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I’m excited to begin my look back at 2020 with this list of my favorite TV series of 2020!

While I usually like to restrict my lists to TV series that aired new episodes during the previous year, this year I’d like to begin with some Honorable Mentions that didn’t.

The Leftovers — One of my very favorite shows that I watched this year was The Leftovers, which aired on HBO from 2014-2017.  I’d avoided the show previously, because I’d been burned by Damon Lindelof’s previous show, Lost, and because the heavy subject matter of this series felt so dour I wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself through watching it.  But after being cajoled for years by friends and family to give this show a try, I finally did.  I am so glad I did!!  The Leftovers, overseen by Mr. Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (who wrote the novel upon which the first season of the show was based), is a masterpiece.  This three season show is nearly perfect in almost every respect.  It’s breathtakingly original, filled with adventurous storytelling and twists and turns I could never in a million years have predicted, and that left me exhilarated as a viewer.  It’s a deeply moving character piece, filled with incredible characters — so many of whom I quickly grew extremely attached to — played by extraordinary actors.  The series is heartbreaking and emotionally wrenching, but also funny and joyous as well.  It’s dazzlingly original.  I’m so glad to have seen it.  I can’t wait to watch it all through again.  (Click here for my review of The Leftovers season one.)

For the first several months of 2020, I found myself watching quite a number of terrific 2019 shows that I hadn’t gotten to by the time I wrote my 2019 lists.  Here are some of my favorites:

Russian Doll — This Groundhog Day remix was gloriously terrific.  It was emotional and moving and also riotously funny.  It featured a dazzlingly compelling lead performance by Natasha Lyonne (who co-created the series with Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler).  I loved the complex, twisty-turny narrative, and I was delighted by how well all the pieces fit together in the end.  I loved how uplifting this often-times dark show was, in the end.  This was one of the very best shows I watched in 2020.  (Click here for my full review.)

Undone — This deliriously fun and weird animated series, created by Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, is a beautiful, complex character study of a deeply broken young woman, and at the same time it is a gloriously mind-bending sci-fi tale.  Like Russian Doll, I found Undone to be both deeply … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Russian Doll

In Netflix’s eight-episode series Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne stars as Nadia, a young woman who, on the night of her 36th birthday, dies over and over again, continually finding herself resurrected back to life at the same moment, in the bathroom at the start of the party thrown for her by one of her friends.  Yes, it’s Groundhog Day: the series, but don’t let that already-excellently-done idea cause you to underestimate this show.  Russian Doll is a terrific play on this concept, spinning a riveting yarn that is very funny and also psychologically rich.  I loved it.

Created by Ms. Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler, Russian Doll is a fiendishly clever story.  I love how intricately structured the eight episodes are, and how beautifully everything fits together in the end.  This is a tough show to stop watching (by design, of course).  I was hooked immediately by Ms. Lyonne’s wonderful lead performance and by the mysteries of the show’s set-up, and each episode ended with a delicious cliffhanger that propelled me into the next episode.

Ms. Lyonne became a big star in the late nineties (especially with 1999’s American Pie), and she’s had something of a career resurgence recently with her terrific work in Orange is the New Black.  Despite my being familiar with her, I was blown away by how fantastic she is here in this series.  This feels like the part she was born to play.  Ms. Lyonne effortlessly carries the series on her shoulders.  She’s incredibly funny and at the same time heartbreaking in her depiction of this damaged young woman.  I love the way the show allows us to gradually peel back the onion of who Nadia is and, more importantly, why she is the way she is.  It’s beautiful work, and Ms. Lyonne sells every moment of it.

I don’t believe I’ve ever before seen the work of Charlie Barnett, but he’s terrific as Alan, a man who, we discover, has an unexpected connection to Nadia.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to be vague here, but let me say that Mr. Barnett is a terrific yin to Ms. Lyonne’s yang.  I love how he portrays this unusual young man; allowing us to emphasize with him and quickly grow to love him despite his at-times off-putting behavior.  (That’s a great description of Ms. Lyonne’s work on the show, as well!)

The rest of the cast is great: Yul Vazquez (I am the Night) as Nadia’s older ex-boyfriend; Elizabeth Ashley as Nadia’s psychiatrist and mother-figure; Greta Lee & Rebecca Henderson as Nadia’s friends Max and Lizzy; Dascha Polanco (Orange is the New Black) as Alan’s girlfriend Beatrice; … [continued]