving around the legendary nurse from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Here we see how Ratched – in the guise of Sarah Paulson – started in 1947 in an institution for the mentally ill. Ratched is all sorts of things and therefore nothing real. Looks breathtaking, but is also just a bit too beautiful for a series on the history of psychiatry. And the series is also somewhat horror, but again not real. Focus, Ryan, focus!
30. Ted Lasso (AppleTV +)
The number of series that Apple has launched is currently rather on the meager side, but with Ted Lasso they have a modest hit at home. In the comedy series – which is based on a character that actor Jason Sudeikos played in several commercials – Ted Lasso is hired as a football coach in England. There is only one problem: he is actually an American Football coach and has no idea how the game works.
Sounds silly and it is sometimes, but at the same time there is a captivating warmth from the main character. After all, Ted is a great optimist and a connoisseur of people and it will only take a few episodes before you would want a Ted in your house.
31. The Haunting Of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Let’s make it clear again: The Haunting Of Bly Manor is not a successor to The Haunting Of Hill House. If a comparison has to be made between the series, then it is the following: in both series there is more to be found for fans of well-interpreted drama than for the real horror fans. The series starts when Henry Wingrave has to look for a new nanny. He hires Dani Clayton and she ends up at Bly Manor, along with the chef, gardener and housekeeper. Well acted with well-developed characters and a beautiful love story. We remain fans of Mike Flanagan’s style.
32. The Eddy (Netflix)
The volatility that has thrown itself over series was nowhere more noticeable in the past year than with The Eddy. The series about a fictional jazz club in Paris was long awaited because none other than star director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land and First Man) had his name attached to it. He also directs the first two episodes, but it is actually not his series. It is, however, a beautiful portrait of a different musician in each episode. The characters have a different background and often speak a different language, but they do find each other in their love for music. It is because of those music scenes that we are not ready yet The Eddy to forget.
33. The Sinner S3
So far only the first season of The Sinner on Netflix and who has their Netflix in English can also see the second season, but the third season was only on VTM3. Then that TV is still good for something. The concept remains the same: Bill Pulman, in the guise of Detective Harry Ambrose, develops a special bond with a murderer. In The Sinner After all, it is not about the hunt for the murderer himself, but about the search for the motives. The great power of The Sinner is in the lead roles: in addition to good old Bill Pulman himself, Matt Bomer is also in good shape as the killer on duty.