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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 The Third and Final Season of The Leftovers

After several years during which several of my friends repeatedly beseeched me to watch The Leftovers, I finally gave it a chance.  I’m so glad I did.  The show is a masterpiece.  It’s a deep character study; a riveting meditation on grief and loss; and a thrillingly ambitious narrative in which I found myself repeatedly, joyously bowled over by how impossible to predict it was.  I enjoyed the first season and I thought the second season was even stronger.

The first season was set three years after the mysterious Sudden Departure, an event in which 2% of the world’s population vanished.  That season was set in the small town of Mapleton, NY, and as we followed many of the town’s denizens, the show explored the myriad ways in which this dramatic event damaged each of their lives, whether they’d lost a close family member to the Departure or not.  The second season expanded the show’s focus to a new location: Jarden, Texas, a town nicknamed “Miracle” because not a single member of the town Departed.  That terrific second season showed us a little more of the (extremely messed-up) state of the world, while at the same time drilling down even more intimately into the emotional lives of the show’s characters.  For this third and final season, the show expanded even further, while at the same time continuing to give us the riveting, tightly-focused P.O.V. episodes that had proven so critical to the show’s emotional power in the first two seasons.  Once again, I am impressed at the continued world-building of the universe in which The Leftovers takes place, and the power of the intimate explorations of these characters.

This third and final season was even shorter than the first two seasons (only eight episodes instead of the previous ten).  I wish there were far more.  But as with the previous seasons, these eight episodes were extremely well-structured to tell the story that the makers of this show (overseen by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta) set out to tell.  There was nary a stinker in the bunch.  (Which, again, has been the case from the beginning.  I don’t think there was a single bad episode in the entire run of this show.  That’s an extraordinary achievement!)  And, once again, I was impressed by the boldness of the storytelling.  In a shorter-than-ever season, I’d never have predicted they’d devote an entire episode to a supporting character who, while important, had never before gotten a lot of screen time!  (That’d be Scott Glenn as Kevin Senior.  His third episode spotlight was a highlight of the season for me.)

As with my previous reviews, I want to dive into the details of this … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Leftovers Season Two

I thoroughly enjoyed season one of The Leftovers.  I thought season two was even better.  I know I’m several years late to the party here, but at this point I am all-in on this show!

I’d been warned that the first season of The Leftovers might be tough to get through, because of the incredibly heavy, sad subject matter, but that seasons two and three were terrific and paid off one’s investment on the show.  On the one hand, having seen the first two seasons at this point, so far I agree with that assessment.  On the other hand, what’s impressive is how creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have managed to gently tweak the show without turning it into something else entirely.  This is still, unquestionably, the same show.  And I’m starting from a place in which I LOVED season one, even while I freely admit that it was hard to watch at times.  Season two isn’t suddenly all light and frothy!  There are still some tremendously wrenching, sad things that happen this season.  The show’s characters are, once again, put through an emotional wringer.  (As is the audience!)  And yet, the tone has been subtly adjusted, and I found more joy and humor in the show this season, to balance the grief and the horror.  I also found myself hooked even more deeply by the show’s twisty, absolutely impossible-to-predict-what’s-coming-next storytelling.  So that made this season even more riveting for me, as I felt compelled to zoom quickly onto the next episode after ending the previous one.

(I’m going to dive into this season now, so please beware SPOILERS beyond this point.  If you’ve never seen the show before, all you need to know now is that I am a convert and I highly recommend this series to you… and I think it’s best that you stop reading here to avoid having any of the show’s wonderful storytelling surprises ruined for you.)

I commented in my review of season one that I loved how unpredictable the show’s storytelling was.  That was exponentially even more the case here in season two, and the opening episode is one of the best examples of that.  There was so much craziness in the season one finale, and I couldn’t wait to see what was next for all of the show’s characters.  I’m not sure how I expected the second season to begin, but an extended flashback to caveman (and cavewoman) times was definitely NOT it!  And yet, I was absolutely delighted by that completely out-of-left-field opening.  I love how bizarre and confusing it was, while at the same time how beautifully it summed up so many of the show’s themes and explorations … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews The Leftovers Season One

The Leftovers ran for three seasons on HBO, between 2014-2017.  The series was created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, based on Mr. Perotta’s novel.  It takes place three years after 2% of the population “departed” — vanished into thin air in circumstances that are impossible to conclusively explain.  (Was it the Rapture?)  The series explores the lives of many of the denizens of a small town, Mapleton, in Upstate New York.  As we get to know these characters, it becomes clear that each and everyone of them has been deeply damaged by the after-effects of the Sudden Departure, whether or not they actually lost any immediate family members.  One of the show’s central questions is whether that damage is beyond any possibility of repair.

Having been burned by the ending of Lost, I was not interested in watching Mr. Lindelof’s next TV series, so I skipped The Leftovers when it originally ran.  (I’ve written a lot about Lost on this site.  In short, I loved the series but was deeply disappointed by the final season.  I actually quite like the final episode itself.  But I was shocked and heartbroken that the final season refused to answer almost any of the mysteries the show had carefully constructed over the previous five seasons.  It felt to me like a complete betrayal of the audience who had invested so deeply in the show’s story.)  Despite the critical acclaim surrounding The Leftovers — I remember reading about it on a lot of best-of-the-year lists during its run — I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge.  I wasn’t ready to have my heart broken by a Damon Lindelof TV show again, and everything I’d read about the series’ depressing subject matter kept me away.  Over the years, though, various friends whose opinions I respect have been telling me I need to watch the show.  And then last year I watched and loved Watchmen, the HBO series overseen by Mr. Lindelof (based on the spectacular comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons).  So I decided maybe it was finally time to listen to my friends and give The Leftovers a chance.

My friends all told me the same two things about The Leftovers.  They told me that I needed to brace myself that (like Lost) many of the core mysteries at the show’s center would not be answered.  And they told me that while the first season was incredibly depressing, I needed to stick with the show for all three seasons, because it’s be worth it.

Having now watched the first season (and I’m already deep into the second), I am already very glad that I have finally taken … [continued]