The Winners and Losers of Fall 2020, the Weirdest TV Season Ever

From the effects of the pandemic to bad decisions to happy surprises, Fall TV 2020 has been a roller coaster we may never forget.

By Lauren Piester, Jonathan Borge Nov 28, 2020 3:00 PMTags
The Crown, Season 4Netflix

It has certainly been a strange fall season, but TV still came through. 

Despite expensive setbacks and production delays and workarounds caused by the pandemic, a whole bunch of network shows have managed to premiere anyway—not to mention the dozens of cable and streaming series that were already in the pipeline. When we thought we'd have to go without a lot of new content, we ended up with a smorgasbord of ways to distract ourselves from the real world, even when the real world showed up on screen. 

Not everything has been perfect, and while we're thankful for all of it, we can't say everything's been a winner. Hence, this list. 

While we straight up ignored ratings during this bonkers time, we did take a look at some of the big (and occasionally the small) premieres and even finales we were treated to this fall to see what was successful and what was not. We're happy to report that we found more winners than losers and more trends to declare losers than actual TV shows this year.

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How TV Shows Have Handled 2020

Maybe we're just feeling festive or maybe we're just happy for whatever we can get (it's both), but we're happy to celebrate the fact that TV managed to exist at all this fall season. 

Check out our full list of winners and losers below! 

WINNER: The Crown (Netflix)

Princess Diana is finally in the building. Though the first three seasons of The Crown earned Netflix plenty of praise, Prince Charles and Diana's epic romance (devastating as it may be) is why so many signed up to watch the series in the first place. Tragic, chilly and rich in aesthetics, season four is as good as The Crown gets. The way Emma Corrin portrays Diana's transformation from a sheepish aristocrat to the People's Princess is worth every accolade. And now, the clock is ticking to see just how well Elizabeth Debicki interprets Diana's final years come season five.

WINNER: Holiday Content

We don't know about you, but we've been ready for the holidays since the moment Halloween was over (and perhaps even before that). 2020 has been garbage, so all we really want is holiday cheer. Luckily this year was ready with a huge variety of new movies, TV shows and specials, including a slate of LGBTQ+ romances that we can't get enough of. So far, none of the new holiday content has disappointed. Like, Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square is not a good movie, but it is also a great movie. Inject that saccharine holiday garbage directly into our veins all season long, please. 

LOSER: Social Distance Shows

Projects like NBC's Connecting, Netflix's Social Distance and Freeform's Love in the Time of Corona were not bad, necessarily. In fact, we really liked them at times. But in the end it turned out that no one was really that interested in watching more than an episode or two of TV that was self-recorded or produced on Zoom. We spend enough time staring at Zoom on our own, and the past few months have mostly just not been fun enough to watch play out in the same way we experienced them. 

WINNER: Love Island (CBS)

After a shaky first season, the second season of Love Island U.S. found its groove and delivered us a delightful vacation on a Las Vegas rooftop that actually rivaled the previously untouchable Love Island UK. The cast was excellent from start to finish and for the first time ever in the franchise, the grand prize went to a Black couple. Justine and Caleb could not have deserved it more, and we could not have been happier. 

WINNER: Network Television

Listen, we may have some quibbles with the choices some shows have made, but it's wildly impressive that any network shows have premiered at all this fall. It's slow and expensive to film in a pandemic and yet we've got more content than we ever imagined, and a whole lot of it is good so far. Kudos to everyone involved! 

WINNER AND LOSER: The Bachelorette (ABC)

Never have we been so excited for a season of The Bachelorette. Two Bachelorettes felt like a dream, and while it was fun, there's been something off about it all season. It felt as if Clare Crawley and Dale Moss were pushed into an engagement and off the show a little fast while Tayshia Adams was left with half a season instead of the full season she deserved. We wanted to root for Clare and Dale and give Tayshia our full attention, and the show made that a little difficult. That said, props to some solid guys and the second Black Bachelorette ever! 

WINNER: Lovecraft Country (HBO)

Though it sounds cliche, no two episodes of Lovecraft Country are the same. HBO's fantasy horror series (based on the novel of the same name) offered a topsy-turvy ride that somehow managed to explore the Jim Crow era while introducing some of the strangest, most imaginative supernatural creatures on TV. Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett kill it as the leads, and Aunjanue Ellis and Abbey Lee deserve a shoutout for the many scares and moments of levity they provided. After a summer remembered for race riots and the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we needed a show that gracefully winked at all that's going on. Lovecraft did just that while still giving us an escape.

WINNER: Baby Yoda

Baby Yoda is always a winner (except when he's committing genocide by eating eggs but we just won't talk about that right now). 

LOSER: Big Sky (ABC)

There's potential for ABC's ambitious mystery drama to be whatever David E. Kelley set out for it to be, but it ain't there yet. Don't make a pilot about two women punching each other over a man while two white teen girls get attacked and go missing if that's not what your show is, even just to keep your big cliffhanger (Ryan Phillippe being shot in the face) a big secret. We're just tired of women being attacked or attacking each other, ya know? 

WINNER AND LOSER: Masks on TV

After months of being trapped in this pandemic, it's impossible not to judge both real people and TV characters for not wearing masks or for behaving recklessly in public places. If your TV show is set during the pandemic, all your characters should be wearing masks at all times unless they're only with members of their own household. There are some cute masks out there! Good actors should be able to act with their eyes! And if everybody's masked, we can focus on what's happening instead of "Why aren't they wearing a mask?!" 

LOSER: "Live" Audiences

For the most part, TV shows can't have live, in-studio audiences right now, or at least not the audience they're used to having. For some, that works just fine. We don't necessarily miss the audience laughing at Seth Meyers' jokes or visibly booing Carrie Ann Inaba's judging on Dancing With the Stars. But some shows, like The Masked Singer, just couldn't deal with the lack of a live audience and decided to fake one using old audience shots. It's horrible. It's so clearly fake that it just makes the show frustrating to watch. Just get fans to watch via video chat if you really need them there! Fake shots of an audience is a no-go and just a really good way to make your real at-home audience not trust you at all. 

WINNER: The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)

She would sleep. She would wake. And she would walk. Director Mike Flanagan's follow-up to The Haunting of Hill House wasn't nearly as spill-your-wine scary, but the second installment in his anthology series proved to center itself around a gut-wrenching LGBTQ+ love story. Representation? We honestly love to see it. Plus, don't blame us for quietly drawing comparisons between Love Quinn and Dani Clayton each time Victoria Pedretti appeared onscreen. They're nothing alike, but that's the power of You.

LOSER: TV Fans

The pandemic and other circumstances have led to a lot of devastating cancellations in 2020, and they just keep coming. It's particularly unfortunate that most of the shows being canceled are led by women and/or POC, and it sucks for the fans and for the TV landscape alike. RIP The Society, GLOW, I Am Not Okay With This, Stumptown, I'm Sorry, On Becoming a God in Central Florida, One Day At a Time and likely more to come.

WINNER: Grey's Anatomy (ABC)

Nothing livens up the spirit like a sudden surprise appearance from Derek Shepherd. Five years after he left the show, Patrick Dempsey returned at the end of the Grey's Anatomy season 17 premiere. Sure, Meredith's sick with COVID-19 and fever-dreaming him, but he's there nonetheless and more surprises are coming. Any show that can still get its fans excited like that in season 17 is automatically a winner. 

WINNER AND LOSER: Dancing With the Stars (ABC)

Season 29 of Dancing With the Stars really started out with a great, recognizable cast packed with some pretty good dancers. A lot of it was good (especially Kaitlyn Bristowe's win after all her years of trying to be on the show), but some of it was not what we wanted. Bringing in a new host and firing the old ones was a weird move when all people want right now is comfort food. We didn't need things to be "leveled up." DWTS needed to fix some problems but the hosts were not one of them. 

LOSER: Epic Plans

The Supernatural series finale should have been a blowout featuring as many cameos as possible, or at least an appearance from Castiel (Misha Collins) after his rather upsetting death two episodes earlier. Jack (Alexander Calvert) had restored the earth and completely renovated Heaven! It would have made sense. But alas, COVID-19 changed all the plans and turned the finale into a weirdly quiet showcase for Jensen Ackles' monologuing skills and Jared Padalecki's tears and questionable old age makeup. We still sobbed our faces off, but it sucks to imagine what could have been. 

WINNER: Emily in Paris

Where do we begin, mon amie? There are only two types of people in the world: people who hate Emily Cooper, and people who'd trade anything to live like she does. Yes, the title character Lily Collins magnificently played is annoying as they come, an entitled, privileged millennial who couldn't care less about adapting to French culture when she arrives from the Midwest. Yet, Emily captivated the world's attention, so much so that she inspired think pieces in The New Yorker and managed to get Netflix to greenlight a second season. Is it even a good show? Please revisit our great Emily in Paris debate, but know that no matter, what Emily won anyway.

LOSER: The City of Paris

Emily in Paris may have won a few too many people over, but we must apologize to the city of Paris. It put up with Emily's bucket hats, bad French and complete lack of cultural understanding for a whole season and now has to put up with at least a whole season more. Paris deserves better than this. 

WINNER: The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (Bravo)

Assalamu alaikum, bitches! Just three episodes in, Jen Shah and the women of Salt Lake have delivered meme-able moments and ridiculous one-liners ("it smelled like hospital") that live up to the low-brow antics set by polarizing Bravolebrities like Ramona Singer and Lisa Vanderpump. Together, Shah, Lisa Barlow, Mary Cosby, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks and Whitney Rose are an odd and glamorous group of misfits raising kids, saving their marriages and throwing shade in their ultra-conservative Mormon community. Bravo hadn't introduced an addition to the Housewives franchise since 2016's Potomac, and Salt Lake so far is the reality TV cherry on top of a whirlwind year.

WINNER: The Undoing (HBO)

Who the hell killed Elena? There's nothing like a good murder mystery and HBO has given us reason to marvel at two of Hollywood's most charming actors: Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Their roles as Grace and Jonathan Fraser have us playing every single scene back in our minds, trying to determine whether Lily Rabe's Sylvia Steinetz was right when she said, "It's always the f--king husband!" While certain fans thought the episode five cliffhanger was obvious, some of us are still trying to figure out how to get our jaws off the floor. As for who did it? The finale to David E. Kelley's latest limited series finally airs Sunday, Nov. 29. Sign us up for a re-watch.

LOSER: Big Brother

For 20 years, Julie Chen has reminded BB fans to expect the unexpected. Sure, it was unexpected and pretty impressive for a reality show about people living in close quarters to air amid a global pandemic. Yet, so many of the expected tropes here weren't avoided. As with other seasons, certain BB cast members repeatedly performed micro-aggressions against Black competitors, which made for awkward and painful-to-watch viewing. Stuck at home with nothing else to do, the show was still deliciously entertaining as winner Cody Calafiore coasted to the finale, but that didn't take away from the giant elephant in the room: racism. Thankfully, Da'Vonne Rogers became the first Black houseguest to earn the title of America's Favorite Houseguest. And come 2021, CBS will follow new guidelines to ensure more diversity.

WINNER: The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)

The proof is in the data. A month after its October release, The Queen's Gambit became Netflix's biggest scripted limited series to date after 62 million households tuned in. That's a heady accomplishment for a show that is quite literally about chess and one woman's obsession with the board game. Sleepy as it sounds, Anya Taylor-Joy's performance as Beth Harmon would be for naught without at least one 2021 Emmy nomination. It's that good. Besides, who doesn't love an easily recognizable cast? Yes, Harry Beltik is played by Harry Melling, the Harry Potter alum who starred as Dudley Dursley. And yep, chess superstar Benny Watts is Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the boy from Love Actually. Winners only.

Bring on 2021! 

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