I made a list, at the end of last year, of my favorite TV shows that I’d watched over the past twelve months. It was something that felt remarkably easy, and also comforting in some way that I can’t quite explain; it felt as if I was pulling things into place, or putting them in order. At the start of December this year, I thought of that post and told myself that I should really do it again, having little idea of just how difficult a task that would turn out to be this time around.
The problem, to the surprise of no-one, is 2020. It’s a year that has ruined my memory, seeming at least twice as long as it actually was, and throwing all kinds of recall into disrepair: did that really happen this year? Was that in 2019, or was it just in July? It is, it turns out, hard to think about the last year’s viewing when it’s literally hard to think about the last year in general.
There’s also the problem that lockdown has meant that I’ve watched so much more than usual this year. I wrote earlier this month that my attention for reading abandoned me this year; it instead became a desire to watch things, and to gain entertainment and education that way. I lack any hard information because, basically, why would I keep track of this, but I feel as if my television viewing hours jumped significantly in 2020, because, what else was there to do?
Some favorite shows stick in memory despite everything : Legendary, the HBO Max voguing contest, was everything I wanted in a competition and never realized; The Circus on Showtime was real-time political reporting about an election that fascinated and terrified me in equal measure. After a rocky start, the second season of Doom Patrol came good, even with a final episode left unmade because of COVID.
Like everyone, I was sucked into The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, and also to the novelistic approach to Love Life on HBO Max. (Pure on HBO Max was another great series; that streaming service more than earned its keep for me this year.) Hulu had High Fidelity, the irregular but wonderful New York Times Presents shows, and Taste The Nation, a show that traveled when I couldn’t. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Amber Ruffin’s The Amber Ruffin Show were the comedy late night shows that made me laugh and kept me sane, with the latter being the best reason for anyone to download the Peacock app. Maybe the only reason, really.
There was also deep binge watch dives into Gilmore Girls (still great) and Love Island (not great, yet addictive) that we won’t talk about. Nope.
Television this year felt like a balm, a lifeline. A window into the world when going out felt too scary, or sometimes just too much. This year, perhaps unusually, it felt essential.