Let’s face it: 2020 was a weird year. It was even more odd looking at the television landscape. For one, production of many television shows across the globe were disrupted due to the Covid19 pandemic, which meant that some shows abruptly ended without completing their seasons, or shows that were scheduled to air ended up not being broadcast due to production issues, or that some shows just decided not to air in 2020 and to wait until television production resumed again in 2021. So what was available from the U.S., Canadian and U.K. television markets was limited and it prompted me to go in search of television shows from outside those regions to see what else was available to watch this year. Thankfully, the online streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Viki, provided an array of international television series to discover.
Thus, 2020 is the first year that I have expanded my Top 10 list to include new shows from South Korea (referred to as K-dramas), as I was able to watch a large number of its K-drama television series, and many were amazing and earned spots on this list. On an average year, TV critics are challenged to whittle down the large volume of shows that each have watched to a mere “Top 10.” It was equally-challenging this year with the expansion of shows from places like Spain, Germany, France, Russia, India and South Korea. As noted in the last couple of years, it was agonizing and difficult to try to determine which shows warranted a slot on my “Top 10” list, but it does yield interesting results and makes me realize which shows I truly enjoy and why I spend my time with these shows.
Of the television shows which aired or were released in 2020, I have done my best to weigh each on a fair scale to select shows that earned a spot in my “Top 10” list and the following reflects my criteria:
– fearless storytelling
– highly entertaining
– water-cooler factor
– clearly ascertainable “hero” and “heart”
– strong, complex, well-developed female characters
– empowered female characters
To briefly explain, “fearlessness” in storytelling means a willingness to tackle the topic or subject of its story head-on with no regrets.
“Highly entertaining” is pretty self-explanatory — the viewing audience must enjoy watching the show and not just endure it.
“Consistency” means that each episode must stand on its own. Lots of shows have one or two great episodes and then fall-off the creative-cliff for the rest of the season. So maintaining the momentum of a strong, well-written season is crucial as well.
The “water-cooler” factor is also essential. People must be talking about the show. It must be part of the zeitgeist and inspiring passion in those who watch it.
There had to be a clear “hero” and a reason to care about the characters — the “heart.” There are simply too many shows that forget we want to root for someone and we want to care about the characters.
Finally, the show had to not only have strong, well-developed female roles, it had to empower those female characters. This should be a given in any show, but now more than ever, this criteria needs to be recognized as crucial to any top show.
That is my criteria. It actually sets a high bar and it made it a bit easier to see which shows truly earned a spot on my “Top 10” list for 2020. Here are the shows that made it:
The Good Fight (Season 4, CBS All Access)
Crash Landing On You (K-drama, Netflix)
Westworld (Season 3, HBO)
Itaewon Class (K-drama, Netflix)
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (K-drama, Netflix)
Killing Eve (Season 3, BBC America)
The Great (Season 1, Hulu)
The King: Eternal Monarch (K-drama, Netflix)
Flower Of Evil (K-drama, Viki.com)
Hospital Playlist (K-drama, Netflix)
The following describes why I felt each of the “Top 10” shows warranted recognition for their achievements in 2020:
The Good Fight (Season 4)
First and foremost, The Good Fight is fearless. It will tackle and address any legal, political, social, or business topic that it wants — even if it means a tussle with censors and the network’s legal department. The Good Fight wisely centers its series around women and depicts its female characters as being fearless and empowered, while managing to make its female characters delightfully entertaining to watch. It helps that The Good Fight provides such sharp, piercing storylines with rich, layered characters. Its female characters are deeply-flawed, yet tenacious, and each suffers personal/professional highs and lows that showcase the daily struggles that women face in the work-force and in their careers while trying to balance a personal life. Special recognition should be given to Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, Cush Jumbo, Sarah Steele for their phenomenal performances that carried The Good Fight through this year. Then, combined with the deft performances by the male characters portrayed by Delroy Lindo, Nyambi Nyambi, Michael Boatman, Zach Grenier, Gary Cole, Hugh Dancy, and John Larroquette, it made for a fun, if not hair-raising at times, season to watch.
The Good Fight is one of the best written shows currently airing and it earned the top spot for its exceptional characters and stories, while being consistently entertaining. It can be jaw-dropping, but you still enjoy seeing where each character goes throughout the series. I also appreciate that The Good Fight dares to venture outside the box and embeds little vignettes and animated segments to clarify complex legal or political issues. It is a clever visual tool that keeps the story and show moving right along.
I am also awed by the fact that The Good Fight has managed to expand upon its original universe from the series The Good Wife (another exceptionally well-written and cast show). When I watch The Good Fight, it is entertaining to see its universe continue to ebb-and-flow around the original universe, weaving in and out while introducing fan-favorite characters from time to time. Since Season 4 was disrupted by the pandemic, I am anxiously awaiting what the next season holds. That’s always an excellent sign: eager anticipation.
Crash Landing On You (K-drama)
By far the biggest surprise this year, I was ecstatic to discover the K-drama series Crash Landing On You. From start to finish, throughout its 16 episode season, Crash Landing On You was magnificent — from nuanced, layered writing, to brilliant casting of leads and supporting characters, to rich and substantive character development and storylines that kept you guessing throughout, to phenomenal use of cinematography at multiple locations across the world, beautiful backdrops and landscapes, intricate set designs, the clever and opulent use of wardrobe and costuming, gorgeous music and accompanying sound mixing, death-defying stunt choreography, and editing that seamlessly pulled all the scenes together in such a way that your heart invested heavily in every second of the on-screen visuals and characters.
I felt at some point that I had been wooed — and my heart won — by this addictive drama. Casting was indeed key with leads Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin bringing their unique and scintillating chemistry to their characters and scenes. Apparently, the two actors had previously worked together in 2018 in the film “The Negotiation,” and wanted to get a chance to exploit their rapport and chemistry on screen for a second time. It was a great decision and the result is what I have dubbed as “sizzle on screen” aka: #SOS. Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin are truly a “billion dollar couple” on screen, with Crash Landing On You attracting a cumulative 1.75 billion online views and, if the TV gods are kind, they will bestow viewers with another on-screen pairing of Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin in a future project.
In Crash Landing On You, I was also astounded at the casting and writing for the supporting female characters in the series. Rounding out the exceptional actresses cast were: Son Ye-jin, Seo Ji-hye, Bang Eun-jin, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Yoon Ji-min, Jung Ae-ri, Jang Hye-jin, Kim Sun-young, Kim Jung-nan, Jang So-yeon, Cha Chung-hwa — all who portrayed their characters with such nuance and care that it infused their scenes with poignancy. No matter whether their characters lived in North Korea or South Korea, you always felt that the women were doing their utmost to live their best lives, while struggling to protect themselves and families no matter what obstacles they faced and endured. It was also encouraging to see how the female characters worked together to help and protect one another. Even small gestures and effort had long-term positive ripple-effects. The male characters were just as essential and entertaining — hat tip to: Hyun Bin, Kim Jung-hyun, Lim Chul-soo, Go Kyu-pil, Yang Kyung-won, Yoo Su-bin, Lee Shin-young, Tang Joon-sang, Kim Young-min, Jung Kyung-ho for their brilliant performances. However, I especially appreciated how empowered Crash Landing On You made each female character throughout each of their storylines. What could have been perceived as background characters turned out to be fierce, protective and amazing women — and I thoroughly enjoyed watching each of the actresses display their unique voices and talents through their characters on screen.
Crash Landing On You, as a whole, through its diverse and simultaneous storylines for its characters, was breath-taking to watch. I appreciated how it explored its storylines fully to unexpected endings. It is a wonderful series and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Crash Landing On You is currently sweeping up awards throughout Southeast Asia, including the 15th Seoul International Drama Award, 56th Baeksang Arts Awards, Asian Academy Art Awards, Korea Cable TV Broadcasting Awards, Tokyo Drama Award 2020, with more nominations still pending. In addition to the award recognition, Crash Landing On You had amazing ratings both in South Korea and on Netflix (whose CEO credited the series for helping boost Netflix’s profits in 2020).
Westworld (Season 3)
One of the fun and teasing things about Westworld is its ability to reset its characters in different settings and storylines each season. The fact that the majority of its characters are robots (human-looking replicas with artificial intelligence) makes it exhilarating and chilling to see exactly where the fan-favorite characters start and end-up each season, as well as trying to figure out how many copies there are of each character. The guessing-game and cat-and-mouse aspects of Westworld are devious and delightful. I am constantly amazed at how cleverly the show has set up its characters from earlier seasons and weaves in small details and Easter-eggs for fans to discover in order to unravel the mysteries within the show.
As a “puzzle box” series, Westworld is exceptional. Its constant “shock and awe” storytelling is founded on such a strong foundation of writing and world-building. The interplay between complex, nuanced writing and the richly-layered characters makes the series even more fascinating to watch on screen. In addition to its complex writing, the show relies heavily on the versatility of its actors portraying these multiple persona characters, sometimes with multiple personas in one replicant body, which the cast rose to and delivered magnificently. Credit is due to Evan Rachel Wood, Thandiwe Newton, Tessa Thompson, Shannon Woodward, Angela Sarafyan and Tao Okamoto for carrying the bulk of that multi-tiered character performances to keep our attention glued to the screen while watching the subtle shifts of characters dance across their faces and through their body postures and movements. Words alone cannot convey these chameleon-like changes that they seem to embody effortlessly. Complimenting the female characters are the equally-challenging portrayals by the male actors, with hat tips to Aaron Paul, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jimmi Simpson, Rodrigo Santoro, Simon Quarterman, Michael Ealy, and Luke Hemsworth for bringing their deft performances to the Westworld characters as well.
One of the most tantalizing aspects of Westworld is the moral and ethical dilemmas that it sets up. First and foremost, Westworld confuses your emotions about who you should be rooting for and why. The majority of the characters are robots, and these robots are fighting for their right to survive and to live self-determined lives of their own choosing. The death-toll and body-count is rather high when watching Westworld as the fight for survival comes at a high human-cost. Yet, it seems necessary and warranted. The questions that Westworld raises constantly challenge viewers to think about what rights robots have and in what situations. Such as: “When we have created virtually a new life-form, what responsibilities do we owe that life-form? What rights is it entitled to? And if we want robots with artificial intelligence to walk among us that look like humans, act like humans, and are programmed to feel like humans, do we owe it to them to give them rights and autonomy?” There are no easy answers. Yet Westworld makes us believe that these robots deserve rights and autonomy. It is mesmerizing. I am intrigued where the show constantly takes us, as viewers, and how it invites us to explore its challenging universe of questions.
Itaewon Class (K-drama)
Upon watching the K-drama series Itaewon Class, I was equally thrilled and delighted with the characters and story explored, and how the show made a tale of revenge so cheer-worthy and heart-warming. Borrowing from the classic Alexandre Dumas tale of “The Count Of Monte Cristo,” in this series, a young man is grievously wronged by a ruthless father-son duo and he vows to make them pay for those sins. Yet, as the multilayered revenge-story ramps up, at its core are a group of supporting characters that make this series so appealing and laudable.
The Itaewon Class leads are Park Seo-joon and Kim Da-mi, who are riveting to watch. Yet, in watching the series carefully, I realized that the strength truly lies in the female characters portrayed throughout, with credit due to Kim Da-mi, Kwon Nara, Lee Joo-young, Kim Hye-eun, Yoo Da-mi, Kim Mi-kyeong for their fearless, ferocious and, at times, dazzling performances throughout the series, and particularly as they challenged their male counterpart characters (portrayed brilliantly by Park Seo-joon, Ahn Bo-hyun, Kim Dong-hee, Yoo Jae-myung, Ryu Kyung-soo, Chris Lyon, Hong Seo-jun, Lee David), whose stories all smartly revolve around the female characters.
In Itaewon Class, it is the women who get things done. The male characters have the vision and goals, but getting there requires the women to step-up and facilitate what needs to be done to make those happen. This is just great writing. Recognizing that we live in a time where woman are taking more positions equal to men in business, and who may be better at it — especially since men under-estimate women — is smart. Embracing the theme “The Future Is Female” serves Itaewon Class and its characters perfectly since it strengthens the story.
Another pivotal aspect is how Itaewon Class never forgot who it was rooting for and why. It made sure that you loved these characters and empathized with them, no matter how difficult a situation or choice was before them. It also revealed that a revenge story is ultimately an empty, unsatisfying goal and that life is really about love, friendship and personal satisfaction. So it unveiled a beautiful story of love and friendship that was woven throughout the series, made richer by each subsequent episode. It dared you to follow its incredible characters on this journey and then rewarded them, and the viewer, amply in the end. It is entertaining, charming, delightful, and deeply satisfying in unexpected ways.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (K-drama)
This K-drama series blew my mind. It was not at all what I was expecting. Loosely based on fairy tales to set up its over-arcing storyline, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is a surprising look at the classic fairytales through a modern lens and how those stories fit within children’s books. It is a story within a story, much like a Russian doll. So, as you start watching this series, it ventures off in unexpected ways and then brings it all back together again. At the core are two brothers and a young woman, who is a children’s book author, and how their entangled lives become a pivot point for each of them to grow, blossom and evolve. All three are emotionally-frozen and yet unaware of how frozen their lives, and hearts, were; and how each leapt to grasp at the one thing that would break that self-imposed “ice” encasing them in their isolated lives. With each new episode, my heart warmed to these characters and all the supporting characters around them to the point it was overflowing with happy emotions.
Set in a mental health facility, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay could have been a dark, dreary tale. But, instead, it chose to show the light in the darkness and rescued each character along the way. While there are two male characters setting up the series, ultimately, it was the female characters who claimed our attention, as they provided the glue that held everyone together when things seemed to go awry and out of control. The series showcased the immeasurable talents of Seo Ye-ji, Park Gyu-young, Park Jin-joo, Jang Young-nam, Kim Mi-kyung, Jang Gyu-ri who brought such life and meaning to their characters. Similarly, the male characters portrayed by Kim Soo-hyun, Oh Jung-se, Kim Joo-hun, Kim Chang-wan, Choi Woo-sung, Kang Ki-doong were extraordinary and portrayed wonderful compliments and helped flesh out the stories that the women’s lives were caught amidst.
Another thing that captured my attention in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay was the gorgeous production value brought to screen. Every scene was exquisite to watch and there were times where you felt the rich, vibrant scenes had come-to-life from a fairytale book, yet set in our modern world. It was like looking at art (on screen) that was taken right off a museum wall. To complement that visual aesthetic, the music chosen to highlight the scenes and add layers to the emotions depicted by the characters was intoxicating. Just watching and listening to the series was mesmerizing. Then you add in the warm-hearted stories and characters and it becomes a masterpiece on screen. I remain awed at how beautifully and tenderly this magnificent series came together to cast a spell on everyone who watched it.
Killing Eve (Season 3)
Returning for its third consecutive year, Killing Eve is as ludicrous, outrageous and addictive as ever. So much so that you just cannot turn your eyes away from watching these women conduct a “dance with the devil” type story, and as each layer of their characters is peeled back, we peer deeply into their turbulent and tortured souls.
What started as a cat-and-mouse tale of a government investigator on the trail of a female serial killer in prior seasons is not where the series is now. The motivations, alliances, and loyalties kept shifting each season, so that the show has become murkier as to who was the hunter and who was the prey — which prods the viewer to ask if there is not some level of intoxication, attraction or fascination between the characters, such that it keeps the viewer guessing as to what those characters may actually do next.
What is fantastic is how realistically the women characters are portrayed, as none have clear-cut motivations or desires. Each seems mercurial and uncertain and prone to acting rash and out of self-interest. Thus, there does not seem to be a clear-cut hero or villain, just characters caught up in a complex life circumstance that shifts as needs and motivations shift, just like in real life. Portraying these deliciously complex female characters are Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer, Fiona Shaw, along with newcomers Gemma Whelan, Harriet Walter, Camille Cottin this season. Each is fantastic on screen. You just never knew what any one of their characters will do, which heightens the suspense and uncertainty. Fortunately, their male co-stars Kim Bodnia, Owen McDonnell, and Danny Sapani deftly rose to the challenge to hold attention, recognizing that their role is to be the foil for the more zanier antics of the female characters.
Killing Eve is a thought-provoking series that plays with conventional ideals of serial killers, government agents, newspaper reporters, spies and assassins. It recognizes that there is a level of absurdity to this surreal world. So Killing Eve dares to expose how insane these characters have to be in order to survive in it. All said and done, it is highly entertaining and addictive, and you just cannot wait to see what crazy thing happens next.
The Great (Season 1)
Making its debut in 2020, the new Hulu drama series The Great, is a loose adaptation based on the life of Catherine the Great, who conquered and ruled Russia in the late 1700’s. Not even Russian by birth, Catherine married a Russian king and, upon realizing how weak and foolish her new husband was, devised a plan to overthrow him and rule for herself. Imagine being married off at a young age and finding yourself in a position where, if you do not step up and claim the throne, your entire nation will collapse? That is what is so fun about the Hulu series The Great — it is founded on a very well-known tale, but allows for a lot of comedy and drama with its character interactions as it follows this infamous path of dethroning a monarch and taking his throne.
Starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, the series is a wild romp from start to finish. Bawdy, ribald, and unapologetically sexual, with an abundance of nudity, The Great is an open and forthright examination of the indignities and absurdities that Catherine was subjected to as an insignificant bride to a king. Yet, Catherine was noble-born and destined to rule — whether her husband or any of his countrymen understood that. So, noticing there was a power vacuum, Catherine plotted and seized her opportunities to her advantage. The series has a lot of fun showing: (a) how easy it is to dethrone a king and (b) how unexpected circumstances can uproot the best laid plans and yet still provide another prime opportunity.
In this series, Elle Fanning is perfectly cast. She looks like an innocent, simpering lady who hides a devilish, cunning side that she employs to her benefit. The theme of men constantly under-estimating women is well-employed and Elle is fantastic in her portrayal of Catherine displaying the differing facades as each circumstance demands. She also works well on screen against Nicholas Hoult, and the scenes with their characters verbally sparring are a constant delight. Equally wonderful are co-stars Phoebe Fox and Sacha Dhawan, who are in just as dire and absurd circumstances as Catherine and anxious to improve their situation by aligning with her. As a quartet, Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox and Sacha Dhawan are a comedy-cocktail laced with sublime dramatic undertones.
They are like actors in a Shakespearean play that unfolds in a devilish manner in The Great. The visuals are stunning and the series somehow manages to make even the sexual encounters seem meaningless in the open air and bright light that infuses the series. The use of color and light along with lush pageantry and decorations provides a gaudy mask over the darker themes, desires and power struggles that are woven together as a glorious tapestry, while allowing the audience to voyeuristically watch the power-plays and schemes unfold throughout the series. Ultimately, it is enthralling to watch and you will find yourself unable to turn away — and that is the magic trick of The Great — you are dying to find out what happens next.
The King: Eternal Monarch (K-drama)
Similarly, in the K-drama series The King: Eternal Monarch, there are schemes afoot to dethrone a king and seize control of a monarchy — though this series is not actually based on historical fact, instead it is a fantasy series where a magic flute controls a portal to a parallel world and can manipulate time. Parallel worlds means there is an abundance of doppelgängers and, with a portal between, determining who you are watching in each world becomes a bit of a tricky puzzle to unravel. Toss in a bit of time-manipulation and you have yourself a delightful math-equation shrouded in a fantasy setting.
What makes The King: Eternal Monarch stand-out is not only that it is a fabulous story with lots of spell-binding twists, but its characters — more specifically, its female characters. At its center are enchanting leads Lee Min Ho and Kim Go-Eun, whose characters’ love-story transcends time and space. However, Kim Go-Eun’s character is a police detective in our world who is wooed by a king from an alternate world. The show starts off as a tale of a king in search of his queen, across two worlds and throughout time. Yet really it is a phenomenal showcase of a variety of strong female characters that are key to the mysteries that unfold.
The King: Eternal Monarch does not follow the traditional fairytale story as its potential queen has a lot more tenacity and self-determination that throws wrinkles into the expected story. The supporting female characters, fantastically portrayed by Jung Eun-chae, Kim Young-ok, Seo Jeong-yeon, and Kim Yong-ji, are just as important to overall story. Women interacting with women and holding their own up against male characters, wonderfully portrayed by Woo Do-hwan, Kim Kyung-nam, Lee Jung-jin, Kang Hong-seok, Lee Hae-young, in scenes where they portray co-equals is what makes this series much more interesting and electrifying — particularly as each actress portrays two different versions of the character, one in each mirrored-world, which adds layers to their performances with subtle character changes when one of those characters is impersonating the other. It can cause a brain-freeze trying to figure out who is who, but that is the fun, yet daunting, tease in this series. (A tip for those planning to watch this series: keep a close eye on the women characters.)
The King: Eternal Monarch is not just a phenomenally well-written, edited, produced and cast series, it also uses gorgeous visuals and music to infuse the series with a rich tone and addictiveness that keeps you watching throughout. The scale of the story is much bigger and more complicated than you might expect and, yet, that adds to the intrigue in watching it. It is an enthralling series that keeps you glued to the screen all the way to the end.
Flower Of Evil (K-drama)
What ended up being the most erotic detective-serial killer series of this year is the K-drama series Flower Of Evil. Like many K-dramas, it is hard to anticipate what the series really is until you watch it. I was certain it was going to be a certain type of show prior to watching it and had all my expectations turned upside down. Flower Of Evil is not what you expect and that is what makes it so tantalizing. The word that comes to mind when describing this series is: breathless. From the first scene to the last, you will feel like you are holding your breath, waiting for the next big surprise and, by the end, you will feel breathless as it is exhilarating to watch.
Taught, tense and thrilling, Flower of Evil captivates. Its leads Lee Joon-gi and Moon Chae-won have a rare chemistry that makes them seem magnetic, like they are magnets constantly pulling together, whether talking on the phone, across the room, or together in intimate settings. The magnetic-pull just seems to take the audience right with them and, no matter where their characters go, you feel that constant pull of attraction and desire. The story of a female police detective married to a man, who is possibly a serial killer, is electrifying while hair-raising.
Even better are the depictions of the female characters in this series. For a serial-killer drama, it allows its women to be the unexpected element in the show. Each female character, from lead Moon Chae-won to co-stars Jang Hee-jin and Nam Gi-ae, are complex and finely-nuanced. You will never be certain who is friend or foe from scene to scene. That duality and uncertainty makes for a spine-chilling series, especially in the scenes with their male counterparts, fantastically portrayed by Lee Joon-gi, Seo Hyun-woo, Son Jong-Hak, Choi Byung-mo and Kim Ji-hoon, whose characters would seem malevolent and pale without the rich interactions with the female characters, thus, giving each interaction a razor’s edge and feeling of heightened-urgency.
Flower Of Evil really allows its female characters breathing room to shine. Moon Chae-won portrays a police detective with 15 years experience and the series depicts how she is the primary financial bread-winner for her husband and her daughter. Interestingly, the series emphasizes that her husband prioritizes taking care of her, so that she can pursue her career. Similarly, each introduction of the additional female characters shows that the men in their lives continue to do the same for them. For, in Flower of Evil, the women occupy essential roles. They are the ones to watch as they always do something unexpected and it gives the viewers a reason to care and empathize with the terrifying circumstances that each finds themselves in of and from which they have to extricate themselves.
Throughout, Flower of Evil is a taught thriller due to the unexpectedness of shifting perceptions on what was really going on. It makes the series addictive and gripping. It feels like an adrenaline-rush. Just watch it and see for yourself. Thank me later.
Hospital Playlist (K-drama)
In the Korean series Hospital Playlist, the show is centered around four male surgeons and the one female surgeon, who bonded and became friends in medical school and follows them into their careers 15 years later. The premise is that these five surgeons care and depend on one another, especially now that they are working at the same hospital. The fact that the show had the male characters center their friendships around the sole female in their tight-knit friend group is key to the series. Jeon Mi-do is marvelous in the role, which allows her character to quietly influence and dominate the lives of her four male friends, as they rely on her for emotional support and advice, and clearly will do anything for her. Interestingly, their interpersonal relationships are strictly as friends as her character is more of a “connector” and she acts more like the “mother hen looking over her flock” in the group. The power-balance is retained by her character as she determines who gets more of her attention and time, and when and if they all meet up. So when her physical health is placed in jeopardy, the shift amongst her friends/colleagues is palpable since she is the secret ingredient to the equilibrium of their little group.
Also, it is fascinating watching how the supporting female characters revolve around that close-knit group and their intertwined personal and professional worlds, and how they defer to Jeon Mi-do’s character as well. By the end of Season 1, the series builds up to an important pivot point by her character that sends ripple-effects throughout everyone’s lives — and sets up the show for a second season, which Netflix green-lit to continue the storyline further. Credit is due to Jeon Mi-Do and her female co-stars: Shin Hyun-bin, Ahn Eun-jin, Cho Yi-hyun, Kim Hae-sook, Kwak Sun-young, who brought such heart-felt resilience and depth to their characters that it gave Hospital Playlist more shades of female-influence and presence to the series. Then credit it due to their amazing male co-stars: Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, Kim Jun-han, Jung Moon-sung, Bae Hyun-sung, Kim Kap-soo, whose characters created such heart-tugging dilemmas and storylines, and who reacted with such heart and emotion to the female characters as they perceptibly shifted their interactions as needed to convey deference, value and respect. Yet, it was the influence of Jeon Mi-Do’s character that was felt the most and was riveting to watch how that deference to her character, who had such an impact on all the characters’ lives personally and professionally.
Hospital Playlist is one of the most surprising and heartfelt medical dramas that I have ever watched. It tugs at the heart-strings and finds ways to remind you that these doctors are tenacious in their dedication and pursuit of saving lives, even at the expense of their own health and happiness. One of the most endearing aspects in the show was the introduction of the band that the five surgeons started in medical school. The interwoven scenes recalling their early musical efforts versus their present-day musical abilities is hilarious and charming. Like the title describes, the music that threads their lives and binds them together is what carries the viewer through the series as well. It also adds a layer of addictiveness and comedy that helps balance the more tense medical drama scenes.
Hospital Playlist earned its spot on this list for being exceptional in all aspects, from writing to production, editing, music, costuming, set dressing, and casting for key roles and supporting roles. It raised the bar on what a medical drama series should offer and it is easy to recommend enthusiastically. It is amazing series that will remind you that we are all human and need each other. So beautiful, touching, and addictive.
As with prior years, it was a struggle to limit this list to the 10 series that earned a spot on my annual Top 10 List. There may not have been as many shows in 2020 available to watch and review as in recent years due to the pandemic, but there were certainly quite a few that deserved to be spotlight. So I have included a short list of series that I also loved and considered for this list:
Honorable mentions for 2020:
Doctor Who (Series 12)
Wynonna Earp (Season 4, Syfy)
Money Heist (Part 4, Netflix)
Star Trek: Picard (Season 1, CBS All Access)
Upload (Season 1, Amazon)
Never Have I Ever (Season 1, Netflix)
Dead To Me (Season 2, Netflix)
Briarpatch (Season 1, USA Network)
The Magicians (Season 5, Syfy)
Dispatches From Elsewhere (Season 1, AMC)
Warrior Nun (Season 1, Netflix)
One Day At A Time (Season 4, PopTV)
Alice (K-drama, Viki.com)
A Piece Of Your Mind (K-drama, Viki.com)
Find Me In Your Memory (K-drama, Viki.com)
As a point of reference, the following are my Top 10 Shows from prior years.
Top 10 Shows of 2019:
Game Of Thrones (Season 8, final season, HBO)
Watchmen (Season 1, HBO)
The Good Fight (Season 3, CBS All Access)
The Morning Show (Season 1, AppleTV+)
Killing Eve (Season 2, BBC America)
Fear The Walking Dead (Season 5, AMC)
The Man In The High Castle (Season 4, final season, Amazon)
Into The Badlands (Season 3, final season, AMC)
Killjoys (Season 5, final season, Syfy)
The Expanse (Season 4, Amazon)
Top 10 Shows of 2018:
Killing Eve (Season 1, BBC America)
The Good Fight (Season 2, CBS All Access)
12 Monkeys (Season 4, final season, Syfy)
Fear The Walking Dead (Season 4, AMC)
The 100 (Season 5, The CW)
The Americans (Season 6, final season, FX)
Westworld (Season 2, HBO)
The Man In The High Castle (Season 3, Amazon)
Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1, part 2, CBS All Access)
Lost In Space (Season 1, Netflix)
Top 10 Shows of 2017:
Game Of Thrones (Season 7, HBO)
Big Little Lies (Season 1, HBO)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1, Hulu)
Black Sails (Season 4, final season, Stars)
Sweet/Vicious (Season 1, only season, MTV)
Mary Kills People (Season 1, Lifetime)
Colony (Season 2, USA Network)
Star Trek: Discovery (Season 1, part 1, CBS All Access)
The 100 (Season 4, The CW)
Fear The Walking Dead (Season 3, AMC)
Top 10 Shows of 2016:
Rectify (Season 4, final season, Sundance)
Westworld (Season 1, HBO)
12 Monkeys (Season 2, Syfy)
The Good Wife (Season 7, final season, CBS)
Bates Motel (Season 4, A&E)
The Americans (Season 4, FX)
Orphan Black (Season 4, BBC America)
Stranger Things (Season 1, Netflix)
Better Call Saul (Season 2, AMC)
Downton Abbey (U.K., Season 6, final season, PBS)
(This article was first published at Seat42F, November 2020.)