Pop Culturing: The 5 Best TV Shows of 2020 So Far

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Thursday June 18, 2020

Ben Sinclair in a scene from "High Maintenance"
Ben Sinclair in a scene from "High Maintenance"   (Source:Photograph by David Russell/HBO)

The pandemic has pretty much halted everything in Hollywood: Most new movies are on the backburner and musicians have been delaying the release of their albums over the last few months. Even some TV shows have felt the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, with productions shutting down and postponing the release of some anticipated programs (like the next season of FX's "Fargo" starring Chris Rock, and the 10th season of "American Horror Story").

Nevertheless, because we're in the Peak TV era (or perhaps we've entered the next uncoined phase), there are plenty of shows coming down the pipeline to pile on the handful of excellent programs that have already debuted.

It's been a weird year — for TV too. As the so-called "Streaming Wars" ramp up, and talent is stretched thin, we're getting a plethora of B+ shows. With the bar set so high, finding a stellar series is becoming increasingly harder. Below are five shows that rose above the rest.

"Devs" Season 1
Where to stream: Hulu

Filmmaker Alex Garland's first attempt at long-form storytelling on the small screen is incredibly ambitious and mostly successful: "Devs," an eight-episode miniseries, follows Lily (Sonya Mizuno) as she uncovers the mystery and conspiracy around a secret development team at the Google-esqe tech company she works for in San Francisco. Saying much more would give away the show's truly unexpected twists and turns that blend religion with physics and computing. "Devs," which also stars Nick Offerman and Alison Pill, has its shortcomings (the series dips as it gears up for its finale), but it's a wild ride that sticks true to Garland's singular vision, similar to his breakout films "Ex Machina" and "Annihilation."

"My Brilliant Friend" Season 2 (HBO)
Where to stream: HBO Go, HBO Max

Based on the beloved books by Elena Ferrante, "My Brilliant Friend" had a rocky Season 1 but a huge payoff with its sophomore run. Following the difficult lives of Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Gaia Girace), two young friends from Naples, the second season tracks the tumultuous ebbs and flows of their relationship and the different paths their lives. One of the most beautifully shot shows of the year, "My Brilliant Friend" Season 2 feels like a Pedro Almodovar movie in its emotion but told on an epic scale.

"High Maintenance" Season 4 (HBO)
Where to stream: HBO Go, HBO Max

More than four years in and it feels like "High Maintenance" finally hit its stride. The delightful comedy has always been a solid show but it reached new peaks in its fourth season. It also happened to be the queerest season, with at least one queer person featured in every brilliant episode. Each episode is directed by the show's cocreators, former husband and wife Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, and finds a wild array of New Yorkers to profile, including an intimacy coach, an on-site ASL interpreter, a group of flight attendants, and, of course, The Guy (Sinclair), who reveals a secret in the season finale that will surprise super-fans of "High Maintenance."

"I Know This Much is True" Season 1 (HBO)
Where to stream: HBO Go, HBO Max

Since his time is up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Mark Ruffalo has been going full force with acting. Coming off his 2019 Toddy Haynes film "Dark Waters," where he plays environmental attorney Robert Bilott, Ruffalo goes double duty in the tragic drama "I Know This Much is True," based on the 1998 novel by Wally Lamb. In this six-episode miniseries, which finished Sunday, Ruffalo plays twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Thomas is deeply unwell, suffering a myriad of mental health issues, leaving Dominick to fend for him in every way possible. After a graphic incident at a library, Thomas is sent to a high facility containment center for violent criminals — a place his brother and his social worker Lisa (a wonderful Rosie O'Donnell) don't think he belongs. "I Know This Much is True" features some of the best performances of 2020, not just including Ruffalo and O'Donnell but brilliant turns from Kathryn Hahn, Imogene Poots, and Juliette Lewis.

"Insecure" Season 4 (HBO)
Where to stream: HBO Go, HBO Max

In its fourth season, "Insecure" solidifies itself as one of the best comedies on the air. Starring Issa Rae, the newest season, which just wrapped up, explores when a close friendship begins to sour and rot from the inside out. Since Season 3, Issa (Rae) and her BFF Molly (Yvonne Orji) have been building tension between each other: missed phone calls, rescheduled dinners, awkward hang-out sessions lead up to a huge blow up during the halfway point of Season 4. The rest of the season deals with the fallout of that exchange, showing a different side of friendship rarely explored on the small screen.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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