My Top 10 list for 2020 is on the way, and each one of the shows on it made my year a bit better. And considering the year we’ve had, I’m doubly grateful for them. But in the meantime, here are a few other TV-related things that, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for.
THE YEAR OF “SCHITT” It has been a bad year on so very many levels — a veritable Neapolitan cake of misery, lies, and deaths. There were many escape routes (unfortunately, one of them was “Tiger King”) but perhaps none as sweet as “Schitt’s Creek,” which became the go-to quarantine binge for so many. The Pop TV series had a landmark year, with a likable final season and a segue into syndication for those who can’t get to it on Netflix. And the show swept the comedy Emmys in September, breaking the record for most wins in a single season for a comedy series. As Moira Rose might have put it, “Schitt’s Creek” helped us to stop acting like “disgruntled pelicans.”
“JACKIE DAYTONA” A good episode of “What We Do in the Shadows” is a treat. But a great, classic episode is something that goes on a year-end “thankful” list. In “Jackie Daytona,” Laszlo (Matt Berry) runs away from Staten Island because he owes money to Jim the Vampire (Mark Hamill), and he lands in small-town Pennsylvania (because it sounds like Transylvania) as the titular bartender and a girl’s volleyball patron. Suddenly, he’s an all-American dude who loves classic rock, jeans, toothpicks, and pickup trucks. No one could ever tell that he is in fact a vampire, even if the fangs are a little suspicious.
QUIBI BITES THE DUST I’m not thankful that anyone lost work because of the massive failure of the “quick bites” streaming service for shows only viewable on cellphones. But I’m happy I got to bid Quibi — created by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman with $1.7 billion in investments — a not-so-fond farewell forever. It wanted to be TV fast food, encouraging the already phone-addicted public to lean on their phones more than ever, all to watch programming that managed to be as bland as it was star-studded. Quibi, I hardly knew ye, and I’m hardly disappointed.
A “GOOD” FINALE I am thankful for Michael Schur, not only for creating the kooky yet brainy NBC comedy “The Good Place,” but for ending it. He kept the episode count down to 13 per season throughout its run, and then wisely finished it up after four seasons, just when the already out-there story line was beginning to lose its cosmic mind. The last episode, on Jan. 30, was a strong hourlong sendoff, as all the moral philosophy that dominated the series took a back seat to fitting farewells to each character. Eternity is great, but it’s also a kind of nightmare, and that became the show’s sincere, resounding last point.
GILLIAN ANDERSON What? So I’ve said it in the Globe like 100 times already. Tough luck. Her performances this year in “Sex Education” and as Margaret Thatcher in “The Crown” were so different from each other, and so good. The former was a comic gem, a twist on the age-old “heal thyself” adage performed with dry aplomb. The latter was precisely dramatic — albeit with comic flourishes — as it gave us the Iron Lady of conservatism, small government, nationalism, and poverty in all her bouffant-ed glory.
BLACK SHOWS MATTER There was a lot of unusually good TV about the Black experience in America this year, and not only in February. Driven by the Black Lives Matter movement or not, it was a pleasure to find so many high-quality projects from Black creators and casts constructed around Black history, systemic racism, and ordinary Black lives. HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” was an amusement park ride, particularly the House of Horrors, as the characters moved through a fantasia of horror and suspense tropes. Starz’s “P-Valley” brought us behind the scenes in a strip club, Showtime’s “The Good Lord Bird” turned the exploits of abolitionist John Brown into a tragi-comedy. And HBO’s “Between the World and Me” turned Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book into a visual prose poem.
DUTCHESS OF DUB A wrap-up of my thanks for 2020 would not be complete without a nod to Sarah Cooper, the comic and author whose viral TikTok lip syncs of Donald Trump were little gems. Without altering a thing, she brought out the latent anger in the president’s tone and mocked his overstatement and misstatement. A Black woman satirizing a president who refuses to condemn white supremacy and who loves to refer to the opposite sex as “nasty”? It was easy to take, like a BLT from the Comedy Deli — Blistering, Lambasting, and Timely.
CAN DO A TV critic friend referred to Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” as “radical optimism,” and I agree. It’s the last thing you expect from a sports-based comedy in this terribly jaded era, and yet there it is, a series whose soccer-coach hero is a Pollyanna. What’s more, Ted, played to perfection by Jason Sudeikis, uses his positive thinking to inspire and lead his team — something many of us crave, as we are surrounded by those who govern by fear and negativity. At first, you might think Ted is a fool, but by the end of the first season, you may start to think he’s really and truly a very stable genius.
ON BOARD There are fewer and fewer shows that are recognizable to mass audiences. The world of TV is fragmented, as viewers watch different shows based on which services and channels they subscribe to. So I am particularly appreciative of “The Queen’s Gambit,” the Netflix miniseries that has dominated the scripted TV conversation this past month or so. It’s a compelling portrait of an extraordinary young woman, with strong performances and out-of-this-world set design as well as a somewhat exotic chess-based story line. Hear, hear (and watch, watch).