A Very Biased Review of the Best Movies and TV Shows of 2020 Exclusive to Various Streaming Platform
Best TV Show: Little Fires Ever
ywhere on Hulu
Based on the novel by Celeste Ng, the eight episode miniseries follows two mothers living in the town of Shaker Heights, Ohio in 1997. Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon)—a small town journalist and mother of four—decides to rent a property her parents left her to artist and single mother Mia Warren (Kerry Washington), who never stays in one place for too long. Soon enough, Elena’s son, Moody, and Mia’s daughter, Pearl, become best friends and Pearl spends much of her free time at the Richardsons’.
While these episodes are generally about an hour long, there is never a dull moment in the show. As someone who typically gets bored with hour long content, each episode of Little Fires Everywhere had me hanging on the edge of my seat. While it definitely is a drama, the show balances light hearted moments with intense, emotional scenes. The show addresses hot ticket political issues of the modern day, like race and abortion, while portraying a balanced view of perspectives and addressing both sides’ grievances.
Best Rom-Com: To All the Boys I Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You on Netflix
The highly awaited sequel to the 2018 film To All The Boys I Loved Before was probably as good as sequels get. However, I was forced to watch the original movie eight times in various social situations and have used those many viewings to pick apart the two main characters, which perhaps dampened any enjoyment I could have felt from this movie. The sequel follows Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) as she reconnects with her childhood crush, John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher) through a volunteer program at a local retirement home. Meanwhile, Lara Jean’s relationship with her boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), crumbles as he spends more time with his ex-girlfriend, who also happens to be Lara Jean’s former best friend.
In my opinion, Lara Jean always picks the wrong guy, and frankly, it's annoying. However, I do appreciate the denuclearization of some of the tense female relationships from the first movie. While the animosity between Lara Jean and Peter’s ex is central to the plotline, the sequel mellows it out with a little more backstory and a new perspective. It was a surprisingly mature aspect to the plot, especially considering the relative immaturity of the recurring love triangles that pervade this franchise.
I haven’t seen many good rom-coms this year, which is disappointing considering Netflix produced a number of decent movies within the genre last year—including Always Be My Maybe and, one of my personal favorite movies, Someone Great. Other Netflix rom-coms this year include The Kissing Booth 2, Holidate and Love, Guaranteed, all of which came off as especially cheesy. I will admit that The Lovebirds, released in May of this year, was funny but entirely unmemorable aside from its humor. If I could remember the plot and what I specifically liked and disliked about it, it would have won this category.
Best Documentary on a Public Figure: Miss Americana on Netflix
Directed by Lana Wilson, the documentary follows superstar Taylor Swift from the making of her album reputation, well into 2019 after the release of her 7th studio album, Lover. The documentary provides an intimate, personal look into the challenges Swift has endured in her career and how she’s grown from them.
Having watched some of the other documentaries following public figures, namely Becoming centering around Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Blackpink: Light Up the Sky about the Korean girl group, I can say Wilson’s work provides one of the rawest, most honest perspectives on a figure in a documentary I’ve seen. The documentary has an unadulterated authenticity to it, which actually draws a striking contrast to what appears to be a polished public image.
Best Documentary on a Social Issue: The Social Dilemma on Netflix
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, The Social Dilemma presents a new perspective on why social media poses a threat to society. While it can feel a little overdone at times, like in a staged scene where a child breaks the container that holds her phone because she can’t possibly have one dinner with her family without receiving updates on her phone, the ninety-four minute documentary provides insight into the addictive nature of practices as simple as checking your inbox from the very people who built the applications.
The message comes across clear and strong; within the first twenty minutes, a viewer probably would begin to reconsider just how much time they should spend on social media.
Best Musical Movie/TV show: Hamilton on Disney+
It is worth paying $6.99 for one month of Disney+ to watch this musical alone. As someone who has both seen the musical in person as well as watched too many unfocused bootlegs that frantically pan in and out of different parts of the stage from the mezzanine, this official recording was so much fun to watch. The up-close views of the actors as they perform allows the audience to notice small details, like how Washington looks in a mirror before being introduced for the first time, or how Hercules Mulligan was the flower girl at Hamilton’s wedding in the show. (Although I could go without King George III—Jonathan Groff, who also voices Frozen’s Kristoff—spitting so profusely.)
I may even dare say that streaming Hamilton was a better experience than Broadway; in addition to getting a clearer picture of the stage, I could also mouth all of the words to the songs without looking like a maniac. If you happened to watch Cats last year and you’re still in recovery after the traumatic CGI, I promise Hamilton is the cure you need.
I tried to keep this genre fairly broad, and included just about any movie or TV show with impromptu singing in it. Other shows in this category include season two of The Politician and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, both of which were very disappointing. Had I already watched Netflix’s October 23 release of the animated movie Over the Moon, that would have probably been in consideration for this category too.
Best Food Show: Down to Earth With Zac Efron on Netflix
Together with co-host Darin Olein, Zac Efron travels the world “in search of healthy, sustainable ways to live.” Yes, this show isn’t actually a food show, although there is a featured dish or meal in every episode. In actuality, it falls closer to the travel category.
From the cryopreservation of potatoes in Lima to geothermal power in Iceland, the average viewer always walks away with a new tidbit of knowledge after each episode. An unexpected dream team, Efron comes off as relatable to an average viewer who knows nothing about Olien’s area of expertise.
Down to Earth takes this category for four reasons: 1) Unpopular opinion: The Great British Baking Show is not that great. 2) Netflix’s cooking shows, ranging from The Chef Show to Crazy Delicious, are all boring. 3) I have not watched Selena + Chef, because I don’t have HBO. 4) Zac Efron cries over eating pasta in the episode titled “Sardinia,” which is so bizarre that you feel for him but also can’t help from being a little amused by the struggles of celebrity life.
Best Drama: The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix
The movie tells the real story of seven men: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Bobby Seale, who were arrested and charged with inciting a riot while organizing a protest outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The plot follows these men一from various groups including the Youth International Party, Students for a Democratic Society, National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Black Panthers一who all, save Seale, are represented by lawyer William Kunstler. The film covers both the trial in the courtroom, as well as flashbacks to the night the riots began.
This could have easily been one of those movies that get too dramatic and end up being cliche. However, with a mix of dry humor and a fast paced plot, this is truly one of the best movies of this year, and likely still would have been without a global pandemic that shut down movie theatres nationwide. The Trial of the Chicago 7 was released in the days leading up to perhaps the biggest election of the century thus far, which seemed to increase the breadth of people it resonated with. Perhaps its message was aided by the constant comparisons many political commentators made between 2020 and 1968 leading up to Election Day. Regardless, it was a historical thriller about a fundamental flaw in the American government that has not been resolved with time.
I appreciated the movie’s attention to detail. I also enjoyed the ending of the movie, where a viewer learns about where each of the men ended up. If you enjoyed the movie, read Abbie Hoffman’s book Steal This Book here.