The Best TV Shows of the 2020s So Far

The Best TV Shows of the 2020s So Far

June 18, 2024

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In this dynamic era of storytelling, the 2020s have already gifted us with a plethora of groundbreaking and unforgettable shows that have changed the landscape of TV. These shows have taken the small screen by storm with their compelling narratives, nuanced characters, more accessibility to new talent, and stunning production values, leaving us yearning for more. Explore this collection that showcases the unrivaled power of television to ignite our imaginations and leave an indelible mark on our cultural landscape.

1. Pachinko

best

9.3

Country

Japan, Korea, South Korea

Actors

Anna Sawai, Eun-chae Jung, Han Jun-woo, In-ji Jeong

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Emotional

Both poetic and epic in scale, Pachinko (adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name) tells the story of a family spanning four generations, three nations, and one dream: to ensure a better life for their children, and their children, and so on. Because the story is rooted both in the unique experience of immigrant life and in the universal values of family life, it can seem painfully striking and relatable all at once. 

Despite the many places and eras it traverses, Pachinko also feels less nostalgic and more real-time, deeply immersed in whatever setting it’s in, taking us breathlessly for the ride. 

Sensitively directed by Kogonada (Columbus, After Yang) and movingly acted by veteran Youn Yuh-jung and breakout star Minha Kim, Pachinko is certainly one for the books: an arresting adaptation through and through.

2. Shōgun

best

9.2

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Actors

Anna Sawai, Cosmo Jarvis, Hiroyuki Sanada

Moods

Action-packed, Challenging, Character-driven

With plenty of classics being remade, many have cried about Hollywood playing it safe, not matching up to the source material, and at worst, being unoriginal. After 40 years, the groundbreaking 1980 Shogun miniseries now has a new adaptation, but unlike its fellow remakes, this new series goes beyond expectations to deliver a mesmerizing, epic political drama that we’ve been hoping for. The 2024 remake still maintains plenty of the jawdropping firsts that shocked America then, but it also decentralized its perspective, expanding past the English outsider Blackthorne, and prioritizing the perspective of its Japanese characters, particularly Lord Yoshii Toranaga and Lady Toda Mariko. Hulu’s Shogun may be another remake, but their takes provides something new, with its spectacular production and its epic storytelling.

3. Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

best

9.1

Country

United States of America

Moods

A-list actors, Binge-Worthy, Character-driven

Set in 1980s Hollywood, Winning Time doesn’t just borrow from the decade, it imbibes it in its very fiber. It’s dizzyingly fast-paced and dazzlingly glamorous, pulling out all the stops from the cinematography, which employs a hybrid of film and tube camera, to the all-star cast, which includes Sally Field, Adrien Brody, and Jason Segel. It’s a technical feat, but amazingly, it also excels as a character study for Lakers legends Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes), as well as the team’s charismatic owner, Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly). The writers go in-depth into their histories and weave a story so gripping, you can’t help but binge all 10 episodes in one go (and research the truth right after). If you’re an NBA fan, you might be disappointed to know that a big chunk of the script doesn’t adhere to real events, but you will no doubt be delighted to watch basketball in the way it was intended to be watched: riveting and nail-biting, with a lot of drama and glamor to match. 

4. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End

best

9.1

Country

Japan

Actors

Atsumi Tanezaki, Chiaki Kobayashi, Hiroki Touchi, Kana Ichinose

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Heart-warming

In fantasy worlds, races with different lifespans are a given, but rarely does a work actually contemplate how these variations would affect relationships between them. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End starts after a great war, at the moment of peace, and to the titular elf, her shared journey with the human Himmel and their party feels like a blip in her life, their ten years of friendship blurred amongst her thousand years… until Himmel dies, which shifts her perspective on mortality. Frieren won’t have that much extravaganza we’re used to in other fantasy shows, but the way Frieren tries to reconnect with her former comrades, and the way she remembers their memory through flashbacks, all become a gentle and moving meditation on purpose, meaning, and connection, all paired with outstanding art and some of the best worldbuilding we’ve seen in anime.

5. Maid

best

9.0

Country

Canada, United States of America

Actors

Andie MacDowell, Anika Noni Rose, Billy Burke, Margaret Qualley

Moods

Mini-series

This excellent drama miniseries starts in the middle of one night when Alex, a 25-year-old, grabs her daughter and flees her home. She is chased by her abusive boyfriend but doesn’t look back. She has 18 dollars to her name.

The story is based on a real-life memoir called “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive”, where Alex’s character (based on executive producer Stephanie Land) does everything to get her daughter and herself to a safe environment. She gets a trial at a cleaning job.

Maid does such a good job at portraying the many stresses that Alex goes through: will she have enough gas? Will she find a safe place to sleep? Will she get to the cleaning job on time? And as the series progresses, the questions become different but the stress is the same – except in episode five, in which she cleans a weird house, and then it becomes an actual horror movie.

And on every other aspect, the show delivers. The cast, led by Margaret Qualley and her real-life mother Andie MacDowell, is phenomenal. Each episode is long enough to leave an impact but not too long to be melodramatic. The scenery (set in Washington state but filmed in British Columbia) is gorgeous. It’s such an all-around great show.

6. Severance

best

9.0

Country

United States, United States of America

Actors

Adam Scott, Britt Lower, Christopher Walken, Dichen Lachman

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Original

In Lumon, a company that resembles the increasingly intrusive oligarchs of Big Tech, Mark (Adam Scott) and his colleagues undergo a procedure that allows them to separate their work memories from their non-work memories. It sounds like a dream: the perfect work-life balance. But things get complicated when one colleague mysteriously leaves and is replaced by confused new hire, Helly (Britt Lower). Mark and Helly dig into shocking truths about what they really do, and for whom.

Just like the endless halls of Lumon, Severance is filled with twists and turns, many of which are impossible to see coming. Slow, smart, and sneaked with a dystopian eerieness that doesn’t feel all that far off, Severance is sure to leave you wary of corporate slavishness, if you aren’t already. 

7. RIPLEY

best

9.0

Country

Switzerland, United States of America

Actors

Andrew Scott, Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Character-driven, Mini-series

Ripley delivers an atmosphere-driven, intimately engaging suspense story fueled by money and deceit. The exposition moves slowly, albeit with gorgeous transitions and deliberate, cinematic shots to gush over. But the rich narrative possibilities open up by the second episode, where captivating acting and tense storylines anchor the show simultaneously. Tom Ripley (Andrew Scott), Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), and Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning) each contribute to an uncomfortable three-way dynamic that you can’t look away from, each a piece of an equation you inexplicably want to root for. This mini-series is a thoroughly compelling, quietly funny work of art already dressed for the awards shows.

8. The Rehearsal

best

8.8

Actors

Nathan Fielder

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Challenging, Discussion-sparking

The best thing about The Rehearsal—Nathan Fielder’s elaborate Russian doll of social experiments and self-examination—is how seamlessly it goes from prank comedy to surrealist horror. The show’s concept of staging situations where real people can practice making an important decision (complete with actors playing all the background characters) pays off in spades. Fielder’s insistence on over-preparation collides beautifully with the unpredictability of human behavior, leading to some of the funniest and weirdest interactions to grace TV.

But the greatest trick that The Rehearsal has up its sleeve is Fielder, playing a version of himself using this show to understand how to live a meaningful life. As he stretches these rehearsals beyond their limit (at certain points, recreating his own rehearsals with someone playing himself), his character’s persona also begins to crack. Suddenly the series isn’t just a comedy, but a poignant reflection on empathy and forgiveness, and a psychological mind-bender about an egomaniac who refuses to give up control of reality itself. There’s nothing else like it on television.

9. The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House

best

8.8

Country

Japan

Actors

Ai Hashimoto, Aju Makita, Arata Iura, Jyo Kairi

Moods

Easy, Emotional, Heart-warming

On the surface, The Makanai is a simple, slice-of-life show about food and friendship. While it is that, to be sure, it’s also a substantial drama that tackles questions about art vs. love, and love vs. companionship, and career vs. purpose. Under the gentle guidance of showrunner Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Shoplifters, Broker), who generously allows up-and-coming directors to take the helm on certain episodes, The Makanai feels at once light and hefty, comforting and challenging. We’re seeing mundane events unfold before us as if we were bystanders, but we also understand that there is so much more happening than what meets the eye. A prolonged gaze, a lovingly prepped meal, an especially sharp wing-eye, all of these have much to say about the state of mind of these girls. 

It’s a supremely gentle and culturally rich show with a tender heart; a truly great watch on all accounts.

10. Poker Face

best

8.8

Country

United States of America

Actors

Natasha Lyonne, Rian Johnson

Moods

A-list actors, Binge-Worthy, Easy

From the very start, Poker Face lays out all its cards—it shows us who dies and in the hands of whom. That is how an episode always opens, but in each case, we’re in a different corner of rural America, bumping elbows with different folks. That’s because our unwitting detective, the human lie detector Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) is on the run from a crime syndicate. So with nothing but her trusty car and the clothes on her back, she races through the US while making friends and enemies along the way. 

There is a pattern to the story, but the thrill lies not in seeing when Charlie inevitably solves the case but in how she does it, which is full of heart and wry humor. Lyonne is absolutely magnetic, and her performance is only one of the show’s many hit-making elements. With a star-studded cast, beautiful Americana backdrop, and masterful editing (whose camerawork and coloring recall the show it references, Columbo), Poker Face sure is a trip to watch.

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