With so many people staying at home for most of 2020, TV series more than ever caught the popular imagination. Here̵
City so real
Renowned documentary maker Steve James (Hope Dreams) takes a deep look at his hometown of Chicago in this five-part series, which first aired on Nat Geo. The show documents Chicago’s 2019 Mayor’s Race as well as the city’s response to the 2020 pandemic and ensuing social unrest with James’ typical clear vision and compassion for his subjects.
City so real streams on Hulu ($ 5.99 + per month after a seven-day trial).
The gimmick of Pen 15 is that co-creators Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine star as the 13-year-old lead characters, even though they are actually in their 30s themselves. The adult stars channel the very real horrors and humiliations of high school alongside a cast of real-life teen co-stars.
In the second season, the comedy further explores the ups and downs of the central friendship as the characters mature, along with a whole host of adolescent awkwardness.
Pen 15 streams on Hulu ($ 5.99 + per month after a seven-day trial).
You better call Saul
The prequel to Breaking Bad has become an acclaimed classic in its own right over the course of five seasons as it explores the evolution from Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) from Bob Odenkirk to the dark attorney character first introduced on Breaking Bad. Season 5 brings Jimmy closer to his later incarnation as he establishes his Saul Goodman law practice and becomes increasingly entangled in the criminal underworld.
The fifth season of You better call Saul is available for digital purchase ($ 14.99 +) from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and other retailers.
My brilliant friend
The elusive Italian author Elena Ferrante’s four novels about the lifelong friendship between two women from a poverty-stricken area in Naples are the source material for this Italian-produced HBO series. The second season adapts the second novel in the series, The story of a new name, set in the late 1950s, focuses on the tense dynamic between the two young women and the man who deals both with mercury.
My brilliant friend streams on HBO Max ($ 14.99 per month), and the second season is available for digital purchase ($ 15.92 +) from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.
The final episodes of this acclaimed animated series conclude the title character’s story with quintessential humor and poignancy, showcasing the deep emotions in what seemed like a silly comedy about a washed-up TV star who is also a horse (voiced by Will Arnett). The series explores depression, addiction and interdependence, and still reliably makes hilarious jokes about anthropomorphic animal showbiz during the finale.
BoJack Rider streams on Netflix ($ 8.99 + per month).
The last dance
This ten-episode documentary series, co-produced by ESPN Films, provides a detailed analysis of Michael Jordan’s basketball career, with a focus on his final NBA season after returning to play for the Chicago Bulls after his first retirement. Featuring extensive interviews with Jordan and a wide variety of fellow actors, commentators and public figures, The last dance is an exhaustive look at a towering figure in both sports and American culture.
The last dance streams on Netflix ($ 8.99 + per month) and is available for digital purchase ($ 18.99 +) from Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.
Visible: on television
From documentary maker Ryan White (The Keepers and The case against 8), this five-episode series chronicles the history of LGBTQ representation on TV, with each episode covering a different theme. The series takes a journey through TV history, from the earliest portrayals of homosexuality as a dangerous threat to the current expansion of diversity, with commentary from LGBTQ stars like Billy Porter, Margaret Cho, Neil Patrick Harris and more.
Visible: on television streams on Apple TV + ($ 4.99 per month after a seven-day free trial).
At a time when health professionals are in the spotlight, this documentary series honors their hard work and sacrifice and also tells specific personal stories. It focuses on four physicians in different wards of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, from the emergency room and delivery room to the operating room. This is also one of the first series to document the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a groundbreaking episode that was hospitalized in March 2020.
Lenox Hill streams on Netflix ($ 8.99 + per month).
The Babysitters Club
Expectations may have been low for this adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s long-running young adult book series about a group of tween-girl babysitters, but it turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year and the nostalgic tone of the books (and longtime fans happy) while simultaneously updating the characters and storylines for 2020 with humor and heart.
The Babysitters Club streams on Netflix ($ 8.99 + per month).
A powerful cast leads this nine-episode miniseries, which garnered tons of Emmy nominations for the story of the efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and the activist women on both sides. Cate Blanchett plays conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly alongside Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, Margo Martindale, Tracey Ullman and more, bringing these important figures in American women’s history to life.
Mrs. America streams on Hulu ($ 5.99 + per month after a seven-day trial) and is available for digital purchase ($ 9.99 +) from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and FandangoNow.