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The 10 culture-defining shows of 2020, and why you absolutely must watch them.

We've made it through the 67 months of 2020, and I, for one, believe I have had two major achievements:

1. I've survived, and

2. I've watched lots of really good television.

Because while so much of 2020 was a disaster, many productions wrapped up filming before COVID took hold meaning that thankfully, the quality of TV and streaming content has remained really damn good through it all.

Watch: The trailer for Stan's Normal People, one of this year's best shows. Post continues below video.


Video via Stan.

2021 may prove differently as the lack of filming throughout this year really makes its impact, but hey, for now, let's focus on the positives.

If your coping mechanism was less TV, more sourdough, or you're simply looking for some more goodness to binge, here are nine shows that really defined 2020.

Tiger King.

Image: Netflix.

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Let's get Netflix's Tiger King out of the way first. Because surely, surely, you've already seen it by now.

It really did seem like for a moment in time - as the world was falling apart, as we were confined to our homes and uncertain of the future - the only thing keeping us going was a mad American big cat owner with multiple husbands and a terribly unhealthy hatred of Carole f***ing Baskin.

For a while, Tiger King was pop culture. Nothing else mattered. There were memes, catchphrases and deep dive investigations, and every celebrity was jumping at the opportunity to star in an on-screen version.

Schitt's Creek.

Image: Netflix.

Schitt's Creek was initially a critically ignored, low-budget Canadian comedy. But in 2020, it made history with the most Emmy wins by a single comedy series in the same season.

It was an interesting climb for the hilarious Rose family (read the full story here), but basically, being picked up by Netflix in 2017 changed Schitt's Creek's fortunes very quickly.

For the uninitiated, the show is a comedy about the formerly wealthy Rose family who are forced to relocate from New York City to a tiny backwater town they once bought as a joke when their fortune is lost.

In 2020, the show reached its sixth and final season - and it pulled off something nearly impossible, especially for a cult-favourite: An almost universally loved finale.

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Watchmen.

Image: Foxtel.

Watchmen came out in late 2019, but given its record showing at this year's Emmys (26 nominations and 11 wins), it deserves a spot on this list.

Based on a comic series created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen takes place in 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

A white supremacist group, the Seventh Kavalry, wage war against minorities and the police that enforce special reparations for victims of racial injustice, causing the police to conceal their identities with masks. Detective Angela Abar, played by Regina King, attempts to crack down on the group and investigate the murder of the police chief, and discovers secrets regarding the situations around vigilantism. 

Available on Binge and Foxtel, you're going to need to put your phone down for Watchmen - it definitely requires your full attention - but it's worth it. 

The dystopian superhero drama has a 96 per cent critics score on Rotten Tomatoes (and don't let the much lower audience rating of 55 per cent put you off, it's believed this was 'bombed' by negative reviews from 'far right trolls').

The Great.

Image: Stan.

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Stan's The Great is dark, outlandish and hilarious.

Billed as an "anti-historical ride through 18th Century Russia", The Great tells a highly altered version of the life of Catherine the Great following her arranged marriage to Russian Emperor Peter III, weaving her real life into a fictional plot thick with biting comedy and juicy drama.

Nicholas Hoult leans very far to the narcissism and privilege of sociopathic Peter, and Elle Fanning is brilliant as the shrewd and cunning Catherine.

Plus, I still think about a particular Chernobyl joke multiple times a week. You'll know it when you hear it.

Huzzah!

Succession.

Image: Foxtel.

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Like Watchmen, Succession's latest season was released in 2019 - so not technically 2020. But it dominated the drama series categories of this year's Emmys (12 noms, seven wins), and filming for season three was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So meh, it counts.

Succession is a satirical comedy-drama, loosely based on the Murdoch family. It centres on the dysfunctional Roy family, the owners of a media empire, who are fighting for control of the company after the patriarch, Logan Roy, suffers health issues.

The entire two seasons are basically just rich people doing terrible things. And it's fantastic, because even though Succession is fiction, it feels... gossipy. Like you're finding out the dark, outrageous secrets of what life is really like for the obscenely rich.

It's on Binge and Foxtel.

Normal People.

Image: Stan.

 As the dust was settling on the world's Tiger King obsession, we got Normal People. It could not be more different but goodness, what a moment in pop culture March-April was. 

Whether you've read Sally Rooney's book or not (I hadn't!), you'll be able to get into this show: The love story of Connell and Marianne is complicated, sexy and frustrating. The characters are flawed. Precisely none of their issues would happen if either character could communicate.

But Connell has a very mesmerising chain, the sex scenes are something else and you'll find yourself rooting for them no matter what. You won't be able to stop watching until the end. And when you get to the end, you'll be sad it's over.

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OK, I've just talked myself into a re-watch. See you on Stan.

Never Have I Ever.

Image: Netflix.

Never Have I Ever is one of Netflix's best shows in a long time.

Devi is an Indian American high school student dealing with the death of her father, but also everything a typical teen deals with like popularity and boys.

The experiences of Devi and the bridging of her cultures is a story we haven't seen enough in other series, and the show effortlessly blends humour (it was co-created by Mindy Kaling, so of course it is hilarious) and genuinely moving emotional moments.

With 10 half-hour episodes, it's the kind of show you'll begin and finish in the same day - because taking a break is impossible when something's this fulfilling. 

Unorthodox.

Image: Netflix.

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Unorthodox is a beautiful four-episode limited series about a young woman from a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. Unhappy in her arranged marriage, Esty escapes to Berlin in an attempt to build a new life.

It's extraordinary, weaving in flashbacks that slowly piece together why Etsy needed to flee, as she tries to find who she is outside of the only world she's ever known.

You'll become extremely protective of Etsy, especially as her husband and his cousin fly across the world to retrieve her. 

At just four episodes, I only wished this was longer.

The Mandalorian.

Image: Disney+.

I know what you're thinking - Star Wars.

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But even those uninitiated with the Star Wars universe (...how though?) will enjoy Mando. Even if you're just logging in for a look at Baby Yoda (who has a real name now, but I won't spoil that), you'll stay for the dragon slaying, the inexplainable charisma of a man whose face we never see and an adorable frog woman with one final chance to have babies. Yes, I realise that's a weird sentence.

The show's first season was huge, and the second season - of which all the eps are now out - is even bigger and better.

The Disney+ epic was the biggest streaming title in the United States in November, even beating Netflix's huge shows The Queen's Gambit and The Crown, according to data shared with Variety

So get on it, you'll be in good company.

I May Destroy You.

Image: Foxtel.

I May Destroy You is a rich yet confronting exploration of consent, race, friendship, sexual abuse and the strain of millennial life, available to view on Binge and Foxtel.

There's a brutal, uncomfortable honesty to how Arabella's story plays out across the screen and how her behaviour following the events of the night she was sexually assaulted don't fit the narrative of how an assault victim is 'supposed' to act. 

It sounds heavy - and it is, but there's also perfectly balanced wit and humour woven throughout as a reminder that most stories are filled with both darkness and light.

A true TV game changer.

What show would you add to this list? Let us know in a comment.

Feature image: Netflix/Stan/Foxtel.