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Yesterday I began my look back at my favorite TV series of 2020 by listing a number of 2019 series that I hadn’t actually gotten to see back in 2019.  Now, let’s turn to TV series that actually came out during 2020!

First, as always, I’ll note that while I watched plenty of TV in 2020, there were also lots of shows that interested me that I didn’t get to.  These include, but are not limited to: Raised by Wolves, Little America, The Last Dance, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, The Right Stuff, Moon Base 8, I May Destroy You, Run, Space Force, and Brave New World.  So if you liked one of those shows and wonder why it’s not on my list, now you know.  OK, onward!

Honorable Mentions: 30 Rock: A One-Time Special and A Parks and Recreation Special These two COVID special episodes of two of my all-time favorite series brought me nothing but joy.  They’re not TV “series” so I didn’t feel that I should include them on my final Best-of list, but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed both of these specials.  It was a delightful, unlooked-for surprise to get to spend a little more time with these beloved characters from these two spectacular TV shows.

21. Marvel 616 — Each episode of this beautifully-produced documentary series on Disney+ explores a different aspect of Marvel history and fandom, shining a spotlight on everything from several current Marvel comic book artists and writers, to fan cosplayers, to the Japanese Spider-Man TV series from the seventies, and more.  (I’ve also gotta give love to the deep-dive of the series’ title, which is a geeky reference that will be way over the head of average fans.  The number 616 has been used occasionally in the comics as the official designation of the Marvel universe within the Marvel multiverse.  This was originated by David Thorpe in a Captain Britain comic book series from the eighties!  Read more here.)

20. The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom — This Disney+ documentary series explores the animals, and the men and women who care for them, at their Animal Kingdom and Epcot theme parks in Florida.  This is Disney propaganda, make no mistake, but it’s slickly-produced and a delight to watch.

19. His Dark Materials season 2 — This is no Game of Thrones, though I’m sure HBO wishes it was.  The story is too confusing and the characters are not as interesting as they should be.  But nevertheless, this series, based on Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy of novels, is an epic story (clearly made on a huge budget) with a cast of very interesting actors.  It’s fun to watch even though … [continued]

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Josh Reviews His Dark Materials Season One

Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials was originally published between 1995-2000.  The first book, The Golden Compass, had previously been adapted into a mediocre movie back in 2007.  Now, the BBC and HBO have adapted that first book, The Golden Compass, into an eight-episode TV series.  I recently read the His Dark Materials novels for the first time and was interested to see HBO’s adaptation.  I enjoyed it!

I must confess, first off, that while I enjoyed reading the His Dark Materials novels, I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan.  There was a lot that I liked about the books.  I loved the complexity of the world-building.  I enjoyed the strongly-formed characters.  I appreciated that Mr. Pullman had a lot to critique about organized religion, though I do not nearly share what seems like his deep dislike/mistrust of all religion.  Additionally, I sometimes felt those criticisms of religion, and what felt like an atheistic worldview, got in the way of the story for me.  I also sometimes felt the books were a bit too complicated for their own good, with characters coming and going at rapid speed, whereas I would have enjoyed spending more time with them and getting to know them better.  But I loved what an original and unique series this was, and I was surprised how adult in tone it was.  I was certainly excited to see what this might look like translated on screen.

HBO has clearly spared no expense with their production of His Dark Materials.  (I’d imagine that HBO is quite eager to find their next Game of Thrones…)  This series looks incredible.  There are a huge number of different locations in the series, and each one is beautifully realized.  I never felt claustrophobic or that I was watching actors on cheap sets.  No, this world felt huge and immersive.  This is the epic canvas this story deserves.  There’s all sorts of epic action — fighting armored bears, flying zombie-things called Cliff Ghasts, witches, and more — and it all looks great.  (The character animation on the bears, in particular, is magnificent.)

And then there are the daemons.  One of the hardest aspects of bringing this story to life on screen must surely have been the daemons that every character in Lyra’s world possesses; an animal bonded to each human being.  These talking animals, each with a distinct personality of their own, could only be brought to life through top-notch (and surely expensive) visual effects.  I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it was to create and realize all of the many different daemons seen throughout this first season.  I’d suspected the show would try to find ways to avoid showing … [continued]