2020 has been one hell of a year. It has served numerous blows, the biggest one in the form of a global pandemic that has confined millions of people within the four walls of our respective homes. While the social butterflies are rotting inside, binge-watchers and cinephiles are having the time of their lives, utilising this time to catch up on the films and series released this year. While 2020 has had nothing special to offer, it has undoubtedly seen the release of various TV shows, miniseries, films and more, that have kept people hooked as streaming platforms begin to dominate.
Miniseries can be defined as the younger sibling of TV series. Usually comprising a limited number of episodes within the framework of one season, some very famous miniseries would include Alias Grace, The Queen’s Gambit, The Haunting of Hill House and more. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBOMax have been our best friends, supplying viewing access to various miniseries to keep us entertained.
With 2020 coming to a welcome end, and we hope for a better 2021, let us look back at the 15 best miniseries that have graced our audio-visual senses in 2020. Here are our picks for 15 best miniseries in 2020.
Let’s get started.
The 15 best miniseries of 2020:
15. The Outsider (Richard Price, Jason Bateman, 2020)
What begins as a straightforward yet grisly murder investigation, soon turns into something more vile and sinister with the inclusion of supernatural elements. The onset of the insidious latter shatters belief systems, causing the people, especially the cop and the detective, to question whatever they believe in.
Adapted from Stephen King’s eponymous novel, the series star actors like Cynthia Erivo and Ben Mendelson, who deliver excellent performances alongside others. The inclusion of ominous supernatural elements makes the plot even more thrilling. Although it has criticised for being a little too slow, Taylor Antrim has been won over by the “thrilling, totally frightening” unravelling of plot amidst an “unrelentingly dark, irresistibly tense” atmosphere.
“A human being cannot exist in two realities at the same time”
14. Devs (Alex Garland, 2020)
A software engineer for the quantum computing company Amaya, Lily Chan’s boyfriend Sergei suddenly goes missing. This brings her under the radar as she gets involved in a significant plot involving technology and corporate espionage in the Silicon Valley as well as themes of free will and more that challenge the very notion of existence.
While this sci-fi miniseries might shock and confuse some, Garland’s fans know better with his previous releases like Annihilation and Ex Machina. It is a clever piece of art that sends its viewers into a complicated yet beautiful maze, unnerving and unsettling them continuously.
As Sophie Gilbert wrote in The Atlantic, “Devs is only the latest in a series of puzzle-box shows more preoccupied with their own cleverness and their labyrinthine twists than with the burden of watchability.”
“The box contains us. The box contains everything. And inside the box, is another box.”
13. The Pale Horse (Leonara Lonsdale, 2020)
A year after losing his wife to a freak in-bath electrocution, Mark Easterbrook, an antique dealer, is called in by the police for questioning when his and his lover’s name pop up in a list of names retrieved from a dead woman on the streets. Soon, Mark realises that the list contains names of people dead or to be killed.
Adapted from the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, this two-episode miniseries is a somewhat satisfying watch. While people have criticised the ending as well as Sarah Phelps’ deviation from the original novel, the series is peppered with suspense and thrills, and being a short run, deserves a watch.
“We’re all rational in the sunshine. That’s different when it goes dark.”
12. The Third Day (Felix Barrett, Dennis Kelly, 2020)
The series takes place on a mysterious island over ‘Summer’, ‘Autumn’ and ‘Winter’, in which a man and a woman are left to experience various incidents.
In what is described as the show creators as “a major immersive theatre event” and a way to “inhabit the story as it happens”, the series is quite compelling.
Jude Law as the troubled Sam is wonderful on-screen. Symbolic and thoughtful, the show has a lot of hidden easter eggs which might be a fun treasure hunt for symbol-lovers.
11. The Flight Attendant (Susanna Fogel, 2020)
A bodacious, frivolous and reckless air hostels, Cassie Bowden, is a raging alcoholic who hooks up with random people in her drunken stupor. However, after sleeping with a passenger named Alex, she wakes up to his dead body in a Bangkok hotel. In her inebriated state, she cannot remember the events of the previous night and fears that she might be the killer.
Kaley Cuoco is refreshing and incredible as Cassie Bowden. After playing the sweet girl-next-door Penny in CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, she shatters her “good girl” image with a compelling performance as this messy and prodigal air hostess. This miniseries is quite gripping in its splendid stylistic aesthetics and would be an instant favourite for all the murder-mystery aficionados.
10. High Score (France Costrel, 2020)
This six-episode series comprise interviews and segments that document the creation and development of various video games from the 1980s to 90s.
The voice actor for Mario functions as the show narrator, taking us on this journey with him which also various pixelated animated segments.
As GameSpot correctly stated, the series, “a crash course on the golden age of gaming filled with insightful interviews, brilliant writing, and most importantly, an inspiring and inclusive message.”
Highly entertaining and informative, Netflix takes it a step further with this series, a must watch for gaming aficionados.
9. Immigration Nation (Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, 2020)
An intense insight into the banality of immigration, this docu-miniseries comprises “empathetic storytelling and bold investigative journalism”. It provides an intimate look at the horrors of immigration, the misuse of unfettered power and focuses on the vile Trump Administration and its policies toward the immigrants.
According to Daniel Fienberg, Immigration Nation is “not an easy watch, but often essential” as it is an “in-depth and widely-encompassing” series that juxtapose the terrors of being an immigrant in the United States, living in constant fear of deportation, to the luxuries of the bureaucracy.
As Caroline Framke said, “[the series] provides a damning indictment of the labyrinth systems that make ICE so powerful, and a wrenching examination of the human cost its policies have wrought.”
“Pain doesn’t know time here.”
8. Perry Mason (Tim Van Patten, Deniz Gamze Erguven, 2020)
Perry Mason is a famous defence lawyer in 1932 Los Angeles which is prospering in opposition to the rest of the country which is reeling under the vicious grip of the Great Depression. Mason is struggling with personal trauma of being divorced when he is appointed for an infamous child abduction trial. His research and investigation has a huge impact not only on him but also the influential people surrounding him.
In its noir-like seething, Matthew Rhys thrives as the intuitive Mason. The compelling narrative techniques have been praised by critics, including Ben Travers who said, “Perry Mason stands as an astounding visual feat for its specific framings as well as its overall world-building. There are striking images of a pitch-black profile and lavish outdoor shots of real Los Angeles locations.”
Adding: “In some shows, intimate conversations between two people can clash with the grander scenes…Mason has the intuition (and the budget) to not just balance visual opulence with smaller, private moments, but to blend them.”
“You’re all in big, fucking trouble.”
7. Unorthodox (Maria Schrader, 2020)
Based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiographical novel, the series revolves around a 19-year old Jewish woman Esty who is trapped in an arranged marriage and lives in an orthodox Hasidic community in New York City. In an attempt to explore the nuances of life, she elopes to Berlin but is pursued by her husband and his cousin when the latter comes to know of her pregnancy.
The first-ever show on Netflix to be in Yiddish, the series is nurtured carefully and delicately. As the series focuses on the rigidity of various communities, it is hopeful in its spirit of the young woman embarking on her path towards freedom. Shira Haas delivers a splendid performance, and the sense of urgency in her portrayal makes the series even more compelling and moving.
“God expected too much of me.”
6. The Haunting of Bly Manor (Mike Flanagan, 2020)
The series, set in a quaint fictional village named Bly, is focused on the various events that occur in Bly Manor over a certain period. A young American woman, Dani Clayton, nursing her wounds and personal demons, travels to Bly to look after two orphans, Miles and Flora Wingrave, and reside with them as their au-pair. However, Dani soon comes to terms with the sinister occurrences inside the house as well.
Flanagan’s near-perfect portrayal of the human mind grappling with the complex emotions of love and loss takes the audience for a rough rollercoaster ride that scars and heals them at the same time. An intense, spine-chilling and blood-curdling psychological rampage, Bly Manor tackles the subject of grief and loss as well as love quite maturely.
At times, they cannot be distinguished from one another. The series is built on a series of flashbacks that give an insight into the life of the characters in question, and the first pangs of love and loss are felt by all the inmates of Bly. In the end, the series conveys that it was never about the ghosts, but about the ‘perfectly splendid’ terror of being aware of one being lonely and forgotten.
“There’s a difference between feeling good and feeling alive. The two aren’t always the same.”
5. I Know This Much Is True (Derek Cianfrance, 2020)
Based on Wally Lamb’s novel of the same name, the series focuses on twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey as they deal with their personal demons. Dominick grapples with personal loss, betrayal, family history, while trying to understand Thomas’ illness, paranoid schizophrenia, and tries to free him from the vicious hospital.
What is better than seeing Mark Ruffalo in a double role as the anguished and anxiety-ridden identical twin brothers? Well, nothing. While the atmospheric despair and desolation make it a difficult watch, Ruffalo’s gripping performance provides an insight into the darkness that resides within us. Dominick’s emotional journey through the perils evokes sympathy; his predicament scars as well as scares. The “self-indulgent trauma” portrayed in this heartfelt tale is sure to scare and depress its viewers, as it journeys through loss and grief and a nervewracking trial of the determined spirit.
“How are we going to prevent the vengeance of God if we have no respect for human life?”
4. Little Fires Everywhere (Liz Tigelaar, 2020)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, this series comprises eight episodes that revolve around the well-established, picture-perfect Richardsons.
However, their peace and quiet is disrupted by the arrival of the charming mother-daughter duo Mia and Pearl Warren. What unfolds next is an exploration of the crevices of human nature, the burden of secrets as well as the concept of motherhood.
With well-matched leads like Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, the series boasts a number of incredible performance from the ensemble. It was one of the most-watched series on Hulu and is adapted from Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestseller. Emotionally stirring, this series deserves to be watched.
“Sometimes you have to scorch everything to start over.”
3. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness(Eric Goode, 2020)
Exciting and nerve-wracking, this series provides an insight into the fascinating world of Joe Exotic, the eccentric zoo owner, and his long-time feud with Carole Baskin, and Doc Antle. This series abounds in bizarre subjects, starting from big cats ownership, assassination attempts, murder mysteries, alligators as well as a “three-way-same sex marriage”.
This miniseries was designed like a docuseries, chronicling Joe Exotic’s life down to the bare bones. Extraordinarily compelling and captivating, the series paints a wonderfully gripping portrait of how an obsession can subsequently lead to downfall. One cannot help but agree with Josua Rivera when he says, “every minute of Tiger King yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell.”
“I went to work every day prepared to die in a tiger cage. Dying doesn’t scare me. At all.”
2. The Undoing (Susanne Bier, 2020)
Starring heavyweight actors like Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, the series revolve around a family in Manhattan whose lives fall apart after the father is suspected of murder.
Curly-haired psychologist Frace Fraser’s life is shattered when her husband Jonathan is suspected of murdering Elena, a fellow parent at their son’s fictional school Reardon.
Electrifying performances complement the gripping narrative that forces you to keep thinking at every instant and triumphantly gloating at your inability to predict. While the series has been criticised vehemently for glorifying domestic violence as well as portraying its protagonist in a shallow light, the wonderful performances and aesthetic value keep the film afloat.
“Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed and lost. Do you ever feel that?”
1. The Queen’s Gambit (Scott Frank, Allan Scott, 2020)
The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story set in the mid-1950s and continues to the 1960s. It revolves around an orphaned chess prodigy Beth Garmon who embarks on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. However, various obstacles stand in her way, including emotional problems and dependency on alcohol and drugs.
A riveting watch, The Queen’s Gambit is most definitely one of Netflix’s finest creations and has been well-received by the chess community as well as the members were hopeful that it would ignite interest within youngsters to start partaking in the game, especially among young female players. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth delivers a stellar performance and has received high praise.
“Do you ever go over games in your head? When you’re alone, I mean. Play all the way through them?”