The best TV moments of 2020

Benjie Goodhart / 18 December 2020

2020 has seen some inventive programming during lockdown, as well as a host of moving, charming and entertaining moments. TV reviewer Benjie Goodhart shares some of his highlights of the year's television for the Saga TV Awards 2020.



How was your 2020? Mine was fine thanks. Nothing unusual to report at all. Everything totally fine. Just tickety boo. Definitely didn’t spend months on end in a pitch of worry. Nope. Perfectly normal year, thanks all the same. Jolly good. Moving on.

Telly. Thank goodness we had telly. In a year when TV was more important to us than it had ever been, the medium came through in some style. Fears that we’d run out of stuff to watch, and end up vacantly staring at endless repeats of Homes Under the Hammer on a loop, proved to be unfounded, as the industry coped with some monumental changes and managed to keep on filming in the toughest of circumstances.

Of course, there was some unutterable dross out there too, but for someone who spent a fair chunk of the year seeking solace and respite in my televisual entertainment, I have never been more grateful for the addictive little screen in the corner of the room.

Here, then, are our TV awards in the year when, for once, TV mattered. Really mattered.

The Start the Year as You Mean to Go On Award

Dracula saw 2020 get off to a deeply peculiar and very sinister start. The (excellent) drama built a sense of sickness, claustrophobia and impending doom, and much of it was set in a castle from which nobody could get out. It all seemed ludicrously far-fetched. We hadn’t realised it was actually just a scientific look at the year to come.

The Best Escapism

Watching shows like Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby, or The Trip to Greece, both filled with sensational places to visit, eat and sleep, is an absolute delight. But, back in March, when the BBC was showing series two of the cracking adventure show Race Across the World, it was a joy to watch people having to travel on an absolute shoestring, spending 95% of their time sleeping in bus stations and eating stale sandwiches. It allowed us to see the world, but feel like, quite frankly, we’d prefer to be on our sofas.

Best Lockdown Joke

The BBC announcing series two of EastEnders, after the show had to break for the first time in 35 years thanks to lockdown. Twitter users were left asking how much series one would be to buy on box set. At 6,000 episodes, it’s reasonable to say it would be a fair amount.

Moment of TV Joy, Pt I

Bake Off’s Jelly Cake Round. You could put the entire Bake Off series in, it was basically one extended joyous moment. (Congrats to Matt Lucas for filling in so seamlessly in place of Sandi Toksvig). But the jelly cake round was a thing of astonishing beauty, none more so than Hermine’s stupefyingly brilliant poppy jelly cake.

Moment of TV Sorrow, Pt I

Great Canal Journeys will carry on, under the stewardship of the excellent Gyles Brandreth and Sheila Hancock. But can anyone ever really replace the divine Pru and Tim? We can only miss them from afar, and wish them – and particularly Pru, good health and good luck.

Most Unsettling Performance

David Tennant playing serial killer Dennis Nielsen in Des. He was chilling in his ordinariness, with just hints of the savagery underneath – but what made it worse was that he’s my son’s favourite Doctor Who.

Favourite Drama

I loved The Queen’s Gambit, Life, The Undoing, Des, and The Crown. But for me, Us was absolutely magical. It may have had something to do with the locations – it was beautifully shot across some of Europe’s most stunning cities, from Amsterdam to Paris to Venice – but at its heart were two performances of such heart-breaking sensitivity from Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves, it was an absolute triumph, right down to its sad-yet-somehow-happy ending.

Moment of TV Joy, Pt II

Anyone who saw the magnificent adult literacy show The Write Offs would have been punching the air at Craig’s triumphant denouement. If you didn’t see it, seek it out on All4, and watch the world-weary cynicism of 2020 just melt away.

Moment of TV Sorrow, Pt II

Horizon: What’s the Matter with Tony Slattery. This was, at times, unbearably sad. The funny, lively, sparky, charismatic comedian of 1990s TV fame has spent the last three decades at the bottom of a bottle. This sensitive, gently harrowing documentary looked at the causes, and effects, of Slattery’s demons. Brutal.

Industry Ingenuity of the Year

Television managed to keep on going throughout everything. Whether it was a TV show that used pet dogs wearing strap-on cameras to explore their celebrity owners’ homes (Snoop Dog), comedies filmed entirely on conferencing software (Staged), or dramas shot by family members (Isolation Stories) or simply shot with one character (Talking Heads) TV rose to the mighty challenge of Covid-19 with characteristic creativity.

The Am I Turning into Mary Whitehouse Award?

I loved Normal People, and the two leads, Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal, were extraordinary (his visit to the psychiatrist being the high point). But the series boasted 41 minutes of sex in it. 41!!! We get the idea, for heaven’s sake. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Most Misleading Plot

The Queen’s Gambit (which was brilliant) had everyone rushing out to buy chess boards, convinced that it was their key to the dynamic, sexy international world of competitive chess. The problem is, first of all, you have to be astoundingly clever, second, you have to be astoundingly dedicated, and thirdly, when you get there, there is a notable shortage of gamine redheads at the top of the chess rankings.

History is Written by the Victors Award

Michael Jordan got to give his side of the story in the epic (and slightly indulgent) documentary series The Last Dance. Of course he got to give his side of the story. He’s arguably the best athlete of all time. Oh, and the series was made by his production company. But, aside from that, I’m sure it was scrupulously impartial in its dealings with his myriad rivalries.

A Plague on All Your Houses Award

Every single contributor to Tiger King seemed to be a morally and socially suspect individual, and most of them were making a living exploiting wild animals in cages. It made for some fairly gripping TV, but also made you want to shower the cynicism off you afterwards.

Moment of TV Joy, Pt III

Basically, every time Henry Blofeld appeared onscreen in The Real Marigold Hotel. Was there ever a more cheerful, plummy-voiced epitome of enthusiasm and loveliness than Blowers? My dear old thing…

Moment of TV Sorrow, Pt III

Generally speaking, everything Miriam Margolyes does is a joy, but one moment in her triumphant tour of Australia was among the most powerful of the year. She got talking to a shop assistant, and discovered he had come to Australia from Afghanistan as a small boy, stowing away on a boat after his parents died. He has no idea how old he is, or when his birthday is, and he has no idea if he will be allowed to live the rest of his life in Australia. In the face of such sadness, his gratitude and optimism was a wonder to behold, and a lesson for us all.

Impression of the Year

Michael Sheen’s Chris Tarrant, in the excellent drama Quiz, was simply irresistible. He is an extraordinary performer, able to combine mimicry with undoubted thespian ability. We are lucky to have him.

Comedy of the Year

Series one of Ghosts, the show about a couple who inherit a haunted manor house, was great fun. But series two managed to be funnier, and also far, far more moving. This was a show getting into its stride in a big way. If you’ve not seen it, give it a try on iPlayer.

Unexpected TV Stars of the Year

Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have guided the nation through a fairly horrific year with characteristic calmness and clarity of thought, at a time when all about them seemed to be losing their heads. Their performances under the white hot glare of the nation’s news cameras was a constant reassurance at a moment of global crisis. Expect to see them on Strictly or I’m a Celebrity in years to come…

Thank you for reading this. Have a wonderful New Year, and may 2021 bring you all happier, easier, healthier times. Cheers!

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