Design by Yassmine El-Rewini. Buy this photo.

Featuring everything from the seedy world of the exotic animal industry to mid-century chess world championships, television in 2020 was nothing if not interesting. Whether good or bad, artistic masterpieces or guilty pleasures, the TV shows aired in 2020 remind us exactly how wild this past year has been. Here are the shows we think capture what it meant to survive 2020.

— Sophia Yoon and Anya Soller, Daily TV Editors

“Hunters” (Amazon Prime)

2020 will be remembered for many things. Most of those things will be in some way related to the tense political and social climate created by the Trump administration’s stance on white supremacy and racial discrimination. From Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, the Amazon Prime series “Hunters” follows a diverse group of vigilantes in the 1970s as they hunt down Nazis hiding in America. As they investigate this underground network further, they uncover Operation Paperclip, a real-life conspiracy in which the United States government hired former Nazi scientists and officers to aid their efforts to win the Cold War. 

“Hunters” is by no means a perfect show. At times, it can be insensitive, unrealistic and borderline exploitative in its most graphic moments. Its artistic liberties were even criticized by the Auschwitz Memorial Museum for misrepresenting life in the infamous concentration camp of the same name. Because of its subject matter and its resulting controversy, “Hunters” may be one of the shows most representative of how heightened emotions were in 2020. Despite it being a work of historical fiction, the world of “Hunters” is inspired by a world we find ourselves unfortunately still living in.

—Anya Soller, Daily TV Beat Editor

“Sex Education” (Netflix)

Every American obviously knows the best place to get comprehensive sex education is Netflix since it’s hardly taught in our schools. Well, not really. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t learn something from Netflix’s “Sex Education” in 2020. This weird and spectacular masterpiece had a magnetic charm when it debuted in 2019. Season 2, which premiered in early 2020, took the best aspects of its previous success and cranked it up to an eleven by adding fresh and bold storylines. This season talked more in-depth about shame and sexuality, all while exploring new topics such as asexuality and heartbreak. With two amazing seasons behind it and a third on the way, “Sex Education” is one show that made 2020 a little bit better.

—Josh Thomas, Daily Arts Writer

“Big Mouth” (Netflix)

There’s something to be said about shows that aren’t afraid to be themselves, “Big Mouth” being one that quickly comes to mind. This raunchy, irreverent show about a gang of preteens suffering through puberty has definitely piqued the interest of  — or horrified — many.  

With a total of four seasons out, the success of “Big Mouth” is just as full of surprises as the show itself. When season 4 premiered in late 2020, the show hit its stride. This season features the same hilariously raunchy tone, but focuses on the topic of anxiety, something particularly relevant for today’s day and age. This season also featured many more cameos such as John Oliver and Seth MacFarlane. Since the premiere of its fourth season, 2020 has shown that “Big Mouth” is stacking up to be a modern-day cartoon classic.

—Josh Thomas, Daily Arts Writer

“Euphoria” (HBO)

After a mind-blowing first season, “Euphoria” made a short but triumphant return in 2020 with one special episode. The quick installment was a complete game-changer for the series. Instead of its typical high-speed pacing, back-and-forth coinciding stories and maximalist visuals, the episode opted to shed away all the excess and slow it down. Teenage protagonist Rue (Zendaya, “Spider-Man: Far From Home”) sits down at a diner with her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo, “Fear the Walking Dead”), and for the entire 56-minute duration of the episode, the two do nothing but talk. They reflect on her addiction to drugs, on life and the importance of having a greater purpose and, perhaps most importantly, on the necessity of forgiving yourself. To do justice to a topic this delicate, without any gimmicks to help, is probably one of the most difficult tasks imaginable for a television writer. But to the immense credit of the visionary Sam Levinson, the episode is as riveting as it is therapeutic. The conversation that these two characters share is so profoundly intimate and personal, I consider it not only one of the most impressive episodes of 2020, but also of television in general. 

—Ben Servetah, Daily Arts Writer

“Bridgerton” (Netflix)

Even though “Bridgerton” came just a week before the new year, it perfectly wrapped up 2020 in a grandiose, hand-tailored bow. It was everything that we missed in the year — lavish parties, getting dressed up and worrying about anything light and silly, unlike the dystopian year we just endured. It allowed us to indulge in aspects of a life that, despite taking place in the Regency era of Great Britain, we can only hope we can experience sometime in the near future. A life where your biggest problem is getting married to an attractive, brooding Duke and figuring out who the town gossip girl is. 

In any other year, “Bridgerton” might have simply been another entertaining period drama that everyone forgets after a week or two. In 2020, it was a necessary escape to a world that allowed us to forget for eight hour-long episodes: Eight hours of scandal, sex and regal phrases that saved us before cabin fever and the neverending news cycle got to us first. 

—Sophia Yoon, Daily TV Senior Arts Editor

“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)

2020 was certainly a year for the miniseries. And one of the best was a series that managed to make chess exciting, while simultaneously convincing the world that Beth Harmon was a real person. Led by the relentlessly brilliant Anya Taylor-Joy (“The New Mutants”), “The Queen’s Gambit” is a fantastic underdog tale, bursting at the seams with thrilling, feel-good badassery. 

It also stands as a terrific example of how the miniseries format can expand a story. As a whole, this could have easily been a movie — and a good one, too. But, by spreading it out across seven episodes, the audience doesn’t only get to watch Beth continuously obliterate condescending men; they also get to follow her through fully-formed stories of childhood, romantic relationships, family, friends and, most essentially, her addiction to drugs and alcohol. 

This level of character development makes for moments that are more satisfying than they ever could be in two hours. When we look back on television in 2020, the story of fictional chess icon Beth Harmon will surely not be forgotten.

—Ben Servetah, Daily Arts Writer

“I Know This Much Is True” (HBO)

Tragedies are enough to get your emotions going, whether it be through pity or fear. No, really, ask Shakespeare. HBO’s miniseries, “I Know This Much Is True” hit us hard in the feelings in 2020. As if we needed to be exposed to more misery, this miniseries, derived from Wally Lamb’s “I Know This Much Is True: A Novel,” follows the harsh lives of two twin brothers, Dominick and Thomas, both played by Mark Ruffalo (“Zodiac”). While Thomas suffers from schizophrenia, Dominick acts as his brother’s keeper while trying to find their biological father and experiencing feelings of self-pity, rage and confinement due to his brother’s condition. The series addresses sensitive subjects, with emphasis on identity, mental illness and grief. Yet, with its captivating story and Ruffalo’s outstanding performance, the series surely left an impact in 2020. 

—Jessica Curney, Daily Arts Writer

“The Undoing” (HBO)

Love that intellectual rush you experience while watching psychological thrillers? HBO’s “The Undoing” is one of 2020’s most-watched series, with its mysterious and suspenseful storyline. Starring Nicole Kidman (“Big Little Lies”), the series takes us on a Sherlock Holmes-like journey when a local artist, Elena, is found dead by her son in her art studio. While the entire series exposes secrets and lies from unexpected sources, it also subtly sheds light on the hidden lives of the upper class. It is a terrific example of all that glitters is not gold. The series is only six episodes but that’s all you need to be immersed into 2020’s most anxiety-ridden series. 

—Jessica Curney, Daily Arts Writer

“Tiger King” (Netflix)

You know the pandemic has been going on for too long when you begin to feel nostalgic about earlier stages of quarantine. Indeed, it’s hard not to reminisce about the period of time when the national lockdown had just begun, everyone had collectively decided that the COVID-19 pandemic would disappear by summer 2020 and the majority of pop culture debates centered around whether “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin had killed her husband. 

“Tiger King” reflected that early stage of the pandemic when America was first thrust into the mania of what a global pandemic really meant, with the only way to cope being to watch a series that was absolutely wild from start to finish. There are few docuseries as riveting and scandalous as “Tiger King,” with its endless shocks, despair and unexpected charm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as that period of our lives came and went, so did the popularity of this series. Ultimately, “Tiger King” was never meant to be a series we returned to, but, boy, did it encapsulate a chaotic time like no other. It’s hard not to feel a faint fondness for a series that provided escapism through a microcosm of insanity that was at least different from the insanity of our own lives.

—Sarah Rahman, Daily Arts Writer

“Normal People” (Hulu)

The isolation that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic took away many of the circumstances that would have spurred change in our lives, whether those be meeting new people or having opportunities halted by our inability to connect face to face. For many of us, growth last year had to come from introspection, getting to know ourselves and forging stronger relationships with the people in our lives we’ve already met. 

“Normal People” is a series that reflects personal growth through honest conversations about mental health and intimacy, and it portrays love with an authenticity I’ve never seen on network television. “Normal People” is about two individuals who go through life and its many changes but always end up coming back to each other because their mutual understanding of each other is that strong. “Normal People” reminds us that love is being seen for who we are, good and bad, and while love isn’t necessarily sacrifice, sometimes that’s what it can mean — wanting what is truly the best for the other person, not just for the relationship you share with them. 

It’s a series that is emotionally raw in all the right ways, and reminds us to cherish what is truly important when everything can be stripped away from us from one moment to the next.

—Sarah Rahman, Daily Arts Writer