The year started off simply, with predictable pop culture markers; new music from Justin Bieber, a risqué Ricky Gervais roast as the Golden Globes emcee, a Will Smith buddy action comedy reprise in “Bad Boys for Life,” and Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s electric Super Bowl halftime show.
Soon, we were all smirking at Brad Pitt’s “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” acceptance speeches about updating his Tinder profile, cheering on when “Parasite” made Oscar history alongside proud Korean-Canadian Sandra Oh, and kept an eyebrow raised with each reveal on “The Masked Singer.”
WATCH: TV moments that got us through 2020. Story continues below video.
With many quarantining at home, watercooler small talk and zeitgeisty conversations shifted from in-person debriefs at or outside the office, to social media or group chats, fostering a more engaged community of plugged-in fans with shared interests. Word-of-mouth hits or oddities provided much-needed escapism, and quickly, everybody was sharing their must-watch recommendations to find yet another way to connect ... especially with no new episodes of “Game of Thrones” to talk about.
So, what would 2020 be if not the year that gave us “Tiger King”? Would we all have obsessed about “The Undoing” and who killed Elena Alves if the TV schedule was more crowded? Would “The Queen’s Gambit” have still broken Netflix records if we had more opportunities to leave the house?
These “what ifs” are fun to ponder, but here’s a look back at the television year that was, and what our connection to these moments, and these TV shows say about us.
“Love is Blind,” “Indian Matchmaking,” and “The Bachelorette’s” never-before-seen swap
Love can conquer all, but can romance “make it” if the setup is far from normal? Both “Love is Blind” and “Indian Matchmaking” took the blind date concept to a new extreme; pairing up hopeful strangers and testing their bond through a unique set of hurdles and rules.
On “Love is Blind,” six couples got engaged without ever meeting face-to-face, in a manner that mashes up the “blind auditions” of “The Voice” and a heightened version of “The Dating Game.” Gimmicks and ~drama~ aside, two of the six couples on “Love is Blind” actually did tie the knot, and the show was renewed for a second and third seasons.
Meanwhile, “The Bachelorette” broke free from its traditional format in its 16th season this fall, with its initial leading lady Clare Crawley shirking all the rules and ending the show early upon meeting soon-to-be-fiancé, Dale Moss.
In comes franchise favourite Tayshia Adams for an accelerated season with most of the same male contestants, and she too leaves as an engaged woman. At a time when so many are advised against traditional dating due to gathering restrictions, we flocked to these romantic distractions. If they can make it, there’s hope for those who are still swiping on dating apps, or the happily coupled looking to relight that spark.
“Transplant” and “Canada’s Drag Race” connect in Canada and abroad
An inclusive medical drama chronicling a Syrian refugee’s survival guilt and PTSD? A reality TV franchise that celebrates inclusivity? Both of these homegrown shows proved Canadians were ready and eager to embrace our own, and welcome a diverse approach to storytelling, while anointing new stars like Hamza Haq and Priyanka in the process.
Canadians were not alone, either. This acceptance of diverse stories transcends south of the border, too. CTV’s “Transplant” was Canada’s most-watched new series since 2017, and was quickly renewed for a second season after connecting with American audiences on NBC.
Though “hateful comments” and social media backlash plagued the judging panel on “Canada’s Drag Race,” champion Priyanka wore her crown well, and was universally beloved. Sharing her apprehension about coming out to her father on national television, Priyanka’s vulnerability and unflappable confidence won over audiences, as she became the first Indo-Caribbean “Drag Race” winner in franchise history.
“McMillions,” “Tiger King,” “The Vow” and “Seduced”
Best described as “Scams, Tigers, and Cults, oh my!” these four true-crime docuseries provided a shocking glimpse into a rigged fast food gaming con, a sordid and controversial look into a wildcat subculture, and the devotees of a now-convicted sex trafficker posing as a self-help guru; each show spawned more deep dives and curiosity than the last.
Chock-full of unexpected love triangles, rivalries and murder plots, “Tiger King” was an early quarantine phenomenon, leading to ubiquitous Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin Halloween costumes, with the latter zoo owner even being selected for the fall season of “Dancing with the Stars” thanks to her newfound widespread notoriety.
On the other hand, rival NXIVM exposés “The Vow” and “Seduced” tried to explain the allure of cult leader Keith Raniere, and just how he was able to lure so many into his manipulative scheme. All fascinating and engrossing, these portraits of the twisted pursuit of the “American Dream” gave a voyeuristic glimpse into life outside of the monotony of quarantine.
“Grey’s Anatomy” and “Jeopardy!”
In times of unprecedented global change, comfort is king. The year kicked off with a warmly nostalgic start, with January’s four-night “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” primetime special. Hosted by beloved host Alex Trebek, quiz show champs Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter all returned for a monumental faceoff.
And that retro appreciation continued with the 17th season premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy,” which (spoiler alert!) saw Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) reunite with her deceased husband, Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), on a beach during a COVID-19-induced dream sequence.
This secret, unannounced cameo in November shocked fans, as Dempsey had not appeared on the show since 2015. The nostalgia continued in a later episode too, when (spoiler alert!) George (T.R. Knight) also reprised his role after 12 years away from the medical soap.
Seeking “shelter” in “Schitt’s Creek”
And then there’s “Schitt’s Creek.” The proudly-Canadian series aired its “Happy Ending” finale in April, and was rewarded with six Canadian Screen Awards in May, and a history-making nine Emmys in September.
A beacon of tolerance and love, this quirky, utopic, accepting small town welcomed its formerly wealthy transplants, the Roses, with open arms at an otherwise divisive time. In other words, it’s the feel-good, quotable reprieve we’ve been craving. Time for another rewatch?
New seasons of “Pen15” and “Big Mouth”
Sheltering at home is tough, but it could always be worse ... you could be in junior high. These two cringe comedy series have us reliving our teenage years all over again with a “celebration” of adolescence, teenage friendships, and the “glory” of the awkward phase.
Awkward phases are universal after all, and the latest seasons of “Pen15” (starring 30-something comedians and actors as versions of their 13-year-old selves) and “Big Mouth” (an animated show about puberty) spotlight the good, the bad, and the gross of our finest and most embarrassing coming-of-age moments.
“Emily in Paris” and “The Flight Attendant”
Miss travelling? Ever dream about moving to Paris? These two fall TV shows gave us the perfect antidote for our wanderlust, taking us to the City of Love, the French countryside, and Thailand, Italy, and New York, respectively.
Both shows became social media sensations, and were renewed for a second season following the success of their debuts. However, tonally, they could not be more different.
Effervescent and bubbly, Lily Collins plays the title character in “Emily in Paris,” a Chicago transplant and social media marketing expert whose innovative and playful approaches to fashion and love land her in implausibly sticky situations.
On the other hand, “The Flight Attendant” is equally as bingeable, although darker in tone. Here, Kaley Cuoco is Cassie, a free-spirited alcoholic who finds herself embroiled in a life of espionage and a cross-border murder mystery after she wakes up next to a dead passenger following a romantic night in Bangkok.
“I May Destroy You”
Raw, visceral and incredibly provocative, “I May Destroy You” is the perfect creative outlet for those seeking a cathartic means to process their trauma. British screenwriter, actor and producer Michaela Coel’s on-screen alter-ego Arabella fights her writer’s block with a night out with friends.
Coel fictionalizes her own experience with sexual assault in the series, and chronicles her own creative process and ongoing therapeutic journey. Her fearless, personal approach to storytelling was met with great critical acclaim, topping the Guardian’s list of top 50 shows of 2020, earning a spot on Barack Obama’s must-see TV list, and she was also named to the Time 100 list.
“The Queen’s Gambit,” “A Teacher,” and “The Undoing”
Finally, to the thrilling limited series that kept us captivated with “OMG” moments, and left us all wanting to learn how to play chess. (No really, “The Queen’s Gambit” is responsible for a major chess boom.)
All anchored by commanding female (redhead!) performances, “The Queen’s Gambit” was the surprise hit of these three shows, and follows Anya Taylor-Joy’s chess prodigy Beth as she prepares for big matches while fighting a debilitating drug and alcohol addiction.
While “The Queen’s Gambit” was filmed across Toronto and Cambridge, Ont., “A Teacher” — which chronicles the aftermath of Kate Mara’s high school teacher character Claire Wilson’s fictional affair with her 17-year-old student, played by Nick Robinson — was lensed in Calgary.
Few series fuelled as much ethical conversations as these shows did in 2020, but it was “The Undoing’s” major murder trial courtroom twist that left us all second-guessing how far we would go for our partners.
“The Last Dance”
We’re drawn to stories of once-in-a-generation greatness, but the 10 episodes of the sports docuseries, “The Last Dance,” offered way more insight into Michael Jordan’s legacy than a highlight reel from his tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
Structured around Jordan’s final 1998 NBA Championship with the Bulls, “The Last Dance” gave us a rare glimpse into the basketball legend’s motivations, rivalries, game-day routines, and impact from 90 interviews with himself, his teammates, executives, reporters, coaches, and famous fans.
WATCH: Top 10 best TV shows of 2020.