Year in review: What we loved to watch in 2020

At the close of each year, we poll members of the Realscreen team to find out what non-fiction and unscripted programming drew them in, and this year is no exception. ...
December 18, 2020

At the close of each year, we poll members of the Realscreen team to find out what non-fiction and unscripted programming drew them in, and this year is no exception. In fact, we probably all had a little more time on our hands to check stuff out. To find out more about what we loved to watch in 2020, read on…

It’s a strange feeling looking back to those first few months of 2020, and realizing that your heavier entertainment interests have shifted greatly to lighter fare.

In a year packed with global protests and social injustices; an enduring pandemic and its anti-maskers; and whatever the hell happened during the U.S. elections, sitting down to watch a true crime series or action thriller almost feels like a torturous task.

So while it’s not necessarily a new series (having missed the boat by 13 years on that front), my standout entertainment find in this dumpster fire of a year goes to BBC1′s comedy panel show Would I Lie To You? – or WILTY as it’s lovingly known – from London’s own Zeppotron.

If you’re unfamiliar with the format of the game show, each week comedians and team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack are joined by two celebrity guests. Contestants take turns revealing unusual and embarrassing personal stories as the opposing team attempts to guess whether a statement is true or not.

It’s a simple premise, but the entertainment series — which has been made available in full on YouTube — is one of the few things to have consistently gotten me through this hellish year. It’s chock-full of laughs and ridiculous stories – I challenge anyone to keep a straight face during James Acaster’s retelling of a series of cabbage-related pranks between himself and a friend’s nine-year-old son, Mick.

Special mention goes to Channel 4′s comedy panel game show Taskmaster and comedian Johnny Vegas angrily screaming at runaway balloons.

This past year was rough, and while I watched some memorable scripted film and TV shows, I can confidently say unscripted TV got me through the worst of it.

In almost every interview I’ve had with TV executives over the past year, the conversation around what viewers want largely focused on lighter fare. And I agree. The news is already so bleak and the world is on fire — I need low stakes drama.

The Great Canadian Baking Show (specifically, Dan Levy and Julia Chan as hosts, from Proper Television, Love Productions and CBC), The Great British Bake Off (again from Love for C4 — don’t sleep on the holiday-themed specials) and Selling Sunset (incredible gossip and there’s a gothic winter wedding, from Done and Done Productions for Netflix) are just a few of my favorites from this year. I also found a lot of inner peace watching a show called Escape to the Country (created by Thames, currently produced by Boundless for the BBC), probably because that’s exactly what I want to do.

Still, if I had to choose just one, I have to give it to Love is Blind, produced by Kinetic Content for Netflix. I’m not someone who typically watches reality dating shows, but something about this one just pulled me in.

If you don’t know, the series follows a group of men and women who participate in a form of speed dating. Throughout the show, the cast members go on dates in “pods,” the catch being that they can’t see each other.

Eventually, a few participants couple up and get engaged, at which point they meet face to face for the first time. They take a trip, move in together, meet their respective families and ultimately get married — all in the pursuit of answering the question “Is love blind?”

Netflix’s broadcast-like move to release one episode per week kept me hooked. It was so popular, it felt like everyone you knew was watching at the same time, which made it all the more enjoyable. Plus all the tweets around the show and the characters it eventually centered on — Amber and Barnett, Jessica and Mark, Cameron and Lauren, Kelly and Kenny — were just so hilarious. I’m patiently awaiting season two.


My faves of 2020:

Formula 1 – Drive to Survive (Season 2, Netflix, Box to Box Films)

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix, Blackfin, MakeMake Entertainment)

Selling Sunset (Season 3, Netflix, Done and Done Productions)

Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Season 12, Bravo, World of Wonder Productions)


I wish that I could say that in this “annus horribilis” my viewing choices, as with those of my colleagues, also ran towards the light and relatively carefree. However, my wife’s definition of “light entertainment” is binge-watching seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, and I’ve always found hospital dramas incredibly stressful to watch, romantic interludes notwithstanding. Thus, I guess my picks for non-fiction viewing in 2020 might be considered “light,” by comparison.

Garrett Bradley’s Time (Amazon Prime) is certainly the most transcendent of my choices, even if the subject matter, on paper, reads heavily. By taking a non-linear look at how a family contends with the incarceration system over the span of two decades, Bradley has crafted a poetic, meditative treatise on the power of love and resilience. And the film also heralds the mainstream breakthrough of a major talent in the genre, which is an added bonus.

I’ll also give The Social Dilemma from Jeff Orlowski and Exposure Labs a nod, as it put into clear, if somewhat pessimistic perspective the dangers of letting social media dictate our methods of discourse and debate. This is an especially important point of view to explore after 2020 — a year of virtual vitriol perhaps unlike any other. Granted, the narrative portions of the film that depicted tech avatars vying for the soul and psyche of a susceptible teenager were not to my taste, but I concede that those elements probably weren’t crafted with me or my demo in mind, but for a younger audience that might need a lighter treatment to temper the sting of the doc’s central thrust. Hopefully, 2021 will be the year in which we’re all able to take a step back and stop yelling at each other — online and IRL.

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