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Culture’s Choice: Best TV Series of 2020

Culture’s Choice is a series of articles where Roar’s culture writers share their reflections and recommendations of their favourite art of 2020.

Charmaine Tan: Modern Family

After 11 years of laughter and anticipation, Modern Family finally came to a bittersweet conclusion this year. The final episodes were released as the world succumbed into lockdown, making Modern Family the perfect series to binge-(re)watch this year. The sitcom follows the lives of three families, each dysfunctional in their own way, yet still equally loveable. It imparts on us many meaningful life lessons, and above all, it sheds light on the strength of the ties that allow families to get through thick and thin together. Everything comes full circle in the finale when the whole family gathers round for a last picture, each with a newfound appreciation for one another, before they go their separate ways. Modern Family is a perfect series for 2020, it’s the right mix of light-heartedness and emotional catharsis, interspersed with many important life lessons on embracing change – something we need now more than ever.

Elena Veris Reynolds: Normal People

Based on Sally Rooney’s acclaimed 2018 novel, Normal People starts with two teenagers – Marianne, a smart-ass loner, and Connell, a popular golden boy – in their last year of school, and then follows them through the next few years of their lives. I was actually sceptical of whether I would enjoy the series at first, as I’ve never really liked romantic dramas, but the story of Marianne and Connell’s lives is so much more complex and well-written than most romances. Normal People is also about so many other things: growing up, friendship, mental health, class tensions, loneliness, and the ways we hurt each other. It’s about how two young people navigate life and all its difficulties, and how their paths weave in and out of each other. Beautifully shot and directed, sensitively acted by two relative newcomers through its twelve half-hour episodes, Normal People is one of those dramas that will leave its mark on you for a long time.

Scarlett Yu: The Haunting of Bly Manor

Sequel series to the popular Netflix horror, The Haunting of Hill House, the series introduces audiences to the haunting world of a magnificent estate in rural England. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a big fan of horror shows, but this nine-episode series really gave me the chills as a superficially terrifying ghost story built upon a heart-wrenching love. I found myself irresistibly drawn to the mystical charms surrounding Bly Manor, and the release of every episode reveals shocking secrets about the centuries-old estate. As if cast under a spell, everything at Bly Manor is confined to the deep darkness, yet no one would’ve imagined this curse stemmed from years of human grudging. This is not simply a horror story; within it lies a flow of reminiscences and longings. It’s a beautifully produced horror series that will hit right through your heart.

Camilla Alcini: The Queen’s Gambit

Unless you are a part of the 62 million households who watched the show, you might have only heard of this TV series. Written and directed by Scott Frank, and based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel of the same name, The Queen’s Gambit just became Netflix’s biggest scripted limited series to date. It is the story of Beth Harmon, a red-haired orphan and an enfant prodige of chess, interpreted by Anya Taylor-Joy. Following her life from eight to twenty-two years old, we accompany Beth struggling with her addictions, finding herself and love, and being the only woman in what had been considered a game for men. It takes only seven episodes to adore this brave, talented and weird girl, in her rise from playing in the basements to winning the biggest global tournaments. A particular note of merit goes to the wonderful costumes and vintage looks of the 50s and 60s.

Arjan Arenas: I May Destroy You

Of the many quality TV shows the nation binged on to keep themselves busy in lockdown this year, quite a few were imports: from the U.S. successes like Tiger King that deluged Netflix, through cult Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek, to Irish-set literary adaptation Normal People. However, Britain also enjoyed no small number of homegrown hits, arguably the most talked-about of which was BBC Three’s mesmerizing miniseries I May Destroy You.

This brilliant comedy drama was the brainchild of writer-director Michaela Coel, who starred as Arabella, the author of a bestseller and wildly popular Twitter account and touted as the voice of millennials, and whose next book is hindered by writer’s block. She tries to relieve the pressure by going on a night out with some friends, only to wake up the next morning with a gash on her forehead, a broken phone, and no memory of what happened. Arabella slowly realizes she was sexually assaulted and sets out to find her assailant by any means necessary.

This brief summary does scant justice to a skillfully complex series which, above all, explores the intricate social and sexual landscapes Arabella and her friends struggle to navigate. Relationships – particularly power structures – are dealt with very subtly. Most impressive are the deft switches in tone, with the most painfully awkward incidents rendered with wry humor, and in a show with as dark a subject matter as this, incorporating comedy effectively and tastefully is no mean feat. Plus, the half-hour length of each episode keeps things concise. I May Destroy You is an absolutely outstanding piece of television, and I hope it sets the trend for more innovative, daring shows come 2021.

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