In this strange year of quarantine and missed experiences, I have felt wholly unqualified to judge the merits of art made in a pre-COVID time. All I’ve really wanted to do is watch travel shows to vicariously explore the world and break up the monotony of being trapped in a 500-square-foot studio apartment not intended for 24/7 use.
With that caveat, I still fell in love with a few Netflix Original series in 2020, all listed below in no particular order. In different ways, I was grateful for shows like “The Crown” that brought a truly transportive A+ storytelling experience, as well as the turn-off-your-brain-and-look-at-pretty-flowers joy of “The Big Flower Fight.”
I had little patience for shows with slow starts or demanding plot lines, but I also recognize that my fuse was extra short this year. The only Netflix show that I truly think was terrible was “The Floor Is Lava” ― and that’s mostly because I was so excited by the premise and so let down by the execution.
To simplify things, I didn’t include documentaries or teen/kid shows on this list. Netflix had many wonderful shows in those categories, but I think both are their own separate things.
I also tried to strike a balance between picking shows I personally liked and judging these projects based on their merits. For example, I had a lot of time for the latest season of “The Politician,” but I seem to be alone there and I recognized enough flaws to exclude it from the list. On the other hand, I also just don’t really get “Ozark,” sorry.
Note that the runtimes listed below only include the new episodes that debuted this year, rather than the runtimes of entire seasons.
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Premise: This drama is based on a 1983 novel of the same name and focuses on a young orphan in mid-20th century Kentucky as she masters the game of chess. She struggles with various addictions and overcomes the familial heartbreaks in her life while trying to become one of the best chess players in the world.
“The Queen’s Gambit” became the consensus favorite of the year among critics and subscribers alike, as the show earned high praise and was one of the most popular things on Netflix in all of 2020. I think the storytelling can get pretty cliché (the show opens with the character knocking over empty alcohol bottles, for example), but “The Queen’s Gambit” still has many flourishes of originality to make it worth the hype.
Debut date: Oct. 23
Runtime: Seven episodes of roughly 60 minutes